• Published 10th Jan 2018
  • 2,698 Views, 228 Comments

Back and There Again - Sun Sage



A strange gem takes Rarity to a world she almost recognizes. She's going to make it back home no matter what, but she might need some help to do it. And why is it all so familiar?

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19. The Last Day of the War

The room was silent for a moment, until Grumman cleared his throat. “...If you would repeat that… Knight Lieutenant?”

“He’s in my gaming guild. Online I mean, I don’t know where he physically is, but I can contact him.”

“It didn’t occur to you that he might have been able, and wanted, to help us in our current endeavor?”

Aiden’s eyes narrowed, and he looked up at Grumman, all traces of embarrassment gone. “Which one would that be? I feel bad that I didn’t think of him for the batteries right away, sure. For the rest, helping Rarity in general, you mean? I haven’t noticed you calling in anyone else. You’re saying we haven’t been enough?”

“No, Aiden, that isn’t-”

“Because he wouldn’t have made a difference… General.”

“Aiden, that’s-”

“The Spire Assault crippled him!”

Most of the faces at the table contorted into winces. Grumman simply looked stunned. “...What?”

"Just what I said. You surely noticed he was different after that? He held himself together through excessive use of his talent and sheer force of will." Aiden snorted lightly. "There's a reason he preferred being called that. Not that I blame him... who names their kid 'Lero'? Point is, when he left, he told me that he didn't think he'd live much longer. His body was falling apart and he couldn't keep hiding it. He pulled through, obviously, but he can't fight anymore. I honestly don't know his physical condition but that much he's told me. There's a strong 'let's not discuss it' vibe, and I respect that. He's earned his privacy."

Aiden sighed deeply. Rarity gently put a hoof to his shoulder. He turned to her, smiling wanly. “As to how it happened... You won’t find many Espers willing to discuss the Spire Assault, but almost everyone knows the generalities. Rarity, I’m sorry I’ve avoided talking about it.”

She shook her head. “You don’t owe me explanations, darling.”

“No, I meant what I said the other day. Most of this stuff is common knowledge.”

“You say that, but it’s not…” Aaron spoke up. “I don’t know much about it.”

“I’ve never heard a firsthand account, actually.” Valerie added, and Talia nodded encouragingly.

He turned to Johnathan, his already weak smile becoming anemic. “You want to tell the tale?”

He held up his hands in a warding gesture. “We both know you could do it better justice. I got knocked out early on; I’m lucky I survived.”

“We all were. In any case, the basics for starters.” He took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. “The Spires were the last major battle of the war in terms of casualties, and the Oni trump card. Here in the States many called them Cardinal Spires because four were launched at us, at key points in the four cardinal directions. South was near Houston, intended to destroy the Johnson Space Center, among other things.” He sighed, looking away. “They succeeded; the South team was wiped out completely, along with thousands of people who hadn’t evacuated far enough to escape the eventual blast. North was in North Dakota, at a spot I knew nothing about… but as it turned out we had a major weapons and materiel development lab there, of key importance to the war effort for us.”

Grumman coughed delicately. “We thought it was well hidden.”

Aiden continued, giving Grumman a sympathetic nod. “West was close to here: their target was Adstrum. Donovan and Johnathan were both here, along with Knight Captain Suen, who had to retire afterwards.”

“Again, I wasn’t there for most of it. I was nearly killed at the gate, just getting us through their first line of defense.”

“To hear Donovan tell it later, without you that’s all the further any of them would have gotten.”

Johnathan twitched in surprise, staring at Aiden a moment. He then smiled, but didn’t reply.

“Lastly was East, between Baltimore and Washington DC. I ended up there, along with the rest of Outrage.”

Rarity interrupted. “I thought Donovan was in that squad with you.”

Aiden blinked. “Good memory. He was, but he’d taken a trip home to visit family when the attack hit.” He smiled wryly. “Guess his replacement.”

“...Vera?”

