Chapter 1: Assault on the Majestic 1 Assault on the Majestic
Joey stood in the lobby of the Majestic Theatre with his face pressed up against the glass door. He had one hand cupped over his eyes to block out the sun and get a better view of the building across the street. “I see them.”
“What are they doing?” Shazad asked from right behind him. “Don’t tell me they’re coming here… already?” There was a pained tone in Shazad’s voice that Joey understood completely. Joey wasn’t ready for another fight, either. It had been less than twenty-four hours since their duel with Grayson Manchester. He needed a break. They all did.
“How many of them are there?” Leanora asked, moving in next to Joey to see for herself.
“I only see two. Over there by the door. That’s them.”
On the other side of the street, a man called Ledger DeMayne, sometimes known as Mr. Black, had just exited the corporate headquarters of the National Association of Tests and Limits. The NATL was the world’s leading producer of standardized tests, servicing every school in America and quietly deciding the futures of children everywhere. The organization was actually a front for a secret society called the Invisible Hand. From what Joey understood, it was one of many. DeMayne had been introduced to Joey as the chief administrator of the NATL, but his real job was something more sinister than grading tests. The Invisible Hand enforced an unyielding measure of control over the world’s limited supply of magic, and DeMayne was their leader. At least, that was the impression Joey got during their brief, standoffish conversation earlier that morning. Joey wasn’t entirely sure if the man across the street was old enough to lead a Machiavellian cabal of evil magicians that dated back to the age of Merlin, but if Joey’s introduction to magic had taught him anything, it was that looks could be deceiving. DeMayne was a young man with thick blond hair, handsome features, and excellent taste in clothing. Dressed in what was clearly a very expensive suit, he had stepped out onto the sidewalk like he owned it. DeMayne looked good enough to grace the cover of a magazine, and the same could be said for the young woman who accompanied him. She wore a stylish bright red overcoat with a dark red ruby brooch pinned to her lapel. Joey wondered what her name was. The few members of the Invisible Hand he had met so far all used simple, color-based aliases. Mr. Black, Mr. Gray… As far as Joey could tell, it was an inside joke mocking the nonmagical “norms” of the world, who were easily fooled by magicians and their tricks. Joey figured he was getting his first look at Ms. Red. Something about her gave him the chills. Deep crimson hair fell down around her shoulders, framing an attractive, but cold and unfriendly, face. Her eyes were hidden behind dark sunglasses. DeMayne was talking and she was hanging on every word, which seemed to support Joey’s theory about who was in charge. As DeMayne spoke, he gestured across the street toward the Majestic Theatre and paused midsentence. Looking over the hoods of passing cars and peering in between pedestrians, he made eye contact with Joey and gave him an “I see you” wave.
Joey backed away from the door. DeMayne was taunting him. Something was about to go down; Joey could feel it. It was the reason he had raced to the theater from his school, which was on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, more than twenty blocks away. He had wanted to warn Leanora and Shazad what was coming, but now that Joey had done that, he didn’t know what to do next. Everything was happening so fast. He felt like it was only yesterday that he had first met Redondo the Magnificent and found out magic was real. But that wasn’t yesterday. It was two days ago. Yesterday was the day Redondo died. He had sacrificed himself to save Joey and his friends.
The events of the last week flashed through Joey’s mind. Meeting Redondo, he had discovered that the world was a bigger, more extraordinary place than he had ever imagined possible. Magic was real—but only if you believed in it. Joey had learned about the Order of the Majestic, whose duty it was to keep magic alive and free. At least, it had been until they disbanded some twenty years ago. He had also learned about the Invisible Hand, who selfishly fought to keep the world’s magic to themselves. Unfortunately, they hadn’t disbanded. Without the Order of the Majestic around to check their influence, the Invisible Hand had worked tirelessly to confiscate the world’s remaining magical items and consolidate power. It was an extreme case of magicians not revealing their secrets. The Invisible Hand was like a group of spoiled children who didn’t want anyone else playing with their toys.
Joey had been caught off guard when DeMayne had invited him to join their twisted little club, but he hadn’t extended the offer out of the goodness of his heart. At the time, DeMayne was under the impression that Joey was still in possession of the world’s most powerful magical artifact… Harry Houdini’s wand.
