First Chapter Reveal: Rock Haulter by Stephen Hayes

Rock HaulterTitle: Rock Haulter
Author: Stephen Hayes
Format: ebook
Length: 433 pages
Publisher: Stephen Hayes

Purchase at AMAZON

The second installment in the Magic Crystals series, immediately following the events of ‘The Seventh Sorcerer’.

The original villain is back, only this time he is on a different mission, taking orders from the evil and cunning Hammerson Sorcerers, and his path will intersect those of John Playman and his friends on Rock Haulter.

A desperate race must ensue, Moran and the powers of the Hammersons against the Chopville teens. The prize will be the most powerful of all the Magic Crystals and a control over the balance of life, but such extraordinary power is heavily protected. There is no guarantee that all will live to see the end.

The danger faced this week will be greater than anything faced in ‘The Seventh Sorcerer’, but that won’t stop the teens from having a good time, as only teenagers can. But beneath all that, a far more serious situation is simmering.

It is only those closest to the Sorcerers who understand how delicate the peace between the Woodwards and Hammersons is, and how quickly that could change.

———————————————

CHAPTER 1

Separation

The weekend, at last! Don’t you just love that feeling you get when you wake up on a Saturday morning and realise that you have two days ahead of you where you don’t have to do anything—no dangerous stunts, no school acting as an unimportant sideshow, no nothing. I wasn’t sure at first, during the week, if this weekend was really worth looking forward to, but we had all done enough work to deserve a couple of days off.

The usual procedure in our house on the weekend was to be woken up by the sunlight coming through our window. It would usually wake either me or Peter, and whoever woke up first would wake the other. Well, not this morning; the sun had long since risen but it hadn’t woken either of us. Instead, we received a much more ruthless awakening.

“Up and at it, folks!”

Harry!”

“Wakey, wakey,” came Simon’s loud voice, “hands off snaky.”

I was sitting up in bed; before I really knew I was awake. It felt like some sort of dream, or more like some sort of nightmare. I shook my head and rubbed my eyes, then looked towards the bedroom door. Harry and Simon had come crashing into the room. Peter was already out of bed and looking around for his socks.

“We’re awake,” he snapped. “What are you two doing here?”

“Early morning wake-up call,” said Simon brightly, “not that it’s early or anything.”

“It’s nine o’clock,” yawned Peter, “and what are you so excited about?”

“A warm day,” I suggested. “Can you two leave so we can change, at least?”

“Nah,” said Harry, shutting the door. “You two haven’t got anything we haven’t seen before—or have you?”

The door banged opened again and James walked in. He was dressed, but looked tired and irritable. Perhaps Harry and Simon had already woken him up.

“Thank you, you two,” he said to them. “These two need a lot of room to change. You’d be surprised.”

“What, unleashing the python, eh?” asked Simon.

“Oh go away,” sighed Peter.

James steered the two of them out of the room. Make no mistake, Harry and Simon had never done that before, and we didn’t appreciate it at all. Harry and Simon didn’t even live with us; they were twins who lived several blocks away, on the other side of the river, but they were both in our class at school. James was the next door neighbour, but it was certainly more normal for him to wake us up.

We had a weird setup at home. Numbers 15 and 16 in Lopher Lane were a little closer to each other than what met the eye from the street. The Playmans lived one side and the Thomases lived on the other, and the two families had built an underground link between the houses, hidden in cupboards under the stairs in each house. That, people called weird, but people who lived in our little country town of Chopville always did strange and very individual things to their houses.

Both our families were quite welcome to cross the tunnel into the other house whenever they liked, so long as it was at an appropriate hour and wasn’t going to wake anyone up. But then again, almost all the bedrooms in both houses were upstairs. On the Playman side, my parents had the closest bedroom to the stairs, then my sister, Nicole. My brother Peter and I shared the next room along the hall. In the Thomas house, the parents of the family, Marge and Charlie, were again closest to the stairs. Felicity and Jessica, who also shared a room, were directly opposite, and James’s room was the next along.

Anyway, Peter and I changed for the day, which was supposed to be quite warm, and went downstairs to meet James and the twins in the family room.

“Should go wake up the girls,” said Simon. “Nicole’s still asleep—I looked in on her on our way to your room.”

