Jack was calling Justin. This was highly unusual, as Jack only called a select few people and Justin was not on that list.
“Hello?” said Justin, very curious.
“Have you seen Z?” asked Jack, not bothering with greetings.
“No,” said Justin. “Did you swap bodies again or something?”
“No, Ydris promised to not do that shit again and he keeps his promises,” said Jack. “Right, so you haven’t seen or heard from her?”
“No,” said Justin. “Not since last night.”
“Fuck,” said Jack. “Alright, ring me if you hear from her.”
“I will,” said Justin, and put his phone back in his pocket after Jack ended the call. This wasn’t good at all. It wasn’t like Zelda to just disappear like that. And it was especially unlike her to not visit Justin, usually she came by first thing in the morning before getting ready for the day. If she wasn’t here, then… where was she?
In the heart of darkness, a young woman awoke and screamed.
“Scream all you want, little girl,” said Darko, chuckling darkly as he stepped out of the shadows. “In the heart of darkness, nobody can hear you scream.”
“My boyfriend will come and save me,” said Zelda, glaring at him.
“Oh, we’re counting on that,” said Darko. “You see, we have received information that your boyfriend does harbour powers. He only needs something to channel them through.”
“What?” asked Zelda. Darko walked away, ignoring her. Zelda trembled. Justin shouldn’t have to come back here. Someone else could help her, maybe the druids or Ydris or the Soul Riders. Louisa was good friends with them, she could surely ask them to conduct another rescue mission.
Justin stood on the beach, looking out at the Dark Core barges. If he wanted to, he knew, he could board a barge and easily get a ride back to the headquarters. As far as the goons knew, he was still a Dark Rider. They didn’t know that he had no magic, or that he was supposed to be dead. That he’d escaped his execution on the back of a Pegasus.
“Hey! Are you the Moorland boy?” asked one of the guards.
“Yeah,” said Justin, immediately feeling on the alert.
“Good,” said the goon. He held out a rolled up piece of paper. “Boss said to give you this.”
“O-okay, thanks,” said Justin, taking the paper. The goon walked away, and Justin unrolled the paper. He almost dropped it when he read the message on it.
We have your girlfriend. Put on your mother’s amulet and travel to the Dark Core base. Come alone. If you bring any of those weird druids or that wizard, I will throw her into the ocean. She left her Soul Steed in her stable, the silly girl. Her Friesian may be much-loved, but he cannot sprout wings and fly her away from danger. You have until midnight tonight, and then her time will be up.
Justin crumpled the paper in his fist, shaking with fear. They had Zelda… and, worse, he couldn’t bring help. But at least he could do something. Letting the paper fall to the ground, Justin ran back to Moorland stables, grabbed his amulet, and then opened the doors of the stable.
“Where’s Zelda’s Jorvik Warmblood?” asked Justin, hoping that, even if he couldn’t understand the horses as Soul Riders could, they could still understand him.
There was a commotion at the end of the stable, and Justin went towards it. He found the Jorvik Warmblood that he remembered from so long ago, and opened the stall door. Storm, Justin remembered, that was his name. Storm nuzzled Justin, then butted his shoulder, urging him to hurry up.
“I’m going, I’m going,” said Justin, opening the tack room door. Storm pushed past him, tugging at a bridle and nosing a saddle off the racks that they were on. He tried to pull out a saddle blanket, but it was in the middle of a stack so he snorted and stomped the ground impatiently.
Justin tacked Storm up with the tack that the horse had chosen, and then he had to quickly open the stable doors so that Storm could gallop out into the courtyard.
“Hey, wait up!” Justin called, and quickly mounted the horse when Storm stopped for just a moment. Then, with the amulet still firmly grasped in his hand, Justin rode Storm towards the beach.
“The note said to come alone,” said the goon.
“The boss could hang you for reading confidential messages,” said Justin, and the goon gulped and paled and started up the barge.
Halfway there, Justin hung the amulet around his neck. And gasped. Immediately, the world seemed different. Above the thrumming of the barge, Justin could hear something else. A rumbling, like the world itself turning. He somehow understood immediately that it was magic. The strange magic that was at work under the surface of Jorvik, especially under the ocean. He could see a darkness on the horizon, too, like a smudge. Dark magic.
“Hang on, Z, I’m coming,” Justin murmured, his hands fisted around the bridle.
“We both are,” another voice agreed, and Justin looked down at Storm in confusion. “Well, it’s about time you understood me, lasagne boy.”
“Is this why you gave me the amulet, mum?” Justin asked the air around him. “To unlock my powers?”
“That seems likely,” said Storm. “I sensed magic in you long ago, just as I sensed it in Zelda. It is one of the Jorvik Warmblood’s many secrets.” He swished his tail.
“Well, you can tell me the rest later,” said Justin. “I’m too anxious to pay attention now.”
“As am I,” said Storm. “If only you had the right kind of power, I could fly you to the oil rig.”
“What does that mean?” asked Justin. “Is my magic too dark?”
“Not quite,” said Storm. “It is only that only my rider can unlock my true potential because of the sliver of Aideen in her.”
“I’m really glad that the goon can’t hear you right now,” said Justin.
“He wouldn’t understand even if he could hear me,” said Storm. He suddenly pricked his ears forward. “We’re here.”
Justin rode Storm off the barge, and then told him to wait by the fridge for his signal. Then, straightening up, Justin strode up the many flights of stairs and finally entered the oil rig. He hated being back here, but it had to be done for Zelda. She was worth fighting for.
