Friday, November 7, 2014


Chapter 45

*Chris Velis*
With Suchet down and out, the tide of the battle slowly turns. I wade through the enemy, slashing here and stabbing there, ignoring the prickle of pain from my arm wound reopening.
As my friends advance towards the Cosmo Prison, the battleground grows narrower and I find myself fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with Ramya Joshi. Her face is pale, but not from blood loss. The whole battle had paused to watch the phlogiston of Suchet’s death; it must’ve been horrible for her.
“I have the key,” she tells me. “I took it when Suchet... you know.”
I swallow. “The problem is, we can only use it when Christy and Sid are inside the Prison.”
“Yeah, that might be a problem,” Ramya mutters. “Any suggestions?”
“Let’s focus on getting to the Prison first, shall we?”
She dodges a spiked club. “We’re so close -- only one more hill to go.”
I slice the earth warrior in front of me, cutting it in half. “Sid’s getting weaker. He’s not replacing his monsters anymore, see?”
“Christy is still going strong, though,” Ramya observes.
I glance over at the center of the battle. Sid and Christy are both fighting like demons, but Sid’s movements are slowing. The shield of earth that had previously surrounded him is weakening as well. As I watch, a blow from Leo’s knife shatters it completely.
Unlike her ally, Christy’s defense hasn’t wavered yet. She’s encompassed by a shield of blinding light; weapons that get too close disintegrate upon contact.
“Take that, Sid!” Leo yells from across the battlefield. “Come on, guys, let’s go!”
My friends cheer and, with renewed energy, make one last charge at our two main enemies. Only seconds later, I hear Sam Chen’s shout of triumph and realize that Sid has finally been defeated. With a howl of pain, he turns and attempts escape. Another Asphodel throws three knives in quick succession; each finds its mark, and Sid goes down under the mass of fighters. The last of the earth warriors crumble, leaving Christy as our only remaining adversary.
We surge forward, driving Christy to make her last stand on the doorstep of her own prison. For a beautiful, shining moment, it seems as if victory is guaranteed -- that we’d all be relieved of the war once and for all.
And then something goes wrong.

*Ramya Joshi*
“STOP!” Christy commands, allowing her shield to die down.
Every single person slowly turns to look at her, including me. A collective gasp travels through the crowd, and I can see why everyone has frozen.
Christy’s standing just in front of the great gates of the Cosmo Prison, but she’s not alone. Choking slightly, but otherwise lifeless as a rag doll, Leo sways under her grip. His face is angled away from us, but we can all tell that he’s in a bad way.
“There has been only one casualty on your side,” Christy says, addressing all of us. “You have fatally injured one of my allies and killed the other. You have achieved partial victory. Retreat now, and I’ll let you keep it. Attempt a further advance, and this one dies.” She gestures at Leo with her free hand.
But I’m not listening to her. Instead, I’m watching Leo intently. His head is slightly raised and I can see his face now. His eyes flicker open and lock with mine.
Do it, he mouths.
What? I mouth back.
His eyes shift down to my hand. I glance down as well.
The key.
I stare at him. No, he can’t be thinking what I’m thinking...
As if he’s reading my mind, Leo gives a small, affirmative nod.
On three, he mouths.
I nod back.
Leo lifts his index finger. One, I count silently.
He lifts a second finger. Two.
Time seems to slow as I steel my nerves for what’s about to happen.
Finally, it comes.
I burst out of the crowd just as Leo turns and violently shoves Christy back. The two of them disappear into the depths of the Cosmo Prison. Her scream of fury rips through the frigid air as I slam the gates shut and drive the key into the keyhole, locking both human and superhuman inside.

*Alisha Qian*
“Here,” I announce.
Lulu peers up at the house. “Nothing much, is it?”
I shrug. “Who said it had to be big?”
Lulu’s right, though. This is quite possibly the most plain, nondescript home I’ve ever seen.
“But, of course, it would have to be,” I mutter to myself.
The question catches me off guard. “Uh, never mind. I don’t think he’s home right now anyways.”
She scowls. “Listen here. We’re going to be traveling together for quite some time, so you might as well tell me everything.”
I sigh and kick at the asphalt. “This is the last Seraph’s house, apparently. Or -- one of them, at least.”
Lulu frowns. ”One of them?”
“Yeah. Seraphim Mortis told me that the Seraph would be on the run. Someone else is looking for him, and they’re not quite as benign as we are.”
“I wouldn’t call us benign,” Lulu says with a derisive snort. “But who else could possibly have the same task as we do?”
“The person who unlocked the Cosmo Prison, probably,” I answer. “But I don’t know who exactly that would be.”
“Would that be him, by any chance?” she asks.
I glance in the direction she’s pointing. “Oh, um...”
Then I do a double take.
Lulu draws her knives. “Are we in a bad situation?”
“Bad? Oh, yes. A very, very bad situation.”

