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Origins (Story)

 

Crimson Shards: Origins

Chapter 1: A Strange Woman

It was a quiet night in Orristin, the streets dimly lit by the street lamps overhead. Cassandra smiled as she walked down the street with her bag of groceries as she had just managed to finish shopping before the store closed. Looking up at the night sky she could tell it was going to rain soon so she tried to hurry home. A mere block away from home Cassandra heard a loud crash down the next alleyway making her nearly drop the groceries she had. As it started to rain Cassandra slowly made her way to the alley where the loud crash came from and stuck her head around the corner to saw a cloaked person lying motionless on the ground. Looking around Cassandra saw dumpsters and garbage littering the alley as if two orcs had been brawling but there was no one else around and no exit for anyone to leave other than the way she came in. She didn’t know who this person was but they were surely injured and Cassandra knew they would likely die if left in the cold rain. Since she was so close to home Cassandra decided to take the person home at least until the morning when the rain stops. She pulled the hood of the cloak aside and saw the very pale face of a woman then proceeded to hoist the woman onto her back. Cassandra struggled as the woman felt to be the weight of four people which she concluded was due to the backpack the woman was carrying under the cloak. As Cassandra slowly walked in the rain she could feel the woman’s large breasts press up against her back, they were firm but still felt soft. Cassandra’s face began to turn red at the thought of the woman’s chest and she quickly began to think of something else until she made it home.

Upon entering the house Cassandra was greeted by her younger adoptive-sister. She had shoulder length blonde hair, blue eyes, slightly tanned skin and was about as tall and old looking as a fourteen-year-old even though she was eighteen.

“Hi sis, it took you a long time to get home I was getting worried,” Ayva said.

“Uh yeah, I got a little sidetracked.”

“Who is that? A date of yours?” Ayva snickered.

“I’m not sure, I found her in the alley not far from here.”

“You know you shouldn’t bring strangers home. What if something happened and you got hurt?”

“I know but I just felt that I should help her. Anyways, could you get dinner started? I’m going to get this woman out of her soaking wet clothes.”

“Ok don’t forget to get yourself dried off as well it wouldn’t be good if you got yourself sick.”

Cassandra handed off the groceries to Ayva and proceeded to carry the stranger to her room. Placing her as gently as possible on the bed Cassandra pulled back the woman’s hood revealing her face. She had long brilliant crimson red hair framing her pale beautiful sharp-featured face. Her lips were tinted black making them a dark red and around her eyes were stained black as well. Next, she pulled the rest of her robe off but was so surprised that she backed into the dresser along the wall. She was expecting the woman to be carrying a backpack due to the bulge of the cloak but what she had found was a pair of large black feathered wings. Cassandra could hear her adoptive-sister walking down the hallway and she quickly draped the cloak back over the woman.

“Hey sis, is everything ok?” Ayva said as she poked her head through the partially open door.

“Oh yes, I’m fine. Just slipped on the wet floor is all.”

“Ok dinner will be ready in about twenty minutes.”

After Ayva left Cassandra pulled the cloak back off the woman and looked at her again. The feathers were shiny and a deep endless black, one of her wings seems to have been injured with an odd bend in it and she had several other fresh looking wounds across her body. With the woman out of her wet cloak and under some warm blankets Cassandra took the cloak and went to get herself washed up and dried off as well. After her shower, she laundered her clothes as well as the cloak of the woman and headed for the kitchen for some dinner. There she saw her younger adoptive-sister busily eating away.

“Sorry you had to make dinner,” Cassandra said as she took a seat. “I know you have trials tonight at the Academy.”

“It’s alright sis, I don’t mind making dinner from time to time. I am worried about that woman that you brought home though. You should probably sleep in my room tonight and lock the door.”

“I appreciate you being worried about me but I’ll be just fine. I’m a capable support personnel of the Academy too you know.”

“Yes I know but that doesn’t mean you can defend yourself when you need to.”

“Well don’t worry about me I’ll be fine tonight.”

