Yildirim and the others arrived at our pillar. "So Yildirim," I asked when they landed, "What's our plan going forward?"
"I don't know. We have spent our advantage of surprise and we are still outmatched. We need to do something clever to win. Ideas would be appreciated."
I had never seen Yildirim look so helpless. He was always the confident, stolid one who had a plan for everything. If even he didn't know what to do, I definitely didn't.
"Was it worth it?" I asked as an aside. "Losing Elijah to kill one Voren?"
"No. He was much more than a ninth of our force."
"We all gained a lot from killing Zerik," Mitilda said. "We're worth a lot more now. I think we're still gonna make it."
"For your sake," Katherine said, "I hope we do. If we lose, it's your fault, and I'll never forgive you in the afterlife. Nor will you forgive yourself if you're a good person." For the first time I felt the same way as Katherine.
"This isn't the time for that argument," Nayomi said. "We need a plan. Let's stay focused."
Just then Taliv spoke over the Voren telepathy channel. "I'm at the pillar the insurgents were last seen at, but they're not here. I've scanned the whole surface."
Another Voren asked, "So what's our strategy? They could be anywhere."
Suddenly, Beatrice spoke over our channel. "I have an idea. Trust me." Then she said over our old channel, "New orders, sentinels: we're going to send one of us to each of the pillars we haven't hit yet. There are exactly enough of us." She assigned each of us to a pillar number.
Taliv said, "Wow, it looks like they forgot to change their telepathy secret away from their existence. This is going to be easy. Let's see if we can't take them out in one fell swoop." She assigned one Voren to each of the pillars Beatrice had mentioned.
Brilliant... Beatrice was really helping out after all. I thought at that moment that if I could choose one person to survive this besides me, it would probably be her. She deserved it after we ruined her life.
"Well," Yildirim said, "now is our chance to pick off a few more. Let us divide into three groups this time. I can take another one, Rebeka and Katherine can take another, and David and the rest of you can take a third."
"I feel like that's too heavy on our team," I said. "Like Mitilda said, we gained a lot of power from killing Zerik. I suggest switching David and Rebeka."
"That is true," Yildirim said. He looked around for objections, and there were none. "Very well. We shall switch them."
"You've gotten braver, Jaydin," Alistair said. "Putting yourself in more danger for the sake of the bigger picture. I never would have expected that from you."
"I've been inspired by the examples of others." I got up. "Let's go."
We flew to the adjacent (sixth) pillar, on the opposite side as Alistair's pillar. Along the way, we heard the voice of a woman other than Taliv over the Voren telepathy channel. "I'm at the sixth pillar. Standing by until we hear that the assigned Sentinel is here."
"Whoa," Alistair said, "that voice. It's the queen of my pillar!"
We arrived at the pillar shortly after. Its surface was mostly mountainous. I had seen it before - I had seen all the pillars during my training - but I still thought this one was one of the most beautiful. "So where do you think she is?" I asked, still absorbed by the scenery.
"If I had to guess," Alistair said, "she decided to go lounge in the palace while she waited. Let's head there."
We landed on top of the palace in the center city, and confirmed that the queen was in there with scanning. "Ready?" I asked.
"Wait," Nayomi said. "I have an idea. What if we cut around the ceiling and make it fall? If we could just crush her to death without fighting her, that would be a huge gain."
"Let's try it." I started cutting the ceiling.
The others got into position to help me cut so that the ceiling fell all at once instead of slanting down, and it did, and we were even smart enough to be telekineting it downward so the queen couldn't telekinet it herself, but like Zerik she had lightning-fast reactions and cut a small hole in the ceiling right above where she was sitting so she could telekinet just that. Before we could even realize what had happened, she had hopped on her platform and flown a distance away.
"Didn't think that would work," I said as she shot a hail of fireballs at us, which we all dodged or snuffed. "Let's do this like last time." I looked down into the room. There was carpet down there alright, but we weren't down there, I realized. It would be hard to pull the carpet up out of the room without the queen noticing. Could we lure her down into the palace somehow?
