It felt like the moment before a thunderstorm. Raw energy danced in the air, potential floating in the space between breaths, each movement tingling the senses and twisting their minds. Peaceful and erratic, calming, and yet maddening.
Blades sang their dirge as they tested against each other, their baleful cry belting out with every evasive swipe, every tentative thrust. Locke belted backwards, using the very earth against the two, even as lightning nipped at his heels, reaching from the will of the Blind Dragon.
Locke panted, ducking beneath a well timed blow, his ability to just barely avoid the shimmering heat of the Korunnai blade being sorely tested under Xia’s coordination. It shaved a bit of cloth from him, tasting, but not deeply of his flesh. Reflexively, he rolled away, wide velocities guarding his retreat, buying himself more time. He wondered briefly if they would actually carry through with it. To murder a consul.
“Not very sporting.” The voice came from behind her, and both of them turned quickly, giving Locke a moment to lick his wounds. He grimaced at the sight. Cethgus in his armor stood immediately behind the Dragon, his blade poised at her heart. The fool. He had to stop the ritual, not intervene here. If he would survive this…
They could all feel it for a moment. The power pressurized all of their eardrums, and then cracked away, leaving the serpentine hum of energized adegans and the crack of crystals as one of the Shards was pulled towards somewhere else. Eyes tracked quickly as they traced the path towards the hand of the Lion. Fingers closed around the shard, and the throb of power pulsed again in their ears and hearts, the energy muted as it was placed with its brother in that accursed box. There were no words as the others moved from his position, His Herald, the One-eyed Dragon, and his Queen fanning out along the battlements, picking their way across the tops of the ruins, positioning themselves.
A second shard screamed toward him, a third, as Xia and Shi stared, feeling the rite struggle to find it’s feet, the resonance of the ancient Sith power retreating backwards, toward the Falleen. His brow creased in concentration, trying to hold the threads of the tapestry together, the net of the damned growing weaker with each passing moment. He needed to hold on, needed more time. He was closer than he had ever been to his goal. He had to muster the strength to combat the Grand Master.
And yet didn’t.
Muz closed the lid on the fourth shard, leaving only two hovering in the air around them. He stepped down the battlements, moving with sure feet as he made his way to where the Prophet stood, ritual robes twisting with energy as though gravity and physics did not quite apply to him at that moment.
Xia reached back within herself, shoving past the boundaries of her connection to Shi, digging for something she could use, through the memories, the images that screamed past unseen eyes, deep beneath the cracks within the both of them. It had been too long, she let him focus on the battle, his heart full of joy as he tested his blade against both Cethgus and Locke, the copper blade wavering in intensity as his strokes flew from one to the other. It was a wonder to behold, but she was after more.
Vexatus tethered the ritual to his heart, the incantations repeating themselves over and over in his head. With every shard taken, the time he needed to complete amplified. He snarled at the predicament, feeling along the fabric of reality to build, to destroy, to garden.
Muz stopped, a few paces away, his helmet dropping to his feet with a clatter.
Vexatus raised his head, letting a smile creep in from the corners of his mouth as he twisted to look at him. Long fingers and blackened claws held something in his hand, a relic of bygone ages, of sins long past. The howls reached his ears, the twisted umber spirits answering his call and becoming as flesh, a thousand drowned souls screaming out toward his brother, leaving a trail of ruin as it wrapped itself around him. There wasn’t time for her to scream, flesh rent from bone and sinew evaporating under spectral claws. It left behind a pile of torn fabric and burnt blood.
“Curious.” Vexatus smiled. “I’m the heretic, but he was no dragon.”
He couldn’t tell if the man’s eyes were wide or not. He just stepped forward slowly, blades held loosely in his hands. Vexatus turned his head slightly, letting the sickening cloud of rage seethe toward his Herald, a phantasmagorical whirlwind of carnage and gore.
“Let’s see if the Wolf is.”
The cloud surged forward at the man, warded off by sabers as a torch kept away the night. Vexatus smiled at Muz, eyes glinting in the power of the ritual, the bourgeoning force of dead Ekind flowing into him, even slowed as it was by his interference.
Xia slipped behind the vision, seeing something she had missed. She tested the waters of his mind, and let it show her what she wanted to know. There was nothing but ash and death, a brown world scorched grey and left barren. And he at its center. There would be nothing left if he kept on his path. If Vexatus convinced him of their death, it would be the end of them all, of the clan. Her breath caught in her throat, her mind screaming as she tried to seek out Vexatus’ mind, deep beneath layers of camouflage and lies.
Muz stepped forward again, the thud of his boot echoing in the chamber as the swarm started to gain purchase in their flesh, thin lines of blood appearing across exposed skin and torn robes. They didn’t scream, they didn’t cry, they just sweated as they battered away the onslaught, blades seething through their immaterial fangs and claws.
