Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Blue Neuxs #72 - Coldness of Revenge

Previously on "Blue Nexus": Kyle, Brenda, Sandy, and Professor Boomer (down in the Cube) were able to defeat three of the Six Pillars! When Kyle learns that Dr. Luna has somehow returned to the world of the living, he bursts off to Pacific City and learns that she is the key to Rafael becoming immortal. Dr. Luna orders Kyle to return her to the Nexus, which he does so reluctantly. Just then, Clarke appears again, wreaking havoc all across the city!

Clarke stood stoic in the midst of her own destructive power, letting red sparks whip around her while the street cracked and broke with every strike upon it. People were scattering like insects, running in all directions and harming each other. A few were hit by the sparks, but were simply stunned by them, not seriously injured.
            “Are you having fun, Clarke?” Brenda shouted over all the chaos.
            “You wouldn’t believe,” Clarke said, and swung her arms out. A gust of red mist shot throughout the area, shattering windows. Kyle, Sandy, and Brenda all covered themselves up to protect themselves. A few shards of glass scraped against Brenda’s arms and legs.
            “Blue Nexus, Violette!” she shouted. “Round people up and get them away from here as fast as possible!” Her worst dream had come true. “Clarke’s lost control of her powers!”
            “Lost control?” Clarke asked with a shrill voice. “No! You mistake out of control powers with absolute power! I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, and it feels amazing!”
            A crackling red barrier appeared over Brenda. The three heroes dove out of the way and avoided it as it completely destroyed the pavement in front of them.
            “You’re going to need help,” Kyle said.
            Brenda shook her head, analyzing Clarke. Every moment, down to the slightest twitch in power, told her exactly what she needed. Her body had jagged and cracked lines all over it. Red magic slipped out like blood from every crevasse, particularly along her arms and face. Her eyes were a startling dark red with a pure black pupil. Her skin was pale as the dead.
            “I’m the only one that can defeat her,” Brenda said.
            “That doesn’t mean you won’t need help,” Kyle said.
            “I’m far more capable of handling myself than anyone else here!” Brenda shouted. “These people are scared and vulnerable, help them now before this situation gets any worse!”
            “Worse, you ask?” Clarke said, and swung her arms up.
            Brenda shot a barrier at her that bounced right off of Clarke’s powerful aura, but it did enough to stun her out of her attack. Clarke snarled.
            “We can avoid this, Clarke,” Brenda said. She had to try. It was against her better nature of just putting Clarke out of her misery, but she had to know if there was any shred of humanity left in this poor girl. “Just stand down and go away. I don’t want to harm you. Not like this.”
            “This is my ultimate form,” Clarke said. “It’s your ultimate form. It’s the fate of any Shield mage that wants real power! We become cracked, broken. We can only fix and protect things for so long before our powers decide to go a little haywire.”
            “That’s not the only thing that’s gone haywire,” Brenda said.
            “Besides,” Clarke said. “We have a score to settle, and this time, when I kill you, I’ll take your power and take Rafael for myself. Then I’ll become the goddess of this world.”
            “Is that really all you want?” Brenda asked. “Power?”
            “Absolute power,” Clarke said. “It’s all I’ve ever needed. Everyone, secretly, wants to be in control. Why would you let that opportunity go when it’s so close?”
            “Because your putting innocent people in danger,” Brenda said.
            “No!” Clarke exclaimed. “They’re in my way, they’re stepping stones to my ascension!”
            Brenda sighed. She’d shown signs of this in Rome, but Brenda didn’t want to believe any of it. Shield mages were meant, were created, to be protectors. They use their barriers as a mean of saving people, of healing them, and of preventing harm from befalling them.
            Then again, they were capable of this. Clarke was indeed the final form of what a Shield mage could become, and none of it looked helpful. It was exactly the opposite. Did this fate await Brenda? She glanced down at her hand, where there were vaguely cracked lines healing themselves, slowly. She clenched the fist.
            “No,” she said. “Nobody’s a stepping stone! I’m sorry it has to be this way Clarke, I really am. But I need to stop you before you seriously hurt anyone.”
            “You’re my biggest stepping stone,” Clarke said. She smiled and gestured behind Brenda. “And maybe I’ll take the powers of that Blue Nexus over there. I’ve always wondered what that’d be like.”
