After my first strike on the fog, it suddenly sped up. It was slowly gaining ground, and I found myself backing away more and more. A nervous crowd watched me work from a distance, but most people were just trying to get away as fast as possible. I was gathering up another wave of water when lightning struck. Zack stood right in between me and the fog. I released the water around me. “Get out of the way.”
Zack didn’t budge. “No.”
I was surprised that I wasn’t surprised. “Why not? That fog is trying to kill thousands of people. I have to hold it back. If you don’t move, I’ll hit you, too.”
“The fog is an extension of Meo. If you attack it, you hurt him.”
I tried to walk to the side, but Zack followed me. I really didn’t want to hurt him. It felt like a step backwards from my growth. “So? If Meo has to experience a little pain to save thousands of lives, I think it’s worth it. I’m fine if you’re on his side more than I am, I understand how complicated this all is, but all of these innocent people can’t die.”
“Yes, they can,” Zack insisted. “They’ll all die in a few years, anyways. Meo’s life is more important than you realize.”
“You think you get to decide which lives are important or not?” I asked.
“I don’t like it either, but I have to look at the bigger picture. Sometimes people have to die to protect life as a whole.” A sword suddenly appeared in his hand. “Trust me when I say I’m right. You don’t have the point of view to understand.”
I got ready to defend myself. “You’re not going to like this, but that honestly sounds like something Master Bordellon would say.”
Zack’s hair rose with static. “How dare you!” He launched himself at me.
I built a shield out of ice to protect myself. The sword smashed right through it, and I backed away. “Calm down, Zack! I thought we were friends!”
“Don’t call me that!” Zack ran at me again. “That’s a name Domic gave me to hide my true identity, to use me as a weapon. Are you trying to make me mad?”
I turned around and ran. I wasn’t egging him on. I was trying to communicate with complete honesty. “Ok, you’re Diamond! Sorry I’m still confused because Master Bordellon lied to me, too. It’s still no reason for us to fight!”
Thunder rolled, and then Diamond beamed down in front of me. “I don’t want to fight you either, Josh. But if I have to do it to protect Meo, I will.”
I skidded to a stop and turned around to run the other way. “Why are we always fighting?”
Diamond ran up beside me and stayed on my left. “I’m honestly not sure. I’m not very good at the whole friend thing. It’s for a good reason, too. I can’t let individual humans take priority over my duties.” He threw an arc of electricity at me.
I dodged the shot and stopped running, out of breath. “Well, it sure does sound like you care about Meo.” I formed and icicle and shot it at Diamond.
Diamond rolled to the side and back to his feet. “I Don’t! Everyone is safer if he stays alive. I would tell you more, but it turns out the only other person who knew all the details decided to take advantage of it.” He ran towards me.
“So you don’t trust me?” I grew a wall of ice between us, but made sure it was thicker than before. “I’m fighting for the greater good. We should be on the same side!”
Diamond crackled with electricity and slammed into the ice, shattering it. “Your mortal point of view clouds your judgement of what the greater good truly is.” He sent out a shockwave.
The pulse of electricity slammed me onto my back. I tried to get up, but I was dizzy from the shock. A familiar feeling, unfortunately.
Diamond’s foot pressed down on my chest, and his sword pointed at my nose. “You can’t beat me, Josh, especially when you’re not angry. Now stay down.”
Despite everything, I was happy for the break and the chance to catch my breath. “You’d really kill me? You’ve changed a lot.”
“So have you.” Diamond narrowed his eyes. “It’s hard to admit, but Domic’s manipulations have left its mark. I really, really don’t want to hurt you. Don’t make me.”
I took a moment to consider my options. A little boy running away from the fog with his family tripped. His mother turned around to help him back up, but I could tell they weren’t going to make it. I craned my head to get a good look at the fog, then slammed it back with a wave.
Diamond sighed and raised his sword. “Stubborn humans are always the most frustrating.”
A sheet of metal slammed into him, sending him flying. I looked over at the direction it had come from. Heather waved to me from across the street, Anna-Claire beside her.
I started to get up. “What timing! I was starting to wonder if you had run away scared.”
Heather rolled her eyes. “We’ve been standing here this whole time, waiting for the most dramatic second possible.”
I walked up to her. “Really?”
Anna-Claire shook her head. “It’s a stroke of luck we showed up when we did. I see Master Bordellon’s plan to motivate Diamond to his side has backfired.”
I looked behind me. The sheet of metal was wrapped around Diamond from his shoulders to his knees. He was struggling to get out, electricity jumping everywhere. “Yeah. He’s sort of a jerk now.”
Heather raised her eyebrows. “You’re one to talk.”
I sighed. “Good point.”
“Free me this instant!” Diamond yelled, kicking his legs.
Heather frowned at him. “Why was he trying to kill you? It’s usually the other way around.”
I folded my arms. “Don’t remind me. I’ve been holding back the fog, but apparently it hurts Meo when I do. He didn’t like that.” I waved around at the crowd of survivors. “I had to do it, though. We had a disagreement like usual.”
