One night, Mitilda and Hobart were vanishing rock in their tunnel when they emerged somewhere in the palace. "We did it!" Mitilda almost shrieked.
"Shhh! Don't be stupid ye idiot!"
There were no guards in the room, thankfully. "Okay," she whispered. "We just need to find our way out of the palace preferably without running into guards. There are probably some by the door, so we should look for a window."
They found one in a large hall, opened it quietly by vanishing the perimeter of it, and flew out on rock platforms.
Mitilda couldn't stop shaking with excitement. "For all my experience running from guards and breaking the law, I never knew it could be so exhilarating. Never knew freedom could feel this good."
"Thank ye," Hobart said. "Without ye I'd have gived up trying to escape. Thank ye."
Mitilda smiled. "Without ye I might be dead. So where are we going?"
"I don't know. We ought probably go talk to the Greywoods. After that, we'll need to figure out where we can go to avoid being found by Zerik again. My mana..."
Hobart tried to put himself down, but before he could make it to the ground his mana cut off. He landed in a heap.
No... they were still inside the city walls! And now Hobart had mana exhaustion. Guards were swarming toward them, shouting for them to halt. Mitilda didn't have enough mana to fight them all off.
It was critical that at least one of them made it back to inform the Greywoods of everything they had learned. She could just keep flying away by herself and leave Hobart, guaranteeing the most important thing. But she didn't want the greatest triumph of her life to be marred by sacrifice and the shame of cowardice. She could do better than that. These guards didn't know how low on mana she was.
Mitilda set down alongside Hobart, and fired a bolt of lightning at one of the guards' face, burning her skin with the intense light. She tried to project as fierce and confident a voice as she could. "Don't come any closer, any of you!"
The guards stopped. They looked at each other for input, and then one of them spoke. "You should surrender, girl. There are dozens of us. We could kill you even with your magic."
"You underestimate what you do not understand." She pointed to the guard she had injured. "That was just a warning. I can do more than that. Lucky for you, I like peaceful solutions. So just let us out of the city and none of you have to die."
They conferred amongst themselves a bit more. Mitilda continued, "Don't be stupid. Don't get yourselves killed for no reason. Just open the gate before I lose my temper."
"Kill her," one of the guards with a captain's insignia said. "She's no match for all of us." But he made no offensive move himself, instead signaling for his underlings to attack.
Mitilda tensed, looking all around and ready to fire her last lightning bolt. But no one wanted to be the first one to move. They were bad people, and so of course they were more loyal to their own survival than to any cause they served. Would that be enough to save her and Hobart?
"Stop trying my patience and just open the damn gate," Mitilda told them. They stood there for a while longer, still no one moving. Finally she decided to give them an ultimatum. "You have five seconds."
This was risky. If they didn't succumb to fear, she would have to attack again to stay believeable, and if she ran out her mana too it was all over.
But they did. A few of the guards on the ground with her ran away, and the rest quickly followed, including the captain. The gate guards on top of the wall opened the gate as her eyes fell on them.
Hobart was still incapacitated, so she ordered one of the wall guards to come down and carry him, and he obeyed. They began to walk toward their home city. When they were safely out of view, Mitilda sent the guard back.
"That did not just work..." she said as she collapsed with relief and tiredness.
"Are ye sure that was worth the risk?" Hobart said. "What mattered most was that one of us maked it back to inform the Greywoods of what we learned. Ye risked that just to save me."
"You're welcome, Hobart. Good people take risks for each other."
"I guess we're even now," he said with a smile. "Also... call me Leuis."
I was woken by someone shaking me and a familiar voice. I opened my eyes. What I saw snapped me awake.
"Mitilda?! You're alive!"
"Yep! Long story!"
We hugged. It was the first time I had ever sincerely hugged anyone. "I thought they executed you..." I whispered.
"That's what the king told everyone. I have so much to tell you, Jaydin... I thought you were dead too for a while. Also, there's an old friend with me."
