Translucent ribbons of golden energy swirled around Luke’s hands as he followed one of his father’s personal guards through the identical hallways of the Shadow Sworn’s Main Compound. Emotions swirled within him as he walked but he willed himself to be calm. It was not easy for him, he had inherited his mother’s fiery enthusiasm while Lillian had been the one to inherit the cold mask of their father.
When he and his guide paused outside a door on the primary cell block of the Shadow complex, all intentions of remaining calm flew out the window and it took all of his training to rein in his anger. For a moment, he stood stock-still, focusing on his breath as the tendrils of energy encircling his arms solidified into a rich gold color.
Luke gritted his teeth and growled at his guide, “Open this door, now.”
Wordlessly, the man obeyed and the silver door slid up, granting them access to the small cell. Sitting in the center of the small room was a small feline animal with two bushy tails pacing the small space agitatedly. At the opening of the cell door, its ears twitched and it turned to face Luke, shifting as it did into a female figure clad entirely in black. The round, white birthmark on its forehead seemed to disappear into her skin, but he knew that Mira hid her streak of pure white hair by braiding it tightly to her head and tucking it under the rest of her long locks. Her eyes lit up as she recognized him, the irritated leaf-green color quickly shifting to a more relieved azure before darkening to a worried steel-blue. Standing out against the black of her clothes, sat a glistening sapphire pendant hanging on a thin gold chain. Luke knew a Sorcerer had made it to allow Mira to make any items she may be carrying shift with her.
Seeing her unharmed, the rippling waves of energy coursing up and down his arms brightened for a moment before fading as relief washed over him and he rushed forward, enveloping his best friend in a warm hug. “Mira!”
“Oh, Luke, what did you do?” Mira breathed softly, her lips almost touching his ear as she peered over his shoulder, no doubt catching sight of his guide.
“Later,” he murmured into her hair. He pulled back and collected himself, burying his feelings under a stone-cold mask before turning back to the man hovering in the doorway of the cell. “Dismissed, we can find our way from here.”
The man saluted and disappeared, leaving the two of them alone. Luke gestured with his chin and they both fell into the easy gait of their usual forced march. He stretched out his mind, letting it probe at Mira’s defenses before she let him into the quiet space in her mind he’d learned to find after years of rigorous training. With his powers, he could read minds but it was a lot harder than for others. He was better at implanting information, mind manipulation, and communication yet none of those skills held a candle to his abilities in telekinesis or energy manipulation.
As soon as his consciousness entered Mira’s mind, she repeated her question, more forcefully this time. What did you do, Luke?
He sent his thought out softly, letting it almost drift into his best friend’s mind instead of sending it directly. Lillian.
Mira understood instantly and there was a slight pause before she answered. Her mental voice was soft, sad, and a tinge of regret tinged the end. Oh, oh. Oh, Luke…
He used me, Luke lamented, his tone thick with shame. It's all my fault.
If it was anyone’s fault it was mine, she replied softly, regret darkening her mind. I put myself in a situation to be compromised and that forced your hand.
Mira, no. He thought firmly. He needed me to get to her, somehow he would’ve found a way. You just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She wouldn’t have answered any other call. She came for me. A-and he knew she would.
When Mira replied, her tone was gentle. It’s not that hard to figure out, Luke. You were the last one to see her before she disappeared and before that, you were like two parts of one whole.
By now the pair had reached their barracks and headed for Luke’s room. When he responded, self-loathing entered his mental voice. I know. I should’ve been more careful, should’ve suspected something like this.
Still not your fault, Luke. Your dad forced you to.
Thanks, Mira, but I don’t need comfort or pity. I was wrong, I need to fix this, Luke replied, determination coursing through him.
So what’re we gonna do?
We? Her casual use of the plural term gave him pause.
Yes, we, Luke, do you really think I'm gonna just let you get yourself killed. Exasperation entered her tone and he could practically hear her eye roll. The pair entered Luke’s room, a pristine white area with a large, circular table in the center, a large map of the entire compound at the center. The rest of the room had only a bed, dresser, a couple of carpets, and a door leading to a private bathroom. Any weapons he had were never displayed openly. The entire room was clean, he had every room checked for enchantments, charms, and spies at least once a day. Mira raised an eyebrow in his direction, You have nine fully-fledged Shadows under your command, sir. I wouldn’t waste them.
They’re Shadows, Mir. They’re not going to help us break Lil out.
They respect and trust you, Luke. You’ve been leading us for almost eleven years now. A lot of us would choose you over loyalty to your father.
Luke hesitated for only a moment, staring at the map of the compound, uncertainly. Then he said, “Gather support, see who’s willing to help. We’re breaking her out of here.”
Mira grinned wickedly, her eyes dancing across the color spectrum from red to green to black to purple, “What did you have in mind?”
