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Chapter 30:

Army of Light

 

The humans were moving carefully in the morning light that spilled through the large windows – too carefully. Wu’laujan squinted her eyes as she observed them going about their tasks. She scanned their movements through the hotel floor that they occupied. Then she focused her gaze on the center rooms of the floor. Her eyes filled with mana, and her vision shifted to a broader range of the light spectrum, allowing her to see with sight beyond sight.

The skeletal frames of the humans around her became visible even through the hotel walls. But there was something missing. The rooms down the hall were noticeably empty.

She stalked forward, toward one of the men. He attempted to skirt to the side and avoid her, but she turned quickly and seized him by the throat. It took only a second for her mana to infiltrate him and capture his attention completely.

When Wu’laujan released him and stood back, she was surrounded by several other mercenaries with their guns drawn on her. If she was concerned by that, she didn’t let it show. She merely looked on the one she had touched and allowed him to recover.

“You will tell me where Miss Keating and your commanders have gone,” she said coolly.

“They left. They’re gone, mistress,” he said dutifully and without hesitation.

“What the hell did you do to him?” one of the others yelled.

Wu’laujan smirked behind the long hair shadowing her face and balanced on the balls of her feet, ready to spring into action. But before she acted, another individual entered the open area at the end of the wide hall.

“What is this about?” Jornell’s voice echoed down the hallway.

Several of the guns turned from the dangerous woman among them and pointed at the newcomer. They shifted uneasily, wondering if they could possibly live through the encounter if the otherworldly spirits in the guises of human beings became violent. They had many guns and several explosives, but the ones before them had shown the ability to resist even the most deadly harms.

“Miss Keating and her advisors have left us,” Wu’laujan explained. “We would like to know where.”

“Impossible!” Jornell, breathed under his breath. Several of the men cocked their guns.

“We don’t know. You’d think they’d trust us with that intel around the likes of you?” one of them said.

“No,” Jornell said calmly. “You speak the truth. Miss Keating would not make such an obvious mistake. That means you do not know anything useful to me.” He looked upon them icily. “So, now you die.”

“No!” Wu’laujan said quickly before anyone could act. “Allow me.”

She exploded into motion, darting toward one of the soldiers surrounding her and hitting him cleanly in the chest before he could react, but she did not have the opportunity to strike again. As several shots rang out at her, she quickly reversed direction and leapt airborne toward her next target, twisting in the air to avoid their automatic fire.

She continued to dart among her enemies, erratically selecting one after the next and never staying on one target long enough to be pinned down by their furious gunfire. And though the humans could barely see it, her movements trailed a thin stream of green mana in her wake. Had they been able to look down upon the conflict from above, they would have realized that her movements were far from random.

She was drawing an intricate symbol over the battleground in green mana with her fleet assault. When she was satisfied with her design, she leapt to the very center of the fray, dragging one of the soldiers with her. She struck him several times across his chest, her flurry of blows following the same pattern she had drawn over the area – an exact replica.

“Remarkable,” Jornell whispered, clearly impressed with the small archon’s capability.

By then, many of soldiers she had struck recovered and leveled their weapons at Wu’laujan, firing a hail of bullets that would take down even a powerful archon such as her. But she jumped straight into the air above them toward the high ceiling. They would have likely gunned her down, except the man below her began to convulse and shake. He opened his mouth to scream, yet all that came forth was a vibrant green light. Then his skin rippled and cracked, shedding more light, until he exploded in a nova blast of green mana that washed over the entire room and down the hall.

The men were launched through the air and thudded heavily into the walls. Even Jornell was forced back several steps by the wave’s intensity. Wu’laujan landed a second later in the spot where she had jumped, though the man that was standing there was nowhere to be seen. Despite Jornell’s expectations, the rest of the men began to pull themselves to their feet.

At first he was pleased to see that the weaker archon was unable to finish the job, but then Jornell saw the truth in her complex design.

As one, the men each bent a knee before Wu’laujan. “We serve, mistress.”

Wu’laujan smiled again, and her gaze seemed to mock the other archon as she sauntered toward him. Her new disciples rose and followed her, walking with more purpose and bearing than they ever had before.

“The balance of power here seems to have shifted,” she said as she passed her companion.

The potency of the energy emanating from her small army was astonishing even to an archon such as Jornell. And it was clear the men no longer held any fear of the powerful spirit.

 

*****

 

“Help! Bryce, you have help me! I can’t wake her up!” Courtney said as Bryce and Liam rushed through the door in the early morning.

Bryce took a close look at Amber lying asleep on the bed and narrowed his eyes. She seemed to be sleeping fitfully, but she was obviously heavily engrossed in something that was not part of the waking world.

“She’s having one of those archon dreams again, but she won’t wake up this time,” Courtney said, frantically. “You have to help her!”

Bryce tentatively laid a hand on Amber’s head. Immediately he felt the sense of urgency in her. There was unrest and turmoil in her thoughts, but also a keen attention and longing for whatever she sought. Unlike the last few times when she was assaulted in the night, the voices prying at her mind from the darkness were there, but they were not her focus. When he pulled his hand back, he spoke calmly.

“Easy. She is not under duress at the moment. She remains asleep because it is what she wishes. She is using her seeker sight. That is why you could not wake her,” he explained.

“But… why?” Courtney asked.

“She may tell us when she wakes,” he said.

