The Phoenix Fate, Book 2 of the Enchanter's Cycle

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Chapter 13

Aika kept her spear ready as the tunnel widened out into a large, ovoid chamber.

The walls and ceiling spiraled inward, the outer edges being the most spacious, a good bowshot high, the central point the most confined, barely above her head. At its center lay a small platform, on which something stood.

Around that platform stood Dekeshi and two male purebloods, no doubt her primes. Motioning the group to stop, as the darkly lit chamber still concealed them, Aika crouched, and waited.

Dekeshi smiled as she realized the significance of the room’s design; a spiral gouge leading to a central point, a pillar engraved with an intricate carving.

At first, it seemed no more than a structural flair, but she understood it for what it was; a lock. All the room wound down to this one point, in which was contained its treasure.

“Oh, woe is me! To have come so far, only to neglect to bring a key...” she mused with thick sarcasm, before smiling, “If only I’d expected there to be an impassible lock, which requires an item than none but the rightful owner of this place might possess. If only I had procured an item that could take any shape. Chikara...would you happen to have one of those?”

Grinning, he brandished the cloth-wrapped object, unraveling and revealing one of the shifting ice weapons Adahj had wielded on her flagship.

“Oh Surthath, were it only that you could have known your own children would allow me to enter the inner chamber.” Dekeshi said mockingly, taking hold of the weapon. Reacting to her mental projection, the hilt of the blade thickened and shortened, the blade first twisting into a coil, then spiraling outward. In moments, she had a crude representation of the outer part of the lock, the impression in the center of the pillar. Inserting her makeshift key, she spread more of the icy material into it, filling up the spaces inside.

When it could do no more she gave the handle a twist, and the top part of the platform twisted with it. It stopped with an audible click and the rattling of long unused machinery coming to life.

Stepping back, wary of last moment traps, she watched as the platform rotated a full three hundred and sixty degrees, then slid into the floor, taking the key with it. Adahj would not be able to reclaim that weapon when he resurrected...too bad.

The floor descended, its coils in fact separate objects that depressed like massive platforms themselves. The room became a descending stairway, with her and her grandsons near the mid-point between the entrance and the center. With the platform gone, something clicked, and a massive shape rose out of its place. A cylinder, with a vertical breech along its length.

A chest. A vault. In which lay her prize.

“You can come out now...” Dekeshi said, motioning to the door behind her, “I would have you see this as well.”

A flurry of crossbow bolts filled the chamber, all of which were deflected by her wards. A pair of sun orbs flared to life, but were consumed with conjured darkness.

“Please. You’re outmatched and I’m impatient. What is the point of ultimate triumph without an audience?”

A Silkrit, a female, stood up from the shadows. She was garbed in dull brown armor and clothing, with a rich, silvery sheen to her skin. Not that bothersome enchanter, then. Silkrit and Humans spread from either side, the latter forming a line to fire their crossbows.

“Come, please.” she said to the female, “...and you too...Jhihro, was it? Yes, come.”

A second Silkrit, known to be a brilliant and eccentric inventor, sighed, and approached as well.

“I assume Ryū kept my sister occupied while you crept in here...?” she asked, and the female, scowling, nodded slightly, “Pity. I’d assumed Enshi to be more useful than that. Oh well...”

Koukatsuna, perhaps having passed out, rose to his feet, bile in his mouth, and took a good look around.

Smoke covered the battlefield. The ships overhead were no longer sheathed in darkness; he could clearly make out the mainmasts and the magickal, membranous wings along their sides. He saw others screaming, but the sounds were muted, a dull ringing in his ears.

Humans and vampyres alike rose, stunned. The vampyres recovered first.

“Not good.” he breathed, though he couldn’t hear his voice, eyeing a peculiar hill with a thick gouge that hadn’t been there before. He realized then that it was all that was left of the wall protecting Shimobashira.

“Ideas?” Koukatsuna asked, and when Minamoto’s face screwed up in confusion, he tapped the side of his head by way of explanation, “Ideas, my lord? The city will not last long.

Minamoto eyed the ships overhead, shifting from side to side as he considered their options. At first, Koukatsuna moved to steady him, thinking him about to collapse from shock, but then a thoughtful grin emerged, “I think I just might have an idea.

Kogeru eyed the human settlement disdainfully.

Havoc’s Reign” alone could have reduced it to rubble. Though they couldn’t fire and maintain the barrier of shadows at the same time, the removal of the wall’s defenses had mitigated the need for caution. There was now nothing down there that could pierce the hull.

