Wind Ruler by TC Marti

The following contains the first six chapters of Wind Ruler (Elementals of Nordica, Book IV). Wind Ruler is set to be released on May 1st, 2023 on all the main online bookstore platforms.

Chapter One

World of Dreams

Sion Zona stumbled from Valk Siskonen and the others as his boots touched the earthen floor in the sanctuary. Thankfully, the Firebirds did not re-station soldiers here, but they would sooner than later. Once they found out two of their own decayed near the archway. 

Ow!” a voice moaned. 

To his right, Lalisa laid on the ground, writhing, and clutching her arm. Timo, having also lost his footing, landed on top of her. 

Sion pulled his gargantuan cousin off Lalisa’s petite frame, knelt beside the injured girl, and held her broken arm in place, waving Valk and Jenn over. 

Jenn fumbled with the sling over Lalisa’s shoulder and guided the girl’s arm back into it. “Her arm’s shattered. Like, they said she needed surgery or else it would have some major permanent damage.”

Reading between the lines, major permanent damage to Sion meant they felt Lalisa could end up losing her arm. 

Tash also knelt beside Lalisa and examined her. Every time she felt another portion of the arm, Lalisa winced, yelping twice. 

“She needs immediate surgery. I’m guessing she’s suffered some major internal damage, like nerves and all.” Tash drew a breath and looked toward the swirling archway. 

“You thinking what I know you’re thinking?” Shia said, approaching. 

Tash nodded. “Listen, there’s a secret city called City Five-Oh-One in Bastille. It’s a long story, and they’re located a long way away, but they have doctors who can treat Lalisa.”

Jenn shot Tash a glare. “You said immediate surgery.”  

“Raj, Shia, Mai, Liri, and Su can take turns taking us there and I can guide us. Really, if we cover two hundred miles apiece, we’ll be there in hardly any time.” 

Sion looked at Valk. “Can you help her at all?”

Valk shook her head as an uncertain look crossed her face. “There’s…no internal bleeding.”

“I used to be a medic.” Tash continued to feel Lalisa’s arm in different places, causing the latter’s groans to echo off the walls. “It’s beyond shattered,” she whispered. “We need to leave now if she has any hope of using her arm again, let alone saving it.” 

“She’s also been starved and dehydrated,“ Rosie said, standing behind Tash. “And I’m sure this fight didn’t do her any favors.” 

“Lalisa,” Sion grabbed the girl’s free hand,  “can you shift, like Shia?”

Tears streaming, Lalisa shook her head. 

“She’s a New-Level Spirit Master,” Shia said. “Takes, well, let’s just say a specific niche within the element to shift.”

Sion drew a breath. “I’m not hot on just breaking through that archway. You know it leads to a Bastille base, Tash.”

She nodded. “But there are no wards there, remember? We can get in there and immediately get out.”

“There were no wards then. It’s been almost six months.” 

“Sion, what other option do we got?” Valk gestured to the bodies. “I’m sure the Firebirds are already trying to contact their dead friends.”

“It’s either we take our chances or we stay here and wait for them to find us,” Raj said. 

Mai stepped forward. “Can someone explain to me what’s going on?”

It took Sion a minute to fill Mai in on the Five Worlds and that Tash was technically born in the World of Rondure, where the archway led. He took the same archway from Rondure in December after escaping capture twice within a span of hours. 

Mai’s eyes widened before she scoffed. “Another fact Tamuria hid from me.”

“You and about a billion others in the empire.” Sion turned back to Tash. “We need to be smart about this, alright? What if the place is warded?”

Shia cocked her head. “Then we gotta fight our way out.”

Sion drew his sword before returning it to his sheath. “Here.” He knelt, placed one hand under Lalisa’s shoulder blades, the other below the back of her knees, and cradled her, leaning back to ease the girl’s head against his chest. “There you go, Lalisa,” he whispered, in a voice so soothing he surprised even himself, “we’re going to get that arm back in shape, okay?”

“Sion, you should really let Timo or someone take her,” Raj said. “We may need you.”

Sion waved her off. The last thing he needed was that bumbling idiot cousin of his to cause further damage. “I’d feel best if she didn’t leave my sight. I’m not being arrogant, but as the strongest link here, I want our weakest with me. Lalisa, no offense.”

Despite the pain in her almond-shaped eyes, Lalisa threw him a hinted smile, pain vanishing from her expression for a half-second. 

“Tash, lead the way. You know your motherland better than we do. Raj, to her left, Erno, her right. Liri, behind Tash. The rest of you, line up behind her. I’ll take the rear.” 

Adjusting Lalisa in one arm, Sion slid off his famed Shield of Suomi and dropped it into Raj’s hands, knowing she may evoke its powers because of their budding knowledge of this connection of theirs via the Vihri Prophecy

Once in formation, Tash dipped through the archway before the others followed, with Sion carrying Lalisa in the center. 

A darkened room met his vision as his boots touched the cement floor. It was so dark, Lalisa squeaked as Sion ran into something solid, which given the girth of the silhouette in front of him, looked like Timo’s massive backside. 

“Timo, I swear I’m ending you, rolling your ashes into a joint, and finding a Wood Master here to take over if you hurt Lalisa again,” Sion said, voice low. 

Timo grunted something that sounded like, “shut your face,” and beelined ahead with the others. 

Something like a torch erupted in front of him that turned out to be flames from Raj’s bronze-hilted Sword of Fire. Another ember ignited from Mai’s sword. 

“Looks like they abandoned the place,” Liri said. 

“I’m not going to be so certain,” Tash said. “Bastille loves to play mind games.”

“I don’t know,” Erno said. “This place looks like it’s been abandoned for years.”

“Not logical,” Hannah said. “We escaped back to Eidolon through it six months ago.” 

Guys, we need to keep our voices down,” Sion said, his tone one notch above a whisper. 

“There’s no one here,” Shia said. “I ain’t feeling no vibes or nothing. Living vibes, anyway. No, wait. Someone is nearby.” Her darkened outline stepped to the front, where she conversed with Raj before walking back to Sion. “You and Raj need to go ahead, and Erno, vibes telling me you’re needed too.”

Erno tossed Shia a confused look. 

“Seriously, you all need to trust me on this one.” 

Sion caught Erno’s eye and shrugged. “Can Lalisa come?”

“Please,” Shia said. 

Raj narrowed her eyes. “Okay, but where are we headed?”

“Main entrance. Keep going straight and you’ll find it. Rest of us will watch that archway.”

“Why?” Sion said. 

Shia’s face screwed up as though she were having difficulty memorizing something. “Spirits all over the place in here and I ain’t getting nothing good. But right now, you all need to get outta this base and see what’s up. Tash, you need to go too, now that I think of it.”

How do you know this?” Sion said. 

“Spirit vibes tingling. Again, trust me on this one. We’ll keep watch for the Firebirds.”

“She’s evolving again,” Erno said, the second Sion joined him, Raj, and Tash. “There’s no way she’d have known this before that Amira girl or whoever she was tried to blow her face off.”

Sion shrugged. “I don’t know about you all, but I’m kind of weirded out myself. I mean, I knew Shia’s one heck of a Spirit Master. But why so cryptic?”

“Yeah, I felt the same,” Raj said, feeling around the wall. “Tash, I think they ward these things now.”

Thought that might happen,” Sion said. 

“Well, we can’t confirm it was Bastille,” Tash said. 

Erno arched an eyebrow. “If it wasn’t Bastille warding these, then who?” 

Tash directed her alloy-hilted Sword of Metal at the structure, which creaked open, unveiling a smog-ridden sky above the tree line leading to the dead forest. “I don’t know, but they’re not the strongest Metal Masters if I can unward them.” 

“Tash, you were inducted into the Nine. Your combat level rose to Master Status not long after.” 