Anna-Claire lifted Diamond’s metal container into the air. We started to walk to get some distance away from the fog, with Diamond unwillingly floated behind us. I went back to pushing back the fog. “Now that things have calmed down, where the heck is Aiden?”
Diamond stopped fighting against the metal. “Hospital.”
I tensed up. “What?”
“Don’t worry, he’ll survive. He was near Meo when you attacked the fog and got hurt.”
“He shouldn’t have been anywhere near Meo in the first place!” I snapped. “We tried to tell you it was a bad idea, and you didn’t listen, and now he’s hurt!”
Diamond avoided my gaze. “I don’t regret it. It would have worked fine if you hadn’t interfered, and Meo would be back in control of his body. The fog would be gone already.”
“How?” Heather asked. “What could Aiden do that we can’t?”
Diamond refused to speak anymore, which we all found frustrating. I had no idea what to do about him, or Meo. I couldn’t figure out who the enemy was. It was giving me a headache. All that I knew for sure was that I had to keep the fog away from innocent people, so that’s what I kept doing.
A black cloud came down from the sky and formed into a figure I had only seen once, back in Pondacrea, right before I dreamed about my mother. Purple fog was flowing from him and inching towards us.
Diamond started struggling again. “No. No, no, no, no, no.”
I looked over at him, startled. I’d never seen him so scared, especially since he’d found out he was Diamond. It made me scared, too.
Meo stepped forward and spread out his hands. “Hello, young rebels, and million-year-old or so rebel. Wait.” He looked over at Diamond. “How old are you again?”
Diamond was too busy struggling to answer.
Meo shrugged. “Whatever. I haven’t been in this much control of this body in ages, and I plan to take full advantage of it.”
I looked over at Heather. “That doesn’t sound good.”
Heather shook her head. “I- I don’t know what to do. I think that’s Devarus in control, which means it might not be fair to hurt Meo, but I have no idea.”
Meo sent a surge of purple fog towards us. I reacted in time and forced it away with a wave of water. “I think it’s either him, or us and this whole city.”
Heather took a deep breath and nodded. “Right, good point. I don’t think there’s any clean, we’re-totally-on-the-right-side heroic way to do this, but we still have to do it.” She looked over at Diamond. “Should we release you? Whose side are you on?”
Diamond looked over at her. “I am on my own side. Not yours, or Devarus’s.”
Heather threw her hands up in frustration. “Can somebody please give me a clear and easy answer?”
“There isn’t any.”
I whirled around. Master Bordellon was walking up to us, shackles hanging from his wrists. “If you bungalows can’t make a decision and do the right thing even though it’s hard, I guess I’ll just have to do it myself!” He stomped his foot, and the ground started to shake. The high towers swayed violently.
I fell onto my back and groaned. “Not again.”
“No!” Diamond’s whole body and the metal around him started sparking in all directions. “Don’t kill Meo! That’s what Devarus wants!”
Heather was levitating an inch off the ground to avoid the quakes. “Why in the world would he want that?”
“He likes win-win situations!” Diamond yelled. “He wouldn’t attack us this upfront unless there was something guaranteed to gain from it.”
Anna-Claire tried to help me to my feet. “It’s either he dies, or this whole city falls. Even if death is a win for Devarus because he will live on as a Gem, I still see it as the better option than losing everyone here.”
Diamond squeezed his eyes shut. “Fine! But you can’t prevent the inevitable forever. Doing this will ensure an even worse future.”
I leaned against Anna-Claire for support. Between pushing back the fog for so long and fighting Diamond, I was getting very tired. “You’re getting more and more cryptic every second!”
Diamond wouldn’t look at me.
Heather sighed. “We’re doing what we think is right with the information we have. Maybe if you would tell us what was going on, we could make a more educated decision, but you won’t. I really hate to admit it, but I think Master Bordellon has the best idea. Note how I said best, not right.”
I heard screaming behind me and turned around. The towers were starting to collapse from all the shaking. The crowds in the streets were panicking and trying to run away, but everything was falling down. I started running towards them as best I could. “No, bad idea!” I yelled behind me. “Get him to stop!”
I grew a wall of ice up the side of one building to support it, then shot icicles at the blocks still falling. They all either missed, or shattered against the debris without doing anything. I was out of breath, and the shaking wasn’t stopping. Master Bordellon probably thought some buildings and a couple bystanders were ok to lose.
Out of nowhere, beams of fire shot out and collided with the blocks, knocking them off course of the crowd. One slammed down dangerously close to me, but I kept running despite everything. Puddijello was on the other side of the crowd, crouched and ready.
The building to my right that I hadn’t supported crumbled completely. I reached the crowd and threw up a dome of ice around us as fast as I could. Rocks of various sizes started to pound against the surface and crack it. I collapsed to my hands and knees, trying to catch a breath, as stone, metal, and glass rained down. I had done my best.
