The mood in the small inn room was focused, but grim. Glancing around, Serafin knew that each of her companions was covering something with their newfound determination. For Thetram Nash, it was horror. By focusing on a problem he could solve, he could step away from the demons haunting him. For Serafin, it was grief. She wasnâ€™t ready to accept that Millia was dead. Not inside. But this â€“ as Gwydion had said, it was her daughterâ€™s final charge. One that she would succeed at.
For Gwydion and Alakazar, it was rage. Millia had been taken from them. The story that they had been weaving was shattered forever, and nothing they could do would bring it back on track. An outsider might have thought it an odd sort of love, but Serafin understood. By doing this last task, they were announcing to the world that Millia was, and always would be, a part of their life-tales.
Alakazar leaned in from his seat, staring intently at the floor. â€œWe had no luck tracking down the akuma, and she has learned to hide her scent much more effectively from Gwydion. Or perhaps she always had that ability, and simply did not realize she was being followed and had to use it. Regardless, she is certainly still in town, but nowhere to be found.â€
â€œThen we need to know what heâ€™s after.â€ Serafin scratched her hair thoughtfully. â€œThe akumaâ€™s been to Greyfalls, then Gethemane. Now he shows up in this little out-of-the-way town. The only thing here is the Black Granite caves, so that must beâ€¦â€
â€œThe Gate.â€ Nash looked up suddenly from where he had been sitting, cross-legged on the floor. â€œShe must be after the Gate.â€
â€œWhat gate?â€ Gwydion raised an eyebrow.
â€œLong ago, when the Primordials were defeated, we â€“ that is, the Exalted of the time â€“ left thirteen gateways to Malfeas open. One of those is buried in the Black Granite caverns.â€ Nash nodded after a moment. â€œThere were two keys needed to open it. If the akuma wanted to get in without them, he would have had to flatten the entire mountain. That must be what he stole from Greyfalls and Gethemane.â€
â€œThat makes senseâ€¦ but why were the gates left open?â€ Alakazarâ€™s voice was quietly curious. Serafin answered.
â€œSo that the Yozi couldnâ€™t unleash any of their most devastating attacks against Creation without the power flowing back to them. And because they could not survive forever sealed away in Elsewhere. It was a safety measure, and a term of surrender.â€ She frowned thoughtfully. â€œI remember the gates. I didnâ€™t know there was one here, though.â€
â€œFew people do. But I learned it when I was assigned to active duty in the Northeast. My superior considered it important that someone know it was here. He did not, of course, tell me where the keys to open it were â€“ but those two cities seem a reasonable guess.â€
â€œThat makes sense.â€ Gwydion nodded thoughtfully. â€œBut they have been here for at least two days. They could have reached the gate the first day they arrived. Why wait?â€
â€œCalibration.â€ Nashâ€™s face had gone distant, his mind racing to put pieces together into a whole. â€œThe gates can be used at any time, but it is difficult for demons to cross them. First Circle demons can do it each night, and a Second Circle can cross once a month, but on Calibrationâ€¦ an Exalt with the proper rituals could call out a Third Circle demon, along with all seven of its souls and a few thousand of their children.â€
Alakazar considered this for a long moment. â€œCould we defeat that?â€
Serafin sat back thoughtfully. â€œThere are four of us, and weâ€™re all old and experienced â€“ weâ€™ve got over twenty-five hundred years between us. A Third Circle, we could take, definitely â€“ although I wouldnâ€™t guarantee that we could do it without one or two of us dying. Its seven souls with it, maybe. It would be a close fight either way. The army on top of thatâ€¦ weâ€™d need to get pretty lucky to survive. And with the akuma alongsideâ€¦â€ She broke off and shook her head. â€œI would not bet on us.â€
â€œThen our path is clear.â€ Alakazar smiled grimly. â€œWe have three days until Calibration. We will go to the Black Granite caves, and prepare them for the arrival of the akuma. We will battle him before the gate, and destroy him, and it will no longer be a concern.â€
Serafin nodded, looking around her three friends. â€œThatâ€™s the best plan, I think. The akuma wasnâ€™t a match for Millia and I together. The four of us should be able to destroy him without serious concern.â€ She looked to Nash. â€œAre you in?â€
Nash nodded. â€œI am. This is my duty. Factions or not, I will not desert it.â€ He sighed after a moment. â€œEvery time I meet a Lunar, I get trounced, though.â€
â€œWell, this time youâ€™ve got one on your side. Four against one â€“ itâ€™s almost unfair.â€ She grinned, and the others smiled in return.
Across town, the captain of the guard, Malakis Saren, returned to his small apartment and sat back thoughtfully. Two god-bloods (or Dynasts), Gwydion the Grey and the Sky Dragon, had been reported by his men. It was clear what this meant. He spoke softly. â€œIt seems theyâ€™ve finally caught up with me.â€ Reaching into the pouch at the side of his armor, he drew forth a deck of cards and began laying out a reading. â€œI was afraid I had covered my trail too well.â€
â€œI feared that as well.â€ The man who spoke was sitting cross-legged on the floor, polishing a bow forged from green brass. His hair was dark and his eyes were hard, as was the unfriendly smile on his face. â€œAnd theyâ€™ve rooted out the Sidereal, as well. I picked up his trace today, where I couldnâ€™t before.â€ He drew the long black thread of the bowstring, quivering with its desire to end the fates of its targets, sighting the wall. â€œI can hardly wait.â€
â€œIndeed, this is most fortunate.â€ The woman was small and thin, almost gaunt. Her lanky hair did not match the heavy leaden armor that she wore. â€œConduit, may we seek them out and destroy them? I doubt you will even have to stir.â€ One hand twitched towards the knives lining her belt.
â€œNo. We will find them on Calibration. I do not wish to give Her time to find another, even a single day.â€ The Conduit smiled grimly, turning cards. â€œShe waits and waits, and calls most softly. Soon, it will be over for Her.â€ The spread before her was one of misfortune and failure. â€œIsidoros walks within us all, my champions. Soon He will walk within our foes.â€
â€œIsidoros walks.â€ The two Champions sat back, their heads inclined in ritual prayer. The Conduit smiled again. Four against three.
Serafin and her minions would not stand a chance.