Aven jumps and downswings his scythe. The assassin casually sidesteps the strike so that the scythe goes for Neth’s bed. Like Aven desired. He simultaneously releases his scythe while arresting its momentum with his Bond of The Blade. He rips the scalpel from the nurses’ back and tosses it at Lato’s face. The lion-man jumps to the side to dodge. Aven grabs his scythe from the air and moves to keep himself directly between Lato and Neth.
Lato assesses the young man, growling lowly. “You’re no normal kid, huh. Forget the fact you reclaimed the perfect spot to defend the headmaster but you also didn’t even flinch when interacting with that corpse.”
“I’m no stranger to murder and I knew today would reunite us. I plan to introduce you to her.”
Lato smirks ruefully. “It’s too bad I get an unbendable vibe from you. Underworld could use more people like you.”
Aven’s nearly caught off guard by Lato’s blitz, using his scythe’s handle to block his punch. The lion-man opens his claw and grabs the handle. He pulls Aven close and uses his other claw to slice Aven’s dominant arm. He rips the scythe from Aven’s weakened grip then kicks him away.
Aven reverse somersaults and charges right back in, the blood from his arm dripping onto the sterile floor rapidly. He lunges forward and extends his bloody arm, and knowing Lato mistakes the gesture as him reaching for his scythe, he uses BOTB to slam the handle into his face. Aven tugs down on the handle, forcing Lato to choose between keeping the scythe or his fingers. When he chooses the latter, Aven whirls and fluidly slides the handle between his hands to aim for Lato’s midsection. The lion-man avoids the cut by again moving in close and swiping his claws.
Tameri slides through puddle after puddle, a drill of spiraling, glowing water clashing against her spadroon’s cobalt aura. With her intangibility lost to her, the spikes Lia forms in the puddles scrape at her legs relentlessly.
This damned rain!
Marmagar flies over Tameri and swings his hammer through the drill to destroy it, but the damage has been done. Tameri only remains standing by using her spadroon as a prop. Dozens of thin lacerations mark her legs from top to bottom.
A parade of clones force Zathony back more and more, their sheer numbers and maneuverability are greater than his arms and scorpion tail can match. Three clones kick him at once. Zathony careens through the air and lands on his side next to Tameri. He forces himself to breathe as he lumbers to his feet, his eyes bloodshot.
Tameri looks from him to Marmagar and the sporadic motion of his throat scar says he’s running close to empty, too.
Liamria confidently approaches with her luminous liquid arms behind her head. “Your powers aren’t meant for defensive battles. The moment you gave up the offense to fight as a team with those scrubs beside you,” she gestures to Lynald, Roark, Cwen, and Marsh, “you lost. I said it before and I’ll say it again.
“Everyone on this campus today will die. It was timed and planned to the letter. From the forecast to our destruction of this campus.” Lia points. “Look behind you.”
Over her shoulder, Tameri finds a host of Pure agents watching the battle from the cafeteria’s broken windows. One by one, they amble forward with blunt menace painted on their faces. The destruction of the FHA property was the appetizer.
Us professors are the main course. I’m sure they’re looking at the students as dessert.
“Together, behind one man, we’ve united to initiate a new era across Avinia,” Liamria announces as Victa joins her. “Tell them.”
“Four Hearts Academy is the trophy of a now extinct period in history. From today forward, preserving that extinction will be the sole aim of The Pure under my leadership. Reducing this campus to ash is my proving ground.”
Zathony huffs as he contends with his wounds. “Not many years ago, I never would’ve envisioned my death defending a school of all places.”
Marmagar signs aggressively by waving both index fingers up and down, then grips his hammer as firmly as he can manage. He swings it toward Liamria and Victa then to the encroaching agents.
Zathony smirks beside himself. “I appreciate the pep talk but I didn’t mean that in a sad way. Dying to defend Four Hearts Academy is the best end I could hope for.”
“Well said,” Cwen agrees, she and Marsh standing at the backs of Zathony and Marmagar.
“Wrong,” Tameri says, her tears mixing with the rain on her face. “That’s the wrong answer!” She forges her legs into iron as she lifts her spadroon. “We do not give up! We do not bow down to puny minds nor dark forces! Four Hearts Academy flourishes always, paving the way to eradicate the ideals of the wicked!”
Pan bites her lip as she braces herself for pain. She counts down from five in her mind as she grips both ends of the arrow through her abdomen. She snaps the ends off before thinking of zero, cutting her left hand against the arrowhead. She leaves the remainder of the arrow inside of herself, lest she truly bleed to death. She swallows the blood from the bite wound into her gums while quietly crawling up the stairs, leaving her bow behind.
“We champion courage and wisdom and grace! Our students go back into the world better than they come!”
Pan crawls to the tower’s roof door and waits for her breathing and heart rate to synchronize. With a heart burning to live at all costs, her recurve bow snaps into her hand at her call. She crafts two hot pink arrows. They charge so hotly that rose sparks streak along their shafts. She fires both arrows and they fly so fast that they sail through the air long after they sear holes through Ra’am’s chest. She smirks crookedly as Ra’am whirls on her, eyes wide with incredulity. He falls backward off his perch at the ledge.
Now you try climbing back up here, asshole!