*Leo Qi*
I slump against the doors of the Prison, every inch of my body screaming in exhaustion and pain. As soon as Christy and I had entered, a strange force had separated the two of us. She’d been thrown into a far corner, but I’d been left alone.
What can I say about the interior of the Cosmo Prison? Well, I can certainly see why Christy was so desperate to get out and stay out. The darkness almost has substance, like a massive fist pounding down on me. There is no light -- not even Christy’s power can withstand this. However, I’m sure that Christy’s a lot more comfortable than I am. This place is not meant for humans.
The lack of oxygen quickly gets to me and I start seeing things. They start out as images of my childhood, then morph to ghostly three-dimensional figures. I recognize my parents, my brother...
One of the spirits drift over to me.
"Ruiran?" I gasp.
Ruiran nods.
"I-- Ruiran, I didn't mean for you to-- I'm so sorry--"
She cuts me off in a gentle voice. "It's all right. I just wanted you to be happy."
Before I can say another word, she moves back, allowing another ghost to take her place.
“Oh, Leo... I’m so proud of you,” my mother whispers, touching my cheek.
"Mom..." My voice trembles.
She smiles. "You've been so brave."
“Are you... really here?” I ask. The situation seems too good to be true.
She nods. “The Cosmo Prison brings humans so close to death that the line between the dead and living blurs. That’s why you can see and talk to us.”
“Why am I not dead?”
“You’re living, but only barely. To die, you must let go of life. In other words, you have to let yourself die.”
As she explains, a third shimmering figure steps out of the shadows.
“Dad,” I murmur.
“You did well,” he says gruffly. “But now it’s time for you to join us.”
I glance over at Christy’s corner. “I have to keep her from breaking out again--”
“Shh,” my mother says, pressing a finger against my lips. “Someone wants to see you.”

One last ghost forms out of the mist, and I immediately forget everything.
It’s the person I’ve been waiting to see, the one I came here for. The one I love.

“Hello, Leo,” Debbie says.
My eyes fill with tears. “Debbie...” I’m almost unable to form words.
She reaches towards me. “Come.”
I close my eyes. After all the days of waiting, all the battles fought, I’ve finally reached this moment.
“It’s okay,” Debbie says. “Everything will be fine, just like I promised. Because at last, we’ll be together forever.”
The mist around us begins to thicken and swirl.
“Come with me.” Her words echo through the Prison, repelling the shadows and pain. And in those moments, I feel an emotion I haven’t felt in ages.
Happiness. Pure happiness.
I reach for her hand, and her voice resonates from all around me, reverberating in my mind. “I love you, Leo.”
“I love you, Debbie,” I whisper.

Our fingertips touch, and the darkness of the prison dissolves into light.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014


Chapter 44

*Sophie Koh*
“I warned you, remember? I told you that you would curse me to the depths of hell when the time came for you to use it.”
“No, Dean,” I plead,” I already lost Saket -- I can’t lose you, too--”
“It’s the only way,” Dean says. “Everyone will die because of your selfish refusal to kill me, Sophie... is that what you want?”
“No,” I whisper. “But not this.”
“I’m already dying,” he insists. “Make my death count.”
Against my will, my fingers tighten around the shard and my arm slowly poises to strike.
“Diamonds can’t shine in the dark. Walk in the light, Sophie.”
They are the last words he ever speaks.
Our eyes meet, and I plunge the shard of glass into his heart.

*Ramya Joshi*
Just as Suchet draws back his fist to strike, he doubles over. Coughing and retching... smoke?
I scramble back, horrified. “What’s going on, Suchet?”
“Some... some kind of curse,” he groans. “Help me -- it hurts so bad...”
I shake my head. “You deserve this, you coward.”
“I -- I know,” he says between gasps for air. “This is my punishment -- for what I did to you, and the people I loved--”
“You didn’t love anyone but yourself,” I say.
His hands stretch towards me, grasping at my sleeves. "Ramya, please, forgive me."
I turn away, sickened.
The flames creep up his neck and arms, and ash precipitates from his mouth. "Ramya," he coughs.
Finally, unable to take it anymore, I face him. And in his eyes, for the first time, I see emotion.
Pain, sorrow, and -- regret.
“I didn’t want to be your enemy,” he pleads.
“You’re not an enemy. To me, you’re nothing.”
"I'm sorry, Ramya," Suchet whispers.
I feel nothing.

