FINAL FANTASY: CRISIS FROM THE SKY

Story #23
Wordcount 16916
Copyright 2005 C.E.

Two thousand years ago...

A vast carpet of stars stretched from horizon to horizon giving way to a panoramic onslaught of pure serenity. Epic mountain ranges laid blurred by the obscurity of distance while tall pines coated in thick layers of snow reached for the heavens. Pale moonlight bathed the landscape in a light tint of blue as finely tempered shadows separated the forest from the trees. No wind blew in this arctic woodland. No creature stirred. It was the calming peace of silence in the depth of the night.

That all changed in a split second with the thunderous crack of a cataclysmic fireball cleaving a clear, star filled night in two. Shadows deftly played under the new found light pointing the way for the streaking thing to the distant mountain ranges. Then, sharply, those shadows reversed course, averting away from the distant impact, the blinding flash, and impossibly silent boom capable of searing dread down the spine of the hardest of men. Within seconds, a tranquil night had been torn asunder. Half the forest laid on its side, suppressed by the thing’s immense shockwave. The mountain ranges had been carved into a gaping wound. And, the horizon glowed a brilliant orange and red under the blaze of a calamity from the skies.

* * * * *

Cierra Aronaii stood upon her terrace gazing upon the stars in the heavens. The terrace connected to a giant, four story shell abandoned by some creature millennia before. The shell had been cleaned out and transformed into living chambers. There were many shells like that within the city. Hundreds of shell dwellings lined the canyon floor of the gully at the base of the Knowlespole mountain ranges. They were home to Cierra’s people, those called the Cetra.

A cool breeze through the night air flowed through her long, brown hair that hung at the back of her thighs. The silken, gold embroidered opal robe she wore fluttered under the same breeze and wrapped snugly around her thin form. She closed her eyes and smiled. There was always a peace inherit during the nighttime.

Calm, green eyes opened and stared up towards a thin cluster of clouds silently traversing the sky. She breathed in heavily and let her breathe escape slowly. An arm wrapped around her waist and drew her close to a warm body. The owner pressed his lips unto the side of her face and kissed her gently.

“A beautifully warm night. So clear with but a few clouds,” he whispered into her ear.

Without turning, her smiled broadened and she ran her hand along his smooth face. His own robes, of similar design to Cierra’s, intermingled with hers in the wind. They stood there enjoying the moment when a streak of orange shot overhead from beyond the canyon rim and proceeded past them towards the mountain range. The sky burned a deep orange.

“What is it!?” Cierra exclaimed, her eyes widening as a roaring boom shook the foundations of the earth.

“That’s no average meteor. The Council will be meeting,” the man spoke and hurriedly turned towards the hallway that lined the interior of their conch shell.

Cierra followed him down the spiraling hall that led to the entrance of the complex. Together, they proceeded outside and towards the grand hall located at the city’s center. Many other people had exited their own domiciles and looked towards the distance. Being within the canyon gully made it difficult to determine the damage caused by the thing from above. Rumor was already spreading that a meteor had struck the northern perimeter of the Knowlespole. Yet, Cierra and her husband had seen the thing, and she felt a stirring sensation that whatever it was, was far more sinister than a meteor. They looked beyond the foliage lining the canyon walls as they hurried along the polished, pearlesque path and saw the mountain ranges looming in the far distance. A strange deep orange glow crowned the range ridges.

* * * * *

Darkness shrouded the impact crater that ran deep into the center of the mountain ranges. IT came forth from the crater mired in a cloak of shadows and stood completely erect in its seven foot height. Eyes glowed an unearthly blue and took in the environment now surrounding the impact site.

The forest went intensely silent as the creature began its trek into the woodland. It could sense power and it craved that power. The creature left the newly formed crater in its wake. That crater was two miles deep and four miles wide at its diameter. Nothing stirred as nature quietly watched the thing traipse through the thigh high snow and continued on into the dark depth of the night.

* * * * *

Carved out of the interior of a mile high cliff, the Grand Council chambers were immense. A single column with a platform atop of it rose up from the subterranean waterways. White light shone down from the open observation decks half a mile above the chamber. Around the empty space surrounding the center platform where the Council Elder would speak, was the auditorium rotunda. A quarter mile in diameter, it was the largest space dedicated to the Council meetings of the Cetra. Five balconies, one above the next, lined the chamber walls. The first balcony was parallel to the level of the center column, the podium for the Supreme Chancellor of the Cetra nations. Below that one, a walkway lined with support columns led to the stairwells traversing to each balcony in the chamber.

Hundreds of Cetra had arrived and a tremendous din filled the chamber as talk of the event emitted amongst the councilmen. Dawn had nearly broke and several scouts had returned to report on what had transpired.

Cierra approached the railing upon the third balcony and looked down towards the Council podium. She saw the Supreme Chancellor making his way over the one connecting bridge of the podium to the first balcony. He was engaged in a very emotional conversation from what she could gather and sense. The white pillar of light hung over the podium like a spotlight on a stage actor. The Supreme Chancellor looked very agitated as he progressed out to the podium. His beard swayed under a slight breeze coming upward from the waterways beneath the city.

Cierra’s husband came up beside her, concerned etched upon his visage. She looked up at him with concern. He shook his head, understanding her emotion. A grimace came to his face as his lips drew taught.

“What is it, Sion?” she inquired nervously.

“It isn’t good. The scouts have returned and tell of a disturbing event. Whatever crashed into the Knowlespole has tore a hole in Mother Tiamus. Many tribes of Cetra have already gathered near the northern borders,” he responded and viewed the Supreme Chancellor making his last moment preparations.

“What will a bunch of wandering vagrants be able to determine?” Cierra queried in irritation, feeling the weight of the planet upon her.

“Be kind. They may build and construct and tend the lands the way we do, but they are our people. Besides, word has it, all the Cetra will be needed to heal this wound.” Sion said and motioned for Cierra to still any response forthcoming as the Supreme Chancellor lifted his arms for silence.

Cierra looked at the old man below in trepidation. Things were fast spiraling out of control. The Northern Boundaries were a virtual no-man’s land. Only the wandering tribal nations made their homes in the forests there. Naturally, they would be the first to respond. This despite the fact that the main Cetra Council lived within the great city of Collust along the southern ridge of the massive mountain range leading through the Northern Boundaries.

“Now...Now...Councilmen,” the Supreme Chancellor began, slightly waving his arms up and down to lower the din of the filled room, “word has come back from the Northern Boundaries of a great catastrophe. Thousands lay dead along the northern rim of the Knowlespole as a result of a massive collision of what seems to have been a meteor,”

Murmurs erupted within the chamber. Cierra stared at the old man and felt a tremor in her soul. Something didn’t feel right. Surely the others felt it? But, then again, she figured they may just contribute that emotion to the loss of life. Cierra’s gaze wandered to the spiral interior of an ancient mollusk shell beyond the balconies of the easternmost wall. It was now more a decoration merged within that wall and was only a pale reminder of what it once was. What had caused those elegant creatures deaths? She found herself suddenly wondering. Extinctions occurred every so often and she considered that another may have just arrived.

“A great host of Cetra tribesmen are marching towards the impact spot as I speak. Our scouts positioned along the Boundaries encountered a group and were informed of the event. Unfortunately, we won’t know the extent of our planet’s wound, until we ourselves participate in the great healing,” the Supreme Chancellor continued to mumblings of disdain, “It is the responsibility of our people to care for the world. Do not shirk those duties now.”

A slender and aged finger waggled at the gathered masses, having noted the cynical remarks being made casually and quietly amongst the Council. Cierra remembered when it was traditional to make pilgrimages to the Northern Boundaries to plant the pines that lined the ridges there. That was when she had been a young little girl. She had been seven the last time she had went. She shook her head viewing those in the Grand Chambers. Many within had become accustomed to the finer vanities of city life and were not looking forward to any prolonged exposure to nature uninhibited.

Turning to leave, the Supreme Chancellor summoned his Viceroy. A man a full head taller than the Supreme Chancellor who was fond of red robes with silver linings, which stood in contrast to the graying robes of the Supreme Chancellor. The Viceroy made way for his Elder to leave by the bridge and took the podium. Cierra rolled her eyes. Anything the Viceroy had to say was generally too trite to be practical. Of course, this wasn’t going to stop him from speaking.

“I will forego my usual flare,” he spoke, “We have too much at stake for trivial banter. Stablemen, ready the Choboa. Those of you with Choboa, you should make them ready. The rest will have to walk, but we ALL must go. Our planet needs us.”

The Viceroy left the podium and the Grand Council Chambers emptied. Cierra walked with her husband and pondered all the emotions flowing through her personage. Sion walked beside her and cast a glance at her. Knowing how contemplative she generally was, he didn’t bother Cierra in her thoughts, but turned forward and continued towards the entrance.

* * * * *

Rhythmic chantings reverberated off of the trunks of a legion of pines within the quarter mile of forestry surrounding the newly formed crater in the Northern Boundaries. Hundreds of tribal Cetra sat upon the frozen ground with their eyes closed deep in a healing trance. Their lifeforces created salve for the wound pulsing deep into the earthen clay. The Cetra could feel the cries of a world in pain. Those cries echoed throughout fresh caves far below the billowing mists covering the immediate interior of the crater.

The shadowy creature sensed the Cetra tribes gathering around the crater and felt the power of their lifeforces pulsated outward into the air. Those lifeforces were a tangible sheet across its flesh and it hungered.

Voices nearby its position beneath a copse of pines echoed within its ears. The new dawn was breaking yet was stilled by thick cumulus, saturated with the vapors of a coming storm. It flowed towards the voices, desiring the knowledge those voices held.

“...They are coming. I heard it from the Elders. The Grand Council must respond...” one voice was saying.

“They’ve become a bunch of lazy cowards. They ignore the planet until it is too late. Now they come? The Council is weak...” the other answered and walked away angrily.

“...You shouldn’t be so angry, Enson.” she spoke in response to his words.