“Ready the next barrage.” he ordered, now grinning fiercely. Raising his serrated saber, he prepared to give the order to fire, when something struck the tiller beside him.

Startled, he glanced at the object in question. A sword? What in the-

With a whoosh of motion, two figures suddenly popped into being; a Human and a Silkrit. The Human drew the sword.

“Next time, warn me when you do that...” the Silkrit hissed, drawing a pair of barbed longswords. Snarling, Kogeru readied his stance, uncoiling his seven-headed whip, “Kill them!”

“Now this is how I like it!” Koukatsuna hissed, his tail flicking from side to side in excitement, “Taking out a whole ship by my lonesome.”

“Your lonesome...?” Minamoto replied dryly, “Of course. Then I can just sit back and let you do all the work.”

Koriko slaves and pureblood deckhands crowded close, their captain presumably to wretch with the whip.

“Low.” Koukatsuna said.

“High.” Minamoto agreed, and as one they charged.

Koukatsuna knelt down mid-run in a slide and cross-cut a pureblood, parting him at his ankles. Pressing his back up, the bladedancer gasped as Minamoto stepped on and kicked off from it, katana swinging down and slightly diagonally for the captain’s skull.

A Koriko intercepted him, but Koukatsuna was there, sticking a blade right into each of its two knee joins on the right side, sending it toppling and freeing up Minamoto’s descending path.

The pureblood with the whip parried with his other weapon, a saber, driving the attack out wide. Minamoto landed, clubbed him with the pommel, then readied for another swing. That was all Koukatsuna could see before a pair of Koriko rushed him from either side.

Sliding up to knee-level, the bladedancer relied on his unusual contortion and agility to save him, finding a position they couldn’t easily strike. Stretching each arm and then crisscrossing them as he did the splits, he positioned right below the point where their four legs met below the waist, each sword out but his elbows bent to better absorb the shock as they slammed into each other, and thus his weapons, right in between them.

Each arm was wrist-deep in bug guts, the swords completely disappearing inside their bodies, and he tried in vain to yank them out.

Gagging from the smell, Koukatsuna kicked away, using the corpses as a shield between him and the rest of the foul crew, with Minamoto and the pureblood having a go behind him.

“Who’s next?!” he snarled, brandishing his claws, “Come on, you mongrel pups.”

Grinning at his bluff, the lesser purebloods sent the Koriko in first, who began to scale up their fellows. Weaponless, Koukatsuna backed away. Should have thought further ahead...

Lord Takauji levitated to a corner-mounted chain gun, invisible to the naked eye. From what the reports detailed, many vampyres hunted by smell as much as sight, but he hoped one Human wouldn’t draw too much attention.

With another of his enchanted rings, he animated a nearby corpse with complex telekinesis. Not a true act of necromancy, the corpse would follow his basic commands until rigor-mortis set in, and so he set it promptly to repairing and operating the chain gun. Soon, a hail of bullets carried up to the airborne vessels.

Teleporting to the next mounted gun, he repeated the process, and again, and again, using whatever corpse was nearby and mostly intact. When he’d fully restored the intact chain guns, the air was raining expended brass casings. With luck, it would at least be a distraction.

That done, he eyed the unattended catapults and less advanced defense machines. The vampyres, perhaps not completely mindless beasts after all, were arranging them to fire into the central tower of the city: Tetsyyubo’s tower villa.

“That will not do.” he decided, pulling out a few satchel bombs. Now grinning like a child, he floated overhead, and, still invisible, dropped several explosives into their midst, before floating to the next. Soon the outer courtyard was up in smoke, with confused, howling monsters scattering, many in several directions at the same time.

His ears had failed him almost an hour ago, so he couldn’t hear his own bubbling laughter, but the Lord of the south District admitted to himself that, in spite of the tragedy of it all, he was thoroughly enjoying himself.

“Is this what it’s like to be a warrior?” Takauji wondered, “If so, then maybe I can understand the fascination with warriors in this insipid nation.”

The next barrage would level the outer walls and most of the poorer residences, but the gods be damned, it was exhilarating! The excitement, the danger. He was awash with it. He was vulnerable to no man or beast.

Lord Minamoto saw his ally’s peril, but engaged as he was there was little he could do. The vampyre, a Broodlord and then some, matched his every move. It was all he could do to rush in, exchange a few strikes, and retreat out of range of that daunting whip!

