“We are safe in here for now. Let’s go to an informant of mine and see what the Darkness is going on here,” Victoria stared angrily at the smoke, as if the attack was not on Feldrin, but on her own person. Reil nodded in agreement to her plan, but when the two turned to look for Cent’s approval, they saw only his back as he sprinted toward the nearest door to the district. “Where in the Mother’s name is he going?”

          It took a second, but it clicked in Reil’s mind. “Of course,” he said in a whisper to himself, then louder to Victoria, “he’s going to the nearest gateway into Franklin. He’s going to try to get more people into the safety of the energy field.” Cent’s incredible empathy had a way of putting him in the most dangerous of situations, but he never thought twice about it. Reil on the other hand found himself having to save his friend from his own sense of duty on a far too regular basis.

          “Light damn this child. Let’s go!” Victoria and Reil took off after Cent, already rounding the corner of a street. The pair chased after, feet pounding on the cobblestone roads and stumbling every time another tremor shook the ground. Whatever was causing them wasn’t stopping, it was getting worse.

          By the time they arrived at the gate, the sight was enough to tear at any Heart. People in bloody rags and missing limbs screaming loud enough to pierce the soundproofing of the energy field stood pressed against the field. Alarms sounded from the attempted forceful entries by the citizens, but there were no guards to be seen. One raven haired young man stood at the gate, eyes on the hundreds of people piling on top of one another trying desperately to get in.

           Cent tried desperately to activate the Mass Entry option on his Identification Card, but the reader seemed to have been damaged in the attacks. Letting out a frustrated cry, Cent punched straight through the metal of the card reader, yanking out cables in a bloodied handful. He looked wildly at the colored wires, no idea which ones he needed to accomplish his goal. The cries of the citizens outside the field grew louder with each explosion behind them.

           “Reil, help me! We need to get them inside!” Cent’s cries were painful, and tears were developing in his eyes. Reil rushed to his friend’s side and looked at the mess of wires. He wished Luke had been there, the kid was the best with technology and was always making new inventions out of broken computers and scanners. Back in their time together, Luke had taught Reil quite a few things about electricity, in case he ever needed to escape a cell or break into a locked room during a mission.

          Light, let me use some of that information today. Reil grasped two thin green wires and a thick white one and knelt down to the floor. He grabbed a wire connector that had fallen from the ground when Cent destroyed the card reader. When it was functioning, displaying the ID card would have caused the automatic arm to press the connector between the three wires Reil now held. He tied the thin greens to one end of the connector, and clipped the opposite end to the white wire.

          The instant the connector bridged the three wires, people who had been pressed against the energy field fell through onto the streets of the Franklin District. Cent rushed forward lifting injured people up on each of his shoulders and calling out orders for guards who were only just beginning to arrive at the scene.

          It wasn’t until a soldier knelt next to Reil to help lift an injured citizen that he noticed just who these “guards” were. Emblazoned proudly on the chestpiece in green and gold was the crest of the Al’Mathrin Empire.

          Seeing Reil’s surprise, the guard effortlessly hefted the injured citizen over his shoulder and smiled, “don’t worry, kid. We’re the good guys.” He began to walk over to the medic station that had been erected, “you should make your way to the Docks, and quick. We’re using our ships to evacuate citizens. Go fast and don’t die.”

          Nodding, Reil dusted off his clothes and ran to get Cent. But Light, he’s never going to leave these people. The Al’Mathrin soldiers were doing a fast job of moving the people, placing those with minor inside a nearby building for protection from falling rubble, and those that were injured seriously were taken to the medics who operated under a small, moveable energy shield.

          Reil panted as he neared Cent, who was just dropping off another injured citizen at the medic station. “Cent, we need to go to the Docks. The Al’Mathrins are evacuating the city,” the pleading in Reil’s voice gave Cent a start.

          Cent looked around at the rubble, clearly trying to find a reason to stay, but the streets were cleared, if not covered in blood and dust, and even the medic station was being moved toward the building with the less injured. Nodding at a passing soldier, Cent looked to Reil and wiped off a streak of blood from his cheek, “Let’s go.”

         The two friends set out, Reil finally turning his coat off, and waved to the soldiers as they left. Between tired pants and the dodging of rubble, Cent talked of the Al’Mathrin men with awe, “those are the types of men I think of when I think of soldiers. Men of honor, who come to the rescue of the helpless, with nothing to gain from it. Those men are true soldiers. They are the ones who make a difference.”