            “Enough!” Brenda exclaimed. “If we’re going to do this, we have to do it away from the city. I won’t fight you where there’s innocent lives at stake, not again.”
            “You think I’d go with that?” Clarke asked.
            A family rounded the corner, headed straight for them. A mother, daughter, and her son sprinted as hard as they could toward Brenda. Brenda placed a barrier just as they passed. Clarke shot another counter barrier at her with jagged edges, breaking it. The force of the blast knocked them back.
            The daughter sprawled out next to Brenda. She looked up, teary-eyed. She had dirt on her face and she looked shaken, weary.
            “You’ll share their fate!” Clarke exclaimed, and cast more magic at Brenda. Brenda swiped her arm and blocked it with ease, but it’d just been a distraction.
            Clarke leapt back, somehow maintaining flight, and pulled her arms back before locking them in front of her.
            The girl tugged at Brenda’s leg. The mother screamed for the girl to back away, but the girl wouldn’t listen.
            “You’ll stop her, right, Shindari?” the girl asked.
            Brenda’s hands shook while she sensed all the magic that Clarke poured out of her body and into a great, spiked wall. Red magic coursed through it unlike anything Brenda had ever seen. There weren’t any more sparks; these were like lightning bolts, ripping and crackling through the air, breaking whatever they could. Brenda took a step back, and her hand caught the little girl’s. The girl squeezed.
            “You’ll stop her?” the girl asked. The mother continued to scream. Kyle even screamed for Brenda to back up.
            “We have to be brave,” Brenda said. She looked down to the little girl. Brenda started to tremble as well. Be brave? Now? Impossible.
            The little girl clenched a fist, and nodded. She let go of Brenda’s hands.
            “We…we will be!” she exclaimed.
            Brenda sighed, and faced Clarke. “We have to be brave for everyone, and for ourselves. It’s the only way we can beat someone like this. If we have courage, we can use it against her! We can fight!”
            She felt her own power start to swell, though it was wracked with nerves. The girl took a little step back, avoiding Brenda’s aura.
            “This’ll be hilarious!” Clarke exclaimed. “You won’t stop this, Shindari! Not even the Blue Nexus has the power to stop it!”
            Brenda’s mind cleared, and she sensed only her power and Clarke’s. She closed her eyes, playing through the battle in Rome. Clarke defeated her by turning her magic against her. By using one of the tricks of a Shield mage. They cancelled each other out once the forces were great enough. Brenda had to magic this power. Otherwise…
            No. She would. Plus, she had to correct Clarke on something.
            “Actually, Clarke, hate to break it to you,” Brenda said. “But the Blue Nexus doesn’t have anything on me.”
            “We’ll see,” Clarke said. “He’s next!”
            “Ready to be brave?” Brenda asked, bracing herself. “Summon all your courage! We’ll stop this, and then, we end this!”
            Clarke reared her hands back, and then pushed the spiked wall forward. It soared through the sky. Brenda swung her hands out and a sturdy barrier appeared. She closed her fists, adding weight to it and pouring more of her power to it. She felt a spark along her right hand and ignored it. The spiked wall continued coming down.
            In her peripheral she saw the little girl take the same stance as her. Brenda sighed. The spiked wall was nearly upon them. She felt it as if it were right in front of her.
            “This is it!” she exclaimed, and surged her energy forward.
            The two forces collided at a standstill. Brenda nearly fell back from the force but held herself steady, keeping her arms forward and allowing more magic to pour into her shield. Clarke screamed over the swell and gusts of wind that whipped out around them. The spark on Brenda’s hand reappeared while the ripples of magic around her whirled around like cyclones into her barrier.
            Brenda summoned all her strength and managed to take a step forward, pushing her barrier forward just a second. Clarke didn’t let up, but Brenda had enough power behind her not to lose any ground. She braced herself against the barrier. Her eyes glowed a malicious red, sparkling through all the wind.
            “Now!” she exclaimed, and swung her arms apart. Her barrier split and ripped Clarke’s wall in half, shattering both completely into dazzling little fragments of red magic, splattering them against the wall. Some more rained down around them, creating a mist of red.
            Clarke took a step back, along a rooftop, stunned. Brenda felt her muscles start to tense and her hearts raced faster than ever before. At the same time, though, her adrenaline was through the roof.
