For the duration of the wedding’s ceremony and the feast afterward, Rameses was noticeably withdrawn as he followed in his companion’ footsteps, primarily Kaji’s. Despite the heavy scent of alcohol that clung to the genasi’s form and clogged his mind, he behaved himself, for the most part. Occasionally sipping at a glass of water or pecking at a plate laden with an underwhelming quantity of food, he found no solace in the bottom of a bottle or by sating his stunted appetite. Burdened by the evening’s revelations, Rameses could have been easily overlooked as he milled about like a phantom, but he never admitted the cause of his solemn disposition to anyone.
“Just a bit too much brandy, is all.”
Honeyed words and hollow smiles did little to counter the despair dampening his szuldar and dulling his gaze. Nevertheless, the genasi frequently reminded himself that it was his burden to bear, one that he had caused and only he could resolve. The others’ intervention would only forsake those whose lives were in jeopardy because of his past failings.
All mistakes came back to haunt their maker eventually. Rameses learned at least that much on that night.
Rameses didn’t know exactly when the gala had finally begun to unwind with guests who bid farewell and departed in increasing numbers, only that it was sometime after midnight. When their group eventually did the same and returned to the Gleeful Sage Inn, the genasi didn’t expect to have much in the way of rest; even if he was blessed with sleep free of nightmares, there would only be a few hours until dawn.
Like everyone else, he had retired to the privacy of his room except with no intention of preparing for bed. Firstly, he changed into his usual garments of mismatched leather gear and traveler’s garb, though he kept the fiery gem-encrusted gold ring on his finger. That ring, as gaudy as it was, belonged on his finger; it was a precious symbol of all Rameses had done to afford it.
Those days in the fighting ring felt so far away now, and in a similar fashion, the days ahead of him felt just as far out of reach. He felt trapped, bound in these precious few hours that were a prelude to his upcoming engagement with his bitter rival.
Rameses ushered a hushed sigh, wary of the walls’ capacity for withholding sound, and wandered over to the silvery mirror hanging over a water basin. Only a moment’s glance confirmed his suspicions; Rameses looked like he had come straight from the Hells. His normally rich, tan complexion expressed a sickly pallor that coincided with the dark circles already forming around his eyes. Not to mention, the redness of Rameses’ eyes also betrayed how much he had to drink at the celebration.
Sighing raggedly once more, the genasi splashed his face with the cool water, which helped clear his mind somewhat. He desperately needed a clear head so he could think.
His mind blank, for the time being, Rameses stared at the muted glow of his szuldar, and it rattled him how they reflected his desperate attitude. Never had he seen his once fiery markings this snuffed out, and the sight of the mystic runes ruthlessly reminded him of those like Rylee he had left behind when fleeing from Harlock’s wrath. He had a sister who shared those szuldar and friends who admired them.
Thoughts of his sister and friends was unexpectedly painful, gripping the genasi’s heart in a vice. Maybe it was because he rarely thought of them, for they were a sensitive topic even at the best of times. Rameses had a home and a family that he was unwilling to fight or die for, so he had abandoned them all. Now he, Rylee, Eirene, and gods know who else were paying for his selfish cowardice that released Harlock loose upon the world.
Turning away from the mirror, Rameses began to pace about the room with uneven breaths resonating in his chest. The pain in that beating cage fed on the growing furious regret the genasi felt for not putting a stop to Harlock long ago. He had fought the rogue and lost, so he ran like the coward he was.
“Damnit!” He barked quietly, his strained voice cracking as he tried not to disturb the silence too badly for the other guests’ sakes. His growing anger soon manifested in his seething szuldar, and he felt a powerful compulsion to break something with his trembling fists.
Rameses had people who counted on him, friends and family he was meant to protect. He had failed them all and tried to outrun his guilt. He was a coward.
The genasi didn’t believe that saving Eirene and Rylee from Harlock at dawn would mean absolution, but the alternative would only add to the already crushing weight on his shoulders.
What was left of the night had not been kind to the genasi who spent those final hours damning his many mistakes that set in motion the misfortunes responsible for the dismal circumstances he now faced. Ramses had also lamented those who have suffered from the repercussions of his mistakes, those who suffered still or whose suffering was unknown to him.
