When we met Yaisona at the rechargers, she asked Kalendra and the others to find Nyll and make sure he made it safely back to Evera. Kalendra didn’t like the idea, but he agreed when Yaisona told him she would not willingly risk any more lives. Rashka also seemed satisfied with Yaisona’s answer, but Deen and Teriine had been with us far too long to be so easily persuaded. Arik put his hand on Deen’s shoulder.
“You know you can’t help us this time,” he told her gently. “You’re only going to get yourself killed if you stay.”
“I guess someone better go save Nyll’s hide,” Deen conceded.
Teriine was adamant. She was not leaving.
“We don’t need another Baadonai!” he told her bluntly.
While I could understand the sentiment, it wasn’t the most tactful way to put it. The tips of Teriine’s wings flushed and her voice vibrated with fury.
“You don’t understand the first thing about Bay!” she shouted. “And you don’t know what will happen. You were glad enough of my help in Emas!”
“That was a fluke! She fell on—“
Yaisona put a hand on Arik’s shoulder.
“Enough, Arik! Let her be,” she told him firmly. “We don’t have time to argue.”
Kalendra wished the Goddess’s blessing upon us, and he and the others left.
The platform that had been slowly descending slowed to hover about a tier above us. The base of the tower was too heavily shielded. We would have to scale the tower and bring the battle to the mage. Teriine volunteered to fly a rope to one of the platforms. She was panting for breath by the time she landed. A scarlet stain spread down her wing. The short flight must have torn open a wound. Gertrude cast an Orb of Healing. Meanwhile, Kalendra, Rashka, and Deen returned. Kalendra held a squirming Nyll firmly under his arm.
“It’s no use,” he told us. “The Guild has sealed all the entrances to the tunnels.”
“Stay close to the rechargers,” she told them. “If the worst happens, we’ll do our best to help you.”
She turned to us.
“Don’t be heroes,” she warned. “If you get badly hurt, get back to the rechargers and someone will come down to heal you.”
Arik looked down at Teriine, and his voice was serious, even gentle.
“Hon, you’re looking really rough. I think you better sit this one out.”
Teriine wasn’t happy about it, but she agreed to wait until the Orb had healed her wounds before following us. Arik didn’t really look much better. Yaisona told him to stay behind a few minutes and regain his strength. He started to protest, but Yaisona whispered that she needed him to keep an eye on Teriine. He muttered under his breath about babysitting the “bird lady,” but he agreed. I disengaged Beneemus’s sphere from the Inquisitor and substituted the empty one. Yaisona used Levitate to reach the first tier. I started up the rope, but Arik called after me.
I turned to look at him.
“Don’t do anything stupid!” he blurted out.
“I promise,” I told him. “I love you too.”
Before she scaled the rope, Gertrude shot a Crush bullet from her sling at the rod topping the tower. The barrier surrounding the tower shattered. The tier where the mage stood was surrounded by a powerful shielding spell. Yaisona thought spoke Arik, who was impatiently waiting below. Arik’s advice was simple. Bring down the tower. Gertrude cast a Healing Orb on the lowest level of the tower. Then she, Nulio and I climbed to the second tier; Yaisona rose until she was level with us. The platform, on which we stood, had a strange give to it.
It feels wrong somehow…
Suddenly, the surface of the platform flowed around our feet trapping us. Alyssa rose into the air and called lightning to the rod atop the tower. There was an explosion and a shower of sparks. A stroke of lightning arced into Alyssa. She cried out and descended to the rechargers. Another bolt flashed towards Yaisona, but the Eye absorbed the impact. Gertrude wasn’t so lucky. A gust of wind slammed into her, and she screamed, as she fell. The platforms bonds kept her from falling off the tower, but her angle was snapped beneath her weight.
The wall supporting the mage’s tier shimmered with a translucent sheen. Yaisona swore. She’d been afraid of that. The mage could decipher Yaisona’s thought speech and had cast a barrier around the supporting wall. We weren’t going to be able to do anything from here. With the very ground binding us the mage would just pick us off one by one.
With an effort I wrenched free from the platform’s hold and climbed back down to the first tier. Nulio tried to help Gertrude, but he wasn’t strong enough. Only after she cast Dispel, did the metal loose its hold. Nulio helped Gertrude down to the recharger. She needed to replenish her psionic energy, but before she left, she cast a Purity Orb. I felt my head clear, and a boost of energy flowed through my tired limbs.
