Towards apotheosis

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His arms ached from the climb up the shaft. He'd pushed his body far beyond the natural limits of its age for several consecutive months and it was screaming at him to stop, and rest, and withdraw; but Fenris Silt did not know how.

Instead, the pain vanished as he absorbed the sight of Aera's destroyed chamber, the walls and ceiling ruptured and bleeding. Bodies were strewn about the place, for a moment indistinguishable from each other and disguised by venting steam and leaking fluids tipping from broken pipes. They advanced, Tranton beside him, moving towards the centre of the room, where three bodies lay, inert. Blood pooled around cracks in the floor, silhouetting the bodies as if a child had drawn around them with a red pencil. One of the bodies was evidently Aera, the snaking tubes splayed out on the floor behind her. As they drew closer Fenris recognised Tarn and rushed to his side.

"He's breathing," Fenris said, holding the back of a hand to Tarn's mouth. "But only barely."

Tranton grimaced and knelt down by the third body. "This is Akila." He pushed at the side of her head, which flopped awkwardly. "Definitely dead. What happened here?"

Fenris rolled Tarn over, checking for wounds and finding nothing. Aera, on the other hand, displayed a raw, gaping hole in her chest, while Akila's neck featured an ugly, deep gash. "He doesn't seem injured," he said, lifting the boy's arms. "Nothing like the other two."

"At least we know why the city's falling to pieces," Tranton said. "What do you think happens to this place without her at the helm?"

"I fear the worst." Fenris made Tarn comfortable, the stood and concentrated on their surroundings. That was the moment that he focused on the other bodies, which were at opposite sides of the chamber. Slumped unnaturally against the wall he recognised Kirya, unmoving. Crying her name, he moved as fast as his legs would allow until he reached where she lay, immobile and grey. She was bruised across her face and her clothes were torn, as if she'd been hit several times.

"Kirya," he said again, softly, cradling her head. He remembered standing in the corridor in the palace as she had been born, hearing her cries for the first time. He remembered King Guijus emerging, triumphant and happy, hugging him in an uncharacteristic display of joy. Such days seemed so far gone as to be meaningless.

"Is she dead?" asked Tranton.

Fenris looked more closely. For several seconds there were no signs of life, then her chest rose ever so slightly as her battered body took a weary breath. He placed a hand, feeling for a heartbeat, and found it slow and wanting, as if her body had already given up and was waiting for permission to expire. "She's alive."

Sounds of scuffing feet drew their attention to the other side of the chamber, where the fifth body was demonstrating its liveliness by trying to crawl up the wall. It was Akila's companion, Eris, his face white and full of terror. "Get away from her!" he shouted, fear being displaced by anger. "She's dangerous. She needs to be stopped."

Tranton stood and put his arms out wide, slowly moving towards the man. "Tell us what happened. You're safe."

"She killed them all! None of us are safe." Eris stared at the three bodies in the centre of the chamber for a moment, then turned away and hid his face in his hands.

Fenris lifted Kirya from where she lay and dragged her back towards the middle, where the others lay. "We are here to help, Eris," he said, breathing heavily with the exertion, "but you need to help us understand first."

"Don't bring her nearer!" the man screamed, backing away and circling around the outer edge of the room like a fighter in an arena. He checked his belt, then pulled a knife. "I need to stop her."

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