He merely waved her off and continued through the woods to find his brothers. The young woman watched him go and turned back to her camp. It watched him too. The shadowy it remembered his name. Enson. And, the shadow memorized his features. His long, platinum blonde hair trailing down his back to his waist. He wore a brown hide tunic and leggings and wore shoes of the same material. This was a member of the tribes and it wanted to use him to its advantage.

“There is no way the Council can do anything. Living in their lap of luxury. Dining on their fancy suppers and happy in their simple ways. What work have they done?” the young man gestured angrily to no one.

The shadow smiled a secret smile for it had no lips. With an invisible tongue it tasted his jealousy and his tremendous lifeforce. The wildlife went silent and the young man turned, looking around the dimly lit woodland. The suns light filtered through the dark cloudlines minutely and illuminated his light toned flesh, revealing his puzzled expression.

“Hello?” he queried into the early morning air.

The shadow came up behind him. The young man turned and stared at the thing coming for him. A shadow engulfed him and he tried to scream. However, silence thundered through the forest.

Faint chantings came on the wind as the form of the young man lay upon the snow. Slowly, he rose and smiled to himself. It was now Enson. And, Enson had work to do. The power was too fierce to consume in this state. A little bit of deception was in order. Enson walked back towards his camp. He knew instinctively where it lay. Whiffs of snow blew across the forest floor covering Enson’s tracks as he walked.

* * * * *
Fine flakes of snow formed a thick curtain in the gushing wind. The frozen vapor blew horizontally across the forest floor, miring the progression of the Choboa, and their riders, through the woodlands towards the impact site. Members of the Cetra Council covered their heads with the hoods of thick cloaks. Many blocked the fierce wind blown snow with the sleeves of their robes.

Not far behind the Choboa procession, were the members forced to walk through the thick, wintery accumulation. There were no complaints as they walked onward. The edge of the crater was not far ahead of them.

It felt like the journey had taken weeks to Cierra as she and her husband sat upon their Choboa, trying to make out the distant shapes of Cetra camps through the blizzard. In fact, the journey had been but three days. She didn’t waste any energy speaking her disdain of plodding through the winterscape. A grimace of misery crossed the features of her face. Her husband, Sion, wasn’t enjoying the journey anymore than she was.

The procession stopped. Cierra uncovered her face and tried to look around. She held up her held to shield some of the wind. She mostly saw white, but the group had definitely exited the forest and were upon the perimeter of the northern expanse of the great Boundaries. The edge of the impact laid mere kilometers from their positions.

A slight murmur ran through the Cetra members and it was apparent that camp was being made. Cierra and Sion dismounted their Choboa, ostrich sized flightless birds, and began to set up their equipment. Within a few hours, they had their Choboa covered under a massive tarp attached to their oval tent and heat delivering devices were turned on.

“The meeting should be taking place, let’s go.” Sion spoke to Cierra and they exited their tent.

~ ~ ~
“We should begin the meditations immediately,” a concerned member of the Council said from his position to the rear of the massive Council shelter.

The enclosure was the size of a carnival tent, except it was a complete dome, and spanned over a good portion of the clearing just beyond the forest edge. Several hundred Cetra listened intently to the debate waging amongst the Elder members of the Council.

“The blizzard is too fierce, we should wait til the morn,” another responded drawing praise from others gathered within.

“Tiamus needs us. We must act immediately. The other tribes are out there now giving their lifeforces to the planet. We need to join them, storm or no. Hesitation could mark our deaths,” a woman of the Grand Council spoke, walking forward.

Cheers and jeers erupted throughout the tent. Cierra took the scene in from her place in the back of the tent. Small, fist sized heaters lined the tent walls sending a slight orange glow onto the gathered Cetra. A howling wind was hammering the side of the tent causing the heater-lanterns to bounce their light across the assembly. The light didn’t dim the dark green robes of the woman who spoke at the center of the meeting. The Supreme Chancellor sat in a seat and smoothed out his ruffled and gray robes. He raised his hands, trying to bring order to the assembly.

“Councilor Eanon’s words ring truth. We must not spare anymore time. The wound is gaping and Mother Tiamus screams in pain,” the old man spoke to an intermittent silence.

“Bah! I did not spend all night traveling, just to sit in the snow and chant in the middle of a blizzard! Let the savages do as they will. Tomorrow, if the weather permits, will be better suited for delivering our energies,” a tall Councilman replied harshly.

“Stay your tongue, Edrick. The Supreme Chancellor has spoken and we ALL are required to lend our energies tonight. Grab your thickest furs, it’s going to be a long night!” the Viceroy responded ending the tirade.

“Is this wise...” another Councilor, a statesmen from the business sect, began.

“They have us packed in here like a bottled selection of Fastitocalons. I’m going to get some air.” Cierra whispered to Sion.

He nodded as she turned to leave the cramped confines. The Cetra stood nearly shoulder to shoulder as Cierra pardoned her way through to the exit and breathed a sigh of relief as the cold winter chill struck her cheek.

Cierra closed her eyes and inhaled slowly. The wind had died down to some extent. She gently rubbed her stomach through the heavy clothing she wore, furs made from the hide of a great, northern Cuahl. Soon, the Council would be joining the itinerant Cetra tribes in healing the wound of Tiamus. She only hoped that the effort wouldn’t harm the child she carried within. A fact she’d been meaning to tell Sion upon the terrace when the thing from the sky had fallen.

She exhaled and felt that she could reserve enough energies to assist in getting the job done and returning home in one piece. A moment of fear jolted Cierra from her solitude. Her eyes opened and she gazed around the silent woodland. It had suddenly gotten too quiet, save for the annoying bickering emanating from within the tent.

Cierra could only perceive the deep shadows clinging unto the forest interior like a small child to its parent. Within those shadows, lurked an uncertainty. It was beyond her range of senses, yet lingered just at the edge of her perceptions.

A whiff of breath blew in the stilling breeze and now calmly falling snow. Now that she thought about things, the weather was a bit colder than was usual for the season. This even for the Northern Boundaries and the constant snow that linger within them. Her gaze shifted to the massive dark spot covered by an eternal mist marking the gaping wound of Tiamus. She shivered not because of the cold, but because of that something clawing at her senses.

* * * * *

“How many tribes are there anyway?” Enson inquired from his seated position next to his brother.

They had been chanting for most of the night and day, Enson feigned his involvement knowing full well that he wasn’t offering any lifeforce to a wound he caused. Whether it was intentional or not, was beside the point. Power is what drove the possessed Enson now. He had ceased being a Cetra the second the shadow had devoured his soul and infected him with death.

“Come on, brother, you know the answer to that. Seventeen tribes wander the Northern Boundaries, planting pines and healing the planet. Just like we’re doing. What’s with you lately? You’ve been acting weird for days.” the brother spoke to the smiling, closed eyed Enson.

The held the hands to their sides in the meditative gesture of focus. Enson had learned much these past four days and was eager to learn more. He had discovered that these Cetra creatures were mostly an itinerant race that went around settling the land and making it habitable for the birth of life. Simplistic and archaic to Enson. He never cared for the bringing forth of life. Not when the act of power and absolute chaos was so much more enjoyable.

Enson would need assistance, though, in his endeavors. He and his brother sat alone in the snow only a short distance from camp. The Cetra had been chanting in shifts and soon their shift would be up. They would rise up and enter the camp grounds and warm within the slumber facilities of the small skin tents. The time to move had come.

The heavy furs around Enson’s person fluttered in the slight breeze as a creeping shadow slowly eked its way from beneath his seated position. He sat still and let his eye open a slit. Enson watched his brother’s face; saw his closed eyes. The shadow merged with the rippling snow and snaked towards the brother. Coiling around his form, the shadow struck Enson’s brother in the back and tore around into his face. The brother struggled violently and spasmed upon the snowy ground. He raised his hands to his face as the shadow entered his nose and his mouth. Screams died in silence.

Enson watched his brother’s form go lifeless and jumped up to sit on top of him. He placed his hands to either side of his face, sinking into the snow. Fear and individuality dissipated into the cold night as Enson placed his face near his brother’s and looked him in his darkening eyes.

“Our time, is now. You and I are one and together we will be invincible. Few must know for the time being,” Enson spoke as snowflakes fluttered passed his sinister gaze, “We will build our army. Our weakness...is only temporary. Once we’ve finished this pathetic little venture of futility, we will strike at the core of this...Cetra. How does that sound...brother?”

The brother stared vacantly at Enson, and his eyes turned black under the shadows influence. Soon, though, a smile crossed his face and Enson knew, he was getting stronger.

Deep clouds slightly parted for the shining sun beyond their depths. Yet, this barely illuminated the massive wound or the thousands of Cetra gathered around the fringes of the crater. Chantings echoed deep into the crater’s recesses as invisible lifeforces surged into the fissure.

Cierra could feel the combined energies of all the Cetra as they lent their lifeforces to Mother Tiamus. She continued to chant, ignoring the chill of the long winter. It felt like they’d been there for ages. It was tiring work, allowing once life to drain forth and be given unto another. The planet was massive and the Cetra were so few. Yet, every little bit of lifeforce energies helped heal the pain of the world.

Life was birthing around the world and Cierra smiled, knowing that what they were doing was helping. The natural flow of life, didn’t remain hindered as it had been for days after the initial impact. Now, weeks later, the planet was drawing enough energy to recontribute to the flow of the lifeforce.

She opened her eyes and viewed the clearing crater. A dense fog still hung over its interior, but daylight was beginning to filter through the clouds. She whispered a secret prayer and continued chanting. Soon, the Cetra would be returning to the holy city of Collust. She was eager to go, though she enjoyed these peaceful moments. She enjoyed being one with the lifeforce, having forgotten how good it felt.

A tiny kick distracted Cierra, and she realized her child was enjoying the connection as well. She looked over at her husband, who had his eyes closed and was deep in meditation. She couldn’t help but to smile in a manner that she hadn’t done since the age of seven. Too long, she thought, too long.

Tents started to come down and she knew, the Cetra Council was preparing to return home. She felt her smile wane, but she was part of this lifeforce again and would make sure to remain that way. Cierra smirked to herself in deep resolve, and then nudged Sion from his trance.