Shikyo fell, his body sloughing down the battlements, the stones leaving a trail of blood and detritus as he collapsed. The ichor flung itself toward Ashia next, a cloud of rage. Vexatus blinked, seeing the horde of Ekind trapped in his net, lining up against their will to be bound to his. To his desire, to his fear. Stones lifted from the ground, wobbling against each other as they rose. He had too much to lose, the clan had too much to lose against what was coming.
Metal fingers crushed his throat, bringing the Falleen down to eye to eye with his own predator glare as the illusion fell away, His brothers and queen still standing, keeping silent vigil over them, not interfering, but available.
“Wareware wa doragon no musukodesu.” The words came through clenched teeth, before he discarded him, tossing him aside as the ekind screamed in his ears. It was too close now.
Shikyo snarled from the battlement, blaster in hand as he watched the stones hover, the purple of the grave soaking everything below them, saturating the very earth with their old energies. He watched as Muz tossed the prophet aside, watched as the purple soaked through his tall form, righting him in the mist of dead souls.
Muz stepped again, a saber lit in his hand as he stalked the Prophet. “All of your sight, and you still couldn’t see what happens next.”
Vexatus curled a lip as he looked at what the Grand Master was talking about. Marcus cleared the entryway, the shards in his hands burning into his palms as the souls screamed toward him, detonating within his spirit, a forcewave of violent energy screaming out from his heart.
It swept over them like a monsoon, the rocks shattering and splintering, shards flung at them like grenades, withering flesh and denting armor. The spirits howled as they lifted Marcus from his feet, smashing him into the sides of the ruins, his willpower holding only a fraction of the power as it tore through his spirit. Muz stepped toward Vexatus once again, looking down at him as he watched the Knight bloody the walls. Vexatus suddenly became aware of him, looking up at him. At his blade.
“I told you it wasn’t what you thought.”
The screams started to come, the power literally burning through Marcus as he managed to slow his body down. Light poured from him, from his eyes, from his fingernails, from his mouth.
The spirits pulled from him, tearing bits of his spirit as they raced away from his grasp, screaming wordlessly at them all. Ekind faces and broken thoughts drank deep, seething between them all as the sky began to cry tears of stone.
They beckoned them all closer, speaking with a thousand gibbering mouths and Marcus’ voice, sounding strangled and underwater. The world shuddered as the dead screamed into being, pulling down bits of the ruined planet onto their head.
Vexatus turned to watch as the meteors grew in size, smashing apart bits of the ruins as the Herald bolted away. Ashen walked away from him, the beam of his blade a beacon even in the swirling power that seemed to swarm them all. And yet, she was there. He looked to his side, seeing the Blind Dragon, at his side as she always was. Everpresent, helping him up to his feet. She looked at him and nodded. This, whatever it was, was not as bad as what could have been.
It is time.
He couldn’t tell if she said the words or if he thought them. She pulled him up, helping him find his feet even as he found himself without words. A simple nod would have to do.
They passed Locke and Cethgus in the entrance, juking past bits of falling architecture as they made their way into the temple. Locke ignored them, bolting through, narrowly avoiding a meteor the size of a speeder that crashed directly in front of him. He bolted sideways, carbon scoring at his shoulder and wrist from his dealings with Shi. He rounded the corner, eyes falling upon the Lord as he stood, arms outstretched as he pushed the spirits back, away from Marcus, the light pouring from him fading, showing the blackened skin and bleached hair left from the travesties of a million curses as he fell to his knees, cold sweat evaporating from him.
Locke moved to him quickly, helping him back up, looking at his face, his mouth working without sound.
“Serves him right.” Cethgus growled.
Locke ignored the words, spinning to look at the Lion, standing and straining under the barrier he held between the living and the vengeful dead. “Will he be okay?”
Muz tilted his head slightly, his dark hair plastering itself to his head and face with sweat. Locke nodded, slipping the rollmaster’s arm over his shoulder and all but dragging him out before more of the world collapsed around them. In a moment, they were gone, running between bits of falling rock and meteor toward a transport that hovered a few hundred meters away.
Muz let the Force flow backwards, having received the signal from his queen. All seemed clear of the area. It slipped back into his waiting hands as he stepped back through the entrance, watching as the spirits tore through the remnants of the barrier, greed and lust and hate sharpening their teeth as they watched him leave.
Muz turned and walked away, letting the Meteors scream down through their rotting spirits, tearing away the vestiges of the old chantry. They poured through them, following him, but it was already too late. The throb of Autoch engines filled the air as the Lion returned to his den, stepping aboard the Fallen Spear as it rose away from the wreckage, meteors testing the deflector shields sorely. He felt the other transports leave, rocking from the damage. Today was an expensive lesson. He watched the site, as the sky grew darker the further into the sky they rose, black eyes fixed on the swarm of souls.