Updated: June 19, 2009
"Leela! To your left!" The warning came too late as a crossbow bolt whizzed right before Leela's eyes, nicking the bridge of her nose. Leela screamed more in horror than in pain, reeling backwards and raising her hands to the cut on her nose. It was a small cut, but her hands came away bloody and shaking. It was such a close call.
Angered, Leela turned to face the rider who had shot her. He was galloping toward her on his winged horse, readying his flame thrower. Weak as she was, she raised her hands to cast a protecting spell. She was exhausted and was hoping against hope that the sacred orb would pulse soon, releasing the flow of power she so desperately needed.
A fireball from Lara made the rider turn aside and pick another priestess for a target.
"Leela! You're bleeding." Lara stated the obvious.
"Yeah! I noticed." Leela touched the bridge of her nose again when she felt the orb pulse. It filled her with renewed strength and this time, when she looked at her fingertips the blood on them was already clotted. The power surge from the sacred orb had healed her wound. It had also given her enough strength to fight on.
"Ready?" She asked Lara. Lara didn't even bother to answer. She simply went back to hurling fireballs at the attackers.
Leela hurriedly counted them. There were fourteen riders. Almost twice as many as during the attack two weeks before. She wondered how their enemies had learned to create so many winged horses so quickly. Only a year ago rumors of a single winged horse were considered half myth and half madness. Now, so many were seen across the skies that one couldn't help but wonder how they all came to be. It was all too unnatural.
And the worst part was that they were being used as a weapon against the sacred orb.
Leela looked upwards at the huge, cobalt-blue crystal sphere suspended above the tower's roof by a framework of wires. The frame seemed too fragile to support such a huge object, yet Leela knew that this structure had supported the sacred orb for hundreds of years.
The sacred orb was the source of the priestesses' magical powers and their ability to defend Laureland against invaders. A task that was becoming too difficult lately, with the recurring attempts to destroy it.
The sacred orb was placed atop a tower two hundred feet high, in the middle of Laurel City, to allow for it to be seen from any place in Laureland. Only priestesses were admitted into the tower and onto its roof. However, winged horses made all the earthly prerogatives obsolete. Which was why as soon as winged horses had been spotted in Laureland, the priestesses had begun posting guards at the top of the tower to protect the sacred orb.
It had proven to be a very wise decision since shortly there after an attempt had been made to destroy the orb. A man riding a winged horse had tried to smash it with a hammer. The priestess on guard duty had killed both the rider and the horse with a single lightning bolt. But several weeks afterwards, two riders had appeared and tried to kill the guard in addition to destroying the orb. They had failed. The number of guards had increased to two; to no avail. Every time guards were added, the number of assailants also grew and they began carrying heavier and deadlier weapons.
And all this time, the priestesses had no idea who was behind these attacks. They had used spies and diplomatic connections, preached and interviewed, yet, no one seemed to know of any plots to dispose of the priestesses. Whoever wished the sacred orb destroyed would not reveal their identity.
Leela assessed the situation before her. Two priestesses lay dead, a third had fallen over the tower's edge. The remaining priestesses looked exhausted and nearly defeated. The odds were against them. Leela took in a deep breath, praying that reinforcements would arrive soon.
The devil-riders were regrouping. They had withdrawn to a safe distance and were forming a new assault formation.
That was another new thing. The would-be orb destroyers learned and improved with each attack, while the priestesses rained magical bullets on them. Leela wondered how soon before they learned how to shield themselves against magic entirely. Already, she noticed that even though the riders had some singeing marks on them the horses seemed to be unharmed.
The riders charged the priestesses again. Ten of them went ahead, leveling their weapons at the women, while the remainder climbed higher into the air, heading for the sacred orb.
"I'm going up!" Leela shouted and without waiting for acknowledgment started climbing the wire frame. She decided that it was time her comrades also changed tactics, before it was too late. She hoped that her actions would baffle the riders for a while and that her friends on the tower roof would have an additional moment to fight back.
