Fiction: A Lady's Prerogative Book II: Wounded Aerth - Part XIV by Brian Joseph Johns

This is part XIV of A Lady's Prerogative: Wounded Aerth, recently republished for Aerth Day 2024.

If you're arriving here from the website or an external link and haven't read this book before, you might want to start from the beginning of the book.

Warning: This story deals with some mature situations. Reader discretion is advised.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Shaela Versus Exeter

The pendulum on the clock marked every second as she waited for them to be close enough, but not too close. Her mind periodically drifted onto Reginald: the Magistrate and her last night with him. She'd not had many lovers in her life and he was the first with whom she'd been unafraid to be herself. She'd never felt so close to anyone as she had with Reginald. On that night they'd barely slept. Between love making they'd whispered the wonders of their lives and their deepest secrets. What it was like to live in the sixteen hundreds. What had changed in the three hundred and fifty years that had passed between them. When she said that she'd felt uncomfortable about the time difference between them, he'd joked and said he liked older women even though her voyage through time had been back through it.

She'd told him about Evan and how he was like her father. She then told him about her father. 

He listened. 

He really listened to her and heard it all. 

A tear crept onto her face and at that point she was rudely pulled back to the room and the chair in which she sat.

They were closing in on her from the south.

Many of them moving fearfully though the fog, feigning fearlessness for their fellows. The fog was so thick they could barely move through it nor could they hear much beyond arms length.

A short distance from them she could feel their hearts pounding as much as she could feel the wet lumps in their throat. The air was alive with their fear and it fed her will to move. She would be ready for them. All of them.

She quickly moved through the house, dousing all of the lamps until there was only the darkness within the fog which kept even the moonlight at bay. Her eyes adjusted naturally and she could see as well in the night as most could see in the day. She made her way down the stairs and out of the front door, then slipping around to the back of the house. The north side. There she set her plan in motion and began the first of her incantations. She hummed a song she'd learned at the Sanctum from one of the night watch. He'd told her that it kept him company whenever he was alone on a shift and needed to be alert and in silenting singing it with only her breathless lips, her alertness grew. She watched as the last of her weaves was set. There was only one thing left to do for she would not fight this battle alone.

She stepped into a large clearing outside of the cabin and began her summoning incantation. It was her invitation to her protector and the doorway, through which it stepped upon its materialization. It's kitten in its mouth, it emerged from the portal fearlessly for it had no natural predators from whence it came. It was at the top of the food hierarchy and yet one of the most discriminate of predators there were, only killing those whose intent was tainted. The shadow cat elder dropped her offspring on the ground just outside of the cabin. The kitten mewled and found Shaela, rubbing its side on her dress.

"You silly creature. I don't think they sell lint brushes in this time..." she joked considering about what she was about to face.

The elder shadow cat stood proudly, its shoulders taller than her height twice and its paws big enough to crush a man beneath just one of them. Bigger than the size of a full grown elephant and then some, which would have been its only comparison. Its fur was composed of insubstantial shadowy wisps and tufts which rippled in the air and aether alike. It was a resident of the shadow dimension and it too was in tune with its surroundings. Its eyes flared as it sensed the beating hearts of the men who approached within the fog. The tremendous beast took in a volume of air, tasting it with the special organ it possessed that allowed it to smell the intent of its potential prey. The men coming for them were vile and disgusting, only in want of death to feed their fear and ignorance and for vessels to carry the weight of their sins. The cat hissed and sneered at their presence as if it had already tasted them.

"I know. I smell it too. They'll be here soon." Shaela told it and it understood her more through empathy than language.

The kitten was as large as a full grown tiger though much more wide eyed and playful than dangerous or menacing. The kitten would need protection and between the two of them, it's Mother and the Night Wytch, the kitten would still be in danger. She didn't know if they would come out of this alive, but this stand needed to be made once and for all. They needed to be stopped, here and now and she'd decided that she had to do it. 

For West View.

For the future.

There was so much at stake and it outweighed the importance of any one person alone. If she won this battle, there might be so few of Exeter's forces left that the town might be able to reclaim it from them. If she failed... then the history recalling this night would mark her and her kind as a vile evil, vanquished by the Strangers and perhaps by Lorr. She considered that the Power Lord may have even had a hand in this and her imperative on this night was to be her destiny.

The first line was approaching the front of the house.

"Ukkluu! Shasst!" Shaela directed the shadow cat elder around the house as she proceeded in the opposite direction.

They would meet one hundred and eighty degrees relative to the cabin, on the other side to confront the first arrivals.

She walked around the house clinging tightly to it and emerging near the front where she clearly saw the line of twenty five men who approached. They moved slowly through the fog barely able to see. When one of them bumped a large rock that had been positioned in front of the house during its construction one of the men signaled the others. He stopped and put his hand on the shoulder of the man nearest his left side. The next man did the same until they'd all stopped.

Shaela watched carefully measuring their plan noting that they'd had some training, though ultimately it would be of little benefit to them on this night.

The five closest to the house poked through their packs for the makings of a fire. They were going to torch the house. One of the men stood before the house which was just barely visible to him.

"Lady Shaela. We the people of West View do hereby decree that you are found guilty under Exeter's Law that states that all those who practice the craft of Wytching shall be summarily tried and executed. You have foregone your right to a trial by your escape from our holding facility here in West View. Therefore you are to be apprehended and executed by force immediately." the man being one of the few whom could read, made the announcement uneasily.

"We must set the blazes then." he told his compatriots.

They lit the bottles they'd prepared and stood hefting them at the great house. The flames flicked and then went out as they flew. The bottles fell harmlessly to the porch of the house leaking a potent mixture of ether and candle oil.

"Hmmmm. We seem to have some difficulty with the alchemical pyristics..." the reader said aloud attempting to sound knowledgeable of the craft of chemistry.

The men tried a second time tossing their bottle grenades at the house and upon impact the flames died, leaking the liquid on the porch once again. It quickly evaporated.

"Well it seems that we are going to have to go come the house and get you with hand canons and sabres if necessary." the man said trying to sound menacing.

