(The Returned Dead) Chapter 6 – Sunset – 6,693 words

When Semt opened his eyes the next morning, back aching from the tight, cheap cot, he barely had time to shake off the grogginess before Dae kissed him.  Morning breath or not, her kisses were like coming home and he relaxed into it. She laid back down beside him, head on his chest. “I love you,” she whispered.

That made him start.  “You said it.” He couldn’t keep the giddy smile from his face.

“I did,” she said, eyes delving into his.  

“What changed?”

“Nothing,” Dae murmured.  “I’ve loved you for a long time.  But with what happened to my Well?  Things are changing. I don’t know what’s going to happen anymore.  I don’t know how much time we have.”

He intertwined his fingers with hers.  Had Telas not done what she said? “Your Well still isn’t—?”

Dae lifted her left arm, the tattoos covering it igniting with silver light.  “Apparently our goddess had a change of heart. But I’ve never heard of that happening before.  Things feel.. strange.”

Semt knew what she meant, the Spiral hidden on his right hand tingling with a chill that ran up his arm.

He cupped her cheek.  “I love you too, Dae Ashwood.”

She closed her eyes, holding onto his hand and leaning into it.  “Semt Nineston,” she said.

A Paladin in a neighboring bed groaned.  “Can you two get a room?”

Dae threw a pillow at her as Semt grinned.

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They left the Graveyard later in the morning, lugging satchels of provisions and cooking supplies, as well as a few books and bottles of booze.  Semt was particularly proud of the books. Dae was sent an ever-shrinking allowance of money from her family every month or so, and they always had to leave books for last in case they needed other essentials.  He hadn’t even known how to read in life, but Dae had taught him without too much trouble and he inhaled whatever text he could get his hands on these days.

Dae rolled her eyes at the way he reverently held the romance novels as they walked.  “We had some real books back in my library at home.”

“You brought this on yourself,” he retorted, jabbing her in the ribs.  “Like I was gonna use the ability to read to read some stuffy books. Besides, those are more expensive.”

“Oh yes, because you had money in mind,” she teased him, pecking him on the cheek.

The tension of the previous seemed to have lifted.  Dae had her Well-magic back, they were headed back to their little retreat with goodies in tow, and business seemed back to usual.  Which wasn’t exactly true.  

Semt had wrapped his right arm in the navy fabric of his ruined shirt from the fight with the Archknight, which seemed to cover the Spiral well.  If Dae had noticed, she wasn’t bringing it up. Which bothered him to end because of how she was wearing bandages on her right arm. Had the return of her Well had strange side effects?  But he couldn’t even ask her without opening the discussion on his own bandages. The Spiral was new wedge between them that he resented.

He was so far entangled in his thoughts that he didn’t notice the body until Dae gasped beside him.  His awareness snapped back into the present and he stopped dead in his gait. The body of a Warlock swayed from a tree branch hanging over the main road, a noose tight around his neck.  “Fuck,” Dae said, sending a silver bolt of light that split the rope and dropped the body to the ground.

Semt rushed over to the body, pulling the noose free and reaching the man’s chest, placing his palm against his Well.  Well-magic flowed down his arm, the Spiral humming softly in the air, but the magic found no Well to move into. The Warlock had been dead for too long.  Well-strain had already taken him. He was gone.

“He’s dead,” Semt murmured.  It was something that could happen when one was kept too long in the sleep of death.  The Well would eventually burn itself up trying to keep the body from rigor mortis.  

“That doesn’t make sense,” Dae said.  “We came through here yesterday. It takes days for the Well burn up.”  A dark look crossed her face. “Unless they were killed somewhere else and put here for someone to find.”

“For us to find,” Semt guessed.  These forests weren’t safe anymore.  

“Those bastards,” Dae snarled, the tattoos on her arm flaring with light in response to her emotions.  The bite of Well-magic appeared in the air. She scanned the tree line, eyes darting.

Semt reached for his Nightroot.  “We should bury the body.” His hands shook a little unconsciously.  The Warlock had once had a Well. Being buried was never something lightly brought up.  It was a risk.  

Dae shook her head, softening.  “Semt… you shouldn’t.”

