Of all the things Eddie could have expected to find in the Order’s base, a Legendary Weapon wasn’t one of them. Rather, he knew they were in possession of one, but he’d had no idea that they were in possession of another. More than that, it was an object of praise and worship to the cultists, bowing to it, praying to it, as if it was a conduit to the goddess, herself. Yet there was something off about all of this. The Weapon felt strangely empty. Eddie stepped forward.
“Come to pay your humble respects to the goddess?” an older man said. Like them, he was cloaked in black, hunched over. His face couldn’t be seen, but his words held no doubt of their intentions. “The weapon is most luminous today.”
Eddie was torn. He so wanted to examine the weapon, but also knew he needed to stand by his companions’ side. They were unclear how to answer, but Emily took charge as the leader, bowing low, herself.
“Yes. May we examine it. It has been so long since we’ve last come to pray, busy as we are,” she said. Her voice was even, betraying nothing of their intention there, and the old man did not pick up on it.
“The priests keep us all busy, indeed,” he replied, his head bobbing up and down in what Eddie presumed was a nod. “Feel free, so long as you don’t disturb the worship. There is much to be told of the goddess in this place. Did you know she once descended upon our world in this very place? Much of that is now lost to history.”
“Of course, we’re aware. What believer would be so foolish as to forget that?” Jay butted in before Emily could speak. The old man chortled, finding this remark to be exactly what he wanted to hear, and he walked off, cane clanking against the stone floors as he did. Once out of earshot, the four turned to each other. “For a bunch of murderous thugs, he seemed normal.”
“I doubt every believer of the goddess is pure evil or something,” Emil said. He was adjusting his robes, not finding them to fit well. “I’m sure some have a very earnest love of their religion. Though worshipping a giant weapon like that is sort of a giveaway.”
Emil had joined Eddie in stepping closer to the artifact. The sword was more ornate than the rest of the Weapons they could remember seeing, particularly the one that Mera always carried around. Like a giant cleaver, there were mechanical parts to it, though its intricate workings were denied to him. He looked to Emil with nervous laughter. “Kinda wish Mera was here. She’d be able to tell us a lot more about this thing.”
Emil had no words for that, though he did let a light chuckle escape his lips. Eddie took another step closer, but before he proceeded, he looked back. There were only a few cultists inside the room, and very few of them were even aware of their presence there. None of them tried to stop him, either, and Eddie took it as the go-ahead for him to approach the Weapon in examination.
He was no Meredith Childs, but when his face was close enough to it, Eddie could see the part where the giant blade separated from the hilt. It was obscure, but he could swear that inside it was a chain, coiled like a snake. There wasn’t much to derive from that, but for one incontrovertible fact: this was definitely not the Lightbringer Axe that the Reaper had taken.
“I can’t believe they had another Weapon right under our noses,” was Emil’s next comment. “How could we have not known?”
“I don’t know…” He didn’t want to voice it, but again he knew that if Meredith were there, she could have all the answers and more for them. He sighed. She wasn’t there with them, and it was down to them to confirm the remainder of the Order’s presence. Of the Reaper. They weren’t close, far as Eddie could tell, but the hairs on the back of his neck had stood on end from the moment they had entered this place.
“Psst, boys,” Emily hissed. One of the cultists looked up from her prayer, but returned to it when the captain approached. “Let’s take the man on his offer to explore the place.”
“But the Weapon…?” Emil started. The flash of Emily’s eyes caused him to drop that line of thought. In the presence of so many, approaching it beyond examination would be the height of folly. Eddie knew that, but it didn’t stop him from looking back at it while he and the other three turned down a hall in the castle. “You know, I think this place is bigger than Corps Castle.”
“Wild, isn’t it?” Jay said. The hall was broken in places, shattered glass where windows once stood, though on further examination, Eddie could see it was merely shimmering sand. Vines had snaked and grown over much of the castle ruins, right up to the spire that could be seen where they were located. “How have we not found this place before? I mean, it’s huge, and right in the middle of the ocean!”
“Yes…that’s something to wonder about,” Emily concurred. “No map we have has this recorded upon it. So that begs the question…what’s been shielding it from our gaze? Or worse…is what we’re standing on an illusion?”