“Looks like we’re leaving,” she said to Sion.

He opened his eyes and looked about. Reluctantly, he nodded and stood. He helped Cierra to her feet, not because she had informed him of her pregnancy, but because her joints had become stiff with the winter winds. Being one with nature had its tolls.

* * * * *

Thousands of Cetra tribesmen walked away from the crater, feeling that they had done all that they could. Enson stopped upon an embankment and looked outward at the traveling Cetra. Where they would go, he didn’t know. It wasn’t like they had homes. They carried hide-tents with them everywhere. He supposed they were returning to the warmer southern regions of the Northern Boundaries. That posed no difference to him. The warmer it was, the easier to spread the virus.

Enson looked at the white tops of a thousand miles of forestry and then gazed upon the thirteen individuals he’d already infected. Several would die, he knew, but the others would be formidable warriors in his new war.

Stomping through the snow mound, Enson led the way in the direction of the main tribes of the Cetra wanderers. The Council he would tackle when he had adequate minions. Until then, however, the uncivilized, as they were, would have to suffice.

* * * * *

Sion Aronaii stood upon his terrace overlooking the main city of Collust. His wavy, blond hair danced in the breeze. He wore a silken shirt that was unfastened, exposing his chest. The day was waning yet still held a solid warmth. It was a day he was enjoying.

Nearly a year had passed since the impact in the Northern Boundaries. The Cetra had gathered around the gaping wound and lent the Mother Tiamus their energies. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to have been enough. The woodland around the crater, had wilted and the land collapsed. What was left in such a wake was a steep incline surrounding the wound. Only the most skilled mountaineers could enter her wound as a result.

Sion shook his head and closed his eyes. He breathed deep the flowing breeze and exhaled slowly, allowing the lifeforce energies to heal his weariness. Opening his eyes, Sion looked back into his home to see his young son sleeping peacefully. If any good had come of recent times, it was his child. He smiled and entered his abode.

I wonder what is taking Cierra so long? He thought to himself and turned to look back out towards the city surrounding his house. All he could see was a sea of shell tops, rimmed with the distant walls of the canyon their city resided within. Sion hoped his wife would be home soon.

* * * * *

Daylight was fast running out as Cierra made her way through the throngs of Collust citizenry. The market had been practically overcrowded. So much so that the cloth overhangs had barely afforded any relief from the rays of an overzealous sun. The day had been unseasonably warm given that winter was approaching once more. It would seem that Autumn wasn’t through yet.

“...It’s true! Many have already fallen ill to this strange disease! And our own kin would raise their arms against us! They blame us for the cause!” a distressed man spoke from atop a soap container.

Cierra stopped to listen to what he was saying. A mass of the curious had gathered before him as he related what he had heard in animated fashion. It was rare for this part of the town circle to be so crowded. Even rarer still for anyone to stop long enough for local gossip.

“...If we don’t act soon, the heathen masses will be upon us!” he said, waving his arms with dramatic flair.

Shaking her head and moving along, Cierra wondered how anyone could believe that the normally peaceful Cetra tribes would raise arms against the Council.

“...Tohen to the west has already fallen...” the man continued.

Cierra ignored him and continued home. Tohen was one of the three great city nations of the Cetra and existed on the Western Boundaries of the massive continent of the Knowlespole. The Knowlespole was the most northern continent in all the world. It was subject to extreme winters in the Northern Boundaries and mildly warm summers in the Southern Boundaries. This was during the best conditions.

Tohen was at the far peninsula of the continent. Collust was the Easternmost city nation, their city, and sat deep in a gully. It was the Council center of the Cetra species. To believe it could be attacked, even if Tohen had fallen, was absurd. Only Middas along the white plains of the southern edge of the Northern Boundaries could possibly be left open to attack.

Of course, it hadn’t been but a few months earlier, when rumor had it that Middas had indeed fallen to some strange plague. This had yet to be confirmed by the Grand Council. So, Cierra was hardly worried.

She had rounded the south path that led to her home when a commotion drew her attention. Several Cetra warriors were hurrying towards the main path to the Council temple. Their dismounted Choboa were towing a wheeled gurney. Cierra placed her hand to her mouth as they rushed past. She stopped at the main intersection as she saw the warrior laying on the gurney dying. He had grown pale and the blanket covering him did nothing to hide that fact.

The warriors said nothing as they led the dying man towards the temple. She had wanted to say something, to ask them what had happened. But the words upon seeing him died in her throat. A numb feeling overtook her. ...Could it be true?

Cierra watched them disappear into the assembly complex and felt a tremor in the world. Something was stirring. And, she felt it had been stirring for quite awhile. She hadn’t felt this since the days following the great impact. Not wanting to consider the implications any further, Cierra hurried home.

* * * * *

“You’re unusually quiet,” Sion spoke to his wife as she was rocking their child.

At first, she didn’t say anything from the chair she rocked in. Sion watched her from where he sat at the dinner table and felt a disturbing sensation. She looked up from the baby and smiled at Sion. It wasn’t the comforting smile she normally gave.

“Something...is in the air,” she responded.

Before Sion could respond, a voice echoed up the spiraling hall. It was the masculine voice of a warrior he had been long acquainted with. And that voice sounded grave.

“Sion...a word. If you please,” came the voice.

“Nilo? What brings you here at this time?” Sion inquired and stood to walk down the hall.

He disappeared around the bend as Cierra looked out the terrace doorway. Moonlight streamed through the windows competing with their candles to light the home. A still wind blew as the soft echoing of conversation in whispered tones echoed up into Cierra’s ears. She continued rocking and closed her eyes.

Moments seemed like hours when the tap came on her shoulder. She didn’t want to open her eyes, but did so in great trepidation, knowing what was coming. Cierra looked into her husband’s blue eyed gaze.

“Cierra...all the warrior’s are being called upon,” he softly spoke.

“Tohen has fallen,” Cierra responded before he could say anything further.

A look of surprise donned Sion’s face. It dissipated with a slight smile when he realized that he shouldn’t have been taken aback. His wife was always one of the most perceptive women he had known.

“How did you know?” he asked.

“I heard word of some strange virus in town. They say the tribes blame us for our complacency,” she answered.

“They need me,” he simply said with a nod.

“I know. Be safe, my love,” she smiled and kissed his lips lightly.

Sion hugged her shoulders and rubbed his son’s head gently. He stood and left for the assembly complex. Cierra didn’t watch him leave but instead closed her eyes and cried to herself. The breeze beyond the windows picked up and caressed her brow.

* * * * *

Enson sat within the saddle atop a Choboa. The rein of the whitish, brown speckled bird was in his right hand and held loosely. Long, platinum hair whipped around in the arctic wind, slightly hindering his view of the panoramic landscape. Regardless, there wasn’t much to see. Plains that had existed in recent times, were buried under a permanent frost. The Knowlespole climate was changing as a result of the meteor strike hundreds of miles to the north.

He didn’t require any sort of heat maintaining clothing, but Enson wore a thick coat nonetheless. He had grown partial to the furry design of the clothes. There was much he enjoyed about the Cetra civilization. However, he was created for one purpose. And, that purpose he was fulfilling.

From his vantage point on a tall, snowy hilltop, Enson could see the ravaged townspeople of Tohen striking out against the Council warriors that had been stationed at the edge of their city. The Tohenians weren’t normally aggressive, but the toxins he naturally released generated a virus that destroyed what humanity they harbored. This meant he had his army and that the only people standing in his way, were those in the capital city of Collust.

Enson kicked his Choboa in motion, and headed towards the field of chaos. Blood was painting the snowfields a dark red. The warriors fought back valiantly, though, in the end, they were forced to retreat. The townspeople didn’t cheer; they only hungered for the chaos and tried to follow the forces fleeing upon Choboa. Enson raised his left arm and allowed his aura to flow into the gathered masses.

“Let them go. Soon enough, there will be no where for them to flee,” he chuckled as he spoke those words and turned back towards Tohen.

The Tohenians returned with him. Enson looked back at the fleeing warriors and a thought occurred to him. This may work out to my advantage. They will bring the Council to me. I won’t have to mount an attack into the canyon surrounding Collust. Yes, bring them to me...he smiled and continued forward.

* * * * *

“Did you tell your wife that the warrior came from Middas?” Nilo inquired of Sion as they slowly rode down the mountain path.

“No. Word in town has it that Tohen fell. If this is true, we may not be safe for much longer.” Sion responded.

They rode on through the thick pines casting deep shadows across the narrow path. The journey had been less than pleasant. Their thick furs were barely keeping out the winter weather. Autumn was fading in Collust, but the southern wind currents and the surrounding mountain ranges were keeping the fierce winter storms at bay. That was a temporary phenomenon Sion realized. Since the meteor, everything was changing so fast.

“Who do you think is attacking? We’ve no enemies, at least, none that I’m aware of,” Nilo spoke solemnly.

“I don’t know. Something is very wrong about all of this...How far are we from Middas?” Sion replied and queried with his eyes set to the darkening northern skies.

The orange and red glow of a year past, no longer was present. However, there in its place was a strong sensation of death. No one could see it, and only a few of the more sensitive could feel the sensation. Sion figured his wife was attuned to the feeling. He was becoming fast unnerved by an invisible enemy.

“I’d say only a few days, maybe a week. Four weeks are behind us. Uh, I wish we didn’t have to bypass the inland sea. Were that extension not there, we would’ve been there by now.” Nilo spoke with a wry quirk tugging at the corner of his mouth.

“Perhaps we should pick up the pace? I feel that if we don’t, something terrible may be waiting for us.” Sion said and cast his view towards the procession of warriors following in their wake.

The group pressed on through the night deeper down the mountain pass. The path would let out into a massive plain. He hoped the snow there wouldn’t be so deep as to hinder their progress. During that particular time of year, green fields were still abundant. However, the temperatures were dropping faster than usual which meant normalities were out the proverbial window.

