Maricius stands next to the edge of the platform, staring down into Reshanta's opalescent hues. Where all the threats come from—it looks pretty. It's a damned abyss, the whole thing.

Maricius sighs, and plants his great sword on the ground. He shouldn't be slacking off, he knows. Even though it is the end of his watch for today, and he is tired, and looking forward to a nice hot bowl of mosbear soup back in Morheim away from this absolutely abyssal chill—regardless, he shouldn't relax just yet. The soft droning in his ears is soporific, really.

This is the moment when he hears a crash behind him—followed by three, four, six, ten more. All at once, his mind kicks into overdrive, decades of battle-instinct surging through his muscles, roast Brax long forgotten.

He ducks immediately, hunkering down and grabbing his sword from where it stands, leveling it at the source of the sound. The thing—it looks a giant…pod, of some sort, spiky with residue and who knows what other material—is definitely of balic origin, and as Maricius watches, it starts to crack.

Of course. First Primum, then Solitary. He'd heard about some attack on Latesran, too.

Maricius waits for the crack to widen, then splits it completely with a strike—and a second cleaves the balaur in half. Looking around, he spots a half-dozen such skirmishes. The construction lies in rubble, and balaur pick over it. Who knows what happened to the engineers.

He looks to the right, where Primum's aetheric field glows red. There, safety. But first…

He raises his greatsword, drawing upon Aion's power; balaur mages tear their gazes from Primum to him. He charges. The Archon—Krasy—sees him coming, and maneuvers around the balaur until they're in the perfect position to skewer it between them.

"Primum," Maricius grunts through his faceplate. Krasy nods, hastily blocking a clawed swipe. Maricius lunges, swinging upward, shearing through another balaur's armor and hide. He draws aether into the blade, and releases it in a crescent of fire. It buys time, and Krasy sprouts wings and flies away.

Only for Maricius to look up a few seconds later to see flash of fading wings and the screech of aether. Balic rangers—and, and…

To Maricius, it seems the battlefield goes quiet all of a sudden as he gapes up at the misshapen dragon, covered in eyes and wings and bone, floating directly above the half-finished fortress. It rotates slightly, and the quiet is interrupted by the shriek of a glowing beam of energy—he doesn't catch the target. Maricius shakes his head, pulling himself out of stupor. Right. Flying won't work—he'll have to use the portal, if it's still functioning.

A crate next to him explodes when a pod crashes into it—a rumble followed by a sound like an avalanche—and he stumbles, just barely righting himself in time to avoid an arrow. The balaur coming from above—was…that dropping the pods? A precise strike splits the pod, and he spots a hint of golden armor surrounded by black.

He doesn't get there in time—another spectral screech—but he does find himself surrounded. Maricius scrambles backwards, a deluge of arrows flying by. His sword plunges into a snarling balaur—a smaller one, what are they calling them now? Draconites? A swipe sends a charging couple flying—they slam into their companions. A smash makes one blink—its weapon lowers, and then it's falling.

But they keep crowding around, and he has to backpedal. That's bad; the enemy has momentum. He's more likely to stop than they are now.

A barrier flashes gold next to him, catching a blade. "Come on!" a voice shouts, and it feels like minutes before he can turn to look at her. Finally, someone else—he isn't used to fighting alone.

"Does the portal still work?" he gasps out as soon as they have some semblance of cover. A fireball, stinking of sulfur, roars overhead, and Maricius flinches. She nods, brushing a hand over her robe—not exactly an Archon's, he notices.

"It might. I don't know if the balaur've found it."

"That's just great." Maricius leans out from behind the pillar—he jumps out, but an arrow still rattles off his breastplate. A swing of his sword unleashes aether on the horde, and another sends a balaur charging forward crashing onto the ground. A quick strike ends it.

His motion brings him closer to the next pillar, which he ducks behind. The roof is collapsed; the the fledgeling fortress is all but destroyed. Looking up, he can see…he looks back down, immersing himself in the moment. Unsupported, the pillar trembles as spells collide with it—then falls—Maricius leaps out of the way; the greatsword drops from his hands—then shifts with a loud rasp, falling sideways to create a barrier.

A burst of wind knocks down a balaur scrambling over the top, and Maricius and his companion hurry past the ruined courtyard.

There's a crumbled doorway to the left; they pass under it, glancing furtively behind them.

"What is that thing?" Maricius gasps, trying to control his breathing. "Since when did the balaur have something like that monstrosity?" He gestures overhead. Really, he's wondering, if they have a Aion-damned ship how are they not all dead already?

"Since Primum," the sorcerer says. "They've appeared twice since."

"They were there?" He considers it. "I would have seen them; something like that is hard to ignore, but…abyss, it's nearly silent." The corridor that surrounds them is gutted, the ground treacherous with cracks and debris.

She nods, fingers tightening around her orb. "Neither did I, but they can hide when they want to. Some sort of counter-aether cloud. At Latesran though, they, they took on a much more active role."

He grunts, kicking out at a piece of rock. "They can't stop us at our heart, so they try to cut away the edges." He refocuses on his companion. "You were on Primum as well?"

He stops, hearing a series of pounding footsteps coming from ahead. He raises a fist—signaling stop, and three balaur tromp around the corner—the fist opens, and Maricius leaps forward and plunges his greatsword through one's armor, before it can even think to raise its bow. A flash of blue precedes a patch of icicles impaling another, and the third sinks into the cracked ground with a rumble. Maricius swings his sword, and moves on.

