The druids had been stationed throughout the massive crater that separated Nettingo from the rest of Elsinor. Now, as the dark angels swooped through the expanse of sky that most humanoids would never be able to cross, the druids began to rise upward.
Well, rise may have been putting it lightly. Enormous vines exploded from the cracked ground, shaking the foundation of the tower that Sapphire stood in. The druids rode the tops of the vines, flying towards the sky. As she watched, the angels in flight began to falter. Vines simply formed around their wings in midair, dragging them down. Angel after angel fell from the sky, victim of the attacks.
As the vines grew higher, large, hollow thorns grew from the gargantuan stems. They had barely finished forming before they began to lose a stream of bone spikes, projectiles that shot even more of the angels from the air. Sapphire smiled, if only for a brief moment. The druids, for all their faults, were proving themselves well.
Beside her, Malah squeezed her eyes shut. Light pulsed from within her eyes, and she opened them again.
“Still good.” Malah nodded. “We’re safe for a few seconds.”
Sapphire took a deep breath as the dark angels began to circle back. “I wish we knew how many angels there were.”
Malah closed her eyes and once more peered slightly into the future. Her face went white, and she opened her eyes again.
“They’re going to break through!”
Sapphire held the communications device up to her mouth yet again. “Isnita, deploy troops now!”
Light erupted around the perimeter of the city as the roughly five hundred angels leapt off the walls and sailed towards the battle. A moment passed, and an enormous gout of fire tore through the enormous vines, withering them where they stood. The dark angels rushed forward, swirling through the gap in a torrent of darkness. Sapphire whispered a spell to enhance her vision, homing in on a small cluster of the brothers that trailed far behind the main group. A group of five seemed to be tethered to a large, metal object of some sort.
“Isnita.” Sapphire spoke again. “Looks like they have an enchanted device of some sort. Might be a weapon. Try to cut it down.”
“Diverting troops.” Isnita’s voice came back curt.
A group of Isnita’s angels swerved away from the main battle. A moment later, the two lines of angels clashed together. Even from a distance, it was something to see. It was like two flocks of birds, warring against each other in aerial combat. And the brothers were good. Though they couldn’t hurt the female angels, they could certainly outmaneuver them. Slowly, one by one, angels were slipping past the line of combat.
“They’re getting through.” Sapphire spoke into the device. “They’re…”
“They’re hitting from the west!” Hesione’s frantic voice came through. “The eastern attack was just a diversion!”
More reports quickly started screaming through the device, making it impossible to understand a word. Sapphire took a deep breath and called on her magic with everything inside of her.
The battle for Nettingo was on. And she had no intentions of losing.
“Head to the west!” The guard commander barked. “They’re landing!”
Ondernifam roared. The dark ones were here again! He turned and bounded through the gates of the palace. Soldiers tried to follow him, but they were slow. Ahead, he could see dark shapes in the sky. The brothers!
He reached the western wall quickly. Golden-armored elves stood on top, swords drawn. One screamed as a brother flashed past, slicing off an arm. The arm clattered to the ground. Ondernifam grabbed it, stripped off the armor, and took a large bite. That was good.
Blood poured through his body, and he climbed up onto the wall. Dark angels filled the sky, swooping down onto the city. More began to strike, swooping past and knocking guards off the wall. One dark angel swooped towards Ondernifam, eyes wide.
Ondernifam roared and punched the boy as he flew past. His wing crumbled. The boy fell to the ground, slamming into the cobblestone. Another swooped down to attack Ondernifam as well. This one landed on the wall, spinning his sword.
An elf ran up behind the angel, sword drawn. The guard slammed the sword into the boy’s back, and it came out his chest. The angel calmly turned around and took off the guard’s head. He then pulled the sword out of his back. Two swords. Slowly, he turned back to Ondernifam.
“Finally, a challenge!” Ondernifam roared.
“No.” The angel began to twirl both swords. “A nightmare.”
“Nightmares all die when I wake up!” Ondernifam leapt at the angel. The boy slashed upward, trying to cut at Ondernifam’s throat. Ondernifam ducked under the blow and punched him in the stomach.
The angel was tossed backwards. He spread his wings to drift to a stop. He didn’t fall! Ondernifam leapt forward again. This time, the angel tried to stab him in the stomach. Ondernifam smashed a fist down onto his head. The angel’s eyes rolled back in his head, and Ondernifam grabbed his wing. He then tossed the angel over the edge of the wall.
Quickly, Ondernifam picked up the two swords dropped by the angel. A third brother swooped down, wings spread. Ondernifam threw one of the swords, slicing cleanly through one of the wings. The angel fell, smashing head-first into the side of the wall.
Ondernifam roared as angels simply began flying over his head. Several of them landed on nearby roofs and began trying to smash through the limestone. More landed in the streets and kicked down doors.
He leapt to the ground and raced for a nearby angel. The creature stood with sword drawn, grinning into the darkness. His grin vanished as Ondernifam grabbed his neck and smashed his head into the wall. Blood dripped down the limestone, and Ondernifam gave it a quick lick. He then pulled the door shut and turned down the street.
More angels landed nearby, swords drawn. Armored feet shook the ground as the soldiers from the palace finally drew into position. Ondernifam flexed his claws and leapt at the next angel.
He was in battle! He would protect the city.
He would protect Malah. Even if it killed him.
“You’re sure this is working?” Franclin paced back and forth in front of the portal of death that Garn had pieced together. “Because it looks…”
“It looks like it’s working.” Garn muttered. “Shouldn’t you be ready for a fight?”
Franclin sighed and glanced at the short-range communicator. The noise blaring out of the device was completely unintelligible.
“In theory.” Franclin drew his sword. “You people really don’t know how to prioritize problems, do you?”