            “Clarke!” she exclaimed. “You focus only on power, on how your magic can make you more powerful! I’m about to show you what magic truly is! It’s courage in the face of your opponent! If you understood that, you’d never side with someone who’s trying to play God!”
            She swung her arms out again and her aura exploded around her. Brenda reached out and patted the little girl on the head.
            “Get to safety,” she said, and smiled. “And thank you. You were a hero today.”
            “We were heroes,” the little girl said, and backed away.
            Brenda returned her attention to Clarke, who was unleashing energy at an enormous rate. She was incredibly strong, but that attack and release of energy had to be winding her.
            Clarke dropped down from the building she was atop and burst forward. Brenda leapt and met her, swinging a barrier against her. Clarke blocked it with ease, but it knocked her out of her flight path. Brenda followed, swinging around Clarke and kneeing her in the gut. Clarke went airborne again. Brenda flew up to follow her, casting a cube around her. Clarke shattered it and let more energy descend.
            Brenda grimaced and dodged one of Clarke’s attacks. She caught Clarke’s leg and threw her away. Clarke returned the favor by sending a jagged barrier at Brenda. She dodged but the red lightning still caught her, stinging her. Brenda felt her power fluctuate, but in that pause, an idea came to her.
            She looked around, to all the red mist. She saw Kyle covering the family up, rushing them along to safety. Clarke spotted them as well. Brenda impeded her path and punched Clarke across the face, knocking her back a little. Clarke attack viciously, swinging her arms around like a madwoman. Brenda dodged two of the attacks and let one connect so she could grab Clarke’s arm and feel her power. It was sporadic, indeed out of control like she’d thought.
            Clarke broke free and kicked Brenda away, and into a building. She followed it up with another barrier. Brenda didn’t have time to dodge it and fell through to another empty street. She got up and took to the skies, avoiding another of Clarke’s attacks. Brenda cast three cubes at Clarke to contain her and all three broke, strengthening the cloud of Shield magic. Brenda destroyed one of Clarke’s own attacks with a barrier of her own.
            Clarke upper-cut Brenda in the jaw and sent her flipping. Clarke stopped mid-flight, though. Brenda managed to stop herself and created a small square to fly on, then burst forward toward Clarke, rolling off the square. Clarke broke it in half and Brenda used the distraction to get around her and go in for another attack, clamping onto Clarke’s arm. Once again, she familiarized herself with Clarke’s magic. Sparks flew from Brenda’s hand. Clarke lashed out, knocking Brenda all the way down to the street.
            “You won’t get anywhere like that,” Clarke said, and shot downward. Brenda intercepted her and side-armed her away. Clarke burst free of the cloud.
            Brenda rolled back her shoulders and fell into a more-meditative stance, shutting her eyes and releasing any tension in her body. She felt her magic relax within her, and the sharp pains in her right hand were gone. All that was left was her magic, Clarke’s, and…
            “The reason people like you fail so much, Clarke, is because you fail to see the bigger picture,” Brenda said, weaving her arms through the red-misted air. “You become so focused on power and reaching the next level that you fail to realize exactly how much you already had at your disposal. You think you’re the best, when really, you never had a shot.”
            “You’ve felt my power,” Clarke said. “You’re the one going insane!”
            “Not at all,” Brenda said. “In fact, I’d say right now, I’m the only one with all the power. It’s like you taught me in Rome, Clarke, we Shield mages are capable of both aiding and taking away! Or did you already forget that?”
            “What are you implying?” Clarke asked. Her hands turned red. “You’re just stalling, aren’t you?”
            Ready. Brenda’s eyes opened and she clasped her hands together before slowly pulling them apart. The mist in the air began to move, and swirl together. Clarke looked around, and her jaw dropped when she figured it out. She leapt back, holding her hands over her head.
            “No!” she exclaimed. “No!”
            “Magic isn’t all about one person’s quest for power!” Brenda exclaimed. “It’s about more than just yourself! Maybe if you’d realized that, you wouldn’t be suffering so much!”
            The magic turned to a cyclone, with Brenda in the eye. Brenda felt it all, the raw magic at her disposal. She clenched her fists and the cyclone hardened. Brenda leapt forward, arm pulled back, and she punched forward, crashing all the power against Clarke.