Shaela could hear the fear in his voice. On the other side of the house the elder shadow cat lowered itself to the ground like cat that had found its prey, perhaps readying itself for the leap.

The first line held their position as the second line approached behind them, following the tethered line they'd used to prevent themselves from lacking a line of retreat should it be necessary.

It seems that Exeter has tangled with real Wytches before, thought Shaela. A step above felling innocent widows with a mob, her thoughts continued. The truth was that since the Wytch hunters had started their "cleansing", they'd felled more than thirty four hundred innocent people, colonists who'd come to West View to start a new life and begin again in the new world. The hunters had sold them as substitutes for their sins in a scheme of unbelievable proportions. 

They'd killed them one by one and stole their property. Their identities. Everything. They were buried with the sins of those who felled them. She felt no mercy for these vile people who'd stooped to the lowest one could in visiting wrong upon another and when the balance had turned against them, she had no doubt they'd turn the tables, painting themselves as the victims while their victims as the Wytch Hunters. Using the advantage of their numbers to paint a deceitful lie in society that may n'er be revealed.

She watched their line and she could see that they had spread themselves too thin. They weren't close enough to each other to maintain visual contact with each other in the fog. A crucial mistake that Exeter had obviously missed in his Wytch Hunter training program. He had kept them in pairs, thinking that grouping them together as such would offer them protection against one Wytch. 

A strategy that surely gave them the advantage when they were simply murdering widows to obtain their estate and holdings.

A strategy that gave them little advantage against the threat they currently faced, however thanks to her shortcomings during Thara's test in the garden maze, Shaela would never under estimate her antagonists again.

The men on the other side stood in two pairs. They'd stepped a bit farther from the house, hoping to come upon its side, still trying to find their way in the fog.

One of them had their arquebus loaded and in front of him ready it for anything. His finger trembled as sweat greased the pommel of the firearm canon in his hand.

The other three followed him in single file. As the last one passed a tree, he heard something from beside him though it was too late, and it was already upon him.

A giant shadow leapt from his peripheral vision knocking him onto his back, absent of breath. He struggled under the enormous paw which held him in place, purposely keeping pressure on his chest so that he could not breath or make a sound. The tremendous beast watched the other three as they continued unaware of their missing companion. When they were more than ten feet away, the beast turned to its prey. He had struggled to reach his arquebus on the ground a few feet away. There was a tremendous crashing sound which too was masked by the fog, like his unheard scream. The man had accidentally shot himself in the arm as he'd grasped the hand canon. His eyes watered profusely as he tried to scream. The shadow cat ignored the man under its paw momentarily keeping its eye on the three who'd continued. When it was confident they were far enough it lifted its paw. Its prey let forth a tremendous scream and quickly ran out of air.

The shadow cat then clamped its jaws around the mans abdomen and bit down instantly breaking his back and killing him. It then dragged his lifeless body through the dark to the south towards the approaching second line. When it was twenty feet away from their advance, it dropped the man's body in their path and returned to the darkness and the fog as if perchance to taunt them.

Shaela on the other side had walked directly up to the five men who'd attempted to light the house on fire. She approached them quietly and when she was close enough she spoke.

"Nice night isn't it gentlemen?" she spoke seductively, her lips and long hair bright red even in the dark of night against the gray of the fog.

"You are hereby ordered to put your weapons... I mean we are here to..." the man lost his train of thought long enough for her to speak.

"How many innocent women and men did you kill like this? How many of you own their farms? Their houses? Their crops? Their cattle? Their wives? How many did you rape before you killed them? How many real Wytches have you killed? I'll bet none. You just killed innocent people to take the blame for your vileness." Shaela stepped towards her prey.

He reached for his arquebus but not quickly enough.

She extended her hand and a long shadowy tendril stretched out from her arm and wrapped around him keeping his arms clasped against his sides. She then picked him up from the ground. Two of the other men had loaded their weapons and leveled them at her. She adjusted the position of the man she'd clasped in her hands. They fired only to hit their former companion in the back. She immediately threw his dead body at the first man knocking him down and let forth a burst of air from her mouth. It roared through the fog and hit him like a brick wall. He fell to the ground crushed and dead. The last two pulled their blades from their belts.

"You'd better stay where you are! I'm going to fell you like a hog!" he charged her arcing a wide swing.

She swiped her hands in front of her throwing her nails like claws across the air. The air itself ripped into his face tearing four gaping wounds in the pattern of her nails. She back handed the last one the same way and he fell to the ground, a large wound of claws across his face. None of her adversaries got up as they were no longer conscious.

She raised her hands once again and hefted them into the air with an invisible arm, all five of them. She then tossed them through the air in the direction of the advancing second line. Meanwhile the shadow cat had found the remaining group of nineteen men, who'd closed ranks and were currently keeping their guard up. They'd set up a box formation, keeping their front, back and flanks guarded. The shadow cat leapt gracefully and silently through the air landing in the middle of the box. It sat behind them quietly as they kept their guard in the wrong direction.

It swiped its paws across the line facing north, sending its claws deep into their backs flaying the entire line. The remaining eleven turned and just barely saw the giant beast as it leapt from the center of the box. They fired wildly trying to catch it as it flew. Five of them fell dropped by friendly fire, the remaining six turned and ran for their lives rather than try to reload. Three of them ran directly at the oncoming second line. As they closed in the advancing second line panicked, firing at them, bringing them down swiftly. The remaining three once more ran into the mature shadow cat. They lasted five seconds longer than the first three.

Shaela met up with the shadow cat in front of the house, where she lifted the fog around the house so that the carnage would be clearly visible to every advancing line that followed.

She'd clearly won the first wave of the battle of West View.  Shaela 1. Exeter 0.