Garn frowned up at him. “What do you mean?”
“We have two enemies.” Franclin held up a blue-armored finger. “Rather than trying to separate them and deal with one problem at a time, you bring them both together.”
“Hey. You’re getting to fight the Fond’sar.” Garn muttered. “And if what Simon said is right, they took the bait. Should be here anytime.”
Franclin sighed and glanced around the forge. It had been emptied of nearly all the enchanting materials, and held only the strange, spidery portal device. Garn had attached a number of other devices to the side of the thing, designed to channel the energy from the realm that he was tapped into. If he understood Garn correctly, the energy that the device could generate was more than enough to destroy the city.
“Moving into position.” The Fond’sar communicator finally lit up. It had been the first time they had heard it speak in days. “We’re checking out the palace. Teams two and three are taking up positions in the rest of the city.”
There was a short pause before an answer came through. “Fantastic.” The voice was deep and almost unintelligible. “Proceed. Report once you’ve gotten your hands on the ship. Make it out and I’ll put you in a mansion for life.”
Franclin took a deep breath and gave a short nod to Garn. “Guess it’s showtime.”
“Fight well.” Garn nodded. “And don’t let me die. I’m not ready to die yet.”
“Don’t worry.” Franclin walked towards the stairs. “Fight well, master dwarf.”
With that, Franclin stalked up the stairs, past the statue. As it slid shut, he took a deep breath. Once he took care of the Fond’sar, he would proceed to the king’s secret tunnel and make his escape with Barn. Everyone else would escape using a different route. Of course, if the city fell, he wasn’t sure how they would make it to the escape routes, but… One problem at a time.
Trying to look casual, Franclin leaned against a nearby wall and closed his eyes. His armor clicked slightly, and he smiled. As much as he had enjoyed the orange armor, his new suit was phenomenal. Carefully, he reached out and activated an enchantment designed to enhance hearing.
Almost instantly, he could hear the screams of battle. The startled cries of civilians, the dying calls of soldiers and guards. Curiously, he couldn’t hear the angels crying out. Did they not feel pain? It was clear enough that they could heal, but…
A sharp twang rang loudly in his ears. Franclin spun out of the way as an arrow shot through the space that his head had just occupied. Other enchantments reacted to the sudden danger, causing his helmet to expand and snap into place around his head. He readied his sword and glanced back and forth, seeing nothing but empty corridors and expansive gardens.
Carefully, he risked a glance at the arrow itself, which lay splintered and broken nearby. Unsurprisingly, it was very clearly dwarven. Carefully, he activated another enchantment in the armor, another danger-detection spell.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are.” He took a step towards the garden. “Here…”
A sharp crackle echoed through the air from his right. He glanced down at his arm to find that it was now encased in ice. Another dwarven arrow hung only inches away from his elbow, a weak point in the armor. The ice had caught it perfectly, just as designed to do.
In rapid succession, three more arrows zipped past him and were instantly caught by new formations of ice. It was a marvelous enchantment, a protective spell unlike anything he had ever seen before. And, now that he could see the arrows, he could see where they were coming from.
In one fluid motion, Franclin deactivated the ice enchantment, allowing the formations to dissolve, and spun to face the small garden that the arrows seemed to be coming from. The arrows fell to the ground, and Franclin’s eyes narrowed. The garden appeared empty, except…
Except for a small depression in the grass, a depression that looked curiously like a set of two feet. Franclin snorted and lifted his left hand. The footsteps rapidly tracked across the grass as Franclin launched a series of crippling fireballs across the garden. One of them struck home, causing a small dwarf to burst into flames and return to visibility.
Before Franclin could gloat, a massive hand struck him from the side, tossing him into a nearby wall. He groaned as spun as an orc materialized out of the air as well. Great. More invisibles. Franclin climbed back to his feet and pointed the sword at the orc, allowing magic to roll down the blade. A frosty blast erupted off the weapon, coating the eight-foot-tall monster in icicles.
“You think that will stop me?” The orc’s skin turned black, and fire rolled across his body. The ice melted away, and he leapt forward, knocking the blade from Franclin’s hand. Franclin shrugged and held both hands up, calling on the enchantments in the metal. A shield of ice formed between the two of them, protecting him while he scrambled backward and climbed back to his feet. The orc smashed through the wall in an instant, leaping forward with fire brimming in his eyes.
Franclin ducked to the side and held out his right hand. A sword made completely from ice formed in his palm, and he slashed down as the orc passed. He managed a small slice across the man’s shoulder, but did little more damage than that, as the blade melted.
He dropped the useless weapon and formed a new one, then held out his left hand and formed an icy blade in that hand as well. The orc smashed into the ground only feet away, spun, and jumped back to his feet. The monster roared, exhaling flame like a dragon. Franclin simply brought up both swords in front of him, casting a ward spell at the same time. The flames rolled past him, though the ice melted yet again. As he stepped back, arms dripping with water, the orc grinned.
“You keep using the same tactic.” The warrior roared. “It is why you will fail!”
Franclin shrugged and simply raced forward. As he reached the orc, he jumped up and to the side, striking the nearby wall. Where his armored feet struck the polished marble, small pockets of ice formed, giving him brief steps with which to climb ever higher. As such, he was quickly able to climb several feet farther up the wall before leaping into the air above the orc.
This time, as he stretched out his hands, he called upon different enchantments. New swords took form in his palms, swords of pure, white flame. The orc didn’t even have a chance to roar as he dropped down and sliced him into three even pieces. The chunks of the body hit the ground, and Franclin threw a sword in each direction.
The swords became great gouts of flame, burning through the palace with a vengeance. Shrubs withered under the energy, stone blackened. Three more dwarves popped into existence as well, all standing just next to the statue, their invisibility charms damaged by the sudden blast of flame.
