The lands of the Golden Tomb Guardians rumbled. Zacharie focused on the battle occurring in the tomb, grimacing. “Are we really going to let this happen?”
“We will not sit idly forever,” Monika assured him.
“Can she really last much longer?”
“What do you think of the Tenebach?”
The sudden change of topic caught Zacharie off guard. “Well, they’ve been excellent allies ever since we first started working together. Even if our association with them is also the reason we ended up in this situation.” He thought for a moment, “Their clan head is an interesting fellow, and the alliance we’ve joined is mighty. The Golden Tomb Guardians have benefited greatly. It’s unfortunate that… things have come to this.”
“Do you remember his first visit?”
“Of course. It was quite odd that she would request a meeting with a darkness cultivator. Even if that wasn’t fully the case with him, Fortkran came out looking quite exhausted.”
Monika nodded. “And what do you think about Cuah’arn’s health?”
Zacharie wasn’t sure how the pieces fit together, but he had to answer. “It is unfortunate that her condition is so difficult to recover. A cursed wound from a century prior,” he shook his head. “But I am also astounded with how she remains willing to share her spiritual energy. It seems we get more than a fair trade from protecting her. Which is why we should.”
The Tomb rumbled once more. “Once they’re all trapped in there,” Monika assured him.
“We would seal it? I don’t know that it would buy much time…”
“Of course not,” Monika shook her head. “But they are still gathering. They need more of their forces, after all.”
Zacharie frowned. “I’m… surprised. Even as a mighty guardian beast, I would not expect these forces all necessary to defeat Cuah’arn, even with the Tomb’s defenses.”
“Indeed. It is doubtful she would be able to defeat this army even at the peak of her power,” Monika said. “Which is why we will be assisting now. Everyone! Prepare to move on the invaders! Our time has come!” It took only a moment for the forces to be ready- everyone was clutching weapons already, anticipating attacks on their inner buildings. Their treasury and libraries. And while those were indeed of great value, the most important part of their sect was in the Tomb. Even the Righteous Flame League had recognized that, though they didn’t understand. Or perhaps they did now.
Now that they were on the move, Zacharie had no complaints. He just hoped that Cuah’arn had not sustained too many additional injuries. If she perished… the sect would suffer a sharp decline. Unfortunately, it seemed likely that she would be weak for a long time. Decades, perhaps.
A small contingent of Righteous Flame League cultivators stood outside the tomb. They were barely able to shout warnings before they were slaughtered by the staff-glaives of the Golden Tomb Guardians. And while those in the outermost sections were no doubt alerted, it was only a small portion of the Righteous Flame League. Specifically, they had found several routes to the central chamber, but they had to be followed exactly or risk setting off more traps. Meanwhile, the leadership of the Golden Tomb Guardians could more confidently lead their groups as they had deeper knowledge of the actual traps. And instead of trying to deal with every enemy group, they only focused on a small number of paths that would lead them most cleanly to the central chamber.
The overwhelming light spiritual energy was oppressive to the enemies of the sect, even though the Righteous Flame League cultivated the same element in part. That was because it was not simply free spiritual energy. Instead, a large portion of it belonged to Cuah’arn, who used it to bolster her allies.
Zacharie cut his way through Righteous Flame League cultivators- the strongest were likely already in the central chamber, attempting to kill the sect’s guardian beast. But as Zacharie continued to fight his way forward, he realized he’d made a mistake. At least, his assumptions had been wrong. Because the power ahead of him did not feel like an injured beast desperately fighting off a horde of attackers.
At most, Zacharie felt a small sense of fatigue from the spirit beast, but he would be even more confused if Cuah’arn could fight with such vigor for so long without experiencing fatigue. He moved with haste towards the central chamber, focusing on offensive moves that would either force his opponents to take a hit- or dodge as he pleased, which was usually into a trap. If they were lucky, it would be one that had been triggered previously. Either way, he kept moving forward, pushing them back along with the group trailing after him.
It didn’t take long to push into the central chamber, which is where he finally met some organized resistance. Not that he expected the Righteous Flame League to just let them march up behind them unopposed. A line of cultivators wielding flaming weapons, light glinting off of their armor, stood in his path. For exactly two seconds, before they were blasted from the rear, each being stabbed by no less than a half dozen feathers made only of light.
The moment it took for Cuah’arn to launch that attack provided a small opening for the Righteous Flame League members in the area, including Asgeirr. They struck out together, filling the center of the room with flames.
That brought Zacharie’s mind to the lingering odor of flames and what he presumed was burnt feathers. But despite those minor signs, Zacharie knew he had arrived in time. He wasn’t sure if Cuah’arn could actually bleed, but she wasn’t seriously injured at this point. And in fact, she still felt stronger than when he’d first entered her presence. The only way that would be possible would be if the situation had been kept from him. That slightly bothered him, but he could also understand why it would have been kept secret.
Monika hadn’t yet fought her way through her path- but limiting the flow of cultivators into the area was worth that delay. Zacharie didn’t hesitate to charge forward with those behind him. After all, their guardian beast had held on this long alone- they were both obligated to defend her and it was the most practical decision to support her vigorously.
An early Consolidated Soul Phase cultivator turned to block Zacharie, parrying his blade with a halberd. Each swing of the long blade left behind a trail of fire that Zacharie had to dance around. But he had his own spinning blades on offense. He stepped inward, swinging down in an obvious manner. It would be easy to parry his attack- and his opponent knew that. He also knew that Zacharie could dissolve the extended blade. So he blocked with the shaft of his weapon, holding it low enough to catch the staff part of Zacharie’s weapon.
