“Hubris ex Post”
Written by Aaron McQueen
Illustrated by Jennifer Lange
Copyright May 16th, 2018
This story is dedicated to my family, my friends, and my most generous subscribers, whom I have listed below. Without their help, support, and contributions, this production would not be possible.
Azarelle watched the creature rise out of the pit. Inch by inch, foot by foot, skin burning and wings outstretched. Fire clung to its body like burning pitch, but its flesh was not consumed.
Generosity reached down with its huge hand and took hold of Asterious’s sword. The blade was still protruding from its ribs. He yanked it out and crushed it in its grip. The metal flashed as it fractured and broke.
It flung the pieces away.
“Prepare yourselves. The time of reckoning has come.”
Asterious wobbled on his feet.
Azarelle propped him up.
“What do we do?”
He shrugged, still dazed.
“Without my weapons…not much.”
“That’s right, prince. Today you will be repaid for the genocide your people committed.”
Asterious shook his head weakly.
“You gave us no choice.”
“You should have accepted your place in the natural order. We were made to rule. You were born only to serve. And today…”
He lowered his spear.
“I will show you why.”
The weapon flashed. Azarelle’s eyes went wide. For an instant a beam of familiar white light sprang from the deadly point. She knew the magic. She had seen it before. The pieces all suddenly came together, but too late.
Or perhaps not.
The magic fizzled inexplicably.
Azarelle raised an eyebrow.
“Having some trouble?”
He patted his ribs.
“Old magic…it gets into the blood.”
“Wretched pest! I will have my vengeance!”
The creature lunged. Azarelle tightened her grip on Asterious and jumped back. The spear crashed into the rooftop. The force of the blow forced the point clean through the wood. Hungry flames licked up from the burning rooms below. Azarelle turned and desperately dragged Asterious away as the beast wrenched up its weapon for another strike. It came towards them, eyes fixed with murderous intent.
Ellyn and Nathanius appeared behind it, their thin blades drawn. They slashed and stabbed at its legs. The creature roared and turned to face them, bringing its spear around in a slashing arc. They yelped and dodged away, but only just.
Azarelle glanced around. The broken fragments of Asterious’s sword lay scattered nearby. The shattered point was not two feet away. She turned to face Valis, still lying prostrate on the ground, clutching what was left of his arm. Polly stood over him.
Azarelle grabbed the sword point and shouted to her friend.
“Polly! I have an idea! Search his cloak. The breast pocket!”
Polly dove down. Valis tried to fight her off. She hit him in the face and thrust her hand into his cloak, drawing out the fragment of godsbone.
Azarelle held out a hand.
She threw it. Azarelle caught it out of the air. She turned to Asterious and held up the fragment of the sword.
“Would there be any magic left in this? In the pieces?”
He mumbled an answer.
“Then I’m going to need your help.”
She shouted at Nathanius.
“Keep him busy!”
The man yelped as he dodged another massive blow.
“We’ll do what we can! Just hurry!”
Azarelle turned. Jyll was on his feet, shouting.
She looked up at the armature.
The door crashed open. Half-a-dozen city officers came through, along with a representative from the Board of Deans.
On instinct, she reached for the lever to abort…but it was no use. They hadn’t reset the room. The bag of sand was empty.
The whirling spindle of the armature fractured. Its huge metal arms burst, warped out of shape by the sheer reality-bending power of the spell rushing out through the fissure. A blinding ray of pure white light pierced the spiralling array, cutting like a fiery sword as the armature tottered on its axis.
Azarelle threw herself flat on the floor. The sound was like a huge wind keening in a canyon. The ceiling crashed. Stone fell. Lab instruments broke and shattered. The armature blew itself apart, sending super-heated shrapnel in every direction.
Azarelle screamed and covered her head, fully expecting to die.
Several minutes passed before the chaos finally whistled to a halt. A broken piece of rock clattered to the floor. Outside, the sound of screams and wailing rose up in the street.
Azarelle looked up.
Through a cloud of smoke and dust she could see that the lab had been completely destroyed. The beam hadn’t been stopped by the stone of the floor, nor by the blocks of the walls, nor the beams of the roof or the heavy planks of the door. It was frankly astonishing that the entire structure hadn’t come down on their heads.
Two officers groaned and lifted themselves up from the wreckage. The others lay on the ground, lifeless, cut into pieces by the magic’s scything release.
Azarelle got to her knees and crawled.
“Jyll, are you alright?”
He didn’t answer.
He was against the wall, half-buried in the rubble. A table had been turned over on top of him. She shoved it aside.
He was dead.
His body had been sliced in two.
She exhaled, shuddering. Her arms wobbled as her thoughts drained to blank. Numbness swept over her. She couldn’t hear anymore or think. She reached a hand out to touch his face.
