The Path in the Shadow, Book 1 of the Enchanter's Cycle

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Chapter 14

Quiet…so quiet.

Legion slept in his nest, beside his father. Father was content, though he stirred in his sleep, in pain, his aging body frail and weak. He hadn’t endured the long sleep as well as Legion had, for he was of the flesh, and no power could withstand the decay of time suffered by all creatures of flesh.

Legion grew hungry, and was no longer content. The hunger never seemed to fade for long. But Legion was loyal, and Legion protected Father, so he would not leave the nest. Instead, Legion dreamed of the Kami, fragments that could feed for him.

These forests were theirs, his and father’s, and they would sleep and dream here in peace forever. Nothing need ever change.

Ryū felt the twinge in his head that signified telepathic contact. There was no voice accompanying it, so he assumed Arteth was tapping into his perceptions to view for threats.

While he might have been irritated by this previously, an extra pair of eyes would be a boon in such unfamiliar territory. His vampyric nature enabled him to see even in perfect darkness, after all.

Kaileena slid down the rope, having declined her familiar’s offer of levitation, whimpering every now and then as she neared one of the knots. Golem, the strange clay man, stood at the bottom, ready to catch her.

Poor girl…she couldn’t even see where she was going, as the sun orb had diminished into inactivity long ago.

“Here, take this.” Durethi whispered, handing him a pair of covered bottles. Accepting them hesitantly, he uncorked them, and the rusty whiff that emerged made his mouth water.

Looking to the woman curiously, Durethi smiled, “Purely gained, Ryū. They were gifts, given to me by some mutual friends, having themselves confiscated it from the original incarnations of the Skraul. Like wine, Vitrium grows more potent with the passing of ages. Think of it like a super brew.”

Nodding, Ryū took a gulp of the fluid, and felt as though he’d been doused with cold water.

“Baby sips.” she warned, and Ryū nodded with an involuntary smile, “You are indeed fortunate with your allies.”

“And you are not?” she replied, to which Ryū conceded the point with a nod. They split their party when they arrived at a fork at the lowest level; Ryū, Kaileena, and Golem took one tunnel, and Durethi, Itaku, and Garth took the other, and Maki, to his supreme displeasure, was forced to remain with the ropes with two other agents, and alongside the twenty or so above.

They carried on, the sounds of each group quickly muffled by thick stone. Golem, needing no more assistance than he, for he had no eyes, led Kaileena as she shivered and tried to remain silent.

While he detested splitting the group, Durethi wasn’t entirely sure which tunnel would lead them to the source of the Kami, and they needed to cover ground quickly. If they found anything, they would retreat, and Kaileena or Arteth could contact the others telepathically, just as Durethi or Garth would if they found anything.

Legion smelled their flesh. Legion smelled their fear. Intruders. They would try to kill him, and Father too. But Legion was loyal! Legion would protect its Father!

Legion roared, its rage carrying through the entire nest, marking the intruders’ positions by the sound reverberating off of their soft, fleshy bodies. They were few, very few. This land was theirs, and Legion would fight for it, now and forever.

It reared up, shaking off the effects of the long sleep, and returned to long-forgotten tunnels, its many, many legs carrying it aloft. A second roar confirmed its first targets, and it closed in with savage glee.

“Kaileena.” Ryū whispered, alarmed, “Do what you do.”

“Come, Guardian!” Kaileena cried behind him, followed by a hiss as Arteth emerged from the lamp from a thick column of blue smoke.

There were shouts and the ringing of metal ahead; the tunnels appeared to converge at some point. Through a tunnel of about three bowshots, down a trench, then rounding a corner, he found the others engaged with ...something. It was like the Kami, but didn’t assume the shape of any beast he could imagine, its long, pulsating body covered in extraneous claws, pincers, and tentacles.

