“I’m sorry,” even without the voices, Colli knew she’d done the wrong thing. Still she didn’t dare stop to investigate. Sliding against hot twisted metal and fiery chunks of wood her legs and arms bruised, but didn’t burn as they should have. Sung’s shield protected her. Her throat grew raw from acrid smoke. Her eyes watered, dimming her vision. The weakening of the connection with Sung was the only thing that kept her from quitting. She had to find out what he wanted of her.
The last time she’d passed this way, things had been different. She didn’t have the voices then either, but she’d given them up willingly. With Sung’s help she’d found them again.
“Commander,” she screamed. All around was devastation. Whatever happened to the building, started here. Colli put her hand over her mouth and nose, trying to block the overpowering stench of burned flesh and other raw materials. Sung maintained contact with his team from this room. Small by most standards, it felt larger than she remembered. Where furnishings had overpowered before, now smoldering piles occupied less space. In a far corner, behind what had been a massive desk, a form jerked spasmodically.
Colli advanced. “Commander?” she whispered, afraid of the answer she would get. A whimper was the only response. “Commander?” She moved to the form. Pulled in a tight ball, it looked nothing like the vibrant man who had initiated her to, and later brought her back to The Discipline.
The sound, so weak it only carried to her because of the complete silence, tore through Colli’s heart.
“Hurry.” His plea moved her forward more than any wish to be near. “I can’t protect you much longer.”
“I’m here.” She settled close, but couldn’t bring herself to touch him.
Despite her revulsion, Colli did as Commander Sung requested. Her fingers brushed over the blackened exterior of his brittle form. It cracked. Thick red blood oozed out. Just as she started to pull back it was like a bolt of lightning struck her. Knocked backward, off her feet, Colli landed hard. More than that, brilliant light swirled through her. A voice boomed in her ears. Or was it just in her mind? Colli couldn’t be sure.
“You have to stop him.” Sung’s charred hand dug into her wrist. “Use the ring. Connect to The Discipline.” As quickly as the pressure applied, it released. Communication went with it.
Keleon pulled her to her feet. “Who?” he asked.
“Sung.” Colli wiped her left hand on her slacks, then held it up. The setting on the ring now on her middle finger radiated from white to blue light. She couldn’t look at it. The design moved in a dizzying swirl, gathering her strength and her identity. She wavered.
Keleon took her right elbow. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
Overhead beams groaned. One by one they collapsed, bringing debris from above down with them. A hot splinter dug into her cheek. Warm blood trickled down her face. Smoke grew, burning her eyes.