Maguuma jungle proper breaks into the horizon by midday, and the raptor speeds towards the dense treeline as fast as Jesse will allow her. They’re getting close, he knows it, the tension is palpable enough that the urgency at which Cirice moves is well informed. An hour later the black bones of the airships that once set the jungle aflame dominate the skyline.
The captain watches, uneasy. Soha isn’t faring much better. The jungle still teems with corrupted and hungry life, the remnants of a corpse that rots somewhere beneath them. They venture further in with trepidation, erring on caution as the underbrush seems to part for them. Part of him wants it to be an omen, that they’ll find their prey, that this mission will put an ease to him that hasn’t existed in many years.
Cirice is the first one to notice something, she stops and stands just a little taller, lifting both of them up just a little. Movement in the brush. The raptor takes off and Jesse curses loudly, until the clearing is fully in view, and just beyond it, the fleeing shape of Corine Beltine. Cirice gives chase, Soha nearly stands in the saddle, reaching for her sword and shield, ready to attack the cornered pirate with everything she has—
Corine disappears in a wisp of smoke, and for a moment there is silence. A second later, she reappears across a canyon and begins to sprint, and the panic begins to set in — they can’t lose her now, not after tracking her across half of Tyria —
He takes the risk, and with no small amount of effort, he urges the raptor forward and running at the sheer face, throwing his mark—
The raptor, understadning, knowing, obliges.
The leap is far, and he’s holding on with trembling hands as the raptor crashes down and skids more than a little on the rough ground, her normally serene, curious chirping devolving into a pained braying. Beltine is so close, so awfully close that he has no choice after he gathers himself and Soha gets herself up — he has to hide her. She can’t go on and after finding a copse of trees not hiding any of the remaining Mordrem or large bugs, they take off.
The chase does not last long. Soha pursues with a relentless rage that he’s only seen once before, and the pace she sets is blistering, agonizing, and he’s slowed to a haggard jog that pains him. The wound reopens. Somehow? It feels like a plan at this point. A drawn out death that will suit him all too well, even if it’s not quite in line with Beltine’s method of operation.
Metal is meeting up ahead, he pushes himself forward despite his better judgement. There’s a preemptive pull of his pistols, and as he rounds to corner to the battlefield, a dagger is thrown past him. The two women are engaged, Soha with her sword and shield, Corine throwing with double daggers, and they are, for the moment, evenly matched— he aims to set that scale into motion, and fires once, twice, into the fray. He melds into shadow and approaches from behind, his pistols out, his brain click click clicking into place as the scope of this becomes all too real.
This is the end. There is a chapter ending here and it would be for the better, in its conclusion.
he reemerges with wild eyes, his mark burning bright in her eyes and on her person and she’s swinging wide and wild at the two of them, her dagger swinging into the splintered, failing wood of his prosthetic.
“Coward!” she screams, wrenching the dagger away and throwing again, falling to a sword sweeping up her back, “You never had the spine for it!”
“And you had too much of one—”
He almost pulls a trigger when she disappears into wisps, he’s glancing around, quick with his directions and placing himself behind Soha and her shield. There is a sound behind him.
Corine is standing bloodied near a portion of vine that spreads out into the abyss below. She levels a rifle.
Her eyes look just past him and his pistols, and for a moment, he can see the future. Some grim seer, an ending that he does not want, one that neither of them deserve. The barrel of the rifle moves minutely. The Captain moves in kind, and moves with her finger —
the shot cracks the air like lightning, and he intercepts. It tears into his ribs, barely out the other side and ricochets off of Soha’s armor. He’s spun from the force, and the moment he gathers himself enough to look over his shoulder at her, another shot rings out. Soha doesn’t shout, but he hears his name as the bullet, the energy sear his face with heat, and pain, and blood.
He hits the ground, face first. His pistols clatter to the side.
He hears his name.
Hands on his chest, hands on his face and how it burns, everything hurts and tastes like copper and iron and honeyed wine. And then more hands, more shouting and screaming and for her size, his quartermaster hefts him up and over. He grips onto her weakly.
“I made a promise to myself that I would finish the job—” she seethes, manic, falling apart under the soul-splinter
his grip tightens on her coat. Direction is fuzzy, he is up but not right, he is seeing but only in red. His face hurts. His head hurts. His choice is made.
Something howls inside of him as he finds his feet and uses the only grip he has to launch Corine over the edge, and she drags him along. Somewhere, he loses her, crashing into the unmoving arms of a dead dragon, and the wind in his ears becomes a dull roar.
And he thinks that this? This is good enough.
There is a raptor in her face. The tongue wakes her up, and then a dull, mournful sound of pain as Cirice paces the scene. Soha is quick to stand, where the reality hasn’t set in. She spins in place.
Blood on the ground, the howling of the wind in the canopy. A sorrowful bellow from the raptor.
It’s not real. it’s — you’ve lost men before, you’ve lost brave soldiers before, he’s just another face, he’s just another casualty. She tries, she desperately tries to divorce herself from that kind of thinking. Ironwood is gone, and she can’t bring herself to look over the edge just yet, when tears are pricking her eyes and the frenzy of the skirmish keeps her mind from gathering itself .
She inches towards the edge and recoils at the sight below — Beltine’s body, impaled on a thorn the size of a charr, broken and mangled. But no Captain. No sign of him. She refuses the thought, she chokes back a noise and covers her mouth, her feet dragging her back towards the wall of rock to her left, the safety of the edge.
His hat lies just feet from his pistols.
His raptor limps along the edge, calling for him.
The gravity of it slowly dawns on her with a horror she never wanted to know. There is still a duty to be done here. She swallows her incidental grief, she makes her preparations with a slow diligence. She picks up his guns, his hat. She takes Cirice’s reins, and begins the slow trek towards a place she’d never wanted to see again.
She has to take him home.