Flame and Shadow

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Chapter 63

Milo waited patiently for me to return to the land of the living. After the vision was complete, I looked down at the newly revealed pieced of the prophecy. Unsurprisingly at this point, the image was the interlocking sweeping curves of Tsalderek’s logo.

“That’s what I figured.” Milo stated.

This wasn’t going to be easy. Tsalderek was every bit as set in their ways as Nahalore, and I couldn’t help but think there would be conflict once again. This was not going to be easy, but at least we knew where we were going.

“I think we can take a little time to recover, but we should head out within an hour or two.”

I nodded.

“OK. I’ll be ready whenever Sera’s… wait a second, where is she?”

The two of us glanced around for a moment. The girl was nowhere to be seen.

“Sera!” I called out. “Sera! Where’d you go?”

Milo didn’t vocalize his concern, but it was obvious he was worried by the way he helped me search. After a few minutes of looking, we came across our quarry. She was sitting on the ground directly beneath the far side of a building. Her arms were crossed over her raised knees, and her head was resting down on them.

I wanted to rush to her side, but Milo stopped me just before I could.

“Hang on. I…I need to tell her something. I have to talk to her alone for just a minute.”

I nodded, understanding what he meant.

“OK. Um, may I listen to how it goes? You won’t even know I’m there.”

Milo thought for a moment, before nodding.

“Sure. You’re a big part of all of this. You should get to hear if you want.”

I snuck around to the side of the building and leaned up against the wall. From this position I couldn’t see anything, but I could hear Sera attempting to stifle sobs. Then, there was the sound of footsteps as Milo approached his sister.

“Hey.” He greeted.

There was no response.

“Um…are you OK?”

“Just go away! Leave me alone!”

“I…I understand.”

“No you don’t!” Sera burst out, gasping through tears. “First Kyle was murdered, then Josie was killed right in front of me! I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to either of them! Now they’re gone, and I don’t know if I’ll see them in heaven or not! I don’t know! And...and…and…”

Her voice grew softer, and I had to lean forward to hear.

“…and I try to be strong… I try to never show my weakness, especially to you…and… I try to forgive. I know it’s the right thing. I really do try, but…it’s getting harder…”

There was a long moment where neither voice sounded. Then, Milo cleared his throat.

“Um, there’s something I have to tell you. It’s…it’s about your friend Kyle…”

“That you were the one who killed him?”

“What!?” Milo’s voice was filled with surprise. “How… you knew?”

“Yeah. I know I’m not the brightest bulb on the Christmas Tree, but sometimes I can figure stuff out. I’ve known for quite a while now.”

There was a pause, then Milo continued.

“I…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to-”

“It’s alright. I’ve already forgiven you.”

“How?! How can you just forgive me like that?!”

“You’re my brother. How could I not forgive you?”

“Because I killed him! I…I killed him when he couldn’t even fight back, just because he was getting in my way. How can you forgive me?!”

“Because I was forgiven too…. from all my sins. I try to share my forgiveness with others, and I want to be a good example for you. But sometimes…”

There was a thumping sound as she raised her voice again.

“I can’t let go!! Goddamnit! I’ve lost everything! My home, Kyle, Josie, the François’s, so many people I grew up with, everything I knew! All gone! I don’t know how…to…let it go…”

I heard Milo crouch down beside his sister.

“Sera, I know there’s probably nothing anyone can say to heal what’s been hurt. Especially not by me. Hell, I’m horrible with words. But. I will just say this. Ever since I met you, I’ve known you were strong. You always tried to be the strong one and…um…I could tell that you were meant to be the big sister. You forgave me…not just once, but twice, even when I couldn’t forgive myself. I just want to say…I’ve always looked at you as a person who could show me how to move on. I’m still nowhere near as good at it as you, but you give me… inspiration.

“You’re…a really great sister Sera. Another thing I know about you is that you never give up. Don’t start. Not now, or ever. We need you. We all need you.”

Sera was finding it impossible not to cry; I could hear her weeping from around the corner. Then she sniffed and attempted to laugh, but it came out as half-laughter, half-sob.

“You jerk. I’m supposed to be the big sister! I shouldn’t need to be comforted.”

“Hey, big sisters are people too, you know! Or maybe you’re the little sister all along!”

“No way! I’m way more mature than you!” She argued good-naturedly.

“I don’t think so! I’m definitely more of the leader type! I certainly show at least five minutes more life experience than you!”

“Ha! I’ll bet I’ve got five minutes on you!

