“I see.” Algasath simply said after Lasha explained what she learned from Midori. She left out the fight though. “Are you okay with doing this?”
“The fate of the world depends on this, doesn’t it?”
“I guess I can’t argue that. But I think you should rest for today. It’s late.”
Lasha accepted that. She went straight to bed.
The next day, Marvyad joined her and Algasath for breakfast. Lasha still felt numb but her body didn’t fight against being moved as much.
“So, we need a magic user for this.” Lasha began. “Estih knows magic, right?”
“I believe you said you need someone who knows Universe magic specifically. Estih uses Nature magic.”
“Oh, right.” Lasha recalled her attempts at learning magic. She expected Algasath to suggest someone versed in Universe magic but he just looked at his hands.
“Lasha…There’s something you should know.”
That sounded like bad news.
“You know we’ve been helping humans recover from the attack a few days ago.”
“It appears that humanity has taken a devastating hit. Much more losses than at first assumed.”
“About forty million dead.”
“What? But… I was there when they attacked Red City. No way that many died.”
“Smaller settlements were hit the hardest. Some nearly completely wiped out. I’m telling you this because you won’t be able to avoid the news. So I wanted you to learn it now.”
“I’m sorry, Lasha.” Algasath stood up to hug her.
“How many humans were there before?” Marvyad asked, uncomfortable with the silence.
“Sixty million.” Algasath answered.
Lasha didn’t cry. She couldn’t imagine the loss and she was just told about it during breakfast. It didn’t feel real. She knew most of her loved ones had survived. But it was unlikely all of their loved ones had.
“The plan is for the survivors to move together, probably within Red City. So the settlements here in the south will likely be abandoned.”
“My home too?”
Lasha didn’t cry. But she could feel anger rise up inside her. “Where’s Chloe?”
“Still in Red City, as far as I know, helping. Do you think she hasn’t told us everything?”
“Not why she hadn’t stopped it. She knew of it before it happened.”
“It’s unfortunately rather common for time travelers to be secretive and not interfere much. But from what I’ve learned, when such big tragedies happen, there was no way around it.”
Lasha took that in for a moment. She wondered if Julia survived. Her other old classmates. But it was still as if Algasath had only given her a hypothetical. So her mind went to something she could grasp.
“Do you think Chloe and this magic teacher are connected? Like, in whatever future event she was sent here for?”
“I can’t say. Only Midori is allowed to know the futures. All we can do is have faith she will guide us to the brightest one.”
“Odd wording for a Sjetta.”
“Eis nedrev sun ni’eid ezeb funku netjel. That better?”
“So, do you have an idea who we should have learn this spell to defeat Valyra?”
“There is someone. I think now might be a good time for you to meet her too.”
“Celeste Phrozin. She’s a dream demigod.”
Lasha stood in front of the portal to Hotecia. It appeared to be a good starting point to reach other points in the world, despite being only a village. Marvie stood beside her but Lasha barely acknowledged her. At least until she grabbed her hand. Lasha looked up.
“Are you ready?”
Lasha felt like she didn’t ask the first time. She shook her head to herself, though unsure in response to what. Her thoughts moved so fast, she might have had something entirely different in mind. Marvie took it as a response to her question though.
“That’s okay. The same thing happened to my people, long ago.”
“What happened?” Lasha asked, able to focus on her for the moment.
Marvie thought for a moment. “I’m not sure if anyone knows. We have stories about it, but the story changes depending on who you ask. The only commonality is that our god sacrificed themselves in order to allow us to live on the broken remnants of the world. The point is, we are still here. And humans will still be here too.”
“Have you forgotten how to walk?” Duuri slapped them on their backs.
“What the hell?” Lasha snapped.
“Come, we have no time to lose.” She walked through the portal.
Lasha followed. Duuri would only get more annoying if she resisted. “So you’re coming with us?”
“Of course, what, were you going to walk there?”
“Valyra has likely found Cralvalas by now and is going for her next victim. We have determined that Kekremu would be her next target, being the easiest to find of those remaining. She’s inside the volcano over there.” Duuri pointed north. “It’d be great if we could get this spell and intercept her. Eventually she’ll get the hang of the air speed boost. That a good enough reason for you yet?”
They held tight onto Duuri and she unfolded her wings. “Try not to break your bones, Hyla.” Lasha closed her eyes to shield them from the wind. It felt like being in a rollercoaster, with no safety guards and going twice as fast. Still, she clung on. When she opened her eyes again, the environment had changed. It was colder and the grass darker. Salt hung in the air and she saw waves crash against black rock in the distance. Skeletal trees drowned in the swamp further inland. At its side she saw a village with architecture reminiscent of the Asterian village. Houses made of brick and wood. She was pretty sure humans had yet to venture into this region at all.
The address Algasath gave her was in the region called Maddrak. It was located west of Kekrem and east of Jaluxar, a dreary coastal area. Celeste lived in Brightwater, an Asterian settlement.
