Chapter One Hundred and Thirty Eight – 138
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The crowds raged against the press of Acolytes, their fine-cut clothes marks of their noble statuses. All around the Sunrise Quarter, the people of Haarwatch pushed back against the probes of the Inquisition. Near the target house, several large men hauled off against an Inquisition shield wall, shouting down the Order's increasingly agitated instructions.
"Stand down! You are to be searched, and your property to be inspected!" An Initiate stood nearby, sword drawn. "A refusal to do so is unlawful!"
"Get off our property, redcloak!" Yelled one burly man, his body wrapped in a silk robe embroidered with leaping manticores. He held a gleaming steel longsword in one hand. "You have no right!"
"We are the hand of justice, Lord Petricus," a voice boomed from above, along with the sudden thrum of a Manaship's engines. "And you are in violation of our lawful charge."
Khorun Katan descended from the deck of his ship, carrying a potent silence with him that spread outward like wildfire. Landing on the streets below with a muffled *thump* the Master Inquisitor watched as a wave of salutes rippled through his soldiers, each one acknowledging him even as they performed their tasks. An aura of implacable superiority pressed down upon everyone for dozens of yards, and the civilian resistance ceased.
"Ma-Master Inquisitor," Lord Petricus stammered, barely able to stand under Katan's influence. "It is true, then? There are heretics within the Sunrise Quarter?"
"Indeed," Katan looked away from the minor noble, his House barely worth memorizing. He had done so anyway before coming to this worthless outpost. If one is to attend a task, one must crush it utterly, his mentor had always professed.
"Then of course, we allow your men access to our estate and our...our persons," Lord Petricus stated, his large, bearded face pale under Katan's aura.
"How gracious," Katan said, turning back to the minor noble with a smile. He nodded to his people. "Proceed."
Acolytes trod forward, grasping each of Petricus' heirs and leading them all back toward their estate. Katan looked around him, seeing the scene repeat itself as more became aware of him. It was one of the reasons he brought the Stalwart, after all. Only the blind would not notice its heavily armored presence in the sky, the proud jut of its hull emblazoned with the golden sunburst of his Order.
Fear is a tool. Use it as you must to seek the Light. Katan's mentor's voice was vivid in his head, her quiet confidence and steady council a balm for days such as this. The rabble of this outpost city were a seething cesspool of heretical beliefs. The light of the Pathless shone upon them, evidenced by the churches around the city, but Haarwatch shied from the truth. They fled the promises of strength and struggle, to grow beyond their stations by the holy edicts of the Trackless. They turned instead toward the dark ones, the Lost gods, seeking false promises of an easy path.
Katan turned toward their target, the house that had been warded so thoroughly that it had evaded all of their seers and wardbreakers. He could see several of his soldiers kneeling on the ground, doubtless inspecting the sigaldry buried beneath the street itself.
The heresy runs deep here, Katan frowned. To find one so powerful, hidden in plain sight....
Had DuFont not come to him, Katan worried that he would not have found it. The Elder of Acquisitions had surprised him, offering him this information almost for free. Like much of the Elder Council, Katan had her pegged as part of his opposition. The Elders of Spirit, Mind, and Body certainly were, and most of the others fell in line with them.
She ran to us, open armed. It was a calculated move, but one that I can respect. Katan turned back toward the targeted estate. Never will we turn away those who seek the Light.
Perhaps he would let her live in the coming days. Her network would be useful out in the edges of the nation, and the woman herself was personally weak. That in particular was a flaw that Katan had no issue accepting. Weakness could be reforged, and if not, the weak could never rise. They were made to be trod upon by their betters, after all.
A violent explosion of water surged through the lower levels of the mansion before him. Windows burst under the pressure, and heavily armored men and women were expelled from the casements and doorways. They landed heavily among the flattened flora, even as the water dissipated back into Mana vapor.
The voice carried, clear as a bell, over the metallic cacophony of his Order. Striding out of the front doors was a tall woman with wavy green hair and ochre skin. She wore the black robes of a chorister of Avet, most foul of all the Lost gods. Her hands crackled with a deep blue Mana, streamers of which spun up around her hair and sent it floating erratically. Katan fixed her with his Analyze Skill, but was rebuffed by a powerful ward.
"Chorister and Sorcerer," he growled, causing the dust and pebbles around him to shake. "You dare to strike my people."
"You violate my home and my people," the woman countered. "Release your prisoners now, or else I'll do far more than strike your pawns, Katan."
