Rubbing a scrape on my forearm, I walked over to where the motorcycle lay. Aside from the rear-facing mirror being broken off and a couple of bent metal pieces, it didn’t actually look to be in too bad of shape. I righted the vehicle, swung my leg over top, and attempted to ignite the engine. It didn’t immediately start up like it had before, but it only took a few seconds before the bike roared to life. Alright! We’re back in business!
I could no longer see or hear any sign of the helicopters, so I couldn’t know exactly where to go next. Without thinking about it for too long, I decided to continue in the same direction we had already been going. Why would they bother to start going one way, then change their heading and go somewhere else? That didn’t seem like a good idea when the helicopters could only carry so much fuel. Yeah, they must have been this way. I cranked the accelerator on the motorcycle and sped through the wooded countryside.
I’m not exactly sure how much time passed as I rode onward. I was beginning to wonder if I was wrong about going in a straight line, and considered what the chances were that I would ever actually find them. Pushing on, however, I eventually came out of the wooded area. Up ahead in the distance was a building, which appeared to be some sort of very large old church. Ah, I might as well check it out.
As I approached it, my spirits grew elated. The two Nahalore helicopters were stationed a short distance away. When I came in close, I noticed that there was no sign of anyone. Hm. After parking the motorcycle near the aircraft, I took a quick look around the outside of the building. There was no sign of a struggle anywhere, so that ruled out the possibility that they had been killed in some kind of battle. They must have all headed inside the church. Well, if every one of these powerful Exosia was inside there, they must have it under control. Either that, or Teklos wasn’t even there, and had managed to use the tracking device as a decoy. Knowing that it was likely perfectly safe, I walked right through the front doors into the church to see what had happened.
I walked through the lightly carpeted foyer, but still didn’t see a soul. Then, I entered the sanctuary. I suddenly froze. Up at the front, near the altar, kneeled the Nahalorians, and by the way that there were a number of guards with guns pointed at their heads, I doubted that they were praying. As quickly as I could, I ducked behind the back row of pews, and hoped that no one had seen me. The gently colored light from the tall stained glass windows illuminated a sordid scene.
Many of the once orderly pews were smashed to pieces or stewn about the sanctuary. There were broken lights, and paintings, and several windows were shattered. Several bodies lay on the ground from both sides of the skirmish. I didn’t recognize any of them, though.
On the stairs leading up to the pulpit stood the man that I had seen Mahsa and Doshi fight during the attack. His handsome face and long hair were very easily identifiable. It appeared that he was in charge, as he directed some of the other men. From my hiding place behind the back pew, it appeared that they hadn’t noticed me yet. Just then, one of the armed soldiers began walking toward the back of the sanctuary.
Oh crap. I slowly backed away toward the door to the foyer, but found that another guard was coming from that direction. Glancing around quickly, I spotted a staircase leading downward, into the church basement. There didn’t appear to be any other option, so I darted toward it, and moved as quickly and quietly down the stairs as possible. When I reached the darkness at the bottom, I immediately went around a corner, and pressed my back up against the wall. My ears were straining to hear the slightest sound that might indicate that the men were following me. I wasn’t sure if I would even be able to hear their approach over the sound of my freaking-out heart. After a few seconds of complete silence, I began to relax. The two soldiers apparently hadn’t seen me at all.
Suddenly, the lights flashed on. Dazed by the blinding brightness, I couldn’t even see the attack coming. My head was bashed against the wall behind me, then, strong hands grabbed my jacket and hurled me across the room. I couldn’t even cry out in pain. I was too startled and physically overloaded to do anything.
Attempting to scoot backward along the floor, I finally saw my attackers. There were two men, dressed in the complete combat uniforms of Teklos. However, these two were not wearing masks like the others, so they mustn’t have been the guys from upstairs. Not like that mattered.
One of them grabbed me by the hair, dragged me into the nearby room, and threw me into a pile of cardboard boxes. The other man followed, closing the door behind him. I was so full of terror, I failed to even notice the music boxes tumble out of one of the boxes that I knocked over. The next thing I knew, both of the soldiers were grabbing at my body. My senses were so overwhelmed with pain, I couldn’t even distinguish where the strikes were contacting me, or which of them was holding me.
