Gwen deeply regretted not preemptively learning Flight.
The last time she flew, Alesia had held her hand, pulling her through the sky like a human balloon. Now she was flying again; only she wasn't in control of the elements that held her aloft. As much as Almudj aided her with the manipulation of flight, she still drifted toward the battle like a drunk trying to give backseat directions to a deaf driver, in a car without a steering wheel.
Her chest ached. It was an excruciating delay, to see that the battle was so close, yet she was physically too far to aid her siblings.
"Almudj, can we go faster?" Gwen pleaded with the air.
A sound of rustling leaves ensured that their velocity increased, but still the Tower and the dark sun loomed in the distance, with its ring of combatants mere specks. Once the euphoria of murdering Faceless faded, Gwen felt the distinct pang of contemplative self-loathing.
Then, there was the battle ahead. Gwen swallowed a reflexive surge of bitter bile when she thought of fighting Elizabeth. It was one thing, after all, to run over hot coals in a madcap moment, and another to see it smoke and smoulder while one considered the consequences.
As she contemplated badgering Almudj for another burst of acceleration, she heard the unthinkable ding of a Message spell blossom beside her ear.
Quickly, she extracted her Message device from the storage ring and activated its receiving Glyph.
The voice that came through almost made Gwen burst into tears.
"Gwen! Are you alright? Are you still in Rosebay? Have you evacuated?" Richard fired off a volley of rapid questions.
"I am… alright." Gwen wasn't sure how to explain it all. "How's everyone else?"
"We're inland, well, the family is inland - your mother included. Surya's offered up his estate as a camp. I've volunteered to stay behind as rearguard and to pick up stragglers. Where are you now? I'll come and find you."
Gwen discerned her surroundings. She mid-air and gravitating towards a deadly bout of aerial combat with a dark, all-consuming sun of void controlled by a psychotic grandma.
"I am safe," Gwen lied. "Don't worry about me. I'll join you guys soon."
"Alright." Her cousin's voice was full of relief. "I hope the Message Towers stay active— keep me posted if anything happens. I am at the Strathfield interchange; we're trying to get the NoMs as far away from the CBD as we can."
"How's Percy?.. and Dad?"
"Percy is holding together pretty well. Huang and company should be at the estate by now. As for your dad, I can't say I know."
"Thanks." Gwen didn't want to pursue to the matter any further, at least for now.
"See you soon."
The reactivation of the Message Towers brought new hope, as well as anxiety for Gwen. Bidden by a naive faith, she held the device and dialled in the Glyph for Yue. An unwelcome silence informed Gwen that Yue's augur-band was either out of range or no longer existed.
"Jesus!" Gwen shielded her eyes.
Another enervating burst of foul energies erupted from the Black Sun, matching the depressing her heart, matching her breath with perfect synchronisation.
Shielding the eyes had been a good idea; without warning, a tremendous, fiery mass now gathered.
The mass that consolidated above the Tower was larger than anything Gwen had ever seen nor experienced. A raging ball of plasma over a dozen meters across! Like a shooting star, the meteor shot toward the void-sun, light and shadow meeting in antagonistic disharmony.
Gwen's hopeful jubilation was short-lived, in the next minute, she witnessed the dissolution of the fiery cataclysm into the maw of the shadowy sun. Even with the dark orb significantly diminished, its consuming void persisted in its intensity, vexing the city with its vampiric rays.
In the aftermath, there remained a flaming Efreet.
Gwen's eyes glowed electric with intensifying emotions, inspirited by the glorious sight of a fiery Alesia. If her Sister-in-craft had survived, then surely her friends as well!
Then once again, the reality of her companion's desperate battle darkly dawned upon Gwen. If Alesia's meteor couldn't defeat Elizabeth, if Gunther, who had instantly dismembered enemies that had toyed with Gwen, couldn't overcome Elizabeth - then what could she do?
Her highest level of offensive spell remained Lightning Bolt.
