Chapter VI: Final Assault

I slowly opened my eyes to a familiar stone hall. To my right lay a dark path dimly lit by a flaming torch. On my left was the opening out into a stormy jungle. Upon noticing the pitch-black blanket upon everything outside, I jumped to my feet and stretched quickly. I turned to see Kaiyandra still hunched over as she sat, as knocked out as I was moments before. How much time had passed? When had we fallen asleep?

“Kaiyandra-“

I lightly tapped her shoulder in an attempt to wake her up. At first, it appeared to be ineffective but eventually she opened her eyes and looked up towards me.

“Hmm?”

When she spotted the eerie arrival of night, she leapt up as quickly as I had. We had both fallen asleep like fools. We both must have missed at least a couple of hours as the world descended into a cold night.

“I cannot believe it…”

I was disappointed in our carelessness. Fortunately, nothing happened to us as we sat with our eyes shut.

“I think we’re okay.”

Kaiyandra looked around as she spoke and instinctively, I did as well. We were both a bit nervous of the time that had passed. What could have happened in that missing stretch of time?

“That was my fault. I should have been paying attention-“

“There’s nothing to worry about; nothing happened and that’s that.”

I appreciated her words but I felt the twinge of guilt. The risk could have been easily avoided. It was an unnecessary danger.

“There’s no point in hanging around here, we should go deeper into the temple. Let’s go Xathoven.”

“Yes-“

My response was halted. A sound I would describe as a simple ringtone shattered the silence as it rang through the stone hall. It took only a moment to determine that it was originating from Kaiyandra’s purse. As she glanced towards it, the ringtone stopped. Hanging from her waist, the purse was removed as Kaiyandra burrowed through its contents to discover a device she had not noticed before.

“What is this?”

She removed the object from her purse and stood nearby so we could both observe it.

“It looks like some kind of electronic device. I’m pretty sure this is what was ringing...”

She rotated the object as she explored it and showed it to me. It was a small and thin rectangular device with a glossy black design. One side was glossy and void of detail, but on the other lay a flat rectangle. It looked a lot like a screen. Tilting the object, Kaiyandra eventually noticed something intriguing.

“Look, it lit up for a second.”

A brief flash originated from the screen, but it disappeared as quickly as it had occurred. Kaiyandra continued to move around the object and eventually determined that the light activated when the object was held perfectly straight, parallel to the floor. The flash reappeared and was now traceable to the screen-like side of the device. After a few seconds, the distracting light began to create some kind of floating image. As if painting in the air, lights dashed around and created a small holographic guide. It was a map of the temple; there was a blinking white dot at the precise location of the device itself, the point recognizable as the exact entrance hall we now stood in. We could see that the path we were on led some floors below the temple until it reached a huge room that held a flashing red dot.

“Kaiyandra, it’s a map. I think it’s telling us where to plant the explosive.”

“You must be right. That marker is deep inside the temple…”

We both took a good look at the map and concluded that there were almost no stray directions on the path we needed to take. It was pretty much guaranteed that we would not get lost. Kaiyandra returned the holographic device to her purse and removed her advanced rifle from its buckle. Equipped and ready for the last push, she checked the weapon’s scope and barrel. All appeared well.

“Okay, let’s do this carefully. So far we’ve been safe; we just need to keep it that way…”

I nodded to Kaiyandra as I equipped myself with my own weapon in preparation for combat. We had no clue what resistance we would encounter but the sight of the destination filled us with hope of a quick and easy conclusion to the mission.

“Let’s finish this up, Kaiyandra, stay close.”

With my extraordinary Endis blade ready to strike, I began to move down the dark hallway. The soft torches did little to light the way but they created checkpoints of our progress. Kaiyandra kept a close watch behind us as we moved forward, her rifle waiting anxiously for any targets. We did not want to be surrounded, for the Shadowborne in great numbers could be deadly. Outside we had the freedom of movement to control the battle but in these narrow temple halls, we were left to deal with the opponent in a tight and difficult environment. Our first encounter in the temple proved that very quickly.