“I don’t think so,” Eddie said, shaking his head. “Masking this place with an illusion might be possible, but creating a corporeal castle…even with the Reaper’s power, that just can’t be possible. Not for any length of time.”
“But even if it is sealed by the Reaper’s magic,” Emil said, trying to keep his voice quiet enough but still heard over their shuffling footsteps. It was made no easier when they began to walk down some steps that emptied out in a larger room. “The Reaper hasn’t lived forever. Someone had to have discovered it, so why isn’t it on any of the records? Even in Lacardia Academy. And some ruins…they’re not easy to miss once you find them.”
Emil’s question was the most disturbing one of them all, leading all of them into silence at the thought of it. To Eddie, there was only one logical answer, and it was an answer none of them would want to confront in any way.
Because it meant from the start, that the Order had been in control of that information.
The quartet stopped in the larger hall. This was less populated than the worship hall, but a couple of the cultists were still there, admiring the artwork on the walls. Stepping towards the center, Eddie could see it was a room (if that was what it could still be called) dedicated to that very artwork. Murals and frescoes ringed the space, a tapestry of history never before seen by anyone. To him, it was a record of history most fascinating. He ignored the rest of his companions to step closest to what he believed was the starting point.
“The battle for the world…” he whispered, touching his fingers to the dusty, weather-beaten wall. The paints upon it had faded with time in the sun, but still were they ever-vibrant to Eddie’s eyes. A mishmash of armies clashing against one another were the dots that comprised the mural, though any details that may have been there had long been lost. Finding himself lost in it all, Eddie’s hand began to travel along to the next panel, where six beasts were shown, painted in a different color. At least, that was Eddie’s guess, considering some had been grayed out.
“You’re a little too fascinated by this, Eddie,” Emil told him. He jerked away from the clash with the beasts, turning to his friend. Beyond the dirty-blond mop of hair, Eddie could see the other murals, including the readily familiar symbol that had been identified as Crea’s.
“I like ruins, and history,” he said. Eddie lightly pushed Emil out of the way to approach that next mural. It was just like in the book Matthew had shown them, and began to explain so much. The symbol was painted to many of the walls, a centerpiece to the sprawling room, and by the time he reached the end, it had gone through a story. One of a spiraling staircase, a path to the heaven beyond. That same staircase shattered, pierced by seven swords. “This is how they knew…”
“Knew what?” Emily asked of Eddie. Jay had split from them, approaching a hole in the wall at the edge of the room. From his perch, he could look out over the ruins of the once great empire.
“The Weapons, what they’re for…all of it. Every single piece of information you might need is right here,” Eddie whispered to them. To demonstrate, Eddie approached the last set of murals and put his hand against them, careful to not cause them to crumble. Their illustration was plain, particularly by the last set. “You see? The sigil represents Crea and her realm. It was placed under a lock by the Legendary Weapons that were then scattered. But by gathering them, you could rip heaven asunder. The earth, as well!”
“What would the Order want to do with that? Other than Mera’s speculation?” Emil’s question forced a shrug out of Eddie. Intentions were far beyond his purview.
“I don’t know, but how else do we explain their seeming knowledge of where to get the Weapons, or at least what those Weapons are?” There was no denying that point, and no one tried. Eddie turned back around, transfixed by the snapshot of history, wondering how much more he could glean from it, given the time. He knew there was none of that, especially when a glance to the side told him that just they four were left in the room.
Almost as a response to that realization, a clang filled the air, like a bell for gathering. Then there was the droning whine, a sound which Eddie could recognize immediately, all because his best friend had drilled it into him day after day. Judging on Emily’s reaction, she noticed it, too. Jay was the first to remark upon it. “Skyships.”
“We knew the Order had skyships from Lacardia,” Emil said. “They chased us in them, remember? Mera said they were out-of-date models from the Corps.”
It was a disconcerting fact at best, and to his internal dismay, Eddie forced himself away from the mural to join with his three companions at the edge of the room. They all peeked through the hole as best they could. From their height, the castle and surrounding area were made plain, but most of it was nothing they couldn’t have surmised from upon the Defender. The one thing that stood out the most in the sea of black, amidst the burning sun that was setting, were the skyships. They were all of different shapes, sizes and colors, and many of them looked like they had been through wear and tear, exposed to the elements or the magic cores before they realized what was wrong with them.
