To Know You
After Brine left to sneak in through the hidden entrance, they were filled with trepidation as they finally made it to the gates of Lumiere. The dome that had been looming in the distance for so long was now finally in front of them, and truthfully, Shane could hardly tell what was inside it even from this distance.
He gripped the reigns tightly as he approached the guards. It was decided that only Maya, Shane, and Garrette would ride in the front of the carriage. The official document they took from the merchants only granted entry to three people. The rest of them sat in the back, stealth cloaks on them, and prayed to Maya that they didn’t use any techniques like Shane’s that could see through their disguise instantly.
One of the guards, a half angelfish, came up to him. “Documentation please.”
Shane handed it to him as he read it over. He folded it neatly and put it under his arm. “You may proceed.”
“You’re not going to inspect our carriage?” Garrette asked.
Shane and Maya both shot him glares before quickly making their expressions neutral again. Shane had no idea why he would bring it up now, but it seemed to get a good laugh out of the guard. “Ah, no need to worry. Winslet Armory has a special arrangement with Lumiere, so there’s no need to inspect any of its carriages.”
Shane and Maya looked at each other. That was certainly suspicious. Shane wondered if it was to prevent the people of Lumiere, even the guards who served at the gate, from knowing about the affairs that Winslet Armory was involved in.
“Enjoy your time in Lumiere!” The guard waved at them as he pulled down a lever, opening the gates. It turned out that there was a second pair of gates after the first, and as soon as the gates leading outside closed behind them, they were consumed by water.
Shane gasped as the entire caravan was flooded with water, holding his breath as he frantically began to look around for a way to escape. He could hear the frantic cries from the passengers in the back as well, and he could imagine them clawing at their throats, wondering when their lungs would give out. “Don’t panic!” he heard the surprisingly clear voice of Garrette. “Just breathe, everyone. This isn’t the same kind of water you’re normally used to."
Tentatively, Shane inhaled slightly and was surprised to discover that Garrette was right. He looked over at Maya only to discover she was experiencing the same thing. “How on earth…?”
“Nothing is allowed to die inside Sasha’s domain,” Garrette explained. “Everything in Lumiere bends to his will, so even species without the ability to breathe underwater should be fine.”
“That’s terrifying,” Shane said.
“You think so? I think it’s quite impressive, really,” Maya said. “I will eventually be making this power my own, you know. Will you think I’m terrifying when that time comes?”
“I’ll worry about that when the time comes,” Shane said. “For now, let’s try to take him out first.”
They only waited a little while longer before the second pair of gets opened. Shane directed the horses through the gate, and once they were inside, he couldn’t help but be in awe.
It was if had stepped into the depths of ocean, where light barely pierced through. It would have been terribly dark normally, but the road had lights on either side of it with prisms attached to the tops, projecting threads of light onto the street. There were large prisms built on the highest buildings that then reflected onto smaller ones, angular beams of light making zig zags in the water until they reached the street prisms, which shone brilliant rainbows of light everywhere.
The streetlights weren’t the only source of light, however. Many of the creatures and species that lived here were luminescent, easily identifiable by their varying shades of vibrant green, blues, and even pinks and reds. It was dark enough that it should have been able to blot out all the magnificent colors swirling its depths, and it only served to highlight their beauty, not take away from it.
As they slowly preceded down the streets, he looked off to the sides, fascinated by this new world. One of the sea dwellers with the teeth of an alligator casually swept up a fish that was swimming by and ate it, letting its tongue loll out in satisfaction after it had finished swallowing. Both the sea dweller and the fish were both something Shane had never encountered before, not even as a Fishing Master.
Lumiere had a long-standing reputation for being isolated from the outside, with species and creatures that could not be seen everywhere else, and as Shane watched the myriad of sea creatures walking on the streets or riding in small magic propelled ships above him, he realized that it was the absolute truth.
The languages and noises that the residents of Lumiere made were foreign, yet pleasant to his ears, and to his surprise, he could even smell the street food coming from the various stalls lining the almost fathomlessly black road they were riding on. He saw flashes of fire in the darkness, and he wondered if he could produce fire even within the depths of the sea. He lit up his hand a little, just to check, and it worked, his flame glowing beautifully as it was wrapped in the city.