Ayva finished her dinner and placed her dishes in the sink before leaving the house into the rainy night towards the Academy. Cassandra sat there alone at the table eating her dinner looking around at the dimly lit house. While she was grateful that the Academy allowed her and her adoptive-sister to stay in the house, she did wish that her and her adoptive-sister could complete more jobs offered by the Academy, as it was now her and her Ayva were just making enough to get by with the two-person jobs which were far and few between. She was hoping that Ayva would pass her trials tonight which would increase their ranking in the Academy and make them more desirable to some of the stronger members of the Academy. Though she still found it odd that they’ve never been approached by any of the other members of the Academy even those lower in standing never asked to join with them. With that thought, Cassandra took the last bite of her dinner and washed the dishes.

Once she was done she went back to her room where the woman was still passed out. Curious about the woman’s condition she walked over and placed her hand on the woman’s forehead which was cold to the touch as if she were dead. In a panic she quickly checked her pulse and for a moment she really did think this woman had died since she had no pulse but she eventually could feel muscle contractions in the woman’s neck that put her at ease knowing the woman hadn’t died. Normally Cassandra would use her healing magic abilities but she wasn’t advanced enough to use it on unconscious people yet. She had no other means to warm the woman up so reluctantly Cassandra crawled under the blanket to help warm the woman up. Being up close and personal with the strange woman she was able to get a better look at her. Her long hair was a hypnotizing deep crimson red and her skin was pale and flawless. The wings and feathers were real as far as she could tell which wouldn’t be unusual if she were an Itos which were winged humanoid birds. But Itos were usually fully feathered and their arms were a part of their wings not separate. Cassandra moved closer and pressed herself against the side of woman’s body. Cassandra looked at the woman’s face that was tilted towards her as she lay there trying to warm her up. Cassandra found the woman’s looks quite beautiful and soon her face started to feel flushed. Cassandra closed her eyes to try and shut out her feeling of lust for this stranger.

It was only for a moment which was all she needed to calm her mind but when she opened her eyes again she was met with piercing red eyes and it felt like her soul was being sucked out. In a knee-jerk reaction, Cassandra nearly lept out of the bed losing her footing and falling on the floor hitting her head. Blinking and trying to shake off the haze of confusion Cassandra looked up from the floor to see the woman leaning over the edge of the bed her wings arching up on each side of her head and her crimson hair flowing past her face and nearly reaching the floor. Cassandra felt frozen as she lay on the floor unable to muster the will to move as the piercing gaze of the woman looked at her. Without a word the woman turned and ran out of the room. Cassandra quickly stumbled up and over the bed nearly falling again and ran out into to hallway. The door at the end of the hall was wide open the rain outside was being thrown sideways by the howling wind. Cassandra grabbed a raincoat and headed outside into the storm. Looking both ways down the street she saw a small white figure to her left, it could have only been the woman draped in the bed sheets. Cassandra ran after her putting her arm up to shield her face from the blowing rain. She kept running after the white figure slowly closing in. When Cassandra rounded the next corner she slid to a stop. There in front of her under a street lamp, the woman impaled in the shoulder with a spear. Behind the woman stood five figures one of which shocked Cassandra, it was her adoptive-sister Ayva.

Chapter 2: Truth

“What’s going on here Ayva?” Cassandra said loudly making sure that her voice was heard over the noise of the rain.

A tall man walked forward, Cassandra knew who it was by his body language. It was Tim Cosworth, the highest ranked member of the Academy. His presence gave off a sense of intimidation and fear.

“This is none of your concern Rank 508.”

“Yes this is absolutely of my concern, she is in my care! How dare you harm her!”

“In that case under section two paragraph four of the Academy rules, I hereby place you under arrest.”

Cassandra dare not resist as not only did she have no chance against Rank 1 of the Academy but she also wasn’t sure why her sister was here. Cassandra was placed on the wagon and watched as the woman tried to resist but was beaten by the rest of the group. For a moment it seemed as if she could get away but Tim put a swift end to that with a punch across the woman’s face. The group loaded up the woman into the cage on the wagon and headed off towards teh Academy. The entire half hour it took for the wagon to make it to the academy never once did Ayva make eye contact with Cassandra. Once they arrived the courtyard was brightly lit even in the dead of night and the rain had finally let up but the ground was still slick and wet. Cassandra could only watch as one of the men dragged the woman out of the cage by her handcuffs making land in a heap on the ground. The man continued to drag the woman to the center of the courtyard and locked her cuffs to a ring embedded in the ground. Cassandra knew what was happening, they were going to execute this woman.

“Ayva! Why are you doing this?” Cassandra yelled out.