“She had her door open,” said Harry. “She’d closed it by the time we were coming back down.”

“You must have woken her as you went past,” said Peter. “No wonder, with your big feet.”

“So what’s doing today, boys?” asked Dad, who was reading the paper at the kitchen table.

“Day at the stretch,” said Simon, “should go down well.”

“And you’re that eager to get yourself wet?” asked Hilda.

Oh, I forgot to mention Hilda and Violet; our grandmother and James’s grandmother respectively, both on our mothers’ sides. It was a bit sad, but out of both families, only two grandparents were still alive. I didn’t know much about most of the others except that both our grandfathers on our fathers’ sides had been blown to pieces in a war about thirty years ago.

“Life goes on, does it not?” Simon said pompously, tapping his forehead in a suggestion of wisdom—or maybe he was just indicating the cuts on his face.

Harry and Simon both had a fair few cuts and bruises on their bodies. Last week’s events had involved all of us getting hurt in a few ways. Harry and Simon had the most physical injuries out of the lot of us, and there had been a lot of us involved. Harry had a nasty cut across the shoulder, Simon looked as though he’d been whipped several times across the face and James had a cut across his forehead, courtesy of a misplaced pine tree. These wounds looked bad but they had all scabbed over in the days since, and would probably be gone in a couple of weeks.

“It’s not that warm yet,” said Marge, who was making some tea for Dad and Charlie. “You sure you want to leave just yet?”

“Might hang around for a bit longer,” said Peter, taking a seat at the table. “So, how was life at the Maivis residence last night?”

“Can’t say it was uneventful,” Harry grinned. “Oh our grandparents tried and tried to stop us coming out today, but Grandpa says he would like to go fishing in his underwear today.”

“Now there’s a sight I hope I never see,” laughed James.

“Fishing in underwear,” I said, shaking my head. “That’ll be disastrous.”

“Hope he’s wearing a shirt,” said Peter.

“I doubt that,” said Harry, shaking his head as well. “It’s this childhood thing he has; apparently he and his dad used to go out on the Jade River in their underwear, and he likes to bring back old sentimental memories. Probably could have picked a better day to do it, though.”

“Sounds interesting,” said Violet, wearing a roguish expression so far out of her character that I was hard put not to burst out laughing.

“The man will get sunburnt,” said Mum, tutting slightly. “What did they say it was going to be today?”

“Low to mid forties in this part of the state,” said Simon. “Dry too, so maybe some bushfires if we’re unlucky. Making up for lost ground after those couple of days, I think.”

“Morning all.”

Felicity and Jessica were now climbing through the cupboard into this house. Neither of them looked irritable as though they had been rudely roused by the twins. In fact, they looked surprised to see Harry and Simon, although Harry and Simon had stayed over here loads of times when they wanted to get away from their grandparents.

“Morning,” Harry said to the pair of them.

“Where’s Nicole?” asked Jessica. “We’re leaving here in fifteen minutes.”

“She’s awake,” said Harry. “We woke her.”

“Did you?” said Marge, frowning.

“Didn’t mean to,” said Harry, shrugging. “Her door was open and all we had to do was walk past. She must be a very light sleeper.”

“You reckon?” said Peter darkly. “Nicole sleeps like a log; dead to the world half the time. Even if you put a smoke alarm in her room and a fire broke out, she’d just sleep on like a log.”

“Only shows how big your feet must be,” I said. “We’ll call you both Thumper from now on.”

Peter and James laughed loudly.

“That’s enough, boys,” said Dad. “Have a look at this.”

He handed his copy of the Chopville Daily Telegraph (the local rag) to James, who scanned the front cover.

“Are we mentioned in here?” he asked, looking at Dad, while the rest of us stared at James.

“What would we be doing in the paper?” asked Peter.

“The front page, it’s all about Moran’s arrest,” said James.

“Three quarters of the whole paper, I think you mean,” grimaced Dad. “Nutters have the whole story wrong; it basically puts it as though Amelia did the whole thing singlehandedly, and Stella Hammerson had apparently hung around to watch. I think Marc and Lucien might have got on the bottom line, though.”

“That’d be right,” said Harry. “So we’re not in there then?”

