“LADIES! AND GENTLEMEN!”
The Street Rat looked up at the source of the broadcast. The sound was being blasted down at them from the airship and, she knew, so was hope. Unfortunately, she felt it as well, maybe they were about to be saved.
“We have reached the end of the line!” Falk’s gloating accent yelled, unmistakable in the personality and ego that it exuded. “The chapter to conclude the evolution of the two-faced anti-hero that you know as the genius among geniuses…FALK GOLDSCHMIDT!”
“That does not sound promising,” Mother Superior said, and Jamie deflated, disappointed at herself for thinking optimistically against all reason.
As if to agree, the air distorted not ten feet away from them. Eliza appeared out of a teleportation spell, in midair, and promptly and unceremoniously fell on the ground.
“Some have called him obsolete!” The broadcast yelled. “Others…have called him mad! I, for one, have been harder on some than I have on others…”
The both of them ran to her, but she was already pushing herself up, frantically looking about with an alarming sense of despair.
“We need to go,” Eliza called out, loudly, “get everyone together!”
“What?” Jamie asked as Mother Superior helped her up.
“Falk’s gone mad, Illusionist dead,” she looked around, looking crazed and dazed and definitely injured in some way that was hidden by her robes. Jamie followed the sense of smell and, upon a close look, noticed there was blood on her shoulder, she had been shot. “EVERYONE!” Eliza yelled.
“BUT TODAY EVERYTHING WILL EQUALIZE!” The Mad Genius continued, from on high, “TODAY EVERYONE PAYS THE SAME PRICE!”
Suddenly, their surroundings were fully lit up by light. A lot of people were distracted by that and were killed, Beasts included. They looked around in shock in one moment of realization.
The light was neutralizing the Beast’s fog, and their metal instantly lost its supernatural black coating, without needing the usual minutes.
After that one moment of shock, the Beasts only redoubled their efforts. They charged hard.
“TODAY!” The Mad Genius continued. “EVERYONE DIES!”
“Get together,” Eliza yelled again, somehow even louder. Her voice boomed, enhanced by a spell of some kind. “Stop fighting and get together! Touch each other, HURRY!”
“But Eliza, you said you couldn’t handle something like this,” Jamie pointed out.
The broadcast starting laughing, maniacally victorious, laughter that sounded all the more terrible in the face of the chaos of battle that had been even more inflamed by the surge of magical light. Not only had it caused the Beasts to become more aggressive in their desperation to survive the battle, but it also made it far easier to see every detail of violence around them.
They all stared in different directions, but the Street Rat stared at the main front, where the Beasts were closer, to catch sight of the Darkness’s…naked body.
The cloak was gone.
He had time to stare down at himself in stunning confusion, and not much else. He disappeared beneath the stampede of attacking Beasts.
“FIRST YOU DOWN THERE,” the Mad Genius’s voice announced, booming at them like a voice belonging to a mad god.
The Street Rat felt her hand being grasped and looked to find Mother Superior grabbing at it, pulling her along.
“EVERYONE!” Eliza’s voice boomed even louder, reaching into the eardrums in a commanding and earnest tone. “WE ARE RETREATING! GRAB HOLD OF EACH OTHER, GRAB EVERYONE YOU CAN!”
Everyone still fighting had seen enough mages casting teleportation to know what that meant, mages including. Jamie observed as the masses of human retreated from the engagement, looking to gain proximity and touch each other. She also observed as some brave souls, ones too far away, stood their ground against what Beasts were closest…sacrificing themselves to delay them.
One of them was the mercenary she had convinced to stay and fight, with his band of rookies and new members — he was spurring the young away while kicking a Beast whose legs he had sliced off. Half his left arm was gone.
Jamie could not hear what words he and all the others were yelling back to spur their comrades to run and leave them, but the expressions on their faces were enough for her to guess.
They were words the Street Rat would never speak. For the first time in her life, even in the midst of all the chaos and tension and fear, she knew what guilt felt like.
Wild Felids, Soldiers, Mages, the Circus Freak, they all ran.
“THEN THOSE ON THE SEA VESSELS! EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING.”
Falk’s voice in the sky laughed some more as the light began to intensify. Jamie’s surroundings grew visibly lighter.