It was only a few minutes later when Amber began to stir. She woke quickly and flooded herself with Teijurzi to further freshen herself in haste. She looked around at her friends crowding her on the bed and smiled briefly.

“Thank you, but I’m fine. We have to move. Now,” she said seriously.

She didn’t wait for them to respond. She started getting up and gathering her things, but Courtney got in her face.

“Amber, what is it?” she asked.

“I’ll explain on the way,” Amber replied. She looked briefly at Bryce and Liam before ordering, “Go!”

With a lasting look, both Bryce and Liam hurried from the room and rushed back to their own. They immediately began grabbing their gear and packing up, heeding the obvious urgency in Amber’s command.

“What do you think it is?” Liam asked Bryce. “You think she found Enzo Ruiz?”

“I do not know, but it appears that must be imminent,” Bryce replied.

He took a moment to pause his preparations and focused his mana on his seeker sight. Then he scanned around himself, using his gift to see much farther beyond the hotel walls. Suddenly, he saw what Amber must have perceived in her dream.

“By Allah! We have to move! Now!” he exclaimed.

Liam didn’t stop stowing his gear, but he asked, “What? What is it, man?”

“The archons are close,” Bryce said, resuming his own packing effort, though he had less equipment than Liam and caught up quickly. “Here, in the city. They must have arrived last night while we slept.” He pulled a new shirt on over his head and hastily stuffed the last of his clothes into his bag. “They have enacted some sort of powerful ritual across town. No doubt they will be able find us, shortly. We must go.”

Just then, there was a fervent pounding on their door. Bryce hauled his bags onto his shoulder and answered it, seeing Amber there waiting, and it looked like she was dragging Courtney by the hand.

“Come on, aren’t you ready yet?” she asked impatiently.

“Yes, let’s go,” Bryce replied and hustled out the door with Liam following him.

Amber didn’t wait for them. She hustled down the hall at a brisk walk. It took several seconds for he and Liam to catch up. They didn’t speak until they were out of the hotel and on the street, heading east toward the port.

“I saw,” Bryce broke the silence at last. “What is it they were doing?”

“I don’t know, but it was Wu’laujan, or whatever she is calling herself now. A rather complex use of mana, far beyond my ability to decipher, but she has somehow made a small, powerful force of acolytes – and somehow I doubt they will be the pushovers we encountered before.”

They continued to rush down the street as Liam fiddled with his tablet. They moved swiftly, though they were careful not to break into a run that would surely draw attention to themselves. Finally, they had the port in sight, and Amber called a halt.

“You sure you can make this work?” she asked, looking at Liam and then Bryce.

“Only one way to find out,” Liam said in the most cheerful voice he could muster.

Then he opened the door to an old sedan parked on the side of the street. Bryce looked around with a scrutinizing gaze to make sure there were no prying eyes intent on them before reaching his hand into the car. A mix of yellow and green mana, borrowed from Amber, flowed from his hand. In less than a minute, a perfect replica of himself could be seen sitting in the backseat of the car. Though he looked drained, Bryce took a deep breath and extended his hand again. He repeated the process, until illusions of Amber, Liam, and Courtney sat in the seats as well.

“Alright, it is done. That is all I have,” he said, taking heavy breaths.

Amber laid a hand on his shoulder, filling him with more of Teijurzi’s yellow mana and refreshing his fatigue as well. “Good job, Bryce. They’ll fool anyone from a distance.”

Liam pulled up an app on his tablet and pressed a series of buttons on the screen, and the car started up.  Then it pulled away from the edge of the street and began driving down the rest of the way toward the docks. The team ducked into a side alley, watching it go for a few seconds, and then they began a hustled journey north. Courtney took hold of Liam’s shoulder and guided him along as he focused on the remote that operated the decoy car. At the other end of the alley, another car waited for them.

Liam, Courtney, and Amber hunkered down in the back of the small vehicle under blankets while Bryce drove the car, still using his altered, Brazilian disguise. Only after they had been on the road for several minutes without incident, did they begin to breathe a little easier.

“How much farther?” Amber asked.

“Soon,” Bryce explained. “But you know they will have eyes at the airstrip, yes?”

“Yeah, but the decoy car should have been spotted by now at the docks. We can only hope it draws most of their men there first,” Liam said, still looking at his tablet under the blanket.

“Liam, did you call ahead to get the plane prepped?” Amber asked.

“Yeah, it should be ready to go when we get there.”

Finally, the small airstrip nestled among the residential district on the city’s northern edge came into sight. Bryce parked the car on the street just down the road and took a long moment to scan the entrance. Only when he was satisfied, did he turned the engine off.

“There are no acolytes about, but they will likely have mercenaries here, anyway,” Bryce informed them.

“Okay, let’s go,” Amber said.

They exited the car and began gathering their things, but they didn’t speak much. Tensions were still high, and they would be until they were in the air. As they walked toward the building, Amber suddenly stopped and looked back the way they had come. She narrowed her eyes for a moment before turning back to the others.

“Move! Acolytes heading this way!” she urged them.

They broke into a run and entered the building just seconds before two cars jumped the curb and skidded to a stop in front of the door. Mercenary soldiers, filled with more mana than they had any right to be able to control, burst from the doors and began running with extraordinary speed. They entered the doorway and were greeted with automatic gunfire from both Courtney and Bryce, but it didn’t bring them down. It only slowed their advance until they could find cover. Even Amber’s precise seeking bullets only slowed them, though she was sure one of them went down.