Arik joined us on the platform.
“Where’s Teriine?” I asked him.
“She’s still at the rechargers. She said she had an idea.”
Since Teriine’s ideas were as often disastrous as they were helpful I wasn’t too thrilled. Still if it kept her out of the battle…Then I saw the swirling cloud of a wind elemental slam against the barrier before dissolving into mist. Teriine conjured another, and another. I conjured a wind creature and sent it after them. Alyssa sent a fiery creature to scale the tower. It reached the top and began pounding on the barrier beneath it.
Then I felt my insides twist, and the whole world seemed to turn inside out. The mage’s silhouette blurred behind the barrier; she was moving so swiftly. But even I could feel the distortion in the psionics around us. That was no Hyper spell she’d cast.
Everything seemed to happen at once. A rank wind swelled over us. It caused our skin to crack and ooze. A mar shanta rose up from the floor in front of Nulio. He just stared at it glassy-eyed.
What’s wrong with him!
Gertrude shot an arrow at the mar shanta but it didn’t seem to hurt it much. Then she cast Dispel on Nulio, and he came to himself. Yaisona called for Arik to join her on the second platform, but there was no way Arik was going to leave an enemy behind him. He struck the mar shanta with the Inquisitor and it crumpled.
“ARIK!” Yaisona called urgently.
Alyssa rose above us and finished the mar shanta off with her bow. With a final, annoyed grumble Arik climbed up to Yaisona. She used a mar seetha as a shield against the platform’s grasp. Arik started hacking away at the wall beneath the mage. Teriine’s wind elementals joined the fray. Nulio crushed the supports and Yaisona bombarded it with elemental attacks. I didn’t attack the wall for fear it would come down before Arik could get out from under it. Instead I blasted the mage’s shielding with flame and frost, lightning and whirlwind.
The shielding on the wall gave way under Arik’s blows. The wall groaned and started to buckle. The mage cast another barrier trapping Arik inside. He kept right on swinging.
“ARIK!” I screamed.
The wall gave way with a shriek of tortured metal.
I forced myself to stay calm.
He’ll be okay! He’ll be okay! The shielding should protect him.
I “reached” for him and fought panic as I felt nothing in return. I turned the full force of my cannon on the mage’s shield. It shimmered and crackled but did not fall. Gertrude cast a Healing Orb hoping to envelope Arik beneath the rubble. Then Nulio tried to tear the mage loose from her fortress…and brought the whole tower down!
I raced to the pile of rubble, headless of Yaisona’s warnings to stay back. I’d no sooner touched the platform’s edge then its tendrils wrapped around my legs pinning me in place.
Saturii! How could I have been so stupid!
Yaisona used the last of her strength to hurl a mar seetha in front of me. A dozen blades of ice skewered it. I fought against the ground’s hold and frantically tried to “reach” Arik. Nulio cast a crau’nth right on top of the mage’s head. Teriine used the mage’s distraction to send an arc of lightning into the mage’s recharger. It exploded.
The force of the blast vaporized the mar seetha. I was torn from the ground and flung across the platform. I struggled to pull myself up from the edge.
“Elinara, come down!” Alyssa called.
She was right. There was nothing I could do for Arik until we destroyed the mage. Teriine shattered the other recharger, and the mage fell to her knees.
The very air around us seemed to ripple and warp as she gathered power unto herself. Blood poured down her outstretched arms.
“If this is the way it must end,” she cried, “then so be it!”
The Inquisitor ripped through the old woman’s flesh.
The blow had taken the last of his strength. Blood was gushing from his wounds and jagged hunks of metal pierced his armor. I heard a voice ring out deep and harsh behind me. The song was powerful. Sorrowing yet hopeful, beautiful yet dissonant—Nulio’s song of sacrifice. I watched in disbelief as Arik’s wounds began to close; the flow of blood eased. I turned and stared at Nulio in amazement.
The soul sphere inside the Inquisitor whirred and spun, the psionic force of the mage seemed almost too much for it to absorb. Arik could not dislodge the woman’s body from the blade. Finally, he picked up a staff from the ground and pushed the body off of the sword. Then Arik slowly made his way down to the ground. He limped to me and gently brushed a strand of hair from my eyes.
