“Simon.” Mal grabbed the quivering angel’s shoulder. “Simon. We need you.”
“There’s nothing we can do.” Simon spun to face him. “I told you, I don’t have the time to run the calculations I’d need to process. Without those calculations, it doesn’t matter what switches I flip or what I disconnect, the process is still going to happen. If we break anything, they’ll just pause the process until we’re caught.”
Mal closed his eyes. He had never seen Simon so… Un-Simon-like. “Then think. I don’t know how this thing works.” He held up his hands. “Is there any way to break things that won’t result in an error message?”
“None that I know of.” Simon gestured vaguely at the hoards of pipes and wires. “This thing produces the energy that the other systems need to function. Right now, there’s a constant stream of energy trickling out. If we disrupt that flow, which is what we would need to do to ensure that it breaks, they’ll know long before it becomes critical.”
“Alright.” Mal shook his head. “Then… Is there any way we can cause things to break right as they try again?”
Simon shook his head, then paused. Slowly, his head came back up. Lights seemed to flicker behind his eyes, and a grin spread his face.
“Mal, you are a genius!” He clapped a hand on either side of Mal’s shoulders and took a deep breath. “If we make it out alive and you wind up turning back into a female, I solemnly swear that I won’t try to hit on you without your expressed consent.”
Mal raised an eyebrow. “And if you turn into a female?”
“Then all bets are off.” Simon flexed his wings. “Here goes nothing. Watch for anyone who might see us.”
With that, he launched himself upward, sailing into the depths of the strange device. Mal flew up after him, dodging past the hoards of pipes, wires, and other strange metal devices. In the exact center, a small sphere around ten feet across hung from the mess of materials. It was metal, like everything else, but lights danced across its surface like tiny ballerinas. Simon landed on a nearby tube and began whistling softly as he stared at it.
Mal glanced around as they sat there. Outside the massive sphere, through the large tears in the metal casing, he could see a number of other angels bustling around, pulling out wires and pressing runes connected to massive, magical displays.
“Alright.” Simon finally nodded. “So this part here is…” He glanced at Mal, then sighed. “Do you mind if I talk while I work? I fully realize that it will make about as much sense to you as a list of the various possible quantum states would mean to most people, but it’ll help me focus.”
“Go for it.” Mal held up his hands.
“Perfect.” Simon leaned towards the device. “So this thing is a failsafe, designed to shut off the flow of plasma if there’s too much…”
Mal tuned him out and went back to staring through the gaps at all the angels. None of them looked up, they simply ran back and forth doing whatever it was that they did. After a few moments, Ferguson stepped into view, a scowl on his face. He wasn’t facing the two angels, but he wasn’t exactly far away, either.
“Simon!” Mal hissed softly. “It’s Ferguson.”
“Where?” Simon didn’t look up from his work.
“Below us and to the right.”
Simon still didn’t look away, but held out his right hand, made a fist, and lifted his middle finger. “Did he see that?”
Mal frowned. Ferguson was still looking away, yelling at an unseen angle for something or another. “I don’t think so.”
“Probably best.” Simon sighed and began pulling out wires, connecting them to other points on the small, shimmering orb. “At least for the moment.”
Mal frowned. “Huh?”
“How much do you trust me?”
Mal raised an eyebrow. “At this point, quite a bit.”
“Good.” Simon took a deep breath as he connected a few more wires. “Because… This isn’t going to be enough to stop them.”
“Of course not.” Mal frowned. “Can you explain why?”
“No time.” Simon glanced up. “Are you listening to what they’re saying out there?”
Mal frowned and tried to listen harder. Ferguson’s voice was the most prominent thing, though it sounded muffled.
“…everywhere! I don’t care! Look inside the toilets if you have to. Check the plasma conduits! Check…”
“They’re going to find us.” Simon took a deep breath and plugged in several more wires. “Might be a minute, it might be fifteen, but they’re going to find us.”
“Okay.” Mal nodded. “So…”
“So, if they find us in here, they’re going to assume that we’re doing something, and even if they don’t know exactly what I did to this core, they’re going to start looking into it.” Simon took a deep breath. “I see exactly one way we get out of this.”
Mal took a deep breath. “And that is?”
“Well, if I told you that, it wouldn’t be any fun.” Simon took a deep breath, plugged in one last wire, and flipped backwards over the pipe. “Attack!”
“And there it is.” Paulin took a deep breath as his horse crested the small foothill. In the mountains nearby, he could see the long trail of desolation that the brothers’ ship had left as it crashed, a scar down the mountainside. Sapphire rode up beside him, a small smile on her face.
“There it is, indeed.” She took a deep breath. “Any word from Hesione?”
“None that I’ve seen.” Paulin turned his horse slightly. Commander Ferison Apician rode up next to him, gleaming in the golden armor. “Commander.”
“Prince Paulin.” Ferison inclined his head in respect. “My troops are yours to command. Shall we ride down on these fell creatures?”
“Not just yet.” Paulin sighed and turned to look at the army behind him. Though the forest concealed much of them, twenty thousand loyal Apician troops sat just behind him, swords at the ready. Paulin smiled, then turned back to face the battlefield. “We need the signal first.”
“The signal?” Ferison frowned. “I thought we were riding on the Fond’sar.”
“We are.” Paulin reached into his pocket and withdrew a small piece of sandstone. “Give me one moment.”
“This wasn’t part of the plan.” Ferison ground his teeth together.
“Technically, it was.” Paulin slowly held his hand higher. Carefully, he began to draw on the power of the stone, feeling the energies flow down his arm. “Are you familiar with the Fond’sar?”
