Raksi was there to see Akaris off at the Gate of Five Corners. “I feel as though in you I am finally seeing a glimpse at my destiny.” Raksi held both of Akaris’s arms as a proud parent sending her child off to school. The image wasn’t quite perfect since Raksi was two hands shorter than Akaris. She kissed her on the cheek. “I’ll be here when you get back, I promise.”
Akaris was about to respond when a soldier came skittering into the room. “Your Highnesses, the Mistress of Bloody Charities has been spotted coming around the mountain, much further up slope.” Raksi squared her shoulders “She’s making a dark trail behind her. We think it’s some form of Necromancy.”
“Yes, well, I didn’t expect her to stop while we made our own preparations.” she turned back to Akaris with a smile. “Don’t worry. We need Solar Circle Sorcery to full counter her might, but I think I am her match physically. I’ll engage and keep her busy while you are gone.” Raksi’s expression became blank for a moment. “Lunars specialize in surviving. I’ll engage, keep her busy, then come back here to heal. Rinse, and repeat.”
Another pause. “You just focus on your sorcery and come back when you’re ready.” Raksi took off at a brisk walk. “Has anyone seen Pyrrhus?!” she called.
Caiden caught sight of Raksi after Iyanden informed him she was heading away from the Gate of Five Corners. The elemental dragon descended rapidly, bringing with it a small trail of clouds that clearly wanted to become something much more. A short turn allowed them to match stride and direction with Raksi, who observed the duo with the same candor as if she were watching a kite in the wind.
“You’re not Pyrrhus.” She jabbed.
“I certainly could be if you turn around for a minute.” The Sidereal said, quickly jumping off Iyanden who became a translucent serpent-shape that swam through the air aside the two exalts as they walked.
“Very funny,” Raksi said, rolling her eyes. She jerked her head towards the upslope of Meru. “I take it you’ve heard the news?”
“Yes,” Caiden responded grimly. “I’m no master of Death Lords, but I know she’s specifically targeting the Dragon Lines with Void Circle necromancy. I shouldn’t need to explain how that’s real bad for us—I can’t tell right now if she’s drawing power from them or if she’s corrupting their essence, but if I were to guess, it would be the latter. Thanks to Akaris’s curse upon her, the Mountain has been fighting her with everything it’s got. Unfortunately, we’re running out of time…fast.”
“Precisely why I’m trying to find Pyrrhus!” Raksi exclaimed.
“Hold your horses…or horse…or whatever form you’re the fastest in.”
“Razor falcons, yes—hold those. We’re headed his direction, but I wanted to brief you on a potential solution before we go charging in.” The path before them shimmered slight gold, as if specs of the precious metal were floating above the walkway, leading them towards the heart of the city.
“You know the curse I mentioned earlier? I believe that’s just the advantage we need to keep her from finishing whatever dark ritual she’s pouring into the mountainside. What we need to do is catch her off guard with the elements. I’m hoping that she’s somewhere within your new domain here. I can set off a series of unfortunate accidents near her, essentially boosting the effectiveness of the elements already contending with her. Anything you and the Solars can add to that will help push things in our favor.
“If we can cause her to mis-cast Void Circle Necromancy, we may cause her to think twice before throwing herself at us with its power. Either that, or we’ll have cursed the Dragon Lines near her for miles.”
“I see, I see.” Raksi said, a grin crept its way onto her face as Caiden played out the scenario with potential results. Mis-casts were terrible, but quite intriguing spectacles. “Well let’s see what Pyrrhus is up for. Maybe a good ol’ red herring for the Mistress while we work some dirty tricks behind the scenes…I suppose I could actually turn into a red herring…” She tilted her head pensively, “No, no…that would be silly. Fun, but silly.”
Caiden mentally facepalmed for the second time.
Pyrrhus stood forehead-to-forehead with his wife at the entrance to one of the Jadeborn tunnels. A cadre of warrior-caste stood guarding the mouth as a small convoy of Meru’s noncombatants – mothers, young children, the old, sick, or disabled – began the long trek downwards. Angelline gave him a final embrace and picked up Aelius from his clutching hold on her legs.
