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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Fantasy · #2230882
final round entry for Clash!
Mae drug the unconscious assassin that had been her partner in the quest to find a way to lift this mysterious curse on all creation. They had just finished forming a plan to take on the dragon that appeared to be the source of the curse. Well, it was the dragon or the emerald giving off green waves of energy that the dragon guarded. Mae looked down at the purplely-gray skin of her former partner. Just before they rushed the dragon to steal the enormous gem, Turiel had begun swatting at something Mae couldn't see before she simply collapsed into an unconsciousness Mae couldn't wake her from.

Mae laid Turiel out comfortably some distance from the dragon's chamber. Then she turned back to reassess her plans. She couldn't both distract the dragon safely and steal the gem. That required a partner. Mae contemplated attempting to fragment the gem with her mental abilities. She had never tried destructive telekinesis on magical objects before. She had destroyed a fair many. Usually, she did it with her physical strength or the aid of some tool, twice a broken brick laying around the fight zone. She knew magical objects could be quite durable. She quietly snuck up on the dragon's chamber again. Mae peeked in the dragon still seemed focused on the gem.

Mae withdrew a distance and swore silently to herself. If only she had a partner. As if in answer to an unvoiced prayer one of the other women unaffected by the curse appeared in a swirl of sand in front of Mae with a falcon perched on her shoulder. Mae wondered if the falcon was Ai's partner somehow magically transfigured or if Ai had picked up another straggler. Where was Ai's partner?

"Your name was Mae, was it not? I can't remember what form of magical being you were," Ai stated walking around Mae, examining her closely.

"Yeah, my name is Mae. I don't know if I personally qualify as a 'magical being' I have certain abilities..."

"Yes, yes, very nice. Hold still!" Ai approached Mae aggressively as though she was going to attempt to walk through her.

Mae reflexively raised her hands and batted Ai away with her mind. Usually, she managed things like that with no real effort on her part but there was an unexpected resistance still, Ai flew ten feet backwards. "And what are you doing?"

Ai gathered herself with grace after the unexpected resistance to her plan of action, "I am attempting to follow the trail of the curse back through you to its source. You and the others are the gateways through which the curse is flowing. I can
sense the energy flow and see its disturbance of your shadow."

"My shadow?" Mae looked down at her shadow there were indeed shimmering flame-like aberrations in its outline on a near-microscopic scale. "Have you thought perhaps that that is just the curse trying to drag us down too? Your shadow is doing the same thing!"

Ai examined her shadow and seemed to deflate. She had clearly been certain of the correctness of her assessment. "Then I fear we will never find the source of this curse."

"Well, it could be the dragon, or the gem it is guarding," Mae stated gesturing to the dragon's chamber, "It is the only creature other than us that I have seen that is conscious."

"What kind of gem?"

"An enormous emerald," Mae led her to the chamber.

"She could be correct, surely you can sense the waves of energy flowing from there," the Falcon stated as they followed.

Mae took a talking falcon in stride. She knew a lot of talking animals, back in Sanctuary it was a hot button political argument that they didn't receive the full rights of a citizen and they should. Mae favored legal and social protection for them after all even androids had received full rights as sentients.

Ai scornfully looked over the dragon in its lair, "What do you propose?" She whispered.

Mae felt a wave of dizziness and saw vague images at the periphery of her vision, "The way I see it, we need to destroy that gem and takedown that dragon."

"Okay, and when that doesn't work?"

Mae shook off the sudden sleepiness she felt, "I have a feeling we have one shot. I don't know how much longer either of us can resist the curse."

"Fine, I will take the dragon you deal with the gem!" Ai headed directly into the dragon's lair and engaged it in battle. Magical energies began to fly between her and the dragon as they fought.

Mae ran in after a moment and laid her hands on the gem. She rarely had any more of a plan than she was working with now. Usually, she succeeded by turning the energy of her opponent back on itself. This gem wasn't an opponent or was it. Mae felt the energy and a will behind it. It was a fearful malice Mae had never experienced. Through the points of contact that consciousness tried to slam her down into the state of dreams.

The closest Mae could come to comparing this to prior experience was the time she had taken on the sentient implosive device meant to destroy an entire universe. It was called a dark energy warhead or crunch bomb. She had wrestled with it mentally while physically under attack by more mundane entities. The battle had separated her mind-soul from her body briefly and she existed within the device and outside of it simultaneously.

Mae focused her mind like a laser and began reflecting the gem's attacks back on it. Instinctually she aimed for the structural imperfections within the energy matrix of the gem. It howled in her mind as she began to strike telling blows. All Ai would see of the battle would be Mae with her hands on two facets of the gem while staring into it. Time dilated for Mae. Seconds were hours and minutes lasted seconds. She began to drive the will of the gem back into its core. With a final blow to that core consciousness, the energy matrix shattered as did its physical representation, the gem.

The gem shattered explosively and flung Mae against the stony chamber's wall. She started to blackout from the impact but the shards of the gem embedded in her flesh burned with an icy flame. She struggled back into full consciousness and began pulling shards from her arms and chest.

"Well, you did it. I was beginning to think you were going to either fall to the curse or tickle it to death," Ai stated. She stood over the dragon. It was dead with a spear of crystalline energy thrust square through its braincase. It was clearly well dead.

"How long?" Mae asked hoarsely as she pulled the last shard from her throat.

"It has been an hour since I killed the beast."

"Sorry, I hurried every bit I could," Mae stood and brushed herself off. Emerald fragments studded the walls and dragon, actually everything in the chamber except for Ai and the Falcon.

"So, now what?" Ai asked, "How do we tell if we succeeded?"

Mae smiled and ran from the chamber to where she had left Turiel laying comfortably. Turiel stirred from her fitful slumber and awoke with terror fading from her red eyes. Then the woman sat and pulled the hood to conceal her face. Mae felt a stab of embarrassed self-loathing from Turiel. She was not used to being this vulnerable. "Welcome back," Mae smiled.

"You managed to destroy the gem alone?"

Ai joined them, "No, I took down the dragon."

Mae closed her eyes and reached out her mind she could feel consciousness returning to the world they stood on and the universe and multiverse beyond.

"We did it," Mae stated with a grin.

"Was it the gem or the dragon?" Ai asked, no doubt hoping to claim full credit.

"It could have been both," Turiel stated.

"I don't care, as long as the nightmares are over!" Mae smiled. She paused and thought of Alexander and his park bench. Without focusing hard at all she was back there. Alexander was picking himself off the ground. Mae rushed to help him up.

"That is going to hurt tomorrow!" Alexander said settling onto the bench.

"What was it like?" Mae asked.

"What?"

"Your nightmare?"

Alexander opened his mouth. He closed his mouth. Then shaking his head he spoke, "I can't remember anything beyond that it was awful. Even that is fading."

Mae checked his pulse, breathing, and blood sugar. He was completely normal. She smiled at him. "I was afraid we were going to lose you."

"I am sturdier stuff than that. A little bad dream isn't going to take me out!" Alexander smiled back.

That was about the time half a dozen factors appeared in the grass behind the bench, "Chief, what are you doing out here?"

"Somebody had to break the curse," Mae shrugged and teleported home.
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