*Sophie Koh*
White-hot fire spreads from the point where the glass pierced Dean’s skin, engulfing his entire body. But his eyes don’t leave mine, not until the flames consume and reduce him to ash.

Then, just as quickly as it started, the fire dies down, and Dean is gone.
The last person I loved in the whole world is dead.
I am alone.


Chapter 43

*Leo Qi*
“There!” Chris shouts, pointing. “That’s the Cosmo Prison!”
I squint. A cloud of shadows shrouds the dark edifice looming in the distance, but I know beyond doubt that it is the Prison.
Before we can get any further, though, three figures swoop down from the brightening sky and touch down just in front of us.
Christy, Sid, and... Suchet?
“You,” Ramya snarls, shouldering everyone aside to face her ex-boyfriend. “Slimy little cockroach.”
Suchet grins and holds up a shiny object -- the key. “Come and get it.”
“Oh, we’ll get it, all right,” Sophie threatens. “You just be careful we don’t get you as well.”
A rallying cry rises from all around us.
Sid smiles. “I see you’ve brought your little backup force. Unfortunately, I’ve picked up a few new tricks as well.”
He spreads his hands. The ground ruptures, spitting out warriors of earth. They advance upon us, wielding literally rock-hard clubs and swords.
“You can’t scare us with your gang of dirt bandits,” Chris says. He glances over at me. “Just give the command, Leo.”
“Go!” I yell, and all fifty of us charge as one.

*Ramya Joshi*
“Look who the cat dragged in,” Suchet says, lingering just beyond the reach of my blade. “I wasn’t sure at first, but now I know that I made the right decision.”
I stab at him. He dodges, agile as ever.
“You see, they gave me special powers, too,” he continues, unfazed. “Powers you might have gotten if you didn’t chase me out.”
“You’re still not powerful,” I respond. “Dean could have you down and dead in a heartbeat if you weren’t such a coward, afraid to face him.”
“Dean’s an idiot,” Suchet smirks. “Christy can kill him easily. And as for you... I’ll keep you alive if you come with me.”
“I’m never running back to you,” I snap. “You’re the idiot if you think you’ll get out of this mess alive.”
“Oh, really?” Suchet balls his fists, grinning. “Challenge accepted.”
I slice at him with my knife, but this time he raises his hand to intercept. As soon as my blade touches his bare skin, a bolt of energy travels up the knife and meets my hand with a loud crack. The strange energy throws me back and my weapon falls away, useless.
“Electricity, sucker,” Suchet says, grabbing my knife. He stabs it into the ground at my feet and discharges.
BOOM. Suddenly, I’m sitting in a small, smoking crater, and covered with a thin layer of soot.
Suchet peers down at me, his features twisted in sick pleasure. “Ready or not, here I come.”