Return To West View

They'd ridden for the whole day and continued into the night. They'd kept their stops short and only to resupply their water and to let the horses rest and recuperate for a short time. After all, they were in a hurry and the time they wasted could mean lives lost. Evan was only able to muster a platoon worth of Cavaliers, requiring the rest to remain and disarm and dismantle the armed forces of the now revealed Culdar Rath. The unofficial and unrecognized armed force of the Wytch hunters. That meant that thirty men plus in his new found allies and himself would be the only ones left to fight the remaining forces of the Wytch hunters in West View. He suspected their numbers to be in the neighbourhood of one hundred and fifty to one hundred and seventy five. He expected that if any action had been taken that Shaela had long since been overrun and was likely dead. Assuming that she was able to work with the Magistrate and get the support of the colony, they might have the support of the settlement in their upcoming battle. The odds were however drastically stacked against them.

Mila had kept her spirits up despite the exhausting week they'd had. Their victory at the Haven had made her feel energized but even that could only last for so long. Barris had been at the end of his wits and even after having talked with the now deceased Father Wilsen. Nothing had been resolved except that he'd seen that a man of the clergy and himself were not as different as he'd been pretending despite his scorn for church dogma as a whole. He'd seen it make and take his own Mother from a strong woman to a battle weary muse for the Church years ago from the suburbs of Shepperton off the Thames in London. He'd left home around that time and had severed ties with the clergy from that moment on, not to mention his own family. Sato was his only family now and Mila would soon be his wife. In the case of the struggle ahead, he'd be ready in Mila's name though he knew that she was more than capable of looking after herself.

Barris had spent the night giving Mila a full body rub down, using a massage technique he'd learned from Sato and one of his many books. She'd felt the stress of ages fall harmlessly from her body only to warm her to his touch. Afterwards she snuggled in close to him and they fell asleep intertwined as one. When the morning came around he'd returned to his grumpiness and despite serving her a delicate kiss on her neck, he kept his distance. She'd known him well enough to leave him be. She'd have those times as well and they'd both learned to give each other an arm's length in such cases. Perhaps the fruits of love were in fact born of a secretive independence from one another.

Sato had let them be, occasionally moving in on Barris when he'd felt he'd gotten a little too involved in his sorrows. One quip from Sato was usually enough to get the two of them bickering in a contest which often served up much humour and levity for the rest. Sato had learned to use this fact to manage the morale and spirits of the group and that had not gone unnoticed by Mila nor Evan. Barris often found himself retreating with his tail between his legs in the face of such a show with the likes of Sato and his wealth of wisdom.

Jasmer had remained quiet which had been unnerving to the rest, especially to Mila who'd seen him fall from the outspoken gentleman to the quiet recluse. It was as if someone had taken from him, his essence and drive. Sato had said one word which summed it up: thymos. The sum of one's drive or spirit to act or bring change. The driving spirit or motivation to one's being. Jasmer had seemed an empty husk with all of the memories and skills of the former yet without that thing which makes one animated and alive.

Evan had been very bound up in his job as the Commander of the detachment. He'd taken part in every aspect since taking the force outside of the Haven and then setting up to assist the Haven in rebuilding, even offering food and medical assistance while recognizing their independence from the colony. He was acting at an official capacity and took responsibility for his actions accordingly. He knew that when this matter had come before the Crown, that he'd have to answer for his actions and that his record of duty would be examined with scrutiny. The battle to save the colony from the forces attempting to overtake it was one of armaments and more recently since the arrival of these strangers, of magic. Real magic. When this case finally arrived before the Crowned heads of Europe, it would be fought in courts and with oration, bureaucracy and rhetoric. No place for a Field Commander of the Cavalry nor a man of the law.

After their most recent stop, they'd continued their journey to West View well into the night with the help of Mila's mists of the night traveler, an incantation she'd used to illuminate their path a few nights ago upon their arrival in the mid 1600s. Their horses were tired but continued on despite and their riders did not push them. They'd have a good rest soon, but their progress was crucial to saving lives if not the colony.

Mila and Sato advanced to ride beside Evan.

"You've been going since before I got up. How are you holding out?" Mila asked Evan.

"My thanks for your concern, Milady. Fine I am as tw'ere. I've gone longer without sleep as has my steed. At Marston Moor. I live now, but lost my steed." Evan told Mila, keeping a moment of silence which he broke with song.

"Oh Marston Moor, by horse and sword. Did we there storm, Lord Fairfax' arm?" Evan sung.

"The thundrous roar of cavalry, with hoof and heart confronted thee!" Evan continued.

"Thine horse line fell so bold with honour, when Leven's line did proudly plunder!" Evan's voice grew.

"And yet the tears did fall as we followed Cromwell, for none loves see their life's history and legacy fall..." Evan removed his sun hat and held it to his heart.

"When we are one, we are won," Evan lowered his head in honour of his fallen comrades.

"I'm sorry. My history is a little rough in that department. I'm not up on the English civil war." Mila replied.

"None for you to be sorry. I was a man of Cromwell's regiment, the Ironsides. I'd agreed to fight alongside Cromwell at the battle and that the battle would be my last in this war." Evan explained his past to Mila.

"And why was it your last?" Mila asked with interest.

"Milady, I supported the Parliamentarian cause and I do believe in liberty, but I'm sworn to protect the Crown despite my disagreement with the corruption, and there is corruption on both sides of that fence. There was much division in the country I left. Cromwell had volunteered me for the role of leadership of the arm of civil law in the first colonies in the Americas. He chose me first to protect my oath, and to see that I upheld the same ideals I'd kept on the battlefield and in the Ironsides despite that fact that I do not have his flair for religion or zeal for that matter." Evan continued his story for Mila.

"Who won the civil war?" Mila asked.

"The Parliament. They've been the power and kept the country united for five years though without an heir to the throne. A step I fear that may cost their continued leadership and the Parliament itself." Evan explained to Mila the politics involved since the ending of the civil war.

"What did you do before you were conscripted?" Mila asked.

"Equestrian. Horses. I've always and still am a yeoman at heart whose work is with horses. Always will be. Even after my duty has been served here. Cromwell had come scouring the land for recruits and found me amongst others. I refused at first, telling him I'd no sooner hold my blade to the throat of any follower of the Royal throne than I would to any of my land." Evan paused looking off into the illuminated path created by Mila's spell.