“True…” 

Raj’s face fell as she stepped into the Nation of Bastille’s dead atmosphere. “Goodness, this place looks like something out of a post-apocalyptic novel. Whoa.”

Whoa was right. Outside the confines of this base sat an encampment of no fewer than a couple thousand people. 

“What in the freaking World of Rondure?” Sion said. “Why would they be out there?”

Lalisa coughed. “They’re okay,” she said, voice growing raspy. “Or else Shia wouldn’t have had you come.”

Raj, Erno, and Tash threw the girl a wide-eyed look before Sion shrugged and nodded ahead. 

“Lali’s right,” he said, massaging Lalisa’s good shoulder. “They’re not Bastille soldiers. That’s not Bastille’s flag.”

A royal blue flag bearing a horned deity over two crossing white and gold swords flew twenty-five feet above the settlement. 

Sion didn’t take two steps forward before three women, all bearing similar facial features to Lalisa with fawn skin and almond-shaped eyes, emerged, staring them down. 

Tash’s eyes widened as she gaped at the girl on the right. “Come on.”

Raj threw Sion a confused look and he shook his head while Tash sprinted toward the three girls. 

He half-expected each to draw swords from their sheaths, but the girl on the right jogged toward them, meeting Tash halfway and embracing her as though she were a long-lost sister. 

The puzzlement on Raj’s face grew, but Sion strode ahead. 

“We need help for our friend,” he said, as a greeting to the girl embracing Tash. “Tash here said something about a City Five-Zero-One?”

The girl, who he noticed was missing a pinky, threw a single glance at Lalisa and nodded. “We can help your friend. Tash says you have others inside the old City Ten Base?”

“Yeah, like another ten.”

“I’ll send Amiya in. She can communicate with other Spirit Masters via telepathy, if you have any?”

“Her name’s Shia,” Sion said to a short girl with dark red hair tied into pigtails who he took to be Amiya. “And I’m Sion. Sion Zona.”

“Mina Hirai.” She nodded to Tash. “We’ve known one another for a few years. Taking part in this budding Insurrexxion together.”

Tash smiled and nodded, before acknowledging a girl who resembled Mina in most aspects. Sion noticed that girl, too, was also missing a pinky, but on the opposite hand. 

“Oh, this is my twin sister,” Mina said, “Asuka Nakamoto.”

Sion’s eyebrows furrowed at Asuka before he turned back to Mina. “You’re twins and you have different last names?”

“It’s a long story,” Mina said. “I’ll fill you in. But it ends with,” she gestured to the encampment behind her, “City Five-Oh-One in its latest location, capturing that base before we ran into resistance.”

Sion raised his eyebrows as he followed Mina to the settlement. “What kind of resistance?”

“Maroon cloaks.”

“Firebirds,” Erno said. “We’re lucky enough to be on their bad side.”

“Yeah, we are.” Sion entered the premises with a million questions formulating. If maroon-cloaked Firebirds tried to invade Rondure over the past six months, their fallen commanders Roku Must-Roosa and Corra Eriksson would have known about this. 

How much did they know that they kept from him?

“I told you everything I knew,” Lalisa said, voice growing fainter. 

“I know you did,” Sion whispered back. 

Mina led them toward a tent featuring a gold cross Sion took as a makeshift medical ward. 

Inside, cots lined the perimeter and the center, where sick and injured, he hesitated to call them soldiers, perhaps militia men and women, lay. 

Mina strode to a cot. “Put her here. You can stay with her if you’d like.”

Lalisa gave the slightest nod and Sion returned a smile, laying the girl on her back. 

“They may need your help if they determine she’s going to need surgery, or anything,” Mina said, nodding to Tash. 

“She’s going to need it,” Tash said, “I already checked her out.”

Sion nodded and interlocked his hand through Lalisa’s. 

“Sion?” Lalisa whispered. 

“Lali?”

“Have you ever,” she narrowed her eyes, “heard voices?”

He stroked the inside of her palm with his thumb. “Voices?”

Another nod. “Like, a voice telling you to do something? Stronger than instincts?”

“I first heard it when I was dying in the back of a van en route to a death sentence. If that makes any sense? It’s been talking to me ever since. More frequently than ever.”

“I-it told me y-you’re o-one in the s-same as it.”

Sion tightened his grip around Lalisa’s hand. “So I’ve heard.”

~ If you go to Terra, I will come. 

Lalisa’s eyes further narrowed and it took Sion not even a second to realize she heard the same thing. Just to confirm—

“If you go to Terra, I will come?”

Eyes closed, Lalisa nodded. 

That’s about as cryptic as it gets. “Who is she?”

“Her…aether…I felt it…”

“Lali?” Sion shook Lalisa’s hand. “Hey, Lali, keep your eyes open for me.”

Lalisa’s head lolled to one side and she said no more. 

Sion’s hand scrambled to Lalisa’s wrist and breathed a sigh of relief. Pulse strong as ever. Thanking Trinity, he held Lalisa’s hand to his lips and kissed it. “Goodness, Lali, don’t scare me like that,” he said, voice low. 

“Hey.” 

Sion whipped around, where Tash approached, dressed in what looked like makeshift surgical attire, complete with a face shield. 

“Mina thought she’d be more comfortable if she had a familiar face look her over.”

“She fell asleep. And aren’t you like nineteen? Why would that Mina girl think it’s a good idea for you to help out here?”

Tash nodded as she checked Lalisa’s vitals. “I worked in the med field since I was sixteen, trained since I was thirteen.” She flicked her thumb toward Mina, who appeared in the opening. “She knows that.”

“And I know a lot about you, Sion Zona,” Mina said. “Come with me.”

“Are you her?” Sion angled his head toward Lalisa. “We heard the same voice.”

Mina raised her eyebrows. “She heard the same voice as me and my sister, and—? That’s strange.”

“Care to explain?”

Erno strode over. 

Sion shook his head. “What’s going on?”

“We need to talk and walk,” Erno said. 

Sion again angled his head toward Lalisa. “I’m not going anywhere until I find out she’s okay. For some odd reason, we’re hearing the same voice and now Mina here and her twin are also hearing the same thing? Dude, something’s up.”

“Yeah, something is up,” Erno said. “I heard it too. And Shia, well, she’s part of this thing more than the rest of us. Ditto for Raj.”

“If you go to Terra, I will come?”

Erno and Mina nodded in unison.

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Chapter Two

The Five

Tash promised Sion she’d update him on Lalisa’s condition in one hour intervals. 

“Not a minute after,” Sion said, as Tash escorted him out of the tent, “I ain’t the kind of guy to keep waiting.” 

“It’s great to see her again, you know?” Mina said. “For a while I thought she was gone for good.” She led him and Erno to a fire where Amiya, Asuka, an unfamiliar man who, if Sion believed in them, he’d think the dude was his doppelganger, and Shia, sat. 

“How does your global superpower not see this?” Erno said, gesturing to the encampment. 

“We’ve taken the entire District,” Mina said, sitting next to Asuka while Sion and Erno parked themselves next to Shia. “Oh, and this is my boyfriend, Rokko Streets.” She pointed to the man, who flicked his wrist in greeting. 

“Someone said you guys need me for something?” a soft voice said from behind. “A tweaky blond kid tracked me down.” 

Rokko scoffed. “Ferguson. Yeah, he’s a bit on the strange side. Caffeine addict if I ever met one.” 

Asuka’s eyes widened. “Ah, yes, Hannah, is it?”

Hannah nodded, an unsure expression on her face as she approached and stood between Sion and Erno. 

“I’m not hearing voices,” she said, eyes darting around the encampment. 

Asuka met Hannah’s uncertain gaze with a warm smile. “I know that. But we still need you for something.” 