“Be safe, mia kara,” she said quietly, for Pyrrhus alone. “Do not leave your family alone in this world.”
“I will not, as long as it is in my power to do so, koron de mia vivo. As soon as the Mistress is defeated I will come for you.” He kissed his son on the cheek, sending the little boy into squirming giggles. “Be good and obey your Mama, Aelius. I will see you in a little while.”
“We’ll see them safe, Lord,” said the Enlightened Jadeborn warrior, touching a fist to his chest in salute. “Urzik’s Shard will be here soon, to help with the defense.”
“Thank you. It will be appreciated.” Angelline started down the tunnel, trailing her fingers in Pyr’s as long as they could reach. Aelius babbled happily for a few moments before he realized his father wasn’t following and began wailing. Pyrrhus turned away, stiff; it was always a heartbreak.
“Well I remember that feeling,” Raksi said, coming up quietly beside him.
“Worse, this time – I’m to be a father again. And I cannot be there with her.” Pyrrhus shook himself as the Jadeborn closed the tunnel entrance behind the last of them. “Our respite is over, isn’t it?”
“Indeed. Mistress comes on a streamer of necromancy. But the Sidereal and I have a plan. We’ll need your assistance. Are you ready?”
Pyrrhus rolled his shoulders to check the fit of his armor, and the looseness of his swords in their scabbards. A faint golden haze settled over the red jade as he took up the kata of the Unconquered Sun. “Yes. Let’s begin.”
Caiden slapped down a prayer strip on a table that may or may not have been there just seconds ago. “I’ll make this quick,” he promised as the strip turned into a three dimensional representation of the mountain, layers of reality washing over with each passing second.
“Mistress is at the fifth Dragon Line junction—the one leading directly into New Meru.” He pointed at a small figure shrouded in a necrotic-green haze that trailed for miles back towards the City of Night. “We’ve already been over what this means to us; now it’s time to do something about it.” His battle mask was stern and resolute. The playful glint that he arrived to New Meru with was replaced with a furious golden aura.
“We will come at Mistress from three points of attack.” He looked at the Lunar elder to his side, “Raksi will be just one of the surprises as she attempts to catch Mistress off guard from underground. Her terror worm form should be resilient enough to withstand some of the initial damage from the ultimate plan of attack.”
He drew a line on the map with his finger representing the course Raksi would be taking on her subterranean route. “Pyrrhus and a contingent of soldiers will conduct a frontal charge on Mistress’s position. It is imperative that we bring enough that we seem serious, but not too much as to seem like a distraction. I will accompany this group, as we will need to escape quickly once Raksi strikes.”
“Tell them what this ‘ultimate’ plan is,” Raksi said, grimacing, “It really is my favorite part.”
Caiden acknowledged her request with a nod, pulling out another prayer strip and wrapping it around his hand, causing it to glow with an intense golden light.
“The ultimate goal is to interrupt her cast, and to do that we need to do as much damage as we can to her in as little time possible.” He reached his wrapped hand towards the side of the mountain Mistress was on and tapped it once.
Immediately a skein of Dragon Lines materialized as if one were looking at the sun through a leaf. He reached his hand just south of the Dragon Line Mistress was corrupting and began to pinch it. Hissing golden steam rose from the junction, sounding as if a scalding stone had just been placed into water. Caiden’s expression did not change, even though the tips of his fingers looked black and charred when he brought them back up.
“I have hemorrhaged the Dragon Line, which gives us roughly ten minutes to strike.” A quick tug at a point in the miniature ‘sky’ produced a rapidly growing storm cloud. Creation mimicked this command, and clouds began to gather further up the mount. “We will have the elements on our side as our third point of attack, and I will channel them into a single strike against Mistress at the breaking point. With this, we should be able to detonate the Dragon Line hemorrhage causing irrevocable amounts of damage that no necromancer could cast through. Repairing the Dragon Line afterwards is a much better alternative than necrotic energy pouring into the city.”