"We argued for a long time. He made his point and I mine. In the end I decided that I wanted to see an England that benefited from the best of both. A Royal Crowned head of state, with the population represented by an elected body of representatives: the Parliament. The Church has no place in either and never has but that won't be fixed afore soon and the Church does have its place of importance in charity so long as its compass isn't so distraught with the ire of provocation to conflict and the propagation of zeal," Evan spoke with an astounding vocabulary as he paused.

"The people must choose faith for their own and it should never be a matter of state. Well when I told him that. I might have been laid to rest, dead from the look on his face, that old crackpot zealot he is. After he'd calmed hisself, he'd said that none had stood to him on that regard so boldly as I. He said he wanted those that feared God and loved their country. I said to him, how can one be represented fairly by one they fear? God, Crown or Parliament? He told me right there and then that he wasn't leaving until he'd signed me up after he'd tested me for legitimacy. I swore at him and then told him that I'd nought join unless he passed my test, which he didn't by the way. Some people wield tests as a leverage for power over others so I'd bested him at his own game. That was my first time dealing with Cromwell. He promised me that he'd never put me in any situation where I'd directly be in battle with the Royal forces themselves. He kept his word and I lived through one of the most bloody battles of that civil war. We became good friends after despite his zealous and pompous attitude and remained as such until I left for the colony." Evan told her of his brush with history.

"Did you ever regret it?" Mila asked him.

"Never. I remember the night I'd left with the Ironsides. My wife watched me leave on my horse and I her from horseback. My eyes never left her until she was well behind the horizon. I thought I might n'yer see her. But by the graces of whatever powers there might be, I returned. Injured but alive. I rode again in other capacities but never in battle beyond Marston Moor. We left on a boat for the colony, six months after that battle. When I'd arrived at the colony under manned for the role of Constable, I took on the task of gaining the trust of the colony knowing that order would follow. Then the strangers arrived with their plan and the rest is... what we seek to have done with. By a half a day's grace I should think. If one doesn't live with a passion for their values then has one truly lived?" Evan finished his story and once again paused akwardly as he bounced in his horse's saddle.

"Milady, I must say you've certainly seen your share of adventure and in ways of which I'd have little comprehension?" Evan asked Mila.

"Most of my adventure is spent in front of a canvas. I'm an artist. That's where my heart resides. My next piece is my next adventure and an experience like this has fuelled the passion of my soul for art and that is what fuels what ends up on the canvas. You paint your views of what you experience or have experienced: Life and the tumultuous turmoil it sometimes has to offer. Many artists arrive at their own canvas near the end of their journey before they've begun their first painting. Having lived much but told little of it. The canvas speaks volumes." Mila explained gratefully for Evan's question.

"We are all the canvas upon which life itself etches its fancy. We all etch our bit upon this canvas of life. It takes an artist to interpret it's tale." Sato agreed with Mila.

"Art is the measure of civility and culture of any land. It is the language that a people write when they leave their mark upon that annals of history. Often it is all that is left of those that are no more. Let us hope that in the day to come we have more than art alone to tell our story." Evan said to them.

"I'll say aye to that." Barris spoke up from behind them.

"You've been quiet back there? The first I've not heard of you since we'd met." Evan joked.

"I'll take that as a compliment." Barris smiled to Evan.

"It was meant as nothing less, though your best quality still is Mila." Evan returned a genuine smile recognizing Barris' accent as being similar to his homeland.

"I can't say that I don't disagree with you there. But I can say that she is her own and not mine. Unless of course she so chooses as I do to be hers." Barris laid the charm on thick riding up a little closer to her.

She pretended not to notice him as a smile stretched across her face.

When he arrived beside her, he stretched his hand out from his horse to hers.

"Ahem?" he elated to her.

She looked over and for a moment she was unsure of whether she could ride and offer hers. She took the chance and stretched her hand out to his and they rode together. Even their horses seemed to enjoy the moment.

"We'll ride to the edge of the rough ahead and set camp. From there we'll have only a quarter of a day's ride until we enter into town. Shaela may have declared war already if she's not dead. Without her and the support of West View, tomorrow may be our last stand." Evan reminded them.

"We're ready." Mila said.

"All of us." Sato said with firm determination.

"You're right about that." Barris responded.

Half an hour later they set camp and were asleep fifteen minutes beyond.

Dealing With The Devil

The Itanicarum crashed its way through lines of the troops making considerable headway considering the damage it had sustained. One of its arms had been completely dislodged when it had fallen on the battlefield, only having done so once. The arm buckled and snapped like a twig under the tremendous weight of its body and carriage. The enemy had closed in on the helpless Itanicarum like a pack of ravenous dogs, prying at its exposed armour and trying to get at its contents within, the twelve spell casters who powered it.

The tremendous magical mechanoid had began the process of getting to its feet once again as the forces of the Norbids and the Culdar Rath, who'd been severely reduced got their spell casters in close in attempt to disable the titan. They were quickly swept aside as it got to its feet, being quite dexterous even without two arms. It brushed at least twenty to their deaths with its enormous two fingered and opposable digit hand. From that point the remaining attackers once again backed away from it showing it their well earned fear.

As it closed in on Lorr, the last Power Lord, the forces opposing it thinned. The Power Lord stood from his throne barge stepping forward to meet the threat head on. When it had arrived fifty yards from him, he let forth a blast of astral energy the likes of which had not been seen since the last Sanctum had fallen. Inside the Itanicarum the casters gasped as the energy penetrated the armour, strangling each of them of precious air and impeding their hearts from beating. They shuddered in their stations and the captain of the Itanicarum struggled against the spell in attempt to reach for the amplification device, which would detonate the Itanicarum in a tremendous explosion akin to that of a small nuclear warhead. Likely the reason why the remaining forces had given it such berth as those forces were now distant and closing on the Sanctum itself.