The Master Inquisitor's lip curled as he considered the situation. He could feel the thrum of the woman's power through her ward, though not her exact advancement. It was likely she was close to him, or so he hoped. Else this would be over far too soon.
Khorun Katan bared his teeth in a smile, and the woman answered with a shark-toothed grin.
Then they both disappeared.
In mid-air, an impact sent shockwaves of water and fire Mana, bursts that lashed into the estate grounds and spilled over the wall. Acolytes were sent sprawling, and even nearby Initiates were burned and lacerated by the opposing forces.
Above them, two figures rebounded off one another to land forty feet apart. Both of them stood, unsupported in the air. The woman cleverly manipulated air Mana to hold herself aloft, while tendrils of dark water rose around her like serpents. She was uninjured and completely at ease. A lilting song escaped her lips, a haunting melody that seemed to warp the air around her.
Katan's interest increased to alarm. The blow he'd taken from her had dented his Inviolate armor, perhaps leaving a lasting bruise as well. This one is more than strong. She's a light-cursed Chanter.
"Impressive, woman," Katan hummed. "You must be the heart of this city's darkness."
"Fah, meaningless words," she spat. "Come at me if you wish for pain, Katan."
Shell of Divine Truth!
Lance of the Fall!
With a gesture, a suit of fine armor appeared over his own, this made of golden light. It was not oversized as Creel's, but instead fitted to his form and covered in far more detail. Katan had long since mastered his Skill, evolving it beyond an Initiate's simple form. A massive lance of golden light also manifested in his right hand, while a whip of concentrated orange fire Mana appeared in his left.
"Let the pain begin."
They moved as quickly as they could, each of them activating whatever stealth or subterfuge Skills they had. Felix took the lead, having memorized the map, which worked well for him. He had to occassionally dip out of Abyssal Skein, now up to level 20, to keep their eyes on him, but it meant less time holding his breath. A difficult task at the speed they were traveling.
All of them were remarkably quiet. Evie had her standard Stealth up to an impressive level 35, while Vess utilized her Dragoon's Footwork to great effect. It wasn't the first time he'd seen a Skill used outside of its technical description, but it did clear up for him why he'd never managed to beat the spearwoman in a fight. Her precision was beyond good.
Harn took up the rear, keeping an eye out for pursuit or whatever threats might be found down there. He moved quickly as well, just as fast as Felix remembered, but even quieter. His silver armor, still scratched in places, made almost no noise as his joints pumped powerfully. Simple, puffing flares of hidden sigaldry indicated the warrior's armor had been enchanted in some way, though aside from a dark brown color that reminded him of oil, Felix wasn't sure how. Not that he had the attention to spare.
They ran into several creatures in the sewers, things that slithered through the increasingly foul water and struck from the shadows. Serpents and rat-like beasts the size of large housecats leaped out, but the four of them mowed through their resistance. None of the creatures were above level 10, save for a particularly large Odious Fang, a green and brown serpent covered in moldering feathers. It was level 15 and had a nasty poison to its bite, which Felix got to experience first hand. When it struck from beneath a shallow pool, Felix put himself between Vess and the creature, blocking its fangs with his forearm. The six inch long fangs had skittered off the meat of his arm, warded away by his Armored Skin, but the beast ejected a spray of liquid poison directly into Felix's face. He recoiled, falling onto his ass in the muck as he felt a sickening heat pulse outward.
Vess and Pit destroyed the Fang with Rake and three conjured spears, shredding the beast below the skull, while Harn rushed to his side. For his part, Felix grunted and breathed through the poisoning, funneling it all into his core.
Poison Resistance is level 42!
His resistance burned through most of the poison, and what remained Felix was able to burn up and ingest. He felt the smallest of flares from his Ravenous Tithe, activating just enough to devour whatever power was inherent in the Odious Fang's poison.
Brings back memories, he thought sourly while warding away a flash of images of the Sworn. He didn't feel any worse, however, his Body having metabolized the poison rapidly.
"Yer okay, kid?" Harn asked.
"Fine," Felix said while standing. "Poison Resistance took care of it."
"Ah, right," Harn said, remembering. "Good thing ya did. Odious Fang poison is right nasty."
"Then I'll stay in the lead. If we see any more, I'll take point and draw attacks." Felix moved to the front once more and took off at a run. The others caught up soon enough.
Felix couldn't shake a sense of dread, ever since Zara had pointed out the pulsing heat to the west. He could feel it still, like a swollen, infected wound in the midst of healthy flesh. It was clear that it wasn't Manasight or his Perception that detected it, which meant he was reaching out into the "vital vibrations" of the Grand Harmony. How was still unclear, despite Zara's tutelage. But it didn't matter. All Felix had to know was that something bad was happening, or would happen soon.
