D'Arsano's chest was on fire. It was a pain that had been searing since the last seed withered and died in Resheph’s chest after all essence had been removed. The moment the embers in the younger druid had been snuffed, the spark had ignited against his own heart once more. It was smoldering when Drician burst through the door way, sounding his alarm.
The usually upbeat monk’s smile had been replaced by an expression that was rather foreign, one of hardened concern and a hint of anger. “You might want to get to the dens, now.”
The fire in his chest fumed as the old druid tore across the glade, growing with every beat of his hooves. It raged as those cloven feet gave way to their true form, his strength fading with them as their bare soles dug against the earth. That fire kept him from breathing as he staggered into the depths of the den, the floor rising and falling away from him.
The name filled the dark hardened dirt corridors of the abandoned dens. It resounded off the walls with ferocious intensity that only seemed to amplify with every echo. But the effort of the roar leaving his throat left his lungs struggling to regain what little breath he could manage, and with every heave they only seemed to coil on tighter on themselves.
He slumped against the cell’s archway. Golden eyes fixed their furious gaze on the warden’s form. One leather gloved hand gripped the back of the creature’s neck. It’s charred and blackened form was limp in her grasp. But the evidence of a struggle was plain. The stench of singed hair, fur, and skin was suffocating. As suffocating at the temperature of the room. Goddess it was so hot. Sweltering. But even with her injuries, Chrissinne stood resolute and solid, her ground sure.
“Let it go.” D’Arsano wheezed. His knees gave out beneath him. It felt like his bones were caving in. The pain…
“No.” Chrissinne’s defiance was plain, and that single word managed to seethe with contempt despite its monotone.
His fingers dug into the earth. “Chrissinne, let it go. Right now.”
She didn’t answer him. She didn’t move. Her blade hovered, poised in the air above the homunculus’s fragile throat.
“Chrissinne…” His voice was little more than a croaking groan at this point. Every word was punctuated by a gasp for air. “I need it alive. Don’t…”
He heard her turn toward him. Her boot ground against the dirt audibly, mingling with the scrape of the beast’s claws. The movement elicited a weak growl. It reverberated painfully in D’Arsano’s ears, as if the sound originated from within. The heat was rising? It had to be. It was so unbearable. He couldn’t breathe. His lungs were ash.
“You’re being imbecilic.” The warden’s tone had no inflection, but the bite was harsh. Each word was like a physical blow.
He tried to plead again, but the words wouldn’t come out. The fire was consuming him from the inside out. It was angry. The elemental was furious. Koryander was right. He wasn’t fast enough. It saw their work as an act of betrayal. And Chrissinne was only antagonizing it further. And if she killed it… if she killed it…
“I’m fulfilling your promise for you, pathetic old man.”
The world seemed to stand still for a split instant. He never saw her move. But it happened. The dagger was drawn across blistered flesh. A scream filled the room. D’Arsano felt as though his head was going to burst. It was accented by the hiss of steam and escaping smoke. Blood poured from the wound in a frothing stream of boiling crimson.
In that instant, the pain was gone. The fire receded as if doused by iced water. It released the hold on his body, and air inflated his lungs at alarming speed. The druid coughed and hacked, but the feeling was liberating. Each inhale and exhale was labored, but they came and went freely, without restriction. D’Arsano pressed his back against the wall. The packed earth was cool and soothing against his back. But it didn’t stop the confusion.
Chrissinne’s eyes locked on his gaze, her expression flat. “So blinded by your need to save everything you won’t see what’s in front of you. He gave you everything you needed from the beginning, but you didn’t look. Now see it, and finish upholding your end of this foolish ‘promise’.”
D’Arsano blinked slowly and he stared at the bubbling puddle at the warden’s feet. Tongues of flame were sprouting from the pool, and they coiled together into something amorphous before slowly beginning to take shape; the shape of a small elemental form.
The elemental was free of its cage. But the bond to Bairne was keeping him tethered to this plane.
Something… no, Some-one- raged in the back of his mind.
She was right.
A laugh left D’Arsano’s throat. It was weak at first, but steadily it rose until it was full and guttural. His head tilted back against the wall, and his stare turned skyward.
She was right. They had him now. Bairne couldn’t get away.
“Thank you,” he breathed, “for opening my eyes…"