The commander of the Itanicarum struggled against the impending death long after the rest of his crew had perished and in a final feat of determination and strength fell forward though short of the amplification device. Instead he slumped forward dead and lifeless still shuddering and spasming as the astral energy sparked his musculature into sympathetic response. The Power Lord continued with his show of ability for a minute longer until he was sure that no one could have lived through such a blast of the universal energy. With a light breath from his mouth, he toppled the Itanicarum, causing it to fall backwards onto the ground before him. He then sat back in his throne and elevated the barge accelerating it forward towards the Sanctum to join his forces. His triumph would be met.

Yirfir and Thara had long since dispatched the Kakenbacks using Feylashar's healing trick. This had caught the Kakenback's magical inversion ability and used it against them turning a simple healing spell into a cantrip of death. The beast form Norbids had taken their place and the ensuing battle had been vicious tapping both Thara and Yirfir of their stamina on the battlefield. Feylashar who'd been healing the elementalists atop the walls of the Sanctum directed the interior defense forces to assist the them on the battle field. They were joined by the French and the British Knights, The Japanese Kyoshin, The Chinese Spiritfolk Warriors, the Romanian Gypsy Thaumaturgists, the Elders of Solomon, the Order of Ganesh and the remaining elementalists. The last Djinn had also found its way to the field just as Yirfir and Thara were about to be overwhelmed.

The Knights and the Kyoshin quickly took up the front taking down line after line of beast form Norbids as they advanced with ferocity. Their skill with blade unmatched by any that the enemy could throw at them. The Spiritfolk Warriors maintained their stealth and cloak getting in behind the enemy and to their flanks before revealing themselves in attack. The summoned great wells opening doors to the nether unleashing the ghosts of eternal hunger upon their enemy. They appeared from the wells consuming the Norbids in a flurry of rage, dragging them flailing back through the wells to their infinite deaths. The forces of the Culdar Rath took up their attack upon them which was countered by the Gypsies and elementalists as the battlefield was quickly leveled down to the last of the remaining forces.

The last elementalist had courageously charged into the advance of the Culdar Rath and detonated himself in a firestorm of molten rock and fire that shattered their lines leaving them broken and the rear ranks open in the battlefield. There had been no forces remaining however to take up the tactical advantage this opening had created and within minutes it had been filled with reinforcements and the Culdar Rath quickly overtook the remaining forces of the Sanctum forcing them back to its interiors. As the Yirfir and Thara were about to disappear into the walls, a voice broke the clatter of the battle and retreat and stopped them dead in the silence.

"Cease! Let this battle be at an end so that we may speak! If any of my forces continues from this moment unless I there order, they will be flayed alive!" Lorr's voice pierced the Midspace air.

Yirfir signalled the others to send word to Jexelen that the battle had been fought to the steps of the Sanctum itself and to ready the final measures to protect the Librum Universalis Codex should it come to that. The Knights, Kyoshin and Spiritfolk Warriors remained with Yirfir and Thara in their protection while the rest retreated into the Sanctum to their defensive positions within.

"And by what motivation do you cease this battle and seek to work with us?" Yirfir yelled, her voice cracking under strain.

"Your unconditional surrender of course! Nothing more and nothing less. You have no ground from which to negotiate. Surrender now and I shall show my mercy to you and your compatriots," he spoke with alluring assuredness that pushed Yirfir to her edge.

"You are not - nor have you ever to have been trusted! There is no deal of that nature that you could offer us that would be within my ability to accept, let alone trust!" Yirfir yelled back to him.

"Death holds no negotiations. What I offer is far more reasonable than as you say of my trustworthiness!" he yelled back to the struggling senior caster and instructor from the Sanctum.

"Death has been written all over this battlefield since this battle started. I can see its language all too well and I still taste it's vile essence from the last time you took the Sanctum! Speak not to me of the virtue of death, for you know nothing of life or its value you wretch!" Yirfir stood her ground with fervor.

"You are most admirable. It is easy to see why the others find you so irresistible. Have you not been made their leader or are you just a figure head for Jexelen? Jeong Soon? Or perhaps Lannay that old bureaucratic fool though even he'd likely have the good sense to call this battle and agree to my terms. More sense than your so-called virtue." the Power Lord yelled back.

"My virtue and that of my allies allowed us to escape the time trap you'd set for us. You've failed. We defeated you in the past and your plans are unwinding just as we've countered your twins with twins of our own. Those whose love for this world and all of its life make them a deadly opposition to your single generational blood line of supposed gods. None are as such unless they can love what is not like them. They are not gods at all. They are remains of an idea spawned of greed and the need to rule over the living without a love for those they ruled but only a love of rule and the self! By your path, I will not let you cross these walls on this day. Nor will you seize the Codex and its secrets. Ever. The universal record has no room for a false history that you'd plan to rewrite for us all. We'll keep our truth with all of its pain and well earned lessons. The high cost of its earned virtue for which those in all of history and even those upon this battlefield have paid so dearly. There will be no deal today for there is no compromise with you! Be gone or fight until your last. That is the only deal I can offer!" Yirfir stood her ground.

"Very well. Your negotiations shall be the death of you as you have so chosen for yourself and your allies. The Sanctum shall fall. Your world is already mostly crushed by my twins. Your last stand will be gone, erased from history and never shall it be known to future generations just as the deaths of your friends in the past will disappear like the present disappears into the past!" the Power Lord recalled his troops and for the time they withdrew a distance to rally their numbers and redraw their plans.

Yirfir stepped into the opening in the wall, made during the battle, and ordered it sealed. The elementalists at once began melding the fissure with magma, super heated earth, then cooling it with the element of water. She left a detachment at the break point to guard and left lookouts upon the castellan, recalling Feylashar and relieving the elementalists and replacing them with the few they had remaining. From there they fell back to the Council Hall. There they would decide their final battle strategy against the remaining forces of the Culdar Rath.

Yirfir thought of Jasmer and longed for him to be with her. She'd have fallen then if she'd known that the man she'd loved had appeared dead to those around him.