Its mouth, filled with thousands of teeth, closed around a gray-furred animal with a thick body and a mostly rounded head, and Itaku and Durethi tried in vain to find its physical weak spot as it shoved the creature further and further down its expanding gullet.

Ryū discharged a bolt of electricity from Kaminari that struck the creature, and it discharged the contents of its mouth and let out a deafening roar. As he charged ahead, the fallen animal collapsed into itself, its fur shedding to reveal skin.

Its cries of pain from its transformation became lest bestial, more human. It shrank further into itself, becoming Garth, who had small puncture wounds in his torso but was otherwise unharmed.

The creature turned to Ryū, and from its mouth fired three narrow, barbed tongues, which he ducked under while cross-cutting them, but his blades stuck and held fast, covered in thick, syrupy saliva.

Hyosho!” Ryū snarled, and ice crystals formed around the tongues, but they began to retract, dragging his swords, and him by extension, towards the creature’s mouth.

Hyosho!” Ryū cried again, his head nearly level with its teeth, and the ice around his swords expanded as the creature bit down, growing into a mass many times his body, too large to get its mouth around.

Four balls of arcane fire burst from Golem’s hands and smote its plated face, while Kaileena charged in, slicing off its tongues and freeing him with an ethereal twin-bladed sword, alongside a larger duplicate held by Arteth. Itaku, Durethi, and Golem cut at its legs, and Garth leaped atop it, clawing and biting in animal form.

Ryū didn’t use his weapons. Instead, he leaped onto its neck and sank his fangs directly into its mostly incorporeal flesh. It had no blood, but he drank deep and greedily from whatever came out.

Sensing which way the beast would thrash, the vampyre held tight as its raged. Many groping feelers emerged from its throat, raking the wounds inflicted on him before his transformation. He bit down his scream, as the deep lashes and cuts split open, but still he held tight.

Kaileena followed up with an impaling strike with her fanged blade, Arteth duplicating the motion, and both swords punched right through its head. Ryū was thrown back, swords knocked from his hands as he landed hard.

He was already on his feet, surging with newfound strength, lunging twelve paces back onto the beast’s disintegrating body and sinking his fangs in, drinking deeply of its “blood.”

It slammed him into the nearest wall, the impact cracking its stone surface, but still he held firm, his broken bones and ruptured organs re-knitting themselves into the proper arrangements.

Kaileena and Arteth, backed by Garth, drove their blades home, piercing through the weakened beast, it snapped to the left, dislodging him, before stepping through the wall and out of sight.

Sado stirred in his dreams, taken to the long sleep when his body began to fail him many years ago.

While he sometimes thought it wrong to keep his beloved pet chained to the nest, Legion was happy only in his midst and wished always to remain close. How fondly he remembered creating it from the remains of a great many creatures, slowly deconstructing their physical shells, and then their primeval essences.

Oh, how their cries of fear and pain haunted him, but inevitably proved worth it given the result. How he’d been overjoyed that his creation was a carnivore, to join him in his many hunts, spiting the foul Kodama that had exiled him.

But why was he thinking of Legion, when it’d been the notion of transmuting condensed gas into plasma occupying his thoughts not a moment prior? What had provoked such a lapse in concentration?

Sighing, Sado decided to check up on his prized hound, projecting his consciousness outward into the physical plane, and found Legion curled next to him, wounded. Wounded!

The dreamscape crumbled, his feeble body and all its wretched sensations smothering him. Legion raised its head at the sight of him stirring, and as his eyes opened fully, his hound pressed its head against him, whining pitifully.

“My body has not aged well in my exile, so far from the springs.” Sado groaned, his voice cracking with the strain of once again articulating words, “So far from Anima. This will be the last I know of this world, ere I return to the dream I have created for myself, forever. Rise, my dearest friend. Let us hunt together one last time.”

As Legion rose, offering support to stand up, Sado leaned against it, and began to cast his first spells in many years...