By some miracle, he had refrained from destroying his room in a fit of despairing outrage, his conscience forbidding him from disturbing his companions and the other guests of the house. Instead, he spent a fair deal of time sharpening his simple iron blades to razor edges, suspecting that he would need every advantage he could get his hands on for the meeting to come. He had gone through most of his belongings as well, deciding what he would bring with him and what he would leave behind. Perhaps most importantly, he had written a note, crisply folded with his emblazoned signature on the exterior.
Despite all the preparations he had made, Rameses still felt vulnerable, exposed to whatever schemes his nemesis had planned, but that was the point of it all, wasn’t it? Harlock had laid his trap and laid it well, having set it with exceptional bait; Rameses wasn’t about to allow his negligence continue bringing others harm. The time for that was behind the genasi, but what fate had in store for him now was unknown.
Flipping the note over between his fingers, Rameses gnawed on his cheek until he mustered the courage to leave his room, striving to be as discreet as possible as he roamed the corridor beyond. With dawn about an hour away, The Sage’s upstairs was mostly shrouded in darkness, but his eyes soon adjusted while he carefully traversed the hallway in search for one particular door. When he found it, Rameses quietly slid the note between the heavy oak and its snug frame.
He didn’t believe the recipient would stir and discover his note until he was long gone, but he didn’t linger regardless. After quietly returning to his room with haste, the genasi shouldered his cloak, strapped his scabbard and dagger sheath around his waist and made for the window. Upon opening the glassy portal, Rameses discovered the bleakness of a city yet to awaken, and he took a moment to take in the details.
The dim gray skies had already started to brighten in the east, but the sun’s homecoming was dampened by a palpable expanse of fog cloaking much of Furthinghome, and a shadowy wall of clouds swelled upon the north horizon. A cool gale whispered from the storm’s direction, making a mess of the gala’s less secure decorations, playing her delicate fingers through Rameses’ coppery hair. It was peaceful, though an uneasy peace.
“Typical,” Rameses mumbled quietly as he savored the literal calm before the storm. Even though he wouldn’t normally expect a storm from the north during these warm summer months, he didn’t doubt what could be easily seen and felt. Besides, an incoming storm was dreadfully ironic in his opinion, all things considered.
Without any farewells or final prayers, the genasi hopped out of the window and landed on the ground below with a grunt. Even though the guests’ rooms were just above the ground floor, the fall gave his knees understandable grief, but a few moments of rest helped Rameses ease into motion with the stables as his heading.
“My friend?” He called out softly upon arriving in the spacious building, unsurprised to find only slumbering horses and an absence of stablemen who apparently didn’t fancy early morning work.
Immediately reacting to the familiar and sorely missed call of his rider, a massive white camel growled menacingly and stumbled to his feet. Although Rameses’ appearance had startled Jarl awake, the woolly beast hadn’t seen his foolish rider in many days and hardly at all since their arrival to Furthinghome. Only under these circumstances did the camel deem such inconveniences worthwhile. The hay was fresh and his stall comfortable, but Jarl valued two things more than either luxury: the open road and his rider’s dutiful presence.
Smiling sadly at the old sight of his steed, Rameses felt a twinge of guilt for not fulfilling his promise by visiting Jarl every afternoon after his routine nap. His smile frail though consistent, the genasi leaned against the stall and stroked the camel’s long neck, whispering tenderly, “Jarl, my friend. It is good to see you, and I apologize for that not being often enough...”
Huffing irritably, the camel only lowered his head to allow the roaming palm more reach. In any other circumstance, Jarl would have bitten Rameses for being touchy, though today didn’t feel right in Jarl’s gut. Something felt off, and his rider’s strokes eased his paranoia. Not to mention, the stablemen quickly learned to give the camel a wide birth after one of them almost lost a finger for being a touchy stranger.
“You’re a sentimental old man,” Rameses chuckled upon discovering Jarl’s newly found regard for affection, but a firm growl reminded him of the camel’s lacking sense of humor, “Though a respectable creature nonetheless.”
