((Just some warning of language and lightly implied gore and body horror. nothing too bad tho.))
Death didn’t have a smell. Death had many smells, coiling and twining in an odious miasma that weighed thick on the tongue as much as it lingered within the walls of the nose. It was the smell of singed hair, fur, flesh. It was the lingering scent of leaking, burning fuel, sharp and potent as it burned and burned and burned. It was the stench of boiling iron seeping into the already rain soaked earth.
The mud squishing between his claws was made from blood.
Marek trudged onward, in relative silence. His footsteps were wet and squelching, the sounds echoed by the raptor that plodded solemnly behind him. Her head was hung. The smells unnerved her too, along with the weight of corpses on her back. Every so often he’d reach back to caress her nose gently. Truthfully, he wasn’t entirely sure if the reassurance the gesture offered was more for him or the beast herself.
Kynkra continued his grumbled musings. The former Flame could talk more than enough for the both of them, and Marek felt no need to contribute aside from a few curt grunts to feign he was still listening. It had become little more than white noise to him at this point, like the insects and their swarms that had settled in the bloodshed’s wake.
Gather the dead. Give them a proper burial.
But the dead were so numerous, and there was only so much time in a day to honor them, much less space to bury them.
He had no prior interest in what the Flame Legion might have considered a proper send off for their fallen, though now, as he stooped to gather another body, Marek found the notion of burning them all would afford each of these worthy soldiers more honor than any mass grave. Better for their ashes to become the earth than for their bodies to do nothing but rot atop each other, prey for Jormag’s icy claws. The Mists could still sing their names, or whatever it was the Norn believed. Maybe he should start believing it too.
This wasn’t the only reason why he was here. A noble excuse was still an excuse, and his true intentions for accompanying Kynkra to the bridge were admittedly far more selfish. But he had to find some clue, some hint, something, anything! to suggest Syril– Diran– were still alive.
Keeping his stoicism was a well practiced skill, one drilled through a lifetime of battle and command. Though his stomach lurches with every human-like body he approaches, he keeps his collected facade. Again and again he stares into their faces, outwardly unbothered. Wave after wave of dread,then relief, dread then relief. They’re not Diran. They’re not Syril.
There had been little word from Diran or his charge, Roderik in weeks. He hadn’t expected the span of a mere couple days between their arrival on the coast would have such a drastic impact, however it was before anyone had managed to realize the full scope. There was never a doubt in Marek’s mind that Diran wouldn’t be able to take care of himself. In fact, he knew better. He’d raised a capable and resilient warrior from the time the human boy could walk, with as much brain and wits as he had brawn and might. Though faced with the carnage before him, and his own impending mortality, Marek would question just how well he’d taught him, and if everything he’d learned from him, and without him, would be enough to carry his son through this. His… son. Yes. One of his sons. A human term he’d come to understand for more deeply than he’d care to admit.
He didn’t expect anyone of the Vanguard to understand the tumultuous complexities of his and Syril’s relationship. Especially since his reunion with the Sylvari had been superficial, and antagonistic at best given the circumstances around them, and the guild’s rivalry with the Obsidian Star. Marek had always meant to address and sort the feelings that had been festering since their altercation in Elona; the bitterness, the betrayal, the pain. All of these weighed heavy in his gut but never managed to drown out the feeling of love he held for the mesmer, a feelings he knew were reciprocated in Syril’s own, coded way. He could see it even behind the mask he wore, and lining the rigidity of his stance every time Marek came around. He had meant to, always meant to, when they could afford the privacy to bare their souls again. The chance just had yet to come.
Syril was the only thing he had left, even when he had nothing else. Syril chose to stay, even when he had nothing left. And the solace he had in their separation was the notion the Sylvari was still alive.
Now, he didn’t even have that.
Callously he stepped over a dead Dominion trooper in favor of the body laying next to it. He turned it over, that dread sinking painfully once more. It wasn’t either of them, but the relief didn’t come. He knew her, even with glassed eyes and a post-mortem slackened jaw. It had been years since he had last seen, much less spoken to Caesia Embersinger. Then she had been very much alive, boasting the latest of her blade’s conquest in Maguuma, daring an entirely different dragon to strike her where she stood. Young, and a lot of talk, then. But she had a potential that shone as brilliant as her golden fur. She might have made a fine addition to the Forged Warband one day, had —
To say Marek’s thoughts had drifted would have been too kind of a metaphor. Instead, he found them plunging headlong into an unstoppable spiral where the fog of Drizzlewood was sucked into the heavy, suffocating heat of Maguuma. Caesia’s weight in his arms increased. Her lifeless eyes bore into the very fiber of his being. Vines twisting, ripping, snapping. Bones, armor, teeth. Screams. A whisper, rising in intensity until it choked out all other sound; your fault, your fault, you did this, your fault, your fault, no better than them, no better, your fault….
You fed me, too.
Silence. Marek severed the tie to the memories so quickly the recoil caused his senses several seconds to catch back up. He breathes. Kynkra curses something, several meters away. The insects resume their drone. Marek closes Cresia’s eyes gently with a thumb, careful to avoid his claws. He lifts her jaw shut. Now she’s resting peacefully, or at least, that’s the illusion of it. With a long exhale, he sets her body ontop of the pile.
Empyrean gives a soft whine in response. Again, he caresses the raptor’s nose, and agrees, perhaps that’s enough for now. Better return to Kynkra and let them burn until there’s nothing left, as the Flame had described. He gathers Empyrean’s reins.
Something in the water caught his eye. Something beneath a mangled Dominion corpse, under a tattered banner of the Obsidian Star, gossamer and glittering in the stream. He feels his blood turn cold for the first time in ages, and it freezes him in place for a moment that seemed to drag on excruciatingly long, even as he demands his legs to move.
The raptor’s resigns fall from his hands, and Marek is careens down the embankment with a speed uncanny for a charr of his size. The Dominion soldier’s body is heaved to the side without care, and it splashes loudly as it rolls downstream. The whole while he finds himself pleading with whatever gods remained that it wasn’t Syril as much as he pleaded that it was. But if it was please let him be alive–
There was nothing but the remains of the mesmer’s cloak, soiled with blood and mud, and gods knew what else. The clasps were torn and frayed, as if it had been ripped from the Sylvari’s body, though he hadn’t been left behind. The lingering remnants of illusory magic fluttered upward as marek gathered the filthy fabric. It oozes between his fingers, and he grips it so tight his claws tear through it and into the meat of his own palm. His teeth grind like blades clashing against each other. And he swallows. But it doesn’t take down the swelling rage.
It leaves him in a feral growl and the frenzied pound of his fists against the earth. Marek falls to his knees in the water, pummeling the earth again, and again, and again. Why couldn’t he have an answer? A hard, concrete answer? Why was it now that he was doing better, trying to be better, be the warrior he once was, that he was stripped of everything that ever mattered? Had he not paid his recompense? Had he, had they not suffered enough?
Damn the fucking dragons.
Damn the fucking Domnion.
Damn the fucking Imperator.
From Marek’s lungs erupts a roar, loud, bestial and anguished. It harmonizes with the rising sound of the Dominion sirens raging in the distance. It’s a chilling and mournful chorus that echoes through the trees, and through the bones of every living thing in the vicinity. Once it’s spent, he quiets with a slump of his shoulders. The sirens do not. He feels his knuckles bleeding inside their gauntlets. His chest heaves with every breath. Everything else is still.
As Marek climbs the embankment, cloak in hand, it begins to rain again.