Even empowered by Almudj, she had only mortally wounded Faceless, not blasted him into atomic dust.
Even now, her Divination Sigil reeled with horrid foreshadowing. Her stolen powers of premonition howl out the writing on the wall, the vision within the crystal ball.
It wasn't as though her Void spells worked on Elizabeth.
Her Conjuration spells were at best tier 4.
Her Evocation remained woefully low at tier 3.
Most importantly, Caliban and Ariel couldn't fly.
Only a moment ago, the Void-sun had just swallowed a high-tier, strategic class Evocation of mass destruction, further empowered by Alesia's absurd Affinity with Elemental Fire.
For herself, even with Almudj's aid, her Lightning was at best an Affinity in the high six to eight.
She was just an intermediary; Gwen realised— she wasn't a force of nature. She wasn't even an emissary, like those druidic masters of European lore. She was merely someone lucky enough to possess a smidgen of the Mythic's essence, a fox borrowing the tiger's terror.
"Kin." As if sensing her despair, Almudj's resonate telepathy made its presence known, the intensity of its consciousness the scorching heat of the sun-baked clay.
"What do I do? Almudj?" Gwen felt stupid asking the Mythic, but she didn't know what else to do. As much as she was willing to join the fray, she wasn't the hot-headed Alesia, to whom victory was predetermined, and defeat merely meant one should try harder.
"Sing," came the reply, accompanied by a deep and resonate breeze that transformed into the thrum of rolling thunder building toward cacophony. "Dream."
The serpent's telepathic speech was echoed by a sound of chanting, joined by the stamping of feet. From nowhere, she heard the low song of the didgeridoo, saw the bright colour of body-paint in earthly-ochre, red-rust and bone-white. From thin air birthed the crispy clasp of the watering stick, clap, clap, clap and the undulating chant of Kapi! Kapi! Kapi!
A surge of vital, emerald energy flowed from the Kirin amulet, suffusing her body, empowering the Dream.
Round and round the corroboree went, circles within circles.
She was there, amidst the gathering, moving her body, a migloo ghost swaying to the beat of the thumping cadence. Faster and faster they went. The material world grew undefined, the edges of figures above and below her, in front and below her, less distinct.
Here was the Unformed Land.
Here was where all the world began.
"Kapi! Kapi! Kapi!"
There was the sudden sound of crashing thunder, the snare-drum hush of rain as archery, the pitter-patter kiss of dewdrops.
She was Singing the Snake, bringing the tempest.
The Dreaming was a ritual of understanding the world; of making real that which was unreal and insubstantial through the telling of a tale. It was the language of creation, the grammar of its great stories. It was the beginning of knowledge, from which came the laws of the world. It was the old-time of the ancestor beings, and the new-time of the children, whose dreams made the world rainbow-hued.
Serpents and Suns.
Suns and Serpents.
Gwen knew not what magic compelled Almudj, but she knew it wasn't the compulsion of elemental energies channelled by Sigils. It was older, more ancient; it was an act of the world, an act of creation and annihilation. She knew not what mythology this world's people followed, but she had known many mythoi of her own.
She knew now what to do.
"Almudj," Gwen felt her mind intimately linked with the vastness of the serpent's own, connected by the moment of shared Dreaming. "You must swallow the Black Sun. What belongs to the earth, must return to earth. The usurper will be expelled."
A sweeping scent of briny air flowing across endless coastlines affirmed the telling of her story to the Rainbow Snake.
She felt the residual energy of the Kirin amulet suffuse the air, manifesting into the Dreaming, calling upon the serpent, bridging the space between Uluru and the Tasman Sea.
In a second, her supernatural vitality drain away, the connection she'd shared with Almudj grew less intimate. Beside her now was the crude platform of the spell-beaten Tower, the collateral damage of battle on full display. Above Gwen, Alesia was wrestling with an elemental force that was impeding her mobility. Gunther moved to shield her, but the two became caught by dark tendrils that laid in wait for them.