I abruptly stopped and expectedly, Kaiyandra backed into me. We remained silent… Ahead of me, I caught sight of a pair of frightening eyes. A Shadowborne figure slowly waved back and forth as it approached, drifting through the darkness on a path of imminent conflict. With a faint whisper, I informed Kaiyandra.

“Shadowborne ahead… Looks like just one. Keep the back covered, I’ve got this under control.”

As the figure approached, it slowly stepped into the dim light of the nearby torch. Like the others, its appearance was that of a grotesque human being in a dark indigo shade; they were like wispy bodies with few details beyond their powerful eyes. Preparing to strike, I pulled my blade back. It was then that I learned just how hard it would be to fight in these tight quarters. I smacked the close wall with my weapon, paying little attention to the amount of room I would need to combat the foe properly. Quickly I recovered my stance and forced myself to tighten my moves.

The Shadowborne figure had now come so close that I could feel its dark effects. I let out a deep sigh; it filled my body with a cold sensation. I needed to strike now, before the Shadowborne invaded my very soul. I stabbed the creature through the chest with my blade. Instantly, it began to fall and fade into a familiar cloud of smoke and mist, how all the Shadowborne fainted. It had not left without damaging its target. Whatever it had done, it left a dark aura inside me, a twisted sting in my heart. Such a short moment and an instant’s exposure had already taken its toll. I placed a hand on my chest as the pain ran through me. Meanwhile, several crackling chemical shots rang out as Kaiyandra blasted some Shadowborne behind with her rifle. After neutralizing the targets, she noticed my condition.

“What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

I wanted to answer her but I could not speak. It was as if some great bubble of air sat in my throat and my words would not come out. Still keeping a watch behind, she was able to squeeze beside me and see my pain. Noticing where I held my hand, Kaiyandra placed hers tightly upon mine.

“Can you feel something there?”

I still could not speak yet I did not even try. My entire attention was distracted, for she had begun a process that I could not understand nor believe. As she kept her hand upon my heart, I removed mine so that only hers lay there. She tried to determine what I was feeling as she then noticed what had engrossed me. Below her hand, right where my pain was present, a soft glow emerged. The golden aura began to encompass her entire arm, as if some strange magic was being performed right before our eyes. Whatever she was doing, it was completely healing me. The pain rushed out of my chest and all of the physical weakness that shook my body dissipated. I could feel total recovery as I was able to speak again.

“How… how did you do that?”

She lifted her palm as the strange glow left. Was this an ability we did not know about? Kaiyandra closely observed her hand, witnessing the remains of the soft golden aura fading from her palm. Ahead of my thoughts, Kaiyandra was willing to find out of this was a real power.

“Can I see your cut from yesterday?”

I lifted my arm and displayed the injury I had received in training. Experimenting, she placed her hand back upon me, now on that previous day’s cut. That same glow appeared and a wonderful feeling of warmth rushed through my arm. It was true; Kaiyandra had the power to heal by touch, by direct contact with an injury. Upon removal of her palm, there was no longer a thin slice in my arm. What was once a vulgar cut upon my skin and flesh had been undone in its entirety.

“This must be another power…”

“Yes, and you just saved me from… whatever that was. Thank you.”

By what I had felt, I was sure that the power of the Shadowborne was slowly draining me of life and that Kaiyandra’s touch was what had stopped me from getting any worse. In response to this, Kaiyandra had no words to say. She left me with a sad smile as she returned to her position behind me. A smile that held a meaning I did not understand.

“Let’s keep going…”

It was time to move and I continued through the thin paths after that brief encounter. Navigating through various corners and a close pair of staircases, we soon arrived at the entrance to a long room. This must have been the place to plant the explosive; it looked just as it did on the holographic map. I stepped into the large area, throwing my eyes around the entire room. The torches were placed so that it was easy to identify the perimeter of the room. They dimly lit up the area to reveal hundreds of ancient items stacked around. Strangely, the very center of the room was where the least light fell. This was some kind of huge treasure room, containing tons of antiques and artifacts. To Kaiyandra and me, as Miraxis Agents, all of this meant nothing. We had our eyes on the unrecognizable statue conveniently standing in the center of the room. This seemed to be an ideal location; it was where we needed to arm the explosive and complete our mission.

