((Writing collab done some by me, and also with volunteers Aunne, Jander, November/Robin, Sielic, Vendon, Roo, Elli, and Zaanthe. Im not sure I like the ending, but it will do for now. Enjoy.))
“I know, I know,” Theo soothed. Fang whined, unhappy, as she checked the buckles on the huge bat. It was a gift, from the Master- he insisted she keep it in a note she found in the saddlebags. “But you cannot fly, my friend. And I will need that, and stealth, if I am going to pull this off.”
It wouldn’t be the most audacious plan Theodora Evergreen had ever come up with…. but it was close.
After spending some time scouting on Maldraxxus, Theo realized that her quarry had given her the slip back to Revendreth. It was clever; who would look for him in the belly of the beast? But Duurm was no seed tender. He was a warrior, a fighter, as tactically and strategically minded as she was. She shouldn’t have been surprised, she told herself. Nadana wouldn’t choose idiots as High Ferverents. He was running from her.
With some effort, and considerable skill, she tracked him down.
Dawnskeep, a semi-ruined castle fortress in the Ember Ward, was a spire of Light-scorched masonry and blasted rock. The remains of some great tree, roots dry and dead and twisted now, loomed above it precariously. It was connected to a rough outpost constructed by the exiled and the insane -the so called Sanctuary of the Mad- by a single stone bridge. Without that bridge it was a drop of several hundred feet straight down into the ashy, Light-blistered landscape below. Rumor was that Renethal had made his new home beneath the Sanctuary, a place called Sinfall. And of course, the damned Templars had set up shop in Dawnskeep like rats in an old granary.
Guarded by these allies, in the middle of the incredibly dangerous and hostile area to Venthyr, Duurm likely thought he was safe.
He was not.
Pain cleanses the soul, Nadana. I promised to bring you to the Master, to repent of your sins against me- him- us. All of Revendreth. But first, we continue our lesson. Nemalu was only the start.
She’d spent the last several days at a distance, watching from afar, making notes on patterns and movements. She watched the battlements and the guard changes and the movements of those going across that long, lone bridge between the two. It was flat, in venthyr style, with only a few dredgers for guards. To get to it you had to skirt the Sanctuary, after all, and there was little in the way of cover or concealment that route- why would there be more than that?
As far as strongholds went, the Templars had picked exactly what she would have: a highly defensible position close to allies in the middle of a zone specifically hostile to the people trying to kill them.
Theo kissed Fang on his nose and stood. “I’ll be back sometime tomorrow, if all goes well,” she said, and turned to the bat. Her old cloak was traded for a longer one here, and the hood a deep cowl that protected her face. She was careful to ensure that her gear left no exposed skin, with her usual gloves and bracers exchanged for longer ones. A scarf guarded her lower face. Most jarringly, these were not shades of brown and green and black, made for shadows and forest. Everything she wore was dyed a dappled grey that broke up her outline and made her blend in with the permanent layer of ash all over everything in the Ember Ward. And there were at least two layers of it, all over.
She spared a moment to chug a vial of anima, feeling power seep into her, sweet as any drug, pure cold water to a thirsty man. Then she mounted with an easy practiced hop. Seeker, on her shoulder, snuggled behind the scarf.
The bay exploded into the sky from a hole in the wall of the ruined building she’d made her camp in, and flew high, high, high. Theo braced herself as Revendreth passed beneath them swiftly, and the smell of hot ash and ozone and something else that made her want to flinch on a visceral level began to reach her nose.
Here, the perpetual gloom and thick, dark, comforting clouds were pierced by wrathful lances of Light. Only the worst criminals got sent here. She scowled. Fitting then that Nadana was already here.
The anger made her set her jaw. No. Patience. Quiet. Then, only then do I strike. Focus up, Theo. You have to get into position first, and that is no mean feat.
The plan was simple in concept and tricky in execution.
Duurm would have to go across the bridge at some point- he made a trip to Sanctuary once a day, or close to it. One of the maddening things about the Ember Ward was the lack of night- no darkness came to offer respite here, so it was a little hard to tell, but she was prepared to stay in place for two full days if needed (though it wouldn’t be a fun two days). When he did, she would ambush him. She’d studied typical Maldraxxi armor, the weak points and the strength of it. With anima enhancing her shots, and the utter and complete lack of cover on the long bridge, she would be able to kill him before he reached any shelter, leaving his corpse situated between the houses of her enemies.
No note needed, this time.
To avoid being seen, she would have to sneak up on foot- or, if the weather decided to help her…
…Well, it wouldn’t be pleasant, and it would cost a vial of anima at least. But as she approached she saw her weather sense had not failed her.
The storms of flaming ash and molten bits of Light that ravaged the area were excruciating, if you were lucky. If you weren’t, they were deadly. Nobody went outside when it stormed- they couldn’t, especially when so many lacked even basic protections. All her layers would guard her for a short time, and the bat would be less vulnerable than a venthyr to the effects of the Light, but…
Gritting her teeth, she urged the bat higher and faster, as something that was not lightning or thunder but rumbled anyways blew a hellish wind at them. The ash storm was a big one, black and dark grey clouds flickering golden as they built themselves up while she watched into a towering anvil shape.
Theo banked right, hard and sharp, and dove into the storm as it opened up wrath and ruin above the Ember Ward.
It was instant chaos. Winds roared and buffeted them, hot ash flew into her eyes and began to burn holes in her layers, and the bat corkscrewed with a wild shriek as a gust threatened to smash them to the ground. Theo hung on in the howling madness, squinting, and unable to see anything except fire and ash and clouds as they plunged down, down, down. The smell of burning cloth told her she was smoldering, and prickles of alarm raised goosebumps along her spine. And it went on, and on, and on-
-until the burst out of the bottom of the cloud, borne on the searingly hot winds of a downdraft. Theo yanked up to take them out of that nearly suicidal dive and fought the wind and the bat both as the flaming ash fell in sheets and whirled around them. The bat made a pained noise- something was burning through on her shoulder. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, hold on, hold on- where’s the bridge, where’s the fucking- there!