The Clash Of The Twins

The devastation was immense and vast. Nelony Ardbloem had never seen any thing of the like. The Aerth itself was scorched as if scraped by a tremendous hand of brimstone, the life literally wiped from it. The oceans were a pungent and sickly putrid swamp of black goo and death. The Twins of Lorr had done their work and poisoned the delicate web of life the world over. The plans that had been laid for thousands of years in advance and Nelony despite her current state felt the pain and suffering of those who'd been ceased by their cleansing of the Aerth.

In her current capacity and since being once again infused with the Aerth Mother powers of the world, our world, she'd drawn upon the great reserves of life and the living to replenish and restore the damage they'd etched upon the creation. Though she could not return life to the dead, she could replace and renew the life that was there, struggling to survive, hence, beginning the cycle fresh and healthy. As taxing as this was upon her, she flew over the oceans and lands, healing what was left.

The Indigenous tribes of the world lent her their wisdom and healing energy. Shamans dancing around pyres as they had done for nearly thirty five thousand years. The ritual of symbol and the power of life flowing through them, limb to limb. Experience they'd had from long before the early beginnings of global civilization. It was from this legacy that they drew upon the knowledge of their ancestors, directing the two Nelonys in their efforts to heal the Aerth.

Ceremony was only the beginning of their efforts, which included armies of environmentalists who'd set about cultivating land and nurturing the existing life. Combining scientific understanding and modern technology with ancient wisdom to yield the most effective strategy to nurse their Aerth Mother back to her full health.

Nature itself had given her trust to the twins of the Sanctum and they healed the Aerth in pursuit of their final quarry and battle with the Twins of Lorr. The cities of humankind had been affected but death had been minimal thus far in the Apocalypse of the Twins. Most deaths had occurred as a result of the initial poor health of its victims. Those who'd forgotten their link to their Aerth nurturer and had ceased to value their body as much so as their mind: the essential balance within each of us. The effect began to ripple through the population as the presence of life was reduced and the Aerth became more inanimate than animate. 

The energy field created by the mere organic existence itself was dwindling, but the twins of the Sanctum slowly replaced this loss with lush and fertile lands full of plant and fauna of all kinds, healing them all in full and restoring their vigour. The living field of the fabric of reality upon the Aerth was reborn anew and those that lived to see it disappear gained a new love and respect for it upon its return. Far too precious to ever be lost again and as vital to our survival as we were to one another.

On the other side of the globe from where their journey had started and from where the Nelony of our time had been cast into the world of Nelony Theearin of the True, the final battle had begun. Four Gods clashed with one another with the energies of the Aerth as their weapons and reserves. The Twins of Lorr were one with the forces of death and decay while the Twins of Lyra and the Sanctum were one with the forces of life, the living and all of its fauna upon the great Mother Aerth. They sensed the presence of their counterparts and met to determine their fate and our future. They hovered over the ocean, which boiled beneath them as the rock and magma beneath churned.

"Plans that have been set so long ago will never disappear, for they've been practiced and learned in the annals of every facet of civilization upon this barren and rocky world. Most are a part of this plan and they do not even know it. For better or for worse they all play their part without pleasure or remorse. What makes you think that you can stop such a force as a hidden malevolence that has been a part of each and every so called noble being of this Aerth? Every tragedy and war. Every genocide and devastation," Malrath and Shelrath, the Twins of Lorr spoke in unison for they knew of no independence from one another.

"With every choice made, every one of these noble beings decides that each and every day. Every word spoken can bring warmth, joy and encouragement or it can bring about depression and even demise. That is the power within us all. Life or death. Every knife one wields can be used to prepare one's food or gut one of their fellows. Every word and action can yield and reap such as what it sows. The plan you speak of has no loyal followers in the words or actions of those upon this Aerth, for they make those choices each and every day. They've come to some of the greatest atrocities that can be visited upon their fellows, and some of the greatest acts of sacrifice in the name of the same. They do the like with the power of their choice of word and action to the life of the Aerth, plant and fauna alike. Your plan is missing one element. The complicity of those who feel they've lost their ability to make their own choices for none really do feel as such. Every time one as such wakes up and gets out of bed despite what hardships face them, they've taken the first choice against your plan. The choice they've made is the hope present in us all." Nelony Ardbloem spoke having found the real peace and confidence within herself.

The real Truth.

The True.

"I could not have said so better myself." Nelony Theearin nodded in agreement admiring her sister from the ages.

Though they felt the same, they were still completely independent of one another and their choices to work as one were flexible to their independent minds and needs. Their vital difference to the Twins Malrath and Shelrath. The Twins of Lorr. The Twins who'd never known that they were never independent and therefore were never truly free.

"Let this be decided then. Time though vast is not so infinite as ye might understand." the Twins of Lorr spoke together.

Nelony Theearin
"So sayeth the fly whose life is but a day in length compared to the person whose life is many thousands of times longer. We will end this now not because of your perception of time but for all those lives whose lifespan is imperceivably short, for none are so to be deprived of their life according to your ways. There are worlds and dimensions upon which the life spans of beings span thousands of ours. May they show the same compassion to us. We shall finish this for the benefit of life. Not death." Nelony Theearin answered and the battle began.

They floated away from one another and as they did, a tremendous wall of water rose from the ocean and grew to twenty miles in height, reaching beyond the stratosphere. A tremendous fence composed of hundreds of trillions of litres of water around them, trapping them within the ring for this battle.

The Twins of Lorr summoned forth the innards of the Aerth which rose up from the ocean floor and spit magma and gas upon them in an explosion that could be felt and heard throughout half the globe. The magma  quickly engulfed the two of them. Before they'd been boiled alive and crushed, they concentrated hard and found enough flowing ocean water to shield them. The ocean being partly salt, could not easily be frozen though they cooled it immensely against the force of the volcano the Twins of Lorr had set upon them.

Nelony of the new concentrated and from the inner depths of the ocean created a current that cycled the cooler water at the deeper levels to cool the fissure the Twins had created. As this tremendous volume of water moved en masse through the fissure, it cooled nearly instantaneously and sealed itself settling into an artificial island of volcanic rock. The four of them settled upon it and closed for the second round of their battle.

