||Chapter 25.2||

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"I'm sorry," Aharon whispered. "I realized what it was too late. I--" He dropped his hands to his lap, but tears still trickled down his face.

Cale didn't bother responding. He jumped over Aharon's huddled form. Brown energy erupted on his shoulder, solidifying into earth. He slammed into the barrier blocking the doorway they'd come through, but it didn't even crack. Instead, the earth on Cale's shoulder broke off.

"Looks like we have to fight." Mara aimed her bow and fired. The arrow buried itself into one of the gem frogs' eyes. It collapsed on the spot. Twelve more were left.

Sneering, Cale punched the wall before turning back around. A small patch of red remained where he hit. He produced a ball of light in the now-bleeding hand.

"Attack the frogs," he barked.

Josh didn't have to wonder what Cale would do. He sprinted away from them and blasted the reaper with a beam of light.

"Caleb!" Mara shouted.

He ignored her, continuing to run around the room while attacking the reaper. She pressed her lips into a thin line, browed pulled together, and turned to the frogs. She huffed out a word in another language as she created a new ice arrow.

"We can get rid of them quickly," Josh said. He drew upon the image of him dashing ahead of everyone else, clearing their path like a streak of light. His lightning crackled along his sword. "Get them from up here, I'll get them down there."

He waited for her barest of nods before hopping down the steps, sending the water flying. A couple gem frogs had already started to ascend.

His blood pounded in his ears, yet the rush couldn't drown out Ioana's voice. He was back on the training field, staring at her or Zaina or whoever she had him train with, his teacher's voice snapping out corrections and commands.

Those instructions mixed with the adrenaline that flowed through his veins. He planted his foot with a splash and drove his blade forward. It pierced the closest gem frog.

The monster wailed. As it stumbled back from the sword, static traveled from the wound and enveloped its body. The frog fell back, dust-like particles drifting from its body before it even hit the water.

Josh spun to the gem frog beside him just in time to see an arrow whizz past his face. A frog off to his right shrieked. The one in front of him swiped with its claws. Channeling lightning into his shield, he raised it between them.

The frog's claws scraped against the metal of his shield for only a moment before the creature recoiled. Lightning zapped along its skin. It was so focused on the lightning it didn't try to dodge Josh's overhead slash.

He paused long enough to see the body fall before turning toward the larger crowd of gem frogs. The water had risen to his mid-thigh despite being a level higher from the bottom. Out of the ten frogs left, three sloshed through the water to crawl toward Cale where he dove under a whip-like strike from the reaper.

Arrows sliced through the sky and embedded themselves into the gem frogs, but without a clear view of a vital area, Mara could only irritate the frogs long enough to keep them at bay, not kill them.

Meaning it may be Josh's job.

He glanced at the red, murky water. The gem frogs congregated in it, watching Josh. No, not him. His sword and shield. They really didn't like lightning.

He shifted his grip on his sword and adjusted his stance. Their fangs and claws appeared so much sharper when Cale's life wasn't on the line.

"What's the matter?" he asked. "Frog caught in your throat? Gonna croak on me before even trying?"

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