The colossus dissolved as it fell, a tower of chitin and snapping mandibles one moment, a briny mist the next. The ice outside the Chancel of Labors was slick with its black blood.
A handful of Ascended had helped slay the horror. The Defiant favored Kira with a nod and rode off, while the Guardians simply rode off. Water Rifts still covered all of Iron Pine save the high mountains. Someone had to seal them or the planespawn would overflow, flooding Stillmoor and Moonshade.
“Our thanks for your help, Ascended,” said an Icewatch captain whose mountain patrol had arrived midway through the fight.
Uriel strolled over, balancing the point of her staff on the palm of her hand as she always did to unwind after a fight. “That thing would have done far more damage if your men hadn’t shown up.”
“Started down soon as we saw the rifts,” said the captain. “We were the furthest patrol out, which leaves the mountains unguarded. At least things are quiet at the Precipice.”
“Precipice?” asked Kira, checking her knives for pitting.
“Abyssal Precipice. They’d been trying to summon some ancient cephalon up there, but the Ascended put a stop to that, and it’s been silent and lightless ever since.”
“Not lightless,” said a young woman of the Icewatch, a blonde Mathosian who seemed to have trouble spitting out words in front of the Eth and Kelari. “I saw a light there, or a ghost of one, when my patrol moved out. I thought I heard a woman scream, too, but it could have been the wind.”
Kira looked at Uriel, who threw her staff up and grabbed it from midair.
“I guess we’re going climbing,” said Uriel.
The first hints of twilight darkened the mountaintop as the two Defiant neared the end of their ascent. Uriel leapt from outcrop to outcrop along the sheer mountainside, her graceful frame borne upon the wind. Rising twenty yards with every leap, Uriel looked like she was flying to poor Kira, who had to drag herself hand over hand the hard way.
Near the top the crag, Uriel made one last jump. Kira watched her go, envying the smooth motion of her legs and back. But she jumped a bit too high, and fell beyond sight somewhere on the summit. Her shout of “WAHOOOOOOO—” died with a muffled flumfing sound.
“Uriel!” Kira shouted, and teleported toward an outcrop high above. She appeared in thin air and began to fall, wrenching her arm when she managed to grab the jut of rock.
Kira dangled by her fingertips, cursing herself. Her feet found no purchase on the old ice covering the cliffside, which she would have chipped into footholds if she hadn’t been so reckless. And to make things worse, a hideous white yeti appeared at the top of the mountain, glowering down.
When the yeti shook itself, Kira suppressed a smile. “Bahmi Bounce take you too high up?”
Uriel was covered in snow and shivering, more blue than violet, her teeth chattering almost loud enough to cause an avalanche. “I huh-hate sn-n-n-now,” she said, dropping a rope.
“Some mountains were once volcanoes,” said Kira as she climbed. “The caldera fills with snow, deep enough to drown in.”
“I’m the n- n-n-know-it-all, rem-m-m-member?”
Kira dug her blanket out of her pack and sat down beside Uriel on the rocks, draping it over both of them and sitting close to share heat. They wouldn’t get far if the Mage died of a chill. “You Bahmi. Too much time in those dry canyons.” She brushed a lump of snow off Uriel’s head.
“What did I just say?” Uriel put her arm around Kira’s shoulder, and Kira realized how cold she’d been as well.
A shriek rose from the valley below, a desperate, pained gurgling, not an arctic wind. Kira stood, tucked the blanket tight around Uriel, and plane-shifted to the far side of the ridge. “Lights at Abyssal Precipice, alright,” she said, peering through the swirling snow. “But that cry is closer. An Eth woman. I think we’ve found Wohab.”
She screamed as the burly cultist thrust her head into the freezing lake. Nineteen times they had held her underwater for what had seemed an eternity, and she could no longer muster the energy to keep her mouth closed. The water rushed into her lungs, icing them over. As she drowned, something hideous swirled toward her from the cold black depths.
Then the hand disappeared from the back of her skull. Pure instinct made Shiyesa pull back and collapse into the snow, retching up icy water. She could barely see, but she could hear the cultists all going mad.
They ran in circles, tearing at their clothes and the skins underneath. One Abyssal had another by the horns of his faceless mask, and was bashing his own mask into his comrade’s forehead. Shiyesa heard the brass crunching. She saw the blurry outline of one cultist running naked off the cliffside, laughing all the way down.
A mask hit the ground beside her and a terrified squirrel burrowed out from under it. But the big cultist who had held Shiyesa’s head down plucked up the poor beast and popped it into his mouth, laughing like a child with a treat as he chewed.
Shiyesa knew the Abyssal were insane, but not like this. She pushed herself away as best she could, but the cult leader crawled after her, grabbing her ankle in a bone-cracking grip. She did not think she could have screamed again, nor this loud.
Then a Kelari woman appeared from nowhere behind him, plunging twin daggers into his back like a disinterested mantis. The cultists were gone, and a Bahmi shivering under a blanket jumped down from the ledge where she’d been hiding. Shiyesa saw the telltale glow of a Dominator’s magic fading around the Bahmi’s fingers.
“Shiyesa Wohab?” said Kira, offering the Eth a healing potion.
Shiyesa only spoke once her lungs had thawed. “Uriel Chuluun is with the Unseen?”
“That’s right,” said Uriel.
“I didn’t think he was foolish enough to send a traitor,” Shiyesa muttered to herself.
Kira stepped in front of Uriel. “She just saved your life.”
“Maybe he sent her here as temptation.” Shiyesa Wohab began to laugh. “We’re all pawns of the Faceless Man. She lost her chance with the Endless Court, so now she’ll offer me up to the Abyssal.”