There are foundations that we build our world on. With a solid base to work from we can construct wonders. The only problem is that life means change and even the sturdiest foundations can shift under us unexpectedly. Things we thought were constant, that we could rely on, can vanish in the blink of an eye.
Kari landed in the center of Dawn’s Harbor where Colten and Brayson had gathered their forces. She barely had time to recognize that teleport spell had transported her off of the Shadow Breaker’s sky galleons when the sky was lit by a blazing light as bright as a second sun.
“I think we just lost the Priestess.” Brayson said in a quiet voice. He was wearing armor that didn’t gleam and held little ornamentation. It had never been meant to look nice, it was designed solely to fulfill its purpose. Deep woven spells of protection and enhancement gave testimony that it was the gear an adventurer would trust their life to.
“She got the lead ship it looks like.” Colten replied. He wore armor as well. Where Brayson’s armor was focused on defense though, Colten’s armor served the same purpose as his weapon. It helped him kill things.
“But not the other two.” Marcus added. Unlike the two older men, Marcus didn’t look comfortable in the mail shirt that he wore. He hid the fear and excitement well but there was a tension in his bearing which seasoned veterans didn’t share. Where he looked reading to spring into a pounce, they looked relaxed.
To be fair, Colten and Brayson had seen more bad situations than either could count. Their relaxation wasn’t one of confidence or lack of care, it was the relaxation of a hand waiting to strike without reserve or hesitation.
“No. She can’t be gone.” Kari mumbled, tears beginning to well in her eyes. No one argued against her, save for the silent sky. “She can’t be gone.”
The two remaining ships hadn’t escaped the conflagration unscathed. Each fought to maintain their buoyancy in the sky but it was a losing battle for both of them. Barely able to control their descent, one ship plowed directly into the earth, nose-first, outside the northern border of the town. The other ship corkscrewed into a capsized landing in the ocean outside the town’s harbor.
“That won’t kill them.” Kari said,wiping tears away. She offered no explanation how she knew that to be true but Colten and Brayson nodded their agreement.
“My squads. Form up on me. We’re going to reinforce the squads manning the beach fortifications. We’ll turn them into chum and have a record haul tomorrow!” Colten said, bellowing loud enough for the assembled townsfolk to hear him.
“Marcus keep your squads here and coordinate with us. Guard squads, we’re taking the one that crashed in the forest. Follow me!” Brayson called out.
Despite their lack of formal military training the townsfolk did an admirable job of separating into three distinct forces. Kari was saved from being entirely alone by the small number of drivers that remained with Marcus under his command.
“Those Prelates have me worried. I’m going to see if I can intercept them if they try to slip into town.” Helen said, emerging briefly from the veil of undetectability she wore.
“Yes. You’ve got to stop them. They’re carrying another sanctuary stone. If they can reach the Under Chapel and install it they’ll have control of the town.” Kari said.
Again, she wasn’t questioned. Helena nodded and stepped back under the veil, vanishing to hunt for the Shadow Breakers.
“I never imagined I would see a day like this.” Marcus mused, grasping and releasing the hilt of his sheathed sword.
Kari had no response for him. She’d imagined nearly every sort of day possible, but she’d never expected one like this to become real. Part of her couldn’t accept that it was. Either the Priestess couldn’t be dead, or she never could have been real at all.
Meta-awareness is a blessing and a curse though. It wouldn’t let her hide behind convenient delusions and it showed her things she didn’t want to see. Things like how the battle would have gone if Jin and Way were fighting together. Even limited as they were, Way would have had Jin’s back. Prelate Avernicus could never have gotten in the treacherous blow that had killed Jin if she’d had been defended by her proper guardian rather than a kid with only the barest idea of what she was doing.
“Kari, you can still cast spells right?” Marcus asked.
“You should go to the Under Chapel then. We all felt what the Shadow Breakers did and Colten said that Healer Grida and Pastor Peracles are probably without their magic now. They’ll need someone there if we have wounded.” Marcus said.
Kari could see there was another reason Marcus wanted her to leave. Despite the courage Colten, Brayson and their forces had shown, when it came to fighting with the Shadow Breakers they were badly outclassed. From where Marcus and his men were positioned they could see the fortifications by the beach and would be the first to see anyone returning from the forest. Neither was likely to be a pleasant sight and he wanted to spare her that.
Looking into her heart, she wanted to spare herself that too. The horror of losing someone she’d believed to be so strong was still too fresh.
She took to the air, gliding low over the town as though to stay close to hiding places among the buildings if another sky galleon should show up. As she flew the wind dried her tears and kindled a new feeling in her heart.
Jin had been her friend. The Priestess hadn’t wanted anything more than the world to be a decent place. She’d tried to help and the Shadow Breakers had killed her for it. Just like they had Kari’s father.
Kari remembered the darkness that Jin had showed her. She remembered the monsters that had lurked unseen in it. Jin had been connected to that darkness, that great unknown, and Kari knew that she was as well. She didn’t fear the monsters that lurked in the unknown. She knew what real monsters looked like.
With her eyes still burning, Kari landed on one of the flat rooftops to steady herself. Meta-awareness showed her what she could do, showed her how she could unleash what was within her on the world.
It wasn’t anything like working magic. There was no supplication to the greater powers of the world. The beasts she called forth came in response to nothing more than her need and her imagination. All serpentine and unseen they flew from her heart and took shape in the sky above.
Kari felt a great force pulling at her, trying to hold her back and her down or tear her away, she couldn’t be sure. Gritting her teeth she fought against it, clinging to her anger and her pain and the joy that she’d felt in having someone who’d believed in her. The world wobbled out of focus for an instant, and time seemed to run at a broken gallop, but then the moment passed and everything was solid once more.
