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“Wait,” Eron said, and the confidence the boy put behind the single word made Xanenax stop in his tracks. Then, Eron deposited the still unconscious Phillia carefully on the floor, walked further into the room, and pointed at a bloody shard of meridium laying on the ground, seething with corruption.
“This was in Phillia’s back,” Eron explained. “Kira’thaz was controlling her with it.”
Restraining his wrath, Xanenax stepped over Phillia with disregard and picked up the shard of meridium. It burned his skin as he held it, and a familiar presence began to burrow into his mind, making his skin crawl and bile rise up in his throat.
“You’re right,” Xanenax told Eron, his ire building the more he felt Kira’thaz try to worm his way inside his consciousness. Then, Xanenax began crushing the meridium shard with his bare hand. Cracks began to form on the crystal’s surface before the entire spike shattered. Splinters of the mineral pierced Xanenax’s skin, and he felt a sharp rise in the corrupted energy entering his body. He tightened his grip until he felt even the smallest splinters fracture into dust. Then, he released his grip and felt the muscles in his hand spasm to push the meridium fragments out with the flow of blood pouring from his hand onto the floor.
“How did you find me?” Eron asked.
“We knew Kira’thaz would want you in the Capital, and so we came here immediately. Then we sensed Phillia’s illusion slip and tracked her down.”
“We need to leave,” Knel said from the hovel’s entrance. “The longer we stay-”
Suddenly, a series of massive booms shook the ground and a pulse echoed, bouncing off the city’s stone walls. Objects lying on shelves in the house toppled to the floor from the reverberations.
Xanenax cursed himself for not running immediately. “They’ve locked down the city.”
“We could fight our way out,” Eron suggested. “You two could probably take on Kira’thaz’s entire army.”
“No,” Xanenax replied grimly, “otherwise I would have done so already. Even if we tried, we could not protect you as we did so. Besides, since the city is on lockdown, magickal barriers are now surrounding the city, making it impossible to get in or out. We have to go through Kira’thaz.”
“So, we’re trapped.”
“With no way out.”
“No. But I have allies here who will hide us.”
“How do you know they won’t betray us?” Eron asked.
“They are the Risen, revolutionaries sworn to overthrow Kira’thaz. One of them made the armor you’re wearing and acquired the Ferro Stone for you.”
“That doesn’t mean they won’t betray us,” Eron replied, indicating toward Phillia, “whether they mean to or not.”
Xanenax nodded, picked Phillia off the ground, and hoisted her onto his shoulder. “Regardless, it’s the only option we have.”
“Someone’s coming,” Knel hissed and pulled up her hood and mask, as did Xanenax and Eron.
A lanky demon whose torso was covered in scars which he scratched at absentmindedly entered. He noticed the three cloaked figures in his home and recognized Xanenax immediately.
“Aw, Hæll’s bells,” Mirtak said just as Xanenax grabbed him by the throat and threw him to the center of the floor and then extended an armblade to Mirtak’s throat.
“Call for help, Mirtak, and I’ll end you before you before you hear your own voice,” Xanenax warned.
“Well,” Mirtak muttered once he regained his breath, “fancy seeing you again.” Then he looked at Eron and saw through his disguise. “Huh. Thought you’da eaten him by now.”
“What do we do with him?” Knel asked. “Could turn him into an hors d'oeuvre.”
“A whore what?” Mirtak asked.
“An appetizer,” Knel growled.
Doubt plagued Xanenax’s mind. But then he remembered what the soldier at the portal had told him, how he would have died for something he believed in. Then, he released his grip on Mirtak’s throat. “Get up,” he commanded.
Mirtak stared at him with a perplexed look on his face and hesitantly rose to his feet. “...What do you want?”
“Done,” Mirtak agreed, grinning happily.
“So you say,” Knel said as she unsheathed her katana and lifted it to Mirtak’s throat, wiping the smile off his face.
“Wait,” Xanenax ordered and then looked Mirtak gravely in the eye. “You know we can kill you.”
“Easily,” Mirtak agreed nervously.
“And that you will wish we had if you inform anyone we are here.”
“I already know you told Kira’thaz about the boy.”
“He what?” Knel demanded, pressing the blade deeper into Mirtak’s throat and drawing blood.
Mirtak’s face paled and his voice became shaky. “Then why let me live?”
“Because I am offering you a choice: fight with me, or die a coward under Kira’thaz’s heel.”
“Xa-” Knel began, but Xanenax raised his hand, interrupting her.