“What I’m about to ask you all to do is dangerous and treasonous,” Luke stated, meeting each of the eyes of the people gathered around him. “If you’re caught, you will be executed. I’m not ordering you to do this as your commanding officer, I’m asking for your help.”
Nainika tipped her head to the side thoughtfully, her eyes a serious storm of dark blues in the low golden light of their lantern. Then she said, “When are we breaking her out?”
He blinked, “Excuse me?”
“When are we breaking Lily out?” She repeated impatiently, and he was reminded that she had been close friends with Lillian before she disappeared. He had been her partner in crime but Nainika had been the one to take care of the younger woman when he had been serving on the force. “And where do we need to take her?”
Saphira rolled her eyes at Luke’s dumbfounded expression, twirling a lock of jet black hair absently. “You didn’t really think we were gonna let her stay there, did you?”
“I-I…” Luke caught Mira’s eyes who wiggled her eyebrows and grinned knowingly. Looking at the faces around him, warmth blossomed in his chest, racing outwards through his limbs and filling him with a new sense of purpose and gratitude. “No…I guess not.”
Bill smirked, “Then what are we waiting for?”
Dusk of the next day found eight identical figures crouched outside the compound’s onsite prison. All of them wore wimple black outfits trimmed with gray, hoods shading their eyes and cloth masks pulled over their noses and mouths. The group was armed to the teeth with twin swords slung across each person’s back and daggers strapped to their waists. Luke gazed at the four figures around him, meeting each of their eyes trying to reassure them, mentally reciting their plan over and over again. “Everyone ready?”
Soft choruses of assent met his question and he nodded tersely. “Saphira, Amarin, Mira, Nainika, let’s go.”
“Good luck,” Bill whispered.
“You, too.” Luke signaled and the Shadows emerged from their cover, moving swiftly towards the doors to the building, making almost no sound at all. With the element of surprise on their side, the five soldiers guarding the entrance to the prison went down quickly. Stealing one last look at Bill and Phoebe, Luke plunged into the prison.
He sensed rather than saw Amarin and Nainika changing shape, only catching a glimpse of the two animals when they outpaced the rest of the group. They had forgone their primary animals, choosing instead the lithe and powerful bodies of twin jaguars. The only distinguishing sign between them was the bright pink paw-shaped birthmark tattooed across Nainika’s flank and Amarin's lavender eyes.
The pair of big cats raced ahead, tails flying behind them as they led the way. Luke, Mira, and Saphira jogged in their wake, stumbling across groups of unconscious guards, all bearing signs of their feline attackers. The number of guards they found increased as they journeyed deeper into the prison. Rounding a corner, they found their two shapeshifting companions locked in battle against a trio of advanced Shadows; two Sorcerers, and a Shapeshifter. The Sorcerers were waving their wands, shooting spell after spell at Nainika, keeping her dashing around the hallway, shifting from animal to animal to dodge the spells. Amarin and the other Shadow circled each other, both in the shapes of powerful, golden lions. A large gash oozed blood down Amarin’s golden coat but her opponent also bore a gash in his ear from her claws.
Taking in the fight in a moment, the three new arrivals dove into the fray. Mira and Amarin fought side by side as lions against the other Shapeshifter while Saphira, Luke, and Nainika worked together to bring the two Sorcerers down. Saphira reached up to rub her temples, cocking her head to the side thoughtfully.
“It’s Luna,” she said, by way of explanation. “Reinforcements have arrived, Bill and Phoebe are stalling them.”
“Good, we have to hurry then,” Luke said. “We’re nearing Lil’s cell, we’ll do better sticking together until then.”
The group ran into five more patrols of guards before they reached cell block eight and no one was spared from injury. They rounded the corner and stopped. Facing them were four Shadows, armed to the teeth and wearing outfits almost identical to Luke’s group. They were guarding a cell, number eighty-three, and both triumph and worry battled for control of his emotions. It would be a hard fight facing such experienced fighters, especially after such a harrowing journey to get to this point. Mira touched his shoulder lightly and he let his gaze slide over to meet hers. They were a serious coffee brown and glimmered with anxious leaf green flecks. “Go. We’ll distract them. If nothing else, then we can grab her and run.”
Luke opened his mouth to protest but they were already bounding away, taking the guards by surprise with their direct attack. He took a deep breath and sprinted after them. A woman stepped into his path, arms writhing with fire and he raised a hand, flinging her to the side. She recovered quickly, landing in a catlike crouch and springing back at him. Luke raised his hands, ready to form a shield but a large, pure white wolf tackled her, clearing the way to the cell. Saphira seemed to materialize at his side and she handed him a key, “For her cuffs,” she explained.
Luke nodded his thanks and Saphira raised her hands, creating a silvery shield between him and the rest of the fighting. He hurried forward and thrust his hands toward the door, sending a burst of mental power from his mind and through his fingers. The door flew off its hinges, slamming into the wall opposite.