The kendo stance was not designed to combat such a weapon... It wrapped around Sasu, catching him in the face and hands, leaving painful gashes. Blood flecked his robes and the guard of his sword, making it stick to his hands.

Grimacing, Minamoto activated an enchantment, rushing the fiend with a burst of unnatural speed that seemed to slow time. Daring a glance to his ally, he saw Koukatsuna entering an aikido stance, right foot forward, shoulders lined with the knees, arms out.

That martial arts style would save him for a few more moments; aikido was not a striking technique, it was far more effective in grappling and disabling one’s opponents. If he could force a Koriko to block the path to him by tangling it with his body, it would halt their advance, albeit briefly. Minamoto used the moments his friend gave him to force the advantage.

Ironically, it wasn’t his skill with a blade that broke the vampyre’s resolve. Bullets suddenly riddled the underbelly of the ship and poked tiny holes in the mainmast. That distraction, however brief, was all he needed.

Hooking the vampyre’s arm with his left, Minamoto came in close and clubbed him in the eye with Sasu’s pommel, head-butted him, held the katana horizontally at chin level, and sliced his throat in one clean motion.

Koukatsuna, half-buried under a Koriko, called out for help, and Minamoto tossed his weapon over the edge of the ship, drawing a slim wakizashi that shared Sasu’s place at his belt. Thus armed, he rammed its edge into the Koriko’s skull, and it collapsed.

Using one last uncanny burst of speed, Minamoto ran around the dying vampyre, dug his hands into a pair of dead Koriko, claimed Waru and Saku, and pushed Koukatsuna and himself over the edge of the deck. When time reasserted itself, they were tumbling through the air.

“Warn me when you plan to do that!” Koukatsuna snarled, grabbing his robes with both hands. Minamoto lifted an eyebrow imperiously, and the bladedancer grinned rakishly, “Sorry. Warn me when you plan to do that, My Lord.

Shrugging, the Lord of the Central District looked down to the approaching surface, trying to ensure Sasu had already landed. If he teleported them to it while it was still airborne...well...

“I see it now.” he said, “Hold on.”

Just when he was seriously considering giving Minamoto a good punch to the jaw for putting him in a city-high free fall, they shifted through the the sword, which was a good twelve feet off the ground.

Minamoto claimed the sword, landing on his feet. Koukatsuna felt the ground smack into him, landing gut-first. Blinking away the confusion, coughing on dust, he hobbled to his feet.

“Oh, I will get you for that...” he rasped, “Once...I-”

He vomited onto the ground, mystified as little trails of steam billowed up as it froze. To hells with it.

“Koukatsuna...” Minamoto gasped, and hearing the normall passive Human abjectly horrified, Koukatsuna drew his barbed longswords from his lord’s belt,

“Skraul? Let me at ’em.”

The Human pointed up, and as he followed his finger, Koukatsuna lost his grip of his weapons.

“ way!” he gasped, watching as a second group of flying ships approached from the west.

Kiromichi ordered the magnetic barrier device, salvaged by Elurra from Arainami’s sunken flagship, into operation. Designed for a leviathan, its range was far too great for the caravel-sized dirigible, but that meant that by keeping tight spacing it affected the nearest five or six vessels as well.

Constructed very similarly to the standard caravels and schooners, his new, airborne fleet boasted much lighter materials, held aloft via massive balloons filled with natural gasses, mostly helium. The old schematics had detailed a means of compressing hot air for those balloons, but he knew the design to be unfeasible since air would never be able to lift a hull of any convenient size.

So he’d suggested a new design; helium balloon for vertical lift, and a steam-powered engine and exhaust system for forward acceleration.

For a time he was too distracted to even consider looking back to his orb, so exhilarating it was to feel the cold wind in his face, to be able to sail the skies as no man had before. This was the place for him!

“Ready?” he asked his lieutenants, and given approving nods all around, he smiled, “Time to show the vampyres that we now stand on equal footing. Fire!”

The artillery of each of his seven main ships (four units each) and nine smaller schooner vessels (with only one) fired with thunderous retort. Black powder smoke filled his nostrils, tinged with the curious odor of cordite. The newer rounds had a decent amount of nitro glycerin, which ensured a more potent burn.

Without their magickal shields, the Skraul airships took the brunt of the first barrage. Rigging was torn to shreds. Hulls were shattered. Mainsails were blown clean off. Four ships went up in smoke, and six more spiraled in the air, the magickal wings struggling to recover altitude.