“How annoying.” Kiromichi groaned, watching the enemy fleet outdistance them. It had to be a precursor to an ambush; immediately after Arainami’s fleet and its flagship “The Shallow’s End”, began to gain speed, the rival Pirate Lords had suddenly broke rank and fled outright.

It’d been days now, pursuing them! What were they trying for?

“They have yet to come within firing range of the artillery. What would you suggest?” the temperamental Arainami asked him, and he scratched his chin, forcing himself away from his orb. It was quite a predicament; they might be able to catch up by using a schooner, a needle-like boat that cut through the waves, but it was a small vessel, carrying no more than thirty men. Taking on a stocked leviathan of no less than a hundred and twenty with such a force…sounded sort of delightful, actually. And he knew Arainami would be up for it. She looked antsy from waiting so long to kill something.

As the order was given and they withdrew to the lower deck of “The Shallow’s End”, there was a grating noise as the undercarriage of the vessel rerouted steam pressure to the rear hatch, which held two supplied and operational schooners. While originally intended as lifeboats for high ranking officers, they were also excellent for circling around larger, slower ships for boarding runs and bombardments.

“Armaments?” he asked, and Arainami replied, “One artillery gun each, as well as seven white prosperous mortars and two ballistae for boarding ropes.”

“I also trust you have an officer you can rely on to maintain the fleet?” Kiromichi added, to which his companion shrugged, “I communicate via an enchanted trinket…and I don’t rely on my officers. I just flog them until they follow my word without thought.”

The hatches opened; two sliding columns of steel supported by thick rope pulleys and weights, much like the elevator system in the larger cities of Teikoku. However, these ropes pulled left and right, as opposed to up and down, creating a wide berth for the smaller vessels to slip out from behind the leviathan.

A ramp was lowered into the waters, and the pressure caused sea water to ride up the ramp and into rotating mill wheels, which in turn spewed the water back out of the ship. In essence, this system created a slide from which ships could be lowered and immediately set to sea, even while its parent leviathan was in open water and moving!

“Ready the main sails. If you louts capsize it there’ll be the devil to pay!” Arainami snapped, drawing her pistol, “Faster, you dogs!”

With the sails readied, the mortars and ballista were loaded, the former with smaller but denser equivalents to the phosphorous rounds, and the latter with a massive barbed spear three men abreast, intended to latch onto a ship.

The standard cannons were too heavy for such a light craft, as was the chamber that housed the enchanted artifact that created the magickal barrier. Sadly, they would just have to do without either. However, a few satchel bombs were also on board their schooner.

“We’ll have to plant our gifts in the most opportune spots. What do you think…the engine room?”

“No. We go straight for the weapons stockpile. I want those who dare to oppose me to see a glorious display, that they never think to cross me again. I will be the queen of pirates, and I will not tolerate contest to my rule.” Arainami hissed, and Kiromichi burst into laughter, “An explosion on the main deck, fed by their own munitions? I love it! Let’s be off, then.”

Two pairs of levers were activated, releasing the bars holding the schooners in place, and they fell backwards, sliding rear-first into the open ocean. With a resounding splash, they began to drift behind “The Shallow’s End”, but the wind caught the schooner’s sails and they angled around the larger vessel to avoid the second schooner following their trajectory.

Kiromichi took a rifle, looking down the sights to ensure it was leveled properly. The sight was a flat bar of iron welded onto the barrel, with several notches along its length, marking with the distance in yards one should be from the target. When a gear was manipulated on its side, an iron weight would overlap these notches and click into place, angling the barrel inside the stock ever so slightly for compensation of wind and other factors.

While only the ring at the end of the barrel was used for the actual aiming, the sights were absolutely essential for sharpshooting. The poor sap who calibrated the weapon had set the rifle’s distance to fifty yards, but Kiromichi intended to make his first few shots at two-hundred, and adjusted accordingly...

Kaileena shivered, held her staff at the ready, and its heft gave her comfort, though she could barely see her hand in front of her face.

