Tacitum Legionem [The story of Apolyta Imicus]
I don't know whether to apologize for this or breathe a sigh of relief.
I am posting this here by request of my spouse, who happens to be my biggest cheerleader (though I feel her support misplaced).
This is a very long intro story, one that grew far beyond my original intent. If that troubles you, or perhaps my lore is slightly conflicting with matters established during the writing, I do apologize. But, in that vein, I also hope, for those of you with enough fortitude to muddle through my long-winded narration, that you enjoy it.
‘At what point does the mind decide it’s had enough? When does it finally curl up into a helpless ball, like a newborn kitten? When does sanity break before the dark waves of madness and decide to seek refuge in the very abyss it had always recoiled from?’
Reports had been circulating around southern Cyrodiil that finally demanded the Legion’s attention, so a cohort was sent to address some odd disappearances and livestock mutilations. The search had turned up no sign of what might be causing it for days until they found what looked to be a recently abandon farm. Blood had painted the inside walls that were lined with deep, four-taloned gouges. Pieces of the former occupants were scattered from one end to the other creating a macabre horror show. And hiding beneath the floor in the cellar, they had found a very terrified eleven year old girl covered with the blood that had seeped through the cracks.
It was a week before they could get her to talk, and even then it was only to Tabelle. The others she’d shrink away from with trembling whimpers, and the sight of poor Azhiit would nearly send her into screaming fits. From the girl’s description, they determined the attacks were the work of werewolves. Baeor dredged the legends of Hircine’s chosen from his mind to share with the others. He hadn’t mentioned the legends of his homeland previously, since he only believed them to reside there. It was another few weeks before they finally captured the two beasts and brought them back to the garrison.
Wendt sometimes had a strange sense of justice, and while the garrison commander was dithering over what to do, he had the girl they found brought down to the cells. The others had just looked at him with a mix of shock and confusion when he placed the girl in front of the shackled murderers. Without a word, he handed her a silvered dagger before forcing the rest of them out of the prison. At the first scream, Baeor went just a little bit mad, so incensed at leaving a child in there with those monsters, that he and Wendt had actually come to serious blows.
It wasn’t until the screams echoing from the cells ended that the two of them stopped fighting. All four, with a tentative glance in each other’s direction, began moving back to the entrance of the cells. The ululating wail that shattered the silence made them hasten to the door and Baeor’s shoulder nearly broke the hinges getting it open.
Inside, they found Apolyta sitting there, crying like she might never stop, the dagger, that was now bent and the blade snapped, was still clenched in her hand. Gore from the prisoners was splattered around and the pool of blood mixed with dust and debris from the floor oozed into the central drain. Both of the remains, you couldn’t really call them bodies, showed stages of trying to change into their feral form, but from the countless wounds it had only sealed their fate.
All of them were reprimanded for disobeying orders to immediately dispatch the culprits, endangering a citizen of the empire, brawling, coercion of the guard, and a few other charges levied by priests of Arkay and Stendarr. That little stunt had cost Wendt his rank, and if he regretted it, only maybe Azhiit knew. After the tribunal, the Khajiit had just rested his hand on the old Imperial’s shoulder and nodded to him with uncharacteristic silence. When they’d left the garrison, having all been transferred for insubordination, the girl had followed them.
It was a few days later when Tabelle had finally stopped and turned around to face the young woman. The four had traveled at a pretty rigorous pace, and the men were a little surprised that the child had managed to keep up. The two women had stared at one another for a long while, until for reasons only Tabelle knew, she walked over to draw Apolyta into a hug and in that one act; make her a part of their little squad.
Posted May 26, 14
· Last edited May 26, 14
“Curse this cold, this one is not made for such places.” Azhiit complained for perhaps the hundredth time as his tail flicked irritably.
“Ye whine more’n a strumpet on payday.” Baeor laughed, his voice echoing over the snowy mountains, as he swing his thick, almost furry arm to indicate the mountainous crags. ‘Why this is positively balmy, if’n ye want real cold, ye should head north inta Skyrim.”
“Why would this one ever consider entering such a thing. The two moons would surely believe Azhiit had taken leave of his senses.”
“Oh, come now. It’s not all bad. The mead pours freely, and the women run hot enough to keep you warm through the night.”
“And these women would keep poor Azhiit warm against the icy air?” The Khajiit asked dubiously.
“I think he means the ewes and nannies, Azhiit.” Tabelle interjected with her crimson eyes peeking from under her hood; her grin shining against the dusky skin. “Because we all know goats and sheep are the only females stupid enough that he can entertain for more than his first three words.”
The nord turned his head to stare down at the respectively diminutive dunmer mage with a baleful look. Not backing down in the slightest, the woman just looked up with that grin still plastered on her face as she bounced her staff from hand to hand. The staring contest lasted long enough that the Imperial regulars began wondering if they were going to have to stop a firefight between the two, again. Tension mounted until Baeor finally roared with laughter.
“By the Eight, Tabelle, you’d drive a man to drink.”
“Don’t try to blame me for your lack of self-control when you’re drunk. How many inns have you gotten us kicked out of now? Four, five?”