“Reload, on the double!”

Deckhands rushed to re-chamber forearm-length rounds, ejecting the smoking, spent brass.

“Faster, you dogs!” Kiromichi roared, “I want their fleet mopped up by luncheon.”

The Skraul had more than three times the number of ships, but he’d taken them completely by surprise. All the better; it was time for him to shine.

Kiromichi smiled as the enemy fleet turned to intercept, black wings guiding them...

“You didn’t allow us to approach just to talk.” Aika noted dryly, “What, dare I ask, is in that...thing? And what is this place?”

The matriarch grinned fiercely, “Daring, impatient...temperamental. Yes, I could do much with you. This place, my dear, is one of several hidden temples to a specific Old One, modeled after his favorite shapes and the bones of his corpse.”

“Corpse?” Aika asked, perplexed, “This stone is...actually bone? That makes no sense.”

“Oh, but it does.” Dekeshi chided, wagging her finger, “But it does. I am speaking, of course, of Argosaxx, the All-One. What is this place, you ask? This is his temple, forged of his ancient bones, one of three identical temples across the worlds of the Veil, each containing something incredibly valuable.”

“This is what your master has been looking for?” Jhihro half-asked, half-observed, and Dekeshi nodded, “I have no master. Only a father, and many siblings all vying for his favor. What I desire, what will reshape the nature of this war and place me fully in his favor resides”

“Why do you tell us this?” Aika asked, and her smile widened, “You cannot stop me. A group of mortals, against a Matriarch and two primes? Face it; you’re outmatched. Your only chance never had any chance at all. I sensed you the moment you engaged my Koriko slaves. It pleases me to gloat, and I would hope that perhaps you, Jhihro, would consider joining us. You have the mind to become a fine Broodlord.”

“Hardly...” Jhihro mused, but Dekeshi had eyes only for her, “And you, sweetie, I have other plans for. I already have a plaything in the process of being broken, but I could have you in a week or two when I’ve tired of it.”

Quenching the sickly feeling in her gut, Aika surreptitiously palmed a handful of throwing daggers, three in one hand for Dekeshi, and one in the other for herself...

“But first, to claim my prize.” she continued, “Surthath carries a sword, and my father a hammer. They are more than mere weapons; they are symbols of power, fragments of divinity. Each formed Totoanatsukami possesses such an item. Including the deceased Argosaxx.”

She laughed, “Ruined as he was by Morag Toth and the Heart of Darkness, his weapon, his symbol of office, has survived throughout the ages. It’s no coincidence that his greatest treasure resides here; in this world of humans that so resemble him.”

As the matriarch approached the vault, Aika, stricken, raised her hand, prepared to give the order to attack, when one of the primes winked at her. Now that she focused on them, both of them, she saw their hands moving in complex gestures...

Dekeshi opened the vault, revealing the most beautiful weapon she had ever seen.

Like her Iki-o-Korosu, it was a long, shaft-based weapon. But while hers was a trident, with three points, this was a scythe, with a single horizontal blade that curved to a tapered point. It’s shaft was the same stone as the chamber around it, the peculiarly dense, diamond-hard pale mineral with swirling patterns of mother of pearl. Bands of gold ringed its length, like the stripes of a snake.

Its blade was wrought of an ore she’d never seen before. At first she thought it looked like obsidian, dark black and glassy, but on closer inspection, she observed a flat, metallic luster to its surface. It was otherwise un-ornamented.

It was so simple in design, yet so elegant in form. She wanted it, more than she had ever wanted anything else.

“The Scythe of Argosaxx.” she mused, “Designed to harvest and absorb souls, even those of Old perfectly ironic.”

She reached out to touch it, to wield it...

Chikara and Warugashikoi cried a short epithet in unison, and as she realized they’d cast a spell her hand brushed the bone handle of the scythe. And erupted in pain, the fingers putrefying and shriveling into bony twigs. Hissing in pain, she turned on her primes, “You...what did you just do?!"

Chikara smiled, and there was absolute hatred in that look, “What did we do, “grandmother”...? What we did was seal the weapon. Its powers remain unaffected; no spell that we or any others wield could stop that. But now, it has been permanently attuned to use its own latent energies to prevent use by the Dread Hammer...or any of his bloodline. No R’yzthaek or Skraul may wield it, nor may Dur’Artoth.”

Dekeshi stared agog, horrified, “Why? Why would you do this?”

Smiling, Chikara looked to his twin.

