STORM IN SHANGHAI
"Crowds are the worst place you can be right now, Jaret," Dad says without even looking at me.
“I know,” I reply sullenly. Even though he keeps it locked up in a drawer, sometimes Dad forgets and leaves his Network tome on. I’ve seen the news; I know about the attacks. “But Dad, it’s the FIFA World Cup!” I explain. “There’s a match tomorrow at Stadio Delle Alpi. I need to be there. Seeing this match is super important to me.”
“No way, kiddo,” he says. “We’re only in town to visit the Turin Hall of Storm Magic. It’s something I’ve dreamed of doing my whole life, coming here and researching everything they have on Storm. They’ve got actual ancient Storm mages’ handwritten thoughts and ideas, which might contain long-forgotten spells, Jaret! You know this is important to me, son.”
“Fine, I get it, Dad. So, the stadium is probably not a safe place with the Maelstrom on the loose. What if we go and watch the Brazilian team at their public demo today?” I ask. “I just want to see them kick the ball around for a little bit. There won’t be thousands of people there, just a few hundred.”
He tilts his head, shakes it gently, and says, “That’s probably worse, son. All of the Maelstrom attacks were on crowds in the hundreds, not thousands.”
Again, he’s right. I know it. It’s always groups of a few hundred people who get – well, blown up. On the Network, it said no one knows why the Maelstrom is doing this, or who he or she is. No one knows much about it at all.
But everyone in the magical community is terrified.
“Dad, listen. We don’t have to stay long. We don’t even have to get out of the car. We can just pull up and watch from across the street. Please, I’m begging you. You’re getting to do something that you’ve wanted to do for your whole life, and I’ve wanted to see something like this my whole life. It’s only fair,” I say, trying to reason with him.
“Calm down, Jaret. You’re only ten years old,” he says. “Your life hasn’t been that long. And whoever told you life was fair, anyway?”
“But Daaaaaaaaad,” I whine, “I promise it will be okay. Nothing will happen! The last attack was a long time ago. The Maelstrom is probably dead or something.”
My dad looks at me with his lecturing face, but before he can lay into me with a full 15-minute talk about blah blah blah, I decide to use my secret weapon.
“I love you, Daddy. I just wanna do something cool together. Afterwards, we can go to the Hall of Storm, and I’ll help you look up magic history. That way, if I can use magic when I get older, and if it’s Storm, then I’ll already be smart, like you.” His lecturing face slips away, and a smile takes its place. Bingo.
“Okay, Jaret,” my dad says. “We’ll drive by the demonstration and stop for five minutes. Only five minutes. No getting out of the car, and we’ll be across the street. Capeesh?”
“Really? Awesome! But don’t try to speak Italian anymore, please. It’s pretty embarrassing, Dad.”
“Arrivederci, son," he replies, ignoring my groan.
We drive along the Italian back streets on our way to see the famous footballers in action, and Dad drones on about the magic history of this building, the famous mage who shaped this plaza, and the ancient spells holding that building in place. Don’t care. Not interested.
"I’m ready to see something spectacular," I think to myself.
When we arrive, the demonstration is already in full swing, which is great because we don’t have to waste any time listening to people talk. I get to watch the team live and in action for five whole minutes.
“Oh my gosh, Dad. Thank you so much! Seeing this demo is going to be the greatest thing I’ve ever done.”
Dad leans his seat back, closes his eyes, and yawns. “No problem, kiddo. Enjoy the barbarism.”
He hates reg sports for some reason. Go figure; the famous World Speedcasting Champion doesn’t care about sports that regular people play. Of course, he doesn’t mind when Speedcasting fans freak out on him like I’m doing for these athletes. It’s not… BAM!
The sudden bang on the side of our car makes my heart stop, and my dad shoots to an upright position, a ball of Storm lightning hovering in his hand. Looking to see what caused the noise, I see it was only a soccer ball that flew out of the demo area, and slammed into my door… and… and oh my God, one of the players is coming to get it. I might die.
Tugging on the handle, desperate to interact with whichever player is coming our way, I can’t seem to get the stupid door to open. My dad, one of the world’s fastest casters, dismissed his ball of lightning and sealed the car door shut with Storm wind. He also charged the handle with a little bit of Storm lightning, it seems, because I get zapped as I grab it.