The wire frame turned out to be very sturdy as she climbed it, despite its delicate look. It was very smooth and Leela's initial fear of having her clothes snag was replaced by a fear of slipping. She was weak and slow, clinging to the metal with her last strength.
When she was half-way up, the orb pulsed and she was empowered again. She turned to look at what was going on. The riders did change their formation, as she suspected, and three of them were targeting her. They were too slow.
With the orb's magic welling in her she summoned a forked lightning that hit and incinerated two of them. The third was riding too close to them and was overthrown by his own horse. His scream pierced the night, but to Leela it was the sweet music of victory.
Her rejoicing didn't last long. Although, the lightning came from the clear sky, rather than out of her hands, the other riders knew that she had summoned it and they all charged in her direction. Leela smirked. This was her intention. By concentrating on her, they bunched together, becoming easier targets for her fellows below.
Besides, she still had some magic left in her and gripping the wire frame tightly, she closed her eyes and with her mind searched for the flammable liquid in the flame-throwers. Igniting it was so easy, a brief shadow of a thought, and three of the riders were screeching as their weapons exploded, coating their arms in flames.
Her friends did not remain idle either. While the fire balls they hurled didn't seem to damage the winged horses, they did make them shy and balk, interfering with the riders' maneuvering. A couple of lightning bolts caused even more disarray and the riders were forced to pull back.
Leela knew they would be back in moments. This was a battle to the death and everyone involved knew it. She considered climbing down and rejoining the other priestesses. More were probably already moments away, rushing up the tower stairs, huffing and wheezing, but with enough magic ability to replace Leela and the others.
"At least for tonight!" Leela muttered under her breath, realizing that even with reinforcements, even if they won, the attacks wouldn't stop. More riders would come and more priestesses would die, until the inevitable destruction of the sacred orb. She dared a glimpse upwards. The dark blue sphere just sat there, a sliver of iridescent blue light swirling within.
A moment passed, maybe two, but Leela's gaze was fixed to the orb, her eyes following the dancing light within. Suddenly, the light swelled and filled the entire orb. The weak swirling became a violent whirlpool of magical energy that threatened to spill out of the orb and to suck Leela in at the same time. Yet, she still couldn't look away. Her eyes widening, Leela braced for the orb's pulse.
The pulse wasn't like any other pulse she'd felt before. It wasn't the usual wave of energy that passed over her, leaving her with a fraction of its power. This time, the pulse was shaped into two energy beams streaming directly into Leela's eyes. Her world went black, then bright white and eventually a shimmering blue.
She must have fainted, because she felt too weak to even open her eyes, while some noises managed to filter through into her mind. Fighting noises. Then she remembered and flailed her hands to grip the metal framework, but her hands refused to move. She focused, forcing her eyes open.
When she finally succeeded, the realized that the world was upside down. She tried to shake her head.
"Leela!" Lara's voice called to her. "You're alive!"
Leela groaned, realizing that she was lying flat on her back on the roof of the tower. Directly above her she could see the sacred orb, but it was now completely dark. It looked drained. For a brief moment, Leela thought she saw a faint spark of light within, but it was gone and all she could see was the dark blue crystal.
Leela turned her head to the right. The fighting was raging around her, but this time the orb wouldn't pulse, and her comrades were beginning to drop like flies.
She could see Lauren clutching at Linda's lifeless form, her own frail form bleeding badly. Lily and Lucy looked like two weathered scarecrows, barely standing. Her dearest friend, Lara, was holding her ground through shear stubbornness, but Leela knew that she was as drained as the rest of them.
Strangely enough, as she regained control of her own body, Leela felt stronger and better than expected. She had obviously fallen off the orb's framework, yet she couldn't sense any bruises or broken bones. She looked at the sacred orb again, and again, she spotted the tiniest of glimmers, budding and disappearing immediately.
"Why won't you pulse already?!" She screamed at it. And as if to answer her demand the orb pulsed. It was so sudden and so powerful that Leela's eyes burned with the surge of power.
In a blink of an eye, her body was her own again and she slowly rose, ignoring the piercing headache that threatened to trip her. The other priestesses looked much better. Their health and magical abilities renewed, they rained fire on the accursed riders.