His lungs tightened, imagining piling the dirt over the body.  “Why not?”

“Because… because they might still be around here.  It’s just the two of us. We should get out of here.”

She was probably just trying to save him from the ordeal.  But it wasn’t safe here for them. She was right about that.  “…alright. Let’s get out of here.”

The rest of the walk to their camp was tense.  These forests, once sacred to the Returned, now had Telas knows how many roaming, murderous mortals moving through it.  Semt walked with his Nightroot in his hand— unforged but ready. Dae had her palm on the pommel of her Lockroot sword. Neither of them spoke.

They didn’t relax until they reached the sheltered clearing where they made camp.  It was far enough off the road and tucked away in a valley, making it nearly impossible to find accidentally.  It would be hard to make it through the thorn bushes to it without knowing the path they had cut out for themselves.  Their sanctuary was still their sanctuary.

Dae poured both of them cups of whiskey, noon or not, and Semt didn’t protest.

It only took a little bit of drinking and laughing for the world beyond their camp to fall away.  Semt pulled her into his arms and didn’t let go. This was what he was here for.

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Several hours later, he stirred awake in a tangle of blankets and Dae.  The sky peeked through the trees, showing its first signs of darkening with tinges of oranges and reds.  A soft wind swayed the trees above him and he got lost in it, tracing Dae’s back with his fingers. She made a little contented sound at the attention and buried her face in his neck.  He just enjoyed the feeling of her skin against his. The security in vulnerability of it all.

The only warning he got was a faint chill that emanated from his Spiral.  “I’ve always enjoyed seeing humans in love,” came Telas’s melodious voice.  It was like he could feel it in his skull.

He managed to stop himself from jumping and bothering Dae.  Turning his head away from Dae, he whispered, “you’re watching us?”

Just checking on you.  My attentions have been elsewhere.”

This is… strange.”

Yes,” the goddess conceded.  “You humans and your perceptions of privacy.  It’s something previous Vessels have struggled with as well.”

Semt swallowed.  He guessed that if it didn’t bother her, he might as well not let it bother him.  “Is everything alright?”

It is as usual.  The Gatewall is undisturbed.  I haven’t seen another intrusion like last night’s.  It is likely my sister is resting herself. Things are likely to be quiet for a while.”

“Good,” Semt said.  He was ready for things to quiet down.  The past two days had been far too loud for his liking.  He wanted some time in the quiet. Time to forget some of the stuff he had seen.  The cold faded from his Spiral. It was just him and Dae again.

Dae shifted on top of him.  “Did you say something?”

“Just talking to myself,” he said, kissing her brow.

“Mhm.  Don’t go crazy on me now.”  She touched his chest.

He closed his eyes.  If he hadn’t already.  “No promises.”

“I need you,” she whispered, the serious tone of her face making him open his eyes.  Her eyes were inches from his own. “You aren’t allowed to die.” Her hands tightened on him.

“Who said anything about dying?”

“I— we’re in this together, Semt,” she said.  “Don’t forget that.”

The solemnness of her words didn’t miss him.  When Dae got serious, she got serious. “I won’t,” he promised.  “Together.”

She kissed him.  And then recoiled in pain.  “Fuck!” she spat, grasping at her right arm.  Her arm shook and she grit her teeth, muscles straining.

He rushed to her, heart leaping in his chest.  “What’s wrong?”

“My— my arm—“

Semt’s Spiral exploded with a chill that made his entire body shiver.  “Semt— they’re coming.  You need to get to the Gatewall.  You don’t have much time.”  Telas’s voice sounded like a hurricane, her voice alone whipping with power.

The Pull hit him like a thunderclap.  He saw it in Dae’s eyes too. There was a breach.

It seemed like Dae’s pain had faded a little with the Pull.  She released her death grip on her right arm, flexing her fingers like it was difficult.  “I’m fine. There’s another breach? Already?”

The Pull was heavy and insistent.  “Guess so.”

“Shit.”

They threw their uniforms back on in a jumble, fastening straps and buckles.  He felt a little grief at the tough fabric touching his skin again. He’d always preferred these days in the camp, half dressed in and out of comfortable clothes.  These uniforms were constricting.