“Three,” the man replied. “You can’t count the time at Fort Rayles. I only got into that fight because somebody hit me in the back of the head with a mug.”
“Okay, fine. I’ll give you that one. But what about that time in Bloodmayne? Surely you didn’t drink so much you forgot that.”
“How was I supposed to know the girl was some lord’s daughter?”
“Baeor, your winds nearly knocked the poor girl clean out! And then you went and threw up on her dress. You’re damned lucky her guards didn’t cut off your head right then and there, and ours along with it.”
The nord grumbled childishly with a pout, “Not my fault them Altmer’s ‘r prissy.”
Laughter erupted sporadically from those nearby them in the half cohort, and the nord grinned broadly at Centurion Daias who just shook his head and went back to conversing with a Breton scout. Curious whispers drifted around from the new recruits who’d been placed in the platoon when they’d left Fort Dragonclaw; still trying to get a feel for their new comrades. The small conversations were good for alleviating the worst of the boredom that accompanied being on patrol.
A grizzled old veteran just glared at the foreigners while he brushed flakes of snow from the hood over his balding head as he stomped along. His face was mottled with spots that defined the aged crags on his cheeks and around his nose. Clear blue eyes that kept scanning the surroundings stared out from beneath a heavily bristled white brow.
Walking next to him was a young woman who appeared barely into her teens. Youthful energy spilled out as she’d hop every so often for no other reason that to make the leather and light mail she wore jingle. Strands of wild black hair escaped the confines of her helmet to flitter about in the biting breeze coming down the snowy ridges.
“Oh, come on, Wendt,” came the light voice of woman hopping along next to the old-timer. “It wasn’t that bad, besides, nobody wants to be out here. It’s helping morale.”
“Bah. That Nord is a damned fool. So’s the Dunmer witch, for that matter. Only one with a lick of sense is the Khajiit.”
“Azhiit? Are we talking about the same Khajiit here?” Rolling her eyes, the woman scoffed, “Besides, there’s been worse in the cohort, ‘member that one Redguard we had with us when we were stationed in the south? Rhafyl’ba. He was barely older’n me and so puffed up with himself that his ego could barely fit through a door.”
The girl hopped ahead before adopting an exaggerated swaggering step and deepening her voice comically. “Hear me, I am Rhafyl’ba, Son of Fehyt, Scourge of the Alik’r, Master of the Spirit Sword.”
“Yeah, I remember that little shit,” Wendt said with a huff. “Wouldn’t listen to anyone. Thought he knew it all. Served him right catching that arrow in his knee. But that still don’t change the fact that those two are a pair of fools.”
“Yeah, but Baeor is a big, strong fool.”
“Don’t need fools, need people who can follow orders’n others that can give ‘em.”
“Oh, I’unno, he’s got some things to give, I think.”
“What’cha on about girl?”
“Hm, a little nighttime reconnaissance.” She replied with a grin as she thrust her hips back and forth as she walked while grunting a few times.
“By the Eight Divines, girl, you’re thirteen and bleeding now! I swear, you’re going to get yourself with child and end up stuck in some rancid whorehouse somewhere.” Wendt exclaimed causing her to nearly lose her footing and fall into the snow from laughing along with the rest of the soldiers nearby.
“There’s no need to worry about that, Wendt,” Tabelle said in silken tones. Winding her arm around the young woman’s waist she pressed in close to speak next to the girl’s ear while walking her backward. “Everyone here knows she prefers the sheath to the sword.”
Yelping and jumping away, Apolyta’s footing slipped to land her in an unceremonious sprawl on the snowy ground. The dark elf, not finished with her fun glided forward in a half-hearted attempt to land upon the fallen young woman who rolled quickly out of the way. Regaining her feet, she faced the Dunmer and wagged her finger at the offender.
“Bad! Bad Tabby,” the girl admonished. “Divines! I hate the way you manage to sneak up like that.”
The sorceress got back to her feet pouted while she sashayed away, “That isn’t what you said last night Apolyta.”
“I. You. What?! No!,” Apolyta stammered as her cheeks began to turn a bright red from embarrassment. “I never! We never! There was no last night! Damnit!”
“Hmmm, Azhiit thinks that maybe she is protesting too loudly.” The Khajiit said as he sidled up alongside the sputtering girl. “Perhaps there was a last night after all. What is it this one sees here, such strange colors you furless ones turn.”
“There was never once a single last night!” She exclaimed in the face of the teasing.
“This one is but a simple Khajiit, but such outcry, tells a story that maybe not a single last night, but instead, many last nights. Yes, yes, Azhiit thinks that must be it.”
“There was never,” Apolyta started before defeatedly flinging her hands in the air, “Shit!”
The rest of the company within earshot fairly roared with laughter at the Imperial woman’s discomfiture. Naturally there were the catcalls from the men about changing her preference for sleeping partners, to which a few of the other women in the group joined in about reinforcing that only a woman could treat a woman the right way. Apolyta, now completely embarrassed by her friends turning the joke against her, flung her hood over her head to hide her burning cheeks and walked quietly for the next few miles.
