Robin stared at the woman in red standing in the center of the room. She felt hatred surge through her more strongly than she had felt for some time. Before her stood a person whom took lives and played games with them. The red woman had taken souls from people until they had faded away into nothing. Claret was just like Ceera. A monster. What little humanity that may have remained in her wasn’t strong enough for Robin to feel sympathy for the warlock.

 

An unbalanced pillar will fall.

 

Oxplow…she didn’t need to hear his voice echoing in her head. She knew what she wanted to do.

 

Kage began to move closer to the warlock and Robin grabbed her hand, pulling her back a few steps. Kage needed protecting more than the monster needed to die. And Miss Ida was gone, too, Claret had made her vanish to somewhere. Claret would take them all away…she would hurt them. They couldn’t understand what it would be like. How it would feel to slowly fade away into nothing.

 

Robin reacted when the battle began. She charged the warlock, swinging kicks and punches laced with negative chi to inflict damage and to block the flow of the woman’s chi and failed to inflict very much damage. She wasn’t a match for this woman. Not by a long shot.

 

Maybe her failure was due to the rising heat in the room. The flames along the walls seemed to grow hotter, she was having trouble breathing, wavering. Maybe it was her incompetence…

 

Ceera stared at her, wreathed in flame. She was drowning in fire. Not fire…a coffin. A black, gnome-sized coffin…just her size…laced with arcane energy. She was slipping, falling into a sleep. There wa—

 

…Koryander’s flaming sword shattered the runes in the ceiling, causing the entire room to shake and tremble. Robin lost her balance and fell flat on her bottom. Robin sat there, dazed, barely hearing what Claret said. ..the school…is…where is it? She struggled to her feet as it dawned on her. Kory had just opened up a damn hole to the Twisting Nether. Whatever, that was one hell of a throw.

 

The fire was too much. Too much of a reminder of that damned mage. Robin’s legs trembled. The room being in a perpetual earthquake didn’t help either. Holy fel it was hot. Robin took a swing, missed, and rolled across the floor, stopping before succumbing to the furnace at the edges of the room.

 

“You’re weak, Robin. This is the only way you can be of use to your family. To anyone. It’s a noble sacrifice, don’t you think?” Ceera loomed, staring into the coffin, mocking as Robin struggled futilely against the magic bonds.

 

Why do you fight?

 

Another coffin appeared before her. Ceera had it on display just for Robin to see. It was larger than the others, large enough for a human or an elf. Kage rested inside it, eyes closed, but there was something about her that was empty. There was no life. No one inside. More sat beside it, occupied by Miss Ida and Rann, Mallory…

 

Why?

 

Robin barely noticed the room collapsing around them. Claret was working hard to fend off whatever the hell everyone else had done to her. Claret. Not Ceera. She wasn’t fighting Ceera. Just another monster like her. The hatred was still there, tugging at her. She wanted Claret to suffer. Seeing her die wouldn’t be enough.

 

The nether kept tearing a hole in the ceiling. She vaguely heard the others yelling to run or to jump through portals. Miss Ida was still there somewhere. She couldn’t leave Miss Ida. She looked to Claret, the warlock’s strength seemed to be fading. Seemed to be. She could stay and make sure. She could be certain this woman never hurt anyone again. She could try to take control of the red lady’s chi and force Claret to destroy hers—

 

That lies down a dark path, Robin.

 

She could try. She could do it. And die with Claret. The Templars would stay. They would try to save her and they would all end up getting hurt.

 

Ceera stared at her, mocking. “You can’t fight me, Robin. You’ll never be strong enough. Even if you ever were. You would always be too afraid. Running with your tail between your legs.”

 

That bitch would regret ever putting her into those damn coffins. Robin ran towards the door, focusing her energy on her need to protect everyone. If Zen’s plan failed…there was nothing stopping Claret from coming after them. She cried out for the strength to keep them safe. And found it. Her chi coalesced into an effigy of the White Tiger. The tiger leaped from her side and latched onto the warlock, clawing and biting, white lightning rose from his fur as he attacked.

 

Robin paused by the door briefly to blink, looking at the image of Xuen she had called on before following the others to Miss Ida’s prison. They left Claret behind…maybe she would actually be gone. Maybe…

 

—–

The rune was just another form of a coffin. Robin’s research had shown it was to permanently bind people’s souls, keep them held still until they faded forever, leaving the person empty. Another way to take power. Another way to use people. Miss Ida rested in the center of one.

 

All of her focus was on trying to figure out how to break it and free her friend before it was too late. The others were trying, too, but she had been researching the rune for weeks. It was too much like Ceera’s magic.

 

Zen went flying across the room. For once…she almost liked him. He was doing something honestly kind and selfless. Not ridiculous. He was trying to save everyone. Just like she was. Maybe he wasn’t SO bad.

 

Her focus returned to the rune, she found a weak spot and formed her chi into streaks of white lightning, cutting across its bonds. It worked. The rune shattered, any power it had once held was gone as the chi lightning faded.

 

It worked.

 

They were going to live. They were all going to live.

 

Robin leaned back in her bed at Fort Kickass, totally spent. Her neck and face were fairly reddened from the heat and her body was sore from being tossed around the school from hell.

 

She stared at the ceiling, clutching the elekk plushie Sage had given her. For some reason it had ended up on her bed from the nightstand. Oh, well, someone must have moved it.

 

“An unbalanced pillar will fall.” Robin rolled over and closed her eyes, hugging the stuffed animal. The emotions were still there, but she’d managed to ignore them. To choose a better path. She felt like a pretty well balanced pillar. At least for a while. Everyone was safe.

 

Claret was gone. The nether had to have taken her. Or Zen’s crazy device. The effigy she’d called on should’ve distracted the woman long enough for that to happen. Right? No need to worry.

 

The elekk plushie let out the most adorable of squeaks as she squeezed it and drifted off to sleep without meaning to. 

Author Robin
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