Amber’s team took the opportunity to exit out the back of the building.

“We can’t stay here long!” Amber warned. “They will be able to circle around and flank us!”

“Get to the planes and use them for cover,” Bryce offered. “Liam, get our plane going while we hold them back.”

The rest of them nodded their agreement, and Amber shot two more seeking bullets through the doorway before following the rest of them. Bryce, Amber, and Courtney slid behind a small plane and turned to fire their guns just as four more acolytes came around the side of the building. Two went down from Amber’s seeker bullets and another staggered under the heavy fire from Bryce and Courtney. But the exchange allowed Liam to get into the small Cessna 208 Caravan that they had bought a few days ago for just this occasion.

Before they could disposed of the rest of the acolytes, more emerged from the doorway and returned fire at Amber’s team. They were now under pressure from two directions and it would be difficult to keep their foes from gaining ground on them and flanking them.

“We have to move,” Bryce complained. “They will surround us.”

“Just a little bit longer, guys,” Liam said through their earpieces. “Keep them off me.”

With a grunt, Bryce leapt and dashed between the planes to secure a better location and prevent the inevitable enemy movements. He cursed a few times as he was hit in his mad dash, but when he stopped, he realized that most of the wounds were not mortal and were resisted by his mana-hardened skin. Still, he should not have been hit nearly as many times. The acolytes were surely augmented with enhanced reflexes and dexterity – or an exceptional amount of luck. He wouldn’t count on it being the latter.

Amber, Courtney, and Bryce exchanged fire with the acolytes for another minute before Bryce suddenly found himself face-to-face with a charging acolyte. The man smashed into him, and both of them went to the ground. Bryce expected to shove the man off with his increased strength, but the acolyte just pushed on and bored him to the ground. He knew that he desperately needed to get out from under the man or his position would be compromised and Amber and Courtney would be surrounded, yet the acolyte was certainly stronger than him.

So Bryce used his wits and drew a small black knife from his hip. He couldn’t get a good stab into the man’s vital regions, but a quick slice along his leg caused him to cry out and loosen his hold. In the brief moment of confusion, he kicked out and slid away from him. The acolyte reacted quickly and followed. Bryce dove under another plane, expecting the acolyte to follow, and when he did, Bryce suddenly skirted to the side and kicked the plane’s wheel, shifting it slightly. The acolyte’s charge was much stronger and uncoordinated, overdosed on more mana from Wu’laujan than he could properly handle. He slammed into the wheel support, and it was crushed. The empowered brute cursed Bryce, and vowed to tear him apart, until the plane itself came crashing down on top him. Bryce dove from the crash just a moment before several tons of metal smashed to the ground, crushing the acolyte.

He knew he didn’t have time to celebrate his victory. He grabbed the man’s fallen assault rifle and pointed it at the other acolytes trying to move in on him. It was then he saw a bright radiance of yellow-green light far in the distance, but heading his way at impossible speed.

 

*****

 

Amber and Courtney hunkered down together behind the same plane, trying desperately to keep the enemy soldiers from advancing on them. No matter how much lead they threw at them, the acolyte soldiers kept coming, darting between storage boxes and other planes to close the distance. Several times they were struck by shots from Amber or Courtney in their reckless movements, but it just slowed them down. Only Amber’s seeking bullets were making any headway, and even then some of the acolytes were able to withstand the shots with rapid movements that intercepted her shots or caused them to strike non-vital areas.

“They’re not going down!” Courtney yelled to Amber.

“How many archon busters do we have left?” Amber asked.

“Not enough for all of them! What if the archons show up?”

“If we don’t get out of here soon, it won’t matter anyway! Break ‘em out!” Amber yelled and changed the clip in her gun.

Courtney did the same and was satisfied when she took a shot and saw one of her targets finally hit the ground. The wild card-infused  bullets certainly made a difference, and a few more soldiers went down before they were forced to modify their tactics.

“It’s working!” Courtney yelled. “But we’re gonna run out of ammo!”

Then Amber looked into the distance, beyond the soldiers, and saw what she was dreading. A pinpoint of yellow-green light was rapidly approaching. “Liam! We have to go now!”

“I’m on it!” he shouted, and only moments later, the plane’s engine roared to life.

“Go, Courtney!” Amber shouted over the engine noise. “I’ll cover you!”

Courtney wasted no time scrambling into the plane as Amber leapt out and fired off a rapid barrage of archon busters at the soldiers. She was faster than any of them, but she still took a few scathing shots to her armored skin. And then she too was dancing away and fairly flew into the waiting plane, which began to wheel away.

“Time to go, Bryce!” Liam called through his com.

But when they glanced his way, they knew there was no way their ally could reach them. He had compromised his position in a hectic melee with an acolyte that forced him into the open, and he was being quickly surrounded. He dashed for cover, nearly losing his head in the process, but he gained a moment’s reprieve from the action.

“Go!” he yelled at them. “Go without me!”

“Not an option!” Liam yelled back, but in his heart, he knew it was the only course they could take.

Then suddenly, several of the soldiers crowding Bryce’s cover went down, and the rest were sent scrambling. Amber and Liam turned to see that Courtney had leapt from the plane and was hiding behind an old engine with her machine pistol in hand.

“Court! Get back in the plane, now!” Amber scolded.

