The cave system where we had taken refuge was filled with injured and broken soldiers. With the enemy building up for their counterattack, I couldn’t help but feel hopeless. While Captain Taylor touted the balloon rescue system as the solution, we both knew he was keeping a calm face in the face of near certain death.
Unless I could hold the line.
“We hope to send the sick and injured up first,” Taylor explained. “The Zinji may not realize what we’ve done. If we’re lucky, when this outpost falls, they may not bother looking for anyone on the surface anyway.”
“We need to keep their attention away from our evacuation,” I said. “We’re going to initially engage them outside of the caves. When they overwhelm us there, we retreat in here and make a final stand.”
“Then we die?” one soldier asked aloud.
“Then we die,” I confirmed.
“Worse ways to go,” someone else chimed in. “We die heroes.”
“Aye, that’s right,” a fourth added. “My pappy died choking on some bread!”
“Alright, heroes,” I said with pride. “Let’s go.”
We waited by the entrance of the cave.
There was no communication between us; this was a common thing that I had experienced in the time leading up to any confrontation like this. No one wanted to speak about it. Perhaps it was fear that they may cause bad luck or some other form of panic, but regardless, it was always the same.
Then, the inevitable.
We saw them coming in the distance. Zinji. An entire army.
“How long do we fight?” someone asked.
“Until the end,” I replied.
There were fifteen of us. The end would come fast.
The enemy got closer, and I felt myself growing anxious. Was I ready for this? Was I really willing to die? Would it even work? All of these questions spiraled in my head and threatened to break my resolve. I shook it off, swallowed my fear, and began my work.
With all of my power, I threw my arms forward. The water before us began to freeze. It created a wall of ice that spread out further and further. Engulfing everything that it touched. The enemy came at it head first, some of them trying to hack at the thick ice that spread around them. By the time they realized how fast the ice was spreading it was too late. I poured every ounce of energy in the maneuver and, soon enough, I lowered my arms in exhaustion. A massive ball of thick ice containing at least half of the attacking force floated there. It likely wouldn’t kill the attackers, but it would keep them contained for a considerable amount of time.
“Move back inside,” I shouted. “Go now!”
The soldiers did as I said without question. I moved into the cave and put my hands to the water’s surface, quickly forming another wall of ice; this one not thick enough to stop the enemy, but designed to bottleneck their attack.
Captain Taylor had informed us of the small opening at the back of the cave that led to the ocean. It was far too small for the Zinji to consider using in their attack, but it had hidden the retreat of the others very well. It was just us now. Those that would remain here forever.
The first Zinji came through the thin ice with aggressive force, but before they got a single dry scale past the threshold, their head was removed from their shoulders by one of the guards. The second arrived, pushing past their headless friend, but they were burned to a crisp by my fire spells. At first, it went this way, almost too easily. They pushed in, they fell dead.
Some of the soldiers began to grow hopeful. The enemy wouldn’t keep this up forever, right? There would be a break, or they would give up, or something. Maybe they could get out of this mess.
Then, the Zinji blew the cave wide open with explosives.
The concussive blast was deadly enough on its own. If it had not been for an instinctual reflex to surround myself in an aether shield, I would have dropped dead like the rest of the poor souls in the room.
As it stood, however, I had survived. I felt blood running out of my nose and ears, but I wasn’t dead. Even as the water rushed in from the newly opened hole, I wasn’t dead.
The cave began to fill with Zinji.
They were all here for me. They were here to end my life.
I had no intention of giving them the honor.
I roared with rage and let loose my power. I tapped into the aethereal energies and did not resist the overwhelming power that awaited. It flowed through me, out of me, igniting my very being and everything else within the cave. The walls sizzled and the water pouring in vaporized and boiled. The Zinji, so confident and sure of their attack, were caught in the devastation.
I became fire.
The enemy forces were reduced to cinders, the rock face became molten and baked all that remained of their scale-covered hides. I heard shouts of agony and cries of horror, but I didn’t hold back. The fire grew hotter and burned brighter than I had ever let it do before. Here in this cave, I was more powerful than I had ever been . I was a vessel of destruction, and I could feel the power ripping me apart at my very core… then… it was all white.