“Go,” the Street Rat demanded, intimidated and already all out of guilt.
“More, more,” Eliza said, standing in wait, grabbing onto Mother Superior’s shoulder and the staff.
The Street Rat looked around, witnessing Beasts head-butting the canons away, crushing their way through buildings. They would be on them in seconds.
Falk was still laughing.
“Go!” Jamie urged again.
“We need everyone,” Eliza said.
“You’ll get everyone killed,” the Street Rat urged, her voice cracking. “Go!”
An invisible force pushed Eliza aside to the Street Rat’s right, breaking contact with both Mother Superior and the two other chains of people that had been holding onto her shoulder and back.
“What the—” Jamie looked to her left to catch a glimpse of the Warlock, arm extended towards them, impaled by a Beast. He looked the same, disgruntled and annoyed, as he was crushed underfoot a moment later and vanished from view beneath the Beasts.
All of it actually stopped the Street Rat’s heart.
“YOU FOOLS,” Falk spoke again.
It’s happening, the Street Rat thought, in disbelief. We lo–
She couldn’t even finish that thought because a Beast landed on top of where Eliza was, having jumped off a rooftop to get to them from a direction they weren’t looking at. The Beasts hadn’t broken through that building, they had climbed it to get a better angle at the leadership.
The Hunter crashed against it with a spear, piercing it on its side to kill the pilot before he could spur the Beast to move. Zaniyah contained several bloody gashes, plus a wound on her forehead that was causing a small stream of blood to flow down the side of her cheek.
“Grab Eliza!” Mother Superior yelled while reaching for the Hunter, pulling Jamie along without noticing there was another Beast jumping towards them.
Jamie was again interrupted, but for a better reasons since she was the one who was shoved aside. A big crash thundered right next to her as she fell to the ground. Scampering, Jamie got up to find herself nearly blind, only to realize it was nothing about her eyes, it was just how bright the light coming from the airship was.
The light was reaching a blinding whiteness all around her.
Every instinct the Street Rat had ever had was going haywire in alarm. Mother Superior seemed to agree.
“Augh…we need to go, Matriarch!”
Unable to speak from the fear, Jamie focused on following the voice to verify the woman was still grasping Jamie tightly and already grabbing onto the Hunter. Zaniyah’s friend, who had a terrible wound in his belly, grabbed onto Eliza as she stood up to reach out to Zaniyah, and he, in turn, was touching some soldier who was connected to three more and so on. Beasts were leaping at them from every direction.
It was chaos. It was the end.
Jamie looked back at where she had been pushed out of and landed eyes on the Circus Freak, laughing while he shoved a sword through a Beast’s hide, killing the pilot inside.
The difference to the Hunter before was that Hugo was under it. Crushed under it.
“YOU MISERABLE IDIOTIC FOOLS!” The Mad Genius continued, for nothing or no one could stop him.
The jester had pushed Jamie out of the way, and now his legs were clearly crushed beneath the beast machine, whose pilot was already dead.
Everyone was screaming, everyone was in despair, which might have been what convinced her to react desperately.
Following instincts regarding group dynamics, Jamie’s nervous system failed her regarding self-control, and she threw a hand at the Circus Freak.
“HUGO! Grab my hand!”
Hugo was laughing. Not victoriously like Falk still was, but maniacally. He was cackling like a madman, his expression glaring down at his legs in utter disbelief. He had snapped.
“You wanna see ‘er again or what, you bastard ova barnacle?!” Jamie screamed.
The man flashed her a look of terror and stretched out his arm immediately. She glanced aside to see the Hunter was a foot away from Eliza and that Beasts were in the air.
“AAAHHHh,” She screamed again, and she wasn’t alone.
All the noise was interrupted very abruptly.
Jamie closed her eyes and opened her hand, the one grasping Mother Superior so that only her fingertips would be in contact.
Jamie then lost all sense of weight, which returned to her almost immediately without anything under her to counteract it. She suddenly fell.
A multitude of splashes sounded out, and along with them, came a dive into a much unexpected dive into a surface of water.
The Street Rat opened her eyes to notice she was indeed underwater, and being dragged down by the Circus Freak. Ordinarily, she would’ve let him go immediately, but her other hand was still tightly grasped by Mother Superior.
