Chapter list: http://tanadin.dreamwidth.org/382.html
Map of the continent: http://tanadin.deviantart.com/art/F
Character status spreadsheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet
Kingdom of Kalt’on, Minecraftia. November 18, year 573. Time instance 483Z.
“Forest in sight!” Mokdal called as he circled down over the group, winds buffeting those below momentarily before he passed overhead. His announcement was met by cheers, most of all from Iirkolav. They were all sick and tired of the sand (except, of course, for Arra) and Iirkolav especially wasn’t a huge fan of the desert.
“I’m surprised that none of the Hostiles have come after us.” Claire admitted. “They’re kinda assholes like that.”
“Axid says don’t say that, you’ll jinx us.” Onai told her. He sounded sad, but before Nia could really dwell on that, Vian tripped over his own feet and fell, knocking both of them to the ground. Nia yelped and before she could even register what had happened he was apologizing, over and over.
“Guess you really fell for each other.” Zekara quipped, making the group laugh. Nia, red-faced, shoved Vian off of her and got to her feet. Vian looked even more embarrassed than she did.
Nessy had landed and was bouncing excitedly at the idea of trees. She almost knocked over a few people and the end of her tail almost took Marcus’ arm off, making him snarl in annoyance. He turned to Nia. “Can’t you control that lizard of yours?”
“She’s not a lizard and she’s not mine.” Nia growled.
“Well, fucking make her stop! She’s a nuisance!”
“I’m right here, you know!” Nessy snapped, spreading her wings and taking to the air, flying off in a random direction, radiating annoyance.
“I’ll get her.” Mokdal called, sighing, and took off after her.
Iirkolav sighed quietly. “Teenagers.” He mumbled, before turning to Marcus. “Don’t be a dick.” With that, he continued to lead the way into the treeline.
They had barely reached the forest when suddenly something large, scaly, and angry charged out of the foliage, taking a wild swipe at Blade. He yelped in surprise but managed to dodge the swing of the creature’s claws, drawing his sword before the others even had time to react.
As Nia pulled out her bow, she inspected the creature and shivered at what she saw. It looked vaguely like a bipedal dragon, scaly and eight feet tall. It had two bright yellow eyes and a mouth full of huge teeth. Each of its hands had two long claws, as did its feet. Two wings extended, half folded, from the creature’s back, the end of each bone tipped with a pointed spike. The creature had a long tail with what looked like a spiked macehead at the end. Its spine was adorned with spikes running all the way down and two horns grew from its head.
The creature was clearly very strong, as it knocked both Arra and Axid aside with a lazy kick. An arrow from Kaen no Mai barely pierced its scales and it roared in fury, whipping around to lock its eyes on Nia. She froze as their eyes met, muscles locking up completely in terror.
“Watch it!” Vian yelled, snapping her out of it as his gloves formed on his hands and he punched the creature in the side. It swung at him and tore his shoulder open, throwing him a short distance. The creature felt the bite of Blade’s sword and turned to deal with the Skullblade, its tail whipping around and hitting Nia hard in the side.
Fortunately, it was the tail itself that hit her and not the macehead on the end of it. Nia was sent flying a short ways and she did her best to roll as she hit. She gasped with pain as she heard something crack and shivered, trying to overcome the pain enough to stand but not succeeding.
“Nia!” Vian was at her side in seconds, ignoring the wound in his shoulder. “Nia, are you okay? Oh please please please don’t be dead please don’t…”
A justifiable fear.
“I’m alive.” Nia mumbled, crying out when Vian gently touched her side.
“Nia, I need you to sit up for me.” Mitven’s voice. “I need to see if you’ve broken anything.”
Nia painfully sat up, ignoring the sounds of her friends battling the monster. She whimpered as she moved and almost sobbed when Mitven gently touched where Vian had.
“Broken rib, probably just a little cracked. I don’t think it’s too bad.” Mitven pulled a healing potion out of her bag and handed it to Nia. “Split that with Vian and you’ll be back in fighting shape.”
Nia didn’t argue, downing half the potion and tossing the remainder to Vian. “What is that thing?” She demanded as she got to her feet.
“I have a couple of ideas but we’ll have to theorize after. Keep shooting!”