          It became more and more apparent to Reil as to why Cent so quickly accepted his request for them to head to the Docks for evacuation. He wasn’t running from the injured citizens, he was running toward a way for him to help even more people. Cent was going to enlist in the Al’Mathrin army.

 

~`’~

 

          It was dark by the time the sweat covered pair got to the Docks, having run longer than they ever had before. Falling rubble, ion bombs, and the booming of cannons were good motivators to keep running. Cent skidded to a stop and tackled Reil to the ground as the blast of an ion cannon tore through the air above their heads and turned a skyscraper into a smoldering pile of concrete dust and flames.

          A massive Wallace-class Destroyer loomed in the night sky above the two friends, flames and explosions lighting up the smoke and cloud covered air. Targeting lights searched the city and small ion bombs rained down from above and collapsed entire districts of Feldrin.

          One of the targeting lights blinded Reil as it moved over him and Cent, the two of them covering their eyes and trying to make a run for safety.

          “Worry not friends, I will escort you to the evac location.” A loud voice filled with confidence sounded from behind Reil. He turned to look through squinted eyes and as soon as he saw who was talking, his eyes popped open and nearly jumped out of their sockets.

          It was a fully casting-armored Wizard, with both the crests of the Wizard’s Guild and the Al’Mathrin Empire gleaming side by side on his broad chest. With the armor, the purple and silver of the Wizard’s Guild and the green and gold of Al’Mathria intertwined seamlessly, the Wizard stood nearly seven feet tall and his eyes glowed from use of Magic.

          The man had been casting since the beginning of the battle, no doubt, but looked as if he hadn’t lifted a finger all day. The perks of casting-armor; it kept a Wizard full of energy to use for casting, keeping them awake and full of strength through an entire battle.

          With a roar, the Wizard lifted his hands, palms out and fingers tensed, toward the Destroyer. A red targeting laser appeared on the chestpiece of the Wizard’s armor, thought he paid it no mind. He began to separate his hands with immense effort, and a creaking of metal pierced through the night, overpowering the sounds of explosions. “For Al’Mathria!” The Wizard yelled as his hands fell limply to his side and he collapsed to his knees, eyes remaining locked on the Destroyer.

          At the same instant his hands had fully separated, the Wallace-class Destroyer ignited into a series of explosions and the airship was rent in two pieces, fire and smoke bursting from every seam. Flashing warning lights and sirens sounded off as the pieces fell helplessly to the ground, crashing with a titanic explosion.

          A gloved hand pulled Reil to his feet and the man shoved him forward, “we need to keep moving. My armor is low on power, let’s try not to draw anymore attention to ourselves.” The Wizard ran fast, making sure to keep Reil and Cent moving as fast as they could. With the help of Magic, the man could run far faster without tiring, but he stayed with them the entire way to the Docks.

          Reil found it hard to think of anything other than the immense power the Wizard could wield; he’d heard stories of Wizards his entire life but never believed he’d see one in person. The Wizard not only lived up to the stories, but with modern casting-armor, exceeded them.

          The party made good time; Reil found himself running with newfound vigor. At first it didn’t make sense, but he noticed a slight glow coming from the Wizard’s eyes and realized the man had been empowering Cent and himself the entire run. Even his bruises and sores felt better, and his legs felt like they had miles of running left in them when they finally reached the Docks.

          The Docks were a disaster. Normally one of the most scenic views in the system, a place for the largest star cruisers, battleships, and cargorunners in the entire universe to come together to trade, refuel, hire crew members, and get repairs. It was placed on the edge of Feldrin, where a cliff plummeted 3 miles down. Docks, loading bays, and catwalks were constructed all over the cliffside to form a structure that confused even the most experienced of star captains.

          Now, however, most of the structures were demolished, with smoke and fire coming from all directions. Explosions could be heard one after another following the miles down the cliffside as damaged ships fell and crashed into the walls of rock.

          Amid the wreckage, the Wizard pointed and yelled with his gruff voice, “The Everlight, that’s our ship!” Reil could only make out part of the ship through the smoke, but the colorways of the Al’Mathrin Empire were clear, and their cruiser was the largest thing Reil had ever seen in the sky.

          The Wizard held his hand up and cast a massive ball of light as a signal flare, and almost as quickly as the color appeared, the Everlight’s boosters could be heard roaring to life. The ship could not wait at the edge of the Docks for citizens, as the damage was far too great. But stationing off the dust and hiding in the smoke was a clever strategy.

