On my way to Akshainie, I felt something begin to change in me. I couldn’t quite place the feeling, but I suspected I knew what it was; and when I found myself standing in front of the building identified by the ghosts, I confirmed it by igniting the blade of the sword I carried. I smiled, took a deep breath, and stormed through the door.
The outside of the building looked like a repurposed fire station, presumably the large bay door was where the truck rested when it wasn’t active. Inside the door beside it, however, I found a single large room with a sloped concrete floor running into a tunnel large enough to house the truck. I made my way down the slope, and hadn’t gotten far before I heard the sounds of a fight. I began to run, and when the tunnel finally opened it was to a massive chamber. In the center of that chamber was a man, his arm sheathed in dark energy, his eyes serpentine, trying to shield himself against Akshainie. She was lunging at him from across the room, having regained her full naga form, the shreds that must have been her trousers on the floor near me and far too much of her torso exposed through the slashes and tears in her shirt. I yelled to her as she made contact and was thrown back across the room, sliding to a stop about ten meters away from me. She glared over to me, and I threw her the sword before shielding my eyes.
“The people!” she cried. I looked around, trying to avoid looking directly at her, and it was only in averting my eyes up that I saw them. Pods embedded in the high ceiling, each containing a human being, asleep or dead or something else I dared not imagine. Dear God, there were hundreds of them. Must have been everyone that went missing, everyone that was still alive in this town when the dread work was completed. They must have been alive, I reasoned as I heard the fighting continue, because there’d be no reason to keep them otherwise. But if they were alive, then I needed to find a reason for that, which I hoped would be somewhere near the means to keep them alive. I followed the pipes and wires until I found a rusty electric console against the wall. Words of power were being shouted, there was the clang of steel and explosions echoing through the room, a bit of water splashed against the floor in front of me, as I ran to the console.
The knobs and buttons had no labels, and the few labels that were on the dials were so worn I could barely make them out. I searched the console for some idea on how to free the people safely, but I couldn’t find anything until I stumbled on a map. I unrolled it on the console and looked over the places they had marked, the circle over the town, the way everything was arranged. It was a spell, that much I knew, but they didn’t exactly teach us how to work with or read magic in seminary. The only person I knew I could trust, who I was certain could read this, was apparently dying of cancer across the state line. I should have visited Henry before we dove into this. I considered it of course, but this just seemed so pressing. I think I just wasn’t ready. Wasn’t ready to see someone like Henry in such a state, and then what, dive into this mess, dealing with whatever he said to me? Maybe I made the wrong call. Maybe I really should have. Would that make a difference?
“Do something!” Akshainie hissed, slithering in a wide arc past me at a much higher speed than I realized she could move. I cleared my throat, turned to look in the direction she was going now that I was certain her back was to me, and threw a fireball at the man. He tried to bat it away, and mostly succeeded, but the bit of fire that clung and the distraction was enough of an opening for Akshainie to drive a sword through him. I could learn a thing about focus and combat from that woman. Maybe I underestimated the value of her lessons when we were at Yggdrasil. I turned back to the console, rolled up the map, and tucked it under my arm as the screaming and fighting began to die down. I searched the sea of controls again, found something that looked important, and debated whether or not to press it. I saw the shadow of Akshainie approaching, and paused.
“I don’t know how to free them,” I confessed when I felt her presence close to me. She sighed, then rested her hand on my shoulder.
“Do the best you can.”
“What if I’m wrong?”
“Then you’ll still be a good man who did his best.” I took a deep breath, offered a quick prayer, and just as I went to reach for the button the ground shook. I turned to look at Akshainie only to realize that on her tail her bust was right about the level of my face, and I quickly turned back. I pulled off my outer shirt and offered it to her. “What’s this for?” she asked.
“Modesty.” She groaned and snatched the shirt out of my hand. The ground shook again and I looked at her, hoping she had an answer for the shaking. But she was looking away, back to the body of the man, which was now beginning to sink into the floor as it cracked around him. She turned back to me.
“If you have any ideas, now’s the time!” I turned back and pressed the button. The system shuddered, the dials all dropped to their lowest readings, and the pods above us began to move. We both turned to watch them, but then the ground cracked under us. We jumped away and tried to make our way toward the door, when I saw the cracks continue up the walls.
“No,” I pleaded softly, “no, please!” The ceiling began to break apart, and I screamed as a couple pods broke free and fell, crashing into the ground. I went to run forward, to try and help someone, anyone, but before I could move I felt Akshainie’s arms around me and then we were gone, flying up the slope, the tunnel cracking and collapsing behind us. We burst out into the early morning sunlight and she held me back as I cried out, watching the building sink into a growing crater.
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.