“Only in children’s bedtime stories.”
“Then you know enough.” Paulin smiled as glowing lights began to form in his opposite hand. “The Fond’sar operate on misdirection and mistruth. They have operatives anywhere and everywhere. We couldn’t risk a key part of the plan falling into their ears ahead of time.”
Ferison nodded slowly. “And your plan is?”
“The Fond’sar have this thing about hiding.” Paulin shrugged. “We need to know exactly where they are. Right?”
“So, we’re about to find out.” Paulin smiled and let his lights fly. Six colored orbs, all red, shot high into the evening light. It was the Elven signal for a question, a query for more information. “Now… All we have to do is wait.”
“I really don’t think you understand how this is working.” Sefferon crossed his arms and glared at Hesione. “What do you know?”
“I’m not telling you anything.” Hesione spat through bloody teeth. “We’re here to stop the angels. That’s it.”
“Isnita?” Sefferon turned slightly. “Is that true?”
“Yes.” Isnita gasped. Hesione winced slightly at the sight of the angel. Well, at the sight of all of them, really. At that moment, she was hanging from a tree by a number of chains, being used as a living punching bag for the entertainment of any of the Fond’sar dwarves that came back into camp. Isnita, on the other hand, was basically being flayed alive. At that moment, she was tied to a tree, with a dozen arrows shot through various parts of her body. Nevertheless, she was still alive, still fighting.
“I still don’t believe you.” Sefferon turned to the rest of the group. “If you don’t start talking, I’ll start hurting these people, too.”
Hesione sighed. Garn and Ondernifam had been knocked unconscious by some sort of Fond’sar magic, and were currently crumpled against another nearby tree. The threat to hurt her friends was certainly valid, he had done enough to hurt Isnita that it was clear he would use pain, but… So far, he had been unwilling to actually touch either of the two individuals. Every time he had threatened, he had simply gone back to putting more arrows through Isnita.
“Oh. You don’t want me to?” The dwarf walked up to her, flashing a small grin. “You don’t want me slicing them open?”
“Not really.” Hesione shook her head. “They don’t heal like Isnita can.”
“True.” Sefferon nodded. “On the other hand… I can inflict far more damage to the angel.”
He nodded, and a nearby archer fired another arrow into Isnita’s leg. She screamed in pain, and Sefferon laughed.
“You’re not going to win this, elf.”
Hesione struggled to keep from frowning in confusion. What was going on? She understood why he wasn’t putting more pressure on her: She obviously had the most information of the group, and if they knocked her out, they wouldn’t be able to pull any information from her. But… Why were they so unwilling to harm Garn and Ondernifam? She wasn’t complaining in the slightest, it was just… Strange.
“I think I will.” Hesione spat out another mouthful of blood. “In fact, I think I’m going to defeat you. Actually, no.” She smiled slightly. “I think you’re going to fail, and your boss is going to punish you for your failure. Am I right?”
Sefferon’s mask broke for a split second. “You know nothing.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling you.” Hesione took a deep breath. “I don’t know anything more. We came to defeat the angels.”
Another arrow snapped into Isnita, and Hesione winced. She knew the angel could heal, but… She had to be in excruciating pain.
“Sefferon.” Another dwarf bustled into the small depression, concern on his face. “There’s something happening.”
“Do tell.” Sefferon’s voice was deadly quiet.
“Elven light signals. Six red.” The dwarf frowned. “They’re asking us for something?”
Hesione smiled. Carefully, she began drawing on the power of the sunstones that she had secured to her body. Tucked around her stomach, they were completely invisible without being completely undressed. Power swelled up in her arms, and she allowed a series of brilliant blue orbs to erupt upward from her palms.
Sefferon spun in her direction, and she took a deep breath.
“No.” She smiled. “They’re asking me for something.”
Mal dove after Simon as the angel tore downward, through the sphere. To Mal’s complete astonishment, he folded his wings and dove straight through one of the slits in the side, rolling out into the engine room. Mal followed, diving through the slash and landing on his feet.
“Here!” Simon grabbed one of the strange wands off the belt of a passing and quite startled brother. He shot the boy through the head, tossed the weapon to Mal, and somersaulted backwards. “Defend yourself!”
Mal caught the weapon and tried to hold it like he had seen. All around, angels drew their weapons. “How do you use this thing?”
“Like this!” Simon returned, a wand in each hand. He dove past Mal, wings spread, nearly moving in slow motion. Blue bursts of light poured from the ends of the wands, mowing down half a dozen angels in the blink of an eye. He finished the dive with a flourish, stood up, and twirled the wands around his fingers. “This is why westerns are valuable entertainment.”
“Simon!” Ferguson bellowed as he swept around the side of the jump drive. Mal spun and held up his wand, squeezing down on the small button. Fire leapt from the end of the small barrel… Only to vanish a few inches from Ferguson’s skin. “I thought you might try something like this!”
“Did you, now?” Simon gestured at Ferguson loosely with one of his wands. “You knew I was hiding in the jump drive so I could jump out and steal a plasma pistol?”
One of the doors behind him slid open. Simon didn’t even look, simply pointed one of the wands over his shoulder and shot the angel through the neck.
“I’ll admit, your skills are… Impressive.” Ferguson ground out. “What do you intend to accomplish here? You can’t injure me.”
“Right.” Simon muttered. “You’re wearing a negation field generator.” He took a deep breath and sighed. “Guess I’ll just have to shoot something that doesn’t have a negation field generator.”
Before Mal could blink, Simon raised both wands and fired them up through a gap in the jump drive. Fire belched out from within, and Ferguson screamed. At the same time, red lights lit up across the room while alarms began to clatter loudly. The leader dove past Mal, tackling Simon. More angels burst into the room and leveled much larger weapons at Mal’s chest.