Joey only wished he still had it. He had been master of the wand for such a short period of time. Before Redondo died, he had arranged a contest between Joey, Leanora, and Shazad to determine who should inherit the wand. In the end, Joey won it—and immediately lost it—but he’d managed to keep the wand away from the Invisible Hand. It was a minor victory, but a victory nonetheless. However, there was more at stake than just the wand. The Majestic Theatre was filled with magical artifacts big and small, and at the moment it was all but defenseless. Redondo was gone, the wand was gone, and the theater was back in New York. For twenty long years Redondo had hid the Majestic and its many treasures in an alternate dimension that he had created using the power of Houdini’s wand. With him gone, the theater was back in the normal world. It was vulnerable.
Redondo’s warning about the extent of the Invisible Hand’s greed echoed in Joey’s ears:
There is nothing I have here… nothing I could give you so trivial that the Invisible Hand does not wish to obtain it.
Looking at DeMayne and the lady in red, Joey felt like a pig in a straw house up against the Big Bad Wolf. “They didn’t get the wand, but they’re not done with us. Whatever else Redondo kept in this theater… They’re coming for it. All of it.”
“I knew they would eventually,” said Shazad. “I just hoped we’d have more time.”
“No such luck,” Joey said. Across the street, Ledger DeMayne beckoned with his hands, telling Joey and the others to come out.
“I guess we’d better go out there,” Leanora said.
“I guess so,” Joey agreed.
Leanora pulled the door open and they went outside. As the theater door closed behind Joey, with his nerves dialed up to eleven, he felt like a character in a movie. He and his friends stood on one side of the street with their enemies on the other. It was like a high-noon showdown in an old Western. A harsh wind blew sheets of newspaper down the sidewalk like rolling tumbleweeds. The magical gunslingers sized each other up in silence. DeMayne spoke first.
“Joey, what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be in school right now?” His voice was crisp and clear, as if they were separated by a dinner table rather than a busy street. “What would your parents say about you cutting class on the first day?” He clicked his tongue in disapproval.
“I’m not cutting anything,” Joey said. “I don’t have a class schedule yet. Dr. Cho gave me the day off while they figure out what to do with me.”
“I see. You’re welcome for that, by the way,” DeMayne replied. He turned to the lady in red, adding, “You know he never even thanked me for giving him a leg up at school? I don’t think it even crossed his mind.”
“Ugh,” she grunted in a judgmental tone. “That’s the problem with everyone his age. So entitled.”
“Generation Z,” DeMayne agreed. “They’re even worse than millennials.”
Joey took offense at that exchange, coming as it was from people who thought they were entitled to all the world’s remaining magical artifacts, but he had bigger problems than the Invisible Hand’s hypocrisy.
“What are they talking about?” Shazad asked Joey. “What did he do for you?”
“Later,” Joey said. “It’s not important right now.”
“True,” DeMayne agreed. “Why don’t we talk about something that is important?” He motioned to the grand and newly restored Majestic Theatre. “Redondo kept a store of magical artifacts here. We’ve come to collect them. Understand this—it’s going to happen. You can’t stop us. However, we don’t have to be at odds with one another. There’s no need for violence. In fact, there’s no need for any of you to be here at all. It’s a lovely day. I would advise the three of you to take a walk. Perhaps you could visit the park. Or, if that doesn’t interest you, there are plenty of other theaters around here.… Why not take in a matinee? Doesn’t that sound more interesting than this conversation? Don’t you feel like you have somewhere else you want to be right now?”
Joey scrunched up his face. “What are you talking about?” He looked at Shazad and Leanora, baffled. “Is he serious? Take in a matinee?”
“He’s doing something,” Shazad said. “Look around—the block’s clearing out.”
Joey turned his head, looking up and down the street. Shazad was right. The sidewalks were getting emptier. People passed by in each direction, but once they were gone, no one else followed behind them. No new cars turned onto the street, either. At both ends of the block, everyone and everything just kept going, up one avenue and down the other. Before Joey knew it, they had the street all to themselves. “What’s going on?” he asked. “Where’d everybody go?”
“It’s him,” Shazad said. “Or her. They must have some kind of warding object or obfuscation charm working.”