Just barely visible, more of a shadow, darker grey on grey- but it was enough. Theo turned them sharply as a lightning-but-not bolt struck the ground below them, a more narrow miss than she preferred. The burning in her shoulder was true pain now, and joined by other spots that intensified in agony.
But the storm hid them well. The chances of them being spotted were slim to none.
They flew below the shelter of the bridge, and suddenly, there was no more ash. The bat -and Theo, strapped securely to him- hung upside down in the apex of the arch below the bridge, and whimpered. She murmured encouragement to him, reaching down to pat his head, and drew two vials of anima. One and a half went to him, until she saw his burns healing, and she murmured thanks and praise to him until she felt him settle beneath her. The rest went to herself, as she efficiently stripped herself of her now ruined outer layers while the weather rained hell down on them. The burns hurt abominably, but with anima and some rest out of the storm, they should heal. Theo stuffed them in her bag and pulled out a second cloak, much like the first. It was safe to do so here; the deeply inset arch of the stone was perfect for her needs. Unless someone was directly below and happened to look up and see her lurking in the shadows, Theo was the next best thing to invisible.
Seeker chittered at her quietly.
“Not yet, old friend. I’m not sending you out there while it’s like that. We wait. Then when the weather settles-“
A boom drowned her out, as hot ash blew close to them, but not enough to touch.
“-when this passes, then you will go, and tell me when our prey is near. Then, we will strike. But for now, we wait out the storm.”
It took some time to pass, and Theo’s butt was numb from holding her position when it finally did. Seeker crawled out along her arm to take position, utterly unremarkable, just another bat in Revendreth.
The hunter in the dark below the bridge strung her great black monstrous bow… and waited.
Outside, the last embers floated lazily down from above. A warm breeze blew, stirring ash and dust with it, and the ever present Light brought forth in sharp relief again the shapes of rock and ruined castle walls.
Aunne, on lookout, looked down at the magical charm, now dead still. As she turned slowly toward the direction it pointed, frost formed around her hooves despite the burning ash. The temperature around the death knight plummeted as she looked at the bridge, by all accounts innocently sitting there as it had been before the storm, and she smiled.
“It is to being time then, yes? I shall being informing the others.”
Duurm immediately began plotting with several volunteers from the Templars. The mirror installation was completed and installed above Dawn’s Keep covered with crenelations and obscuring stone to hide and protect the weapon.
Inside, Duurm identified several avenues of ambush possible, and discussed possibilities with the small team of Templars. They eventually settled on the bridge as the most enticing possibility, coupled with the arrow and Aunne’s warning. Duurm regularly patrolled the bridge, and would continue to do so as bait for the Huntress.
Morwel had been tasked with improving the armor of the small team some days prior, though Duurm already made his armor’s modifications in Maldraxxus. She labored with the tirelessness only the dead were capable of, and produced gear with blunting layers of chain, boiled leather, and cloth to help minimize the impact of that terrible black war bow.
The plan was relatively simple. After the Huntress reveals herself, the Templars counter the ambush with their own ambush. Morwel, Nynkasi, Aunne, Zaanthe, and Aristophanes could rush the position, supported by Allalih and Petal. As the assault was brought against Evergreen, Janderius would man the laser and strike, revealing the weapon’s existence.
And now, the time to set their plan in motion had arrived. She was here.
The team crept quietly under the cover of magical illusions -Petal’s specialty- to their positions. Aunne stood at Janderius’s side as a bodyguard, in case she somehow tried to go for the mirror.
Petal tucked herself behind a spike of scorched grey stone. One of the givens in any military work was the waiting. If she were honest with herself – which she did try to be, when possible – Night’s Petal was one of those people who wasn’t very well suited for waiting as a rule. Waiting didn’t solve problems, it didn’t feel like progress, and was probably the reason she wasn’t very good at meditation despite what her Wolf thought.
Doing was much easier than waiting. Luckily, this waiting had a lot of doing.
First was the illusion magic — the one that let Morwel take her position on the far side of the bridge, ready to execute a nasty pincer surprise attack, and hid the assault team composed of three Maldraxxi, Zaanthe, Nynkasi, and the other draenei paladin, Aristophanes. They would engage but it was a trick she and Cael used often when working together and she was confident in this kind of spellwork.
Her mind wandered, and for just a minute, she wondered if Cael was well. Her girlfriend had gone to make the final preparations for her own risky ventures, namely, the idea of fistfighting her own demons in a very literal sense. She’d promised not to do anything till Petal and the Justicar were there, though, so she should be ok…
She caught herself, and with a wry sigh went back to concentrating.
Nyn tromped as quietly as she could alongside the much taller draenei Aristophanes, her Maldraxxi armor clashing with the simple, practical grey steel the paladin wore. Petal was going to hide them there, ready to spring out and strike, with her illusions. She frowned, trying to pay attention to her surroundings. Bloody serious business, and Zaanthe, gods damn him, was not helping things at all. Well. Godsdamn the silly bitch he was playing with, anyways. She huffed a bit out of habit, twisting around jagged chunks of rock and hot stone.
There was something to this. Purpose, if that’s what she’d call it. Working with Duurm had felt good, working with her friends, even better…
“Hmm,” Aristophanes said, from their concealed spot. Her voice was very, very soft, almost inaudible. “Might be a problem. Zaanthe takes up a lot of the bridge. Getting you in the fray without being stepped on or shot will be difficult.”
“…Dinnae see a problem,” the dwarf said after a moment, also very very quiet. “Ah’ll just jump behind the bitch an’ start layin’ into her with me axes into her butt.”