Hours later, they saw a glow some distance from them through the light flurries blowing through the dark forest. Sion signaled for the group to slow and a scout was sent ahead. Ten minutes later, the scout returned,

“Wounded warriors from Middas. They tell a strange tale, Sion. Something of some creature swooping from the skies and laying Middas to waste,” the scout hurriedly spoke.

Sion caste a wary glance at Nilo and they ushered the procession towards the camp not far beyond. Upon arriving, Sion saw wounded men laying all around the camp site. Their wounds were dressed in as well a manner as they could manage. It was obvious, though, that their time in the world was limited.

“What happened?” Sion asked the commander of the battalion remains.

“Well, sir, there was a virus that had spread rampant through Middas. For weeks we battled the sick and tried to heal whom we could. The thing is, they couldn’t be healed. Several days ago, the diseased rose up against us. It was so sudden. Even more sudden, was the beast that came in from the Northern Boundaries. It breathed a strange flame, but not fire as we’ve known. It was a green flame that leveled Middas! We fled...th...there wasn’t anything we could do!” the commander spoke in great agitation, catching his breath when he could.

Sion shook his head and looked to the north. The plains could just barely be seen through the mountain ranges, and they were unusually dark, even for the night. He stood and let the commander rest upon the ground. He wasn’t severely wounded and would live, but he was so panicked, Sion wondered if he would ever truly recover mentally.

“We make camp here tonight. In the morn, we’ll send a small contingent of twenty warriors with the wounded back to Collust,” he spoke outloud and then whispered to Nilo, “Be wary of anything. I want posts at every forty meters to report on anything suspicious approaching.”

“Sion, if what the commander speaks is...” Nilo started but was cut short by Sion.

“None of that. We’ll deal with such an event should it occur. I don’t want to think about the idea of some supernatural beast beyond our abilities to best. Better to keep the morale higher and focused.” Sion spoke.

“Aye, sir.” came Nilo’s reply as he rushed off to deliver the commands.

Sion walked to the edge of the small camp that overlooked a deep and dark ravine. He looked across towards the mountain emerging from the ravine. The path curved down the side of the newest obstacle. We can’t turn back. Looks like we’re going to have to assess the situation with our own eyes. What beast could lay a city to waste? Hmmm...

“Nilo,” Sion turned and called to his colleague, who turned from his meeting with the unit leads, “summon Aria to my tent when camp has been made. I will need her advice.”

Nilo nodded in affirmation to Sion and continued delivering his commands. Sion made his way towards his Choboa and the equipment he would need to set up camp.

* * * * *

A short while later, Aria entered Sion’s tent. Two lanterns lit the interior heightening the somber mood of the lone occupant. He sat busily going through old manuscripts, trying to ascertain any references in the past to giant beasts. When on a expedition such as the one that brought them to this spot, he always brought his antiquated manuscript of mythologies and technological achievements. He had yet to find any references to such a beast outside of those alluding to the various species of dragons that inhabited the world.

“You wished to speak with me?” Aria inquired and stood with her arms folded in the folds of her robe sleeves.

“Aria,” Sion looked up at her and forced a smile, “Please, sit. I need you to do me a favor. I need you to do a planet reading.”

“A planet reading? Such a thing has not been done for ages. What would be the purpose?” Aria questioned, a perplexed expression etched across her visage.

“I don’t know, really. Just a feeling. Something has, apparently, destroyed Middas and I thought that perhaps a reading would shed some light on what the Mother Tiamus was feeling? Perhaps she can tell us more than what our eyes can see?” Sion replied.

“Well...I don’t suppose it could be of detriment. I haven’t performed a reading in my time, though I am versed in its teachings. Any Priestess knows of the act. However, I caution you, do not take too much stock in its being completed correctly.” She said, and folded her arms back.

“I trust that you will provide us with the answers we seek. I thank you for your assistance in this matter. Let me know what you discover, if anything at all.” he spoke.

“I will need until midday tomorrow. Readings are extensive. I hope that will be enough time,” she said, drawing into slight contemplation.

Sion nodded and Aria left for her own tent. He folded his hands together and braced them to his mouth. He hoped this would work, elsewise, they might never know the depth of the events transpiring.

* * * * *

Morning came swiftly and found Sion up before the new day’s light. He saw off the twenty warriors that would be escorting the wounded back to Collust. Though, he knew he wouldn’t be returning home anytime soon. Once they verified the accounts coming from Middas, they would have to make their destination Tohen. Every fiber of his bones told him that Middas was a lost cause and they should be heading towards Tohen. However, the Council had been specific. Tohen would have to wait.

“Sir, I was sent to inform you that Aria is in the midst of her reading. She hopes to have it complete by midday,” a woman in silken robes spoke to Sion.

He nodded in understanding and the aid returned to the Priestess’s tent. Waiting until midday wasn’t something he wanted to do, but he figured that was better that waiting for several days. Which was something that olden readings had apparently taken. He approached the canyon edge he saw vaguely into the night before and looked down. He was drawn to the chasm for some reason. And, it seemed to him like a shadow was moving deep below the thick fogline clouding the chasm bottom. Miles of the ravine stretched out below and outward from him. The mountain range across from him took on a menacing appearance. The features remained the same but its aura was different than it had been.

Sion backed around from the edge and started back towards camp. The procession was slowly making its way out of camp. Then the air went still and silence prevailed in the woodlands. He stopped and hesitated, listening for any disturbance. What was it? His answer came as a massive figure sprung from the chasm and lurched over Sion. He instinctively ducked and rolled into the snow. Coming to his knees his saw a beast striking at the now fleeing procession. His warriors were quickly wiped out along with the injured.

The camp came alive in terror and determination. Spears and arrows were lodged at the massive beast. Sion was trying to see the shape through the thick accumulation kicked up by the thing attacking. Then he saw what it was. It had eight legs. Those appendages were affixed to a torso very similar to a scorpion, with twin claws clamping down on warriors. Only, the creature was completely metallic. Instead of normal arachnid eyes, the thing had three stalks jetting from its head. An opening for a mouth issued forth streams of green flame that burned the perimeter of the massive camp. The tail struck forth with violent abandon. However, instead of a stinger, there were six living needles. Two of those needles held the bodies of several of his warriors.

“Fall back!” Sion called out springing to his feet, swinging his arms in the air trying to get the creature’s attention.

It focused on him for but a second and sent forth a green flame that he evaded. None of their weapons were penetrating the thick hide of the metal scorpion. It let forth a soul shattering screech and the warriors fell back the best they could. Over three-quarters of his party were dead in the sudden attack. If they didn’t get out of there then, they probably never would.

He grabbed a sling from the armaments left from the wounded warriors from Middas and shot a heavy marble at the beast. This seemed to have grabbed its attention and it veered for him, following him to the edge of the chasm. Several warriors tried to stop the rampaging beast.

Sion continued slinging marbles at the thing and it struck forth a massive claw near his position and lodged deep into the frozen ground. It pulled its claw free and struck at him again. He evaded, but the attack upon the frozen ground loosened the soil. He found himself falling within an avalanche with the beast in tow. He was thankful that the beast would fall with him, but he couldn’t help but wonder how much time this would by the rest of the survivors in the camp. They continued through the avalanche of snow and rock deep into the chasm as several warriors dared near the edge and yelled out his name.

* * * * *

Cierra woke with a start. Her infant son was crying in his crib near her bed. She gathered him in her eyes and soothed him. She was about to feed him when something tore into her awareness. Sion!?

She stood for moments looking out the window, her eyes wide with fear. There was something else there as well. She’d never felt a presence like that before. Its lifeforce was immense and was full of rage. Yet, it was a malevolent rage. It was retaliatory. She wondered for what and looked at her son. He must have felt it too. She rocked him in her arms and a short time later was dressed.

Having taken care of the baby’s needs and her own, she readied some things for him. She was going to her mother’s. Something needed to be done. The Cetra could no longer afford to stand idly by while chaos reigned across the lands. But, what do I do? she considered and sat down with a helpless feeling. She absently smoothed the wrinkles on her mahogany pants. She had dressed in materials made for the demands of nature. She wouldn’t be needing a dress for what she was planning. First, though, she felt the need to take the issue up with the Council. That was the wisest thing to do. She gathered up what she had packed and picked up her son. Together, they left the home for an uncertain destiny.

* * * * *

Panic gripped Enson as he charged towards the open window of the wooden Council House. He viewed the cloudy horizon in fearful trepidation. A small breeze blew back his platinum hair and his silver robes exposing his flesh to the chill in the air. Impossible...the Cetra don’t harbor power such as this! Could it be...? I cannot afford to wait, I have to lay siege to Collust soon. Whatever it is, the power it contains is beyond what is mine already. Only the Council can help me rival this. And then ‘ITS’ power will be mine! he thought and smiled knowingly.

He still couldn’t still the beating of his heart. The flesh he inhabited was too weak. He would need another, more powerful being. Something that could contain his chaos. He looked below at the many gold blazoned streets and saw the corpses of hundreds of those he had infected. Pity. I will have to pick up some more soldiers along the way

. Enson turned from the window and dressed himself in more regal attire. He then turned his attention to bringing to full bear those that were left against the Cetra Council. He headed towards the city square and mounted the risen podium. He called out with his mind and thousands of those that remained gathered within the square.

“The time has come. We can ill afford to wait for those cowards. We ride today. Go,” he spoke and with those words, the thousands gathered uneasy Choboa and attached war wagons to as many as the people could.

* * * * *

Shifting snow fell around Sion as he dug his way from beneath the avalanche. Several rocks had sliced the side of his leg causing a shooting pain in his flesh. He breathed in heavily and looked up the sheer side of the cliff rising above the fog shrouding his location. He started to stand and slipped on a slick stone. This almost sent him over the edge of the ledge he had landed upon.

Looking down into the chasm, Sion saw that he was roughly half the way down the side of the cliff wall. The fog was thick, yet transparent enough to give a view of the river slicing through the bottom a mile and a half below.

“Wonderful,” Sion spoke to himself.

