Authors: Scott Toney
time as it will be, not as it is!” Ivanus called back. “But I sense the basement of a destroyed home within the city that is far from the fighting! The boy should be safe there!” He clutched tight to her shoulders as she curved and cut through the sky toward Kaskal, nearing quickly in the distance.
“I will need you to guide me, and we may be struck out of the sky before we can even land!” Julieth looked down to the child she clutched in her arms as she flew. His hair wove over his face in the currents. He looked lifeless, and yet she felt his heartbeat through her palms.
They approached quickly through the sky, the only thing airborne near this walled city in the middle of a vast desert.
An explosion ripped through the front of the city.
“Head away from the blast!” Ivanus called out as he clutched tight on Julieth’s shoulder to signal her.
A bolt of electricity cracked the air and shot near them as they dove, striking out from where the explosion in the city had been. It sent static through her wings, causing her to lose command of her wing-muscles for a split second, then regain control and curve toward the city’s back wall.
“Dive!” Ivanus shouted and Julieth listened as another column of electricity struck up at them from below.
Smoke roiled around them as Julieth dove into Kaskal’s ruins. People shouted in fear and bodies littered the stone-cobbled streets.
Another blast from the front of the city shook the structures around them as Julieth landed roughly on the street.
Ivanus let go of her shoulders and began running down an alleyway nearby. The tops of the alley’s buildings were gone, crumbled down in the hulls of their structures. Soot marked their clay walls. “This way!” he shouted to her.
She retracted her wings and ran wearily after him while clutching Bayne tightly in her arms. People stared at her in fear and awe.
Ivanus turned into a structure half her height, disappearing down a stairwell and into a dark chamber, seemingly once a basement or storage room.
Julieth ran behind him, rushing into the near darkness until she came to him, standing in a corner of the chamber where several cots lined a wall.
“There is someone here I’ve been watching through my
, who I think can be trusted,” Ivanus said. “Come out, we mean you no harm!” he sang into the dark.
A moment later a disheveled woman appeared holding a candle, out of an underground passageway. The candle’s light danced about them. “Julieth, is that you?” she asked. “I heard you’d fled us.” She gasped as she saw Julieth’s wings.
“Yes, Sara, it is me. I had no choice. We would have died.” Julieth took Bayne and gently laid him on the nearest cot. “I have come into contact with essences. They are part of me now, and they are also a part of this man I come with. Will you watch over Bayne as I see what I can do to fight our enemy? If I die, I will need you to protect him.”
“We will all die,” Sara said as she touched Bayne’s face, a hard look on the woman’s features. “But yes, I will watch over him.” Sara’s eyes looked to Julieth’s bow, still strung over her shoulder. “There are arrows tipped with fire-powder at the base of that wall.” She motioned into a darker portion of the chamber. “Take them, they are no use to me.”
“Thank you.” Julieth laid her hand on Sara’s shoulder. “Is there a weapon here my friend could use, a sword perhaps?”
“My husband’s sword and shield lie near the arrows. He died yesterday as a surge of fire rained down on us.”
“I am sorry. He was a good man,” Julieth said while taking the arrows in her hands and loading them in her quiver. She eyed the small sword. It would have to do. “Here, use this.” She handed it to Ivanus and then did the same with the thin metallic shield.
“But I have never wielded a sword.” He clutched the sword and shield awkwardly as he stood.
“When the time comes, pray that your
serves you. May you wield a sword for the first time like you did your abilities while taking my arrow. Have confidence in yourself. It is the only way any of us will make it from today to tomorrow alive.”
They ran up out of the mouth of the basement’s darkness quickly, the light and heat of the planet’s two suns blanketing them as they rose once more into the broken city’s shell. “Where do we go?” Julieth asked, hoping Ivanus could
where their enemies would soon be.
An explosion went off a distance away from them and the screams of a woman pierced their thoughts.
“Toward her voice.” Ivanus rushed to Julieth’s side, working hard to firmly support the sword and shield. The planet’s rust-flecked wind stung their faces. “The woman will die soon, but there are others who need us.”
Another scream pierced the air as Ivanus ran after Julieth into a wider street. “I cannot support you with the sword and shield,” she said while looking to Ivanus. “You’ll have to make your way to the front of the city on your own. If you need me, call out, and if I hear you, I will come.”
I just met this man,
and already I feel a deep trust and alliance to him. Is that because we are both connected through the essences?
Julieth extended her wings fully to her sides as the few people in the street around them kept their distance. Sunlight shattered off her wings’ forms as she thrust them downward, pumping upward above the city and watching as Ivanus made his way through the maze of debris battered streets below.
She took a moment to scan the cityscape and saw a massive group of her people defending a building a distance away.
That is where the synthetic food creator is,
she thought, realizing that if the structure fell, this could be her people’s last stand.
Why have I returned?