“Is it time, dearest one?” he asked, and Warugashikoi nodded solemnly, “Yes, Mistress. It is time.”

Sputtering, the matriarch saw both of the primes fall to the ground, inert. Like watching a pair of marionettes with their strings suddenly cut. They were quite dead...

“It was most intriguing...possessing a corpse.” a husky, feminine voice mused, “Not even their sentient blades recognized that their wielders were controlled, so instant was the moment of death and reanimation. Not even you, Dekeshi, knew of our trickery, though you yourself had cast the necromantic spell we countered at the time of entry.”

A pair of blue outlines emerged from the corpses of her grandsons, ethereal and shapeless. Forming into something more distinct, Dekeshi gasped at a pair of female Djinn. The Djinn, solidifying, took a step to either side of her.

One, who had assumed Chikara’s shape, was the larger of the two, and, if the long antler-like horns budding from her temples was any indication, she was the older by far. She was garbed in a dark-red robe, wide-cut at the waist as not to restrict movement. Under that, Dekeshi noted greaves reaching down to the knee, the same manner of golden scales and thick plates that adorned her breastplate and bracers.

Her slender neck was unadorned, but five red crystals hovered around it in the shape of a necklace. Her runes, not the bright blue common of her kin, were instead the same red as her clothing, crackling like lightning and burning like fire. A two-headed battle axe appeared in her hands, its head fitted with a fist-sized ruby.

“Allow me to properly introduce myself. I am Illuthien.”

The second Djinn, albeit far less threatening, was very peculiar. She wielded no weapon other than a series of slim wands that hung from a small, compact pack, upon which also rested a thick, leather-bound tome. She wore no armor, instead, she was clothed in some manner of silken dress that reached down to just above the knee. It was black, with white ruffles and an apron, though it was far too delicate to be practical. A pair of silk elbow-length gloves covered her hands. Stockings and small and functional black shoes covered her legs and feet, and a peculiar headdress topped her forehead, “And I am Farcia.”

It was sheer agony.

He wilted in the sun, his flesh charring under a sheet of black, seared skin and pale blisters. He hissed in pain, unable to get up, so weakened by his battle with Enshi.

Ryū knew it was the end; there was no shade nearby, no protection from the sun. He was drained, exhausted, and separated from his weapons, even only by a few paces. No doubt, Hyosho and Kaminari were degrading, tarnishing under the merciless light.

There would be nothing left of them, or of him, in less than an hour but cold ash.

“Ironic...” he wheezed, grimacing as his cracked lips split from the strain, “Kill a Matriarch, practically a demigod, all by my lonesome, and I die from a bad tan.”

“That’s just my sort of humor...” said a man in a strange accent, oddly lilting and musical. Ryū opened his eyes, seeing a pair of well worn boots. Looking up from there, hissing in pain as his neck strained with the effort, he saw an Elf.

Perhaps just departed from a battle of his own, there was a rip on one knee of his muted black breeches, and his flesh was pale, drawn, as if he’d lost a good deal of blood. He also wore a linen tunic and vest, finely tailored, with a long, billowing overcoat and cloak.

At first Ryū though him a noble, but the vampyre recognized the smooth, confident posture, the hard look in his eyes. A menagerie of knives and pouches lined his belt, as well as a short sword, but even without those Ryū would have recognized him as a skilled and seasoned warrior. Like recognized like...

“Looks like you could use some help.” the Elf mused, holding something in his hand. Enshi’s sword...

Nodding, Ryū motioned over to the excavation site, “If you could hoist me over yonder, out of the sun, it would be much appreciated.”

Nodding, the Elf sheathed Enshi’s sword on his belt, then leaned over, wrapping the his arm over their shoulder. With a grunt, Ryū was hoisted up, his legs awkwardly trying to match the Elf’s smooth, flowing gait, “Seems like all I do lately is help much more powerful people out of straits they shouldn’t have fallen into in the first place.”

“My swords...” Ryū groaned, and the Elf sighed with exasperation, “Fine, fine, let me...there, got them. Yeesh.”

Illuthien smiled at the Skraul’s discomfort, “From the moment our sister slew your grandchildren we’ve been...borrowing their corpses.”

“But...” Dekeshi gasped, utterly shocked, “You called me grandmother. No Djinn can directly lie.”

“We wore the bodies of your grandchildren...” the Djinn Arcanist mused, “And sarcasm is a subtle thing among our kind, but very possible. It isn’t our fault you failed to notice.”