He didn’t see the beast and assumed it had fallen into the deep chasm. Though he couldn’t ascertain an impact basin. Putting the thing out of mind, he struggled to the edge of the wall and searched for hand and foot holds to begin his ascent to the top. Hold by hold he climbed, daring not to look down. He proceeded slowly making sure he had adequate footing. Roughly an hour and a half later, he was nearly to the top.

With only meters left to the edge, he could here the shouts of his soldiers as they issued commands. Good, they haven’t left camp yet. And they’re still alive...he thought and pressed onward. Then, a fierce wind ripped by him and he saw the scorpion beast flying straight up from the gully below. The creature had unfolded wings it had harbored within its body, something he hadn’t noticed before. However, this time the creature didn’t stop at the top of the chasm. It ignored the people and headed towards the west. Tohen...

* * * * *

“We’re going to have to pack up soon, sir. I don’t know when that thing will be returning,” a foot soldier spoke to Nilo, hoping his commander would issue the command.

“We’re not going anywhere just yet, soldier. See to what wounded you can,” Nilo huffed in agitation at the soldier.

Sion pulled himself up over the edge of the chasm and saw the confrontation. The foot soldier was turning to attend to the duties assigned him when he saw Sion crawling unto the ledge.

“Sir! It’s Captain Sion!” the foot soldier shouted and charged towards him to help him up.

Nilo and several others darted after him and were ecstatic to see Sion alive and well. They assisted him to his feet and brushed off his damaged armor. One person brought a cover for Sion to stave off the cold. He waved it away, hoping to maintain a confident demeanor, though in all actuality he was freezing.

“Sion, I’m so glad to see you survived! That thing flew away earlier...” Nilo started, prompting hand motions from Sion.

“I know. It nearly knocked me off the cliff. It headed west, didn’t it?” he inquired of Nilo.

Nilo nodded somberly. Sion stood on his own and headed back towards his tent with Nilo at his side. Before he could get there, an assistant to Aria arrived.

“Priestess Aria has finished her reading, Sir,” she spoke and politely bowed her head.

“Excellent. Nilo, ready the soldiers to depart,” he commanded and headed towards Aria’s tent instead.

“We’re leaving?” Nilo asked.

“Sooner than later I hope,” Sion responded cryptically.

A few moments passed as Sion entered Aria’s tent. She sat there somewhat dazed. Aria motioned for Sion to take a seat on the cushion beside her reading couch. He did as requested and waited for Aria’s results.

“I wasn’t able to determine much, I’m afraid,” she began.

“Anything you can tell me,” Sion responded, catching his breath from the cold and wrapping a cover around himself that lay upon the cushion.

“It was very difficult to hear the Mother Tiamus through her screams of protest. What I gathered was that something came from the heavens above,” Aria spoke.

“The Meteor,” he nodded.

“No, not Meteor. There was something in the meteor. The language the planet speaks is so ancient as to be almost indecipherable. Only the emotions I could read. And of those emotions I determined that this thing from the heavens, she considers a ‘calamity from the skies.’ And she seems to be intent on wiping it out,” she related between exasperated breathes.

“Good. Then that thing she’ll destroy,” he said in weary happiness.

“Not quite. Don’t let your eyes deceive you,” she spoke to his curious eyes, “What you faced out there was delivered by our Mother,” she said.

“What? That’s not possible! It tried to kill us!” he pled.

“Only because the survivors had been exposed to the calamity,” she input sagely.

“Then, the virus,” he spoke looking to the center cushion that was solid and held a cup of tea upon it.

“The virus is delivered from the calamity. The calamity is a shadowy force from beyond the skies. From whence it hailed, who can say, but to us, it has been delivered. And, now the Mother seeks its extermination...and,” she hesitated, “she will eliminate any who have been near the calamity. I...get the sense that she may even wipe us out to ensure to its total destruction,”

“No,” he softly said, feeling an uneasy feeling coming across his soul, “how would she do this?”

“The creature you fought was a predecessor to a greater instrument of destruction. I cannot tell you what she considers it, but the only thing I can call it, the closest word I can use, would be Weapon,” she finished.

Sion sat in stunned silence as he went over what she said in his head. He couldn’t believe that Tiamus would willingly sacrifice her children to prevent the scourge, this calamity, from spreading. However, he felt that she would probably be justified in the endeavor.

“What if we stop it?” Sion finally spoke.

“If it is possible. I do know that she is still building the Weapons to strike at the calamity. This predecessor is just to determine its total strength and the damage it has inflicted. The predecessor will cleanse any area infected,” Aria looked pale in the barely lit room and stared off into the nothingness.

“Tohen...I will stop it. I must,” Sion resolved and stood up.

Aria watched him depart her tent and she was impressed by his desire. Although, she knew the chances of defeating the shadowy calamity was slim at best. She prayed to Tiamus for final resolution and for the continued existence of the Cetra clans.

* * * * *

“Nilo, we leave by dusk. We must make our way back to Collust,” Sion commanded heading back towards his tent to prepare for departure.

“What of...” Nilo began only to be cut off mid-sentence.

“Now!” Sion shouted leaving no further room for debate.

“Make ready for departure double-time!” Nilo turned with resolve.

All the soldiers hurried to take down the tents and pack the supplies. Nilo looked at the piled corpses of his fallen comrades and felt sick to his stomach. He knew that they would not be returning with them for a proper burial.

“Nia,” Nilo called to an assistant to the Priestess sect, “I would like to see a funeral pyre for our fallen warriors,”

She nodded in acquiescence and headed off to prepare the pyre. Nilo looked around the camp and wondered, not for the first time, what tomorrow would bring.

* * * * *

Cierra led the procession through the mountain pass. A group of fifty people, citizens and those warriors that remained behind, had joined her when she had made the case before the Council. She was one of the most perceptive of the Cetra and highly respected by her peers. It also helped that people adored her husband Sion as one of the greatest of the Cetra warriors. Atop her Choboa, she couldn’t help but reflect upon the meeting and the hesitation of the Council.

“We understand your feelings on this matter,” the Supreme Chancellor had said. Cierra stood along the first tier balcony pleading her case to the gathered Council. She had related the sensation she had that morning. She’d been so afraid, yet determined, she had taken her son to her parents before calling on the Council. They had reluctantly granted her the session.

“My husband is out there. Our connection through Mother Tiamus is solid. I know he is in trouble. This isn’t just my personal feelings, though. There is a great danger to our people, our very way of life. Whatever it is, is coming here,” she had spoken.

A murmur played through the gathered Council. Many felt the same thing. The Supreme Chancellor and his Viceroy spoke quietly with three of their closest advisors. They all were nodding in agreement to each other.

“You’re asking us to send our remaining defenders to undertake an expedition based on a feeling,” the Supreme Chancellor began.

“No, not all that remains. If we could gathered fifty willing bodies, we could counter the threat before it reached Collust. Perhaps buy enough time for our warriors to return home,” she replied.

“Of course. It just so happens, though, that several members of the High Council have also felt the cries of Tiamus. We grant you this request, but you will lead them. Your insight will be most needed,” the Supreme Chancellor concluded to Cierra’s surprise.

That had been over a week ago. Soon, they would be entering the Colleia Basin, an extremely wide field separating the segments of mountain ranges in the Knowlespole. They could see the field expanding into the distance just beyond the forest edge mere kilometers away. A blizzard was blowing across that field as they traveled.

Cierra drew her furred robed closer to her body. A brown shawl covered the bottom portion of her face. Only her eyes were exposed as she watched nature’s chaos unfold. It still astounded her how cold it was beyond the canyon of Collust. The group had made sure to be well prepared for it, but nothing really prepared a person for the sub-zero temperatures.

“Cierra, I think we should make camp along the edge of the forest. We can remain just within the protection of the woods. I certainly don’t recommend going out into that blizzard,” a man by the name of Ezra said to Cierra.

“That sounds like it would be a good idea. Let the others know,” Cierra replied as Ezra delivered the word.

Cierra slowed her Choboa and looked into the darkening skies. A storm was on the horizon and an uncertainty was in the air. She removed the bottom of her shawl from her mouth and she exhaled a steamy breathe. Up until three days ago, they were headed to the northwest towards Middas. Then a cry from the world sent a chill into her dreams. It was then she knew she should go west towards Tohen. Whatever was coming, would be coming from there. She only hoped they wouldn’t pass whatever it was.

* * * * *

A shadow fell across Tohen as the creature that cast it struck at the heart of the city. Adobe huts and wooden constructs were crushed and burned under the barrage of the marauding creature. Green flames poured from the stalks upon its head and a gaping maw that was its mouth. Six legs pounded into those structures made of stone. The cityscape was glowing under the assault of the creature known only as the predecessor. This was not its title, for it had none. This was simply a term given it by the Priestess Aria.

Mother Tiamus could feel the Priestess reading its emotion. She understood what the Cetra were trying to do and slowed the production of Weapon. She had guided this predecessor to Tohen to eliminate any traces of the calamity’s presence. Yet, the calamity itself, under the guise of a young man, had already abandoned Tohen and led his virally infected followers towards Collust. In response, Tiamus had given another a dream, to follow the trail of the calamity.

The predecessor stood amidst the ruins of Tohen and screeched into the stormy skies. Soon, the storm rains would settle the burning rubble surrounded by a snowy plain. The creature stared off to the east and heard the Mother Tiamus in its created mind. It slowed its destructive course and began a trek towards the east. A silent command sent it walking across the cold plains. For now, the predecessor would not fly. It left the leveled Tohen in its wake and to its hind quarters and proceeded on it mission.

* * * * *

Journeying back to Collust had been long and ardous. It had also been very slow going. There were many who had been wounded in the attack by the predecessor and this caused the procession to take several weeks to cross the mountain ranges back home. Sion spent most of his time in a worried state, praying to Mother Tiamus that they wouldn’t be too late. Fortunately, though, the route back had seen a reduction in harsh weather conditions, so clear skies and bright sun had helped warm the days.

Sion was beyond ecstatic to see his hometown laying within the canyon valley below. With home so close, they had sped up as much as allowable given the survivors and wounded they had in tow. However, it wasn’t the greatest of homecomings when they finally entered the town limits.