“Drop it!” One of them screamed. “Now!”
Mal held up his hands and dropped the wand. Slowly, the angels came down, cautious but purposefully. In a matter of moments, they had tied up Simon and Mal and placed them near the center of the room, away from any of the magical displays. Two of the angels kicked their feet out from under them, dropping them to the ground. Mal lay on his back, groaning as the world spun around him.
“Alright, you two.” Ferguson stepped forward. “Obviously, we can’t trust you when you’re unconscious. You heal too fast. We can’t take our eyes off you, so… You’re going to sit right here.” He smiled sickly. “You’re going to sit here and watch while we fix this thing and end this world once and for all.” Slowly, he turned to look up at the drive. “How much damage was done?”
A few moments passed before a loud call rang out. “Not much! Looks like he only damaged a few parts, nothing major.”
“Then get them fixed!” Ferguson roared. “Now!”
Simon laughed softly. “You’ll never be able to do it. You know that.”
“Oh, do I?” Ferguson stepped closer. “You still just can’t admit that you lost, can you?” After a moment, Ferguson knelt down over the fallen Simon. “You don’t know what it’s like to be defeated, do you? You have no concept of what it feels like to live in the dark instead of the spotlight.”
Simon shrugged. “First off, I’d say I’m in the spotlight right now. All eyes on me, looking at my defiance.”
“Looking at your failure.”
“I’ll take what I can get.” Simon took a deep breath. “Can I tell you something, Ferguson?”
Ferguson raised an eyebrow. “Speak your mind. Repent, if you would.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not backing out.” Simon shrugged. “I just wanted you to know that if I turn into a girl, I’m never going on a date with you.”
Mal couldn’t help snickering at the comment. Simon turned and frowned at him. “What? That was an actual insult.”
“The sad part is that I believe you were actually insulting me.” Ferguson groaned and climbed to his feet. “Alright, people! To work!”
Angels continued to rush back and forth, and Simon closed his eyes. Mal frowned at him, hoping beyond hope that he had a plan. He had done something to the core, but… Weren’t the brothers just going to come back out and fix the problem once it failed for the second time?
They continued to lie there for what felt like hours. In reality, it might have been one full hour, but it was hard to tell. Finally, as they sat there, Ferguson came walking back to them, a smug look on his face.
“Malah. Simon.” Ferguson clapped his hands. “You’ve both lived for nearly two hundred thousand years. Are you ready to die?”
“Not at all.” Simon shifted slightly, though he kept his eyes closed. “You don’t… You don’t think you might be willing to let us on that life pod?”
Ferguson laughed. “What in all the dimensions we’ve visited makes you think I might actually be inclined to do that?”
“I don’t know.” Simon sighed. “I was just giving you a second chance.”
Simon smiled and sat up. Malah’s eyes snapped open as his arms flared up with energy, a blazing, burning heat. His bonds burst into flames, falling onto the deck like rags. Finally, he opened his eyes, allowing a blazing heat to explode across the room.
“Fire!” Ferguson screamed and pointed at Simon.
Simon just laughed as a dozen of the deadly energy blasts tore through his body. He healed in an instant, and slowly stretched out his hands.
“You just don’t learn.” Simon grinned. “Three for three, baby!”
A bolt of energy leapt from his hand and struck one of the nearby magical displays. Lightning crackled across the image, and a dull clanging noise began to echo through the room.
Simon froze, then winced. “Two for three?”
“He started the sequence!” One of the angels blew past him, racing towards the door. “He’s blowing it up!”
In a torrent of wings and leather, the rest of the angels flew for the door, clamoring through. Simon remained where he was, staring Ferguson in the eye. Mal glanced at the door, then glanced up at the enormous jump drive. If Simon had just set it off… She desperately hoped that he knew what he was doing.
“Simon.” Ferguson slowly stepped forward as the last of the angels left the room. “I know you’re pulling something. Otherwise, you’d be rushing for that pod, too.”
“Am I?” Simon raised an eyebrow. “Accidents happen. I already said that I would never be able to live with myself if I escaped. If this world blows up, I’m not leaving it.”
Ferguson ground his teeth together, glancing back and forth between the now-glowing jump drive and the door. Finally, he turned and bolted for the door, folding his wings tightly behind him. Simon sighed and stopped glowing, allowing himself to return to normal.
“Well, that’s better.” He spun to Mal. “Quick! With me.”
Simon turned and jogged over to a nearby display. He began running his hands across the various runes, smiling as the display emitted a series of beeps and chirps.
“Simon?” Mal took a deep breath. “What are you doing?”
“Asking you to keep trusting me.” Simon didn’t look up from his work. “When we were inside the jump drive, I rigged the sphere to start leaking once critical mass was reached. It’ll start pouring dimensional energy into the interior of the jump drive instead of causing a massive explosion.”
Mal smiled. “That’s good!”
“Not exactly.” Simon shook his head. “Hence why we needed to be captured. That much dimensional energy in one location is still going to make a powerful impact on this world. You’re talking streamers through the sky, probably ten percent of the population randomly gets transported to other nearby realms. Better than the results we were looking at, but not by any fantastic amount.”
“Alright.” Mal nodded slowly. “So… Plan?”
“That’s what I’m working on.” Simon spun to Mal. “Looks like we have about thirty seconds before this thing erupts. Now, if we can taint the energy by applying a known quantum signature to the containment field, we can direct the interdimensional energy as it erupts. In short, we create a portal to another realm, right here.”
