The Citadel reminded Cato a great deal of Oriona. Everything was made of stone, the walls were towering, and everyone glared at him. But where Oriona was an actual city, it didn’t take long for Cato to really understand that the Citadel was a fortress. The streets were uncomfortably narrow, as were all the windows in the various buildings. Every few intersections, they would pass under another gate. Of course, the easiest thing to notice was the fact that every single person was both armed and armored. Heavily.

After several minutes of being led by the towering Sir Torran through winding stone streets, they reached the center of the city and another heavily fortified gate. Through it was the only open area Cato had seen in the city so far. A large cathedral sat at the center of an open garden, all lit by torches and the moonlight above. The only other soldiers he could see stood at regular intervals on the steps leading up to the cathedral’s entrance, their helmets modeled after the star crest all of the soldiers wore on their tabards.

Cato looked to Kieran to try to get a read on things, but the Elf was focused forward and staying shockingly silent. Maeira was doing the same, though she was standing perfectly straight as she walked and presenting an air of authority like Cato had never seen. He wasn’t even quite sure how she was doing it. Nothing seemed to faze her at the moment, and he couldn’t help but be glad she was in charge instead of someone turning to him.

Next to him, Cato’s brother gave him a nudge and whispered, “Feels like we’re heading to our execution…”

Cato could only nod. As much as Kyros could drive him crazy, that was the best way to describe this silent march through a city that was very clearly not happy to have them there.

The atmosphere somehow grew worse as Sir Torran led them up the steps to the doors of the cathedral. It was at this point that Cato noted the columns were various armored figures holding swords and looking down with what he could only read as distaste upon those walking up the steps. The steps. There were…fifty three. Nope. Counting those didn’t help Cato’s mindset, either.

Sir Torran reached the cathedral doors, which were emblazoned with a scene of four figures raising up the stars, and opened the door to reveal something quite different from what Cato had expected. As they walked past Sir Torran into the massive main chamber of the cathedral, Cato discovered it was not, in fact, a place of worship. Or at least, it wasn’t at the moment. Currently, it was a war room.

Massive tables covered in maps and papers and battle plans and candles and weapons and…Cato had to stop as he almost walked full tilt into a Dwarf that was sprinting from one side of the room to another, scrolls in hand. They exchanged a quick, confused look, then the Dwarf ran off again and Cato turned to catch up with the only people not wearing orange.

Maeira led them through the crowded chamber to a table at the back where a group of people were currently arguing. Cato couldn’t make out what the argument was about, but he was able to determine that everyone seemed quite angry at the tall, dark-skinned woman in the center of it all. She wore the same armor and tabard that everyone else did, but also an open helm with two massive stars on either side. Like Maeira, she had an air of command about her, despite whatever else was going on.

Maeira stopped at the large planning table directly opposite the woman and nodded her head politely, “Grand Master Ora. You have my thanks.”

Everyone surrounding Ora turned their disapproving looks onto Maeira, Kieran, Cato, and Kyros. But the Grand Master, herself, simply stood tall and nodded curtly, “You are welcome, Lady Maeira. Now, I expect you are here to inform me why two dozen of our priests gave their lives for you.”

“Of course,” Maeira didn’t seem taken aback at all by Ora’s tone. Instead, she motioned behind her to Kieran, Cato, and Kyros, “I have been working to help my friends in the Dorae-Kos and–”

The individuals around the table let out of a series of disgusted sighs. Grand Master Ora shook her head, “We abandoned our battle plans because of those childish upstarts?!”

Maeira didn’t flinch. She continued to stand tall and calmly rested on hand on a nearby chair, “Those childish upstarts uncovered something far more important than whatever actions you plan to take to deal with the Mad Lord.”

“I don’t see what the damned problem is!” Kyros shouted, silencing the entire chamber as everyone now decided to stare without worrying if anyone noticed, “Whatever magic you did wiped out an entire army! What the hell does a war matter when you can do that?! Besides, we’re trying to stop something worse than–”

Kyros stopped short as he saw the look he was getting from Maeira. She wasn’t so much threatening him, as sternly explaining to him that this wasn’t going to help. With only her eyes. Of course, the realization that every single other person in the room was watching him likely helped.

Maeira nodded to Kyros, almost as a thank you for his shutting up, then turned back to Grand Master Ora, “Despite my friend’s tone, he is not wrong. The Mad Lord does not matter anymore. As I’m sure you know, his armies are stretching thinner by the day as they advance. It is only a matter of time before they are pushed back.”

Slowly, Grand Master Ora’s eyes shifted away from Kyros and to Maeira again, “We were to hold this army here until they called for reinforcements. Now they will not, and the Mad Lord’s defenses will not be weakened for our planned counterattack. You may not think it matters, but your actions will delay the end of this war for weeks!”

“Your war doesn’t matter!” it was Kieran than broke this time. He gave a brief, apologetic look to Maeira but then turned his attention to the Grand Master again, “There is something else out there that we’ve been running from and barely even know what it is beyond the fact that they’re ancient and extremely evil and planning to kill us all while we fight amongst ourselves! And we brought you one of their books that they’re desperate to get back because it just might contain a way to stop them!”

The room was silent for another brief second. But then there was a pop from behind them all, followed by an agonizing scream. Everyone in the chamber turned to look, but Cato already knew what he was going to see. The air was heavy all of a sudden. It was hard to breathe. Hard to look, even.

Near the entrance to the cathedral, a soldier’s body fell to the stone floor with a loud metal clank, his body cut in two. Standing over him was not a thing, but the absence of a thing. A humanoid shape, not black, but colorless and hard to focus on, with two large, almost shining eyes that seemed to pierce through everything in the room at once.

The Ancient One’s clawed hand waved across the room.

You. Will. Never. Stop. Us.

Before anyone could comprehend that the words were felt rather than spoken, it charged.