They all had the Corps’ insignia upon them, too.
“It’s an invasion force,” Emily concluded before any of them could come to that. “It wasn’t enough for them to infiltrate the Corps, itself. Now they have skyships taken from our broken-down Frost and Quake Squads. They’re going to strike where it hurts.”
“But that means…” Jay whipped around, almost hitting them before they managed to step back. “Em, we have to contact base, and take out those skyships before they get rolling.”
“Jay, we think this through. Do you know the kind of firepower and codes they would need to get inside?”
“Does that matter? They’ve had us infiltrated for weeks, Em. And Marcus’s orders were clear: we take out the Order as soon as we can. As soon as there’s confirmation.” He pointed in the direction of the gathering, insistent in all manner of actions. “This looks like confirmation!”
“Not to mention they have a Weapon,” Emil said. His reminder brought the talk to a standstill, all thoughts turning to the biggest advantage that the Order had.
“Well, there’s a thought,” Jay said, his stance relenting with a smirk. “We might be able to hold off the invasion if we take a precious commodity of theirs. Long shot, but…”
“It could give us the extra time to strategize. We’ll need to be quick, though,” Emily concurred. Shedding the disguise of the cloak, Emily let her red hair out. There was no one to see it, but Eddie understood what it meant. “If there are any Order members in the room, take them out. We grab the Weapon, send up the flare, and then blast those skyships out of the sky.”
“Sounds like a plan to me!” Emil said, smashing his fists together in agreement. He, too, lowered his hood. With no reason to remain concealed, Eddie followed suit. All four turned to the stairs and returned back up them, retracing their steps along the corridor until they reached the worship room where the blade was hung. No one was there.
“Well, that just makes this incredibly easy,” Jay said, leading the pack to the head of the room. Eddie and Emily spun, making sure Jay’s observations weren’t off the mark, but they didn’t see anyone there, their way to the Weapon unimpeded.
“Feels a little too easy, don’t you think?” Eddie asked. “For such an important heirloom, they’re not very protective of it…”
“Then let’s take it and go. Less time we spend here, the better it is for us, and the Corps.” Emil’s insistence was tinged with fear, and Eddie knew that in the corner of his mind, he felt the same thing. Something about this was unsettling, and a little off. He just couldn’t place his finger on it. Jay waved the boy off, approaching the Weapon to see how it was affixed to the altar. Emily remained on perimeter, stalking back and forth.
“Hey, help me get this thing off. I think it might be welded on,” the lieutenant requested. Eddie and Emil stepped up, close to the blade. Just as earlier, he felt no presence from the weapon like he did with so many of the others, and he began to doubt that this was, in fact, a Legendary Weapon. Regardless of his doubts, however, he knew removing it from the Order’s control was the right call. “All right, Eddie, break the base, and Emil, pull it off with gravity.”
They gave wordless acquiescence, by way of Eddie putting his hand on the stone base and feeling his magic flow through him. It cracked and grumbled beneath his touch, the element of earth enabling him to shatter that which held it in place and crumble away. All that the weapon remained on was a thin slab of rock, which began to groan as its companion was ripped away from it. Emil’s lips were puckered, face purple with concentration as he made sure to snap the weapon off without breaking it, and without the stone coming with it. After tense seconds of concentration, he managed just that, and the blade flew into Emil’s hands. He weighed it up and down.
“Huh…you’d think a Legendary Weapon would feel heavier or something,” the boy noted. “Then again, Mera and Viv toss those things around all the time.”
“Enough with the chitchat. Let’s depart,” Emily ordered of them. Eddie and Emil jumped down the short steps, weapon in hand, to pursue their captain. The woman turned to give them more elaborate orders, but she was cut off by a loud thud from behind, causing them all to turn around. Their steps stopped, and they could do nothing but stare at Jay, collapsed atop the altar, snoring loudly. “Jay! Wake up!”