“Got it in one. They’re both heavy hitters in terms of energy attacks, and if anything Vera’s better in close combat; she’s the faster of the two. ...I’m getting sidetracked here. Williams and his squad hit the North Spire. Basically, each Spire was a massive tower designed to gather in magic, resonate with the other towers, and destabilize the Aetheric Field across the connecting area.”

Rarity’s eyes widened. “So if left unchecked…”

“The ‘area’ would have been the entire continental United States, and further amplified outward to most of North America, in this case. They had incredible range, but the ones on other continents didn’t connect with any of the ones here. Four were also launched at Europe, Africa, and South America. Asia got six, Australia two. Understand, destabilizing Earth’s Aether Field would inconvenience Espers a bit, particularly the weaker ones.”

“Present.” Johnathan said, holding a hand up with a self deprecating grin.

“But it would kill every normal human that didn’t awaken to magic from it. It was a genocidal attack… and they held off using it until they were sure they were losing otherwise.”

“That’s horrible.”

“And confusing. They had a win button the whole time, and they didn’t use it until we had a chance to counter it. By then, the surviving Espers had the training and experience to win our fights more often than not. Hell even most non-Esper militaries could hold their own, to a point. The tide had long turned.”

Cade spoke up. “In truth it confirmed what people had long suspected by that point. The Oni-koru did not come here to wipe out humanity; rather to fight humanity. As soon as they learned that normal humans couldn’t survive unstable aether fields, they stopped causing them in heavily populated areas. Over half the civilian casualties of the war happened during two time frames: the first week, and the Spire Assault, when they apparently decided they would try wiping out humanity after all. Even then, it was as much that as ‘now that you’re ready, here’s everything we have’.”

Aiden nodded grimly. “It really was…”

------------------------------------------Six Years Ago------------------------------------------

“Report!” Paladin Williams’ voice came through the communicator.

“Trellis here in the West. Captain Suen is a bit busy! Oni General Laurus engaged. We have five remaining Espers, Marine support had to bug out when the local Field began to destabilize. But we’ve got this.”

The connection to the Southern Spire was silent; and they all already knew why.

“This is Windborne in the East! Our Captain is dead, we’ve left wounded behind to evacuate. Elleway is… twitchy.”

“I’m fine! Shut up! There’s voices behind us, keep moving!”

“The last defenders leading up to the control room hit her with some kind of psionic device, but we’re the last two left here.”

“I am five by five, sir! Let’s end this.”

“Understood. Both of you, be careful. You’ll have at least a General waiting for you.”

“How are things on your end?”

“My team is gone; I sent them away after getting this far… I’m staring Caedum down, Aiden.”

“...Shit. Will… be careful.”

He chuckled. “You do the same. Remember, no matter what happens, we have to deactivate at least two of them to prevent a huge field from forming. Millions of lives, Windborne. Do what you have to, no matter what.”

“You talk like you’ve already lost, man.”

“...See you further down the road, my friend.” the connection cut out.

“Dammit. Vera! We are taking down whoever’s behind that door!”

“Yes, sir!” She fired a blast of aether, frying the supports before Aiden hit it with a telekinetic burst like a giant battering ram. The reinforced, aether shielded door crumpled inward before tumbling across the inner chamber. It was then knocked aside by the room’s sole inhabitant.

She wore a wide, fanged grin, light armor that flattered her form more than it would protect it, and carried a large, familiar greatsword in one hand. White hair was tied back into a tight bun over coppery skin. Haughty, cruel red eyes stared down her opponents, belying the long, elfin ears that seemed to twitch in happy anticipation as she chuckled.

“Sorry to disappoint you, little hero. You get the newest General. Please treat me well?”

Aiden snorted, drawing both bastons. “...Keia Luxuria. Congratulations on the promotion.”

“Why thank you! You really have grown up well; I still remember that little boy screaming ‘I hate you!’. Your manners are much better now.” She tilted her head, and her gaze shifted to Vera. “...Not perfect, of course… showing up with another woman.”

Vera laughed darkly. “No need for jealousy… frankly you’re more my type than he is.”

Keia’s eyebrow shot up, and her grin got even more smug. “...Truly, now?”