*Dean Zhang*
The peaceful scenery of the hills dissolves into chaos around me as I launch myself into battle. Sid’s going to play his game of magic weapons? I can as well, I think, lighting my hand ablaze. I concentrate, and the flames wrap around my knife, forming a blade of fire.
Just in time, too. I raise my flaming dagger to meet the sword of one of Sid’s minions. The impact jolts down my arm, but the warrior staggers away in retreat, the tip of his sword lopped off.
I whirl around to face my next adversary. The next sword seems to come out of nowhere, and only my reflexes save me. The earth warrior crumbles into a smoking pile of dirt; I kick it a few times for good measure.
But after stabbing a third monster, I notice that the battle isn’t going so well for my friends. A pale-faced Alex staggers a few paces and collapses; Nidhi rushes over, but Christy knocks her down easily. Gene and Sophia are fighting back to back, but as I watch, Suchet swipes Sophia’s knife out of her hand and rams the hilt into her head with a sickening thud. Seconds later, another earth warrior sends Gene flying.
“Why does there have to be so freaking many of them?” I mutter, sprinting towards my fallen friends.
Christy steps in my path. “Going somewhere, traitor boy?”
“Out of my way!” I swing my knife at her, but she bats it aside easily.
“Look around you, fool,” she sneers. “Your allies are dying. Make the right choice and come back to us.”
“I won’t leave them,” I growl, taking another swing. She parries it again.
“And yet they left you when you needed them most,” Christy says, smiling. “Your own girlfriend abandoned you for Saket.”
“She didn’t love him,” I insist, but Christy’s words have planted a seedling of doubt in my mind. Does she really love me? What if Christy is right?
“Stop lying to yourself,” Christy responds, sensing my uncertainty. “Sophie tells nothing but lies, remember? She said that she never abandoned you, but she lied. How do you know she didn’t lie about loving you?”
“Shut up,” I snap, ramming my blade into hers.
She laughs. “Oh, poor Dean. You went back for Sophie and only for Sophie. Now that she’s turned her back on you, why do you still fight for them? Nothing holds you to their side now. You don’t belong there anymore. You belong with us.
“But -- but they’re my friends...” I say weakly.
“You’re the only thing keeping them alive at this point,” Christy says. “But after all you’ve done for them, do they honor you? They don’t even see you as their leader. Look around, Dean. These people fear you; they’ll never see you as one of their own. And if I’m defeated, what will stop them from turning on you? After all, you’re a mutant now. Like me. They don’t trust you, and they never will.”
“Dean!” Sophie’s voice cuts into the conversation. She’s halfway across the battlefield, desperately trying to hold off two earthen men. “Help--!”
“Don’t be fooled a second time,” Christy warns. “Join me. I would make you my second in command. We could teach these people to respect us.”
My knife dangles at my side uselessly. “But you’re a murderer. I can’t be like you. I can’t kill people the way you do. They don’t deserve this.”
Christy’s eyes narrow in anger. “Oh, Dean, you’d be surprised at what humans are capable of doing. The Holocaust, the Crusades, the World Wars... human cruelty is worse than anything I could even dream of. Honestly, this nowhere near the horrors humans deserve.”
“These people are innocent teenagers,” I argue.
“They’re teenagers who waged war on me. I would’ve been merciful if they hadn’t done so!”
Dean!” Sophie shouts again, and I realize that she’s about to be overpowered.
“Prove your loyalty,” Christy urges. “Let her die, and I’ll forgive you of everything you’ve done against me.”
“I...” The words stop in my throat.
Christy’s lying. She has to be. Sophie would never leave me; she’d love me no matter what.
But she went off with Saket without looking back. She abandoned me and lied about it. How do I know that she really loves me?
Then I remember what I told her in that alley, seemingly eons ago. I’d said that it didn’t matter whether she loved me or not, and that it was enough for me to love her.
Those words still hold true; they have to be true. If I don’t have that, I don’t have anything. I’m human, and I have a heart. I have to keep it that way.
“Sorry, Christy,” I say. “But I’m not like you. I don’t kill the people I love.”
Christy sighs. “It was worth a try. What a shame, though. You would’ve made a wonderful lieutenant.”
Then, faster than lightning, she raises her knife and brings it down on me. I move out of the way just in time to keep my head on, but the blow tears a long, deep cut down my side. Blood pours out, a feeling I’m way too familiar with.
My fiery blade sputters out. The world around me is spinning, spinning too fast, and I can’t stand up.
Like a snake, Christy strikes again. An explosion of pain tells me that she almost cut my arm off.
She’s just playing with me, drawing out my death. The real deathblow will come soon.
I brace myself, but instead of the silence of oblivion, I hear the muted sound of metal clattering against the dirt. Christy’s scream quickly follows.
Through the haze of pain, I notice that Christy’s no longer holding her knife. There’s something silver poking out of her palm, though. I squint. Is that the Asphodel insignia?
Sam leans into my field of vision. “We got you, bro,” he says, his hands outstretched. I grasp them tightly and, ignoring the pain, manage to hobble to my feet.
“I thought only diamonds would hurt her,” I say.
He shrugs. “Apparently, steel works, too. If you throw hard enough.”
“Thanks, man,” I croak. “You’re the real MVP.”
He shakes his head. “I can’t help Sophie. She’s surrounded...”
Just then, one of the earth warriors knocks the knife out of her hands, leaving her utterly defenseless.
“Give me a hand, Sam,” I say. My legs wobble under me, threatening to collapse any second. My head is woozy from blood loss, but Sophie’s face is clearer than ever. I have to help her.
“You can’t go back into the fight,” Sam insists. “We have to get you somewhere safe!”
I’m not listening. Instead, I channel all of my remaining power into one blast of fire and let the inferno rise high in the sky. The flames arc over the battle and descend upon the minions attacking Sophie, reducing them to little mounds of ash.
I crumple to the ground, my clothes smoking. The embers had instantly cauterized my wounds, but I’d lost too much blood already. And I’d barely made a dent in the enemy army -- two warriors were nothing. They’d be replaced quickly.
Sophie dashes over to me, her expression one of horror. “Oh, God, Dean...”
“No time,” I cough, pushing her hand away. “Glass.”
“What glass?”
“The shard. The one I gave you last night.”
The realization seeps into her expression. “No... Dean, no way. I can’t--”
“There are too many,” I say. “We can’t keep fighting all three of them at once. But if we can kill one of them, our friends stand a chance.”
“Slay a friend and an enemy will die,” Sophie murmurs. “Which friend, then?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” I ask.
She shakes her head. “I can’t kill anyone here. They all have a chance at life--”
“Not me."