“Seems to me like you aren’t supposed to be here.” Franclin finally walked over and picked up his original sword. Energy shimmered as he began to charge it, slowly pouring magic into the powerful steel. “Care to explain yourselves?”
Without saying a word, the dwarves turned and ran. Franclin twirled the sword and thrust it in their direction, releasing the energy contained within. A pure wave of cold snapped down the hallway, freezing everything in its path. The dwarves simply froze solid and clattered to the ground, still as corpses. Franclin took a deep breath and began charging the sword yet again. There were two other strike forces in the city. The fight was far from over.
Ondernifam tore down the street, fighting angel after angel. None of them really resisted him. Guards ran alongside him as they flooded the streets, striking the creatures down. A dark-winged creature ran out of an alley. Ondernifam grabbed him and tore off both wings before sending the boy rolling down the street. A nearby guard chopped off his head, and Ondernifam roared.
A guard ran up next to Ondernifam and took a deep breath. “I think we’ve got them!” He glanced up at the orc. “We’re winning!”
“Of course we are!” Ondernifam roared. “We will crush them!”
He finished speaking, and the elf fell to the ground, dead. An arrow protruded from the back of his helmet. The cause of death. Ondernifam spun to see an angel standing there with a bow that was now pointed at his chest.
“Just hold still.” The angel shrugged. “It’s a lot easier that way.”
Ondernifam growled as he noticed that the angel was one that he had already killed. In fact, several of the angels were slowly climbing back to their feet, wounds healing.
“They’re alive again!” Ondernifam raced forward, slapped the bow out of the hands of the angel, and punched him into the wall. He fell back to the ground, and Ondernifam roared.
Before he could do anything, something flapped over his head. He glanced up as an angel landed on the roof of a nearby home. Another one landed next to it… Then another. The soldiers began to draw back into a tight line as more of the creatures rose up, surrounding them.
“What do we do?” One of the guards screamed. “They keep coming back!”
One of the angels on the roof laughed. “You die!”
“I will never die!” Ondernifam roared. “I will defeat death itself!”
He glanced back and forth. At least twenty angels surrounded them. Possibly more. They couldn’t be killed. How could he destroy them?
A loud crack shook the ground, and the street shuddered. Before the angels could attack, vines erupted from the street and slammed into the attackers. An angel fell off the roof and landed next to Ondernifam. He smashed his foot down on the boy’s chest.
“Heal from that.” Ondernifam snarled. He looked up as a druid leapt over the group, swinging on vines. An angle flew overhead. The druid threw a ball of vines with his hand, and the angel fell as it tangled him up.
“Do not kill them!” The druid screeched. “Make it so they can’t move!”
With that, the creature ran off, bounding across rooftops and alleyways. Ondernifam glanced down at the angel by his feet, which was already starting to try to get back up.
“Spear.” Ondernifam held out his hand. One of the guards tossed him a long, sharpened pole. Ondernifam flipped it over and slammed it down through the boy and into the cobblestone. It stuck tight, and the boy feebly slapped at the object.
“We will win!” Ondernifam roared and ran past the vines. They didn’t even have to kill the angels to defeat them? How weak! They were pathetic beings… And he was going to destroy them.
Garnisic took a deep breath as words poured through the Fond’sar device. “The first team is down. There’s a Hunter here. I don’t think he was looking for us, he happened to see the wrong thing at the wrong time.”
There was a pause. “You are Fond’sar. You do not make mistakes.”
“Yes, sir. Teams two and three are moving into position now.”
Garnisic sighed. The deep, guttural voice… He couldn’t place it, but it sounded so familiar. But… Where would he had heard that voice before? Barn said that he had had experiences with the Fond’sar before, but… Surely he hadn’t met anyone who was actually in command.
It made very little sense, but then again, not much did make sense with the Fond’sar. They were an evil organization dedicated to destroying the world. What really made sense about that?
Garnisic sighed and walked back to his device. The portal still swirled between the legs, though he had made a few more additions. With luck, Nubierd wouldn’t grow angry for the intrusion. Tapping into the Fourth Realm was a tricky business… But then again, it was a land of pure lava and fire. Quite an incredible energy source, especially when trying to defend an entire city.
The top of the device contained a single crystal, a diamond that glowed with an inner white light. With luck, it would let him know when anything happened. Though he was more than happy to be out of the way of the angels, it was a bit frustrating to not know what was happening outside. Slowly, Garnisic puffed out his cheeks and sat back to wait.
With a click, the crystal turned bright red. Garnisic leapt to his feet as something moved in the staircase. He pulled out his hammer as a single dwarf walked into view. The man was dressed in long, red robes. Interestingly enough, his robe held a small insignia, the mark of the Consuming Wave. A Highrock, from the religion of the Plains dwarves?
“You must be Garnisic.” The man inclined his head. “I was hoping I’d meet you.”
Garnisic took a deep breath. “Are there more of you?”
The Highrock shook his head. “Of course not.”
The crystal flashed a second time, and Garnisic reached out to touch the leg of the strange weapon. “Lie to me again, and I set this thing off.”
A second dwarf materialized next to the Highrock, a dwarven female. She stood just a bit taller than the Highrock, though she wore very similar robes. The only difference was the lack of a dedication to one of the Elementals.
“There are no more of us.” She spoke softly. “Garnisic? Did you build this?”
Garnisic shook his head. That had been the answer that he and the king had decided upon. That way, even if the Fond’sar made it into the room and were able to report back, they would think it was still from the angels.
“I just found it.” He shrugged. “Made it a bit more… Interesting.”
“Your skills have improved even more than the king made it sound.” The Highrock mused. “Perhaps he was not giving us the full report.”