“Mhmm. I just want to nibble on those ears of yours… give me a hug…”

Vera vanished in a blur, appearing behind Keia with both hands crackling with energy. The Oni spun immediately, her blade impacting those hands as the attack became a block. Vera’s eyes went wide as she was pushed away by the force of it. A follow up blast from the sword’s tip hit the wall where she’d been thrown, but she’d already rolled to the side.

Aiden came through a portal just to Keia’s right. Before she could recover her stance, both bastons, wrapped heavily in telekinetic force, stuck her side. She was flung away, and off balance, too much so to stop herself from flying through a portal. Vera blinked. “That was…”

Keia reappeared next to Aiden, smoke streaming off her form from fighting her way out of his pocket verse through raw power. It had taken a bit out of her, and her counterswing was knocked away before a weak blast of energy from her free hand let her get distance.

It wouldn’t last as Vera landed an enhanced kick to the side of her head, sending her sprawling. But several blasts from her sword tip forced Aiden and Vera back, while filling the room with smoke. A pair of portals siphoned it off while another pair pulled air back into the room in exchange. Vera swore. “Where did she…?!”

She spun as Keia’s blade nearly impaled her from behind, instead cutting deep into her side. Keia screamed as the area around Vera exploded in electrified aether as the smaller woman countered what should have been a killing blow. Aiden flung a baston at the distracted, wounded Oni, and as she lifted her blade to block it, a portal opened.

The baston went through, and as Keia’s eyes widened it came out at another angle, smashing into the back of her head with enough force to crack her skull and send her tumbling to the floor. She bounced up and to the side by slamming her hand down and spinning away. Vera tried to follow, but snarled and grit her teeth as she listed to the side and collapsed, blood spurting from beneath the hand that was holding her side. Keia regained her feet, stumbling a little but able to block Aiden’s follow up strike. His second baston came at her in a telekinetic grip; she caught it with her free hand and tried to yank it away, only to succeed too easily as he let it go. The moment of surprise allowed him to channel the telekinetic force surrounding it into displacing energy; the baston became a portal blade.

Keia screamed as her hand was torn apart by laser-like energy carving through her palm, pulling inward to Aiden’s pocket verse with a force like heavy gravity. She cut her arm off at the elbow and leapt away from the effect.

Right into another attack as Aiden came through a portal on her now crippled side. His fist impacted her ribs, transferring telekinetic force, alongside the mundane sort, through her torso, cracking bones and sending her flying into the wall. The baston he still held followed her, smashing into and through her good shoulder, pinning her before she could rise. She grabbed it awkwardly, but still had more than enough aether to prevent Aiden from repeating the portal blade trick. He needed distractions to divide her attention, and he was out of them. It was fine; the fight was over. She pulled the weapon out while her discarded sword fell into a portal.

“It’s over, Keia. You still have plenty of magic left, but you can’t move properly like that. We’ll just pummel you to death at this rate.”

“‘We’, you say? My date seems to be too busy bleeding out to help you.”

“Not likely. Vera’s tougher than that. If I can feel it, you damn sure can.”

Keia grinned up at him while slowly rising to her feet. Standing, she was a bit over six feet tall. He fought back a little envious surge. “I suppose so,” she admitted. “It was a good fight, little hero. Thank you. It’s a pity you won’t have a complete victory today. General Maegren won his battle in the South. When you deactivate this Spire, there’ll be no one to deactivate that one. Without all four shutting down at once, they’ll all detonate.”

“Better than everyone on this continent dying.”

“Not everyone… you would live, as would other Espers. Even some few of the humans out there would be awakened by the effect rather than die from it, we believe. The rest can be reborn one day.”

“Gosh, Keia, you should go into sales. I’m practically ready to just walk out and let it all happen.” He rolled his eyes and went to check on Vera. As much as he hated to admit it, he knew Keia well enough to know that she wouldn’t try anything desperate. He turned Vera over gently, and his eyes went wide at what he saw.

