CHAPTER I: ARIA
No stars decorated the dark heavens. There was nothing peaceful in the flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder. Under the approaching storm, the dancing red continued to spread. It danced violently, fingers reaching out to the firmament. As it passed through, it sucked the lives of everything in its path, leaving a trail of charcoals and ashes. Whether it’s in heaven or on the ground, there was no way of escaping the storms. Every time lightning struck, the young eyes widened as she watches destruction in front of her eyes. She sat unmoving in the centre of the dancing red and still charcoals with her back hunched forward, hands helplessly on the ground. The earth was pulling her toward it so she couldn’t move her limbs. There was no escaping. She couldn’t feel the burning heat but her chest felt the excruciating pain.
Even with the crackling, snapping, sizzling, and popping of fire as well as the roaring of thunder, the cries and shouts overpowered them. All the sounds joined a deafening chorus. The red, black, and flashes of white reflected in the girl’s eyes. In her eyes, the world already ended. Even if she could move, there was no point in living in this hell she created.
A large branch fell in front of her. Only then that she noticed she was panting heavily. Her cheeks damped with tears. Wide eyes staring unblinkingly. The shouting and crying were getting nearer, now louder than the sounds of the fire. She took a deep breath and the shouting stopped. It was coming from her mouth.
The fire slowly died and the storm continued with the flashes of lightning and roars of thunder. Still, she was stuck on the ground. Then the rain heavily fell. The force broke the charcoaled branches of trees.
“No. no. no…” Aria muttered between sobs as she watched the scene in the space. Darkness occupied the space where she was suspended. She tried to bury that memory in the back of her mind but she kept remembering it when her power got stronger as she grew up and every time there’s a storm. It felt like she was there once again, in the middle of a burning forest and angry heavens. Uncontrollable tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Stop…please…” she murmured then closed her eyes tightly.
“Monster!” She gasped when she heard the voice. Slowly, she opened her eyes then turned toward the voice. The earlier scene changed into another memory, another painful memory. A small hand gripping someone’s hand. Her eyes lack emotions even with the adults shouting and arguing in front of her. The familiar couch came into view.
“Get her out of here!” one woman shouted then wailed. She didn’t get a reaction from the girl, making the woman more furious.
“Murderer!” Aria flinched. Her chest felt heavy. A man hugged the woman after shouting the word. More shouting, more cries. But the girl only stared blankly. Her hazel eyes were unblinking. But the adults didn’t notice that she was gripping the hand she was holding to.
“Bring him back!” another woman shrieked then fell unconscious in a man’s arms. The shouting and cries became muffled.
Aria was sobbed loudly as the scene turned grey. No no no. It’s not my fault! Suddenly, she felt something on her shoulder. She shouted and tried to get away from it, but the grip only tightened. Another weight was placed on her other shoulder. She still had her eyes tightly closed. She didn’t want to remember more painful memories. She tried twisting, turning, and pushing to get out from their grasps.
“Aria! Open your eyes!” The voice was muffled. “It’s me. Please!” The words slowly registered in her mind. She was trembling as she unhurriedly opened tear-filled eyes. Nate’s face was full of worry. His weary eyes searched her face. His hair was damp.
“We’re going to leave,” he whispered. “You’re okay.” Then he pulled her into an embrace. She noticed the drumming of his heartbeat on his chest. Tiredness was pulling her to sleep.
What happened in the portal never left her mind even when she was busy helping the legionnaires in the academy after getting out of the portal. They left the portal an hour ago but she felt that she’s still inside. She knew her friends feel the same. Especially because they left a friend behind. Her fists clenched when she remembered it. I failed to save my friend… She didn’t want to leave it be. She wanted to go back but someone was already trying to save their friend. But I can’t trust that person…
“It’s starting.” She blinked several times to chase the memory away then turned toward the voice. The leader of the Academy’s legionnaires stood beside her. She looked up, toward the south. The sky’s turning to a shade of orange and red. Just above the horizon, rows of black dots were rising. There were flashes of white, creating gaps, but the destroyed specks were replaced immediately.
“They were thinking of adding one more shield on top of the other,” she heard someone say.
