Hey everyone! Sorry for the added typos from now until the book ends. I’m writing like crazy and just trying to create content!
Checkmate, thought Liangyu. She watched in satisfaction as all her enemies were brought down by the grasping fog hands, pinned to the ground, and rendered helpless. The darker skinned woman in wood armor struggled mightily, but even her obviously enhanced strength couldn’t break the bonds that held her.
“Good job, Ghinsja,” said Liangyu. The other woman nodded, her brow furrowed in concentration, trying to hide her beaming at the compliment. Liangyu smiled inwardly. Her subordinates were easy to manipulate.
The death witch was in a great mood. She was about to be objectively wealthy. She would be able to save her descendents from drudgery, make them safe, and disappear into the mists of the future. Liangyu pointed at the dark man on the ground, the pervert wearing strange clothing. “Kill that one first,” she ordered Raquel.
“Understood,” the homely merc responded. She held out a hand and a ball of fire appeared on her palm, spinning while growing brighter.
Raquel released her fire magic and the bolt of energy struck the dark man in the leg. Each enemy had a fog hand over their mouth, preventing them from crying out, but Liangyu could hear him scream past it. “What are you doing?” she demanded. “I said to kill him.”
“Yes, but this bunch cost me some of my people. Don’t you think we should make them suffer a bit?” Raquel’s expression was neutral, but Liangyu could see the spite burning in her eyes as she began forming another fire attack in her hand.
Liangyu wondered if she should let the mercenary leader have her way. On the other hand, insubordination just created more insubordination. She was opening her mouth, about to answer when the red haired woman’s head abruptly flew off. A heavy spray of blood arced through the air and splashed Liangyu across the face.
She was so shocked, it took a moment to process what was happening. An Asian man, the enemy Ghinsja had identified as probably being orb-Bonded, had appeared out of the fog at a dead run. He spun around, snarling, a well-dressed Mo’hali boy at his heels. “Bezzi-ibbi!” he shouted. “Help the others!”
The man turned and Liangyu felt the gaze of impending death. After spending centuries molding and controlling the antithesis of life, she recognized when it touched her. She was truly about to die.
She didn’t want to attack directly, but she didn’t have a choice. Everything was happening too fast and her three remaining thralls were still behind her. Even if they were closer, she didn’t trust them to protect her from this man.
She exhaled out, the breath carrying much of her power with it. Her body immediately grew weak. The cost was great, but her breath formed a dark cloud like living smoke, shooting towards the Asian man and melting into his chest. He fell to his knees with an anguished grunt, glaring at her, struggling to move. The magic Liangyu had just cast began bleeding into his eyes.
“Matilda, use the artifact weapon! Now! Ghinsja, keep the rest of them pinned!” she yelled, her energy fading so fast the volume of her voice dropped.
Everything was going to hell! She had to hold it together, but she was feeling woozy. The direct magic attack had taken its toll. With iron resolve, Liangyu gritted her teeth and focused on staying conscious.
Her attack would definitely kill the man, but not right away, not if he was orb-Bonded. She needed him gone before he could do any more damage
Bezzi-ibbi ran forward, skidding to a stop next to Thirsty and using a cloth to smother the flames on his friend’s pants. The Jaguar Clan boy growled when he heard Henry cry out, but didn’t look back. He needed to focus. When the first fog hands latched onto him with an iron grip, he released his Hero power, pushng it outward, flexing his brain and extending his ability to Mareen too. The invisible bubble he created was enough to suppress Thirsty and Mareen’s power, but he focused on dissipating the fog. He hoped his intent would allow his friends to regain their power sooner, but either way, now at least they were safe from the grasping fog.
Mareen gasped and thrashed, undoing the releases on her armor and climbing to her knees. She yelled, “Henry! The Areva in the grey dress with the veil, Do Bir Mo Ghinsja or whatever. She’s the one controlling the fog! The one with pink streaks in her hair!”
Bezzi-ibbi turned in time to see Henry cry out and lift a shaking arm. He wheezed as he aimed his exogun at Do’Birnwi Mo Ghinsja, the Areva orb-Bonded woman. After the hypersonic crack of Henry firing his last remaining bullet, the Areva woman fell back, a look of shock plastered across the half of her face that still remained.
“Matilda, use the weapon!” Liangyu’s screamed as loud as she could, her eyes fierce.
Ghinsja was dead. It was unreal.
Everything was ruined. She wasn’t even sure if she’d be able to escape alive. Staying awake was taking most of her concentration, but she’d be damned if she didn’t make the man that had killed her people pay. He was going to die anyway, but she wanted to watch his existence end.
