Liwana Alalay ran on water. Her body gave off a soft blue-green glow, like the color of the sea. She bound ‘lightness’ to herself, which allowed her to run on the ocean’s surface.
The cool wind rushed past her face as she pumped her arms to move faster. Far ahead, orange lights outlined the deck of a large freight vessel. The vessel belonged to the Adaran Empire. It had come to reclaim the Portalline Isles and crush the colony’s bid for independence. The ship’s architecture gave the appearance of a skeletal ribcage holding hostage a ship and a crew. A charcoal smell wafted from its direction. It sailed toward the Portalline Isles, waves crashing against its bow.
Adrenaline coursed through her veins as she breathed – her pace steady. The light of the moon and stars was temporarily usurped by the red orange streak of cannon fire that lit up the dark night sky. The Adaran ship was firing at the nearby Fort Baccay, a Portalline stronghold. It led a fleet of smaller ships, and together their choir of canons rang out in a cacophony of death.
Liwana knew this was her only chance to stop them – the Adaran Empire. If she failed, they would destroy her home and imprison everyone she knew. The Portalline Isles had been the Adaran Empire’s penal colony – the place where it sent its worst criminals and outcasts to work as slaves in the Portallium mines. Aboriginals like herself were also enslaved and forced into a wretched way of life.
Because of her massbinding ability, she was Portallis’ last hope to fend off the invaders. Nothing would get in her way. Too much was at stake. If the Adarans won, everything would change. Everything. They would all be slaves again. She wanted a better life for her people, especially her daughter. She wouldn’t let them win.
Liwana’s muscles tightened as she ran. She was ready to make the ultimate sacrifice should it be required of her.
The aura she gave off when accessing her ‘lightness’ would be easy to spot, but not until she was very close to the ship. She intentionally kept herself dimmed by only using enough ‘lightness’ to keep herself afloat. She also clothed herself from head to toe in dark black cloth. She still glowed through the cloth but it was faint enough at this range that she could blend in with the moonlight reflecting off the water.
The Portallium in her satchel gave off the same aura. She had wrapped the crystal in dark cloth to hide its brilliance. Unsheathed, its light would fill a small home. It was the Portallium that allowed her to channel her abilities. She could bind ‘heaviness’ or ‘lightness’ by drawing on the Portallium, so long as it remained near her person.
Liwana moved swiftly along the water, lunging from one wave to the next. Her feet lightly tapped each crest that ebbed by, planting and striking with just enough force to propel her body forward and onto the next. Each stride allowed her to soar for several seconds into the air as she moved in on the enemy vessel.
Her friends called her nimble, even graceful, like a dancer. In her youth, she was a master of Tinikling, a jumping game where players had to avoid moving wooden poles as they jumped to the beat of rondalla music. She could hear the music now. The easygoing tempo of the bandurrias strumming to the percussive beat of bamboo poles clapping against the ground. The synchrony – she loved the synchrony.
Liwana twisted in the air, landing at an angle and slamming both her feet into the cool Portalline Bay. Her feet submerged up to her ankles in the cool water.
Liwana removed the small cloth satchel from her back. She reached in and felt something hard, rectangular and metallic. The fuse box.
She exhaled, relieved that it was still dry.
Liwana removed the wooden sticks from the box and smelled the pungent bitterness of sulfur. She struck her makeshift matches and a small fire lit up in her hand. She applied the fire to a fuse that extended out of the box and waited for it to stabilize.
Liwana held out the box and concentrated. She reached out with her mind and extended her ‘lightness’ around the small box. She focused like a rifle concentrating all its energy on a single protruding bullet. Liwana pulled all the weight out of the box. It began to emit a blue green glow that matched her own. The box and all the materials it contained shot up into the air.
The fuse box erupted in a dazzling display that lit up the night like fireworks. Streaks of yellow light whirled and sparkled before exploding loudly in patterns that resembled blooming flowers. Red lights wriggled across the sky like fish, spawning several new generations before crackling and fading in the distance.
Beautiful. Just like the festivals from when she was a kid. In her mind, she heard the applause and cheering of crowds. The sound was replaced by the distant yelling of men aboard the enemy ship, aware of the lights in the sky.
The ship was only a stone’s throw away. With this distraction, now she could approach the Adaran ship and, even with her aura, she might evade notice.
Liwana pivoted. Her legs took on a life of their own as she ran. Her breath became heavy and loud. She could feel her muscles ache as fatigue set in. “HMS..King…Ralwin,” she sounded out the words written on the hull. She could see the torches lit atop dozens of other enemy ships nearby, but this ship was the largest.