            Clarke slammed against the ground and continued to fly away while Brenda pursued her on a humongous wave of magic. Clarke stopped and turned face Brenda, screaming while more magic emitted from her body. Brenda blocked it with ease and knocked Clarke away. Clarke immediately went airborne, preparing for another final attack.
            “I’ll kill you all!” Clarke exclaimed.
            It’s a shame, Brenda thought, and surged the magic forward again, knocking Clarke back. All the power flew into the air, beyond Clarke.
            She grinned, and reached out to take it herself. Brenda shook her head and quickened her pace, slamming Clarke from underneath with one of her own barriers and sending Clarke spinning. Brenda clasped her hands and slammed Clarke toward the ground. Clarke spun and flipped until she caught herself, but by that time Brenda was back again with another attack, this time slamming more of the magic into Clarke.
            Clarke flew through the air, but Brenda flew faster. She reached out and grabbed Clarke with both hands, and then, just as she had the surrounding magic, began to draw in Clarke’s own power. The two women screamed as the power between them rushed back and forth, like two waves colliding. Clarke tried to overload Brenda and blast her back.
            Brenda’s right hand continued to crack, but she didn’t give up. She stared Clarke right in the face, and pulled with all she had with her own magic.
            The red aura around Clarke’s hand shattered and the magic started to pour into Brenda like a black hole. Brenda ripped her arms free, but kept her hand open, while Clarke’s magic faded from her. Clarke’s eyes began to turn from red to black and she started to fall through the air.
            “I won’t go down like this!” she exclaimed, and held her hand out. “All I’ve got!”
            “Clarke, give up!” Brenda exclaimed.
            Clarke, still falling, blasted magic from beneath her, and propelled toward Brenda. Her hair whipped in the wind and red streaks of loose magic continued to follow her.
            Brenda readied a barrier and dodged Clarke, catching her in a cube and sending her flying toward the ground. The cube crashed against the ground and Clarke slammed against the ground. Brenda opened the cube up and let Clarke spill out.
            She suddenly felt a wave of exhaustion and found herself plummeting as well. Brenda managed to sustain her flight all the way to the ground, landing calmly along the edge of the bay, where policemen were busily putting people on boats.
            A small smile touched her lips, and then it went away as she thought of Clarke’s angry faced, distorted by the destructive power of her Shield magic, soaring at Brenda with the full intention of killing her.
            Someone tapped Brenda on the shoulder. The policeman gestured at the city. “Is…is it over?”
            Brenda looked over her shoulder, and almost nodded but something stunned her. She froze completely, and managed to get to her feet.
            “No,” she said. “He’s here.”

            Kyle squinted, to see where Brenda and Clarke had blasted off to. He was all that stood between the family of three and all the debris that flew around them their battle hitting anyone.
            But everyone had calmed down. There were no more ruptures in the air, no more sounds of violent magic clashing against itself.
            Kyle rose away, finally lowering his arms. The little boy and little girl looked all around him.
            Sandy lowered her bow as well. “I can’t sense their magic anymore.”
            “So Shindari beat her?” the little girl asked.
            Kyle glanced at Sandy. He’d be able to sense the magic outside of his Nexus form thanks to the Demon mark, but he couldn’t risk that here. Too many cameras, and who knows who was hiding inside? Sandy smiled, and nodded.
            “Hell yeah,” Kyle said.
            The two kids high-fived each other and cheered. The mother took a big sigh of relief. “Oh, thank God.” She took Kyle and Sandy’s hands. “Thank you, thank you so much for protecting the kids.”
            “Happy to help,” Kyle said. He gestured at Sandy. “Get these people inside, or find some cops to get them away. I’ll go check up on Shindari.”
            Sandy nodded and Kyle jogged off, examining the damage to the street. It wasn’t nearly as bad as in East City, but there were hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage. Easy. Plus it was difficult to tell if some of these high-rises were homes or just office buildings. How many people lost a place to live because some crazy woman wanted to show off how strong she’d gotten?