Vera’s face was pale, and her eyes were staring at nothing. Her head shook back and forth as though denying whatever she thought she saw. “Windborne… there’s… there’s so many voices… I hear them. They weren’t behind us! They were all around… a perfect circle. Golden...”

“Vera! Focus! We’re not out of this yet! I need you to get away from here. This place is going up, and I have to do everything I can to minimize the blast.”

“...Golden rat… what?” She blinked, her eyes focusing. “Shit… ugh… Aiden! I’ve lost too much blood; the room’s spinning. I… let me do it.”

“No. We’ve got a few minutes before activation. I’ll get you out and come back; the shielded tanks are still at the outer perimeter. You’ll be safe in one of them.”

“There’s too much shielding for your portals, dummy, remember? If there wasn’t, we would’ve gotten in a lot faster! It’ll take too long to get out through that labyrinth and come back again. Let me hit the switch. I can’t get away, but you can. Get distance, and shield yourself inside your verse. Hell, just hop in right now and you’ll be fine, right?”

“Doesn’t quite work that way, and if I do, everything within ten miles dies in aetheric fire. Not happening. If I stay, I can minimize the-”

“And die trying!”

“Maybe not!”

“Excuse me, little hero. I have an alternative.”

Vera glared balefully at the defeated Oni General. “What… you gonna press it for us?”

Keia laughed. “Don’t be silly. I lost but I’m no traitor. No, I’ll carry you away to safety. You wouldn’t escape without help, and the little hero here won’t leave this place to explode when the signal comes through from the Western Spire.” She smiled easily. “Your friends won there.”

Aiden sighed in relief. “Donovan?”

“He lives, as does his Captain, though barely. Laurus fought poorly, falling back on cowardly tactics in an effort to win. He won’t be missed.”

Aiden nodded. “I can trust you to get her to safety?”

“Aiden!”

“Quiet, Knight Elleway. This is an officer’s decision.”

“The Hell with that, you can’t-”

She fell through a portal, and could be heard yelling from down the hall they’d earlier entered through. Keia chuckled. “Why not just keep her in there?”

“She still has enough magic to force her way out. It’s not a holding cell. ...If she doesn’t make it…”

“Oh don’t threaten me, little hero. She flattered me, and she fought well. You would not have won alone. Killing her now would be unsightly.”

“Hmph. Mercy is for the strong, right?”

“So the Grand Marshal has always said, and so too do I believe.” She grinned, holding out her remaining hand. “A pity we met as foes. And yet, what a wonderful honor. You won’t survive this, but I will remember your name, Aiden Alexander Windborne.”

“Heh,” he grasped her hand firmly. “Don’t count me out just yet.”

“I look forward to seeing your efforts. ...I don’t suppose I could get my sword back?”

“Nope. You need to carry Vera.”

“But my armor has a clasp on the back for it…”

“Noooope.”

She sighed dramatically. “Fine… I’ll forge another, for what it’s worth. The war is all but over, now. Every continent has stopped the potential for absolute destruction, although your losses will be great. I’m sure our king will flail a bit longer, but Caedum will eventually make him see reason.”

“For a given value…”

“Naturally. Sanity, however you pretend you define it, does not entice us. Farewell, little hero.”

“See ya around, General Keia Luxuria.”

She turned and walked out the door, towards Vera’s distant, angry shouting. Aiden sighed, and turned to the enormous spell matrix in the middle of the room.

Inscribed on a spherical crystal the size of a van, innumerable glowing runes spelled out two forms of death in a language Aiden couldn’t read. He didn’t need to. He tore open the shielding on the control panel, and hit a button to retract the heavily aether resistant, clear polymer case that enclosed the crystal. His eyes widened as, with a second button press, the roof above the crystal opened like a skylight, revealing a beautiful, sunny day. He swore. Could they have escaped that way? It looked to be an ejection system for the crystal, but he couldn’t eject it and deactivate it. He shook his head; he had to be here either way. He could feel the menace of the thing now. With a single button press, he could end most of that menace by trading it for another, lesser form.