It was cold. The sight of Jay having passed out, as if put into a dreamless and un-waking sleep, made Eddie’s senses heighten, and that same feeling, that not all was as it seemed, returned. Emil subconsciously gripped his shoulder, the weapon as close to his chest as it could be. The boy had stopped thinking, and Emily was shaking her comrade to no avail. Eddie bit his tongue inside his mouth and ran it along the edge of his teeth. The answer came to him.
“Where are all the priests or higher Order members?” he asked in a frightful whisper to Emil. “If they’re planning an invasion, why wouldn’t they have one of their priests with the most important artifact they have?”
“An excellent question, though too late in the asking.”
“Eddie, Emil, get behind me! Now!” They obeyed without missing a beat, retreating back to the altar, where their captain forced them behind her, shielding them with her body. At the other end of the worship space was the Reaper, the same as ever. “A trap, is it?”
“Did you seriously believe…?” the Reaper questioned of them. Their mirth could hardly be contained, and Eddie had that familiar sensation, of being considered nothing more than an insect. “I mean, did you actually think that a signal so easily traceable would be anything but? I’ve been expecting you for some time, Tempest Squad.”
“For what purpose, monster?!” Emily’s fists raised, the Reaper halting in their place to survey them. “To wrest us from our captain? Or other nefarious intents?”
“You are sharp, lieutenant,” the Reaper said. Every word was dripping with malice, and Eddie felt small before the enormity that was this single figure. Their line of sight, hidden behind the mask, tracked the two boys. They were intent, flashing in the cold darkness that was settling upon the broken castle. “But I’m afraid there’s little you can do now. Little the entire Corps can do now, but wait to be burned to ashes. Things are already well within their place.”
“Eddie, on my signal,” Emily said, the corner of her mouth barely moving to get the words to him. The Reaper was walking forward again, giving no indication that they’d heard the hastened order. Eddie gripped Emil, understanding. Emily addressed the Reaper once more. “What is that supposed to mean, anyway? Do you plan to invade the Corps? You would need an army to accomplish that. Even with us away, the defense of Flare Squad is peerless. And the other squads-”
“Oh, I’m not worried about them. The Corps has already set itself for destruction. How will they scurry when their prized fighters have fallen or turned? What will happen when their very existence is threatened?”
“Why do you want to destroy the Corps, then?” The Reaper paused here, giving consideration to Emily’s question. It was a strange reaction to Eddie, the boy certain that the leader of the Order had to have given it thought before. In the end, it appeared more that they were figuring out how to best word it.
Word it, they did.
“To rebuild the world. What nobler reason is there?” The Reaper raised their hand, gloved and beckoning. To Eddie, it was a claw. “You saw my message, lieutenant. The Corps has become a poison, drawing on the world, making it selfish. I will burn it all, and from its ashes, rebuild. See how similar we are?”
“Is that the same rhetoric you’ve fed my captain?” The Reaper didn’t answer. He didn’t need to; Emily’s set jaw communicated the message that she had received. She scoffed. “Well, I’m afraid you won’t win me over with such tripe. Go back to your abyss, Reaper. Now!”
The boys had split on either side of Emily, readying their spells. Eddie felt the fire in his hands before hurling it at the Reaper. Emil’s spell was just a bit faster, the dark orb of energy slamming into the Reaper’s chest and driving them back. The arrow exploded soon after, ripping up the stone seats and sending pebbles flying. Not missing a beat, Emily flew through the smoke, her fist extended to punch the recoiling figure across the face. They caught the blow.
“Run! Get to the Defender!”
She gave no room to argue, and Eddie wasn’t going to disobey. Emil was stuck in place, but when Eddie grabbed his sleeve and dragged him along, his legs got started. The Reaper raised Emily high, and tossed her to the side. She stuck a leg out, preventing her from hitting the wall, and used the momentum to bound off for their enemy. The Reaper paid her little mind, focusing on the boys running for the corridor.
“Explode.” They clapped their hands. Heat burgeoned inside the room, right to the side of them, and Eddie sensed the attack before it could fully form. He let go of Emil, pushing him behind him as he summoned his creations in mind’s eye. Remembering Mera’s spells, he stomped the ground, a shield of stone erecting itself between them and the explosion, while his other hand waved, a half-sphere of water rippling the air before them. The Reaper let go of their hands and the ensuing blast ripped outward.