“You don’t look so good,” he said worriedly.
I smiled up at him and took his hand.
“You’re looking a little rough yourself.”
“You promised you wouldn’t do anything stupid!” he scolded.
“Well, you promised never to scare me like that again!”
We looked around for Deen and the others, but there was no sign of them. We would just have to hope they made it back to the tunnels. Nulio had saved Arik’s life, but he was still badly hurt. That metal would have to come out, but we had to get to the tunnels before the Guild’s army realized what had happened. Arik limped painfully with the aid of the staff he’d found. Nulio helped Gertrude, and we made our way through the ruins of Frost. Mages and soldiers lay scattered around us, but thankfully none of them were moving. When we reached the edge of the Inner City, we found the vehicle smashed against the wall. The bodies of mages twitched and jerked under the wheels. We found Deen and the others hiding in the Outer City. Deen and Nyll looked a bit worse for wear and even Rashka looked shaken. Kalendra glanced quickly over us but stopped when he saw Arik.
“Truly you have the favor of the Goddess,” he said in awe.
Rashka explained that that they’d sent the vehicle barreling through the ranks of mages. He was looking at Deen with a mixture of admiration and awe. Deen’s eyes shone with excitement.
“I think I just found a new favorite pastime!”
We made it to the tunnels and Nyll called the tram. Kalendra helped me pull Arik aboard and lay him out on the floor. Teriine pulled on one of the shards of metal jutting from Arik’s leg. He bellowed in pain, and Teriine dodged a kick.
“You’re worse than my son!” she scolded.
“Arik, hon, they have to come out.”
I dug through my pack for my flask. There was enough left to take the edge off.
“Here Arik. Drink this.”
He gulped it down gratefully, and Teriine and I set to work. Arik cried out in agony as we carefully pulled the jagged metal from his flesh. By the time we’d fished out the last shard, my hands were shaking, and my head throbbed. I felt a warm trickle ooze down my forehead. I glanced up to find Nulio watching me, a frown of concern on his face. He started singing softly.
“No, Nulio, don’t—”
It was strange. I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that washed over me. It was as if Nulio was using his very self to heal me. I felt echoes of his love for Gertrude, his guilt for causing the tower to fall, and his worry for Arik. I was amazed by depth of his concern for me, and how much Nulio treasured our friendship. The throbbing in my head faded leaving warmth and peace in its wake.
He nodded and sank slowly to the floor. The song had taken a lot out of him.
Yaisona came up to us. Arik was still in pain, but with his wounds stitched he was out of danger. After making sure Arik was okay, she asked me if I could remove the sphere from the Inquisitor if necessary. I told her that I could. She said that she was going to try something dangerous, and if something happened, I was to separate the sword from the sphere.
Yaisona sank into a kind of trance. It seemed like hours before she came out of it, and when she did, the mage’s form enshrouded the blade. She looked like an elderly version of Yaisona. Yaisona told us that the mage’s name was Tophetha. She had been head of the Guild mages, but she was far more than that, and far older than she appeared. She was a powerful Time mage. A Trau-Quin came to her and warned her of an age when Demons would conquer all of Kh’aosii. She had used her Time psionics to discover that what they warned of was indeed possible, and she bent all of her strength to preventing that future from coming to pass. The Songsmiths of Aptheed had once been her pupils. She created and trained the Guild mages to fight beside her when the time came. She had been Eenen’s lover, but she had destroyed his mind when he refused to believe in her vision. The Guild feared the Order for the symbol they bore. That was why they’d stamped them out so fiercely. Tophetha had borne a daughter, who did not share her mother’s vision. She instead had settled in a remote village intent on leaving her former life behind her. That woman was Yaisona’s mother. Tophetha was Yaisona’s grandmother and a Revenant herself.
We all sat entranced by Yaisona’s revelation. Nyll interrupted saying that he still had hundreds of men who would die if the Crimson Sea were not stopped. Yaisona told us that Tophetha had a way to disable the Crimson Sea long enough for us to get away. Nyll calmed somewhat at this and told us that he could show us how the Order had chosen its name. It would just take a short stop along the way…