Tulan's fingers continued to fidget with the grass, almost nervously. Her large glasses turned to reflect Ruarc in her sights, and she bounced over to him. She walked past Aulan, who stayed with the droning image of her parents, past the embracing pair under the tree to move behind it. There were no words to say; she came right up to his leg, not daring to look in his eyes and wrapped her arms around his leg.
-- I have taken their place. --
Percival spoke gently, his voice ringing like a bell in their minds.
-- Because of this, the Guardians cannot stay. The risk they pose unchecked here is too great for what may happen, but they don't deserve to be wiped away. So I want to ask for your help in one last task. They are spirits themselves, but above all they are protectors. Until their minds heal, they will do what the mages of old intended of them. --
Once he had managed to gather them,
the grass in front of him melted into the soil, which in turn melted off the stone it stood upon. The stone extruded upward, revealing a elaborate set of buildings, fenced in by a perimeter.
It was Safeholme.
-- They should go where they can do good, beyond the scope of corruption. --
The front gate reshaped itself into a wide archway. At the top was brazier that burned with a small fire. When the fire lit, the small god next to Aulan and Zulan disappeared.
A small copse of greenery grew behind the rocky mance, representing the forest, and a small, standing stone rose from the earth in the what looked like a small glade. Gnarled roots began to grow over the marker, and at that, Modeka disappeared.
Another building rose a small ways a way from the property, in the shape of the dormitories. The fountain there sparkled with a marble shield at its crest, and another fountain emerged at the front of the mansion, glittering with runes. Zulan and Tulan, at once, disappeared.
The scene melted, and Jane saw her ranch come forth. Atop the house that she had built herself, which stood upon the land her family had owned for generations, was mounted a weathervane in the shape of a flying eagle. Akanus's form had too disappeared.
Lastly, the stone washed into a simple arrangement of furniture. A sofa, a desk, and some other items strewn about in what Riley would recall was the apartment she occasionally stayed in. A pair of glowing eyes shined under the gloom beneath the couch. Decanus had disappeared.
Aulan was the only one left, and she stared pensively at the group.
"What is to become of me? What am I going to do?"
Percival looked at the others. A tear in the fabric of space split not far from where they sat. As the portal yawned open, they saw the library from where they came. The Percival of their world, the real blood and bodied man, stepped in, looking as haggard as any man could.
"Live," said Percival, smiling as best he could in his wearied state.
He turned his hand over and held it out to her.
"Live. And make that decision yourself."
EPILOGUE - The Vision
Percival Caxton winked away the dust from his eyes in the darkness of the centrifuge. He lay on his stomach, upon a round patch of dark, earthen soot that marked a spot in the center of the vast, empty land. He looked up, the vast serpent above him constricting tightly around a barrier that he was trapped within.
“Modeka, do you think I could spend a little more of my leg?” he said, uncomfortably lighthearted, lowering his dirty face to look at the Guardian. She was sitting at the edge of the circle, her clothes disheveled, her stare vacant. Aurus paced behind her, intermittently cutting down what the Alchemist could only deduce were thralls gone mad.
The whole world had gone mad.
His friends were fighting for their lives out there, and he could barely see them. Every time he tried, more of him crumbled away. First his left leg, then most of his right, burning off like kindling each time he tried to help them.
“Modeka.” Percival tried again.
Not a single breath.
“It’s getting a little silly at this point, don’t you think?” he humored, but she didn’t laugh.
A mote of dust landed in her eye. Percival laid his head down.
The vision of shimmering towers greeted his mind again. Every time he closed his eyes, he would see it. A brilliant city, filled with life, a vibrant metropolis. His mind couldn’t take it for long, and his eyes forced themselves open.
Her head had moved.
It pressed against the barrier that kept him here. Those empty eyes were on him now.
The man's body snapped forward, clawing desperately over to the edge, dragging his torso. There were tears in his eyes, as he began to laugh. He couldn’t help it, it bubbled out of him as he pressed his forehead against the barrier.
Modeka’s lips began to move soundlessly, and he could see the words.
They need you.
The battle was concluding, the feeling was palpable. He pushed his mind out to see how they were doing. They were winning, and for once in this horrible place he could feel relief.
Until he saw Laoise.
His sight whipped back to the centrifuge, his lungs gasping for air, more of his mind crumbled to the floor. Denial sputtered from his lips as he began to shake, his worst fears now reality. He gripped his chest, as if his heart would suddenly leave him.
Modeka’s lips moved again.
The binding must be broken.
“Modeka,” his voice cracked, the features of his face twisting, still reeling, “I don’t know what you mean. I don’t understand.”
I have served my purpose.
He searched her eyes for meaning, and she smiled.
You will understand soon.
She made a noise, and the haunting figure of Aurus turned, glowing eyes upon her. The feeling of slumber washed over his mind, and Percival suddenly understood.
“Ah,” she uttered a little louder. The Fire God began to approach with his blade in hand.