            Kyle suspected they’d taken their fighting closer to the bay, or high into the air, since there was less dust and debris coming down the street compared to when they fought near the buildings. Kyle took flight but stopped a few dozen feet in the air, petrified. Even without the Demon mark he could still sense that terrifying, tremendous power of Rafael…
            “Without me he’s weakened,” Dr. Luna had said. Her words suddenly appeared to Kyle. Ringing in his ears.
            “Weakened,” Kyle said. She saw Luna, white, dying, in his arms, smiling. She’d been so at peace before Rafael took her for his own to use her. Like he’d used Clarke, and all the others. Kyle clenched a fist.
            Sandy fell back as the golden light knocked her away and Rafael appeared in front of the family. He smiled at them. His back was to Kyle. The mother covered up her kids.
            Kyle blasted forward. “Rafael!
            His aura formed around him like a bullet and Nexus energy appeared in his fist just as Brian had taught him. Rafael had just enough time to turn around before—.
            Kyle landed a punch right across his stupid golden face and knocked him two clear blocks down the road, sending him crashing through a pair of street lights.
            “Get inside,” Kyle said. “For real this time.”
            Rafael managed to get up and launched energy at Kyle. Kyle braced and repelled it with a blast of his own, though it used a lot of his own power. Rafael took the time to reappear in front of Kyle and swing out at Kyle, but he was far slower than usual. Kyle grinned and dodged, then punched Rafael right in the gut, away from Sandy and back across the street.
            “How did you get so strong so fast?” Rafael asked, shaking the attack off.
            “I didn’t,” Kyle said, opening his palm and letting a bit of Nexus energy in his hand. “You just got weaker.”
            Rafael opened his eyes. “It was you.”
            “You stole her peace from her,” Kyle said. He closed his fist. “Now you’ll pay.”
            His aura widened like it always did under Wave Two and he felt more of the Nexus energy. Blue sparks leapt from the aura and from the energy he’s summoned in his palms.
            “Four of the Six Pillars, and my only anchor to this world, downed by some no-name heroes of a forsaken time,” Rafael said. He shook his head. “I never expected it to get to this. I’ll have so much restructuring to do when this is all over.”
            “I find it hilarious that you think you’ll make it out of this,” Kyle said. “Without Dr. Luna you’re not anything close to immortal.”  
            “You’d kill me?” Rafael asked.         
            “I’ve got a better idea,” Kyle said. “I hear the Nether is nice this time of year.”
            “I’ll never go back there,” Rafael said. “And you don’t have that kind of power, Blue Nexus. You’re nothing compared to me. Or do we really need to do this a third time?”
            “Come on then, War God,” Kyle said. “Show me what you got.”
            Rafael vanished in a blur of golden light, but Kyle dodged and parried his attack, matching Rafael’s speed and sending them both into the air. Rafael attacked again, from behind, and Kyle dodged it as well. He lashed out with a great wave of energy that crashed right across Rafael, knocking him back.
            Kyle didn’t give him a second to say something moronic or pretentious. He instead flew to Rafael’s side, feinted an attack, then unleahsed a great barrage of energy on Rafael’s frontside. Rafael opened his hands and blocked with a golden barrier. The force still shook him and Kyle used the momentary stun to his advantage, swinging his arm as hard as he could to fake out Rafael and then attack once again with two balls of energy.
            Rafael saw through both attacks and unloaded on Kyle a series of fast attacks Kyle could barely dodge. Kyle crashed back along the ground and was hit across the chest with a energy blast that felt startling like Demon magic. Kyle recovered and caught Rafael’s fist, though at the cost of it nearly shattering his hand. He saw a red light behind Rafael for just a moment.
            “I thought you said I was weaker?” Rafael said. “This seems about average for our fights.”
            “Maybe,” Kyle said, and held steady when Rafael tried to push forward. “But there’s a serious difference this time.”
            The red flash of light grew bigger behind Rafael. Rafael grinned, and pushed forward again. It took all Kyle could muster not to move.        
            “What’s that, a new technique?” Rafael asked.
            “No,” Kyle said. “A friend.”
            “Violette is down,” Rafael said, and the red light washed over both of them. Kyle locked his grip on Rafael and pushed forward just as Brenda’s barrier appeared overhead. Rafael couldn’t even dodge the move, and fell beneath her attack.
            He shattered that barrier but not the one that came right after it. Brenda flipped over Rafael as he tumbled away. She slid to a halt next to Kyle, breathing heavily.