Over the top of the oceanic wall that they'd erected, the Twins of Lorr opened the atmosphere thinning the ozone and the stratosphere opening them up to the solar wind and radiation. The two Nelonys looked up to see that a tremendous static charge had built up in the atmosphere, a Tesla coil of incomprehensible size as twenty meter thick bolts of lightning spanned the walls of their oceanic five mile diameter arena shooting down upon their artificial island. The bolts hit the rock and instantly liquified it sending vapourized rock in all directions. The Twins were caught off guard momentarily for the forces they'd unleashed and Malrath caught one such tuft of rock vapour full on. His skin was instantly blackened before he'd time to respond and a moment later he'd healed though his pain was immense. Shelrath went to his aid shielding him from one of the bolts which instantly accelerated her to five hundred meters per second, pitching her under the ocean. Malrath followed her in pursuit in attempt to save her.

Nelony of the new having studied modern science enough to understand the forces at work attempted to divert the charge. She manipulated the chemical composition of the rocks around them bending and creating conductive metals at the atomic level. What resulted was a shielding composite of iron and cobalt metals. She extended this shielding down into the rock and out into the water where the current was distributed through the ocean as a ground.

"Good thinking!" Nelony Theearin exclaimed as the last of these tremendous bolts of lighting passed.

"Don't thank me, thank my high school teachers..." Nelony Ardbloem responded, still somewhat amazed that her ploy had worked. 

She then flew a distance up and healed the ozone and stratosphere back to their respective balance, creating the missing molecules by way of diffusion. After they'd healed the damage, the two of them flew under the water after the Twins.

They adapted easily under the water and quickly found the quarry. Malrath had been greatly damaged by the rock vapour and Shelrath had summoned a fast moving torrent of currents upon the two Nelonys as they arrived. They were twisted and churned as Shelrath attempted to increase the density and pressure of the water around them. They struggled against it and Nelony Theearin began to sink deeper and deeper, falling into a chasm on the ocean floor. She struggled against the pressure and Shelraths manipulation of the waters around her as she felt tremendous pain from within.

Nelony Theearin summoned forth a flotilla of sea fauna who'd arrived in great clouds. The barracudas attacked first ripping at Shelrath's flesh. She dodged and lost her concentration freeing Nelony Theearin from her ocean bound tempest. The sea creatures attacked both Malrath and Shelrath, dividing them. Malrath sank further into the depths soon passing Nelony Theearin and disappearing into the darkness. He struggled against the forces pulling him down only to find himself under attack by the vent dwellers, the deep ocean creatures who lived at thermal vents, some of which human kind had never seen. A tremendous sea worm wrapped itself around him and drew him down into the interior of a vent. He disappeared and where he'd gone, the rock and ocean floor began to quake.

Nelony Theearin struggled to ascend the water quickly arriving back at the same depth as her friend. She was weakened and had suffered a great deal of internal damage unbeknownst to either. She sputtered as she struggled to live. As Shelrath fought off the sea fauna that had amassed against her, Malrath's grave exploded in a fireball ejecting them into the air, all three above the miles high ocean wall, which collapsed back to the ocean with their exit. The three fell to the earth again landing in the great Savanah plains of Africa. They impacted the earth with great force, each leaving a small crater. All three spread a football field's distance from one another remained still for a great length of time.

Then minutes after their impacts as the dust settled, a great tremor grew from the distance. The plains came to life with animals from near and far making their way to the point of impact. Herds of elephants, lion and hyaena packs, predators and scavengers and their prey all came together. They wandered nervously afraid to get too close to the fallen, perhaps unsure of which was their ally and enemy.

One lone great cat, a jaguar approached warily and cautiously, looking back to the other animals for reassurance. The rhinos tails swatted flies perhaps signaling their approval. The lioness paced back and forth in front of her pack. An elephant grunted, perhaps in jest to the jaguar. It sat down and yawned looking around perhaps keeping its humility and the illusion of calm, though its heart pounded a steady rhythm. Then it got up and approached one of the craters and crawled in, and started licking the face of the face of one of the human creatures.

Nelony Ardbloem awoke, her nose twitching as the jaguar affectionately cleaned her. She sat up suddenly and it jumped back defensively, its hair standing as it did.

"Selimbo! Sayasatchawana! Sekumb geff!" Nelony spoke, immediately recognizing the jaguar as her friend before she'd been kidnapped to the past.

It looked back to the elephant who'd grunted at him, and the elephant covered its face with its enormous ears in embarrassment. Selimbo sprinted to one of the other impact craters and sniffed the air a few times before hissing at it. Then it proceeded to the last and found Nelony Theearin. She was in bad shape and could not move though she could see the jaguar.

"You must get the other one. Like me." she struggled as she spoke to the jaguar.

The jaguar roared and screamed pacing the outside of the crater looking in the direction of Nelony Ardbloem. She had arisen from the crater, floating and apparently unharmed. She quickly made her way across the distance between them and landed inside of Nelony Theearin's crater.

"We have done well as a team." Nelony Theearin struggled against the impending end.

"As we will in the times to come. I will heal..." Nelony of the new began but she was interrupted.

"No. You cannot heal a God. That is the one limit of a God. Our end is final but often it is a hidden beginning. There is but one thing left for us to do and for this to be complete as it should be. We must merge as one though only you will remain." Nelony Theearin fought against her need to sleep and rest eternally.

"No! You can't die! You're my sister! My ancestor! We have so many great things to do in this world! You can't leave the Aerth Mother! You can't leave me!" Nelony Ardbloem cried dropping to her side.

"No my dear sister and daughter of a great many years. You must go on. All the things that I was will be at your disposal, but you alone will make your choices. Everything that you saw in me and longed to be, you now are. You've grown into the woman that you wanted to be, you must see that. Now you must finish this and quickly for your enemy is mustering her strength for your final battle. You must succeed. The world needs you. The Aerth needs you because you are the last Aerth Mother. Let this be done!" Nelony Theearin sat up with great effort and grabbing Nelony of the new by her hands.

