As energy raced across Hathâ€™s core, Kieranâ€™s eyes widened. â€œHeâ€™s Weaving something. We need a clear shot!â€
â€œNot a problem.â€ Grabbing the door he had knocked down a moment before, Tenrek let out a grunt of effort. With a tremendous heave, he sent a hundred pounds of stone arcing through the air towards the smoke-filled gap in front of them, trails of golden Essence in its wake. For a moment, the smoke flew aside as the stone flew forwards â€“ revealing thousands of flashing shurikens flying around a forcefield-shielded pillar, whose wiring extended in all directions from Hath. Shards of stone flew in all directions, sliced into fragments by the whirling barrier of blades, and failing to so much as strike home. Hath laughed hollowly.
â€œIs that your best attempt? I am shielded by my own Charms and by the Great Makerâ€™s Defense Array! Your efforts are meaningless!â€
â€œOkay, thatâ€™s a problem.â€ Fokuf shook his head, as the smoke billowed outwards. â€œThoughts?â€
â€œUse the soulsteel lining.â€ Aegis raised her skyspitters. â€œOr just hope for a lucky shot. Even the Array canâ€™t block everything.â€
Alina nodded, twisting her chakram around to send a volley of Essence-shadows across the gap between them and the rogue Alchemical. Plates of metal slid into place, easily deflecting the attack, and Hath laughed again. Shaking his head, Fokuf suddenly kicked a fragment of soulsteel into the air, then slammed it crosswise across the gap. It skidded across a layer of shurikens and left a tiny smudge across Hathâ€™s pillar. Kieran stepped into a defensive position in front of his friends, as Aegis fired a volley of shots across the Alchemicalâ€™s middle, leaving scorch marks in a few places.
â€œHm. I might have felt that. My turn.â€ Panels opened and deployed, as mobile drones fell outwards. Each was a single metal eye, attached to a four-limbed frame. Six of the creatures launched outwards, jets carrying them through the air as lightning cannons deployed around the inner wall of the chamber. The drones dropped between the Solars and the exit, blocking off escape.
â€œYou focus on Hath â€“ weâ€™ll deal with them!â€ Fokuf gestured to Kieran, who nodded in return, then spun to face the new threat. A drone darted nimbly out of the way of a snap-kick, and he shook his head. â€œFast little bastards.â€
â€œThey contain all of my considerable skill.â€ Smoke poured from the central pillar, and Kieran found himself defending himself on three sides as the drones pressed in. Ducking and weaving, his anima blazed as limbs slammed across his chest, his return swordthrust causing a cascade of sparks but failing to drop his foe. Fokuf, nearby, nimbly backflipped away from one drone, only to have a second one deliver a punishing blow to the side of his head. He staggered backwards, momentarily dazed, and returned to a fighting position.
Tenrek shifted his attention to the drones as his companions found themselves beset. With a roar of rage, he grabbed one by its rear legs, spinning it around himself three times before releasing it in the direction of Hath. The recon drone slammed into the Defense Array, shattering into shards, and its remains peppered the pillar with minor gouges. At the same time, Jasmine raised a hand, white light blazing forth, and let a beam pierce the smoke now threatening to surround them. Aegis and Alina took advantage of the guiding light to send volleys of lightning and Essence through the gap that Tenrek had momentarily made, leaving more â€“ albeit minor â€“ damage.
â€œI may have underestimated you.â€ Hath made the admission blandly, although an undertone of surprise coloured his words. As he spoke, two of the drones shifted angle to focus on Tenrek. One wrapped all of its legs around the Zenith, pinning one arm to his side as he struggled to avoid its deadly grasp, and the other took advantage to deliver a pair of blows that left him gasping for breath. â€œBut not sufficiently for you to have a true chance.â€ The remaining three drones divided their attention between Fokuf and Kieran, as a volley of lightning blasts knocked Jasmine off of her feet. The smoke was now crowding around the Exalts, who found themselves gasping in pain.
â€œPoisonâ€¦â€ Aegis backflipped above the radius of the expanding poisonous smoke, her skysplitters leaving trails of lightning across the room, but failing to find a mark. Alina stood over Jasmine as the ghost stirred, her chakrams deflecting lightning into the floor and ceiling. Kieran and Fokuf were now back-to-back, sword and fist flashing as they tried to keep their two remaining foes away â€“ the drones were battered and damaged, but pressed their attack. Tenrek had managed to reverse his hold, flipping another drone away to crash against Hath, but the last one leveled a final punch that laid the Zenith out. Aegis shook her head. â€œHow did we think we could succeed?â€
â€œA question that rather interests me as well, young one.â€ Hath chuckled good-naturedly, as the drone that had dropped Tenrek moved to intercept Aegis, its arms slamming into her with vicious precision to send her collapsing to the poison-choked floor. â€œI admit, you put on a better showing than I had imagined, and managed even to damage me. But still, this was never going to be anything but a short fight.â€ More lightning stabbed down, and Alina fell to one knee as Jasmine collapsed beneath her. â€œSo be it.â€ He gestured, and the drone moved towards Alina and Jasmine.
There was a flash of darkness. The drone shattered from the force landing on it from above, shuddered twice, and went still. A pair of sais flipped easily out of its back, as Steel stepped off its remains. â€œI can agree with you there, big guy. This could only be a short fight.â€
â€œAnother ghost? Annoying, but not impressive.â€ A barrage of lightning focused on Steel, who found himself quick-stepping backwards. Alina tried to take advantage of the pause to send another volley of shots at Hath, but he was focused intently on the scene in front of him and parried them with ease. â€œThose drones were a part of me, and I am not pleased to have lost them. You will pay for your insolence.â€
â€œYeah, Iâ€™d say itâ€™s about time.â€ Steel chuckled. â€œYou donâ€™t stand a chance.â€
â€œOh, really? And what, pray tell, do you intend to do to stop me?â€
The answer was immediate and sudden. Green light flared as Draniel struck, dropping like a diving eagle from above, his anima blazing around him for a moment and then concentrating entirely into his claws. Vitriolic energy sliced through the Array, even as shurikens tore into the Infernalâ€™s flesh, and his claws slammed deep into the pillar, sliding down several feet and leaving massive gouges along their path. Smoke and oil boiled from the wounds, spraying dozens of feet into the air, as Draniel pushed himself up. Heedless of the adamant blades trying to strip him to the bone, he spoke once. â€œHe wonâ€™t do anything.â€ The blades slammed forwards a second time, impossibly quickly.
If Hath had planned a reply to the sudden intrusion, he never had a chance to display it. In a shower of sparks, it was over. The remaining drones collapsed lifeless to the ground, the smoke began to clear, and the roomâ€™s own lights went out, leaving the gold of the Solars and the Infernalâ€™s green the only illumination visible.
Bleeding, battered, Draniel smiled without humour. â€œThus perish the enemies of Adorjan.â€