Pondering what else to say as he ran his fingers through the curly fur of the camel’s alabaster mane, the genasi swallowed dryly before carefully admitting to Jarl, “My friend, I know you probably tire of these stables, but… I must see to things, and you may not see me again for a while. If I’m not back by this afternoon, then our friends will take good care of you until I return...”
Skirting the details while addressing the possibilities with omission made things only slightly less uncomfortable for him, but his wordy remarked thankfully went over the camel’s head. All Jarl understood was the hesitation in the voice, which was unlike his rider. Releasing a rather chastising grunt, the great white camel huffed foul-smelling air through his nostrils, into Rameses’ face. Despite the sickening odor that would have driven the unaccustomed to their knees, the genasi only smiled a little more.
“You disgusting creature, you good camel,” He praised his steed quietly, and a painful feeling began to tighten around his throat like a noose. Savoring a few more soothing strokes, Rameses then bid a hasty farewell, “I have to be going on, now...”
Saying goodbye to his trusty steed was surprisingly difficult by that point as Rameses’ already reddened eyes began to sting, and he quickly made his way out of the stables while Jarl’s argumentative bellows followed him, disturbing the other horses. It pained Rameses how loud his camel’s bellyaching became in the matter of moments, and he continued to hear them despite his hurried pace until the Gleeful Sage was several blocks behind him.
Rameses didn’t know what to think during his brisk journey through the empty streets of Furthinghome, during which only the occasional drifter or stray hound materialized from the fog before disappearing into that same veil moments later. This unfavorable weather, as fitting as it was to his circumstances, soon unnerved the genasi, and the tangible haze made traversing the labyrinthine city even more difficult. Thankfully, precious gray ribbons of light breached the mist now and then, and Rameses eventually made his way to the Furthingbarrow.
It wasn’t the slummiest of neighborhoods the genasi had ever seen, but the Furthingbarrow was quite obviously inhabited by the lower classes Furthinghome harbored. Portions of road were dotted with gaping potholes or laced with fissures prying the neglected cobblestones asunder, and the architecture betrayed the empty pockets of those who couldn’t afford to maintain its beauty. Oddly, there were few vagabonds to be seen; perhaps they had all scurried off in search of shelter for the coming storm.
After a great deal of careful navigating, Rameses discovered the mouth of a particular alleyway that led to his destination. He paused outside the foreboding delve and struggled to steel himself, his heart convulsing fearfully. A depraved creature awaited the genasi at the end of that fog-ridden passage, and even the thought of running as far away as he could tempted him. However, Rameses sternly reminded himself that Eirene and Rylee would pay the price for his cowardice if he did such a heinous thing as abandon them to Harlock’s whims. So, he took a deep breath and committed himself to the path ahead, braving the mist and the predator that lurked within it.
The alley was cramped, and Rameses would have touched both walls on either aside if he reached for them. Trash and rubbish of all sorts littered the old stones, which he had to occasionally kick aside to clear the way. A putrid smell of filth assaulted his nose; such was the product of what had been routinely dumped from the windows looming overhead.
Then, Rameses was suddenly overwhelmed by open air upon emerging from the alley, into some forgotten plaza, a convergence of several other claustrophobic corridors. Its cobblestone pavement had been eroded away to reveal the hard soil once trapped beneath, which made Rameses wonder just how ancient or neglected the clearing was. However, the genasi couldn’t afford to contemplate such irrelevant things once he saw the terrifying scene across the way.
Partially hidden in the dense condensation, a figure clad in fashionable black stood beside a beaten and gagged young woman restrained to a chair by glistening silver chains, their spikes digging into the Mulhorandi’s cinnamon flesh. The figure’s piercing blue gaze met Rameses’ and sent bitter chills down his spine, but the genasi only humored it for a moment before drawing his longsword and dagger, his szuldar flaring violently. Although, the metallic hiss of his modest iron was immediately answered by a symphony of similar snarls as countless weapons were drawn in the surrounding alleys, their wielders invisible in the fog. How that orchestra of metal echoed off the stone all around haunted Rameses.
