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Chapter 11

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    Maria Catalina Higuera

“You are scamming me!”Enya shouted, slamming her hand on the table and leaving behind a pair of palm shaped burn marks. If Calder was fazed by her little display he didn’t show it, refusing to back awa, “For the last time Enya, I know you struggle with third grade math but the fact is you still owe the bank five thousand dollar”. “Let me see that”, she said, leaning over the table, trying to grab the mortgage card out of Calder’s hands. Maybe monopoly hadn't been such a good idea, I thought, watching the entire thing go down. At least it was amusing as long as I wasn’t on the receiving end of Enya’s wrath, good thing Calder had offered to be the Bank. Today had been my last fight, or my last publick one at least, I was pretty sure that despite my healing my throat was still hoarse from swallowing so much water as Calder had attempted to drown me by forcing liquid down into my lungs, definitely not in my top ten ways to die. The others were in a pretty festive mood, after all we had been given the next day free and the other’s parents would be also leaving tomorrow. After being tense because of their presence for an entire week it felt good to finally relax and just spend some time amongst each other, or as relaxing as it can be when literal elemental fights can break out in the middle of playing board games. First we had tried playing Uno, but as it turned out Hela kept winning because she was sending out her dead friends to spy on our cards and whispering in her ears what we had, suficiente to say that hadn’t ende up well. Petra, who had a surprisingly competitive spirit finally snapped and that's why we had a brand new crack on the wall. Trying to calm everybody down, Draven had suggested playing Monopoly that I knew for a fact was the best recipe to lose friends but had avoided mentioning this as everybody seemed pretty happy with the decision. Despite the others' cheerfulness I couldn’t really say I was sharing in their high spirits. I still fell down from yesterday, from the realization I had come too in the gym...I was just mad at myself for not being able to save my father, angry at my own weakness. This morning, after an arduous teaching session with Alex, that had mostly involve him quizzing me on everything he had taught me that included but was no limited to, “Domain”, “Element staking”, “Domani amplification”, and so many more technical terms I felt like my mind was melting, I had gone over to the library to find David and tell him the plans were cancel, we weren’t scaping or anything of the sort. To my surprise he had reacted angrily at this, the strongest emotion I had ever seen from him so far. I had expected to be somewhat disappointed or even relieved but no anguer. He had incisted he coudl deactivate my Collar complealtly, even the toxin but I had told him that even if he could I still wasn’t going to scape, our plan had been stupid and woulnd work no matter how mucht we hope so. In the end I had ended up giving him a small speech similar to the one Coach had given me in the gym yesterday about finding the root of your anger, which just caused him to storm off fuming. I wasn’t sure whether we were still friends but honestly I prefered for him to hate me here, in the Den and its safety, than for me to have to hate myself for having led him to his death. Enya and Calder had appeared to come to some form of agreement as it was now Dravens turn and after his it would be mine. I couldn't say I was doing that well in the game, not like Petra that had amassed a small empire of the most expensive properties and was slowly but surely driving everybody to debt, as it was , I was barely staying afloat, Enya hadn't been so lucky. I reached out to grab a chib from the half empty bowl but frozen mid way a strange sensation overtaking me so strongly I almost forgot how to breathe. “Are you okay?”, Draven asked, noticing my sudden change in demeanor. My eyes widened as I suddenly realized what the feeling was, my danger sense was going off, I had just never felt it this strongly before, I could barely resist the urge to take off running like a mad man. “We have to-”, I began but was unable to finish as I was suddenly blinded by a searing pain in my head that made me double over, grabbing my temples as I groaned in pain. “Asher!”Several people called out alarmed, getting up from their places to reach out for me but I could barely hear or see them. My vision began to turn white and dread filled my entire being as I knew exactly what came next. This time I could see more of the images that flashed across my mind, the most discernible was that of hundreds of Celestials and their Desolation advancing towards the entrance of the Den in between a thick snow storm. Images of the great beasts running rampant inside the familiar hallways that I had once thought were safe. I saw my friend fighting for their lives, I saw the inhabitant of this place running desperately trying to save himself and their families, I saw dead bodies thrown everywhere, their blood coating the white marble floors. The last image, as always, was the cleared one in my head, it was like I was looking at the Den from above ground and far away. The entire place was a huge crater in the ground that kept on collapsing more and more as explosions rocked the ground. Within the fire I could see siluteres clad in black armor and huge beasts killing anybody who had managed to stay alive somehow. Slowly the horrific scenery faded away and I found myself face to face with my friend again, all them wearing faces of concern and fear, they had already lived with a healer, they probably knew I had just had a vision. “What did you-”, Calder began but I cut him short, urgency in my voice. “We have to get out no-”, I began but never managed to finish my sentence as the ground suddenly shook and the sound of a great explosion filled the air followed by screams of fear and pain coming from all directions. “It's too late”, I whispered in horror. Calder, apparently was losing patience with me because he grabbed me, shaking me by the shoulder, “Too late for what, talk Asher!”. “It's too late”, I repeated, almost like I was in a trance, “The Celestial...they're here”.

