In a single second, Dan’s gloves unleashed countless pulses of energy. They all sped outwards, shaking the very air in the building with their power. They struck the bars of the cell. The iron rattled, vibrated, bent and twisted, and then finally exploded, shards of metal flying outwards. The bars were wrenched from the floors and ceilings, and the blast of energy continued on.
It struck Takuya next. He was picked up and slammed against the stone wall. He was held there for a moment, his mouth open and locked in a terrible scream. Dan could see his every bone shaking, almost jumping in place as the pulses struck them. The wall began to shudder, but it still held. Then Takuya exploded, just as the metal bars had done. Dan briefly looked away as red filled his vision.
Then the wall flew apart. The stones making it up separated, and those which remained split apart, the fragments flying away as daylight flooded the building. The flying stones caught a few surprised orcs who were nearby, punching gaping holes straight through them before finally falling to the dusty ground, their energy spent. Only when the hole in the wall was as wide as three of the cells put together, did Dan finally lower his gloves. All trace of Takuya had been obliterated.
Dan leapt out of his cell and turned to the others. “I’m sorry about that, if any of you were considering taking Takuya’s offer,” he said. “You’re welcome to stay if you want and wait for the vampires. But Jaseff is right: we can still win this. Einar still lives, and right now it’s our duty to do everything we can to help him stay that way.”
A rousing – if hoarse – cheer met Dan’s words. The blast from his gloves had damaged the cells next to his own as well, wrenching them apart at the corners, and Jaseff now squeezed free and ran to Dan, quickly healing his arms, which were bleeding freely.
“We’ll need to use the transporter,” Gideon said, coming up. “It’s the only way we’ll get to Liesic in time. I never took the time to learn how it worked, though,” he added. “There was always a kyrie on the outside who took care of that.”
Dan turned to the prisoners, many of whom were still trapped in their cells. “Does anyone know how to work the transporter?” he asked.
No one spoke. Then, still in Dan’s cell, Caela stood. “I do,” she said.
She had changed. Dan could see caution in her face now, like she was afraid to believe she was free. But she was free, both from the cell and from the dark place she had been moments ago, and Dan had done that. That knowledge gave him a curious feeling. He was making a difference.
His arms healed, Dan leapt over the fallen stones to the still-closed cells. Using his metal gloves, he punched the locks in, one by one, until all the cells were open.
Caela stepped forward, picking her way over the rubble. “Einar’s protocol in case of attack is to leave his transporter open to all friendly routes. As long as he doesn’t know Hyleran has been taken, we should be able to use it.”
“What about the orcs?” Gideon asked. “Dan might have scared them, but I doubt they’ll let us just walk to the transporter.”
“I’ll take care of them,” Jaseff said, a hint of anger in his voice. “No one drags a mage like a sack of potatoes.”
“But,” Gideon said, “if you could deal with them, why didn’t you do it before?”
Jaseff grinned. “I didn’t know they were going to use magic before. I didn’t have time to react. As long as everyone stays close to me, they won’t be able to touch you. Not with their magic, at least. While they’re trying to figure out what’s wrong, kill them.”
It sounded too simple to be true, but it worked. Once everyone from the cells was freed, totaling at least a hundred kyrie, samurai, and ninjas, plus Dan, Gideon, Laelia, Jaseff, Francois, and Caela, they all clustered around Jaseff.
He closed his eyes for a moment. At first Dan thought nothing was happening, but then a strange feeling began to steal over him. It felt like something was tugging at his mind, like something was pulling at what made him… him. It made Dan’s head spin. He shook it, trying to clear the feeling, but it persisted.
Jaseff opened his eyes. “Walk,” he said. “If you see an orc, wait for it to attack. The magic will pass right through you. Then kill it. Never break from the group.”
So they walked. As one giant group, they slowly moved down the street, directed by Caela. Almost immediately, two orcs stepped in front of them. Dan braced himself as they raised their palms and red lightning shot from them, but Jaseff had been right: the magic hit Dan, he felt a momentary tightness in his muscles, and then it left. Glancing behind him, he saw the magic travel straight through the group to the center, where Jaseff stood, his hands outstretched at his sides as if he were performing some bizarre ritual. The magic dissipated the moment it touched him. Dan suddenly remembered that Ana had done the same thing when they were fighting Caius.
Confused, the orcs tried again, but with the same result. Dan unholstered his pistol, calmly aimed, and shot one of them dead. The second orc fled. The process was repeated a few more times, but after that, the orcs knew to leave them alone. Soon, they arrived at the transporter.
The top of the structure was white with fallen ash, but it looked undamaged. Dan and the others crowded into it, barely all squeezing in. Caela remained outside for a moment, turning dials and pulling levers on the side of the machine, then she quickly ran through the doorway and pulled the heavy metal door shut.
“It will take a little under an hour for the transporter to get us there,” she whispered in the darkness. Dan remembered the last time he had used the transporter, how he had spent mere seconds in it, but had emerged two hours later. It would still be early morning when they arrived in Liesic.
The walls of the transporter began to rumble. Dan could hear something massive turning over their heads, slowly spinning around them, first above them, then to their side, then deep below, then back up the other wall… Faster and faster it spun, the rumbling and shaking becoming almost unbearable. There was a brief flash of bright light, a moment of pure silence, and then the rumbling returned, now slowing.