“We’ll pay him a visit soon enough.” The woman shrugged. “You said that you found this? Did you see any angels nearby?”
Garnisic frowned, as if in thought. “I don’t think so. Was this built by the angels?”
“We do believe so.” The woman nodded. “If you’d be willing to hand it over, we’ll make it worth your while.”
Garnisic continued to pretend to muse in thought. All the while, he carefully ran his hand along a set of runes, activating a number of effects he had put together. “What are you willing to do?”
“Don’t lie to him.” The Highrock scoffed. “We’re on a tight timetable, and we’re only going to erase his memory.”
Garnisic raised an eyebrow. “Erase my memory?”
“Yeah, sorry.” The Highrock shrugged. “Standard procedure, you know how it is. Now, if you don’t mind, step away from the portal and we’ll take a look at it.”
“Or, I could destroy you.”
The woman paused, then laughed. “You think you can destroy us?” Her voice lowered. “Never threaten the Fond’sar.”
She pulled a small device out of her robes and pointed it in Garnisic’s direction. A small dart flashed out of a tube, straight for him. Before it could even get close, a ball of flame formed in midair and intercepted it, transforming it into little more than melted slag. Garnisic took his hands off the device as fire began to pour upward from the portal.
“You think you can destroy me?” He echoed her words as both of their expressions drifted into the realm of horrified. “Never threaten Garnisic.”
With a snap, living flames poured through the portal. Small fire-demons that vaguely resembled housecats, they were one of the native life-forms of Firengot. They were also, under controlled conditions, quite good at tracking. Garnisic’s enchantments had collected magical information about the two Fond’sar agents and spoken it into the fourth realm. Now, as he watched, dozens of the creatures poured out of the portal, racing across the room.
The Highrock and the woman turned to run, but fell to the flames of the creatures. Their ashes hadn’t yet hit the ground as the fire-beings raced out into the streets, pouring into Nettingo. Slowly, Garnisic walked over to the counter and picked up the Fond’sar device.
“Team two just went dark.” The voice shook. “There’s something weird going on at the palace… Oh no.”
“I didn’t hire you to complain.” The deep, rumbling voice made Garnisic’s chest tighten. “What do you see?”
“Trackers.” The voice was quick. “I have to run. I… Ahhh!”
Garnisic slowly sat the device down and powered down the portal. The creatures of flame stopped coming through, though all of them already in the room scampered out into the world. They would grow cool and die after mere minutes, but they had served their purpose.
He had snubbed the Fond’sar, and they likely knew it. How would he be able to continue living a normal life? The Fond’sar didn’t just allow you to keep living after you learned something about their organization.
An enormous boom shook the ground, and Garnisic ran up the stairs and onto the palace walkways. From there, he could look out across the city… And it wasn’t good. Smoke rose from hundreds of fires, angels both dark and light swooped overhead. Arrows lanced up from the ground, shooting the dark angels out of the sky, only for the brothers to simply yank out the arrows and keep fighting. Enormous vines tore through the ground, grabbing angels out of the sky, but destroying wide swaths of city in the process.
Nettingo was falling, there was no other way to look at it. Slowly, he turned and began to jog across the palace towards the escape route. With luck, he would make it there without dying.
What was it that Franclin was always saying? One problem at a time. Slowly, Garnisic puffed up his chest and forced himself forward. The angels were invading, which was a much more pressing issue than how he would deal with the Fond’sar. Once he survived this… Then, and only then, would he worry about anything else.
Sapphire ran across the ground as the dark angels broke through Isnita’s barricade and dropped towards the streets. She brought up her staff and launched a burst of flame into the sky, burning one of the angels into ash. More kept coming, though, more than she could defeat.
“Mommy!” Malah flashed out of an alley and landed next to her. “There’s something big coming!”
Sapphire shook her head. “How long do we have?”
“It just passed over the rim of the crater.” Malah took a deep breath. “It’s big.”
“Great.” Sapphire closed her eyes and pointed her staff upward. “What should I use?”
“Lightning it is.” Sapphire slammed the staff back into the ground and took a deep breath. She opened herself to the magical field of Calsin, allowing magic to pour through her and into her staff. Lightning erupted into the sky, tearing through the swaths of angels above. The magical bolts leapt from one dark angel to the next, knocking dozens of them from the sky. One of them landed just in front of Sapphire, striking the ground with a dull splat.
“Come on.” He groaned as she started to stand up. “That just hurts.”
“Whirlpool.” Sapphire thrust the staff at him. Before he could move, the ground under him liquified and swirled into a small maelstrom, sucking him into the limestone street. His wings were the last part of him to vanish, and Sapphire allowed it to re-solidify.
“Come on.” Sapphire turned and ran down the streets. “We need to do that to more of them.”
Malah nodded and jumped up into the air, flapping across the roofs of the houses. A moment later, she ducked back down.
“Mommy!” She pointed down the street. “People are trapped!”
Sapphire nodded and ran in that direction. Another dark angel swooped down and landed next to, swinging a sword and grinning. Sapphire shrugged and simply pointed her staff in his direction, focusing on the concept of liquid in her mind. The street rippled and erupted upward in a wave, sweeping across him and pinning him to a nearby wall. The stone solidified around him, only allowing his head to peek out. For good measure, Sapphire incinerated his head with a fireball, then kept moving down the street.
She rounded a small corner in the street to find a number of dark elves huddled in a small cemetery. Dark angels stood around the edge of the burial site, bows and swords drawn. They seemed to be making a game of waiting for the elves to try and run, then cutting them down. Elven bodies lay strewn across the cobblestone and burial dirt, their blood staining the stone.
