Friday, June 30, 2017

Blue Nexus #67 - Meaning of a Mage

               What must it have been like in that moment, in those milliseconds, as the golden light flashed in front of Clarke’s eyes before all she was, good or evil, all that power she had, restrained or wild, suddenly vanished? Staring into the eyes of someone she swore to defeat, the person she was so confident against? And yet, while she thought of Clarke and that mere blink where Rafael vaporized her, Brenda could not escape the thought that he could just as easily have ended her as well.
                She’d had her hands on the rut formed from her crash for a while. She’d managed to get all the rubble together and create a small little healing square over it. She just could move, couldn’t use her magic. Not physically incapable, but she couldn’t will herself to it. She sat, hollow, staring at the broken bits of ground while the red sky around her tumbled down and the blue skies of Rome retook their place.

                Police sirens blared all around her, coming from what felt like all different directions. Everyone in the building scrambled around, with the humdrum of speech suddenly filling the air. Brenda’s hands trembled and she sighed.
                The magic filled the gaps in the ground like concrete. Brenda smoothed one hand over the square to flatten all the rock, then smoothed it back over to seal it. She removed the platform and little red lines formed between all the imperfections, keeping the gravel in place. She examined the Coliseum, which took little exterior damage besides some shakes that, really, were no stronger than a powerful gust of wind. The real trouble would be cleaning up inside, mostly down below in the tunnels.
            She fixed a smaller rut in the ground, caused by Oz, and then leapt high into the air, landing on the third level of the Coliseum, just beyond the public. Nobody noticed her, they were all too caught up in either conversation or trying to get to the exits as fast as they could. She watched them for just a brief moment, trying to listen in. They had all concluded that nobody knew what was going on, and that damned alien almost killed them all. Plus, there was that golden man who was fighting another weird wizard? Wasn’t the golden man a good guy, didn’t he save an entire town?
            Brenda jumped away, down into the tunnels. The tourists and people gasped and called out her name, as if she were there to help them all of a sudden. She tried to ignore it, and focused on the debris.
            Clarke’s manic magic allowed her residue to stain any of the fallen debris they’d touched, making it that much easier to pick up it up, encase it in some magic, and lift it out into the open. She flexed and really felt the weight of the stone as she lifted them up. It wasn’t difficult, but it was like pulling a hefty weight underwater. She laid them down up top, gently, then examined the rest of the tunnels.
            What little sunlight there was from the overcast sky leaked in and showed the extent of the damages. Not too different from when they’d engaged, but Brenda couldn’t help feeling terrible about the situation. This was ancient Earth history that, over some madwoman’s pride and jealousy, had been irreparably damaged.
            Someone called out her name up above. Brenda remained where she stood for just a moment longer. She placed her hand on the stone near her. It was cold, and dusty. When she peeled her hand away it was stained with the dirt from thousands of years ago. She clenched her fist and flew up to the top platform which covered the tunnels.
            Two police officers, a man in a suit, and a tour guide waited for her. The man in the suit stepped up to meet her.
            “Good afternoon,” she said in Italian.
            “Good afternoon,” the man in the suit said. “What happened here?”
            Brenda thought before she spoke to make sure she was saying things correctly. “Another mage here. She was willing to put everyone in danger in order to fight me. I tried to preserve things.”
            “It didn’t seem that way,” the tour guide said.
            “She could use my magic against me,” Brenda said, unsure if she said that right.
            The man in the suit nodded. “And you had no friends?”
            “Only I could get in,” Brenda said. Before the tour guide or officers could speak, Brenda amended her statement, “Myself and the two other strongest mages in the world.”
            “And you fought alongside the golden one?” the man in the suit asked.
            “No,” Brenda said.
            “He destroyed my opponent.”
            “No,” Brenda said again. “This golden man—Rafael—has no good intentions for this world. He sees humans like ants and is waiting until everything is aligned for him to crush them.”
            “But he saved that entire town,” the officer said. “Over in America.”
            Brenda grimaced. “Yes, but…”
            “Why didn’t you take the fight away?” the tour guide asked.
            “My opponent wouldn’t have been able to keep up with me,” Brenda said.