With a clicking sound all of our collars fell to the ground as sirens began to blare like a pack of howling wolves. “What do we do?”, I asked desperately, my danguer senses were now screaming so strongly in my head I could hardly see straight. Even Calder looked at a loss for words, rubbing the area around his neck were the collar had been moments ago in disbelief, “Uh…”, he began, appearing to be forzign himself to keep it together, “Follow the procedure”, he said, something that wasn’t exactly helpful since I didn’t know the procedure. Another explosion shook the ground, this one sounding closer. It was enough to send all of us into frantic motion. “To the emergency gate”, Calder shauted, attempting to herd us together like a teacher during a school fire as the children panic and go running around without thinking. “There's an emergency gate?”, I asked as we burst out into the empty hallway, looking around wildly. Calder pointed to the direction that went the opposite way from the great hall, “It's that way let's go”, he began, the other following him but I refused to move, or more like I couldn't. “No!”, I called after them, “We can't go that way!”.
They turned around to stare at me like I was crazy, “Really we can't...it's dangerous”, I repeated, trying desperately to convince them. To my surprise Calder was the first to back me up, “Then where should we go?”, he asked, no sarcasm, no arrogance he looked completely willing to trust my judgement and the others followed suit. I pointed towards the direction of the great hall, “It's safer that way”, not free of danger, but still better than the other rute. Calder nooded, “There’s another exit in the medical bay we should head there”. Another explosion shook the ground as we ran screams reaching us from every direction. The closer we got to the great hall the more people there were, mostly carriers but there were also Handlers running around trying to maintain some level of order among the fleeing masses. Ahead of us the screaming got louder as black armor clad figure appeared from the bagan taking down the people closest to them without mercy, their agonizing cries filling the place. Without thinking I was running towards them using my strength and speed to bounce off the walls and cealign to avoid having to push myself through that already terrified group and giving me extra power to launch myself against the enemy soldier, killing several of them just by landing in their mist. Like a pack of angry wolves they turned their attention towards me and away from the way less threatening Carriers,good, all I needed to do was clear a path for them to be able to flee towards safety. “Come on you ugly bstars!”, I taunted them, stepping on the head of one that was still on the floor stunt from my landing. His skull exploded like a watermelon, sending blood and brain pieces flying everywhere. It was enough for them to punced onto me like angry hornets who’s nest had been damaged, unfortunately, for them, without their desolation they didn’t stand a chance. Soon enough their screams were filled in the air like Carrie's one had moments ago as I tore them apart, killing them with an efficiency that could only be learned from the many simulation coaches had put me through, I wasn’t even using my ability. From the ceiling giant spider-like bone monsters began to drop on them like some horror movie scene that would give a nightmare for years. The shadows came to life, cutting them like an industrial cheese slicer while the ground under my feet crack with green energy as Petra expanded her domain and swallowed hoards of them like the very earth had come to life with vengeance. Seeing their quickly dwelling ranks they began to retreat, or at least attempted to do so we weren’t giving them much of a chance. One of them, a particularly tall young man, seemed to be able to keep some form of order among their ranks speaking to them in a strange clicking language. This was the first Celestial whose face I had seen, or at least an mostly unheard face and not one I had crushed to a pulp. Like Lionel had told me he had piercing blue eyes and white hair that fell almost to his neck and was now bloodied and dishaven. Despite the chaos around us he still seemed to notice my stare because he turned to look towards me and hate burning in his eyes, “Asher Hexun”, he spat out, “I would kill you...but our queen had instructed us to keep you alive...unfortunately I can't say the same for your poor father”.
I'm not sure whether I black out for a second out pure anger or I moved just too fast for my brain to perceive but next thing I knew my hands were wrapped around his neck, “What did you say?”, I shouted in his face as his pale skin began to turn blue from oxygen deprivation.
“I say”, he repeated in a choked whisper, “That...your father's death date...is...already set”. I considered crushing his neck then and there but in my blind rage I had still managed to notice something interesting. It was different, foreight, but I could still feel it under his skin, energy, of course...even if they were reached creatures they still had souls...and that kind of energy just so happened to my speciality. There was no mental block stopping me this time, or maybe it was just the fact he wasn’t a fellow dragon, or a carrier or anybody I was reluctant to hurt...no him? and all his people, I wanted them all to suffer, to die writhing on the floor like worms in the sunlight. It wasn’t enough that they had driven my people to near extinction, or hunted the defenseless Carriers for years...now they had also come to destroy the last place where all of us could feel safe...the place so many people called home. His eyes widened as I absorbed his energy, his very soul forcefully torn from his body. Unlike Enya, who had a ridiculous amount of energy hi’s was little more than a whisper and before I knew it he went limp on my hand, blood pouring from his nose and mouth as all organs shut down abruptly from the shock. I threw his body to the ground like it was little more than a dirty rag, it hadn’t been enough, not nearly enough, like a predator tasting blood I was now ravenous, the hunger within me for power held back for so long could finally cut loose. I extended my hand towards the remnant of the Celestial trops, my markings glowing. I didn’t need to touch them, even from here I could fill their energy, their souls that would soon be mine. Like they had been struck down by an invisible hand they all fell down at once dead before they could even hit the floor. I wasn’t nearly enough as I had expected, but then again my first time absorbing had been from Enya so that was hardly a fair comparison. “Hey Asher”, somebody called from behind me, making me jump. I had been a little too focused on the dead bodies that now surrounded me. It was Calder who, with one flick of his hand reablosved a giant ice bubble of sorts he had used to protect the Carriers during the scuffle. “Is it safe to keep on going?”