"How?" Nayomi asked. "We don't have a... a thingy this time."
We heard the queen speak over the Voren telepathy channel: "The sixth pillar was an ambush somehow! Wish me luck!"
The storm of plasma pellets and sand blasts and sharp bits of rock and ice raged, and Alistair took a fireball, his clothes igniting. He had to turn his attention to putting it out instead of defending.
I got in the way to cover for him. I wasn't going to let another one of us die, even if it was someone who had been mean to me before. I blocked a few fireballs with water, but then took one myself.
I flew around as evasively as I could while cooling the burn, but the queen was determined to finish me off. I couldn't outrun her homing fireballs. She mixed in a couple of neon blasts too so I couldn't protect myself with cold.
I was dead, wasn't I. I immediately regretted the decision to cover for Alistair. Well, if it was going to happen I might as well make it count. I turned around and shot a lightning bolt back, curving it around the incoming plasmas.
The next few seconds didn't play out anything like I expected. Alistair got in the way to take the hit for me. And while the queen was blocking my lightning by canceling it out with neon, Rebeka shot more neon at her instead of defending herself from the remaining plasma blasts still flying around. She took an enormous sky blast and died, but the queen's neon ended up amplifying Rebeka's, killing her too.
We set down to breathe and stop using mana. I could feel the pain of my burn in full now.
Nayomi notified the others telepathically of our result. "Hang in there Jaydin. I'll make some of the anti-burn solution."
"Thanks," I said through my pain as I continued to put cold on it. When I recovered a bit from my shock, I looked at Alistair's fallen, burning body. It had been a beautiful end to our hostility. I decided to put out the fire even though he was dead. "And thank you too, Alistair..."
"And Rebeka..." I said, looking to my other side. "She taught me to play the flute, and showed me the clouds. So many friends..."
Just then, we got a telepathic message from David: "We took out our Voren, but Katherine's dead. She neglected her own defense to make an opening for me."
So she had died a hero. Part of me was disappointed. I kind of wanted to see my disdain for her validated, but instead she had proven that she really was a good person. Now I felt bad about being disappointed. I whispered, "I'm sorry, Katherine..."
"I was also victorious," Yildirim said. "We are left with the five of us against five Voren. Perhaps..."
Taliv said, "This can't have happened. I don't know how, but they're listening to our communications. We're going to regroup at the center pillar and make a new telepathy network."
"Well, drat," Yildirim said. "We cannot beat them all in a straight fight, and now our tactical advantage is gone."
"What do you think of our odds now, Mitilda?" Nayomi said with her normal voice. "Still certain we're going to win this?"
"Yes! I won't let us lose. We still have one advantage left: we're good and they're bad. That means they aren't willing to sacrifice themselves for their cause like we are. We have to use that somehow."
We liberated all the cities on the pillar and then rested for a few hours, letting our mana recharge. Then Yildirim spoke: "We shouldn't rest any longer. The Voren have a new channel by now, and they're probably on their way to where we were last seen."
"I've got an idea," I said. "If we can lure them into our old hideout after weakening the ceiling with vanishing, we might be able to have it collapse on them. If it takes them by surprise, that might work." I didn't know how though. We couldn't use the old channel either since they knew we knew they knew the secret, since Taliv had said so earlier on their channel.
Beatrice said, "I've got the perfect idea. Get over here."
When we arrived, Beatrice was standing in the bottom room. "Hi. Here's the plan: I'm going to talk over the old channel and tell them the truth about me. I'll tell Taliv that I want to switch sides because of how you've treated me. I'll promise her that if she comes and rescues me, I'll give her your secret."
The rest of us looked at each other, and we all agreed that this sounded good.
"What's wrong, Beatrice?" I asked. She had a particularly solemn expression.
"I'm going to die in this plan. I have to be standing here to lure them in, and there's no way I'll survive if the Voren don't."