She rushed to help, but before she could exit the plane, several shots clipped her, and she was forced to jump back. Then she watched helplessly as several of the soldiers turned on Courtney and locked her down, but they were caught between her and Bryce, and when he fired on their flank, Courtney was able to return fire again. It gave Bryce the break he needed to find cover and move toward the plane. Amber saw her chance as well and leapt into the fray.

She hit the dirt just as a blinding blaze of yellow-green light slammed to the ground, unleashing a massive shockwave of green energy. When the wave hit her, she felt the pain of a thousand strikes assault her all at once. Only Teijurzi prevented her from succumbing to the mana attack and losing it all, but she was still thrown back several dozen feet before finding her feet and skidded to a three-point stance.

Courtney was not so lucky.

Though she withstood the mana attack without ill effect, the shockwave from Wu’laujan’s meteoric landing threw her from her feet. Amber looked up just in time to see her hurtle forcefully into a steel post. With a sharp crack, she crumpled to the ground, broken at an awkward angle from the impact.

“No!” Amber screamed and began moving with a speed that no other human could possibly match.

She rushed forward, firing her pistol rapidly until the clip was empty. Though she barely even noticed the effects of her own fury, several of the soldiers were heavily injured, and even Wu’laujan was forced back from the rapid, impossibly accurate barrage of seeking archon busters.

Amber skidded to a stop where Courtney lay, and lifted her broken form upright. Her wife groaned weakly as she was moved, but she managed a pained smile.

“Hi, honey,” she whispered, but it came out garbled as she hacked and spit up blood.

“Courtney,” was all Amber could reply, and tears came to her eyes, blurring her vision. “Please, no! Stay with me.”

Courtney coughed again and grabbed at Amber’s neck, but there was no strength left in her hand. She smiled softly again. “Okay. I think I’m gonna be okay. It doesn’t hurt anymore. I just feel cold. Why is it so cold here?”

Amber saw Courtney’s eyes begin to lose focus and knew it near the end. “No,” she whispered.

Although it would do no good, she flooded her wife with the yellow healing mana of Teijurzi in irrational desperation. Even when she saw the energy enter Courtney and the complete lack of effect, she couldn’t stop herself. She continued the healing long after the mana saturation would do more harm than good. And when she ran out of Teijurzi’s energy, she tried again using the last of the green mana she had taken from Wu’laujan years ago. Only after she felt the Void creeping in from emptying herself of all her mana did she stop, and at that moment she felt something otherworldly coming for her, but her emotions were too strong and pushed it away. She just had to stay in that moment.

Courtney was the one friend that had always been there for her, even when Courtney was majorly fucking up the rest of her own life. And Amber had helped her find the right, moral path. They had saved each other and had grown together. They became best friends and lovers, not necessarily in that order, and then they realized that they were soul mates. If there was one person Amber couldn’t live her life without, it was the beautiful woman being held in her arms at the moment. Only losing her son could have possibly been worse for her.

“Please, please, please,” she said, weeping. “Don’t leave me, please.”

Courtney tried to say more, she tried to tell Amber that she still loved her more than anything, and though Amber saw it in those deep brown eyes, the words themselves were inaudible.

Although Amber was one of the most skilled and powerful vessels on the planet, especially when it came to healing, even her skill and determination had no effect on the untouchable wild card. She watched helplessly as Courtney’s smile faded and her eyes glazed over and became absolutely still. All she could do then was wrap her arms around her lost wife and weep.

“No, please, no,” she sobbed. “I love you so much, Courtney. I always did. I’m so sorry for bringing you into this. I‘m so…”

She didn’t know how long she stayed there, but it couldn’t have been long before she somehow realized that she was still on a battlefield, and Courtney’s killer was still there waiting for some just retribution. She wiped the tears from her eyes and gritted her teeth. With steadfast determination, she rose to her feet and whirled around, bringing her gun to bear. Yet even before she finished her turn, her hand was caught in a crushing grip. The pain from the hold caused her to yelp and lose her weapon. Wu’laujan grinned wickedly at her before flinging her forward and to the ground. Amber hit hard, but was able to roll and turn, coming up facing Wu’laujan again and pointing her spare gun at the deadly archon. She was keenly aware that she was now surrounded by several of the soldiers that had their sights on her as well.

“Remember when we first met, my Western flower?,” Wu’laughan taunted. “You were such an exquisite beauty, but you were poison to me. You crushed my dreams of creating a utopia across all China. You and the yáng guǐzi. Now that I have taken from you what you held most dear, we are even.”

 “Your ‘army of light’ would have sacrificed millions of innocent people in your effort to cleanse the land. You are mad, Wu’laujan. And though I will surely fall today, I’m taking you down with me.”

“Oh, don’t be so pitiful, flower. There is no need for you to die here today. You have foolishly wasted all your mana, and as you can see, I now have a new army to direct. I have taken my vengeance on you and will not harm you further, though I do still need you to track down the yáng guǐzi for me – and you will,” the archon promised.

Amber wiped new tears from her eyes to clear her vision. “I would rather die,” she said.

As she flexed her finger, preparing to go down in a blaze of glory, she felt a new presence at her back and knew that Jornell had arrived. She didn’t know if it was the gravity of the situation or the presence of his demoralizing mana, but suddenly she was filled with utter dread, and her hand froze.

The fight left her.