“Stop!” Sapphire leapt past them and landed in the middle of the cemetery. Only around thirty feet across, it was hardly a good position. The only cover were the tombstones, and all of those were already being used for cover by the elves. “Go away now. You’ve been warned.”
The angels just laughed. One of them fired an arrow into the crowd, striking down an elven woman. As she died, a nearby child screamed, and Sapphire roared.
“War is one thing.” She slammed her staff into the ground. “This is too far!”
The street all around the cemetery turned to liquid. Several of the angels were able to leap up into the air and avoid capture, but most of them were instantly sucked under. Sapphire smiled as the remaining angels few away, leaving the civilians safe, at least for a small moment.
A mere moment passed before the ground under her feet began to bulge upward. Sapphire took a short breath and took a step back, then ran out onto the street.
“Oh, no.” She shook her head as an arm broke through the surface. “No, no no no no no no…”
“Mom!” The boy yelped with delight. “You’re alive!”
“Yeah.” The woman slowly sat up, wounds healed. “I guess I am.”
“No, no, no!” Sapphire turned and ran away as Malah ran next to her. “That wasn’t supposed to happen!”
“What?” Malah looked up at her. “You saved her!”
“I kinda wasn’t supposed to.” Sapphire sighed. “When I was trying to get you back…” A dark angel flashed overhead, only for a druid to race past, skating on vines that formed across the roofs, chasing the dark being. They ran under the new bridge as her stomach churned. “The Persphonar are going to be furious.”
They reached the main road through town a moment later, near the gates. Sapphire took a deep breath and raced for the bridge, eager to see whatever Malah had seen. It took them mere minutes, and she swept through, gazing out across the canyon.
Sure enough… There it was. An enormous device, shaped more or less like cylinder attached to a large box, nearly the size of a house. It hung from dozens of ropes, being carried by half a dozen dark angels.
“So…” A dark shape appeared out of the air next to her. “You know how I told you were were attacking today?”
Sapphire turned to see a rather shell-shocked Simon standing on the bridge as well. “You didn’t know all their plans?”
“As it turns out, Amil has been suspecting me for quite some time.” Simon held up a finger, then pointed at the device. “That right there is a horrible idea. I could have told him that, but no, he just has to go and do it because it sounds awesome.” After a moment, he shrugged. “And, admittedly, I think it sounds pretty awesome too, but…”
“Simon.” Sapphire took a deep breath. “What is that thing?”
“That right there is a laser cannon.” Simon shrugged. “It actually wasn’t the original one on the ship. That one was a plasma cannon, but we lost it when clockwork drones took the vessel a few thousand years ago. Took me half a century to rebuild the thing, and now he’s just going to go waste it again.”
Sapphire shook her head. “What are you talking about? It’s a bad idea?”
Simon nodded. “Let me see… Okay. You know how fire burns things, right?”
Sapphire nodded slowly. “Right.”
“You know how light can also sometimes burn things?”
Sapphire frowned. “Like on a really sunny day?”
“Exactly.” Simon nodded. “Think about how you can lay in the sun, and your skin will burn. Now, imagine that the sunlight is even more intense.”
Sapphire glanced up at the burning summer sun. “How intense?”
Simon puffed out his cheeks. “That thing? Take all the sunlight that strikes the entire country of Elsinor over the course of a decade and condense it into one location in one second. It’ll melt through the city in a heartbeat.”
The world seemed to grow cold around her. “How do we stop it?”
“If my calculations are right, it’ll probably explode after a few seconds of use, given that it’s been disconnected from the ship’s cooling system.” Simon shrugged. “But that’ll still be enough to melt the city into slag.”
“Can we stop it before it gets here?”
Simon shrugged. “Those cables are made from titanium steel. Nothing in this realm is going to slice through it, and the force field that they’re projecting around it would prevent us from getting to it anyway.”
Sapphire gave her staff a small twirl. “I can transport us straight there.”
Simon’s eyes opened slightly. “Like teleportation?”
“Like, we’re here, and then we’re standing on top of it.” Sapphire shrugged. “Will that work?”
Simon nodded rapidly as his energy began to renew. “It might. It just might.” He gave his wings a flap, then turned to Malah. “Get everyone out of the city. Now. Especially you.” He shook his head. “Even if I can’t analyze you, you’re still something special. Get to cover, and do it now.”
Sapphire nodded. “Warn Isnita. See if she can get her angels to fly everyone to cover.”
Simon smiled as Malah turned and flapped away.
“Looks like it’s just you and me.” He continued to grin as Sapphire drew a circle on the ground around them with the crystal of her staff. “Our first date! And we’re doing it in a high-stress environment with the fate of the world on the line!”
Sapphire raised an eyebrow. “And that means something?”
“Oh, I certainly hope so.” Simon rubbed his hands together. “Let’s-”
His words were cut off as Sapphire slammed the staff into the ground and pictured the top of the enormous weapon in her mind. In the blink of an eye, magic flowed up and around them… And they were taken away.
Malah raced through the skies, flashing across the town. Everywhere she looked, pillars of smoke curled up, arcing into the blue. Flames exploded across the ground as angels and druids fought, guards perished as they failed to take down the dark angels for good.
Malah closed her eyes, then spun and angled towards the palace. Isnita was directing her angels from there, which was the best option for evacuating the city. She smiled as she approached the fortress. The dark angels hadn’t even tried to attack it yet. They seemed content to just pillage the population. Of course, that was probably just a diversion while they got the sunbeam thing in place.
Malah closed her wings and dropped down, zooming between two pillars before leveling out. She flashed over the heads of several soldiers, drawing startled gasps. She just laughed and kept flying, heading for the Watch Commander’s office.