They set off in somber silence.  As always, Semt let Dae sink into the focus of preparing for the fight.  With sunset just on the precipice of its beginning, the forest was quieter, more shadowed.  It gave him no shelter from his thoughts. He braced himself for blood.

The Spiral had gone silent and warm on his hand.  Whatever Telas did during breaches, it was something that was going to keep her away, which was probably a good thing.  The feeling of the goddess’s presence in his head was unsettling. He really didn’t think he would ever get used to it. But he had a feeling the Spiral wouldn’t exactly just come off.

Focusing, he reached inside and touched his Well.  The dripping had turned into a soft, steady stream.  Telas was making up for how the Returned hadn’t had time to replenish their Wells.  He dipped his reach into the invisible waters. The Spiral on his hand reacted instantly, turning icy as it drew in the Well-magic.  Wispy shadows began to form over his hand.

He released the power with a start.  The shadows faded away. It seemed Telas had neglected to explain some things.

They reached the ashen battleground far ahead of anyone else.  The Graveyard had likely been full of Returned settling down for dinner or bed.  It would take longer for them to assemble. Additionally, in his three years as a Returned, he had never seen a breach at night.  Would they have to fight in the dark?

A lone figure stepped out into the battlefield after them.  It was a woman, dark-skinned and graying, dressed in a long gray robe.  A Sorcerer. She nodded to them, mute as any other Sorcerer, and joined them on their walk to the Gatewall.  Her face was unreadable. Somehow she didn’t look either tense or relaxed.

Sorcerers were an anomaly amongst the Returned, and amongst humans as a whole.  They were technically mortal, but expecting them to ever find a place among humans was a vain gesture.  For them, magic wasn’t a gift given by a goddess. It was innate, free-flowing. Some called them demigods.  They harnessed the magic of the world. They understood it more than anyone could ever comprehend. Semt felt a little more relaxed seeing one here.

“I’ve always wondered how they know about the breaches without the Pull,” Dae whispered to Semt, only half-heartedly trying to stop the Sorcerer from hearing her.

The other woman hadn’t missed it though, moving her eyes from the horizon to the two of them.  A moment of tension passed. She shrugged.

Semt laughed a little at the incredulous look on Dae’s face.

With there only being three of them, they formed a tight line and steeled themselves.  They probably still had a little time before the breach actually happened. Semt and Dae were always early.  Breaking through the Gatewall took an appropriately large amount of energy for an eternal wall that spanned the planet.

He tried to calm Dae’s nerves a little, stepping closing and taking her left hand.  Her tattoos stopped lighting up in nervousness and she gave him an appreciative smile, squeezing his hand.  He felt his own nerves calm with hers. As always, it came down to the same bottom line. At least they were together.

The air heated around them, a wind picking up soot in clouds that skated the ground.  A section of the Gatewall shifted, going from reflecting the sunset on their left to a pure white.  “That feels a little quick,” Semt muttered. Dae winced beside him, flexing her right arm. Her pain was back.

Black flames started to rip through the breach.  The breach was beginning now. And there was only three of them here to stop it.  Semt’s heart sank.

Dae squeezed his hand, pulling him closer.  “I love you.”

He looked into her eyes, and stole a quick kiss.  “I love you too.”

The flames grew, engulfing the breach, tinges of gold dancing within them.  The sound of metal screeching split the air. Hot wind buffeted their clothes, and the breach began to stretch.  No more time, no more chances.

A massive marble humanoid form exploded through the breach, easily fifteen feet tall.  Its huge blocky head turned toward them, clenching its stony fists and roaring a challenge.  A Rook. Damn.

Dae stepped forward, tattoos lighting up as a disc of white light formed in her palm.  The Well-magic and hum of the power crescendoed until an explosive beam erupted from her hand.  It rocketed across the battlefield and caught the massive demon in the center of its abdomen. Marble cracked and exploded, but the demon didn’t fall.  A crater was left where the blast had struck, but it hadn’t broken through the marble.

The Rook charged toward them.