I looked to the side and saw him standing with the Greywoods. "Hobart! This is too good to be true!"
"Call me Leuis."
They told me the story of how Zerik had secretly kept them around as prisoners for a year until they escaped, of how they had learned about seed creation from him, of Hobart's name change and all. I told them the story of how I met Alistair and Katherine after escaping from the city. They got to meet the Sentinels and all. We talked for a long time.
"We may have a problem on our hands," Yildirim said after a while. "Zerik will search the pillar for you tomorrow, and, not finding you, and discovering the Greywoods have also disappeared, and remembering how Jaydin and Beatrice disappeared similarly, he may get an idea that you all had somewhere to go. Again, if the Voren even suspect we exist, they will find us."
"I didn't think of that when we escaped," Mitilda said. "We should launch the revolution now. It might be our last chance."
"We are still too weak to defeat them. If we launch our revolution and lose, there will never be any more Sentinels. The Voren will rule the pillars forever."
"Well at least this way we'll get the surprise strike still."
"Let us not be too rash. We should look for another way first. What if..." Yildirim sighed.
Katherine spoke. "What if Mitilda and Leuis go back? If Zerik doesn't search the pillar for them, there's no danger."
"Hell no," Mitilda said. "I will not go back to prison willingly."
"Not even to serve the cause at large? You'd be a hero."
"No. Period. Let's just take the Voren by surprise now."
"We can't win," Katherine said. "That's certain death for all of us."
Mitilda said, "If you try to force us to go back, and we resist, and you end up killing us, we'll lose total power. Power it'll take you a long time to regain at this rate. And every day you wait, there's a risk. Not just that the Voren master might decide to scan for you out of pure speculation, but what if one of you - especially Yildirim - catches some incurable disease and dies? The cause would be doomed."
"She has a point," Yildirim said, "Especially if Jaydin tries to stop you from killing them and you are forced to kill him too."
"But it's certain death," Katherine said. "You have to realize that, Mitilda. Don't be selfish. You won't even have to die! You'll still get to participate in the eventual revolution if you go back to Zerik, only that way we'll have a chance of winning."
"Katherine is right as well," Yildirim said. "We cannot force you to go back, but it is your duty. You will be proud of yourself when the revolution finally happens if you do."
"Let's do it," Leuis said. "It wasn't that bad there."
"No!" Mitilda screamed. "No, okay? You'll have to kill me! I'm not doing it!"
I wanted to yell back at her in anger, but sympathy held my tongue. I wasn't sure I would go back in her position. If I would it would be entirely out of my own fear of dying, not altruism.
"Don't do this to us," Katherine said. "There's no reason not to wait until we're stronger. How will you feel in the afterlife if our revolution fails because you forced us to go before we were powerful enough?"
"How's this for a reason: the longer we wait, the more innocent people suffer. Who's selfish now?"
"At least my way they'll be free eventually. We do not, have, a chance right now."
"I think we do have a chance," Alistair said. "We have the advantage of first strike, and I know how powerful that is from experience. We can divide into several groups each just strong enough to handle one Voren. We could all attack simultaneously and take out several of them before the real battle even starts."
That gave me some hope. "Yildirim," I said. "How many of those groups could we make?"
"Well, I could handle one by myself. Katherine and Rebeka would make a team - the oldest and the youngest Sentinel besides me and the rest of you - and David and Elijah could make another. We could send all of the rest of you after Zerik and you would probably win. That's four Voren down, leaving nine. Perhaps it is not quite impossible... if we get lucky enough..."
Beatrice spoke up. "Am I even worth sending to fight Zerik? I can't fly at all, or shoot plasmas or anything."
"Probably not," Yildirim said.
"Then you ruined my life for no reason."
"Yes. I am sorry."
"Well," I said, "if we're going to do it, we need a new telepathy secret. Let's start working on that."