“It’s a good one,” Leanora said. “Fast acting.”
“What are you guys talking about?” Joey asked.
“Think of it as a big, magic ‘keep out’ sign,” Shazad explained. “I’ll bet right now everyone in this city is feeling a sudden urge to avoid this street. Even people who have business here are probably remembering something else they have to do, or some other place they need to be. They’re deciding to turn down the next block instead of this one for no reason at all.… You get the idea.”
Joey nodded, grateful for Shazad’s and Leanora’s magical knowledge, especially now that Redondo was gone. Shazad had been raised in a secret magical country where his family watched over magical artifacts and kept them safe. Leanora was part of a traveling family of magicians called the Nomadiks, who traveled the world, putting on shows and hiding magic in plain sight. Joey felt safer with them at his side, but he was still worried. What did the Invisible Hand have planned that was so explosive they had to clear out the civilians before they got started?
“If their magic’s so strong, how come it’s not working on us?” Joey asked.
“Because I’m wearing a mental-fortification charm.” Leanora located a blue crystal amulet mixed in among the many enchanted pendants she wore around her neck. “My grandmother gave me this to guard against hypnosis and magical suggestion. A girl can’t be too careful. Lucky for us, you two are standing close enough to fall within its range.” Leanora lifted the necklace chain with two fingers and held it out, dangling the charm in front of her. “Touch the stone. I can lend you some of its power.”
“For how long?” Shazad asked as he and Joey felt at the crystal.
“Long enough,” Leanora said.
The lady in red barked out a derisive laugh. “Long enough for what?” she asked. “Congratulations. You can stay. That doesn’t mean you should. Better you leave willingly than hold your ground and try to put off the inevitable. Don’t be stubborn, children. Walk away. Otherwise, we can’t be responsible for what happens to you.”
“We’re not going anywhere,” Leanora said. “And you’re not coming into our theater.”
“Your theater?” DeMayne asked.
“Redondo left it to us,” Joey said. “We’re the new Order of the Majestic,” he added. His voice sounded flimsy and weak.
DeMayne and the lady in red looked at each other, quietly processing Joey’s statement. A second later they erupted with laughter, making a real show of it. The lady in red had to lean on DeMayne’s shoulder for support as she carried on. He had a hand pressed to his side, ready to bust a gut. Evidently, Joey’s half-hearted declaration was so funny it hurt. DeMayne’s and the lady in red’s hysterics chipped away at Joey’s confidence, mainly because he couldn’t blame them for laughing. The words had felt ridiculous coming out of his mouth. Who was he kidding? They weren’t the Order of the Majestic. They were three kids up against fully grown magicians who took what they wanted, did as they pleased, and didn’t care who got hurt in the process. Joey was grateful there were only two of them, but he couldn’t take much comfort in that. For all he knew, DeMayne had a legion of reinforcements waiting inside the NATL building. Also, depending on what kind of magical items they were carrying, two of them would be plenty. Maybe too much.
“We should get started,” said the lady in red.
DeMayne nodded in agreement. “We’ve got a busy day ahead of us. Out of the way, children. You’ve been warned.”
“So have you,” Leanora replied. “Stay on your side of the street.”
As DeMayne stepped off the sidewalk undeterred, Leanora tapped her right heel twice and a tiny pair of wings appeared on the ankle of her boot. She tapped her other foot two times and a matching pair of wings materialized there. Joey was about to ask what was going on when he saw that she was charging up her firestone pendant. Leanora used one hand to grip an orange stone that hung around her neck. Her other hand was lighting up with reddish-orange energy like smoldering wood. Joey watched as an amber wave traveled past her wrist until her entire forearm glowed with power. He never even saw her move her feet. At most, Joey saw Leanora shift her weight. A second later she was across the street, throwing a flaming elbow into DeMayne’s chest. His body sailed back and slammed into the wall of the NATL building. Joey blinked, and Leanora was standing next to him again.
“Whoa!” he blurted out, impressed. “Where’d you get those boots?”
“Inside the theater,” she said with a smile. “They were listed in Redondo’s ledger—the Winged Boots of Fleetfoot, whoever that was.” She twisted her foot to show off the fluttering wings. “They’re elven made. Superfast and completely silent.” She pounded her foot on the pavement with inaudible stomps. “They can run three steps in the air at a time, too. Pretty cool, huh?”