            “I don’t understand,” the man said.
            An officer looked over Brenda’s shoulder and headed off. She maintained her focus on the three in front of her.
            “She didn’t have the same abilities as me,” Brenda said. “If I were to try and leave, she would stay and cause more damage. I did my best to keep the area as intact as possible.”
            “And the people?” the tour guide asked.
            “What do you mean?”
            “The people were hurt,” the tour guide said. Brenda’s heart sunk. “All while you fought, people would get headaches, random internal injuries. Some said it was like they were being shocked.”
            “It was her magic,” Brenda said. “I can heal them.”
            “You’ll be wise to stay away,” the tour guide said.
            “I’ll be wise to help them,” Brenda said in English, and flew off to a clump of people where the police officer was running toward.
            An older Italian gentleman lay in a crowd, propped against a wall. A woman around his age and a younger couple were with him. The crowd parted before Brenda even touched down.
            “Excuse me,” she said.
            She knelt before the older gentleman, who looked a bit terrified. Brenda rested a hand on his leg.
            “I know it hurts, I’m going to make the pain go away,” she said. “Just relax.”
            She let magic flow from her hand, slow, like her normal healing technique. The panic didn’t disappear from his face until it was clear her spell was settling in. He smiled and sat up. The older woman with him whirled around to face Brenda.
            “You’re healing him?” she asked.
            “It’s my specialty,” Brenda said.
            “Who was that, Shindari?” one among the crowd asked.
            “Why didn’t you come with that golden man?” another asked.
            “The person I fought was an incredibly powerful mage,” Brenda said. “And she was on the same side as the golden man.”
            Sort of, Brenda kept to herself. The relationship of the Six Pillars seemed tenuous at best. Still, it was the truth.
            “But, that to—”
            “It was a ploy,” Brenda said. “He’s smart, much smarter than I think any villain I’ve seen on Earth. He’ll do whatever he can to make sure people love him as much as he wants before he destroys them all. Trust me, he’s made it clear to my friends and I that he wants nothing but destruction for the Earth.”
            The crowd fell silent. Brenda stood up. She smiled around at all of them.
            “We’re all intelligent,” Brenda said. “We know the good guys from the bad. I can’t tell you what to do or who to follow, so I just need to trust all your judgments. Follow that, and you’ll save yourselves and make our jobs that much easier.”
            “So one crazy red lady and one nice gold guy are on the same side of being bad guys?” a younger boy asked.
            Brenda nodded. “Unfortunately.”
            Brenda turned and faced him. He was a tiny little thing, barely reaching up to her hips when she stood. Still, he was adorable, but not when his face was scrunched up in confusion.
            “I’ll make sure none of them get to you guys,” Brenda said. She rested a hand on his shoulder. “Me and my friends, of course.”
            “You’ve done a great job of it already,” someone in the crowd said.
            Another person in the crowd shushed them. “Seriously? She’s helping here!”
            Brenda took a sweeping look at the crowd. “Make sure you get home safe. And remember, trust your judgment. It’s the only way to tell right from wrong.”
            She took a step back, then leapt over the edge and took to the skies. She created a platform ahead of her and flew up to it, landing on it and clamping her legs to it. She swung around, catching the glances of the small crowd, and waved with a big smile. Brenda blasted off once she was out of their view, taking off through the clouds and back into the clear blue Mediterranean skies.
            The blue sky collided up ahead with the crystalline waters with no land in sight. Brenda took the signal and sat down. The muscles in her legs thanked her. She didn’t bother meditating or letting her magic energy swell like normal through her body. It’d just be easier, and better for them, to have a Shield mage in Magus Forest heal her up.
            Maybe they could identify that weird tingle in her right arm she kept feeling. Probably just some residue from Clarke’s magic.
            Brenda let her Zanderia communicator down next to her and sealed the platform she sat on with a rounded shield so that the wind wouldn’t send the thing flying. She took her flight down just a bit so she couldn’t come into contact with any flights, but she was still high enough not to endanger any Transatlantic ships. 
            She rested against the barrier, and finally let her body relax and lose the tension she’d been so riled up in all day. She could go back, get some sleep, and maybe do a night patrol for the Zanderia. Clarke was just an odd hiccup in the day.