“Peace, brother,” An eerily cool voice called across the plaza, followed by a delicate click. Such an odd little sound confused Rameses until he saw the dainty yet lethal gleam of a razor in Harlock’s hand as it hovered within striking distance of Eirene’s neck.
“Don’t you dare!” Rameses bellowed, pushing himself forward into a charge until a quick flash of movement startled him to a standstill; with a plump thud, a black-feathered arrow had embedded itself in the packed earth at the genasi’s feet before he had even made it halfway across the plaza.
“Do not get ahead of yourself, Rameses. We have business to discuss.”
His expression twisting into one of vile, boiling disdain, the genasi paced along an imagined line that the arrow had marked. “You know where to stick your business!” Rameses spat, his trembling voice dripping with anger, “I’m here for my friends! Your head, too, if there’s a single god in this world that believes in retribution!”
An infuriating click of Harlock’s tongue sounded across the plaza before the rogue emerged fully from the veil, the razor in his right as he dragged Eirene behind him with his left. “That temper will land you in even more trouble. You can have your friends after we are finished talking.”
When the pair came closer, Rameses fought to keep his nerve and not gag. Harlock hadn’t changed a bit in the many months since their last encounter except for a new delirious sheen in his eyes, but Eirene was barely recognizable. Dressed in the soiled shreds of her armor’s remains, the poor thing was caked in blood and muck, though the heavy layer of filth failed to conceal her many injuries. From head to toe, almost every visible bit of skin was bruised to all disgusting shades of purple or decorated with puffy, untreated wounds. Jagged lacerations left by claws, mutilating gashes delivered from fanged jaws, and grisly carvings made with blades were only the less remarkable injuries the young ranger bared. Perhaps the most sicking trauma that caught Rameses’ eye was the painfully unnatural angle at which her left leg was twisted below the knee and the blood-soaked rag bound over her right eye.
What life he found left in Eirene’s singular gaze appeared utterly broken, for that was the only word he could use to describe it. She briefly fluttered her intact eye to meet Rameses’, and his heart almost shattered at the sight; he recognized the agony and terror haunting her bloodied iris, the sight of it nearly killing him. He had caused that.
“What do you want?!” Rameses shouted at the top of his lungs to Harlock as his szuldar roared like wildfire upon his flesh, a hellish crimson glow inhabiting his pupils. He was ready to tackle that smirking animal to the ground, henchmen and marksmen be damned.
“To finish what we started,” Harlock answered nonchalantly, stepping forward in an intimidating manner that drove his quarry to instinctively took a step back. The show of dominance apparently pleased the rogue who then balefully elaborated, “I cannot say I appreciated the guards’ intervention when we last dueled so long ago, for they had given you the opportunity to run. Now, here we are with an arena of our own and not a single guard within earshot. We even have an audience.”
The thundering bellows and laughter from the concealed goons encircling the plaza assaulted Rameses from all sides until Harlock silenced them with a raised hand. Watching the genasi expectantly for a response, the madman merely stood; he was motionless like a predator poised to strike.
“You want a fight?” Rameses spat caustically, almost growling like the desperate, cornered animal he felt like. After glancing from Harlock to Eirene and back again, the genasi asked, his voice laced with caution, “What happens by the end of it?”
His inquiry inspired Harlock’s grin to broaden into an even greater expanse of unnervingly white teeth, and the rogue was eager to reply wickedly, “Either my men will butcher you if you somehow defeat me, or I will slaughter you myself. Regardless, the friend you came to save will be released as soon as our demonstration is over.”
“Why in the bloodiest Hells would I trust you?”
“It doesn’t matter if you do, Rameses.”
A contemplative expression then settled upon the genasi’s face alongside a grim silence, but his attention was diverted towards Eirene when a muffled wince managed to permeate the cloth over her mouth. The gagged Mulhorandi watched Rameses intensely as painful tears dampened her cheeks, moistening the dried blood upon them and stinging the cuts beneath.
“I came here for Eirene and Rylee, too.” Rameses quickly snapped as well, glancing around the plaza for his once dearest friend. Although, a harrowing chuckle shook his already wavering confidence.