Still, the riders were relentless. They had taken advantage of the priestesses' earlier faltering and were now swooping in for the kill.
Leela wanted to throw up. She was so tired of this. She had magical strength to fight, but her will had gone out of her and all she wanted was for this to be over. Where were the other priestesses? What was taking them so long to climb up the tower stairs? The alarm had been sounded a long time ago. Even the fat and seventy-year old high priestess could have been up here by now. Where were the others?
Her thoughts were cut short by an arrow that pierced her right arm somewhat below the elbow. It went right through, leaving a red stain on her sleeve. There was no pain.
Leela blinked and poked the wound with her left hand. Her arm was whole. She fidgeted with the hole in the sleeve and eventually ripped the thing off entirely, to reveal unblemished and smooth skin under a still wet blood stain.
She raised her head to look at the rider who had shot at her. He had already released another arrow that was flying straight at her heart. Out of reflex, Leela raised her left hand protectively in front of her just in time to intercept the arrow. It got lodged right in the middle of her palm, fletching on one side and the arrow head only an inch away from her chest.
Again, there was no pain. Leela yanked the arrow out and watched in amazement as the wound healed before her eyes.
Ignoring the rider, ignoring all the riders, she looked up at the sacred orb. It hadn't pulsed. She was sure of it. It still looked drained of energy, yet the healing looked exactly as it did whenever the orb had pulsed.
The rider seemed to have noticed her puzzlement and decided to take advantage of this opportunity to get rid of her. He took his war-hammer out of its holster and charged at her.
Leela was still looking at the orb, when his battle cry reached her ears. It sounded so far away, yet so close. So loud, yet so feeble. She turned to face him, to look him in the eye and kept looking at him as he was closing the distance between them. She focused on his eyes, two daggers of hatred aimed at her. Instinctively, she knew what to do.
She raised her sleeveless hand when the rider was close enough for her to touch the winged horse. A blue light enveloped the creature and it vanished in a spray of shimmering blue sparks, like a soap bubble bursting.
The rider was flung ahead, landing with a thud on the roof surface, his weapons scattering around him. Leela knelt at his side and touched his neck. She was pleased to discover that he was still alive. She scanned him with her thoughts for broken bones and other wounds and when she found nothing life threatening she concentrated on a binding spell that would keep him immobile. She had just finished the spell when he regained consciousness.
The first thing he did was spit at her. Then he looked straight at her, challenging her to do something about it and immediately cringed away from her, muttering childish protection rhymes. Leela was too emotionally drained to care how terrible she must look to him.
"Why are you attacking us? Who sent you?" She asked, but the man had closed his eyes and kept repeating the same protection rhymes. Again, not knowing how she knew what to do, Leela put her hand on the man's forehead. He tried to shy away from her, but her binding spell kept him in place.
"You are correct to be afraid of me." She stated and pressed her palm firmly to his skin. His muttering stopped and was replaced by strained breathing. Occasionally, he would gasp for air, breaking contact and Leela would slam her hand into his forehead again. After a while tears started streaming from the man's eyes, but Leela's face remained cold as she rummaged through his thoughts and memories, digging for the source of the attacks against the priestesses.
"You monsters!" She shouted when she was finished. "How could you?! How could you?!" She reeled backwards.
Leela snapped. She rose to her feet and with fists clenched she howled. This drew Lara's attention and that of some of the devil-riders. Leela didn't bother to see what her friend thought about her little fit, but rather turned her gaze onto the rest of the riders.
Now that she knew how to exterminate the winged horses, Leela was unstoppable. She raised both her hands and with a scream she discharged a pulse of her own. The closest winged horse vanished with a silent pop, then the second and finally all of them. The riders plummeted to the ground, screaming and flailing their arms.
The first rider was close enough to the tower to fall onto the parapet and grip it with both hands. Lara advanced in his direction, as did the other priestesses.
"Who sent you?" Lucy screamed at him. "Who sent you?"
The man smiled at them wickedly and whispered, "I die for a greater cause. And you! You just die." He let go of the parapet, tumbling down with a sinister laughter that was cut short when he hit a rooftop below.