“Doesn’t look like it,” said James. “Nice picture, but—have a look.”

He held up the paper for us to look at. The headline of the article stretched across the top of the page in large, black letters. Below it was a picture of a tall man, who looked horribly familiar, and was struggling with several police officers.

“When did they take that?” asked Jessica.

“Would have been yesterday,” said Simon, “after he woke up. He couldn’t have done that while he was unconscious.”

James handed the paper back to Dad, who hid himself behind it again.

“Look, it was nice dropping in,” said Harry. “Are we going to get moving yet?”

“Might as well,” said Peter, standing up. “We’re not waiting for anyone, are we?”

“If you want to wait for us,” said Felicity. “We’re meeting Natalie and Lisa down there in about fifteen minutes.”

“So Nicole had better hurry up and get out of bed,” said Jessica.

“In which case, we’ll be hitting the road,” said Simon. “See you later, Mr. And Mrs. Playman and Thomas—and you two,” he added to Hilda and Violet.

“Nice to see you two,” said Dad. “Better behave yourselves.”

“What are we risking?” asked Harry. “Mr. Hall’s not gonna be down at the river—is he?”

“He has no effect outside hours,” I said hopefully.

“He doesn’t have much effect in hours either,” said Peter slyly.

Mr. Hall was our English teacher at school. None of us liked him, and he didn’t like any of us. It was hard to remember how many detentions each of us owed him, but Harry and Simon were in debt for about the next three-and-a-half weeks, and Peter and I owed him a few more as well. One of Peter’s was to go for three hours, while all of Harry and Simon’s went for three hours, and none of us had done anything wrong—well, maybe a little.

“Suppose we’ll see you two down the Stretch,” said Harry to Felicity and Jessica.

“Yeah. If you see Natalie or Lisa down there, tell them we’re waiting for Nicole to get out of bed.”

“We might see you down there too,” said Charlie, looking round his paper. “We’re meeting Rob and Bob down there. They’re working all day and need a little masculine assistance.”

Rob and Bob were friends of the family. They always got around town in their work machinery; hardly ever left them actually. Just last weekend, I’d run into them digging a hole in the depths of the park, though I hadn’t mentioned that to anyone else yet due to the fact that I’d been with Stella Hammerson at the time; and that had been at a time when I’d been the only one who trusted her at all.

I led the way to the front door, the other four following. It looked as though, like last weekend, we were going to spend the whole day down at Hamster’s Stretch Reserve. Whenever someone said ‘The Stretch’, they were referring to a little park situated in the middle of Chopville. Well, I couldn’t honestly say that it really was just a little park; it had a large forest part, plus an opening where the Jade River flowed through. That was normally where we would hang around, at the river. Within the park, there were four footbridges which crossed the river, aside from the rest of the bridges across it in Chopville, and we spent the weekends in summer, when it was warm enough, just finding more adventurous ways of jumping off the bridges, and had sure come up with a few in our time.

“What would Rob and Bob be doing down there?” asked James. “Since when have those two been in the water?”

“Not sure,” I said, and it was true; all I knew was that they were digging a hole, but they themselves weren’t too clear on what it was for.

“Can’t be too important, can it?” said Peter. “They’re probably doing what they usually do: Cut trees down and sell the firewood. Great blokes, screwing over both the local council and the environment at the same time.”

We were already on the street by this point. We turned out of Lopher Lane into Main Street, the main road through Chopville, or as we liked to call it, the trunk of a very tangled tree—that’s what Chopville was like. The five of us walked most of the way to the park in silence, in my case just enjoying the feeling of the sun on my shoulders and the freshness of the already-warm air.

We met Marc and Tommy, a couple more friends a year older than us five, at the gates. They had just been in Grillion’s Canteen, which was located right outside the park. It was a clever place to do business in the summer; not so clever in the winter, but since he was still here after twenty-eight years, he had to be doing something right.

“Morning, you two,” said Simon brightly. “How’s things?”

“Pretty good,” said Marc cheerfully. “You guys going swimming today?”

“Yep,” grinned Harry. “You gonna join us?”

“I can for a while; I’m pretty well protected at the moment.”

“He’s got his secret weapon with him,” said Tommy conspiratorially.

