Val felt the moment when Charlene was banished. There was a soul deep flicker of weakness which passed through her. For the barest instant, the paralysis that had claimed the use of her legs after her car accident flooded back through her.
They’d said she would never walk again. Or that she would never walk as well as she had. They’d called her recovery miraculous, and up until the moment of Charlene’s passing, Val had never believed them.
She’d been grateful for the luck she had in her spine not being as damaged as the doctor’s believed. She’d been proud of the effort it took to regain her balance and strength back. She’d even been privately happier with the life her accident had led her to than the one she’d had laid out for herself.
But none of that had been a miracle.
Unless it had been. Charlene had visited Val while she was convalescing. She’d offered Val a position with the Second Chance Club and Val had grown stronger every day from there. Charlene had done the same with Anna after Anna began treatment for the cancer that had threatened to end her life early and with Tam after a sabotaged stage effect had nearly killed her.
None of them had Charlene to thank for their survival and prosperity. At least not directly. As the magic holding Val up faded though, and numbness flashed through her lower body, Val was hit with the thought that maybe Charlene had been supporting them more than they ever knew.
But Charlene was gone. Cast out from the world and barred from returning by a power greater than her own.
Val panted, out of breath, as the loss hit her. Her patron was gone. The Earth’s greatest defender couldn’t protect it anymore.
The Preserver troops didn’t wait. They’d been shocked by the power and ferocity of Val’s assault but they knew an opening when they saw one.
By the dozens they piled on top of her, driving Val down to her knees as they stabbed at her with enchanted knives and plasma swords. Their attacks couldn’t pierce the shimmering armor Val’s enchantments projected around her, but each one weakened her defendes a bit further.
Laying a good hundred feet away, Ambassador Brams of the Preserver High Command was having similar trouble regaining his breath. In his case it had less to do with grief and more because four of his lungs were shattered and one was poking into his lung in an unpleasant manner.
He was miffed at that. Humans hit harder than he imagined they could. They hit harder than any reasonable thing should be able to hit. They hit hard enough to hurt him. Through the best armor the Preserver’s could manufacturer. Armor which was worth worth more than the entire platoon of troops he’d brought as his personal guard.
Not that his personal guard was faring any better than the armor had.
From his resting point, draped over the shattered remains of a concrete wall, Brams could see his guards struggling to punch through the shielding on the Earthling who’d attacked them.
Some dim and undesirable part of Brams told him that he should rise and help his troops with their struggle. In addition to wearing better armor than could be wasted on any of them, he was also carrying far more formidable weapons.
Getting up would involve moving however, and might lead to the Earthling striking him again. When he’d set off on his plan to betray the others on the Preserver High Command and use the Earth’s mystical realms as a base of power to take over his whole world, Brams had never intended to do the actual fighting himself. That was for the expendable people beneath him. He was superior. His bloodline was more worthy, and more covered in glory. They hadn’t earned their place like he had. Their ancestors hadn’t worked as hard as his had. He wasn’t supposed to have to do the menial stuff anymore like a common low blood.
On the other hand, there was rest of the High Command to think of. He started to rise, triggering his armors pain suppressors and rejuvenation systems. He’d pay for that later, but by then the Earth would be in ruins and he would have collected the energy of its passing into a secret space of his own from which he could force the others in the High Command to do his bidding.
Laying down wasn’t going to win him dominion, and it looked like the Earthling was starting to weaken at last, so getting in a few hits should be safe he felt.
Until it was clear that it wasn’t.
Val felt her protections failing. Each stab with an enchanted knife leeched away some of the shields power and even with hundreds of people channeling their energy into her, there was only so long they could divert the heat from the plasma swords that were trying to cut her in half.
She gathered up her strength for one final push to get free but things got hotter before she could.
A piece of a star landed on the battlefield. Specifically Earth’s closest star. In the overall scheme of things a million cubic meters of stellar mass wasn’t something the Sun was ever going to miss. The town where the battle was taking place very much noticed its arrival though, as did everyone present.
Val’s shields were just barely able to hold off the roaring nuclear fire that surrounded her as, freed from the Sun’s intense gravitational pressure, the stellar fire exploded, destroying the (thankfully evacuated) town and reducing the battlefield to a burned wasteland of rubble and dust.
The Preservers who were caught in the blast proved to be less capable of withstanding the force. Most were blown away from Val, who was the ground zero point for the explosion. Those who weren’t blown away were blown to dust and, from their dust, glowing orbs rose and shot up into the sky, reclaimed by an unknown but not unexpected force.
“Solar fire’s hot. Don’t play with this at home kids,” Sarah said, descending on wings of fire to land by Val’s side.
“I am glad I don’t need to breathe at the moment,” Val said, getting back to her feet.
“Yeah, friendly fire incidents when throwing around bits of stars are somewhat less than friendly,” Sarah said. “How are things going here?”
