Chapter 26:

An Unfair Redemption

The Cat-Eared Historian Mage on the Crumbling Planet

For the first time since the accident that took his parents, Ashtin was truly at a loss. He had failed. Darmy would escape and start over. More people would be hurt and killed. The council’s reputation would be harmed.

While he and Rorthi stood in shock, Tussev released Wincent. “I never wanted to hurt anyone,” he muttered. “Please, believe me. It was all Darmy.”

“There is plenty of blame to go around,” Rorthi said, loud enough so that her voice filled the room. “None of us even tried to warn the council, but there’s nothing we can do about that. Now, we must think about the things we can do.”

Her words got Ashtin thinking again. There were still two lives in his care, Dr. Shreburn’s and Ginevra’s. He needed to get Dr. Shreburn to a hospital and Ginevra’s brain to a new chassis. If an electronic brain went too long without power, it would lose its personality and what little memory it stored within.

Walking over to Dr. Shreburn, Ashtin helped her to her feet and supported her weight as the two of them left the room. Hers was the more immediate concern. He would just have to hope the closest hospital had been freed from Darmy’s influence.

They had only just entered the hallway when the strike force rounded the corner, carrying Darmy, who was shouting all manners of foul curses at them. Ashtin recognized his voice and let out a sigh of relief, then he quickly backed into the room to allow them access. To him, the real Darmy looked akin to a Franciscan monk, with his long robes and balding head.

“I want everyone but the historian mages out,” one of the gynoids commanded. “Ashtin, take them down to the second floor lobby and wait for us there.”

Two gynoids stepped forward to help Ashtin with Dr. Shreburn, but they slowed when Darmy started struggling anew. He had seen the logo carved into the floor. “Not my magic,” he pleaded. “I’m nothing without it.”

“You are still human,” the closest gynoid told him. “Take pride in that.”

“No!” Darmy yelled. “I’d rather give up my humanity than my magic.”

Closing his eyes, Darmy gave himself over completely to his magic, surrendering to madness. When he opened his eyes again, powerful bolts of pure magical energy emanated from his body. Crashing into the spellbreakers that held him, the gynoids behind them, and Wincent. Those hit froze in place, unable to move, even the spellbreakers.

Rorthi, Basttias, and the historian mages managed to shield themselves, but Darmy’s magic quickly ripped their shields away. Ashtin had been spared only because he was standing next to Dr. Shreburn. It was only then that he fully appreciated how extraordinary a spellbreaker she was.

Rorthi moved first, charging Darmy with her flaming sword. She cut through his magic, and the historian mages, except Ashtin, followed her. He would be completely useless in this battle, so he watched, waiting for a chance to bring Dr. Shreburn close to Darmy.

Darmy’s eyes glowed red, and they sent a pulse of light throughout the room. All the mages except for Basttias stopped in their tracks. It didn’t take him long to realize they had been hypnotized. He quickly captured them in magical chains and sent them flying into the wall next to Dr. Shreburn, hoping her anti-magical energy would break the hypnosis. His tactic worked. As the chains quickly melted, the mages got to their feet and resumed their attack on Darmy.

But the five of them together could not match Darmy’s power. One by one they fell to Darmy’s spells. The first was knocked unconscious by a blow to the head from Darmy’s fist, which had grown almost comically large. One had been captured by tentacles of pure magical energy and seemingly dragged into the floor. When the third took a magic bolt to the chest, only Rorthi and Basttias remained fighting. The two of them continued to cut through Darmy’s spells, Rorthi with her sword and Basttias with destructive purple magic around his fists.

The fight continued for mere minutes, the mages committing all of their magic to their efforts. As Darmy weakened, his hand shrunk, the magical tentacles around him withered, and his eyes stopped glowing. His magic was nearly depleted, but Rorthi’s was completely spent. She was sent flying towards the other end of the room by a levitation spell and hung helpless in the air. Basttias lasted a little longer, but when his magic ran out, Darmy levitated Basttias as well, flinging him into Rorthi.

Darmy would have preferred to use a more fatal spell on them, especially on Rorthi, who he felt had betrayed him, but he needed to preserve what little magic he had left.

Knowing that he couldn’t hope to walk past Dr. Shreburn to exit the room, Darmy blasted a hole in the wall. As he was casting the spell, Ashtin and Dr. Shreburn hobbled towards him. Dr. Shreburn tripped near the edge of the circle and Ashtin let her fall, determined to stop Darmy. He too was caught by a levitation spell, but Dr. Shreburn extended her anti-magical energy towards him, causing him to fall on Darmy, and the two of them tumbled to the floor.

A strange feeling washed over Ashtin and Darmy, and they could both feel what little magic they had being sucked away. They both looked to Dr. Shreburn and saw that she was sprawled on the ground, holding Ashtin’s staff, sending his magic into the logo. Darmy scrambled to escape, but Ashtin grabbed him and dragged him back to the center.

Darmy contorted in pain, but Ashtin felt a strangely pleasant feeling as his magic flowed out of his body. Perhaps it was because it was his own magical energy being used to cast the spell, or perhaps it hurt Darmy because he had more magic.

Ashtin let out a loud laugh and then a quiet sob. He would no longer be a mage, no longer separated from normal society. It was what most mages wanted. It was what he had wanted for years. But at the same time, it meant he would never grow a tail, his body would never again regenerate, and worst of all, he would no longer be useful to the council.

Looking up at Basttias, he saw a sad smile on Basttias’s face, and Ashtin felt pity for him. Basttias had known for decades that this had been an option, that he could have given up being a mage and lived a normal life, but he never took it, even as the council sent him to kill other mages. In that moment, Ashtin realized that he, too, would have never made the choice unless the situation called for it.

This was what it meant to be a historian mage. It wasn’t just about trust. Rorthi had demonstrated equal ferocity when it came to defending the council, but only because her goal was to be something more than a mage. From what little Ashtin knew of her, he suspected she would destroy her own magic as soon as she learned the method. A historian mage was someone who would always put the needs of the council first.

Whether that was a good thing or not, Ashtin didn’t know. Did Rorthi not deserve happiness? She had risked her life to earn it. Perhaps becoming a historian mage required being the kind of person who was easily taken advantage of. When he thought about it like that, the council seemed less noble, but he still couldn’t bring himself to hate them. To him, their results justified their methods. He would always side with them against Rorthi and people like her, no matter how unfair that was.

As the last of his magic left him, he expected the spell to stop, leaving Darmy with a small amount of magic, but Dr. Shreburn managed to keep it going. “I can see it,” she gasped. Ashtin again looked in her direction. The wings of his staff were nearly depleted. There wasn’t much magical energy left, but just from observing Tussev, Dr. Shreburn had deduced how to force out the last of it. “I can see the true nature of magic.”

“Be careful, doctor,” Ashtin warned, but she wasn’t listening. More magical energy flowed into the circle, much more than should have been in the staff. Ashtin could only watch helplessly, hoping Dr. Shreburn didn’t lose her sanity in the process.

When the last of Darmy’s magic left his body, Dr. Shreburn released the staff, and it clattered to the floor, now nothing more than a steel rod.