            “We force him to retreat,” she said. “Understood? We can’t beat him just on our own.
            “Right,” Kyle said.
            Together, the powered forward, avoiding Rafael’s attack and landing a combined hit on him. He flew back, several blocks. Kyle sped up to meet him and impede his next oncoming attack, sending it flying into the air. Kyle shouldered Rafaela and Brenda’s barrier knocked him out into the bay, away from the boats. Rafael tried to attack the boats but Brenda placed a barrier between the people and Rafael just in time to block the attack.
            Kyle pursued Rafael through the skies as he tried to find a vantage point. Kyle and Rafael exchanged energy blasts before Rafael tried to place a barrier in front of Kyle that was shattered by Brenda’s own barrier. Kyle spun through the air, landing a spin-kick upon Rafael’s shoulder that knocked him into Brenda’s barrier, hurtling him further out into the Pacific.
            Rafael caught himself, clearly shaken. Kyle refused to let up on him. They had him on the ropes. Rafael punched out, nearly clearing Kyle away from the ocean. Brenda’s timely barrier knocked that away and Kyle continued unharmed, punching Rafael across the face. Brenda flew up higher than both of them and dropped a serious shield down on Rafael, pushing him toward the water.
            The Divine mage broke through it, his chest heaving up and down. He glowered up at the two. Kyle grinned.
            “How’s it feel, War God?” Kyle asked.
            “Don’t mock me,” Rafael said.
            “Just saying, it’s my job as a Nexus to stop you if you really are a War God,” Kyle said. “I’d say I’m doing pretty well.”
            Rafael lashed out again, and for once, it was random. No pattern, no grace. It was pure desperation, just to hit them, to harm the two heroes.
            Kyle and Brenda avoided the entire attack and flew next to each other, leveling out with Rafael. Kyle opened both his palms and Brenda prepared a small barrier.
            “After you,” she said.
            Kyle swelled his power from Wave Two. “You’re too kind.”
            He shoved his arms forward and all the power launched forward in the blasts, ripping through the skies and sending waves flying in all directions. Rafael tried to match the power. Brenda acted fast, creating a barrier and locking his arms down. Rafael couldn’t dodge it at all and the blast hit him dead on…
            …if he hadn’t created a barrier a second before that intercepted most of the blast. Brenda scowled and Kyle tried to maintain his slipping power. He’d been in Wave Two too long today, he needed to rest.
            Rafael swiped his arms, and the two of them kept up their bluff that they had more power in them. Rafael didn’t even bother with that fa├žade, instead pointing to the two of them with nothing but rage on his face.
            “You’ll be destroyed along with the rest of them,” he said.
            “Finally,” Kyle said. “Looks like you’re not so godlike after all. The War Gods would be ashamed.”
            Rafael screamed and vanished in a flash of golden light.
            Kyle and Brenda held steady for what felt like a dreadfully long time. Brenda relaxed and Kyle dropped his guard a little as well.      
            “There’s no hints of his magic anymore,” she said. “Nor any Reality magic he might’ve been using. We did it.” She paused, then glanced at Kyle. “We beat him.”
            Kyle opened his mouth to speak, but his body spoke for him. He fell forward, embracing Brenda as tight as he could. She returned the embrace.
            “We beat him,” he said, nodding.

            They found Sandy and the Sentinel further downtown, in a small, secluded alleyway away from all the people that’d been scuttled there when Clarke arrived and started wreaking havoc near the port. Kyle was out of his Nexus form, for now, just to give it a bit of a break while Brenda was taking a significant break from using much of her magic, instead letting it focus inward on healing.
            “Hell of a day for you two,” the Sentinel said. “Sorry you had to miss out on the action lately, Violette.”
            “Eh, I’ll get my turn again soon,” Sandy said, shrugging. “These two have to rest, and I don’t mind stepping up to bat.”
            “I’m glad you two finally got off your asses, too,” the Sentinel said, giving Kyle a light slap on the head.
             Clarke’s body remained, unconscious, behind Brenda. Her hands were bound tight with rope conjured by Sandy, and she had a dark red casing around her that Brenda previously assured everyone would hold her. She didn’t say it, but Kyle was starting to figure out that Clarke had gone beyond just losing her status as a Pillar of Magic…she might not even have magic. Brenda even refused to look down at her, and her hands were constantly twitching.
