Vortex had calmed down from the incident with the insubordinate. He landed quietly from the top of the twisted throne and padded softly to the replacement captain, circling him as he interrogated.
"What do you mean Jeremiah escaped? This is the Underworld. People do not escape."
"My Prince," the new captain replied in a calm, measured tone, "he had help from the spirits of his ancestors. Together they built an escape craft from wreckage gleaned from the remains of the city."
Vortex growled. "An aethership? Surely one of our surviving fleet would have caught and destroyed an improvised piece of Spark junk!"
"Not an aethership, Sir. A boat."
"A boat? The Styx is on the border of the kingdom! Th Masons were confined to the lowest level!"
"Sir, they took the River Lethe. That emptied into the Styx."
The red neko blinked incredulously. "And how did they manage to ditch the troops on the shores?"
The captain looked straight ahead, at full attention Vortex paced around him. "They built water cannons, Sir..."
The neko chuckled. "...drawn from the Lethe itself. Infinite ammunition and turns your targets into drooling idiots. Brilliant, I'll hand it to them."
"We did manage to inflict damage on the boat, Sir. Most of the crew were discorporated or knocked overboard to drown. The pilot, however, was shielded."
"Jeremiah, of course."
"Yes, Sir. The only survivor we saw on the vessel."
"And what happened when he reached the Styx? Did the Boatmen deal with him?"
The Captain shifted uncomfortably as he pressed his gauntlets together ina sign of submission. "The Boatmen did not interfere with him Sir. But they blocked our skiffs from pursuing him past the delta."
The Prince hissed as his claws drew deep scratches over the captain's armor. "Bloodwing was a Boatman once, in a lost future I believe. They must have a familial clause. That means...he's reincarnated by now!"
Vortex pointed to the troops watching over the crater. "Send some agents to the Surface World and find him! Start with the Steamlands!"
The demon cat wrapped his crimson claws around the Captain's throat. "And for LETTING HIM ESCAPE, my dear captain, I will..."
Just then the enormous carcass of the Hydra trembled. Expanses of ebony scales stories high shimmered from the reflection of the burning sky. The troops at the edge of the crater took a collective half-step back and whispered to each other nervously. The neko stared worriedly of his shoulder.
"Oh, by the burning Styx..." He pressed his face against the captain's visor.
"You have a chance to redeem yourself. We have a change of priorities. I need the Void magic to obliterate that monster once and for all before it regenerates! And I left that in the life Darien Mason ripped from me!"
He released the captain from his grip, who collapsed to the ground gasping for air. Vortex spread his crimson wings and soared upwards.
At a sufficient altitiude he rotated as he hovered to stare down at the Hyrdra again. He noted cauterized gashes of the mountain-sized serpent were smaller than they were the day before. "It's regenerating again. Our military's a fragment of what it was. And I've run out of favors." He scratched his chin. "If I call Mother for help again I will have to cede land to Horus. And we become a territory of Heliopolis..." He looked over the shoulder at the battalion, formed from the surviving regiments of the Imperial Guard from the Wormwood disaster and the Hydra's escape. "...I'll have a full scale revolt."
He spun back to address the troops.
"All of you! Go to the surface and find my missing life! The survival of Erebus is at stake! BRING KOEN BACK ALIVE!!!"
Back in the swing
8 months ago