The beasts, two colossal forms that blocked out the sky, were loose but even so they were still a part of her. A part she couldn’t bear to see but one that she could certainly command.
She thought of the Colten and the people she knew fighting on the beach and dying like Jin had. She thought of Brayson skewered by a holy sword and the anguish that Helena would feel in his passing.
“Save them.” she said without looking upward. At her instruction, the two great shape took wing and flew outwards. The destruction of everything the Shadow Breakers had touched burned in their core.
Kari fell to her knees. She wanted to cry but the tears weren’t there. She wanted to rage but the beasts had carried that away with them.
“They still need me.” she told herself.
She had no idea if she’d damned herself by what she’d done. Jin had spoken of there being a price to be paid if Kari walked the path into the unknown. Certainly summoning monsters to the world put her well down that path. Regardless of what might await her though, there were people depending on her.
She rose again on unsteady wings and flew to the church. She remembered a time that seemed an eternity gone by when she’d attended church with her father and been thrilled at its vastness and splendor. Pretty colored glass couldn’t make up for hole the church had carved in her heart when they took her father away.
No, not the church. Pastor Peracles had always treated her with kindness. It was only some of the church that had been responsible. People like the Prelates and people like Caina who supported them. She tried to push away the anger she felt at them. It didn’t work that well.
Especially not when she saw Prelate Ralls touching down in front of the church with the new sanctuary stone in her hands.
Kari hadn’t had long to practice with spell casting. Ralls knew more and subtler ways to weave spells. What Ralls lacked was Kari’s raw power and unrestrained will.
The girl that hit Ralls wasn’t flesh and blood. Kari had reached into her imagination and the power of the Earth Dominion and transformed herself into living steel. She also didn’t hit Ralls with the speed of a falling stone. There were twenty diagonal feet of earth between the surface of the ground that Ralls stood on and the nearest wall of the Under Chapel. Kari slammed into the Prelate with enough speed that she blasted them through that earth, through the Under Chapel and through the ground below that to a natural cavern that lay fifty feet further below.
With inhuman strength, the Emissary backhanded Kari across the natural cavern, embedding the young girl in the far wall. He was puppeting Ralls body directly and suffusing it with more raw magical energy than Kari seen in her entire life.
“Ah, good. I don’t have to go looking for the apprentice.” the Emissary said.
“You should…” he began to say, but Kari cut him off, gagging the Prelate’s body with flames that liquified the walls of the cavern.
“No! You have nothing to say to me!” she screamed and buried Ralls under a torrent of lava.
Faster than Kari’s eyes could follow, the Prelate erupted from the lava and grabbed her by the front of her tunic.
“I will cast you out as I cast out your mentor.” the Emissary said, his voice both vast an empty at the same time. In Ralls’ hand a holy sword appeared.
A part of Kari welcomed the thought of getting to join Jin, even if it was in the afterlife. Another part of her though rebelled at the notion.
“You’re not going to win here. This is my town. My home.” Kari shouted.
With a wave of her metal hand she shattered the holy sword into fragments. Before the shards could fall, she grabbed one out of the air and buried it in the Prelate’s left eye. Ralls collapsed to her knees and released her grip on Kari’s tunic, letting the young girl stumble backwards.
Though her metal body didn’t need to breath, Kari felt a sigh of relief building in her. That relief turned to fresh horror as she watched Ralls pull the foot long spike out of her eye, leaving behind no damage to show that she had ever been injured.
“You cannot turn my own power against me.” the Emissary laughed and, with a contemptuous slap, knocked Kari out of the natural cavern and back up the Under Chapel.
With the sturdiness of her metal body, Kari wasn’t stunned by the blow but she still had to blink to reorient herself. In the Under Chapel, Sir Marcus and Pastor Peracles still lay on their recovery beds. Grida, armed and armored like her friends, stood guard over them. Magic or no magic, Grida was still a formidable figure. Just not, Kari saw, formidable enough to stop Prelate Rall’s Emissary-possessed body.
Ralls rose into view on wings of fire after a few tense seconds. Around her thirteen orbs of fire circled, each it’s own spell. Each capable of roasting everyone in the Under Chapel to ash in the time it would take to counterspell any one of them.
Kari looked in Ralls eyes and saw the decision the Emissary had made. He didn’t care about that Ralls would be incinerated as well. She was just a pawn, pawns were meant to be sacrificed.
In the instant that he released the orbs, Kari snuffed them out.
Ralls, and by extension the Emissary, finally looked surprised.
“How did you do that? That’s not possible!” he exclaimed.
An instant later Ralls body toppled over lifelessly.
“You’ll never know.” Helena said as she stepped out from under her veil. In her hands, she held a pair of daggers that pulsed with red runes down the length of their blades.
“I didn’t think you weren’t going to use those again.” Grida said, looking at the daggers.
“The Prelate’s souls are long gone. All these could drink was the magic the Emissary was using to animate them.” Helena said with an unconcerned shrug.
Kari released the metal body spell before it could lock on her and rushed over to inspect the fallen Prelate.
Ralls was empty. The body was a shell without life or the semblance of having ever been alive. Even the knife wound in the back of the neck hadn’t bled.
“What about the other one? Prelate Temple?” Kari asked.
“Already taken care of.” Helena said gesturing with the dagger in her left hand.
Kari felt relief, real relief, wash over her. Whatever else happened, whatever the consequences were for what she’d done, in this one small way they’d won. She still wanted to see her friend but the prospect of meeting her in the afterlife was one she was willing to hold off on.
“Wow! For a girl who didn’t think she was, and I quote, ‘anything special’, that was amazing!” an impossible voice said.