Sunday, 20 July 2014

Chapter 6: Fade

Anger floods her face, replacing her shock. “You monster!” she screams.

The raven laguz turns towards her and swoops down, landing gracefully in front of SarahAnne. His lips twist into a cruel smirk. “Hello there,” he says casually. “Do you like the new Godville? I for one think it needs a few more… explosions.”

“Why do you do this, Never More?” asks SarahAnne, her voice shaking. “Why destroy this beautiful world? Stop this madness! Come back to us.”

“Beauty is in the eye of the destroyer, SarahAnne. And do you know what I see?” asks Never More, laughing. “I see the most beautiful sight in the world. Everything is so much better when it’s burning down to the ground.”

“You’re mad, Never More,” SarahAnne says in disbelief.

“Me? Mad?” asks Never More in mock surprise. “Oh no no no, my dear. I’m not mad,” he says, feigning shock at how she had accused him. “I believe I’m the only sane one in this world. Excuse me, I believe Temple Row needs a bit more work. Oh, how I loathe your pathetic urges in building temples."

The raven god unfurls his wings, and with a wink directed to SarahAnne, flies off. Immediately, Sticky comes rushing to SarahAnne's side. The godling keeps his face impassive, trying to manage the conflicts arising from his very soul.

Sticky takes a deep breath, then looks to his liege for guidance. "My lady, what do we do now?" he asks.

SarahAnne’s expression hardens into an unforgiving mask. "We do what we have always done. We must protect the city. Gather the men and try to lure Never More into the arena. Have the civilians evacuated, no lives must be further lost."

"What do you intend to accomplish, my lady?" asks Sticky, unable to keep worry out of his voice.

SarahAnne turns the full strength of her gaze upon the young god, and he flinches. "That was an order, general,” she says coldly. “But if you must, I'm going to drag them away from the city. Now, go.” Her words clearly leave no room for negotiation.

Sticky opens his mouth, as if to reason with her, but closes it shut. Instead, he simply bows somberly, then turns on his heel and leaves, both SarahAnne’s presence and the audience’s field of vision. There is an eerie silence once Sticky’s footsteps can no longer be heard, a jarring contrast to the deafening clamour of the battle only moments ago. SarahAnne takes one last look around her, then begins to run.

The camera pans along, barely keeping pace with the goddess’ unbelievable speed. In comparison, for all of Luke and Somn’s combined speed with godpower, they might as well have been standing still. The scene shifts into a ruined landmark. Fallen heroes who have been innocently waiting to bash some heads lay dead, crushed by debris or slain by the forces of Chaos. A group of Never More's men are seen looting a pile of bodies.

SarahAnne skids to a stop for a few seconds here, shoving her hands outwards and pushing them off of the corpses, then returning to her insane pace. From there on, she stops only once as she reaches the center of Godville, where she stands with her arms raised and her eyes pointed to the heavens. A quiet chant flows from her lips, and Never More, a few miles away, suddenly turns, feeling something amiss. SarahAnne's chant rises in tempo and volume until it can be heard throughout Godville, and suddenly, Never More understands.

With a scream of rage, he flies at her, but he knows in his heart that he will not make it in time. A bright flash of light envelops the city. All of the combatants, gods, goddesses, heroes, and heroines alike are torn through a rift into a tiny artificial wormhole. For a moment, all that can be seen is the light, and all that can be heard in the sound of Never More's rage, and then they emerge into the moonlight and dust of a ruined city.

"SarahAnne knew they couldn't win,” says the narrator. “What she could do was save Godville. She had teleported them all into a ruined city that had once housed those who killed gods, known as Godslayers. In this city was a natural rift between the world of gods and heroes.”

Never More gets up, dusts himself and looks around him. It’s now nearing the first light of dawn, the edge of the sky tinted orange. The raven god’s night-adjusted eyes can see the desolation around him. He takes in a deep breath to calm himself and regain his composure, then whistles in admiration. “Wow, thanks for the reference. Maybe I can try topping this.”

Never More,” announces SarahAnne, her voice alarmingly stripped of all emotion. “You will pay.