“This is it.”

I carefully removed the dangerous explosive from my pack and held it tightly as I walked to the center of the room. The nearby statue stood tall and ascended into a darkness high above. Its base was large and seemingly the perfect location for an explosion to create maximum damage. It was only a matter of time until we would know how powerful the bomb would be.

The back of the bomb held a smooth piece of opaque plastic that, upon removal, revealed a sticky foam material with which to physically plant the explosive. After accidentally being stuck to it several times, I was finally able to place the bomb upon the side of the statue’s base. When I was sure it was stable, I decided to set the explosive’s activation timer.

“Kaiyandra, how much time should I put?”

She had been observing some of the surrounding objects when I spoke to her; she was quick to approach and answer.

“It didn’t take us long to get here so we don’t need too much time to get out. How about… ten minutes?”

“Ten minutes… I think that will work. We will need to keep a quick pace on the way out regardless of the time we give ourselves…”

The interface of the device was clear and I was easily able to set the countdown timer to six-hundred seconds. All that was left was to click the activation button and begin the sequence. Kaiyandra checked her rifle in preparation for possible combat and expressed that she was ready to go. I glanced over to the exit to ensure access to our escape route. Everything was set. I pressed the activation key and the explosive immediately changed the timing display to a bright red color. All of the buttons folded into the device and it was now locked from any changes. I stood up and rubbed my palms in anticipation.

“Well, we have ten minutes. We should leave quickly.”

I walked over towards the passageway through which we had entered but just a short distance from reaching it, a rumbling sound stopped me in my tracks. Dust began to trickle from the darkness above and we were quick to discover what was unfolding. I turned to Kaiyandra who looked distressed as she took notice of the great stone slab that began to fall from the ceiling. There was little time to react as I darted alongside Kaiyandra in a last second sprint to the exit. The growing rumble became a loud smash of rock as the slab collided with the floor. We were too late.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!”

I was inconsolable as I stood. The immovable chunk of rock lay directly in line with the path, blocking the only exit from the great room. We had no way to escape. The bomb’s timer clicked down as we were stalled.

“Xathoven, we need to find another exit!”

Kaiyandra’s eyes scrambled around but the room was too dark to see in its entirety. We needed to find another way out by exploring the room. We split up as we looked to the corners of the room, searching for another door or passage. Without any light in the spaces between the torches, we were still able to conclude that the passage now blocked was the only way in or out.

“Whoa!”

Kaiyandra’s dismantled yelp caught my attention and I turned to see that a silent Shadowborne figure had managed to approach her without detection. In an instant, she shot a powerful round from her weapon and eliminated the creature, but there were now many more. It was as if they had materialized out of the darkness, creeping up out of the center of the room. They had somehow emerged from the statue.

Trying to get back to my friend, I sprinted to Kaiyandra while slicing Shadowborne on the way. Our formidable weaponry allowed us to defeat the Shadowborne with ease but these creatures worked to our disadvantage when they approached in great numbers. We were in grave danger.

Backed into one side of the room, Kaiyandra and I combatted our foes while remaining still. Movement was limited, for the Shadowborne had us surrounded in infinite numbers. Kaiyandra endlessly shot around us to the closest approaching targets while I made sure that no stragglers would get any closer. Swinging my great blade back and forth, the Shadowborne met their ends yet their numbers never dwindled. We were running out of time, there was no chance of survival staying and fighting forever. I kept a watchful eye on the source of the Shadowborne creatures and was able to lock on to their entry point.

“Kaiyandra!”

Fighting with the blade in one hand, I used the other to point to the top of the center statue. The ceiling may have held some type of entrance, for that was where the Shadowborne had apparently entered. Kaiyandra nodded and with amazing speed and agility, she was able to run across the wall and around the Shadowborne. As she approached the statue, I forcibly charged forward in an attempt to smash my way ahead. I held my blade out forward so that as I ran, I continued to eliminate the persistent Shadowborne in my way. The cold aura of the dark creatures hit me with otherworldly pain, but I kept my distance to avoid succumbing to the numbness. I was almost to the other side of the field of Shadowborne, almost to the statue, when I witnessed Kaiyandra swiftly climbing up that mysterious stone figure. I had already explored all options by the time she spoke to me.