A pressure began to build overhead. The troposphere grew dense with moisture as elemental mana began to swirl. Gwen's storm was coming. Gwen quickly fired off a Message spell to her Brother-in-Craft, still trapped within the tendrils.
"Gunther! We have to leave this place— NOW! The serpent is coming!"
"Gwen?" came the reply. "What Serpent?"
"No time to explain! Get ready!"
Gwen drew upon what little power that remained.
"Barbanginy!" she incanted.
A bolt of emerald lightning shredded the dark strands of void-tendrils enveloping Gunther and Alesia. Still entwined, her siblings' smoking form tumbled from the sky. Whatever had been attacking Alesia must have sensed that it was no match for the primal might of Almudj, for Gwen bore witness to the improbable scene of a female Djinn tearing itself from Alesia and dematerialising into the Elemental Plane of Fire.
With the rabid Djinn gone, Gunther resumed control of his Flight spell. The Paladin of Sydney Tower cradled the semi-conscious body of Alesia in his arms and turned to regard Gwen, who was levitating in the air.
"How are you flying?" he asked incredulously, drifting closer.
"No time!" Gwen stressed, pleading with her eyes. "Gunther, you need to take us out of here now!"
Improbably, the cloudless sky began to thunder and shower at once.
Gunther looked up, bewildered by the turn of events.
"What's that up there?"
"Gunther!" Gwen's voice became several octaves higher.
The Radiant Mage reached out and took Gwen's arm, pulling her closer.
"As far as we can go!"
Gunther channelled his contingency mana reserves.
Just as Gwen and her company reappeared just over a kilometre away, a vortex of water began to form above the dark sun.
As if sensing the imminent danger, thousands of tendrils sprouted from its surface, moving to intercept the rapid descent of the primal force that now propelled towards it.
A serpentine head emerged from the swirling vortex, materialising as it moved downward with the ponderous, unstoppable force of a natural calamity. Its scales scintillated, casting a rainbow hue over the darkened landscape, illuminating the failing light of the late afternoon sky with a dazzling play of colour. Then the rest of its body materialised, kilometres of it, stretching upward until it disappeared into the stratosphere.
Almudj opened its maw. Its jaws distended.
The dark sun hovered helplessly for a moment, gazing upon the beginning and end of the universe.
From everywhere, Almudj's maw enveloped the Black Sun.
Alesia stirred in Gunther's arms; her eyes widened when she saw their new companion.
"Alesia, you're hurt!"
As much as Alesia wanted to converse with Gwen about the when, where, how, and who; she couldn't. Her attention had been entirely usurped by the spectacle of a Mythic, kilometres in length, swallowing an enervating sun.
"It's the Rainbow Serpent," Gwen said appreciatively. "Almudj has come to help us."
"It has a name?" Alesia marvelled, wincing at the effort of making even the most minute of exertions.
Before them, Almudj was coiling upon itself, collecting its gargantuan form into a coil. It looked to be settling in for a vigorous digestive session.
"Tired." Gwen heard Almudj's voice within her head, accompanied the by the soft, sinking feeling of bubbling mangroves.
"Rest now, Almudj," she said to the looming presence, so large that it hurt her eyes.
Gunther and Alesia both stared at Gwen, Gunther's expression magnitudes more exaggerated than Alesia's. Gwen smiled coyly in response.
"Are you communicating with it?" Gunther inquired breathlessly.
Gwen wasn't sure what the correct answer might be, but she trusted Gunther enough to give him the truth.
"We have a connection." She nodded.
Gunther flushed with apprehension. As Paladin, threats had to be contained. "Gwen, do you know what this…"
Before Gunther could complete his astonishing acclamation, he was interrupted by two Message spells that bloomed beside his ear.
"Shit!" Gunther cursed. "Gwen, if you can communicate with the serpent, tell it to leave, right now!"
"Wha—" Gwen was taken back by the sudden turn.