“Whaddaya wanna bet?”

“If you’re older than me, I’ll shave my head and watch the entirety of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull!”

“Ouch. Well, if you’re older than me, I’ll fill my underpants with ice cubes and sing I’m a Little Teapot while wearing a clown suit.”

“…Whoa…Man, I hope I’m the older one.”

Then, the two shared a long laugh. It contained sadness, brotherly (and sisterly) love, and relief all encompassed together. I wished I could be a part of it, but this was not where I belonged. It was a moment to be shared between the two twins, and I was happy that I got to witness it.

Their laughter died down after a few moments, and the conversation turned more to the topic at hand.

“So, you’ll never guess what the image revealed on the next page of the prophecy was.” Milo quizzed.

“Hm…could it be Tsalderek’s?”

“You guessed it too, huh?

“It just seemed pretty consistent with how the journey has been so far. Plus, I was thinking about the last place on earth I would want to go, and assumed that is exactly where we’d have to go.” Sera tapped a random rhythm on her legs.

“Yeah. It’s gonna be tough. I’m not even really sure what to expect. I guess we’ll find-“

Milo was cut off in mid-sentence by the mighty shaking of a tremor. It caused the lights in the underground city to flicker.

“Oh, no.” Sera breathed. “It’s Teklos.”

The two immediately got to their feet and started running. I followed as quickly as I could.

“This is exactly how they attacked before. They have a really powerful earth-caller with them, who knocked out the lights. Then, they came for us to exterminate us. Now, they’re back.”

A fight with Teklos was exactly what we didn’t need. We were close to fulfilling the prophecy. I could feel it. Teklos must have known this as well, because they were pulling out all the stops. We dashed toward the middle of the city where we had left all of the Nephilim after the battle. Sera ran up to Mahsa right away.

“Mahsa! Are the lights going out again?” She asked, out of breath.

Mahsa smiled.

“Ha! Not this time. After we survived Teklos’ last attack, we installed a number of redundant systems. We’ve got backups for our backups for our backups! We’re ready for them now.”

I climbed up onto the flat roof of a nearby building, and looked out. Sure enough, a squad from Teklos had come through the tunnel from above, and was approaching the remaining Nahalorians. At the forefront marched their commander; a hulk of a man with a nose like a rhinoceros. I knew this guy. He was a powerful earth-caller by the name of Zachary Urlacher. This was not good.

I hurried back down to ground level, where Milo and Sera were still talking to Mahsa.

“No! We won’t leave you to face these guys alone!” Sera protested. “That’s certain death! I can’t ask you all to commit suicide for us!”

“Sera. Your destiny is far too great to risk in a situation like this. We’re all willing to lay down our lives to help save the world. Not to mention, we can handle these guys, no problem. We’re ready this time.”

“Yeah, but-“

“NO BUTS, MAGGOT! Get outta here! To the hangar! We’ll cover you!”

Just then, there came the sound of an explosion from only a few hundred feet away. Teklos was right on top of us. All across the lines of Nahalore, the soldiers were powering up their energies. Bethany charged up her beam power stronger than I’d seen it before.

“We’ve got your back, guys! Go!”

Todd provided the water for Mahsa to form her ice blades again and she brandished them dangerously, ready for battle.

Just then, there was an earth-shaking tremor, and an entire wall of buildings in front of us collapsed. As small pieces of debris fell from the ceiling, Teklos’ soldiers walked through the cloud of dust and rubble toward the front of Nephilim. At their point was the lieutenant: Zachary Urlacher.

“It’s rhino-nose!” Sera whispered.

Their commander scowled threateningly. Without a word, he motioned several agents standing behind him to move forward. Reacting quickly, the Nahalorians opened fire. A storm of water, lightning, and wind streaked across the ruined city battlefield. Upon making contact, the foes were obscured by an explosion of elemental energy. The Nephilim waited for the dust to settle, tensed to rebound attack anything that survived the initial volley. Instead, all of their eyes widened. None of Teklos’ men were even harmed.

At the forefront of the enemy formation was a number of soldiers standing strong. They wore the standard Teklos’ battle gear, but also had what appeared to be some kind of vacuum sweeper strapped to their backs, with wires that ran down their arms to electronic canisters strapped to the underside of their forearms.