Sion grabbed his youngest cousin by the arms and sat her next to him. “Alright, what’s going on that requires all of us?”

Mina gestured to Erno. “You’re hearing the same voices Sion’s hearing because you two have been entwined for a long time.”

Erno raised his eyebrows. 

“Longer than you think. Like me, you’re an Escort of the Five. And Sion is One of the Five.”

Erno’s confused gaze prompted Mina to dive into an explanation. 

“So, the Five are five elementals who stem from each of the Five Worlds. Four from the classical elements, and the fifth from spirit.”

“Okay, wait a minute,” Sion said, “what’s the difference between the Five and the Chosen Nine of Eidolon?”

“The Chosen Nine of Eidolon are only of our world,” Shia said. “The Five are of the Five Worlds.”

Sion twisted his lips. “Is this another one of those there’s so much you still don’t understand moments?”

Shia tightened her lips and nodded. “Starting with the fact you’re One of the Five, like Mina said.”

Sion buried his face in one of his hands. “And how do you know I’m One of the Five?”

“Because you’re hearing a voice that I’ve spoken to in dreams.”

“Well, I’m not as ignorant as I once was. So what’s up?”

“Like Mina said, the Five, their Escorts, and the Keeper of Spirit hear the voice. That voice belongs to the Spirit Master of the Five, located in the World of Terra.”

How did you find that out?”

Shia sneered. “Sion, I grew up on a reserve. I don’t think you realize how much reserve life sucked. Like, there was nothing to do but practice your element and pray to Trinity that Tamuria wasn’t on their way to deliver supplies to catch you in the act.

“As the Keeper of Spirit, as I’d in time, realize, it’s in me to communicate during the Terminal Days.”

Terminal Days?”

“That’s what I said. And right now, Sion, things ain’t looking good for us.”

Mina shook her head. “From what Shia’s telling me, the World of Terra’s succumbing to some awful event and it’s forcing Martial Law in every continent of that world. Martial Law people are demanding. Meanwhile, we’re in a perpetual state of war with Bastille that puts Nordica’s war with Tamuria to shame.”

“And the World of Terrene’s a wasteland,” Sion said. “That leaves Catenary. And we know little about that world.”

Shia waved him off. “It’s not important right now. What is important is that we have two of the Five right here.” She nodded to Asuka. “She’s the Water Master who was hidden in the deepest bowels of the superpower’s prison. Just as the Daughter said.”

“Who is this Daughter? That disembodied voice? I go, she comes?”

Yes. And she’s the voice you’ve been hearing. Problem is, the girl don’t know much about herself.”

“Obviously, she knows a thing or two if she’s relaying accurate information your way.”

“Uh, have you ever had a dream, even a vivid one, and forgot about it the following morning?”

“What does this have to do with the Daughter?”

Another scoff from Shia. “The fact that, for the longest time, the Daughter only communicated when she was sleeping. She very recently figured out how to connect via meditation, though she’s raw at it with me and anyone who’s not her own Escort.” 

“And what’s the Five’s job?”

“To return balance to the Five Worlds. Not just Eidolon. No, Eidolon’s still in the Nine’s hands,” she said, when Sion opened his mouth, “but you and Erno have a bigger job at stake.”

“Okay, for one, what’s balance?”

“Obviously, there’s too much dark energy.”

“So we need to counter it with light energy?”

Shia scrunched her face. “Not always. You just need to balance light with dark.”

“And how do you know that I’m the One?”

“Next to the fact you’re hearing her voice? Daughter told me the Ordained of Eidolon’s Chosen Nine’s final generation is One of the Five.” 

“The final generation? I thought the Nine already saw final generations in the past?”

“Final generations that never went through this.” Shia gestured toward the darkened horizon and nodded to Erno. “Anyway, since he’s hearing the voice too, he’s the Escort, you’re the One.” 

“Oh, he couldn’t wait to let me know he heard her.” Sion flicked his thumb at the tent. “And so is Lalisa.”

Shia’s jaw dropped. She looked as though she wanted to say something, but closed her mouth. Something resembling realization crossed her resigned expression. “We’ll—need to find out why that is.”

“And riddle me this. Why is this Daughter so freaking cryptic with me? Can’t she just spit things out?”

“Because what would you do if she did, Sion?” Hannah said, causing everyone in the circle to throw surprised gazes her way. 

Sion twisted his lips. “What would I do?”

“Probably wouldn’t do much good for the Five Worlds if you had to, I don’t know, sacrifice something?” Shia said. 

What do you know that I don’t?” 

Shia shook her head. “That’s for you to find out and I ain’t saying no more.” 

“Why?”

“‘Cause this is a bridge that’ll burn if you knew.” Shia bit her lip. “Bridge between the Five Worlds that’ll burn. I ain’t saying nothing else ‘cause if I did, you’d cause an inferno.”

“This have something to do with Raj? Because that prophecy said she’d have to choose between virtue and vice and sacrifice something.” 

Shia glanced at Raj before looking back his way. “I’m done talking about it.” 

“What’s with you and Erno acting as Escorts?” Sion said to Mina. “What is an Escort? Any time I hear the term, I think of nightclubs.”

“The Escort is a glorified guard.” Mina held out her hands and a sword manifested in each. “One’s a Sword of Smoke. Obviously, I’ve had it since I reached Master Status.” She indicated the second sword. “This is a Sword of Destiny. It allows me to control three elements. Smoke, water, and blood.”

“So you’re saying Erno can control three different elements?”

Mina nodded. “Earth, wood, and metal, I believe. A Sword of Destiny will manifest for him, too.”

“When?” 

“When the time’s right.” She shot a smile at Asuka. “That’s what it did for me.”  

“What’s this have to do with Hannah?”

Asuka smiled and reached into her cloak pocket, retrieving a stone. “While it works for both of us, I feel you’re better suited for it, Hannah, the Keeper of Water in Eidolon’s Chosen Nine. It’s called Kuun Kivi.” 

Hannah’s olive face glowed as she took the stone, gasping when it shone in an identical way as her Sword of Water’s diamond hilt. 

“So why’re we learning all this now?” Sion said. “I mean, we haven’t even reached our endgame yet in Eidolon and you’re telling me I have to worry about Five Worlds once the Nine restores balance?”

“I’d say during,” Mina said. “It’d be more prudent for you to go to Terrene instead of Eidolon and seek out the Earth Master after you go to Terra.”

“Eidolon’s heading in the same direction as Rondure. Probably worse, given the sheer totalitarianism Tamuria’s surprisingly re-establishing. I mean, we have a lot of reasons to believe they’ve been infiltrating Nordica. Perhaps even influencing our previous two leaders.” 

“Sion, I’m under the impression you’re pretty good at trusting the universe, or the Daughter, over your own impulses.” 

Sion cast a dumbstruck look at Shia. “How much did you tell her?”

“While you was holding Lalisa’s hand in the med ward? A lot.”

“I have my own world to save.”  

“And wouldn’t it be so much better if you had another One in your corner?” a voice said from behind. “I mean, the Daughter gave you a cryptic message, you know? If you go there, she will come.”

Sion whipped around, where Skyra stood, scarred arms folded. “Eavesdropping on us?”

She shook her head and approached. “Passing. I was looking for Liri, but she seems to have run off somewhere. Anyway, Sion, face the fact. The Nordicans don’t like you thanks to Tamuria’s infiltration. They don’t like me, or any of us. It’s why we’re here.”

“You want to unplug people, too,” Hannah said. “It’s not happening hiding out in Rondure from Tamurian-influenced Nordicans who are technically a few hundred yards away from us and have invaded this territory.”

“Under Roku’s orders, it seems,” Raj said. “Unless you got another theory?”

“I find it highly unlikely Roku was working for Tamuria,” Sion said. 

“No one’s sayin’ he was,” Shia said. 