Seething with anger, Dekeshi snarled, calling forth her trident, “I will butcher you for this.”

“Mistress...” Farcia gasped, “Look.”

Glancing beyond the vampyre, Illuthien saw that the scythe was gone.

“Dur’Artoth has claimed it.” Dekeshi smiled, “Your trickery has done you no good.”

“By no means...” Farcia corrected, “...It is the artifact’s own power that creates the defense, not anything my mistress maintains. To defeat the defense or to reverse it, he would reduce the weapon to an inert husk. Argosaxx’s weapon would again be lost from history. And I don’t think he would trust an ally not of his blood to wield it in his name...”

The sour expression on the vampyre’s face was answer enough.

“So then, dear Dekeshi, only one thing remains for us to wrap this business up; you have to die.”

“She dies by my hand.” Elurra, to each of their surprise, snarled as she advanced into the chamber, “Help if you want, but stay out of my way otherwise.”

“I am the seventh born of Surthath...” Illuthien reminded the child testily, “You are ill-equipped to make demands of me.”

“Nonetheless.” Elurra retorted, earning a beleaguered sigh, “Fine. If you must ruin the sweetness of this delicious surprise, we will assist instead of lead.”

Elurra calmed her mind, letting her roiling anger find a slow, steady boil. Fear tinged it, but she was relived to again find her center. No one but Vilaseth could have so completely brought her back to herself so quickly.

Furious but focused, she charged, her slim blades trailing behind her. Dekeshi snarled, thrusting her trident, and she retaliated by locally reversing gravity. The matriarch gasped as she fell upwards, towards the ceiling.

Spreading her membranous wings, Elurra lunged up to meet her. Spinning to land feet-first on the ceiling, the vampyre spun her trident like a quarterstaff, parried, and clubbed her in the abdomen.

Air blown from her lungs, Elurra evaded the next attack by simply righting gravity, sending Dekeshi plummeting, where Illuthien and Farcia lay in wait. The latter drew a slim wand of ebony tipped with a pale opal.

Farcia said a brief epithet, triggering the device and opening a miniature black hole, one of her favored techniques, Elurra noted sourly, positioning it below the falling vampyre. Dekeshi shifted through space several paces to the side, right-side-up.

The matriarch hissed, pointing to Farcia, who groaned, accidentally snapping her weapon in half as her internal density multiplied. The magickal backlash of the destroyed item took her off her feet.

Soaring down, Elurra coated her thinblades in toxic arcane energies, manifesting as streamers of blue-tinged smoke. Her strikes blurred, making it difficult to tell exactly what was glassteel and what was merely optical illusion.

Dekeshi backed away, and ducked as a two-headed axe sailed over her head, a furious Illuthien behind it.

“How dare you attack my handmaiden!?” she snarled, her weapon trailing flame and supernatural cold simultaneously. Dekeshi channeled twisted magicka and expelled it outward, forcing them back.

She grinned, “So be it...I tire of this.”

Before any of them could follow up on their attacks, the Matriarch turned her trident upon herself and thrust deeply, the darksteel weapon disappearing into her flesh.

“No!” Elurra gasped, charging in. She impaled the matriarch through the chest, twisting the blades as they penetrated. Illuthien, equally panicked, slammed her axe into Dekeshi’s spine, just before a concussive force blew them away.

Finding herself prone on uneven floor, Elurra looked up, and gasped. A dark parody of elven beauty, the revealed matriarch had pale skin like marble, and piercing blue eyes. Dark inky splotches shifted under that flesh, forming complex runes, which, upon completing certain patterns, burst apart in a cloud of charged electric currents. From the elbows, knees, and spine, huge lengths of bone emerged, crackling with electricity.

A pair of vertical horns topped her brow, curling near their tips. A shimmering cloak reached down to her ankles, composed of animated water. Otherwise, she was completely nude.

A trident, of the same watery material as her cloak, filled one hand, while the other was a wicked, clawed gauntlet of the same incongruously black bone material of her spines.

“Now then...” Dekeshi smiled, “Let’s see who leaves this temple, and who makes it their tomb.”

Elurra felt the air blasted from her lungs as the Matriarch crossed the distance between them in an instant and slammed her reinforced fist into her underbelly.

As she tumbled through the air, Elurra saw Illuthien charge, only to be struck in the forehead with the butt of the trident, hard enough to split the chitin protecting her skull. As she hit the ground, she was flung into a bodily roll, trailing little black fragments of her own chitin plates.

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