“Shane, look,” Maya said, pointing toward the east. There was a large castle, one outlined with brightly glowing deep blue magical stones that illuminated the porcelain castle in its glow. It was tall, its highest point nearly touching the top of the dome, and everything expanded underneath as if the exposing the larger iceberg just below it. It was majestic, and it seemed like a whole town could fit inside with how grand it was.
He thought this place would be desolate and horrific, the sufferings of the people visible on the surface, but all he saw right now was its bewitching beauty.
“Is this really Lumiere?” Shane whispered.
“It is,” Garrette confirmed. “I’ve only read of it in stories, but this is truly what Lumiere looks like. Don’t let it fool you.”
“What do you mean?” Maya asked.
“I’ve read that those lights have magic in them. They release a subtle manipulation magic. No matter what, the people of this city can’t rebel, because they are manipulated by the magic into a false sense of happiness. Just look over there,” Garrette said, pointing to a building that seemed to have a club built into it.
There were sea dwellers dancing outside and inside, laughing and dancing without a care in the world. They looked like they were having fun, but when they got closer, it seemed as if the smiles were plastered to their faces unnaturally, as if they were stuck that way.
“The sea dwellers in this club are called Dancers until Death. Rather than confronting their unhappiness and the boredom that can come with being stuck in Lumiere for eternity, they dance. They’ve been dancing for centuries by now, I’m sure, afraid of what will happen when the music stops.”
Shane turned his head to watch even after they had already passed the club, feeling disturbed. He had never had the luxury of being unable to face his reality, but if these people were really avoiding themselves, avoiding thinking, avoiding feeling, then they might as well already be dead.
“They’ve lost all hope,” Maya said, looking back at the castle again, her lightning another glowing addition to the mixture of color in the waters. “It might be painful for them, but we need to make them stop. We WILL make them stop, and we’ll give them hope so that they don’t need to be afraid of what comes after.”
“How did Brine manage to survive becoming this and escape?” Shane wondered aloud.
“Braqueans are basically immune to manipulation or mind control of any kind. I suspect the reason why they’re so rare, and why Brine was able to escape, was because Sasha deemed him a variable beyond his control and wanted to eliminate him.”
That was rather pragmatic of Sasha, Shane thought. He also found himself more and more amazed at just how influential Brine could be in Lumiere after Sasha’s defeat. It was one thing for outsiders to come in here and claim they were all being brainwashed, but if Brine said as much…well, people would believe him.
“We should make him king of this place if we win,” Maya said. “He may be a trickster, but he’s also someone the people will be able to trust, both as someone who has lived on the outside, and as a fellow sea dweller.”
“I was just thinking something similar,” Shane admitted, “but before any of that, we need to go to Winslet Armory headquarters first,” Shane said. “We have their caravan, and it will look suspicious if we show up to the castle like this. Besides, we need to drop off Reka, Letitia, and Garrette so they can deactivate whatever weapons and technology Winslet Armory is using.
“Based on your information, it seems like the CEO of Winslet Armory will be attending the ball. It’s the perfect opportunity to strike while he isn’t there. Messing with the god of war isn’t something I think the three of us alone can handle,” he said.
“The god of war?” Shane asked. “The CEO of Winslet Armory is the god of war?”
“Yes,” Garrette said, “I doubt it could be anyone else. He, above all, wants to fuel war, and the armory is a great business enterprise for him in the regard.”
The god of war was the owner of the armory. It shouldn’t really surprise him. He knew there must be someone backing the king during that time, he just wasn’t sure of who. Master Terra was right. The gods really did treat mortals as tools to meet their own ends. At least, the god war did. Just like Gariel truly cared about the wicker bears and the forest, he believed that there were gods out there that weren’t using mortals for their own ends.
“I guess that means we’ll be seeing him at the party,” Maya commented. “Riolet, Stendle. Do you think you could take him in a fight?”
Riolet and Stendle poked their heads out from behind the fabric curtain behind them. “No way,” they said in unison.
“We can definitely take on the servants and guards under Sasha, but us fighting the god of war would be pointless. Even if we won, we’re gods. We can’t kill him, so he could still come after you anyways,” Riolet said.
“We’re better at crowd control anyways. We did fight during the war between the giants and night dwellers in the past before we met each other on the battlefield. I think we’d be best at that,” Stendle said.