. It took me a second to fully process that he was asking me what we should do, then again I was the only one with danger senses but I knew that even a week ago, even taking this into consideration, his attitude with me wouldn't have been as positive. I took a few deep breaths, calming myself from the power rush I just was in, allowing me to focus again on the one ability of mine that was possibly the most important tool in keeping all of us alieved. “Yes”, I said after a while, “It's..not safe, but it's safer than the other rute”. He nodded in acknowledgement, “Let's keep going, don't stop till we are outside”. Again we all took running staying a good distance ahead of the Carriers to make sure nothing hit them like last time. If anybody out to be a shield it was us, we were the protectors of our people after all, or that was what the Council lady had told us. Speaking of the Counseling I wonder where they were right now. Sure they may all have been brilliant speakers but really old and it wasn’t like you could fight a Celestials with some inspiring speech and even less of a chance of that with a Desolation or maybe the Ha- My train of thought was cut abruptly short as I came to a dead stop, Hela, who had been behind me, bumping into me. “Asher?”, she voiced questionably as the other also took notice and stopped. I shook my head frantically, “We can go that way we cant”, I said, feeling myself going frantic as my danger sense was going off so hard it almost felt like a punch, the realisation that we were trapped nearly driving me mad. “There were should we-”, Calder began but I only shook my head, feeling like pulling my hair out. “There is no way out”. Enya stepped up, “Whatever it is I'm sure we can fight our way through it”, she said, lighting her hand with red fire to emphasize her words. In between my frantick state I still tried to find the words to explain that I was sure if we advanced toward any of the two directions that were our only options we would probably die, I didn’t however get the chance to speak as suddenly the urge to flee overtook me as I heard the sound of a huge thing running over the marble floors, that could only be one thing. “Run!”, I screamed, grabbing the closest person to me, Hela and draguignan her away but it was too late. In seconds they were upon us, their monstrous forms running through the hallways. Giant claws tearing the floor apart trampling over anybody who wasn’t fast enough to get out of their way. Desolations, logically speaking I knew they would be here but still seeing them coming towards us at such ridiculous speeds for such a huge thing was enough to make fears cold hand wrap around my heart. With newfound desperation I took off running all of my past bravado with protecting the Carries gone, all I could think about was getting out of here and fast. Something within me made me turn around at the last moment just so I could witness in horror Hela’s form completely frozen as the two Desolatins barreled towards her. I moved before I could even think, running and tackling her out of the way just as one of the monsters had been about to hit her with one lightning fast stroke of it’s powerful arms, something I got the brunt of instead of her. I feel its long claws tear my abdomen open like wet paper, my insides threatening to spill out. “Oh no, oh i'm so sorry”, She whispered as I began healing the damage, holding my belly close with one hand. “It's okay”, I assure her in between griteth teeth, “You’ve given me much worse”. “Look out!”, Calder shouted, a wall of ice appeared in front of us seconds before one of the huge monsters was going to make another grab for us. There was no running away, now that I had snapped out of my panic I understood that. Behind the Desolation I could see new, fresh trops of Celestial marching towards us, now protected by their great beasts. We were trapped, unable to go in either direction. It would only be a matter of time before there was more Desolation coming our way, the only choice we had was to fight, even if we went down we would stand up to them to our last breath. The others seemed to have come to the same conclusion because they were brazing themselves, subconsciously adopting the formation we alway used when doing mock battles but onliky those times I could see fear in their eyes. This is no war game, this was the real bloody word where one mistake would cost us our lives and those of others, this was no play simulation where somebody would turn the hologram off and the monsters would disappear. “Guys”, Petra said with a shaky breath as the Desolation made more and more progress breaking through Calder’s ice wall that was the only thing holding them back for now. “I just want all of you to know that I love you...and…”. She couldn't continue her voice to choket up. I think this would have been the ideal moment to exchange our last goodbyes. This was usually were somebody would have said, “Well...it has been a pleasure”, while the Carriers around us clung to each other and their families knowing their death was upon them, but things don't often work out like we want them in the real world, no matter how much we beg the universe to give us even thirty second more. Before another world Calder winced and the wall completely crumbled, the two beasts bursting through like the horrors from Pandora's box.

