A tornado of flame tore through the town's central square. The ground blew away in black puffs of ash where it passed. In its wake, it left the beaten and broken bodies of the soldiers who tried to stop it. The burning man stood in the center of the conflagration, twin red jade swords darting about like the storm's eyes. No one could look upon him without feeling that instinctive fear of impending death.
Alina swallowed hard and made herself look. The Wyld Hunt strove valiantly to overcome the Immaculate Master...and, despite his glory, they would succeed as soon as his Essence ran out. Cathak Lodaris was mighty but he was only one man and he was no Anathema, to have the strength of Heaven against so many.
Thankfully for him, Alina was. Time to see if that strength would be enough to save them both.
Wind gusted about her as she ran, anticipating her every motion so that she ran with the air instead of through it. The blue jade chakram fell into her hand, ready to strike down those it once served. How quickly she turned from a life of hiding to outright threat against those she served. Her jaw trembled, though her heart was sure. Citrios would never forgive her for saving his life...unless she saved the life of his Sifu.
He would kill her yet for the demon he thought inside her. But if she were to die, Alina wanted it to be for that. Not because she'd let Lodaris, the one man her master respected most, fall undefended. She loved Citrios too much for that.
"Into the hands of Mela!" shouted Iselsi Ivas.
"May Pasiap deliver him there!" Sesus Gavrin shouted back.
Her time around the Wyld Hunt gave her a critical edge, even as she reached the ranks of the soldiers. With those two sentences, they'd revealed their fighting strategy...one Cathak Lodaris would not be able to stop. Alina watched the Air-Aspected Iselsi launch himself high into the air, even as the Earth-Aspected Sesus slammed his palm against the ground.
Alina's Essence flamed inside her skin, pounding through her body, doing what she needed it to do. It was just enough to do the impossible.
The Solar vaulted into the air, kicked off the helmet of a mortal soldier and soared over the talon of warriors below her. Iselsi Ivas was still ascending below her. Gavrin's Hungry Earth Strike still broke the ground below, racing her for the Fire-Aspect. And Alina's chakram shot out of her hand fast as a lightning bolt.
Cathak Lodaris should have taken an Avenging Wind Strike from the Air-Aspect simultaneous with the arrival of the Hungry Earth Strike. The Immaculate Two-Fold Technique was nearly unbeatable for immobilizing an enemy, with the Wind Dragon Charm knocking its target deep into a ground already reaching up to swallow its prey. She was privately proud of her reinterpretation of the tactic.
Her Avenging Wind Strike hit Iselsi Ivas first, just as his elbow started to snap his chakram forward. Hit by the titanic force of Mela's Demand, he went down far faster than he'd risen...and his body impacted the Hungry Earth Strike, intercepting the Charm and burying the Immaculate a dozen feet below ground.
"What the...?" Sesus Gavrin said below her. "Alina?"
Cathak Lodaris didn't pause in the slightest but used the opportunity to break the ranks of the soldiers flanking him. Alina continued to fall...only now Nellens Yesa had positioned herself below to intercept her. The Water-Aspected Immaculate grinned coldly and shed sparks from her tiger claws as she braced for the impact.
So Alina surprised her by using Wind Dragon Speed, a simple weapon-speed Charm of the Wind Dragon Style...on herself. The Solar crashed into the Dragon-Blooded far faster than she should have, sending the Immaculate sprawling. Pounding waves beat at Alina's skin as she leapt free. Every Dragon-Blooded's Anima was lashing out strongly now. This was a fight of total commitment and she could do no less.
"Master, we must go!"
Alina raced through the flames surrounding the rogue Monk. One of his jade swords swung toward her reflexively and she rolled beneath it, springing up to snatch at his trailing clothes. Lodaris could have killed her...but instead he allowed her to pull him.
They ran together, dodging arrows and in one case an Elemental Bolt of Ice that snapped a support beam to a porch. "We must leave before they ruin the whole town," the Fire-Aspected Monk said. "You should have let me stay."
"I couldn't risk it, Master, I'm sorry. We have to run."
"And what of your master, Citrios? I saw you stand with him, urge him not to fight me."
"He will...he'll be safe." They charged down the streets, past people and wagons and homes. It wasn't a big town and they were sprinting out the other side even as she rubbed at a betraying tear. "They saw him stand against you and they'll know it's not his fault I..."
"You what? Betrayed him?" Cathak Lodaris looked coldly at her, not even breathing hard from their frantic race and she averted her eyes from the gaze. Behind them, the Wyld Hunt began giving chase. Though the soldiers were much diminished, none of the Dragon-Blooded had died and that made them very deadly.
"There was no other choice, Master," Alina said, saddened. "Better he think me a traitor than not think ever again. What of you, Master? Did you really plot with rogue spirits?"
"No." They moved quickly up the sloping terrain, past the crops, through heavier brush and into the tree line. Her breath came hard now but she kept up. The Monk kept talking as if he did this every morning. "But there are more plots than bargains made with the Gods, child. More plots than you could imagine. I knew they would come for me."
"Then why did you not run?"
"I was waiting for the fourth disaster."
"What?" Alina shook her head, confused. "I don't understand."
"Disasters happen in fours," Cathak Lodaris explained. "Three have already happened. I had to wait for the forth. Now that it's happened, I can start setting matters straight."
They drew up in a thick copse of trees of a soft ash. Alina could hear water running somewhere...but so far, no sound of the Wyld Hunt. They'd made excellent time...so why had they stopped?
The Solar looked at the Dragon-Blooded who'd trained the man she loved. Cathak Lodaris' short red hair waved like fingers of flame in the breezy day as he slowly picked his way through the trees, careful not to linger lest something burst into flame from his Anima. Who was he, though? What had he seen? And...
"What is this fourth disaster, Master? You said it's finally happened. Did you mean the Wyld Hunt?"
"No, child." He stopped and suddenly snapped a sword out so fast her eyes barely registered the movement. Then the jade hilt crashed into her temple, dropping her. The Fire-Aspected Immaculate stood over her unconscious body and sighed. "I meant you. Now, I can begin."