Without our weight holding down the sandskimmer, the bow pointed skyward and the craft shot upwards at a steep angle. I counted a full thirty seconds before the craft exploded in a blossom of ball lightning high above Cala Mondrago, gratefully a safe distance from the various airships that coasted over the oasis.
"I'll ask how you knew that was Marcus later. Let's check on Ash."
I allowed myself to be lifted again by one of Koen's tendril of pure shadow, and again he raced over the dunes, with me as a passenger. I could discern by the flashes of vivid colors and accompanying thunderclaps on the horizon that the battle between the Founder's Digital Knights and the old witch's fleet continued to rage. My boots touched the sand again as we drew close to where Ash lay prone. Koen's red-tipped ears perked in alarm.
"He's changin' colors...is he s'posed ta be doin' that?"
A valid question indeed. When he first emerged from the aperture, the glowing circuitry of his uniform burned a deep crimson, matching the Founder's namesake wings. But now, his luminescence seemed to be giving way to an angry shade of orange. I kept a safe distance as I addressed him.
"Ash? Ash! Can you hear me? Commence self-diagnosis!"
His body twitched as his uniform continued to change.
"Auto-repairs in progress...damage recov...virus detected!"
He unsteadily rose to his feet, the mutation of shade nearly complete.
"Virus? Ash, diagnose!"
"Scanning...virus identified!" He abruptly reached behind him, pulling a disc free from where it was attached to his back. It still radiated the original shade of crimson.
"Virus identified..." Wait, was that a smirk spreading across his expressionless face? His deep modulated voice suddenly shifted into a frightening cackle of a sort only heard from one's deepest nightmares.
"MARCUS GABRIEL MASON!"
With a savage arc of his shoulder he hurled his disc at us. I dove headfirst into the sand as the projectile missed my crown by mere centimeters! Koen roared in pain as the disc tore a scarlet swath through his aura of darkness. With acute angles defying known aerodynamics the discuss returned to its owners grasp, leaving a trail of solid light behind it.
"Fascinating! A mere shard of the Founder's bone wields so much POWER! Surely when I overcome the Founder himself..." Ash/Marcus waved his weapon towards the battlefield in the distance. "...I shall be INVINCIBLE!"
Before I could intervene, Koen leaped on all fours like an enraged tiger towards the android, his compromised aura of Vortex energy "bleeding" a trail of floating shadows behind him. I had but a moment to feel a sharp sting of horror in my soul as Ash twisted his body and raised his weapon to strike...