“I also don’t get how some unknown Earth Master from Terrene that is part of this even rarer group called the Five is going to help.”

Skyra rested her hand on Sion’s shoulder. “Sometimes, we need to seek out our higher selves for answers. Especially when we’re, like you’re doing right now, threatening to regress. Remember what I told you when you entered Wind Keeper State?”

“That my mentor wouldn’t be of this world.”

“Exactly.”

“If I go there, she will come and mentor me. Why me and not Asuka?”

Asuka nodded to Sion’s sword. “I’m not at your level yet.”

“Who’s doing the honors and taking me there?” Sion said, sarcasm in his voice. 

Rokko smirked. “I’ll take you straight to an archway in Eidolon that will lead you to a US Military Base.”

Sion raised an eyebrow. “What’s a US?”

“United States of America. The global superpower in the World of Terra. Unlike other superpowers, the US is, let’s just say, controlled by two elemental factions.”

“Who controls this base?”

“No one friendly to us. Luckily, there are Spur soldiers there who know a thing or two about their elemental population and what’s really going on. Thanks to a powerful Wind Master who’s a member of yet another faction that calls themselves the Renegades. They’re the good guys.” 

“Care to tell me what a Spur soldier is?”

“It means non-elemental in Rondure lingo.” 

“Well, I have a history of sneaking into military bases,” Sion said. “What’s one more?”

Mina smiled, but pain rested in her eyes. “You’re going to take care of him for me, right?”

You’re not coming either?”

“The Daughter called on you for this mission, Sion. Not me and therefore, not Asuka. Plus, I’m sure you know the ruse. The fewer who go on this mission with you, the safer you are.”

“You’re telling me it’s in my best interest to leave half my crew here near freaking Nordican, or unwitting Tamurian stooges in maroon cloaks acting like they own that archway?”

Mina nodded, pain in her face growing. 

Sion huffed and turned to Rokko. “Why’s she so bent on you taking me?”

Again, Rokko smirked. “I’ve spent a minute in the Bastille military, so I know them best. Take no more than five.” He gestured to Hannah. “You’re going to want her now that she’s got that stone, I’ll tell you that much.”

“If that’s the case, we’re taking my sister since she’s got the Locket of Kai. Plus Erno, if he’s my freaking Escort.”

“And before you invite me, Sion,” Skyra said, “I’m recommending you pick Shia. You need the Nine for this, and more importantly, someone who can communicate with the Daughter of Trinity at will. Something you haven’t done yet.”

Sion turned to Rokko. “This Daughter have a name? Or is she some mysterious, faceless being?”

“Tarja,” Rokko said. “Tarja Titan.”

Sion nodded to Asuka. “Does she talk to you at strange times? It’s what usually happens to me.” 

“Often when things get rough,” Asuka said. 

“How’s this girl supposed to mentor me if she has no idea I freaking exist except in a subconscious state?”

“Because,” Rokko said, “she’s the only one with access to the Lost Scrolls. Or at least that’s what her beloved godbrother told me.”  

“Care to let me in on them?

“They tell her to expect our arrival. She may not know how to communicate long-distance or even recognize you. But she’ll know who you are once you describe yourself to her.”

“Alright, whatever,” Sion said. “Let’s plan this thing.”

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Chapter Three

Post-Op

Lalisa Must-Roosa opened her eyes halfway, brain foggier than it’d been in years. Probably since that severe concussion she suffered in thrashball when she woke up in a hospital bed hours after the ordeal. 

“How’re we feeling?” a voice said. 

Lalisa fully opened her eyes, where Tash and Valkyrie stood over her cot. “W-where’s Sion?”

Valkyrie threw Lalisa a sympathetic look. “Sion had to go somewhere.”

“D-did he—?” Lalisa shook her head and the fog evaporated. Only now did she realize what she was saying. Or was about to ask Valkyrie and she prayed the girl didn’t find it strange she was asking about whether Sion, oh freaking Trinity

“Say where he’s going?” Valkyrie took Lalisa’s hand. “Through another archway that will take him back to Eidolon and into the World of Terra.”

Terra? W-why aren’t you with him?” She was rooting for Sion and Valkyrie. Really, she was. 

“Well, I wanted to stay here and take care of you.”

Did Sion tell Valkyrie to take care of her? Did that mean he wanted an update? No, Lalisa, behave yourself. Sion’s Valkyrie’s man, not yours. They should get married. They’d be such a cute couple long-term. Just keep thinking what’s best for them, Lalisa, not you. 

She forced a smile, and it seemed to suffice for Valkyrie. “Thanks, guys, for,” she tried to move her arm that she now noticed was immobilized against her ribcage in a full plaster cast, “for doing, what did you do?”

“Well,” Tash said, “Valkyrie controlled your blood loss while me and two others went in and cleaned you out. I had to mold about two-dozen metal plates and screws to fix you up, and I warded them against your bones.”

“Surgery, huh?”

“Don’t you remember me saying you needed it?”

Lalisa shook her head. “Does that explain why everything was so foggy?”

Tash nodded. “Things are primitive here so I had to chloroform you while another bagged you the entire time to keep you breathing. But we managed.”

“Well, thanks for saving my arm.” Lalisa touched her face with her good hand, causing Valkyrie’s smile, which she realized did not meet the girl’s eyes, to widen. “What happened to that little souvenir Dolores burned onto my cheek?”

“Gone,” Valkyrie said, showing off her fingertips. “Thank my—Blood Mastery.”

“It took you a few minutes though,” Tash said. 

Valkyrie waved her off, and a rush of insecure vibes doused Lalisa. “Probably just fatigue. I’ve been feeling off since that battle. Plus, Corra. I don’t think I’ve—you know—processed things. Anyway, I-I should go.”

Tash turned to Lalisa. “I’ll see if she’s alright. Text me if you need anything. My number’s three-zero-four, four-one-two, seven-four-zero-zero.”

Lalisa flashed her bare wrist. “We got rid of our watches.”

Tash motioned to a nightstand where a touchscreen cell phone sat. Something Lalisa hadn’t seen in, well, ever, since phones were installed into watches for years. “Anyway, I’ll go check on Valk.” 

She nodded and twisted her lips. Now it was obvious. Valkyrie, she was sure, stayed over to keep her mind off Corra Eriksson’s death. Something Lalisa still felt responsible for, regardless of what Sion, Valkyrie, and the others insisted. 

Her stomach panged as her thoughts returned to Sion. The way he interlocked his hand with hers before the medics took her away after that battle in the bunker. Of how he made her feel more and more important than the Little Servant Girl role her late father Roku forced her into. 

He comforted her, stroked the inside of her palm with his thumb. The thought covered her body in goosebumps and sent chills down her spine. And when he carried her here with those lean, round muscles of his, he eased her head against his chest. She felt, and heard, his heartbeat. 

She’d never been so close to a guy—

~ You really love him, don’t you? Sion?

Lalisa narrowed her eyes before a petite, smiling girl with a cute set of dimples and pigtails approached.

~ It’s called telepathy. Spirit Masters and elementals can talk to one another this way. You love Sion, but you don’t want to disappoint Valkyrie, right?

Lalisa grimaced. ~ Somewhere along those lines. I’m Lalisa, by the way. Lalisa Must-Roosa. But you can call me Lali.

~ I’m Amiya Na-yeon. It’s good to meet you, Lali. 

~ Yeah, you too. Umm, is there anything I can help you with? I’m kind of tired, you know?

~ And lovesick. 

~ Okay…

~ Look, I wouldn’t have sought you out if I didn’t have a reason. 

~ Well, what’s up?

~ It’s about his girlfriend, Valkyrie.

Understanding swept across Lalisa’s face. ~ She’s heartbroken.

Amiya grimaced. ~ And her aether’s fading fast. 