"Indeed," Yildirim said, "and I have an idea: the number of us there are."
"But that will change," Beatrice said. "If one of us dies and the others don't know about it, wouldn't that break the channel?"
"Good catch. We can make it the number of us there was when we started. Thirteen - we won't count Beatrice."
"Did I just save you?" Beatrice said. "If I hadn't said anything, would you have noticed that? What if you end up winning this war because of that?"
"Then you'll have saved the world from eternal oppression," I told her, since she seemed to be angry at the thought of us abducting her and then her saving us all. "That would mean we didn't ruin your life for no reason. Be happy if that happens."
"Thank you, Jaydin," Yildirim said. "Now, as soon as we all have enough mana, we will attack. In the meantime, we should try to get some sleep."
A few hours later, I was woken by Rebeka playing music on her flute. "Is it time?" I asked her.
"I just went outside. The sun is up."
We started to wake the rest of the Sentinels, and Yildirim agreed that we should go before we risked being too late. Mitilda and Leuis were particularly difficult to wake.
"It's time for your revolution," I told them as I shook Mitilda and Nayomi shook Leuis.
Mitilda began to rub her eyes. "We didn't sleep at all before we escaped..."
"Well that's your own stupid fault," I said. "It was your decision to do this."
"You can still take it back," Katherine said. "You can still go back to Zerik."
Mitilda got up immediately. "No. We can do this."
"Alright then. Let's fly."
We got on our platforms and left the hideout, dividing into our four groups.
We arrived at the seventh pillar, Zerik's city, and set down on top of the palace. I saw the shaft Mitilda had mentioned.
"He's in there alright," I said after a brief scan. "His power signature is enormous."
"I know," Mitilda said. "Ready?"
"Heck yes. Time to finally do what I spent the last year preparing for." I notified the other Sentinels telepathically that the last team was in position, and then flew down the shaft, everyone else behind me.
I entered the room. Unfortunately, I entered facing the wrong direction, so Zerik saw me before I saw him. He reacted instantly. I turned around just barely in time to dodge the blast of sky.
The rest of us poured down the shaft as quickly as we could, but we had to go single-file, and the last one of us, Harold, was caught and frozen to death by the next blast of sky.
Various plasmas came flying from all of us, but before any of us could hit him he telekineted the door open and flew out. "Drat!" he said. "How did you get so many of you to be this powerful?"
We chased after him, me still in front. "Surround him!" I said while dodging more sky blasts as the rest of us poured in behind me. The guards in the room fled when they saw our power.
We tried to form a circle around Zerik, but he kept slipping through and managed to hit Gabriel with a sky blast too, freezing him to death. Sarah screamed in anger as she casted lightning bolts at him, but he dodged all of them and soon picked her off too.
"Dammit!" I said out loud. "Be more careful everyone!" I realized what a stupid thing to say that was as soon as it came out.
"Should have just ditched your consciences and this wouldn't have happened!" Zerik said.
I got an idea. I picked up the carpet from the floor and telekineted it to block Zerik's vision. Nayomi caught on to my idea and timed a sky blast to hit at the same time as I cut a hole in the carpet for it to fit through, but Zerik had known to dodge.
I didn't see what we could do except just keep throwing plasma at him and hope to hit. But he just kept dodging everything. Mitilda tried to get him with a sand blast, but he deflected it with wind and it hit her and Leuis instead.
I rushed to put up a wall of darkness between him and them so he couldn't target them as easily. Of course, he penetrated it with his much stronger light magic and sent two fireballs seeking Leuis, who was expecting more skyblasts and tried to protect himself with fire. His scream of pain only lasted a brief moment before he died.
But there was no time for grief. We had to win this quickly, before it became impossible.
I tried the carpet again. Alistair was keeping him facing away from it, so I levitated it upward and engulfed him in from behind. He instantly cut it to shreds, but before he could get his bearings back Mitilda's lightning hit him in the face. He didn't die instantly, but the intense light ruined his eyes, and we were able to finish him off.