It tore through the shield like paper, the force of the heat breaking the wall behind them and flinging them through it. Sharp darts of fire peppered the water shield, raining upon the pair of boys. Eddie screamed, dropping his water shield when one struck his arm.
They tumbled into a free-fall, neither able to control the direction in which they were spinning while they fell from the castle. The next floor fast approached and Eddie tried twisting his body to angle at it. His uninjured arm extended for it, swirling wind created in his palm that he fired out. It broke through the floor, allowing them to continue unimpeded. Emil was screaming, gripping the blade tight, even as part of its sharp edge was cutting one of his hands. Eddie floundered, trying to swim in the air to grab Emil.
“Gravity! Emil, slow us down!” he shouted. The wind rushing through his ears made them pop, but he saw Emil nod. The duo finally stopped hurtling at breakneck speed, but it didn’t stop either of them from crashing through the next floor, its structure already weak, before hitting the ground and rolling along it. Eddie coughed.
“They knew we were coming…How?”
“I don’t know,” Eddie said, hacking once more to clear the dust from his lungs. He stood, staring through the holes they’d made, to the very top. Light was flashing, and Eddie was certain that Emily continued to fight for their sake. “However they knew, it doesn’t matter. Let’s get to the ship, and we can figure everything else out there.”
“R-right…” Emil took Eddie’s hand in helping him up, and swiped the weapon from the ground. The boys looked around, discerning that they had fallen to the ground floor of the castle, with only one corridor forward. Eddie took point, running instead of walking, and hoping it would get them outside. An explosion sounded from above.
Please be okay…Eddie found himself wishing. The sunlight of the empty windows flashed by the corridor, making it a blazing orange inside while they ran. There wasn’t a single soul there, though the sounds were growing ever louder, the humming of a skyship along with it, and he knew they were almost outside.
The castle suddenly trembled, throwing both off and into the wall. This one didn’t give way, but the ground before them split, creating a chasm that looked nearly impossible to cross. Eddie wasn’t about to let that deter him, grabbing to Emil and dashing for the edge. He leapt, firing his burst of wind before the Gravity Magic took care of the rest, letting them land and slide the rest of the distance outside the castle halls…
…into the den of cultists.
A few turned, but many continued marching into the skyships. It was all orderly. Like drones. The Metropolis came back to him, of the citizens being nothing but expressionless husks, driven for that moment by a single will. The cultists were of a single will, save for those who noticed them amidst the crowd. Emil struggled to stand as they encroached, silent and looming. Eddie clenched a fist and punched the ground.
I can’t let myself waver here! he screamed inside his head. Pushing up, he felt his wounded arm strain under his own weight, but his other turned to the sky, and before any of the cultists could act, he sent a ball of flame flying upwards, the message clear to those looking. He breathed out, a strained growl on his lips while he brought himself to his feet. “Stand up, Emil!”
“Yeah, yeah!” Emil groaned, pulling himself on his knees. The weapon was left at his feet.
Eddie’s hands, hurt as they were, lit with flames and rushed with water as the cultists moved in, silent as death. He bit his lip, letting the cadence of his choice to stand his ground refuse to vanish. The Reaper couldn’t be seen. The Defender wasn’t here. It was just them and the cultists. Eddie inhaled.
Mera…Viv…he thought, the images of the two girls in his mind, smiling at him. It gave him an extra push, placing his back against his companion. Space grew silent, and they tapped their fists. We’re coming home.
“Together.” No more words passed between them. Eddie stomped the ground, the spires of earth flying out before his fire and water became as whips that snapped out, tossing the cultists back. Emil waved his arms outward, a line of gravity-burdened spheres forming and firing. They sent the enemy hurtling back, into some walls. The army marching on board made little move to stop it, though others were still joining the flow in attacking. The boys switched sides, covering all their angles as they snapped attacks back and forth, keeping as wide a circle around them as possible.
“How many of these guys are there?” Emil grunted. One broke past his defense, and he punched them in the face. Once they fell, Emil plunged both of his palms down, causing the gravity to exert itself over the entire field.