“Pretty cool,” Joey agreed, wishing he had something similar on his person. He wondered what else Redondo had inside the theater and worried he’d never get the chance to find out. Redondo had left Joey, Leanora, and Shazad more than the building when he died. Also included in his final bequest was a ledger describing all the magical artifacts he was entrusting them with. They were items he knew the Invisible Hand would want, and they had to be protected, because there were precious few things like them left in the world. For Joey, they were his only link to magic now that Houdini’s wand was gone. Redondo had told Joey that once upon a time magic had flowed through the air like the breeze, accessible to everyone who believed. Today it was different. At some point in history (no one knew exactly when), magic had gotten lost. Locked away. Now it took more than belief to tap into its power; it took magical items. Ancient artifacts, created for extraordinary purposes, that retained varying degrees of magical energy. Leanora’s new boots, her firestone, and her fortification charm all qualified. The transfiguration cape that Shazad wore around his shoulders was another example, and there were others inside the theater. Leanora and Shazad had spent the morning going through Redondo’s ledger while Joey was at school. When he’d arrived at the Majestic, they weren’t even halfway through the treasure trove of magical artifacts. The Invisible Hand hadn’t given them enough time to go through everything, but they had apparently had enough time to grab a few things to help defend the theater—and themselves. Joey, on the other hand, was unarmed. All he had was Redondo’s magic deck of cards. Redondo used to pull three at a time and get cryptic insights on what was happening in the moment and nebulous hints about future. Joey didn’t feel like drawing any cards at the moment. He was afraid what his fortune might be.
“So much for diplomacy,” the lady in red said, helping DeMayne to his feet.
“Looks like we’re going to have to do this the hard way,” he agreed, dusting himself off. “Time for an object lesson. Speaking of which…” He slid back the cuff of his sleeve to reveal a bulky, shiny metal watch. Even at a distance, Joey could tell it probably cost more than the average car. “I didn’t expect I’d have to use this today, but that’s why I keep it with me. To iron out unexpected problems.”
“Emphasis on iron,” said the lady in red.
DeMayne smiled and pointed an aiming finger at her. “That’s good. I like that. Let me just shake off this glamour.…” He shook his wrist, and the watch became a plain black metal bracelet. He flexed his fingers, forming a fist, and the wristband morphed into an iron gauntlet covering his whole hand. It didn’t stop there. DeMayne bent his arm forward as the black iron climbed upward, eventually covering his entire body in a hulking suit of armor. The last piece that fell into place was a helmet, which grew around his head. “Last chance, children,” he said with the visor up, looking like something out of Game of Thrones. “I promise you, if we go down this road, it won’t end well.”
Joey gulped. He and his friends traded uneasy glances. “Shazad, tell me you took something useful out of the theater too.”
“Yeah, I got some stuff,” Shazad said. He went into his pocket and took out a small cube the size of a golf ball. It had a cloudy white, quartzlike quality and gilded details that lined the edges of each face of the cube. “Here goes nothing.” Shazad clutched the cube tight in his hand, and a wave of white energy swirled around him. He vanished from sight and reappeared standing next to DeMayne. Shazad touched his armored shoulder, and the two of them vanished in another swirl of magical light. They reappeared up in the air, twenty feet above the ground. A split second later, Shazad vanished again, returning to Joey’s and Leanora’s side. DeMayne dropped like a stone and hit the street with a crash, cracking the pavement.
“What happened?” Joey asked. “What’d you do?”
“What is that?” Leanora added, indicating the cube.
Shazad held the cube in an open palm. A soft glow at its center was fading down to nothing. “Redondo’s book called it Kadabra’s Cube. It’s a magical transport item. Teleportation,” he clarified. “One catch. You can only go as far as you can see.”
“Ouch,” Joey said, gawking at DeMayne’s body sprawled out on the ground. “That was hard-core.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t hard enough. DeMayne picked himself up, no worse for wear. “Now I’m starting to get annoyed,” he said, rising to his feet. “Do you have any idea what this is? What I’m wearing?” He slapped his iron breastplate with an open hand. “This is the Armor of the Ages. Nothing can harm it, not even the passage of time. The older it gets, the stronger it gets, and it’s over a thousand years old. You could drop me from orbit and it wouldn’t make a dent. I told you, you can’t stop me. The best you can hope to do is slow me down, so if that’s all you’ve got, you might as well give up now. Before I have to hurt you.”