 

The humans were moving carefully in the morning light that spilled through the large windows – too carefully. Wu’laujan squinted her eyes as she observed them going about their tasks. She scanned their movements through the hotel floor that they occupied. Then she focused her gaze on the center rooms of the floor. Her eyes filled with mana, and her vision shifted to a broader range of the light spectrum, allowing her to see with sight beyond sight.

The skeletal frames of the humans around her became visible even through the hotel walls. But there was something missing. The rooms down the hall were noticeably empty.

She stalked forward, toward one of the men. He attempted to skirt to the side and avoid her, but she turned quickly and seized him by the throat. It took only a second for her mana to infiltrate him and capture his attention completely.

When Wu’laujan released him and stood back, she was surrounded by several other mercenaries with their guns drawn on her. If she was concerned by that, she didn’t let it show. She merely looked on the one she had touched and allowed him to recover.

“You will tell me where Miss Keating and your commanders have gone,” she said coolly.

“They left. They’re gone, mistress,” he said dutifully and without hesitation.

“What the hell did you do to him?” one of the others yelled.

Wu’laujan smirked behind the long hair shadowing her face and balanced on the balls of her feet, ready to spring into action. But before she acted, another individual entered the open area at the end of the wide hall.

“What is this about?” Jornell’s voice echoed down the hallway.

Several of the guns turned from the dangerous woman among them and pointed at the newcomer. They shifted uneasily, wondering if they could possibly live through the encounter if the otherworldly spirits in the guises of human beings became violent. They had many guns and several explosives, but the ones before them had shown the ability to resist even the most deadly harms.

“Miss Keating and her advisors have left us,” Wu’laujan explained. “We would like to know where.”

“Impossible!” Jornell, breathed under his breath. Several of the men cocked their guns.

“We don’t know. You’d think they’d trust us with that intel around the likes of you?” one of them said.

“No,” Jornell said calmly. “You speak the truth. Miss Keating would not make such an obvious mistake. That means you do not know anything useful to me.” He looked upon them icily. “So, now you die.”

“No!” Wu’laujan said quickly before anyone could act. “Allow me.”

She exploded into motion, darting toward one of the soldiers surrounding her and hitting him cleanly in the chest before he could react, but she did not have the opportunity to strike again. As several shots rang out at her, she quickly reversed direction and leapt airborne toward her next target, twisting in the air to avoid their automatic fire.

She continued to dart among her enemies, erratically selecting one after the next and never staying on one target long enough to be pinned down by their furious gunfire. And though the humans could barely see it, her movements trailed a thin stream of green mana in her wake. Had they been able to look down upon the conflict from above, they would have realized that her movements were far from random.

She was drawing an intricate symbol over the battleground in green mana with her fleet assault. When she was satisfied with her design, she leapt to the very center of the fray, dragging one of the soldiers with her. She struck him several times across his chest, her flurry of blows following the same pattern she had drawn over the area – an exact replica.

“Remarkable,” Jornell whispered, clearly impressed with the small archon’s capability.

By then, many of soldiers she had struck recovered and leveled their weapons at Wu’laujan, firing a hail of bullets that would take down even a powerful archon such as her. But she jumped straight into the air above them toward the high ceiling. They would have likely gunned her down, except the man below her began to convulse and shake. He opened his mouth to scream, yet all that came forth was a vibrant green light. Then his skin rippled and cracked, shedding more light, until he exploded in a nova blast of green mana that washed over the entire room and down the hall.

The men were launched through the air and thudded heavily into the walls. Even Jornell was forced back several steps by the wave’s intensity. Wu’laujan landed a second later in the spot where she had jumped, though the man that was standing there was nowhere to be seen. Despite Jornell’s expectations, the rest of the men began to pull themselves to their feet.

At first he was pleased to see that the weaker archon was unable to finish the job, but then Jornell saw the truth in her complex design.

As one, the men each bent a knee before Wu’laujan. “We serve, mistress.”

Wu’laujan smiled again, and her gaze seemed to mock the other archon as she sauntered toward him. Her new disciples rose and followed her, walking with more purpose and bearing than they ever had before.

“The balance of power here seems to have shifted,” she said as she passed her companion.

The potency of the energy emanating from her small army was astonishing even to an archon such as Jornell. And it was clear the men no longer held any fear of the powerful spirit.

 

*****

 

“Help! Bryce, you have help me! I can’t wake her up!” Courtney said as Bryce and Liam rushed through the door in the early morning.

Bryce took a close look at Amber lying asleep on the bed and narrowed his eyes. She seemed to be sleeping fitfully, but she was obviously heavily engrossed in something that was not part of the waking world.

“She’s having one of those archon dreams again, but she won’t wake up this time,” Courtney said, frantically. “You have to help her!”

Bryce tentatively laid a hand on Amber’s head. Immediately he felt the sense of urgency in her. There was unrest and turmoil in her thoughts, but also a keen attention and longing for whatever she sought. Unlike the last few times when she was assaulted in the night, the voices prying at her mind from the darkness were there, but they were not her focus. When he pulled his hand back, he spoke calmly.

“Easy. She is not under duress at the moment. She remains asleep because it is what she wishes. She is using her seeker sight. That is why you could not wake her,” he explained.

“But… why?” Courtney asked.

“She may tell us when she wakes,” he said.

It was only a few minutes later when Amber began to stir. She woke quickly and flooded herself with Teijurzi to further freshen herself in haste. She looked around at her friends crowding her on the bed and smiled briefly.