“Behind her? How?”
Nynkasi gestured to the cliff face above them -and the bridge- and grinned. She made a little leaping motion with her hands. The plan was excellent. That damn hunter would never see it coming.
Aristophanes blinked at her for a moment. Her tall horns made her seem even taller when she was scrunched up into hiding like this. “…No? That sounds like a bad idea. Like, you’re gonna get hurt doing that level of bad idea. It’s fine. I’ll bolster my strength with the Light like I do for my attacks and toss you.”
“WHADDYE MEAN, TOSS ME?” Nyn glared at Aristophanes, unsheathing their axes. “Cannae ya see I’m deid? I’ll snap me fuckin’ hips intae place and have at ‘er!”
“Keep it down! You’re not indestructible! Even Maldraxxi bones will snap at this distance and in that gear!” the paladin argued. Thankfully, Petal’s illusions seemed to muffle sound to some degree.
Nyn stiffened. The bits of bone and mail that made up her armor would no doubt provide a MASSIVE cushioning effect.
Nyn herself glared and took another step towards the cliff edge.
“I can make me way down….”
Maldraxxus. Her team. Her friends. And for a brief flash, the realization her stubbornness was going to get her killed. Again. She took a breath and muttered in dwarvish and stepped back. “Oh, fine. But ye cannae tell nobody.”
Duurm emerged onto the bridge in typical fashion. His wary eyes scanned the horizon for threats, and he carried his polearm at the ready as was his habit. We walked along the edge of the bridge and began his crossing, with no sign of hesitation. He was not worried for the arrows, and showed no outward display of emotion. Filled with Maldraxxi might, he stepped hoof after hoof across the bridge, daring the Huntress to launch her ambush.
Hanging on the side of the bridge, Seeker’s ears twitched at the distinctive sound of hooved feet on stone. She dropped, fluttered, and flew over to Theo, who opened her eyes. She’d been half-resting, still and silent as a shadow, but when the red eyes opened there was nothing restful about the look in them.
The prickle of awareness, of the hunt, of incipient violence seeped into her blood like a drug. Theo pulled a vial of anima out, and drank it. Then she grasped her bow and patted the bat she rode. It shifted and stretched, equally soundless.
He was precisely halfway across when they dropped from their hidden perch and then swooped upwards.
Even expected, the picture she painted was nightmarish: grey-clad, red eyed, swift and silent as death, only the creak of her bow as she drew giving her away. Riding the power of the anima, he seemed to turn in slow motion to her…
…and as she loosed, he… smiled?
The arrow slammed home. A second, a third, followed swiftly after, all three grouped at his heart. The impacts staggered the massive Maldraxxi Feverent, but he didn’t fall; and as Theo’s brow furrowed in a What the-? Her quarry drew his halberd, and spread his wings. They were ungainly to her eyes, nothing like Nadana’s more graceful batlike ones: thick and bony, almost skeletal, tightly stretched skin between them a little tattered, and they labored heavily for a moment sending ash and loose rock flying.
Then, he rose a foot. Two feet. Six. Fifteen. As homely as they might be, his wings were built for strength and bore him and his full plate armor into the air, where Theo had a good long moment to see her arrows sticking out of armor more than skin.
Prepared? Of course he’s prepared, I left a fucking note, should have known, she snarled to herself, and drew again, this time aiming for the head. Green flickered around him in a protective nimbus, causing the shot to glance off his eye socket instead of embedding itself there, leaving a long laceration along the skull in its wake.
Doesn’t matter. It’ll just be a better hunt now.
Duurm took the wound with equanimity and raised his hand. Grasping the arrow shafts, the hulking maldraxxi snapped them off, close to the skin, leaving them embedded where they were. closed the distance with shocking speed. She barely had time to fire twice more (the arrows embedded themselves in shoulder and thigh, but again the impact was muted, what was his armor made of?) before he was on her.
When the first arrowshot came, Petal dropped the illusion that hid the assault team. Zaanthe exploded forward in a burst of speed, and there was a certain grim satisfaction in seeing red eyes widen with momentary surprise before they narrowed. Her bat corkscrewed at the direction Theo’s knees; she was a good rider, it seemed, and they zigzagged wildly away and up and down, with Duurm hot on her heels. Suddenly she dropped, an attempt to lose him and send him shooting past her. He couldn’t stop his momentum in time to prevent that, but he did get his halberd with it’s great axelike blade in position to block her sword as she engaged him in reckless melee midair.
He was strong- stronger than she thought he’d be, forcing her to burn anima to power her attacks, her thin blade seeking his flesh and instead finding the steel-cored haft of his weapon. Wood slivers flew. He sliced back at her, cutting part of her hood, sending her hair whipping into the wind where it wasn’t protected by the scarf that wrapped around her face. Their exchange of blows was a series of very near misses, two incredibly skilled combatants toe to toe in an attempt to kill one another. No quarter was asked for; none was given. Her terrible offense met its match in his more defensive style, using his longer reach with his pole arm to keep her and her snakelike rapier strikes at bay.
Suddenly he twisted, stabbing out- and when she went to dodge it, he turned that into a cleave downward. It caught her leg squarely, as well as the side of the bat, and the two screamed short and sharp in near unison. It didn’t amputate her leg, but it went through the cloth and leather and cut beneath them to the bone, and deep, deep into the side of the bat. It faltered, sudden intestinal stink filling the air between them, heralding the mortal blow.
Wounded and furious, hate in her red eyes, Theo countered in a strike that blazed far brighter with red anima than anything else so far, like a red beacon. It came up from under him, two handed, and cut deeply into both his left armpit and his wing from below. His blood joined hers in raining down, and both began to lose altitude even as Duurm roared and kicked out with a hoof to crush her chest. It hit, and something snapped; she grabbed the foot as they fell down, down to the bridge below and hacked at it with her sword, but was forced to release when he whacked her on the head with the butt of his halberd and kicked away.