Alongside seasoned warriors like Itaku and Durethi, and with Arteth not able to help her directly for a while, she had a feeling of inadequacy that made her wonder if she should’ve guarded the ropes with Maki.

Never you dwell on the thought. Balance is needed for communal effort; each member fulfilling their particular duty. You are no warrior; you have no need to compare yourself to warriors, so long as you are ready when you’re needed.” Arteth projected, and the sentiment lightened her mood somewhat.

“I smell flesh blood. A human?” Ryū whispered, and everyone tensed as he dashed up the wall, finding a way to grip the smooth surface and climb along the ceiling like an insect.

There was a sound ahead, reverberating through the tunnel, but they had no way to be sure of the distance or direction.

Come to me, little ones. Come to the wolf.” A voice whispered to her, and when she saw Itaku and Garth tense, she knew it was psionic contact, “You, who seek to harm my hound. You, who seek to end the hunt. Did the Sisterhood send you here? Did they finally decide to break their oath and kill me? Pathetic. Come then, intruders. Come to me.”

Ryū must have spotted something because he stopped, still clinging to the ceiling. He slid, almost slithered, into the deepest shadows, and Kaileena tensed, took a tentative step forward. One pace before, there was nothing in the tunnel, and then, as if she’d crossed the distance of several paces in the space of just one, she stood before an open chamber with dozens of tunnels in all directions, intersecting like roots from a stump.

In the open chamber there was a man, or a male, at least. He looked more like an elf than anything, but with green skin, dark hair, and brown eyes.

He reached out with his hand, his skin dry and leathery, marred by liver spots, and his ragged, black nails sent forth five narrow beams of green energy, four of them striking the others. Durethi, Ryū, Garth, and Itaku were surrounded by roots that emerged from the ground, and were immediately smothered, immobilized in a living cocoon.

When Kaileena was struck, however, the point where it connected was surrounded by a corona of purple embers, and a wave of power flowed into her as her Spell-Eater Strain drank in the magicka of the spell.

Focusing her will with Arteth’s, she used a recently created enchantment within one of the rings of her horn nubs, manifesting as an abjuration; a counter-spell, that destroyed the bindings holding her friends.

The elf-creature raised an eyebrow at the display, seemingly unconcerned as the others fell upon him. Unable to determine what was happening through the melee, Kaileena readied herself for the enemy’s next spell, but she, as well as everyone else, was thrown backward by a sphere of force that was released in all directions around the elf-creature.

Blinking and finding herself prone, Kaileena hissed at the sight of purple embers dancing along her skin. She must have been disoriented by the impact, not the spell itself.

She rose to see Garth and Itaku collapsed, smoke rising from their bodies. Golem seemed not the least bit troubled, and leaped to his feet, his damaged tissue flaking off.

Durethi and Ryū closed the distance again, burning but ignoring the pain they must have felt, and Kaileena used the energy she absorbed to set a ward that would redirect any spells that affected them to her, to be absorbed by her ability.

When the elf-creature inevitably cast a second wave of burning force, towards her allies while noticeably avoiding her, the only result that occurred was Kaileena surging with uncanny ripples of energy, then casting an identical wave of force that slammed against the elf-creature and broke upon his own defenses.

“How amusing. I see the usual tricks aren’t working well for me. That is a very interesting talent you have, creature.” He said, eyes boring into her.

“My name is Kaileena.” she replied angrily, her allies pausing a moment to recuperate, her staff readied should he attempt to cast again.

“Well met, Kaileena. I am Sado, and you and your friends have harmed my hound.” He replied, eyeing the others viciously, “And you have done this for what, exactly?”

“Your hound attacked the Melagonian refugees, and the well as my men, who did nothing but pass through the bamboo forest.” Itaku snapped, struggling to his feet, using his katana as a crutch.

“Did he? Legion can be temperamental at times, but it is his life to which I am concerned, not yours.” Sado replied, “You can die, as can the wretched Kodama who banished me for no reason other than my genitals.

