The Mountain Breaker

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The arm hurt but he'd known worse. The swelling had already begun and the initial intensity of pain had subsided towards a throbbing numbness that arced along his shoulder and up his neck, triggering rolling waves of nausea. The hand was useless for now, but that didn't stop him from gathering the deactivated hilt from where it had spun away across the rooftop. Standing groggily, wondering why he was still alive, he blinked to clear his head and took in the peculiar scene before him.

"What fresh insanity is this?" he called to Kirya, who was standing with an arrow aimed at Kraisa's face. The Avii had Kraisa surrounded, while Tarn held his hands to her forehead. The odd quiet unnerved him more than the noise and bluster of the fight. Angry people hitting each other he understood; this made no sense.

Gesturing for him to keep his voice down, Kirya waved him over. "He's gone inside her mind," she said. "I'm not sure what he's got planned, but I think he had a plan. He's going to try to find my real mother, before Kraisa took over her body."

The boy and the warlord stood opposite each other in their unnatural embrace, eyes closed and fluttering beneath eyelids. "Is it safe for Tarn?" he asked, feeling that it was a stupid question.

"No less safe than anything else we've been doing," Kirya said.

"Sorry about your arm," Ola said, gritting her teeth through the exertion of whatever her and her Avii comrades were doing. Tranton glanced down at his limp arm and then shrugged dismissively, shooting her a smile.

Lagonia had been a place of extreme discomfort from the moment of his arrival: falling from the glacier had at least been his fault, while everything since had been a knife plunged into his side and given further twists with each newly uncovered dirty secret. For a time it had been an adventure - the flight to the capital! The fight in the streets during the festival! The escape to the north! The gladiatorial arena of Bruckin! Venturing north to discover a floating city! The stakes had always been deadly but his involvement had been only personal - he had been on an adventure of his own making; the others were there by coincidence. Something had shifted since their return to Lagonia, which had altered the context of his every decision. It wasn't only about him anymore.

"Whatever happened to your mother, it was decades ago, Kirya. You can't trust anything she says."

"Tarn will find out," she said, her voice full of that painful, unwise optimism she'd always clutched close to her.

The oily, purple-sheened membrane shimmered, more intense than ever now that it was so close. Stryke and his crew had somehow pulled it off and their theory had been correct - disrupting the tunnels had shrunk the extent of the machine's reach. It still encompassed the castle and half of the mesas, blocking any view of the valley beyond. The flickering glimpses of other places, other worlds, seemed to have slowed their pace. If they didn't leave soon they would be going along for the ride.

"Do you think the others got out?" he asked, having to raise his voice above the clashing, crackling energy overhead.

Kirya shook her head, still keeping her aim towards Kraisa's exposed face. "I don't know. Hopefully we've given them enough time."

"Looks like the machine's field is still big enough to take in most of the mesas, including the prison complex," Tranton said. It was hard to tell from the roof of the palace, which blocked their view of the mesa plateaus, but he was making his best guess. "Anyone still in there is going to get caught up in wherever this thing is going."

Tarn and Kraisa both shuddered in unison, then broke violently apart, Tarn stumbling backwards and Kraisa dropping to her knees. The Avii tensed, refocusing their efforts. Kraisa grimaced and made a sound as if she was in pain, then she slowly rose back to her full stature.

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