They had to be there to stop it.
They ran for another ten minutes, and thankfully there were no more enemies lurking in the side passages. Felix could feel the illusory heat of what he assumed was the Domain close to hand, only a few turns of the tunnel away. It loomed in his mind like a physical thing, an obelisk that began blotting out the sky as he drew nearer. That sickly, feverish feeling began to buzz against his nerves, tinnitus except for his entire body.
"We're close," he told the others as they leaped over an intersection filled with thick, stagnant liquid. "I think we--"
Everyone slid to a halt, Felix fetching up against the curve of a tunnel. Dust and debris shook from the ceiling, and aftershocks echoed through the sewers all around them.
"What the hell was that?" Felix asked.
"An explosion?" Vess ventured.
"No," said Harn, his face pale. "Can't ya feel it? No, ya can't, of course. That's a fight."
"What?" Evie exclaimed. "Who could cause that in a fight?"
"Two Master Tiers," Harn said, clenching his jaw. "We have to run."
Zara? Felix thought as they took off again. Fighting who?
Khorun Katan barely maintained his stance in the air, the shimmering Mana beneath his feet flickering as his concentration wavered. His Divine Shell was shattered in four different places, and the panels leaked golden light into the afternoon sky. Blood dripped from his right hand, which only held the handle of his lance, the rest of it having been snapped off with his last powerful strike.
Below him, a crater had formed where the Sorcerer's mansion once stood. The Sorcerer was within, hopefully crushed beneath the rubble. Surviving an impact such as that...
Haah haah...This woman...has such strength. It should not be possible.
He had hit her with the full force of his Lance of the Fall, a Master Tier Skill backed by the immense Strength of his Immaculate Light Body. He had seen the blood fountain from her wound even as her strange Skill shielded her with a dome of living water. He hadn't received a kill notification, however. Katan swept his senses through the remains of the house, and his breath hitched in his chest. He sent a second pulse after the first, and found the same dire result.
The Sorcerer had fled. She lived.
"Search her house!" Katan shouted, his voice booming into the air above the Sunrise Quarter. "Tear it apart. Find her!"
Below, his forces exploded into action, several squads rushing forward into the ruins of the Sorcerer's home. Others milled nearby before a savage look from the Master Inquisitor sent them running to inspect the other houses nearby. She would not escape him. He could not allow it.
With such a foe alive, their plan could only suffer. Even if it succeeded, he had no guarantees it would take that woman down with the city. To kill the dragon, one must cut off the head, his mentor had once said. We must move. Now.
Katan dismissed his lance and whip, and let his Divine Shell fall into motes of golden light. Using the remains of his Mana, he ascended further into the sky. The damn witch had hurt him and exhausted his reserves. As the Master Inquisitor landed atop the Stalwart he glared once more at the wreckage below, searching for the woman. Destruction met his gaze. Swaths of the Sunrise Quarter had been crushed and set ablaze by their fight, entire blocks broken apart by the clash of Master Tier Skills. And the resonance of foul Sorcery.
A contingent of Initiates, the Master Inquisitor's aides, rushed forward to help him.
"I am fine," Katan stated, steel in his voice. His aides backed down, except one. A young man by the name of Klark, if he remembered correctly. And he always did.
"Sir, do we--" the Initiate's voice broke a moment, evidence of his youth. Younger than i thought. "Do you wish us to organize a fire brigade?"
"Let them burn," Katan announced. Klark blanched, but the Master Inquisitor growled out a proclamation. "The people of Haarwatch must learn what it means to house a Sorcerer in their walls."
"Y-yes sir. Of course, sir."
The Initiates scrambled to relay his orders, utilizing the curious etheric contraptions built into his vessel. Even with their advantage in numbers and levels, his people were nothing without communication. Still, Katan could not afford any alterations to their plan.
"Initiate Klark," Katan intoned. "I need you to relay an order to our men in the Eyrie."
"Of course, sir."
"Tell the teams to begin."
Klark paled again, but nodded. Katan frowned.
"Your compassion does you credit," he said. "But the heathens deserve none of it, Initiate. Do you understand?"
Klark swallowed and nodded. Beneath his armor, Katan could sense his body tremble.
"Yes, sir," Klark managed before bolting away.
Re-education will be necessary for that boy. Katan turned and looked down again, feeling his Health slowly tick back up. He could see all of the city from this height, all of the territory that would soon be his. He'll have plenty of company, soon.