“What?” Kaileena asked, and Sado went into a fit of mocking, cynical laughter, “Of course; they wouldn’t want their dirty little secret revealed to outsiders. Except…you aren’t an outsider are you, girl? No, not anymore. They give you the treatment, I wonder?” he asked, his eyes taking on a peculiar faded blue hue, his flesh smoldering with otherworldly energy, “The Sisterhood found themselves in quite a predicament when I was born. As a Kodama, I was owed acceptance into their fold, but as a male, I was shunned. They sent me away, knowing that without the spiritual connection to that sacred grove, the reservoir of Anima’s power, that I would be cursed to a mortal life.”

Sado smiled bitterly, “And now? Now they have finally tired of my presence here, and have sent you to kill me. Tell me, assassin, does Anima speak so tenderly to you now?”

“You’re wrong.” Kaileena replied, and Sado snarled, “Oh, really? Legion has been with me for a long time. The Kodama were aware of him, for I once used him as a hunting companion. Now they wish the both of us dead. So be it; had you only come for me, I wouldn’t have judged too harshly their character or yours. But you tried to kill my beloved Legion, the only friend I have ever known in this life I neither asked for nor wanted. You will die, and I will burn the Kodama’s whole damned forest around them!”

Jagged roots emerged from his flesh and hurled towards Itaku, who cut many with a single stroke of his katana. Many more reached forward for the others. Seeing nothing else to it, for such an attack relied on application of natural forces rather than magicka, Kaileena began drawing energy from the opal in her pack, and activated the enchantment of the third of four rings along her nubs, and ripped a hole in the fabric of reality, displacing raw arcane energy from the Aether.

From the maelstrom emerged a pair of ethereal Turgon, each about the length of a human arm and much thicker, covered in jagged spines. While invisible to others, her enchantment of binding allowed her to perceive their movements, and more importantly, direct them towards Sado.

The Kodama winced at the sound, glanced in the general direction of her minions, then to her with a scowl. Anticipating what would happen, Kaileena ran back into the tunnel and around a corner as the chamber filled with flame. A second contingency of her conjuration allowed her to see through the eyes of the Turgon, and she watched as they bit into Sado’s shoulder and forearm. When the fires subsided, Kaileena dared to peek around the corner and reactivate the wards over Ryū and the rest, but none dared near Sado, for the flames remained concentrated around his body.

“You rely on your spells more than I do, outsiders. Let’s see how you do without them!”

Sado completed a series of intricate, mystic passes, and Kaileena found she could no longer sense Arteth. The flames surrounding Sado dissipated abruptly, along with her wards, along with the bindings holding her Turgon in the Veil.

Garth, held back by magicka for most of the combat, fell over, reverting to human form. He struggled to his feet, and his flesh rippled, as his shape-shifting became increasingly erratic. One moment, his hands were furred paws, then scaled claws, then tentacles, before reverting back into human hands.

The smile on Sado’s face was merciless, as roots burst from his flesh and thrust towards her and her friends. Bereft of enchantments, neither Itaku’s katana, Ryū’s wakizashi, or Durethi’s gladius, could cut them, and with only her staff, Kaileena quickly found herself entangled as well. She cried out as the roots squeezed, pain spreading throughout her entire body.

A small dagger embedded into Sado’s thigh, flung by Ryū, who screamed, his arm twisted out of joint. But Sado was occupied enough removing the weapon, and his grip loosened a moment.

Kaileena gasped for breath, and inspiration struck her; the anti-magicka field was itself still wrought of magicka. As she disrupted it momentarily with a counterspell, her Spell-Eater Strain connected to the magickal foundations, absorbing them into her body. Her skin bled purple flame.