Mal nodded slowly. “So what signature do we use?”
“I have a few stored in the computer, but…” Simon glanced at Mal. “I’d like to use yours. If we can go back to the realm that the sisters come from, we might be able to get to the bottom of… Whatever is going on with you. Figure out why the brothers are at war with the sisters to begin with, figure out… Figure all this out.” He glanced back at the display. “Five seconds to decide.”
Mal closed his eyes. Somehow, he suspected that Isnita wasn’t going to want them just hopping back to that realm. But… What choice did they really have? If they could actually learn why she had changed, if they could figure out what had happened, they could stop the war altogether.
“There we go!” Paulin gestured at the rising streams of blue lights. “Charge!”
Commander Ferison held his arm high, drawing his sword. “Advance!”
Paulin felt a massive smile creeping across his face as they tore down the hill and raced into the trees. The thunder of twenty thousand horses made the ground shake, it was… Extraordinary. Riders began to sweep past him, pushing their steeds ever-faster in a desperate attempt to take the enemy.
A small snip sounded in Paulin’s ear. Beside him, the nearest elven rider simply collapsed, falling from his horse. The beast fell a moment later as well, becoming trampled by the thousands of steeds behind it in an instant. In an instant, more of the strange noises began to echo across the battlefield, and dozens of elves simply fell from their saddles, dead.
“Archers!” Commander Ferison roared. “Use fool’s gold! Find those targets!”
Arrows began to stream into the forest as the archers began using elven magic to see through the dwarven invisibility spells. Almost instantly, dead dwarves began to fall from the trees, arrows lodged painfully in their bodies.
Paulin swept into the trees, losing sight of many of the other riders. He could still see them, rushing through the forest on either side of him, but it was harder to actually see the entire contingent. Oh, well. He reached into his own pocket, drawing in the fool’s gold that he had equipped for himself. The forest lit up with the glow of life, the soft glow of plant life, the brilliant glow of…
Paulin slashed upward with his sword, striking a hidden dwarf that he would have ridden straight past. The Fond’sar weren’t the type to engage in direct combat. They were the type that would hide, striking from the shadows. They were…
A dwarf stepped around a tree in front of Paulin, raising a small crossbow. Paulin’s eyes went wide. There was no way he could dodge, no way he could turn the horse fast enough. Desperately, knowing how easily he could still wind up dead… He fell to the side, landing on the grass of the forest.
A snap sang through the air, and his horse collapsed only feet from him. Riders blew past on either side, the hooves of their horses tearing soil and splattering Paulin’s face with mud. One horse whipped into the area and jumped straight over him, nearly flattening him in an instant.
Paulin grimaced and climbed to his feet, glancing at the spot the dwarf had been. The short, stocky body now lay on the ground, quite dead. Paulin took a deep breath and rushed forward, sliding up next to the tree. Riders continued to thunder past, never abating.
“Sir!” An elf slowed and drew to a halt next to him. “Take my steed!”
The man leapt from the saddle without hesitation, and Paulin happily scrambled up. The soldier gave him a quick salute before falling to the ground as a crossbow bolt smashed through his armor. Paulin swore and urged the horse onward, streaking into the trees.
The farther he went, the more dead elves he saw. It was… Incredible. The Fond’sar likely had a hundred troops, maybe less, and they were slaughtering the Apician army. Lord Apician was going to be furious, he had no doubt of it. Oh, well. Those were future problems. Desperately, he urged his horse onward, angling toward the spot where he had seen the lights. Three riders joined up behind him, racing onward, swords at the ready.
Paulin nearly missed the small depression, it was cloaked so well. He rode straight into it, completely by accident, nearly falling from his horse as a fire appeared directly in front of him. His steed reared up, kicking at the air, while the soldiers he was with had similar experiences.
With sickening crunches, dwarves stepped in front the side and shot the three soldiers. Their armored bodies hit the ground with a dull clatter, and the horses ran off. Paulin froze as he realized that there were nearly a dozen crossbows pointed in his direction.
“Well, well, well.” A purple-robed dwarf climbed up onto a stop and bowed slightly. “Prince Paulin, I believe. Heir to the Elven throne?”
“My reputation precedes me.” Paulin glanced around the camp. Blood stained one of the trees, but there were no captives that he could see. “Where’s Hesione and the others?”
“Oh, they’re here.” The dwarf raised his hand. “Would you like to see them?”
“Yes.” Paulin ground out. “Now.”
“Very well.” The dwarf shrugged and snapped his fingers. Hesione appeared, hanging from chains wrapped through the branches of a tree. She seemed dead, her head hung slack, her eyes were glazed. “Do you like what you see?”
“No.” Paulin felt his chest tighten. “No, you wouldn’t.”
“I would.” The dwarf shrugged. “Now, if I had a prisoner that suddenly signaled an enemy force, leading to my imminent destruction, do you really think I would allow that prisoner to live?”
“I’ll kill you.” Paulin drew his sword. “I’ll destroy you.”
“He went this way!” Shouts rang through the trees as more riders appeared.
“You’ll try.” The dwarf grinned. “I…”
“No.” Paulin took a deep breath. “I will destroy you. I will stand over your corpse while you bleed into the dirt of a foreign land, I will watch as the life slowly drains from your eyes and you become as cold as the thousands you’ve murdered.”
“Ha!” The dwarf smiled. “You don’t even know where I am.”
With that, the purple-clad creature shimmered and vanished. A moment later, more riders tore through the barrier, ending up just as confused as Paulin had been.
“There!” Paulin pointed at the other dwarves. “Get them!”