Beside her, a translucent form flickers into existence and shapes itself into a battle-ready woman. The heroine goes down on a bended knee before SarahAnne.

“My Lady,” she says.

“Well, well, aren’t they stuffy?” Another heroine dressed in pirate regalia swirls into existence, this time beside Never More. She whips out a pair of ebony pistols. “Nice to be fighting with you, sir,” she says, directing it at the raven god. “What are your orders?”

Never More’s grin becomes savage. “Annihilate them.”

The pistol-toting piratess laughs and takes aim. “With pleasure.”

Before she could squeeze the trigger, a shadow darts behind her. The heroine grunts as a knife presses against her neck, the other pointed at her side. “Drop the guns,” hisses a hero.

“Why should I?” scoffs the heroine.

SarahAnne’s heroine charges at the piratess, the claws she wears mirroring the attack by SarahAnne herself as the goddess lunges at Never More. Immediately, the hero holding the piratess captive shivers violently, then releases the pistol-wielding heroine to block the claws at the same time Sticky leaps in front of Never More to block SarahAnne’s attack.

The deities clash again and again, their movements reflecting upon their warriors, as if someone was double-imaging the fighting of the gods and goddess.

“I… What’s going on?” asks Somn in amazement.

“Both Chosen Ones and deities are nearly fighting on the same plane,” explains the narrator. “Here, in this rift, the immortal and mortal planes collide. These places hardly exist today, and are normally center of commerce.” The narrator winks at Somn. “The Marketplace is one of them.”

There was another earth-shaking clash of power and weapons, and SarahAnne jumps back from the fight. “LugosiBela,” she says, her tone cold and rational. “Keep them busy. I need time.

SarahAnne’s heroine gives her a cursory nod in acknowledgement, then doubles her efforts. The first rays of the morning is starting to peer through the clouds, throwing the scattered ruins into deep shadow and bathing the land itself in a warm orange glow as a stark contrast. Standing with her back to the sun, SarahAnne begins mumbling a spell, her lips somehow managing to enunciate at the blurring rate it was moving. Blue wisps of godpower creep along the ground, crawling towards the fighters where Sticky had taken her place in battle.

“Dawn. The time when light returns and triumphs over all,” says the narrator. “Aware of this, SarahAnne casted the sealing spell.”

Sticky,” says SarahAnne.

The young god glances at her for the briefest of seconds before returning his attention back to Never More.

Finish it.

Sticky obliges. He begins muttering under his breath and switches places with SarahAnne who picks back up the fight. The tendrils of power reach out for Never More, but the laguz spreads his wings and takes to the skies, yanking his heroine out of harm’s way with him. Unfortunately, he couldn’t escape the grip of Sticky’s spell fast enough, as one of the tendrils shoots out and wraps around his ankle firmly. More and more blue strands twist around his leg, dragging him back down to earth. His heroine fires at the strands of godpower, but more tendrils latch onto Never More faster than she can shoot at or her god can hack away.

At the same time, the tendrils wrap themselves around SarahAnne. Unlike her ex-lover, she does not resist, and instead adds on to the spell, creating locks of godpower that curl around her fingertips and spread across her body. Faster and faster, the blue strands envelope the two deities; Never More in a suffocating cocoon, SarahAnne in a gentle swathe. Dragged down to earth and unable to hold on, Never More accidentally releases his grip and watches helplessly as his heroine plummets to the ground.

ALICIA!” cries Never More.

There is a sickening crack as her body hits terra firma, killing her on impact. Her pistols fly out of her grip and fall uselessly several meters below Never More’s bound feet. Within seconds of his heroine's death, sealing is complete, despite Never More’s desperate attempts at slicing his way out of the opaque, glowing cocoon. Never More lets loose a loud, wordless scream as his cocoon hits the ground and vapourises. A few metres away, SarahAnne’s heroine cries out as she watches her goddess disappear from sight. A blinding flash of light obscures the audience’s vision for a brief moment, and the two ex-lovers are no more.