A wave of heat surged through her.
I have no family here, and few friends.
Leaving had been easy to justify when she was just one regular woman and knew she would make no difference if she stayed to defend her home.
But with this new ability, I have to fight for my people.
Julieth drew a fire-powder tipped arrow from her quiver and cocked it back in her bowstring. With a pulse of her wings she dove low, hugging above the remains of houses and stores lining the streets.
As she neared the fighting, she saw the mercenary fighters who had come with the metallic man, slowly driving back her people. They wore armor black as night and their swords were red with the blood of human life. Bodies littered the ground around them.
Julieth aimed at the front mercenary’s torso and let her arrow fly, watching as it exploded on contact with his body, killing him and several fighters around him. Some of her people looked up at her and cheered, while others used the opportunity to force their way forward.
Swords met swords and cries of death rang through the air. Arrows from archers volleyed between the groups.
Julieth caught a current of wind and moved behind the enemy as arrows barely missed her from below. She became more and more adept with the movements of flight.
I have harnessed my ability as quickly as Ivanus has harnessed his,
she thought, and then wondered why she hadn’t seen him below in the fighting yet.
Does he see something in the future and know a different place to go?
It was useless. Ivanus was not with her, and without him she would not know until the time came.
Pulling another fire-powder tipped arrow from her quiver, she looked for the best place to aim. She flew high enough now that the mercenary arrows could not reach her and the enemy refocused their attention fully on her people once more.
Where are you?
she wondered of the metallic man, knowing he lurked somewhere below.
And why aren’t you with your men?
A static charge rushed over her flesh and she began to fall as a column of blue electricity surged up at her from below, barely missing her body, and only because she lost control before it came.
“No!” she screamed, and then finally beat her wings again, bracing herself in the wind. She instantly let the arrow fly to where the electricity originated. It exploded, toppling the wall of a clay home. In the smoke she saw the metallic man aiming some sort of weapon at her. The whole right side of his body was a metal skeleton and sunlight radiated off its parts. The weapon radiated blue and she dove away as static burst over her flesh, another burst of electricity pulsing past her only breaths away.
Julieth let her body free-fall, hoping the man would mistake her for dead and she could land in a portion of the city blocked from his vision. Blood rushed to her head and her mind pulsed. As soon as she was beyond his sight, she braced her wings in the wind and glided to a street below.
I am only blocks from him,
she thought, knowing he would come check where she fell. Julieth cocked another fire-powdered arrow in her bowstring and ducked in an ash-covered building close by. The air was dense as she stood in the darkness of the doorway, her arrow ready to fire.
Will a fire-powdered arrow kill you?
she wondered, knowing that it probably wouldn’t and shivering while anticipating her death.
An instant later a beam of electricity struck across her vision, exploding the home across from her and sending fragments of its walls through the air.
“You cannot hide from me,” a metallic voice spoke out, through the cloud of smoke rising from the toppled, scorched structure. Soon she could see him walking through the street. He stood taller than any man she’d seen before. Gears moved and adjusted in his cybernetic arm and leg.
I have no chance,
she thought, watching in awe as the cyborg turned toward her, a metallic eye shifting from orange to red while examining her structure.
Her fingers loosed the bowstring as her arrow punched his chest and exploded, knocking him backwards and causing him to stumble before leveling his weapon at her building.
Julieth ran full force, pulling an arrow from her quiver and loading it, ready to let it fly as she pumped her wings and took to the air. She took a breath, bracing for the death that would come when his weapon fired, but as she looked down she saw Ivanus charging across a rooftop close by and leaping through the air, crashing down on the cyborg with his shield on his back and sword held high.
Ivanus’s blade beat the cyborg’s metallic arm, glancing off but taking one of the man’s metal fingers with the blow. Ivanus stammered. She saw a smirk on his face as the cyborg leveled his weapon at him.
Julieth’s second arrow found the cyborg’s torso, exploding and sending him to the ground. As she loaded another arrow, the borg fired its electricity on her, punching through one of her wings and sending her toppling to a rooftop not far below.
Her back and wings burned, but she could not stop. She cocked another arrow and ran across the rooftop, aiming at the borg while leaping from the rooftop to the street. Ivanus dealt blow after blow to the man’s metallic exterior, at the same time avoiding blasts from the man’s weapon.
He has amazing reflexes,
she thought. She would not be able to fire on the cyborg without injuring Ivanus.
“Ivanus!” she called. “Escape so that I can fire!”
The cyborg kicked Ivanus with his massive foot, sending him stumbling back, and then leveled his weapon on her.
As the electric blast came, Julieth fired, her arrow exploding as it made contact with the electricity beam and sending a shockwave through the street before knocking them both back.
The cyborg leveled his weapon again, luminescent blue radiating in the weapon’s barrel, and Julieth felt a sudden wave of darkness consume her.