Then, I felt a sharp shooting pain that cut through everything else. I gasped, and slowly reached my hands down to my stomach…to find a knife stabbed into my body. My breathing came in gasps. I coughed, and blood sputtered from my lips. I was unaware of anything in my surroundings, as my vision faded to gray, then…black.
My eyes were open, but all was black. I held my hand out in front of my face, but couldn’t see it. I was panicking in my mind, but my body remained calm, without any normal increase in heart rate or breathing. My body physically responded to my commands, but there was no sensation. No sight, no sound, no touch, no smell, and likely no taste, but there was nothing around to test that theory. Was this…death? Honestly, I was picturing heaven to be a lot nicer…unless…
Everything was complete darkness as far as I could see. I turned around 360 degrees, but there was still nothing. Then, off in the distance, I spotted a faint light. It was barely even a light, but more like an orangeish glow. Well, my schedule was free. I didn’t have any pressing engagement for the next, ya know, eternity, so I moved in the direction of the illumination. There was no sound of my foot steps and no sensation of contacting any solid surface, but the light did seem to grow closer, so I continued.
As I approached the source of the glow, it became apparent that it was not just an ambient luminescence, but a small flame. At that time, there was also a sound. It was only a small tinkling in the background and I had no idea what it was supposed to be, but it was another sense receiving input.
I drew ever closer to the flame, and the sights and sounds grew clearer. Then, I saw…me. Laying beneath the hovering candle-like flame was a body. I don’t know why I thought it was me. It seemed to be an adult male, but…me, sort of. The hair was the same, and facial features, but that was about the extent of the similarity. He lay peacefully, with his hands folded over his chest, eyes closed. What did this mean? Was this a vision, or a dream, or the afterlife?
Just then, the tiny flame flickered. I was mortified to see it move, then very slowly, nigh imperceptibly, start to shrink. I didn’t know what that meant, but it seemed bad. The slight sound I had heard was growing louder, and now I recognized it as music, but why? How? What was going on?
As the light dimmed, the music grew ever louder, now sounding like a full orchestra. I started to feel the sensation of warmth as well. It was not coming from the miniscule flame before me, but from within, somehow, warming from the inside out. I stood still, immobilized by sensory overload and confusion. What was this? WHAT SHOULD I DO?!
In an instant, I knew what I had to do. I willed my body to move again, but it responded very slowly. I reached out my arms toward the flame, but it felt as though I was pushing through molasses. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t. I could only watch my hands move slowly toward the dying flame. Just when I feared that it would be extinguished, and my life would be lost, I managed to wrap my arms around the tiny floating spark, and hug it tightly to my chest.
Suddenly, the whole world burst into light. Blazing fire burst from within me, flowing everywhere in sight. The music was blaring with deafening passion, and I finally recognized it. The song was Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the very song I had played for the recital so many years ago, and track one on my old alarm clock at Nahalore. Now, it filled the very air, along with my flames. I had never felt so alive. It was time to wake up. There was fire flowing through my veins, burning in massive waves through the space.
I could feel power surging from within me. I’m not gonna die! I screamed at the top of my lungs.
“I’M NOT GONNA DIE!!!!!”
I heard muffled voices. It was hard to make out what they were saying, but I caught a little bit.
“…idiot! Why’d you do that?”
“…Sor-ry! I got caught up in the moment!”
“…They’re no fun when they can’t scream!”
“…Oh well, I’m sure Dorian’ll have more up there to have some fun with!”
I cracked open one eye, and looked around. The two men who had beaten me were leaving the room. I was still lying on the floor, with a knife sticking out just below my rib cage. Behind my head, there was a music box that had tumbled out of the cardboard boxes I had knocked over when I was tossed into the room. It was playing the Ode to Joy.
I painfully reached my hand up to take hold of the knife, to find it soft and pliable. Was it…melting? I easily pulled it from my body. How did I survive that? Slowly, I forced myself to my feet. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel that much pain. In fact, I felt pretty good! All in all, it seemed as though someone had pushed the reset button. All of my wounds were gone!
