Only the skies watched.
The hobgoblins and the orks and the jifarin and the aelfes descended from the sky on prismatic wings, a descending steel chaos. They brought destrucrtion upon the proud city of Throne. Large, spiralling buildings were cut in half, buildings were razed, some people were taken back into the vortex, while others were killed on the spot.
The Throne of Civilization fell to Beautiful Madness.
* * *
It was much akin to someone opening the lights.
When the Emperor moved, darkness fell, and light shone through, in that setsuna moment it took for one to blink.
The hobgoblins fell. A massive discharge of air boomed as the atmosphere rushed in to fill a vacuum. Deloreia was already running forward as the Emperor dropped on both feet, unharmed, and the hobgoblins — each one of varying levels of crushed, yet all of them surely dead — fell to the ground, writhing. “I have to get to the rest of the knights!”
“That is the plan.” Emperor’s voice rang true from within his leonine helm. More hobgoblins descended upon them. “Quickly, Del!”
“I’m on it!”
The Emperor moved again. In his perspective, evertyhing was much slower. He simply leapt up to the sky, magitechnical Regalia propelling him forty feet up and forward, and crashed against one hobgoblin. But instead of that hobgoblin being torn apart by the force of his blow, the victim instead floated backwards, looking like it was punched but in slow motion.
In fact, everything was in slow motion.
Thirty hobgoblins surrounded them. The Emperor jumped from the floating hobgoblin and onto another, cracking a helm, and then another, destroying a shield, and then another, breaking an arm, and then another shattering a skull, until all the thirty hobgoblins had been blown apart by some invisible force.
The Emperor fell to the ground, right beside Deloreia, as speed caught up to him, and everything exploded.
“Stop using too much Manifests, Emperor.”
The Emperor was breathing heavily, seemingly gasping for air. “You’re right.”
“In little doses.”
As they ran forward, closing in on the mouth of Slum City and soon arriving in the next ward, as the city fell down about them, three larger creatures — all of them seemingly of the same ken as the hobgoblins, with the tusks bulging out from their lower jaws and black bulbous eyes and gray skin. These ones had large, ram-like horns, and stood twelve feet tall, and no wings behind their backs. They carried with them weapons — two of them brandished spear and shields, while one brandished a large, two-headed sledgehammer.
“Orks!” shouted Deloreia.
While Del halted her running to a stop, the Emperor only ran faster. “I got this.”
“You’ll run out of Manifests, Emperor!”
“I can take ‘em without them!” And he leapt forward once again and slammed onto the lead ork like a white-plated boulder. The impact flung that ork backward and stopped the Emperor’s forward momentum, and he dropped to the ground, rolled, and two of the other orks moved in. The Emperor saw the one to the left, caught his spear thrust — the other one’s spear glanced off of his white plating — crushed it with a nonchalant vice grip as he pulled that ork closer and slammed his fist in his gut. That ork doubled over, the Emperor turned and surprised the second ork with a backhanded slap, followed by a low kick that threw the ork off of his feet. At that split second, the Emperor activated his Manifest for a split second — only long enough to be fast enough to catch that ork mid-fall — and he swung his hammer fist. The Manifest ended — a tap activation — and the ork flew back onto a nearby building, destroying the front wall and skidding to a stop as it exploded out on the other side.
The Emperor elbowed the recovering ork behind him, turned, caught his head with his hand and slammed him onto the pavement. Skull burst. Gossamer threads returned to Avalon.
Breathing hard, he turned and ran. Deloreia was already running.
* * *
“Chrys!” was all Chrysanthemum heard as the winged demons slammed against the CRT and destroyed the entire transportation service.
Swords and wings and spears wickedly sharp rent through the various cars, cut the elevated railway. Kasu grabbed Chrysanthemum’s hand as they were tossed to and fro within the train as the train flew off the rails, hurtling straight towards a building to the side of the CRT.
“Oh, fuck.” Kasu cursed as she threw her palmnode out of a shattered window — in the midst of all the screaming and gurgled shouts — and she Manipulated Data once again. “Close your eyes!”
Chrysanthemum did as she was told. There was a split second of nothingness, of floating through the void, and then when she awoke once again, they were in the vast turquoise sea that was the Datascape.