Both landed in crumpled heaps on the bridge below. Theo dragged herself free of the bat; it was still, now, and she felt the unstoppable rage coiling in her chest, the sheer need to make them all pay for what they had done, consuming her heart from the inside. Pain and blood made finding the next vial of anima a trial as Duurm stirred and began to rise to his feet. Theo finally got it free of her belt and popped the cork with her teeth, chugging it and tossing it aside.
Upright now, Duurm’s hands began to glow with green, and the arm she’d nearly cut off… began to heal?
Damn Maldraxxi magic, he’s not even using anima, can’t let him finish that- Her thought cut off, movement drawing her eye, as magic shimmered and faded from the side of the bridge, revealing reinforcements.
With the window of opportunity provided by Duurm finally upon him, Zaanthe felt his pulse thump heartily in his chest. The sight of Theodora gave him just a fraction of a second’s worth of pause. He thought, briefly, of the sight of her across the table from him. She was so very different now. Unfamiliar, almost.
A cold, steeled gaze fixed upon her, and the vindicator felt every fiber in his being jolt into abrupt action. His weight shifted forward, his back hoof scraped against the rugged stone beneath, grinding the edge of a recently-tended capsule, and he launched forward like a bull shown red. Or, perhaps more fittingly, like a boar ready to impale itself upon her proverbial spear. With allies at his flank and the cause of the Maldraxxi Fervent bolstering them, he was more than happy to throw the entirety of himself into this conflict.
For Theo, her divided focus on Duurm cost her. A squad of fighters charged across the bridge, forcing her to look at them as they raced ahead of the healing Duurm… and Vindicator Zaanthe was leading them.
Clad in new armor, wielding that maul as if it was a featherduster, closing distance at speed- his face was a steel-eyed paragon of determination, and the foolhardy bravery she pegged him with came out in force as he came for her. Very faintly, at the bottom of her fury, she remembered him clad in moonlight and midnight on water, eating a crostini, smiling at her. She remembered her own lips twitching in response.
But he is in my way. And I warned him what would happen when next we met.
Then he was on her.
Zaanthe always considered himself a thoughtful and attentive piece upon the battlefield when he pictured himself in a fight. He knew that he could measure an opponent, watch them, learn their preferences, their style. That watchful approach was abandoned now, in exchange for white-hot passion and brute force. He pulled no punches tonight. With two hands gripped upon the leather-wrapped haft of his maul, he threw his considerable weight to the side as momentum to start a broad swing of that jagged, crystalline head. Formerly hidden Maldraxxi archers forced her to jink left, then right, as arrows sparked off stone. She saw the hammer coming, knew she was in the wrong position to dodge, and braced herself. The rough-hewn edges sung through the air as the weapon found its mark and struck with an abrupt stop when it connected with the venthyr’s side. This was the downside of striking someone he couldn’t topple in a single hit; he’d wear his own arms down, given enough time.
Flush with anima and power, bleeding faint red wisps of it, the blow didn’t break anything immediately. It just sent her flying, blooming agony in her side, and she bounced once, skidded, rolled, and righted herself with an angry, hissing snarl. Ash swirled in her wake.
There were plenty of words that he wanted to shout at her, and a great deal more that he wanted to explain. Would that he could make her see the error of her choices, he’d make it happen. But, she threatened the lives of friends and allies, both dear and unfamiliar, and that could not stand to pass.
He never slowed, the reckless charge and his sheer mass carrying him into her guard, and the crystalline maul coming for her again. With a twist of his torso and the tightening of his shoulders, the vindicator withdrew his weapon and brought it back around with a whirl to redirect it right back where he’d struck the first time. What he lacked in speed, he substituted with an inexorable and unrelenting volley of blows that seemed to not care for the preservation of himself or his foe. But this time she had a few precious seconds as he closed the distance to switch her bow to her left hand, and with her right draw her rapier.
The sound of steel hitting crystal was almost musical, a blurringly fast series of parries that bled the same red power she did. They were close enough to shave by. She tried to cleave him open at the throat with the tip of her blade whistling through the air. He jerked back just out of reach, letting her nick a tendril but not much else, and turned his parry from before into a from below strike meant to crush her jaw and throat. He just barely scraped her cheek instead. They traded blows incredibly fast, but somehow none found true purchase on the other. Millennia of combat had made Zaanthe into a premier fighter, which stood him in good stead against her even more timeless eons of practice at murder. It was a testament to his skill that he was able to avoid her killing blows, turning the hits into a number of minor wounds and contusions, even delivering a few of his own on the functionally timeless assassin, her wounds partly healed by the anima. He gained a deep cut on the cheek, a pair of bruised ribs from where the rapier pommel slammed into him, a throbbing hand and jammed finger where she’d smashed them with her bow on the tail end of a turn- she was merciless in her assault. Every strike was meant to be a killing blow, and he returned the effort with all he had. She gained a small nick in her left ear and a knot on the temple where he whacked her with the shaft of his hammer. Neither slowed in the slightest. Perhaps it was strange, or maybe a little twisted, but he couldn’t remember the last time he felt so alive other than here, dancing with death in a pale grey cloak. Electricity thrummed between them, more potent than the lightning that flickered across the firestorm clouds, a live wire connecting them in a way that defied articulation. Zaanthe blocked a blow on his bracer by sheer necessity. He tried to stomp on her feet with his metal-shod hooves. Stone chips flew as he missed. She ducked his following swing, dropping low and fast to the ground to land on her hands and pivot her whole lower body, kicking his legs out from under him. He crashed to the ground, and she tried to leap onto his chest to finish him with a stab to his face. A hoof caught her and sent her flying back. She rolled with the impact as he stood, both of them reaching for their weapons again. The entire exchange happened in the space of seconds, and they ran forward to meet each other.