Chapter 42

*Lulu Lin*
“Wake up, Alisha,” I whisper as I shake the younger girl’s shoulder. “It’s time.”
Alisha’s eyelids snap open. “We’re leaving already? What time is it? I was only talking to Seraphim for a few minutes, I swear!”
I frown. “Seraphim?”
“I told you all about him, remember? I spoke to him in a dream again. Just now -- before you woke me up, that is.”
“Great, whatever... just come on! We have to leave now.”
Alisha shakes her head. “I can’t go to Obcasa. I have to find the last Seraph.”
My voice dies in my throat. “You... what?”
She nods. “He’s the only one who can actually stop this. Without him, whoever broke Christy out of the Prison will simply do it again.”
“But do you know where to find this... this Seraph?”
Alisha wavers for a moment. “No, but I have a pretty good idea of where to start.”
I shake my head. “No. It’s way too dangerous for you to go off on some wild goose chase. You said yourself that Christy could just break out again, and when that happens, you can’t be alone -- especially not where no one can find you!”
“It’s not a wild goose chase,” Alisha snaps. “It’s the only thing that will put a stop to this!”
“No, it’s the thing that will get you killed, idiot!” I shoot back.
Alisha folds her arms and glares at me. “If you’re so concerned about my well-being, why are you trying to take me to Obcasa? Do I look like a fighter? Do I look like I’ll survive for more than five minutes in combat?”
I hesitate. “How can you be sure that you can find the Seraph?”
Alisha sighs. “I don’t, but it’s worth a try. I’m not a front line combatant. I have to work behind the scenes, and I can do that by finding the Seraph.”
“Fine, then,” I say, making my decision. “You can go.”
“Really?” Alisha sounds surprised. She’d probably expected a fight.
I twirl my knives. “Yeah, but there’s a catch. I’m going with you.”

*Leo Qi*
“Where could they be?” I sigh in exasperation. That morning, I’d gone to gather all the fighters, only to find that Alisha and Lulu were missing. We’d conducted a full search of the city, but they were nowhere to be seen.
Sam, Lulu’s second in command, walks up to me. “They’ve left the city. Lulu’s knives are gone as well, and she never goes anywhere without them.”
“Well, what are we waiting for? We need to find them!”
“Not now. We have to get to Obcasa -- otherwise, Sophie and her team will die.”
I sigh for the second time. “You’re right. But do you know why they might’ve left?”
Sam shakes his head.
“All right, then,” I say, my voice heavy with resignation. “We’ve wasted enough time. Let’s go.”

The journey to Obcasa goes a lot quicker than last time, and by the time the sun comes up, the city gates are in sight. This time, however, we veer away from the city itself and head to the hills beyond.
Two figures come limping towards us from the distance. As they get closer, I realize that it’s Dean and Sophie. My body floods with relief, but it soon is replaced by dread when I notice that Saket is missing.
“Sophie! Dean!” I holler, sprinting up to the pair. “Are you guys all right?”
“No,” Dean says.
The rest of my friends catch up to me. “Wait, didn’t three of you go?” Sam asks, puzzled.
“Yeah, where’s Saket?” Gene adds.
Sophie and Dean look at each other, and my heart plummets into my shoes. Oh, no.
“Saket is dead,” Sophie says bluntly. “But that’s enough talk. Let’s go whip Christy’s butt.”