The energy flowed between them and as it did, Nelony of the new felt all of the pain and anguish that produced the dying woman before her. The torment and toil the hunters of old. The death of her family and friends. Her seclusion in the forest and rescue by an Indigenous Tribe from certain death. Her growth into a woman of the wild who'd known the animals of the land as well as she did her own family. The Tribe became larger as more refugees fled the persecution of the Wytch hunters and after the murder of the Tribe leader during one of the Wytch hunts, Nelony Theearin became their leader and formed the Haven of the True. She based their existence upon the ideas of virtue and honesty and the protection of life and innocence rather than the idolatry of blood. She turned the tables on the very hunters who'd sought their extinction and the True were feared by the predators that sought them. Her victory in saving many from certain death and her final victory with the assistance of Evan and the Cavalry all became part of Nelony Ardbloem. She had become Nelony, Aerth Mother of the True.

Nelony Theearin breathed one last breath and then was a part of her great descendent's memories and experience.

Nelony Ardbloem's tears flowed and she held onto this remarkable woman, only truly knowing her for the first time upon the bed of her death. Nelony Theearin's lifeless body was ripped from her hands by Shelrath who threw her many hundreds of kilometers towards the Atlantic Ocean.

"I didn't mean to interrupt your final moments together, but we have some unfinished business with which to attend!" Shelrath grabbed onto Nelony's clothing of living plant essence attempting to throw her similarly.

They struggled with one another and as they fought, the ground quaked. Shelrath spun perhaps a thousand times flinging her fists at Nelony connecting each time sending her flat to the ground. Selimbo roared and jumped onto Shelrath digging claws and teeth into her unprotected flesh as she'd not expected a meer mortal creature as the cat to attack her. She flung it hard and it tumbled across the Savanah dirt and stopped silently. The other animals watched as it got up, broken and bloodied and attempted to attack Shelrath once again before it died where it stood. When it fell a great commotion arose in all of the animals and they all several thousand of them charged Shelrath at once.

Shelrath spun staring them down as they advanced from all directions. They'd lost the element of surprise that Selimbo had upon his attack and she had a clear advantage. Nelony got to her feet fearing that Shelrath might kill them all, for they had no way of knowing of her great and deadly power. Nelony opened the earth beneath Shelrath who fell into it, then immediately closed it up tightly pressing it around Shelrath. Nelony clasped her fists together, the tighter she squeezed, the tighter Shelrath was held in place by the dirt and rock. She struggled against the great force and anger of Nelony but not even this God could break free. The animals arrived and began ravaging at her head as she screamed in terror. The animals fought with one another to get their vengeance upon Shelrath for Selimbo's death.

The clouds above them began to congeal and grow dark, moments later bolts of lightening sprang down from the skies, striking some of the animals dead where they stood. More bolts rained down from the skies and the animals fled in all directions as pockets of fire were sparked by the bolts from the sky. Nelony released her grip on Shelrath to extinguish the fires before they spread. Shelrath arose from the dirt and slugged Nelony with a section of the continental platelet, which she'd elevated temporarily for the task. Nelony flew into the air far too distant for the unaided eye to see. The continental shelf fell back sending a ripple through Africa and creating a tsunami in the Mediterranean Sea and expanding outwards towards the Eastern seaboard of North and South America. Shelrath then took to the air in pursuit of Nelony.

Nelony flew, dazed and stunned for hundreds if not thousands of kilometers arcing and coming down in the jungles of South America. She landed once again, felling a plot of trees in the Amazon rainforest that still remained. Her body ached and though she was still relatively unharmed. She got to her feet as Shelrath landed.

"You care so much about this life and yet it is so fragile! See how easily it withers!" Shelrath waved her hand across the horizon and the entirety of the rainforest died, the fauna fell and the plant life ceased to be alive. The land grew eerily quiet and Nelony screamed as she felt the widespread death that Shelrath had brought.

She flew into the air far above the continent and directed her healing powers to the Amazon forest and the life below. Once again it healed and grew to proportions beyond its damaged borders. Life returned to where it had once been and thrived despite the newly built structures there. People fled their homes, which became alive with insects, plants, and fauna of all kinds. Eventually they would learn to live in harmony and this was the first step. She then saw the onslaught of the tsunamis and set to balance the oceans using the existing tidal forces and currents to remove the energy from the unstable waveforms. Slowly the waters flowed from the colder regions of the sea while she balanced it with water from the tropical regions to prevent temperature shock of the sea life. The currents slowly ate the force of the tsunami which settled to nothing more than a wave of a few meters by coastal fall. Shelrath flew up and collided with Nelony and they flew through the air together. Shelrath's rage had grown and she had lost control of her own powers.

Nelony took the moment and latched onto her tightly pulling her to the coast of North America to the island of Hawaii to the Maunaloa volcano. They plunged into its caldera together and into the earth, rock and hot magma. Shelrath struggled against Nelony who once again clasped Shelrath in the rock and magma of the earth, pressing her down. Shelrath's powers waned and the hot magma burned her skin. Nelony kept her force upon Shelrath and soon Shelrath became enveloped in rock and cooling magma. The struggles stopped and Nelony relaxed. She drew the lump of rock that enveloped Shelrath from the depths of the volcano up to the surface. She flew the rock to the edge of the park in which the mountain was contained and dropped it to the ground in a clearing in the populated area. The rock split in two and a perfectly formed and molded stone statue of Shelrath fell out. Her face a sneer and her body tensed, full of rage caught in that moment of her death.

It was finally over.

Nelony fell to the ground exhausted as a crowd converged upon her. The emergency vehicles started to arrive one by one.

The world over the Aerth began to heal and the damage of the twins was undone. Nelony could feel the life and vitality return and restore the dying planet to beyond its full health and potential. The feeling invigorated her and for a moment the pains of losing her ancestor abandoned her.

Nelony smiled and to the crowd's amazement she took to the air.

She had to get back to the Sanctum.

If the Sanctum was in fact still standing.