He opened his eyes with a groan when he felt the entire City shake.
Tried to swallow down the fear that thickened the air in his lungs as he felt the rubble that half buried him tremble, as every instinct came alive and screaming danger.
Barely kept himself from loosing a shout as an obelisk like the one in the main square shot skyward only a handful of feet away, sending debris raining in all directions.
But any worries he had melted away when he felt the brush of something urging him to move, telling him that if he could just get to that structure he would be safe. That if he could just lay any bit of bare skin against the smooth, faintly glowing stone, he’d be saved, he’d be Healed. But…
He looked down at where his left leg lay crushed beneath a slab of stone that had fallen on him when the first blast from the explosion had blown outward. The only reason he likely was even still alive was because as an Alphenian only a direct blow to his Self could kill him. Not even a heart or brain blow did the deed. It was what made his kind such perfect Guardians, they were nearly indestructible. But despite that, his wounds were severe and he had hemorrhaged a lot of blood and magick trying to keep himself conscious. Especially when the second explosion had shaken the City. Because he hadn’t known if the two were connected and being caught unconscious by an enemy prowling the streets in the wake of a magickal act powerful enough to level a multi-storey compound and the Palace was not something he wanted to deal with.
A pulse-pulse went dancing along the Currents, making them sigh and sing as they cartwheeled around him, as in the distance he noticed three other structures just like the Tower that cooed and pulsed a soothing, glowing gold nearby rise high into the air.
Safety is close, Warrior. Close to safety. Must move.
He blinked, looking back at the obelisk with a frown, wondering where that voice had come from. It had the same taste to it as the awareness that brushed soothingly along his skin, at once ancient and young. And with each passing minute the feeling that told him he just had to touch that Tower of faintly glowing stone to be safe grew more insistent, grew louder as his skin began to itch.
Grunting he took a deep breath and gathered what remained of his magickal strength and sent a blast at the stone on his leg, lifting it long enough for him to pull his leg free with a cry as the movement reminded him he hadn’t been mobile in what felt like weeks but had to have been just a few days. Rolling onto his stomach as that stone fell back to the ground with a thud that rattled his bones he took a deep breath to steel himself. Jaw set against the pain he was resolutely ignoring, he reached out with both hands and pulled himself forward across the blood soaked, debris-riddled floor, pulling his useless left leg along behind him, his right barely working enough to be of any help. But that didn’t matter. He had more than enough strength in his upper body and arms to pick up the slack.
As he crawled, he thanked every one of the gods he knew the names of that he had been on one of the upper floors when the Compound had collapsed after the blast had taken out the fifth floor. It was the only reason that he had had enough time to prepare for impact, to try and Shield himself as the walls collapsed around them, as the warding on the room had cracked and gave way with a pop that had barely been audible over the sound of screams and falling stone and crackling flames. If he had been on any other floor? He probably wouldn’t have survived. The Healers who had been with him had disappeared in the chaos but he didn’t concern himself with them. He needed to get to safety first. Needed to take care of himself before he was concerned with anyone else. Because if they were meant to survive? The gods would see that they did.
But he didn’t believe that the same applied to him. Didn’t believe it because the gods hadn’t heard his prayers, his pleas, for the last two centuries; hadn’t heard them for the centuries before the raids that had shattered his life into a million pieces. So he would save himself. He would heed that voice because deep down he knew that he needed to feel that awareness fully. Knew instinctively that the only way he would get that was to touch the glowing Tower that had risen just close enough for him to stand a decent chance of getting to it.
If anyone asked him why he was doing this — if he even survived this for them to ask — all he had by way of answer was because it felt right. And it wouldn’t be a lie. Though he wasn’t sure why it was calling him Warrior. But that was something he’d speculate on later if he survived. And he was nearly there, so close that one more pull-crawl and he’d be able to touch the Tower whose pulsing glow seemed to mimic his heartbeat, the insistency of that awareness growing with each foot of distance he closed between it and him. With a triumphant grin, he reached out his hand, fingers a hairsbreadth from making contact–
“There you are.”
He roared his defiance at being denied freedom and safety yet again as Xitlali kicked him onto his back, her face something out of a nightmare, one eye socket a bloodied mess, mouth twisted into a grimace of agony he could relate to. How she had survived, he didn’t know. All he knew was that the very gods he had just thanked he now cursed. Because he had hoped, had assumed, had prayed that she had died in the blast just like so many others had. Because so long as she lived he would never be free. But it seemed that yet again, to his utter lack of surprise, his prayers had gone unanswered.
The Mad Qishir reached down and hauled him up by his throat, the whistling of a blade dancing through the air loud despite the noise of what he assumed was other obelisks rising all over the City, of the screams of those who worked to avoid being caught in the debris sent flying in the wake of their arrival, of his own labored breathing thickened by fear and rage. He saw death in the Mad Qishir’s eyes as she looked at him with gleeful disgust and he wished he had the strength to vomit on her. Even if he knew that the act would be the last thing he ever did, it would be worth it.
Wished even more that he had the strength to fight her off, to defend himself. But at the appearance of her, what little strength he’d had left, that he had been using to get to what he had thought was his salvation, evaporated.
At least if he died here she couldn’t hurt him anymore.
“Thought you’d escape me did you?” She cooed, voice sickly sweet despite the horror of her face, that whistling growing louder as her free hand played with the blade. Her excitement was a thick, cloying scent on the air; one he didn’t doubt for a second would haunt him well into the After. “You will never escape me, Jerald. Ever.”
He closed his eyes just as she raised up the hand that carried the knife. As it sank in just below his sternum the ground heaved again and she lost her grip on him, stumbling away with a curse. He landed hard, the impact rippling up his spine when his destroyed left leg unable to support his weight and his right too weak to pick up the slack completely failed to catch him. He slumped back against the obelisk and laughed at the irony that he was going to die achieving the very thing that would have saved him had Xitlali managed to find him only a minute later.
The intensity of the sentience that had been playing along his skin since he’d woken up increased a thousand-fold as his naked back came into contact with the smooth stone of the Tower, its elation at finally feeling him directly breathtaking.
Just before his vision went black and he screamed as the agony that burned along every nerve ending registered all at once, he heard three other voices echo the sound and the World beyond his eyelids flashed a brilliant gold.