We covered the lot in a sprint. Ducked into the open apartment stairwell, through the building. There were only two more structures between us and our goal.
The rain was beating down harder. Fat drops broke against the crown of my head as we moved back out. There was a golden mean between timidness and recklessness. Courage. I wouldn’t have called it courage, though. That wasn’t a term I didn’t associate with.
My sense alerted me to several blue shots coming down from above in a trail of vapor. I turned to block them. Ash got behind me as I did.
The Sentinel was targeting him. He was trying to slow us down.
Keeping a watch on the sky, I needed Ash to guide me. There was water in my eyes, but I could make out the falling blue light. Though one arm was injured and both were tired, I could still block the barrage. He couldn’t beat me.
You’ll need that attitude.
One more apartment building to go.
Ash and I dashed down the hall. Up ahead I could see, back out in the storm, that a line had formed across the parking lot. A colorful lineup of Eidolons. Less than a dozen, but too many. These were the reinforcements they’d conjured to stop us, now standing in our way.
We stopped in the hall’s threshold. Ash fired from the hip once just to confirm my suspicion. A shimmer rested on each one of them. They’d gotten a Shielder.
I backed up a few feet. My mind was racing.
The Sentinel blasted down between us and them.
He held gravitas. “Stand. Down.”
“Never,” I answered. I kept backing up. Had to think of a way out.
We had one chance now. Need to bottleneck them.
“Come on, fuckers!” Ash yelled. He saw what I was doing and followed. He threw down his gun and withdrew a knife covered in hellish symbols.
Someone sent out a black smoke. A curse of death. I cut it down.
“That not going to work!” I shouted to them.
“The longer you wait,” the Sentinel growled, “the tighter the noose gets.”
They would get in more reinforcements. They would get in ships. At any moment, the only reason we had a chance was because of their restraint. He was right. They weren’t falling for it. They were standing in the rain, waiting. They would abstain from a fight and run out my clock.
I was trapped. There was only one path forward.
Into the storm.
“Stay… stay behind me, Ash.” I mustered some confidence.
“You got it.” He knew the odds.
Courage. It was necessary today.
I raised my cleaver up and ran out into the rain.
The Sentinel rocketed out of my way, shouting for them to attack.
A technicolor volley hit me. Every Eidolon threw what they had. Ice, fire, light, electricity, and shadow. But their primitive magic ended at my swords edge. They spaced out and those that had weapons brandished them. The first one came at me with a lance. I knocked up his stab and slid into my own, penetrating his gut and slicing up and out. I came back over into another’s shoulder, cleaving off the arm.
Ash would have to look out for himself.
I was hit with a blast of force. The concrete sprayed up and I went into an Eidolon and tumbling. When I was up, the seven or so remaining fighters were facing me. One had Ash face down under his boot, a sword to the back of his neck.
“I’ll kill your friend,” she warned. “Drop your sword.”
“That one?” I asked. “He’s fucked up, you know?” Quick and dirty plan.
Ash was seamless. “That’s funny, coming from you. I thought you liked men?”
“Sometimes. But don’t tell them the plan!” I shouted.
“What pl-“ The moment she was sufficiently distracted, Ash’s arms reached back, one hand knocking away her sword and the other stabbing her leg. He rolled and she crumpled. The other Eidolons were slow to react to her fall.
I threw my cleaver. It spun wildly through the air and into one of them. I rolled under a fireball and threw out my hand. The intention was clear. There was a momentary delay, but I had power over what was mine.
The blade dislodged and returned to my hand, slashing another across the face as it did. I was close enough now that I cut down the flame Elementalist on coming up. Ash was standing and killed another, stabbing him in the back.
We’d surprised them. The moment they believed they would lose, they had. And that moment came when more than half of them were dead. We’d mowed them down.
The last two ran when we’d gotten the rest.
“Doran!?” Hasami yelled. He was hurt, but he stood tall. He came out of the dark hall with his sword in hand, just now catching up. “You’re killing them,” he pleaded.
I stared back at him. I couldn’t say anything. Couldn’t doubt now. Ash started off without me, forcing me to catch up. We made it through the last building. There was an elevation of concrete and a bit of railing which we easily climbed up to another parking lot.