Ayva walked over and pulled a piece of cloth from her pocket and tied it tightly around Cassandra’s head and over her mouth. She struggled and tried to scream as she watched them strip the woman naked. The blood from her current wounds easily visible and dripping on the ground. The woman struggled once more and was stopped by a kick to the side. Tim walked up to the woman with the large axe in hand. Cassandra’s vision started to blur from her tears as she screamed through the gag and pulled as hard as she could on her restraints. As Tim hoisted the axe ready to deliver the killing blow a flash of blue light spread across the courtyard.

“Enough!” the grand voice said.

Cassandra knew from the voice who it was. Rurik Cosworth, the current reigning headmaster of the Academy. He was a bonafide god, the city’s most powerful magic wielder. Cassandra heard that he was capable of stopping people in their tracks but she had never seen it until now. She was fully aware of what was going on and could see everything that was happening Tim, Ayva and the two men and other woman were all frozen in place. Yet oddly the woman was still moving struggling to get away.

“Tim my son, are you trying to kill the entire Academy?” Rurik yelled in anger unfreezing everyone.

“But father the Purity Crystal identified her as a Sihrili. We must exterminate her as soon as possible.”

“You idiot, does she look like a Sihrili to you? Go to the assembly hall, all of you, I’ll deal with you later.”

Cassandra watched as the group left the courtyard and headed to the assembly hall. As she was still restrained Cassandra sat quietly, watching as Rurik directed staff members to take the woman away on a stretcher. Cassandra knew what the headmaster looked like but it was different in person. Most people knew him as a strict and strong-willed old man. But looking at him with his white hair, deep blue eyes and tanned soft face she could see compassion in him.

“Hold still this will be cold for a second,” Rurik said with his now soothing voice.

Rurik pointed his finger at Cassandra’s restraints and for a split second, they felt as cold as ice before shattering into dust.

“Where are you taking that woman?”

“To the Academy’s infirmary.”

“Then I want to go see her, to make sure she’s safe.”

“Very well follow me.”

Cassandra followed Rurik to the infirmary where the woman lay on the bed covered with white sheets slowly getting stained red by the wound to her shoulder. She walked up to the woman and ran the back of her hand beside the scratches on the woman’s face. With tears in her eyes, she turned to Rurik.

“What are you going to do to her?”

“We will have to contain her permanently or exterminate her.”

“What! Why? Why are you doing this? Why did they think she was a Sihrili? And why was Ayva part of this?”

“Ok, ok, calm down. I think it’s time to tell you the truth but it may be easier to explain somewhere else,” Rurik said trying his best to calm Cassandra.

“Where?”

“The Wastelands.”

Cassandra watched the scenery blur past the train window as she sat beside the woman that was loaded onto the train car as well. Cassandra knew about the Academy’s private train that only the top tier groups were allowed to use for deployment. The cars of the train were all interconnected only separated by thin privacy walls. The interior of the train car was lavishly decorated with handcrafted dark hardwood trim and gold leaf lit by traditional oil-filled lamps.

“You know she’ll be safe on the train you should get some rest,” Rurik said as he sat across the two with his tea in hand.

“I refuse,” Cassandra said scowling. “Especially with my adoptive-sister and your lapdogs onboard.”

The atmosphere quickly changed as the train entered the unlit tunnel going through the mountain. The shadows seemed to be alive as the flames of the oil filled lamps flickered and moved.

“I’m sure you’ve been told about this before in your training classes but the borders of the Wastelands is a place that’s very dangerous even for a god. They’re simply here to protect the train and its passengers. Please get some sleep you’ve had a rough night and it’s still a few hours until we reach the Wastelands.”

The train lurched as it came to a stop and Cassandra awoke. Wiping the drool from the corner of her mouth she looked out the window. Before her was a vast open land devoid of any signs of life and only filled with rock and sand. She had read about the Wastelands and its dangers and how it could no longer support life but seeing it in person for the first time was humbling. Cassandra got up and exited the rear of the train car, climbed the ladder outside to the train car’s roof. The sun was warm on her face and her shoulder-length black-tipped white hair flowed in the breeze. Looking over she could see Rurik joining her on the roof as well as her sister and the other Academy members gathering on top of the train six cars ahead of them at the other end of the interconnected cars.