He looked so scared.
The two officers regained their footing and came forward.
They took hold of her by the shoulders.
She could feel tears streaming down her face. She clung to his robes as they pulled her. Her mouth formed the shape of a wail, but no sound came, or if it did, in her delirium she could not hear it.
Time passed in a grey haze. In the end they pried her fingers from his clothing.
A blow to the head.
She had no memory of when they finally hauled her away.
Asterious leaned in close.
“You’re sure this is going to work?”
Azarelle positioned the fragment of the sword on top of the godsbone and answered.
He gave a weak smile.
“Sounds like my kind of plan.”
Azarelle regarded the makeshift construct in doubt. The fight was not going well. They would have only a few moments to act. If she was right, the godsbone tablet would act in the same fashion as the complex isolation pattern she had used back in her lab. If they could build up the same well of power that she and Jyll had mustered, even the broken tip of the sword and the little magic it still contained would become a formidable weapon.
Generosity charged across the roof. Ellyn ran. Nathius threw his knife after him. The blade stuck in the creature’s back. It gave a harsh grunt and turned around.
Defenseless, Nathanius backed slowly away.
She looked at Asterious.
“I need the words for the incantation.”
“For the spell on your sword!”
Asterious looked down at the broken point.
“It’s too long to explain. I’ll have to do it.”
Azarelle thought it over for a moment and nodded.
“If this works, you won’t be able to hear yourself.”
“I don’t have time to explain. Just don’t let it distract you.”
He nodded and put a hand on top of hers, resting on the tablet and the broken sword, steadying himself on her shoulder.
He began to whisper. As she suspected, the incantation disappeared into the stilled weave the moment it left his lips.
The sword point began to glow.
Valis crawled toward them.
“What…what are you doing?”
Azarelle kept her eyes fixed on the looming form of Generosity. There was no telling to where the spell would be directed. She desperately maintained the hope that the shape of the sword point would grant her some ability to aim.
She could feel the magic starting to build. The tiny fragment of metal began to shimmer and shake, just as the armature had.
That had been their mistake. She and Jyll had forgotten the true nature of the magic they were performing. Even in the presence of a perfect pattern—or in this case, a substance—to still the weave and magnify the magic, in the end, the words were all that mattered. It was the incantation itself that required the weave to be stilled, and the target of the enchantment still had to be able to withstand its power.
She hoped that the tip of this broken sword would not.
Asterious finished the incantation and let go.
Azarelle grabbed his hand and replaced it on the blade.
He raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, again! Over and over!”
“Just do it!”
He began again. This time, she followed him through the spell. The two of them chanted. The scene felt eerily familiar. They cast the spell again and again as the great form of Generosity slowly closed in on Nathanius.
Valis realized what they were doing and cried out.
The point of the sword rattled across the smooth surface of the godsbone tablet, all but dancing on end as the power of Asterious’s spell built up inside it. Tiny rivulets of light began to filter out from its surface, threading into the air as the mortal metal of the weapon began to fatigue.
Valis shouted again.
Generosity turned. Its red eyes blazed. In a great swirl of motion it brought its spear back, preparing to hurl it towards them. The savage point gleamed with magic and fire.
Azarelle looked up. Her eyes fixed with determination.
The power of the gods.
Just another hole in the air.
The sword point cracked. A beam of blackened light surged out. Azarelle held on tight. The force of it kicked back as it rushed out like water from a ruptured pipe. The torrent of the spell struck Generosity full in the chest.
The god’s throat turned to the sky and howled. The noise shook the building to its roots. Windows shattered as the magic carried the creature into the air, hurling him into the sky, where he fell down lifeless into the city.
For a moment everything went still: the roof, the city, the sky.
Asterious gave a whoop.
Azarelle gritted her teeth. The magic was still flowing out.
“There’s still a little bit left.”
Asterious shook his head.
“Not enough to fight. We have to go.”
Azarelle narrowed her eyes.
“You’re wrong. There’s just not enough to fight another god.”
She began to bring the stream down towards the roof.
“Az? What are you doing?”
The spell came down on Valis.
His eyes went wide and he struggled to move, but in his injured state he was too slow. He held the stump of his hand out in vain.
“No! Wait! Sto—”
A burst of black light flashed over him as the spell smashed into his body. His form went instantly limp.
The sword point crumbled into dust, spent.
Nathanius and Ellyn approached and helped them to their feet.
Asterious took a tired breath.
“We have to go. The others will be coming.”
Azarelle ignored him and walked to Valis’s body. Kneeling, she began to tug at his cloak.
Polly joined her.
“I can’t take back what he did to me, but I could at least make him pay.”
His cloak came off. She held it up in her fist.
“And this belongs to me.”
Nathanius came over.
“Let’s get moving.”
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