“Thank you, but I’m fine. We have to move. Now,” she said seriously.

She didn’t wait for them to respond. She started getting up and gathering her things, but Courtney got in her face.

“Amber, what is it?” she asked.

“I’ll explain on the way,” Amber replied. She looked briefly at Bryce and Liam before ordering, “Go!”

With a lasting look, both Bryce and Liam hurried from the room and rushed back to their own. They immediately began grabbing their gear and packing up, heeding the obvious urgency in Amber’s command.

“What do you think it is?” Liam asked Bryce. “You think she found Enzo Ruiz?”

“I do not know, but it appears that must be imminent,” Bryce replied.

He took a moment to pause his preparations and focused his mana on his seeker sight. Then he scanned around himself, using his gift to see much farther beyond the hotel walls. Suddenly, he saw what Amber must have perceived in her dream.

“By Allah! We have to move! Now!” he exclaimed.

Liam didn’t stop stowing his gear, but he asked, “What? What is it, man?”

“The archons are close,” Bryce said, resuming his own packing effort, though he had less equipment than Liam and caught up quickly. “Here, in the city. They must have arrived last night while we slept.” He pulled a new shirt on over his head and hastily stuffed the last of his clothes into his bag. “They have enacted some sort of powerful ritual across town. No doubt they will be able find us, shortly. We must go.”

Just then, there was a fervent pounding on their door. Bryce hauled his bags onto his shoulder and answered it, seeing Amber there waiting, and it looked like she was dragging Courtney by the hand.

“Come on, aren’t you ready yet?” she asked impatiently.

“Yes, let’s go,” Bryce replied and hustled out the door with Liam following him.

Amber didn’t wait for them. She hustled down the hall at a brisk walk. It took several seconds for he and Liam to catch up. They didn’t speak until they were out of the hotel and on the street, heading east toward the port.

“I saw,” Bryce broke the silence at last. “What is it they were doing?”

“I don’t know, but it was Wu’laujan, or whatever she is calling herself now. A rather complex use of mana, far beyond my ability to decipher, but she has somehow made a small, powerful force of acolytes – and somehow I doubt they will be the pushovers we encountered before.”

They continued to rush down the street as Liam fiddled with his tablet. They moved swiftly, though they were careful not to break into a run that would surely draw attention to themselves. Finally, they had the port in sight, and Amber called a halt.

“You sure you can make this work?” she asked, looking at Liam and then Bryce.

“Only one way to find out,” Liam said in the most cheerful voice he could muster.

Then he opened the door to an old sedan parked on the side of the street. Bryce looked around with a scrutinizing gaze to make sure there were no prying eyes intent on them before reaching his hand into the car. A mix of yellow and green mana, borrowed from Amber, flowed from his hand. In less than a minute, a perfect replica of himself could be seen sitting in the backseat of the car. Though he looked drained, Bryce took a deep breath and extended his hand again. He repeated the process, until illusions of Amber, Liam, and Courtney sat in the seats as well.

“Alright, it is done. That is all I have,” he said, taking heavy breaths.

Amber laid a hand on his shoulder, filling him with more of Teijurzi’s yellow mana and refreshing his fatigue as well. “Good job, Bryce. They’ll fool anyone from a distance.”

Liam pulled up an app on his tablet and pressed a series of buttons on the screen, and the car started up.  Then it pulled away from the edge of the street and began driving down the rest of the way toward the docks. The team ducked into a side alley, watching it go for a few seconds, and then they began a hustled journey north. Courtney took hold of Liam’s shoulder and guided him along as he focused on the remote that operated the decoy car. At the other end of the alley, another car waited for them.

Liam, Courtney, and Amber hunkered down in the back of the small vehicle under blankets while Bryce drove the car, still using his altered, Brazilian disguise. Only after they had been on the road for several minutes without incident, did they begin to breathe a little easier.

“How much farther?” Amber asked.

“Soon,” Bryce explained. “But you know they will have eyes at the airstrip, yes?”

“Yeah, but the decoy car should have been spotted by now at the docks. We can only hope it draws most of their men there first,” Liam said, still looking at his tablet under the blanket.

“Liam, did you call ahead to get the plane prepped?” Amber asked.

“Yeah, it should be ready to go when we get there.”

Finally, the small airstrip nestled among the residential district on the city’s northern edge came into sight. Bryce parked the car on the street just down the road and took a long moment to scan the entrance. Only when he was satisfied, did he turned the engine off.

“There are no acolytes about, but they will likely have mercenaries here, anyway,” Bryce informed them.

“Okay, let’s go,” Amber said.

They exited the car and began gathering their things, but they didn’t speak much. Tensions were still high, and they would be until they were in the air. As they walked toward the building, Amber suddenly stopped and looked back the way they had come. She narrowed her eyes for a moment before turning back to the others.

“Move! Acolytes heading this way!” she urged them.

They broke into a run and entered the building just seconds before two cars jumped the curb and skidded to a stop in front of the door. Mercenary soldiers, filled with more mana than they had any right to be able to control, burst from the doors and began running with extraordinary speed. They entered the doorway and were greeted with automatic gunfire from both Courtney and Bryce, but it didn’t bring them down. It only slowed their advance until they could find cover. Even Amber’s precise seeking bullets only slowed them, though she was sure one of them went down.

Amber’s team took the opportunity to exit out the back of the building.

“We can’t stay here long!” Amber warned. “They will be able to circle around and flank us!”