“This is what I wanted to show you. This wasteland used to be a lush life filled forest like the one on the other side of the tracks. Ten thousand years ago gods and demons were always at war and all the other beings were caught in between. The war seemed to have no end in sight until an enemy came along that everyone could unite against. The Sihrili came upon them suddenly and without notice. They were creatures of pure black death magic and like a plague had no remorse for good or bad, rich or poor, they attacked everyone equally and were nearly impossible to kill. The gods, demons, human, orcs, elves and dwarves all united together to exterminate the new threat. Even with their combined strength, they could just barely hold off the Sihrili. In a last-ditch attempt, they gathered all their forces and decided to make a frontal assault on the Sihrili. The battle went well in the beginning but eventually the allied forces began to dwindle down and they began losing. When the remaining forces were about to lose hope a streak of red light came down from the sky. Once the dust settled a tall woman with long white hair, blue eyes and large white feathered wings stood between the Sihrili and the allied forces. It was said that the Sihrili stopped their advance as if they were afraid of the woman and rightfully so. With her hand raised in the air a red aura began surrounding the Sihrili, each one of them falling one by one. And for a while there was peace across the world, thanks to her, that woman laying on the bed in the train car. Many called her Serena Skyfall, which she eventually accepted as her name.”

Cassandra knew that gods and demons could live an extraordinarily long life but she could hardly believe that the woman laying on the bed could be several thousand years old especially since she didn’t look much older than herself. “But if she saved the world why don’t we see any statues or mentions of her doing that? Also what happened to her wings and hair? They’re not white.”

“Well she did save the world but there were growing concerns among the race leaders about how much magic power Serena had. At the time Xoana the Empress of the gods and Dragoth the King of the demons were both bothered that there was someone with such power that could overthrow any authority. So the two convinced the other race leaders to declare Serena a danger to all races. Dragoth devised a plan to render Serena powerless and gathered all the greatest weaponsmiths of all races together and instructed them to forge a weapon capable of drawing out a being’s magic when struck with it. The council of leaders invited Serena to a meeting where they expressed their concerns and asked if she would abdicate her magic powers which only required a small prick from the scythe to draw out her magic. She refused, explaining that she could not relinquish her magic so easily. No one knows why but in that moment Xoana grabbed the scythe and lodged it’s crescent blade into Serena’s back. However, the weaponsmiths did not account for the amount of origin magic Serena had. The scythe’s blade fractured along multiple spots and released a massive amount of origin magic so concentrated it made solidified crimson colored shards that spread out in a massive explosion. Xoana, as well as several other leaders, lost their lives the rest were only saved by Yedral’s protection magic. When the dust settled they saw only Serena, her hair red like blood, her wings black as night, her facial features darkened, and her eyes now a glowing red. Before any could get up and catch her she fled and for a while she was on the run. Eventually, Dragoth and the rest of the allied forces surrounded her in a small abandoned town in the forest. No one knows exactly what happened other than there was a large flash from a column of light then a massive explosion creating the Wastelands. None of the allied forces or Serena were ever heard from again.”

Cassandra took a moment to process all this information she was just told. The woman she had saved could possibly be the most dangerous thing on Ecluna. As she thought more it only brought up more questions she had like why the woman didn’t retaliate when she was being captured.

“You see why we have to take care of her don’t you?” Rurik said. “She’s a danger to everyone on Ecluna.”

“But you can’t just-“
“You have no say in this!” Rurik yelled. His usual calming look now angered.

“Fine but could you at least let me ask her some questions when she wakes up?” Cassandra asked a politely as she could.

Rurik could see the conductor motioning everyone back inside so the train could continue on its way. Once Cassandra got back in the train car she checked up on Serena. Her skin was still pale and her wound still slowly bleeding. She didn’t know why but she could feel tears welling up. Before she could start crying Rurik offered her a glass of water which she accepted then sat in one of the padded leather chairs.

“So why was my sister with the top team in the Academy? I know for a fact, trials are overseen by the advisory committee and are done on Academy grounds.”

“I think this is something the two of you need to discuss with each other.”

Rurik walked over to the intercom in the car and paged for Ayva to come to the rear car of the train. After a few minutes the door of the privacy wall slid open and Ayva entered the car. She bowed her head to him and asked what he needed of her. Rurik explained that Cassandra wanted an explanation and that she should explain the situation directly to her. With that Rurik excused himself from the car leaving them to talk.

