Mukesh was still laughing when his spell sparked inside the ritual circle. Instinctively, the group backed away from the flash, huddling together tense and watchful. The bright spot ignited and flared into a yellow flame sprouting wings of fire and the glowing, flickering body of a bumblebee. Everyone except Marko relaxed and snickered. The sisters elbowed one another, exchanging amused glances. Marko glared at them and confronted the group.
“What the hell is so funny?”
“Oh, c’mon Marko. It’s just a little bug. One of us could just smash the thing. Better yet, I could probably blow it out like a candle,” boasted Andrea.
“Mukesh conjured up that so-called bug. It would be a mistake to assume it’s harmless. Nothing is what it seems to be, where he’s concerned.”
“So what? Just zap it. Better yet, beat him at his own game and conjure up a fly swatter,” joked one of the men. The group erupted into laughter.
Marko glowered at them, “You all don’t get it do you? We are trapped inside of a cast ritual circle. If we try to hit that thing and miss, the magic doesn’t dissipate. It will ricochet off the invisible barrier around the circle and hit one of us. So, don’t do anything stupid.”
“So, what you’re saying is… we’re sitting ducks. What can we do,” Janet asked.
“I don’t know. It’s a bee, isn’t it? How would you get rid of a conjured bee without magic?”
Marko looked around at the objects which had fallen with them from the portal in Doorkeeper compound and littered the ground at their feet. He bent down to grab a dented trophy and battered shield, as the bee flew at them with abnormally loud buzzing. The bumblebee zig-zagged through the group.
It gathered speed, weaving in and out of the group, until it was a menacing blur. Like a hot poker, it burned their faces and hands with a red-hot stinger. There was a chorus of startled shrieks and shouts. Their amusement quickly became vexation. Reflexively, they ducked and swatted at it. An ill-advised attempt at smashing the bumblebee resulted in a jolt of electricity coursing through one Doorkeeper’s body. He dropped helplessly to the ground, as his body convulsed. Released from the imprisonment of his crushing hands, the angry bumblebee flew launched a vicious attack. The sound of sizzling flesh was drowned out by the cries of pain and fear amid a chaotic stampede which broke apart the group.
The wounded Doorkeeper warrior lay on the ground unattended and lapsing into unconsciousness, as the others frantically attempted to guard their eyes with their hands. Marko was nearly trampled, attempting to get to him. Panic led to a hastily woven spell being hurled at and completely missing the tiny moving target. The blast of supernatural energy rebounded off of the containment field around the circle and struck down another Doorkeeper. It took Marko several moments to get the group to settle down. The sound of Mukesh his crew laughing uproariously snapped them out of their hysterics. Sage knelt beside the wounded Doorkeeper and felt for a pulse, intending to render aid. The man was dead. Marko angrily confronted the group, keeping his voice low to prevent Mukesh from hearing.
“See what happens when you don’t listen? Which one of you fools did it? C’mon, speak up! Too ashamed to come forward and own your foolishness I see. You all just played right into Mukesh’s hands and now, one of your own is dead!”
They averted their eyes, looking down shamefaced at their feet. Marko gradually became aware that the loud buzzing had ceased and noted that with everyone standing still, the bumblebee halted its attack. It hovered nearby. Marko hissed, “stand still everyone. He quickly jumped up, scooped the bumblebee into the trophy and clapped the shield on top.
The little ball of energy was surprisingly strong. Buzzing loudly, it repeatedly rammed the inside of the lid, building momentum and force as it bounced around inside the trophy. The metal trophy and shield began to heat up and burn Marko’s hands. He was not going to be able to hold onto them much longer. Something had to be done or they’d be at the bumblebee’s mercy once again. Thinking fast, Marko shouted a challenge.
“You know something Mukesh? You’re like a spoiled child burning ants with a magnifying glass. It’s easy for you to win with us trapped inside this circle. I thought you were a sporting man. How is this fair?”
“I don’t care if it’s fair, as long as it entertains me. Watching Jagathy’s poorly trained men is hilarious.”
“If you ask me, there’s no real challenge here. You say Jagathy’s men are poorly trained. I say yours wouldn’t be any better in this situation.”
“Surely you’re not proposing that my men take your place in the ritual circle?”
“Not at all. What I’m saying is, we’ll go toe-to-toe against your men. If we win, then you have to let us go.”
“Nice try Marko, I’m not naive like your precious Jagathy. As soon as I let you out of the ritual circle, you’d turn on me…”
“If you don’t trust us, then send them into the circle.”
“Of course you know, the only way you walk free is if none of my men are left standing.”
“Bring it on!”
Mukesh was silent for what felt like an eternity. Then in response to the challenge, the group saw shadows of approaching figures through the opaque force field of the ritual circle. Marko looked over at the others. They nodded in silent agreement and wordlessly moved closer together, dropping into defensive stances.