“Xathoven! There’s an opening up here, another passage out. Come on!”

“Go, I’ll be right there!”

Simply yelling aloud, the ceiling was so dark that I could not see where Kaiyandra had gone but I knew she had discovered the other exit. It was time for this situation to take a turn for the worst, for the timer only read four minutes remaining and there was no way for me to climb that statue without Kaiyandra’s leaping abilities. From that distant exit, Kaiyandra was able to see the Shadowborne around me and rain the power of her rifle down upon them. She was covering all directions as I backed up against

.

“Kaiyandra, you need to leave. Go through that passage and find a way out.”

“But…”

After a few seconds of nothing but the sounds of my blade and the Shadowborne, I could see that Kaiyandra had figured out there was no way that I could climb that tall and complex ancient figure.

“I’m coming back down.”

“Kaiyandra! Don’t come back! Follow that path and leave, don’t worry about me, I’ll find a way out.”

The Shadowborne numbers still appeared unaffected as I hacked and slashed my way about in random directions. I was intent in making them all suffer the wrath of my blade. The combat was effortless but it was not the fighting that stood between me and my escape.

“I’m not leaving without you-”

“Gina! Go now!”

The yell that I threw to Kaiyandra erupted throughout the room. Although I could not see her at all, I had hoped that those final words had convinced her to escape. There was no response. I would discover my own exit but first, I needed her to leave.

“Let’s see…”

I shifted my focus to finding that difficult escape route and as I fought, I scanned the room for anything that would lead to an exit. Rushing through a group of opponents, I ended up finding my way back to the stone blocked exit once more, moving faster than the Shadowborne to give me some time to work. They limped their way towards me but I knew I had a short break before they caught up. The stone obstacle had collapsed from the ceiling, likely an intentional move by the Shadowborne. The collision with the ground could have weakened it a little. With a mighty swing, I slammed my blade into the stone. A small chip of the obstacle broke off but surely not enough to find my way out; my wrists stung from the strength of the collision. I did not have the stamina to do this many times. I looked back to see the Shadowborne much closer yet I still had some time. Ultimately, I decided not to swing at the rock, but to penetrate it straight through the center. Quickly, I pulled myself back and built up all of my strength. I stabbed the stone with my blade and it ran straight through it, however, it did not destroy it. Now with my weapon stuck in a rock and the Shadowborne fast approaching, I cursed my moronic actions.

Desperate, I pulled and pulled at the weapon’s handle. The Shadowborne were just inches away when I finally yanked the blade out of the stone and whipped it into an unsuspecting wave of foes. I paid little attention to their conclusion when I spotted the stone splitting apart in front of me, traces of the Endis chemical from my weapon burning through the obstacle’s material. It fell to the floor in pieces and I found my chance. With no Shadowborne ahead, I sprinted out of the room, down the passage that had taken Kaiyandra and me to that hellish area. I quickly found the stairs one floor up and after a few more twists and turns, the second staircase. I knew that all that remained was the final corner. I raced forward, unaware of how much time that I had, worrying of Kaiyandra’s fate. I turned the corner to see the open exit, the black and stormy jungle that now looked so welcoming…

Then, something happened…

The explosion must have been visible from very far away. I was so close to escaping safely when it happened. I saw the instant red and orange glow of everything around me as the explosive had done its job, entirely decimating the Shadowborne nest that was the temple. I was thrown violently as I collided with pieces of what had been the temple’s rock walls. Tumbling through the air, I was unable to recognize anything around me. Everything was spinning so quickly that I began to feel sick inside.

There was no body movement, no instinctive reaction that would help me now. Amidst the blackness of the night, it was difficult to identify the floor but I did notice that I was surely heading to the ground. All I could do was tighten my muscles, tense my body as the landing came.

