The Path in the Shadow, Book 1 of the Enchanter's Cycle

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Chapter 19

“Kaileena…stay with me.” Arteth begged, holding her close to him, “Stay with me. You forget; you deserve a first chance.”

She moaned, unseeing, thrashing weakly. Yellow foam coated her lips, and she cried out, in pain and wound-shock. She was so small, so fragile. Had she always been this small?

“Father.” he pleaded, knowing Surthath bore witness to this, as he did with all things, “Fate isn’t this cruel. I know it. Please…help her. I have done horrible things, unspeakable things… I cannot absolve them. I don’t deserve your help, but she does. Don’t let it end this way.”

Kaileena’s breathing grew more and more shallow, and he knew of no healing spell that would hold back the corrupting energies that had filled her, that filled him. But he, an immortal being, could withstand them. She could not.

“Take my life!” Dur’Arteth cried, desperate, “I don’t care if I never come back! Help her! Don’t let her die for me!”

Kaileena gasped, as her roiling, fading life energies began to compress upon themselves, hardening, solidifying. She cast a spell; a basic spell, but one he hadn’t considered. She cast a spell that projected some of her blood out of her body. Experiencing so much pain in her death throes, her blood quickly metamorphosed into Vitrium, which ran in little currents around her body before being absorbed by her Spell-Eater Strain.

Uncertain of what she planned, Arteth nonetheless pulled Ryū’s flask to him with telekinesis, and emptied its contents onto her, and where it landed emerged ripples of tenebrous purple flame.

She began casting anew, wrapping herself in enchantment, and he fed it with his own power. A barrier spell, to further separate her latent magicka from her life energy.

“Brilliant.” Arteth gasped, watching as the life-draining effect of the Eternal Return began to slow, and finally come almost to a stop. Almost

The Eternal Return wouldn’t draw from her life energy while it had magicka to feed upon, and they’d just given it plenty to feed upon. By Surthath, she’d found the solution he hadn’t. He cursed his impotence.

Kaileena’s soft, beautiful violet eyes focused on him, and Arteth found he would have killed himself a thousand times just to look into those eyes again, returning the gaze in full.

“Such immaculate survival instinct.” he whispered, cradling her against his chest. She smiled, weakly took hold of his hand, squeezing it, “I bought time, at least. Months. Years, perhaps. Time to say goodbye. Time to save Teikoku.”

He wept, shaking his head, “No. I swear to you, I will find a way to reverse this. I will know no peace until you are given the life you deserve. I swear it. You were meant to live for centuries…”

“And you will. I promise.”

She nodded, her eyelids heavy. As he cradled her, she faded into unconsciousness, unable to cope with the physical strain of so much spell casting. Arteth set her down, gently, “I will not squander what you have given me.”

He cast five simultaneous healing spells, each manifesting as a clear orb of magicka, which attached to one of his allies; Kaileena, Itaku, Durethi, Rairakku, and Ryū. All of them adhered, meaning that all of them were still alive; Yokai’s last spell had been too thinly spread, even from such a powerful caster.

That done, he also cast a minor conjuration which summoned clothing, for he’d manifested nude, much to his chagrin. A war-kilt, dark red with golden trim, covered his loins, held up by a crossed double-belt with many spell component pouches and a unique scabbard. Sandals affixed to his feet, braided leather, conjoined with thick anklets that doubled as armor. A gorget of twisting metal set upon his shoulders, enchanted to amplify his physical strength, and golden filigree adhered to the natural armor plates at his wrists and along his spine, enchanted to deflect spells and projectile attacks. He spread his wings, and at his talons embedded gold-plated titanium spikes, enchanted to penetrate the stoutest armor.

Their fallen enemy, Yokai, lay further away, and Arteth decided he would dispose of the corpse. Yokai’s ruptured chest cavity; the result of his powers being pulled from his body, had something inside, which gleamed like metal.

Morbidly curious, Arteth peered inside, and saw a black gem with veins breaching its faceted surface and extending into the corpse. A whisper, nearly inaudible, emanated from the gem, “...I collect what is owed...”