Meanwhile, Onai was having a crisis.
The moment that the monster had showed up, the shadows had whispered one thing to him:
He wasn’t going to accept that. He couldn’t accept that. How could he ever?
As the monster charged at Axid, a cold determination formed in Onai’s heart.
Don’t, the shadows whispered. Interfering will make it worse.
Either way, I’m the monster here. Onai thought grimly. And I’m still human, and humans...are...selfish!
The shadows screamed at him and he knew what would happen.
As he saw the claws descend upon Axid, he shut his eyes…
A tendril of darkness swung out and slammed into the monster’s chest, making it stumble and giving Axid time to scramble away. As its tail swung to help it regain its balance, another member of their group took a wrong step and walked directly into its path.
The spiked macehead of the monster’s tail hit Claire in the chest and neck, puncturing into her windpipe and heart before she was thrown backwards into a tree. Blood as crimson as her eyes poured from her wounds, marring the uniform whiteness of her skin and hair.
“CLAIRE!” Zekara screamed. “CLAIRE, NO!” She rushed to her sister’s side and knelt to try to see any kind of breathing, any kind of light in the young albino’s eyes, but they had both fled along with Claire’s life.
The descendant of Pyro had fallen.
Zekara roared, her voice torn between pure, blind fury and the grief of someone who has lost the only family they had left.
Onai didn’t open his eyes. He fell to his knees and curled up into a ball, shaking both from the fury of the shadows and the agony of Zekara.
Zekara got back to her feet, green eyes blazing with rage. Completely disregarding any risk to herself, she charged, driving her blade into the monster’s leg. It roared and started to turn to her when another sword, this one Blade’s, jabbed into its other leg. One of its clawed hands reached down to tear Zekara’s head off but Arra was faster. Her dual blades locked together and blocked the swing, Arra trembling from the force the creature was using to push down on her.
“NO!” Zekara was stabbing the creature over and over. “IT KILLED CLAIRE! IT FUCKING KILLED CLAIRE!”
The thing growled and kicked them both aside, knocking them down. It stormed closer and bellowed in fury, opening its jaws to-
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FUCKER!”
A flaming arrow shot directly into the creature’s mouth, puncturing through the weaker skin and directly up into its skull. The magical force behind the arrow made the creature’s head snap back, an audible crack marking the breaking of its neck. It fell to its left, a sad whimper of pain coming from its throat before its eyes shut.
Zekara got back to her feet, screamed in rage again, and started kicking at the corpse, even stabbing it occasionally for good measure.
“It’s dead.” Blade told her. “You can stop.”
She turned to him, eyes wild. “I can never stop.” She snarled. “That thing took my sister from me.”
She jerked as Arra put a hand on her shoulder. “Breathe.”
“I WON’T CALM DOWN AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!”
“I just want you to breathe.”
“Zekara, please. Just...breathe.”
Zekara sniffed. “Claire…”
Onai pretended not to hear her sobs.
This is my fault. I got Claire killed.
Axid is alive, though, right…? At least there’s that...
I’m selfish. I’m so, so selfish….
I’m so sorry, Zekara.
Onai refused to uncurl even when Axid knelt by his side and tapped his shoulder to try and get his attention to sign to him. He covered his ears as he listened to Arra and Iirkolav attempt to calm and console Zekara as she fell to her knees beside her sister’s corpse and broke into pieces.
What have I done?
It was a solid three hours before the group was in any shape to set out once more. They had treated wounds and buried Claire, the returning dragons assisting in carving a gravestone. Mokdal had been furious when he learned what had happened in his absence, and Nessy had fallen silent, clearly blaming herself. She had returned to her human form and was walking towards the back of the group, head down and silent.
She reminded Onai of himself.
He walked behind even Arra and Zekara, hands in his pockets and eyes mostly shut as he watched the sand he walked over. Axid walked beside him but he wouldn’t look directly at her. He knew he should be happy that she was alive, and he was, but…
Had it really been his call? Was it really his responsibility to decide who lived and who died? Since when did he hold the authority to decide that?
A dilemma of all those morally vigilant who hold power over the outcome of things.