Shazad took out a small, polished piece of black wood, the size and shape of a rolled-up diploma. “That’s not all I’ve got.” He twirled the stick around, transforming it into a full-size bo staff. “The Staff of Sorcero,” he said to Joey.
“Right. The Staff of Sorcero,” Joey repeated, as if everyone knew what that was.
Leanora took the firestone pendant off her neck and tied it around her left hand. “Joey, I think we’re going to have to team up against the Black Knight here. Can you hold off the red lady?”
“With what? Card tricks?”
“Try this.” Leanora handed him a familiar length of thick, maritime rope.
Joey took the Gordian rope reluctantly. He had not had great success with it in the past. “I’ll try.”
“Try hard,” Leanora said. With that, she and Shazad went off to fight DeMayne. Shazad took the lead, charging in first. Just before he reached DeMayne, he activated Kadabra’s Cube and disappeared. DeMayne swung hard, trying to punch him, but his fist found nothing but air. Meanwhile, Shazad reappeared behind DeMayne, swinging the staff. Sparks flew as he connected with the side of DeMayne’s helmet. It was a jarring blow, amplified by magical energy. DeMayne stumbled a step, but he recovered quickly, sweeping an armored hand around at Shazad, who backpedaled, spinning the staff in front of him defensively. At the same time, Leanora was running up through the air, getting into position over DeMayne. Golden discs lit up under her feet with each step she took. One, two, three—and she threw a fiery punch into the back of DeMayne’s neck, driving him to his knees. Shazad followed that up with a hard strike across his faceplate. DeMayne fell backward, landing with his feet up in the air. Leanora moved in for another firestone-charged punch. DeMayne rolled fast—way faster than Joey would have thought possible in that armor. He dodged her blow, sprang up, and caught Shazad by the cape. The next thing Joey knew, DeMayne was swinging Shazad around like a mace, right at Leanora. She got out of the way with time to spare, thanks to her magic boots. DeMayne let Shazad go, and he tumbled through the air, but he vanished and reappeared, landing safely on his feet thanks to his magic cube. While they were busy saving themselves, DeMayne marched on the theater. He didn’t have far to go. Just the width of the street. Shazad and Leanora paused for a quick conference.
“You go high, I’ll go low?” she asked.
This time Leanora went in first. As she approached, DeMayne shot a hand out at her like a football player trying to stiff-arm an opponent. She slid under that and delivered a crushing blow to the side of his knee. It probably would have crippled him if he wasn’t armored up, but with the protections he had, she succeeded only in throwing him off-balance. As DeMayne bent over, steadying himself, Shazad leapfrogged him. When his hands hit DeMayne’s armor, Kadabra’s Cube whisked them both away, moving them back to the door of the NATL building, effectively hitting a reset button on the fight.
Joey and the lady in red stood transfixed, watching the battle begin again. She shook her head as it went on. “They’re wasting their time. This is only going to make him angry. That’s not going to be good for anyone.” Joey didn’t think a happy Ledger DeMayne was good for anyone, either, but that went without saying. The lady in red took off her sunglasses and fixed Joey with a penetrating gaze. “You’re the one who wielded Houdini’s wand. Is it true you threw it into a black hole?” Joey said nothing. She took his silence as confirmation. “What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking about keeping it away from people like you. And I did.”
“For now.” She let out a condescending sigh. “Such a lack of imagination. I don’t have that problem. I’m an artist. You can call me Scarlett.”
Joey tensed up as Scarlett opened her coat. She had holsters for several long paintbrushes sewn into the lining of each side. “Have you ever studied art? Really studied it? You should. It’s a magic all its own.” She inspected her brushes, tapping the bristles, trying to decide which one to use. “Think about it.… Making something out of nothing? The infinite possibility of the canvas? What’s more magical than that?” She chose a paint-splattered brush from the right-hand side of her coat. “Lately I’ve been on something of a pop-art kick. Warhol, Lichtenstein, Haring… Are you familiar with their work? No?”