“Come to me, Verlangen.” Arteth whispered, summoning the shards of his once noble blade. Even now, after all this time, it recognized its master’s call.

He held out his hand, and Meeldauw, the corrupted vessel that he-…that his other half had created with his descent into undeath, manifested there, its fragments held aloft by telekinesis. The twin-bladed longsword, forged of titanium and glassteel, was a cruel mockery of its former grandeur, its edge serrated, its central gem; the font that carried its power, black as night.

“Reclaim your true shape, my ancient companion. It is time for us to return to the Veil, and with Kaileena by our side we will never be lost again.” Arteth commanded, and the serrated edges reformed into two honed lengths of razor sharp titanium. The tangible aura of menace dissipated, its ore brightened to a silvery luster, and the gem, the centerpiece of his blade, turned a bright red.

His weapon restored, he thrust it down into Yokai’s prone body, only to have it stopped mid-strike. A hand clutched at Verlangen, reaching up from the exposed chest cavity, a clawed hand with ebony plates and black fur.

Yokai’s eyes opened, unearthly blue, and he rose, paying no heed to his wounds, which bled streamers of shadow and putrid smoke. The hand receded into his chest, which fused itself shut.

“How nice to finally meet you, pretender.” a warped semblance of his own voice echoed back at him, “Now I may correct the mistake I made by not seeing the last ties to my previous life destroyed.”

“It is you who are the pretender…” Arteth replied coolly, standing firm in the face of a god, “Thrice a pretender; of Surthath, of Morag Toth, and of Me.

Dur’Artoth laughed, “Meeldauw, come.”

The Djinn found his blade stir, and a pit opened in his stomach.

Verlangen, stay with me. Let us finish this…” Arteth implored, and the fanged blade stilled.

“It seems it has decided.” he noted, assuming an aggressive fighting stance, sword overhead in a two-handed grip.

“Just as well.” Dur’Artoth mused, “I have a better one.”

A darksteel hammer, tipped with amethyst, appeared in his hand, and cloak of sludge emerged from his back.

The Dread Hammer waved his hand, and the entire circumference of the tower’s walls exploded outward in a single earth-shattering quake, revealing a swirling vortex of shadowy magicka.

Arteth cursed, willed a barrier of arcane energy into being, forming a protective hemisphere to withstand the life-draining energies. He then charged, his membranous wings carrying him several paces, and the fanged blade met the hammer full-on.

The next few moments became a blur as they took flight, every attack met by an equal and opposite defense. Arteth activated an aura of fire, just as Dur’Artoth opened a rift in the veil, and a trio of monstrous R’yzthaek tore free, keening with delight.

“The girl and the vampyres…” the Dread Hammer commanded, and Arteth scrambled after them.

“You will not touch her!” he roared, forcing the fiery aura around him to transfer to the R’yzthaek nearing Kaileena, and then invert, bathing it in flames from all directions. The shapeless abomination writhed violently, creating a sound that defied plausible comparison; a sound so terrible that its nature was mercifully distorted by sane minds.

It collapsed into itself, but Dur’Artoth was upon him, bringing that baleful darksteel hammer to bear against his guard, and fracturing his wrist. They shouted in unison, casting an identical spell, and both went limp, their methods of flight shredded and their bodies riddled with gaping wounds like opened mouths spitting blood.

The Dread Hammer recovered first, banking just in time to avoid hitting the floor, which is precisely what Arteth did, taking to the floor in a sprint even as the stone cracked under his feet, charging the R’yzthaek headed to Durethi.

The R’yzthaek waved its tentacles, and invoked a blast of telepathic images and sensations that rattled his concentration, but such an attack would have crippled the mind of a mortal. He was not so easily dispatched

He ran it through, Verlangen plunging into its “heart” and destroying its physical manifestation, returning its animus to its point of origin. A second inverted flame aura dispatched the one approaching Rairakku, and that was all he could manage before being forced to attend the greater foe.