          “Help the others up, they may be too injured to get onto the Everlight by themselves. It’s not going to be an easy ride,” the Wizard’s face was hard and his jaw set. Even with the aid of his casting armor, using Magic through the day had clearly taken a toll on him. Cutting deals with Mother Yvesu was a one sided-game, and She certainly never lost.

          Reil ran toward the crowd of citizens who had been waiting at the Docks for the Al’Mathrin evacuation. He followed the Wizard and noticed Cent had already left to tend to the injured as soon as they had reached the Docks.

          Al’Mathrin soldiers formed a barrier around the cowering and scared Feldrin citizens, but opened their ranks as soon as they saw the Wizard headed toward them. Every soldier snapped to attention at his presence and saluted him with 4 fingers extended and placed over their chests.

          “Prepare yourselves, men! The loading bays have been bombed to Darkness and with the smoke the Everlight is going to have minimal visibility. That means our ship won’t be able to dock correctly. I will control the air to create a bridge from the Docks to the ship, but I won’t be able to hold it for long. We will have to move fast, and I want no one left behind,” the Wizard spoke his orders calmly over the crowd of people and the sounds of explosions, but with the aid of Magic every word could be heard crystal clear. It was risky to waste energy at this point when he could have simply shouted, but he needed to keep the crowd calm.

          Reil, Cent, the soldiers, and a few others were deemed healthy and would be the last to load onto the ship. Reil strained after a full day of running to hold injured people on both shoulders and lead them to the Everlight.

          When he got to the edge of the docking platform, his heartbeat went crazy. He knew he’d have to walk across a Magic bridge to get to the ship, but he hadn’t expected it to be invisible. I have to do this, or people will die, Reil reminded himself.

          He took the first step and was surprised to find a hard, solid surface hanging in the air. With his new confidence, he charged across the bridge and dropped off the two citizens and rushed back for more. As his eyes met with the Wizard’s, the man nodded with a strained smile. He can’t hold that bridge much longer. His armor might already be empty.

          If that was true, the Wizard could kill himself accidentally by overextending his powers and holding the bridge longer than his body was capable.

          By the fourth run across the bridge, the only people left on the Docks were the soldiers, Cent, Reil, and the Wizard. The Wizard put a hand to his ear and spoke to the star pilot of the Everlight, “we’re going need you to pull in closer, I’m dropping the bridge and we’ll have to jump for it.”

          The man then sagged to the floor as his energy left him. Reil caught a glimpse of the power meter on the casting-armor; it was at less than one percent and flashing critical. “Alright men, I’ll be last on this ship, now move, the Everlight can’t stay here longer. We’ve already caught wind of GavFed fighter jets coming in as the clean up crew. If we aren’t gone by the time they get here, we won’t make it out of orbit.”

          Reil was shocked at haste with which the soldiers obeyed orders. With the last words out of the Wizard’s mouth, two soldiers sprinted forward and leaped onto the open loading bay of the Everlight.

          Two by two, the entire team was on the ship, and Cent looked to Reil with a grim nod. “We gotta make this jump, we can make this jump.” Reil tried to calm himself as Cent lined up for the sprint. At the last moment Reil looked to the Wizard, who had only just stood up.

          “And you? You’re exhausted, how will you make the gap?”

          “Whatever I may look like, kid, remember this one thing because it negates all others; I’m a Wizard.” With that, the man’s eyes glowed slightly once more and Reil’s exhaustion left him; this was his chance to make the jump.

          “Thank you,” Reil nodded and then charged toward the edge of the Docks with Cent and jumped, out into the air with three miles of cliff below. He felt confident as he flew through the air, closer to the loading bay, when a delayed bomb detonated some thirty yards below the Everlight.

          The cruiser rocked back from the blast and Reil and Cent were thrown higher into the air from the force. Reil blacked out momentarily but quickly reawoke, Cent was not as lucky. When he realized his friend was unconscious, Reil could feel a power surge through his bloodstream. It was like when the Wizard had given him strength while they were running, but a thousand orders of magnitude stronger.

          As they began to fall, Reil faced the Everlight and stretched his hand out to it, pulling with all his might. The entire ship shifted in the air towards the falling bodies of Reil and Cent, and both young men crashed onto the loading bay floors with a crack. The last thought Reil had before he blacked out was, there goes my Light forsaken ribs again.

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