The conflict hit its final operatic swell amidst the scars on the sacred ground. Poor men perished, screaming like butchered swine as they poured their last. The beasts did not join them, when they died, they died silently.
The blackguard were her wings, cutting a flight through the death and gore at her sides, with them, her guardians, no beast could fell her. They killed as soundlessly as the beasts died, swords and scaled chitin glowing with an opal’s radiance.
A great dark thing, twisting maws and churning talons rose from one of the scars. She didn’t wait for the axe-like claws to bear her down. With a roar in her throat and light carried in her hands she charged. Her feet shook the ground as her guard soared, sharing her fury. The beast did not relent, strength pulsed within it like one of the great machines, but she was a horror in her own right. The thing feared her as it faded from the world.
Such a splendor, this battle, but a terrible one. Her father’s contingent were only bodies against the temple’s silver floor when she arrived. The other priestesses fared no better. Erai lay across the steps, her eyes wide and dull, vestments tangled around shattered limbs. The blackguard flanked the steps, affording her the moment. She bent at her sister’s corpse.
Erai, the youngest of them, winsome and light of thought and feet. A mind for the ages splayed across broken temple stones, lightless and unthinking. In the lull her nerves finally revolted and she shivered with a sudden fear. This was wrong, they were too great to die.
The tide was coming, flooding the cleaved ground with pitch and rolling masses of blade and teeth. This was her end, she saw it now. The truth ravaged the inside of her ribs, carving a hole. She too, had been great.
She set her shoulders, not ready for her fate, but prepared to give death until it was returned. The blackguard moved, scaled armor shining under the red stars and they took her arms. In shock she did not fight. They were her guardians, and they should not dare to touch her so. And yet they dragged her deep into the broken temple, heedless of her protest.
The crystal of the sanctum stood, intact but empty. All had been awoken. Their ancestor’s wisdom and strength failed in the end, now dead with the others. But their empty caskets remained, nestled in the silver floor, smooth crystal and veined ruby formed to sustain sleep.
The blackguard released her. One stepped forward, unlocking a narrow casket while she watched with narrowed eyes. The chambers, and the preserving sleep they provided, were reserved for only oldest of her kind. She, a child by comparison, was not permitted their gifts. An armored hand rested gently against her back.
She took a step forward and then another. Their cities had fallen first, and now the temples would join them. She could feel the foundations tremble, metal screaming, even as she stood in their center. Everyone was gone, she remained.
Her guardians held out bare hands, armor withdrawn. She accepted as they led her to the casket. She laid down, the metal soft and cool against her skin. Her blackguard closed the crystal around her. She saw them kneel, faces bare and watching her. It was her last sight before the shards grew over her body and into her veins.
“What the hell am I looking at?”
The tech jumped at the baritone behind her. She looked, catching the silver bird at the man’s collar. Outranked. She stood and gave a salute. It wouldn’t satisfy even the most lax drill sergeant, but the Captain was already peering past the screens out the viewing window into the lab floor. “Subject Charlie 446. Sir. Antecedent technology, pre-dating the fall. We’ve been monitoring it.”
“Why, did it move?” He chuckled. The smooth crystal pod remained where it had always been of course, the figure within not visible from the distance.
“High levels of neural activity Sir. They spiked yesterday at 1700.” He was important enough to make jokes she supposed, but she kept her tone even. She pointed towards one of her screens. “Here. We think the subject is dreaming.”
He finally looked at her. “Dreaming? Of what?”
The tech smiled a little. “There is no way to tell Sir, but she’s dreaming.”
The Colonel shook his head and left. She. The tech turned back to the screens, watching the green lines over the monitors.