"I'm sorry," I said. "You don't deserve this."
"No, but I'm the least powerful, so it has to be me. Besides, I wanna die proving my loyalty to the cause..." Her voice turned darker. "So I can rub it in Katherine and Yildirim's face in the afterlife."
"I'm sorry..." I said again. She really had the saddest story of us all.
"Thanks. You should start vanishing the ceiling. We might not have forever before the Voren come here of their own accord."
We tunneled through the rock in the top room and carved out a little area several meters of rock above the ceiling. As I worked, I couldn't stop thinking of Beatrice's sacrifice. I had been so fortunate by comparison. I had had a pre-Sentinel life mostly without being assaulted by guards, I had spent the last year in training rather than imprisonment like Mitilda and Leuis, I was getting the glory and exhilaration of fighting the Voren in person rather than watching helplessly like Beatrice, and despite choosing to risk myself to save Alistair I had still been the one to survive.
When we were finished, Beatrice spoke over our old channel. "Voren, you can hear this channel now, right? Answer me over your old one."
Taliv answered. "Yes. You're the one that was giving orders earlier. What did you want to say?"
"Well, I wasn't actually giving orders. I was just pretending because we knew you could hear that channel. You see, I'm a guard from Zerik's pillar that got picked up by the Sentinels. They've been keeping me prisoner in their hideout ever since. So, I wanna switch sides. I know their new telepathy secret. If you come rescue me, I'll tell you."
"Alright," Taliv said, "we're on our way, but we're all going. We can't risk being picked off again if this is some kind of trap."
"Here they come," Beatrice said normally. "When they get here, they'll scan and see whoever's up there waiting to drop the rock on them. After what I just said, they'll know something's off if there are Sentinels in here with me that aren't killing me. So I was thinking I would claim whoever's up there is sleeping. I think that's most believable if there's only one of you."
"I should be the one," Mitilda said. "This sounds like a dangerous job. I deserve it."
"No," Beatrice said, "I want Jaydin to be the one to kill me. He's always been the most sympathetic to me."
I smiled. "I appreciate that. Mitilda, don't worry. You'll get another chance to sacrifice yourself."
Before long, Beatrice notified us telepathically that the Voren had arrived. I scanned for them and found them just outside the hideout. In just a moment, the time would come.
I couldn't hear the conversation through the huge wall of rock separating us, so I kept scanning, and soon enough I felt a Voren in the top room. It was time.
I started cutting through the rock as quickly as I could. We didn't have the scientific knowledge to calculate how much of a layer of the rock we would need to cut to make it fall, so we had left a lot as wiggle room. I panicked when it didn't fall for almost five seconds, but it finally did before the Voren caught on. I telekineted it downward as hard as I could to help it and so the Voren couldn't push it upward. I felt his power emanations go out as soon as I heard the crash. And so did Beatrice's.
I notified the other Sentinels. They would be heading here soon. They had been just out of scanning range, which was a distance they could cover in about a minute. But surviving a minute was going to be a tall order from my position. Four Voren knew where I was.
Well... I couldn't go out the way I had come in, so I vanished my way through more of the rock in the top room, aiming to - wait. The Voren were tracking me with their scanning. That meant they knew exactly where I was going to come out, which meant I couldn't come out. I had to keep evading them inside the hideout.
I vanished my way upward a bit, then reassembled the ceiling beneath me. That should at least momentarily confuse them.
The Voren finally got over their fear of being caught in a similar trap and came in after their lost member. At least of one them stayed outside, though. The inside Voren drilled a hole through the slab of rock I had dropped on their companion and came into the top room. I fled a little deeper into the rock, but I knew I couldn't come close to outrunning them. What to do?
Then I realized: they couldn't come through my tunnel after me. They were too afraid I would get them by surprise by collapsing the tunnel section they were in, or trick them with a sand blast from around the corner. Like Mitilda had said, they were bad, so they wouldn't do it if they thought there was any significant risk to their own individual safety. So instead they tried to refill the rock and crush me to death. Seeing this coming just in time, I conjured a very thin sphere of rock around myself.