“So have we,” said Harry, “but I doubt we’ll need to use them.”

“If you’re saying what I think you’re saying—”

“Probably,” Harry cut Peter off.

So the now-seven of us entered Hamster’s Stretch Reserve, which was pretty quiet until we reached the clearing. Many people, young and old, were jumping off the bridges (about a full second of plummeting from the foot bridges to the water) and doing all sorts of stunts as they went. People were already rowing their boats out into the centre of the river for a day of fishing.

“Everyone’s making the most of this weather,” I said. “Not sure if it’ll go cold again.”

“It’d be funny if the weather went cold when people are in the river,” said Peter. “It’d freeze up and trap ’em all.”

“We’d better make sure you’re in there when it happens then,” said Harry darkly.

We made for the nearest bridge, but spun around when a call sounded from the gates. Jessica, Felicity and Nicole had arrived. They had either run the whole way or only been a couple of minutes behind us.

“Are you three staying for the day?” asked Tommy.

“Probably,” said Jessica, smiling at Tommy, “it’s perfect weather for it; it’s already pretty warm.”

“Is anyone else coming?” asked Marc.

“Natalie and Lisa should be around here somewhere,” said Felicity, looking past us at the two nearest bridges, to see if Natalie and Lisa were anywhere nearby. “Perhaps those girls from your class are here somewhere too.”

I had a quick glance around the river, but couldn’t see anyone who might join us. I did spot Ather Hignat and Ugine Wilwog, but they would only join us to give us trouble. If our school years had gifted us with any fair-dinkum enemies, Hignat and Wilwog were it; Hignat never missed an opportunity to taunt, and Wilwog was, if you’ll pardon the expression, built like a brick shithouse.

“We were just about to go get wet,” said Harry. “You wanna join us?”

“No one here wants to get wet with you, Harry,” said Peter, grinning wickedly at him.

“Unless it’s in the river,” said Jessica. “As long as you promise not to distort my meaning, let’s do it.”

We all laughed as we continued our path up on to the bridge from which we usually jumped.

“Oh Harry, Simon,” said James, pointing almost straight down into the river. “There he is.”

Harry and Simon hung themselves over the side of the bridge to get a good view of their grandfather. He was sitting sprawled over the top of an inflatable ring that had been tied by rope to a shrub on the bank nearby, sunbaking topless, and talking casually to his wrinkled friend who I didn’t recognise.

“I’m gonna be sick,” said Harry, closing his eyes tightly.

“Where are we supposed to jump with those two ready to break our fall?” said Simon irritably.

“Guess we’ll have to move further out,” said Peter a little nervously. We always preferred to jump reasonably close to the banks; it was only adults, bigger kids and stupid kids who jumped in the centre, but it looked as though we were about to join that club. None of us wanted to pick another bridge, and none of us wanted to jump off the other side; that would put the sun in our eyes all morning.

We all lined up on the side of the bridge, now a good distance from the bank and the figures close to it, and prepared to jump in unison, except for Peter. Peter wasn’t fond of jumping in the river; he would do it eventually, and he could swim just fine, but it usually took a few of us tossing him overboard to get him going. It had become a regular game over the years. Now he stood off to the side and began to count us in, but before he could reach one…

“Do you guys need a count in?”

A few of us jumped, and Nicole and Tommy both lost their balance and had to grab on to Peter, who was nearest, for support. The result was our number on the side of the bridge being reduced by three. We turned to see Lisa running towards us, and Natalie was taking the bridge at a jog behind her, and for several seconds I found myself unable to take my eyes off her bikini-clad form. Natalie and Lisa were good friends of Nicole, Felicity and Jessica, and since we all usually hung out together, had become friends of ours as well.

“Well done, Lisa,” said James happily. “Two of our jumpers are gone thanks to you, so you and Nat will just have to take their places.”

“And Peter was already counting us in,” added Simon.

“Peter? Where’s Peter?” asked Lisa, stopping short of Marc, who was on the end of the line.

You bloody wankers!” Peter’s voice shouted as Nicole and Tommy started swimming towards the bank again.

“There’s your answer, Lis,” I said, laughing slightly. “Looks like we won’t need to throw him in after all. So, should we jump now?”