The scene shifts to Sticky staggering out of a portal, only to be met by the Godville council. The leader of the council smiles grimly and steps forward. "We thank you for your service, Sticky," he says. Placing his hand on the confused young god's chest, the council begins to chant. Sticky steps back, but the leader follows him. The young god tries to escape, but he is clearly exhausted and fails to break free of the council members’ grip. The glow of magic envelops him, and within seconds, Sticky's body disappears, and his essence flows backwards into the portal from whence he came.

"You see, the council did not trust Sticky,” explains the narrator. “They believed that such a young, charismatic, powerful god, who also happened to be a war hero, would easily take their place as leader of Godville--”

The ground suddenly shakes, cutting off the narrator. His silhouette flickers into existence, and his shocked face becomes visible. “What in Random--”

A shrill scream interrupts the narrator. “LACCEN! SHOW YOURSELF!

The sky rips apart, what was early morning gives way to the midnight sky as the scenery around the audience starts shimmering and fading, the forms of the previously-invisible actors now appearing. Somn stares in wide-eyed amazement as the short, light-blond locks of SarahAnne retreats into the actor’s skull and darkens into a muddy brown while the character’s feminine features morph into something much more masculine. “SarahAnne was played by a dude?” splutters Somn.

To her surprise, the brunette actor speaks with a thick, lazy accent that heavily contrasts his role’s light and precise lilt. “Great Ran’om, Laccen,” he calls, “wha’ happene’ this time?” Beside him, the hazy figure of the actor playing Never More is becoming more corporeal, the wings falling apart into a multitude of vaporising feathers, skin peeling away to reveal a fair-haired god.

“There goes the stage,” sighs the raven-god’s actor. “Prop team's gonna come after us, y’kno--”

There is a loud bang, a terrible ripping sound, and the entire world around the audience and actors vanishes without a trace, leaving everyone back in the same campsite they were in-- with a difference. Standing near the entrance to the clearing is an absolutely furious goddess with shells in her hair, completely enshrouded by the thick mist of godpower. She takes a stomp forward, and the ground instantly liquefies into a sizzling, smoking substance beneath her foot.

The brunette utters a unintelligible curse and takes a hasty step back into blonde performer’s protective embrace. “Laccen? Thi’ yours?”

The narrator, Laccen, looks petrified. “Vieve! What are you doing?! We’ve got newbies h--”

Laccen’s words were cut short as the intruding goddess gathers up her godpower into the palm of her hand. A wordless shriek escapes the her lips as she hurls the ball of godpower.

Duty kicks in, and Laccen steps forward and throws up a shield before the audience and cast. The projectile crashes into the shield, which ripples and shatters on impact, the broken pieces of the spell showering upon the deities like glitter.

"Vieve!" Sticky's actor steps forward, his illusion-spell melting off to reveal a deity with gnarled, thick-veined skin. "What's the matter with you?!"

"It's all his fault!" Vieve sends another barrage of projectiles sailing at Laccen and the others.  Laccen throws up a stronger shield, but a split-second later his look of concentration switches into abject horror as his hands start Fading. Seniors who had been calmly watching the whole exchange kick into action when they realize the shield-spell isn't forming normally.

"Great Random, Vieve!" shouts the student organiser as he grabs the goddess' arms. "Have you gone insane?!"

"Brick!" yells someone. "Laccen's Fading!"

Immediately several seniors dash off to the Academy, but it is too late. The shield completes itself, at the cost of the loss of a life. Where there once stood a god named Laccen, now there is nothing but air.

Shocked to the core, Luke finds himself barely able to process what had just happened.  "The... The narrator..."

On the other side of the campsite, pinned down by at least three deities and neutralised by another two, Vieve's piercing screams slowly devolve into loud, choking sobs. The student organiser-- among those pinning down the goddess-- whispers something to the eagle-headed senior who had returned some time ago. The god nods and walks over to the stunned newbies.

"Campfire night's over," he says. "Go back to your rooms."

No one dares to argue with the tall, well-built senior. Within minutes, the clearing is empty of the new-comers, all scurrying back to their dorms for the night.

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