“Ye think ye’d learn,” Wendt chuckled.
“It’s a deficiency and all your fault.” Apolyta accused. “I didn’t get enough fish when I was growing up and my memory’s bad because of it.”
“I ain’t et a fish my entire life and I don’t have that problem.” Wendt stated with a look of distaste. “And I haven’t known you all your life.”
“Ah, my friend, you do not know what you have missed. Remind Azhiit one day, and he will make you such a sumptuous meal with the gifts of the ocean that you will go to the beyond wishing for just one more bite.”
“Nobody makes fish that good,” Apolyta replied.
“Gimme beef, roasted slow over a well turned spit, that’s a real meal.”
“This one thinks you have never tasted his fish.” Azhiit said patting the girl on the shoulder. “And of course you never learn. You spend far too much time with the likes of Azhiit and Tabelle. No good could possibly come from association with those two.”
“Don’t fergit the damned fool of a nord,” Wendt grumbled. “If anyone can pass on idiocy, it’s him.”
“This one is not believing it is the same. For he is a fool from too much drink.” The Khajiit said as he flipped his hand in a dismissive gesture reminiscent of the Altmeri. “Azhiit believes that by this time it has infused his very pores to such an extent, that if you were but to tap a single limb, you could easily fill a barrel. But Azhiit and Tabelle, they are different, being just natural fools.”
Apolyta snickered before bringing her hood back down to show her face again now that she wasn’t the subject of the teasing. She knew she deserved it, she’d started it after all, but being bombarded from all sides was a bit much. It was still good for morale since they were out in this grey, wet, and dreary weather.
Between the weather and the underlying current of suspicion, nerves were just a little worn thin for most of the company. But that was because nobody, even a week later, was quite sure why they’d been mustered before dawn. The gossip through the troop suggested that the garrison commander had another one of his ‘feelings’. It was no secret that the man trusted his gut, and when he was certain something wasn’t quite right, he acted on it. So they’d been sent out in the early pre-dawn to find out what was bothering him. There was a bit of grumbling mixed in with a great deal of edginess along the way, but that tension was mostly because time had taught them to trust the man’s instincts.
“I hear the Quaestor was looking into your enlistment, Polly. Maybe even tapping you for a commissioning,” Wendt said suddenly.
“That’s crazy talk. Where’d you hear that,” Apolyta asked?
“Conversation over the midwatch meal before we left, he was asking the Centurion about you.” He answered with a shrug.
“Daias? What’d he say?”
“He was brutally honest; said you were a barrel of trouble looking for a place to spill,” Wendt smirked. “But that you had potential if you’d settle down and be serious.”
“That sounds like you, not Daias. And I’m serious when I need to be.”
“No, you’re not, Polly,” Wendt grumbled. “You have this bad tendency to think of things as a game. And it’s gotten you, and part of this company in trouble more than once.”
“That’s not true …”
“Forgive poor Azhiit, but he cannot help how his tongue wags.” The Khajiit scratched his head absently and shrugged. “This one seems to remember an incident with some bandits that involved water filled bladders, not so long ago. And then there was the wild mammoth you insisted you could ride. Perhaps Azhiit’s simple memory is faulty, but maybe not so much. Oh, and before that, there was the devout of Stendarr and the vampire.”
“Okay. Okay already! So maybe I don’t take everything as seriously as I should. And you were the one who pointed out the priest and bloodfiend to me!” Apolyta accused.
“So you are going to blame this one for that. Oh, poor Azhiit, blamed wrongfully because the girl couldn’t tell the difference between a priest and a fiend.”
Apolyta just gaped before crossing her arms and huffing along, shooting glares in the direction of the bemused Khajiit. Wendt chuckled and shook his head; catching sight of Tabelle whispering up to them, probably after starting trouble. Invariably, Baeor was trailing not far behind with that idiot grin of his that he used when he wanted to make people think he was stupid.
“Oh my,” Tabelle cooed in a silky tone. “What’s got that look on her face?”
“The Quaestor was looking at the books and her name came up. Now he’s thinking of commissioning her and sending her off to the Imperial City for formal training,” Wendt replied without his usually grumpy tone.
“Commissioning? That’s a surprise,” Baeor said. “Good news for you though, squirt.”
“This one thinks that our Polly does not agree.” Azhiit shook his head with a sigh.
“Well why not? That’s a hell of an opportunity for her.”
“Baeor,” Tabelle sighed, “you really are an idiot sometimes. Do you know that?”
“Uh,” was the only response from the nord.
“Not helping your case, Baeor,” Wendt interjected and received a scowl in return.
“I don’t want to leave,” Apolyta finally said a little bit petulantly. “I like where I am. There’s no reason I should have to go anywhere.”
“You like it here? Bright Moons, Azhiit knows now you have been struck in the head and have lost your mind. Quickly, Tabelle, or you, Wendt, do something! Restore this lost kitten to her rightful senses!” The Khajiit hopped around dramatically only to be suddenly brought to a halt when Baeor’s hand landed on his head which drew a small giggle from Apolyta.