Chained to the right wall was a young woman with matted, chestnut-brown hair, tanned face pale and clammy, pain evident in her shallow breaths. “Luke?”
Her voice was raw and it looked like she had to force the single word out. But he forced himself to focus on the task at hand as he hurried forward with the key. “Lily, we’re getting you out of here, hold still.”
He found the locks quickly and before long Lillian was free. She leaned against the wall for a moment, catching her breath. There was a large rip in her left pant leg from her ankle to her knee, and dried blood caked the skin of her knee. Then, opening her eyes, she punched him in the gut. The force of the blow knocked the air from his lungs, but not quite hard enough to really injure him.
“Okay…I deserved that,” he wheezed, clutching his midsection.
“You really did,” Lillian agreed.
Luke rose, his breathing more or less normal. “I-I’m so sorry. I am so sorry. Please, please forgive me.”
Lillian caught him by surprise when, instead of answering, she threw her arms around him in a fierce hug, swaying slightly on her good leg. “I missed you.”
“I missed you, too, Lil,” he whispered.
She pulled away and locked her eyes to his, fierce fire burning in their depths. “There’s nothing to forgive. I’ve had a lot of time to think over the last few days. I know you wouldn’t have betrayed me without a good reason, I know you. I’m sure you did what you had to do. But I need to know where you're keeping Celeste.”
"Celeste Shinobu, Dragon Mentalist."
A memory resurfaced in his mind, "The girl who led some Shadows on a wild goose chase."
"Yes, her!" Lillian's eyes lit up.
"We . . . never caught her." Luke tipped his head to the side.
"Look, we can discuss this later but we need to go now."
She opened her mouth as if to speak then closed it, nodding. “What’s the plan?”
“I brought a team with me,” he explained. “We’re going to get you out of here and to your nearest safe house.”
“There’s an island just off the coast of the Empire. They were conquered but they retain some sort of independence.”
“Is there anywhere closer? Somewhere in the capitol?” He pressed, letting his eyes bore into hers.
“No, the island is our best option.” Luke could see the lie in her eyes, a flicker of doubt that no one else could have detected. She didn’t trust him.
But they didn’t have time for him to remedy that so he continued to the cell door, saying, “Alright, we’re gonna get to that island. C’mon, your guards are being held back but we need to help out.”
“Great, let’s do this.” Outwardly, Lillian was cheerful enough, but pain was written across her forehead and in the set of her mouth. Worry and protectiveness coursed through him, overshadowed by a dark cloud of fear, and he knew without a doubt that he would do whatever it took to get them all to that island.
The two siblings stepped into the hallway and his sister took in the scene with the expert eye of a Shadow. “Wow.”
Lillian was fought as a blurt, no doubt drawing on the elements as she twisted and wove through the Shadows. With the winds aiding her, her injured knee didn’t even slow her down. Luke fell in beside her, effortlessly merging his skills with hers, and they fell into an easy pattern that was forged by fifteen years of fighting side-by-side.
Six against four gave his team an advantage, even over such experienced Shadows, and one by one, each Shadow was brought down. When their crew of six stood victorious, there were many injuries but none of them were dead. Amarin leaned heavily on her best friend, sporting a smoking purple wound as Saphira scolded her mercilessly. Nainika’s eyes found Lillian and she let out a muffled cry, practically tackling the younger woman in a hug. “You’re alive!”
Lillian laughed but Luke could sense the pain radiating from his sister as clearly as if he could see it. Somehow, a bond had been forged between them on an emotional or mental level. They didn’t feel each other’s pain but they knew when they were feeling it.
Saphira stumbled over to him, still struggling with Amarin and he shook off his thoughts, rushing to help her. “Bill and Phoebe have made their move, they should arrive any second now.”
True to Saphira’s prediction, the two Elementals arrived in a flurry of fire and water, both breathless but mostly uninjured.
Moments later, they were setting out again for the entrance of the prison with Bill in the lead and Phoebe bringing up the rear. Any resistance they encountered was taken down by Luke and the two Elementals. The group finally reached the entrance to the prison and Luna emerged out of the shadows, a full Shadow uniform in hand. She helped Lillian pull it on before giving her a quick hug, “Good luck.”
To Luke, she said, “The path out of the compound is clear but guards are coming this way in crazy numbers.”
He nodded and Luna gestured to Saphira and Mira, who transferred the ashen Amarin to Bill. Luna and Saphira then sprinted back into the prison, their goal to wipe everyone’s identities from the guards’ memories.
“Remember your jobs, no stupid sacrifices, clear?” Luke locked gazes with each of the Shadows staying behind. “Escape one at a time, don’t get caught.”
“We know,” Amarin said, managing a wry eye roll.
He flashed them a sheepish grin before nodding to Mira, Nainika, and Lillian. As they raced away, Luke made a silent vow to both himself and his team. We will get to this island. No matter what. And once we do, we will come back for the rest of you.