“Yeah!”

So the nine of us lined up along the side of the bridge, ready to jump off, watching and waiting for Nicole and Tommy. By the time they had joined us, Peter was still on the southern bank.

“Should we wait for our count-in boy?” asked Harry.

“We’ve been waiting all day,” complained James.

“The day’s only young, my friend,” said Simon in a passable imitation of wisdom, tapping his forehead again.

“I’m coming!” shouted Peter, running up the hill at top speed towards the bridge. He reached us within a minute, panting heavily. “Next time, just nail my feet to the bridge so maybe I’ll be able to resist certain people ripping me off.”

“You’re talking about Nicole and Tommy, Pete,” said Harry. “Their weight would be enough to rip you off your ankles, I’m sure.”

“Oh shut up.”

“So should we jump?” asked James impatiently.

“Yes,” said Simon, “’cause I’ll be jumping on my own if there’s another interruption.”

“You do that,” I agreed, “’cause here come Katie and Sophie.”

“Bloody hell,” said James, exasperated. “There’s gonna be about fifty of us by the time we start jumping, the way things are going.”

Katie and Sophie were two girls from our class at school who we’d had very little to do with up until about a week earlier. They had been dragged into the drama of the previous week by virtue of being Harry and Simon’s girlfriends respectively. A bit embarrassing, considering we always made fun of the twins for not being popular with the women, and now they’d got themselves one each before the rest of us could score anything. Not really surprising though; they were both better looking and more confident with girls than Peter, James or I were.

“We’re just about to jump,” said Peter, “or at least these guys are. You two gonna join them?”

“You’ve already jumped, by the look of it,” said Sophie to Peter.

“You make it sound like I had a choice.”

We prepared to jump for the third time, but were once again interrupted. Four boys, who had been about to jump off the other side before spotting Harry and Simon’s grandfather below, asked if they could join us; Craig Hardy, David Rockson, Daniel Dasher and Liam Stammerus. We accepted them willingly enough, given that we were fairly familiar with them from school, and three of them we knew from soccer (Harry, Simon, Peter and I all played soccer in the local under sixteens team).

“I don’t wanna think how big this bomb is going to be,” I said shakily. “We are bombing, aren’t we?”

“Yeah,” said Harry. “How many of us are there now? Not counting Peter, since he’s not jumping.”

“About seventeen,” said Tommy, counting around.

“Wait for us!”

“Twenty,” muttered Marc as Erica, Kylie and Serena came running onto the bridge to join us. They, like Katie and Sophie, had become involved with us just in time to help us against Marc’s father the previous week; though unlike Katie and Sophie, they weren’t dating any of us, despite the fact that Erica was very smitten with James, and he and Peter were each fond of Kylie and Serena respectively. Serena and Erica were fairly new in town; Kylie had been first to befriend them, and somehow the three had been absorbed into our larger group.

“Okay,” said Peter as the three girls appended themselves on the furthest end of the line from where I was.

“I’m not jumping, so on three—”

“I don’t even wanna think how many joints we’ve had today, you know,” David interrupted, and a few of us laughed.

“If there’s another interruption,” said Simon warningly, “then I’ll—I’ll—”

“Throw yourself off a bridge?” suggested Sophie.

“Er, yeah, that sounds okay,” Simon muttered.

Then finally, at long last, we jumped. We fell for a long second as usual, before hitting the water at roughly the same time. I only heard something deafening just before my sense of sound was completely lost under the water. When I had managed to get my head above water and had rubbed my eyes, people started poking their heads up here and there, rubbing their eyes and staring around. As the current pulled us away from the bridge, I distinctly saw that many people on the other side of it looked rather angry.

I swam alone to the bank and climbed, dripping, onto it. By this stage, it looked as though everyone was up.

Some of them were now following me towards the bank.

“Yo, John!” Peter called from up on the bridge, “Up here!”

I jumped up and ran, with the little strength I had left in me after swimming against the current, up the hill and onto the bridge to join Peter. Tommy caught up with me just as I reached him.

“What did it look like?” he asked.

“Pretty damn good,” said Peter enthusiastically. “It had a sort of ripple effect, and it spread diagonally from where you hit. Come see.”