“You whine too much, Azhiit,” Baeor said. “This is about her, not your dislike for snow and wet.”
“You think Azhiit does not know this, you ham-handed half-wit?” Azhiit said as he turned and started batting at the nord’s arm like a cat with a string. “This one knows that Polly is being stubborn and the only way to make her listen to reason is for Azhiit to make her laugh.”
Even though she was still trying to hold her stance on the matter, more giggles burbled from Apolyta and she was having trouble suppressing the smile. The antics between Baeor and Azhiit always managed to cheer her up. She was actually disappointed when the order to make camp was barked by Quaestor Daias; causing the company stop and start setting up.
If there was one thing that the imperial military was good at was organization. Without question, though there were lots drawn for a few more unpleasant jobs like latrine digging, the camp went up quickly. The few pack animals, typical of an extended patrol, were rapidly unladen and supplies spread out, tents went up, clean snow was melted for cooking and some washing, wood was gathered, watch fires were set up in braziers, and a watch rotation established.
“Azhiit does not like it. No. No, this one does not like it at all. Something is wrong, he can smell it.” The Khajiit complained for what sounded like the hundredth time with his ears nearly flat back on his head and his fur standing up on the scruff of his neck.
Tabelle shifted her weight with a frown as if trying to get comfortable, and looked at her half eaten evening meal before offering what remained to Baeor. The sun had set not long after the camp had been properly established, evacuating the light and plunging them into a deep, moonless darkness. The entire camp was tense and on edge, even the typical snoring that was normally heard as people would sleep before their late watch, was absent.
“That’s enough, Azhiit.” Wendt said in a calming tone as he continued sharpening his sword. “We all know something’s not right, even if we can’t put our finger on what. Grousing about it is just going to wear on already frayed tempers.”
“Wendt is right,” Baeor agreed as a whetstone slithered along the edge of his axe blade. “We aren’t doubting you, but until we know what’s wrong, there’s nothing we can do.”
The old man leveled his gaze at the young Imperial woman before reopening the matter that was cut short earlier in order to give them something other than their own unease to think about. “Polly, if they decide to promote you and send you back to the Imperial City, I want you to go. You’re of age to officially become a tiro, probably more.”
“I. No.” Apolyta shook her head. “No, I’m not going.”
Tabelle wrapped an arm around the girl’s shoulders, “Wendt, leave her alone. She has to make up her own mind about this, we can’t do it for her, and we can’t force her.”
“Well, something has got to happen. She can’t just keep following us around for the rest of our lives,” Wendt huffed.
“This one thinks that is true. Azhiit knows that the life of a soldier is a short one.”
Baeor looked into the sky and shook his head, “Polly, you’re not going to want to hear this, but Wendt’s right. You have your own talents, and this isn’t the place to try to forge and polish a sword. You need to be at a smithy for that.”
“I’ve been learning,” Apolyta complained. “Its not like I’m useless.”
“Nobody is saying you’re useless, Polly,” Wendt sighed as he rubbed his face. “But your opportunities out here are so limited compared to what they could be. I just want what’s best for you.”
“Apolyta,” Tabelle started, “you have to look beyond us, as much as you may not want to. I think it would be good for you too, you’d even have a chance to go study seriously at the Mage’s Guild.”
“The Mage’s Guild? Me? I can’t do more than create a spark that’ll start a fire if the kindling is half dry.”
“I can’t do that. You? Maybe you?” Baeor grunted before looking at Wendt and Azhiit in turn who shook their heads.
“Only because you don’t focus. The point is that you can do that much without focusing at all,” Tabelle countered. “With real instructors, a real library, and a place to learn that doesn’t move almost daily, I think you’d eventually make a good Battlemage.”
“I know, I know.” Apolyta sighed as she fumbled with a stick she was using to poke at the fire. She was losing the debate, and she knew it.
“I just don’t understand why you’re so reluctant to leave, little one,” Baeor piped in. “Many would trade a limb for the chance to study in the Imperial City.”
“It’s, I just,” she started and faltered going back to silently poking at the embers.
“Baeor, you can really be a mutton-head,” Tabelle sighed after a prolonged pause. “It’s because we’re the only family she has since we found her two years ago.”
Azhiit stopped fussing and his fur finally flattened some as he rubbed the back of his neck. Wendt as usual looked grim, but still, he nodded at the fire they were clustered around in agreeance with Tabelle. Even in the firelight, Baeor’s face darkened as he recalled the events under which they’d first stumbled upon a terrified girl.
Baeor grunted; breaking the uncomfortable silence. “That I can understand. I was loath to leave my home as well.”
“Azhiit thinks that this was perhaps shared by all of us.”
“But this,” Wendt stated as he gestured around to indicate the camp, “this isn’t a home.”
“It’s all I have,” Apolyta replied in a tiny voice with a small hiccup as she forced back the tears. “I know about the messages you had sent out, Wendt. The ones asking if I had relatives living somewhere else.”
“When did you do that,” Tabelle asked?
“Just before my tribunal. I still had some pull before getting demoted, and I had friends around Cyrodiil that could help.”
