â€œI thought you were keeping these creatures at bay!â€ Grunting under the strain, Tenrek grabbed a gibbering nephwrack by the face, squeezing the creature until its plasm collapsed under his grasp. He threw its corpse into three more monsters as they tried to flank it, taking several steps into the confusion. His clothes were torn and tattered, stained with his own blood and that of dozens of ghostly monsters, but he never faltered in his stride.
â€œI am.â€ The Second's voice was as soft as the white light gleaming from her robes. â€œThere would be twice as many otherwise.â€
â€œGood times.â€ Taking the lead, the Third leapt from ghost to ghost, his sais leaving trails of darkness in his wake. Just behind him, Alina pirouetted through the air, ghostly shurikens striking at the hearts of any ghost that tried to surround her companion. â€œGives the rest of us something to do, Jasmine honey. Keep up the good work.â€
â€œThis is absurd.â€ Brass claws tore through a pair of machine spirits, as Draniel paused a moment to survey the scene before and behind them. Every slash of his wrists brought the group another two steps forwards, but more creatures of the Abyss seemed to sprout from the corpses of every one he felled. â€œWhere are they coming from?â€
â€œThe shadows cast themselves.â€ The Second directed her light backwards, Fokuf and Kieran flanking her as they kept the endless hordes of the Neverborn away. â€œBut we are nearly through. Press on.â€
â€œWe're trying!â€ Draniel snarled the words. â€œIf you think it's so easy, why don't you just wave them all...â€
And then it was done. The Infernal nearly stumbled as he ran out of foes to fight, his last stride taking him out of the shadowlands that the group had been battling through for hours, and into the relative peace of Autochthon's reaches. Ahead, the seven travellers could hear the crackle of lightning and the hum of machinery. Behind them, the hordes of the Labyrinth drew up, confusion and hesistancy writ plain upon their features.
The Third nodded, sitting cross-legged on the tunnel grounds. â€œWe will hold any who seek to press on. Go. Restore the Maker.â€
â€œWhat about you?â€ Tenrek looked down the tunnel. â€œIf they decide to rush you...â€
â€œThey won't. We've got the power here. Jasmine can hold most of them back, and I'll handle the ones that slip around. Besides, the Core won't like us much. You guys go save the worlds.â€ The Second tapped his mask. â€œWe'll still be here when you get back.â€
â€œYou'd better.â€ Alina nodded firmly. â€œI don't want to lose you twice.â€
â€œAww, I didn't know you cared.â€ Stepping to the side of his beloved, the Second spun his sais towards the throngs of nephwracks and zombies facing him, as the Solars and Infernal jogged down the tunnel towards Autochthon's core. â€œAlright, which of you's going to work up the nerve first...â€
In the lead, Kieran was already working the first of the incantations that he needed, mathmatical patterns forming in the air around him as he worked the fabric of the Core. â€œFirst thing's first. We've got to identify as good, otherwise we'll be swarmed. Autochthon's half-dead, but he's still got thousands of defenders in here.â€ As he spoke, he crested the tunnel, and took a deep breath. â€œOh, my.â€ The others joined him, stepping onto a platform of stone and crystal, and echoed his statement.
The vista that spread out before them trailed into the distance, obscured by storm and by bursts of jagged white light. The powerful crystal spires of Autochthon's heart pierced the clouds, lightning sparking between them as they tried fitfully to keep the Primordial alive. With every breath, the air was heavy with the Essence that arced from peak to valley, and for a moment the watchers could do nothing but stare in awe at the panorama.
â€œHow do we find the centre?â€ Fokuf's voice was weak. â€œIt goes on forever...â€
â€œWe'll be carried.â€ Kieran was only half paying-attention. His anima unfurled around him as he gestured, and the platform began to hum, picking up speed as it lifted gently from the ground and started towards the centre. Standing in the middle, Kieran was making furious motions, and the others watched as massive crystalline spiders dropped towards them, hesitated, then retreated to safety. Moments later, the land around them was a blur, as they travelled towards the heart of the crystal. Kieran closed his eyes for a moment. â€œI kind of have to steer. It'll take an hour or so, so be ready.â€
Fokuf raised an eyebrow. â€œWhy, do you expect we'll need to fight our way in?â€
â€œI don't think so. We're well past the point where anything from Autochthon or the Labyrinth can reach. But you never know.â€
â€œHm.â€ Tenrek nodded slowly, then glanced over at Draniel with a smile. â€œExcited to meet another Primordial?â€
Draniel did not smile back. â€œDisappointed that meeting him is all that I can do.â€ He shrugged. â€œI have no further desire in that direction. Autochthon is no being of Virtue.â€
â€œWho is?â€ When Draniel glanced over with a raised eyebrow, Tenrek smiled again. â€œEvery act of virtue is a victory over ourselves. It's not about it being part of your nature. It's about it being part of your actions.â€
â€œA typically human-focused view. You assume that because we are not creatures of virtue, no one is. The Primordials are greater than that â€“ they are not limited by human needs.â€ Dismissing the argument, Draniel sat and watched the terrain fly past.
â€œMaybe. But as far as I'm concerned, if virtue were part of your nature, it would be meaningless. What makes it worth recognizing is that you have to fight for it. The Primordials might not have human needs, but they also don't, as a rule, distinguish needs from wants. They don't resist their virtues, whatever those might be.â€ Tenrek waited to see if his companion would offer a counter-argument. When it became apparant that Draniel intended to ignore him, he shrugged and sat down beside him. A moment later, Fokuf and Alina did so as well. â€œAh, well. Suppose you're not interested in more religious arguments.â€
â€œNot really, no.â€ Draniel looked over at Tenrek. â€œI'll be happy to demonstrate why you are wrong about the merits of being unvirtuous, in detail, the next time that we meet. For now, I am simply looking forwards to this being over.â€
â€œThere, at least, we have something to agree.â€ Shrugging his broad shoulders, the beastman settled back to wait for the platform to reach its destination.