To everybody's credit they reacted just as fiercely, fear and adrenaline being a hell of a drug. The earth began trying to swallow them, cutting short their rampage, bone monsters just as big as them coming forward to fight them, slowing them down enough for all of us to attack. Red beams of light pure energy blinded me as Enya unleashed hell itself upon them. Whenever she lost momentul Calder would attack with water blades and ice shards together with Dravens shadows. At first it had seemed like a desperate attempt to survive or at least postpone of sure demise by a few second but surprisingly the team work was paying off, they were slowly tearing their thick previously seemingly impenetrable armor apart while I stood to the side, fueling them if I notice any of them running out of energy. I couldn't believe it, we were actually winning, but of course, like everything in my life it was too good to be true. The moment the incoming soldier got within earshot one of them made a familiar clicking sound that resonated through the long chamber, like a death sentence. Even knowing what was coming I still gasped in surprise and pain as the pounding sound suddenly began, this time worse than the last time I had experienced as it was now two desolations joining togudered. My vision went double and triple, my head hurt so bad I was sure it would explode. My legs gave up from under me despite my best efforts to keep myself upright, my sense of balance wasn’t exactly helpful as I ended up smashing my face again, the cold, now worse for wear, floor. Even within the haze of pain I could see the others around me also collapsing, though I must say they did put on a bigger fight than me. The last to fall was Draven who had very bravely tried to drag the closest person, Petra away, but it was too much, with a gurgling cry he fell right beside the green dragon. We were done for, I thought as the hoards of soldiers stranded towards us, meeting not resistance, true the Desolation were trapped at the moment, betwhen Calder ice, that i had found was way harder to break than normal one, and Petras emerald they weren’t going to get their beats out of there any time soon...that however didn’t stop them from absoving our energy and rendering us useless, weak. Silently I apologized to my father as the soldier were now around us, I wasn’t going to be able to rescue him, I apologized to my friends, I was too weak, once I had been able to counteract the power of on Desolation, to this day I didn’t know how I had done it, but now as I desperately search for the power I couldn't find it, or more like it was out of my reach. I was going to die...that was all I could think of as one of the soldiers roughing grabbed me and flipped me so I was face up. I wondered if there was an afterlife for us Dragons, I wondered if my father would eventually join me there...maybe that's the way it had always been intended to happen...one day, we would be together, just not on this earth. I clung on to that thought, my only comfort in my last moments. He said something to the other soldier besides them in that clicking tongue and they jumped to action, grabbing me and forcing me into a sitting position holding me in place as another brought out white shackles with the clear intentions of putting them around my wrists. Why weren’t they killing me? I wondered, it almost looked like they were going to capture me instead. I then remember the young soldiers words, the one I had killed, their queen had requested for me to be kept alive, I wasn’t sure which was worse, dead, or whatever horrors I would be subject to under their power. What scared me, however, was whatever would happen to my friends, would they also be capture? or would they be immediately killed? I tried to spot them among the crowd of armored clad soldiers but I couldn't even catch a glimpse of their fallen figures. Would I have felt the moment they died? Would they hate me for not being able to do enough, or would they all be waiting for me somewhere far beyond the mortal world together with Josiah and all the other who had lost their lives for this purpose, this mission that in the end had amounted to nothing, with us, the dragon would die once again, and I wasn’t sure if our species had it within themselves to be reborn out of the ashes again, it looked like the dragon kingdom was done for good. The soldier was second away from clasping the shackles shut when shots resonated through the air, so close it was distinct even in the background sound of explosions and general chaos that surrounded us. Liko domino pieces when you knock over one the soldiers around me began to collapse all with perfectly center bullets holes in their heads, the wounds producing a blue tinted smoke. “Sorry we are late”, A voice I had grown to hate said, walking among the sea of dead bodies.

I never thought hearing Lionel's voice would bring me such joy and relief but here we were. He was wearing his usual clothes with one particular adition. Swung around over his shoulder there was a weapon that looked like a long rifle but with a more futuristic build of shiny black metal and its tip was smoking the same color the wound of the dead soldiers was producing. With him came a group of almost twenty Handlers all carrying similar weapons and behind them...for a second I thought I was hallucinating some scene from a military video game as dozens and dozens of soldiers clad in futuristic special operation gears walked with sureness in their step. “Take down the desolations”, Lionel instructed, “And remember, our priority is to protect the dragon children”. The troops moved with perfect efficiency, surrounding the still trapped beast, several of them began to install tiny ball size packets on top that were little more than a translucent membrane with glowing blue rock on their inside. I could only briefly wonder what those were before one of our soldiers was leaning over me. “It's me Asher '', they said, their voice sounding muffled by the protection helmet they wore. “Dc, Grace '', she added, lifting her visor up allowing me to see her blue violet eyes. “Um..hi”, I rasped out. She patted me on the shoulder, “Don't worry we will get you out here and to safety in no time you will feel much better”. Despite the situation I completely believed her, her words brought me some level of reassurance that had seemed impossible the moment before when I thought that I, along with my friend, were about to die. The soldiers baked away from the beast and a soft but deep humming sound filled the air making by bones rattle and the floor shook as the blue rocks inside the membrakes shone with blinding light. Whatever was happening the Desolation clearly weren’t happy about it, both creatures becoming restless and making repeated clicking sounds that sounded like they were in distress. Whatever was going on it lasted for maybe two minutes before the white glow that always sipped through the Desolations armored weaver they absorbed energy stopped all together and their great heads slumped forward. I felt a wave of relief wash over me as I found myself suddenly free of their power and sat up with new found energy healing whatever weakness remained in seconds. “No time to rest”, Lionel said, as my friends also got up and I moved in to give them some strength back. “What should we do?”, Calder asked, as more and more explosions rockets the place, the air turning cloudy with smoke and ashes, an acrid smell that made people's eyes water and gag contamination the ambient. “We will get you to one of the emergency exits”, Lionel said as the Handlers and troops began to reform around us, “From there a small group will escort you to another secret base where you should be safe”. “We can’t use any of the emergency exits”, I blurted out as the smoke became thicker and the civilians were growing increasingly more desperate for a way out. I could almost imagine Lionel raising a single eyebrow at my comment, “And why can’t we Mister Hexun?”He asked like I was wasting everybody's valuable time. “I...um”, I shook my head trying to come up with the right words, “My danger sense is telling me so…”, I ventured, hoping to not sound more ridiculous than that already sounded. Lionel sighed just as the floor shook so violent people were thrown to the ground, the explosions were getting closer, if we didn’t move soon the normal people would get torn apart. “Its that so?”, Lionel asked, seemingly unfazed by the situation, “Galen come over here”, he shouted and second later a figure that looked no different from all the others around him was at his side but unlike with Dc. Grace this time I knew who was behind the armor. “What are your senses telling you? Are the exits unsafe?”, Lionel asked Coach, who removed his visor so he could look at the two of us directly. Instead of directly answering Lionel he turned towards me, “What is your gut telling you Asher?”, he asket, “Is it safe?”