“Is it just me, or do there seem to be fewer people than normal?” Nilo queried in concern, “What is going on?”

“I’m going to the Council. Take the wounded to the infirmaries,” Sion commanded and ushered his Choboa deeper into the empty streets of Collust.

Within the Council chambers connected to the main amphitheater, a heated discussion was taking place among the remaining members of the government. The chamber was small and just as round as the amphitheater. The maximum number of individuals that could be comfortably seated within were one hundred and fifty. Seats for those individuals rested around the U-shaped, limestone table that sat in the center of the chamber. Only three-quarters of the seating arrangement was filled, including the head seat at the table’s middle. In this seat sat the Supreme Chancellor with his Viceroy at his side.

“How will we hold off an attack in the state we find ourselves in?” questioned a Senator. “Forget holding off an attack, we should do as the others have and depart for the southern temple,” another Senator concluded.

“Collust is our home. I will not abandon it to fate, even if that fate is death,” the wise and very tired Supreme Chancellor said, “Even if we were to leave, though, what guarantees have we that this menace will not simply follow our tracks?”

“Well, I...” started a Council member on the far right before he saw the form of Sion entering the Council chambers.

The Viceroy saw him as well and motioned him to the center space within the table’s perimeters. Sion walked from the entrance and stood before the Council. He was exhausted, bloodied, and haggard.

“Council, we have returned from the Middas territories and have distressing news. Middas has been destroyed,” Sion spoke to the Council to many murmurings, “I also had the Priestess, Aria, perform a planet reading. It has become apparent that the Mother Tiamus is preparing a force beyond our scopes. Aria says that the closest she can come to its title is to call it Weapon. Apparently, an early predecessor to this creature is what has lain Middas bare. When we last saw it, the creature was making way for Tohen.”

The Council members were silent for several moments. The Viceroy leaned back and placed his left index finger around the base of his nose, clamping his palm to his mouth. It was apparent that the Council saw this as distressing indeed.

“Tohen, you say? Are you certain of this?” the Supreme Chancellor queried in trepidation.

“Quite. Though, we have yet to confirm this. However, it is my belief this predecessor will level Tohen before coming for Collust. Tiamus isn’t above seeing to our complete annihalation to prevent the spread of the viral infection that she considers a ‘calamity from the skies.’ This is a great crisis for our people. If we can destroy the calamity, then, perhaps, we can cease the usefulness of any Weapon, predecessor or not,” he implored and noted the further silence of the Council, “I am also curious, what has transpired within Collust? There is hardly a soul on the streets. Have we been attacked?”

“No, there has been no attack. Most of the citizens of Collust fled to the islands along the Southern Chain. Many of the Council have fled to the great temple to the south,” the Viceroy informed Sion, “However, there are more pressing matters to be concerned with. If what you say is true, then hope for the Cetra is fleeting, at best. To destroy the calamity, there remains only you and those that serve underneath you. I, and the Supreme Chancellor, shall remain in Collust. I cannot speak for the remainder of the Council. Senators, you may decide your course of action. Sion, if you will, set about facing this calamity. Or, you may flee to the south. I should inform you, though, your wife has taken a contingent of fifty willing citizens and warriors to head towards Middas. We recently received word, however, that she has shifted her course to Tohen.”

Sion dropped his gaze to the floor and caught his breath. That Cierra would do something so foolhardy and daring was unacceptable. Although, he knew it would be exactly like her.

“When did she do this?” Sion inquired.

“Two and a half weeks ago. We have not heard from her since the runner last week,” input the Supreme Chancellor.

“Your child is in her parent’s safe keeping. They remain within their home,” the Viceroy added.

“Thank you, sir. With your permission, I will take my leave and depart with as many as I can towards Tohen. May I recommend the Council retreat, with the wounded warriors that have returned with me, to the southern isles?” Sion stood straight and suggested.

“I believe the majority of the Council will take you up on your recommendations. I implore them, as well, to take the wounded with them,” the Viceroy responded feeling the weight of the matters at hand.

“Thank you, Viceroy, Council. I will be sending the remainder of our families with you, as well.” Sion concluded and turned to exit the chambers.

The Council sat silently, realizing they would have to abandon their homes after all. Many stood to make the preparations for their journey. The Viceroy and Supreme Chancellor remained seated and contemplated the future of the Cetra.

Nilo waited outside the Council auditorium. Sion had been within the chambers for nearly fifteen minutes, which was too long for Nilo’s taste. He didn’t have to wait much longer for Sion exited and approached him. Nilo saluted and Sion waved the gesture aside.

“Formalities are no longer an issue, my friend. Gather all able bodied warriors. We’re setting out by evening to march towards Tohen,” Sion began as they walked towards the entrance to the Grand Council chambers.

“Already? What’s going on?” Nilo inquired nervously.

“The reason the streets are so bare is that most of the Cetra have evacuated in anticipation of imminent attack. They’ve fled to the southern isles of the Kaedor chain. Most of those that remain will be joining them. We, however, are at least going to buy them the time they’ll need to escape. We will counter this calamity head-on,” Sion informed him.

“There are not many warriors left that are able to put up much of an offensive, Sion,” he replied.

“I know, I know. We’ll have to make do with what we’ve got. In the meantime, we need to make sure our families are on that boat. I know my son and in-laws are still here. I should make sure my own parents and my brother have departed as well. Let’s get this over with,” he said.

“What of Cierra?” Nilo asked.

“Seems Cierra went after the calamity,” he replied.

“What? Is she daft? She’s no warrior! I mean, no offense, Sion,” Nilo spoke.

“None taken. You’re right. However, she loves me and probably was sensitive to the events transpiring along the Knowlespole. She’ll fight the calamity. We just need to be there to make sure she has plenty of back-up,” Sion concluded as they departed the massive chambers. Nilo nodded in apprehension. The ante had just been increased and he wasn’t certain there would be any coming back from this mission. The two warriors set off for their destinies.

* * * * *

Cierra pushed her Choboa as hard as she could in her retreat through the mountain pass. The attack had been sudden and their counter-strike had been hopeless. The Tohenians were possessed by some force beyond her understanding. They were violent and quickly subdued her defenders. Several of those that had followed her on this quest, instructed her to flee, that they would hold the invaders back. She had fought hard against those that had been infected, but, in the end, was forced to reluctantly retreat. A much larger force would be needed against the infected.

It wasn’t easy to do and she shuddered against the thought of the act and the bitter cold surrounding the region. Several others had initially joined her in the flight. Though, they had turned back to dissuade the pursuers. She was going to join them, when one of the warriors instructed her to not be foolish and go to inform the Council of the coming calamity.

Cierra had seen him, of course, the one that led the infected Cetra. She didn’t know who he was, but she could feel the shadowy evil pouring forth from the silvery haired individual. He wasn’t like the others, the infection wasn’t within him. There was something in his maniacal stare, though, that told her he was the deliverer of the disease. The stare they had exchanged was more than enough to inform her of who was in charge.

She slowed her pace and thought about how much further the distance was to Collust. Almost a week, she figured. Already, her flight had lasted several days and the Choboa she had been pushing was showing its exhaustion. She guided the flightless bird through a copse of snow covered vegetation that was overshadowed by the massive trees rising overhead. A few more yards and she found herself dismounting near a mountain stream. Kneeling, she took a drink of the river using her hands for a cup. The water was frigid, but it came as soothing relief. A kwehing sound issued forth from the Choboa as it bent its thick feathered head down to take its own drink.

Cierra sat back unto a log with only a thin accumulation of snow covering its length. She caught her breath and looked up into the cloudy sky. A small ray of sun spilled through a crack in the cumulus. Drying off her hands the best she could on her robe, Cierra put her gloves back on and prepared to lead the Choboa further through the forest. Though only ten minutes had passed, she wasn’t about to wait for the evil thing catch up to her.

The silence of the forest was disturbed by a cracking echo. Cierra stopped handling the saddle bag on the Choboa’s back, and stared around at the shadowy forest. Bits of sunlight poured through the snow strewn leaves and pines. A chill ran up Cierra’s spine and it wasn’t because of the weather. She could feel the presence of something. Grabbing her blade, a mid-length sword, from the bag scabbard, she found herself in a defensive posture.

Several uncomfortable moments passed before Cierra relaxed her posture. The crack didn’t repeat and she thought maybe she was imagining things. Then several things happened all at once: two of the infected followers of the shadow attacked and frightened her Choboa away, which resulted in Cierra flaying them with the sword she still held; and then she encountered the being she had hoped to evade.

“Don’t run, there is much we need to discuss,” the creature said, “In this form, I am Enson.”

Cierra didn’t bother responding to the creature upon his Choboa. She ran up the river bank and towards a cave up the side of a steep hill. The creature, Enson, gave chase and was forced to dismount, since the bird he rode was unable to keep its footing. She ran as hard and fast as she could until she found herself within the cave entrance. Quickly, she ducked into a small and shadowy hole in the side of the cave interior. Within seconds, Enson was past the entrance and scanning the dark for her form.

She jumped out and attacked Enson and tried to pierce his gut with her sword. Enson managed to block the side edge of the sword, preventing himself from being cut and deflecting the weapon. He threw a punch at Cierra who dodged the blow and plowed her shoulder into his ribcage. He reeled in that instant as she rushed past him, deeper into the cave.

Enson scowled in rage and followed her into the recesses of the dank and dark hole in the ground. His eyesight wasn’t as good as hers and Cierra made good use of this advantage. Enson slowed his harried pace as he entered a massive section of the cave that was lit almost completely by a large hole in the ceiling of the stone mountain interior. He couldn’t see Cierra, but he could feel her presence.

“You don’t know the power you have, do you? It courses through your veins and gives away your very position,” he said with an echoing voice, “I will show you the way.”

Enson walked into the center of the cavern and beckoned with his arms wide open. He grinned in an evil taunt, trying to trick Cierra into the open. She hid behind a stone at the farthest recess of the cavern and didn’t care what trick he employed. She knew instinctively that she was going to have to rush him, taunt or no taunt.