Baeor crossed his arms and glared down at the man. “And when were you going to tell us?”
“This one would like to know the same.”
“Look, don’t any of you go judging me.” Wendt snapped at the accusatory tones in his fellows. “That was two years ago, before any of us really knew her. It was the only reason I agreed to let her follow along with us at first, and you all damned well know it.”
Tabelle smacked the palm of her hand onto her forehead, “That’s why you were so cold and determined to ignore her when we left. You expected her to give up and go back to the garrison.”
“Yeah, I did.” Wendt pressed his lips together, drawing his mouth into a frown. “It was the right thing to do, for her sake.”
“Only she never turned back,” Baeor said gently.
“But Azhiit would still like to know why this one was not told of this plan.”
Wendt grunted at the irritated glares other three gave him. “Never told the rest’a ya because I didn’t know what I was gonna find. But if Polly has any relations that didn’t …” He paused briefly, looking deep into the fire. “Well, if she has any other relations, nobody can find ‘em, or they don’t wanna be found. Just didn’t wanna get anyone’s hopes up.”
“Especially mine. I understand,” Apolyta said in a small, quiet voice as she leaned over and hugged the older man’s arm. “You’re always trying to look out for us.”
“Not doing a very good job, apparently,” Wendt groused.
“You do fine, my friend,” Baeor chuckled. “There aren’t many I would follow across the breadth of the Empire.”
“Azhiit can only complain about the cold, not the man who takes this one into it.”
“Can you all understand that I’m happy with this family?” Apolyta asked. “I’ve got a mischievous cousin in Azhiit. A brash older brother with Baeor. Tabelle for a mother, and all the trouble that comes packed along with her.”
“I’m far too young to have a daughter your age,” Tabelle refuted.
“Am so,” Tabelle argued.
“Fine, how about sister then?” Apolyta countered.
“I can accept that, but I’m your younger sister.”
“Now you’re pushing it,” Apolyta laughed. “And then there’s my grumpy old uncle who tries to keep everyone on the straight and narrow. You all may not be the family I was born to, but you’re the family I was given. I can’t think of any more a girl could ask for.”
“Well, as your sister,” Tabelle smirked, “there’s a great many things to ask for. But, out here, it seems to work out pretty nicely.”
“Well, for one, Azhiit is glad you came to us. Even if you pull his tail, this one thinks that is a small price to pay.”
“For once, I agree with the fur-ball,” Baeor rumbled. “But even so, you still should have gone a year ago. You’ve been a tiro, unofficially for two years now. If you get the chance to be more you should grab it with both hands and hold on tight.”
“Baeor makes a good point, Polly,” Wendt said. “And as far as you studying at the Mage’s Guild, much as it pains me to say this, Tabelle is right.”
“Wait a minute,” Tabelle interrupted with a laugh. “Did I just hear what I think I heard? Did you just say I was right? You never say I’m right. Somebody mark this day down as a holiday, because it needs to be remembered.”
“That is because most of your plans and ideas are crazier than an argonian dumped in a skooma vat.” Baeor offered with a smile.
“All right you two, enough.” Wendt broke in pressing his fingers to the bridge of his nose. “You’re going to give me a headache.”
“But We-endt,” both Tabelle and Baeor whined.
“No, just no. Stop it, both of you. You act just like children. Sometimes I swear you two were put on Nirn by Sheogorath as some sick joke passed on to me by my ancestors.”
The dark elf and nord grinned broadly at one another. Azhiit had a hand clasped over his muzzle and was doing his best to suppress his laughter at Wendt’s aggravation. Apolyta chewed on her lip to keep her own laughter from spilling out and further annoy their de-facto leader.
Finally satisfied that his companions were going to be quiet for the next half second, Wendt continued. “Polly, you have some ability for magic in you, even if it only amounts to lighting fires right now. Having a chance to study with some mages that weren’t always on the move could help you develop that. And, you could get some real weapon training rather than this mess of styles you’ve picked up. Who knows where some real learning could take you.”
“Besides,” Tabelle interjected now that she was back in a more serious frame of mind. “It’s not like you couldn’t keep tabs on us. And I’m sure when you’re studies were done, if you asked to come back I seriously doubt anyone would refuse.”
“This one thinks they would believe you insane for that. But, Tabelle is probably right in that they wouldn’t refuse your request.”
“Only because nobody in their right mind would want to be saddled with your sorry butts,” Wendt quipped; garnering laughter from everyone.
“Alright, I give, you all win,” Apolyta resigned. “You’re right, and I know you’re just trying to look out for me. But it’s hard to leave.”
“Azhiit knows just how you feel. It is always hard to leave what you love most, even if it is for the best.”
Wendt cleared his throat causing the conversation to dry up as Centurion Daias came up to the group. The look of concern on his face caused the companions to glance at one another uncomfortably while he and Wendt looked at one another. It was no secret that the two didn’t particularly like one another, after all, Daias’ advance to Centurion should have belonged to Wendt. Worse was that the man had sat on the tribunal that stripped Wendt of his rank. The commander took a deep breath and wiped a hand over his face, breaking the stalemate of the impromptu staring contest.