A flick of the wrist twisted his hammer to the left and she brought her body weight and anima to bear as she locked the hilt around it, immense unholy strength creating a stalemate that quivered with tension. They were nearly nose to nose.The sudden lock of her weight over the vindicator’s weapon surprised him, but there wasn’t so much as a hint of displeasure in his features. Keen eyes watched her movement for a beat longer before they locked with hers. With that soft radiance of blue from the sclera of his eyes blending almost seamlessly into the stark white of his pupils, it was sometimes tough to tell where his kind were focusing their attention from a distance. With them in such close quarters, however, it was apparent that he kept his attention pinpointed on her own eyes.
“Reckless, Vindicator Zaanthe,” she hissed with contempt. The look in her eyes was furious, feral, cunning, calculating: a twisted mirror of the woman in the red waistcoat who didn’t know how to take a compliment. “Get out of my way.”
The draenei’s jaw tightened as his lips curled just ever-so-slightly at their corner, a hint of fanged teeth behind them. “I’d be doing you a disservice to be anything but, Theodora.” He matched the bile of her tone with his own, the cadence of his words slightly off-beat, given the strain with which some words were spoken. Still, though, he managed to summon the effort to throw in a quick dig. “You looked better in red.”
It was all he could do to keep himself precisely in this position. His options seemed twofold, but the slightest move to advance or retreat would send them both spiraling into their next position to strike. The vindicator elected to do neither, in a rather uncharacteristic show of a willingness to remain still. Still, he pushed his might into the clash, forcing yet more of that potential between their strikes. The deep, ragged draw of breath through his gritted teeth was only overshadowed by the shudder of steel against crystal below.
“This is it.” The draenei barked, that strange smirk still present. Unsurprising, perhaps, given his penchant for lectures. “Your last opportunity to not be a casualty as we restore order to your home.”
“Sanctimonious, blind, meddling, proud idiot mortal to the last. You’re worse than Nadana,” Theo snapped back. He strained against her; metal creaked. Her eyes flicked to the side; in the seconds where they clashed, the rest of the Maldraxxi reinforcements were closing the distance, and the two Templars were doing something- “Bold of you to assume you can kill me.”
“Hah! Yes! Guilty to all charges!” bellowed the draenei as he neared her for just that final half-inch, eyelids opened wide and smile now as broad as it could be.
Suddenly she went limp, letting the force he brought to bear work against him. It let Theo disengage with a pivot and jerk and then leap backwards. As she withdrew all of that force at once, the force behind the vindicator’s swing was let free in a deafening crack of that crystalline head into the stone paving below. Jagged cuts of the brickwork splintered upward as his weight came to bear upon that singular spot, which sadly, had nothing upon it to take his wrath. At the arc of the leap she dissolved into red mist-
-and appeared a sixty feet up. With a midair nimble twist that looked nearly impossible as she fell back down, Theo sheathed her sword with one hand and drew an arrow with the other in a single smooth motion. Below, he took a few steadying steps forward – inertia forbade his broad frame from coming to an abrupt stop – and he snapped his gaze back to the woman.
I warned him, she thought, a strange moment of clarity and almost dispassion, or something else, in the midst of her anger. She remembered…
Theo simply dared to step forward, and touched his brocade-clad chest with one scarred, ashen finger, the barest whisper of contact over a pectoral, close enough to him to see the details of the scar that took his tendril.
….Fifty feet. She nocked the black arrow.
He was close enough to see the details of her red eyes, and the newly-healed scar in her eyebrow.
Forty feet. She drew, the string kissing her lips, feathers at the end tickling her for a moment.
”Guard this. I believe your weakest point is definitely your heart.”
As the twist continued, her body rotating as she fell like a cat, Theo locked her eyes with his- and loosed.
Time slowed for Zaanthe. He had a few options. One was defensive; the same option he’d taken in the fields of Maldraxxus. He could fling a barrier upward in haste and lessen the blow, but he knew he didn’t have the power in him to summon a shield dense enough to stop the thing completely. His other option seemed to be more preferable, and no small measure more spiteful.
In a flick of his hands, he transferred the weight of his maul into only his left hand. His right delved to a belt at his waist, and fingers brushed against the handle of the stiletto dagger he’d kept in reach. In a fluid motion, fingers curled around the handle and held it tight, and a quick snap of that same arm extended it out towards her as he let the thing loose. It cut through the air with all of the force he could muster. Aim wasn’t something he could fine-tune; he’d simply be happy if the throw found purchase.
The opportunity to dampen that incoming projectile’s effect was sacrificed in favor of retaliation, though that was truly more his style. That pointed, razor-sharp knife sung through the air and passed the incoming shot just a few inches out of his reach. All he could do was watch the sharpened head, pointed directly at his chest, sail unimpeded towards him.
Raven fletched death crossed the short gap, and the arrow slammed into his chest, dead center at the heart. The tip found an overlap between plates, a show of her marksmanship. It slipped past the outer metal, then punctured the canvas lining beneath.
He had, however, heeded her own advice.
The extra layer beyond; a brigandine of sort, was split too. A thin layer of cloth held another sheet of metal over his breast, Morwel-made and sandwiched between leather, which slowed her shot, but not entirely. The broad head dug into him, cleaved through flesh, and bored against bone before it stopped. The strike was still enough to stop him short, and an entirely involuntary yell came from an agape jaw. Pain and heat in equal measure shot up through his belly as the adrenaline in his veins began to wane. For a moment, he dared not to move. He grit his teeth, forced himself to suck in air, and felt no difficulty in doing so. The arrow stopped short of its target, and the vindicator still stood. Albeit shakily.
Theo paused as she fell the last few feet. That didn’t make sense. She hit him, he ought to at least be prone and bleeding out internally, but he was the same as Duurm, except he didn’t have maldraxxi armor, he was wearing the old stuff, how had-
Her eyes widened. Somehow…
He guarded his heart.
