The newly arrived vectors intercepted the Guardian of Souls. Sure they could withstand the horror’s attacks, if temporarily, Iron Mother convened the leaders of the priesthood to the Convergence’s barricade before the gate. She was troubled by the damage they had suffered.
“The Major Prime is weakening,” she stated without preamble. “We must find a solution to the problem posed by the infernal master and that…thing, or we risk everything we have accomplished up to this point.”
“We have estimated the better part of two hours now Iron Mother’s reinforcements are committed,” Syntherion began.
“That is not good enough!” the Directrix snapped. “We do not know if that estimate will change even if we defeat that monstrosity.”
She took a moment to calm herself. “More important, we do not know if another may be unleashed upon us.”
“Indeed,” Lucant agreed. “It is clear it and the host accompanying it are commanded by the master we’ve lost many allies among the other nations to.
“Were we to have any chance of prevailing, she must be dealt with.”
“The pistoleer has apparently killed her no few times already to no permanent effect.”
“Bullets of Cygnaran manufacture are apparently not enough, then,” the Directrix observed.
“He should support my vectors.”
A brief silence followed during which minds processed information and calculated solutions.
“The gate can be reconfigured,” Syntherion noted. “I am certain there are settings to allow us to change the location of emergence.”
“For how long?” Lucant asked.
“That would need to be tested.” The Forge Master’s reply was slow and careful.
The practical reality of being engaged in the largest battle ever witnessed on Immoren went unsaid.
“Great risk comes with such a course,” Iron Mother said, “if need be, the gate’s destruction might preserve refugees who succeed in reaching Cyriss.”
“No other choice currently presents itself,” the Divinity Architect responded, assessing the situation on the battlefield.
“We will invest everything necessary to bring down the demon. It seems to be a cornerstone of the infernal forces. As for the infernal master, I am in no position to deal with it. Neither is Syntherion, and Orion is indisposed, too far to aid us in time.”
“It will take too long to apprise him of our plans. He must be left to his own devices at this time.”
“Very well. If there is no other optin, I will confront the infernal master, then,” Directrix said.
“It is not your duty to do so,” Lucant said.
“If it is for furthering the Great Work, then it must be done, whether by me or another among us.”
Her counterpart nodded in concession.
“Syntherion knows the mechanisms of the gate and will remain to operate it and ensure its destruction,” she added.
“You, however, must be among those who depart through the gate before it is reconfigured.”
Father Lucant adjusted his legs, mindful of the damage suffered.
“They require a leader,” she said, cutting off any objection.
“An indisputable leader. They will be before Cyriss as never before, and as the first priest of the Convergence…”
“This I know,” he conceded, nodding. “Your fate here is uncertain. I wished to step down soon, in any event.”
“And Orion is most suited to continuing the Great Work for those who remain. The followers of Cyriss must establish themselves in the world beyond the gate. It seems most…logical.”
The others nodded in agreement.
“And in case of our defeat…” Iron Mother seemed unsure.
“There is but one recourse,” Syntherion said, “to ensure the infernal master’s absence remains a weakness to their presence here.”
Both Directrix and Lucant regarded each other with silent determination that the Forge Master knew to be acknowledgement.
“They do not share our ultimate goals,” he continued, indicating the small force commanded by the druids of the wilds, “but they do fight toward the same end for Immoren.”
“Stormlord.” Kaya appeared alongside Laris, close to Krueger’s position.
The Circle Orboros’ contingent, though small, gave ground slower than any other. The Stormlord’s constructs proved a formidable barrier against the infernal forces. The two regarded each other coolly.
“What draws you away?”
“Our allies convene without us.” Kaya pointed toward the gate.
There, the druids saw the distinct forms of the Convergence’s most senior priests. Krueger swept his hand at the approaching line of horrors, bolts of lightning striking them down.
He took the measure of Kaya.
“You are wounded,” he observed, “but your wolf may yet run.”
“Indeed. I will go and learn what they scheme and relay it as swiftly as I can.”
The Stormlord noted Laris had already run far ahead. Moments later, Kaya disappeared.
Caine materialized just paces away from Ace and his daughter. He fell to the ground, exhausted, worn to his limit. Barely able to focus, he checked his pistols, took a breath, and took a moment to watch his daughter. Cynthia controlled Ace from pure instinct.
There was little skill and even less finesse, but there was power and potential. Only a fool would not be able to see it, how Ace was imbued with different ability. The warjack devastated enemy after enemy with the same raw power and lack of guile as its new controller.
I should know I got other kids, he thought to himself. I hope an’ pray they’re safe from this mess, wherever they are.