Multiple hands grabbed me and dragged me away right before a metal beam smashed through right where I had just been. More rubble crashed through my shield, but everyone was able to get away in time. The few chunks that happened to break through were much easier to avoid than the whole building. I looked up at all the people who had carried me away. “Thank you.”
One of them smiled. “Thanks back. You’re a hero.”
The rumbling stopped. Puddijello bounced over and started licking my face. Once again, I found it hard to breath. “No- peh! Stop!”
Puddijello ceased and sat down, but their tail continued to thump around in excitement. People helped me to my feet, and I opened an entrance in the dome. I walked back over to Heather to see what had happened.
Master Bordellon was waving his hands in the air and dancing on top of a pile of dirt. “Ha! I showed all of you! You were all like ‘no, you’re a bad person’ and guess who’s the hero now? Guess who’s questionable tactics actually worked? Who saved the world? Me! Because I was the only one brave enough to get the dirty work done!”
Heather folded her arms. “Get out.”
Master Bordellon froze and looked at her. “What do you mean?”
Heather pointed behind her at the crowd. “All of these people would have died if Josh hadn’t saved them! You destroyed the city more than you saved it!”
Master Bordellon glared at us. “So? They didn’t die, because Josh did save them.”
“I almost failed,” I said. “That was a huge and unnecessary risk. There were other ways to solve this from the very beginning.”
Anna-Claire nodded. “You took the easier and faster solution over the safer one. That doesn’t sound like a hero to me.”
Master Bordellon huffed. “Fine! I don’t need your appreciation, or support, or victory party, or bananas! You’re all lost causes. Even after you see me win, you still think I’m in the wrong. That sounds like being stupid and not open minded to me. I’m going to find people with the same amount of brains I have, Bye!” He spun around and started walking away.
“Good riddance,” Heather muttered.
I looked over at Diamond. He had his head down and was shaking a little.
Anna-Claire opened her fists, and the metal sheet around Diamond returned back to her. He fell to the ground, but managed to stay on his feet.
“What now?” Heather asked, giving him a stern look.
Diamond avoided all of our gazes. “I have to go.”
Heather arched an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
Diamond looked off into the distance. “I have to get as far away from here as possible and hide.” He hesitated, then sighed. “Devarus wants to-“
A metal spear flew out of nowhere and imbedded itself in Diamond’s chest. The impact sent him to his knees. He stared down at it in shock, and then he started to flicker like he wasn’t really there.
I looked in the direction of the shot while Heather ran over to him. Eddie was standing a couple feet away, and giant crossbow in his hands and a quiver of more spears on his back. He met my gaze and smiled. “A weapon that can pierce through diamond! I’ve really outdone myself this time.”
Anna-Claire took a step towards him. “What are you doing? Meo is dead, the battle is over.”
Eddie shook his head and chuckled. “The real battle has just begun, sister! Now, step out of the way or I get to see what these spears do to soft humans.”
There was a bright flash. A diamond the shape and size of a human heart and a raw piece of amber only slightly smaller clattered against the road. Heather scooped them up in her arms. “I’ll get him away!” She flew up into the air.
Eddie rolled his eyes and notched another spear. Anna-Claire clenched her fists, and all the spears crumpled with an ear-splitting screech. Eddie glared at her after wincing and covering his ears. “Really? Those took me months to make!”
I put up my fists. “Whatever you want Diamond for, we’re not going to let you take him.”
Eddie sighed. “Alright.” He pulled something out of his pocket and chucked it against the ground. Smoke billowed out with a hiss and made my eyes water. I tried to blink and wave it away, but by the time it was gone, Eddie was to.
Heather landed next to me, which startled me a little. She was still holding Diamond and Amber in her arms. I could hear Aiden saying “Ah yes, give your boyfriend a big hug.” I really hoped he was going to be ok.
Heather stared at the remains of the smoke bomb. “Well, that was anti-climactic.”
I walked around in a slow circle. “Does anybody else want to fight us, or are we finally done now?”
Puddijello barked and gave me a daring look.
“Not you,” I said. I looked over at the dirt mound that Master Bordellon had danced on. “Is Meo…”
Heather nodded with a frown. “Dead. Master Bordellon opened up a hole in the ground and pushed him in. That was also rather anti-climactic. You didn’t miss much.”
I took a deep breath. It was all over, but it didn’t feel as good as I had expected it to. My hometown was still dead and destroyed. I had still gone through so many traumatic experiences. At least nobody else would have to go through something like it, and I had been a part of keeping it that way.
After the battles and the shaking, everything was still and quiet, especially compared to how busy the city had been before. I looked around at the crumbled buildings, feeling lost.
“It looks a lot better from up in the air,” Heather said. “The fog only ate through somewhere around an 8th of the town, while the quakes affected somewhere around a quarter. We prevented a lot of damage, and probably a lot of death.”
I nodded. “We did the best we could. But are you seriously telling me that Master Bordellon dealt twice as much damage as Meo did?”
“Yup. Pretty pathetic, if you ask me.” She looked down at the two Gems in her arms. “So… what now?”
I had absolutely no idea.