~ She’s dying? Lalisa thanked Trinity she felt dread instead of euphoria. Just keep rooting for Sion and Valkyrie….

~ Her ability’s disappearing. 

~ How is that even possible? And how would you know this?

~ It took fifteen minutes for her to heal that ugly cut of yours. I sensed a disruption in her aether from outside, and so did that Eaglesky girl.

~ Shia?

Amiya nodded. 

Throbbing erupted in Lalisa’s head. “Hey, can we talk normally? I think I need to get used to this telepathy. And can I call you Miya, or something?”

~ I like Miya. But I can’t talk because I don’t have a tongue. 

Lalisa’s lips parted. “What do you mean?”

Miya hesitated before opening her mouth.

Lalisa squinted and turned her head. “Oh, my goodness, Miya, I’m so sorry.” 

~ It’s why I get ecstatic every time I meet a spirit elemental. I don’t have to write everything down.

“Yeah, that must blow. But anyway, give me more insight on Valkyrie if you have any.”

~ I don’t know why she’s fading. She sounds like she lost a lot of people, though, so it could be grief, but I doubt it. You’d know her better than me.

Lalisa screwed up her face, trying to remember if Valkyrie said or did anything that would imply a loss of ability. How was this even possible? Unless…”I-I know she was comatose for a while and our global superpower, Tamuria, outsourced to another superpower to experiment on her.”

~ Do you remember what that experiment comprised?

Lalisa twisted her lips. “They were trying to turn off her Blood Mastery.”

~ That could be it. Amiya threw Lalisa a sympathetic look. A look one gives after they inform another of a loved one’s grim prognosis in fighting a horrific disease. Valkyrie’s Blood Mastery was disappearing. 

“What happens if it continues to fade? She won’t die, will she?” 

~ My theory is she won’t die. But her Elemental Mastery will extinguish. 

“No, there’s gotta be a way to stop this. I mean, wouldn’t you think?”

~ I honestly don’t know, Lali. I just had to tell someone this. Since you’re a Spirit Master, I thought I’d relay it to you. 

“I’ll tell my friends. I’m sure they’ll be coming to see me sooner than later.”

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Chapter Four

Lightning Struck

Nunaat, Northern Regions, World of Eidolon 

Les Lightning knew the feeling. Stuck in a warded prison for a year, he only escaped when they called Jose Maricopa through the portal on the Okonkwo Reserve. 

Problem was, Maricopa’s second-in-command lost the freaking Njordgard location to prisoner scourge in his absence. And the rebel mutants attracted their own. So much, it was not possible to launch a counterattack.

And with Lord Tuukka Worthy dead, as Maricopa pointed out, lobbying for more units to advance into South Nordica’s Sonoran Region was not feasible. At least not until the new recruits were ready to see action. 

Therefore, they shifted gears and headed north into Nunaat, home of yet another former Tamurian stronghold that those no-good Firebirds took over. Of course, once they arrived at the place, maroon cloaks flooded Nunaat’s Main Street. 

With Tamurian units so decimated, there was no way they’d retake Nunaat or the Nuuk Base anytime soon. Not that Maricopa didn’t have a plan. Therefore, they ditched their navy cloaks and opted for maroon.

Before making the trip, Les took a bottle of hair-dye and now sported black hair. He also wore a Stetson hat and lowered the brim close to his eyes. Oh, and since he spent twelve freaking months locked up until Maricopa’s arrival because no one else could unward that freaking door thanks to that scumbag Eaglesky, he also wore shoulder-length hair. 

Last thing he needed up here, though, was to resemble Worthy, who always wore his hair long. Les wanted to be himself; which involved not mooching off someone else’s fame like Worthy’s. Still, he needed the disguise so no normie in this area identified him. 

King Magnu selected Maricopa to succeed Worthy. And upon freeing Les, Maricopa named him his second-in-command. 

Lightning scoffed to himself. 

Oh, wait until Nunaat’s residents experience Maricopa’s wrath when Tamuria retakes the base and the town. Worthy killed without mercy, but at least he put people out of their misery. 

Jose Maricopa kept his victims alive until they put themselves out of their misery. And from the way the man spoke, he enjoyed every second of it. 

“Who’re we after?” Les said. 

Maricopa shoved a dip of snuff into his lower lip. “A few heroes who intel in South Nordica lost contact with. My guess is they’re imprisoned within the bowels of Nuuk, and we’re breaking them outta prison and smuggling them outta here ‘fore the Firebirds even know what’s happening.” 

Les gestured to the Firebird-infested village. “You expect us to walk into what is now a Firebird prison and smuggle them out of here through this?”

Maricopa spat and sneered. “How long were you in solitary again?”

“For a freaking year.”

“You forget how to teleport?”

Les cocked his head. “What’re your bright ideas on how to break into the prison? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not confine myself to a rotting cell for another indefinite amount of time.” 

Maricopa gestured at a bar, whose sign read The Knights Inn. “I need a drink.” 

“This your way of telling me you really have no plan?”

Maricopa knocked on his own head, causing Les to step back. “Genius plans walk into the mind when you least expect them, Lightning.” 

“Uh, right.” Adding to his disguise, Les placed a set of sunglasses onto his nose and flung the door open. 

Maricopa pushed him aside and shoved through the crowd, barking at anyone who protested. 

Goodness, the guy was going to blow their cover. These are the Firebirds, not a bunch of no-name prisoners. Lightning spent a semester posing as a student at the University of Nordica before Tamuria blew the place to smithereens. Last he checked, Firebird leaders held a different philosophy regarding military hierarchy. 

One that implied no one soldier or member of those stupid Firebirds or Northern Alliance was above another, regardless of rank. And here’s freaking Maricopa, demanding everyone to bow down and worship him as though they’re his subjects. 

Dude, bully these people after we take back Nunaat and the entire Kalaallit region. Not before they even mapped out their plans. 

“Hey,” a female said from behind. 

Les whipped around, where an attractive girl with silvery-blonde hair approached. “Freyja? Y-you, are you undercover too?”

Freyja Norsk grinned. “Yeah, let’s go with that. What’re you doing here, anyway?”

“Same thing you’re doing. Looking to get this base back into Tamuria’s hands and rescue a few prisoners. You been up here long?”

Freyja scoffed. “Died in Njordgard in December and had a few errands to run after. So no, not that long.”

Died?

“Yup. But, well, I’m a good necromancer.” 

Les’ eyes widened as he led her to the bar, where Maricopa shouted about his mead not being strong enough. “You’re a necromancer? That’s rare.”

“Uh-huh. Possessed another in spirit form to carry out the ritual. It’s a complicated one known only to necromancers. So here I am, Les, alive and well.” 

Les returned Freyja’s expression. “And every bit as stunning. Can I get you anything?”

She waved him off. “Nah, I’m not a drinker. I’m just hanging with a few friends from the base that are.”

“You have access to the base?”

“Thanks to Lord Krewe, the new leader of the Firebirds since Must-Roosa and little Corra croaked.” 

“Could you get me in his good graces? We have prisoners to free and a base to take back.”

Freyja twisted her lips and nodded, before setting her silver eyes into his. “I’m sure you’re talking about the ones Tuukka made part of his supersoldier program before he croaked?”

Croaked? Freyja, shouldn’t you sound more—?”

“Tuukka had it coming, and no, Les, don’t look at me like that. Tuukka thought it was a bright idea to hit up the base before invading it to kill Roku Must-Roosa’s daughter. Instead, they overpowered him.” 

“Oh. But uh, yeah, I-I am looking to free a few prisoners. I don’t know what’s going on, since I’ve been stuck in a prison for a year over in Rondure. World of Rondure, I’m not sure if you know about it. Maricopa got me out of there.”

