Runo perceived the light even before she saw it. Her ride reared back, feeling the signature of Anthilian craft, anathema to the power of Marrowers and the Gloom Lords. It groaned, letting out a sheer cry from its throat.
“Calm down. Please,” Runo directed her will once more into its body, trying to push its fear back and slow down its heart so that it would obey her orders first.
“We have to go towards the light.”
Her ride refused, turning away from the plumes of growing flame and brightness. Runo’s own heart picked up pace. She was losing on time. The village was still far away, and she needed to cross the distance before the Anthilians decided to leave.
“I said we have to go.” She closed her eyes, gripping the reins and focusing her power as a Marrower deep into the body of the malformed horse. She ran through the studded corridors of its mind, playing back memories of pain and torture, setting off a stumble that made her ride tilt back and forth as it groaned in pain and shock and fear. “Keep the path!”
The horse stopped shaking. Blood ran thick and viscous out of its glassy eyes. Docile and useful once again, it began to stride towards the lights, its instincts knitted over by Runo’s power, using its own body against its will.
For what was will if not a dance of nerves? And she was the one making them dance.
And that was the way of the Iron Crown – the same one she was trying to leave behind.
“I’m sorry.” She shuddered.
Her ride couldn’t even hear her. Nor care.
Runo bit her lip as she pushed the horse towards the burning village. Night was turning into day as the coronite blasted through the air, eating through everything that was not stone, and stone itself melting.
She could start to feel the heat from here.
And she pushed forward, leaving behind a trail of stained tears.
Artumes’s hands felt feverish. She held the forgotten contraption between them. She was used to it, but this time it seemed like it was facing harder resistance from the structures. The coronite flames burned hotter than a magnesium flash, and they could easily undo everything that men had produced since they lost the wonders of the previous world.
But the will that had knitted together flesh and bones in the horrible display all around her was stronger than she had been used to.
Artumes opened her aqua eyes. Her hands trembled, covered by the silvery feelers of the apparatus. Columns of white flame danced around her, eating through wood, but they still hesitated against the tower, as if the lingering effects of Heleth’s presence were enough to scare them.
This would not do.
Artumes took in a deep breath and plunged her mind into deeper union with the silvery machine, letting it take over. Her memories felt squeamish as foreign thoughts and impressions began to appear on her mind, phantoms from a world that would never be her own.
A dark face looking down upon her, and then at a long line of similar artefacts to the one she was holding in her hands, all of them glistening white under the sun.
A vision of a tall tower as it stood out stark against the dawn, rising from the eastern sea.
These were flashes from the past. From the Floundered Land itself-
She could almost…
Better people than her had gotten lost in such a chase. She has to stay anchored to the present and to her own body. Breathe in, breathe out: heated air tasting like rust and pain and flakes of cinder.
Fire purified and ash would clean.
She just had to let it do its job. No Marrower would stand in the way of the flames.
“Let it all be renewed,” she murmured. She grimaced in pain – the artefact drawing more from her – but at last the flames roared tall and blinding. In a wall of silver, they rushed to the tower.
Runo groaned. The night wind rushed from the west now that the sun had completely disappeared, and it rushed against her face in a roar as the flames engulfed the village in a continuous, silvery explosion.
They must be using coronite, for sure. She had seen the cursed substance at work only once, when she was still a novice. A group of Anthilians they had cornered produced a series of glass vials from their pockets and threw them at the charge of mill-slaves, incinerating them in a pillar of white flame that scalded her skin at hundreds of paces away.
Now this was… much worse than before.
The pillars of fire stretched their shadows thin against the grass – Runo could also feel something else, some kind of mechanical will, and artefact of the Capsizing or shortly later that was eagerly eating away at Heleth’s work, erasing her signature and all her efforts, turning the knitted flesh into useless ashes.
A part of her was dismayed at how easily the flames ate through it, and Runo grimaced. She was still too attached to the way of thinking of her old life.
To see Heleth’s work destroyed was a good thing.
But it was having consequences on her already. The air was becoming too hot to breathe comfortably, and even the stunned horse was having a hard time pushing through.
“Hnnh,” she groaned again as the blasting air started to cook her throat. She had to find a place where she could wait for the end of the cleansing. She couldn’t pass through it.
As luck would have it, a few hundred paces ahead she spotted the ruined shape of a house, little more than a corner of cobblestones and a strip of roof, but it would be probably be enough.
She pushed the horse towards it, but it would not move.
“Come on, please.” She extended her will deep into its studded brain once again, but she found only empty echoes. What…
The horse stumbled to its side, waved and Runo had the presence of mind to let go of the reins and fall back just in time as it crashed onto the ground, groaning in huffed pain as its eyes bled and its teeth snapped at an unseen assailant.
“No no no,” she tried to reach for it, but it was too late. With one final shudder, the spell keeping its synapses together snapped like a rope and its neck snapped back as well, hitting her on the side and tossing her a few paces back as the huge beast shuddered in a few death spasms.
Little by little, its skin burned and blackened.
Runo stood up, the heat on her flesh now turning into searing pain.
She knew the range of a cleansing ritual. She should be fine!
This was not supposed to happen!
Biting her lip, Runo dashed for the ruined house, groaning and whimpering as her pale skin began to blister under the dispelling power of the roaring coronite.
Thanks for reading.