"Oh no," Alesia intoned weakly beside Gwen. She too, had received her Messages. "Gwen, you have to tell it to go at once!"
The trio suddenly found themselves in shadow.
Above them, there was a shuddering of space - a tear in the material plane.
There was a sound of air displacing violently.
Two immense structures shot into existence; shunted into being via the expenditure of an unimaginable volume of crystal reserves.
The first Tower to appear was Brisbane, headed by Magister Fei Lin, the Battle Mage of the Grey Faction. Unlike the Sydney Tower, whose brutalist architecture favoured simplicity and uniformity, the Brisbane Tower was a verdant, towering modern structure of transmuted glass reinforced by rings of banded steel. The entirety of its exterior inundated with plant life, from vines to palms, to towering figs that grew between the greenhouses.
The second to materialise was the Melbourne Tower, one of the first Australian Towers to be constructed. Unlike the Brisbane, its structure was a long-bodied monastery with four elegant sandstone spires that soared toward the heavens. Stained glass depicting scenes of valour covered every facet of its vaulted halls. Where the other Towers had favoured height, the Melbourne Tower favoured length and girth; it sat atop a massive rocky platform kept afloat with embedded enchantments and carved into the stonework, altogether shaped like a sword. Its headmaster, Guldric Uther, was the fabricator responsible for overseeing the construction of Towers and Shield Stations, a veteran battle-master of the Warring Faction.
"Lin! Uther! Stand down!" Gunther shouted into the Message spell.
It was a grievous miscalculation on Gunther's part.
In the chaos of the moment, however, Gunther's warning came too late.
As expected, neither Tower listened to Gunther's eleventh-hour commands. Even if they had heeded the Paladin's warning, the chain of command remained firmly in the hands of each Tower's headmaster.
Unlike Sydney Tower, these flying fortresses were fully operational the moment they shifted into existence. Upon their decks and battlements, a full roster of just under a thousand Mages manned their arnaments and spires, operated its engines, infirmaries, and artifices.
Instantly, decahedron rings of complex glyphs powered up atop each of the Tower's spires. Mandalas dozens of layers in thickness, activating a powerful Abjuration barrier that would protect the Tower's Mages from external attacks.
Onc the shield was in place, a cascade of spells began to flow from the Tower's battlements and spires, its range and damage empowered by the inbuilt enchantments of the battle-fortress.
Explosions rocked the surface of Almudj's scales, sending shimmering shockwaves through the serpent's body.
Almudj roared, a booming cry rolling across the heavens, churning the blue sea below a frothy white. It hissed at these human-made structures, striking at them with buffeting wind and rain. A bolt of emerald lightning crashed against the Melbourne Tower, scattering across the shield and showering its inhabitants with harmless sparks.
"Jesus, Gunther." A sultry female voice announced itself audibly around the trio. "Your city's a right mess. Where's this Black Sun Eric kept harping on about?"
"We're going to need to work together if we want to take this thing apart." Uther's gruff voice came through, his baritone cutting through the noise. "It's bloody gigantic. You'll be cleaning up the harbour for weeks."
As the first spell stabbed into Almudj's scales, Gwen felt a sharp pain in her bosom as though someone had forced an ice-pick under her fingers and was in the process of degloving her hand. Whatever the serpent had felt from the assault was being transferred directly to her via their empathic link.
Gwen cried out in alarm and clasped her head between both her hands.
"Gwen!" Gunther cursed, rapidly attempting to explain the situation to the Magisters of each Tower.
Sensing her distress and agony, Gwen felt the connection between her and the serpent diminish. As if in response to her loss of favour, the charmed "air" which had held Gwen aloft likewise dispersed.
Gwen felt a sudden lurch; suddenly, she was very aware that she was half a kilometre up.
Her brother-in-craft caught her mid-fall. Gwen felt Gunther's forceful arm support her midriff, his fingers roughly digging into her skin. Before she could thank him, they began to descend. The weight of two additional women was too much for the Flight buff. A look passed between Gwen and Gunther, but neither made a move to comment.