            Perhaps more than just a hiccup, more like a major victory? Brenda couldn’t feel good about it. On one hand, yes, the strongest of the Six Pillars was gone. It was one less thing to worry about, one less person to spread Rafael’s propaganda as he masqueraded as a good person. On the other hand, Rafael so mercilessly and so easily vaporized Clarke after engaging in the strongest mage the people of Magus Forest had on their side. Brenda wondered how much of a difference she would’ve made if she and Oz took on Rafael together.
            She hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Much as she wanted to fight Rafael alongside Oz, she had a feeling that she, Kyle, and the Zanderia would have to relegate themselves to hunting down the five remaining Pillars. Robbie would be easy enough to find, and Kyle, as a Demon mage, might be able to pinpoint John’s location. Axel would inevitably challenge Kyle again and with help, he wouldn’t be too difficult to take down. That left whoever the Reality and Deception mages were, and the Deception mage had already made herself known to Tania and Kyle the night of the camp attack.
            Oz and the Grand Elder could defeat Rafael if he were to come to Magus Forest, no question about it. They were the guardians of the forest and of all good magic on Earth. The forest, with all that magic energy swirling around it, was ripe for their taking, and would be turned right around against Rafael.
            He had to know this, he just had to. He’d been playing this so carefully all this time. Clarke was the only wildcard and besides that, he had won every encounter with Magus Forest. He was recruiting, and whoever he didn’t recruit, he sent one of the Six Pillars after them. No ordinary mage could keep up with them, not even a camp full of mages. There was no trace of that camp left, as Brenda understood, and both sides had scattered as if it never existed. Rafael knew what he was doing, and knew to keep himself in the shadows until it was such a time to cause a public stir.
            She was honestly surprised he hadn’t made more of an effort to work with the Zanderia against some of the corrupted, loose and wild mages. Andreus, Kyle’s friend, was a great example, although it sounded from Kyle’s report that Axel was sent to deal with that mess, as well as the mess of the Blue Nexus.
            His endgame seemed clear, from the side of the heroes, anyway. Brenda saw it all the time back on the slave world. Masters would sucker up to some of the servants, informing them that their tenure would be up and they could be free. Of course they’d be dead right before and the master would be in no trouble; the master just had to make it look like the slave died of something other than direct murder. Rafael would do the same, but on a planetary scale, and pretending he was some sort of deity.
            Brenda’s heart fluttered at the thought. Although, his claim that he had power to rival a War God wouldn’t be too farfetched, and if it were true, if the extent of his power reached that far, then Earth was truly doomed. Only a superior in the Nexus, a Sentient, could stand up to War Gods. It was a fable she’d heard her whole life, about how the Nexus and the War Gods were destined for combat, as two sides of the same wheel of cosmic power. The only Nexuses on Earth were two young men, and against a War God they would be feeble.         
            And what repercussions would there be if rumor spread off-planet that the heroes of Earth defeated a War God in power, not title?
            She shook her head. No, too much! Thinking way far into the future as well as overthinking things. This was what he wanted. For us to think and see beyond what was in front of us. It was how he tricked everyone in the Coliseum, how he so easily shut down everyone in Adelita and got into Magus Forest. Rafael wanted everyone to think he was a step ahead, but really, he was running alongside them as quietly and as invisible as possible. For that exact reason, for that exact overestimation, Clarke found herself exposed and subsequently destroyed.
            The Zanderia communicator buzzed next to her. Brenda snapped out of her thinking trance and checked it. A call from Phoenix. She tapped the screen and increased the maximum volume.
            “I’ll just go ahead and assume that thing in Rome was taken care of,” he said. “Things have gotten nice and quiet over there.”
            “You’re correct,” Brenda said. She leaned back a bit more. “Clarke was dispatched.”
            “Dis…whoa. Shindari, I don’t need to remind you of our rules, right?”
            “No, I disabled her, and Rafael dispatched her,” Brenda said.
            Phoenix fell silent. “Oh. That’s interesting. I guess it’d be pretty dumb of me to think he’s turning against them.”