“No,” said Kasu, staring out of a monitor. Outside, the scene was shifting quickly, as if some sort of camera hurtled through the air and then slammed against the ground. Kasu sighed. “It’s still intact.”
“What’s still–” Kasu grabbed Chrysanthemum’s hand and jumped through that monitor.
Another blackness, another void. This time, Chrys thought that she’d be lost in them, and she screamed. She screamed silence.
And then they were on a burning rooftop. Chrysanthemum opened her eyes, and saw Kasu’d palmnode, fizzing with strange gray haze. She stood up quickly and looked around for Kasu, and saw her leaning against one of the balustrades of the rooftop, her back arched in pain, one hand holding the other, which was enveloped in some sort of glitching gray flame.
“Kasu, are you okay?”
Kasu’s back hit the ground, and she grunted. She moved her feet, and pushed herself up against the balustrade, cursing again and again, and again. “Nothing. It’s Dissonance.” And she grimaced in pain.
Chrysanthemum ran to her as a scream bubbled up from her lips. Her Dataturge, sounding like she was on the cusp of dying, the pain so great that her scream cut above the rest of the screams they were surrounded in.
She shook her head as Chrysanthemum held her. I’m okay, I’m okay. Get the palmnode. We have to keep moving. We’re almost to the Cathedral.
Chrys nodded, and she moved over to the square node, picked it up, and gave it to Kasu.
Kasu nodded in thanks, and then she jerked her head in a direction. Chrysanthemum followed her motion, and saw the large, spires of the Cathedral rending the heavens.
And they were being attacked by various creatures.
“Can you walk?”
Kasu got up to her feet. “This is nothing. Hurry.”
Chrysanthemum nodded. They made their way down the scaffolding ladders that eventually led to the ground. In that alleyway they landed in, two hobgoblins descended upon them, like steel cockroaches.
At the mouth of the alleyway, a gigantic humanoid walked in, along with two, twelve feet tall humanoids wearing chitinous armor that actually made them look like cockroaches. The gigantic humanoid that presumably led them was only humanoid from the waist up. Waist down, he was a slithering serpent.
“Jifarin, orks, adn hobgoblins,” said Chrysanthemum, the names dropping from her mouth like sweet ichor. “They follow the Contract of Dwarf.”
Kasu blinked. “They do?” Pain was still evident in her voice.
“Yes.” And then, something clicked within her. Maybe it was the sight of other Avalonian creatures, or maybe it was the presence of those that abide by the Contract of Dwarf. She stepped forward, raised her hand high up into the air, and bellowed, “CREATURES OF DWARF! HEED THE CALL OF YOUR PRINCESS. HEAR AND BECKON, AND FOLLOW MY WILL. THUS WAS SIGNED IN THE CONTRACT OF DWARF.” Chrysanthemum closed her eyes.
When Chrysanthemum opened her eyes again, she saw that the five cratures — the jifarin, the two orks, and the two hobgoblins, have all bowed to her.
“By Adon’s bloody balls.”
Chrysanthemum grinned, thrilled, and adrenaline surging through her. She turned to Kasu. “Let’s go!” And she ran out of the alleyway. Kasu followed suit, running into the main street and then down the tattered and destroyed roads and pavements. As they ran, more hobgoblins descended upon them, but orks jumped in their way, swinging large axes only they could lift, and destroying hobgoblins in one fell swoop. The jifarin leapt over them and caught five hobgolins with a swipe of a tail. The two other hobgoblins kept close to them, using shortbows to shoot other hobgoblins out of the sky.
Chrysanthemum continued her mad dash to the Cathedral.
* * *
Kotoro drove the cab and dropped off quickly, bolting up the stairs. A hobgoblin had been impolite enough to crash in front of the windshield and kill his cab driver. Of course, he returned the gesture, sending knives of steel and asphalt and glass into the hobgoblins body which ravaged him from within.
He ran up the stairs and into the room of Urie. All of them were awake, having barricaded every part of the room except the front door. When Kotoro entered, Sanami heaved a heavy breath and fell to her knees, and Urie closed the door behind Kotoro, and began hammering heavy beams of steel. Kotoro turned, realized what he was doing, and performed a quick Manipulate spell, strengthening the beams, creating a strong barricade. He walked over to the other barricades and Manipulated them, strengthening them, making them firmer and denser, as well as fusing them perfectly onto the windows.
