Two titans of flame collided in midair, erupted, and sent out a terrible blast in their wake. Blinding light filled the city of Agellas, rending stone towers to pebbles and people to ash.
Zammela sat at the eye of the blast. Buildings were flung aside like toys; the ground had peeled and shattered. Countless screams were silenced, all in a brutal plume of fire.
She curled against the Stranger in an act of desperation and redoubled her magic into the protective sphere that surrounded her friends. The sun's rage clawed against the condensed energies surrounding her and devoured it slowly. The sphere collapsed, peeling away slowly until it protected only her and the still body in her arms.
Her focus dwindled and the shield fell away, but the explosion had passed. The lingering maelstrom pulled at her robes and kicked up dust and ash. The ring of flame pushed outward by untold miles, searing the land and fading into the distance.
Only a blanket of ash remained, though it brought no warmth. It thickened against blackened soil, fluttering about like snow, and revealed remnants of the sun's wrath. Zammela's spell of protection spared little, leaving only a small intact patch of charred earth that terminated into the ravine below. The only remnants of the once great city of Agellas were a lifeless crater surrounding a teetering inlet of land.
She sat at the center of the destruction, clutching the remains of the Stranger to her breast. He had stood beside her, defied everything for her, and now he lay cold and lifeless. They paid for their failures with not only his life but the lives of all those that had inhabited the city.
Soon, death would claim far more than that.
Power crackled in the air around her, the final remnants of magic that spared her from harm. She spared herself from the sun's purging flame while the rest burned, only to anticipate a slow death at the hands of a dying world.
Zammela brushed away ash from the Stranger's armor, crafted from midnight-black iron-silk. It did nothing to protect his heart, but it prevented her from seeing the gore beneath.
She peeled away the cowl from his face to reveal his serene expression. Amongst this destruction, a content smile sat on his lips. Seeing that was enough to free her of rage and sadness alike.
A realization struck her; her failures had cost her the lives of her friends too, her slip-shod shield had done nothing to spare those foolish enough to face the end with her. This faith only provided them a swift death. She stood, pausing to move the Stranger from her lap, and searched for their remains. Amongst the stone and ash it would be a tall order but she had to try. Her tears had dried up alongside the final trickles of the City of Water's fountains, but she owed them this at least.
She focused, magic swelling within her, fueled by the bubble of comfort from the Stranger's body. This private aura was something only she could see or detect. Even in death, energy gushed from him, hungry to fulfill some unseen purpose. This same energy had played a part in saving her, but it had done nothing to prevent the destruction.
The ash about her fled from a focused surge of wind, clearing the air about her for a precious few moments. She did not have the endurance nor the state of mind to maintain it.
A distant cough pierced the silence, brought on by the moving ash. There was life amongst death. Zammela turned towards it in the hope that someone had survived. The world spun on the first step; even walking proved difficult. She gathered the shreds of her wits and pushed forward, eager to make things right.
The noise came from a small cluster of rubble. She pushed aside heavy stone blocks, fingers shaking, and coughed against the return of the cloud of ash. Her heart sank as her eyes settled on the Protector. The woman suffered from severe burns and shattered bones, no doubt from Zammela's failed shield and flying debris. There would be no mistaking the swords crossed at her back, which remained eerily pristine and unmarred.
Zammela felt small next to the Protector, even now. She reached out and the woman flinched in reaction. The ruin of her lips moved as if to protest, but no sound came out. The woman winced in pain, the tiny motion draining her, and her head sagged in exhaustion.
The Protector hadn't recognized her, eyes blinded from the sun's kiss. Zammela settled on touching her cheek with gentle assurance.
Her armor melted against her, now a second skin. It held her together as much as any bone or ligament. The muscles in her body had been left in a state of ruin, her strength dwindling with each passing moment. Each breath was a labored pull, a struggle to keep living, each more desperate than the last.
Zammela hurried over to the Stranger's fallen body and dragged him, sculpting a trail of ash in their wake. The Protector waited wordlessly, resting with no motion beyond the gentle rise and fall of her wounded chest. Zammela propped him next to the Protector and joined their hands – it was the least she could do. The woman's hand twitched and tightened; she recognized him at least.
She turned away to avoid intruding on the moment. Her wandering gaze settled on a glimpse of silver behind a small pile of rubble. Zammela pulled a stone from the pile to reveal the less damaged part of a silver robe, wrapped around the charred remains of the Priest.
Nothing could be done for him. Any attempt to move him would render his body into dust. His wire frame glasses dangled off his skeletal face, perilously close to falling.
She crouched closer to the Priest’s remains, pushing her index finger against the bridge of the glasses until they sat flush against the ruin of his face. Zammela smiled humorlessly at the small victory and stood. It had been the longest time since she had seen those frames stay in place.
The Protector drew her last breath and the last traces of strength fled from her body. Her hand fell limp in the Stranger's lifeless grip.
Death brought true isolation, only a single ray of light and life remaining in Agellas. The city then laid silent and lifeless, a crater surrounded by scraps of ruin. No aqueducts would flow, no stages would hold performances, and no towers would loom above the people below.
Agellas had once been Geldbane's greatest natural wonder. The very source of life of Pange had extinguished it.
Zammela shielded her eyes from a fire-flash in the distant horizon. Brilliant flames lit the sunless skies to the south. She recognized the distant explosion as the second blast in a chain of events that would be repeated all across Pange. Worse, fault rested cleanly in her lap.
Without the warmth of the Sun her magic could sustain her for a time. But the better question lingered: Why should she bother surviving?
Everyone was dead save for one of the Two Destroyers; one died in his failure, and the other was left to lament her part in the destruction of Pange.