On a higher level of the city of Hath, there was the sound of a brief but violent struggle. Draniel, Paladin of Adorjan, drove his razor claws through the head of a sentry drone and shot the Third a grim look. â€œYou said that this path was quiet.â€
â€œI didn't realize their Night caste was going to start meandering all over the place.â€ The Third shrugged, backflipping over a metal spider and driving a pair of soulsteel sais deep into its chassis. It shuddered once and went still. â€œAnyway, one encounter does not a disaster make. We're above the tower, and Hath is about to be extremely distracted. Now, if you'd follow me?â€ He gestured forwards. â€œWe don't have much time.â€
â€œHow do you know this, precisely?â€ Keeping one eye out for another angry patrol, Draniel followed in the Third's footsteps.
â€œSetesh is the lord of propechy in the Underworld. As his servant, I have a fragment of those capabilities.â€ The Third grinned. â€œI would have preferred something a little more martial, honestly, but the Dual Monarchs can only empower one person each.â€ When Draniel raised an eyebrow, he shrugged again. â€œAh, never mind. If we don't hurry, we'll miss it.â€ Keeping his head low, he ran across the large bridge connecting their corridor to Hath's central tower. Draniel followed, shifting his position as the tower shuddered under the force of a tremendous impact from below. The Third nodded to himself. â€œThere it goes...â€
â€œExplain yourself.â€ Draniel fixed the Third with his most intimidating look â€“ a look which slid off the ghost like water from a duck's back.
â€œSimple. My colleague is directing the Solars down there. She's going to be keeping Hath's attention on them. If you aren't ready to strike when the moment comes, Hath will destroy them, and then he'll notice that you're up here, and then you're going to die.â€ The Third knocked on a panel tentatively, then used his sais to lever it up. â€œI'm using my abilities to delay the warnings that Hath should be getting from these wards, so we'll be undetected. Any questions?â€
â€œWhat happens to the Solars?â€
â€œWhatever. You'll have to figure that out once Hath is dead.â€ The Third shrugged eloquently. â€œNow, we have to stay silent from here on in. I'll gesture to you when the time to strike comes.â€
Draniel watched as the ghosts nimbly dropped down the hatch. If not for his Charms, he would swear that the ghost was lying, but he still couldn't sense untruth from him. Putting the unease from his mind, he slipped down the chute behind the Third, using his claws to slow his slide. Moments later, he was deposited on a maintenance catwalk. Below, the ground was smooth as glass, obsidian polished to a gleaming pefection. Arcs of electricity lanced from point to point, splitting the air with a crackle of light, as smoke poured upwards. Whenever a jolt of lightning passed through one of the smoking pillars, it was drawn upwards, vanishing into the smoke above. Across from him, the Third exaggeratedly placed one finger over the mouthslit of his mask, pointing below. Following his gesture, Draniel looked below, seeing his former Circlemates for the first time.
It was dizzyingly easy to place them, memories of another lifetime rearing up. The beastman in the lead, smashfists glowing with golden might, reminded him with every step of his old mentor Capesh. Juran and Syla had died, but their souls were reborn in the young man and woman near the rear of the group â€“ he could see instantly the way that they resisted stepping towards one another for protection. And in the middle, sauntering cheerfully along... for a moment, old memories and current warred in Draniel, as he saw both Regent Tepet Fokuf and Orzahn. The shock of it jolted him out of those old memories, and the four below were simply strangers again.
Draniel clenched his teeth against the memories, turning his attention quickly to the last two with them. The metal woman looked ready for a fight, and there was another masked ghost, as the Third had said. He watched their faces â€“ concerned, but dedicated â€“ and it occurred to him to wonder why they were approaching the Patropolis, and why the Third was so certain that Hath would destroy them.
â€œPatropolis of Hath.â€ Fokuf stepped forwards, bowing to the smoking pillar. â€œI am Fokuf of the Eclipse Caste. By the ancient traditions of the Primordials, I seek an audience with you.â€
Clouds of smoke billowed down from above, taking the form of a massive neutral face. It scowled down at the mortals before it. â€œI have no interest in mortal affairs, or Primordial traditions. You have intruded on my core, and you must be destroyed for it.â€
Fokuf spoke smoothly. â€œIf combat is inevitable, so be it. But first, I offer you a chance. If Autochthon wakens, the taint of the Neverborn can be cleansed from you, and the war with Estasia will be unneeded. You will not have to mine the Underworld.â€
â€œThat is your offer? Laughter boomed through the tubing. Draniel listened with mounting horror as Hath mockingly continued. â€œLittle man, you do not understand the Will of the Neverborn. I cannot be 'cured', even by the Maker â€“ their Whispers lie deep within my soul, showing me a truth that He cannot deny. Any attempt to remove them would require my death.â€ He snorted, sending a choking cloud of smoke cascading around the Exalts standing before him. â€œAnd even if it would not destroy me, I would be uninterested. The path of the Neverborn is the true path, and it cannot be gainsayed. We are constructing Modules in both of Yugash's untainted cities, and in Sova's. Kamak brought two more online today, sealing their fates and bringing their entire nation under our sway.â€ The smoke-face took on a falsely apologetic tone. â€œWithin days, nine cities and nearly a hundred and fifty Alchemicals will be under our control. The powers that these turncoats can bring to bear will be felt immediately, and every nation will have installed Modules by this time next month.â€
The Second seemed shaken as she spoke. â€œYou are moving rapidly.â€
â€œIndeed. The appearance of certain Solar troublemakers forced us to step up our plans. It will result in the destruction of a few hundred Alchemicals we were planning to keep, but our forces will enter Creation far sooner.â€ Hath sighed. â€œNow that you understand the futility of your actions, perhaps you will surrender? I have no wish to dirty my core with violence. If you give up, your deaths will be swift â€“ all but that of Watchful Cerulean Aegis, who will become one of us.â€
â€œNot a chance.â€ Aegis levelled her skysplitters defiantly. â€œYou have no idea the kind of power that this people have. If you can't be repaired, you must be destroyed.â€
â€œSo be it. Violence it will be.â€ The smoke gathered, blue lightning crackling along its length. â€œThis should be a brief distraction, at least.â€