“My pet stays with me. Once you are dead, she might finally behave herself.” Harlock taunted his opponent, glancing upward to his left-hand side, and Rameses followed the rogue’s line of sight. Through the heavy veil, he saw the silhouette of a bell tower, though he could barely make it out before another black-fathered arrow tore through the air, whistling far too close to his head for comfort.
It was the second warning shot he had received.
Then it struck Rameses, a revelation of who was compelled to observe them from that tower. She was an archer he knew all too well, one whose accuracy was undeniable unless it was her intention to miss. Even then, such warning shots like the two sprouting from the earth around Rameses were exceedingly terrifying.
Just like Eirene, Rylee had no choice but to watch this agonizing spectacle. Knowing that his formerly affectionate other would be forced against her will to witness his death struck a particular chord within Rameses, a delicate string riddled with cobwebs. It snapped.
A feral cry burst from Rameses’ lungs as he surged toward, baring his blades with the intention of flaying Harlock Dorne to unrecognizable pieces. However, the patient rogue drew his scimitar with inhuman agility and parried the incoming thrust of the genasi’s longsword, and Harlock immediately retaliated with the razor in his off-hand. Agony flared over Rameses’ forearm following that flash of an attack, the pain radiating from the red fissure beneath his sliced leather bracer.
Rameses believed that the tide of battle usually favored whoever drew first blood, and anticipating Harlock’s lightning moves proved to be damn near impossible. Parrying and counterattacking when he could, the demoralized genasi retreated several steps until three arrows struck the earth behind him in quick succession, corralling him with the threat of more steel that had yet to take flight.
Retreating is for cowards who have lost.
Another savage call spilled from Rameses’ lips as he pressed forward again, deflecting Harlock’s scimitar with his iron blade before lashing for the rogue’s midsection using his dagger. All but shocked that the move had penetrated his opponent’s defense, Rameses dared to smirk before slashing for the man’s off-hand to rob him of the deadly quick razor. A color ribbon of red flew upon the successful strike, followed by the clatter of a dropped razor and the snarling hiss of an angry rogue.
Arrogance was a deadly poison, but damn if Rameses didn’t indulge in it as he pushed forward, ever forward. Rarely did he deliver an attack that drew blood without receiving one in return, though the swelling confidence in his chest roared like a fiendish inferno, chasing away the dark terror haunting his heart. With every swift exchange of strokes that painted both combatants with streaks of red, Harlock also quickly lost his steely composure, his maneuvers becoming less elegant and more brutal as his rival held his ground and even advanced.
The duo continued their passionate danse macabre until they both wore perhaps half a dozen crimson badges each, and the dangerous rush of adrenaline compelled their challenged endurance to maintain the speed at which they engaged one another. Unlike Rameses, however, Harlock was a cunning manipulator less experienced with the demands of a true exchange lasting more than an attack or two followed by a coup de grace; the rogue only fought when he knew there would be no struggle, instead only an effortless display. Rameses was proving that he refused to give another inch without making his hated nemesis pay dearly for it.
A particularly wild, painful shriek escaped Harlock when Rameses finally closed the distance between them, pinning the rogue’s blade before carving a hideous mark of red across his chest with one fell motion. As the rogue’s black attire dampened from the ichor pouring from his most recent wound, it was his turn to lash out in a panicked frenzy. Shoving Rameses back with unnatural strength, Harlock snarled and stepped away, his form dissolving into a blur of roiling shadows, an ethereal dark mass that convulsed and writhed.
Unsure of what he was witnessing, Rameses thought Harlock might have been dying or even using some kind of magic to escape their fight, but he was wrong. No, Harlock was as hellbent as ever to win this battle by any means necessary, so he resorted to his true form for its primordial merits. Within a mere moment, Rameses’ resolution quivered when a serpentine monstrosity began to materialize from the darkness, a horrific creature clad in silver and black scales. More snake than man, the yuan-ti abomination revealed himself to his greatest adversary, his gaze a pair of pale blue orbs gleaming through the storming shadows with hate and madness.