She fell limp to the cobble street below.
Bayne could not see, could not think. Hollow nothing surrounded him. It rose and bloomed from the depths of his soul, its tendrils wrapping his limbs and pulling down his mind.
Then, with a burst of light, the darkness was gone. Bayne awoke, his hands touching cloth he did not recognize. Dark surrounded him as beams of light shone down from above; illuminating the floor of the room where he lay.
“Bayne, are you awake?” a familiar voice came from nearby. “Please, wait for me, I am coming.”
The last he remembered, he held Julieth’s hand as the two of them ran to escape Kaskal and its attackers. “Where… where am I? Am I in Kaskal?” he asked the woman he recognized from the city.
She came to him, putting a moist cloth on his forehead.
His eyes slowly adjusted. “Where is Julieth? Why are we here?” He braced his arm shakily on the cot’s side, fighting back nausea as he stood.
“She has returned to fight our enemy and has come into contact with the essences.”
he thought, his memory murky.
Where would they have been?
Bayne was young; barely ten years of age, but in this world of wars and famine had been forced to grow up quickly.
“I need to go to her.” He looked up at the woman standing over him. “Since my parents died, her and my brother are all I have.”
“Bayne, neither of us can do anything to save Kaskal.” The woman put her hand to his forehead, checking for fever. “We must stay here and hope they return safely.”
“I will do as you say,” Bayne said, watching the woman’s eyes and calculating what he needed to do. “Do you have anything to eat?” he asked.
“Let me check the storage chamber,” she said, turning and heading away from him toward a hollowed-out hole in the room’s wall.
He took his opportunity, moving as swiftly as he could without making a noise, shuffling quietly up the staircase leading to the sunlight.
“Bayne! Bayne!” he heard the woman shouting for him to return.
Light blinded him as he left the destroyed structure and stepped onto the street. He squinted, looking up to the suns above and then tightening the mesh mask over his face. Bayne ran swiftly towards the end of the alleyway, bounding through the streets closer and closer to the city’s front.
Where has Julieth gone?
He knew he had to find her. If what the woman spoke the truth, then he did not know what would happen to his life, but he yearned to be beside the woman who had shown him such care.
Bayne stopped for a moment and looked down at a man’s dead body in the shadows close by. Blood seeped from an arrow wound in the man’s chest. It sickened him. The boy reached down and touched the man’s open eyelids, pulling them down over his eyes.
“Rest,” he said, “and send my love to my mother and father for me.”
He ran on, weaving through streets and ducking away from conflicts until he noticed the beautiful winged creature in the sky. Sunlight illuminated her form as he looked on her in awe. It took a moment, but as he stood there watching in the middle of the vacant street he realized he knew her form, without the wings behind her. “Julieth,” he spoke, half voicing his knowledge and half questioning reality.
The screams of his people dying sounded in the distance and he shivered with fear.
I will die in these streets today,
he thought, somehow resigned to that fact after watching his people fend off many attacks during his short life, but none like what came upon them now. His older brother was somewhere in the city.
Are you alive, Andral?
Julieth had insisted they had no time to search out Andral before they fled.
And yet she brought me back to this place. Wherever you are, Andral, I hope you live. I hope you would forgive me for leaving you.
A sudden flash of blue light cut across Julieth’s winged body in the distance. Bayne’s heartbeat quickened and his feet were heavy on the street as he ran in her direction. She fell from the sky and out of his view.
He darted through a series of backstreets, moving quicker and quicker, determined to assist her. He had no weapon, no physical strength, but somehow he would help.
A loud noise cracked nearby, and soon he pivoted onto the street where Julieth fell.
Bayne froze, seeing two men fighting each other in the middle of the street not far from him, and Julieth, clearly wounded but coming toward a man with metallic limbs.
He watched in horror while seeing the cyborg level its weapon at her. Fear took over. “No!” he shouted.
A wave of energy exploded from Bayne’s body, felling the cyborg, the other man and Julieth to the ground. They did not move.
Bayne held his hands before him, stunned by what had just happened, not knowing what caused it. What was more bizarre was that there was complete silence, outside of the wind, where just before the sounds of battle sounded around the city.
What is going on?
It only took a moment, and then after seeing no movement from the cyborg or anyone else Bayne ran as fast as he could to Julieth’s side. Her body lay limp but he could feel her heartbeat in her veins.
He touched her palm, feeling the warmth of her skin and holding it tight to his chest. “Wake up,” he said. “I need you.” Feathers from her wings ruffled in the wind. No reply came.
He walked close to the cyborg and watched as the gears in his leg and arm spun and clicked. The borg’s body was half flesh, half metallic. Lines of boiled flesh covered his skin and there were markings from the possession of an essence on his cybernetic hand. The borg’s one metallic eye glowed an eerie red, and then slowly transformed to a soft electric-blue.