. “It's not”, I said, more certainty in my voice as I saw the trust in his eyes. Whatever I said he would take it as an absolute truth. He gave me a firm nod of acknowledgement, “There's your answer”, he said, turning back towards Lionel, “From this far I can only get stuff from the exit on this hallway and it's unsafe...the rest of the base however? it's well out of my range, so trust the superior healer’s senses”. Lionel grunted, but didn’t disagree with him as I had expected, “Then if all the exits are unusable what do you sujet we do?”. Before Coach could answer Calder jumped back into the conversation again, “We create our own”. He grabbed Petra by the shoulders, pushing her forward, “Asher and Coach will find what is the safest spot to dig and Petra will do the rest”. The girl in question, who still looked slightly stunt from the effect of the Desolations despite my help, only looked at all of us blacly, “Dig? A hole? to the surface?”, she asked with disbelief in her voice. “We have no other choice”, Cocahe said, leaning down so he would be at eye level with her. “But...this is Midnight stone”, she said, sounding more and more anxious, “I can hardly break through it, I will never have the energy necessary to reach the top…I...I cant”. “I'll fuel you”, I said, looking at the coach who nodded, “So will I”. “It's settled then”, Lionel said, before Petra could agree, “Somody contact the D-2 team, tell them to meet and move towards our position as soon as they can”. He gave out a few more orders and before I knew it we were on the move again, this time surrounded by a much bigger group, one that was composed of fighters. It had never occured to me that the Carriers were train to fight as well, or that they could be as agile and efficient as they had so far proved themselves to be, notiong that, now that I thought about was quite stupid. Up until very recently there were no Dragons, only a handful of Haftling and the Handlers, of course the Carriers could fight, they had no one to protect them for many years. Today their home was getting destroyed, today their families were getting slaughtered with less regard than the one given to cattle and yet they were here, helping us, protecting the ones that should have saved them. I wasn’t sure how I could ever repay the favor but one thing I knew, if we managed to get out of here it would largely be thanks to them. “We need to focus”, Coach said, running besides me avoiding the rubble and occasional dead body on the ground, “It's our duty to find the safest place possible to make the tunnel”. I nodded, trying to clear my head from all the bussing, from the fear and anxiety I felt at the moment, something that was only amplified but my friends' own emotions seeping into me. I tried to swallow all this down and concentrate on the one ability everybody was counting on. All this are felt the same, unsafe, not the the point where we need to turn around, hide fo fight, but still it wouldn't do, since I could’ see of hear any nearby enemies it mean that they were probably above us, standing in the surface, waiting for anybody to come up to kill them like some twisted game of whack the mole. Occasionally I would glance over at Coach trying to find if he had gotten anything I might have missed but his expression didn’t change making it more and more evident as we advanced that we would have to go into the great hall to try and find another path way. The closer we got the more damaged the place was, the more smoke filled the air and the more bodies we found, man, woman, children, babies, people from all ages had been slaughtered without mercy on the Celestial’s path, even some young Handlers had lost their lives. Despite the gruesome scene no tears were shed, nobody stopped to close the eyes of the dead, or to mourn their loss, we all had a single clear goal in mind, get out here, we could cry for the fallen after. The only person that seemed to be paying the bodies any mind was Hela who would stop briefly to touch each of them and extract their skeletons as nicely as she could in a hurry, quickly absorbing the bones into herself to use later on. It reminded me of something Alex had one mention during one of our clases. “The more dead there are the more powerful the white dragons become”, I had never doubted his words, if anything I was now even more terrified of Hela and what she was capable of. By the time we reached the great hall the smoke was so thick it was hard to see through it even for my senses, the burning acrid smell so strong I found myself choking. Through the dark screen of ashes we could see the great Hall, or what remained of it, the huge fire pit that had once served to illuminate the area was broken spilling its content of glowing blue rocks, the floor, once smoth and white was now cracked, and worst of all, everything seemed to be on fire. I hadn't thought there was anything particularly flammable in the huge room, rock and marble hardly provide much of an option for fire to spread, however this hardly looked like normal flames, they were stark white and I could feel the heat emanating from them, something that wouldn't have been possible with normal fire. It took my eyes a few seconds to fully adjust to the overwhelming brightness before I began to notice other things too, or more like people, among the flames, black armored clad figure engaging our own soldiers who were suffering more loose thought to the flames than to the actual enemy. Further away, in the place where there had once been an elevator that went to the surface, and the world above there was a huge hole probably made by an explosion and from it hordes and hordes of Celestials continued pouring out like ants the moment their nests were damaged. Had they literally blasted their way here taking advantage of the already created tunel? it seemed like it...there were just so many how could we ever hope to stop them, or to even escape? “Asher”, Lionel snapped in between coughing, it sounded like the smoke was getting to him rather quickly, “There’s... no time to stand around uselessly where should we go?”