“Okay then,” Maya said easily. “It probably wouldn’t be good to put you guys in a one-on-one duel with anyone anyway. Your stubbornness and determination would make you unable to back down, and we need you both to be a bit more flexible instead of trying to win a fight you know you can’t win.”
“Since Maya will be busy fighting Sasha, and the rest of you already have your missions, I guess its my duty to take him down, then.”
“Can you do really do it?” Riolet asked. “We’re minor gods. Don’t think just because you defeated me that he’ll be on the same level. I’ve met him before; he’s not someone to trifle with.”
“I’m sure,” Shane said. “Even if I die a hundred times, I won’t lose.”
“I guess it worked out that you’re a phoenix,” Garrette said. “Even if you only win one round out of one hundred, you’re still mortal. That means you can kill him and be reborn countless times.”
“He can? But I thought phoenixes were a type of immortal?” Maya asked.
“Not exactly. Since they die, they’re technically mortal. What makes phoenixes unique from gods, is that they can defy death, even if they succumb to it,” Garrette explained.
“I can defeat him,” Shane said, confidence thrumming through his veins, his newly acquired power ready to burst out from him at any moment. “You guys should be more worried about Maya than me. If she dies, there’s no rebirth there to save her.”
“Not to worry. Garrette’s filled me in on what he knows about Sasha. I have a plan for taking care of him.”
Shane believed in her at this point. There was no room for doubt, not now. If Maya knew how to bring Sasha to his knees, then she would. He hadn’t seen the extent of her magical prowess yet, even in her fight with Stendle. While she had a wide array of flexibility when it came to lightning, he didn’t know to what extent she had mastered it, or if there was other magic she knew besides speed and lightning magic.
Not that it was really a huge deal if she primarily focused on refining her lightning magic. If anything, it was a wise decision. Better to be like Florence and hone a specific skill to its limit than to dabble in various magical arts and be a master of none of them. He had taken much of the same approach when he decided to become a Fishing Master. He only focused on fishing, leaving the hunting to Maya, and by doing that he was able to master the skills he gained while focusing on fishing alone.
“I-I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Reka said, poking his out from underneath Riolet and Stendle. “I’ve never seen anyone with an affinity for lightning magic like Maya before.”
Maya reached back and slung a shoulder around his neck. “Aw, Reka! You’re so sweet!”
If Shane could see a little better, he would guess that Reka was blushing. “I-It’s just the truth.”
“I agree,” Letitia called from the back, “I’ve seen her progress over the course of her three years in Bai Hu, and it’s remarkable! Even Master Terra was impressed.”
Maya smiled. “Rest assured, my beloved followers, I won’t let your faith in me be in vain.”
“Now get your heads back in there,” Shane lightly scolded them. “Do you want us to be find out so soon?”
“Right, sorry!” Reka said as he yanked Riolet and Stendle back into the caravan.
As they continued on their way to Winslet Armory, taking a few twist and turns as the streets curved in an out like waves on the shore, that dazzling façade gradually began to slip away. He didn’t know if he was immune to the effects, or if it just took longer to activate. Whatever the case, he began to notice little slip ups that made the beautiful country of Lumiere more and more eerie the further they pushed in.
The food stalls on the side of the roads had no customers, and yet they continued to cook as if they had a line around the block to attend to. There were also more and more visages of Sasha popping up, and for the first time Shane was able to get an idea of what exactly he looked like.
He was carved in white marble, his hair reaching his upper chest in length and the tips of his strands ending in fine tentacles. He had four petaled flowers carved into each shoulder, and there was a red glowing core in the center of his chest. His eyes were sharp and piercing, as if he was picking apart every aspect of your being apart and scrutinizing it.
If this was the impression Shane got from the statue, he couldn’t imagine what sort of presence Sasha held in person. What’s more, the sea dwellers seemed to worship the statues, bowing at its feet, and praising Sasha for his grace in granting them immortality within Lumiere.
By the time they finally reached Winslet Armory headquarters, Shane must have seen hundreds of worshippers at statues dotted all over Lumiere, the sight leaving him unsettled.
“We’re here,” Garrette said quietly, causing Shane to snap out of his thoughts. Much to Shane’s surprise, the headquarters for Winslet Armory was a giant abandoned ship. It looks like one similar to what a pirate would sail, and even from here he could make out the holes in the sides of the ship that surely had cannons at the ready.