“So,” Cassandra started. “Care to explain what’s going on?”

Ayva took a seat across from Cassandra. “I am a Synthetic and the elusive fifth member of the top team of the Academy.”

Cassandra knocked over the chair she was in as she backed away from Ayva. “You’re a what?” she asked knowing full well what a Synthetic was. “Then why are you even teamed with me? Was it out of pity? Are you ashamed of my lack of magic ability? Huh? Tell me!” Cassandra yelled through her tears.

“I know you probably feel betrayed-“

“Betrayed? Betrayed!?!?” Cassandra continued to yell. “Betrayed doesn’t even start to describe how I feel right now!”

Ayva got up and grasped Cassandra by the shoulders and looked up into her eyes. “Stop. Look I was assigned to protect you by Rurik.”

“What?” Cassandra said in shock. “Why?”

“You’re not who you think you are either. You’re a hybrid, your father was a god and your mother a demon.”

Before Cassandra could say any words a loud explosive boom emanated from towards the front of the train followed by the sharp lurching of the train car. What the two of them couldn’t see was that a large magic bomb went off on the bridge the train was on that spanned the one hundred fifty foot wide top of a gorge. The explosion destroyed the bridge causing the remaining cars to derail into the gorge. Inside the last car, everything began to get weightless as the cars went into free fall. Cassandra could see the open end of the train since all the privacy walls were blown apart by the explosion. As if time were slowed Cassandra could see every little detail. The first car hit the edge of a rocky outcrop making everything instantly stop moving the border of which slowly moved towards them in the last car. Where the train cars landed was only a mere thirty feet wide causing the train car to jam against the gorge wall and forcing the rest of the train into a zig-zag pattern. When the last car began to slow down Cassandra and Ayva braced themselves. The car then instantly stopped once it jammed against the rocky walls and Cassandra saw Serena on the bed tumble down into the zig-zag of cars soon followed by Ayva and herself. Cassandra landed onto the roof of the train car then slid into the next car, she could feel her body hitting something hard then everything went black.

Chapter 3: Only a Shard

Cassandra moaned as she came to, her entire body sore from the crash. She could see through the shattered window that the sun was starting to settle, which meant she must have been knocked out for a good portion of the day. She checked the movement of her body making sure nothing was broken then it suddenly clicked in her mind.

“Ayva! Ayva!” She yelled down the train while leaning over the edge of the hardwood bar she was on.

There was no response so Cassandra began climbing down the wreckage of the train. Everything was battered and thrown around making it difficult and dangerous to descend the maze of the wreckage. Cassandra continued to call out as she descended until she could hear a faint voice. Even though she could barely hear the voice she could easily tell it was Ayva. Poking her head out of one of the train car windows she could see down below Ayva laying among the debris on the gorge floor.

“Ayva, are you ok-” Cassandra said as she pulled some of the debris from her body. Cassandra’s heart nearly stopped when she saw Ayva’s body. Her arms and legs were bent at unusual angles and there was a pool of blood under her. Cassandra could feel the lump in her throat getting larger and the tears began rolling down her face.

“Heh, I guess being a synthetic doesn’t help you much when you fall a few hundred feet huh?” Ayva said trying to lighten the mood.

Cassandra smirked a little wiping the tears from her eyes.

“Look Cassie,” Ayva said in her most sincere voice. “Even though us being sisters was because of my assignment I don’t see it that way and I truly feel that we are sisters. I only hope you can forgive me for lying to you all these years.”

Cassandra smiled and knelt down beginning to tend to Ayva’s wounds with healing magic. Soon a white glow almost like mist enveloped Ayva’s body. “I forgive you Ayva. Just tell me one thing, before the train crashed you said I was a hybrid. What does that mean?”

“You are like most other people, a product of two others. However,” Ayva paused a moment before continuing. “In your case your father was a god and your mother a demon.”

“What?!” The shock nearly made Cassandra lose control of the healing magic she was using. After taking in a deep breath and composing herself she continued. “How can my parents be of two different races?”

“Normally it’s not possible, but they wanted a child so bad they used origin magic to create you, but in turn it takes the lives of both the parents. Which is why this method is illegal and why I was assigned to protect you. Not to mention the academy wanted to see what abilities you have, being a hybrid and all.”