Semt formed the Nightroot into a lance taller than him and braced himself.  Dae fired again, catching the demon in the shoulder and leaving another shallow crater.  The wall of stone was surprisingly fast, building up momentum and speed and closing the distance in seconds.  Dae managed one more blast into its legs, but it didn’t even stumble.

It was only a few meters away when a translucent blue wall materialized between them.  The Rook ran straight into it, the force making it shudder. The beast roared in frustration and pounded its fists into the barrier, which closed around its hands.  The ethereal blue magic flowed to its legs, pinning it in place. Semt saw the opening.

He surged forward, driving the lance right into the crater Dae left on its stomach.  Golden blood ran down the shaft of his weapon and he yanked it out, releasing a stream of ichor.  The Rook thrashed in anger and pain.

“Move!” Dae shouted, and Semt threw himself aside as a final beam caught the demon in its wound.  It ripped straight through it, blowing blood and marble out of its back. Cracks spread in a weblike pattern from the impact.  The Rook sagged, and the Sorcerer released it, dropping her arms. It felt to the ground, dead.

Semt stared in awe.  A Rook. They shouldn’t be alive.

The breach bulged outward.  This was only beginning. He went to Dae’s side.  Right now their power was in working together. It was their only chance.  The Sorcerer stood behind them, stoic and focused. He’d never seen one involve herself in a battle like this.  With her, they might have a chance.

Knights exploded from the portal and swarmed toward them, wings splayed in a wall of rushing stone.  Dae drew her Lockroot with a flash of silver light, and the lance in Semt’s hands forged into a molten saber.  They would be together, in the end.

The Sorcerer splayed out her hands, blue light gathering in her arms and palms, cracking through her skin and spreading to her neck.  A different kind of magic crackled in the air, setting Semt’s hair on end and putting a strange taste in his mouth. Storm clouds swirled into sight in the sky, crackling with deafening thunder.  Lightning descended from the sky, obliterating a dozen Knights in a single strike of sound and light. The storm quickly morphed, the clouds becoming blue and transparent, and soon a barrier hung low over the battlefield, trapping the Knights close to the ground.

Dae took the opportunity, firing blasts of light off the tip of her Lockroot that scythed through the confused and scattered demons.  The Knights tried in vain to fly out of range through the barrier, bouncing off like birds hitting a window. But the confusion didn’t last long.  Soon they gathered their senses and dove back for their little group.

A dozen Knights was still too many, but Semt had no choice.  He moved himself between the two magic users and sent Well-magic coursing through his body.  This was no time to conserve it. The cold fire ignited in his blood and he roared a challenge.

The Knights flocked to him and his burning blade.  He flooded himself with light, turning the heat of his Nightroot into a brilliant torch.  In the half-light of dusk, he was the clearest target.  

He met their glinting gold with radiant metal, slashing at them as they swung slow.  Sheared spearheads and blades rained to the ground, and the Knights dropped their feet onto the ground to fight him.  The brilliance of his weapon combined with the speed of his Well-magic turned him into an impossible blur, ducking between weapons and behind demons, carving chunks of marble free.  

In his speed, the demons missed and struck each other, with their own gold spilling their ichor.  The power that he felt was intoxicating, dodging and weaving between weapons with a responsiveness that would be impossible without his Well.  The demons almost seemed in slow motion, soot and ash thrown into the air by the force of his motions. In less than thirty seconds, the dozen demons had been felled, the last one falling to a blast of magic that exploded its skull.

Dae stared at him from where he stood at the center of the destruction.  Hot ichor had scorched his clothes, but he was unharmed. Not one blade had reached him.  In the storm and pressure, he hadn’t realized the Spiral flaring with ice. Wispy darkness evaporated from his skin.  This was Telas’s power.

Just as the breach began to burn again, Paladins and Warlocks emerged from the woods, rushing into positions.  This time Semt didn’t join them, standing by Dae’s side. “We make a good team,” he said, not even out of breath.

“Holy shit.  Semt, what was that?”

He let go of his Well, the last of the Entropy fading from him.  He looked at her and realized he couldn’t stand secrets. “I’ll tell you after this,” he promised.