The soldiers spun their mounts, but we quickly shot down. Paulin raised his own swords and leapt towards the remaining dwarves, those so callously left by the Fond’sar to die. Before he could make a final move, a crossbow bolt slammed into his chest. The air left his lungs, seeping through the newly-formed hole in his skin, and he fell to the ground. Overhead, the world seemed to spin. A fog crept across his vision, and darkness poured over his soul.
“Alright!” Simon screamed in Mal’s ear as the jump drive lit up with a massive burst of energy. Streamers of light leapt across the room, blowing holes in the walls. “Not much longer!”
Mal glanced at Simon and tried to make his voice heard across the clamoring of the equipment. “What happens now, then?”
“The jump drive is going to collapse!” Simon’s voice was almost inaudible as bits and pieces of the room began to break off and fly to the massive metal sphere, sticking to the sides like glue. “When it does, you’re going to see a giant hole in the air. Fly through it! Shouldn’t be hard, it’ll probably be trying to suck us through anyway. Once we get through, it’ll close, and the jump drive will be gone!”
Mal shook his head. “What about everyone else?”
“They’ll just have to figure things out on their own!” Simon turned and looked Mal in the eyes. “Look, I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen here. I don’t know if we’ll make it or if we’ll die. What I do know is that this may be our only shot at actually getting to the bottom of things. If we don’t go through this, it’ll just be an endless war against the brothers until they either wipe out all life in Calsin or we manage to lock them up in escape-proof prisons. Which, considering that we don’t really die, isn’t really a viable option.”
Mal squared his shoulders. It sounded… Well, it sounded like far from the best plan. They were going to dive through a portal without Sapphire, Isnita, or any of the others. They were leaving the fight behind. It wasn’t according to plan! It wasn’t…
“Look.” Simon put a hand on Mal’s shoulder. “This is war. I’ve been in a few of them, and there isn’t always a good option. Sometimes, you get separated from your squad. When you and Ondernifam got trapped on this ship, what did you do?”
Mal sighed. “We broke out.”
“You blew up a spaceship that not even those Stonewielder creeps were able to take down.” Simon grinned. “You did the impossible. Your mom went a little nuts, but she can’t do that anyway, now. Once we get to the other side, we’ll find the other sisters. Once we convince them that we’re not there to kill them, we can contact Isnita. This time, we won’t all be in the dark.”
Mal took a deep breath. “Okay. I…”
With a massive crack, the jump drive exploded. Mal winced as the flames and trails of energy stretched outward. As they erupted, though, they slowed… Even the shrapnel from the explosion slowed, until it drew to a complete stop. Then, with a grinding whir, it all collapsed in on itself, transforming into a swirling whirlpool right there in the air.
“Come on!” Simon let out a war cry and jumped upward, sailing through the portal with a flair. Mal groaned and followed. As he flapped up off the ground, the wind caught his wings and pulled him forward, sucking him into the blazing column of light.
He didn’t know what Sapphire would think, he didn’t even know if he was going to come out alive. He just… He just hoped that he could make the trip worthwhile.
Sapphire frowned as several Apician warriors simply vanished in front of her eyes. She charged forward, drawing the small sword that she had been given. As she reached that same point, the air rippled around her, and a small campsite appeared. Half a dozen dwarves stood at one end, fighting with the handful of Apician soldiers that weren’t dead. Close to fifteen bodies lay scattered across the ground, including…
Including Paulin! Sapphire’s eyes went wide at the sight of the elf lying flat on his back, staring aimlessly up at the sky. His eyes, while unfocused, weren’t glazed over, and his chest still moved slightly, which was… Fortunate. Sapphire glanced at the Apician troops as one of them fell to a dwarven crossbow, and she stepped back out through the field.
“Hey!” She screamed back towards the main troops. “This way!”
Three more soldiers saw her waving, and she stepped through the invisibility field. They began waving at troops that Sapphire couldn’t yet see, and charged in her direction. She smiled and turned to face the dwarves, of which there were now only five.
One of them charged forward, brandishing a small rapier. Sapphire stepped back as he advanced. The sword in her hand felt like a large, clunky rock. She had never had to use a sword before, trying to learn in the midst of battle wasn’t exactly the way that she had intended to learn. The dwarf lunged, and she was just able to bat his attack to the side.
Thankfully, one of the Apician troops ran in from the side, cutting the dwarf down in an instant. Sapphire nodded in thanks as more soldiers poured into the invisible camp and began finishing off the dwarves.
“Get Paulin.” Sapphire nodded down at his body. “Get him back to the healing mages. Now!”
The soldier paused. “Ma’am, you don’t…”
“That’s the prince of Elsinor.” Sapphire snapped. “The Apicians don’t control the kingdom yet. Get. Him. Back!”
The soldier nodded, bent down, and picked up Paulin’s limp body. With that, he turned and jogged away. Another soldier glanced in Sapphire’s direction as the last of the dwarves fell. Slowly, the elf stepped over to her and nodded at her sword.
“You’re the sorceress, right?”
Sapphire nodded and sheathed the sword. “I’m… Trying to learn more traditional weapons.”
“You can start by getting that sword back out.” The soldier crossed her arms. “We’re still in an active battlefield, and you don’t have armor.” The woman flicked her sword upward, touching it to Sapphire’s throat. “You’re dead. Keep it loose.”
Sapphire nodded and pulled out her sword again. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it.” The woman sighed. “Fifiala Apician. If we survive this, look me up and I’ll…”
An explosion shook the ground, rattling the very trees themselves. Leaves and twigs rained down on Sapphire’s head, and her sword seemed to gain a life of its own. It pulled around, as if trying to pull itself towards the angel ship. Beside her, Fifiala and the other soldiers seemed similarly affected, as all of them began fighting both their swords and their armor. Fifiala was actually lifted off the ground momentarily, and only halted her flight by grabbing hold of a tree branch above her.