Freyja’s eyes flashed. “Hmm, ain’t you two a lethal team. Alright, I’ll tell you where to go. Hit the end of Main Street. On your left, you’ll find an old, gothic-style prison. They’re in there on the bottom floor. Now, I gotta get back to the base before Krewe kills me.”

Les threw her a smile. “Couldn’t you just resurrect yourself?”

“Only if the circumstances are right. I don’t think we need to take that risk. Just sneak into the prison, snag your prisoners, and get to, where’re you headed, anyway?”

“It’s Maricopa’s call.”

She nodded to the bar, where Maricopa pounded the wooden tabletop and demanded more mead from the harried bartender. “You know what? I’ll give you a hand with this.” She pulled up her hologram and typed a message. “I’ll just relay to Krewe I was needed at the prison. I’m sure he’ll understand.” 

“What’re you going to tell this Krewe?”

Freyja wore a snarky grin. “That we had prisoner trouble and they needed me to take care of them with some aether eater torture.”

“What am I supposed to do with Maricopa?”

Freyja waved him off. “Just leave him there. We’ll get him outta here when we got the supersoldiers back and wreak havoc on this town.” She grabbed his hand and a tingling sensation traveled down Les’ body and into his limbs. 

Freyja pulled him toward the entrance while clanging glass at the bar suggested Maricopa either succeeded in drinking until he passed out or he lost his temper and introduced a whiskey mug to someone’s temple. An ensuing ember stated the latter. 

He’s not going to get arrested, is he?” Les said. 

“Well, if he is, he’s heading to the right place.”

“If they put him in front of a Firebird court and discover he’s not an officer in their military?”

“Then he’s headed to the right place,” Freyja repeated, pulling herself into Les and pressing her petite body against his long torso. 

Twenty minutes later, they arrived at the prison and Freyja opened the door before waving Les inside. A Black woman looked up as Les entered the lobby. He formulated his plan with Freyja on their way over and they agreed to play it cool until they found someone strong enough to unward the bars trapping the supersoldiers. They just had to overpower that individual.

Odds were, a simple receptionist was not the answer. But she could point them to someone who exceeded a specific combat level. 

“Lord Krewe told me to be here at ten o’clock to shadow security,” Les said, repeating Freyja’s instructions during their walk over here. “I’m supposed to shadow a Zack Herbst?”

“Name?”

“Mike Damis.” 

“Damis,” the girl said, retrieving her watch hologram, “Damis…ah, okay, Mike. You’ll find Lieutenant Herbst in the office down the hallway and to the left.” She pointed him down a dank, torchlit corridor.

Alright, Lightning, the charade’s over.”

Les whirled around, where Freyja pointed her Sword of Spirit at his chest. 

The receptionist sprung to her feet, directing a bronze-hilted Sword of Fire at Les’ throat. 

“F-Freyja? What?”

Freyja sneered. “I helped Valkyrie Siskonen attack Njordgard to rescue Rajae Zona. Unfortunately, I died. Isn’t that sad?

“But as a necromancer, I possessed a Tamurian Spirit Master in my spirit form, resurrected my dead body, played vigilante, then came up this way with Krewe after he took back Oslo’s Port with the Chosen Nine’s help.”

The prison entrance opened, where four men hauled Maricopa, screaming threats at the top of his lungs, into the building. 

Freyja flung a careless thumb at Lightning. “Put ‘em in a cell together and I’ll ward it. Copa’s at a higher level of Fire Mastery than I am in Spirit, but he’s nowhere near the fifty-level threshold to overpower my wards.”

“You gotta be kidding me,” Les said, as two Firebirds placed him in warded cuffs. 

Freyja locked her eyes in his. “Do I look like I’m kidding? Next time, I suggest you read my vibes a little better.” She faced the Firebirds restraining him. “Lock ‘em up in a high-security section. These two are dangerous Tamurians.”

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Chapter Five

Wastelands

Sion followed Rokko while Erno, Hannah, Raj, and Shia took the rear. As they hiked the dead terrain, Rokko pointed out the smoggy skyline in the distance, where echoes of occasional gunfire reached their ears. 

“Insurrexxion’s been fighting them for months,” he said. “Most of Five-Oh-One is in the current reserve camp. When they’re not fighting off Firebirds busting through the archway, anyway.” 

“You guys have One of the Five, though,” Sion said. “Shouldn’t she be out there like I’ve been?”

Rokko shook his head. “Here’s what you don’t know about Asuka. She’s never really controlled her element until recently. Born in a prison where they disable ability with warded cuffs when they reach a certain age, she’d die in about five seconds if we exposed her too much. It’s why she’s seeing limited action.”

“Yeah, but in my experience, my power grew when needed. Just enough to overpower opponents.”

“Hers does too. But have you fared well taking on multiple Elemental Masters with little help?”

“Not until recently. And even then luck bailed me out.” 

“Exactly. And I’m guessing Tarja’s along the same lines from what Terrian Sentinels told me about her. No idea who she was until like a year ago. Still grasping things, you know the concept. Anyway…” Rokko ducked into the weeds and behind a thick tree, waving Sion and the others over. 

“I just wanted to forewarn all of you that we will see a firefight when we hit up this next base outside City One-Oh-One and probably a few skirmishes before it.”

“Archway’s location?” Sion said. 

“Exactly. It’ll take us to the Nation of Iberia in Eidolon. Then, we’ll need to locate the Dyatlov Base, which will take us to San Antonio, Texas, on Terra.”

“I thought you said San Antonio was in that US, or whatever you called it?” 

“Texas is part of the US.”

“Dyatlov, Iberia?” Raj said. “The region surrounding it’s the most notorious in Eidolon. Countless hikers have met mysterious deaths there.”

“Yup. But they don’t know the Chosen Nine’s on their way. Or at least half of it. Anyway, before the fun begins, we’re going to wait here for a convoy and they’ll get us within two-hundred miles.” Rokko nodded to Raj and Shia. “One of you will need to get us there. I’ll guide. And once we’re at the base, guys, it’s going to be a dogfight.”

“We’re ditching the convoy?” Sion said. 

“Splitting, which should confuse Bastille.”

“Makes no sense.” 

“Makes perfect sense. Small numbers work well against Bastille’s military.”

“We’ve had experience, Sion,” Hannah said. 

“With mixed results.” He nodded to Rokko. “How’d you get there before?” 

“I was working undercover for the Insurrexxion. Had Bastille fooled before they captured Mina and I went out of my way to rescue her.”

“Care to let us in on the details?” 

“They’re not relevant to this mission.” 

Sion bounced his eyebrows. “Whatever, man.”

Rokko looked as though he wanted to convey a nasty retort before his hologram beeped. “Yeah?”

“Sir, we’re seeing major advances from the Bastillians outside the city proper and we’re going to be seeing action if we want any hope of getting there by the allotted time.”

Rokko swore. “This is kind of an emergency, Jaxon. Like, Five Worlds at stake kind of emergency. Engage contact.”

E-engage contact? Sir, do you realize—?”

“No offense, but if you and your cogs engage, it could clear a path for Marne and her crew. I’ll call her up and let her know about the situation.” 

“That all we are to you? Small work?”

“You know what you signed up for when you joined the Insurrexxion. Now’s the time to step up, even if it kills you. You got me?” 

“Yes, sir,” Jaxon said, in a grumbling voice. 

“Care to at least let us in on your little Insurrexxion?” Sion said. “I mean, we’re kind of a part of this.” 

“Connect the dots,” Rokko said, dissipating his hologram. “We’re the rebels. We’re the Insurrexxion. Bastille’s the superpower enemy. Do I need to say anything else?”

“You know,” Raj stepped forward, “you’re lucky Sion’s the one reminding you we’re on the same side. I suggest you stop being so cryptic about this thing.”  