. I looked around, suddenly realizing all eyes, or at least the visible ones were turn toward Coach and me, we were running out of time, us the dragon may have been able to stand the extreme temperature and lack of oxygen without much trouble but the rest of our group was begging to struggle to stay upright, they needed to be in fighting shape, specially because the enemy was begging to fast take notice of our presence. “Don't worry”, Cocahed said, pointing to the area from where the enemies were coming in, “That area is under control, look closer”. Despite the desperation of the situation I obeid, noticing for the first time that despite their rapid entrance speed they weren’t spreading out instead being confined to rather tight space and the reason became rather ovios as I focused my vision. There was a wall of green emerald vines stopping their advance, groups of them were busy trying to break through but they were making little progress making them easy targets to our soldiers, something evidenced by the rapidly piling bodies that not only included soldiers, but also the previously impossible to beat Desolations. Those vines could only be created by one creature that I knew off, but Petra had been alongside me all this time, which only meant one thing. “Our parents are there”, Calder said from beside me,his eyes searching the flames, the chaos trying to spot them. “That’s right”, Cocached said, “They had the situation under control for now...but things can change in seconds”. I easily caught the meaning in his words, we had no time to waste, I need to get to work. Despite everything that had gone down with them and their parents I could still detect a level of reluctance to keep on moving and leaving them behind from the others, for once they were doing what every parent was meant to do, protect their children even if it meant putting their own lives on the line. It was hard...hard to concentrate through the myriad of emotions, through the hell that had been unleashed around us, the heat, the smell of burning flesh as people were consumed by the relentless fire but I knew I had to, I had to lead us to safety. As fast as I could I looked at all our possibilities, even ones that seemed impossible, the main gate? no definitely no, my intestines turned into knots just at the thought of it, that left all the other tunnels, a lot of them were blocked or collapsed but I still tried not to discard them. “Hey Asher...you may whna to hurry up”, Calder said from beside me as the enemy were now positively beginning to surround us. “I know I know”, I snapped, “I'm trying okay?”. If Calder was mad at me for getting irritated he didn’t show it, “Take your time...but get us out of here”. Behind us the soldiers that were still in fighting shape were getting into position, the sound of gunfire soon filling the air as both groups collided making me even more desperate to find a way out. “That one”, I finally said, pointing to the tunnel that was possibly the furthest away from us then all the others, “That's the best route”. “Took you long enough”, Lionel said, his voice now painfully raspy, “Can anybody do something about this damn fire?” he shouted, receiving no answers, not even from Calder or Enya who were the best at dealing with things of things kind which just further confirmed my suspicions that these were no normal flames. He curse under his breath, turning back to adress everybody very bravely or foolislish turning his back to the enemy, “All right people, we have a rute but we need to contain the situation here, those of you who are the most resistance stay back here and control the situation, the rest with me”. Now he turned toward Coach, “Go and rejoin division D-2 you are now in coman of everybody who is staying behind tell them I said it myself in case they get an attitude”. I wanted to protest that I didn’t want to leave Coach behind. I may have only known him for a short time but I had grown to greatly appreciate the man whose firm but gentle hand had guided me for the past few days...it almost felt like leaving my father behind all over again. “Don't worry kids”, he said, not only addressing me but all of the Dragon children, “I'll join you on you way...and remember I'm not trapped here with the Celestial...they are trapped with me”, with that he put his visor down and ran into the flame that were coming close and closer to us. Things seemed to pass way too fast after that, somebody gave the signal to begin moving and we were suddenly all running through the white inferno. The whie hot flames burned us, liking greedely at our feth, igniting our clothes, our hair.

By the time I got to the tunnel entrance I was panting and shivering, sweat soaking what was left of my clothes. I had been the first one to get there out of everybody, the pain of the burns and the fear of getting ambushed by an enemy in that hellfield was enough for me to push myself to go faster, that however also meant that it was left along to wonder anxiously weather all the rest of my friends would make it feeling incredibly guilty of having left them behind without a second thought. My fear began to dim as Enya burts out from the flames and into the tunnel covered in sut and some burns but otherwise unharmed, I made a move to heal her but she pushed me away. “Save your string for helping Petra”, she said leaning against the closest wall as she tried to catch her breath, her eyes anxiously scanning the white landscape in search of the rest of our friends. Calder was the next to arrive, limping from a deep wound on his leg that hadn’t been there before, and my stomach dropped as I recognized the shape of the incision. “Is it still inside?”, I asked, moving to this side as Enya helped him to a sitting position, his tan skin had gone pale, his face tight with pain. “I think so…”, he said in between gritted teeth, “Damet...I don't know how I didn’t see it coming…”. “What didn't you see coming?”, Enya asked, concerned in her voice, but also burning fury at whoever was responsible for this. “A harpoon”, I supplied, touching the wound gently which made Calder flinch. Honestly I couldn't blame him, I had gotten shot by this before and the pain was something else. Using my ability as a healer to see energy pathways it was easy enough to determine that the harpoon was still inside, it was absorbing all the energy within him and into itself like a parasite, a very painful one. “I'm going to have to pull it out”, I told Calder, whose breathing was becoming more and more irregular by the moment. He gave me a single nood, “Just do it, it hurts like hell”. “You deal with this”, Enya told me, walking towards the entrance of the tunnel, “I'm going back outside and making sure everybody makes it back in one piece”. Before I could stop her she was gone. I thought of following after her and convincing her to stay here but I knew that wasn't going to happen, once Enya had made her mind up about something nothing would stop her from going through with it. “Dammet”, I said, trying to dissipate my worries about her. She was strong, she could take care of herself, I needed to focus on the person that needed my help right now. “I'll try to be quick”, I told Calder before shoving my finger into the wound and diguin around until I could feel the harpoon. To his credit Calder stayed perfectly still even as I began the tedious process of pulling out the offending object, his expression however couldn't quite hide the pain he was experiencing. His eyes were tightly shut, his entire face tightened. I'm not sure which of us grimaced the most when I finally pulled the thing free, the pain from holding it irrading down from my hand and into my arm. Sufficient to say I threw it away from the both of us as quickly as possible. “I'm going back outside”, I told Calder who was still breathing hard from the entire ordeal, “I'll just heal you first and-”. He shook his head, interrupting me, “No...don't waste your energy on me...just go”. Again the same answer I had received from Enya, and again I knew there was now use arguing no matter how much guilt I felt at leaving him with a gaping hole in his upper leg. “Shout if you need help”, I finally told him. He rolled his eyes at me, apparently he still had enough energy to give me some of his usual arrogance though I had long learned it was mostly all an act, “Yeah...like I need your help...just go”. With one final looked at his pale form I took a deep breath before running back into the white hell, the word of pain fear and suffering but this time I wasn’t me running to save myself, I was going in to bring back my friends, and for them I was willing to put myself through it all over again.