“Get to the planes and use them for cover,” Bryce offered. “Liam, get our plane going while we hold them back.”

The rest of them nodded their agreement, and Amber shot two more seeking bullets through the doorway before following the rest of them. Bryce, Amber, and Courtney slid behind a small plane and turned to fire their guns just as four more acolytes came around the side of the building. Two went down from Amber’s seeker bullets and another staggered under the heavy fire from Bryce and Courtney. But the exchange allowed Liam to get into the small Cessna 208 Caravan that they had bought a few days ago for just this occasion.

Before they could disposed of the rest of the acolytes, more emerged from the doorway and returned fire at Amber’s team. They were now under pressure from two directions and it would be difficult to keep their foes from gaining ground on them and flanking them.

“We have to move,” Bryce complained. “They will surround us.”

“Just a little bit longer, guys,” Liam said through their earpieces. “Keep them off me.”

With a grunt, Bryce leapt and dashed between the planes to secure a better location and prevent the inevitable enemy movements. He cursed a few times as he was hit in his mad dash, but when he stopped, he realized that most of the wounds were not mortal and were resisted by his mana-hardened skin. Still, he should not have been hit nearly as many times. The acolytes were surely augmented with enhanced reflexes and dexterity – or an exceptional amount of luck. He wouldn’t count on it being the latter.

Amber, Courtney, and Bryce exchanged fire with the acolytes for another minute before Bryce suddenly found himself face-to-face with a charging acolyte. The man smashed into him, and both of them went to the ground. Bryce expected to shove the man off with his increased strength, but the acolyte just pushed on and bored him to the ground. He knew that he desperately needed to get out from under the man or his position would be compromised and Amber and Courtney would be surrounded, yet the acolyte was certainly stronger than him.

So Bryce used his wits and drew a small black knife from his hip. He couldn’t get a good stab into the man’s vital regions, but a quick slice along his leg caused him to cry out and loosen his hold. In the brief moment of confusion, he kicked out and slid away from him. The acolyte reacted quickly and followed. Bryce dove under another plane, expecting the acolyte to follow, and when he did, Bryce suddenly skirted to the side and kicked the plane’s wheel, shifting it slightly. The acolyte’s charge was much stronger and uncoordinated, overdosed on more mana from Wu’laujan than he could properly handle. He slammed into the wheel support, and it was crushed. The empowered brute cursed Bryce, and vowed to tear him apart, until the plane itself came crashing down on top him. Bryce dove from the crash just a moment before several tons of metal smashed to the ground, crushing the acolyte.

He knew he didn’t have time to celebrate his victory. He grabbed the man’s fallen assault rifle and pointed it at the other acolytes trying to move in on him. It was then he saw a bright radiance of yellow-green light far in the distance, but heading his way at impossible speed.

 

*****

 

Amber and Courtney hunkered down together behind the same plane, trying desperately to keep the enemy soldiers from advancing on them. No matter how much lead they threw at them, the acolyte soldiers kept coming, darting between storage boxes and other planes to close the distance. Several times they were struck by shots from Amber or Courtney in their reckless movements, but it just slowed them down. Only Amber’s seeking bullets were making any headway, and even then some of the acolytes were able to withstand the shots with rapid movements that intercepted her shots or caused them to strike non-vital areas.

“They’re not going down!” Courtney yelled to Amber.

“How many archon busters do we have left?” Amber asked.

“Not enough for all of them! What if the archons show up?”

“If we don’t get out of here soon, it won’t matter anyway! Break ‘em out!” Amber yelled and changed the clip in her gun.

Courtney did the same and was satisfied when she took a shot and saw one of her targets finally hit the ground. The wild card-infused  bullets certainly made a difference, and a few more soldiers went down before they were forced to modify their tactics.

“It’s working!” Courtney yelled. “But we’re gonna run out of ammo!”

Then Amber looked into the distance, beyond the soldiers, and saw what she was dreading. A pinpoint of yellow-green light was rapidly approaching. “Liam! We have to go now!”

“I’m on it!” he shouted, and only moments later, the plane’s engine roared to life.

“Go, Courtney!” Amber shouted over the engine noise. “I’ll cover you!”

Courtney wasted no time scrambling into the plane as Amber leapt out and fired off a rapid barrage of archon busters at the soldiers. She was faster than any of them, but she still took a few scathing shots to her armored skin. And then she too was dancing away and fairly flew into the waiting plane, which began to wheel away.

“Time to go, Bryce!” Liam called through his com.

But when they glanced his way, they knew there was no way their ally could reach them. He had compromised his position in a hectic melee with an acolyte that forced him into the open, and he was being quickly surrounded. He dashed for cover, nearly losing his head in the process, but he gained a moment’s reprieve from the action.

“Go!” he yelled at them. “Go without me!”

“Not an option!” Liam yelled back, but in his heart, he knew it was the only course they could take.

Then suddenly, several of the soldiers crowding Bryce’s cover went down, and the rest were sent scrambling. Amber and Liam turned to see that Courtney had leapt from the plane and was hiding behind an old engine with her machine pistol in hand.

“Court! Get back in the plane, now!” Amber scolded.

She rushed to help, but before she could exit the plane, several shots clipped her, and she was forced to jump back. Then she watched helplessly as several of the soldiers turned on Courtney and locked her down, but they were caught between her and Bryce, and when he fired on their flank, Courtney was able to return fire again. It gave Bryce the break he needed to find cover and move toward the plane. Amber saw her chance as well and leapt into the fray.