Ryū sensed the danger nearing him, and started to slip out of his torpor. Hyosho and Kaminari were waiting for him, still in his hands, and the vampyre rose to his feet.

He opened his eyes fully and saw…some kind of blur; like a moving ripple of water. All he needed to know was that it was getting closer.

He pointed Kaminari and discharged a bolt of lightning, and the sound that emerged from the distortion brought him to his knees, ear-slits leaking blood. His mind was bombarded with alien and unspeakable vistas, sheer cosmic impossibilities that he weathered only through utter, stubborn denial. He drooped, his arms numbed.

Dimly, he observed Arteth fighting with Yokai, and noted that all the others were incapacitated. Recovering, Ryū drove into the invisible creature, spinning in a flourish. When his mithril blades struck the…whatever it was; Ryū honestly had no idea if he was really hitting anything, but he struck anyway, again and again.

A second wave of nausea and confusion hit him, but he was beyond it now, cutting and hacking and slashing at whatever was threatening him and his allies.

Shame did not hold fast his steps. Hatred did not guide his blade. He was Arteth, the true firstborn of Lord Surthath, Champion of Moonshadow, general of his armies against the encroachment of Darkmoor. He stood before Darkmoor’s champion, his sworn enemy, and that was all he needed to consider…

He struck with an executioners grip, relentlessly pounding against the Dread Hammer’s defenses. They intertwined, and their weapons collided again, grinding them both to a halt.

The Dread Hammer broke the grapple and swung his darksteel hammer, impossibly fast, batting aside Verlangen and setting up another strike. Arteth parried, deflecting the blow that would have pulverized his rib-cage, and created another flame aura, dousing his foe with fires intense enough to melt steel.

Dur’Artoth retaliated with an aura of his own, comprised of deadly shadow magicka, attempting to extinguish the flames and leech off Arteth’s life energies. He was succeeding.

Arteth’s aura reduced, threatened to dissipate entirely. They cast in unison, attempting a powerful abjuration that would temporarily sever one another from their font of magicka. Neither functioned properly

“How are you-”

“You are me, little Djinn, or have you forgotten?” Dur’Artoth interrupted, laughing cruelly. The weight behind the next attack broke his forearm, but Arteth’s regenerative ability began to mend the wound. He reversed the grip on Verlangen and swiped horizontally, the blow parried with ease, as was the follow up with the guard.

Ryū dashed in from behind, and was bowled over by the darksteel hammer, cart-wheeled by the impact. The vampyre landed feet-first, and was stopped dead by a plethora of raking feelers sprouting from the final R’yzthaek, which drove into his wounded back, eliciting such agonized cries that even the Dread Hammer blinked in consternation.

Arteth slammed the pommel of Verlangen’s hilt into his enemy’s forehead, but the impact affected Dur’Artoth little, who landed a sweeping blow to his side.

One of his ribs broke on impact, and the Djinn projected a telepathic spike that penetrated the skull and tapped into his enemy’s perceptions, creating illusionary duplicates of himself, each mimicking him as he retreated and began casting the same inverted fire aura that had effectively burned away the R’yzthaek. Dur’Artoth retaliated with a cone-shaped blast of concussive force, intended to indicate which of the Djinn were copies and which was the actual being, but Arteth reacted by putting each in a position where the ruffling of their clothes and hair matched his own.

They finished casting, and the inverted fire aura warred with the swirling magicka about him. All of his copies then circled the Dread Hammer, and struck at once with impaling strikes.

Dur’Artoth parried him, guessing correctly, and the Djinn willed all of his duplicates to converge on him, and then split in different directions, masking which of them was the actual Arteth. They drove in again, and his luck prevailed, for the Dread Hammer parried the wrong strike, the false blade of the false Djinn passing right through the darksteel hammer and dissipating.

Arteth ran Yokai’s corpse through the abdomen, angling to where he thought the black gem was, and Dur’Artoth batted him aside like a ragdoll, leaving Verlangen embedded in his torso, black blood running down its length.