She looked like she was about to argue, but another blast of heat from the breach struck them and drew their attention.  Something else emerged from the portal, preceded by two Rooks. It hovered in the air, unsupported by wings, with several orbs floating behind its back.  It was lithe and feminine, wearing a strange marble headdress that pointed up and back. A Bishop.

The Paladins gathered in the front line, while the Warlocks gathered behind their little group of three.  The sudden glow of Nightroots forging into weapons lit up the dusk with bold orange light, while the glowing tattoos of the Warlocks shined bleak and stark.  The Sorcerer released her shield and created blazing suns of blue brilliance above the battlefield, so bright that for a moment both sides had to cover their eyes.  As soon as the glow faded to a comfortable shine that illuminated the ground, the Rooks charged.

Dae abruptly ran toward the front line, where the two massive demons were about to collide with the Paladins.  He understood her train of thought, and chased after her. Behind them, the Warlocks released a fusillade of magic that rocketed over their heads toward the Bishop.  The demon passively waved its hand, a shield of yellow light forming in front of it and catching the volley as if it was nothing. Just as it did so, two more of the floating demons passed through the portal to join it.  For the moment, they just seemed to be watching the battlefield.

The two of them reached the back line of the Paladins, Dae firing a bolt straight into one of the Rook’s chests.  It had the same effect as before, creating a shallow weak point. The Rook lowered its arms to protect the wound and barreled straight into the Paladins, flinging several straight into the air and knocking others straight off their feet.  Nightroot weapons carved shallow gashes into its dense skin, but not one drew ichor.  

The beast brought a fist down onto a Paladin’s skull with a sickening crunch while using its other arm to bat away the surrounding Returned.  Even as a stray Nightroot blade got caught in its weak point, drawing a dribbling stream of gold, the monster didn’t even slow.  The second joined the fray a moment later, swatting a Paladin with a ferocity that broke his body and sent him flying backward, crashing with an explosion of dust and soot beside Semt.  He didn’t move after he landed.

Fear flamed to life inside him.  Watching the monsters rage against the Returned was horrifying.  They were like ants beneath a boot. He watched the carnage in horror, standing guard beside Dae as the demons got closer and closer.  She gathered more magic on her Lockroot, flinging it out and leaving a wide, nasty gash on the second Rook. A moment later a pike caught it and ripped free a spray of gold.  

The first was almost upon them.  Semt inched forward, lance forming in his hands.  A black dagger had made it into the monster’s wound, its owner lost somewhere behind in the path of destruction.  Dae created another crater in its neck, the force of which nearly sent the beast toppling backward. It careened back and locked its attention on Dae.  

But Semt was faster.  He drove the end of the lance into its throat, flooding the weapon with Well-magic and turning the spearhead into a wide, molten blade.  And then he wrenched it out of the side of its neck, nearly decapitating it. The Rook stood for a moment longer, then toppled to the ground.

The sight of one of the beasts falling rallied the rest of the Paladins.  They trapped it with spears, crushing its legs with war hammers, and struck at its throat until it shattered.  A cheer rose up, even amongst the broken ranks. Far too many Paladins were on the ground. After the severity of some of their wounds, Semt was sure most of their Wells would give out before they healed back to life.

An explosive display of Well-magic flew over their heads, carrying enough force that even under a shield powered by three Bishops, they faltered.  A few of their golden orbs shrunk into nothing. Those, as well as the blood in their hollow bodies, were what powered the Bishops. Finite, but immense power.  

This was too much, too soon.  Could they even survive this breach?  Even with Telas’s help, their Wells were drained from the last breach.  Not to mention the strain on their faces. Death-sickness was still a noose around many of their necks.

After the magnitude of the Warlocks’ attack, the Bishops stopped idling.  Knights started coming through the portal behind them, and the Bishops rose their fine hands at their presence.  Honey-colored, transparent light engulfed the Knights. Instantly, they accelerated twice as fast as they ever could normally, spiraling upward in the sky.  The Warlocks fired after them, but their speed made it nearly impossible to hit them.  

