The alien horrors danced along the backs of the mastodons, weightless and lithe though their heads would have come up well on any mastodon’s shoulder. Their long scythe arms blurred with movement and then disappeared in strikes too fast to see, cutting riders apart. Then they themselves vanished, and reappeared in another place, driving blades down into the skulls of beasts or severing their spines at the neck.
Jerem Cozak turned to look at me, our beasts still standing side by side on hind legs, his eyes wide in astonishment.
“They were already here,” he said. “They lied to me.”
Then a flaming darkness loomed behind him and my blood chilled and a great scythe split Jerem Cozak from his shoulder to his waist. Another cut sideways across his stomach and tore him entirely in two, splitting Profusionist armor utterly and with ease. I cried out. The pieces that were Jerem Cozak fell away in ruin just as my mastodon leaned down unto the pike that drove into her brain. It tore on into my soul. Pain shattered the core of me. My back arched in spasm, my vision blackened, my hands released their grip. My mind flashed, seared blank, stopped.
As I tumbled I saw Marcus likewise unmounted, leaping backwards off his mastodon to avoid the strike of the demon that hounded him. And the creature flinched back, as from a wound. But when Marcus landed on his feet, the terror was somehow also there, twisting so that its blow fell vertically and cut down directly through Marcus’s skull, cleaving it in two. The next stroke came counter, and cut cleanly through his torso at the chest.
Finally, my fall completed. My head slammed against the Profusionist metal even before my back did. It knocked the wind from my lungs. My vision swam and darkened even more. I could not move and did not want to. Auger pikemen stood all around me. One put his foot across my chest, and I could feel the motion as he reversed his weapon. The last blow would fall. The Neverborn wouldn't reach me. I blinked. In the distance, between the legs of men and the outlines of the wreckage of the artillery, orange fire bloomed in the streets of Kasora.
The nine khrall had come.