* * * * *

What are you doing? I can feel you here. This power is so savory. I must acquire this creature. What is it they called her? Those that came with her...Oh, yes, he thought to himself as he stood, staring into the dark outer circle surrounding the perimeter of the cavern. He had given pursuit the second he made contact with her eyes. She was the one he’d been looking for. Every civilization had a direct descendant from their progenitor. And this one was the Cetra’s. He smiled in spite, and spat out his words,

“Cierra, isn’t it? What a beautiful name. You Cetra, there is a power in you. This power is marked by the lifeforce flowing through this planet. You should know something about me, I was created to destroy. When my usefulness was through, and the threat of my self-affiliation was recognized, they cast me aside; thrust me into the endless abyss. However, I have but one purpose, to spread the seed of chaos. When the time comes, I will seek out my creator, and destroy him. And those who employed his unique talents...but, first, I need power, and intellect. You fit both bills...” he uttered in grinning disdain.

Enson watched as the form of Cierra emerged swiftly and thrust her weapon towards his abdomen. He didn’t try to evade her and let her jam the sword through his body. The smile waned only slightly as the pain shot through his system. He grabbed her head and pulled Cierra closer to his body. She threw him to the floor and he pulled her with him. They rolled across the floor jamming the weapon all the way through his form. Before the life could flee him, though, he forced her eyes towards his visage. His essence flowed from his form and into hers. Shrieks of terror and anguish filled his ears with savory joy. Yet, she resisted.

* * * * *

Cierra winced as the force entered her body. No! Get out of my head! Get out of my body! What are you!? she screamed internally and let out a shriek externally. The power of the entity was overbearing. Though, she sensed a greater power within herself, elsewise, the creature wouldn’t wish for her so badly. However, she was ill prepared to fight a mental battle with an entity that had did just so for eons.

Time passed in her mind as she saw what the thing had done over its long existence. Chaos to many worlds had been wrought by the creature in servitude of a warring Civilization. However, that civilization had entered an era of peace, and their biological weapon was no longer needed. This weapon was taking control of her mind and she slammed her hands into the stone floor, screaming with the effort of internal warfare.

An avalanche of stone cascaded from the ceiling practically burying them both. The shockwave had, surprisingly, come from her own aura. Cierra was devastated to know what she could have become and even more disgusted that she was losing. Her torso and her right arm remained unburied as she struggled with the vacant gaze of the creature whose body was quickly fading in life. Huge stones were crushing its back and its horrible stare lingered towards her eyes. She couldn’t look away.

“Ugh! Get off me! Tiamus...help me...” she said, closing her eyes under the weight of the debris.

The creature Enson went limp upon her. Sweat poured from every gland in Cierra’s body and then she only saw the dark. She collapsed underneath the stone and her breathing grew shallow. A stale wind blew from the widened hole above, causing a thin layer of snow to coat the two bodies under the stones.

* * * * *

Twenty five warriors sat atop their Choboa staring at the remains on the battlefield. Already, a sheet of snow was covering the corpses. It was easy to tell, though, that this was the contingent that Cierra had led.

Sion looked the field over and felt a thick fear settle over him. These were fifty warriors that died under a brutal onslaught. Those he led were only twenty five. How could they hope to be victorious over a calamity that could bring about so much death?

“I don’t see her here. She must have escaped to Collust. What do we do now, Sion?” Nilo inquired as he trotted his Choboa beside Sion.

A sigh came forth from Sion’s lips. He wasn’t sure what they could do anymore. Things had just gone from worse to hopeless. He looked towards the distance and where he imagined what Tohen looked like. He shook his head.

“We pray,” were Sion’s only words as he turned his Choboa and headed back for Collust. The Predecessor ceased its forward momentum and stared through its three long stalks at the far distance. It could feel the anxiety of Mother Tiamus. Something had gone wrong. The Calamity had been underestimated. Only a handful of Cetra stood, now, between the Calamity and its dark desires. Tiamus could not wait for much longer. Were the Calamity to be left unchecked, she would perish into the ashes of history.

The Colleia Basin lay out before the Predecessor and presented too much of a hindrance to its progression were it to continue walking. Massive wings unfolded from protective flaps drawn flat against the upper torso. With little effort, the creature lifted into the air and made headway to Collust.

The Predecessor allowed its long tail to trail behind it in the wind. Six needles waggled in the air at the tip of the tail in testy demeanor. A slight shadow from the scorpionesque beast drew its outline on the snow covered fields of the basin. It would wait for the right moment to strike, allowing the Cetra time to battle against the Calamity.

* * * * *

Particles of snow drifted across the form of Cierra who lie trapped beneath fallen stone. She awoke and opened her eyes to soft light filtering into the cavern she had battled Enson within. Enson lie dead on top of her and she tried to remove his body. The stone prevented any massive movement.

She shut her eyes and drew in a breath and, instinctively, the innate power that was buried within her shell. She held her right arm out to the side and called forth an invisible force to shatter the debris. Dust and snow littered the air making it difficult to see and move. This didn’t stop her from moving forward to the exit, though. Wiping her forehead with the sleeve of her wet and frigid right arm, she stepped over Enson and paid him no further attention.

A short time later, she found herself back at the entrance to the cave. She strained her eyesight against the sudden brightness after having been within the cavern. She stumbled into the open air and fell to the ground. With some effort, Cierra got upon her hands and knees. With shallow breaths, she regained her composure and issued forth a smile to the frozen ground.

Exhaustion overpowered the group of twenty five warriors as they re-entered Collust. Depression eked its way through the consciousness of all who returned. The Cetra way of life was coming to an end. Those that had remained in Collust, had at last abandoned their city. Which left these warriors very solemn as they walked through the city.

“We will hold position here. The Calamity will come for Collust and we must make sure to prevent it from leaving the Knowlespole,” Sion commanded.

“As you wish. Though, I wonder how we will hold this Calamity back?” Nilo questioned bringing his Choboa up beside Sion.

“I guess we’ll find out,” Sion quipped, “I’m heading to the chambers to see if the Supreme Chancellor remained. He had mentioned he would, and, if that’s the case, we should protect him the best we can.”

“We’ll gather what weapons we can find. Hopefully, we’ll find something that can be advantageous for us,” Nilo commented.

Sion nodded and guided his Choboa towards the Grand Council chambers. The city made from ancient shells, was a lonely sight to behold when there was no one around. Essentially, Collust had become a ghost town. He shook his head slowly, feeling forlorn over how quickly everything had gone wrong in their lives. Shadows lurked around every bend, reminding him of his failure to counter the looming threat. Now, there was only the vague hope of fighting back the Calamity.

He dismounted his Choboa outside the chamber perimeters and entered the massive complex built into the side of the mountain. Shortly, he found himself staring into the empty amphitheater as he briskly walked towards the smaller meeting chambers at the eastern border. Entering the room he glanced around looking for any sign of the Supreme Chancellor and his Viceroy. He saw two forms hunched in their seats at the end of the chamber Council table. With great uneasiness, he edged towards the two and drew his sword. They weren’t moving and he saw blood caking the Supreme Chancellor’s robes.

“This can’t be...Chancellor? Viceroy?” he beckoned the lifeless bodies to speak. When no answer was forthcoming, which he hadn’t expected, he held his sword to his side and inched closer to the table center. The torches in the chamber had been extinguished and a skylight above cast a dual ray of light upon the two men.

“It’s intriguing, you know,” a familiar voice halted Sion in mid-step, “I expected so...much...more.”

The voice manifested itself from behind the Chancellor’s chair. A woman with long hair walked slowly into the beaming light, grinning with an insanely evil grin. Sion recognized her at once and was both thrilled and alarmed.

“Cierra! ...What are you doing here? The Council told me you had set out to the east? What happened here?” he questioned quickly, still maintaining a grip on his weapon. Cierra slid herself towards the table edge and sat upon its surface. She brushed back her hair and stared at Sion. She wasn’t herself. And, Sion was starting to get a very bad feeling about all this.

“What happened? Heh. They couldn’t handle the pressure and well...see for yourself,” Cierra said, motioning towards their limp forms.

“So, you must be the Calamity. Release my wife,” Sion demanded, coming to a straight posture.

“I am your wife, Sion,” she replied with an innocent expression and propped her right hand on her chest.

“I know my wife. Her aura is one of beauty. I sense from you only hate!” Sion pointed his sword at Cierra, or what was Cierra.

“You would be the first to see. The Cetra, well those lavishing themselves within these frivolous structures, aren’t real perceptive. City life has definitely, dulled their wits,” Cierra spoke with malicious tones and stood to walk around the outside of the table, “Those nomadic simpletons put up more of a fight. These two were kind enough to instruct me as to the location of the remaining Cetra bands. With the exception of a few tribes wandering around the Northern Boundaries, of course. Those, I will deal with after I satiate my thirst.”

“Release Cierra, please...” Sion beseeched the shadowy creature within her form.

“Let loose this kind of power? This woman wasn’t using what was hers by right! She squandered away her meaningless existence playing sub-servient slave for you! Mother, housewife, Councilwoman...but, this power beckons for the truth,” she held her left hand up in an emphatic fist of raw hatred, “Allow me to demonstrate her potential for you!”

Cierra held wide her arms and looked up towards the ceiling. Her body lifted off the ground as an invisible wave surrounded her. Sion stepped back a few paces as she summoned forth a fierce thunderclap. The shockwave ripped through the room and pushed Sion back towards the far wall. He held up his arms in a feeble gesture of blocking the unexpected attack.

Seconds felt like an eternity to him until the wave subsided. He found himself standing just a fraction of a step away from the edge of what used to be the back of the chambers. He looked down to see the city sprawled out below. The precarious step he maintained gave way and he found himself careening down the side of the mountain slope. Sion twisted himself to keep his feet and legs pointed down at the impact zone he was fast approaching. A swirling birth of snow and debris was tossed into the air at Sion’s landing.

Sion coughed up bits of rubble and black soot covered cumulation. Crawling out of the debris, and feeling very lucky to have survive, he looked up to see his wife, the Calamity, floating on an invisible field and out into the open above the city.

