Standing at the heart of a clearing, Nikita watches as her men gather around her, forming into two circles, one within the other.
The soldiers in the outer circle carry upon their backs massive tower shields, large enough to cover a kneeling man from head to toe. One by one they thrust their shields into the snow, forming a perfect, impenetrable phalanx of steel and flesh.
The soldiers in the inner circle don no such shields. Instead they stand in formation, rifles at the ready.
Though her men were spread apart, the shield wall takes no more than two minutes to complete.
She takes the time to appreciate the swift response from her magi, smiling contently, briefly forgetting about the dread she feels.
Joining her in the inner circle are her lieutenants, Reiter, Hirashi, and Tristram.
Frowning, she turns to Reiter to ask where her fourth lieutenant is. But just then, the air beside her begins to distort.
Golden light flows from a rift in the air, and from it emerges Maxwell. He coolly strolls out from the hole in space and heads straight for her.
“What took you?” she asks, her voice devoid of humor.
An officer shouldn’t be the last to arrive when a superior calls for a formation.
“I separated myself from my men, sorry. I had to investigate the perimeter.”
He stares at her gravely, leaning closer to whisper.
“Something doesn’t feel right. Whoever or whatever hit these men isn’t here anymore, but the fact that I can’t find any traces of the enemy worries me.”
He feels it as well. The same primal fear is flowing through his veins.
The rest of her men might share their sentiments, but most seem calm, composed. The fear they felt when they were met with the sight of a hundred dead bodies is long gone, now replaced with a professional stillness.
“I’m getting us out of here.” Nikita declares. “I don’t care if it’s a hunch, my instincts are telling me that we shouldn’t be here.”
“Wait, wait, are you saying that we’re leaving?” Hirashi stomps toward them, her red eyes filled with fury. “Your Grace, it is our duty to find out what happened to these men. The least we can do is honor their ghosts. We can’t just abandon them here!”
“There’s no time to argue.”
Nikita doesn’t raise her voice. She only strays her gaze away to focus on the task at hand.
A steel-gloved fist grabs her by the shoulder, dragging her back. The mad eyes of her lieutenant meets her. Her glare is a mix of madness, despair, and rage. Nikita responds with a gaze that lacks aggression.
“Sora,” her words are a pleading whisper.
Her friend opens her mouth to yell and curse, but the sound of thunder stops her.
Everyone freezes in place, all eyes turning to the smokey grey sky.
Though dusk dawns close, the ocean of clouds above is nothing but a maelstrom of crimson.
Thick clouds are gathering together, whirling in a howling circle.
It starts slowly at first, but within seconds, a vortex of utter immensity fills the sky from horizon to horizon. Her men stick close, their formation tightening under the bonds of fear that they all so suddenly feel.
Snatching her gaze away from the swirling madness above her, Nikita turns her attention to the forest floor. With an intake of breath and new found focus, she summons magical energy from the core of her being.
An engine ignites inside her, a second heart beating to life.
Magical energy floods her veins, flowing from her chest through her body. With an angry stomp she sends this energy in a shock wave around her.
A spell circle, burning bright gold, emerges from the ether, melting the snow upon touch, surrounding her and her hundred-plus men.
“I invoke the first seal of sorcery—”
She declares to the powers of the arcane.
The spell circle surges to life, burning with the brightness of a second sun.
But instead of exploding into a brilliant beam of golden light, it fizzles and shatters.
Though aghast at the failure of her sorcery, Nikita does not hesitate to try again. She summons magical energy from her core a second time, repeating the gesture from before.
But before she can complete the ritual, a hand grabs her by the shoulder, breaking her concentration.
She was just about to mouth off to Chaos when the shocked look on his face causes her to hesitate.
She follows his gaze, turning to the sky.
For there, in the distant swirling maelstrom, amidst a backdrop of vermillion darkness, is a shadow, a woman’s silhouette. Dressed in blood-red silks, she emerges from the sky gently, clouds curling like mist around her form.
Though a mere speck in the sky, Nikita’s enhanced eyesight provides her with a clearer look at the being.
Crimson eyes and crimson hair, with ivory skin covered in scarlet silk. The woman’s hair flows past her shoulders and hips, untamed like a fiery waterfall. An intricate white halo, pulsing and spinning slowly, with twelve bright rings, hovers just above her head. Hers is an image of unworldly beauty.
Enraptured by the woman’s constitution, Nikita, for a brief moment, forgets where she is.
There, high above them all, amidst swirling clouds and roaring winds, is a god made flesh.
A being of near infinite magical energy.
A being thousands of years old, worshiped by half of the modern world.
In the presence of immensity, Nikita finds herself frozen in awe.
The fiery god’s gaze is far away.
But with a slow turn of her head, her attention falls to the rabble beneath her.
That is when the god grins.
An ocean of killing intent falls from the sky, sending shivers across Nikita’s entire body.
The Reaper extends her arm, pointing at their direction.
From the tips of her dainty fingers, a baleful red circle emerges.
Few of her men notice the act of aggression.
Most stay glued to the sight of the deity before them.
But others move.
Some raise their shields, others usher their friends to flee, and several break formation without warning.
The god’s lips move as softly as a lover’s whisper.
Suddenly a sphere of angry red surges from the god’s fingertips, falling like a meteor toward the earth.
The sky booms in fury as the sphere shatters the sound barrier, striking the snowy forest floor two-hundred meters to their north.
It doesn’t matter if the god missed on purpose or not.
The sphere impacts the snow and dirt with the strength of a hundred modern bombs. In the blink of an eye, the pristine landscape is destroyed. A wall of dirt as tall as a skyscraper surges toward Nikita and her men, too fast for any of them to outrun.
Their formation breaks in tandem with their spirits.
Most attempt to flee.
Others stand in place, accepting their fate.
Nikita watches the avalanche of dirt and fire, teeth grit and eyes mad with fury.
Just recently, her instinct was telling her to run.
Now, as she watches her men be consumed by the advancing wall of earth and flame, her instinct is telling her to survive.
On that day, the war with the Divinus began.