The rebound force allowed Zacharie to spin his weapon in the other direction, bringing it up from underneath the halberd while extending a blade of light from its lower end. The same would have happened if his weapon was deflected to the side- he would spin the rear around to strike at his opponent. The only option was to dodge, but as he didn’t have a heavy head on his weapon it was easy to shift his momentum. Knowing what he might do didn’t help his opponent, they had to be better and faster to have a chance.
The blade slashed the man’s thigh, cutting through his armor and energy defenses. Then Zacharie danced away, content to leave the man to deal with his injuries. There were dozens of Righteous Flame League members present, and he wanted to ease the burden on Cuah’arn as much as possible. Ultimately Asgeirr and the other Consolidated Soul Phase cultivators would have to be taken out, but he had to wait for the rest of the Golden Tomb Guardian’s forces.
He moved through their forces, taking out enemies one at a time- or distracting them so that Cuah’arn’s attacks would strike them. Golden feathers flew in all directions almost continuously, striking in both directions as they returned from wherever they impaled. Unlike the traps in the other sections, these were fully under her control and thus would never touch any member of the sect.
“Dammit! Why can’t any of you even scratch this creature?” Asgeirr yelled in frustration. “Now we have to deal with it and the cowards at the same time!”
Monika Zeman arrived on the scene just then. “Are we cowards for luring you into an obvious trap? And also, Cuah’arn…”
“I am a woman, pathetic human-thing.” Cuah’arn slapped forward with a wing. Asgeirr braced his spear to impale her wing, but the condensed spiritual energy held firm. He crashed against a wall, and Cuah’arn leaned down to bite into another cultivator with her beak.
With the forces of the Golden Tomb Guardians converging on the area, the Righteous Flame League cultivators that were already hard pressed against just Cuah’arn began to fall in droves. Some were in the various trapped tunnels still, the reinforcements that had to split up to fit into the area. Others were in the central chambers, where they were subject to the majority of the Guardians’ forces and Cuah’arn herself.
The light element that the Righteous Flame League cultivated wasn’t enough to prevent them from being blinded, especially not in Cuah’arn’s lair. Massive windows gathered sunlight into the cathedral-like room, and Cuah’arn had gathered plenty of her own light element. Those who could barely see were still quickly suppressed by martial might.
One by one, the Righteous Flame League was cut down. Only the Golden Tomb Guardians were left, and with their enemies gone many couldn’t help but fall prostrate before the glory of the spirit beast.
“He is not among the fallen,” Zacharie informed Monika and Cuah’arn.
“That is not an issue,” Cuah’arn said. “I think it is time.”
Monika nodded, “I agree.”
“Then from today onward,” Cuah’arn stood proud and tall. “Let the world know that the Tomb houses not the dying, but one restored to full life!”
High in the Tomb was a window that opened to let through Cuah’arn’s significant size- she rarely left, Deirdre’s death being an exception. But now, she was ready to take on the world. And though she still considered herself a guardian, she didn’t have to limit herself to staying in the sect.
Cuah’arn flew after the retreating members of the Righteous Flame League- including one Asgeirr. “Asgeirr the coward,” she called down after him. “You flee from battle with your ‘allies’, and from battle with your own sect. Do you truly believe you will survive again?”
He turned to face her, spear pointed to the sky. “I am no coward!”
“Yet you only stand and fight when you think you have no other choice. Not that it will do you any good.”
As it turned out, Cuah’arn had the form of a bird. Obviously that came with the ability to fly- but if that was it, she would hardly be at an advantage except when traveling. In the Tomb, she was at an advantage because of her stored up power and the traps. Here, she was at an advantage because of her aerial superiority. She had already demonstrated her light feathers before- and once more they sprayed down from above on the retreating armies of the Righteous Flame League.
But that was not her only ability. She was a creature of light, and over time she had gathered many abilities. Recently, she had been exposed to some members of the Combining Luster Sect, which reminded her to build up her old abilities for moments like this. She had been cooped up inside for far too long during her recovery, but she was capable of more than just pecking and clawing.
Within her beak a brilliant light gathered, then fired in a concentrated beam towards the cultivators below. They were able to devote their maximum to defense given that they had no avenue to attack, but focusing on just Asgeirr with collateral damage being enough to take out the others, there was no reason an Ascending Soul Phase beast should fail to slay him. Only if he was able to run away from her could he hope to survive- but he was both slower and less maneuverable. And the lands weren’t as friendly to his sect, either. The Golden Tomb Guardians were not without allies- they simply had not been ready for the brazen intrusion. But they would also not arrive before Cuah’arn killed this particular individual.
She was looking forward to telling her friends about this. The humans John and Odette in particular had been upset about him getting away and continuously causing trouble. Then of course there was the sect, who would be able to better enact their final retribution without someone of this power. Beam after beam of light tore into Asgeirr, but rather than defending him his allies soon realized that their best hope for survival was to split apart. Cuah’arn let them. They were but ants in comparison. It was unfortunate that the humans could not see the revenge on their own, and that Ciaritzal would not see her display of power… but then again, she was now free to travel more regularly.
Not too often, of course. The sect would need her, and her home would still be the best place to cultivate. But she would no longer be cooped up. This was the mark of a great change in the Golden Tomb Guardians’ legacy, and her continued cooperation with them.