She hit the dirt just as a blinding blaze of yellow-green light slammed to the ground, unleashing a massive shockwave of green energy. When the wave hit her, she felt the pain of a thousand strikes assault her all at once. Only Teijurzi prevented her from succumbing to the mana attack and losing it all, but she was still thrown back several dozen feet before finding her feet and skidded to a three-point stance.

Courtney was not so lucky.

Though she withstood the mana attack without ill effect, the shockwave from Wu’laujan’s meteoric landing threw her from her feet. Amber looked up just in time to see her hurtle forcefully into a steel post. With a sharp crack, she crumpled to the ground, broken at an awkward angle from the impact.

“No!” Amber screamed and began moving with a speed that no other human could possibly match.

She rushed forward, firing her pistol rapidly until the clip was empty. Though she barely even noticed the effects of her own fury, several of the soldiers were heavily injured, and even Wu’laujan was forced back from the rapid, impossibly accurate barrage of seeking archon busters.

Amber skidded to a stop where Courtney lay, and lifted her broken form upright. Her wife groaned weakly as she was moved, but she managed a pained smile.

“Hi, honey,” she whispered, but it came out garbled as she hacked and spit up blood.

“Courtney,” was all Amber could reply, and tears came to her eyes, blurring her vision. “Please, no! Stay with me.”

Courtney coughed again and grabbed at Amber’s neck, but there was no strength left in her hand. She smiled softly again. “Okay. I think I’m gonna be okay. It doesn’t hurt anymore. I just feel cold. Why is it so cold here?”

Amber saw Courtney’s eyes begin to lose focus and knew it near the end. “No,” she whispered.

Although it would do no good, she flooded her wife with the yellow healing mana of Teijurzi in irrational desperation. Even when she saw the energy enter Courtney and the complete lack of effect, she couldn’t stop herself. She continued the healing long after the mana saturation would do more harm than good. And when she ran out of Teijurzi’s energy, she tried again using the last of the green mana she had taken from Wu’laujan years ago. Only after she felt the Void creeping in from emptying herself of all her mana did she stop, and at that moment she felt something otherworldly coming for her, but her emotions were too strong and pushed it away. She just had to stay in that moment.

Courtney was the one friend that had always been there for her, even when Courtney was majorly fucking up the rest of her own life. And Amber had helped her find the right, moral path. They had saved each other and had grown together. They became best friends and lovers, not necessarily in that order, and then they realized that they were soul mates. If there was one person Amber couldn’t live her life without, it was the beautiful woman being held in her arms at the moment. Only losing her son could have possibly been worse for her.

“Please, please, please,” she said, weeping. “Don’t leave me, please.”

Courtney tried to say more, she tried to tell Amber that she still loved her more than anything, and though Amber saw it in those deep brown eyes, the words themselves were inaudible.

Although Amber was one of the most skilled and powerful vessels on the planet, especially when it came to healing, even her skill and determination had no effect on the untouchable wild card. She watched helplessly as Courtney’s smile faded and her eyes glazed over and became absolutely still. All she could do then was wrap her arms around her lost wife and weep.

“No, please, no,” she sobbed. “I love you so much, Courtney. I always did. I’m so sorry for bringing you into this. I‘m so…”

She didn’t know how long she stayed there, but it couldn’t have been long before she somehow realized that she was still on a battlefield, and Courtney’s killer was still there waiting for some just retribution. She wiped the tears from her eyes and gritted her teeth. With steadfast determination, she rose to her feet and whirled around, bringing her gun to bear. Yet even before she finished her turn, her hand was caught in a crushing grip. The pain from the hold caused her to yelp and lose her weapon. Wu’laujan grinned wickedly at her before flinging her forward and to the ground. Amber hit hard, but was able to roll and turn, coming up facing Wu’laujan again and pointing her spare gun at the deadly archon. She was keenly aware that she was now surrounded by several of the soldiers that had their sights on her as well.

“Remember when we first met, my Western flower?,” Wu’laughan taunted. “You were such an exquisite beauty, but you were poison to me. You crushed my dreams of creating a utopia across all China. You and the yáng guǐzi. Now that I have taken from you what you held most dear, we are even.”

 “Your ‘army of light’ would have sacrificed millions of innocent people in your effort to cleanse the land. You are mad, Wu’laujan. And though I will surely fall today, I’m taking you down with me.”

“Oh, don’t be so pitiful, flower. There is no need for you to die here today. You have foolishly wasted all your mana, and as you can see, I now have a new army to direct. I have taken my vengeance on you and will not harm you further, though I do still need you to track down the yáng guǐzi for me – and you will,” the archon promised.

Amber wiped new tears from her eyes to clear her vision. “I would rather die,” she said.

As she flexed her finger, preparing to go down in a blaze of glory, she felt a new presence at her back and knew that Jornell had arrived. She didn’t know if it was the gravity of the situation or the presence of his demoralizing mana, but suddenly she was filled with utter dread, and her hand froze.

The fight left her.

Chapter 30 of Whispers from the Void, part of the Archon Saga! 

Any advice or feedback you have for me is greatly appreciated. This story will be updated weekly.

______________________________

First: Whispers from the Void - Prologue
Next: Whispers from the Void - Chapter 31
Chapters: Whispers from the Void
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