“We got different rebellions and different objectives. What else do you need to know? Our Insurrexxion in Rondure’s no different than your war against Tamuria. Get it?”

“We have common enemies in superpowers,” Sion said. “Ditto for Titan, I’m guessing?”

“You’re worried about something,” Shia said, locking her eyes into Rokko’s. 

“Yeah, worried Mina will Escort her twin to a battle and never come back. Something that’s been on my mind ever since I found out what she was.” He looked at Erno. “Something you need to know, man. Escorts take the brunt for the One they’re born to guard. The instinct will kick in, mark me.”

Erno shrugged. “I’d take a fire blast to the face for my cousin. Especially if it means making things right both here and on Eidolon.” 

“What if an Escort dies?” Sion said. 

Rokko scoffed. “I don’t know how it works and I don’t need the details.” 

“Seems to me I’d be dying for an actual cause,” Erno said. “I honestly can’t think of anything more rewarding.”  

Rokko threw him a disbelieving look. “You’re too much like Mina. All you Escorts. I hear Liza Fury’s the same way over in Terra.” He scoffed and forced a smile. “Let Fury tell you the story and I’m sure no movie studio could ever write a script on it.” 

“I’m sure our advanced Mastery will help.”

“Yeah, because Escorts’ missions are potential death sentences.” Rokko cocked his head at Sion. “Basically you’ll have them do things to save your own tails.” 

“Alright, I’ll keep that in mind,” Sion said, an edge of sarcasm in his voice, throwing Erno as sarcastic of a smile.  

For two hours, they kept watch in shifts. Shia and Hannah, Raj and Sion, and Erno and Rokko, in the event the skirmishes in the city just visible in the horizon reached the wasteland outskirts in which they camped. 

Rokko’s hologram emerged, where a woman’s face appeared. “Marne.”

“Jaxon and them took the brunt and we broke through.”

“They alright?”

“They didn’t look alright. I’m calling to let you know it’s going to get ugly before we even reach the One-Oh-One Base’s perimeter. Hope your crew’s up for the battle.”

Sion wore his trademark lopsided grin. “Been doing nothing else lately. What’s one more?”

“You guys are lucky you’re in the Chosen Nine of Eidolon,” Rokko said. 

“Luck didn’t bring me this far, man. From what you implied, Tarja Titan’s the reason I’m still breathing even if she doesn’t have much clue.” 

“Then do us a favor. Let her direct your hand.” 

“And if she’s not talking to us?” Shia said, approaching. “You know, she comes and goes.”

“I’m aware. I guess you’ll all need to do your Chosen Nine thing.” 

Sion shrugged. “We’ve faced plenty of resistance without the kid talking to us. To be honest, I can’t remember the girl talking to me until I woke up in the back of that van with Corra. And even afterward, it’s not like she gave me much battle advice.” 

“Plus,” Hannah said, “we got our relics.” 

Sion smiled. For the first time since he ran into her when he first entered the World of Rondure back in December, Hannah had an edge to her voice. As though this Kuun Kivi, or whatever it was called, gave her the boost she needed. 

Raj must’ve noticed too, as a smile also encroached her face and she looked at Hannah with the expression only an older cousin could bring. And perhaps in another life, there never was a Tamurian Bombing. Or even a war with Tamuria. 

And in that life, Raj and Hannah were closer than sisters.

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Chapter Six

Concerning Norns

Lalisa could’ve sworn she’d fallen asleep and dreamed about…something. Some girl. Dark hair, pale skin, blue eyes, ultra-petite build. Smaller than her, and that was saying something. Three faces, four faces emerged as she opened her eyes. 

“J-Jenn?” she whispered. “Why’m I still so groggy?”

Jenn sneered. “Tash’s work. She crushed a sleeping pill in your drink. Said you needed it. You look like you need another few hours’ sleep if you ask me.” She held up a white capsule. “May I do the honors?”

“Are you feeling alright?” Rosie said, looking daggers at Jenn. 

Lalisa sat up and pushed Jenn’s hand away with her good arm. “Yeah, I-I’m good. Hungry.”

“I go—I’ll go—let Tash know,” Su said. 

Lalisa smiled her thanks as she turned to the fourth member of the group. Mai. “Sup?”

Mai’s smile didn’t meet her eyes. “I, uh, I talked to that Miya girl earlier. About Valk.”

Lalisa pulled her lips in. “You all thinking the same thing we are?”

“She stormed from Tash, isolated herself, and we followed.” Jenn grabbed the touchscreen phone on the stand. “I borrowed this since I knew you wouldn’t mind and took a few videos.”

“Of Valkyrie?”

Jenn nodded, pressed the play button on the touchscreen, and showed the video to Lalisa. 

Valkyrie flailed, slashing her sword, where faint claw marks emerged. Angered, she slammed her iron-hilted Sword of Blood to the ground, took a drink from a water bottle, threw it, and attempted another slash maneuver. 

“Something’s up,” Lalisa said. “I mean, she’s not even moving right.”

Jenn shook her head. “I’m sure that Miya girl’s watching and taking notes on her pretty little notepad like some old-world scribe.” 

“She can’t talk, just an FYI,” Lalisa said. 

Mai nodded. “Yeah, I kind of figured that out the hard way.”

“She opened her mouth?”

“Yeah. But still, she communicates well with what she’s got.”

“We can talk to each other telepathically. I can hear her voice and everything.”

“Wonder what she’d sound like if she really tried to talk?” Jenn said, smiling. 

“I wouldn’t bait her into it,” Rosie said. “Goodness, someone cut her tongue off from what she showed Mai, the poor thing.” 

“Alright, alright, fine. Just trying to lighten the mood.”

Lalisa shook her head and swung her long legs over the cot before Rosie and Mai grabbed each side of and tried to force her back into it, Mai positioning herself to keep from damaging Lalisa’s broken arm further. 

“Guys, really, I’m alright.” She cocked her head as the room spun, but nowhere near as bad as it had during the battle. “Just give me some food or something and I’ll be good to go. Really, I want to see Valkyrie.” She drew a breath. “See if there’s anything I can do to help her.”

Protecting her arm from further damage, although this plaster cast seemed to protect her well, Lalisa brushed past Rosie and Mai. She stumbled, but Jenn caught and steadied her. 

“Sure you’re okay there, klutz?”

Lalisa drew a breath as Su returned with Tash, the latter of whom had what looked like a packet of jelly in her hands. “What’s that?”

“Goo,” Tash said. 

Goo?”

“It’s to return your energy stores. And I’d seriously recommend you turn around and get back in bed.”

“I’m going to see Valkyrie.”

Tash threw Lalisa a concerned look. 

“Jenn showed me a video. She’s getting worse, isn’t she?”

“She’s sitting by the fire and won’t talk to anyone.”

Lalisa shrugged and took the packet. “I need to thank her anyway, and thank you for saving my arm and for giving me what I’m sure is some lovely goo.” It looked like slime and probably tasted as bad. 

Tash threw Lalisa an uneasy smile as she stood back to make room. The crew followed, but Lalisa insisted she talk to Valkyrie alone. 

“Just go mingle, make friends, and I’ll catch up, alright?” She broke from her group and scanned the fires for Valkyrie, who sat on the opposite end, knees pulled to her chest, arms crossed on the knees, head resting on top of them. 

On the other end sat that Mina girl and her twin, Asuka. Miya scribbled away on her large notepad. 

Lalisa drew a breath, tore open the goo with her teeth, gagged as she squeezed some onto her tongue, and strode to Valkyrie, parking herself beside the girl. “Thanks again for helping me. It really means a lot.”

Valkyrie faced Lalisa. “Welcome.”

The girl sounded as though she’d been crying, and her swollen eyes confirmed it. 

“Everything alright?” Such a stupid question. Of course, she wasn’t alright. 