The Dread Hammer snarled, created a similar illusionary duplicate. Arteth pulled his sword to him with telekinesis, parried a strike, quite real, and laughed, dismissing the obvious apparition behind him. His wing clipped it as he tensed his body to lunge forward. In a panic, he ducked, taking only a grazing blow. Not so illusionary.

“I should’ve guessed…” he mused, darting away, “…Old Ones and some others can split their essence into aspects.”

He’d seen Surthath use similar methods to separate himself into component beings.

Both he and the two Dread Hammers cast a lethal spell, and his vision wavered as his center of gravity failed him. He teetered on his left flank. He opened his eyes to see only one opponent; the other must have been obliterated by his death spell…but he’d taken two such hits; one from each of them.

Rairakku grunted, prone but conscious, as her hastily erected ward displaced enough of the spell to save his life.

“You fight well.” Dur’Artoth mused, “As much as I would have expected from myself. But it’s time to end this.”

“No. It’s time to end you.” Kaileena groaned behind him, rising to her feet, her staff supporting her weight, “I don’t know who you are...but I assume you led those monsters here, and that’s more than enough.”

“Kaileena, no…you cannot-”

She extended her hand, and Yokai’s chest split, drawing black blood. Dur’Artoth grunted, turned to her. The hole opened further, his rib-cage opening like a vertical mouth, and he lunged at them, flying more than running.

Sensing her intent, Arteth cast another abjuration. It struck the Old One and metaphysically separated him from his supply of power; the black gem, now resting in Kaileena’s hands. Yokai’s flesh rippled, the telltale sign of magicka distorting the fabric of reality, but the being possessing him merely smiled, “Clever girl...but the gem was only the amplifier. My will holds this body together.”

Dur’Artoth pointed to her, but something barreled into him. Arteth didn’t wait to see who or what it was. He swung his sword, intent on decapitating his foe.

The Dread Hammer knocked it aside, but Ryū came in as well, his face a mask of pain, spearing the Old One up the sternum, between the ribs. Hoarfrost coated the wound, and electricity ran all along the Dread Hammer’s body. Ryū opened his maw and breathed fire, which smote upon his body.

Kaileena shouted something behind them, but he couldn’t quite make it out. He pulled Verlangen free, and brought down another strike, sinking into hated flesh. He struck again, and again, and again, and he was suddenly thrown back wildly.

He turned in a fury towards the source, seeing only Kaileena, and the horror in her eyes gave him pause. He looked back, and saw not Yokai’s ruined corpse, but Durethi’s, her eyes blank and unseeing. Illusion.

Rairakku Hanasaku recovered from Yokai’s attacks, her personal ward preventing lethal damage. She looked up, seeing Durethi sink to the floor in tatters, and a massive, dark-winged creature looming over her. A Demon!

The Lady calls to you.” a woman whispered in her mind, and the high priestess blanched. It had been almost two centuries since Rairakku had heard that voice, but its sheer gravity was unmistakable as any but Anima herself, “That creature, a foul minion of the Dread Hammer…you have to stop it.”

Rairakku saw Kaileena and the others, cut to ribbons, and cried out in horror. Tears in her eyes, Rairakku snarled, green energy pooling at the tip of her scepter. The demon turned, his mouth unraveling into a thousand feelers, and a sound emerged, so terrible that it nearly took her off her feet.

She resisted, her faith protecting her like an aegis, and the beast blocked a strike with a twin-pronged blade, retreating a few paces. Another creature moved beside her; something between an insect and a deep sea creature. Rairakku cried, swung her weapon, and the creature weakly blocked with a staff of its own; a staff with a circle and star at its head. Kaileena’s staff

“Stop! Stop it, sister!” Kaileena screamed, backing away unsteadily. Rairakku shook her head in confusion, looking back to the demon. It was Dur’Arteth, fully formed.

“An illusion.” she stammered, eyeing the room uneasily, “Where is Yokai?”