“Wendt,” Daias said with something other than his usual aggravation.
The older imperial cocked his head and stood up before he answered in a deferential tone, “Yes sir?”
“Keep the troops on their toes. We were supposed to meet half a cohort out from Kingscrest here when we arrived to form up full strength. I thought they might be delayed by the weather, but even with the weather being bad, they should have gotten here before us. I’m field promoting you to Optio.”
Wendt took an involuntary step back and his eyes widened in surprise at the Centurion’s announcement. The other four just gaped at the sudden turn of events. Knowing the underlying animosity each man shared for the other, this actually indicated how bad that Daias thought things might really be.
“I think you can find somebody better, sir.” Wendt replied evenly.
“No, Optio Wendt, I can’t,” Daias said. “You and I may differ on our views of the how the Empire should work. But when push comes to shove, you’re the same as me, working to make our Empire a better place. And I’d be worse than a fool if I let something two years past deny me the skills and leadership of one of the best men I’ve ever served with.”
Once more the two men looked at one another with the hardened eyes of warriors that despite the differences of opinion, still respected one another. Wendt drew himself up into a rigid salute, “Yes, sir.”
Turning, the Centurion’s eyes fell on the girl that had been the source of their falling out. He stopped and stared with that same hard gaze as though weighing her value in his mind. As the look drew out longer, Apolyta rose to her feet and adopted the same rigid salute that Wendt had displayed only moments ago. Reaching behind him, Daias unhooked the strap to the larger sword slung along his back and stuck the sheathed weapon upright into the snow before her.
“Pick up that weapon, Discens Apolyta, this weather will ruin it.” He said as he turned and began walking away, “Optio.”
“Just so you know, when we return, I’m going on record that I was wrong two years ago, and you were right. Now get these people ready.”
Immediately Wendt stalked away, calling orders and moving among the troops. The intensity of his voice alone brought many of those who were fitfully sleeping out of their tents. In only a couple of minutes, the camp was a flurry of activity once more.
“This one is confused. What just happened?” Azhiit asked.
“I’m not quite sure, Azhiit,” Baeor replied. “But I think Wendt was just apologized to, promoted, and our little lady was just inducted as a specialist in training.”
“Azhiit, Baeor, get moving,” Tabelle said sternly. “Come along Polly, we need to lend a hand bolstering the defenses of the camp. Looks like we might be here for a while.”
“What are you talking about? You’re an immune, Tabelle,” Baeor asked.
“Azhiit does not think anyone will be immunes before we are done here.” The Khajiit said before loping off to join the rest of the Venatores.
“You’re probably right,” Baeor rumbled as he turned and moved toward the lines.
Apolyta slung the scabbard over her shoulder and drew the weapon to give it a few test swings before stepping closer to the fire to examine it. The blade reflected the light, showing a slight scoring along both edges that were free of nicks and burrs. Longer in length than the normal weapons of the Empire, it was still a one handed weapon for a full grown man. In the hands of a teenage girl, however, it would function perfectly well as a two-handed sword.
“We’ve got work to do,” Tabelle giggled. “Put your new toy away, and come help out.”
“Oh! Right, sorry.” She replied as she put the sword back in its sheath before scampering off to lend a hand where she could.
The next morning showed an entirely different camp with the tents arranged in orderly rows and a defensive ditch surrounding it. The soldiers were still nervous, but they gained some comfort by knowing they were better defended. Centurion Daias had decided they would wait for four days on the chance there had been a delay and sent out scouts in the interim to see if they could garner any further information. So far, they had returned with nothing.
“Concentrate, Polly,” Tabelle admonished. “It’ll never work if you don’t concentrate.”
“I am concentrating, it’s not my fault that it just won’t work.”
“And who’s fault would it be then, if not yours? Mine, Baeor’s, that shrub?”
Apolyta huffed and sat back, they’d been here for two nights now and if anything the weather was promising to be worse on this one. The overcast sky, darkening rapidly at the approach of nightfall, was dropping sleet that tried to coat everything with its frigid chill, and the wind would cut through clothing like a knife. The only real light to see by were lanterns in the tents, or the braziers throughout the camp, but even the stoked fires in those didn’t really do anything to help much.
Apolyta got up and stepped out of the tent followed by Tabelle; both women wrapping a heavy cloak around their bodies to give some relief against the elements. The two moved to stand over one of the fires in hopes of getting some bit of warmth from it. Tabelle’s crimson eyes and dark skin giving her an almost frightening visage with the flickering light from below.
“You have it in you, you just need to bring it out,” Tabelle continued. “I know it’s a slippery thing to grasp, but I’m certain you can do it.”
“What’s that?” Baeor asked as he walked up, having drawn a night watch.
“What’s what? I was explaining that …” Tabelle began.
“No, I mean what is that?” Baeor repeated, pointing in a southerly direction.