The Bishops blurred in place, golden light shimmered off of them.  In the next moment, they began to shoot across the battlefield in lightning-quick diagonals.  Glowing after images— snapshots of their movement— hovered in the air behind them, tracing their paths, before dissipating.  They moved too fast for anyone to stop them. Within ten seconds one hovered over the Paladins, palms full of flames.

It spread out its hands, the fire blazing within them, and released it toward the Paladins.  Semt watched, frozen in horror. But Dae stepped forward and ignited her yellow elemental band.  A tempest of wind erupted from her Lockroot, creating a shield of air that saved every single Paladin from the flames.  It was awe inspiring to watch. Her fiery hair danced in the wind, face strained with exertion.

When the fire died away, Dae slumped, and Semt rushed to catch her.  But she caught herself, her Well humming in the open air as she wiped away her exhaustion.  How much power was left in her Well?

The Bishop paused at the sight of them all unharmed, but as the Knights climbed higher in the sky, it vanished as quickly as it had come, the other Bishops blurring after it.  In the back line, the Sorcerer had protected most of the Warlocks, but a third of them had been decimated by flames. Their scorched forms were frozen in place, screams wide on their ruined faces.  Real horror crept into Semt.

It didn’t seem to matter that they didn’t have a barrier stopping the demons from escaping.  They weren’t focused on invasion this time. This was extermination.

The Knights gathered in the sky in a glowing, spinning ring that fought the darkness as the sun finally fell and the last tinges of blood-red orange faded from the horizon.  They could see their golden lances forming from here. Dozens of them. Glittering death.

Telas joined him with a shiver.  “You can’t let this happen.

“I can’t stop it.  I don’t know how.” He was too tired and hopeless to hide it now.  Dae gave him a strange look, his own fear mirrored in her eyes.

Yes you do.  You have it now.  Entropy. My power is yours.  This is the time to perform beyond your limits.

He stared at Dae, who grabbed onto him as he stared distantly.  “Semt, what’s going on?” she demanded.

You can save her.” The goddess said with desperation creeping into her voice.  “You are my Vessel.

“I have to do something,” he told Dae dumbly.

She shook him gently.  “Semt, tell me.”

He focused on her as he poured his Well into the Spiral, the cold soaking him with clarity.  Her gray eyes sunk into him. He reached up, gently cupping her cheek. “I love you, Dae Ashwood.”

And then he reached down and ripped the navy bandage from his arm.  Inky blackness had soaked into his skin, spreading from the Spiral. His brown skin was turning pitch.  Like soot. Its surface was cracked like a rock, infinity appearing in the spaces.

Whatever Dae said to him in the moments afterward was lost to the roaring silence that flooded his senses.  He knew he was standing, but he couldn’t feel his feet on solid ground. Or his feet at all. He breathed, but he didn’t feel it enter his lungs.  He couldn’t smell anything. The taste of blood in the air disappeared. All that was left was the cold and Spiral.  

Semt saw the world around him in slow motion.  Dae and the Paladins were retreating from him and the darkness that claimed the dead land around him.  She was yelling something, confusion and anger written in her every line. She was beautiful.

He looked up.  The Knights had thrown their lances downward.  In the timeless moment he found himself in, they were a hundred gilded raindrops.  He had to stop them, he remembered. They were wrong.

His arms rose almost on their own accord— some part of him noticing that both were the color of the night sky; which made sense because the sky couldn’t feel either— and he exhaled.  The power ripped from him in a storm of dark tendrils, reaching upward toward the rain of metal. Soot flew with it, but it only made it a hundred feet before freezing in the air. But it wasn’t enough.

The nothingness spread, and a hundred men and women doubled over, clutching their chests as their Wells were drained dry.  Semt felt far away. He pushed the power out of instinct, his thoughts slow and distant. FartherHigherFaster.  The tendrils obeyed.

They climbed into the sky, engulfing the javelins.  The gold weapons froze in place, caught like flies in honey.  But that wasn’t enough either. ProtectStopTrap.

The Knights scattered as the magic grew toward them, but they weren’t quick enough.  They were ensnared with their weapons, stuck in a single moment. Semt still wasn’t done.  If he released the magic now, they would be freed with no consequences. There had to be consequences.

Time.  Destroy.  End.