The strange phenomena stopped after a few moments, and the lifeless metal returned to its normal state. Sapphire frowned, then grinned.
“Simon must have gotten the field down!” She turned towards the ship. “Come on!”
Without waiting, she turned and bolted through the trees, back out of the invisibility field. Armored footsteps sounded in the air behind her, the sound of loyal warriors charging headfirst into battle. All around her, the other soldiers seemed to have gotten the same idea, as the entire remaining Apician force turned and converged on the crashed ship.
In only moments, they tore out of the tree line and into the desolated area surrounding the ship itself. Sapphire’s eyes opened wide as she got her first look at the enormous construction. It was made entirely from metal, a giant bird made from steel. Nothing moved around it, no angels dared show their heads. The Apician troops tore forward, leaping through large gaps in the metal hull. Sapphire followed, desperately wishing that she could use her magic to see through the walls. Or just light things up. Or incinerate anything that dared cross her path.
As she slid through a gap in the metal plating, she found herself in a narrow metal hallway. She whistled slightly as the Apician troops began to move through the construction. So much metal… Buildings were made from stone because it was so easy to find. Metal, while there was certainly plenty of it in the world… To build something so large would require melting down the armor for an entire army. And yet, the angels had done it.
Sapphire did her best to hang close behind the nearest Apician soldier, so as not to get lost. It didn’t take long before shouts began to echo up and down the length of the vessel.
“Here!” The warriors cried out. “This way!”
Sapphire followed the voices, a bit unsure as to what was happening. It didn’t take long to find the source, as she arrived in a small, circular room. On the far wall, a small white door sat in the midst of the grey steel walls. Dozens of Apician soldiers stood around it, swords drawn. More soldiers piled into the room, angling their swords at the small exit.
“What’s going on?” Sapphire stepped forward.
“Who are… Right.” One of the soldiers snorted and reluctantly nodded at the door. “All the angels are through there. They barricaded themselves inside, we don’t know why.”
Sapphire frowned. “Can we get in?”
The soldier shook his head. “Not yet. The door seems to open from the inside, and none of our fire spells are able to melt through.” He glanced at her. “You’re the sorceress, right? You think you can get this open for us?”
Sapphire took a deep breath and stepped through the ranks of soldiers. None of them moved their swords from the ready position, Sapphire was quite certain that they would kill her in a heartbeat if it meant killing the angels as well. Slowly, she stepped up to the door, where a small window sat in the middle of the metal.
Through the clear glass, she could see the interior of the room. It wasn’t large, maybe twenty feet by twenty feet, and was packed with the male angels. All of them were facing the door, all of them appeared furious, and all of them had weapons of some sort drawn.
“We could just starve them out.” One of the soldiers spoke up. “I can get some rations heading this way, we’d be able to last a lot longer than they could.”
“They can literally go thousands of years without eating.” Sapphire took a deep breath and turned away. “Can they hear me?”
“As near as we can tell, that thing is soundproof.” The soldiers shrugged. “Why?”
“I’m breaking it open.” Sapphire closed her eyes and reached out with her magic. When nothing happened, she sighed and called on the magical field of Calsin. Tremors rose in the air, providing a fuzzy mental picture of the area. “They can’t die, but you can knock them down and immobilize them. You’re going to need every advantage you can get.”
Slowly, she reached through the field to the opposite side of the door. There, she could see a small lever that seemed to be preventing the door from opening. Slowly, she focused her mind on that lever, trying to gain a better image of it. Her palms began to burn with the effort, and she winced.
“Are you okay?” One of the soldiers called out. “Your hands-”
“I’m fine.” Sapphire gasped. “Just…”
She gasped as she was able to focus in on the handle. It solidified in her mind, and she simply imagined it twisting upward, out of the way. Pain exploded through her hands as the lever twitched, and her legs began to shake.
“Come on!” Sapphire screamed. “Move!”
With a snap, the door burst open behind her. She fell to the ground as soldiers rushed past her, armor clanking against the floor. As she opened her eyes again, the world swam around her. It was like looking through a pane of stained glass, like trying to see through water. By the time everything finally solidified, the battle was over. She struggled back to her feet and slowly took a deep breath, surveying the carnage.
All across both room, bodies lay scattered. Apician bodies lay scattered among angel bodies, though the elves stood no chance of coming back. All the angels had swords thrust through them, pinning them to the deck. None of them were moving anytime soon, but… Sapphire had seen them come back from far worse injuries.
“You’re back.” A soldier walked up and helped her to her feet. “You, uh… You okay?”
“Yeah.” Sapphire took a short breath. “Just fine.”
“Well, we got these things.” The soldier shrugged. “We found your other friends, too. They were tied up in a cave nearby. Gave us all kinds of nightmares trying to find them, illusions kept appearing to lead us off-track.”
“At least we got them.” Sapphire puffed out her cheeks. “The Fon…” She frowned. The dwarves… They had been part of an organization, right? “Who were we fighting?”
“I thought the angels kidnapped your friends.” The elf shrugged. “There were a bunch of dwarves in the area that the angels killed, but I don’t think they had anything to do with it.”
“Huh.” Sapphire frowned, then shrugged. “Good to know, I guess.” She shook her head, trying to clear the cobwebs from her memory. “What are you planning on doing with these?”
“We were actually going to ask you that same question.” The elf crossed his arms. “You seem to have a slightly better knowledge of them than we do. Your idea will have to be cleared with Lord Apician first, but you’ll at least have a say.”
