Starblaze and Blasterfire: Part Nine
As they went back into the city, they were heralded by shouts from all the people on the streets – most of whom were wearing armor and carrying weapons. "The Moonstone! The Moonstone! Princess Xianna Moonstone has returned!"
Xianna merely put a hand to the pale jewel in her crown – the Moonstone that gave the rulers their title – and smiled at everyone. Cassius would have curled up and tried to disappear under that amount of attention. She called, "Prepare yourselves for the storm, but take heart! We are stronger than any one of us knows."
Jory said, "I'm going with Zep to his unit. The old hands have to stick together." He rubbed his own together in anticipation, clearly dying to enter battle. Cassius envied him – the Xweetok was starting to feel a little sick. So far, he could make things glow and see through intense light. Maybe the first one would help him against Jalitha's shadow minions, but none of that could really help him against the flesh-and-blood pirates that she had on her side.
He realized that he didn't even know what species or color this Jalitha was. All he pictured her as was some ambiguous shadow of fear and darkness. But with any sort of luck at all, he'd never have to find out.
Yaxal said, "I'm heading off to the shuttle bay."
Zaraq added, "I'm off, too – we need to find the captain some specs or goggles or something or he'll end up shooting us by accident."
Trinian muttered, "If you keep talking about me like I'm not right here, I'm going to shoot you on purpose."
Kyrival saluted. "Pardon me, Xianna, but I'm certain my commander's going to be ready to use me for target practice if I don't get back to my post. I'll see you soon!"
The two young people hugged each other tightly. The princess said, "Keep yourself safe, Ky. I don't want anything to happen to you."
Kyrival nodded solemnly. "Same to you, but more so." Then he took flight, and it was just Xianna, Suroxano, Bea, and Cassius left. Bea said, "Come on, Cassius. I'm going to find the sharpshooters. They've probably got a need for an extra blaster around here. If you stick close, I'll make sure you stay in one piece long enough to activate the mage's shiny spell."
Cassius was taken aback. She'd spoken gruffly, but – was she actually trying to be nice to him? She'd never been more than coolly polite to him before. "I'll come – though hopefully they don't think I'm a sharpshooter, too."
Bea snorted. "Don't worry – some of the pirates will be big enough that I'm sure even you could get them."
Cassius had to half-run to keep up with Bea as they followed a uniformed man's directions to the outer wall of Eoxan-zortha. As they did, scouts flew overhead, shouting that Jalitha's forces were on the move, and the first wave would reach the city walls any minute.
All of a sudden, Bea stopped. Cassius almost ran into her. She said, "Hear that?"
Cassius realized what she was talking about – there was a sort of heavy silence settling that seemed to muffle sound. "Yeah. Any bets on whether it's good or not?"
"Heh. My guess is not."
And then he realized that the darkness seemed a little... blacker... than it should have. Horns rang out from the tops of the towers. "Shadows! Shadows! Shadows attacking!"
Cassius looked around. "Bea, there's no time to find the sharpshooters – we need to get you up somewhere high where you can see!"
Bea pointed. "There – I can see people at the top of that tower right there!"
"That tower" was a silver-blue one up ahead with steps spiraling around the outside – Cassius followed Bea as they both dashed up. He wondered whether he should have stayed with Suroxano – would he know when was the right time to unleash Ulami's spell?
Bea said quickly to the half-dozen armored men on the tower, "New in town. I'm a decent sharpshooter, and he's a mage with no idea what he's doing. We're just going to try and get rid of anything that comes our way."
None of the men looked any older than Cassius – one laughed. "That's the plan for all of us, milady."
Cassius drew his blaster in one hand and kept his wrench in the other – he knew that he was going to need them really, really soon. He felt weary from trekking out to the mines and back, and that terrified him. He needed to be alert, or he was going to get himself killed.
And then the first shadows dove down toward the tower. Bea shot one instantly, and it dissolved in a flicker of smoke. Cassius shot another, and the guards on the tower drew bows.
Then Cassius shouted, "Arralux!" Immediately, his wrench glowed to life. Something about the lighted iridan seemed to energize him, lend him strength. The shadows shrank back from the light, wailing and screeching. One of the knights shouted, "Keep them back, Sir Mage, and we'll get rid of them! Keep that light going!"
The scouts kept winging overhead, shouting news of the battle. It seemed that shadows were attacking everywhere, and more every minute – it was certainly true at their tower that for every shadow that was shot down, three more took its place. And then, the reports came that they'd gotten through a barricade on the opposite side of the city, and the people there were evacuating.
The captain of the knights on their tower, a young fellow with a blue star on his chestplate, said, "She's trying to wear us out with shadows, and then she'll send in the pirates to finish us off!"
And then, Cassius knew that it was time. That couldn't be allowed to happen. He took the wrench in both hands and shouted, "Pan lux eternara solirum!"
And then – light!
Light shone out from every tower, every stone, every person present. Eoxan-zortha was a living lamp, shining miles out into space.
The screams of the shadows were almost too painful to listen to, but for the fact that they grew gradually fainter. It was overpowering them – it was too much light for them to stand! They were retreating! Whatever orders Jalitha had given them had been completely wiped out by their desire to get away from the light.