I didn’t have time to wonder about how it happened, though. Everyone upstairs needed my help. Cautiously, I approached the door leading out into the basement landing. I still heard voices. Those two brutes may have been still standing right outside. Hm. Looks like we’d have to do this the hard way. I ignited a flame in my right hand. Whoa!
To my surprise, it was bigger than before. Like, a lot. I could feel a vastly increased heat coming from the blaze as it encompassed my entire hand.
I reached my left hand over, and held it around a foot above the right. Presently, the fire started to swirl in a circle between the two hands. It grew stronger and stronger, forming a compact fireball. I looked at it, then at the door several feet in front of me.
“Well, here goes nothin’!”
I whipped my arms forward, opening both palms to project the sphere of flames. With a powerful blast, it burned a hole right through the door, and exploded against the wall on the far side of the basement.
The two soldiers outside the door peered into the room through the hole my fireball had just made. I stood awkwardly in the middle of the floor, looking back at them.
At that, they opened what was left of the door, and charged into the room at me. This time, I was ready.
I performed all of the martial arts that Mahsa had taught me, but somehow, my flames had become vastly more powerful, so their integration into my movements was far more potent. The two men were unable to land a blow on me. With a series of fluid punches, kicks, sweeps, and fireballs, I made short work of them.
I let both of them live, medium rare, but they were not in especially good health as I walked out the door. OK. The enemy upstairs certainly would have heard the commotion in the basement, and they were most likely waiting for me. Although my new powers were amazing, I still wouldn’t stand a chance attacking a squad of highly armed soldiers head on. The only way I could survive is by rescuing the other Ircabim and having them help me. I just had to come up with a way to do that.
Perhaps if I caused a diversion to lead some of the soldiers away, I could take out the ones holding Mahsa and the others at gunpoint, and then we could fight together. What kind of diversion, though? I could start a fire, but I certainly didn’t want to burn down this old church. It’s had a hard enough day as it was. What else could I do?
Suddenly, I came up with an idea. I quickly entered the room to the left of where I had the close brush with death, and sure enough, it had Sunday school materials and Christian-themed kids’ movies in it. I dug around until I found a bright green VHS tape. Hm. It’d been years since I’d worked one of these. Could I still remember how to do it? I popped the tape into the VCR, turned on the TV, and cranked the volume as loud as it could go. Then, I pushed play, and ran.
I found a hiding place near the stairs, just before the VeggieTales theme began blasting through the basement’s sound system. That should get their attention. I heard a number of soldiers run down the stairs, then go past my hideaway toward the source of the sound. I quickly slipped out, and went up the staircase to the sanctuary. Once there, I very stealthily observed the situation. There were still four guards holding my allies at gunpoint, plus the leader, who I knew could neutralize Ircabim powers. I would have to hit hard and fast, and take out as many of the armed men as possible.
Undetected, I crept along the ends of the pews toward the front of the church. There was no good way to get all of the guards while remaining hidden. I guess I would have to jump out and hope for the best. I readied myself while still under cover of the wooden pew, prayed that my fire powers would still be in their heightened state, and began my attack.
Explosively, I leapt into the field of battle. The first man (which turned out to be a woman) was taken absolutely by surprise, and I knocked her into the air and down with one fiery punch. The next guy was about 10 feet away. He reacted quickly, and raised his weapon to shoot at me. I ducked, and released a flamethrower-like tongue of fire at his torso. He shouted, and fell to the ground. The third solder was across the aisle. He was already aiming his weapon at me. There was no way that I could get to him before he fired.
Unexpectedly, one of the kneeling Ircabim, who’s name I couldn’t remember, reached out his hand and grabbed the soldier by the ankle. He then released an electric shock through his body, sending the enemy jolting to the ground. The fourth man had already been taken down, and Mahsa stood over him. All these Exosia trained warriors needed was someone to take the attention of the guards away for just a moment to have their chance to strike back.
I gave Mahsa the thumbs up, and she waved unsmilingly back at me.
“We didn’t ask for your help, you know!” Reese yelled at me, standing up. “We had this under control!”