They couldn't vanish it because I was still holding it with my telekinesis. They couldn't move it either. The only thing they could do was out-vanish me, clearing a large enough area around my sphere that they could tangle with me safely after breaking my shield through physical means.
Of course, vanishing rock didn't make a sound. I had no way of knowing how long before they came to that conclusion and did it. If they shattered my sphere by surprise, I would die. So I emptied a small hole in the back to look through.
I got a message from Yildirim: "Help is here! Just come outside and I'll cover your escape!"
Just then the Voren began to vanish the rock around me. Time to get out. I vanished a large hole in the back of the sphere and escaped it just before a hurling smaller rock struck it with incredible force, shattering it. That left me alone in the room with them. Dr-
Just in time, Yildirim blew a huge hole in the wall of the room to make them think they were being attacked and draw their attention. I used the confusion to fly down the hole in the floor.
And once I got outside the hideout, I saw that he had done that while fighting a female Voren with both legs partially missing - she was sitting on her platform. She turned to me, and spoke in the familiar voice of Taliv. "There you are, little bold one." I guessed she had been crippled by the explosion that day.
By now everyone was outside together. This was the final battle. And my adrenaline had never been higher.
What I didn't expect was the utter chaos of the fight. I had thought the storm of plasma fire while fighting Alistair's queen had been confusing, but that paled in comparison to this. There were so many Voren, I couldn't keep track of where a single one of them was, although at least Taliv was visually distinct due to her missing legs.
"Is there one we should be trying to focus on?" I asked over our telepathy channel. "I feel lost -"
Yildirim said "Hit the man with the beard," knowing he had to pick one we could tell apart by a simple visual distinction, and not Taliv since she was probably the hardest to checkmate.
I looked around desperately for the one Yildirim had mentioned. Before I could find him, David had been caught in a storm of sharp rock bullets from behind, which tore through his skin, killing him.
Well, drat. Four on four now and we were all smaller than them. There were no tricks left to play. They could outrun us if we tried to flee. It was just a brute force battle of magic strength and skill we couldn't win. Unless... the rainbow plasma.
I remembered the wording of Yildirim's story. Once it was just me and my sister Katuri... "Yildirim," I said over the telepathy channel, "is it possible the rainbow plasma is made when you kill someone if you do something special?"
Yildirim gasped. "It's our only shot! Maybe you can choose that instead of absorbing the power!"
"What are you two talking about?" Mitilda said, frantic.
"Just touch it when you see it!" I say. "Yildirim let me kill you!" I figured a bomb made from him would be stronger than a bomb made from me.
Yildirim said, "I have a ring of sky!" knowing he had to make it easy for me to find him in the mess. I did, and killed him with a burst of neon. Come on, come on...
It worked. I was forming a rainbow orb.
Mitilda and Nayomi were perfectly on point. Nayomi had Taliv looking the other way, and Mitilda touched the orb almost immediately, and the explosion started.
There wasn't a flash of light like I expected. Well, not exactly. The world flickered rapidly between unbearably bright and unbearably dark, as between cold and hot, and the sound was deafening. I sped away incase I had any hope of making it out of the blast radius like Yildirim. I could only hope Taliv's reactions hadn't been fast enough this time for her to escape also.
I moved faster than I had ever been able to move before. So much faster. I had to have gained an enormous amount of power. That meant Taliv was dead, right?
Finally the rainbow plasma dissipated, and I looked behind me. There was just one more spec in the area we had been in.
"Nayomi!" I said over the channel. "Is that you? Tell me that's you and not a Voren."
"I'm here," she said, but I could hear intense pain in her voice. "I hung around for a moment pushing Taliv toward the explosion with wind... And I lost my legs in it as a result. That's how close it was... oh god, the pain..."
I began to fly back in her direction. "You're a hero! Just make it to the pillar, okay? We'll find you a doctor. You're going to live."