Chapter 1

"Wow," Mara breathed.

"Yeah, I'd say that about sums it up," Jared commented coming up beside her as they reentered Jerel.

Or rather what was left of Jerel. They were coming through the remnants of Creation's Gate which had been blown to hell. The outer gate was still more or less intact, but the iron doors had been ripped off their hinges.

On the other hand, the inner gate was nothing more than a smoldering hole in the wall. The chunks of "indestructible" black granite littering the courtyard testified to the raw power of the explosion that the sorcerers had set off. Charred white limestone and various body parts of the Navi unfortunate enough to be close to the gate just added to the image.

Further on, the scene got even more greusome. Fires throughout the city were still burning despite Selene and Andrew's efforts during the four hours since Brutus's defeat. Almost the entire western half of the city was flattened. Most noticeably was the Temple, which was in flames with the pinnacle missing. Even as they watched, another part of the Temple collapsed.

There was a crunch that made both Jared and Mara look down to see Barak lift his hoof out of the chest of a dead sorcerer whose flesh had been almost entirely burned off, leaving only a pair of wide, lifeless eyeballs staring at nothing. Looking around, they saw torched Navi, sorcerers with trees growing out of their chests, and dismembered body parts that couldn't be traced to either side. It was a gruesome enough a sight to make even Jared and Mara, who had walked through the aftermaths of countless battlefields, blanch. They had never seen destruction on this level ever before.

"I can't believe that this was done by only 80 people," Mara shook her head as she pulled her eyes from the grisly scene and tried to focus on something else only to find that there was nowhere to look.

"As much as I hate to say it, Selene was right," Jared added. "We didn't belong here; we'd have been killed within minutes and made no difference."

"No kidding," Mara agreed with a nod. "We heard the fight all yesterday but I could never have imagined it was like this."

"Do you think she made it?" Jared questioned.

"I don't know, Jared," his sister answered honestly. "I can't see how anyone could survive this. This place feels so lifeless."

"I guess we'll find out soon enough," Jared sighed as they prodded their mounts into the devastation.

Twenty minutes later, they rode over the shattered remnants of the wall that led into the Temple courtyard. Up close, the damage was even worse. Gaping holes yawned from the western side of the ziggurat, growing larger as more pieces collapsed inwards as the supports weakened or simply burned out. It was strange to see the Temple without its pinnacle, the Creator's Chamber have been blown apart.

At the center of the activity were three individuals who were frantically working to douse the flames and keep things from getting worse, which was a losing battle. Two of them were condensing the air into miniature rain clouds and spraying the water over various fires burning all over the area. One of them was a tall man with long dark hair tied into a ponytail and bulging muscles and the other was a woman of average height with a svelte, attractive figure. Even though her clothes were torn and singed and she was covered in soot, dirt, and blood, there was no mistaking her long, albeit filthy blond hair.

"Selene!" Jared called to her.

Selene whirled around, dropping a cloud of water onto the ground in the process. Her face was covered in dirt but her white teeth shone through as she broke out into a broad grin.

"Jared! Mara!" she shouted back as she sprinted towards them while Jared and Mara dismounted. Before either twin could react, Selene wrapped them in a massive hug, smudging grime all over them both.

"Good to see that you made it out alive," Jared dryly remarked although he was visibly relieved. "Brutus?"

"Pile of ash," Selene informed evenly. "As are all but a couple of sorcerers."

"Are you all that are left?" Mara questioned, indicating the other two Navi who were still working to put out fires.

Selene's face fell. "Yeah," she confirmed. "It's just me, Pedro, and Andrew."

Jared let out a low whistle. "Must've been a battle for the ages," he observed looking around. "I've never seen destruction like this."

"At least you won," Mara commented.

"Won?" Selene cocked her head at the War Master. "You think we won? If this was a victory, one more victory like this and we're finished. So much destruction, so many good people dead," she shook her head as she shuddered, suppressing more tears that threatened to return. "Alejandro. Johann. Maria. All gone. The city all but destroyed. No, we can't call this a victory."

"It couldn't be helped," Mara tried to encourage Selene. "This was going to be a battle of attrition, you knew that. Just surviving is a victory."

"Still," Selene sighed, "I wish I could've done more. I mean, look at this place," she swept her hand around what was left of the city. "Jerel is supposed to be the center of the world, a jewel of unity and harmony. But, well, just look at it."

"Yeah, it's a mess," Mara agreed. "But sometimes things need to be wiped clean before being rebuilt."

"Rebuilt by whom?" Selene demanded. "The Emperors are gone. The Navi are all but destroyed. Let's face it, Manasseh's won."

"Not quite yet," Jared replied as he gently lifted their patient down from Barak's back. She was alive, barely and in bad shape despite the Anorian doctor's best effort.