“It looks abandoned,” Maya said. “Is this really it?”
Reka got out form the back and took the reins from Shane. “I don’t think those merchants were lying. Besides, I’ve heard that their headquarters here was based in a ship—I just didn’t expect something like this.
Shane got down from his seat and Maya followed. Letitia also popped out from the back of the caravan and slid into the seat on the right side of Garrette. “Contact us if you have any problems,” Shane said as he helped Reka into the seat. He nodded. “We will. May Maya be with you, Shane,” he said solemnly.
“And also with you,” Shane responded.
“No matter where I am, let my blessing be upon you, my faithful followers,” Maya said, holding her hand up and putting a speed spell on them. “You should be able to dodge any attack with ease at this level of speed, now go! Make me proud!”
“Yes, Lady Maya!” all three said. Reka cracked the reins once and Shane watched them as they rode to the entrance, praying that they would be able to fulfill their mission safely.
Shane turned around, and he could sense Stendle and Riolet waiting for them, a fresh coat of stealth magic all but erasing their presence. “I’m not even sure you need be so cautious. I don’t think the people living here even have the capacity to question our presence anymore,” Shane said as they all began to swiftly make their way to the castle, the cold dark road beneath his feet leaving a lingering slimy sensation on his soles.
“Better to be safe than sorry,” Stendle said, as he casted a spell on Maya and Shane as well. Shane didn’t protest it, and merely picked up the pace. Even if he didn’t feel immediately threatened, blasting through the streets at full speed without stealth magic would attract unwanted attention.
Interestingly, Winslet Armory was actually rather far removed from the castle. Shane figured it must be so far removed to ensure the people didn’t even suspect that Sasha and Winslet Armory were colluding with each other, though if the god of war was going to be at the ball tonight, maybe he didn’t really care as much as Shane suspected.
Once they finally made it to the castle, they all stopped and looked at the castle. If it was beautiful from far away, it couldn’t even compare to what it looked like up close. There was ornate carvings of the mythical pegasus fish on both sides of the entrance, with statues of lion turtles lining the path to the door.
While he hadn’t been able to make out the plant life on the road beyond vague shapes and hints of color, now he saw them in full bloom. There was all kinds of color growing out the pores of the castle wall. Sea anemones abounded, as well as moss, and seaweed, among other colorful plant life. It was at this moment that Shane realized there must be a whole ecosystem of plant and animal life living inside the castle, and it was unlike anything he had ever seen before.
“How can such a terrible god create such a beautiful castle,” Shane wondered.
“Apparently it was a gift from a friend,” Maya told him, voice hushed in the awe of the palace. “Sasha was lifelong friends with a mortal woman, but eventually she passed away. I’m sure that even he couldn’t bear to tear down her last gift to him.”
“While me and Stendle have always remained constant in who we are, Sasha became a changed god after that,” Riolet explained.
Shane had thought that Sasha’s thought process would be an enigma to him, but in actuality he felt he understood him with full transparency now.
Sasha, the god of immortality, was afraid of death.
It explained everything, from his captivity of the people here, to his need for guards and weapons from Winslet Armory. All of this suffering, all of it was caused by grief and fueled by fear. Shane was sure that it would have been easier to just continue to believe that Sasha was inherently evil, and that his intentions were to punish the people underneath him, but that’s not what Shane was seeing.
Sasha genuinely thought he was doing a good thing for his people, by wiping away the fear of death and sadness completely, and yet, the result was the death of the sea dwellers souls.
“Well, he’s about to change again,” Maya said, walking confidently up to the guards. “There’s a ball tonight, right? We’re with Winslet Armory.”
“No one is allowed in without proof, much less an invitation,” the guard said. “So can you prove it?”
Shane approached the guard. “Is this armor proof enough?”
The guard looked at his armor and his eyes widened. “That’s living armor,” he said, in awe. “No need for an invitation, sir. That armor is proof enough of your status.”
“Thank you,” Shane said. “Are my companions also fine?”
“If they don’t have any proof, I don’t see how I can let them in.”
“We are the gods of determination and stubbornness. Would you truly deny a god entry?” Riolet asked.
“Is it not customary to bring a plus one?” Shane added, pulling Maya close.