Yokai appeared in the air, smiling a mouthful of fangs, levitating with the aid of some magickal spell or item, perhaps this new cloak of sludge, “Consider your reality, and see it peel away before your eyes.”

The floor suddenly gave way, and Rairakku fell into darkness, screaming as countless horrid things clawed at her, tearing her flesh.

“It’s not real…” she told herself, “It’s not real.”

Your mind makes it real.” a voice whispered, unnaturally deep and tinted with audible menace, “You are lost. You are mine.

It was not Yokai that attacked her now, but a being far more inhuman.

“You will not claim me!” Rairakku cried, her faith surrounding her like a nimbus, pushing away the foul pestilence seeking to infect her mind, “My soul is Anima’s.”

“Anima is dead.” the voice persisted, “Your faith is meaningless, serving the interests of a dead god. You are alone.”

“No!” she screamed, “I know there are those across the world, across many worlds, which still hold her to heart. What have you, creature, but empty threats?” to which it laughed, a horrible, empty sound, “Your faith is strong, woman. I will enjoy breaking it...”

I briefly consider toying with them a while longer, letting them fester in my web of illusions, but I remember too well the price of withholding the final blow. I will not wait to see if they separate the many layers of altered reality, carefully laid since the battle commenced.

I look over to the female vampyre, as her flesh tries to regenerate itself even through the strain of such grievous injury. One who received her powers directly from me was notoriously hard to kill, after all...

Smiling, I sever the energies that animated her, separating her body and soul and delivering a final, irreversible death. Durethi, one of the select few I’d deemed worthy to lead the Dreadborne, was no more. I have new followers in my crusade for this world’s destruction to replace her. All is occurring as I desire…with one exception.

I look over to the girl, Kaileena, admittedly troubled. What’s her place in all of this? Do I dare to corrupt her...or is she too dangerous? Should I just kill her?

Kaileena looked up from a familiar trail, tasting wood smoke and wild heather, approaching her house in the forests outside Teikoku.

Brother would be inside…how would he greet her? Would he blame her for…-

She shook with trepidation, but forced herself forward, one step at a time. She owed him this, for what she’d cost them both. The door was shut, emitting light through its cracks that she knew came from the stove. The sight pleased her somehow; it felt...appropriate.

She set her hand on the door, and heard giggling. Curious, she only opened the door slightly, and saw Gatsuyu sitting with a woman about his age, from whom the sound must have come. There was a momentary confusion, but the growth around her belly answered the reason for her presence.

Now that she had a better vantage Kaileena also saw Hana in the corner, sitting contentedly while weaving strips of linen into a sheet; a small blanket, perhaps. She closed the door silently, turning with a sad smile on her face.

Suddenly, the darkened forest around her felt silent, pensive, only the thin light ray of the stove illuminating the path. What was once familiar carried an unspoken menace, a heaviness in the air that grew worse with every breath.

She tried to summon Arteth, but couldn’t feel his presence…what was happening?

Try as she might, Kaileena tried to recall what she was doing before visiting her brother. Around her, a deeper darkness formed, oily black, and reflective. She saw horrid shapes inside, like many, many deformed bodies pressing in all directions, trying to break free. An agonized moan filled the air. She tore free her necklace, and tried to contact Rairakku.

Can you hear it? Can you feel it?” the darkness asked in a voice that was Arteth’s, and yet not. She turned towards the house…and stopped. It would follow her, to Gatsuyu…to his new family…

“Come and claim me, then!” Kaileena hissed, impotently brandishing her staff, “Take me and be gone from here.”

“You would give your life for them? You have such potential. Why waste it?” it asked, but she had her answer already, “They will remember me; all we have is our memories, and I wouldn’t be able to look at myself in the mirror knowing that I wasted the memory of my father and brother by letting both of them die.”

The darkness considered, then sprouted many arms reaching out to pull her in. Kaileena was drawn into the darkness, fighting all the way, but passed out before what she saw inside could register. Sometimes the mind protected itself through merciful omissions

She accepts the illusion...and yet, does not succumb. Curious. Arteth rushes to her aid, shaking off his own illusionary nightmare. Perhaps he can draw her out, perhaps not.

