“Inner peace through superior firepower” – Mike
“This isn’t a railroad – I lost sight of the tracks a long time ago. This isn’t even chess anymore. I threw all the gameboards around the room, dumped all the pieces into a bag, shook it up, and then threw them everywhere. The queen is on Boardwalk, the pawns have taken the parchesi board, and you’re pretty sure the backgammon pieces just kicked in the door on Munchkin and are up to no good” – Mike, describing the plot in postgame chat
As Harbinger of the Ghost-Cold Wind returns to the Abyssal column, Hugo coldly reached for his chakram and threw one directly at the Deathknight’s weapon whilst casting a charm. Aunn tried to get a hand on Hugo before the chakram was cast, but was too late. Ghost-Cold Wind snapped around and caught it on his razor claws, twirled it for a second before it disappeared into ethereal nothingness, and whistled. The other four Deathknights with him, along with their two Talons of warghosts, all leapt into the fray, the skin on their dreadmounts peeling back into wings as the beasts made their undead nature apparent. The Sky Berserkers needed no more than that to leap into battle, Hakun and Jaspar jumping on to gliders as Geralt focused himself, preparing for the battle. Amidst massed confusion in the skies, the Exalts met in a clash of the most powerful beings in Creation.
The Deathknights are at the head of the charge, building up speed before they take flight. Two of them – Undaunting Sabbath and Keeper of the Black Gate – are at the head of the pack. Aside from their Caste Marks, Midnight and Dusk, respectively – they are identical twins. Both of them take a swipe at Hugo as they pass, but the Solar manages to evade their slicing attacks. Callas starts casting a sorcery as Nightbird comes out of Callas’s new staff, scoops up Callas, and takes to the skies as the sorceress concentrates on her spell. Hakun, in his own warglider, casts one of the charms his mentor taught him, bolstering the Sky Berserkers as the Scale of humans rams into the teeth of two Scales of warghosts. Having failed to stop Hugo from his rash action, sighs and transforms into his tiger warform, his new Celestial Battle Armor transforming with him as he leaped after the twins. He smashes his fists into the Black Gate, only for his fists to thud. He’s sparred with enough Lunars to recognize a damage-absorbing charm when he sees one, and sighs as the fight kicks up in earnest. Warden of the Darkest Path, their Day-caste archer, sends a shot for Callas, but Nightbird intercepts the bolts in flight to no effect. Jaspar jumps onto one of the Sky Berserkers, standing on the top of the glider as it flies into battle, casting his own charms as he goes.
Geralt, still on the airship, concentrates on preparing for the fight, casting his Form charm as he waits to engage. The Daybreak caste, Dark Lantern of the Nemissary, attempts to land a blow on Geralt, but the Solar deftly sidesteps and smashes the Abyssal in the face as the Deathknight’s momentum carries him onward. Aunn gets a deathgrip on the dreadmount ccarrying Dark Gate and smashes the Dusk with what should have been solid hits, but he is again frustrated by the feeling of punching a stone wall as the Lunar asks the Deathknihgt for his name. Hugo is still standing in the eye of the proverbial storm, staring at Ghost-Cold Wind. He reaches into himself and draws on Essence to cast a charm, only for the Harbinger to pull Hugo’s Essence out of him. Hugo pours more essence onto the fire and manages to get his charm lit, but at the cost of completely draining his Essence. The totemic anima banners of the Solars and Lunar were almost blackened out by the massive essence flare of the Deathknight. The one chakram he rips off misses as Harbinger disappears in a flash, only to reappear in Hugo’s face, swinging with his razor claws. Hugo ducks out of the way of the claws and uses the Abyssal as a springboard, kicking off his chest and sliding into the dirt twenty yards away as sky berserkers and warghosts begin to fall from the sky around him.