That was when Cassius noticed the dark blotch in the illuminated sky. He couldn't see what it was – something hid it from them. And then the voice rang out, magnified a hundred, a thousand times, colder than ice, colder than the void.
"You dare to resist, Zorthans? Ulami, I smell you in this – and your city will pay!"
Bea squinted up into the sky. "Where is she?"
Cassius realized that she had to be on whatever it was in the sky. "Up there!"'
Bea cried, "I don't see anything!"
Perhaps the light had more effect on regular people than on him. He said, "I can see it – it's right up there!"
She squinted. "Okay, maybe I can see something."
"Well, then, aim at it and try and shoot it!"
She raised her blaster and said, narrowing her eyes, "Point it out to me again? I lost it!"
He said, "It's getting bigger – it's getting closer!" She was using the light-spell to try and sneak closer to the city! If that happened, they were dead – the only person who could possibly fight her was Suroxano, and he was just one Grundo.
She aimed in the direction he pointed out to her, and squeezed rounds out of her blaster until it was empty of charge.
A second of silence.
And then the dark shape began to fall. Cassius could see the plumes of fire where Bea's shots had hit the ship. Jalitha's cry of rage was still magnified by whatever spell she had used, and the crashing was clearly audible. She shrieked, "You dare!"
The captain said, "Nice shot, milady!"
The eerie silence the shadows had brought with them subsided, and when Jalitha's spell had ended Cassius could hear the shouts of people and the scream of blasterfire and the crashing of metal on metal through the blaze of the sun and the stars that lit the city.
A small, silver craft shot through the sky above their tower. Cassius realized that the princess was piloting, and that Suroxano sat behind her. The mage called, "Good work, Cassius!"
The princess shouted, "We're pushing them back! We're pushing the pirates back to the far side of the city – all who can be spared need to go there!"
The craft circled down, and Suroxano shouted, "Cassius, I'd like your help!"
Bea waved him on. "Go do mumbo-jumbo. I'll be off shooting some more things."
Cassius asked, "Can you possibly beat shooting down Jalitha's spaceship, or whatever that was?"
She grinned wolfishly. "I can try. See ya!"
Suroxano explained, "Cassius, I need to borrow some power from you – you don't have close to enough experience to help me raise some defensive spells..."
Cassius assented quickly, and then looked out the window. Everything just seemed so chaotic in the city below, where the pirate ships had landed – but there was still that light, that glorious light, giving the defenders heart.
Then, as Suroxano said some magic words, he felt as if he couldn't keep his eyes open for a second longer, no matter what happened, and even among the light of the city he fell into the darkness.
Cassius woke up in a soft bed. That was confusing. He opened his eyes, and saw Suroxano sitting by his head. The Grundo mage apologized, "I'm sorry. I did not realize you had so much power tied up in the light spell, or I would not have taken as much as I did."
Cassius stretched. "How long's it been?"
Trinian's voice said, "The battle was yesterday afternoon, stretching into the night, as clocks go. It took until midnight for that glow of yours to go down." When Cassius sat up to look at him, he noticed that the captain was wearing spectacles – they made him look scholarly.
Yaxal, Zaraq, and Jory also stood at the foot of his bed by the captain. Cassius joked, "Where's Bea? Let me guess – she thinks I ought to get my lazy tail out of bed and find something to keep me busy."
Jory took a deep breath – as soon as Cassius saw all of their faces his heart sunk through the floor. "No – she's not..."
Jory shook his head. "Not dead."
Zaraq explained, "The pirates got away with some captives. We... we think Bea was one of them."
Trinian corrected, "We're sure she was one of them – we know she was in the area, and I got a transmission from her before her radio broke that sounded like she was in trouble."
Cassius cried, "She was the one that shot down Jalitha's ship!"
Yaxal's eyes widened. "Oh, sweet Fyora. If Jalitha can find out – Suroxano, please tell me that she can't find out!"
Suroxano shook his head sadly. "Breaking the spells around Jalitha's ship will have marked Beatrice. Jalitha will know." What would happen to Bea didn't need to be said – it hung thick in the air.
Trinian buried his face in his hands. But Cassius swung his legs out of bed. Yaxal asked, "Where do you think you're going? You ought to stay in bed!"
Cassius grabbed his wrench off the table, letting the iridan wake him up, give him energy. "I'm going to go rescue Bea, of course. Aren't you coming with me?"
The others stared. Yaxal said, "Remember, this is Jalitha we're talking about!"
Jory snorted. "She's a loyal friend and a fierce fighter. She deserves more than whatever dungeon or other dainty Jalitha's got waiting for her. Don't you believe that, Yaxal?"
All of Yaxal's ears flopped down around his head. "I do, of course, but..."
Jory stomped his metal foot into the floor with a decisive thud. "No buts. Let's figure out a plan, Cassius – I'm behind you all the way."
Trinian nodded. "And me."
Suroxano nodded as well. Zaraq pulled his roll of fireworks out of his backpack, cackling wickedly. Yaxal warned, "We'll all be keeping her company shortly – but you'll need a pilot, so I'm with you."
Everyone gathered around and started to throw out ideas, and as they did their grins got wider and wider.
To be continued...