            “No, Clarke was turning against him,” Brenda said. “It’s complicated, but basically, he wasn’t having any of it. And, Phoenix, he’d just been in a huge fight against Oz.”
            “That super strong mage on our side?”
            “Right. And he just, in less than a second, obliterated her. I know we haven’t been screwing around with him up until now, but we really need to come down hard on this guy from now on. I know Oz can take him, but we should also assume that the other Six Pillars are going to have this attitude about their teammates and how they handle these situations.”
            “Great, things are escalating much faster than with Alucard,” Phoenix said. He sighed. “So, this Clarke, how strong was she compared to what you’ve seen so far?”
            “In terms of raw power, probably second,” Brenda said. “But she was going wild, unleashing much more than any of the others. The only reason I was able to contend was because our powers practically cancelled each other out, and she had no idea what was going on.”
            “At least it’s a gauge against the others,” Phoenix said.
            “We’ll get together soon and formulate a battle plan against the Six Pillars,” Brenda said. She relayed the agreement between her and Oz to get Rafael to the forest and beat him there.
            “Sounds good to me,” Phoenix said. “Get in contact with Riko about that so you guys can evacuate the forest. A fight like that is sure to cause a massive amount of collateral.”
            “Agreed,” Brenda said. “I’ll see if Kyle can help with it as well. Couldn’t hurt to have another familiar face.”
            “First we need to be able to contact him,” Phoenix said. “It’s not like he’s dropped off the face of the Earth, but…”
            “He’s missing?” Brenda asked.
            “I don’t think so,” Phoenix said. “Missing’s not the right word. I don’t think he’s hiding. He’s just under the radar, maybe trying to recruit. I don’t know.”
            Brenda pursed her lips. “I’ll try to reach out to him soon.”
            “Good,” Phoenix said. “Hate to put all this on your table, but, right now you’re the only one we can keep mobilized.”
            “What do you mean by that?” Brenda asked. Was everyone else really so busy?
            “This isn’t the only problem we have right now,” Phoenix said. “Lalay’s dealing with stuff in the upper Midwest and Riko’s taken Prism and Rockette down into the Southern Ocean to break up a mad scientist experiment. They won’t be back for a couple days.”
            “And there’s really nobody else?” she asked.
            “Listen, it’s either their own villains, dealing with all these mages and people coming into town to take them, or they have personal issues, which I’m not allowed to get into nor would I want to.”
            “Damn it. Okay. I’ll see how Violette is coming along, then. She’ll be a good help.”
            “True, she is tougher than she looks.”
            “I’ll get back to you when I have some updates, we’ll plan things out with Oz by nighttime.”
            “Your current nighttime or…”
            “My regular nighttime.”
            “Right. Later.”
            He cut the connection and Brenda stood up, expanding the ceiling over her head. She groaned and forced herself forward much faster, ripping through the sky. She swayed her arms front to back slowly, at about a rowing pace, to keep up the speed without putting too much strain on her arms.
            Brenda slowed up significantly once she hit land and had to make a hard turn in order to get on the right path for Magus Forest. She lowered a bit more to stay out of more incoming/outgoing flight patterns.
            The forest was a welcomed sight when it came up over the horizon. Brenda slowed up significantly and passed through the barrier like normal. Her right hand twitched. She rolled her eyes. Clarke’s power was clearly not welcomed here.
            She lost the flying platform and plummeted through the air in a controlled descent. The village was far more awake than when she left, and everyone seemed on high alert. Even the Grand Elder was out in the square with her personal guard tight around her. Oz was there, too, speaking with other civilians. And even Sandy was there!
            Brenda landed on the patch of perpetually blown-back grass, which she had a desire to turn into a launch-pad, and smiled at the first mage she walked by. They greeted her. She dropped the magic veil around her and let her energy run like normal throughout her body.
            She approached the Grand Elder, who spotted Brenda. She squinted—no, was that a glare?—when she saw Brenda, but her look softened and she held out a hand for Brenda. Brenda took it and gripped tight.
            “I’m glad to see you back,” the Grand Elder said. “I sense that one of the Six Pillars has fallen.” 