                They were waiting for another member of the Zanderia to come around and pick Clarke up. It’d more than likely be Riko, as he could get to the Cube faster than any of them, who had to regroup and get their strength back before another push. If not Riko than preferably Lalay, who would be able to handle Clarke should she wake up and lash out.
                The Sentinel leaned against the alley wall, but Kyle noticed that he was still kind of tense. Did he ever let his guard down?
                “So what’s the plan after this?” he asked.
                “I want to return to Magus Forest,” Sandy said. She winced. “Well, what’s left of it, anyway. I’m sure they noticed, but we need to tell everyone that four of the Six Pillars are down and out.”
                “I want to go back as well,” Brenda said. “I believe that the Zanderia is more than capable of stopping Robbie and their Reality mage, and I want to make sure Rafael doesn’t pull anything while we’re gone.”
                The Sentinel gestured over to Kyle. “You?”
                Kyle pursed his lips. “Not sure yet. I’d like to finish off the Six Pillars and really leave Rafael vulnerable, but…”
                Their battle flashed in his mind. His attacks grew more out of control, with much less grace than Rafael carried himself. Normally he used his magic precisely, with sure intent. This time it seemed that Rafael was trying to swing at the problem rather than squash it. He must’ve been feeling the effects of losing Dr. Luna, which meant that he was weaker and vulnerable, but it also meant he would be desperate.
                And weak as he was, it still took everything Kyle had with the help of Brenda just to push him away from the city. They got lucky catching him off-guard, but now that both parties had time to assess the situation it’d be risky to go back into battle so soon. If Kyle pursued there was a better chance of injuring Rafael and then getting himself killed over just waiting it out and planning with the other mages.
                “I think I’ll go back to Magus Forest,” he said after a moment. “That’ll be the place Rafael goes next, or at least the place he targets the other two Pillars.”
                “Then I should probably meet with Phoenix,” the Sentinel said. “See where I can be put to use. Everything here will be recovery and the police should be able to handle that.”
                “Thinking of finally making that commitment to the Zanderia?” Kyle asked.
                “No,” the Sentinel. “Thinking of putting all this magic crap behind us.”
                “That works too,” Kyle said.
                Light flashed overhead. Lalay descended on a controlled cloud down to them. She patted Sandy on the back. Lalay looked exhausted. Her eyes looked sunken and she was sweating profusely. Even her descent, which should be natural, looked a little shaky.
                “This her?” she asked, tapping the casing with her toe.
                “Yes,” Brenda said. “Will you bring her to the Cube?”
                “Indeed,” Lalay said. She sighed, catching her breath. “There are magical suppressants in the Cube that will shut down her abilities.”
                Brenda smiled, warily, and nodded. Lalay placed her hand on the casing. “It has certainly been a day. Glad to have you all back.”
                Just before Kyle could answer, she teleported away again. He quickly shut his mouth to avoid looking like a complete idiot.
                “That handles that,” the Sentinel said. “And it looks like your teleporter’s working again.”
                “Barely,” Sandy said. “It took Phoenix three tries to hit my exact location back in Magus Forest.”
                Kyle did feel a little bad about it. After all, it was his fight with Brenda right after he got out of the Nether for the first time that obliterated the teleporter. It’d be much easier for them all to move around had it still functioned. It’d make their coming cross-country trip that much shorter, for sure.
                “Good to hear,” the Sentinel said. “I think I’ll just take a cab, then.”
                Kyle couldn’t tell if he cracked a smile under that half-mask that he wore, but his eyes twinkled a bit. Kyle didn’t stop his own chuckle. Even Sandy and Brenda got a kick out of it. It was nice, that brief instant, just to smile.
                Before everything came crashing down again at the sound of a beep.
                “What’s up?” Kyle asked, responding to the Zanderia call. Phoenix’s exasperated voice responded.
                “The mages!” he exclaimed. “They’re gone!”

Next time: The Zanderia rush to find all the missing mages from Magus Forest, and learn that Rafael's final gambit is upon them! A giant tower constructed purely of magic has appeared, setting the stage for the final battle in "Blue Nexus #73 - They Have an Army!" 

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