However, the shaking and groaning of the structure was now punctuated by other sounds: muted clangs and sharp reports as if something was striking the walls of the transporter. The transporter finally rumbled into silence, a nearby samurai pulled open the heavy door, and they all streamed out… into a full-scale battle.
The transporter of Liesic was situated in a giant dome, massive bricks, the color of golden sand, making up the arcing ceiling. Or at least, it had been. A chunk of the ceiling and a good portion of wall had been blasted apart, allowing deeply red sunlight to stream through, rendering the air full of motes of swirling dust, punctuated by thick sheets of falling ash. The sky overhead was thick with dark clouds, allowing only occasional glimpses of the blood-red sun.
Dragons flew by overhead, their massive frames blocking out the light completely for the seconds they were visible. Looking beyond the ruined wall, Dan could see Liesic spread out before him, smoke hanging over it like a smothering blanket. Flames burst from buildings at random, dust choked the street, hanging in swirling clouds, bound by some unseen magic, and all the while, ash fell steadily from the sky, dusting everything in unending white.
The walls of Liesic had clearly been breached. The sounds of battle smote Dan’s ears, and he had to cover them with his hands as he exited the transporter. Soldiers were yelling, orcs were screaming, dragons roaring, beasts bellowing, and through it all came the clash of metal on metal. The blaze of flame drowned out portions of the other sounds, as its roar grew and dimmed, though the fire itself was somewhere beyond Dan’s view, hidden by walls.
Smoke flew in Dan’s face, making him cough, and filling his lungs with the taste of ash and burnt flesh. The metallic taste of blood hung in the air, stinging Dan’s nose and making his eyes water. Every breath he took was full of ash, causing him to cough and splutter as he staggered from the transporter.
The room they entered was a scene of chaos: Imperium of Einar were arrayed in a line in front of the transporter, valiantly keeping it from a horde of orcs which pressed against them. Dan quickly saw that these were the same orcs they had faced in Hyleran: red lightning shot from their palms, felling kyrie several at a time. Only a few strategically placed mages, some absorbing the orcs’ attacks as Jaseff had done, some removing the effects and helping their comrades back into combat, were keeping the orcs from trampling the Imperium into the dust.
Jaseff quickly joined the mages. Gideon and Laelia ran to assist the kyrie, along with the majority of the others. Dan, however, quickly ran to the side of the room, to the head of the line of kyrie, found his footing, and pushed his gloves outwards.
From the wall, all the orcs were lined up for him. The energy streamed from his gloves, knocking them aside like so much dead grass. He was careful to keep the energy far from the Imperium, instead directing it behind the line of attacking orcs, picking off the stragglers. The orcs in the front, seeing what Dan was doing, became panicked. They paid for their distraction with their lives, as the Imperium swiftly cut them down where they stood. In a matter of seconds, every last orc was dead.
“You!” An Imperium called, running over to Dan. “You serve Vydar?”
“No,” Dan said quickly. “Not after his betrayal. We’re here to help.”
The Imperium nodded. “I believe you,” he said, casting his eye over the orcs Dan had slain. “You’ll want to get rid of Vydar’s emblem then,” he added, nodding to Dan’s armor. Glancing down, Dan saw that his shoulder bore the sign of Vydar. “Here,” the Imperium said, offering Dan a strip of cloth with Einar’s symbol on it. “Use it to cover Vydar’s symbol. Otherwise we’ll cut you down on sight.”
“Thanks,” Dan said, tying the cloth around his shoulder so that Einar’s symbol showed clearly. “What happened? Does Utgar have the city?”
“Not yet,” the Imperium replied, as Gideon came running up. “He’s summoned demons. They blasted right through our walls like they weren’t even there. We lost a lot of good men that way.” He took a breath. “Orcs are running through the streets below, hunting for anyone who didn’t make it: civilians and wounded soldiers mainly. Those who can still fight retreated to the keep.” The Imperium pointed to a gleaming building a good distance away, sitting on the top of a cliff high above the city. “That’s where Utgar and his demons are now, trying to claim Einar’s wellspring. We were tasked with guarding the transporter, in case any foes came through it. So far, none have.”
“Disconnect it from Hyleran,” Gideon said. “Vampires are due there any minute.”
The Imperium turned and ordered some swift commands in Kyrien. Several Imperium ran to the transporter and began turning dials. “If you’re here to help,” he said, turning back to Dan and Gideon, “then make for the keep. A distraction behind the lines is what Einar needs.”
Dan nodded. “We’ll do it,” he said.
Gideon nodded his agreement. Then he turned to the hundred or so kyrie and humans who had come with them. “Any of you who want to help Einar defeat Utgar, follow me!”
Nearly all of them yelled warcries in reply – all of them mixed of course, coming from nearly twenty different cultures. Gideon ran for what had once been the door – now only half of the doorway was standing – and as one, the others followed him.
Dan couldn’t keep a grin from slipping onto his face. This was it. He was fighting for his horizon. He was fighting for the alliance’s horizon. Somehow, they felt one and the same.
He paused, allowing Jaseff to run up and quickly heal his arms, and then they both charged after Gideon. Heat and ash smote Dan in the face as he left the domed building. The cries of battle seemed to grow louder as he descended narrow steps, leading to the city below. They would have to fight their way up to the keep, through the orcs roaming the city.
“Ready?” Dan asked Jaseff as they paused before the apocalyptic scene which was the city.
Jaseff took a breath. “If not now, then I’ll never be,” he said.
Dan nodded, and then they both plunged into the burning city after Gideon and the others.