The guard still seemed unsure, but eventually he relented. “O-Of course. Please enjoy the event.” Shane took Maya’s hand and squeezed it tightly. Stendle followed his example and took Riolet’s hand, who seemed flustered but didn’t pull away.
“Ready?” Shane asked quietly.
The doorman smiled as he opened the door for them, his jagged teeth drawn as if he was attempting to turn it into a warm smile. It didn’t work. As they stepped inside, some guests looked in their direction before quickly resuming their festivities, whether that was talking, eating, or dancing.
There was a live orchestra in the left corner, some of the instruments ones that Shane had never seen before, but he must admit poured out a beautiful melody. Everyone was dressed elegantly, and it was at this point that Shane realized they were woefully underdressed for this type of event.
The rest of the room was arguably more elegant than its guests, with small waterfalls in varying colors running down parts of the walls and a giant prismatic chandelier in the middle, spinning so that the lights were in constant movement.
There was an entire side of the hall purely dedicated for food, and Shane saw a chef come out with some freshly baked good before quickly retreating in a door on the right side of the hall. Some guests were eating the food at a pace that was almost obscene, their stomachs swollen from the amount of food they were eating. It seemed like the chefs had their work cut out for them.
The floors had an intricate array interwoven into its structure, and Shane wondered if it was similar to the trap that Brine created at the Cavity Combs. Finally, Shane’s eyes were drawn toward the figure sitting on a throne at the at the far back of the room, talking to a figure with long, smooth black hair that reached their ankles.
It was Sasha, and if Shane was guessing correctly, the god of war.
“You guys go enjoy the party,” Maya said, as she threaded arms with Shane. “We have some gods to meet.”
It seemed like Riolet and Stendle needed no more invitation, gladly going over to the buffet to peruse the delicacies that Sasha had to offer.
Shane thought he would have to find an excuse to talk to them on his own, but that was quickly proven unnecessary as the figure—the man with black hair, waved them over, his expression not lightening up even the slightest in welcome.
“Good evening,” Maya said. Her smile was friendly, but Shane could tell how closed off her eyes were. “Thanks so much for inviting us. We’re looking forward to dancing the night away.”
“You plan on dancing with him, in heavy armor like that? That won’t do, my lady,” Sasha said, his voice taking on an otherworldly quality that Shane found quite captivating.
Sasha stood and offered her his hand. His core flared in his opaque body. A smile was dancing on his white lips. “May I have this dance?”
Maya let go of Shane’s arm and took his hand. “Of course! This day is to celebrate you as much as Lumiere, after all. It would be a shame if you didn’t dance.”
“Sorry to cut in like that, sir…who was it, again?”
“Shane Inoue,” he answered, “and it’s fine. I admit I’m not much of a dancer.”
Sasha laughed, and it sounded as if it was coming from a distance as it echoed unpleasantly in his ears. “I see. Then I hope that Landrey will be good company for you in my absence.”
Landrey bowed slightly. “Of course, Sasha.”
As Maya walked away, Shane couldn’t help but wonder how long they would have to wait for Reka to send them the signal that they had taken down Winslet Armory. He would do his best to stall, but there was no guarantee that Maya would get this close to Sasha again.
He decided he would stall, beginning the conversation for the time being and just watch the two dance. Maya was probably a head shorter than him, which was admittedly a much easier height to accommodate than his own towering figure, and it showed in the grace of their movements as he swept her across the ballroom floor.
Landrey soon joined him, standing beside him as his red eyes watching them committedly. “Let’s skip the formalities, shall we?”
“Formalities concerning what?” Shane asked trying not to give anything away. There was no reason to believe that Landrey suspected him. Not yet.
“That armor you’re wearing. Where did you obtain something like that? I know everyone in Winslet Armory who has bio-magic weapons and armor, and you most definitely aren’t one of them.”
Okay, so maybe he did suspect him. It wasn’t his fault that after leaving him be for the night, the armor was back on him by morning. “Like anyone else in need of armor, I bought it. The merchants from your armory sold it to me for quite cheep too, all things considered.”
“To think, that there was one of the original armors we created still out there, and attached to someone who is still alive, no less.”
“So, you admit that you sold it knowing people would die as a result,” Shane said, not bothering to play a game where they pretended not to know what the other was talking about when it was clear they’d already passed that point.