When the fog began to disappear, Aodh had shakily gotten to his feet. Time seemed to stand still for him when he saw Henry on his knees, obviously in great pain. Two enemies were still standing. The orb-Bonded woman, the text that scrolled over his left eye named her Liangyu, was swaying on her feet. She had a group of three large undead creatures behind her, but they weren’t moving. However, the other woman had a huge, boxy contraption on her shoulder and she was manipulating levers on it in a near-panic. It had an opening that was pointed directly at Henry.
In that moment, Aodh’s mind grew still and calm. There were no worries, no doubts. He knew what he must do. Henry was his friend and an important man. Aodh didn’t matter. He was just a weak fire mage from a farming community nobody had ever heard of.
Aodh got up despite his fatigue and bruises, sprinting forward as fast as he could. His determination was so great, he didn’t even feel a familiar flash of fear as the bronze grenades on his belt jostled against each other.
He slid in front of Henry right before the blond woman’s unfamiliar weapon began to glow. Aodh stood between his friend and destruction, his arms spread wide. He had found his certainty. He could not stand by and passively watch the people he cared about get hurt. He might be a coward, but he’d protect those important to him with his last breath, with his life if necessary.
As the light enveloped him, Aodh felt peace in his decision. He might be a coward, but now he knew he wouldn’t live a life full of regret. With the light came pain, pain that seemed to last an eternity in the space of a split second.
Aodh still felt no regret as the brilliance took him.
Uluula got to her feet and moved as fast as she could, but the fog hands had wrenched her limbs around savagely while she’d been held down. She was sore in places she wasn’t even aware she could be sore in. She tried to join the fight as quickly as she could, but she’d been too late.
She’d seen when one of the two remaining enemy women lifted some kind of boxy contraption to her shoulder, and she watched in horror as it fired a beam that passed through Aodh and hit Henry. Two unearthly shrieks shattered the scene, Mareen and Vitaliya’s raw, voiced emotion overlaying each other, making the air vibrate.
Uluula felt her heart drop. The horrible tableau seemed to stand still until a heartbeat later, Aodh and Henry disappeared. Not a trace of them was left.
She snarled, and before she knew it, despite her aching body, she was rocketing over the ground, her blazing halbard leaving a blazing tail. She noted the look of surprise on the blond woman’s face in savage satisfaction as she slammed the blade of her weapon through her chest. Uluula dimly noted angry tongues of flame flying past her shoulder towards the other woman, but one of the three remaining undead had intercepted itself.
Vitaliya screamed incoherently as she threw her magic at Liangyu, the last remaining enemy. The Death Witch. The undead creature blocking all the attacks looked like a giant birdman with huge claws where its fingers would be. Its dead eyes showed no intellect, but it held out a hand, generating a shield that stopped all of Vitaliya’s attacks.
A huge spear of ice slammed into the barrier a moment later, Gonzo having recovered. Uluula wrenched her halberd out of the dead blond woman she’d just killed and turned in time to see Mareen throwing herself at the undead thing, tears streaming from her eyes. Her hammer hit with such force, the barrier shattered and she pulped half the bird creature’s body.
Another undead monster stepped forward and backhanded Mareen. Her body flew across the ground to land in a sobbing heap.
Uluula felt anger rising to give company to her shame. She’d allowed Jason’s best friend to be killed. How could she even look him in the eye again? However, she’d just watched her best friend get attacked. Mareen could have been killed.
Uluula hissed and began stalking toward the dazed-looking orb-Bonded woman, Liangyu. Uluula was furious. She and her friends hadn’t even chosen this fight! These hravam had attacked them!
Lost in murderous thoughts, Uluula was shocked when she ran face first into an invisible shield. She blinked in surprise and confusion. Then she heard a voice that somehow chilled her heart announce, “That’s enough of that. Go no further.” Uluula felt her heart sink when Keeja and another woman descended from the sky.
Keeja looked distinctly unhappy, but the other woman, a dark Areva in a robe far too big for her, was grinning nastily.
Thirsty was numb as she watched the two women slowly drift down to stand on the ground. Keeja landed near Vitaliya, but the new woman stood between Uluula and Liangyu, the Death Witch. Thirsty heard a distant pop, but dismissed the sound. Her eyes were transfixed on the new arrival. For some reason, she felt terrible dread.
Vitaliya sobbed and threw another stream of fire, but the new woman lazily waved her hand and the fire vanished. She tugged the neck of her oversized robe down, revealing a gold necklace like Keeja’s. Even Thirsty knew what that meant.