By the time everybody was back in the tunnel the fire had begun to spread within it as well, it had taken me a while but I had eventually found Hela and Enya who joined forces with me to find the others. Despite our best efforts the enemy had success in scattering us, there were almost no fighter Carriers left and only around half of the Handlers. Of us, Calder had been the only one who was seriously injured, Hela had bumped into a group of Celestials as well but those had ended up as part of her bone collection. At least when I got back Calder was back on his feet and looking better. I knew we all wanted to keep on pushing forward, but most people were too exhausted or injured to even stand so we were forze to whait, moving only to avoid the advancing flames. Looking around I suddenly noticed that Lionel wasn’t among the survivors. More than anything, I had missed his annoying voice shouting orders. “Weren’s Lionel?”, I asked the closest Handler, a middle aged dark skinned woman's mask had broken, leaving her peculiar glass blue eyes in full display. She only sought, “Who knows? It was madness out there...everybody on their own”, she coughed a few times, trying to clear her throat and only getting a fresh lung full of smoke, “He said he had to go back for somebody”. I frowned, go back for somebody? Apart from us, the dragon children, who could Lionel possibly cared more than himself? The woman turned to scan the white sheet of flame that basically was all that could be seen from the tunnel. “Speaking of the devil”, she muttered, seconds before two figures emerged from the fire, one of them severely limping. It took me less than a second to recognize them, one I had long since become familiar with from the long hour he spent teaching me, and the first handler whos’s face I had seen. Alext suit was surprisingly in one piece the only thing that had probably protected him from buing to a crip, his hair was smoking in a few parts and his face was blackened with ashes, something that I was able to see since his mask was missing witch also left in full sight his face tightened in pain. His leg was broken, it looked like it had gotten smashed by something heavy, blood trailing after him as his bone stuck out at weird angles, not a pretty sight, but unfortunately something I had grown quite immune to by this point, what worried me the most was the person helping him to walk. Despite not looking like he had just gone through hell, his hair surprisingly tidy and his clothes still in one piece, Lionel was the first to collapse out of the two, the huge hole in his abdomen the very likely culpable. The younger handler kneeld by his fallen form, taking his mask off with a surprisingly tender gesture, allowing me to see Lionel's face for the first time. LIke I had initially thought he was somewhere in his forties with a face that would probably have been considered rugeley handsome if not quite off putting because of the scars around his eyes and their peculiar appearance in themselves. He had gone pale, blood trickling from his mouth, I didn’t need a medical license to tell he didn’t have long, something that hit me surprisingly hard considering how little regar I thought I had for the man. Alex seemed to also realise this because his face crumbled as the agonizing man tried to desperately cling on to life. “I'm sorry”, Alex whispered in a quivering voice, “If...if it hadn't been for me…”. “Is okay”, Lionel said, trying to use some is his usual gruff manner but failing, “Its okay child...just promise me...you will remember your mission”. I don't think Alex had any water in his sistem to cry out but I'm sure he would have in those moments otherwise. “I will…”, he said, “I promise”. Now Lionel turned towards me who had stayed a few feet away in stunned silence very unsure of how to react to the situation. If he had been a Haftling, or even a Carried I could have healed him...but as it stood I was unable to help. It had been a hard pill to swallow when Cocahe explained to me that we could only heal those with the particular Soul Energy that the dragons used. Human, Celestial, Handles, and just about any other living being fell out of that category. In this situation I was but a helpless experactor watching someone slowly fade away. “You can break the seal Asher”, he told me his voice sounding choked and more blood poured from his mouth I frowned, coming tentatively closer, “What seal?”, I asked. He opened his mouth to answer and instead a cascade of blood poured out, joining the already significantly large puddle that had formed around and under hism from this wound. “You will know...when the time comes”. With that he took one final shaky breath and when still his marble like eyes still opened but now surely looking at nothing. Alex stood frozen for several seconds, staring at the now lifeless form as if willingly to wake up again, to take another breath but we both knew it was hopeless, Lionel was dead. “He served well”, the same woman I had spoken to before said, shakily getting to her feet and placing a comforting hand on Alex shaking form, “He died for a much greater cause than himself as have many today and trought the ages...but to make their sacrifice worth it we must keep going”. It was then than I notice that almost every eyes had been turned towards this direction, witnessing the entire tragic scene played out like some blockbuster action film, except here nobody was an actor, we were all very much real and Lionel won't wake up after the scene was finished and laugh about it with all us was we took a break before filming the next part, as horrible as it seemed, as hard as it was to accept, this was reality. She now turned towards me and my friends, “We are tired and too many of us are injured, we will only slow you down, keep on going, we will try and keep this place safe for as long as we can...but no promises made so hurry and get out here so our lives will be worth it”. Leave? Run and leave all these people behind to die for us? what about Alex? Or Dc. Grace who I had long since lost track off and was unsure whether she was alived or not, and Coach, what had happened to