By the time he was done, there were no openings anymore in the room.
Gharth was laying Sanami onto the bed as she breathed. Sersha watched Kotoro. Urie walked out and whistled. “You’re not scared or anything, are you?” The Captain looked at him from up to down. “You were attacked?”
Kotoro nodded. He realized, then and there, that this was probably not the best time to impart the knowledge he’d gotten, although the magickal resonance was palpable, and he could most probably follow the trail immediately.
He pondered if he should. Then he realized his duties lay before him. Shen — despite not being born here — needed their help.
“The sky is falling.”
“We must get to the headquarters,” said Sersha. “No doubt our men will be there.”
“No, we can’t,” said Urie. “We’ll get destroyed out there, Officer. They have hobgoblins and orks running around!”
Gharth stood straight. “Then we must do what we have pledged our lives to do.”
The three of them turned to the anzu as he turned around. “Protect the people.”
Kotoro opened his mouth to protest just how they could do that, when a thought suddenly struck his mind, like an arrow shot from a spirit of intelligence.
Instead, it was Captain Urie who said, “And how do you propose we do that?”
Kotoro spoke his mind. “The Collegium.”
Sersha’s teimach flared with green approval. Urie turned to him… and then realization dawned. “The Wards.”
“They will be strengthened, but surely the portals would be open. They already reject anything they aren’t supposed to allow.”
“So what do we do?” Urie asked.
“We… We round up as many civillians as we can. And we bring them into the Collegium.”
“As much as we can,” said Sersha.
“As much as we can,” said Gharth.
“As much as we can,” said Urie.
“As much as we can,” echoed Kotoro, finally.
They found a stray, beat up van. Kotoro jumped on the steering wheel. Urie packed his slugblaster, Gharth, Sersha, and Sanami prepared their swords and spells and what have you.
The van was empty, but blood slicked everywhere. The few remaining prismatic feathers of a hobgoblin attacker still hung in the air.
“Let’s go,” said Urie, on the passenger’s seat. He turned around at the others, who all sat silent, as if the sounds of chaos outside sang a distant requiem for them.
Kotoro turned, and steeled his resolve. “As much as we can.” And he drove off.
* * *
The open ruin that is the room of the Dean silently allowed snow within. If one were to stand at the cusp of the hole created thanks to the brief fight between the Siddivata girl and the Vizier of Magick, one would be able to see the flurrying of snow, and the constant barrage of the hobgoblins, orks, and jifarin from outside, resembling a bloodthirsty rain of steel.
Bypassing that barrier, was a tall woman with a gown made of thunderstorms and clouds. Beside her was a draconian serpentine thing, with feet that resembled wicked tiger’s paws, and a head that had a flowing mane like a lion, and leathery wings that if unfurled would’ve blocked out the daystar.
She stood at that same cusp, in that hole in the Dean’s house. She could hear the bustling now of people, and the various men and women, Savants and Students, rushing to and fro within the Collegium, doing many things, no doubt trying to cull their casualties.
She turned and looked at the door. Nobody had bothered to barge in. “And my glamour works.”
Pixiu bowed before her. “I am the dragon that eats and is never satisfied,” he said. “And I serve thee.”
“I know,” said Zinnia. “But you are beholden to Hyacinth, are you not?”
“She is my lady.”
“For now, you are oathbound not to betray me.” And following those were was a wisp of gossamer, and Pixiu nodded.
“It is oathed.”
“Now where in the Hells is the Dean…”
“May I ask, Lady Zinnia,” spoke Pixiu. “How you were able to manage to get into the Collegium without being blocked by the barrier?”
“Oh, the Dean is a man of many mistakes. He has allowed my essence past the barrier. Somehow, it seems, he has limited this privilege to just me.”
Pixiu moved over to the hole. When one of his wings momentarily unfurled, they bounced off of the border. “It seems we are being kept in as well.”
Zinnia spat. “And so it does. How annoying.”
A silence. The wind howled. Shouts echoed across the Collegium grounds.
“What do we do now, milady?”
“Simply put,” she said. “Destroy Throne. Come.”
She threw her arm out against that hole, and a rent in reality burst open. She walked through it, and so did Pixiu.