“This is Knight Lieutenant Aiden Windborne reporting in,” he said, tapping his headset with a brush of magic to activate it again. “The Eastern Spire is secure. Knight Elleway is evacuating the area. Report in please; I’ll wait as long as I can to deactivate.”

“Ready when you are, buddy.”

He smiled softly. “Donny boy?”

“Yes, sir. We’re good to go, here. I think I can channel the blast up so there’s no damage.”

“Heh. They’re lucky to have you. Give us a good light show. Hey, bonus points if you can aim it at one of the Oni ships in orbit.”

“Ooh, I love a challenge.”

Aiden grimaced, feeling cold despite the camaraderie. Another voice hadn’t-

“This is Williams! Detonate immediately!”

Aiden’s eyes went wide. He didn’t sound good… “...Lero…”

“Pfft. You must be worried if you’re using my first name. I’m fine! I can hold Garken a bit longer, and catch us both in the blast. There’s no reason to delay! Do it; that’s an order!”

There was a reason. If Will could win, and get even a minute to recover and strengthen himself…

“Aiden! I cannot beat him! He’s stronger than he’s ever let on; stronger than any of their Generals by far. We have to- Hkk-”

“You have to stay focused, young one…” Bones could be heard popping, followed by a detonation of energy and Williams coughing.

Aiden grit his teeth at hearing that voice. He could practically feel Caedum’s hand around his own throat. “Dammit! Donovan, brace! Will… don’t die! Garken… to go Hell!” His fist slammed down on the button that shut down the sequence. The glow of the runes changed, pulsing for a moment as feedback built.

It was more than enough time. Aiden opened a portal, dropping the crystal, and himself, in. The Spire’s shielding was specifically designed to in no way impede the blast, so this was all Aiden could do to protect everyone who hadn’t gotten away. A small part of his mind screamed for those he’d condemned with this choice, but there was no other path open. Less than ten seconds… at least two kilometers… He strained, reaching for portal after portal, pulling himself as far into the air as possible.

2.8 kilometers later, the sky lit as the crystal, encrusted with destructive runes and storing incredible amounts of aether, exploded. A hastily erected bubble shield and even the boundaries of Aiden’s pocket verse hadn’t fully contained it. But they’d done enough. The shockwave that reached the ground was comparable to a burst of hurricane gale force winds, but it was fleeting and caused no lasting harm. Aiden was falling, barely conscious and unable to gather any power. He’d been thrown upward and out of his verse by the blast, and his own shielding and natural durability had kept him in one piece. But he had nothing left. He’d fall, and he’d probably die in the landing. Even a First Gen wasn’t going to survive something like this in his exhausted state. And yet… he was okay. As the wind blew past him and the ground came up to meet him, he felt content. The cost had been terrible, but they’d saved millions. He could accept this. ...It was really taking a long time, though.

“Wake up, little hero.” An open palm slapped the side of his face, rather gently given whose palm it was.

His eyes shot open, staring up at Keia Luxuria. Turning, he saw Vera Elleway lying in the grass nearby. She seemed to be asleep.

“She needs time to recover. My strike wasn’t as effective as I’d have liked, but I still nearly killed her. She’ll sleep for a day or two while her magic recuperates. After that, a week or more. ...You’ll recover far faster.”

“...You saved me?”

“I thought it wouldn’t have been such a bad end. If the blast had killed you I’d have been content. But falling to your death after surviving that? Unacceptable. You defeated me… I won’t see your body broken by a lowly fall.”

“Pretty sure this does make you a traitor, now.”

“...Perhaps, but only to my king, not to the beliefs of our way. I’ll make my escape now, and my excuses to his majesty. As to you… your strength earned you this mercy once again. Use it to become stronger, and defend your world. My king… no longer deserves to overcome your kind.”

“...Yeah, definitely a traitor.”

She laughed lightly. “Be well, little hero.” She turned, and walked away.

He tried to tap his earpiece, to hear the results of the other Spires, but it was gone, lost to the blast. He sighed, and shut his eyes. The world could keep walking without him for just a bit.

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