him? running away now meant leaving all them behind to cover our escape and likely losing their lives in the process. A sound from outside caught my attention before I could answer her, the screams of somebody I knew but hadn't even bothered given a second thought too in the middle of this catrasphy calling to me Before anybody could black my path I was running outside ignoring the pain and the heat. I ran my vision only seeing white, I could hear people screaming and shouting at me to stop. I ignored it all coming to the now collapsed entrance to another tunnel. Yeah...it had come from here...from somewhere below this ruble that was burnin like charcoal on a family barbeque. “I'm coming”, hoping the person I was designing for would hear me as I threw away the huge pieces of rock with increasing desperation, not stopping until I had uncovered a small cavity that was barely big enough for a person, a small person at that. David’s dark brown eyes looked with fear in them, his skin was red, his clothes sticking to his body with sweat. “Asher”, he whispered as I reached down and pulled him out, noticing for the first time he was firmly clutching a backpack against his chest like it was his child. I would have loved to ask him how exactly he had gotten there or what was inside the backpack but I knew that he, without any of the protective gear the other Carries had been wearing, would die in no time in these very extreme conditions. “Take a deep breath”, I instructed as I took him into my arms and jumped right into the air and above the roaring fire. I knew that by doing this I was practically shouting to the enemy, “Hey Im here please come kill me”, but also there was no way David would have survived the trip back and then there would have been no point in me coming out here and risking my life. Only allowing my faith to hit the grown for a few seconds I jumped again, advancing towards the tunnel by liping like a giant frog. At least the tecniche worked and I didn’t get shot out of the sky. “What the hell were you thinking?”The female Handler, who I had gotten the impression was now in charge since Lionel was...well, unable to take the role, shouted at me the moment I stepped foot inside the tunnel, “You have a dead wish or something kid?”. I tried not to cringe under her words as I put David down, who, despite my best effort, had inhaled a significant amount of smoke and staggered a few feet away from me only to violently throw up. “I...just...he needed help”. I said, trying to defend myself. “Oh he needs help”, she voiced back, “And so do the two thousand and someting other residents of this place, wake up kid, the only person we need to keep alive is you and the rest of the Dragon the rest? they can all burn so don't make our work more complicated”. Her words felt like a slap in the face, the fact she had said them so matter of factly and nobody rose to contradict her, not any of the Carriers, not any of her fellow handlers, I looked towards my friends for support but they all refuse to catch my eye design me one clear message, “I was alone on this one”. “I...that...it shouldn't be like that”, I bravely tried to counter back making her scoff. “Well..that is how it is, kid”, she said, “So get used to it”. I wanted to argue further, to come up with some brilliant idea to change her mind but the moments passed and I was unable to figure out something making her shake her head as she turned back to address the meaguer trops. “Its okay Asher”, Alex told me from where he was sitting against the wall, still close to Lionel cooling body, I was still unsure of what the relationship had been there, I had never even seen Alex and Lionel in the same room together yet the young man had reacted way more emotionally than his colleges when face with Lionel’s dea, “We all know your lives are far more valuable than than ours…”. “But-”, I began, only to get interrupted by the woman, “It's time to go now”, she said, get to the safest point posible and dig your way out, if that doesn’t work out figure some other way but make our lives and the many other worth losing you understand me?”. I swallowed, suddenly feeling like a huge weight had been put on my shoulder, the weight of the many souls lost in exchange for a few. “I understand mam”, I said, my eyes lingering on every face in that room, forcing myself to memorize their features, to remember their lives and how they would give them up allowing us to live. From my side view I notice some of my friends doing the same and I knew then that this guilt wouldn't be mine alone to carry. The last face my eyes came upon was David, the one I had left for last because it waited the heaviest on my soul. He still looked disoriented from our trip here, his eyes watering from the smoke as he struggled to breath. Despite all this somebody had already handed him a weapon sending out a clear message, there was no exception, everybody would fight to allow us to escape, even him, who probably had no precious training and was but a library assistant. Why had I even saved him if he was going to die anyway? Had I spared him one gruesome fate just for another? I wanted to bring him with us but would that be fair to everybody else? If we made exceptions like that what would be next? dragging Alex along? Going back to look for Dc. Grace or Coach? I gave him a single nod as he caught my eye, unable to come up with anything else to do or say, even though I felt like apologizing for failing him, as I realized this would be likely the last time I would see him. Despite our fight I still consider him a friend, one that had helped me where everybody else would have called me rightfully crazy.
My only hope, for him, and for everybody else was that somehow we could dig the tunnel fast enough for all of us to get out, but even I knew that was delusional, blood would probably have to be shed, there was no way around it. “I said go”, the woman shouted, pushing me forward clearly growing impatience, “Come on get moving”. With one final look at the sorry group that would cover for us we took off running into the long tunnel that hopefully promised us and only us an escape from this hell.