“Darko!” Justin called, standing just in the entryway with rainwater dripping from his hair and clothes. “I’m here! Let Zelda go now!”
“Did you really think that it would be that easy?” asked Darko, melting out of the shadows as he had so often done before. It was his favourite thing to do.
“I came here alone like you asked,” said Justin. “Let her go, Darko. It’s me you want.”
“Hmm, no,” said Darko, surprising and alarming Justin. “I wanted to run some experiments on her. And now…” He sniffed the air. “The smell of magic about you is so much stronger. Was my information correct?”
“Yes,” said Justin. “My mother’s amulet unlocked my true potential.”
“That is most excellent news,” said Darko. “Most excellent, indeed. Now, you can join our ranks.”
“I refuse,” said Justin, clenching his hands into fists at his sides. As part of his training, Justin had been taught how to move his body to call on defensive magic, in the hopes that it might awaken his powers. It hadn’t worked then. But now, Justin saw the shadows curling towards him like cats greeting their owner.
“That was not an offer or a request,” said Darko.
“Tough,” said Justin. He waved his hand, and the shadows flew towards Darko. The General’s eyes widened, and he stepped back, raising his cane to protect himself.
“Such power,” Darko marvelled. “Such a waste to not use it.”
“Where is she?” asked Justin, shadows curling around his fists. He took a step towards Darko, and the shadows sharpened. “WHERE IS SHE!?”
“I will never tell,” said Darko. “And if you kill me, you will never know.”
“Actually, that’s where you’re wrong,” said Justin. He opened his hand and thought about picking Darko up with his mind. He used too much magic, and Darko flew up and hit the ceiling. “Whoops.” Then, Justin slammed his free hand on the button that opened the doors, and tossed Darko outside into the rain. The doors slammed shut, and Justin locked them. That probably wouldn’t hold Darko, but it at least gave Justin enough time to follow his newfound magic-sensing abilities.
Justin soon came to a door, behind which he could strongly sense the bright light that also resided within Storm. It was unlocked, because Darko hadn’t expected Justin to be so strong. That was his mistake. Justin opened the door, and there she was.
“Justin?” Zelda whispered, cringing away from the magic. Justin dismissed his magic, making the shadows go away.
“Z, it’s me,” said Justin. “Don’t worry, I’m here to save you.”
“Good, untie me,” said Zelda, struggling against her restraints.
“Are you hurt?” asked Justin.
“No, just scared,” said Zelda. “Phantom was in the stables, but he just told me that Storm found him.”
“I told him to stay put,” said Justin, frowning. “But never mind. At least he’s safe now.”
“Thanks for bringing Storm,” said Zelda.
“I figured you might need him,” said Justin. “Now, c’mon, let’s go.”
They ran outside, and into darkness.
“Going somewhere?” asked Darko, holding them in place with magic. A wave of magic from Justin released them.
“Zelda, go!” said Justin. “I can handle him.”
“I’ll save you again if I need to,” said Zelda, and ran down to a lower platform where Storm was already waiting along with Phantom. The two horses and one rider managed to gallop down to the barge undetected, but Zelda stopped, surprised, when she saw who else was on the barge.
“Allo, allo,” said Jack, grinning at his friend.
“We heard you were in danger so we decided to come help,” said Louisa. “I can drive the barge back home.”
“Did you bring Justin out here?” asked Zelda.
“No, we took the boat with the helmsman,” said Louisa.
“There was a goon here on the barge but he had an unfortunate accident,” said Jack.
“Did you punch him overboard?” asked Zelda, giving her friend a knowing look.
“Nope, Scar pushed him,” said Jack.
“It was like in the movie. Too bad you missed it,” said Louisa. Zelda laughed, but she couldn’t relax.
“Can you guys look after Phantom?” asked Zelda. “I’m going back to save Justin. He’s fighting Darko.”
“I’d love to,” said Jack. “You go save your boyfriend.”
Zelda nodded, and then Storm spread his wings and flew up to the part of the oil rig where they’d left Justin.
Dark magic was flying everywhere, looking like shadows. Darko waved his cane, but Justin performed moves that looked quite similar to Jor-jitsu. He seemed to be winning as Darko staggered back against a container, but then the ground beneath Justin’s feet trembled and bucked like a horse. Justin flew off, landing clinging to the edge.
“Justin!” Zelda called, holding her hand out for him. Justin grabbed it, somehow finding a grip despite their slippery skin, and managed to get one leg over Storm before he lost his grip on the edge of the platform. He wrapped his arms around Zelda and gripped tight to her, his heart pounding as they flew back down to the barge. When they landed, Justin slid off of Storm and was caught by Louisa and Jack.
“I’m going to take this necklace off now,” said Justin, and did so. Immediately, the world seemed more normal.
“Thanks for saving me,” said Zelda as the barge started back towards Moorland.
“You saved me,” said Justin.
“But you have so many nightmares about this place,” said Zelda. “And you had to go back there for me.”
“I know, but I put it to the side,” said Justin. “You’re more important. I can have a breakdown once we’re safely back at home.” Zelda nodded and kissed him, not minding that she had to kneel on the ground to do so. Justin was too shaken to sit up. And, when light broke over them, Zelda could see that Justin looked ashen.
“You guys go,” said Zelda once they arrived back at the beach. “I have to take this one home.” She patted Justin, who was slumped over the back of Phantom, and then rode back to Moorland where she put Justin to bed. She had many questions, mostly about the magic, but they could wait until Justin was ready to talk about it. Right now, she was just happy to be home and safe with her boyfriend.