Just then, the second soldier I had fought had stood up and aimed his gun directly at Reese’s head, without the boy even noticing. I released a fast punch knocking him out. Reese quickly turned to see just how close he had been to getting killed.
“You’re welcome.” I said.
Reese furiously pushed past me, and walked across the aisle toward Mahsa. At that point, the man who was serving as leader began a slow clap from his position up on the stage.
“Very nicely done. I guess they don’t call you the Fiery One for nothing!”
As he spoke, the soldiers who had gone downstairs to check on the VeggieTales noises climbed back up into the sanctuary. They trained their weapons on the now-uncaptive Ircabim, who prepared to fight.
“Unfortunately, that’s not going to help you. You’re all going to die. Terribly sorry.”
There was a long, intense moment as both sides stared at each other across the sanctuary. Each fighting force was apparently sizing the other up, developing a plan of attack. Abruptly, everyone snapped into action. The Ircabim scattered, spreading out throughout the battlefield, using their elemental powers as cover. Teklos’ soldiers began to open fire, attempting to hunt down and kill their targets.
I found cover immediately. While preparing to jump out and attack the nearest enemy, I detected the captain coming up behind me. This could be my chance. I came at him, imbuing my physical attacks with burning tongues of fire. He, as before, was able to neutralize the elemental portion of my attack, and block the physical part. Surprisingly, though, he didn’t attempt to counter me.
Our fight led us back away from the rest of the battle. After he hopped backward to avoid my spinning roundhouse, there was enough space between us for him to speak.
“Very good, Seraphina. I’ve been waiting a long time for you, and I must say, I’m not disappointed.”
At this point, it was no longer a surprise that people knew my name. As long as we had stopped fighting, I thought I would try to get some information.
“Who the heck are you? Are you Teklos’ leader?” I demanded, out of breath.
“No. I’m nobody important.” The man laughed. “My name’s Dorian Peterson. I’m just a guy who’s had just about enough of this world’s shit.”
“What are you planning? What are you even doing here?”
“Our purpose here is twofold. I let you people attach the tracking device to me after our field commander ordered us to leave. We hadn’t finished the culling, so I figured that this would allow us to get the strongest all in one place. Secondly, I wanted to see you again, in action this time.”
I clenched my teeth in anger.
“So, you’re just going to kill us all?! That’s your big plan?!”
Dorian laughed again.
“Them all. Not you. You’re far too important to the big picture to die.”
“Your goons came pretty close to scribbling all over your big picture, then.” I quipped angrily. “They were just about an inch away from killing me!”
“I gave specific orders for no one to harm you. I trust they’re dead now?”
“I’m not like you. I let them live.”
The man shrugged.
“Well, they’ll be dead soon. I’m sorry if they hurt you.”
He then turned his head toward where the battle between Nahalore and Teklos was taking place.
“Your friends will all be dead soon as well, and then I can let you go.”
There’s no way I’m gonna let that happen. Not when I’m so close to them. I started to head back to the battle, but Dorian blocked my path.
“Sorry. You can’t go out there. They have to die, and you have to live. The only way that can happen is if you stay here.”
“Get out of my way.” I growled. “Or I’ll toast you.”
“You know your powers don’t work on me.” He held up a gloved hand. “These gloves are ancient relics that have been Teklos’ trump card against Nahalore for thousands of years. You can’t possibly beat me.”
I glared at him.
“I don’t need my powers. They just finally became worth something. I’ve gone my whole life with only a spark of a flame. I can beat you without them.”
“Fine. Show me.”
I leapt toward him with a jumping double front kick. He blocked both of them. After landing, I did a low spin kick at his legs. My foe easily hopped over it. Immediately, I went into a flurry of punches at his stomach and chest. Dorian was able to repeatedly catch my fists, until the final one, when he twisted my wrist around, and threw me to the floor.
“Good thing I’m not trying to kill you!” He joked. “Or you’d already be dead!”
I did a kip-up, and came at him again. Really, I didn’t even need to beat him, I just had to get past as quickly as possible so I could help my team. Thinking about that gave me an entirely different approach to the fight. Running at my opponent again, I tried to do a spin move to get around him. He snagged my arm, and sent me spinning back from where I came.