"Gwen, get the snake to leave, now!" Gunther pivoted to the crisis at hand.
"Almudj!" Gwen begged for the serpent to flee. "Go! Leave this place!"
Almudj replied with a vision of wildfires, flaming tornados and ravaging lightning strikes raining across a verdant jungle. If these usurpers wanted to harm its life, then it would return them to the earth.
"No!" Gwen pleaded. "Almudj, you must go! Please! You cannot defeat them!"
Gwen had recalled Alesia stating that a Battlemaster of the Ten could, with the aid of a Tower, take on a mythical beast. While Gwen had a feeling that Almudj was likely more potent than a millennia year old Dragon, she was in no mind to test that hypothesis; not now, and hopefully not ever.
In her mind, Almudj was nature, a part of the landscape, akin to an ancient, sentient continent. It had no contest with humanity, at least not until Elizabeth and her ilk tried to steal its egg. It had no reason to involve itself with the city until Gwen had begged it to come and destroy the usurper.
Almudj would have been perfectly happy, entirely blissful, even if man wiped themselves from the face of the oceanic continent entirely. She did not want the creature to become a pariah, another victim of her people's selfish conflicts.
"Almudj!" Gwen pleaded. "Please go! Go home to the place where all rivers began, never return to the land of man!"
"Hold your fire!" Gunther roared into the Message Spell. "The creature is not hostile to us! It just ate the Void Mage and the Black Sun!"
"Absurd!" Uther's voice came across with annoyance. "No such beings exist!"
The mythical serpent moved its body upward. To the surprise of both Tower's Magisters, it did not attack them. Instead, it found a safe space between the Towers and began to lift itself toward the sky.
"I am standing down," Lin announced. "Walken confirmed your story."
"That man's word is worth less than Goblin shit." Uther's voice had a barking quality to it that reminded Gwen of a bloodhound.
"I don't give a shit what you think." Lin's voice was relaxed and tempered. "Is this the right time? Sydney's just been in one hell of a tiff. Whatever happens to Walken after this, let me first apologise on behalf of our Faction. We got a lot of rebuilding ahead."
"Hmmph!" Uther was far from pleased.
As both Tower's ceased their barrage, the colossal serpent raised its majestic head and ascended into the air. As sudden as it had appeared, it dispersed into fragments of scintillating light, forming a rainbow that spanned the space between the two levitating towers.
It was a surreal sight.
Only a few minutes prior they were locked in mortal combat— now the scene resembled a vision from Elysium.
"Goodbye, Almudj," Gwen intoned beside them, barely audible.
Gunther's steely eyes fell to the two of them, his voice low and severe. "Gwen, whatever happens, everything about the snake is between you, Alesia, and I."
Gwen nodded. That was the way she wanted it.
Alesia likewise nodded weakly, her body boneless and wasted in Gunther's cradled arms. Her long lashes fluttered and were still. It had been a long day for all of them, but especially so for Alesia.
"Is Elizabeth alive?" Gunther questioned Gwen. "Could she have escaped?"
Gwen shook her head.
"I don't know. Almudj couldn't say. In Almudj's eyes, we're all usurpers of the land. The only thing I can confirm is that Almudj took everything that was in the Void-sun."
"That doesn't tell us much."
"No, I am afraid."
Gunther's expression remained rigid until he forced himself to take a deep breath. When he next spoke to Gwen, her craft-sibling's voice was much softer.
"No, it's fine. Whatever happened, Sobel's lost all her profit, thanks to you. All that vitality, all that power, all taken by your snake friend. I'd wager the initiation of that ritual took a lot out of her."
"Almudj," Gwen interjected softly.
"Almudj, that the name of the serpent."
Gunther rolled the name in his mouth a few times.
"Keep it close to your heart, Gwen. The name of a Mythic being holds great power, and it gives power to the one who can invoke it. If Almudj can hear your voice, if you have that connection, then that is a rare thing which many others would covet."