“As many as we need to take down to get out of here!” was Eddie’s response, offering as best a grin as he could to Emil. He clapped his hands together, the resulting wind and fire becoming a cyclone that burned their assailants and blew them through the dilapidated walls.
“You know, Eddie, there was a time that I was the one giving you lessons. Look at your magic now.”
“Wouldn’t have gotten half as far without the others. So, let’s make a landing spot!” The two clapped hands together, a plan forming that needed no communication to be ready for. Their hands joined, magic coalescing between them. Raising a fist, a stone chunk was thrown into the air, erupting with fire around it. Emil lifted it higher, whirling around until it reached an apex and then he let it drop, the meteor ablaze. The cultists took no notice of it, and before it collided, Emil wrenched it apart, sending the stones flying at extreme velocity.
They struck all about, forcing their attackers to collapse before Eddie summoned as much air as he could and pushed it forward, clearing the field of their enemies before them. Both stumbled, the magical effort draining them, but giving them relief.
Until the clapping was heard, sarcastic glee ringing through the air.
“An impressive show, just as in Lacardia.” The feet touching down on the empty battlefield prompted them to whip around, eyes wide. Emily was tossed into the dirt at the Reaper’s feet, groaning and battered. “I knew yours was a most impressive soul when we first met, though it was quite timid. How strong you’ve grown.”
“I don’t want compliments from you!” Eddie shouted, but Emil pulled him back. The Reaper kicked into Emily’s side, and she coughed, rolling along.
“Fear not. She’s not dead. Though, I must wonder…what will your captain do when he sees?” Emily hacked out, spots of blood on the dirt as she shuddered.
“Our captain…will not…give in…to you…” she coughed out weakly. Her body tried to move, but was unable. However, her eyes turned upon the one responsible for all this and seethed. “He’s stronger than that!”
“Is he? Haven’t you noticed him struggling all this time?” The Reaper bent down, running their hand through Emily’s hair, their simpering tone taking pleasure in causing pain. Eddie broke free of Emil’s hold, his hands trembling with fury. “Every action has been a needle. Every word a knife. Bit by bit, he’s been chipped away at without even realizing. Broken. All it needs is a push and the rising star of the old Corps will fall.”
“Ray won’t fall! He’s not you!” Eddie acted without permission, creating a globe of water and sending it out. Emil worked in concert with him, adding more gravity to the shot, right for the Reaper. They raised a hand, and with one blow, blocked it, the aqueous force ripping some of their robe.
“Not me?” The Reaper yanked their arm down, and a body came flying out of nowhere, crashing into the pair and knocking them to the floor. It was Jay, still passed out. “What would you know of me?”
“Nothing. But I don’t need to know anything to know you’re a bully!” Eddie shouted. He pushed Jay’s body off him, flinging fire at the Reaper. They blocked that assault, too. “You hurt! You incite fear! You’re nothing but someone in power who wants to hold that power over everyone else!”
Eddie prepared another strike, but the Reaper reached him first, placing both palms upon his chest. It was the closest they had ever been, even back in Lacardia. The mask was dark, impossible to see through, and Eddie reached for it, wanting to rip it off and prove what little the figure was. “No, boy. I want to save this world. I will cut off its arm to save the body if I must. If that makes me a bully, then I will do what it takes. I will see this world reborn! Dark Gasp!”
Eddie tried to grab the mask, but the Reaper’s attack had begun. It glowed purple before receding to an inky black, and then it impacted with his chest. He felt his entire body lock up and be tossed aside, rolling on the ground with nothing to stop it. Emil screamed for him. A new drone filled the air, and above, the shadow of the Defender passed over, de-cloaking with her cannons primed and armed on the Reaper. Eddie tried to move, but the paralysis was complete, leaving a cough caught in his throat.
“I am the Reaper. I will take the souls of this world and bring them into the next. That beautiful future that lays beyond. As one, this world will live on! For the goddess, I will cast aside all personal thoughts and feelings for the ultimate goal of rebuilding our broken world!” His grand, sweeping statement made, the Reaper spread their arms, fingers curling in on themselves.