Apart from the nearest boats on the river, which were all carrying some water now, the only proof of what we’d done was the annoyed looks many people were throwing in our direction. This included Harry and Simon’s grandfather; he had been dry before we’d jumped, but he wasn’t dry anymore. As we watched, more of the group of nearly two dozen began piling back onto the bridge.

“We’re the most unpopular people here now,” said David happily. “Let’s go sit down for a while.”

“Are you mad!” exclaimed several of us.

“It’s only—what is the time anyway?” asked Harry.

“Not even eleven yet,” said Serena. “Let’s jump again.”

“I’m gonna jump with you this time,” said Peter. “I’m already cold and wet; too late to back out.”

A few of us laughed as all twenty-one of us lined up on the other side of the bridge again. James counted us in this time, then we all went for it. For once, I was one of the last people to surface. By the time I got my head out of the water, just about everyone was shouting. Everyone around me who’d jumped, and loads of people around us were furious.

“The second time you’ve splashed us all unwillingly, how dare you!”

“But we were willing!” shouted Harry, though it looked as though he was finding it very hard not to laugh.

“You ought to keep an eye on the calm waters,” said Simon, “cause there ain’t much of it ’round here.”

“Don’t get smart with me, kiddo!”

“It’s all in the name of fun!”

“Have fun in another river next time!”

“There are none!”

“Find one! We’re trying to enjoy ourselves here!”

“Find another river to do it in. Maybe a river of excrement would be suitable since you don’t seem to like water!”

“It’s a free country!”

Exactly!”

“Let’s just move,” said several people impatiently.

So we swam across to the opposite bank from where we had come in and sat up on it. Well most people did; a few people, including me, jumped back in the water and held on to the side of the bank to stay with the group.

“This is pretty good,” said Marc, who was in the water next to Daniel, “don’t mind getting back into the swing of normal life.”

“Tell me about it,” said Tommy, who was on Marc’s other side.

“At least as normal as it’s possible for things to be in this place,” said Daniel.

It was hard to tell whether Daniel had any idea exactly what Marc and Tommy meant, but even if not, he still had his reasons. Chopville was not the same as any other country town around here, nothing like any of them. It wasn’t so much its infrastructure (well, sort of), but more the people living in it, and what they did to parts of it. Marc, for instance, lived in a house which has the appearance of an outside toilet; lonesome on a block of land on the down-side of the street, but the house itself was very large underground. It even had a network of tunnels below and around it. That wasn’t the strangest thing of all, however.

“It wasn’t that strange,” said David. “Well—okay, a bit, like the weather going weird, and the Sorcerers going funny earlier in the week, but that sorted itself out.”

“Not that it’s our business what happens with them,” added Liam.

“You’d be surprised,” said Marc softly, “how much we had to do with the weather and the Sorcerers, and all.”

David, Liam and Craig laughed.

“Come off it, Marc,” said Liam. “You’re just like the rest of us; you’re a normal person. You’re not like those stupid Sorcerers. You know they’ll all be going to hell—the Lord doesn’t look too kindly on people like them.”

“He’s telling the truth,” said Sophie crossly. “Marc knows what he’s talking about.”

Liam and Craig had to look up at her, since they were in the water, and she was on the bank between David and Simon.

“What do you mean? He—how—”

“It’s a long story,” sighed Katie.

“That’s what a person says when they want to get out of telling it,” said Craig. “Can’t you think of any decent tale to fit the situation?”

“I’ve got a killer tale for you,” said Peter coldly, “but you won’t really understand it unless you read through some of the stuff Lisa and Natalie collected from the magic display last Monday.”

“Maybe if you hang around us a bit more over the next few weeks,” suggested Marc.

“Is that how long it’ll take to explain?”

“No,” said Marc, “but my brother, you know Lucien?”

“Who, the vice-captain at school?” asked David.

“Yeah, he said that a lot more will happen—worse stuff, once the Sorcerers get back.”

“Get back? Where’d they go?” asked Craig. “I just heard they got their magic back yesterday and turned the weather back to normal. I didn’t hear about them going on a holiday.”

“Four of them went to undo the damage they did, or at least the damage his dad did,” said Tommy, tapping Marc on the head and causing both of them to lose their grip on the bank.

