“Hello.” Duuri said as she found the group on their way. The situation was clearly awkward for her too but she made no effort to apologize. It was more like she waited for something from them.
“Well, let’s see if I can do it with three people then.”
They all reluctantly clung onto Duuri. A few moments later they were in a hotter environment.
The air was rough and the ground uneven, as they stood on the slope of the volcano. Lasha remembered seeing it in the distance while running towards Red City.
“Let’s hope this works.” Duuri said while peeking into the volcano. “Mind coming up, Kekremu?”
“Yes, yes, I figured I was next.” the red-scaled serpent said. For a fire deity, she was rather timid. Her body was bunched up and close to the edge, ready to jump back in.
“And now we wait.” Duuri said.
“I was thinking,” Kekremu began, “Valyra might not show up in Cralvalas’ body, but invisible. I thought, if I keep humming, you’ll know the moment Valyra enters me. I’m sure I’ll stop for a moment as it happens.”
“No need. I can see souls as a dream demigod.” Celeste said.
“You can?” Lasha asked.
“Dream deities can see lots of hidden things.”
“I’ve been around since the dawn of time and I still learn new things about dream.” Kekremu said.
“Really? That wasn’t even supposed to be a secret.”
“Shut up, we have company.” Duuri barked.
“Is it Valyra?” Lasha tried to spot a lone purple bat in the sky. Instead she found a yellow fairy child. An Attejs.
“So you decided to defend your failed gods? Took you long enough.”
“I’m guessing you are here to remove us before Valyra gets here.” Lasha said.
“Yes. My name is Lumie. Who are you?” Lumie giggled innocently.
“I’m Du-” Duuri narrowly dodged a beam of light that exploded on impact. The others shielded their eyes from dust.
“I don’t care, I wouldn’t carve your names on your tombstones if I knew them.”
Duuri flew up to the enemy, an array of missed beams exploding behind her. She tried to kick Lumie, but it went right through her. Lumie was a light deity and naturally could manipulate light, including how it reflected off her body.
Duuri stood still for a moment trying to find Lumie’s real body, long enough to be hit by a ray of light. The explosion shot her back to Earth.
Marvie unfolded her wings to go follow her but was engulfed in a pillar of darkness instead. Lasha’s eyes had been fixed to the sky, so she hadn’t seen the second figure on the ground. A hunched over Sjetta. Another circle of shadow travelled across the ground. Lasha caught the stunned Marvie and leapt away from Celeste. They had to take the fight elsewhere. Celeste had to stay near Kekremu. The shadow circles followed her. Marvie recovered and jumped out of her arms, towards the attacker. The Sjetta caught her head and shot a beam of darkness through it. Marvie formed the new hole in her head into a mouth and bit down on the arm. The circle following Lasha vanished as the Sjetta tried to shake Marvie off. Marvie dug her feet into the ground like roots and Lasha punched the mage with all the force she could muster until his arm was torn off by the force.
He tumbled down the mountain but caught himself, standing up grunting.
“Who are you? Why do you fight for Jaliehv?” Lasha asked.
“You think all Sjetta have to agree with Algasath? My name is Ralek. And I will fight you.”
Ralek focused some dark magic into his arm stump, allowing it to regrow. That was a problem. Sjetta can regenerate in the darkness produced by shadow magic or a dark demigod. Lasha gained that same ability, so they were at a stalemate. Duuri was occupied with Lumie and she was likely the only one who could actually beat her. Lasha had to figure this one out herself.
“Marvie, can you produce a sword?”
“I am not trained to shapeshift sharp edges. Can’t we make him use up all his well?”
“You know, the resource mages use for spells? I thought you learned this.”
“Not sure if we can before you run out of mass.”
“Shadows heal you too, right? Just be my shield.”
Ralek cocked his head. “Wow, great strategy. Algasath really taught you how to win a fight, hasn’t he?”
“Was he supposed to just start wars for us to learn?” Lasha responded.
“You’re exaggerating my point.”
“I don’t think I am, looking at who you’re defending.”
“You think I support everything Jaliehv does? She’s just the only one who sees the fault in Algasath. In all the gods.”
“That doesn’t absolve you. Once she has become the god of gods, I’d like to see how you plan to talk her down. You will be an accomplice to everything she does.”
“You don’t understand her ideology at all.”
“I don’t get that feeling from you either.”
“Let’s continue then.”
Ralek summoned another circle and sent it on its way. Lasha intercepted it but it did not activate underneath her. It just kept rushing towards Marvie. Lasha could just barely tackle her out of the way before it could burn away more of her body.
“You see how foolish your plan is?”
“How many of these can you take?” Lasha asked her friend.
“They only do surface damage, so I only have to replace my outer layer. He’ll have to hit me a lot for me to run out of mass.”
“So, how many?” Ralek asked. “Twenty?” He spread his arms and twenty circles appeared around him. “Fifty?” The circles more than doubled. Then they all shot towards Marvie.
Lasha tried to get her out of the way, but she wasn’t fast enough to avoid more than one in a row. For every pillar Lasha pulled Marvie away from, she was hit by another. Her outer layer became more charred with every hit. Shadows don’t burn like fire, it was more like frostbite but more severe. Once all fifty circles exploded, Marvie had trouble shedding the thick layer of destroyed cells.
