Ngantoâ€™s eyes snapped open, and she flipped to her feet, looking around the chamber. For a moment, it seemed as though she was prepared to continue the earlier battle, but her wild eyes calmed as she took in her surroundings, and she frowned at the quartet facing her.
The beastmen remained clustered around the entrance to the cave, not wanting to abandon their captain, but unwilling to risk the wrath of her former opponents. For her part, Jasmine had pulled her zombies from underneath the clutter and repaired those that she could, and was standing guard against them. Steel lounged on a broken pillar, toying idly with the head of a brass legionnaire, while Lodaris sat crosslegged on the ground and Alina perched against a wall.
â€œWhy did you save me?â€ As she spoke, the Lunarâ€™s form melted and flowed, her warform dissolving into her natural greenish skin and flowing hair, revealing the scars from the acid sea as her rough skin turned smooth. â€œWhy am I not dead?â€
â€œMy question exactly.â€ Steelâ€™s muttered comment earned him a sharp look from Alina, who spoke instead.
â€œI saw you fight Dukantha. Youâ€™re no friend of the Yozi.â€ She tried a smile. â€œI donâ€™t know why you work with the Lintha, but youâ€™ve seen what they serve, now.â€
â€œI have.â€ Nganto squatted on the ground, shaking her head. â€œI knew that many of the Lintha had demon-spawned servants, but I never imagined that.â€ She looked over at the gate, and shook her head, disgusted. â€œI see that you know how to close it. Good.â€
â€œIt wonâ€™t stop him.â€ Nganto looked up sharply, and Alina sighed. â€œYou heard what he said. Heâ€™s coming back on Calibration, and heâ€™ll open the gate from this side. We need your help if weâ€™re going to stop him.â€
With a long, hissing, breath, Nganto stood. â€œYou do not understand. I will serve the Lintha no longer, but you ask the impossible. If I were to battle the Lintha, my people would not be safe.â€
â€œAnd how safe will they be when the Yozi flow into Creation?â€ Lodarisâ€™s voice was soft and dangerous, and Ngantoâ€™s eyes narrowed.
â€œI have heard rumours of you, dragon-man. You may be willing to abandon your family and people, but I have a duty â€“â€
â€œDONâ€™T SPEAK TO ME OF DUTY!!â€ The roar shook the caverned ceiling, sending dust cascading to the ground. Even Steel stopped his toying. Even Nganto took a step backwards as Lodaris blasted to his feet. Flames licked around the edges of his eyes as he stormed forwards. â€œAll my life, I lived for my duty. I was the perfect son, I excelled in school. I Exalted. I attended the House of Bells, and graduated with honours. I served in the Legions with distinction for five years, because it was my duty.â€ His voice lowered to a hiss on the last word, and the Lunar took a second step backwards. Lodaris stopped his advance, stabbing a finger forwards for emphasis.
â€œWhen I was thirty-five, my brother came to me, Lunar. My young brother, who I loved dearly, who I had watched grow from a babe to a fine young man. Who had failed to Exalt. Whose duty had carried him away to be a legionnaire, a simple solider. Who had Exalted, saving his legion, and won a Wyld Hunt for it.â€
The room was silent, everyone staring at him. â€œHe wanted protection. He wanted me to save him. And I did my duty.â€ He paused. The flames died, and he looked away. â€œI killed him. I freed his soul from the demon that inhabited it. And I left the legions, and became a monk, to find peace. And I rode out with Wyld Hunts, again and again, and I did my duty. And finally, eventually, I came to terms with what I had been forced to do.â€
â€œAnd then I learned the truth. Learned that I had been murdering righteous souls in the name of my people.â€ He looked back up, glaring at her. â€œThat is the path of duty, Lunar. The path when you fail to listen to what you know is right. When you focus instead on what is expected of you.â€ His gaze was iron-hard. â€œWhat will your path be?â€
Ngantoâ€™s voice was soft, and she could not meet him in the eye. â€œI do not know.â€ She stood heavily. â€œI will fight for the Lintha no longer, and I will defend this nation if anything save them comes to fight you. I owe you that much for the salvation of my soul, if not more. But I must speak with my people, and with my fellows, before setting them on such a deadly course.â€ She paused, looking over Lodaris and Alina. â€œYou showed mercy, something I had long since stopped expecting from the unchanged. I will not forget it, and if the Lintha continue to threaten these shores, I will ensure that you are prepared for them. But I cannot put my people at risk without their approval.â€
â€œAlways look out for number one, huh?â€ Steelâ€™s voice was light, but there was a hint of shadows beneath.
â€œIf I did that, I would never have come here.â€ Nganto smiled a sharp-toothed smile, and then shook her head. â€œI do not know where my path leads, but you have given me much to think on. I will send scouts if danger threatens this place.â€
â€œI understand.â€ Alina bowed to the Lunar, who bowed in return. â€œBut I hope that your people will agree with me. This is a deadly problem we face. Iâ€™ve never seen anything like Dukantha, in my life or memories.â€ Nganto nodded solemnly, and walked slowly from the room. Her crew swirled around her like the tide as she passed through them, withdrawing from the doorway.
â€œYou think sheâ€™ll actually do what she said?â€ Steel was looking critically out the door. â€œOr will she just take her whole tribe and run as far away as she can?â€
â€œShe had one chance to save herself, when we were through the portal.â€ Alina looked back at the stone wall, solid and unyielding now. â€œShe saved me instead of taking it. I think we can trust her.â€ She looked over to Lodaris, a mix of concern and sympathy on her face. â€œI didnâ€™t know about yourâ€¦â€
â€œIt was a long time ago.â€ Lodaris cut her off with a wave of his hand. â€œWe should return to the town. We have much to do, and little time with which to do it.â€
Alina nodded. â€œWhen Calibration comes, weâ€™re going to have the fight of our lives on our hands.â€