The distraction faded in the sky behind her.
Liwana reached out and placed her palms on the ship’s side, grasping at the nooks in its hull. She lifted herself up, scaling the side of the ship like an insect on a wall. She imagined herself scaling Mt Baci, where she had trained to gain better control of her abilities. She had spent months honing her skills on that mountain. She longed for the cool air, the scenic view and the sense of freedom.
She was not certain she could sink a ship this large. Her mind began to fade. No, she had to press on. She remembered her family back on Portallis. They needed her.
As she climbed, she breathed slowly and focused her mind on the ship. The binding would take several minutes. Liwana paused, her power rippled as she extended ‘heaviness’ over the vessel. The ship sunk several feet deeper into the water with added depth, especially near where Liwana clung at the nose.
A deafening gunshot fired from above, piercing through the chatter of seamen. An intense, agonizing pain shattered through her right shin. A bullet had buried itself deep inside. Liwana’s faced twisted and contorted as she struggled to hold in her scream. She heaved and clenched her teeth. Her toes curled and she had to force herself from allowing her fingers from turning to fists, releasing her grip.
She wouldn’t give in now. She thought of her daughter, her family. She could see their faces darken under Adaran oppression.
Above, she made out a soldier with a raised rifle. He was inserting a bullet to prepare for a second shot. “Hold soldier,” a deep voice commanded from elsewhere on the deck beyond Liwana’s line of sight. “He glows. He must have Portallium on his person. That’s worth more than what you’ll make in a lifetime.”
The soldiers had assumed she was a man. Liwana had never seen an Adaran female soldier before, so likely the soldier assumed the same would be true on the Portallines. That meant that the soldier was new to this part of the world – sent specifically to imprison her people.
Liwana was still under fire and knew she needed another plan. She wouldn’t get far on her leg. Instead she climbed toward the deck. The pain in her leg shot through her entire nervous system like a volt from a stingray. She did what she could to suppress it and pressed on.
A dark figure threw a rope off the deck like a whip, lassoing it around her waist. It moved fast. A sharp wisp of air followed, brushing against her. She could make out the soldier above, holding the reins. She didn’t resist.
“I’ve got him Admiral,” said the man. Liwana felt the rope tighten as the soldier pulled it tight. She had a hard time breathing. The soldier pulled and Liwana was flung onto the deck. Her body sprawled across the wooden floor in front of her captors.
She was surrounded by crewmen curious to see who had been hauled aboard. They were dressed in neatly pressed, red collared jackets with white pants. They were clean-shaven and had wide eyes. These were the Adarans who had come to take her country. Liwana clenched her teeth.
“You work fast, Capscatian,” said Admiral Blackfell. The admiral was also dressed in red and white but wore a strange, triangular hat. His straight back and commanding voice gave him a more stately bearing. He was a stark contrast to the man who who held her reins. This Capscatian was rugged and didn’t seem to take care of his appearance as much as the Adaran seamen. He had light facial hair, and wore plain gray clothes that blended into the night sky.
Exhale. Need to focus. Liwana turned her mind away from the pain of her wound and the discomfort caused by prying eyes. She was thankful that her blood loss was relatively light.
The Admiral barked, “Give me the Portallium. Let me see it.” His eyes locked onto Liwana’s satchel, that glowed bright blue and green.
“Yes, sir,” said the soldier.
The Admiral slowly removed the large blue green crystal from the bag. “Adara’s Ghost, that’s the largest Portallium crystal I’ve ever seen.”
Liwana could see the man’s eyes widen as he held the Portallium. He appeared to ignore his surroundings as he became enraptured by the treasure. The crystal was unusually bright and the light appeared almost as semi-transparent tentacles, that flowed out in moving waves.
“What should we do with the prisoner sir?” asked a soldier, his eyebrows raised.
The Admiral didn’t seem to hear the question as he continued to stare at the crystal in awe.
“Should I execute him sir?” the soldier asked again.
“Yes, yes,” the Admiral waved dismissively.
“Very well, Admiral Blackfell,” a nearby officer said.
Liwana’s heart raced and sweat ran down her face. She needed to draw them out a bit more.
Liwana removed her wool balaclava. “You’re all going to die here,” she raised her voice but spoke evenly to get their attention. She knew that she needed to appear strong or they wouldn’t take her seriously. She straightened her back, putting her weight on her good leg, though compared to the Adarans her height made her appear as but a child.