In that distracted split second, the thrown dagger came whistling. She saw it too late, drew on her power to fling herself aside anyways- but even as the red swirl took her, pain flared sharp and startling in her chest. When she reappeared, it was much less smooth than usual and she staggered, nearly tripping.
Sticking out of her chest was a dagger- her dagger, the one she threatened him with on a moonless dark maldraxxi night, the one she held to his throat. He’d kept it, that son of a bitch, and took his shot when she was least expecting, right as she took hers. He clearly wasn’t trained in dagger throwing but he was strong enough that when it hit her much lighter leather layers, it cut cleanly through them and sunk a good two inches into her chest. By the feel and the pain, it hit a rib instead of her heart and skittered to the side.
Not great, but not mortal, either. Her jaw clenched tight enough to creak as she ripped it out, heedless of the blood or further damage and the rip it left in her clothing.
Crimson left a brushstroke of blood down her grey attire now, growing with every second. It hurt, but not as bad as Nemalu, and like then, the pain gave a clear edge to the anger.
“Oh, I am going to enjoy killing you,” she growled through gritted teeth.
“Ye’ll have t’ get past us first, ya barmy bloodthirsty bitch!” roared a voice behind him, and Theo turned slightly as a new threat surged in front of the Vindicator.
With a Light-augmented, massive HEAVE, Aristophanes bodily threw the dwarf like a shotput ball, sending her hurtling toward the hunter with intense speed and height. The paladin grinned to herself. Not bad aim if I do say so myself, she thought, grabbing her sword and following in a charge. Looks right on the money. Let’s get acquainted with the Vindicator’s friend.
Theo blinked as maldraxxi dwarf sailed over the Vindicator, airborne, weapons raised in with a wild grin and a semi-terrified laugh at her own velocity to intercept the hunter. She was followed by another of his same kind, who glowed with a nimbus of Light that set Theo’s ears back on instinct, wielding a huge two handed sword. She bared fangs, the true kind of the venthyr, and hissed.
While all that was going on, Jander busied himself in the background with the secret weapon. The temptation to join the fray directly or start hurling insults was definitely difficult for him to ignore, but he somehow managed to keep his eyes on the prize.
Though not very well practiced with machinery or siege equipment, the mirror contraption was simple enough for the mage to operate. One hand remained on the handle while he spectated the fighting taking place down below. He allowed his arm to relax, guiding the control over the mirror’s output lens to keep the ‘crosshairs’ hovered over their enemy. His aim swiveled from back and forth, following the agile huntress’s movements and getting more comfortable with leading the sights according to her predicted positions. Once he felt enough reasonable assurance of how true his potential shot would be, he simply waited for the perfect opening to be provided by his comrades.
Allalih waited at the back as usual. Something in her prodded at her mind about being a coward but she brushed it off. It’s not cowardice if you know you’re not adept at frontline combat and would be more of a liability than an asset. She still wasn’t sure exactly why this group of … Templars? were sided with the Eredar here since, in her mind, whatever punishment any Man’ari received in this land wasn’t enough to cleanse them of the crimes to her people. Nevertheless, the Vindicator indicated some level of trust or acceptance so she’d volunteered to help. She’d always admired the Vindicators and their dedication to both the Light and the defense of her people. If Vindicator Zaanthe thought this was a battle they needed to fight, she’d follow. Her teeth ground against each other and her fists clenched as she watched the Vindicator engage with that … creature. He looked absolutely magnificent in his holy fury as he swung that glorious hammer and smote the vile creature but the damage he was taking ….
When she saw the arrow strike home, she felt all of the blood rush from her head, making her slightly dizzy. No. It took a moment for her to realize he wasn’t falling to the ground dead or bleeding to death. Regardless, a blow like that, if not immediately fatal, would end up being so if he continued to fight. And he would. He was a Vindicator.
Leaping down from her vantage point, her goat-like hooves gave her the grip she needed to spring lightly amongst the rocks and debris filling the area. As she ran, she gathered the energy within her to call to the elements and beseech them for their aid. Spirits of water, forced to hide your glory in this parched land, lend me your life-affirming gifts to replenish what the Vindicator has lost. She continued to move, more graceful leaps making her look like she was almost dancing among the scattered stones. Spirits of earth, forced to watch as your land here is shattered and scorched, lend me your strength to pass to the Vindicator to vanquish our foes. When she was within a few feet of Zaanthe she raised her hands first toward the skies, grabbing at seemingly nothing and flinging them towards the other Draenei. Water rushed from her outstretched fingers to splash down and cascade along his massive frame. In the next instant, she made almost the same motion in the opposite way, her hands grabbing at seemingly nothing from the ground and pushing it in the direction of the Vindicator. Stones lifted from the ground at his hooves to swirl around him, some remaining there to form a protective shield while others apparently merged with his body. More hovered in the air to give the airborne dwarf and the oncoming paladin cover.
They were just in time.
A rain of death snapped from Theo as she fired rapidly, almost continuous unbroken cracks of the bowstring against her bracer. The first six hit the rock protecting Zaanthe. Three shattered on impact, one cracking stone with the force of it. Two lodged in the cracks between the rock protecting him. One skidded off and went into the distance. Theo turned and aimed for the healer-
-and the lethal shot went off-course as she was forced to dodge in the middle of firing. Duurm, having retreated forty feet up into the air and apparently mostly if not fully healed with his Maldraxxi magic while Theo was otherwise occupied. Now he bore a crossbow the approximate size and shape of a small ballista, which shot bolts almost two feet long and three inches thick tipped in four inches of solid steel. Instead of taking the healer in the skull, Theo’s arrow tore through her upper arm and sailed off into the distance. The magic Allalih controlled faltered briefly as she gave a brief, startled noise of pain, though Theo was too busy dodging Duurm’s attacks to take advantage of the opening. The shaman raised a hand and more rocks rose protectively, though blood dripped from her fingers onto the grey stone bridge.