The two women stepped away from the fire to look in the direction he indicated, a soft crunch of snow and low grumble announced the presence of Wendt at their backs. In the distance they could just make out a lingering flare before it dimmed to flickering of pale blue and green . Azhiit ran up and skidded to a stop in the snow with his mouth agape as if to speak, but when his eyes turned to the horizon all words left him.
“Wendt,” Baeor said nervously. “What’s that light?”
“The Imperial City,” Wendt replied with an odd tension to his voice.
Cries erupted from the watchmen near the east corner. “Attack! We’re under attack! Betrayal!”
The early cries were choked off or changed to cries of pain as spears and arrows swept men from the defensive hill. The three men turned as one, Baeor and Azhiit charging toward the fray as Wendt moved through the camp bellowing orders at the top of his lungs. Apolyta started to follow when it felt as though somebody had slammed her in the center of the forehead, back, and abdomen all at once with a maul; sending her to her knees with tears of agony streaming from her eyes as her last meal exploded from her mouth.
Horns pealed through the camp, rousing the soldiers who stumbled from their tents while fastening the last buckles of their armor. A tent abruptly shot into the air as it was dragged along for a time before igniting from the ball of flame within it. The wild eyed mage, standing in the inferno he’d unleashed, gibbered and laughed before falling still; consumed by his own flames.
Thick mist gathered before the eyes and in combination with the burning fires scattered around, cast everything in an obscuring, eerie light. Another sonorous horn call rang out in the distance that reverberated so powerfully it made the very air itself quake. Dread turned blood to ice in men’s veins with that horn’s announcement that this was only the beginning.
“Close up! Shieldwall!” Wendt bellowed at the troops nearby as he raced toward the direction that the attack had started on. “On me! Move! Move! Support that barricade!”
The legion, heartened by the grizzled man shouting orders, rapidly formed up shield to shield and followed. The line broken sporadically as they veered around tents and other men. When they reached the top of the berm, they planted their shields in the dirt and crouched behind them with weapons ready to repel any attackers. Wendt stood behind the wall, staring into the misty darkness, looking for all purposes like a hero of old.
“They’re Kingscrest,” one of the sentinels cried noticing a tattered standard through the mist that weaved through the air.
“Archers, ready!” Centurion Daias shouted in response.
Confused, some of the inexperienced men of the cohort broke the line to turn; questioning the call. Arrows from the mist streaked forth to end those men mercifully just before a wave of revenants, moving with unnatural silence and wearing armor bearing the Kingscrest emblem impacted the line. Men blanched and others vomited from the smell and sight of wretched and soulless things that came against them, but the line held strong.
“Fire!” Daias bellowed, swinging his sword arm to indicate direction and angle. “Reload! Fire! Reload!”
Arrows, flaming streaks accompanying less visible missiles, soared over the defender’s heads, hoping to strike down unseen foes. Horses screamed and men shied away from a swath of fire to one side that consumed everything in its path. Another mage stood with his staff raised high staring at the company with insane, bloodshot eyes and a rictus grin.
“Bring that man down!” Daias commanded, turning the archers on the unstable mage just before a bolt of lightning dropped from the sky to engulf him, leaving nothing more than steaming, blackened weapons, armor, charred flesh, and melted snow behind.
Apolyta could hear the sounds of battle beginning to ring around her as men literally came to blows with death. Forcing herself to look up, she was greeted with Tabelle’s most lunatic grin before the Dunmer shrieked like a banshee and flopped onto the ground. Paralyzed with shock, she could only watch as her friend writhed and clawed at her robes while screaming at the sky.
The Dunmer woman’s nails cracked and split, leaving streaks of blood on cloth and skin as she frantically ripped at her clothes. Her jaw opened and closed with such force that Apolyta watched Tabelle’s teeth crack and break. Tabelle caught her tongue between them and blood gushed from the nearly severed appendage to be splashed over the snow. The hands twisted and curled up as if they’d become foreign creatures with their own will. One found her face and dug into the skin until fingertips met bone before pulling at the mangled flesh to cast it away. Hysterical, terrified exclamations of having scribs under her skin burst out between the Dunmer woman’s screams. An eye popped from its socket to dangle as if staring at the ground, when Tybelle struck herself hard enough to make bone crack. The other hand found the woman’s throat and closed, the thumb and fingers lacerating their way into the flesh. With a final wrench, red fountained upward before gushing into the scattered snow and the last gurgled breath sputtered away.
Apolyta, previously frozen with horror and her own pain, lurched and crab-walked back into the side of a tent. The sounds of battle barely registered in comparison to the waves pounding through her body and what she’d just been witness to. She could feel her heart hammering beneath the leather and chain and her vision wavered between doubled and just cloudy from the tears she wanted to shed. The explosion of blue-white light and thunder nearby jarred her out of her fugue-like state to glance in the direction it had come from.
Somewhere, her mind gripped and comprehended that the hilt of the weapons on the ground matched the one on her back, but decided that didn’t matter. She could see the mage’s hands weaving in the air, yet the archers couldn’t manage to loose their arrows to stop him. Their vision was firmly fixated on the black, melted spot their commander had so recently occupied. The terror of imminent death tried to swallow her, but something inside grabbed her and dragged her through the morass of emotions to go beyond that moment.