Kaileena pointed her staff, reflecting a duplicate version of his flame spell, and smote him in the face. Ryū, freeing his arm, struck next, with a wave of intense cold that stole whatever words he might have uttered to cast another spell. Durethi was upon him then, her body breaking apart into a swarm of bats and reforming in a crouch beside him, her gladius up under his ribs and poking out his collarbone.

By the time they freed themselves of his roots, the Kodama was dead.

Child!” Arteth cried out, emerging from the lamp, “I thought you...-”.

Rising unsteadily, Kaileena shook away the pounding ache in her head and Arteth’s concerns. Though she certainly appreciated them.

She stumbled over to Sado’s body, and Itaku helped her steady herself, “A clever move, one that turned the tables. Well done, Kaileena.”

She nodded, stood on her own, then looked to Garth and Ryū, who sported many deep wounds. Only Garth was bleeding profusely, however, for the vampyre’s blood was thick and tarry, almost black. The cuts, save those that pre-dated his transformation, sealed themselves over the next moments.

But Ryū saw Garth’s plight and offered the blood in the flask he carried, and the shape-shifter collapsed after a single sip, conscious but insensate.

“It’s very potent, Ryū.” Durethi pointed out, sighing, “Should be fine, though.”

Kaileena paid them no more heed, watching as Sado’s skin hardened, darkened. Cocooned in bark, he looked much like the ward they’d passed; a tree in the shape of a man. Had that been another slain Kodama? A male the sisterhood had abandoned?

Her faith shaken, Kaileena ran a hand over his face, tears pooling in her eyes. He’d been like her; out of place among a people that neglected to treat him as an equal. Alone.

One wrong step along her journey and she could’ve been like him; angry, and bitter, and vengeful. Wanting to lash out at the world that had wronged her.

“I’m sorry.” she said, her voice strained, “I’m so sorry.”

She wept, knowing the others were watching but not able to explain. She’d been forced to destroy the Colossus, but that hadn’t been a person. She hadn’t wanted to kill Sado, but again there’d been no choice in it.

“If Rairakku knew he was here...” Kaileena hissed, “I’ll never forgive her for it.”

She felt a hand on her shoulder, squeezing firmly. Turning, she found it was Itaku, who smiled sadly, “I understand why this was hard for you...but it needed to be done.”

“It shouldn’t have been needed.” Kaileena replied sadly, “There’s no reason for it.”

She embraced the man she’d just killed, “I’m sorry that the world didn’t treat you with more kindness. I hope now you’ve found peace, at least.”

Tensing, Kaileena drew back hands coated in purple fire, and backed away, uncertainly, “Durethi?”

“A Kodama can’t survive the destruction of their husk so far from Anima’s wellsprings.” the Vampyre replied, “It’s from her residual power they assume abilities comparable to the Djinn. Lacking a connection to her, they become mortal.”

His bark skin turned pale, and assumed an unearthly glow. A grinding sound emerged from Sado’s chest cavity, as something squirmed out...

A tendril of incorporeal energy pushed its way out of Sado’s body, and formed quickly into a representation of the man, though its skin bubbled and flowed like liquid.

The Sado-thing extended his hand, eyes wild, his laughter tinged with madness, and a multitude of grasping claws emerged from it, which impaled Durethi beside him, then struck Kaileena and Itaku. She landed hard, and Itaku landed harder, his head striking the floor. He didn’t rise.

Ryū, with his superior reflexes, managed to sidestep the attack, but as he lunged forward with Kaminari, Sado’s body erupted, entangling him in a mass of incorporeal limbs. His wakizashi bit deep, but not deep enough.

The abomination was tangible, unlike the Kami. That was bad. That meant there was no particular weak spot.

Twisting his body, the vampyre wrenched himself free. Bracing his feet against the wall, he leaped off, and thrust with Hyosho and Kaminari. Sado caught both swords, tangling them in his many limbs.

“We are Sado. We are Legion.” he said flatly in a bubbling, inhuman voice, dragging him in and catching him with a descending elbow. The floor suddenly rose up to meet him, the impact breaking his spine with a wet crunch.