Everything stopped... I had finally fallen but not without great pain. I cringed as I tried to raise myself but it was too much. My back, my legs, my arms, everything ached with a pain that I could not even begin to describe. I tried again to lift myself but I needed to relax. Regardless of my Miraxis Form, I had taken a terrible impact and could not move at all. I looked to the direction of the temple to see it missing entirely. Plumes of black smoke and thin flames stood where the structure once had. The pitch-black skies were no longer foggy, as the presence of the Shadowborne corrupted this place no more. With a great sigh, I lay my head back and looked to the starry sky. I only held one painful thought… Had Kaiyandra fled in time?

“Hey there.”

My vision was heavily blurred. I had just awoken from a short rest and although I needed some time to be able to see properly, the voice that glided to me could only belong to one person.

“Kaiyandra?”

I felt gentle hands upon my shoulders in response to my words; I instantly recognized that warm touch. In my blurred vision, things began to crawl into focus and I knew that she was nearby, so close to me. My vision became clear enough that I could recognize the empty night sky. It was still dark yet the sounds of the storm had gone and the rain pattered slowly in random pockets.

“I’ve been able to heal a few of your cuts and bruises, see if you can get up. Come on, I’ll help.”

I slowly rose to my feet with great difficulty, Kaiyandra assisted with both hands. Upon standing, I felt some weakness in my body but it was much better than it had been previously. Kaiyandra had healed much of my injuries.

“There you go-“

With a light chuckle, Kaiyandra wiped some soil off my top and looked back to me. Now my vision had fully cleared. I could see that Kaiyandra was largely unscathed; however, there was a thin cut along her cheekbone with a little blood. I took the time to clean it off as she realized what I was doing.

“Thanks-“

“I should be saying that Kaiyandra. That’s the second time you’ve saved me today.”

“Well, I wouldn’t exactly say I saved you, I just helped you out.”

“In that case… Thank you for your help then.”

“That’s what friends are for, right?”

I nodded to Kaiyandra and appreciated her words. Such relief ran through us at that moment. Fortunately, neither of us had been left with serious injuries but the mission was surely more dangerous than we had imagined. Still, there was no point in dwelling on the risk; our work here was done. In the midst of our deserved relaxation, a hidden red light began to flash on Kaiyandra’s purse. I observed my own pack and found an identical light to be pulsing as well. A few seconds passed and suddenly, the colorful rush of The Miraxis Index’s porting system flew by us, our bodies returning to the hub in which we worked. Everything became a rich arctic white and I could see the door back to the facility up ahead. It was finally over.

Kaiyandra led the way as we headed to the door. She twisted the handle and upon pulling, we spotted the extended corridor back to the Defense Department lobby, back to the twenty-seventh floor. In mid walk, I noted that we had returned to our standard forms; our gear and weaponry had left us. I felt that the Miraxis Form must have been linked with our present state; our bodies would enter the combat-equipped form whenever we anticipated a fight. Subsequently, we returned to normal when all was well.

I followed Kaiyandra through the doorway but as we continued, our Miraxis Agent cards were from the slots upon the panel nearby. We grabbed our respective cards and strolled out of the corridor to enter the lobby. As expected, the lobby was void of other agents. Standing just beside the reception desk was the one and only Sir Dusk.

“It’s so good to have you back.”

With the often-questionable expression, Sir Dusk approached us and clasped his hands.

“The system told me you completed your objective, may I ask how it went?”

Although I was still a bit bothered from my previous interaction with Sir Dusk, Kaiyandra, who had been unaware of the awkward event that morning, kindly took over for me.

“It was fine. Our abilities helped a lot and the Endis weapons really made a difference…”

Kaiyandra was lost with little more to say. She usually kept her words to a minimum when speaking to Sir Dusk.

“That’s great news. I am glad it went well. You may return to your dorms as you please. Thank you for your hard work. Many Agents are still in their missions so you two did quite fantastic to have returned so quickly.”

“We will leave now.”

My muttered words of disappointment hit Sir Dusk. He knew that I held hard feelings from our previous engagement and I wanted him to feel uncomfortable. Our business was our business; he had no need to pry into the private lives of Kaiyandra and me. I still kept open diplomacy in case he had meant no harm.

“Very well, you are dismissed…”

A distraught Sir Dusk allowed us to leave and I headed to the open elevator with Kaiyandra. We shared no words as we left the lobby but upon the elevator’s closing, we were eased once more.