Aunn is caught off-guard when Undaunting Sabbath smashes him in the back, giving the Lunar both names he had asked for and saying that Aunn had seen his last sunrise. Aunn simply absorbs the blow with a body-hardending charm and snarls as the skies turn even darker. Warden of the Darkest Path flares massively, turning the Essence-drenched landscape almost black as he pulls the string on his bow and lets fly. Arrows made of blood rain on the entire Circle, which scrambles to get out of the way. Hugo, still intently focused on Harbinger, is badly wounded by the attack. Hakun manages to interpose fallen debris between himself and some of the arrows, although he is still wounded by the exchange. Nightbird laughs at the hits, the sorcery and charms Callas has expended on the gryphon negating the blows. Jasper’s radiance, magnified by his newfound Crown of Thunders, unsteadies the archer’s hand enough for all of the blood arrows to miss the Zenith. Geralt’s anima creates a small bright spot in the darkness as he flares it to absorb the brunt of the attack. Aunn, meanwhile, kicks Sabbath’s mount between himself and the hail of arrows, killing the mount and leaving himself relatively unharmed. As fast as the darkness had come it disappears, and the Circle starts pulling blood arrows out of themselves as the Deathknights renew their attack.
Hakun, still in his glider, takes a high-speed pass at the Dark Lantern, his Daiklaive on Conquest raking across the Abyssal Martial Artist’s back, wounding him in exchange for the blood Warden spilled. Callas directs Nightbird to cover Hugo as she mutters her sorcery, protecting the wounded monk. Hugo shouts at Callas to stay out of it and leave Harbinger to him, but she ignores him and stays in a cover pattern. Geralt, meanwhile, decides to get in the game in spectacular fashion.
He launches himself off of the airship, streamlining himself to gain maximum possible speed as he plummets directly towards Dark Lantern. Just before impact, he flips out of the dive and slams his heels together, hardening his body with a charm. Using himself as an immovable object at terminal velocity, he smashes the Daybreak off out of the sky. Barely conscious and laughing maniacally, Dark Lantern extends his anima banner below him. The dark anima digs a seemingly-bottomless grave, complete with a headstone for him. His laughter fades along with the bottomless pit, fresh soil replacing the grave. Geralt hardens himself again and plows four feet deep into the soft earth, taking a second to recover himself after dispatching the first of the Deathknights.
Aunn stays with the Keeper of the Black Gate, smashing the dreadmount to death with his feet while slamming his fists into the Deathknight’s face. Once again he is frustrated by that familiar stone-wall feeling as the Deathknight counterpunches with a charm, dissolving the moonsilver fangs Aunn’s armor grew for him. Gate then leaps off the dead mount onto another and claws for altitude, clearly making a desperate bid to get away from the Lunar. Jaspar continues to cast his charms as he flies out to the fray, now flaring a bright, not quite totemic banner into the darkness of the field.
Hugo and Harbinger are still hammering away at each other, several chakrams flying. Harbinger again teleports and counterattacks – or at least tries to. The Solar managed to kick off the ground and get behind the Abyssal when the latter rematerialized, although he is unable to land a blow on the nimble bastard. Undaunting Sabbath, in a bid to defend his brother, streaks for Aunn as his anima banner flares, dark essence accompanying the blow. Aunn counters by casting his own charm to defend, his own silver banner going up. All three slam into the ground amidst the zombifying corpses of the fallen, reanimated by Sabbath’s flaring anima.
Warden of the darkest path, meanwhile, laughs as he notches his bow again and fires, this time at the airship. His arrow splits into six upon firing, and each one slices through the cables tethering the gasbag to the gondola. The gasbag harmlessly flies off as the gondola crashes to the earth. Jasper and Hakun slice their way through the descending wreckage unscathed while Hugo and Harbinger leap out of the way. Aunn and Black Gate see it coming and cast defensive charms. Black Sabbath is not as lucky though. The last thing he sees is a bye-bye wave from Aunn before a piece of the wreckage slams into his head, knocking him out. His brother and Aunn get up, Aunn smashing Gate in the face as the Essence drive of the airship sparks and arcs around them. Somehow not destroyed by the impact, it is now soaking up the eleven anima banners flaring on the battlefield.
That volatile engine of destruction is then sent flying. Geralt, still deep in the soil, was unharmed by the debris, although he is trapped by it. His anima banner flares totemic again as he picks up the wreck and swings it, trying to smash Black Gate in the face with the ninety-foot chunk of airship. He misses, but the force of the whirl, and the Essence he puts into it, sends the wreckage – and the now clearly overcharged and volatile essence drive on it – screaming away at an impossible speed, heading down a bearing that looks as if some hand had guided it directly for Thorns…
Aunn and Black Gate are still hammering away at each other. Black Gate rears up to slash the Lunar with his daikliave, but makes the mistake of leaving his neck a little open. Like a striking serpent, Aunn gets his fangs onto that opening, and the small opening he’d seen in Black Gate’s defenses become a large opening in the Deathknight’s throat. The Deathknight tries to speak, but only manages to gurgle before his undeath slips from him.