The air grew heavy, gravity pressing down on every inch of them. Emil gasped, no doubt recognizing the sensation as he could no longer lift his body. There was a horrific screech, the engine of the Defender running on fumes, about to spin off its own axis. Unable to move, Eddie could do naught but watch as the skyship lowered down regardless of its own will and that of the pilots inside. It was a display of power so fierce, he could see tears coming to Emil’s eyes. Eddie twitched, feeling restored to his fingers. He wiggled his toes.
The skyship landed with a loud crash, though it was undamaged. No one could know the inside, but the Reaper despaired not. Their effect was total and complete, and with it done, they slipped their hands behind their back, and stood proudly. Eddie’s leg kicked out, his arm spasming against his side. He let loose his cough while the Reaper stepped forth, hands still behind his back.
“Today is a new day, my brethren! A day for the goddess!” They bent low to the cheers of the soulless masses, grabbing the blade off the ground. They spun it with a flourish and sheathed it, despite its size. Eddie’s struggle with himself continued in earnest, desperate to break free and stop the visionary before them. “We will tear down the old world, and begin ushering in a new one. As the goddess wills it.”
“As the goddess wills it.” The hollow, monotone speech spurred Eddie on, and he made to stand. Emil protested, begging him to stop, but Eddie wouldn’t.
“It is pointless to struggle, Edwin Montgomery. Your fate, your purpose, was decided before you ever came here,” the Reaper said, turning to the boy that opposed him. Eddie’s body swirled with magic, all that he had left to give. Flames on his right arm, water on his left, the earth and wind at his feet. He was breathing heavy, but refused to back down. For the first time, the Reaper hung their head in sadness. “A Multi-element user, something not even I could dream of. A most valuable soul. One that’s grown, and experienced many trials. There is nothing greater than those who truly learn and grow from them.”
“Yeah, I have grown,” Eddie breathed, preparing that final attack. The elements were coalescing at his front. “Grown enough to know when I can’t run away, even when I want to. Because those are people you’re talking about. They’re not souls you can fit into a jar on a shelf. They’re living beings with thoughts and feelings! People with pain! Happiness! The will to make a difference! But you take from them! You treat them like they’re objects to be collected. Magic to make you stronger. You’re the opposite of what it means to be a Guardian! Well, I won’t let you take anymore!
“My soul is mine! Magia Elementia!”
The Reaper’s cloak flapped about, the full spell Eddie was creating causing all manner of debris to fly about the area, pulling into the well of his attack. With every ounce of magic he had remaining, Eddie threw it at the Reaper, hoping that just this once, it would find its mark.
The spell sailed to the spot the Reaper stood, and when it touched, it exploded in a fury of the four elements, rising in the air. Eddie’s legs fell from underneath him, collapsing on the dirt with heaving breaths. He closed his eyes, praying that just maybe he’d finished this. The heat was on his skin. The water formed as sweat. The earth rumbled. The winds raged. And Eddie Montgomery waited until they had vanished, leaving nothing but smoke…and the Reaper.
“No…” It was impossible, the Reaper standing there without a scratch. They didn’t move, their robes burning…until they crumbled away, melting like liquid into nothingness. Eddie couldn’t understand. Not until he felt the presence behind him.
“You’re right.” The sound made Eddie close his eyes, filled with despair. Emil screamed, struggling under his own weight with tears. The Reaper bowed low, sighing with heavy bereavement. “I do treat souls as objects to be collected. Like the Weapons, they serve a means to an end: to make a better world. Their souls will witness that with me.”
“Eddie, run!” Emil yelled. His arm latched forward, digging in the dirt to pull himself forward, but failing all the same. The Reaper snapped their fingers, and Eddie opened his eyes just enough to see Emil’s limbs snap to his side, bound. “Run…run…”
“As will yours.”
Eddie could do nothing. Feel nothing.
All he knew was the hand plunging into his chest, and the white light that surrounded him. He turned his head away from the Reaper, tears streaming down his face as he tried his best to smile.
The last thing he heard, before his soul was ripped from his body, taken into the Reaper, was Emil’s bloodcurdling cry that shook those left to watch.
Eddie Montgomery was gone.