“Are you okay?”
“I don’t think I can take that many again.”
“Okay.” Lasha stood up.
“What’s your plan now, princess? I’m eager to hear.” Ralek teased.
Lasha took off her scarf and sweater and gave them to Marvie. “I’ll handle it from here. Just get away.”
Marvie nodded. Lasha helped her up and she ran away.
“You think I’ll just let you remove her from this fight? You will watch her die. Like I did in Datredinrezin.”
Lasha jumped forward and punched him before he could summon a circle. The darkness around her fists healed any damage she would have done but the impact at least broke his concentration. Due to the angle of the punch, he did not fly off very far.
“You’re not hurting me with that.” Ralek struggled on his feet. That was true. It appeared like the soul took on aspects of the body it was connected to, so it couldn’t take damage from her hits either while attached to a body immune to it.
Lasha moved behind him and punched him in the other direction, launching him into the air. She jumped after him, and there in the air, he started to realize what her plan was. A final punch sent him down into the volcano. He smacked into the lava, too thick to sink in. He saved himself with a layer of shadow magic and tried to climb out but Lasha jumped down on top of him. The heat burnt her too, but she had to endure it longer than he did. He would run out of well fast here. Lasha could feel her clothes catch fire, but she could not snuff out the flames with cold without giving Ralek the chance to heal in her darkness as well. But even if the fire burned away her body, her soul would endure it. Ralek was not a demigod and fully mortal. Should his body die, his soul will too.
All his clawing did nothing, Lasha’s weight held him in place. Soon the layer of darkness vanished around him and his body disintegrated.
“You-” were his last words. The ashes of his body were lifted up by the updraft. Lasha surrounded herself in darkness and jumped back up to the surface. She could heal her skin but her t-shirt was burnt to ashes. At least Ralek’s protective layer kept her pants relatively intact. Marvie waited at the volcano’s edge. Lasha put her sweater and scarf back on.
“That was…” Marvie chose her words, “...pretty cool.”
Ralek’s ashen remains reformed into a new body. A baby floated over the volcano. Human babies cry after birth to expand their lungs. As Sjetta are born from corpses, they cry so the living may find them. Marvie extended her arms to catch it. Sjetta babies were simple shapes. Just a head with a crying mouth. Due to their malleable body, they will emerge the rest of their bodies as they are needed. As they learn the purpose of appendages from those around them.
Celeste approached them. “I think we have a problem.”
Lumie was a worthy opponent. Rarely Duuri ever had to fight for her life, so this was exciting. Light demigods did not have the ability to create explosions like that, so Lumie must do those with magic. The light beams alone could kill Duuri’s soul though, the explosions were just for show. Light was fast, faster than even an Air deity. Duuri was only able to dodge them because Lumie still had the reaction time of a mortal. She shot rays at Duuri with little regard to how they devastated the environment. Kekrem was known for its empty mesas, which were now decorated with meaningless scrawlings burnt and cut into the earth. Lumie still evaded Duuri’s attacks by making the light bounce off her in unnatural ways. Shandari relied on their eyes even more than humans, their sense of hearing neglected. Though Attejs did not draw breath anyway. “Did not expect to have you so outclassed. I heard stories about you, you know.”
“Your light trick is the only thing keeping you alive.”
“Then I hope for us both you’ll find a way past it.”
Lumie stopped her barrage. Duuri tried to listen for the buzz of her wings but even without the constant explosions, she could not hear them.
“Damn it, looks like I screwed up.” Lumie said, her destructive glee dampened. Attejs had 360° vision so it was hard to tell what Lumie was looking at, making her say that.
“I let Ralek get killed. Didn’t think those children had it in them.”
Duuri looked down to the ground. Indeed, there was no more fighting. There was also a certain red-scaled serpent missing.
“Well, that’s enough. I’m done here.” Lumie said.
Duuri did not waste time trying to follow her. She descended down to the volcano. The cries of a baby assaulted her ears.
“Sorry, I got distracted during the commotion.” Celeste excused.
“How could Valyra sneak up on you if you can sense her soul?” Duuri asked.
“At the time I was more concerned with Lasha and Marvyad’s well-being.”
“Useless, all of you.” Duuri stared down the baby until it shut up. “But you actually killed the guy. I thought you didn’t even notice he was there.”
“I did.” Lasha said. She sat on a rock, staring off into the scorched lands.
“How do you feel?”
Lasha shook her head and lowered it. “If I was stronger, I might’ve solved this another way. But he was going to kill Marvie.”
“You were strong enough to save your friend.”
Lasha looked at Duuri directly. Somehow, Duuri saw herself reflected in her eyes. But that was not the reflection of herself Duuri carried in her own eyes. She didn’t like what she saw.
“So, this was a failure. Celeste, are you familiar with portals?”
“That’s fine, you’ll just be the conduit. I’ll go to Amieredetta and tell them to target you for a portal. You’ll just have to channel your well into it and keep it open on this side.” Duuri dashed off in an instant. The others sat in silence until Celeste could feel half of a portal in the area and tore it open.