Lance knew that the very moment he showed any sign of casting a spell, he would be shot before he had a chance to complete it. But something needed to be done. Theo and Zomi needed to escape.
One of his first lessons on magic suddenly came to mind. Theo had told him how skilled mages will use anything possible to focus and center themselves. Things like stretching, audible sounds, and even breathing. Magic casting didn't have to be prepared with chanting or hand movements. He had to control his breathing, he had to focus, and he had to act natural. Lance could not let anyone know of the spell until he released it.
Theo was already walking forward and coming up close from behind. Lance began walking to keep distance between them, but quickly moved his thoughts to every step he was taking. He could feel the ground beneath him, a hard surface and the grass below offered very little padding. Placing weight on his left foot before kicking off and switching to the right with his arms swinging gently as he walked. Lance tried to relax his hands, allowing his fingers to curl only slightly.
At this point he recognized that the muscles in his neck felt tense. His nose began to itch and while he didn't reach up to scratch, he didn't ignore it. He accepted it. His chest feeling tight as he focused in on his breathing, timing it closely with each step. There was a slight chill to the air and for a brief moment he thought it was refreshing. His lips relaxed and he almost smiled.
It was then in his mind that the air, the earth, and his body were all that existed. When Lance exhaled another time, he knew that this was the moment. His moment. He was ready. Prepared without any counting, without any chanting, and fully aware of his current presence and state of mind.
The next step Lance took was back, planting his heel into the earth, digging slightly and feeling the support it gave him. The air offered no resistance as threw up his arms to side, yelling out, and releasing the energy that had been building within.
A surge of adrenaline rushed through his entire body, excitement rising up as a loud explosion and a wall of fire erupted behind him. The fire remained, towering over all and blocking Theo and Zomi from getting any closer. With the fire circling Lance and the bandits in a wide stretch, Theo lifted up the little girl before sprinting as hard as he could to their fox mount. The two knights contained in the ring were too startled to act, but three of the four archers were unfazed. Bows were drawn and arrows were quickly shot through the flames. One after another with the archers hoping for just one to slip through and strike Theo.
Looking over his shoulder, Lance began crying quietly as he was trying to make out his comrades through the fire.
'You have to survive! You must. I know you can save us all.' He swallowed, 'Don't die.'
Theo's mount took an arrow in to its hip, yelping and quickly bolting off away. Theo who had been helping Zomi in place found himself stumbling to keep himself from being dragged. He took a deep breath and clenching his teeth, he yanked himself up onto the seat not once noticing that the arrow that landed a spot in the fox's hide was being followed closely by another.
Pain was short lived.
The leader of the bandits walked forward and stopped at Lance's body, lightly nudging the man with his foot. Lance had fallen, suffering from a large wound to his neck. For him, it had been a sharp pain he never knew coming and one that only lasted a few seconds. Swallowed by light upon impact, when Lance opened his eyes he found himself lying on the earth. Only, he could not feel it. He could not feel the heat of the fire or even the air passing by in any sense.
Lifting himself up, Lance saw his body below him with the soldier turning away and calling to the others that he was dead. It was slightly disorienting and panic was beginning to set in, but a familiar voice quickly grounded him and helped him back to his senses.
"We finally meet face to face."
Beside him was Apocalypse. They had seen each other before, but not like this. Never in the same realm.
"Before you ask," Apocalypse continued with a weak and pained smile, "No. I do not understand what happened just now."
Lance looked back down at his body for a moment and then out toward where Theo and Zomi had been.
"He's safe. They won't be able to get far, but I will send someone to go fetch them."