Water rushed down the stairwell of the university. Theodore clung to the hand rail, pushing forward and upwards through the waist high downpour to escape.
Something had happened to the university. A storm was tearing the science tower apart, flooding everything. If he could find somewhere safe, and regroup with the rest of the faculty, they could analyze whatever magic was at work and put a stop to it.
His robes were soaked through as he waded down the hall. He rounded the corner and froze. The specter was waiting for him, standing perfectly still. Father’s eyes were piercing. Theodore told himself it was just a ghast taking human form. It wanted to frighten him, to torment him. No doubt it was part of whatever was causing this disaster. Theodore backed away, determined to find another route.
The creature chased after him, marching through the water as if it was nothing. It wasn’t Lance. It couldn’t be. Theodore slipped, wrestled himself back onto his feet, and slogged as fast as his strength allowed. He glanced back, his heart pounding, the storm raging around him, and saw the monster gaining on him. There was no time to find help. Theodore ducked inside a classroom to take shelter, and pushed the doors shut. Shattering a chair against the wall, he used the wood to brace the door and then piled desks to blockade the entrance.
It did not matter. A gleaming sword stabbed. It was his father’s sword, a claymore bearing the Grayweather family crest. It sliced through the door and adjoining wall without effort, and then Lance knocked aside the desks with a fist sending them splashing into the water. That sword, the sword his father took with him before he died, killed any doubt left in Theodore’s mind. This was his father.
“Why are you here?!” Theodore said.
Lance descended into the auditorium, drawing closer.
“Why won’t you leave me alone?!” Theodore retreated as far as he could. “I’m happy here!” He grabbed a sopping wet stack of ungraded homework off the teacher’s desk. He thrust the limp papers at his father. “This is what I want! Why can’t you accept that?! Why won’t you just let me be what I want to be?!” The rain mingled with his tears.
Lance tore the homework out of Theodore’s hand. “A knight does not sniffle.” He took Theodore by the wrist and pulled him across the classroom. Theodore tried to resist, but he wasn’t strong enough. He was only a child. His father was so much bigger.
“Let go!” Little Theo said, but it was no use. His father never listened.
The floor was gone. They fell together into the dark, air rushing across them, down and down, faster and faster. Theo’s heart shrank as he knew they had gone too far and he would die.
They hit ground. Theo felt the shock of it but no pain, only a daze from which he fought to collect himself. He realized they were in the main square of the Hollows. It was empty, devoid of any life, except for one single ghast. Silas Jack, the leader of the Red Caps, stood in front of them. He watched Theo with pleading eyes.
“Son,” Lance said, and opened Theo’s shaking palm. “This is what you were born to do. Everyone is counting on you. Finish what I started.” He placed the enchanted knife back in Theo’s hand. It was bright with Flip’s magic. “Slay the monster and keep the kingdom safe.”
The blade was heavy, so heavy Theo couldn’t bear to hold onto it. He tried to let go, but he couldn’t. His body lurched forward like a marionette, the knife aimed at Silas Jack’s heart.
Silas stood rigid, his body frozen in place. His lips mouthed the same words over and over. His familiar sneer was gone, replaced with a desperate stare. Theo fought to stop, to slow down. The ghast’s voice rose as Theo drew closer.
“You promised,” he said, then faster. “You promised. You promised. You promised.”
“You feel sorry for this creature?” Lance said. “He tried to kill you! Stop him or people will die! Your country needs you to act like a knight!!”
Theo raised the knife, his arm lifted by chains wrapped tight around his wrist. He saw the same chains shackled around the arms and legs of Silas Jack.
“We need a knight too,” Silas said. “We need a Ranger Deputy.”
Theodore wheeled around and sank the knife into his father’s heart. Lance buckled, the look of betrayal clearer than the look of pain. “Theo…” He said, his last gasp before his father died one more time.