"Who's that?" Selene questioned.

"Emmanuelle, or what's left of her," Jared informed.

"Oh my," Selene's eyes went wide as she rushed to the girl's side when Jared placed her on the ground. "What happened?"

"Not entirely sure," Jared responded. "She stumbled into our camp last night after a unicorn attack, we think. Apparently she was looking for me because something happened to Micaela."

"Something's happened to Micaela?" Selene jerked her head back to Jared. His face was impassive as usual. She could've read his mind to know what he was really thinking but decided not to. "What?"

"We don't know," Mara answered for her brother. "She was delirious when we found her and has been in a coma since."

"That's why we brought her back here," Jared added. "We were hoping that you guys could help her out so that we can find out what has happened with Micaela."

"Pedro!" Selene motioned to the Anorian. "I need your help."

"What is it?" he queried jogging over. "Oh, hi Jared, Mara. You two are back quick."

"Emergency," Mara gestured to the injured woman.

"Whoa, what happened to her?" Pedro's eyes bulged at the sight of Emmanuelle. Her skin was pale and what had been fresh bandages were now soaked in blood from reopened wounds.

"Unicorns," Jared responded. "Can you help her?"

"Eventually," Selene reported after examining Emmanuelle's body. "She's seriously messed up. Those beasts really tore her up and she's lost a ton of blood since then. I get why you're scared of them."

"What can you do?" Jared asked, ignoring the subtle barb.

"Our powers are really drained from the battle, so we can't heal all of her damage right now," Selene explained. "When we expend so much strength, healing can be dangerous for us as we are giving our life force. But we can stabilize her enough to get her through the night. Hopefully by morning we'll be strong enough to finish the job. Sorry guys, but that's the best we can do."

"We'll take it," Jared told her.

Just then there was a loud, low rumble followed by a thundering crash as more of the western side of the Temple came crashing down. Selene's shoulders slumped in despair as she watched more of her home disintegrate around her.

"It's so much," she sighed. "I can't fix it all. What am I going to do?"

"Rebuild," Mara suggested. "Cities, kingdoms, empires have been destroyed before only to be rebuilt. Think of it as a clean slate."

"I suppose," Selene allowed resignedly before looking at Emmanuelle. "At least there's one thing I know I can fix. Come on Pedro, let's get to work."

The two Navi knelt down in the dust beside Emmanuelle and placed their hands on her. It didn't really matter where; she had gashes and punctures everywhere. In a moment, the four hands began to glow over the Amazon's body as they slowly repaired it. Two minutes later, they stopped, panting hard.

"Is she healed?" Jared asked anxiously.

"No," Selene rasped in returned, swallowing hard to get some moisture in her dry mouth. "We can give no…no more. But she is stabilized for now."

"Are you okay?" Mara inquired next of the two Navi.

"We'll live," Pedro answered between heavy breaths. He was sweating profusely and almost as pale as Jared on a sunny day, which was a weird sight. "But we're done with everything for the day. In fact, we're going to need a place to crash."

"To bad our house is crashing around us," Selene, who looked just as bad as Pedro if not worse, commented as another part of the Temple collapsed. It was like watching a wet sandcastle disintegrate in the sun. Selene just sighed heavily, too tired to weep at the destruction of her home.

"Well," Jared observed looking to the south, "the Imperial Palace seems untouched. We could hole up in there."

"Sounds good to me," Selene agreed, her head nodding lazily. "She's, uh, safe to transport. Pedro and I will…Pedro and I will work on her more tomorrow. Right now we need rest."

"Yeah, rest," Pedro commented slumping down on the ground.

"Andrew!" Mara called to the lone Navi conscious and still valiantly fighting the flames. "We need your help getting them to the Imperial Palace."

"What about the fires?" queried the Malchian.

"Let 'em burn," Jared responded. "You can't stop it anyway. Let it burn out overnight. Right now we have more important things to do."

"Okay," the Navi relented as he trotted over.

"We'll put Selene and Pedro on the horses," Mara informed him. "Can you carry Emmanuelle?"

"Sure but I'd rather carry Selene," Andrew semi-objected.

"We know," Jared coldly countered, giving Andrew an arctic glare. "But despite Selene's semi-lucid assurances, I'd like to keep Emmanuelle's jostling to a minimum. I was hoping that you would create an earthen bed and float her over."

"Like this?" Andrew asked as he reached out his hand over Emmanuelle. A crack in the earth ran around Emmanuelle in a roughly rectangular shape and a moment later she was lifted into the air on a stone stretcher.

"Yeah, that was the idea," Jared allowed grudging approval. "Now let's get them bunked down."