Shame crept in. He was never a good partner and often a worse father. But he looked at Cynthia and could not suppress his pride.
“Look at me, gettin’ all weepy,” he smirked.
“What?” Her eyes were fixed firmly on the enemy before them.
Ace’s long arm resounded, bringing its mark down with two quick shots.
“Leave some for yer pa, eh?” Caine said, raised his pistols, and took aim.
Inform him of this,” the Forge Master said, his mechanical tools chittering away at the console.
“What of the rest of us?” Kaya asked.
“You will need to assume the Stormlord’s battle duties when he comes to aid us.”
“The enemy will not sit idle while we carry out this plan, and it is likely you will come under fierce attack. Your soldiers and beasts must hold.”
“We do not seem to have much choice in this, do we?” She frowned, reluctant to look to the still advancing infernal forces.
“Our calculations, based on our mortal limitations, deem this the best course. Go now. Time wastes.”
Bristling at being commanded by the metal priest, Kaya left in silent fury, though she knew he spoke the truth.
“What delays your decision?” Syntherion asked.
Asphyxious did not answer straight away. Instead, the former Lich Lord lookied back at the expanse of carnage before the gate.
“Make it soon, or it will be made for you!” the Forge Master warned.
“How long, and what is planned?”
“Our plan…is before you.”
Indeed, so much was clear to Asphyxious. Lucant was organizing a final line of defense while a strike force under Iron Mother had but one goal: Zaateroth, the infernal master.
The Guardian was slowed by the Convergence’s vectors but not stopped, and Syntherion himself was awaiting a signal at the controls of the gate. It seemed all of Immoren’s hopes lay in this one effort. It was going to fail.
“I foresee a scorched ruin of this land.”
“We would certainly forestall such an end with your strength. The odds would be in our favor if you give it.”
“Thou sayest forestall, not ‘prevent.’”
“That fight is beyond my ability to calculate to its conclusion, but we have every potential to bring the horror down.”
The former Cryxian slowly shook his head as he watched another vector fall to the Guardian’s thundering claws. None looked ready to take its place. Syntherion paused, as though he were about to speak again, but Asphyxious waved him to silence.
“Worry not, artificer of Cyriss, I decided ere I came here.” He spread his wings. “Fare thee well, Immoren, for what little time remains to thee.”
Time seemed to slow for all who witnessed it, but the Guardian of Souls, upon defeating the last vector barring its way, bellowed with inhuman triumph. Yet its victory was costly. One claw hung almost useless at its side while the other had been sheared off by assimilators.
It was covered in its own hideous viscera, due to many huge gashes across its body. All eyes were upon it as it heaved itself toward the gate, raising its remaining claw to attack the construct and its last defenders. Exultant, Zaateroth ordered the attack.
She heard a metallic shout from nearby. “You will not have your prize!”
Iron Mother Directrix had fought her way through. All that remained of her strike force were two conservators, a handful of servitors, and a squad of Eradicators.
Haley flinched as she felt a touch on her shoulder. She knew her expression must have been pained. She felt the reluctance with which the Divinity Architect had come to her.
“Once more. Just once more, Major Prime.” His voice was oddly muted.
Despite his understanding with Iron Mother, he had continued to fight, leaving much of his clockwork vessel’s plating damaged. Some of its inner mechanisms were exposed. He had lost the use of a second arm.
“My efforts will begin anew on the other side. For all those you save.”
“Your goddess is not mine, though.”
“Yet you continue to expend your strength to save her followers as well as those of your god.”
For several moments, Haley closed her eyes and focused. She exhaled almost violently when an empty skyship faded into existence close by, pulled from a near past made distant. Awaiting refugees clambered aboard.
“Go,” Haley whispered hoarsely. “Your people await you.”
Zaateroth struggled within the grasp of the machine, incensed it could subdue her. She had no time to weaken it as she had the other one. The time-witch’s mechanical ally grazed her with arcane magic and attacked with a flurry of blades, some of them holding her fast.
The utter temerity that a human soul could attempt such action and, worse, succeed. She had the ear of the Magnate Tritorium, gods before even the creators of this puny world, yet Zaateroth was facing her demise. Save me, she called out to all who could answer her commands.
Single-minded, spurred by irrational fear and fury, every horror, every infernal minion within sight made for the gate, toward their infernal master. Suddenly, the machine let go and sped toward the Guardian.
Syntherion saw her signal and input the last of the necessary configurations into the gate. It shimmered and changed color. He looked up to see the Guardian’s claw descend. Its attack did not connect, though, as the Iron Mother’s conservators slammed into its back.