Joey stared at Scarlett with a blank expression. He found it odd that she wanted to have a discussion about famous artists while their friends duked it out five feet away.
“Never mind. I’ll show you.” Scarlett turned away from Joey to address the wall of the NATL building. Working quickly with what was clearly a magical brush, she re-created several images Joey recognized from a recent class trip to the Museum of Modern Art. There were multiple-exposure images of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, handsome men and women who looked like the romantic leads of a fifties-era comic strip, and colorful, clean-lined, faceless figures with rounded heads and hands. “See? You recognize it. I can tell. It’s one thing to hear the names, but when you experience the art up close, that’s when it comes alive.”
She patted the wall, and the figures she had painted started moving. No longer content to be two-dimensional images, they stepped out of the wall, leaving person-shaped holes in the concrete. Joey backed away as they advanced on him. Scarlett scoffed at Joey’s lack of art appreciation. “What are you doing? Don’t run away. Pop art is supposed to be less intimidating, more relatable. That’s the whole idea. Don’t be afraid, Joey. Embrace it. Open your mind!” The artwork chased Joey through the street, swinging heavy stone fists that would literally open Joey’s mind if he wasn’t careful. He kept moving as iconic pulp images tried to smash him into a pulp. Marilyn Monroe in particular had never looked so dangerous. Once again, Joey wished he hadn’t thrown away Houdini’s wand.
Across the street, Leanora and Shazad were still fighting DeMayne, but they couldn’t stop him. Shazad was teleporting and Leanora was speeding. Their attacks hit hard and looked painful, but their magical weapons had no lasting effect. Joey’s friends were getting tired. Meanwhile, DeMayne hadn’t lost a step.
Joey wanted to help them, but he had his own problems to deal with. Elvis, Marilyn, and the others had him cornered with his back up against the theater wall. Hopelessly outnumbered, Joey had one chance—the Gordian rope. As they closed in on him, Joey let the rope go. It shot out, springing to life like an out-of-control fire hose. Joey hugged the wall as the rope grew impossibly long, running circles around his attackers, weaving in and out of gaps between their arms and legs, around torsos, over shoulders, and then pulling itself tight to draw them all close together. After the rope had the stone figures tied up, it kept going—and growing—until they were all trapped at the center of a giant, impenetrable knot.
“I can see this is lost on you,” Scarlett said. “Pearls before swine.” Frowning, she waved her brush like a wand, and her living homage to the pop-art movement stopped struggling. Paint dripped away like melted ice cream and pooled on the street. The concrete figures crumbled into dust and returned to the wall behind Scarlett, leaving no trace they had ever left it. “Let’s try something else.” Scarlett put the pop-art brush away and selected another. “What do you know about abstract expressionism? Ever hear of Jackson Pollock?” She came around the tangled mess of now empty rope and shook the new brush at Joey, firing splotches of paint like bullets. Joey dove behind a parked car just in time. Scarlett kept up her assault, pelting the car with paint. It splattered everywhere in a mix of colors, hitting hard enough to dent the doors and shatter the passenger-side windows.
Keeping as much of his body behind the car as possible, Joey peeked his head around the rear bumper. The Gordian rope lay in a tangled heap, three feet away. If Joey could reach it, he could turn it loose on Scarlett, but he wasn’t close enough. More paint struck the car, smashing the taillights. Joey pulled himself back behind the car, but an idea popped into his head. He couldn’t get to the rope, but maybe the rope could get to him. He stuck a hand under the car, mentally asking the rope to slither into his hand, and most important, believing it would listen. Sure enough, the rope did as it was told, but as soon as he had it, a well-aimed shot of paint tagged him in the shoulder. It ripped through his shirt, hitting him with the force of a thrown brick. “Ahh!” He fell backward, losing his grip on the rope—and his only chance at defending himself. “Guys, I’m hit!” he called out. He had no feeling in his right arm. “A little help here?”
Shazad and Leanora were in no position to help anyone. They were too busy fighting an invulnerable enemy who hadn’t even busted out his big guns. “Enough,” DeMayne said, drawing out half a sword. “This ends now.”
