“I don't think anyone, until their soul leaves their body, is past the point of no return.”
- The Journey to the Afterlife
My moment with Marcus is interrupted when the room's lighting suddenly turns red, combined with the noise of an alarm. Additionally a voice is talking in a foreign language and it sounds a lot like it is counting down. “That doesn't sound good. Did they flip the self-destruct switch?” I mumble concernedly. There must be a control station somewhere in the pyramid, but it doesn't seem like we'll get the chance to find it.
“I've a feeling that you are closer to the truth than it is to my liking!” Marcus doesn't waste any time. He bends down and picks me up in a princess carry.
Dad finally stops mutilating Moonray and starts giving commands to evacuate. Most of the soldiers teleport without a word, agreeing that we've overstayed our welcome. Those who can, grab the surviving prisoners who were left helpless on the floor. Our nice, little boarding raid turns all of a sudden into a hasty retreat.
Marcus doesn't wait any longer and teleports us back to the citadel's bridge, where we are joined by Dad just a few moments later.
Shade immediately requests to know what's going on, which is answered by one of the operators. “It seems like their energy source is going critical. We can't get into their system to stop it.”
I frown as Marcus puts me down. “Why would they destroy their own base just like that? They didn't even properly fight for it. It seems a little radical to give up so much military power just like that. What about the spirits who are surrounding the pyramid?”
“We will retreat for the moment. The pyramid and the people who are operating it are obviously considered an expendable resource. Get the citadel out of here as soon as everyone has reported back, bodies and souls included.” Shade commands, taking his place in the command chair. “And once that's done we will have a little discussion with Moonray.”
“Souls?” Marcus asks surprised.
But he gets ignored. The big screen which grants us a view on the pyramid's interior flashes white as the citadel transitions from inside the pyramid. And not a second too soon according to the sensor readings. Unfortunately our hasty retreat means that we don't know what happened to the pyramid and the spirits, though I am sure that we'll send another taskforce as soon as possible.
Instead of the pyramid and the spirits, the screen is replaced by the familiar view of the aether between the worlds. And then we are back in Newerth, hovering above the capital city. From our height, the city looks almost peaceful, were it not for the areas which got destroyed during the recent attacks.
“I suppose that the pyramid is gone? We opened a portal while we were stuck inside it.” I ask one of the guys who are manning the sensors.
He shakes his head. “Impossible to say. We opened a portal and forced it to pull us in. The pyramid shouldn't have been damaged any worse than it already was, though we took a piece of it with us. It's coating the citadel and we've to manoeuvre very carefully if we don't want the debris to fall onto the city.”
I wince, imaging how the citadel must look like from the outside. Unfortunately we don't have a convenient camera drone which allows us a better view.
Marcus doesn't allow himself to be ignored any longer. “Then try to get away from the populated areas. Fly over the fields outside the city. And does someone care to answer my question from earlier?”
I bite my lower lip, wondering how to answer the question without making it sound too offending. “One of the first things my father reinvented was his soulcatcher. It's a device which catches souls before they can escape into the aether. It's his greatest gift to his subjects. As long as you die in close proximity to the citadel, or any of our bigger constructions, you've always a chance at rebirth.” I clap my hands together and smile at Marcus. There, I suppose that I've sugar-coated it enough.
The older-looking guy from earlier who got handed all the responsibility decides to comment on my explanation. “To put it in other words... not even death frees us from our servitude to our king.”
Another random crew-member turns away from his console. “But if you die in battle for the nation, you are guaranteed to get a new body with your memories as intact as possible. Though I don't really like the dying part and think that there should be a bonus included!”
“Don't complain about our system! Be glad that Elona decided to reward you worthless bunch in case of death! If it had been up to me, I would only revive exceptionally loyal individuals! What are a few deaths for the crown? A good subject would come back on his or her own. You guys should feel ashamed that you need help at remembering your previous lives!”
Marcus's speechless gaze travels from me, to my father and then to the other crew-members. “It's not a joke, is it?”
“Sometimes I wish it was,” I sigh. “Anyway, should we go and get some answers from Moonray?”
“Good idea!” My father teleports without further comment.
I huff and open my senses to his aura in order to follow him. He must've dropped off Moonray somewhere safe before he returned to the bridge, so he can't be far.
One moment before I teleport to follow my father, Marcus grabs my shoulder. ““Ah, ah, ah! Not again! You won't run off twice in a single day, leaving me behind! Or are you unable to take two people with you through the teleportation? The last time I had to follow you, I landed right in the middle of a battle.”
“That couldn't be helped. And you should train teleportation if you land so far away from me. You were almost on the other end of the hall when you arrived,” I nag, but I get his reasons. Even back then when we had the pathways it was considered rude to simply teleport away while having a conversation with another person. I lean closer and hug his chest to include him in my spell matrix. “Or do you simply want more skinship with me?”
He scoffs, “Do you want to say that you can't teleport another person without sticking close?”
“You shouldn't have said that while I am still in spirit form!” Growling, I wrap my legs, wings and tail around him, sealing his movements completely. “That's what I call the 'teleportation-hug'!”
Then I teleport the both of us.
We don't land where I expected us to. I assumed that Shade must've taken Moonray to the citadel's interrogation facility. Instead, he took him to our private quarters in our capital city while I was having my little chit chat with Marcus.
Excluding Moonray, there are several people in the large room. Almost the whole family! If it weren't for the serious expressions, I would have joked that we were having a big, happy family reunion. I wonder how Dad managed to assemble everyone so fast, but then again, all it probably took was a short mental call and they dropped whatever they were doing to join the event.
“I think I wasn't introduced...” Marcus mumbles as the attention switches from Moonray to him.
Okay, being wrapped around him like a slut may not be the best way to introduce Marcus to my old-fashioned grandparents. Though two of them might like that.
I make a show of clearing my throat and pointing out people. First the woman with the flaming hair and the red, glowing eyes. She grins and reveals a set of pointy, sharp teeth when I gesture at her. “That's Grandma Tisha, empusa. Moonray sold her into slavery and destroyed her clan.”
Then the huge, white man who is towering above her, his blue eyes are as cold as ice. “Grandpa Ishaan, ice titan and probably Moonray's worst enemy.”
It goes on to the white haired beauty who has claws as fingernails and looks as if she is about to rip someone to pieces. “Great Grandma Doreen, fury. Betrayed by Moonray and almost one of his victims.”
I already introduced Mom, so I decide to skip her and go on to the last two. “Grandma Chloe, succubus and Moonray's daughter, who got abandoned and almost killed by his machinations. And her husband, Shawn, ogre.”
I untangle myself as decently as possible to present my boyfriend. Shoving Marcus, I nudge him a little further toward the assembly. “This is Marcus, my husband!” Not the perfect timing to introduce him, but I suppose there is no other choice now.
Marcus insecurely raises a hand in greeting. “Nice to meet all of you.” Then he laughs. “I suppose that we will have to make a line and take turns with Moonray?”
Ishaan moves his shoulders and tilts his head, crunching his joints. “I'll go last,otherwise you guys would only have a few shards of frozen flame to play with.”