His vampyric regeneration began healing the wound almost immediately, but Ryū could do nothing but crawl, trying to reclaim his wakizashi that landed a few paces away. A hand closed around his head, but something bowled into the both of them, and Ryū was sent careening through the air, landing hard.

He turned his head, and saw Garth, in the form of a huge bipedal creature with grey, warty skin and muscled, elongated arms that reached to its knees. Perhaps the mammalian equivalent to a Karu.

Ignoring some manner of enchantment cast by Kaileena, Sado opened a maw that expanded like a snake’s, engulfing Garth’s head and shoulders as he tried to wrestle the Kodama to the floor. The shape-shifter thrashed, blooded, as Sado’s many limbs dragged him further into the maw. It was eating him

Ryū tried desperately to force himself up, recovering his wakizashi and attempting to rise by the leverage offered. His allies struck relentlessly, but Sado regenerated every bit of the damage as Garth’s body broke apart, nourishing the creature with his life energy

He tried, Garth forgive him, Ryū had tried to get up.

Kaileena screamed, clawed at him, and the mere contact with her body activated her Spell-Eater strain. She held tightly, as Sado thrashed, shrieking. Golem reacted quickly, hewing the limbs nearest to her, as Sado’s incorporeal flesh began to break apart against her natural magicka absorption.

“Please stop!” Kaileena cried, “Don’t fight! I don’t want to kill you.”

It began to shrink, tried to lumber away, but Golem’s arms extended, tangled its many legs, squeezing its amorphous body as it tried any means to escape her.

“Stop!” the girl cried out, struck repeatedly as it tried to pull her off, but she held fast, weeping, until its thrashing ceased and its body absorbed into hers, broken down into base magicka.

Kaileena hissed, doubled over, her veins boiling raw magicka. She fed it into the lamp, and Guardian cried out as she did, consuming Sado’s remains. She tried not to think about it.

Finding her feet only with supreme difficulty, she gave Ryū the flask he’d dropped, then went to her commanding officer. Itaku had a severe concussion, at least by what she could tell, so she healed him with blood magicka before gently shaking him awake.

“The others?” he asked, groggily, and Kaileena shook her head, “Ryū will be alright, but Garth and Durethi-”

“What about Durethi?” the woman asked, sitting up from the spot she’d landed after Sado’s attack, half of her ribs sticking out of the hole of her ruptured sternum, and Kaileena screamed, horrified.

“Stop that!” she wheezed, “I’ll be fine now that my limbs have regenerated enough to move. Ryū, the flask, please.”

As bewildered as her, the vampyre nonetheless offered it to his fellow undead, and she drank greedily, her ribs retreating into her body, “I figure Ryū isn’t very old, so he couldn’t know this...but once our kind grow to a certain age our regeneration becomes more and more effective. I survived being decapitated once, so run through the chest hardly seems like more than a scraped knee at this point.”

“You can just joke about this?!” Kaileena gasped, to which she smiled, “I was a humorless woman in my youth, especially after being turned to undeath by Dur’Arteth. But after a century or so we forget who we were before and accept our new, more interesting lives as our true ones. I developed a sense of humor at some point over the last century, and it’s served me well up to this point.”

Shaking her head in disbelief, Kaileena turned to Golem in a huff, “Could you carry Itaku like you did me? I don’t want him straining himself yet.”

“Of course.” the construct replied, easily picking him up despite his vehement protects. Any goodwill she’d earned up to this point with him she’d likely just spent, but she wasn’t going to let his stubbornness exacerbate his wounds.

Durethi looked up, startled.

“I can hear it too.” Ryū noted, wincing in pain as he shifted, “There is something happening on the surface.”

Looking back to Durethi, perplexed, Kaileena felt Arteth’s attention, “I know that sound, even hearing it all the way down here; wings. Large wings.

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