Rameses didn’t know how to approach or even defend himself against this creature as it continued to manifest from the shadows, but he recklessly charged forward with his crimson-stained longsword extended, blistering his monstrous opponent with another war cry. When the genasi’s blade of humble iron pierced the shadows concealing Harlock’s still-changing form, Rameses shuddered as he felt his weapon lance through scale, flesh and bone. A shrill scream tore from the impaled abomination as Rameses continued to push forward, ever forward, sinking his longsword into his nemesis until his crossguard met Harlock’s abdomen.
Entering his dying throes, Harlock lost grip of his scimitar and simply tore at Rameses with his claws, delivering painful though futile wounds to his victorious rival. Rameses himself couldn’t describe the satisfaction of victory until it was suddenly torn from his grasp, and the genasi cried in pain when the serpent bit into his shoulder and refused to let go, the monster’s needle-like fangs tearing into his flesh. In agony and terror, Rameses continued to scream as he stabbed at Harlock repeatedly with his dagger to drive the creature back, but the yuan-ti was determined to die with his jaws locked around his opponent.
During their desperate struggle, Rameses felt his shoulder grow numb from the serpentine creature’s bite, the result of Harlock’s malicious venom polluting Rameses’ veins, and the feeling of oblivion crawling across his flesh frightened the genasi unlike all other things. In that fit of sheer terror and fury, something ignited withing the fire genasi’s ancient blood, blood that owed its heritage to beings of fire and brimstone. Everything around Rameses then froze momentarily, reality itself pausing to take a breath before the air around them burst into flames by the old magic of efreeti coursing through his veins.
It was an explosive inferno, a massive sphere of conjured flames that engulfed Rameses and Harlock both. Fire roared in their ears like a crazed beast, and it empowered the fire genasi while blistering the yuan-ti, banishing his shadows and setting fire to every scale. Harlock’s agonized shrieks were barely heard over the bellowing of the blaze, and the serpent released his prey to squirm and writhe upon the blackening earth. The sense of victory returned to Rameses tenfold as the power of his ancestors raged all around him, a pure firestorm fueled by ancient arcana. With the roiling sphere of livid flames blending seamlessly with his raging szuldar, the fire genasi kneeled, pressing his knee down upon the dying yuan-ti and screamed madly, plunging his dagger into the creature’s heart.
The fire continued to rage once Rameses stood victoriously over the slain abomination, Harlock Dorne, the surrounding flames reflected dimly in the serpent’s icy blue eyes. Then a sickening crunch pierced Rameses’ ears and was followed a moment later by a breath-stealing, silent agony. His inferno immediately vanished as the sound resonated in the genasi’s head, and he looked down to see a bloodied arrowhead sprouting from his chest. That paralyzing pain was surreal, robbing Rameses of his senses before he collapsed to the scorched earth alongside Harlock’s corpse.
He tried desperately to draw breath, but the air was trapped in his chest as warmth began to pour from his throat, leaving his body through his nose and mouth. Rameses’ gagged and coughed, agonized by every movement in his impaled ribcage. He couldn’t breath, and the taste of his blood was overbearing.
Rameses glanced up to the distant gray sky, and he heard muted thunder. He couldn’t breathe.
Something different inhabited his heart, then. It wasn’t panic, fear, anger or pain, as this feeling chased all others away. It was a weakening stillness. He couldn’t breathe.
Watching the storm clouds dance overhead vexed Rameses, and his szuldar darkened until they appeared as charcoal black marks etched across his paling skin. He still couldn’t breathe.
Then he ceased trying to draw breath.
Eirene felt shattered in a way that made her bodily pain seem like nothing by comparison. Her friend had answered the madman’s call and came alone to save her, and he had died for it. Eirene’s friend was dead, and she saw Harlock’s many henchmen begin to emerge the fog, wearing expressions of utter disbelief.
For once, she felt her curse boil her blood and roar for death, and she embraced it. She no longer feared death, for she had already endured her own hell on earth. Eirene no longer cared what the beast would do after she set it free.