The priestesses looked at each other and then, remembering how the winged horses ceased to be, turned to look at Leela.
"Oh goodness! Leela! Your eyes!" Lara exclaimed, marching towards her friend.
The other priestesses also huddled closer looking at her in amazement.
"What's wrong with my eyes?" Leela was seeing everything perfectly. A little better than before, even. She suspected that it was due the excitement of battle and all the blood rising to her face.
"They're blue!" Lucy said.
"Of course they're blue." Leela chuckled. "They've always been blue. Have you never noticed before?" From the looks on the other girls' faces she gathered that something was obviously different. She blinked on purpose, then squinted as hard as she could, but still, she couldn't feel anything amiss.
"What's wrong?!" Leela demanded. "Come on! This isn't funny!" She scanned the tower roof for a reflective surface but couldn't find any. There was no water either and climbing back towards the orb was out of the question.
Leela closed her eyes and tried touching them through her eyelids. Her eyes felt different to the touch. They felt solid. She tried touching her actual eye, knowing it may be impossible to keep her eyelids open, but she somehow managed to wiggle her finger between her fluttering eyelashes to touch a glassy surface.
"Your eyes look like little copies of the sacred orb." Lara suggested. "They are the same color and they look like they're made of crystal."
Leela clicked her finger nail against the place where her pupil should have been. She felt the touch in her finger and the resonating vibrations it sent through her head, but the eye itself was a blank. She clicked one of her front teeth with her other hand. It was exactly the same feeling. Or more correctly, the lack if it.
She lifted her gaze to the sacred orb. Again, a spark of blue light flickered within and then the orb was dark again.
"It wants to pulse. But it doesn't." She whispered. "I think that it is asleep." She took a few steps away from her friends. "When I was up there! something happened! Did any of you see!?" She stood with her back to them, afraid of their reaction should she face them. They had no answer to her question.
"The sacred orb must have transferred all of its power to you." Lara said after a while. "It was always a little bit of energy, but to all priestesses. But, tonight, for some reason, all the energy went to just one." She stepped closer to Leela and put an arm around her shoulder. "In a way," she said, "I think that you are now a part of the sacred orb, and it is a part of you."
Leela looked at her friend, expecting her to flinch at the sight of the glassy blue eyes. Lara didn't. Instead, she was staring at the captured rider. The others were also too worn to think about Leela's eyes, but rather focused on the source of their anguish that night.
Lauren ran to the bound man and kicked him in the stomach. As he doubled over, she prepared to kick him in the head, but Leela pulled her away.
"Save your strength." Was all she managed to say before they all heard commotion sounds from the stairs.
"Reinforcements?" Lily suggested hopefully.
"Yes." Leela said. "But not from our side."
They backed away from the stairs, as a tide of armed men spilled onto the tower's roof.
"They've been planning this for weeks. "Leela explained, as the attackers fanned around the five priestesses. "And it probably would have worked too!" She smiled and stepped forward, her unnatural gaze roaming over their enemies. Surprise and worry crossed the faces of those who were closest, but it didn't matter. It was too late for them and for the one who had sent them.
Leela reached out for the sacred orb with her mind and felt that its energy was still there, it was simply dormant, waiting for her command. She took another step forward and this time, the attackers at the front tried to back away, as blue light started flowing from her eyes. They started panicking and tried to retreat, but those who were behind them and couldn't see the blue cloud of light creeping towards them, charged forward.
When the blue mist reached one of the attackers, he would turn into it, blending with the cloud and becoming a part of it. Very slowly, the cloud of light advanced, swallowing up one enemy after another, until there was no one on the roof except the priestesses. Then, the light rolled on down the stairs, after the rest of the assailants.
The tower roof became very quiet all of a sudden, and just as suddenly, Lara and the others were shouting their joy at the victory, hugging Leela and thanking her.
Leela sighed. She knew that this wasn't the end of it.
She closed her exceptionally blue eyes and decided to enjoy the brief moment of triumph nonetheless.