“Was that your dad in the paper this morning?” asked David, staring down at Marc. “It said the man’s surname was Moran.”

“That’s him.”

“It said he would probably cop several consecutive life sentences,” said Liam.

“Will he?”

“Thank God for that.”

“He deserves it.”

“Sure he does,” said Liam sceptically. “It also said his two children were in police custody and have to be found new homes.”

“We are?” said Marc, blinking. “Well that’s news to me. Lucien and I have been at home the whole time—no calls at all. I guess it’ll be okay though, as long as I don’t have to leave Chopville.”

“I can ask my parents,” said Tommy. “They’ve got to know you a bit.”

“Wow! Okay, thanks man,” said Marc.

“Can I just get back to the Sorcerers for a moment,” said Liam. “Your brother, Marc, how does he know this about them?”

“Oh, he’s got links,” said Marc simply.

“Very reliable connections,” said Harry. “It’s largely thanks to his intelligence that half of us are even here.”

“What? You mean he could order to have us banished or something?” asked Liam stupidly; a few of us had to laugh.

“He is pretty smart,” said Daniel, “at least from what I’ve heard. Probably responsible too considering they made him vice-captain.”

“Instead of captain,” added David. “Nothing against him, but really—”

“I’d like to see you as vice-captain,” snarled Peter.

“I reckon I might have a fair chance at it in a few years,” said David heatedly.

“Don’t listen to him,” said Liam, giving David a get-a-hold-of-yourself look. “All we’re saying is you can’t take all the credit for catching that maniac, Marc, it’s—”

“But it’s the truth!” shouted Tommy. “Marc did most of the work!”

“Oh, well, most of the work,” said David, staring furiously down at the pair of them, “it was your dad, remember. How eager you must be to land your own father in prison (he snorted); what evidence is there that you were even there?”

“Amelia and Stella,” said Simon, “whenever they get back.”

“Look, let’s just give it a rest, shall we,” said Serena irritably.

“Come on,” said Craig, “I’ve got no idea what to believe any more. Let the man speak.”

“I’m not saying anything here,” said Marc flatly, “Not now, I’m too exhausted; there’s too much to tell.”

“And you wouldn’t understand anyway,” said Peter. “You’ve got to see Lisa’s documents first, that’s what prodded us in the right direction.”

“But look how many of you there are here,” said Liam, staring around at us all. “Surely, between you all, you can tell some of it. What’re we supposed to believe? If it’s not how the paper said it is, don’t you think we all deserve to know why we nearly died last week?”

“Get a hold of yourself,” snapped Harry.

I have!” shouted Liam, contradicting himself completely.

It was an odd feeling, one that was both good and bad at the same time, and one that would last me for the rest of my life. It was hard to define exactly, but it felt like a sort of separation, where those of us who had been involved in the magical events of the previous week had developed an almost unbreakable bond, while the group at large had been seemingly isolated from those around us. Even that didn’t feel like a great description for it, but that was all I could come up with at the time. As it turned out, Craig, David, Liam and Daniel would soon enough be part of that bond.

“Listen here, all four of you,” said Felicity. “We don’t mind telling you later, but right now we’re trying to enjoy ourselves.”

“There’s plenty of time for storytelling,” added Natalie.

“Until we’re told, that’s how we’re going to think of it,” said David, “nothing more than a story.”

“If that’s how you want to think, then you might as well get walking,” said Peter furiously. “Go on, get moving.”

David, Liam and Craig looked at each other.

“See you then,” said David, staring around at everyone beside him, then down at Liam, Craig and Daniel.

“You three coming?”

“Yes,” said Liam, climbing out of the water and pushing Sophie out of the way.

“Well, you guys were pretty fun to hang around with,” said Craig. “We might come back for another jumping session later.”

“Don’t even think about joining our super bomb,” said James.

“Fine then,” snapped Craig, and he joined Liam and David up on the bridge a minute later, leaving the rest of the group in silence for a moment. Daniel, who was still in the water, looked up at the three on the bridge, shrugged, and stayed where he was.

“Super bomb?” Simon repeated, grinning at James. “Is that like, ‘weapons of mass wetness’? I ought to trademark that one.”

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