Ina pooled air pith into her hands, writing sigils and blasting them toward the dark-furred beast running away from her. She wrote a sideways ‘S’ sigil, conjuring a powerful wind gust in her palms.
“Take that!” she screamed, aiming at her target.
Her attack should have hit the beast, but it turned at the last second, scurrying around a blackberry bush. Thorny vines writhed instead, shaking as if they’d come to life.
“Did you get it?” her companion called behind her.
Ina skidded, her black boots grinding into the forest floor as Vincent, her game warden boyfriend, came into view. He couldn’t wield the four elementals like she could, but he had some slight magical talent. Ina had been trying to teach him some sigils when the large black beast had shown up on the remote Oregon beach they’d been practicing on.
“I missed!” She motioned for him to follow as she dashed after the creature. “It’s fast for a vaettur.”
“Are you sure it’s a vaettur?” Vincent asked, referring to the supernatural creatures from another dimension that Ina had been trained to combat. As a nature wizard, Ina had a lot of practice banishing those otherworldly creatures.
“What else could it have been?” Ina asked.
“It looked like a wolf to me.”
Ina threw Vincent a bewildered glance over her shoulder. “Have you ever seen a wolf that black and that large?”
“Well, no but—”
“That thing looked like it could eat a sasquatch for breakfast.”
Vincent cringed mid-sprint. “Please don’t tell me sasquatches are real.”
“Not that I’ve ever heard of, but with vaetturs, there could always be a first.”
“It’s not a fenrir, right?” Vincent asked, referencing the monstrous wolf-like vaettur that they’d both fought not long ago. “Because if it is, maybe we should get some of your nature wizard buddies to back us up.”
“It’s not a fenrir,” Ina insisted. “Not only does it not have the right markings, but it would have already tried to kill us.”
Ina scoured the dense Douglas firs but couldn’t find a single hair of the creature. Something that size could probably drain the pith of a grizzly bear without a problem.
It had to be stopped.
Ina stopped running, instead crouching to the ground so she could thrust her fingers into the mud. Pooling her earth pith, she wrote a quick square sigil and closed her eyes. She felt Vincent halt beside her through the vibrations in the ground, patiently waiting while she worked her magic. She sent her senses out, mentally searching for other signs of movement.
She felt paws padding away from them.
“There! It’s heading that way!” Ina took a sharp left, Vincent on her heels.
The pair quickly closed the gap on the creature. Ina grew tense. Vincent could probably hold his own against a normal vaettur, but he didn’t have her training. She knew better than to tell him to leave. He would never abandon her, an endearing quality she both loved and hated in moments like these.
So instead, she gave him a warning as they darted through trees. “Just follow my lead. Don’t confront it directly. I’ll just banish it back to its realm, and then deal with its…”
She trailed off as she came upon a shimmering light standing in the middle of the forest.
“…breach,” she finished, staring at the object of her conversation in surprise. Normally breaches were free-floating, but this one stood between an archway made of stone.
Vincent stood beside her, his eyebrow raised. “Are breaches normally surrounded by rocks?”
“No,” Ina breathed. “They never are. They are tears in our dimension, not physical embodiments of—”
Ina didn’t have time to finish her sentence as a growl emanated from inside the breach. Both Ina and Vincent leaped backward, their arms outstretched to protect each other from the danger within.
Before either of them could speak, a haunting voice came from inside the archway. “Lucas? What are you doing?”
Ina peered into the shimmering disc. Instead of seeing a hazy version of her own world, which she expected, a pretty blond teenager in a track suit stared back at her. The teenager knelt beside the black wolf, fingers curled in its raised haunches as the beast bared its teeth at them. The girl and the creature appeared to be looming in a…hallway?
Vincent saw her too. “Who are you?” he demanded.
The girl’s eyes widened in surprise. “Uh oh. This is gonna be awkward. I’m Regan and—”
“Get away from that vaettur!” Ina grabbed the modified watch battery that hung from her necklace, her lightning charm. She could conjure a bolt powerful enough to make Zeus envious. It was her strongest attack, and although she didn’t use it for just any occasion, she did rely on it for powerful vaetturs.
And a helpless teenager in the presence of that large black beast was a substantial threat.
Regan blinked at her. “He won’t hurt me.”
Vincent held up a conciliatory hand. “I know this all may seem strange to you,” he said in his most soothing voice. “But you’re in great danger next to that wild animal.”
Despite the beast snapping its powerful jaws, Regan clutched him even tighter. “He’s not a wild animal!” she yelled. “He’s my friend.”
Ina drew a zigzag sigil, causing electricity to spark from her fingertips. “I don’t want to hurt you, so I’m going to count to five before I blast that vaettur back to its homeworld. One…”
“Ina,” Vincent warned, looking at her in dismay. “You’re not really going to zap her with—”
Regan screamed as Ina’s hair began to stand on end from all the static she was generating from her sigil. “Are you crazy?”
The black haired creature howled, attempting to lunge forward toward Ina, but Regan’s hold kept him in place.
“You can’t hurt him!” Regan screamed. “He’s just trying to protect me!”
“Ina!” Vincent screamed one last time, lunging for her.
“Lucas!” Regan screamed at the same time, the creature slipping out of her grasp.
Two things happened at once. Vincent knocked her over, moving her aim slightly to the side. Ina let go of her lightning blast, aimed at the now charging wolf.
And Lucas, the supposed vaettur, wasn’t heading for Ina. He threw his body against the stone column supporting the archway on his side of the breach. The stones fell like building blocks onto the hallway carpet.
As Ina’s lightning struck, the archway was destroyed on both sides of the breach. The shimmering mirror between the two spaces vanished in an instant.
In the immediate aftermath, Ina and Vincent stared at the smoldering pile of stones. Ina pushed Vincent away from her first.
“You were gonna kill that kid!” Vincent panted as Ina crawled over to view the aftermath.
“No, I wasn't,” Ina countered, completely calm. “I wouldn’t have released the bolt if you hadn’t knocked me over.”
“Well, I didn’t know that. You looked dead serious to me.”
“That was kind of the point.” Ina poked the closest blackened stone, noting some strange markings on it. “Weird. This looks kind of like a sigil, only I don't recognize even its base form.”
Vincent forced himself to follow her train of thought. “Is that normal?” He peered at the stone behind her.
“No.” Ina gawked at the space where the archway had stone. “You can’t blast away a breach. You have to seal it shut with your pith. And it doesn’t occur between weird columns like some magical version of Stonehenge.”
“Do you think that girl's safe?”
Ina tossed the stone back on the pile. “How should I know? Humans don’t appear inside breaches. None of this makes sense.”
Vincent drew her in for a comforting hug. “Well, it’s over, for now. We’re okay.”
“Yeah,” Ina said, but she had no idea what to make of any of it. Had she been seeing a portal to another world, where the vaettur had come from? Or had that weird breach been some sort of shortcut to somewhere else on Earth?
Nobody, definitely not Ina, could say for sure.