“We’ll need the energy later if the original shield breaks,” the chief replied. Aria didn’t bother to join the conversation. She knew that her friends who are with Savvier and the librarian would figure the best path. She also knew what she needed to do.
“I’ll fight in the front,” she told the chief. She couldn’t see his face because of the helmet but his eyes showed confusion then rejection.
“You’re not trained to fight in the front line,” he replied in his firm voice. She knew that he won’t budge easily.
“I won’t bother your team.” She felt like she needed to stay away from the portal. Maybe, if she’s far, the memory won’t haunt her while fighting.
“My word is final,” the chief said. “You’re also distracted. I can’t let someone like that fight in the front line.” He walked away.
“But-” A hand stopped her from moving. She turned around.
“Listen to him,” Clyne said with a grim expression. Why is Clyne here? He was supposed to assist Savvier and the librarian underground.
“I’m worried about you.” He responded as if he would hear the question in her mind. She sighed.
“This is a war, Clyne,” she told him. “Don’t leave your post.” As if you’re following orders…
“I chose to be here.” Clyne looked around. All legionnaires were gripping their weapons. Aria was among the reserved soldiers. Most of the legionnaires were in the front line.
“Did you hear?” one reserved legionnaire near her whispered. “The enemies aren’t just Mortemians.”
“What do you mean?” his company asked.
“I heard that the enemies are from both legions.”
“So the rumours were true,” another legionnaire joined the conversation.
“There were rumours?”
“Yeah. But I don’t know why they joined forces.”
“That is insane. So who are the bad guys?” Soon six voices were whispering near her. Aria sighed. Do they have enough free time to gossip?
“Focus!” the chief shouted at the noisy newly recruited legionnaires, who immediately stopped talking and returned to their posts.
“Why do you want to fight in the front?” Clyne asked.
“Because I can,” she replied without looking at him. They were a few feet from the academy’s gate, just behind five rows of legionnaires. She looked up. Explosions continued in the sky, trying to eliminate the enemies, the witches. Kilometres in front of the front line, the human enemies were marching toward the L.S.A.
Aria was anxious. She wanted to fight in the front. She didn’t like waiting for the enemies to won against the legionnaires before she could fight.
“It’s safer behind the legionnaires,” Clyne said after a few minutes of silence. She had the urge to look at his expression but she was too focused on what’s happening in the sky. The sun was about to rest, painting the sky in a deep red. The black specs in the sky lessened. Most of them disappeared. The knights in the fortresses and sentries were doing a good job.
“I know,” she replied without looking at him, “But I don’t want to stay here without doing anything.”
“You are doing something. You’re going to protect the academy in case the enemies reach it.” His voice was getting deeper. She realized that compared to her, Clyne had more experience in fighting. Hunter probably taught him a lot when they were travelling together.
Before she could reply, he spoke again.
“Oh the gate is opening.” It only opened a bit. She couldn’t see if someone is entering or leaving because the legionnaires in front of her are tall.
“Savvier is leaving,” Clyne said.
“He’s probably going to fight in the front. Only him?” Clyne shook his head.
“Faz too,” he whispered. She wasn’t surprised. She knew he would insist to fight immediately. He was with Karl earlier to talk about strategies. Eloise, Levy, and Ice were resting in the infirmary. It must be frustrating for them to leave danger only to face another danger once they arrive in the academy. Ice insisted on fighting but their power hadn’t fully returned yet. Faz suggested escorting them out of the academy if the situation worsened.
“Are you worried about him?” she asked.
“Of course. But he’s stronger than most of the people here.”
Then the first ground explosion happened. Dark smoke slowly rose against the sky. From the sound and size of the explosion, it happened near the front. Did Savvier and Hunter make it?
“Mr. Castledgrey is also in the front. Karl and Aubree will support them,” Clyne pointed out.
“That means the librarian is the only Consortium member in the academy,” she deduced. Clyne nodded.
The chief began shouting orders to the legionnaires inside the academy. The legionnaires just outside the gate were inching forward. Based on what she heard, all the enemies in the ground were now inside the first barrier. As long as it has power, no one can go in or out.
Aria called her weapon. She gripped the handle tightly. Once this is over, I will do everything to save my friend…