“Just peachy. We’ve got the High One’s forces pretty much everywhere. Most of the ones focused on the material world are with the Preserver faction. The rest are following the Pure One’s into the mystical realms where we have defenders who could block their final strike.”
“You know of our plans?” Brams said, rising again from the rubble. Veins of throbbing green light pulsed under skin which was growing more deeply purple with every passing moment.
“Who’s he and why is he still standing?” Sarah asked, conjuring a blade of blue flame into her right hand and a shield of transparent ice onto her left arm.
“That’s Ambassador Brams,” Val said. “We met him a while back. We tried to give him and the other Preservers a chance to avoid being part of this idiocy but they just couldn’t resist sucking up to Big Daddy High One.”
“Oh. Those losers. Right.”
“If you know our plans, then you know that your world is already lost,” Brams said. “You two may be powerful but a victory in this small battle is nothing in the scope of this war.”
“It’s not like we’re going to stop fighting,” Sarah said. “You have no idea how unreasonable we can be about that kind of thing.”
“It’s not like he’s wrong though,” Val said. “I figured it was worth taking him down so that the Preservers wouldn’t be overly coordinated, but he’s clearly got his own agenda here.”
“So we go and find the person who’s really in command of the Preservers and we mess up their day?” Sarah asked.
“I am in command,” Brams said. “And allow me to assure you that despite the power you possess, you will not be messing up anyone’s day again. Ever.”
Around them, the fallen Preservers rose to their feet, similar green veins of light pulsing under their skins as well.
“You don’t have it in you to unleash another spell like that,” Brams said. “Nor can your companion survive being inside another such blast. My sensors tell me all about your limits you see, and with the data you’ve provided they can easily plot a course to your demise.”
“You know, it didn’t have to come to this,” Val said, rolling her shoulders. “We didn’t have to be allies. We didn’t even have to be friends. We went to talk to you in good faith and the problem you had with us could easily have become an opportunity you welcomed.”
“We would never welcome something like you,” Brams said. “You are a stain, a corruption as Penk would say.”
“Shouldn’t it concern you that you’re allied with people like that?” Val said. “I get that you want to keep your culture as it is. That’s stupid and impossible since things like that always change, but hey, stupid is your right as a sapient being. But allying with the Pure Ones? Or the High One? You can’t possibly believe that’s going to work out well can you?”
“You left us no choice,” Brams said. “If you’d been willing to cut off all connections between our worlds and returned the criminals who fled to your world, we could have left you in peace.”
“Duinella and the others weren’t criminals,” Val said. “They just wanted to start a new life away from the crushing tyranny you inflicted on them.”
“They broke our laws in fleeing to your world, and their insurrection inspired others to do the same,” Brams said. “You would have destroyed our culture purely by existing, and so what choice did we have but for things to come to this.”
“Anything. You could have chosen literally anything but this,” Val said. “All this destruction? All this bloodshed? What’s still to come? That’s on you and the poor choices you’ve made.”
“We both know that isn’t true,” Brams said. “Your world was doomed even before we agreed to take part in the High One’s scheme. He showed us your fate, and the part we could play in it. If we’d chosen another path then you would simply be having this conversation with someone else.”
“Trust me when I say that you are going to regret that it’s not someone else standing here,” Val said.
“Personally? Perhaps,” Brams said. “Your powers have faded substantially since you first arrived but they are still worryingly high. Maybe even enough to overcome one of us. But as you can see, there are far more than only one of us left.”
The Preserver troops who’d been blasted a hundred yards or more away from Val and Sarah began to move in at Brams signal. Val tried to do a quick count of them but gave up when she ran out of fingers and hadn’t covered more than a 15 degree arc.
“He’s not wrong about that either,” Val said, turning to Sarah. “I’m not on empty yet, but I will be soon. How about you?”
“Similar. Channeling this much power is dangerous, but, you know, so’s being on a world that’s facing an apocalypse, so you do what you can.”
“I like that attitude. We should hang out more often,” Val said.
“We’ve got to have some vacation coming after this,” Sarah said. “We should all take a cruise someplace far away where no one’ll bother us for a while.”
“You seem to think you’re going to have a future longer than the next few minutes,” Brams said. “Are you planning to abandon this world? Don’t think that will save you. The High One plans to hunt down any Earthlings who have fled to other worlds and destroy them too.”
“Thanks for the heads up,” Val said. “It makes me feel even better about what’s about to happen. And no, we’re not going anywhere. This is our home, and my girlfriend likes the teaching job she’s got here.”
“You cannot defeat us. You have admitted as much,” Brams said.
“It’s true. We can’t beat you on our own,” Val said.
“But whoever said we were alone?” Sarah asked as seeds began to rain down from the sky carrying the billions of souls from Greenglim who’d made peace with each other just in time to join the fight for the Earth’s future.