“Magister, permission to investigate.” Fin stood before Magister Rochester, his lips thin and straight, grey eyes focused and determined.
Magister Rochester shook his head. “It’s too risky sending you guys into an unknown situation. I don’t want to risk losing anymore Conduits.”
Fin’s eyes narrowed. “With all due respect, Magister, isn’t it our duty to protect the people against magical threats?”
Grace shifted uneasily behind Fin. Even Xander seemed uneasy with how accusatory Fin’s question sounded.
Magister Rochester stared coolly back at Fin. “Of course it is, Conduit. But if you keep throwing yourself to die, who will be left to protect the mundane citizens?”
“Satellite’s up! Patching feed!” General Matthias was typing quickly at his computer.
The screen in the table lit up, a brilliant burst of static before focusing in. At first the screen was dark, but as the satellite focused, Harlem came into view. It was covered in smoke, and fires could be seen everywhere. An explosion flared orange on the screen, and a building collapsed into a heap of debris, spewing dust and ash into the mix.
“Do we have a visual on anyone?” Commissioner Wallace asked.
“Switching to thermal,” General Matthias said.
The screen switched over, turning white.
“What’s happening? Is it working?”
General Matthias looked stunned. It was the first time any real emotion had crossed his face. “It’s confirmed. That is the thermal feed.”
Commissioner Wallace looked over at the General. “What’s that mean?”
“It means,” Magister Rochester said, “that there is a massive amount of magic being used there.”
A young soldier ran up to General Matthias and whispered something into his ear. The General bent over his computer, and the image on the screen changed. “This is the feed from one of our snipers in a chopper that’s approaching.”
A different view of Harlem lit up the screen. Smoke filled the air, and several large fires were visible. The camera panned around, searching. The screen briefly turned white, before switching back again.
“This is General Matthias. Thermal imaging won’t work; the area’s too hot with magic. What’s your name, son?”
A crackle of static. “Specialist Thomson, sir.”
“Specialist Thomson, do you see any of our men?
“Doing a sweep now, General. Without thermal, it’ll be hard to pick them out.”
“Understood, Specialist. Do your best.”
“We’re approaching a clearing, looks like. Several buildings have collapsed here. Wait, I see something on the ground. Movement. There!”
Hunkered in the debris was a small group of people. It was hard to make out their uniforms, but muzzle flashes and beams of light confirmed that they were military and Conduits. A large fireball shot toward them, but was deflected, arcing away and erupting on a building, raining burning debris down onto them. There was a shimmer, and the debris was shoved aside in midair, falling around the men.
“What are they fighting, Specialist? We need eyes on the enemy!” General Matthias’s hands were white, gripping the table.
“Copy that, General.”
The camera swiveled and stopped. The room went silent. Across the debris field were the Soulless. Hundreds of them. They were launching fireballs and dark beams all around them, firing into buildings and at what everyone could only assume were other survivors that had holed up and were trying to hold the Soulless off. A dark beam appeared in the camera, the helicopter shook, and fire engulfed the view.
“Specialist Thomson, are you there! Can you hear me?”
There was no response, and the monitor went black. Silence flooded the room.
“We need to get over there!” Fin yelled, turning to leave the table.
“Are you insane?” Magister Rochester grabbed Fin’s arm to stop him from leaving. “Harlem is lost. Leave it be.”
“There are still people there. Our own people, their people,” Fin motioned at Commissioner Wallace and General Matthias, “and then all of the civilians that are still trapped there. We have to do something.”
“I will not send any more Conduits into a lost cause, Fin. Stand down!”
“You swore the same oaths as me, Magister. We are sworn to protect this city from magical threats.” Fin pointed at the blank table. “That is a magical threat. I will not stand idly by when people are being killed!”
“The young man’s right, Magister,” Xander grunted.
“We are not giving up on our oaths.” The Magister’s eyes were like glass, coolly reflecting Fin, Xander, and Grace standing in front of him. “But I will not allow suicide!”
“Better suicide than a massacre!” Fin slammed his fist on the table, cracking it. His eyes were glowing silver. “We knew what we were getting into when we answered the call to become Conduits. Those soldiers, officers, and civilians didn’t choose to get attacked by the Soulless!”
“Fin, I understand, but you can’t…”
Fin turned from the table, cutting off the Magister. “Burn in hell.” Fin glanced at General Matthias. “Do you have a chopper here?”
The General nodded. “Can’t you just teleport?”
“Not in these conditions. Teleporting blind is worse than driving blind, and all of the magical interference in Harlem could rebound, sending us god knows where.”
General Matthias motioned to some soldiers standing nearby. “Get the pilot, you’re taking these Conduits to Harlem.”
The soldiers saluted, and cocked their heads, signaling Fin to follow.
Fin grasped the hilt of his sword, brushing his blonde hair from his still smoldering eyes. “You guys coming?”
Grace and Xander exchanged glances, but nodded. They followed Fin out of the room, trailing behind the soldiers. The auditorium was a roar of chaos, orders were being thrown around. In the center, near the table, stood Magister Rochester, his face passive, but his fists were clenched on the table.