Crap, Jamie thought. Crap why me.
Jamie beat her feet frantically and raised her arm, but that just made Mother Superior sink a bit further. The old woman looked down to see what was going on and immediately understood.
Jamie was running out of air, she hadn’t exactly anticipated needing to store some. The Circus Freak was looking down at his legs, giggling underwater. They were somewhat bleeding, but worse, they were absolutely shattered. Jamie was no doctor and had no kind of sound mind at that moment, and even she, with just a glance, could tell those legs would not be usable at all anymore.
The Street Rat was seriously considering letting go when a force added itself to her other hand and pulled her up. Soon, other hands reached down to grab the Circus Freak and pull him along.
Jamie took in a long deep breath, finding herself surrounded by people, some of which she knew. The Hunter and her friend, and Mother Superior, they had all helped pull them up.
The Circus Freak came up giggling.
“What is wrong with you?” Mother Superior asked because she didn’t know any better.
“LOOK!” Hugo looked down through the surface of the water. And then he submerged his eyes — only the Circus Freak would dive down seconds after almost drowning — and then he brought them out again. “You can’t tell the difference from the distortion,” he chuckled heavily, “they’re messed up the same way!”
Mother Superior did take a look, underwater, and her face emerged grimly.
“How are you not screaming in pain?” She asked because again, she didn’t know any better.
“I am pop’s magnificent freak!” Hugo announced, throwing his arms up in prideful declaration as if he had both of them. And then laughed.
The old woman finally decided to abandon his plane of existence and instead look to that of others. Jamie did the same.
Everyone had apparently been teleported on top of the water, very near to the biggest of the ships.
It was already reacting, with numerous people reaching for ropes and the small lifeboats being lowered along its side, into the water.
Together, they looked back at the city to catch sight of a very large beam of light dissipating beneath Falk’s airship.
Everything beneath it was gone. Dark smoke rose from the center of the Scavenger’s territory, but all the buildings had vanished. Her home was gone.
That surprisingly brought Jamie’s mind back to its full functionality, or perhaps it was the confirmation that she was safe.
“Bastard really did it…” Jamie stated, in a mix of anger and sadness, to hide the disappointment in herself. She had been beaten, she had not seen that coming.
The Street Rat had considered a betrayal of some kind, but she had failed to realize how mad Falk truly was, that he would plan to truly, and absolutely, kill them all.
“Eliza saved us,” the Hunter pointed out.
“Where is she?” Jamie asked, looking around.
They all looked but didn’t see her.
“You had her, didn’t you Zaniyah?” Jamie pointed out, not really sure if, at the last moment, they had still been touching.
Zaniyah’s mind processed what had happened, recovering from all the craziness and catching up to apparently let her know of something scary. It flashed in her face, terror, and then she let go of them and dived.
“Whoah,” said a stranger, a soldier, who was with them.
“Crap!” Jamie beat her feet faster, taking her shoes off despite the massive cold biting at her.
Just then, Thunuk, Zaniyah’s friend, came up from the water. Two soldiers came up behind him, their armors off.
The man was at a loss. “What happen?” He asked.
“Come here and help us!” Jamie gestured, and he did, grabbing onto her to help deal with Hugo’s weight.
“What happen?” Thunuk asked again.
Jamie shook her head to indicate they didn’t know, but the moment afterward, it came to her. Nodding, she turned to Mother Superior.
“’Porting so many people. Eliza always said she couldn’t do this,” Jamie pointed out.
“Oh no,” Mother Superior reacted, realizing the situation, “I made Zaniyah help us! We have doomed Eliza.”
“Is anyone else sleepy?”
They looked at the Circus Freak, and it was obvious to everyone, even the random soldiers, that he was losing consciousness. Mother Superior looked really annoyed all of a sudden, and the Street Rat couldn’t blame her. They had inadvertently chosen to save Hugo over Eliza, which by all accounts, was a terrible mistake.
But it’s okay, Jamie thought, the Hunter will get Eliza. No way she dies from something like this.
“Come,” Mother Superior said, beginning to swim towards the lifeboats. “We need to get him help.”
