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       Eldnium, p.20

           Enoch Pyle, Jr

  As Landon and Li’an topped a hill overlooking the village and the Jumping Stones, neither of them could help feeling a little disappointed that their journey together was over. Landon felt he could have stayed with her, just the two of them, for the rest of his life, quite happily traveling from camp to camp, dining on fish and fruit and drinking water from the sweet, nectar-rich bellies of flowers.

  He watched her look out over the village as they paused there with the grass swatting at their waists in the gentle wind, and he felt confident that she might be thinking the same thing.

  But he was wrong.

  “Isaac will return soon,” she said, “if he’s not back already.” She sounded upset, and Landon realized why. She wasn’t sad that their journey back to the village was over. She was sad that Landon would soon see the Oracle, and that he may be sent away, never to return again.

  “I can lie,” he said. “I can lie about what she tells me.”

  She looked at him, angry, tears welling in her eyes. “My parents were killed because there is a hero out there who has a job to do. If you lie…if you don’t do what you’re meant to do… You could be the hero that saves The One, Landon. I would never forgive you if you lied.”

  A wash of shame rushed over Landon. “Okay,” he said. “You’re right. I won’t lie.” He turned to her and grabbed her by the shoulders, turning her so that she was staring him square in the eye. “But I feel like I need to tell you something.” His arms filled with that warmth he got every time he touched her, and time seemed to slow down. Every breath that left his lips could be felt slipping away. For a moment, he tried to stop himself from saying it, but he couldn’t. It was true, and he had to tell her. He had to say, “I think I’m falling in—”

  And there was a flash of light in the sky over the village, and a blur fell from the sky, spinning and tumbling until it crashed with tremendous force somewhere near what must have been the courtyard. The impact sent dirt and debris flying into the air, and Landon could feel that something was wrong.

  “Isaac!” Li’an cried, and she started sprinting flat-out through the field, the grass parting in a wake behind her.

  Landon followed, running faster than he’d ever run in his life. Panic shot through his chest. His breathing became labored. As they drew closer to the village, they could hear screaming. They could see people scurrying around in a frenzy. And as they rounded the corner of the armory building, they could see a crowd of people gathered around the crater in the courtyard, Iclovar pushing his way through them all.

  “Out of the way!” Iclovar shouted, but no one seemed to hear. He struggled his way to the center, and Landon and Li’an followed him through the openings he left behind him.

  In the center of the crater, a crumpled man laid against the dusty terra. Iclovar knelt beside him and pulled his head up. Everyone could see that it was Isaac, and that Isaac was alone, his head bloody and beaten, his clothes torn. A pool of blood was forming around him.

  Li’an approached them, and Landon followed. They joined Iclovar, kneeling beside Isaac’s battered body, and watched as Isaac opened his eyes, his lips quivering, struggling to whisper his final words: “They’re coming…”

  That was when Isaac died.

  Landon felt the blood rush out of his face. He looked at Iclovar, and saw a shared, panicked expression.

  “Li’an,” Iclovar whispered, using his hands to close Isaac’s lifeless eyes, “start evacuation procedures.” And then he stood, dropping Isaac’s corpse, and shouted, “EVACUATE!”

  But as soon as the word had left his mouth, deep guttural thuds echoed through the ground from all around the village. Buildings trembled, shaking dust from their roofs, and everyone in the village froze with silence.

  “It’s too late,” Iclovar whispered. “We’re already dead.”

  But Li’an wouldn’t have it. She stood, bravely, and shouted to the thirty-something heroes surrounding the crater, “We must fight! Arm yourselves! FOR ISAAC!”

  And her words were strong. Her voice echoed through the village, shaking the heroes, moving their feet. Everyone began replacing cries of panic with cries of war, and the armory was soon overrun with heroes grabbing swords, shields, guns, and armor.

  Landon looked around, “Where’s Tommy?”

  “He’s away,” Iclovar whispered, still frozen with fear, now kneeling again at Isaac’s side, holding his head in his lap, brushing the hair caked with blood away from his forehead.

  “Come on,” Li’an ordered, and she grabbed Landon’s arm and pulled him behind her through the courtyard.

  “The armory is that way,” Landon said, but Li’an was unfazed.

  “We’re going to need a little extra firepower,” she said. “Especially since Tommy is away.”

  Landon let her lead the way, trusting her completely, wishing now that he had been able to finish his sentence on the hilltop.

  The Control

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