“Well, it seems they don’t have anything to worry about. I pretty much lack any sufficient magic power and I’m not that great at physical combat either.”

Once Cassandra stabilized Ayva’s condition she started to peel away at the mangled wreckage of the once beautiful train. Cassandra didn’t want to admit it but she knew she would be looking for a dead body, Serena’s body. A good half hour had passed until she hit a sheet steel wall. Going back outside the train looking up through the mangled windows all she could see was debris filling the train car and no sign of Serena. Feeling defeated she returned to Ayva bringing along some pieces of the wreckage to make a fire and defeat the ever growing darkness in the gorge.

Sleeping soundly Cassandra was awoken by a rustling among the wreckage. The once bight burning fire had dimmed to a small pile of coals. Cassandra squinted but couldn’t see anything in the dark shadows cast by the tall gorge walls. Stumbling over the wreckage she shuffled her way closer and closer towards the sound. As she began to pull away a large piece of bent sheet metal it burst towards her throwing her backward onto the ground. A loud deep roar shook the earth beneath her, and as she looked up a large sihrili stood upright. I was mostly black with a few spots of dark purple and a purple glow. It stood eight feet tall and seemed to take the shape of a disfigured orge, it’s neck bent to the side and its arms moving around more like tentacles than actual arms and it had various large spikes on its body. With another earth-shaking roar it began to run towards Cassandra, each step pounding the ground as it ran. Cassandra scrambled for something to defend herself with and as the sihrili was about to attack a large armored demon came out of the shadows tackling the sihrili, crushing it into the far wall of the gorge.

“Sigma, now!” the large armored demon yelled.

With the demon dodging out of the way a bright white column of purifying magic lit the gorge as bright as daylight and struck the sihrili destroying it. The gorge dimmed after the massive magic attack and left Cassandra wondering what had just happened. Before she could figure it out the gorge began to brighten up again and overhead were several large tear-shaped airships with a platform descending from each.

“Cassandra?” the large demon asked in his very deep voice towering over her.

“Y-yea”

“She’s here!” the demon yelled up towards the platforms.

A moment later several people started hopping off the platforms and securing the area. After that a man hopped off a platform that Cassandra recognized, it was Martin, Orisstin Academy’s curator, and a mentor. As always his brown hair was scruffy and he wore the same old stained white lab coat and glasses with a crack in the corner. He quickly ran over to Ayva with what looked like some senior medical members then went over to Cassandra.

“Are you alright?” Martin’s scruffy voice asked.

“Yea, I think I am. What happened?”

“The train was bombed, we don’t know why or by who yet but it might have been related to what was on the train.”

“And who are they?” Cassandra said motioning over to the groups that descended on the platform mainly consisting of elves.

“They’re from Kemora Academy. They offered their resources to help.”

Cassandra had heard the rumors of Kemora Academy, the most prestigious academy of Ecluna. With their limitless resources of information, kreeds and talented powerful members not even governments or militaries could touch them. However, she had also heard of some of the controversial members of the academy. Most were innocent enough but some took some very controversial actions during contract job requests.

Cassandra’s focus was drawn towards the graceful elven woman stepping off the platform. She had long blonde hair partially tied up complimenting her thin figure, fair skin, blue eyes and the distinct pointed ears. She also wore an elegant dress more suited for a ballroom than out in the field. The woman motioned her head towards the remains of the train and the large armored demon ran towards the train smashing into it, then climbing up through the debris. It was obvious to Cassandra now, this demon was using juggernaut and reinforcement magic making him near unstoppable a force not to be taken lightly. A moment later the demon crashed out through the side of the train car about halfway up the wreckage, landing on the ground carrying the tattered lifeless body of Serena.

“They’re getting more complete now,” a shorter man said as he walked up beside the blonde woman.

“She must be back now. We need to find Serena soon,” the blonde woman said.

“But she’s right there,” Cassandra said utterly confused.

“Martin!” the woman said as she turned to him. “She was harboring this and you didn’t tell her?”

“Well you see Penelo,” Martin began saying nervously while scratching the back of his head. “We’re just learning of this ourselves.”

Penelo turned to Cassandra. “This here is simply a shard of Serena’s magic, it’s not her. In the wrong hands, this origin magic can be very dangerous which is why once we’re out of the gorge and you’re safely on your way we’re going to find her.”