Sapphire nodded. “Where’s Isnita?”
“The white angel?” The elf nodded at the doorway. “She’s out there healing our people. Why?”
“Just curious.” Sapphire closed her eyes. She had wanted to ask Isnita’s advice on how to exceed the healing abilities of the angels. Thanks to Simon, they knew that the angels could break out of any prison without too many difficulties, as long as they were conscious. Which meant that they needed to keep them out of commission for as long as possible. To do that, they could throw them in a volcano, or…
“I have an idea.” Sapphire nodded after several long moments. “Are there any large lakes on the Apician Estate?”
Paulin slowly rose to consciousness as lights flickered back and forth in front of his face. He groaned and waved at the hoard of spiders that seemed to be clawing at his skin, and slowly sat up as the world returned to normal
His eyes opened wide as he realized that he was sitting in one of the medical wards of the Apician Estate. At least, that’s what it had to be. The limestone walls, the enormous stained-glass windows, the guards in brilliant golden armor.
“What…” He glanced to his side, where Isnita stood, a soft smile on her face. “I’m alive?”
“So far, Mal’s the only one of us who’s actually died and come back.” Isnita puffed out her cheeks. “You’re not that special.”
Paulin sighed, then winced as a breeze blew through the ward against his skin. He glanced down, noticing for the first time that he was only wearing a simple robe from the waist down. His chest was completely bare, making it easy for him to see the mass of scar tissue on the left side of his ribcage. He groaned and lay back, wincing slightly at the pain.
“How long has it been?” He took a short breath. “Any good news for me?”
“Not particularly.” Isnita dipped her wings. “Now, it’s not all that bad, either. Just… News, really.”
Paulin closed his eyes. “Lay it on me.”
Isnita paused. “Here’s what I can tell you. It’s been three days. They brought you back unconscious, and I’ve been working on healing you ever since then. Shoot, I’ve been working on healing everyone.” She sighed and glanced at the surrounding ward. “Believe it or not, you were one of the most stable of the wounded individuals to come back from that battle. I’ve been fighting poisons, strange welts that didn’t show up until long after the battle, imbedded arrowheads.” She took a deep breath. “Probably a good thing I don’t need sleep.”
“Good for me, I guess.” Paulin sighed. His eyes snapped open wide as details from the battle began to come back. “Hesione!”
“She’s fine.” Isnita put a hand on Paulin’s shoulder. “Her death was an illusion. The angels were just trying to confuse you, at least as far as we can tell. They tied us up and threw us in a cave nearby, then scrambled our memories.” She frowned. “I keep seeing this dwarf, but… There were no dwarves there, were there?”
“I think there were a few.” Paulin frowned for a moment. “There was a camp… I don’t know.” He sighed and shook his head for a moment. “Not important, I don’t think. Can you help me up?”
She took his arm, pouring more healing energy into his body. It tickled somewhat as he climbed to his feet, giving him the strength he needed to move forward. Slowly, the two of them began to walk across the room, making their way to the door on the far wall.
As they walked through, Paulin was greeted by the sight of Hesione, Garn, Ondernifam, Sapphire, and the king sitting around a small dining table. It was a room designed for secret meetings, if Paulin didn’t miss his guess. Everyone at the table looked up and smiled at him, and he did his best to smile back. Slowly, painfully, he walked over and took a seat at the circular object. Hesione was sitting next to him, Isnita sat down at his right. A moment later, another door opened and several servants walked in, placing platters of food down in front of all of them. All of them waited until the servants left to speak.
“Well, now.” Paulin chuckled. “You look like you were expecting me.”
“We were.” Hesione put a hand on his arm. “You were stable, so Isnita healed the others first. She went in to heal you now, we’ve been waiting for her to get done.”
“I see.” Paulin glanced down at the plate. Roast duck, several slices of pork. “At least you got all my favorites.”
“Two of us have known you for quite some time.” The king chuckled softly. “We just… Wanted to welcome you home.”
“I appreciate that.” Paulin frowned slightly. “So… What happened?” He nodded at Sapphire. “Where’s Mal? Did we win?”
The king held up a hand and wagged it back and forth. “Win is a bit of a subjective term.”
“Alright.” Paulin ground his teeth together. “Someone needs to start talking. Give me the bad news. All of it.”
“Fair enough.” The king spoke as the rest of them slowly started eating. Paulin took a few bites, but found that it rather hurt his chest to try and swallow. “The bad news is that the Apician Family now controls most of the inner portions of Elsinor. I don’t think it was particularly to anyone’s surprise that they didn’t exactly wait for my surveyors and court officials. The other Families are clamoring at the door, I believe that the rest of Elsinor will soon be segmented as well.”
Paulin shrugged. “That could be a lot worse.”
“I suppose so.” The king nodded. “Lord Apician is allowing me to stay in the castle for now, though I plan on leaving soon enough. With luck, I can start tracking down loyal members of the court and salvaging what I can of our government.”
“The other bad news is that Mal is gone again.” Sapphire cut the king off. She stared down at her plate, an odd look on her face. It wasn’t a face of defeat, but it wasn’t exactly a face of joy, either. “Again. This time with Simon.”
“At least she’s a male now.” Garn piped up. “I’d be a lot more worried if…”
“Garn?” Hesione leaned forward. “Not the time.”
Garn raised his eyebrows and went back to munching at his meal of rockworm pie. Paulin puffed out his cheeks. “Do we know where he is? Or why they left?”
“We actually do.” Isnita nodded. “And… That ties in with the slightly better news.”
