The call came at the beginning of Cal’s shift. His company was on the overnight rotation this week and had just arrived at Guard headquarters. While gearing up for routine patrols they were summoned to the briefing room. Commander Keeper was waiting for them. “We’ve just received notice, a child has gone missing.” The tension in the room rose dramatically, how could a child have gone missing? They were guarding them all. “She isn’t one of the Warrior children we had marked to watch but a Spell-Caster. We also have reason to believe that there could be a group of children from The Others in danger. I received a call from Captain Armat, one of their officers who had worked with us on the joint task force. A group of children that were with a school camp-out left their campsite to gather wood and did not return. They are searching the area for them and feel they might have just wandered a little too far. However we should assume that there is a possibility they have been taken by Shakel as well. Maybe for bargaining chips, maybe they have latent gifts he thinks he can exploit, we don’t know, we just know that they are missing as well as one of our own.”
The commander pointed to a map he had tacked to the wall. “This is the area The Others were camping in; we start our search there. I don’t need to remind you what is at stake here. Move out quickly, cover as much ground as possible, find those children.”
And with that Cal’s company organized and moved out. They arrived at the campsite the school children had been using. Police from The Others were there searching the area and their Captain Armat quickly brought Cal up to speed on what they had found. There was a clear path where the children had gone to collect the firewood and you could see their trail up to the pile of sticks that were dropped and left behind. But then nothing. After the piles of sticks there was no path. No mark at all that anyone had walked farther in to the woods. It was as if the three children had just disappeared. No one at the campsite had heard anything and didn’t notice they hadn’t returned for at least a half hour after they left. They had done a quick search themselves before calling the park rangers who then called the police. When the police heard from The Guard that a child had gone missing from The Gifted as well that was when it was decided to do a joint search. No one on the police force fancied traipsing around in the woods at night and stumbling on a pocket of magic without proper backup.
The two groups mapped out a plan of attack, the companies there at the campsite would start a grid search for the missing children while forces back at their respective headquarters searched maps for possible locations they might be being held. The two companies mixed Other and Gifted and started out. A member of the Guard leading point in case there were any open circles in front of them. They moved slowly and silently through the wooded area looking for any signs of the children or who might have taken them. Cal heard a whistle from his left, a sign that something had been found and headed that way. Captain Armat was listening to a call. “They found an old farm-site on the map, it’s up ahead of us about a half mile. I think it’s probably worth checking out.” Cal agreed and they gathered their forces to investigate the farm.
When they got close to the site they could see light coming from the old barn. Every nerve in Cal’s body started to tingle, this was it, he just knew it. They were close. They needed to approach with caution but quickly. Before heading out he contacted Commander Keeper with the news, they had found the barn and were approaching now. Then he turned off his radio and instructed everyone with him to do the same, silence would be needed. Creeping in slowly he could hear the low rumble of people talking. Then he heard a child begin to cry. Then scream. Standing up and motioning for his company to follow him Cal rushed toward the barn. They had run out of time for caution. They broke in the front door and rushed to grab the children.
Commander Keeper tried to contact Cal over and over again but realized he had to have gone radio silent for the final approach. There were no missing children. The Spell-Caster girl had been with her Aunt and Uncle. Her parents had arranged the visit the day before but had been made to forget. The missing children from The Others were never gone. When Commander Keeper contacted the police headquarters for an update he had been told Captain Armat was not working that evening. There was no record of him ever calling and speaking with The Guard. The whole thing was a trap.
Cal and his company rushed in to the barn and were immediately held by a binding spell. The strongest Cal had ever felt. As he looked around the barn he counted at least 21 in the circle casting the spell. And in the center stood a fairly plain looking young man. “I’m the Sorcerer Shakel, I believe you have been looking for me. Welcome to our party. As you can see we’ve been waiting for you. Warriors. The last piece to our puzzle. You will all do nicely. ” Cal was frantically looking around trying to see where the children were, if they were still alive. He was also counting his men and looking for the members of the police force he had led in to this trap. Trying to see how many people he was going to have to get out of this barn tonight.
Shakel smiled. “Still haven’t quite grasped it yet, have you? There are no children here, why would I want children when I can have you? Full grown Warriors, members of The Guard, gifts full developed and realized. Trained by the best. Your gifts added to our own will make us even stronger. After tonight no one will be able to challenge us. You will have helped make The Gifted the greatest of the great. You should be honored. You can stop looking for The Others that were with you. They are gone. Already heading back to their families with no memory of being here or even where we are, no idea why anyone would think they would have been out tonight. Frightfully easy to manipulate, The Others. Though, you weren’t much of a challenge either.” Cal struggled against the spell. “Okay, you are right, that’s not fair. This was a lot of planning. Manipulating The Others, sending Pete in with his confessions and with the sincerity of a man who had a change of heart instead of a clue marker to lead you to us. Months and months it took. But good things come to those who wait. And now I have 6 of you.”
And with that the spell around Cal changed. Instead of just binding him in place he could feel it working its way into his mind. Like icy fingers through his head. And he was suddenly so tired. His thoughts began to fog. Keeping his eyes opened was a strain. The Guard standing next to him appeared to be caving in on himself. Drying out as Cal watched. There was a look of terror on his face as he stared at Cal and that was when Cal realized what he was seeing happen to his friend must also be happening to him. He fought for a moment longer then let go. Thinking only of his wife and daughter and how much he was going to miss. Never seeing Aska grow up and not being there for Deidre when he knew she would need him most. Love for his family was the last thing that Cal felt as his gift and his life were drained from him. The last thing he heard was Shakel laughing.
Miles away tears streaming down her face Aska clutched her stuffed bear to her chest and repeated, “It was only a dream, it was only a dream, it was only a dream” as she fell back asleep.