Caiden turned to Pyrrhus, “Gather whom you can, as fast as you can, but rest assured I will see them to safety should we happen too close to the Ley Line. I will be tracking Raksi and can pace our movement accordingly. After she strikes, we will execute a fast retreat, provided our distraction proves effective.”
He gave the real Meru a glance, preparing himself for this upcoming strike. He had excelled at precision strikes against Fair Folk courts, even go so far as defeating a Raksha in combat; this was much more difficult, but the goal was different here. Mistress would certainly survive, but she would hopefully think twice about throwing herself at New Meru in the future.
A ring of dripping black circled the peak of Mount Meru, stopping a few miles short of the topmost pinnacle. It slowly seeped down the rugged slopes, reaching for the ruins and communities surviving further down. Mistress stood nonchalantly at the place where the ring tied shut, cutting off the peak from the rest of the sacred mount. A century or more of others – war ghosts, necromancers, other dead shades – flanked her, waiting with perfect calm for their lady’s word. A massive, lumbering shape with a few too many spindly, insectoid limbs and quills like a demonic hedgehog loomed over her.
Pyrrhus and his band – a few Talons of Dragon-blooded soldiers who’d followed Pyrrhus from the first battle against Mistress, seasons ago in the Underworld – came up the slope to meet the Deathlord. They were all mounted, their various steeds armored and hastily warded against the dead. Golden light began to stream from the Zenith’s shoulders as he exhorted his command, then as one they charged the last quarter-mile.
Mistress waved a hand lazily and her retinue – minus the hekatonkhire – streamed down the slopes to meet their attackers, weaving easily in and out of the fast reaching tendrils of Shadowland. Upslope, more tatters of darkness were reaching for the Peak, but the sheer strength of the Pole was holding them at bay. For how long was unclear.
The two forces clashed in flashes of brightness and dark, obscured by the growing mist of some essence-fueled working. Further up the slope, the ground began to rumble. Rocks and pebbles jittered from beneath Mistress’ feet – not unusual since the Curse of Elemental Hatred. Until a round gaping maw full of long, needly teeth, circles upon circles of them unfolding like an acid-laced flower burst out of the rock and engulfed the smiling Deathlord. The terror-worm neatly dodged a swipe from the dead behemoth but took a tailful of quills on the rebound.
Mistress struggled free of the grasping petal-jaws, and Raksi began to beat her against the mountain like a heron with a fish. The Curse worked further havoc on the Deathlord, ensuring everywhere she struck, razor sharp rock shards sliced her cold flesh. Blood added to the seeping shadows. Dark essence dripped from the Mistress s she began to twist and spin, carving a hole through the shifted Lunar’s flesh.
Every essence wielder on the mountain felt it when the dragon-line ruptured. White-hot motes exploded from beneath the necrotic knot tied around the peak, instantly transmuting the ground to white jade and flinging it off the mountain with the force of a thousand implosion bows. Plumes of dust and ash billowed into the sky, clearly illuminated by the zenith sun. Across the realm, savants and serfs alike stared toward the center, at the spreading dark and the worrying pyroclastic pillar.
Dazed, Raksi fell toward the earth, her grip on the Mistress gone. The Hekatonkhire caught her by the tail, smashed into the rock and then off again, into the air, arcing toward the flatlands far, far below. She shed the wounded form of the terror worm, condensing herself into a black feathered Roc.
The Hemorrhage freed the shadowland from its hold on the mount, and it swept down the mountain, a strange shockwave of creation-shadowland-creation, corrupting and restoring again at a brisk pace, as fast as a cheetah could sprint. It rolled down the slopes, and Raksi could see it would hit the flatlands and keep going, perhaps until it reached the Wyld.
Unprecedented. Raksi had no idea this was even possible. She couldn’t begin to predict what its effects would be, this rolling wave of Underworld.