I smile, preparing a spell to disintegrate them both.

A woman cries out in the midst of spell casting, and I wince, struck by a wave of arcane fires, the floor under my feet bubbling from the heat. I look up, and see a female Djinn with a pair of glassteel thinblades approaching me. Elurra?

“You managed to survive this long…” Starseeker says to my other half, a whoosh of air signifying his physical presence as he teleports in, “Well done. We will handle the rest.”

“We had a few problems of our own…” another Djinn that I do not recognize notes dryly. Well, this was unexpected...

Elurra charged the avatar of Dur’Artoth beside her fellow Djinn. Adahj took the opposing flank, initiating a double-thrust forward that was parried by a darksteel hammer, while her own attack broke upon the Old One’s cloak to little effect.

Adahj’s ice swords reformed into a billed pike, and as Dur’Artoth ducked under an impaling thrust she reversed localized gravity around her body and leaped upside-down onto the shaft, the Dread Hammer forced to retreat to avoid the unexpected angle of attack.

Starseeker pointed his glassteel staff, and she leaped over onto it and leapfrogged, using the momentum to sweep into a mid-air flourish. The Dread Hammer parried the flurry of hits, each at a different elevation and angle, and she ducked backward, flipping back right-side-up, and caught the side of his blunt weapon with her foot, kicking it away.

Rolling, Elurra avoided a blast of freezing water, Adahj combining his efforts with Starseeker to create a direct spell attack with his Everice. The spell absorbed into a field of shadowy energies.

Elurra snarled, pointing her left thinblade at Dur’Artoth and opening a miniature blade hole within his chest cavity. Normally the spell wouldn’t have functioned properly; matter and anti-matter rarely cooperated when the latter was attempting to occupy the same space as the former, but the corpse Dur’Artoth was occupying had a hollow cavity in his chest.

His ribs caved inward, but he seemed not to notice, pressing his own attack. The hammer descended, bashing through her crosscut, striking her chest, and bending her breastplate inward and into her sternum.

She collapsed, blue blood filling her mouth, and Adahj took her place, swinging what looked like a pair of tridents. Dur’Artoth backhanded him across the chamber, it was the reformed Arteth that came in next, swinging what looked like Meeldauw in an executioner’s grip.

“You think to defeat an Old One?” the Dread Hammer said with derisive laughter, “What unimaginable arrogance.”

“You are only here by proxy.” Starseeker corrected, waving his hands in a series of complex mystic passes, “Be gone.”

A puff of smoke appeared in his shadowy ward, spreading like a drop of paint in a bowl of clear water. The intrusive energy obscured its host in moments, before constricting like a vice. Elurra righted her inverted armor plate, groaning as her ribs began to push themselves into the proper alignments, and began the threads of her own spell. Arteth rammed the point of his fanged blade into the Dread Hammer’s stolen flesh, capitalizing on his momentary immobility.

The Old One laughed, tearing free of Starseeker’s arcane aura, just as Elurra expanded the black hole in his chest cavity. Dur’Artoth cried out as his torso exploded, separating him from his sternum and everything below the rib-cage.

Somehow…the Dread Hammer righted himself, holding his ruined body up by magicka, laughing, “This covering of flesh and bone is suffocating.”

His flesh wriggling as if he were filled with worms, what was once a human exploded into a mass of writhing tentacles and feelers, a being mimicking the R’yzthaek but surpassing them in such a profound way that even her immortal blood froze in abject terror.

Dur’Artoth moaned, pointing at least one appendage to each of them. Elurra readied her most powerful ward, and willed it into being, appearing as a starburst pattern of conjured crystal. The display was little more than formality; this power was utterly beyond her alone.

Elurra cursed, converting all her remaining energy into martial prowess via her bladedancer ability, and wove a web of glassteel with such practice and blinding speed that not even Vilaseth, her beloved, could have followed her attack patterns.