As she flew up, two guards drew swords before stepping back and allowing her to land. She ran through the doors to find a room in absolute chaos. Isnita stood in the middle of the room, eyes closed, barking out instructions. Generals and messengers took the information and ran from the room, probably making their way to various points across the city.
“The angels are hitting the dark quarter.” Isnita called out. “The strike on the upper district was a diversion. Get your men there now.”
Two messengers ran from the room, and the Watch Commander nearby sighed. “We don’t have that many men left. How do we kill those things?”
“I wish I could give you an answer.” Isnita sighed and opened her eyes for a brief moment. She frowned down at Malah before closing her eyes again. “That thing is getting closer. I need troops ready to combat it the moment it lands.”
“It’s not going to land.” Malah spoke it. “It’s going to destroy the city.”
Isnita sighed and opened her eyes again. “Did Simon tell you that?”
Malah nodded. “He said it’s like a giant sunbeam that can melt everything!”
The Watch Commander tapped his foot against the stone. “We can’t take the word of a member of our enemy.”
“I agree. Unfortunately, Simon falls into a grey area.” Isnita sighed and closed her eyes. “He said it would destroy the whole city?”
Malah nodded. “Sapphire went to stop it, but Simon wants us to evacuate the city just in case. Use your angels to get everyone out!”
The Watch Commander shook his head. “I won’t order my men to leave their posts. They’ll die here if they must, but I won’t listen to the words of a criminal.”
Isnita glanced down at the ground. Her wings flapped slightly, and she nodded. “I’m pulling everyone out. Everyone from the team will be safe, and I’ll get as many civilians as possible.”
“You’re abandoning the field of battle?” The Watch Commander roared. “You’re nothing but a lowly traitor to the cause!”
“No.” Isnita turned and stared him in the eye. “I can get your men out. Almost five hundred of them. Say the word, and you’ll have living troops to strike back.”
The Watch Commander crossed his arms. “The dark one is just trying to lead us astray. He’s going to separate us, pick us off one by one.”
“You’re letting your men die.” Isnita took Malah’s hand. “I’d say that you’re the traitor.”
The Watch Commander drew his sword and stepped around in front of Isnita and Malah, blocking the door. The other soldiers in the room drew swords as well. In an instant, there were over a dozen blades pointing in their direction. Malah grimaced as the Commander stepped forward and pressed the blade up against her throat.
“I knew this would happen.” The Commander growled. “You would fight alongside us until you could betray us.”
Isnita leveled her gaze at the man. “I’m giving you one more chance. Say the word, and you and your men make it out of the city alive.”
“We’ll make it out alive.” The Commander spat in Isnita’s face. “Just not on your terms.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Spread the word. All angels, regardless of gender, are now hostile.”
Isnita took a deep breath. “I wish you hadn’t done that.”
The Commander grinned. “You’re a defenseless little girl. What are you going to do about it? Slap me to death?”
Isnita put a hand on Malah’s shoulder. It felt… Nice. “Malah?”
Malah glanced back at Isnita. “Yes?”
“Close your eyes.”
Malah frowned, but nodded and closed her eyes. Something screeched in her ears, and light burst through her eyelids. She covered her ears as surprised shouts and screams filled the air. Only a moment later, Isnita tapped her on the shoulder again.
Slowly, she opened her eyes. Every soldier in the room was dead, save the Watch Commander. They… They looked like they had just turned and killed each other. The Watch Commander was staring down at a small dagger in his hand. His whole arm trembled, even as he slowly started to bring the blade upward.
“I warned you.” Isnita walked past the commander. His eyes followed her, but he didn’t move a muscle to follow her. Only kept bringing the knife higher. “Malah. Come.”
Malah looked up at him, took a deep breath, and ran after Isnita. A moment later, she heard a gurgle and the sound of a body hitting the ground. Desperately, she closed her eyes and charged after her sister.
“We need to get in the air.” Isnita glanced up as her angels dropped downward towards the city. With wings folded, they looked like they were attacking it, simply zooming down into the streets. “If they really have something that can…”
A snap sounded through the air, and an arrow lodged itself in Isnita’s chest. She fell to the ground with a small cry. Malah screamed and dropped down next to her, rolling her onto her back. Her eyes were glazed, but still flickering back and forth.
“She’ll get back up.” Amil’s voice echoed through the air. Malah turned as he stepped out of a shadow, crossbow in hand. As she watched, he cocked it back and pointed it in her direction. “Granted, it’ll take a bit, but she’ll recover. Our people don’t exactly die easily. But then, I’m sure you’ve figured that out already.”
“What are you doing?” Malah ground her teeth together.
“Simple.” Amil nodded down at the city. “We’re about to blow this place up. I’d like to kidnap you before that happens.”
Malah shook her head. “Not happening.”
“I was afraid you’d say that.” Amil crossed his arms. “So, here’s the deal. You either come with me and we bring your sister, or I shoot you and take you by force, and I leave your sister here.” He shrugged. “She’ll survive, and her body will regenerate, but regenerating under a hundred feet of lava is… Painful. She’ll be trapped, unable to move for a million years until the lava erodes and she’s able to break free.” Behind Amil, the sky began to turn an odd shade of red. “We don’t have much time. I’d say ten seconds for you to decide.”
Malah closed her eyes. Why did she have to choose between those horrible options? She had to save her sister, but…
She screamed and opened her eyes again. Instead of just seeing Amil, though, she found herself in the shadowy future-world. Above her, Amil and future-Malah winged into the sky. Malah held Isnita tight, somehow pulling her into the air. A burst of light came from the side, and…
With a snap, she reverted to the present. Amil thrust the crossbow at her, an increasingly terrified look on his face.
“Three.” His voice shook. “Two.”