“Anyone trying to buy armor during that time was fighting in the war,” Landrey said. “It’s not like they wouldn’t have died anyways. At least they had a chance of surviving if the armor worked for them…like you.”
Shane clenched his fists. “The reason I survived had nothing to do with the armor. I’m only here today because of Maya.”
“Maya…the young lady dancing with Sasha, I presume?”
“Ah, I see. And your name?”
His relaxed posture stiffened, and he looked like he was debating slicing Shane’s head off.
“The monster in the war…the fiercest warrior on the battlefield, Shane Inoue. I remember now. You went on to become a Fishing Master and became even more revered. I never realized that the one bearing that armor was you.”
“There are a lot of things you don’t realize,” Shane said, “like how many people have suffered because of you, as you incite wars over and over again.”
“Can you expect anything less of me? It’s the essence of my being. Will you fault me that?”
“I fault you for being the god of war, and having the power to end them, rather than start them. I fault you for using and abusing life for your experiments before tossing it aside. But most of all, I blame you for separating me from the ones I love for so long.”
“Are you here to kill me, then?”
Shane felt his communication device ring in his ears, and then Reka’s voice crackling through. “Shane, can you hear me? We’ve taken over headquarters, and Garrette and Letitia are working on deactivating the weapons now.”
“Thank you, Reka.”
Shane summoned fire in his hands, the core in his chest vibrating with excitement. “I think you owe it to me to let me try,” he said before swinging a flaming fist at him, illuminating the room with his blue flames.
The other guests cried out and ran away, but Sasha and Maya remained in the center of the ballroom, grasping onto each other tightly. Shane could just barely make out the sparks that were being set off between them from here.
The servants and guards were already surging in, ready to apprehend him, but Stendle and Riolet got there first, holding them back effortlessly while still wolfing down food.
“If you want to kill me, I think it would be in your best interests to pay attention.”
It was amazing, how quick consciousness faded when you were moments away from dying. All he heard was Maya screaming his name, and then nothing.
Except, not quite nothing. The core, his inner being started to lash out, and while Shane could no longer hear or see, his soul was still there. “Let me go. Let me rise,” he urged it.
The core flared in response, and he felt his entire being consumed in flames. When Shane opened his eyes, he was in the air, looking down at a terrified Landrey. Shane let out a cry, the shrill tone so unlike the beautiful chirping from yesterday.
Maya and Sasha, who had been busy shooting bolts of electricity and lightning back and forth at each other, both paused to look up at him. “To think there was a phoenix that still lived…” Sasha said, before Maya was slicing at his neck with her lightning again, quickly distracting him from their fight.
Landrey quickly gathered his bearings and pulled out a sword that he instantly recognized as a bio-magical weapon, its glow ominous and intimidating. Shane let out another cry and sent fireballs straight at him. Landrey dodged a few of them, before realizing that he had no choice but to slice through them. Everything the fire touched began to melt, burning holes into the beautiful ballroom.
This enraged Sasha, who seemed increasingly frustrated as he dealt with Maya. “Kill him! Don’t let him damage my ballroom further, Landrey! You were the one to incite him, so you better resolve this matter immediately!”
Landrey gritted his teeth, and sent an energy wave from his blade, cancelling out the fireballs long enough to fly up to where Shane was and slice through him again.
Unfortunately for him, just like before, Shane rose from the ashes. Again, and again, and again. Each time Shane died, he felt himself come back even stronger than before. He wondered why that was the case, but he figured that rebirth was an incredibly powerful event to be begin with, so that might be why he felt bursting with power.
He flapped his wings and sent a fiery vortex at Landrey, the force of it so strong that the sword was beginning to degrade. Still, Landrey swiped at the fire as best he could, putting up a barrier so as not to be melted by its flames.
Seeing the state of his sword gave Shane an idea. Instead of aiming his next attack at Landrey, he aimed it at the sword, breathing fire onto it and consuming it.
A shriek came from the sword as its glow began to rapidly grow up Landrey’s arm. “Wait, no, stop!”
The weapon didn’t listen, covering his entire body in red and sucking his life energy out of him. Since the weapon was a living being created by mortal souls, that meant that it had the ability to kill Landrey—and that’s exactly what it did.
