Wonder if anyone saw this coming?
Silence settled over Hath's core like a shroud. Kieran and Fokuf shifted their stances to face the newcomers, as Alina helped Jasmine to her feet. Kieran spoke first. â€œWorking with the Infernal now, deathknight?â€
â€œHuh?â€ Steel pivoted to look at him, tilting his head quizzically. A moment later, he spoke with surprised recognition. â€œOh, hey, kid! Long time, no see!â€ He waved to Alina. â€œAlina, sorry to leave you hanging like that. Jasmine's okay?â€
Kieran hesitated. He looked to Alina. The two spoke simultaneously. â€œYou know him?â€
Alina smiled bemusedly. â€œSteel's the renegade deathknight I told you about. The one who died fighting Dukantha. Who helped save my life and our island.â€
â€œFunny. He wasn't a renegade when I met him.â€ Kieran watched Steel with narrowed eyes. The ghost shrugged.
â€œYeah, yeah. Let's not bicker over who tried to kill whom, okay? Jasmine didn't complain, and your elemental allies literally did her in.â€ He gestured to the Second, who sighed heavily in response. Steel paused. â€œUh, you didn't complain, did you honey?â€
â€œNo.â€ Jasmine's voice was faint. â€œIt was another lifetime.â€
â€œSee? There you go. Anyway, I think we might have a larger discussion on our hands. May I introduce to you Draniel, Paladin of Adorjan and your old Circlemate. Draniel, these hilarious folks are Kieran, Alina, my best girl the Second, and... um...â€ He trailed off thoughtfully. â€œThree more people.â€
â€œRegent Fokuf.â€ Draniel hopped across the gap between the core and the platform the others were standing on. â€œI see now how you survived the Scouring.â€
Fokuf didn't smile. â€œYes, I'm just full of surprises. As are you. I would have thought you'd be in lockstep with a plan to commit genocide. Didn't Adorjan send you here to kill Autochthon?â€
â€œThat was then. Matters have changed, and my original goals cannot be achieved.â€ Draniel shrugged. â€œIt seems that I must support you for the time being.â€
A second silence fell. Kieran's mouth opened twice before he managed. â€œNot that I'm complaining about not having a second fight on the tail end of the first, but you're going to have to run that by me.â€
â€œHmph.â€ Draniel casually removed his razor claws as he spoke, inspecting them for damage. â€œThe plan to destroy the Great Maker and lead those of his people who would listen to salvation as servants of my Grandmother was dependant on the belief that he was sealed away completely behind the Seal of Eight Divinities. As these two ghosts proven, and Hath elaborated on, that distance does not exist. If Autochthon were to die this minute, all of the corrupted Alchemicals will pass into the Labyrinth and join with the Deathlords, bolstering their forces dramatically. Likely, they will bring a million or more spectres with them.â€ He smiled faintly. â€œOn the other hand, if the Maker wakens, he will still be weak. Nearly all of his power is spent, and his forces will be occupied preventing the Dead from conquering his body. The battle will occupy him utterly, as well as all of the Dead present â€“ including a Deathlord. Likely, Gaia will be forced to send aid. You may have come for salvation, but ultimately the Maker will only weaken your faction.â€
Steel nodded, sliding his sais beneath his cloak again. â€œExactly. That's why Jasmine and I brought him in on this. We didn't tell you because we didn't want a 'can we trust him' back and forth, and anyway we were a little worried that Hath could read you guys like a book.â€
â€œAnd if you'd been wrong?â€ Kieran's tone was flat.
â€œThen you wouldn't be any more dead, would you?â€ Steel snorted. â€œIt's not like you guys were just wiping the floor with Hath. If it weren't for the big guy's Essence-supercharged sneak attack, you'd all be components in a necrotech facility by now.â€
â€œGreat. So if we can trust you â€“ and I'm not suggesting that â€“ you want us to wake up Autochthon because it helps your side. And we have to go along with it because the only thing that hurts us more than waking him up is letting him die. Does that about cover it?â€ Kieran spoke aggravatedly.
â€œIndeed. You have a firm grasp on the situation.â€ Draniel smiled again. â€œAnd you can try to destroy me, but while I am injured, my Essence reserves are strong. Yours are not.â€
â€œSo what are we supposed to do now?â€ Alina spoke softly, walking over to where Tenrek lay.
Draniel considered, and then said,â€œI suggest that your Alchemical friend commence with the evacuation of Hath, before the citizenry suffers from the downsides of their city no longer functioning. She cannot join us in the core immediately regardless.â€
â€œOne moment. Are you seriously suggesting that you'll be coming with us?â€ Fokuf shook his head firmly. â€œNot a chance.â€
â€œI intend to speak with the Maker. He has created a sick work, but I wish to see his justifications for myself.â€ Draniel smiled again. â€œYou cannot stop me, and I doubt that you could find me if I followed you at a distance. But if it will make you feel safer, I will swear an oath to neither harm you nor seek to impede your journeys for as long as you remain within the Maker â€“ if you will swear the same to me.â€
â€œOnly if you also swear that you aren't going to try and harm him.â€ Fokuf frowned. â€œThis sounds very much like a trick.â€
â€œIt is not, and I will.â€ Draniel shrugged. â€œI am not surprised that you distrust me. It is the nature of the Exalted to betray, and thus to see betrayal in every shadow. But I am being nothing but honest. The fact that I saved your lives should count for something.â€
Fokuf's jaw set. â€œIt really doesn't. Adorjan murdered a lot of people that I respected... well, a few people that I respected and a lot of people who didn't deserve death. I'm not going to forget that.â€
â€œBe that as it may, we have more pressing concerns, and there is a good chance that the Dead will attempt to bar our way in droves. Can you afford not to bring me along?â€
Fokuf glanced back to the others. Alina sighed heavily. â€œI hate to say it, but he's right. He has a good reason to keep us alive, and if he's willing to be oathbound to it, I think we have to trust him.â€
Kieran shrugged. â€œWe've got two former enemies on our side, apparantly. Why not three?â€
â€œI resent that.â€ Steel rolled his eyes. â€œCome on, we're agents of the Dual Monarchy.â€
Kieran's response was instant. â€œTheir poor taste in servants isn't my problem.â€
â€œ...fine. Regardless, Setesh prophecised that you would need him, and I don't think that stops here. If I get a vote.â€ Jasmine nodded in response to Steel's words, not speaking. Fokuf sighed.
â€œFine. We'll make that oath with you. But if I think you're going to break it, I will take you down, oath or not.â€
â€œI understand.â€ Draniel smiled broadly. â€œI will not give you cause to regret your choice.â€
â€œYou'd damn well better not.â€ Fokuf glared at the Infernal, then abruptly smiled. â€œLet's make the Lion regret not having stopped you coming by.â€