Cabanela’s hand was still outstretched in shock, his mouth open to scream something he would never afterward remember. As if in slow-motion, he watched the statue that had been Alma’s body fall out of the air and hit the floor with a resounding crash. The dream children stopped dead. The laughter stopped. All the world was still and quiet, cold as stone, except for the thunderous pounding in his ears.
A scream shook the air. Was it his? Jowd’s? Kamila’s? He had killed her, all accidentally, but it was done nevertheless. Somewhere, the part of him that was still rational told him that it was not his fault, but that part was a fool and not in possession of all the facts, which were: Alma was dead, and by his hand.
He stood stock-still, staring. Beautiful Alma, who had danced with him, laughed at his jokes, cried for his singing. Furious Alma, raging at his seeming betrayal, slapping him on the parapets of Figaro. Alma.
He sank to his knees, undone at last. He’d stayed strong and proud through everything, tried to be the soldier he’d been trained his whole life to become, had been, well, not stoic, because stoicism was impossible for a Cabanela, but had tried his best to believe that something could be salvaged. He’d been confident, despite everything.
Dimly, he could hear the scream, rising in pitch, scaling up and far past where the human ear should be able to hear or comprehend it. Rising to the point of madness. He dared to look at Jowd, likewise on his knees, hands held futilely to his ears. Kamila, too, crouched inward over herself. Their faces should have been drained, lost of all hope. And yet, they were staring past him, at the broken remains.
He looked, although he could hardly bear it, and was struck dumb yet again. A black, syrupy smoke was rising from the cracked stone, into a darkly lit, firey form that quickly bulked much bigger than Alma’s slim stature. It rose over them, chanting some horrendous demonic language and reaching for Cabanela. As the vast hand moved close, he could see the mask, smoke streaming from it. Before he even had time to consciously react, Jowd pulled him back and fired a sheaf of icy spears deep into the heart of the smoke. Kamila followed it up with a wintry blast of chilly air and giant ice chunks. Magic rained from all directions.
Cabanela, if nothing else, was willing to help destroy the mask that had been such a harbinger of ill fates for himself and everyone close to him. When his signature lightning was ineffective, he turned to the greatest spell in his arsenal of magic, hard won from magicite gifted to him by Lynne, and gratefully used in the time of greatest need.
He prepared the cast, muttering the words which would call the end of the world down around their heads. The being known as Wrexsoul, evidently able to recognize the spell, drove itself at him, howling pleas and promises above the rising winds and the crash of icicles driving themselves into its body.
“Don’t you know that you and I could rule the world together? Magic user, with me as your partner and wearing the artifact your race foolishly calls the Slave Crown, all would bow to us. Everyone in this world would do your bidding, in and out of dreams. Think what you’re throwing away! You’d be greater by far than that fool in Vector who didn’t know what he had!”
Cabanela finished the spell, with all but the last word remaining. He looked the mask in the eye. There was so much he would have liked to say, here at the end of all things, but there was only one thing to say. Without further showmanship, an amazing feat in and of itself, he said it.
The spell crashed down around them, destroying the cobbled stones of the castle, banishing the writhing demon children without a trace, and shattering the mask into a million tiny flying shards. One cut his cheek as it flew past, but Cabanela ignored it as he dove to protect the statue that had been Alma from the roof coming down upon their heads.
“Go on!” he yelled to Jowd and Kamila.
“Not ever again!” shouted Jowd as he sprinted forward with speed belied by his bulk, scooped the statue over his shoulder, and lifted Cabanela with one hand. “Run!”
They all ran, flying through the crumbling castle as the whole structure, abandoned and neglected for too long to take the stress of the battle, roared and began to fall. One by one, they flew out the grand entrance way, rolling and tumbling to avoid the stones falling. Kamila ran out first, fell, then rolled upward, ready to go back if necessary.
Jowd and Cabanela ran out together, holding the statue. They kept running, without looking back, until they were well away from the fallen ruins of Doma.
With infinite care, Jowd at last set the statue down. The sun was rising and the wind was cold. Cabanela shivered but refused to take his eyes from Alma’s stone visage. What had been the point of saving the statue? She wasn’t there.
“Are you sure?” said Jowd, the old familiar sardonic smirk on his face. “Personally, I think what you did was brilliant, but what do I have to say about the situation, anyway?”
Kamila and Cabanela looked at him, as he threw his head back and laughed; it was his old laugh, a blast of unfettered humor from the times when he had seen the joke, and no one else had. Finally, he calmed and shook his head
“Watch,” he said, and walked over to Alma. He whispered something in her ear, then kissed her cold cheek. As they watched, the stone melted away and the paleness of flesh reappeared. She crumpled forward, but Jowd caught her and swept her into his arms.
“Call the airship,” he said. “Let’s get her to bed.”