The transformation captivated her broken body with renewed vigor, and she cried in mournful fury through her gag as the silver chains dug into her changing form. She glared menacingly at the dumbfounded goons and criminals, and she imagined their bones crunching in her teeth. The young Mulhorandi craved their flesh and blood in a way that would have terrified her before today. She wanted to kill them all.
In only a few moments, the Mulhorandi disappeared as the vengeful werecrocodile took her place, bound by silver that struggled to restrain her. A furious roar spilled from reptilian jaws as the silver seared her flesh, but the pain didn’t quench her bloodlust. Once the first chain snapped, the others followed in quick succession until she was free, and many of the leaderless goons looked upon her in delicious terror.
Bellowing madly, the werecrocodile charged towards the nearest cluster of prey who were foolish enough to draw their blades instead of fleeing. Within seconds, flesh was torn asunder as blood painted the earth, and the lycanthrope indulged in the goons’ dying cries. Many struck her hide with iron or steel, but such petty wounds were painless to the raging werecrocodile even if they drew blood and sapped her stamina.
Two, five, six, seven, eleven, thirteen. Limbs were ripped from their owners, bodies were mutilated and crushed by powerful jaws, corpses by the dozen soon littered the plaza. Despite the euphoric bloodbath, the pain of mourning refused to leave the werecrocodile’s heart as she continued to slaughter her panicked quarry.
For every victim who died from Eirene’s bloody wrath, she encountered a fresh corpse skewered with a black-feathered arrow. While the lycanthrope thought nothing of it, the archer who turned on her own, now free of her slain master’s magic, also unleashed her distraught pain upon the gathered criminals.
The massacre almost became bothersome as it proved ineffective at dulling the barbed pain the in werecrocodile’s chest, and her rage began to wane as most of the assembled gang now lied dead in the arena now flooded with red. Her strength also began to wane, for the wounds she had carried before his fight were bleeding her endurance. With her good eye, she threw her attention across the stragglers who stumbled over the bodies of the fallen clogging the alleyways, and a sudden explosion alarmed her senses.
Glancing skyward, Eirene saw the bell tower in flames, staining the gray skies above with a stroke of black smoke. The explosion confused the exhausted lycanthrope until a bolt of electricity struck her, knocking the creature to her side. A shrill cry of pain escaped the werecrocodile before she furiously glared at the one responsible for the spell, a trembling mage standing at the mouth of an alley. She would have one more kill.
Another monstrous bellow ushered from the werecrocodile’s lungs as she charged forward, jaws wide and claws outstretched. Suddenly reeking of dampened trousers, the mage held his ground and cast another arc of lightning that struck the predator surging towards him. The agonizing magic tore through the lycanthrope, but she ceased to pull away and only bellowed even more until she was upon the pathetic little mage. Bits of him were scattered with the rest of the bodies.
Swaying from overwhelming pain and crippling exhaustion, Eirene set her gaze down the alley and the city that lied beyond, but she felt too weak to face whatever might have been waiting for her. Turning around, the werecrocodile, dropped onto all fours and drudged through the bloody mess filling the arena until she found her genasi, the odd one who reeked of smoke. How still he was pained the lycanthrope worse than any devastating wound.
Death had taken him, and his skin lacked the fire that he wore proudly. After hovering her sensitive snout over his body for several minutes, the werecrocodile reared her head back and offered a sorrowful moan, a bereaved roar of a ruthless creature brought low by death’s merciless ways. Her calls continued to roll across the Furthingbarrow like thunder and reached the city districts beyond until the werecrocodile was hoarse, but she continued to mourn until a true thunderstorm outmatched her booming loudness.
Her song brought even the sky to tears as rain showered down upon the world, but even the purest of water failed to wash away the reeking stench of death in the arena.
Soon, Eirene’s body demanded rest, but the werecrocodile felt she wouldn’t awaken if she slipped into that murky bliss. Nevertheless, she ached for nothing more than relief from the pain of both body and spirit, so she rested on her side beside the fallen genasi and closed her good eye.
The lycanthrope’s powerful heartbeat was the only sound that resonated from the plaza littered with dozens of corpses, and even that mighty sound eventually slipped into silence, overcome by all the pain that had drained that heart of strength.