* * * * *

Nilo heard an explosion and looked up to see the front wall of the Grand Council chambers blow outward. He was shocked at the event and even more so when Sion fell out the newly formed exit. Then, Cierra floated out of the fresh ruin. He could only stare as the woman floated over the city and began to survey the terrain as if looking for something to destroy. He wasn’t misguided in the thought when, a moment later, she lifted her hands causing several homes to implode. This was followed by a shockwave that blew him off his feet.

He sat up from his where he lie on his back and saw Sion running around the bend of the neighborhood. He jumped to his feet and rushed towards Sion.

“What in the world!?” Nilo began, unsure of what it was that he was seeing.

“Cierra’s succumbed to the Calamity,” Sion stated and crouched behind a building.

“No...what do we do?” Nilo quietly asked, numb at the thought.

“We have to save her!” Sion shouted and rushed out into the open, waving his arms like mad, trying to get her attention.

“Sion! ...how praytell do you think we can do that?” Nilo asked himself.

By the gods! Cierra! Stop this! Sion shouted internally, waving his arms hoping she would hear his silent plea and become herself again. However, she only answered his gesturing with another shockwave that destroyed four homes outright, and damaged thirteen others. He looked around and saw that Cierra was tearing Collust apart. He couldn’t understand why. The Calamity wanted to spread the virus and capture the souls of those it infected. But why are you destroying the cities? Or is it...because we are all that stands between you and the Cetra? he thought and saw Cierra’s smile broaden as if in answer to his unspoken question

. Dozens of arrows immediately filled the air, as the warriors that remained counter-attacked Cierra’s barrages. The arrows were nearly dead-on and only missed by inches.

“No! Stop! Don’t hurt her!” he shouted to his men, who couldn’t hear him over their own shouts of fear and anguish.

It was a futile command anyhow, as Cierra responded with a motioning of her hands. This time, instead of a shockwave, there came an Avalanche from the ground. Sion had never seen such a thing before. Stone and dirty snow rose and covered those firing arrows. Then a fierce wind shot forth, piercing several warriors with small pebbles. Blood seeped from their wounds and they collapsed to the ground. Snow turned red under their slain bodies.

Sion ducked behind another structure as a whirlwind ripped through the center of the city, shattering the markets and rest facilities for travelers. He grimaced at the destruction and wondered how to save his wife, and how he would survive the onslaught being brought upon them. This is hopeless...he thought.

A screech pierced the air distracting Sion from his own considerations. Flying across the canyon rim was the Predecessor. It came to a hovering position just beyond the gully the led to Collust. Cierra paused her strike and saw the beast.

Sion witnessed green flame spewing from the eyestalks and mouth of the Predecessor. At the same time, it unleashed a volley of spiked energy from the six needles on the tail. He wanted to scream for Cierra to watch out, but he saw her smiling. The green flame hit her invisible energy field and flow harmlessly around the spherical apparition. She lifted her hand and the energy spikes flung from her path and smashed into the sides of the canyon. Stone fell from the gashes and an avalanche of rock formed on the ground.

Refocusing on Cierra, Sion saw her hands rotating around each other and then a massive ice wave struck out at the Predecessor. It raised its two clawed arms and blocked the ice. However, the invisible wave that drove the ice smashed into the beast. The Predecessor was encompassed by the icy wave and froze in mid-air. Cierra snapped her fingers and the creature shattered into millions of tiny shards.

An awful cackling filled the air, and Sion saw Cierra spinning in the air in joyous rapture. She then continued her barrage on Collust. Only ten warriors remained and they were avoiding Cierra the best they could. The arrow assault was halted, since it only resulted in instant death.

A chanting reverberated throughout the canyon, which gave pause to those engaged in the one-sided battle. Sion looked around in curiosity, What the...!? Now, what’s happening? he thought and then saw figures lining the top ridges of the canyon. Those figures were chanting hymns to Tiamus. I don’t believe it...the tribes...

* * * * *

I knew I should have exterminated you pests when I had the chance! Cierra thought angrily and raised her arms. The rhythmic chantings were giving her a headache and disrupting her focus. She was about to unleash a shockwave when a shout echoed up into her ears.

“Cierra! Please! Fight it! Tiamus is here! Fight it!” Sion screamed from where he stood in the middle of an avenue.

“Be gone with you, gnat!” Cierra responded and raised her hand to summon a blaze to engulf his body.

Noooo! Came a pleading and exasperated voice in her head. Cierra grabbed her head and struggled against the voice. It was forceful. Much more so than it had been before. She looked at the gathered Cetra around the rim and heard the chanting growing louder.

“Go...away! I own this now! You are nothing!” Cierra screamed to herself trying to force the voice to grow silent.

I will not be silenced! You...eyaaa! You may have taken my body...but you’ll never assimilate my soul! the voice exclaimed. Cierra found her vision growing blurry. The Calamity was losing control.

“I don’t need your soul, silly girl! I only need the vessel and the power it commands!” Cierra shot back and unleashed a massive shockwave that leveled several blocks of the downtown area.

However, this caused a dizziness within the Calamity, and it fell from the air and landed upon a heap of rubble. Cierra rolled down the ruined slope and flopped unto her stomach. She lie face down for several moments. Sion had seen her fall and came running to her aid. Hearing his approach, Cierra got up unsteadily and tried to send another burning wave towards him.

“I’ve had it with this species!” she screamed and shot her arm forward, but nothing occurred.

She grabbed her head as the voice returned. This time, the Cierra within wouldn’t let the Calamity regain composure so quickly.

“Sion!” she called.

“Cierra! You’re back!” he replied and rushed forward.

“No!” she commanded him and held her hand out for him to stop.

Cierra held one hand to the left side of her head and blood was pouring from a wound there. Her eyes looked at him briefly then cast themselves away. The Calamity was fighting for control and wrenched at her gut nearly causing her to fall to her knees.

“Kill me! Do it now...” she forced out, her breath fleeting as she waged war with the Calamity.

Its evil and control were fierce and unrelenting. There was no way she could stave it off indefinitely. Only the chanting of the Cetra tribes above had allowed for her to break the concentration of the Calamity. She could sense several hundreds rushing down the mountain sides to counter the threat she posed. She was Cierra no more. This moment was all that she was given.

“Sion! Don’t hesitate! Now...ugh...” she fell to her knees and Sion rushed forward.

The Calamity ceased the moment and brought up her fist, slamming it into Sion’s face. He reeled from the impact and drew his sword.

“We can save you!” he responded, fearing the dread of truth.

“Save yourself, Pion!” the Calamity responded and drew forth a invisible force to unleash at Sion.

Cierra’s eyes grew dark and malevolent. Her hands grasped the air before her and spun a web of destruction. That destruction faded in that moment, however, as the internal battle shifted gears yet again,

“Now...” she commanded and thrust herself towards Sion.

Sion instinctively brought forth his weapon and Cierra’s body was pierced upon the blade as it ran through her stomach and out the rear of her ribcage. Sion stared into her eyes as he saw her life fading and felt the wretched, stabbing aura of sorrow.

“I love you, Sion...Don’t look at me!” she spoke and turned her head and closed her darkening eyes, her right hand blocking his face, “You must destroy this body! Take it somewhere far from here...ensure the Calamity cannot return...It jumps...through...the vision of the soul...go and take care of...”

Cierra continued as ripples of black energy sought its way past her eyelids. Sion could see little black strands of the energy trying to escape. A thousand needles cut off anything more Cierra had to say, as the tribal marksmen shot her full of poison darts. His tears moistened the hand she had placed in front of his eyes to prevent him from looking at her as it went limp.

Nilo pulled Sion away from his wife. He fought his friend’s grasp to no avail and was drug away sobbing. No! Not Cierra! Tiamus...why must this be!? he cried and could sense the world weeping with him.

* * * * *

Nearly a week later, Sion followed the procession of Cetra tribesmen to the pass that would lead to the Northern Boundaries of the Knowlespole. At the center of the group, there was a casket containing the solidly wrapped form of Cierra. Ice and snow packed the coffin of his wife and served a dual purpose. One was to keep her from decomposing and risking the exposure of the virus that inhabited her lifeless body. The second was to prevent the Calamity from jumping to another soul.

The tribesmen had communicated with Tiamus and had understood what must be done. They had traveled to where the final conflict would transpire and brought with them the thickest furs. Now, Sion could only stare at the stone coffin. A cold chill ran a course through his veins and he looked away towards the mountainous terrain surrounding them.

Pinkish hues gave way to the splendor of snowy peaks far in the distance. Clouds were clearing and, finally, a gentle sun was shining down upon the Knowlespole. Soft kwehing of the Choboa calmed Sion’s unsteady heart as a slight breeze caressed his face.

Once more, he gazed upon the coffin beside him on the cart being towed. For the first time in the week since her fall, he smiled. It was a bitter smile, but it was also accompanied by the feeling that Cierra had reached her Promised Land. And, for this, he was happy. Cierra...

* * * * *

Freezing water welcomed the stone coffin as it plunged into its grasp. A chanting filled the air as the Cetra gathered around the long, cavernous pit that led deep into the welling lifestream far below. Sion stared down into the hole in the earth, watching the coffin slide down the slope into the water. After everything was said and done, he turned his Choboa and walked a few paces to where Nilo waited.

“You ready?” Nilo inquired, feeling the burden of all that had transpired.

“Yes...It is time I joined my son in the southern isles. ...Cierra has returned to the planet,” Sion stated flatly and looked to the ground.

“This is good,” Nilo replied, gazing at the pit a dozen tribesmen sat around.

“You realize, of course, that I won’t be returning here...” he related to his friend.

“Oh, that’s ok. I’ll miss home, but it seems, a little sun just may do us some good,” said Nilo with a slight smile.

Sion chuckled slightly and turned south. Nilo motioned for the eight warriors going with them to mount their Choboa. The group left the tribal Cetra to care for the Knowlespole and, with Cierra’s gravesite to their backs, they began their journey.

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