The Era of Man
From behind Xia, in the depths of the cavern from which she arose, a bubbling in the water began. It caused Xia to stop her assault and turn around slowly. A thin, womanly figure stood on the water's edge, having appeared from the literal thin air. She was covered in a blanket of darkness by which Xia nor Jack had ever seen. It was a different type of blackness that covered her. It was so deep and so dark that staring at the shroud for too long would drive even the strongest people insane. And this woman's presence alone was enough to cause Xia to go berserk. She could feel the endlessly flowing magic seeping out of this person's very pores, and it disgusted her. The woman paid no attention to Xia or Jack, but instead, continued to churn the waters before her with her hand outstretched. The water bubbled violently as though it would soon spill over into the forest, but it never did. Instead, an ancient tome arose from its depths, having slipped out of Xia's maw not long ago: the Atlas.
As the Atlas reached her hands, the waters became calm and she smiled with great satisfaction. It took a tremendous amount of effort, but finally, she had reached her goal. She turned around slowly and faced Xia, whose roars fell on deaf ears. The dragon unleashed a mighty, magical torrent of water, seemingly drowning the woman in shadow.
However, she pressed forward effortlessly, as though Xia’s powerful waterspout were but a light drizzle. Xia stared at the shadow covered enemy, confused and enraged. Xia attempted to maul this woman alive with her mighty jaw, but she could not physically touch her enemy. Yet and still, the enemy could touch Xia.
She laid a hand on Xia’s face, gently caressing the water dragon and ushering a soothing calm to its enraged mind and heart. “Sleep,” whispered the woman in shadow.
And so Xia did, falling instantaneously into a deep sleep. In this state, she almost seemed harmless.
She pointed a finger at Xia’s still body, and a bubble of dark purple energy surrounded Xia’s head. Xia was still breathing, but she would be forever trapped in a world of ecstasy that plagued her mind. Only the one who had cast this curse could lift it.
The woman in shadow turned to Jack, her voice still distorted by the absolute darkness that covered her.
“Jack,” she recited. “Honestly, I didn’t think you would make it this far.” She took a few steps toward Jack, and everything beneath her feet turned to ash. “Transport will recover you soon. You should make your way back to the hotel immediately. You’ve been given an automatic victory.”
“I… what?!” Jack asked with a trace of confusion. “Hold on, I’m not complaining about whatever the hell that was, but WHAT?! I don’t get to beat up that pretty boy?! I don’t get to kill that old man?!”
She chuckled at Jack’s words. “Afraid not, my dear. This is the end of the line. For you, for them. I’ve gotten everything I came for. And that means you no longer have to participate. But the least I can do before you make your final decision in what is to come is to tell you the truth. That is if you’ll listen.”
“Sure, fine,” Jack said, disappointment lacing her tone. “I’ve got time, I guess.”
“Oh, no, dear. Not here. I can’t just tell you. I have to tell everyone. When your chopper arrives, you’ll be taken back to the hotel. You’ll get one night’s rest. Then, you and every contestant will report to the North Tower Lobby. You’ll meet with me in person. And then I’ll ask you this question one more time:
Will you stand with me or will you stand with them? Don’t answer it now. I want you to think about it.”
A hum of helicopters could be heard in the distance. They were drawing near.
“That’s my cue. Have a nice flight.” She disappeared in a pool of bubbling darkness, sinking into the ground and vanishing as if she had never been there.
With Rawal's near-fatal experience and Louis' surrender, Bethany had claimed victory. Choppers were already inbound with emergency medical support for Louis and whatever remained of Rawal. They would be escorted on three separate helicopters for three separate routes. Having defeated an enchanted warrior, a shadow wielding assassin, a powerful summoner, and after surviving the Congo Basin, Bethany would advance to the next round. The ground was still covered in frost and ice and would remain so for several days, but Bethany could relax knowing her journey back to the hotel was here, and her passage into the next round was secure.
And on the other side of the jungle, Jack's transport arrived in the clearing nearest the water. She too had passed onto the next round for victors. And after a hard fought battle, she could fly back to the hotel without worry. Still, she suddenly had something vague and odd to consider. Who was this mystery woman? It was clear she had ties to the hotel. And apparently, she knew exactly where the contestants were going to meet. Or was she going to force them to meet there? It was all a bit out of the blue. At the very least, Jack was one step closer to billions she had never had before.
It was then that she sought out the Godstone. Having the Atlas at her fingertips, there was nothing she couldn't accomplish. Even destroying the source of the Divine Being's magic was not off limits. In a bubble of oozing shadow she appeared from the ground.
She approached the Godstone with the Atlas in one hand and her second hand free to weave magic as she pleased. With Lace on one side and Angelica on the other, she stood before the Godstone and chanted quickly.
"Lach ney see, aracht," she said, placing a hand on the Godstone. At her words, the Godstone's marvelous crystal began to turn grey. It spread quickly over the Godstone like a hungry fire. The blue crystal disappeared beneath the grey, and the Godstone could be seen hardening as the grey reached its end. "Aracht ta mo di-ey." A crack appeared at the tip of the Godstone and it traveled rapidly down four sides of the stone. Without another word, the woman in shadow walked away. A bubbling portal of darkness appeared at her feet once more, and as she sank beneath the world she saw it happen: the Godstone had broken.
Crumbling like a leaf before the wind, the Godstone fell into chunks of ordinary stone, its energy and its light fading from the world. Only one piece of it remained, and Lace held it on her person. But now, nothing stood in her way. Nothing would prevent her from seeing this to the end.