His core finally settling, Shane landed on the floor of the ballroom and transformed back into his human form. “If you don’t know the answer to that question, maybe you should ask the sword filled with all the lives you sacrificed,” Shane said. Landrey looked him in the eye one more time before the last remnant of his life was snuffed out, and he disappeared, leaving only the sword behind.
Shane plopped himself down next to it, too afraid to touch, and also extremely exhausted from the fight. It turned out that dying multiple times took a toll on you after the high wore off. Riolet and Stendle rushed over to him, their fight against the guards already won. “Are you alright?” Stendle asked.
“Fine,” Shane said, despite the weakness of his voice and the trembling of his hands. “Go bring Garrette and the others back here. And Brine, if you can.”
“Roger that,” Riolet said as they sped out of the room.
Now, all that was left was to watch Maya defeat Sasha. He hadn’t been able to pay attention to their fight after a certain point, but Maya definitely seemed the more damaged of the two, lightning marks zigzagging across her skin.
Sasha looked no worse for wear but did seem incredibly irritated. “That fool couldn’t even protect this castle. Why did I even bother backing him all these years?”
“I don’t know,” Maya said, as she sent bolts of lightning springing up his feet and strangling his body. “Maybe you're just not cut out for this god thing.”
Sasha’s body dissipated, only leaving the red core of his chest behind. Shane watched in fascination as his body rapidly regenerated, causing Maya to scowl as she put distance between them.
It seemed that Sasha’s immortality was very similar to his own, something that Shane wasn’t expecting. He wondered if Sasha hailed from a unique species in addition to his godhood. Whatever the case, as would be expected, dealing with immortality was incredibly difficult.
“I didn’t want to have to use this, but I don’t think there’s another way,” Maya said. She slowly raised her hands, as if about to start a puppet show. “My dear Sasha, let me tell you something interesting.” Electricity sparked from her fingertips as Sasha finally finished regenerating.
“What would that be?” Sasha, asked, the tentacles at the tips of his hair raised threateningly.
Maya’s eyes glowed as she closed her hands with finality. “Electricity runs through the body, you know.”
Sasha froze. His tentacles began to twitch first, swarming around his head in disarray, then his fingers began to twitch, and then his arms. Maya took a deep breath and moved one of her fists to the right, Sasha’ s body jolting and moving in response.
She moved her left hand to the opposite side with the speed of a conductor during a fast passage, and Sasha’s body slammed into one of the pillars by his own doing. Sasha groaned as Maya forced him to stand. He was trying to fight her control over him, but he couldn’t seem to even move a finger if it was outside of Maya’s will.
Sasha shook uncontrollably as Maya approached him, her eyes glowing in dimmed space. “You’ve been stuck in time for too long,” she said, her tone sympathetic much to Shane’s surprise.
“It’s time to give up your immortality and move forward.” Maya stuck her hand in his chest, grabbed the red core, and ripped it out.
Maya stared down at it as Sasha’s body fell to the floor. Shane came up to her and put a hand on her shoulder. “What do you plan to do now?” Shane asked.
“For now…I still can’t accept this divinity for myself. Besides, I don’t want to kill him. That friend of his that he’s been missing so dearly…I think it’s Master Terra.”
“Are you serious?” Shane asked.
Maya nodded. “He told me about her while we were dancing. I’m pretty sure. I want to give him the chance to see her again, and then I’ll decide what to do with him, with Master Terra’s input.”
Maya looked up at him. “I’m sorry you had to kill Landrey, Shane. If I were stronger, you wouldn’t have been put in this position.”
Shane didn’t hesitate to pull her into a kiss, her lips sweet and soft against his. Then, he kissed her hair, and then her hand. “It was the souls in the sword that killed him, not me. My goddess answered my prayers, and I got revenge without even have to kill him myself. Let me take this moment to worship you,” he said as he kissed her again.
She grinned up at him. “Victory tastes sweet, doesn’t it,” she said as she licked her lips.
Just as he was about to lick those lips for himself, the rest of the members of Bai Hu crashed into the ballrooms, including Brine. “We’re here!” Letitia cried. “Did we win?”
Maya held up Sasha’s core, and they all broke out into cheers, hugging each other and singing Maya’s praises. “This marks the beginning of our conquest, to slay the gods and right the wrong they have unleashed upon this world. To my all of my faithful followers, I thank you.”