OK, here we go. I sprinted at him one last time. My hand reached out in front of me, and I created a swirling blast of fire. Dorian held out his hands, and the fire vanished…revealing my foot flying toward his face. I knew it wouldn’t reach him, the fire was merely used as a curtain to mask my approach.
My flying side kick smacked him right in the kisser, and I used his face to push forward, launching myself past him. Here I come guys! Hold on!
When I reached the main part of the sanctuary, there was a royal mess waiting for me. The once beautiful place of worship was torn to pieces, with the fight reaching from one side to the other. There were dead bodies lying on the floor and pews, warriors from both sides having fallen. I didn’t have time to count the number of living or dead. It wasn’t clear who was winning, but I was going to do my best to keep anyone else from getting killed.
My fireball seemed pretty effective before, let’s see how it works this time! I charged up the swirling sphere of fire between my hands a la Goku, then let it fly at my first target. The fireball exploded against the pew directly in front of him, sending the man flying backward in a heap.
“I hope your suit’s flame retardant!” I called, before moving to the next one.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a soldier turn to look at me, then get hit with a wave of water, which immediately froze solid. I guess Mahsa was working with another water-caller, since Doshi couldn’t come. I charged up another fireball in preparation for a guy who was shooting across the room. When he spotted me, he turned to fire. I had to perform an evasive maneuver, and quenched my fireball. Then he was close enough to swing his machine gun at me. I ducked, and struck back. He blocked my first attack, so I followed with a fire-powered spinning back fist, which knocked him for a loop.
Suddenly, I heard another set of gunshots, followed by a scream of pain. Instinctively, I dropped down behind an overturned pew, and looked around for what had happened. On the west side of the sanctuary, I saw Reese kneeling down over Bethany. She must have been hit. The gunman stood above them and prepared to shoot again. Although I wasn’t a big fan of these two, I couldn’t just stand by and let them get killed. I began to dash over towards them, but I didn’t have to.
In a fit of rage, Reese shouted and released a storm of electricity. The shooter jerked spasmodically in the electrical current, before flying backward and crashing into an offering box. Reese then went back to tending to the wounded girl. I heard him shouting:
“You idiot! Don’t die! RRGH!”
There was nothing I could really do to help. I took a quick look around the area. I only saw one remaining enemy, crouching behind a pew, and periodically shooting over the top of his cover. I formed a quick fireball, and hurled it against the makeshift barricade. It burst into flames and blew to pieces, sending the man using it as a shield tumbling against a wall.
Mahsa must have also seen that he was the last adversary, because she quickly stood up and shouted:
“Everyone! Head for the helicopters! Let’s get the hell out of here!”
The surviving Ircabim quickly ran for the doors, carefully watching the fallen Teklos soldiers to make sure they wouldn’t offer any lead going away presents. I was following the others out of the church, when I noticed that Reese wasn’t following. He was still crouched over Bethany’s body, and making no effort to escape.
I rolled my eyes, and ran back into the sanctuary for him. I grabbed his arm, and felt a zap of static electricity. Ignoring it, I yanked on him.
“Come on, Reese! We’ve gotta go!”
He turned and glared at me. His ever-present sunglasses had been knocked off, and bitter tears streamed from his eyes.
“I don’t think she’s gonna make it!” He cried.
“Well she’s definitely not going to if you just sit there like a hypnotized sloth!”
Against my better judgement, I hoisted the girl over my shoulder, and started heading toward the exit. Reese followed, somewhat neurotically. He must have been really worried. Bethany wasn’t light, but she was unconscious, which made it much easier to carry her. We didn’t meet with any resistance as we made it all the way out to the helicopters. I wondered why Dorian didn’t obtrude. He must have seen that all of his men had been defeated, and he couldn’t take all of us on by himself.
By the time we reached the aircraft, the blades were already whirring at high speed. The Nahalorians who were already on board helped load Bethany, then offered Reese and me a hand. Almost immediately after we were all within the helicopters, they began lifting off. I looked out at the innocent looking church. I half expected something terrible to still happen, like a rocket to blast us out of the sky, but nothing did. We made it.