Tepet Fokuf wiped sweat off his brow, dropping the long metal arm he had been spinning as a staff around his head. Taken from one of the spider-creatures early in the fight, it had now served its purpose; the creatures, as well as the last of the hungry dead, now lay scattered in pieces across the tunnel. One of the nephwracks had fled rather than face Tenrek's advance, but the other two had been destroyed by the Zenith, and Kieran and Alina had made short work of the ghosts that thronged around the natives of the place - and, heartened by their sudden support, the soldiers had rallied as well, those that had been retreating turning to fight again, and taking down a few of the hungry dead themselves.
Now, they were taking stock, and realizing that their saviours made no sense; a fact, Fokuf suspected, that the strange automaton woman he had fought alongside had realized far earlier. She was looking at him, her features mixed with worry and relief all at once, and she spoke tentatively - using Old Realm, rather than the almost unintelligeable dialect she had spoken earlier. â€œThank you. Without your help, we would likely have been overwhelmed.â€
â€œGlad we were here.â€ Fokuf looked around the tunnels, smiling to the soldiers. One of them smiled back, uncertainly. The others did not. He raised an eyebrow, turning back to the strange woman. â€œI am Tepet Fokuf, of the Eclipse Caste.â€
â€œWatchful Cerulean Aegis, of the Jade Caste.â€ Fokuf blinked in shock as Aegis looked him up and down. â€œForgive me, but I have never heard of this material. And you do not look like an Exalt.â€ She looked at his brow, frowning thoughtfully. â€œAnd you have a strange symbol in place of your soulgem. What are you?â€
â€œUm...â€ Fokuf looked back to the others for help. Kieran shrugged, Alina looked blank. Tenrek, after a moment, spoke up.
â€œWe are emessaries of Creation, Solar Exalts.â€ He bowed low to Aegis. â€œI'm afraid that I don't know what a soulgem is.â€
Aegis's expression became even more confused. â€œWhat? But how can your souls remain in your bodies without a soulgem?â€ Her eyes narrowed. â€œYou do have souls?â€
â€œYes, yes!â€ Fokuf raised his hands placatingly. â€œIt's sort of a long story, but we definately have souls.â€ He chuckled, with a hint of nervousness. â€œYou'll have to forgive us. As my companion said, we have travelled here from Creation.â€
â€œI do not know the nation.â€ Aegis shrugged. â€œWe should leave. You are welcome to return to Estasia with my squad; you will be welcomed. Perhaps you can explain more of your nation along the way.â€ She stepped up to the fallen soldier, and shook her head. â€œDamik. I'm sorry.â€ She started to move away.
â€œYou aren't going to give his body proper rites?â€ Tenrek spoke in a shocked tone from behind her, walking forwards. Without turning, she shook her head.
â€œThe magics of the nephwracks shatter soulgems. No rites that we perform could save him now.â€
â€œThen will you allow me mine?â€
Aegis turned in surprise. Tenrek was watching her intently, his expression unreadable. Behind her, her scouts muttered to each other. After a moment, she nodded. â€œIf you wish, but I do not see that it will help.â€
â€œThank you.â€ Tenrek laid a hand on the soldier's forehead, over the ruined soulgem. â€œI do not know if my prayers can reach you, Sun, but if there is no place here for this man's soul, let it not be lost. Let him return to the cycle of reincarnation that You oversee, and be at peace.â€ After a heartbeat, he whispered a final word, head bowed over the corpse. â€œPlease.â€
For a moment, Fokuf thought that nothing was happening. Then, slowly, golden light began to take form at the edges of the soldier's body. As the scouts gasped, it spread across his skin, and he dissolved into light. Tenrek stood, reflexively wiping his brow. â€œI think I see what you mean. The cycle of reincarnation is distant here.â€
Aegis's jaw was hanging. Finally, she found her voice. â€œYou sent his soul back to the Cycle?â€
â€œI can't guarantee it... but I think so.â€ Tenrek shook his head. â€œI sent it into a cycle, at least. Either here on in Creation, I'm not sure.â€ He smiled wryly. â€œI'm hoping I don't get a chance to test it much.â€
Aegis recovered visibly from her surprise. â€œWhere is this Creation, that you can do such things? How is it that a nation of which I have never heard can produce such wonders?â€
â€œIt's not a nation. It's a world.â€ Kieran gestured vaguely to the right. â€œThere were seals put up millenia ago, but our souls were given access. We came through that big portal in the tunnels, about an hour that way.â€
â€œYou came through the Seal of Eight Divinities? Aegis practically shouted the question, her eyes growing wide. â€œYou are from the First Land?!â€
â€œUm.â€ Fokuf nodded slowly. â€œThat sounds about right, yes.â€
â€œThat's impossible! No one can breach the Seal! No one ever has, not in all the millenia of the Maker's exile! Yugash even attempted it, over a year ago, and was completely unsuccessful! It simply can't be done!â€
The four Solar Exalts looked at each other. After a moment, Kieran spoke. â€œThat doesn't sound good.â€
â€œNo.â€ Fokuf looked back to Aegis. â€œHow far is it back to Estasia?â€
â€œMost of a day.â€ Aegis was watching him as though he had grown a second head.
â€œThen we'd better share as much information as we can. I'd really like to know what we got into, here.â€ As Aegis nodded, and turned to lead the way, Fokuf shook his head. He had been hoping that it would just be a matter of getting an audience with Autochthon and reopening the ways, but he hadn't seriously expected it to be that easy. And, it looked like, he had been right.
He hated it when his cynicism paid off.
"Some people walk in the rain. Others merely get wet."Patchwork Champions
- You say "to-ma-toe", I say "world-ravaging-laser-beam".