The four of us that remained - me, Mitilda, Nayomi and Alistair - set ourselves down, breathing hard for a while. "We did it," Mitilda said. "We overthrew the king."
I was still reeling from what had just happened. I came prepared for friends to die. But losing four of them in just a few seconds was so much it was... desensitizing. Especially right after fortune had given Leuis back to me. He would never get to laugh with us about our victory once all this was over. How would any of us be able to laugh after this? I would just be thinking about all the fun people that deserved to be there with us. We didn't even get to say goodbye. And suddenly I appreciated that word in a way that I never had before.
"But at what cost?" I said. "We lost half of us. We lost the man who made this possible."
"Then we'll have to do better next time." Mitilda spoke over the telepathy channel: "We took out Zerik."
"Excellent," Yildirim said. "We were all victorious. Now, we will-"
Mitilda cut him off. "Also, the Voren telepathy secret is that their master's name is Taliv."
"Huh?" I said.
"He told me over our telepathy channel during the battle. He said if he died, he wanted his last deed to be helping us."
Sure enough, now that I knew the secret, I could hear Taliv talking over the Voren telepathy channel. She ordered three of the nine remaining Voren including her to each of the pillars the other Sentinels had hit. Nobody got sent to ours.
"Good to know," Yildirim said. "We'll all be regrouping at Rebeka and Katherine's pillar. Three Voren will take all of us to defeat with minimal losses."
"I don't think we have enough mana to make another interpillar journey," I said. "Sorry."
"Understood. Yildirim out."
I said normally, "So Zerik didn't tell her he was being attacked, did he? Maybe Leuis was right about there being good in him. But he didn't say he wanted to switch sides..."
Mitilda nodded. "I guess he still wanted to win and continue his rule, but he felt the pull of conscience enough that he'd rather die helping his killers than die helping his buddies. I still hate his guts, and I would've given him a more painful death if I could."
Nayomi said, "Surely it distracted him a bit though to send the message, didn't it? It makes me wonder... could we have turned him if things had been just a little bit different?"
I looked back at the four dead bodies besides Zerik's lying on the floor. "We should bury our friends."
"No time," Alistair said. "We need to go liberate the other four cities on the pillar. And we can't be wasting mana on telekinesis."
I clench my fists, wanting to resist Alistair partly just for the sake of it. But he's right. Innocent people are being oppressed right now and it would be selfish of me to delay their rescue. I have to do the right thing.
"Okay, but we're burying them by hand when we get back."
"I claim our hometown," Mitilda said immediately. "I wanna kill Nemesis personally."
We split up, sending one of us to each remaining city, Alistair staying behind to liberate the center city first. I was going to the city Mitilda had visited on her and Gabriel's mission.
A few minutes later, I was at the city. I flew over the wall and landed next to the gate. "Guards! Attention!" I spoke with more confidence and firmness than I ever thought I'd speak with. These guards once daunted me, but now they were nothing to my power.
The guards looked at each other, not having seen magic like this before.
"Your king is dead and I am liberating this city! If any of you want to live, give your weapons and armor to the townsfolk."
"Arrest him!" the guard captain said.
I casted a ball of neon at him, killing him. "Anyone else want to die?"
With that, the guards began to obey. I assigned them to spread the word throughout the town.
This wasn't as exhilarating as I had imagined. All I could think about was the larger picture: the Voren who were probably going to kill us all and retake the pillars by the end of the day. Alistair had been right that we should do this, but I couldn't stop myself from thinking about how it wasn't going to matter.
I gathered the townsfolk and filled them in on what was going on. I also met the families Mitilda and Gabriel had recruited on their mission.
A boy my age approached me. "Is there nothing we can do? When Mitilda got us into magic, I got excited that one day I'd get to help with the revolution... but I only have one year of practice. It sounds like I'm worthless against these Voren."
