The Downing Building
New Hebron, California
Brilliant bursts of energy cascaded around the pair of exemplars and Sapphira barred his teeth and screamed. The moment the attack hit, his shield flared to life and while it quivered and shook with each new beam, it held against every blast. A near inhuman screech escaped Hailey’s lips and Chemosh ceased her attack. Sapphira peered at the once-god breath caught in his throat and heart pounding in his chest.
A loud rumble quaked through the chamber and Chemosh turned her head eying the combatting forms of Harrier, Babalawo and Garos. The giant stumbled forward and fell to one knee. Harrier swooped in, her claws raking the back of his uninjured leg, her opponent let out another rumbled and fell face first to the ground.
The ground beneath them quaked on his impact and all the combatants within the room paused, eyeing the unmoving form of the giant. The seconds ticked by and Garos remained inert. Harrier and Babalawo stood there, glistening with sweat and panting from exertion.
Chemosh head snapped around, and a smile stretched across Hailey’s face. Amelia, whose instincts already screamed at her that something was wrong, tried to call out a warning, but it was already too late.
Awẹ́’s body stiffened, his body jerked sideways, he lifted an open hand, and he struck out at Harrier. The other exemplar, caught unprepared didn’t even lift her claws to defend herself. It would not have mattered, in either case, Babalawo’s fist phased into her chest, his hand reaching out for her heart. When he brought it back out, it was covered in the other’s blood and his victim collapsed at his feet.
Awẹ́ turned back toward them his fact, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open in clear shock. A look that mirrored that of the agent and Sapphira.
Chemosh cackled before breaking out into a full fit of hysterics. “Oh, this is good just to see the look on your people’s faces. You didn’t think it was a coincidence that your friend had a nearly identical skill-set to my Gallu friends, did you? You see, he was my contingency should dear Garos fail to stop your friends.”
Hailey grinned and waved toward Awẹ́, the exemplar scowled but moved forward as commanded. She glanced at Sapphira still cackling under her breath. “Come now, surely you must have expected this, didn’t your human doctor’s tell you, you might have some form of precognitive abilities? No? Well, I’m sure they’ll develop with a little more time.”
“Though this ability is limited, the moment I first laid eyes on him more than a year ago. I know that he would be important. I never dreamed that he would be so useful.”
She’d been toying with them the whole time, Amelia realized. Watching to see how events would unfold, even allow his ally be defeated before revealing his hand. It made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. The more she thought about it the less sense it seemed to make. Why not take control of Awẹ́ at the start of the battle? Why allow them to defeat his ally?
Unless he couldn’t. Amy craned her neck back, eying the artifact. Chemosh had gone to great lengths to retrieve it. What if it had a use none of them had ever guessed at? What if it was more than a portal to some unknown place or time? It was just a guess, but what if the once-god was drawing power from it? It would explain almost everything.
Amy grabbed Sapphira by the shoulder intent on warning the other exemplar, she but never had the chance. Before she uttered a single syllable a beam of luminescent energy shot out from the other’s outstretched hands and the room was bathed in light so bright she clenched her eyes shut.
The agent opened her mouth still hoping to warn the other, but no sound would escape her lips. The world around them rippled, with such force the air reverberated around her skin. She tried to scream, but the effect only seemed to intensify.
The light grew brighter, so powerful that it shone through her eyelids. The force of the resonating air also intensified, and the agent gritted her teeth against the pain that accompanied each new vibration. Just when she thought she couldn’t take any more the reverberation ceased, and the light faded away.
Amy collapsed to her knees and sat there panting, gritting her teeth against the pain in her ribs. She let her eyelids slipped open and crouched on darkness. Not a shadow or a dark surface, but rather a complete absence of anything and everything. As her eyes roved the emptiness all around, the forms of Sapphira and Chemosh soon materialized standing upon the void as if it were a solid surface.
Amy grunted, pushed herself to her feet, drew her gun out of its holster and trained it on the once-god. Before she fired a single shot, Sapphira jumped into motion, sending another brilliant beam hurtling across the void toward Chemosh. The resulting flash was nowhere near as brilliant as the previous one, but even so Amy turned her gaze and shielded her eyes.
“That’s not necessary, you know,” a voice spoke from out of the dark, and a familiar form materialized before her. “This is all in your head, or perhaps I should say it is taking place within all three of your minds. What you see before is but an illusion.”
Amy glanced up at Ashtar, between pursed lips, careful to keep Chemosh in her peripheral vision. For the time being, Sapphira was keeping her busy, but she had no idea how long that would last.
“The light bothers my eyes,” Amy said and winced as the words left her lips. If what the other being said were true, she shouldn’t experience any pain or discomfort. She pressed a hand into her chest over her injury. She should have been writhing on the ground in agony, but instead she felt nothing save for the pressure of her fingers on her chest. That too, was an illusion, but one which she was happy to perpetuate.
She paused and pulled on the collar of her top, peaking inside. Her heart lept into her throat, realizing for the first time that something was very different. When she underwent her transition, she’d had high hopes, expecting a much more feminine figure than the one she had developed. It appeared within this void created by their minds that her sub-consciousness had given form to those desires.
She would have loved to give this imaginary body a good once over, but it was neither the time nor the place. She gazed at her breasts, one final time, sighed then returned her attention to Ashtar.
The agent eyed the dead woman and bit her lip. Though Sapphira had interacted with the once-goddess, her viewing had been less than crystalline and she had little idea what they had said to one another. Worse yet, this incarnation of the alien being may have been conjured by Chemosh herself. Whoever or whatever Ashtar was, Amy would have to take whatever she said with a grain of salt.
“Amy,” Ashtar said glancing back over her shoulder. “I know this is all new to you and you have little reason to trust me, but I need you to listen. We’re running short on time.”