Geralt, meanwhile, has had enough. He stares over at Warden and casts another of his charms, a hammerblow of force sending the Day-caste flying backwards… right into Geralt’s waiting arms. A second charm teleported the Twilight martial artist into Warden’s flight path, and Geralt delivered a vicious blow to his chest, almost perfectly reversing Warden’s momentum.
That reverse of momentum sent him right into Jaspar. The Zenith had been pushing his glider for all it was worth to close on Warden, and with nearly impeccable timing, his daiklaive went right through Warden’s chest mere seconds after Geralt’s second blow landed. Barely alive and barely conscious, the Deathknight managed to utter a curse before the high-speed impact with terra firma killed him. Geralt snaked his way onto the back of the glider that Jasper was on. The heavy weight made the thing sink, its sky berserker pilot setting up a perfectly controlled crash before he bailed out.
Seeing more sky berserkers than warghosts airborne, and not seeing any Abyssal animas remaining, Harbinger smiles at Hugo before he uses his claws to slice into the fabric of reality itself and disappears through it. Through the Eyes of Autochthon, Hugo sees that the hole Harbinger opened leads into a place full of dark Essence and sorrow, obviously a direct line to the Labyrinth. Still in the grip of whatever madness had seized him earlier, either not knowing or caring about his wounds and fatigue, Hugo sprints straight for the portal to the Labyrinth, the Circle staring at him dumbfounded.
Callas urges Nightbird to save Hugo from himself, and the gryphon powerdives in a mad dash to catch Hugo before he disappears into the lair of the Neverborn. Callas and Nightbird plow into Hugo a scant foot from the portal, Nightbird clamping down hard on the Immaculate. Hugo struggles to free himself with everything he has to no avail as Callas gives Harbinger a parting gift. Her sorcery was finally ready, and a blindingly brilliant light shot out of her hand, the bulk of it straight for the rift. On the field, the undead corpses and unconscious Deathknight are charred to ash and bone while the soulsteel weapons and armor they had borne are shattered by the Light; the souls freed. From the portal, thousands of screams are heard as the Light of the Sun pours into the Labyrinth, burning the heart of the Deathlord’s home. The portal seals shut, Light still pouring out of it.
Hugo is still struggling in Nightbird’s claws as the rest of the Circle gathers around him and starts to ask questions, key among which are why did he attack a diplomatic mission, and why the hell was he trying to go into the Labyrinth alone. He responds be demanding to be freed and that they are all stopping him from administering the Unconquered Sun’s justice. After getting very little beyond that out of him, he is still struggling, snarling, and threatening violence on the rest of the Circle. Aunn simply shrugs and knocks Hugo out cold. The Circle polices up the field, discovering several hearthstones still intact, including an ominous, pitch-black sphere. They find that of their Scale of sky berserkers, about half had survived. Three of the dozen survivors had awakened their Essence, transcending into Heroic Mortals. The Circle discusses the ramifications of Hugo’s rash actions as the monk lays unconscious, deciding that stronger measures are needed.
Hugo came around in the mouth of a tyrant lizard Callas had summoned, with the Circle looking at him sternly for answers. He has apparently calmed and is given enough room to get an arm and his head free as he demands to see the black hearthstone. He is somewhat puzzled by its appearance as a black maze, scorched by the Light. The wheels in his head click as he realizes this is the artifact Harbinger used to transport himself to the Labyrinth. He demands to see it, and the others see that he was playing them, still in the grips of insanity. The Circle tried to calm Hugo, but he continues to spout off about the Unconquered Sun’s justice. He says that he will slay the Deathlords himself. To emphasize his point, a shockwave arrives from the direction of Thorns, which they assume came from the overcharged and volatile essence drive of the airship Geralt had thrown. With Hugo still struggling, the Circle shrugged again and knocked him back out. The events of the day weighing heavily on the minds of all, the Circle wearily sets out on foot to return to Denandsor.