“Alright, you’ll have to walk the rest.” Duuri shook them off. “Cynthia forbids me of flying directly into populated areas after… people kept getting in the way.”
Duuri marched on and they followed. She got frustrated with their speed though and ran ahead as fast as she was allowed. Lasha was grateful for a moment of peace.
“She’s exhausting, huh?” Lasha said.
“I don’t know why someone would want her as a demigod.”
“Did she call you Hyla earlier? What does that mean?”
“It’s a whole can of worms, especially coming from her. But I think I’m learning to deal with her bullying. When it’s just her and not all of society, it becomes apparent how pathetic it is.”
“That’s good, I guess. I just feel like I do a bad job protecting you because I don’t understand all the prejudices and bigotries going on in your culture.”
“You don’t need to protect me. Just being my friend is enough.”
They could see Duuri return to them, checking on their progress towards town.
“You’re lucky Cynthia gets really scary when angry.” Duuri said.
“Have you met Celeste before?” Lasha asked, hoping conversation could quell Duuri’s frustration with waiting.
“No, never even heard of her. Dream deities are all weirdos anyway. Death, time, magic? Yeah those are important. Dream? Why do we need a deity for that? It’s so pointless.”
“I’m sure Celeste can tell us.”
“You haven’t interacted much with Varhaysel, have you? You can’t have conversations with these people.”
They entered town and made their way to Celeste’s house. The streets were empty but the pavement stones have been rounded from use. Lasha wasn’t sure why no one would be out at this time.
They found Celeste’s home without running into a single person. She figured Duuri wouldn’t have a good answer, so she didn’t ask about it. She rang Celeste’s doorbell.
“Hello?” Celeste opened the door enough to fit between it and the frame. She had a soft voice and drowsy eyes. She wore elegant clothes, not the kind you’d wear just sitting at home. Her hair was white, as was the fur on her ears. Lasha wondered if she might be an arctic wolf Asterian.
“Hello, I’m Lasha. Are you Celeste Phrozin?”
“Can we come in? We have something to discuss.”
“I don’t usually let so many strangers in at once.” Celeste moved her hand to her chin.
“We don’t have time for this.” Duuri said and pushed the door open to step in.
“Oh, okay.” Celeste gasped. “Fine, you can sit in the living room. I suppose you don’t want tea?”
“Sorry about that.” Lasha said and went inside.
“It’s okay. Just don’t touch anything.”
Celeste’s house was strange. It was littered with plushies and toys, though none looked like they had been played with. Celeste looked too young to have kids but she was also an immortal demigod. Duuri sat down on a teal sofa. A white plush elephant sat next to her. Lasha and Marvyad took the sofa next to it and Celeste sat down in the arm chair. A fire was burning in the fireplace. There was not a single photograph decorating the place.
“So, what is this about?” Celeste asked. She showed no hint of irritation towards Duuri.
“We need your help.” Lasha explained before Duuri could. “Jaliehv has gone mad and is trying to replace all gods. She is sending a being she created around to copy the powers of the gods to bring to her. In order to stop her, we need to trap her in a tangible form.”
“And how can I help with that?”
“You are a skilled Universe magic user, right?”
“Yes, but I don’t use it for fighting.”
“We just need you to learn a certain spell. You need to lock her in the body of the god she is currently possessing. Gods cannot die no matter what so we can then safely kill her.”
“You want me to help murder someone?” This was the first time Celeste had an emotional reaction. It was irritation.
“I… yes. Unfortunately, there is no other way to stop her. And we can’t stop Jaliehv once she has all that power. So we don’t have time to think of a better way. Believe me, I don’t feel great about it either.” That was an understatement. Lasha didn’t really think about what came next to trapping Valyra. Especially with all those humans dead, this plan left a dreadful taste in her mouth. Yet she understood that there was no alternative option. None she could see.
“What about… Gods can be turned mortal, right? Why don’t we strip Jaliehv of her godhood?” Celeste asked, once again tranquil.
“Is that possible?” Lasha vaguely remembered hearing of that.
“Yeah.” Duuri said. “A majority of gods could strip one of their own of their rank and appoint a new one. This has never happened in history though and wouldn’t fix the problem. Valyra isn’t a god, yet she can somehow take their powers. So even if we strip Jaliehv of her status, that wouldn’t affect her plan in the slightest. She likely calculated it in, even.”
“How can this Valyra copy god powers? That shouldn’t be possible.” Celeste argued.
“I don’t know how, but Jaliehv somehow created a creature capable of it.” Duuri answered.
“So, will you come with us?”
“No. I cannot help killing someone.”
“You are a fool.” Duuri stood up in frustration. “Valyra has to die in order to secure a future. Midori herself has given this mission to us. She who sees where all this will lead.”
“I’m sure you can find someone else.”