Semt understood what he did, but he always had trouble explaining it.  A thousand years, a million years, a billion passed in a moment. Nothing survived time.  The Knights, their weapons, the soot. It was utterly deconstructed down into its most basic parts.  Like how it would be in the end. This was the power of Entropy.

The tendrils evaporated, starting at their highest reaches and traveling down toward Semt.  The last parts of him wondered if he was evaporate too. Become a part of the sky. Pass on.  But he didn’t find an answer before the darkness took him.

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Dae screamed in horror as Semt dropped to the ground.  It was the one sound on that battlefield, every other person completely shocked into silence.  Within a few moments, the entire group of Knights was gone. Even the Bishops didn’t move, hovering stoically before their breach.

She rushed to him, but he was more stone than man now.  His clothes were completely unharmed, but every patch of flesh exposed had been turned into dark, obsidian-like stone.  Its cracks cut her as she tried to move him, drawing blood that made her hands slick. His eyes were silver and sightless.  There was a strange, silver spiral on the back of his right hand. Her breath caught at the sight of it. It was like her Mark.

Her Well was completely empty, so she drew some of her Reservoir into it to heal her hands.  The transition was painfully slow, but she had no choice. Once she had enough, she placed her hands on his chest and pushed the Well-magic through them.  Her motions were focused, cold. She didn’t think about her blurring vision, or the pit where her heart was, or how she could still feel it hammering in her ears.

Beneath her touch, his chest hummed.  His Well was still active, but every bit of her Well-magic returned to her.  The tattoos on her left arm came to life with golden light. She didn’t have time to use the Well.  She channeled the Reservoir directly. It was warm, vibrant. Exhilarating.

Dae stretched her magic into him, sensing and feeling.  She found his Well, and dipped an eye into it. It was completely full.  Her magic shot back to her like it had been jolted. Well-magic didn’t react well with Reservoir-magic, apparently.

Semt wasn’t completely gone, she told herself.  His Well was active and full. Not that she could imagine it healing… whatever had happened to him.  

The Spiral on his hand.  It was so like her Mark. She had never been stupid.  He was a Vessel. Just like her. And judging by when it had appeared on his hand, the same night he started wearing the navy fabric, he had become one the same night she had.  Was he Telas’s Vessel? Were the goddesses playing them against each other?

“Damn it all to hell,” she snarled, getting to her feet.  She couldn’t do anything for him. Whatever had happened, it was beyond her magic.  But his Well was full. He had a chance. He couldn’t be gone.

The battle wasn’t over.  The Bishops began to climb in the air, leaving the Returned to just watch helplessly, drained of their magic.  Semt’s… Semt’s sacrifice had saved them from one threat. It had damned them to another.

The Bishops stared down at them, and somehow Dae knew— through the tingling of her Mark— that they were looking at Semt.  They were smarter. They knew a real threat. And right now he was helpless. She doubted whatever he was made of now would protect him.

Spitting obscenities, Dae got to her feet and scooped up her Lockroot.  She was angry. These goddesses, this war. They hadn’t asked for any of this.  None of them. But here they were, paying for it in with blood and lives.

Semt… he might’ve died for this.  Died for real. The one good person she’d found in her life.  The one person who didn’t use her or manipulate her or bend her.  These fucking goddesses.

The anger pulled on the Reservoir, and her tattoos lit up with brilliant sunlight.  The Paladins around her stared in awe as the light climbed to her Lockroot. Her Mark burned to life, a mind sliding into hers.

What are you doing?  They’ll realize what you are.  They’ll kill you. You have to stop this, before they see your Mark.  I command you—“ 

She cut off Kaltena’s words.  “Fuck you, bitch.

Dae pushed the Reservoir into her body, the heat and power wiping the last bits of reservation and inhibitions.  This power was hers.  No one else’s.  

Sunlight blossomed on her skin, her eyes, the ground she walked on.  She walked toward the Bishops, Paladins making way for her. Their voices faded as she brought her left arm up, the Reservoir-magic gathering in her palm.  It swirled and formed just as easily as the Well-magic, if not easier. It was more responsive, quicker.