Shazad froze in place. “Is that…?”
“The Tempest Blade,” DeMayne said, flipping up his visor with his free hand. “Also known as the Sword of Storms,” he added, holding up a broken sword that cut off in a jagged line a foot from the hilt. “Do you understand now? We’re armed with the most powerful items of magical antiquity. You can’t hope to defeat us.” DeMayne turned to Joey, who was lying on the street, covered in paint. “You chose the wrong side.”
DeMayne pointed the sword at Leanora and Shazad, and tornado winds lifted them off their feet. Gripping the Tempest Blade with both hands, and struggling to hold on, DeMayne turned, blowing Leanora and Shazad over to where Joey was. As he angled the sword down to deposit them on the street, Joey thought the winds might drive him into the pavement. Scarlett turned her shoulder to the wind and found shelter behind the same paint-splattered car that Joey had used for cover. Even that was no good, as Joey saw two of its wheels lift off the street. The car was about to flip. “Ledger! Turn it off!” Scarlett shouted over the roaring gale.
DeMayne nodded in reply. His arms were shaking. A large vein appeared in his forehead, and he tightened his jaw as he worked to get the blade’s wild magic under control. Judging by the strained look on his face, it was a hard-fought effort, but he stopped the wind before he blew everyone away. It cut off suddenly, as if someone had turned off a giant fan. Grateful, Joey let out a deep breath. His ears were ringing. He couldn’t sit up just yet.
“There we are,” DeMayne said, spinning the sword in his hand with a dramatic flair. He cocked his head and smirked at Scarlett, amused. “Look at your face. You were worried.”
Scarlett tucked her paintbrush away and put her sunglasses back on. “I hate that thing,” she said, pouting.
DeMayne gave a shrug and sheathed the Sword of Storms in a scabbard at his waist. “What can I tell you? It had more finesse back when it was whole.” He tapped his wrist, and the Armor of the Ages retracted into his gauntlet, which shrank into an armband, then turned back into a watch. He swept an arm out, presenting the theater to Scarlett and stepping aside in a gallant motion. “Shall we?” he asked.
Her dour face brightened. “We shall.”
Joey propped himself up on his elbows and watched DeMayne and Scarlett approach the door. Leanora and Shazad did the same. There was nothing they could do to stop them. They had given it their all, but it wasn’t enough. The Invisible Hand was going to loot the theater and do what they had already done to the world at large—rob it of its magic.
But first they had to get inside. When Scarlett touched the handle of the Majestic’s front door, Joey heard a loud boom, like a cannon going off. Time slowed down as a concussive force rippled out from underneath the theater marquee. Something happened to the air. It turned thick and took on a viscous, gel-like quality. Joey actually saw the shock wave spiral out of the theater in slow motion, focused entirely on DeMayne and Scarlett. The intruders went tumbling back onto the street, settling next to Joey and his friends, completely unconscious.
Joey rubbed his head as time sped back up and the air returned to normal. He staggered to his feet in a state of shock. “What just happened?” He nudged DeMayne’s body with his toe. Leanora checked Scarlett. “They’re out cold, both of them.”
“They couldn’t get in,” Shazad said in a daze. He got up slowly. They were all struggling to process the Invisible Hand’s sudden reversal of fortune.
“What stopped them?” asked Joey. “Did you leave something in the lobby? A last line of defense?”
Leanora and Shazad exchanged curious looks, asking each other the same question with their eyes. “It wasn’t us,” Leanora said. “Maybe Redondo?”
“I don’t think so,” Joey said. Redondo was gone. They were on their own now. Weren’t they? “What if it was the theater?”
“You think the Majestic defended itself?” Shazad asked.
“Stranger things have happened,” Joey said. “They happened right here.” He gestured to the street where they had just had a bombastic magic duel unbeknownst to the rest of the city.
“I guess it is possible,” Shazad admitted.
They all looked at Redondo’s former stronghold in awe. “I wish I’d known that was going to happen,” Leanora said. “We could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble.”
“I would have stayed in school,” Joey said. “Is that it, then? The theater’s safe? It’s over?”
“No way,” Shazad said. “They’re not going to give up that easy. Especially now that they’ve seen a bit of what we’ve got here. This is just this beginning.”