No way, that’s impossible, isn’t it? Unless I was mistaken, these guys had…nullified the attack? Urlacher smirked, confirming my suspicions. Eisenaki Corp must have been able to make duplicates of Dorian’s Nephilim-killing gloves! But, how? Those were divine in origin, not of this world at all! How could Eisenaki have developed a technology that could neutralize spiritual energy like that? I mean, they were nowhere nearly as compact as the originals, but the fact that they could come close was staggering.

At last, the burly lieutenant spoke.

“Prepare to die.”

Then, he slammed his fist into the ground. This created a massive quake which tossed the Nahalorians around like children on a waterbed. Immediately, the rest of Teklos began to open fire. I formed a bubble to defend our entire army, and the bullets ricocheted harmlessly off, giving us time to get to our feet.

After a moment our adversaries determined that gunfire was useless, and stopped shooting. Instead, the men with the strange Poltergust 3000-like devices came forward, holding out their augmented hands. I wasn’t sure exactly what they could do to my shield, but I knew it wouldn’t be good. I willed for our soldiers to hurry up and recover from the tremor so I could drop the shield. Before I could, one of the enemies reached out his hand, and touched his palm to the clear surface of my barrier.

I gasped, as it felt like an icy hand had just touched my soul. My first reflex was to release the shield, but I knew I couldn’t. That would leave my unprepared allies exposed to attack from the rest of the soldiers. Nnn. It hurt. On the inside, it hurt. The Nephilim-destroyer troopers pressed against the shield, and began to force their way inside. I can’t…stop them…they’re… ripping my heart out…

Just before I passed out, I heard a voice cry:

“Hal! Drop the shield!”

I didn’t have much choice, as it flickered and gave out. I collapsed to the ground, but still attempted to look up at the battle. The instant my shield had fallen, a wind-caller had whipped out a powerful whirlwind. Bethany’s friend Reese among other electric-callers simultaneously released as much electrical energy into the gale as they could, creating a tempest of plasma. This attack swept through the ranks of Teklos, behind the effectual reach of the neutralizers. While the enemy was disoriented, Nahalore pressed forward on the attack, crying a war cry.

Artillery and energy blasts flew back and forth between the sides, and men and women from each army fell to the ground. However, the Eisenaki Tech equipped soldiers turned the tides in favor of the invaders. It didn’t look as though the Nephilim would be able to make it through.

Absolutely fed up with the resistance, Bethany rushed forward and fired her beam directly at one of these neutralizers. He held out his hands, and negated her attack. Without flinching for a second, she continued blasting away at full strength. At first it didn’t look like she was making any progress, but then Reese jumped in next to her, and added his lightning to the onslaught. The combined energy grew ever brighter and more powerful, and the nullifying device struggled to keep up with the attack. All at once, the Eisenaki Tech was overcome by the steadfast force, and exploded with a massive blast.

YEAH BITCH!! How’d you like that!?” Bethany taunted. Then, she and Reese turned to us.

“Go on! Get outta here! We’ve got this!”

I was still not convinced that a single one of the Nephilim would survive the battle, but this profane girl was right. We had to go if we wanted to have a chance at fulfilling the prophecy. It was difficult to pull myself away, but when I saw Milo and Sera heading for the hangar where we had entered, I followed.

The sounds of the clash raged on behind us as we burst through the doors into the aircraft holding area. Everything appeared to be intact.

“Kinda surprising that they didn’t sabotage the helicopters or anything.” I observed, rapidly helping the twins get it ready.

“Yeah. I guess they opted for a full-frontal battle, rather than infiltration and tampering.” Sera agreed. “Hey, Milo, do you know how to fly one of these?”

“I’m about to.” He answered as he climbed into the pilot’s seat.

“Oh, boy.”

I was half expecting Teklos’ solders to burst into the hangar as we began lifting off the ground, but none did. Our allies must have been doing a really good job at holding them off. Focusing intently on our flight, Milo expertly guided us through the tricky passage and out into the bright open world.

“Nice job!” Sera praised.

Milo smiled. “Thanks. It comes pretty naturally to me-“

There was suddenly a sickening crunching noise as we collided with a tall coniferous tree.

The aircraft spun and stuttered, and Milo desperately attempted to keep the twisting helicopter under control. After a moment, he managed to stabilize our flight, and guided it back to a westerly course. The young man glared relentlessly forward, attempting to pretend that nothing happened.

“Not one word.” He growled.

Instead of speaking, Sera mimed drinking alcohol and flying, with a great deal of exaggerated gulping, spiraling, and crashing. Although he tried to maintain a straight face, Milo was unable to keep a smile from his lips.

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