“What happen?!” Thunuk asked again, more loudly, since he couldn’t see the Hunter anywhere.
They weren’t the only ones yelling, really. Everyone was out of sorts, and Hugo wasn’t the only one not capable of swimming. Several more splashes sounded out as people jumped off the descending life boats to swim to their assistance.
Breathing was hard, Jamie, at least, was swallowing more water than she should, and as was likely the case with everyone else, was shell-shocked from everything that had happened.
With the fact that it was over. They had lost.
By the time they were pulling up the Circus Freak aboard a lifeboat, Jamie was immediately on it. It was easy not to be judged, being a child. It had been minutes already, and the Hunter had yet to emerge.
Zaniyah must’ve been underwater for nearly ten minutes. People were still being pulled into the ship when she came up, looking terrible but carrying the flaccid body of Eliza.
Thunuk was there, waiting for her.
They were pushing against Eliza’s chest the minute they laid her down on a lifeboat, and while it was pulled up by the ropes. The Circus Freak was long gone by then, carried into the inside of the ship to get him out of the cold and into an operating table.
Jamie watched a very desperate Zaniyah blowing air into Eliza’s mouth, blood either searing from the salt or congealed by the cold, all around her face and upper arms. She seemed to be ignoring it.
When the boat stopped, the Hunter held her ear next to the old woman’s mouth.
Aaannnd? Jamie thought, expecting the old woman to take a breath.
Zaniyah’s face contorted as if it was going to cry, but instead, she resumed her efforts to try and save her.
What? Not yet?
It was then that Jamie realized she was absolutely surrounded. Looking around, she watched a crowd of people reaching closer as if the entire population of the ship was edging in to catch a glance of the situation.
Looking around, the Street Rat saw nothing but distraught faces.
The rich and the poor. From the west, east, south and north. Mages and ninjas, mercenaries and soldiers, thieves and guards. Every kind of face, from under every kind of hat or behind every kind of mask or cowl. From every place on earth, from every walk of life, they were all making the same expression.
They all knew who the two women on the lifeboat were.
Mumbles went around like waves, rising and descending, never too loud but never utterly quiet either. Yet, it felt like silence.
After the final scene of the battle, and the mayhem following the teleportation, it definitely felt like everyone had quieted down. As if the whole world was holding its breath for Eliza’s fate.
Jamie sure was.
The old woman was drenched. Her robe was opened at the chest to allow her voluminous hair to spread itself down over each side of her face. Like a blanket surrounding her head, one dirtied by time and use.
Eliza had been the one constant during the entire war, the leader nobody had refuted, and she had gotten them all out of that doomed battlefield.
Eliza’s body convulsed along with the Hunter’s pushes, giving no response. It was…hard to see.
The Street Rat looked back at her city.
The airship, in the long distance, was already on the move. It was heading towards the chancellor’s tower. The final beacon of light for humanity…if it didn’t belong to Falk.
The Mad Genius… Jamie thought, wickedly.
She was about to drop her thoughts down a very angry cliff, but she was interrupted by a new woman on the scene.
As drenched and wet as everyone else, Amara, the Lady of Light, stepped towards the lifeboat, and the two women.
People parted ahead of her very naturally. She was about the only person in the entire world that could get that many different people to recognize her and give her room to advance in such a way she didn’t have to skip nor halt a step.
Amara was dressed in the undergarments that had been under her holy robes, which were still modest enough to cover her from elbow to knee in an opaque white, but she was still recognizable. If not for her looks, since her hair was very much a wet cotton ball, then for her poise and the manner in which she walked.
The Lady of Light stepped into the lifeboat, ignored by the Hunter. Amara leaned in, lovingly, and touched her shoulder. That made her flinch into a halt.
Zaniyah looked up in tears and a mess of bloody wounds to hear whatever Amara whispered to her. Sobbing, the Hunter nodded and slowly sat back and away from Eliza.
Oy, Jamie thought, dreadfully.
Amara knelt on both legs and combed Eliza’s face to close the eyes. She neatly followed that by grabbing one of Eliza’s hands with both of hers, gently cupping it.
Then, the Lady of Light bowed her head in solemn respect.
Jamie witnessed as a crowd of thousands simultaneously stuttered into silence. And wept.
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