“Kill that soul-sucking bitch!” Her words in Draenic echoed across the distance between the two.
Theo’s eyes flicked from the incoming two to the healer to Duurm (who was reloading with an almost casual, infuriating patience) and back to the vindicator in the half-second she had before the dwarf finished sailing over her and landing behind. Got to do something about Duurm and her, a healer will be a problem-
Then the dwarf landed behind her in a WHOMP of dirt and struck, enraged.
“Keep yer eyes down here!”
Theo whipped around to block an axe to the thigh just in time, and Nynkasi found herself faced with the full towering wrath that the venthyr brought to bear.her twin axes sought to bite deep into flesh, but had to settle for grazing cuts. Battered as she was, Theo was formidable at best, and very fast. Her blade licked out to pierce Nynkasi’s side-
Light bloomed like solar fire as Aristophanes came in from behind swinging. It turned the strike shallow as red swirled in front of Theo to match the paladin’s magic and protect her while she jerked out of the way. The venthyr hissed as the close call singed the exposed skin now showing from the attacks before. With one hand she fended off Nynkasi’s rebuttal, a reckless overhead strike that slid off her parrying dagger, and with the other she slashed at Aristophaness, carving a deep bloody line in her thigh. The paladin pivoted on one hoof and hacked at Theo’s defenses. She raised her sword with both hands above her head, muttering a brief prayer to sheath it in holy fire. Then, bringing it down in a wide-arcing sweep just as Nynkasi caught her in the side of her already injured ribs. More blood dyed grey crimson, but Theo, incensed in pure fury, didn’t slow at all. She whirled and slashed like a demon possessed, trading numerous other smaller wounds for the chance to hack into Nynkasi’s shoulder, cut the tip off one of Artistophane’s proud horns, and hammer both with a tricky little reversal flippy move that happened blurring fast and brought her pommels smashing into them.
Aristophanes locked eyes with Nynkasi as Theo danced away, gaining distance while the both were reeling a little. “You hit her low, I’ll hit her high?” she panted, wiping blood from her eyes as the hunter drew power from pain and readied herself.
“Aye,” Nynkasi agreed, grinning.
They attacked as one. Theo had caught her second wind, and they found less purchase as they coordinated to break the venthyr’s defenses, paying in blood to do so. Above, Duurm and his insanely huge crossbow kept harrying her with deadly intent. Bolt after bolt forced Theo to move in suboptimal directions or kept her from taking advantage of an opening that could be otherwise fatal.
Finally, one caught her, ripping through her side in a “graze” that took a chunk out like a shotgun blast. Theo staggered. Nynkasi moved behind her, cursing the wounds she’d gotten so far, and Aristophanes kicked out just as she got into position.
The kick sent Theo tripping backwards over Nynkasi, who had knelt on all fours behind her, like a deadly version of a schoolyard prank, and the venthry went over the side of the bridge.
Nyn stared, heaving for breath. “…Did we get her?”
There was a moment of still tension.
“No,” Zaanthe said, disbelieving, standing up behind the wall-like pile of rocks to see better. “It wouldn’t be that easy. Right?”
“For once, Vindicator Zaanthe is right,” came a terrible growl from below, and Theo rose, bow in hand, arrow knocked, red swirling around her feet, hovering in midair.
From there, she opened fire. Her first arrow took Duurm in the wing, ripping through it to try and force him down. She was moving already as she did, circling for angles, the next directed at Allaliah and Zaanthe. The rocks protected the shaman, but Zaanthe, who had stood up out of cover, fell back with a cry as an arrow ripped through the hand holding his hammer. It clattered to the ground. Aristophanes brought the Light to shield herself and Nynkasi, blazing brightly, and so the first three arrows bounced off. The fourth, limmed in red, penetrated enough to hit the dwarf right near the collarbones. She fell back with a cry.
That’s when Petal stood to her full height, narrowed her eyes, and got nasty. Calling on weeks of practice with the Tidesage Claresta, the pandaren struggled with her magic until it clicked into place.. And a storm of ice and sleet pounded the hovering venthyr. Her position in the air wavered, the howling miniature blizzard obscuring her vision, glasslike shards of ice cutting clothing and flesh. Allaliah used the moment to throw more healing magic with a string of curses in Draenic toward the wounded. Duurm managed to land behind the line of Templars with only a little stumble.
Morwel stood in silence at the far end of the bridge, with her blade in front of her as she waited, watching. Her face showed no sign of emotion. No hate, no joy, not even a hint of intent. Then, the illusion that hid her -Petal again- faded from existence as the sudden blizzard beat on the hunter above.
That was her cue.
A particularly vicious blast of freezing air rapidly formed ice around Theo’s legs, forcing her to land. Red anima swirled around her, and it began to crack, as Morwel took a ready stance with her runeblade. The motion caught Theo’s eye. More magic battered her, obscuring her vision, but she snarled and recklessly drew on more power. A crimson semi-shield of sorts appeared, keeping the storm at bay from her for a few crucial seconds.
The warrior in front of her was one of those Elves- dusk elves or night elves or whatever. And she shared the strange, almost mawlike cold magic that the other draeni did; Theo could almost taste it, as amped up as she was on anima.
It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t even have a helmet. She will die, like the rest, and all the other enemies of Revendreth-
In the space of a heartbeat Theo let loose her shot.