“I’m going with you.” Malah bent down, grabbed Isnita’s arms, and launched up into the sky. She didn’t know what that flash of light had been but she had to trust that it was something helpful. Her wings ached as she pulled her sister into the air, but they were able to leave the ground. Amil shot past them, climbing slowly into the sky. Malah followed, noticing that the crossbow was still pointed back in her direction.
Just like before, a flash of light lit up the sky. Thankfully, it was a point of light quite close to her. It was… It was just like Sapphire always did when she transported somewhere! Simon erupted from the light, trailing lightning off his wings. Amil had a single moment to look surprised before Simon kicked him in the head, wrapped his arms around his wings, and snapped something quite loudly. Amil fell from the sky, screaming, and Simon glanced at Malah.
“Get out of here!” Simon screamed. “I’ll follow you! Just don’t look back!”
Malah nodded and forced her wings into motion, flapping for the edge of the crater. Behind her, a light brighter than the sun illuminated the entire crater. A moment later, a shock wave hit her, crumpling her left wing. She screamed as a powerful wind struck her, knocking her from the sky. Desperately, she spread her good wing and tried to ride the wind as far as she could. The edge of the crater came closer… But it was still so far away. Slowly, she fell from the sky, spiraling down to the rocks below.
Sapphire took a deep breath as the magic carried her and Simon through the air. An instant later, they struck home, landing on a surface that was at least somewhat solid. The magic cleared from around her, and she tried to keep from screaming.
They were standing on the large box connected to the metal tube. It was only ten or fifteen feet across, not providing them with much room. Slowly, Sapphire looked up. The angels above her had already noticed them, and began shouting at the tops of their lungs.
“Haha!” Simon yelled up at them. “You can’t hurt us! If you stop flying, you drop this!”
Two soldier angels unattached to the weapon swerved away from the main battle, shooting across the skies towards them. Both had the strange wands outstretched, pointed in their direction. Simon started jumping up and down, making strange and probably obscene gestures.
Only an instant later, the soldiers struck an invisible, magical field. Lighting rippled through the air, radiating outward from the point of contact, while the two angels slowly fell from the sky.
Who-hoo!” Simon hooted. “That’s what I’m talking about!”
Sapphire glanced at him. “Shut up and tell me how to destroy this thing.”
“Right.” Simon knelt down and put his hands on the metal. “This is the anterior compartment, which means that directly underneath of us is the flux compressor, the xenon tubes, and the power convertor.”
Sapphire frowned. “What does that mean?”
“It means that if we cut wrong, this thing explodes in a nuclear fireball that destroys the planet.” Simon rubbed his jaw, then glanced at her. “How precisely could you cut with that thing?”
Sapphire shrugged and flipped her staff over, placing the crystal on the surface of the metal. Carefully, she breathed a tiny bit of magic into the crystal. A small point of flame trickled out, melting a portion of the metal casing.
“Ahh, good!” Simon grinned. “Do that, and make a circle about three feet across. Oh, and do it fast.”
Sapphire frowned as she worked. “They’re about ready to fire it?”
“No.” Simon shook his head. “We’ve got more incoming, and it looks like their equipped with quantum… Right.” He paused. “People are about to come through the force field and try to kill us.”
“Fantastic.” Sapphire muttered. She finished half of the circle and took a breath. Just pouring magic out the end of the staff was one thing. Trying to control the magic was an entirely different matter. One of the angels above her dropped for a moment, tilting the entire platform. She scrambled to avoid falling, sliding away from her target. Flames burst across the surface of the metal as the staff continued to try to cut, and Simon’s eyes went wide.
“Don’t do that!” Simon scowled at her. “Do you want to kill us?”
“Do you want to be of more help than a nuisance?” Sapphire growled and stalked back towards the cut. The She braced herself again and continued to slice. She was about three quarters of the way done, nearly finished, when something hit the magical field. Hard.
Lightning erupted through the space as an angel came crashing through. He struck the metal only feet from Simon, glaring up at him with a ferocity unmatched by anything Sapphire had seen before.
“Traitor!” He screamed. “You’re nothing but a…”
Simon shrugged and kicked him in the mouth, sending him flopping to the side. “You’ll have to do better than…”
A second angel came crashing through, striking Simon in the back. He was thrown to the metal surface, groaning as the second boy stood over him and pointed one of the strange wands in his direction. Up close, Sapphire could see that the wand portion seemed to connect to a handle that fit into the angel’s hand perfectly. The angel’s finger rested on a small button, likely the way that the wands activated their magic.
“Simon.” The second one spoke. “I never trusted you.”
“Really?” Simon frowned, as if confused. “Never? Not even when I saved your life back on Tesserion Three?”
The angel cocked his head sideways. “When did that happen?”
“About four thousand years ago.” Simon propped himself up on his elbows. “The locals had chopped your wings off and were dangling you over a giant volcano. You don’t remember that?”
The angel slowly shook his head. “What did I do to make them chop my wings off?”
Simon sat up fully. “You…”
Without warning, he swept out his wings, knocking the angel to the ground. The same movement brought Simon fully back to his feet, where he laughed.
“You probably did something stupid like that!” Simon laughed and ran forward, kicking both angels in the stomach. When he did so, he thrust his wings backwards, giving him an extra burst of speed and energy. Both of their attackers were tossed over the side, where they crashed into the magical field and slid down, sparking lightning across the area.
Sapphire took a deep breath as she finally finished the cut. The metal plate fell away, and she took a step back. “Done.” Slowly, she took a deep breath as Simon stepped up to the new hole. “Did that event actually happen?”
Simon shrugged and knelt down. “Who knows? Tesserion Three is a real planet, and saving someone does sound like the type of heroic event that I tend to indulge in.”
“Right.” Sapphire rolled her eyes. “What next?”
Simon glanced down into the depths of the object. “First, magic that plate out of there.”