This boy sounded like Mitilda. He would have seemed crazy to me at the start of all this, but now I understood. He was just a really good person. I thought after what I'd been through, I would have felt the same way if I couldn't help with the final battle.
"You are. I'm sorry. But there would have been people in your position no matter how long we waited."
The boy looked down. "What did I do wrong? Is it somehow my fault that I don't get to play a role?"
I spoke on emotion next. "That's wrong! It's not poetic justice or anything, the world is just a messed up and unfair place! You obviously deserve this role a lot more than I do! You'd make a way better hero than me if you had the same chance!"
The boy was shocked by my outburst. "So... it's just luck then? I don't want to believe that. If I have to be helpless, I want it to at least be my fault!"
Whoa. He was... this was the kind of person who really deserved to be flying around killing Voren. He was trying to trade safety for a role in the cause, and he was trying to take responsiblity for what really wasn't his fault. This is the kind of person the Voren hate.
But I could tell he wanted a logical answer, rather than more emotional connection. "Well," I said, "I guess you could have tried magic on your own before Mitilda recruited you. You knew the government was evil. You should've assumed they were lying. Then you might have been powerful enough by now. But don't worry. If we win, there will still be battles for good to fight."
"Thanks," the boy said. "We can only hope you win."
Before I left, I thought of one last thing to say to them. "Also. If we lose, this is your chance to get out of the city before the Voren retake the pillar. You should enjoy your freedom while you can." With that, I left to rejoin the others. Meeting that boy gave me newfound inspiration. I had to do whatever it took to maximize the chance that he got to be free someday.
I walked back to the king's city instead of flying. I figured there was nothing urgent going on there, and I needed to start regenerating some mana.
On the way, I heard some chatter over the Voren telepathy channel. Of the three Voren the others were tangling with, one had died and the other two were fleeing. Taliv said, "It is not possible that people from the pillars could have grown this powerful right under our nose. The people that occasionally escaped our cities... They must not have been killed by the edge guardians. They must have found a place to congregate and grow together. How and where, I would certainly like to know."
Immediately after, I heard from Yildirim. "The confrontation went well enough. We lost Elijah, but killed one of them. We are en route to your pillar now."
"Acknowledged." I didn't express any condolence for the loss of Elijah, not wanting to waste more mana on telepathy.
When I got back to the king's city, Mitilda and Nayomi were there, sitting in the grass by the gate. "Hi," I said as I approached. Then I saw Nayomi's face. She looked more disgruntled than grieving.
"Did something happen?" I asked.
"Talk to Mitilda."
I looked at Mitilda. "Well?"
"She's mad at me because I gave Nemesis what he deserved."
"Am I to take it that you wasted mana torturing him?"
"And so what if I did? He deserved to suffer!"
My fists clenched. "Drat you! You spent important resources making yourself feel better! Again! What kind of Sentinel are you?"
"There's value in giving people what they deserve."
"And that value is worth putting the fate of the entire world in jeopardy? You're just lying to yourself!"
Mitilda stood. "Well look who's talking! It's the boy who spent most of his pre-Sentinel life not practicing magic, not working toward a revolution, not helping innocent people, just looking out for his own happiness!"
"I've repented of the sins of my past! Besides, so what? Are you just satisfied as long as you feel superior to me? Is that it?"
Mitilda looked away, pausing briefly and returning her voice to a normal volume. "You'll change your tone when we win this battle and you realize it's all because of my recklessness that these people are free decades before they would have been otherwise."
"And if we lose?"
"Stop hiding from what you know is the truth," I said. "There are four powerful Sentinels left and eight Voren. We don't have good odds from this position, and you know it." She didn't answer me.
This was wrong. I should have been enjoying having my sister back. But ever since the argument in the hideout it had been nothing but drama. I guessed having one's actions be so important did things like this to people. It was almost impossible to behave objectively when every little emotional decision hurt the cause. People didn't belong in this kind of situation.