“Please believe me when I say that I’m all ears.” Paulin turned to face her. “You still haven’t mentioned the dark angels.”
“That’s because they’re all captured.” Ondernifam roared. He grimaced a moment later, and the king nodded.
“What we know is that, in order to stop the ship from destroying our realm, Simon transferred the energy into a portal between realms.” The king smiled. “He and Mal were sucked through, destroying the interior of the ship.”
“Once that happened, we were able to get inside and take down the angels.” Sapphire nodded. “They had locked themselves in this little room. We were able to get them all. They’re all in prison, where they can’t hurt anyone.”
“Okay…” Paulin frowned. “You do realize that Simon and Mal were able to break out of prison just by holding hands? What if they can just do that by themselves? By holding their own hands?”
“We thought about that.” The king nodded. “And that’s why we designed a more… Unique prison to hold them.”
Isnita nodded. “When an angel’s body is damaged to the point that a normal person would die, they just fall unconscious. Our bodies continue to try to heal ourselves, but it keeps us unconscious until we can reach a state where a normal person could survive.”
Pieces started to click together. “You placed them in a prison that a normal person couldn’t survive in.”
“We tied them all to large rocks and threw them in a large pond out back.” The king shrugged. “At night, all that energy trying to repair the bodies is actually kind of pretty.”
“I got word from my generals.” Isnita nodded. “Simon and Mal arrived in my home realm. They haven’t been located yet, but the surge of energy was detected at the exact same time that the ship exploded here. All available forces are out searching for them.”
“But…” Paulin frowned. “Why would they go there?”
“I suspect that we’ll have to actually talk to Simon before we get that answer.” Isnita raised her eyebrows briefly. “In any event, once they make it to my headquarters, we should be able to get them back. I was brought over quite easily, their transition shouldn’t be that hard. Getting back will be a bit of a tougher problem, but…” She shrugged. “I don’t see any particular reason to leave just yet.”
Paulin forced a small smile. “So… Correct me if I’m wrong, but… We’re done.” His smile slowly grew wider. “We’re actually done. The brothers have been taken care of, all we need to do is get Simon and Mal back, and things return to normal.”
“Minus everything happening with the Apician Family, yes.” The king nodded. “The threat to Calsin has been ended. Good, once again, has prevailed.”
Paulin took a deep breath, then frowned. Something in his mind… “What about the wreckage of the ship? I thought…” He frowned. “Were we trying to protect it?”
“It’s been taken care of.” The king nodded. “Lord Apician negotiated the sale of the ship to a group of dwarven scavengers. They’re melting the ship into scrap, no one in this realm will be able to touch it.”
“Good.” Paulin picked up his roast duck and took a large bite. Juices trickled down his chin, and he sighed. Once more, the world was at peace. For the first time in what felt like years… He could relax.
“You know what?” Simon crossed his arms and folded his wings over his head. “I’m hating this stupid planet more and more the longer I stay here.”
Mal sighed and slid back a bit farther under the cover of the tree. His wings were folded above his own head as well, keeping the rain leaking through the cover from landing on him. Beyond the canopy, rain poured down so hard he couldn’t see more than a few feet. Not that there was that much to see, anyway.
The home world of the angels was just… Depressing. Only a handful of trees stood amidst the expansive, desert-like terrain of the realm. In the distance, before Mal and Simon had taken cover, they had been able to see the ancient, skeletal remains of a city, though it was now as unreachable as the moon.
“It’s not exactly pleasant.” Mal sighed. “I…”
A small hiss sounded near Mal’s foot. He glanced down just in time to see a snake leap out and bite Simon on the leg. Mal screamed, reached down, and grabbed the snake just behind the head. He was able to snap its neck and throw the creature away, out into the rain, but not before the damage was done. Simon groaned and listed sideways before collapsing in a heap. Mal sighed and did his best to shield his companion until Simon’s healing energy could burn away the traces of venom in his blood.
It was nearly five minutes before Simon groaned and sat back up.
“See?” Simon gestured at the ground. “Everything here just wants to kill you. I thought this was a planet full of girls.” He grinned slightly. “Come on. The only two males on an entire planet of girls? We were going to rock!” After a few seconds, he just sighed and glanced back down at the ground. “And now I’m just sitting on rocks. This tree is practically just a rock. Probably why it’s still alive.”
Mal sighed and nodded. The planet was cold, wet, and not at all hospitable. He turned and just stared out at the pounding rain, desperately wishing for it to go away. He just wanted to be home. He wanted to sit by a fire, be with Sapphire, and…
He frowned slightly as his eyes caught something. A small flicker of light, like a candle seen from a mile away on a dark night. He squinted his eyes, trying to get a better look. For a moment, he thought he had just imagined it, but then a second tiny flash of light flickered through the rain.
“Simon.” Mal tapped Simon on the shoulder and pointed out into the torrential downpour. “There’s something out there?”
“Because of course there is.” Simon sighed and stepped up next to Mal. “What is it?”
The light flickered again, just a bit brighter. Simon inhaled deeply as it slowly began to grow brighter, a piercing glow in the darkness of the rain.
“Are you betting on this being good or bad?” Mal crossed his arms.
Simon took a deep breath. “Hard to tell.”
“I’m guessing it’s something good.” Mal smiled. “One of Isnita’s angels.”
“Then for the sake of disagreement, I’m going to guess that it’s something bad.” Simon nodded. “An evil robot or a clockwork drone or something.”
Mal slowly took a deep breath as the light continued to grow brighter. Stepping out in the rain would result in being driven to the ground in pain, which meant… Well, it meant that all they could do was wait. Wait, and pray.
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