We’d reached it. The circular base of the space elevator.
We were so close.
Porter watched the digital room render. A table in the dark. Of the people still appearing, the first he recognized was Master Wulff. That old guy, Cobb. Ali was notably absent to this impromptu meeting.
The three important Magi had arrived, though. Next came the council.
Nameless ethicists, a few high council members. Everyone exchanged glances, waiting for the meeting to begin. Emergency meetings were supposed to be rapid.
The last one to arrive was a Zenith Council member. A singular man who held more sway than one-third of the rest of the council.
He looked like Santa Claus.
One of the old populists. A vote winner. A Zeitgeist, Porter thought.
On the table, a perfect hologram suddenly appeared. Doran, Porter recognized. Doran and the demon running away from a slew of bodies in a rainy lot.
“The reason for this meeting,” Aku’s monotone voice sounded. “The entities Doran and Ashmedai are on the move and dangerous. Permanent death weapons are in use. The council needs to decide on a course of action. Protocols have failed.”
Throwing Magus at it didn’t work.
“Why don’t we call in drones? Use nanites?” an Ethicist proposed.
“It’s not going to work,” Porter said.
“Truly,” Cobb agreed.
“Doran is using momentum, channeling raw sway. It’s like he’s got armor. You won’t get him with a stray bullet or a drone. He’s fucking with reality’s mechanics. Degrading natural law and strengthening metaphysical ones. Just passively. It’s a titanic ability. There’s no poetic justice in stopping him now,” Porter told them. He crossed his arms. This is what he’d known.
They didn’t know about the Primordial thing. It was about timing.
Wulff narrowed his eyes at him. “You’re proposing they’re impossible to stop?”
Porter didn’t respond.
“We could nuke them,” Wulff tested.
“You won’t and so you can’t,” Porter countered. “Same difference.”
“Gentlemen,” a councilwoman cut in. “We won’t know what measures are appropriate until we know what’s at stake? What is their motivation?”
“That’s my department.” A blond young man had appeared at the table.
“Who are you?” Cobb asked.
Aku enlightened. “Kyle, Magus.”
The young man continued. “Their apparent goal is the space elevator. That will take them up to a platform where they can access older, still functional teleports. Ones which can be manually overridden. Those teleports are short range, however. They could have only one destination in mind.”
“Jesus Christ.” Santa realized what he was saying. “Could he do it?”
Porter knew. “That machete he’s got, it’s called an Ender Blade. We don’t know how to make or break one. But I know what it can do. And the answer is yes. Absolutely.”
Kyle jumped in. “But Doran thinks he’s doing whatever he is for good reasons,” he said. “His determination is driven by conviction… And desperation.”
“Can we dismantle the lunar teleports?” Santa asked.
“I’ve cut power to both them and the elevator,” Aku informed.
“Deploy me,” Wulff suggested. “I can control the outcome of this situation. Losing doesn’t need to be an option.”
“I vote so,” Santa agreed. The other council members were redundant. He represented such a large number of people, they couldn’t altogether overpower him.
“Why not take out the space elevator?” The same Ethicist from earlier.
A little trigger happy.
Porter told him, “it may not be staffed anymore, but if the elevator falls, it’ll wrap around the earth. The reason it’s still there is because it’s so hard to dismantle.”
“The ends justify-”
Porter cut him off. “It doesn’t matter.” None of them understood. This wasn’t about them. The Utopians were just collateral damage in all this. In an ageless machination.
He was going to get the hell out of here.
The meeting was adjourned. He was standing alone in his own apartment again. The curtains were drawn, the sound of pouring water the only thing that reached him inside. Slowly, his expression hardened. That calamity he’d wanted?
He was grimly awaiting.
They can’t see. He thought about what had to happen. The timing was now, they shouldn’t avert this thing. Utopians were arrogant in thinking they were bigger than what was going on now. He never believed in the Cause. The Omniverse was too big to make a difference in. They were complacent idiots. Mistaking outer strength for inner.
Utopians didn’t get it. Everything was going to break at the weak spot. Doran was their only hope for survival and they were trying to kill him.
Porter was out the door. He had to get to the Monastery fast.