"Can you call upon it again? What are the costs?" Gunther enquired carefully.
Gwen's hand moved subconsciously to the Kirin pendant, where only a mite of Almudj's elemental essence remained.
"I don't think so," Gwen replied with a voice full of forlorn loss.
"A shame," Gunther intoned sagely. "But perhaps, it is for the best. For yourself, and for Almudj."
Gwen was in full agreement with Gunther. Almudj was not a creature their world deserved.
Now that the danger was over, the trio descended slowly; soon they would land upon the shattered steps of the Sydney Tower to inspect the true extent of the damage.
Still held safely in Gunther's arms, Gwen placed her head on Gunther's chest, feeling the heat of his body against the chilling wind blowing in from the sea.
"It's just us now," Gunther's voice quivered just a little.
The man was right. Gwen reflected solemnly. For the three of them, for the students of Henry Kilroy, the legacy of Elizabeth Sobel would be the fateful chain that bound them. They would have no peace, no solace, no restful sleep; until they hunted her down and offered her head on a silver platter to the Mageocracy.
"Cold?" Gunther asked, and Gwen nodded demurely.
"Alright, lets land and get a hot cuppa," Gunther replied. "Its been a long day."
Gunther Shultz loathed loose ends.
The Paladin of Sydney watched as the medical staff bundled away Alesia on a levitating stretcher; Gwen followed her sister-in-craft, wrapped in a thick blanket and nursed by a cup of cocoa.
The girls were safe, and he finally had the privacy necessary to think about the despoiled future.
Below the Melbourne Tower, dusk had brought the dying light of day. The city of Sydney, so-called the crown jewel of Oceania, the most prosperous of the Frontier Cities, was now a husk of its glorious past.
Above its ruined facade, three Towers hovered; their empowered 'Light' beams long white fingers groping for targets in the darkness below. From the CBD, columns of oily clouds rose from destroyed skyscrapers and looted suburbs, punctuated by the sound of Evokers at their terrible labour. In the space between the Towers and the city, flights of Combat Mages in groups of fives and sixes swept the perimeter, occasionally stopping to put out a fire, or start a new one.
Gunther tasted the acrid, burning air pinching his tongue. The city wouldn't be safe for the foreseeable future.
Mermen hid in the sewerage, in nooks and crannies of the city that would remain flooded until discovered and drained like abscesses.
NoMs were supposedly rioting in districts where they felt unhappy and oppressed, making them no-go areas for the rescue corps. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of civilians required medical treatment.
There there were innumerable people, NoMs and Mages, still trapped under rubble, collapsed passages, byways and highways.
There was the unenviable task of rebuilding the Shielding Station.
The endeavour of reconstructing the infrastructure.
The political obstacle course of repopulating the city with new migrants, both Mages and compliant NoMs.
The labour would take years, perhaps even a decade.
Gunther hated to admit it, but Elizabeth had proven a terrible point: That the Towers were the answer, they were also its greatest weakness. Inside its ivory halls, the best of them had lacked conviction, while the worst of them had been full of passionate intensity.
As a gentry Magus who had spent his childhood in a Tier 1 city; Gunther feared the future wasn't going to go swimmingly.
In the short term, it would be faster, and safer, to simply move the city's precious cargo of Mages to the nearest Tier 1 city. In contrast, the NoMs would remain to rebuild under the watchful eye of a Military Government. Sydney would be a city ruled by Martial Law until its zones were deemed safe enough for human habitation.
By that same virtue, the repaired Tower would need a new Master.
Walken was going to be lucky if he escaped permanent Stasis; Ferris lacked the gall to become the militant leader of a Frontier city. The other Magisters were busy with their domains, which left Gunther himself to apply for the position.
But Gunther wasn't a Magister— yes, his combat abilities far exceeded the average Magister. With Uther's vote and a few supporting tickets from the Middle Path Faction, there should be no questions as to his ascension. But did anyone want to assume the responsibilities of a broken city?