“Thanks, Dad. Really uncool,” I say.
“Hey, listen up, pal. No getting out of the car was part of the deal,” he smugly reminds me.
“Oh my gosh,” I say, slumping down in my seat. “I never get to do anything! This sucks.”
Dad looks over at me with The Eyebrow. The Eyebrow always means business and only shows up when I say or do something wrong. Realizing my stupidity, I attempt to tell him I’m sorry. But before I can apologize for saying sucks, a ‘tap tap tap’ on the front window interrupts our little stand-off.
“Holy crap,” I mutter, “It’s Jorginho.”
Jorginho is the Brazilian team’s right defender, and he’s holding the ball that hit our car, and he’s talking to us. The only problem is – we don’t speak Portuguese.
“Dad, do something. This man is one of my heroes. I want to talk with him. Please,” I beg through gritted teeth.
The World Speedcasting Champion, my father, rolls his eyes and twirls his hand around for fun; he’s not a crammer, so his magic doesn’t need hand gestures. All of a sudden, Jorginho’s words change to English in my ears, and I hear, “…again, very sorry my ball hit your car. It appears to be okay.”
I’m not sure if my dad did anything to affect the footballer’s hearing with his Storm magic, so my only response is to smile awkwardly and give Jorginho two thumbs up.
The footballer smiles back and says, “Little boy, would you like to come closer and watch the demonstration?”
Oh dear. It’s happening so soon. I’m actually dying.
“Daddy. Please. I’ll never ask for anything ever again. Pretty please. I loooooove yooooou,” I say in my most pathetic-sounding begging voice.
But he only shakes his head and tells Jorginho, “Sinto muito, mas nós temos que sair. Obrigado por ser gentil com meu filho.” (I am sorry, but we have to leave. Thank you for being kind to my son.)
“My life is officially over,” I mutter.
Jorginho, seeing the look on my face, pulls out a marker, signs the ball, and hands it to me. Accepting the ball with both hands, I look back at my dad and grin.
“Scratch that," I say with a sudden change of heart. “I’m going to live forever, and today is the greatest day of my life.”
Dad looks happily at me in the rear-view and says, “Come on. Sit up front and watch the rest of the demo with me, Jaret.”
Watch the rest of the demo? Today just can’t get any better. I climb between the two front seats and sit in his lap. We spend the next 15 minutes watching the incredible show. Not once do I let go of the autographed ball. The demo ends and the Brazilian team load onto their bus and drive away. The fans all stick around to chat about the amazing spectacle they just witnessed.
I hug him and say, “Thanks for letting me stay to the end. It was so crazy awesome.” He messes up my hair, kisses my head, like I'm still five.
“If you think it was that great, little man, what would you say if I let you drive the car?”
“Say what? You’re going to let a 10-year-old drive? Mr. Never-Breaks-The-Rules?” I ask.
“Hey, I broke the rules once,” he protests. “I let you find out about magic before you manifested any, didn’t I? I could have gotten arrested by the MOP, or kicked out of the Mages Guild for that! So don’t tell me I don’t break the rules.”
“Dad,” I say, “you filed for permission to tell me, and Mom said it was only granted because you’re a famous Speedcasting Champion.”
“Alright, fine. I’m not breaking the rules this time either,” he admits. “You can sit in the driver’s seat, and I’ll control the pedals and steering wheel with Storm. You see, Jaret, I can manipulate the air surrounding us…”
Before he can get going, I interrupt and say, “Dad, please don’t turn something cool into a magic lesson? Please?” He just laughs and scoots over to the passenger seat in response. “This will be so much fun,” I shout. “The regs are going to freak out. It’s gonna be so hilarious!”
As we pull out of the parking space, I honk the horn at the crowd of fans still standing around talking, and wave goodbye to them. The looks on their faces are priceless. From behind the milling crowd, some laughing and pointing at the ten-year-old driving a car, while others merely look on with angry and disapproving scowls, I notice something strange. The brightest light I’ve ever seen floats down behind the crowd, beginning as a fist-sized ball and then expanding rapidly. The regs’ surprised and laughing expressions suddenly change to fear and agony as the bright light engulfs them.
And then everything goes black.
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