"Indeed, but at this point of his evolution it's too early to tell." Leegaain explained.
"Most of those traits are common in reptile Guardians. He may become a dragon, a basilisk, a leviathan, or maybe something new entirely. As for her, she hasn't undergone a single tribulation. What you see is a lost soul drove mad by pain.
"Her appearance means that her grudge is so deep not even death can stop it. That woman is likely to turn into an undead if her body isn't cleanly disposed of."
Nalear tumbled on the floor with Jirni in hot pursuit. Her blade followed Nalear's major arteries' every movement, ready to strike as soon as she was close enough. Nalear suddenly Blinked, but Jirni was expecting such a move.
She sidestepped while executing a circle slash, putting her back against the wall and hitting the space 180° around her at the same time. Yet Nalear wasn't there.
She appeared in front of a stunned Orion, hitting him squarely on the jaw with the iron gauntlet. He didn't lose consciousness, but he would be incapacitated for a few seconds. More than enough to put an end to the fight.
She Blinked again, a split second before Lith could exploit the opening at her back. He cursed his lack of true dimensional magic which made him slower than Nalear while using a healing spell on Orion, hastening his recovery.
Nalear Blinked back to Jirni, a knife dripping poison in the left hand and the sword in the right one. Normally Lith would have admired her mastery of spirit magic, which allowed Nalear to move even better than when she was unscathed.
The burden on her body had to be enormous and so the pain, yet she endured it like it was nothing. The knife was all Lith needed to set his course of action.
He interrupted the healing and prepared the next spell as fast as he could.
Nalear clashed with Jirni for a split second, disappearing again just to reappear behind Phloria's back with her knife already lunging forward. Instead of Phloria's flesh, the knife bit Lith's stone gauntlet, making sparks but no damage.
Lith had Switched with Phloria at the last second, headbutting Nalear in the nose before she could recover from the surprise and Blink again. The nose broke, filling Nalear's eyes with tears and her mouth with blood, making it difficult for her to breathe.
Lith slashed downwards while holding the Gatekeeper with both hands, aiming for her neck. She used her own blade to block, reinforcing her weakened arms with spirit magic. Lith followed suit.
The Gatekeeper was already infused with great elemental energies and now was boosted by Lith's enhanced body, fusion, and spirit magic, while Nalear's sword was at its weakest.
The blade shattered on impact, still exerting enough resistance to deflect the hit but not enough to prevent Lith to adjust the trajectory and cut Nalear's left arm. Before the glove could reach the ground and emit a metallic clang, Lith spun on himself to exploit his own momentum.
The Gatekeeper rose and fell again, this time chopping Nalear diagonally from the right shoulder to the left hip. Lith had the sword reduce its size, short enough to decapitate her and stab her heart in a single fluid motion.
The energies coursing through the blade consumed the corpse like fire burning dried grass until nothing remained.
"Does that qualify as 'clean disposal'?" Milea asked.
"It surely does." Tyris nodded.
Nalear's death marked the end of the hostilities inside the White Griffon. Once the master ring lost her imprint, it turned to dust and so did all the slave items. It was one of Hatorne's safety features to leave behind no traces after the deed was done.
Lith fell on his knees. The rushed Switch and the use of spirit magic to overcome his limits had drained him of any strength. Phloria helped him to get up. His legs were too shaky to sustain Lith anymore.
The gauntlet disappeared. With Nalear's death, the bond was back to its usual strength. Solus went back being a ring, her core reverting to yellow just as Lith's turned from bright cyan to just cyan.
As he gasped for air, feeling his arms as heavy as lead, his mind was once again assaulted by the vision. This time the images didn't fade away. Every single one of them shattered like broken glass.
The academy burning, Phloria's death as well as Lith's family's slaughter. Everything crumbled, replaced by a blank slate. Lith and Solus instinctively knew it was because the threat was over. Lith's soul was finally at rest and the future unknown as it was supposed to be.
"What you did was crazy dangerous." Phloria was still terrified.
"How did you know where she would reappear and the angle of the strike? One mistake and she would have stabbed you instead."
"The vision." Lith replied. "I replayed in my mind the part where you got stabbed so many times I could follow her blade with my eyes closed."
It was far from a romantic phrase, yet Phloria felt her heart flutter.
"Where are the others?" Lith asked.
"They are safe." Phloria chose her words carefully, trying to hide the pain gripping her voice the best that she could. Her heart sank as soon as the adrenaline from the battle started to fade away.
Phloria was ridden by guilt for her choice of putting her mother above her friend's life. Lith didn't miss her distress. The cheeks that were just turning red were now pale.
"What happened?" He asked. Orion could see his daughter struggling to find the words and stepped forward to take the burden off her shoulders.
"Don't." Jirni stopped him. "I know that it's painful, but she has to live with it. The sooner she faces reality the better. We can't protect her forever."
Orion held his wife's hand tight, nodding. He didn't like Lith one bit. Orion had read his personal file, watched all the recordings related to him and found his evaluation accurate.
Yet after all he did for Orion's little Flower during Balkor's attack, after seeing Lith in action, spitting blood to protect his family, Orion had come to respect Lith. He treated Phloria right and made her happy as Orion had never seen her before.
He couldn't ask for more, not without feeling a sadistic hypocrite.
Orion couldn't stand the thought that just after being reunited such a revelation could split them apart forever.
Phloria led Lith to a corner, making him sit before telling him the whole story. Her voice was shaky, the pain and regret palpable, yet she managed not to cry.
Lith said nothing. His mind believed her, Phloria would never pull such a cruel joke on him. His heart, however, was struck in denial.
"Can I see his body?" Lith had managed to prevent the vision from coming true, yet it felt a hollow victory to him.
"I'm sorry. I'm too weak to open a Warp Steps right now." Phloria shook her head.
"I'm so sorry. I'm always so useless." Tears started to streak from her eyes.
"No, you are not." Lith forced himself to stand up, hugging her and letting Phloria bury her head on his shoulder.
"It's all my fault." She sobbed, searching for his warmth.
"If that's true, then I'm as responsible for Yurial's death as you are. If only I cared for him a bit more, then maybe my vision would have shown us his fate too. Maybe, his father would have allowed him to stay home."