            “Not by my hand,” Brenda said.
            “Indeed,” Oz said from his crowd.
            “Oh, I know it wasn’t you that did it,” the Grand Elder said. “You think a bit of Divine Magic goes unnoticed?”
            “It’s certainly not a good sign,” Brenda said.
            Sandy approached them, nodding to the guards as a trainee would a trainer. Brenda smiled at her, but returned her focus to the Grand Elder.
            “None of this is,” the Grand Elder said. “But I’m proud of you.”
            “Rafael could have killed me just as fast as he killed her,” Brenda said. “But he spared me. He wants me on their side so badly he would destroy his own.”
            “The Six Pillars work with Rafael, but they are not owned directly by him,” the Grand Elder said. “That’s not why I’m proud of you. I sensed the trepidation going on in that young woman’s heart. It was full of malice, anger, and touches of fear. Of you? Of her own power? I can’t know. If I had to guess, I would indeed say she was afraid of what she was becoming.”
            “It seemed to me as if that was what she’d always wanted,” Brenda said. “The more she let herself go the stronger she became.”
            “But you saw what that looked like,” the Grand Elder said. “Shield mages are the most susceptible to this physically, while Demon mages may succumb to their own darkness. Magic is a powerful force within and without. Once Shield magic is mastered, as I’m sure you witnessed, it becomes the most dangerous of the six forms. It can destroy the mage that harnesses it.” The Grand Elder reached and squeezed Brenda’s hand. “You were pushed to your limit, Shindari. To the brink, but you did not give in. You embraced your enemy’s power and made it your own. No novice, and few masters, could ever do that.”
            The Grand Elder glanced at Sandy, who blushed. Brenda looked over to Sandy. The Grand Elder reached out and held Sandy’s hand as well.
            “She walked into the abyss and walked out the better for it,” the Grand Elder said. “The two of you have done what so few mages have done in my lifetime, and it is certainly nothing Rafael could ever do. To learn from the darkness of mage and to make your magic all the better for it, to let your heart guide you, is what it means to be a mage.”
            “Thank you, Grand Elder,” Sandy said.
            Brenda said the same, but bowed and said it in her native language. The Grand Elder let go of their hands and sighed, taking in a deep breath.
            “Now, I’m afraid you’ll have to do the same again,” the Grand Elder said. Her voice didn’t change, but Brenda sensed danger in it.
            “What?” Brenda asked.
            She gestured at Brenda. “You’ve done a terrible thing, Shindari, though you’re not aware. That magic you stole, that you’re melding with your own, still belonged to Clarke. Clarke, who, worked with Rafael. Who knows their magic inside and out.”
            “I still don’t understand,” Brenda said.
            Birds fluttered away overhead. Brenda became suddenly aware of the crowd, as if her senses were getting increasingly hyper. Even Oz turned around, curious.
            “When last he was here, there was a cipher in our midst,” the Grand Elder said. “Tainted by that dark power that would soon become divine. As I said, the Six Pillars do not technically belong to Rafael, but he asserted himself upon them all. Our barrier keeps out any with ill-intent to the forest and any who would not be strong enough of will to find us. However, there is one way to subvert that.”
            The Grand Elder snapped her fingers and Brenda’s right arm locked. Dark red magic spread all over arm like a swarm of tiny insects, gnawing away at her while waves of regular scarlet magic washed them down. The Grand Elder opened her palm and crushed it. Brenda’s own magic slammed down on the way of dark red magic, and suddenly a power jolted through her body. Brenda locked, but felt stronger. Her eyes and aura flared.
            “By having that tainted magic here,” the Grand Elder said.
            Something ruptured overhead, then there was a sizzle. Oz shouted something, and the Grand Elder bowed her head, muttering.
            A bright light filled the sky where the Sun was, as if it were expanding, and it wouldn’t stop. Brenda turned, magic at the ready, and saw a great beam hurtling down from on high.
            And right then, in that fraction of a moment, Brenda knew exactly how it felt for Clarke to be staring up at God and realize that death had come to claim her.

Next time: The aftermath of Rafael's attack in Blue Nexus #68 - "Cinders of a Soul"!

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