Valkyrie sighed, the twinkling in her amber eyes extinguished. “I saw Her.” She shuddered. “I’ve seen Her more now than ever.” 

“The if you go to Terra, I will come girl?”

Valkyrie’s eyebrows furrowed. “What’re you talking about?”

Not the same thing she’s talking about, and clearly Sion didn’t elaborate much of why he was heading to Terra. A vibe stronger than anything Lalisa ever felt, for some odd reason, told her not to mention the voice she and Sion had been hearing to Valkyrie. Lalisa’s forehead broke out in a cold sweat at the thought of Sion and she fanned herself with her good arm. 

“I-I don’t know. I had some weird premonition and—Shia—felt the same thing.” The hairs on the back of her neck prickled and she didn’t need to look up to realize Miya watched from across the fire, catching every word. 

“Hmm, must be a Spirit Master thing.” Her eyes fell onto the pearl-hilted Sword of Spirit in Lalisa’s sheath. “Congrats, by the way.”

“Thanks.”

A smile hinted on Valkyrie’s face and her eyes sparkled before they again extinguished. 

“So, what were you talking about, anyway?” Lalisa said. “Who’s Her?”

Valkyrie closed her eyes. “You know I died six times, right?”

Lalisa nodded. 

“Alright, well, I haven’t been completely honest with Sion. Nor have I been honest with anyone in part because I haven’t been honest with myself.”

“What do you mean?”

Valkyrie bit her lip. “I’ve been seeing Her Sign for almost a year now. Nied. Ever since I snuck into New Nordican City with Mikko last July the week before the riots kicked all this off.” She swallowed and shook her head. “You can’t escape Her when She decides to cut your thread. And it’s happening. I see the signs, visions, vivid dreams of what should have happened to me, but haven’t.”

Lalisa placed a hand on Valkyrie’s forearm as the girl’s voice shook. “You can tell me.”

Valkyrie drew two breaths. “I wasn’t supposed to recover from that head shot back in Oslo’s Port. But I did. So they experimented on me and figured something out. Something I knew in my heart of hearts but refused to acknowledge.” Tears sparkled in the girl’s eyes. “That was only the beginning.

“Then, I saw Her when I was in the desert with Sion, on my way to rescue Skyra. That demonic figure possessed me. And when it had full control, I saw Her face. But I survived again. Somehow…” Valkyrie’s voice trailed off as tears rolled down her angular cheeks. 

“I was cornered in Njordgard. And I should’ve been killed. Any normal human being would’ve died. But I survived. At first, I attributed my crazy survival to being in the Nine. And it was then I started to feel it. M-my Blood Mastery. Slipping away…

Valkyrie sniffed. “Since Njordgard, it’s gotten weaker, and weaker, and weaker. It was slipping like crazy when we cleared the forest, and later, the bunker under the prisoner compound in Nuuk. I ran and hid for the most part, because it was like my sword wouldn’t obey my commands.

“I know this started when they experimented on me in the World of Catenary. They didn’t succeed in turning off my Mastery immediately; they succeeded in doing so slowly. I’m sure had I been immobilized to that hospital bed longer, they’d have shut it off then and there.” 

“B-but you healed Sion. He said something outside that hospital room before you dragged him in there.”

Valkyrie nodded. “That was about as good as it got for me that day. I saved the man I love, probably outta love,” she turned to Lalisa, face stained with dry tears as new ones emerged, “but I can’t save myself. I’m living on borrowed time. And now, She’s going to take me.” 

Lalisa’s jaw dropped. This made no sense. If that were the case…if Valkyrie knew… “I-I’m not following. Why were you so heartbroken over Corra then?” 

“Because I was still lying to myself. Even then, I was like in that first stage of death. The denial phase. Thinking my Blood Mastery slipped because I was exhausted. That I’d be fine after some food and sleep. But it’s fading faster than I could’ve imagined. 

“When I had a tough time healing you then came out here and tried to invoke even basic slashes, I knew. It’s leaving me.” 

But Miya said this wouldn’t kill her. “Valkyrie, I doubt you losing your Blood Mastery would kill you.”

“Technically, no. But sooner or later, for the sake of the Chosen Nine, I’m going to have to die. And you and I both know Jenn needs my Sword of Blood to complete the ritual to induct her into the Nine.”

“Why would you think that? That you need to die?”

Valkyrie half-laughed, half-sobbed. “Because Shia’s drawing shows a Blood Master. That prophecy hasn’t fulfilled itself yet.”

“Prophecies can be thwarted. And what’s not to say that prophecy works against us?” 

“Prophecies intended to bring balance to five dying worlds need to be fulfilled. That prophecy clearly requires the Chosen Nine alive and intact. And since Shia drew it, I’m sure it means it must be fulfilled for our side to win. I don’t have a choice, Lalisa. I have to die.

“Are you sure that prophecy hasn’t passed?”

“It wasn’t Nuuk and it wasn’t Nunaat. Because in case you haven’t noticed, the background wasn’t a mountainous landscape.”

Lalisa rested her head on Valkyrie’s shoulder, massaging the girl’s upper arm with her mobile hand. 

Tears again flowed from Valkyrie’s eyes. “Sion’s going to be devastated.”

So would Lalisa. Valkyrie Siskonen would always be Sion Fawkes Zona’s Number One. Even if, if something between them happened after this tragedy—

“I know you like him, Lalisa. The way you always looked at him, ever since the red and white game in thrashball. That, everything, every time you crossed him. Even when he was hesitant about you and the others joining us in Nuuk. And when you woke up earlier, you caught yourself, didn’t you?”

“I don’t want to end up with him this way.” Lalisa shook her head, tears falling down her face. “I like him a lot. I’m not gonna lie. He’s the first guy to, well, see me as something more than my dad or any other guy before I met him, you know?”

“I understand.” 

“But I didn’t want this. I was rooting for you two, Valkyrie. Really, I was.” She angled her head at the hundred-plus guys in the camp. “I know there are other options than Sion.”

“Lalisa?”

“Mmm?”

“I want you to be with him. If it’s what he wants, I want you to be with Sion. This is going to kill him inside, me going this way. But my spirit can enter the gateway knowing he’s with someone who cares about and wants to be with him.”

“Don’t rush this thing, Valkyrie. Please.”

Valkyrie shook her head. “It’s not up to me. It’s up to Her.”

“Who is She?”

“She’s the one who leads us through the gateway. She helps weave our fates the day we’re born with Her two Sisters. She almost never exposes Herself to us, though.”

“Why did She come to you?”

“Because,” Valkyrie turned to Lalisa, “I was supposed to follow Her through. Only I didn’t. I stood with my dad, saw Sion, and knew, or, thought I knew, I had to go back. Dad even said I had a choice and I made it. But I think I made the wrong choice.”

“No,” Lalisa said. “No, you didn’t. Maybe you found out what ninety-nine-point-nine percent of us never will. When you’re supposed to die. Okay, I get it. But there’s a reason you chose to come back. There’s a reason you’re still here. If you thought otherwise, or your spirit or whatever, you would’ve gone through that gateway.”

Distant gunfire prompted Lalisa, Valkyrie, and the entire camp to look into the horizon, where the smoggy city loomed. 

“We all live for a reason and we all die for a reason,” Lalisa said. “And you still live for a reason. I’m going to help you discover that reason. Because you’re still here, Valkyrie.” 

Valkyrie grabbed Lalisa’s free hand. “I’m going to make you a deal, Lali.”

Lalisa smiled at her short name. 

“You can help me all you want. But when it comes to life and death, I’m taking that bullet for you.”

“I’m making a counter offer. If I’m meant to take that bullet, I’m taking it. And if I’m meant to survive and be with Sion, then I’ll happily do so.”Valkyrie pulled Lalisa into a side hug. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

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