He shivered when his eyes lifted momentarily and passed over Zekara. She was walking silently as well, eyes straight ahead and back stiff. Claire’s dragonscale cloak was draped over her shoulders, the blood washed from it courtesy of Katrin. Zekara, while shattered over this, was practical and knew that leaving the cloak behind would be foolish. Besides, she knew that Claire would have wanted her to keep it.
That didn’t keep her tears in, though.
Onai looked away from her, trying to focus on something else, anything else.
Kaltaerion, the shadows suggested. He’s here.
I’m fucking aware.
That wasn’t the best line of thought, either.
Arkas’ orb shivered as the creature’s claws descended upon Axid and he shut his eyes to avoid seeing the inevitable, but to his surprise, his orb remained fine while Pyro shrieked in surprise. His eyes opened and he saw Axid scrambling away and as he looked over at Pyro, he realized that someone else had been hit by the creature, somehow.
He mentally kicked himself for shutting his eyes.
Millbee patted Pyro’s arm reassuringly as he stared numbly at the bronze sand on the floor. Claire’s death had been sudden, unexpected, and a rough blow for the Mindcracker.
Vechs sighed and looked over at Blame. “That’s ten, isn’t it? The third you predicted.”
Blame nodded grimly. “And if the current death rates are anything to go by, there will be more.”
“How could you say that?” Aureylian demanded. “How can you be so sure that more of them will die?”
“They haven’t even met back up for the final battle yet! Do you really expect that final battle- with five Hostiles, remember- to go just fine?” Blame shot back. “At least two more will die, I guaren-fucking-tee it.”
Every Mindcracker with a remaining descendant glanced nervously at their orb.
Will it be mine? Each one wondered. Who will live and who will die?
Sunspire, Minecraftia. November 10, year 573. Time instance 483Z.
Velana was still pissed.
Tracking the potion had led her to Sunspire, and when she had insisted that she meant no harm to the Sunspines and only wanted to find her niece and nephew- and informed them that she was a friend of the Ashenhorns, passphrase and all- they had taken her prisoner! They refused to explain why and while Velana was sure she would be able to escape if she put enough effort into it, she figured it was best to just go along with them.
Skullblades tend to get pissy when you don’t do what they want.
Eventually, one of the Sunspines returned to her with an Ashenhorn in tow. Her eyes widened as she recognized the man, both by his red eyes and the chipped horn on his mask.
“Wrath? What are you doing here?”
“I live here.” He told her, crossing his arms. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m looking for Adrian and Nia- my niece and nephew. They’re tr-”
“Oh, them? Yeah, I know where they went.”
Before Wrath could answer, one of the Sunspines interrupted. “Don’t you want to verify that she’s who she says she is?”
“Did she give you the passphrase?”
“Then I don’t need to hear it.”
He waved him off. “Shut it. I know her and no one would dare impersonate her for fear of her wrath. Anyway, you wanted to know where Nia and Adrian went?”
“Both of them?”
“Ah.” Wrath crossed his arms and pointed in either direction, saying, “They went that way.”
Velana’s eyes narrowed. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Adrian went north to the ruins of Dalania to foil some plans that the Hostiles have with Kaepravah. Nia went south into Kalt’on to stage an attack on Dae’vos and the Hostiles there.”
“They SPLIT UP?”
“Yep. But I think I recall Shred mentioning that they’re coming back to somewhere around here after they complete their various missions. I have no idea where, but there’s something interesting about their group that might help. They have a skettisren with them, and from what I overheard, she’s well-connected with the others. You might be able to find the entrance to some tunnels around here- don’t tell any other Skullblades where it is, mind you, a few young ones might take it in their minds to go down there and pick a fight- and ask around to see if you can figure out where they’re meeting up again. If I know anything about skettisren, it’s that they’re all pretty well-informed about what’s going on, and something like this would be the talk of the tunnels.”
Velana grinned slightly to herself. “I do happen to know the location of an entrance, as a matter of fact. Thank you, Wrath. I appreciate the help.”
“No problem. Hey, if you see Ragebent Blade out there, tell him to calm his tits. I didn’t say it to his face as I didn’t want to embarrass him by making Fate laugh at him, but he does need to cool it.”