The missile of sunlight shot from her palm so much faster than she could ever use Well-magic.  Its speed caught the Bishops off guard, and they only threw up a shield at the last moment, still easily shrugging off the blow.  But she had their attention.

Her Mark tingled with excitement, and she gave it what it wanted— fuel.  She became Motion. The ground suddenly seemed to have no hold on her, and she slid across the battlefield like friction had forgotten about her, her feet sliding with her only having to give little kicks to propel herself.  Wind and dust whipped past her, the Returned fading behind her as the Gatewall loomed.

The Bishops blurred.  They came at her together, afterimages chasing their diagonals through the air.  They hovered around her as she rocketed across the ground, spinning in place to watch them.  They brought fire into their fingers, ready to incinerate her before she could get a real handle on these abilities.

But she was a quick learner.  Dae leapt into the air, the force of her magic stronger than gravity, and aimed straight for a Bishop.  Her jump powered her straight to its massive head, and she brought the sunlight blade of her Lockroot straight into its eye-socket.  The entire demon shattered into gold and dust.

Dae fell.  She wasn’t immune to gravity.  Whatever let these demons fly was beyond her, for now.  But she wasn’t helpless. Her air elemental band came to life with beige, yellowish light and she threw her hands downward, a massive torrent of wind propelling her even higher into the air.  

Her magic, her reactions.  She was fast. Faster than she realized.  Gravity didn’t have less of a hold on her, it was just that time felt slower to her.  Her whole body moved with an inhuman agility.

The other Bishops threw up their golden shields, predicting another attack, but she sheer volume of power within her shadowed theirs.  Her newest elemental band— a thorny tangle of storm clouds and lightning— came to life with violet and blue light. She gave it more power than she ever could have before, and she threw her hands out toward the shielded Bishops.

Thunder and light clouded her senses, deafening and blinding, and the storm left her hands.  The electricity twisted and bent in the air, but every bolt found its mark. The Bishops were blown backward, their shields torn apart, and crashed into the ground a hundred meters away. 

Dae had enough focus to save her from falling to her death, but she could feel the strain on her body.  The human body just wasn’t built to be a conduit for that kind of power. Her Reservoir was far from empty, but doing anything like that for a while would kill her.  Was that what happened to Semt?

The Bishops stirred.  She watched with an air of defeat.  There wasn’t anything she could do. They rose into the air, only guided by a singular golden globe, and they both called beams of energy to themselves, pointing them toward her.

The blue suns in the sky began to move.  The Sorcerer, nearly as far from her as the Bishops were, was shrouded in light and power that sent Returned running from her.  There were a dozen or so of those flying orbs, and they all floated silently toward the Bishops, gaining speed as they went. The two remaining demons disappeared in an explosion of blue light and thrown ash.  Dae threw up her hands to protect her eyes.

When the dust faded, there was only a crater.

Dae fell to her knees with exhaustion painting her body.  Kaltena returned with a sting of heat. “You have to get out of here, my Vessel.

“I’m not quite in a place to move right now, motherfucker.  Give me a second.”

The goddess was insistent.  “I’ll forgive you wasting nearly half of my gift— but you have to get out of here.  The Returned are my sister’s. They will recognize my magic as foreign to their own.  They will imprison you, kill you.

Dae understood what she meant, beneath the oppressive weight of her body.  That wasn’t the cold power of Telas or the neutral light of the Sorcerers. It had reeked of the demons they had spent so long fighting.  She knew it innately. It was foreign.

Looking up, she saw Paladins walking toward her, Nightroots forging into weapons.  They didn’t look happy. Of course. She had used the power of the enemy. You wouldn’t get that by chance or by accident.  It wouldn’t be for Telas’s cause, even if she had just used it for that.

“Is Semt alive?” she asked the air.

I do not know.  If he is my sister’s Vessel— there is a chance.  But I do not know her power.

That was something.  A half-hope. She fed a trickle of the Reservoir to her Mark.  “I don’t know where to go.”

Relief passed between her and the goddess.  “I will guide you.”

Dae ran.

// Previous Chapter / Next Chapter //

2 thoughts on “(The Returned Dead) Chapter 6 – Sunset – 6,693 words

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