She turned to Brine. “I know the city must be in absolute chaos after Sasha’s defeat. I was hoping that you could guide these people as they transition into a new life. Would you be willing to help Bai Hu do that, Brine?”
“Do you mean you want me to become the ruler of Lumiere?” Brine asked, pointing at himself.
Maya nodded. “This country needs you, and as a member of the Bai Hu cult, we’ll support you. So what do you say?”
Brine straightened. “I accept. You see, my little ones finally hatched! I want to build them a Lumiere that they’ll love growing up in, and as your follower, I also want to support your mission.” Brine looked around. “It also gives me the opportunity to create all kinds of traps in the castle, hehehehe.”
Maya laughed as Shane pinched the bridge of his nose. “Then it’s a deal!”
Shane watched as Riolet and Stendle walked in the light of dawn in the fields of Freecer. They had been back for a few months now, but the couple still found themselves wistfully traversing the battlefield, lying on the hills of the giants, and walking in the plains of the night dwellers.
He didn’t know if it gave them peace, or filled them with regret, but Shane found it impactful, nonetheless. He had never visited the graves of those he served with in the war, or even faced many of their families. It was the first time where he felt like he needed to, whether that journey heal him or open his wounds even more.
Shane had spoken to Letitia about it, and she said that he could come visit where her siblings were buried, among many of the others under his command in the war. He thought it was a start.
Shane noticed Maya’s presence behind him, so he didn’t even flinch when she slipped her hand in his. “Hey,” she said, her voice softer than silk.
“How did everything go with Master Terra?”
“She’s confined him properly to her dimension. He won’t be able to enter this world again unless she wills it.”
“Do you think it was for the best, having them meet again?”
“If someone gave you the chance to find the one you love again, wouldn’t you take it?”
Shane thought back to when he had first gotten that letter in his mailbox in the village. How he didn’t even think before he was on his horse, desperately trying to reach her again. “I think I already did,” Shane said.
Maya laughed. “I felt the same way when you were kidnapped, you know.”
“You finally remember that?”
She smiled sadly. “I searched for you for a long time, and then a woman came to me and told me where you were. I was so grateful. I prepared as fast as I could and went to get you back.”
“Do you remember her name?” Shane asked.
Maya shook her head. “No, but I think I know who she was, now.”
“So? Who was she?”
“The goddess of fate.”
“The goddess of fate,” Shane said slowly. “I see now. The prophecy, your kidnapping, my rescue, they’re all connected by fate.”
Fate. One of the most powerful forces of all. All that Shane had gone through, it was all just because of fate?
“You look angry,” Maya said. “I’m glad; I’m angry too.”
Shane squeezed her hand. “Is she your next target? Where would we even find her?”
“Next target? Maybe. I don’t think we’ll find her that easily. The only place I can think to find her is in the Valley of Hopes and Dreams.”
“Is she connected to that place?”
“No, but there are other gods connected to her there. It may be called the Valley of Hopes and Dreams, but it’s a land for all the discarded creations and dreams of the people in this world; I doubt that there’s no one there that knows nothing about her.”
“Okay,” Shane said. “When do we leave?”
Maya laughed. “Don’t be so serious! Letitia and Garrette are hard at work making your birthday cake as we speak!”
Shane scratched his cheek. “Ah, that’s right. It will be the first time I’ve spent a birthday with you in over three years.”
“Are you excited?” Maya asked. “Will you make a wish on your birthday candles?”
A wish? He looked down at Maya, her crown sitting proudly on her head. How could he wish for anything when she came back to him? Maya was nothing short of a stranger with a god complex when he first arrived at the Cavity Combs, and now…she was the woman he fell in love with in the past, and the person that he loved now.
He knew how good of a hunter she was, and how great she was at leading Bai Hu, and that she was easy-going and confident. He knew he loved her, and that she loved him. All of the different aspects that he knew about her eventually coalesced into one firm conviction inside him—that Shane knew her, and that as they moved into the future, he would continue to know her.
Shane picked her up and spun her around, causing Maya to squeal in delight. Shane smiled at her and kissed her. “I don’t need a wish on a candle,” Shane said. “I already have a goddess to answer all of my wishes.”