“I- I want to go with you. I want to see for myself why there is such a commotion over this woman.”

Penelo paused a moment. “Very well then if you’re so intent on coming, you can, on one condition. You do not get in our way.”

Cassandra waved at her sister laying on a gurney on a far platform as they raised to the airships above. Once aboard the ship, Cassandra was offered a seat by a window and since they were still so close to the wastelands she could now see the vastness of it lit by the two partial moons. The lifeless land stretched as far as she could see. She then began examining the inside of the airship, other than the beautiful exterior you wouldn’t have known that it was a multi-million kreed vessel, everything had a purpose and nothing was embellished. The entire ship was abuzz with activity with people she didn’t even know and it made her feel alone. Soon the drone of the activity faded away and Cassandra’s eyes finally shut.

It felt so short even though it was almost a day’s travel with the sun having already set but the jarring of the ship finally woke Cassandra. Rubbing her eyes and stretching she felt more exhausted than when boarded the ship even though she slept the entire trip. Looking out the window she could see the ground below, thanks to the two partial moons above. From what she could make out it looked like an abandoned town with several buildings surrounding a massive stone structure in the center.

The intercom clicked on and hummed with a tapping to test the mic. “Attention all members please proceed to the platforms. We will be descending to the town outskirts in five minutes,” Penelo said with the intercom clicking off then on again. “That means you too Ms. Curious.”

Cassandra took that as an obvious jab at her since Penelo seemed reluctant about letting her tag along with them. She followed the others and joined them on the descent to the town below. Once on the ground, it was apparent at how large the stone structure in the center was which towered as tall as many of the modern buildings in Orisstin. Cassandra had an odd feeling as everyone who descended from the ships was fully armed and armored. The group of members proceeded through the eerie streets of the town where there were scattered stone statues of various races all with weapons. Many of the buildings looked to be thousands of years old from how they were constructed but didn’t look to be more than a few years old from wear and tear. Upon reaching the towering structure it was apparent that it was made with care and attention to detail to worship something or someone. The team entered the large open arch and into the building where the two partial moons were visible through the large window at the opposite end. As they walked they passed more stone statues of gods, demons, elves, and dwarves all facing one direction and all having weapons drawn as if they were frozen in battle, it was apparent they were missing forces from all those years ago.

Penelo ordered everyone to stop with her clenched fist raised. There at the other end of the building stood a winged figure facing the large arched window with its distinct shadow cast towards the group. It was easy to tell it was Serena even though she was draped in a loose cloak. Penelo ordered everyone to stay behind as she walked forward towards Serena. Once she reached a mere arm’s length from her Penelo pulled an elegant white and gold pistol from its holster hidden under her dress around her thigh and aimed it at the back of Serena’s head.

“Would you kill someone for simply being who they are?” Serena softly said with her sultry voice.

“You are simply a danger to this world,” Penelo replied as she fired the pistol.

For a moment everything was still, then Serena’s body went limp and collapsed forward. Penelo turned and walked back to the waiting forces ordering some to collect the body. Cassandra was in shock as to what had just transpired. As Penelo was walking past her she forcefully grabbed her arm.

“Why? Why did you kill her?” Cassandra said with tears in her eyes.

“You truly don’t know how dangerous she is, do you?”

“So what does it matter? Maybe she was only dangerous because she was defending herself what do you know?”

In her heated temper, Penelo got right in Cassandra’s face and said. “You want to know what I know? This is what I know, all those stone statues we passed used to all be living beings. Who is going to give their lives back? How many countless other lives are you willing to risk?”

As Penelo was about to continue multiple screams echoed from the members who were supposed to be collecting Serena’s body attracting the attention of everyone. Looking over towards the large arched window everyone else could see the dark silhouette of Serena ripping a large chunk of an elven man’s neck out with her teeth. Before anyone even had time to panic Penelo yelled out.

“Attack!”

Several elves along with a few humans and demons rushed forward with weapons drawn which Serena dispatched with her magic before they could even get a single attack in. In almost an instant every remaining member began firing rifles, pistols, arrows and magic attacks. Serena seemed almost unfazed by this as she was holding up a magic barrier with her left hand which was absorbing and deflecting all the attacks. Penelo had expected this which is why she had an ace in her pocket.

“Kuzzon!” Penelo yelled.