Hundreds of strikes were dealt in heartbeats, drawing what appeared to her as clear fluid; indicating that her own mind was omitting visual details in order to preserve its own sanity. Arteth, Starseeker, and Adahj circled the abomination, raining blows upon it that would have slain any lesser being.

But this was no lesser being. If they were truly hurting Dur’Artoth, he gave no clear indication.

Her thinblades were pinned by tentacle appendages, sucked into sphincter-like openings, and a giant multi-layered jaw spread wide in their wake. It was like a horrifying caricature of a blooming flower, with both vertical and horizontal rows of teeth and hundreds of tongues.

Thrusting tentacles plunged into her body, into their bodies. Wave after wave of disjoining magicka washed over her, obliterating her wards. Paralytic magicka held her in place, as the gaping maw descended upon her.

But whatever power the Dread Hammer had invested in his avatar, it seemed to finally violate The Pact barring certain immortal energies. As Elurra recovered from her shock, the Dread Hammer’s body began expanding and contorting in sickening and visually impossible ways. There was a tremendous burst of magicka being released, and then Dur’Artoth…was simply no longer there.

Kaileena recovered just as something in the air rippled uncertainly. The shift in the air, that peculiar distortion that her eyes could not focus upon, dissipated. Her eardrums pulsed, but she heard nothing. Perhaps that was best.

Arteth limped to her, his wounds already mending, the echoes of his terror still etched on his face. Kaileena smiled meekly, brushing the dust and still-wet blood from her kimono.

She saw other Kamiyonanayo, and looked back to her once-familiar in confusion. Her ears popped, and sound returned, just as he spoke. She asked him to repeat himself, just to be sure.

“I did not call to them.” Arteth replied again, “They came of their own accord.”

He looked to his fellows uncertainly, “Thank you. All of you. Starseeker, Elurra…I owe you my gratitude.”

In spite of his words, when she looked to Arteth, the Kamiyonanayo’s expression soured.

She approached him with her swords recovered, and tightly gripped, “When I first heard there was a fragment of you that remained in Aurora…I thought I would end up fighting you as I had in my previous life.”

Arteth stood up, setting aside his own weapon, and Kaileena tried to grip his war-kilt, “No…-”

“You destroyed my home. You killed my parents, spread my people to the four corners of the world. You slew me on the slopes of Sottarfar, before Surthath resurrected me as a Djinn. I hated you, your very memory. I wanted to erase it.” Elurra continued, scowling, “I didn’t want to think that one such of you deserved redemption, or was even capable of it.”

She sighed, and sheathed her crystal swords, “I think I was wrong. I think you’re even well on your way. And I hope I will not be proven mistaken a second time.”

Arteth nodded, “Well enough. I have returned, and you can see I am no ally of the Dread Hammer.”

“I will see to the others.” Kaileena said after a time, looking to Rairakku, but the Kamiyonanayo Starseeker stopped her, adamant, “I will help them. Rest a moment.”

She nodded meekly, sitting down and watching as a slim tendril of green energy connected Kodama and Kamiyonanayo like a lifeline.

Arteth sat with her. Looking up because of a sudden, blinding light, she saw the sun had risen, its light flowing into the room now that the latent magicka surrounding the tower dissipated.

Elurra cursed, dragged a smoking Ryū down the stairs to the tower’s lower levels, where the shade would protect him.

When Rairakku recovered, Starseeker moved to Itaku, who remarkably still lived. Durethi, however, had not been so fortunate. When the shock of battle left her, Kaileena knew, she would grieve for her friend.

For now, dazed, the more so with the virulent energies of both Yokai and the being that’d possessed him running in her veins, she had no breath for words, watching blankly as Arteth dressed her wounds.

“The day is won. We will deal with tomorrow when it comes.” he noted, sensing her thoughts. She nodded, sighed, leaning against his chest when he finished tending to her, which rose and fell with the heat and intensity of a forge. His wing folded over her, blocking out the light of the sun. And in that embrace, she let her fatigue claim her…

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