I swear, they'll reach Autochthon eventually.
As the sun rose over the shrouded streets, the sounds of violence began to filter around the smoke-coated and damaged buildings of the Lap. Far above, raitons and larger birds circled, drawn by the carrion and by dark magics, watching the streets below. One broke away from its fellows, its attention attracted by movement. Below it, racing up the hills of the Penitentâ€™s right leg, past the crowded buildings of the once-crowded neighbourhood, six figures slipped at their best speed across the devastated landscape.
It had taken fierce arguments to keep the number that low; Citrios and Amaya, in particular, had wanted to join Serafin and the Perfect in escorting the four Solars to the gate. In the end, it was the Perfect who had put his foot down. â€œSillia Sword-Dancer may be drawn off by my armiesâ€™ feints, but the Lion is a master strategist. And if we encounter him, the rest of you will be actively counter-productive in holding him off. If you want to be useful, support the armies. Enhance the feint, and kill some of the dead.â€
Now, with sorceries that Serafin had woven speeding their passage, Alina found herself wishing that Citrios was still with her. She shivered, looking around the dead landscape, and sighed inwardly. Unfortunately, the Perfect had been right. The First And Forsaken Lion was a much more dangerous warrior than Dukantha had been, and she could not simply bring Citrios through the gate with her in order to survive an attack by the Deathlord.
Ahead of her, the dim light of the shadowland-tainted early morning showed the looming wall of the Penitentâ€™s body. A small passage was located there; it had never been found, for it would open only for one of the Solar Exalted of the Circle that Autochthon had entrusted. The passage led straight into the heart of the massive statue, where the gateway to Autochthon could be found. Alina snuck a glance to the left and right, seeing none of the dead. The pathway appeared to be clear.
It was too good to be true. She shared glances with the others, and was rewarded by a grim nod from Serafin. There was something ominous in the air. It might have simply been the atmosphere of the shadowland, but she felt as though something terrible was approaching.
Abruptly, and without warning, the Perfect spun in his tracks, raising his staff in an imperious gesture. He opened his mouth and shouted out a word. Even afterwards, Alina could not say what it had been, but the tone of command was absolute, and magical force echoed within it. Six black blurs in the air froze a foot from the party, resolving into soulsteel arrows that hung in the space for a moment before clattering to the cobblestones as the Perfectâ€™s magic blunted their strike.
Serafin shouted to the Solars. â€œRun! Now!â€
â€œBut â€“â€ Tenrek was cut off by a glare, and he broke into a run for the wall ahead. Alina raced to his right, with Fokuf and Kieran dashing on the left. Behind them, Serafin and the Perfect settled into combat poses, watching their surroundings intently.
They didnâ€™t have long to wait. As a second flight of arrows curved over the rooftops, and the Perfect spoke another word of command that stopped them in their paths, Serafin felt a shadow above her, the warmth of the sun momentarily blocked out. Without looking, she reacted, leaping backwards as she lashed upwards, her claws stretching and coiling into moonsilver whips that sliced the air above them. Only as shards of ectoplasm drifted like rain around her did she realize what she had sensed; dozens of the Lionâ€™s strongest war ghosts had possessed the raitons, riding them and hiding within them, until the moment of the ambush. More were raining down ahead, blocking the pathway to the gate.
Serafin wove a dance that promised finality. With each stroke, a ghost was sent to its final rest. Beside her, the Perfectâ€™s movements were economical but lethal. Green fire boiled from his staff and eyes, as he dealt out destruction. The Lunar risked a glance over her shoulder, to see that the Solars were now wading through ghosts, still moving at full speed towards the gate.
A half-mile away, a dark shadow dropped the obsidian powerbow it held and drew a massive sword. With a force that cracked the rooftop on which it stood, it launched itself forwards, flying through the air in a single, impossibly-fast leap. Its sword came around, crackling with dark energy, as it flew above the battling Conduits towards the unsuspecting Solars â€“ and found itself blocked. In a blur of silver motion, Serafin was in the air ahead of the enemy, her claws coming around in a blaze of light that caught the sword. Her foe caught her claws on his blade, a blast of entropic power radiating from the impact, but it drove him down towards the ground. Below him, shifting his stance, the Perfect raised one hand, and green light shot forth; five bolts scorched through the air, detonating on and around the newcomer in a burst of light.
Black shadows dropped from the aftereffects of the light, hitting the ground and pooling into a shape. Swelling up from the shadows, the First and Forsaken Lion laughed again, raising his daiklave as Serafin landed lightly beside the Perfect. â€œImpressive. You are worthy opponents.â€ He raised one mailed fist, pointing to his opponents. â€œBut not worthy enough.â€