"Wisdom Orb, third group. Commander, not anymore, though."

"Fatebound." They hurry through a series of arches, most crumbling or littered with bodies and aetheric signatures. "Not commander anymore? What're you, retired? I didn't think that was allowed for you Orb types." He can't quite keep the derision out of his voice.

"I'm here now." A glimpse through a crack in the wall shows nothing but the amassing balaur horde, so they keep going. More heavy footsteps shake the corridor; another archway leads them to another hall. The sorcerer points to an alcove; a doorway within leads to what Maricius recognizes as the corridor around the inner chamber. "That way."

It is quite clearly filled with balaur guards.

"The portal's in the inner chamber?" He frowns skeptically.

She holds up a fist; a troop of balaur march past the alcove in which they hide. "No, behind it. Back courtyard. This is the shortest route."

Maricius raises an eyebrow, finally able to catch a breath. "How do you suppose we'll get there? The place is going to be packed with balaur, not to mention the…ship above. The portal will be destroyed by now, if anything."

"They want to get to Primum too, don't they?" Maricius frowns, recognizing the hope for what it is.

By silent agreement, the two continue onward anyways. The hallways and arches blur as they race past, not stopping for camps of balaur nor piles of rubble. The first balaur patrol they encounter is tangled with a rippling, binding aetheric chain; the second knocked back with an aether-charged swing of a sword.

When they reach the opposite side of the circular corridor, a gateway awaits them. Through it, a throng of balaur surround the portal statue's telltale glow in a semicircle. Maricius supposes he should be thankful for small mercies: he won't have to get past the majority of the crowd to get to the portal. On the other hand, the portal might not work at all. Or it might, and there'll be an even worse situation in Primum. A second invasion. He shudders at the thought.

He turns to his companion, in the seconds they have before the pursuing balaur finally catch up, smiling a sort of grim smile, taking it in, from the shadow of the damned ship to the milling restless crowds of enemies.

She follows his gaze, what Maricius recognizes as determination falling upon her eyes. "I don't feel like dying," she says, "and since when has a daeva had to say that?" She lifts her orb above her outstretched palm, a susurrus of vague reassuring whispers filling the air. Since Kurmzid went through the portal, he answers in his head. He wonders whether his companion remembers the first expeditions, if she had even ascended then.

Then the moment is passed with thunderous footfalls; with a yell, Maricius raises his greatsword and draws aether into himself. His fatigue, bruises, the pounding in his head—they all fade as the aether rushes into him. In the ensuing chaos, his companion glances at him once, disappears in a flash of light into the enemy's midst.

The portal is less than eighty meters away, but it may as well be so much longer. Fixing its location in his mind, Maricius readies his sword, crouches, then as the first of the crowd reach him, lashes out.

The three before him fly back, impeding the others' progress and knocking them down; Maricius slips around them, taking a blow to the shoulder and another on his sword. In the distance, past enraged battle cries, a big one rushes forward, scattering its own minions—a gesture stops it cold; a thrust ends another.

He sees a spectral shield shatter iron, a gargantuan monstrosity entombed in ice, a flash of white and then a gust of wind. Through the horde they proceed.

His spinning blade lets out a gush of fire, pushing aside those blocking his path—Maricius advances through gaps that he creates, open only momentarily.

Rangers draw arrows and coldly let them loose—he uses this to his advantage, letting the enemy take the brunt of the damage; freezing gales knock them aside.

It's all hurried and rushed, and then Maricius gives up on even hampering his enemies and simply charges through them, knocking them aside and killing where convenient. A blow from some blunt weapon almost knocks him prone, his feet barely supporting him. He doesn't know if he's broken something; now's not the time.

Counter-aether blasts pummel his armor, and then grow pointed enough that they ignore his armor, and Maricius feels exhaustion seep into his bones again. A dagger somehow finds its way buried in his side—blood rushes down one eye.

Coughing and wheezing for breath, he stumbles through the last few ranks, using aether to move himself forward, steps at a time.

The portal statue—it is open before him, and he falls through. The sorcerer follows him through, and someone's cut a long red gash down her back and she looks just as exhausted and is her hair on fire? "Give me a second," she mutters, touching the statue, favoring her left, but then a balaur falls through the gate. They can get through, then, but he can't quite think of the implications right now.

What's one more? A slash of the greatsword ends it, but suddenly his blade is so heavy, so heavy. He drops it.

With a roar, another pokes its head through—the statue explodes into a thousand intangible crystals, and the gate fades, aether washing over him.

He can't muster the energy to raise an eyebrow at the display. "Not so retired, are you?"

She's silent for a second. "I'm going to do something about it." She gestures upward, and Maricius tilts his head back and gazes inwards to Reshanta, through the red dome, to the blankness and aether and the core it wraps around. A flit of draconic wing flickers in the distance, illuminated by glowing energy.

He tries laughing, but it dissolves into a cough as Archons converge upon them, yelling and shouting their questions. "Call me when you do. I want to be there."

He can't see Sanctuary from here. Just as well, he supposes.

Some years after the battle at Prımum.

Tıamat ıs beıng dıffıcult.

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