Aven ducks when Lato tosses the nurses’ body his way. The lacerations on his left forearm, right biceps, and both legs scream from the pressure of the sharp change in direction. They don’t get any rest as Lato targets Neth directly. Aven halts his attack by tossing his scythe like a javelin. He leaps over the bed, grabs two fistfuls of Lato’s mane, then drives his knees into his face. Aven lands and calls his scythe back to him.
“They learn to thrive!”
Lato roars when his nose drips blood. Aven laughs wryly at the lion-man’s tantrum. He sobers up when Lato rushes back at him.
“They learn to adapt!”
Aven slides his scythe’s handle fluidly down between his hands as he dives beneath Lato’s claws. He slashes straight down, carving a vertical gash through Lato’s sternum. He trips the lion-man by rolling over his feet.
Aven relishes watching the lifeblood drain from Lato as his transformation comes undone painfully, his brain panicking on death’s door and leaves some of his teeth enlarged, which causes his normal ones to be forcibly pushed out. When Lato’s body stops wriggling, Aven goes and slams his scythe into his skull for good measure.
Aven looks back at Neth, his vitals are strong as they were when he arrived.
The sight of the dead nurse dampens the pride he wants to feel but he takes the victory nonetheless.
As long as Neth lives, we have a chance to win the day!
His duty silences his muscles as he stares at the open hatch, ready to treat any movement beyond as a threat until proven otherwise.
“You will fail to crush what this school means to Avinia at every turn! Today, we do not fall! We rise! We overcome! We win!” Tameri hollers, the rain falling away from her tears.
A body flies between the professors and Liamria and Victa. Both parties ignore the body in favor of inspecting the launch point. Tyra, Lauron, and Evic make their way toward the front lines.
Liamria leers at Tyra lethally. “Back for–”
“Where’d that freak come from? Watch out!” shouts one of the agents facing Cwen and Marsh.
“What now?” Victa says, turning an annoyed look away from Evic’s party.
“Tameri, I think all of our students took those lessons to heart,” Cwen says.
The Ohaida professor marvels to see Roy, Koren, Donovan, Sutar, and Wallace also attacking members of The Pure. She smiles bittersweet to see them march into a war they shouldn’t have to fight but shelves that worry for later.
“Cwen, Marsh, Zathony, give them a hand!” Tameri orders.
“Lauron, with me!” Cwen calls.
“Yes, ma’am!” Lauron replies excitedly.
“Tyra, Evic, you provide backup only! Leave Liamria and her partner to Marmagar and myself!”
“Yes, ma’am,” they say, though Evic’s response is slower.
“Let’s go, dear!”
Marmagar huffs proudly as he charges together with Tameri.
Liamria raises her glowing fists as Victa vibrates back-and-forth and side-by-side. Three streams of clones race toward the professor duo, one head-on and two flanking their sides. Tameri continues forward with a steadfast commitment to fight to the end.
The combination of gold, blue and white light persists against Tameri’s focus and when it succeeds in breaking it, her soul drops a weight that’s suffocated it too long.
A pair of white swords summons a whirlwind that blows away the clones flanking on the left.
A surge of azure lightning digging a depression into the ground, electrocutes, and evaporates the clones flanking from the right.
The clones stampeding head-on are consumed by a golden fireball the size of a truck. The roar of the fire forces a ceasefire on both sides. It travels farther and forces Liamria and Victa apart before it falls and splits into smaller fires.
Tameri lifts a hand to her mouth, the miracle in front of her too good to be true. She’d convinced herself of the lie before she knew it, and here lies the proof that Liamria was correct after all. She was a fool of a woman.
In front of her and the remnants of both armies to witness is the fact that Nuria, Aurum, Shuri, and Reddic are alive and well.
Nuria doesn’t need to gaze upon her home away from home again. The state of her friends and professors, the desolation all over campus, and the presence of Liamria tell her all she needs to know. She’s ready to put an end to it all but she has to take care of one lingering concern first.
Tyra says, “Nuria, you’re–”
“You’ve been alive this whole time?” Evic interrupts.
“Save the questions, guys.” Nuria slides the handles off her shoulders that connect to a basket. She places the basket in Tyra’s hands and holds it there. Her irises expand as she says, “Guard this with your life.”
Tyra’s arms feel the gravity behind the request, and while she doesn’t understand completely, she obliges. “You know I will.”
“Good, because,” Nuria’s morphed eyes lock on Liamria as golden flames erupt around her hands, “I have a score to settle.” She takes a step forward when Reddic grabs her shoulder. He presses patience on her with a look.
Liamria purses her lips and stifles a mocking laugh. “Finally learned to fear me, have you?”
“In your dreams. I’m staying still out of respect. And no, not for you.”
We all are.
Nuria smirks mischievously. “I guess you’re a paltry hydromancer after all. Or, do you really think the rain stopped all by itself?” Nuria prompts Liamria to look up by doing so first.
Stark surges down from the clouds, riding a swirling river of her making. The refracted light bouncing off the river dresses Stark in a teal aura. Her arms adopt the aura via liquefaction. She punches her mother so hard that her head bounces off the ground.
“I’ll kill you for this,” Stark declares vehemently.
Nuria feels the complete confidence exuding in waves from Stark’s solid stance and the attitude behind it. She pounds her flaming knuckles together.
“Now, it’s my turn!”
The phoenix takes flight.