The Death knight turned a transparent white and glided across the bridge with inhuman speed. The arrow passed directly through her as if she were vapor. Theo didn’t have time for much more than wide eyed realization before she was dodging the swings of that blade. Even as it missed, the air screamed around it as the force of the swings passed by in mere inches. Theo kept her head from sheer speed alone, matching the brutal strength behind the sword. A tricky whirl and pivot put her suddenly behind Morwel, and Theo drew her sword, slashing out viciously. The steel scraped off the back plates with sparks flying. This elf’s armor was different. Its construction was rounded perfectly. A straight on shot would be nearly impossible as long as either party was on the move, and her rapier didn’t have the weight to piece it. Her eyes narrowed. No wonder the damn Templars had new tricks-
Morwel continued her swings, the two in a deadly game of tag. A part of Theo kept running observations on her foe, the magic she used, the strange runes on her blade, and the cold dead expression. What was she? None of the other Templars took her blows with this kind of impunity, only constructs tended to show this little pain. How-?
Swirling red met icy blue in a jarring clash. This time, Theo wasn’t fast enough. Slowed by previous injuries and the cold, Morwel’s blade bit deep in the side of her knee. The venthyr made a strangled noise of pain and the injured leg gave from under her.
The Deathknight took her runeblade in both hands to make a final downward swing…
No! I refuse to end here!
Drawing on her rage for strength, Theo flung herself forward under the blow- and in an anima propelled leap, suddenly she was hovering a second time, thirty feet away. The black bow came up.
Morwel turned- and staggered. The sound of severed flesh and breaking bone echoed across the bridge and canyon below. Theo’s arrow slammed into Morwel’s right eye up to the fletching. A second in exactly the same spot sent the first out the back of Morwels skull, parting her hair, skull exploding outward. The elfs arms dropped to the ground, her runeblade making a heavy thud and clang. A third ripped through her throat, cold flesh spraying, but no blood.
Got you, she thought, watching the elf fall with vicious satisfaction.
Then… the corpse clenched a hand.
In the blink of an eye, Theo was slammed to the stoney floor of the bridge, a strange force grabbing and YANKING her down. It caught her totally off guard. Pain exploded all over -her face, her ribs, her injured leg, the place where Zaanthe’s dagger left its mark- and it took great effort to even roll over and try to see through the blood covering her face from the busted (again) eyebrow and the swiftly purpling second knot on her skull. Gasping for breath was agony; at least three ribs broken, maybe four, and badly. The impact capitalized on the damage Zaanthe did already. She looked over in time to see the elf raise herself up, like a grotesque puppet, heedless of the killing blows. Her face didn’t change; the icy eye had no regard for Theo at all, hardly. No emotion, no pain.
I have to get up. This is bad- Duurm mostly healed, this thing is a construct not a person- I’ve miscalculated. I have to get up and warn the Master and get out of here. I have- to get up-
With an inhuman effort of will, somehow Theo got to her feet and reached for a flask of anima, blood pooling beneath her, her grey garb splattered and streaked with it.
Morwels right hand spasmed and opened wide. From behind her, the runeblade she dropped shuddered and flung itself back into her grasp. Before Theo could even process her state, a sheet of ice slicked the stonework bridge under her and formed a wall behind. Then Morwel was in front of her, shockingly fast, wreathed in dark magic.
The first strike Theo managed to block, despite all the pain. But with one hand on the anima flask, she was too slow to block the follow up. Morwel’s attempt to cleave her in two at the hips was blunted by a swirl of red, but it sent Theo flying through the ice wall and shattering it with the sheer force. The flask went flying from her hands and tumbled down to shatter below.
Jander couldn’t help but crack a smirk at the bloodied, battered Venthyr on the bridge, prone on a sheet of ice. There would never be a better opportunity.
In a single, sharp movement, he took hold of the black cloth that had been used to veil the top of the mirror and yanked it aside, exposing the reflective surface to the unfiltered light of day. (Morwel caught the flicker of the motion from the corner of her eye, and bolted away. Theo, struggling to get to her feet, did not.) His aim remained steady throughout, using his other hand to keep the target locked within the mirror’s sights. A beam of concentrated sunlight shot across the clearing, illuminating the entire area with enough brilliance to threaten eye damage to everyone with an unobstructed view.
One moment, Theo was on the bridge, facedown, hurting, pressed against bone-bitingly cold ice, scrambling to think and get up and keep fighting. She had to keep fighting-
The next, all rational thought was obliterated by the vengeful, searing, utterly piercing beam of pure Light that hit her. Her ripped, tattered layers did not save her in the least. The agony was total, all-consuming, like being ripped apart by fire on a molecular level… and the noise that ripped itself from her throat was not human, or venthyr, or anything else, but a primal sound made by creatures whose only mercy was to be put down. It was horrifying to hear, and it went on, and on, and on, like the Light. The grey smudge barely visible in the golden beam, writhed and kept screaming and screaming, the smell of smoking flesh coming from her.
There was nothing but pain, worse than her penance, worse than anything. Perhaps those who had been at Light’s Chapel during the assault by the Lich King had seen the like before or had some idea, but for the rest, it was hard to imagine the kind of agony that would make such a sound from so fierce a creature as Lady Theodora Sabia Evergreen.
And it went on, and on, and on.
In the moment it is hard to say what saved her. The instincts of a hunter, honed over lifetimes, or maybe something more primal, like the kind of thing that prompts rabbits to run on broken legs from wolves. Or perhaps it was sheer stubbornness and refusal to die, now, like this, with her work unfinished, bested by mortals. But somehow, with the last of her strength and her anima, red suddenly pulsed and swirled under the golden beam. The Light ripped it to pieces almost instantly…
…But far away, on a cliff face some several hundred yards from the bridge, it swirled again, and a smoking humanoid figure fell out of the anima like a puppet with strings cut. There was a twitch, movement on the ground; incredibly -she ought to be dead, it would be kinder to be dead- she got up again, and started to hobble away out of sight fast enough to half trip and stumble as she did it, fleeing the Templars and the Maldraxxi both.