The soldier raised his rifle.
“A woman?” Blackfell asked.
“You have no idea what you are up against.” Liwana’s head tilted back and she gazed at the Admiral and the crew, looking them directly in the eyes. She had to put on a bold face if she was going to succeed but on the inside her stomach churned and her leg was on fire.
“Don’t be absurd.” The Admiral laughed a deep raspy laugh. “She’s toying with us. Finish her.”
Liwana’s stomach turned to stone. She was not ready to take a bullet. Not before she could accomplish her mission. Liwana took in a deep breath and held it. The soldier pressed the trigger but the rifle only clicked. Misfire. His eyebrows arched upward and his mouth squirmed awkwardly as he paused to re-examine his rifle. “Blasted things,” the soldier said.
Liwana let out her breath and she closed her eyes, her face upturned. She had another chance. Liwana slowly opened her eyes. “You won’t make it home alive.” She maintained her straight back and gazed coolly at the crew.
Blackfell said, “Back to Adara? I never cared much for the place.” He turned to the soldier near her. “What are you waiting for soldier? Shoot her.”
“Your ship is sinking,” Liwana lied. She leaned her body in, placing weight on her good leg. She set her jaw and pushed back her shoulders.
Blackfell cocked an eyebrow and raised his hand. He had noticed the ship’s added depth. He stared coldly at Liwana as he clutched the Portallium. “What have you done?”
“Leave now and you may yet live.”
“You’re not in a position to be making threats.” He took a step closer to Liwana.
Just a little closer. “Show me the Portallium,” she said.
Blackfell sighed, shaking his head. “I’m not here for games. Enough of this. We have a war to wage.” Blackfell again stepped closer to Liwana and drew his sword. “I will finish you myself.”
Last chance. Better be close enough. Liwana closed her eyes and dropped her head as if in defeat. She breathed slowly to regain focus. Now. She reached out, drawing on the Portallium. She didn’t need to be touching the crystal, only within close proximity, in order to use it.
This time Liwana drew the ‘heaviness’ into herself. Her body became dense, and heavy. Compared it the outside environment, her skin would be as solid as stone. The wood deck became brittle under her feet. The powers she drew on increased her mass and thus her weight, causing the wood to crack beneath her.
Liwana smiled. Her stomach normalized and her muscles relaxed. She’d won now. In this state, there was nothing the Adarans could do to hurt her.
What was that? A stick prodded against her stomach. She laughed aloud. It tickled.
Liwana opened her eyes to see Admiral Blackfell, mouth agape and eyes wide. He was holding onto his sword, snapped in two. He had tried to ram it through her gut. “It’s too late now,” Liwana said, the corners of her mouth curved up. “For you.”
“Who, who are you? Why have you come here?” the Admiral asked, his sword fell from his trembling hand, clanging onto the deck.
“I am a shark searching out my prey, hiding in the reefs,” Liwana said.
Blackfell staggered backward. Liwana followed him, the deck splintering underneath each step she took. She grimaced as she walked. The pain still seared through her broken shin. It wouldn’t be much longer now. She needed to stay near him as he held the Portallium.
Liwana grew to nearly twice her normal height. No, she did not so much grow as witness everything around her shrink. Liwana’s radiant blue green aura transformed into thousands of fluid, moving bands of light that took on a life of their own. She appeared as if caressed by the arms of a sea anemone. Her body darkened into a silhouette against the light. Liwana’s inner awareness knew that she was not yet completely submerged in this other Verse, that she drew into her being. She would be soon. Then she would die.
Around her, soldiers fired rifles into her body but the bullet ricocheted across the ship, causing damage to the vessel and wounding several of its crew.
I must end this now while I can. Liwana flew into the air, raising her body nearly ten meters above before slamming down in the ship’s midsection. Her ‘heaviness’ was enough to puncture the ship’s deck and leave a gaping hole through its center. Her shattered shin snapped under her weight but it didn’t matter anymore.
It is finished. Liwana felt herself plunge into the water below. Her mind and body were completely submerged. Liwana felt her lungs react violently as she failed to take in air.
She looked up and could see the enemy ship collapsing in on itself while she drifted below in the depths. The cool water surrounded her even as she herself balance on the edge of existence. Awa…my daughter…what will become of you? Liwana clung to her last thread of reality before she let go, fully embracing the Verse.
Liwana the Lightrunner flickered and disappeared from existence.
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