The woman said, “Unfortunately, I cannot hold that attack against you since I had not announced myself. I am Biivan, High Priestess of Dolos.”
Keeja growled, “I protest this, Biivan. We are not supposed to use our free actions like this. You are meddling in the affairs of orb-Bonded.”
“I can do whatever I want within the rules. I am a High Priestess! For one of your supposed power, you act too timid for your station.”
“Yes, I know your stance. I just had to spend this entire fight up in the air with you per our code, but I know your reputation. I would have accompanied you anyone to ensure you wouldn’t bend the rules, actually exactly as you are now.”
Biivin smirked. “My reputation? Is it because I focus on children? Who cares? They are only mortals. How is my indulgence in my experiments any different than giving orbs to mortals of different worlds on Ludus? How is it any different than supplying the Mo’hali with rings so they can kill themselves? How is it any different than those experiments you did a couple hundred years ago?”
“The difference,” Keeja snarled, “is that you offer no choice. You just take, you do as you please. You act like you are a god.”
“Am I not a god, at least to these small creatures?” Biivan gestured and smiled. “You are a High Priestess. You should have more pride.”
Thirsty sucked in a breath when she noticed Uluula taking a step forward. The pale Areva woman set her shoulders and said, “Please move. I have business with the orb-Bonded woman behind you.”
“Oh, I don’t think so, little toy. In fact, white hair? Are you of the Blue? Some things never change in the Quadrant, do they?” Biivin laughed, the sound was dark, ominous and made Thirsty feel dirty. “No, I think I will stay right here and intervene until Liangyu is ready to move again. I have to salvage this disaster somehow, even if it means just saving my mortal business partner. We have an understanding. It’s hard to find tools with the…malleable morality necessary to indulge my research.”
Thirsty glanced around and wasn’t heartened by the state of the team. Gonzo was barely conscious, Mareen was hugging herself and sobbing so deeply, she was producing vibrations more than sound, Vitaliya was dazed, probably from overexerting her power. The red haired woman’s eyes were dull, almost lifeless, but her tears fell to the ground in a steady rain of despair.
Thirsty wanted to help, but she was down to a single enchanted bracelet left. Without her magic, she was just a fierce bitch with great fashion sense. Unfortunately, none of that would be much use against a High Priestess. She couldn’t even attack with attitude. If she tried to read this new, evil wanna be munchkin Biivan bitch, it’d probably just get her killed for no reason.
She glanced at Keeja, hoping the other High Priestess would do something, but she was just standing with her hands on her hips, a look of open disgust on her face.
Uluula asked, “Keeja, a little help? We need to at least find out where Henry and Aodh went. If I have to, I’m going to cut that Liangyu’s woman’s fingers off until she tells us what we want to know.”
Thirsty swallowed. The way Uluula had said that made it clear she had been entirely serious.
Biivan snorted, the sound ugly and condescending. “Keeja, you let these tiny people talk to you like this? And you keep company with mortals stupid enough to even suggest torturing the Death Witch?” The creepy High Priestess laughed for a while, holding her sides, but suddenly stopped chortling with no warning. She glared glaring at Uluula and in a different tone she hissed, “Perhaps I should dissect you while you’re living? You dare even hold a weapon in my presence?”
“Keeja,” Thirsty wailed, “help her! Please!” The entire world was falling apart. The wounded drag queen was watching her friends all fall and fail. It couldn’t be for nothing!
“I’m sorry, my hands are tied.” Keeja’s sounded miserable. “Biivan is bending the rules, but she’s using a free action like I did when I went to that dungeon with Jason. If you attack her, she has the right to kill you even though you are under my protection.”
“Yes, white haired child of the Blue, strike me,” Biivan purred at Uluula. “Perhaps I can send you to where the artifact weapon sent your friends. Unfortunately, they didn’t get sent to a place, they got sent to oblivion. Would you like to follow them?”
Behind her, Liangyu swayed, one of her zombie creatures holding her upright. Thirsty thought she heard the death witch whisper something.
Uluula gripped her weapon tightly and slowly began moving to an attack stance when a voice rang out that shocked Thirsty to the bone. “Uluula, stop, come back.”
Thirsty turned her head and felt tears of relief when she saw something entirely unexpected. Jason strode out of the dying mists, his armor covered in condensation. The tall man had his sword in his hand.. He was slightly panting, and his expression was set in a snarl.
Thirsty felt a sense of hope chased by a chill. It was great to see Jason after he’d been gone for so long, but the man didn’t have the look of someone who was in control.
Thirsty twisted her last remaining bracelet and sincerely hoped she wouldn’t have to use it.