“Modeka,” repeated Percival, slapping his palm to the barrier. "Modeka, stop this."
“Ah,” she said with more of a pained smile. He became desperate.
Aurus loomed over the bent form of the Healing Goddess. The Alchemist repeated her name, helplessly, he kept repeating her name in some vain hope it would do something. She hadn’t the strength to summon a word to put them to sleep, but the warrior above her was not particular to risk. Percival begged him to accept it.
Against the growing protests of the Font, Aurus drove his blade through Modeka’s back, silencing her.
The sight of the murder drove Percival to madness and he slammed his fist against the barrier, screaming and striking until his knuckles were bloody. Repeatedly, he hurled curses and pained denial, but the blackened figure ignored them.
The blade was withdrawn, and the goddess’ body fell limp through the barrier.
Scrambling, Percival took her as best he could, but as mangled as he was, he could only rest her on the black soot. The Font choked his sobs, the dirt on his face streaming with the tears. His trembling hand gripped her lifeless fingers. Feeling the warmth leaving her made her death real and his voice howled, wailing pain he had never known before. He wanted to wake up. He wanted this nightmare to end. He closed his eyes, wanting to open them somewhere far from where he was, but all he saw were visions of the city.
"I never intended this to happen."
His eyes opened, and he could see his friends standing around him. He saw Ruarc leaning over Laoise, the rest of the group recovering the wounded from the first bloody engagement.
"This was the reason I fled.”
His mind felt like it was trying to escape, but still he tried to speak, it was the only thing holding him together. Something kept pulling him away, trying to break away the thoughts from his body. He opened his mouth, but words were becoming difficult to produce.
"I knew that I would cause such sorrow. Three are gone. Three remain. At what cost? I know much, yet understand little. I feel life, yet cannot find it. The universe unfurls for me, but I am powerless to protect even one benign dove."
Laoise. He imagined her flying again, and the sadness filled his chest.
"Trees, flowers, spriggans, birds... What good are they in a battle of gods?"
He closed his eyes. Again, the shimmering towers. This time his friends were there, telling him to not lose hope. They weren’t supposed to be here, not in the vision. As they tried to encourage him, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something terrible was about to happen.
When he opened his eyes, the feeling faded, and something heavy weighed on his hand.
It was Laoise. Her pure, white form was marred by a little red mark in her breast. He looked up into Ruarc’s eyes, and felt ashamed. The pain in the Druid’s eyes tore him to pieces, and he looked to Miyuki, seeing some glimmer of hope in her. In her, there was some measure of happiness in this madness.
"All of my life, I lived in fear of my power, and the lack thereof.”
He imagined her flying again, and understanding filled his mind as the crumbling of his body began to spread into his neck.
"I feared for so long that I let a sickness take over my entire being. Skirting trust. Barking at shadows. Concealing myself behind subterfuge. So afeared that I hid from all of this, hoping it would kill me first. Yet here you are, despite what stands before you."
Modeka still lay in front of him, in quiet repose. He steeled himself, and pulled Laoise to his chest. Not knowing what would happen next.
“No more hiding.”
The power was overwhelming, it washed away his mind. He held tight to the bird in his palm, and forced himself to focus on that thought. Her flight. If he closed his eyes he would lose her. The method was lost on him, but the truth was there, buried deep in the Elementalia. He drew it up into himself and the little form awakened.
A spark went off in his hand as she flew away, and, like a pilot light, the energies erupted from within him, wiping away what remained on the black spot in the centrifuge.
With no eyes to open now, he saw that same horizon. A scene lined with shimmering towers, a massive city filled with people. A blue sky stretched above, traced with the figures of flying craft, carrying commuters to and fro. This was a world much like his own, but far removed by the measure of time. A new awareness filled him, one that connected his mind to the people he could see going about their day. He could feel their happiness, their sadness, and their fear. The fear was growing, it grew into a fear that consumed an entire world.
The horizon began to burn as the sky fell apart in a storm of bombs and warlike pillars of light. In mere seconds he felt the deaths of millions: continents shattered, oceans boiled, society destroyed. Suffering was paramount, and the hailstorm of destruction only continued, systematically spreading across the world in a wave of corpses.
He tried to escape it, and found himself above the world, a marble once blue, now brown and red with the blood of billions. Whatever sought to erase life on the world finished it with one fell stroke as it split the planet apart.
Again he tried to look away, to distance himself, but it only served to expand his sight across the stars. His ears were filled with the death screams of trillions, as lives were lost on a terrible scale. The scope was unimaginable, witnessed all at once, in scenes of untold suffering, with no end in sight. The nightmare filled his mind, threatening to push out everything that was Percival Caxton, making his very soul numb.
A voice rose in the darkness of his mind. It started small, but it began to grow into a lullaby, one that put his tortured senses to rest
. It sang for him long after he couldn’t hear the screams anymore, until he could find himself again, seeking shelter in the embrace of his lost humanity.
And so the centrifuge hummed, a pillar of untold power; coiled by a serpent, guarded by a traitor.