Sapphire pointed the staff into the hole and sent out streamers of magic. They connected with the glowing piece of metal and pulled it upward, where she tossed it over the side of the machine. Simon whistled and stuck his head down into the gap. Sapphire bent down as well, but… Well, she really didn’t know what any of it did. There were thousands of tiny metal wires, blinking lights, glowing coils, and even more.
“Well, now.” Simon whistled after a few seconds. “Ferguson really knew what he was doing here.”
Sapphire frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that this whole thing has been hotwired.” Simon scratched his head. “Have you ever heard of a Hail Mary?”
Sapphire slowly shook her head. “What does it mean?”
“It’s a reference from another realm.” Simon crossed his arms and sat back. “Word of advice, don’t go there if you have wings. Everyone starts screaming about the world ending, beasts from the ocean, it’s bad.” He snorted after a second. “Though it was fun to convince three other brothers to dress up in robes, steal some horses, and go riding down the street of the world capitol. I think we caused a planet-wide riot that time.”
“Right.” He shook his head. “It means to go all-in. A last-ditch effort to succeed, where you can’t possibly go back. All the eggs in one basket, all the fish in a barrel.”
“Simon?” Sapphire raised an eyebrow. “How bad is this?”
Simon shrugged. “Ferguson wired the particle accelerator into the matter accumulator device. It’s creating a feedback loop that’s slowly charging this thing up. If I break the loop, all the stored energy will be released. If I don’t break the loop, it’ll continue to charge until the ceramic modulator breaks.”
Sapphire shook her head. “Can you possibly just say things in a way that I understand?”
Simon ground his teeth together and turned to face her. “We have about a minute until this thing blows, and there’s no way for me to turn it off without just setting it off anyway.”
“Oh.” Sapphire closed her eyes. “Is there any way…”
In her hands, her staff gave a mighty jerk, pulling her towards the city. She nearly fell off the massive weapon, Simon had to grab her hand to steady her. After only a moment, it pulled in that direction again, twisting her entire body around. She glared down at it.
“Something wrong?” Simon raised an eyebrow.
“I don’t know.” Sapphire snarled. “It’s just…”
Magic leapt from the crystal, enhancing her eyesight. In that instant, she saw Amil standing over Malah and an apparently unconscious Isnita. Malah grabbed Isnita and began flapping up into the sky, Amil followed closely, one of the wands pointed in their direction.
“Amil has Malah.” Sapphire breathed. “He’s got her.”
“Smart.” Simon breathed. He took a deep breath, then nodded. “Can you send me there?”
Sapphire spun to face him. “What?”
“Send me there.” Simon nodded at the city. “Teleport, transport, whatever you call it. I’ll take care of Amil and get Malah to safety. As soon as I’m gone, try to cool this thing.”
Sapphire frowned. “Cool it?”
“Spray the whole thing with ice. Might give us a few extra seconds.” Simon nodded. “Transport away as soon as you see the big curly thing start to glow.”
Sapphire nodded. She wasn’t sure about the whole plan, but if Simon was telling the truth, they really didn’t have time to debate the issue. She grabbed his hand and pointed the staff in Malah’s direction.
She screamed the word, and Simon vanished in a burst of magic. With her still-enhanced eyesight, she saw him appear a moment later, next to the other angels. Desperately, she spun and pointed the staff down into the depths of the strange weapon. She formed the image of ice in her mind, allowing magic to pour through the staff.
Instantly, icy crystals exploded out of the staff and down into the weapon. With a massive hiss, the ice melted, causing steam to belch up from the depths of the inner workings. Sapphire was forced to take a step back as the scalding liquid nearly burned her skin off. She was preparing for a second attempt when one of the attack angels came crashing back through the magical field.
The boy didn’t even say a word, just hit her in the stomach. She was thrown backwards, landing on the very edge of the floating platform. Nettingo loomed large, it was so close.
“You thought you could stop us.” The angel stalked forward. “You will fail, like so many others.”
Sapphire raised her staff and fired a lightning bolt into one of the angels holding up the opposite side of the weapon. The angel crumpled and fell, and the platform tilted. Taken unaware, the attacking angel fell backwards, flapping his wings but unable to regain his balance. He fell from the platform, and Sapphire smiled.
A moment later, she smiled even more. She couldn’t stop the weapon… But she could bring it down. Desperately, she thrust her staff high, calling on all her magic. Storm clouds formed just over the heads of the angels, and she screamed.
Magical lightning bolts arced down from the clouds, smashing into the magical field. Ordinary lightning bolts arced back into the clouds, giving it even more power. After only a moment, the entire field collapsed with a red burst of flame and fire. Without a pause, the lightning came pouring down, striking the angels over and over. Each and every one of them fell limp… As did the weapon.
As gravity ceased to have any meaning, Sapphire spun her staff around her. She didn’t care where it took her, she just needed to get away. Magic flowed around her, and she landed flat on her back in the forest.
For a brief instant, she caught a glimpse of her surroundings. Trees, standing tall. A bird, somewhat startled by her sudden appearance, flitting overhead. Several wildflowers budding up around her head.
That instant passed, and fire filled the air. The leaves were stripped from the trees, the wildflowers were turned to nothing but ash. Her staff lit up with an inner energy, forming a shield around her body. With a crash, the trees were blown into splinters as a pure inferno raged past. The ground itself shuddered and blackened, and she took a deep breath.
The weapon had exploded… And she had no idea of the true extent of the damage. Had she succeeded? Had she failed?
Unfortunately, the only way to find out was to go look around… And that was something she wouldn’t be able to do until the flames had calmed down. For the moment, she just lay there as the fires continued to rage around her body, continued to shake the ground. All she could do… Was wait.
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