The group firing at Serena parted and Kuzzon, the same demon that had saved Cassandra earlier, ran past fully armored and at full speed towards Serena. Kuzzon’s juggernaut and fortification magic made easy work of personal magic and physical barriers. Kuzzon broke through the barrier that was several feet in front of Serena allowing all the attacks to pass him forcing Serena to try and deflect each attack individually. Kuzzon then in surge of energy ran faster preparing for a killing blow to Serena. Just before he made contact Serena placed her hand forward, the two connected with an explosion of energy that was deflected sideways by Serena that rocked the building causing debris to begin falling.

By now Penelo’s composure began to show cracks as she had never seen anything stop Kuzzon’s attacks before short of full fortress barriers. The rest of the members began losing confidence and one after another stopped attacking and began running towards the airships. Penelo pulled a small turquoise pyramidal communication crystal from her sleeve and ordered the airships to charge their magic cannons.

Kuzzon’s energy was nearly depleted after the single explosive attack prompting Penelo to join the fray. Cassandra could only stand and watch, even if she wanted to run she couldn’t, she felt almost glued in place. Penelo’s magic now came out to shine, with careful overlapping of her afterimage magic and her acceleration magic it made her nearly untouchable on the battlefield.

“Go Kuzzon, make sure those ships fire their cannons.”

“But Pene-”

“Just go damn it,” Penelo yelled.

With what little energy he had left Kuzzon bolted for the airships off in the distance as Penelo continued to stall for time until the ships were ready to fire. Penelo pulled her pistol from its holster once again along with a matching dagger and fired multiple shots in quick succession at Serena managing to hit her in the left shoulder. Penelo knew if she kept using her acceleration and afterimage magic carefully she could confuse Serena and stay ahead of her attacks. Penelo knew it, she was able to get several, although minor, attacks to connect. In retaliation, Serena swiped at Penelo with her right hand hitting her with claw-like fingernails only to find out that she had merely hit an afterimage of Penelo which dispersed into the air like a mirage. A moment later Penelo swiped her dagger across Serena’s back but had her right calf clipped by a shiny blur of black. Penelo dodged back making sure she was at a safe distance before dropping down to one leg from her injury. She couldn’t figure out what had clipped her until she looked up to see what was hidden by Serena’s cloak, the serrated spearhead shape tip of a bone tail that looked like it was made of obsidian matching the shimmering gloss black feathers of her wings and ornaments on her head contrasted by her long crimson red hair and pale skin.

Luckily it was time, Penelo could see the distinct glowing dots of the magic cannons on the airships in the distance. Penelo knew she had enough time for one more attack and fighting through the pain in her leg, rushed forwards thrusting her dagger deep into the side of Serena’s chest before retreating back to a safe distance again. One of the dots flashed and a moment later a boom resounded from the upper levels of the building causing several large pieces of debris to fall from the high ceiling. Another flash of light and another resounding boom echoed in the building this time shaking its very foundation. Cassandra watched still frozen in place as an apparition appeared beside Penelo.

“Sorry, only one per day. You should have run with the rest,” the apparition said as it and Penelo vanished teleporting to one of the airships.

More and more explosions now happening in quick succession were hitting the building. Cassandra and Serena were the two remaining ones in the building. They stood there, silently looking at each other as the building crumbled around them. Cassandra could now feel the fear that everyone else had as the bloody Serena started to run towards her. Cassandra knew this was the end she would either be killed by Serena or falling debris. Cassandra held her arms close to her chest and closed her eyes bracing for Serena’s attack, then, she could feel the force of Serena hitting her knocking her over but she never felt herself hitting the ground.

Did I die already? she thought.

Cassandra wasn’t sure what happened and was afraid to open her eyes.

“Quickly,” the familiar voice said.

Cassandra opened her eyes to see the bleeding Serena on all fours on top of her with wings fully extended, holding up a barrier protecting them both from the crushing debris of the building.

“Quickly, think- of a safe, place-,” Serena struggled to say through the strain of holding up the barrier.

Cassandra could tell Serena couldn’t hold the barrier and debris off them much longer. Ok think of a safe place, think of a safe place, think of a safe place, she thought.

Under the circumstances, it was a lot harder to think of a safe place but Cassandra finally thought of a place just as Serena collapsed on top of her.

 

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