“With your skill in Universe magic? Sure. But not a demigod. They’d be too easy to kill. Cralvalas is currently possessed and he never appointed any demigods. Unfortunately, we need you.”
“I should not kill someone. No matter how justified.”
“Duuri, sit d-” Lasha ordered but a gust of air interrupted her.
The armchair Celeste sat in was tipped over. Duuri stood upon it, as Celeste peeled off the wall before her. Duuri caught her before she could hit the ground, holding her against the wall by the throat.
“Duuri, stop!” Lasha shouted.
“Stay out of it. I’m just punching some sense into her.”
“This will accomplish nothing.” Celeste coughed.
“Even gods have a breaking point.” Duuri smiled. “You two might learn a thing too. One thing that’s annoying about hitting someone really hard is that they fly off so far, right?” Duuri moved Celeste away from the wall and let go of her. “So I use the backdraft to hold them in place.”
Duuri began punching Celeste, a strong wind keeping her from being knocked back. The impact of Duuri’s fists caused shockwaves themselves that were blown across the room. All loose objects were thrown across and neither Lasha nor Marvyad could hold their balance in the storm.
“Demigods heal from any physical injury. But unlike gods, they bleed and feel pain.” Duuri stopped her barrage to let Celeste fall over. Lasha used the moment of quiet to attack. She engulfed her fist in shadows. She wasn’t sure if her shadows seared the body or soul, but it didn’t matter to her at the moment. Duuri slapped her fist away and dug her knee into Lasha’s stomach. She was knocked into the ceiling and before she could orient herself Duuri joined her. She grabbed Lasha’s head and brought it down through the living room table. She was reminded of the pain she felt five years ago. It was very different from the pain she had felt since.
She couldn’t process any sound she heard for a moment, but she felt Marvie’s hand on her. Lasha struggled to lift herself up. Blood warmed her face.
“That wasn’t all, was it?” Duuri mocked.
As Lasha lifted her eye, she saw Marvie had moved between them.
“Stop! Realize what you are doing! You’ve lost control of yourself! You aren’t on Shandi anymore. You do not have to act this way. Here, no one even knows what an Aegil is! The only thing you’re proving here is that you are an insecure jerk that still desperately wants to be recognized. But you won’t get that like this. No one will celebrate your actions here. And back home they will despise you for them as well. Every world you lived in has moved beyond this. It’s time you followed.”
“What are you talking about? You Firel think you got me all figured out, do you? Of course the insects will scream and complain as they are trampled. That doesn’t mean that isn’t exactly their place in life.”
“Then when was the moment you stopped being an insect?”
“The moment I became a god.”
“No. You should’ve realized you were never one in the first place. None of us were.”
“You are not one of us.” Duuri’s fist stretched forward in an instant. Lasha heard glass shatter behind her and Marvie was no longer there.
Duuri looked over to the fireplace, finding that it had been blown out during the fight.
“It’s gotten a little chilly in here.”
“That’s not why it’s cold.” Lasha grunted. She rose up and rammed the blade into Duuri’s stomach.
“Where did you-”
Lasha ripped the knife out to plunge it back in. Duuri tried to block with her arm but it sliced halfway through it. Before it could reach her chest, she stepped back. Lasha was still too sore to follow.
“To be fair, I never fought a demigod of darkness before.”
The knife was coated in blue blood. The frozen hilt burned in Lasha’s palm. Her blood began to melt in her hand, making her lose grip. But she needn’t hold it. Her shadow took hold of it and froze it once again. It could shape it into the sharpest knife but it dulled easily. The blue blood renewed the edge. Another shadow collected the blood still gushing from her face to form into a second blade.
Duuri looked at her with amusement. Lasha sent her first knife forward while freezing the second. She wasn’t sure how much that wound slowed Duuri down. Not at all it turned out. Duuri grabbed the knife and pushed it into Lasha’s forehead. It didn’t matter that the force of her movement pushed her entrails out through the wound. Lasha slumped forward and Duuri pulled the knife out. Lasha could not control her body and her thoughts could not form within her brain. Her body was utterly broken but her soul remained intact. It lingered, knowing the damage was only temporary. Her body’s senses were no longer coherent but her soul could perceive the world all on its own.
Duuri pulled out her own intestines in their entirety and cut them out with the knife. “I don’t need these. I’m an Aegil, I have no organs to fail me, no bones to break. The knife shattered after Duuri dropped it. She found Celeste had sat up while she was busy with Lasha. She grabbed Celeste’s collar and raised another fist to continue but Celeste begged her. “Please just stop. I will do it.”
Duuri relaxed and let go of her. “Fine. You know where to go. I’ll meet you there.” Duuri waded through the carnage and left through the door.
Celeste stood up. “Good grief.” She tried to straighten her hair and stepped through the glass door Duuri had broken. Lasha wanted to go check on Marvie too but there was nowhere her soul could go with that body. All she could do was join it in unconsciousness.