Gunther realised that he did.
Here was his home, his Master's city, and he would see it thrive once more.
His thoughts then turned to his sisters-in-craft.
Alesia's physical body would need both magical healing and physical therapy. Her astral body would need re-tempering and time. She had done more than what was necessary for the defence of the city, and he would ensure that she received the best medical attention that the Mageocracy offered. At that moment when she'd almost perished, he'd felt genuine distress, a heart-rending regret that he couldn't give her the happiness she so wanted while she lived.
Perhaps, Gunther thought solemnly to himself; it was time. He wasn't getting any younger, and Alesia would likely duel a competitor d'amour to the death. He was confident that Henry would have approved, happy even, that someone could finally keep an eye on his wayward daughter.
As for Gwen, Gunther's feelings were ambivalent. These crises that seemed to emerge one after another, all of them seem to somehow orientate around Gwen. First, his Master decides to take her on as a protege; then she became involved with Mark Chandler. When that was said and done, his Master wanted Gunther and Alesia to welcome their youngest Sister-in-craft. To ensure that Gwen had a smooth progression, they orchestrated the whole Inter-High fiasco, where the intimate involvement of his Master ultimately led them this dark place.
But blaming the girl was absurd, Gunther knew, even though he couldn't help feeling jaded by the coincidences that revolved around Gwen's uprising. She was like the proverbial black cat— all who crossed her path become victims of bane and boon.
Gunther took in a breath of crisp, cold air to clear his thoughts. If his sister-in-craft hadn't appeared in the eleventh hour, they would probably be all dead, and the Towers would be now fishing for their cold corpses in the ruined city below. He should be thankful to Gwen, for her sacrifices and her actions, whatever they may be, in bringing the serpent to their aid. Whatever had occurred, the city owed Gwen an irredeemable debt.
But all of that would have to wait, for the fires in the city still burned long and bright.
It was over.
The invasion wasn't over, but for Gwen, whatever troubles of the city below no longer concerned her.
Now she could focus on the tasks that mattered.
She was sure that they yet lived. If Alesia could have escaped the Grot, then surely her friends could have fled its collapse also.
She wanted desperately to shake Alesia awake and demand to know how she survived, where her friends may be; but her sister-in-craft had fallen limp in Gunther's arms, too spent to remain lucid.
She now sat in the Melbourne Tower's hospital bays.
To the physician's surprise, Gwen had a perfect bill of health. Much to the shock of the healers: she was the most hale person they had ever seen. When the physician persisted in inquiring if she would mind participating in some tests, Gwen fled the room and joined Alesia in her private quarters.
Her friend and mentor, however, would have many months of recovery ahead. As the last night died, Gwen sat beside Alesia, waiting impatiently for the sorceress to recover from the milk of poppies and other semi-magical potions and poultices used to treat her.
Now alone with her thoughts, she was once again reminded of the last twelves hours. Scene by scene, her mind worked through the cataclysmic change that had overcome her peaceful life with such violence and velocity.
Her Master— dead.
Her friends— disappeared.
Her Sister-in-craft— mortally wounded.
Her city— a ruined hell-scape of malicious Mermen, rioting NoMs, and loose magical creatures.
Herself— an avenger who had taken the satisfying morsel of blood-debt with a smiling face.
More than ever, she felt lost and without direction. Yet, where does she go from here? What would the future hold? All she could think of was wanting to rush off to save Yue and Elvia, and she didn't even know where or how.
A Message spell bloomed beside her face.
Gwen answered it quietly.
The voice that came through was the gruff tenor of a moustachioed angel.
"Gwen, my little Cucu Perempuan! Are you alright? Tell Opa that you're alright!"
Suddenly, Gwen didn't feel so strong, so stoic, so powerful. She felt her eyes becoming cloudy with unbidden emotions that were no longer in her control, her chest heaved; she could keep it inside no longer.
"Oh…" She began, "O Opa..."