The horror was driven stumbling into the gate instead. Seeing this, Syntherion had his modulator reinforce Iron Mother’s vector in disrupting the Guardian. But it was much weakened by its fight against so many defenders and unsteady under the momentum of the two vectors.
Unable to keep its feet, the colossal horror lurched forward into the gate itself. The stone structure cracked under the Guardian’s weight as the creature fell.
As Iron Mother Directrix passed through the barrier of the gate, the presence of the infernal master terrifyingly close, she prayed fervently one last time. For her people who would make it before Cyriss. For those who would be deprived of that opportunity.
For he who was once Sebastian Nemo, the man she loved in days past, and for Aurora, her wayward, cherished daughter. Regretful she would not be a part of their future, she prayed her actions would ensure they may see it. And lamented that her vessel could not weep tears.
Hunched over on the ground, Victoria Haley remembered her childhood—innocent days with her sister and her family in a small fishing village. Early days in the army, ill-fitting journeyman warcaster’s armor, and the respect she fought to earn from the trenchers.
Promotions as her power and renown grew. Ignorant of the madness swirling about her, she could do little but gaze at her fading hands and feel the many strands of time claiming her, weakly at first but gaining strength with every labored breath she took.
Among the many strands and echoes, she saw her fallen sister. Did I do enough, Gloria? Haley asked, watching the faint outlines of a thousand echoes gather around her. Those of Haley’s future and past selves embraced her near-transparent body as though in answer.
The echoes disappeared, and with them, so, too, did she.
“It is time to…END THIS!” Krueger raised his spear, and a bolt of lightning arced down to vaporize a howler.
Observing the leaders of the clockwork cult and the infernals disappear through the gate, he ascended and sped towards it with all haste.
As he neared, he saw Syntherion working feverishly at the control panel.
“You are aware of what we intend. Make ready, druid,” the Forge Master uttered without looking away.
“Finish your preparations quickly. We are at the eye of a coming tempest—one that is not of my making.” Krueger readied himself and moved to intercept the incoming infernal tide just as the clockwork forces, what remained of them, did likewise.
“A few more moments.” The priest’s reverberating voice sounded odd to the Stormlord as the battle raged louder around them.
In the distance, Krueger could see a cloud of grievers surging toward him. Of those present, only he was in any position to delay them.
“A few moments and we are ended, Priest of Cyriss!” He roared.
Syntherion’s mechanical limbs suddenly stopped and he backed away from the panel. “Now, Stormlord!”
Needing no further instruction, Krueger called a storm like no other to strike the gate down.
Those who were saved would survive, those consigned to the void would remain there, and Krueger would be the agent of this certainty. The first bolt to strike disabled the control panel.
Krueger bellowed amidst the thunder as he brought down a deafening bolt upon the gate. He had time only to watch the giant structure crumble in upon itself before the tide of horrors reached him.
“I stand immortal now,” he spat contemptuously.
“What will you be but a foul memory years from now?”
He swept Wormtongue around and decapitated the nearest one. Below him, Syntherion, still at the damaged monitor and modulator before him, fired salvoes in the druid’s aid but could do little to stop the wave of infernals.
Dozens were dispatched with each swing of Krueger’s spear and each shot from the Forge Master’s warjacks. But there were too many of them. So much more I wished to accomplish, Krueger ruminated, before his lacerated body, covered in gore, tumbled from the skies.
“It’s…over, isn’t it?” Ryan said, stumbling toward Caine.
Her fellow Hellslinger did not answer. Instead, he slumped to the ground, eyes closed as he leaned against Ace’s leg. Cynthia was beside him, just as bedraggled and exhausted. Ryan started to turn away.
“I’m not dead, in case you were wonderin’,” Caine said.
“Like you’d let somethin’ like this kill you,” she smirked and went to kneel down beside Cynthia.
“Getting himself a new line of stitches.” Ryan reached out and placed a hand on the resting girl’s shoulder.
“She’s had one hell of a last few months, eh?”
“Sound familiar?” Caine grinned and exhaled.
Ryan stood, looked about, and gently kicked Caine’s boot.
“Time to be a responsible adult. The battle is won, but we ain’t got time to rest. Not yet.”
“Never the time to rest.” He hauled himself to his feet.
Before leaving with her, he checked Ace’s coal hopper. There was still some fuel and water left, enough for the warjack to remain active for a couple hours still.
As he stepped away to join Ryan, Ace rumbled at him.
“Not any more, buddy. You’re hers, now,” he said, patting Cynthia’s head, “Take care of her.”
Ace gave a strange clanking salute, careful to keep its legs still.