Her voice ripped its way through the darkness of fear to burst from her throat in a desperate, high pitched, drawn-out shriek. “Shoot!”
Startled hands released half and fully drawn strings, sending shafts through the air. Far too many missed their mark and landed pitifully in the snow. Fortunately, through luck or fate, the mage’s insane grin faltered and the gathered magicka wisped away as his arms fell to release his staff to thump to the ground at his side. Tilting his head downward, he stared at the end of the single arrow, protruding from his throat, that had found its mark. Without another sound, his body followed the motion of his head, collapsing to the ground and not move again.
Wendt brought his shield around, slamming it into the side of one of the walking corpses and knocking it back down the hill. Others were rushing forward, heedless of their own fallen to trod them into the earth. Barking orders, the intractable Imperial concentrated on closing up the holes in the defense as men fell to the surprise attack when he heard a shriek pierce the sounds of war.
“Shit, was that…” He started to ask.
“Azhiit knows that sound.” The cat said as it spun over one defender to come down and neatly sever the knees of an undead before rolling between a startled soldier’s legs. “This one will go see.”
“Watch your back, Azhiit.”
“Now how is this one supposed to watch his back, your back, and Polly’s back all at one time. Poor Azhiit only has one head and two eyes.” He said, giving Wendt a toothy grin before bounding off.
“Where the fuck are our mages,” Wendt swore before bringing his shield up to stop a handful of arrows.
“Dead,” Baeor yelled as he swept his great axe over the heads of the smaller imperials to cleave the skulls from a pair of undead.
“They’re all dead. I’m not sure what’s going on, but it’s like something just drove them all mad. I had to put one down who was blasting the mid lines just to get here.”
“Shit,” Wendt swore again. “This is not good. Oil! Get the gods damned oil over here! Pour it into the ditch! And where in Oblivion is Daias?!”
“Don’t know,” Baeor replied as he swung his axe over the defenders again. “Was central near the archers.”
Wendt spared a glance behind to take in the scene. Some of the archers were still firing, providing what support they could, but most were confused and directionless. Between the fires, the panicking mounts, and the archers looking for orders he knew all he needed to know. All Oblivion had just broken loose and he was the Centurion now.
“Akatosh’s flaming draconic ass,” Wendt growled. “Baeor! Hold this line! Men, Baeor speaks with my voice!”
The Imperial turned as the Nord’s voice rang clear over the sound of battle, and raced through the camp. Breaking the men from the haze of their minds at the loss of their commander to shore up and fight back. Here and there were the tell-tale, destructive signs of mages run amok. Reaching the archers, he skidded to a stop on the blackened and blood-slick snow.
“Recover!” he bellowed and slashed his arms through the air at the gathered men, dividing them. “You lot, separate, North, cover the men on the walls. Shoot anything not wearing our colors that comes over it. Move!”
He kept moving, reaching the central camp. “You there! Get this oil into the trenches, I don’t care how you do it just make it happen!”
“But sir, we’re Immunes,” one shouted back.
Wendt stopped in his tracks and looked at the gathered men and women. “Listen you miserable whore-son, there are no fucking immunes right now! Either get into that fight or I’ll killl you where you stand myself!”
“Yes, yessir,” the man stammered as he took a step back from the angry soldier.
“Then move your lily-white ass, because tonight you’re in Arkay’s Army.” Wendt shouted over the sounds of the battle. “Now, get that gods-damned oil where I told you to put it and we might just have a chance!”
A mummified warrior still dressed in the ancient regalia of the north bashed its way through the defense line near Apolyta. The creature slashed at the nearest two defenders, knocking one away and spilling the other’s entrails on the dirt. Similarly clad corpses followed, creating a wedge for others to enter as the initial one advanced.
Turning in a panic, she scrambled on hands and feet trying to gain her footing on the blood slickened ground and put some distance between herself and the undead. She heard the heavy blade before feeling it and felt a burn in the back of her left arm as the wind was knocked out of her and she plowed head first into the ground. Her back ached as she lifted herself again and reached behind her to yank the sword that had just saved her from being cut in two from the scabbard.
Rolling over she brought the blade up in a haphazard parry that caused the next blow to skip off the imperial iron and bury itself in the sod next to her. Returning with a clumsy slash from her position, she managed to land a strike between the protective plates at the hip and shatter the bones beneath. Kicking away the grasping arm that tried to trap her ankle, she managed to get to her feet and raise the sword over her head to bring it down on the foul creature’s back, sending it back to its disturbed rest.
Her head still felt like there was a full-blown mead hall brawl going on. Another agonizing series of pangs barraged her senses and broke her self-control, making her stomach heave again and spill its contents as her bladder released a stream of warmth. Her vision swam and cleared irregularly and she was hard pressed to defend herself against the random attacks that came her way from the undead that had pushed through the gap.
A spinning, hissing, ball of angry fur careened into the risen at breakneck speed to lash out with blade and claw at the monstrosities. It was a furious, flurry of constant movement that danced around the clumsy swings and blows that tried to reach it. All the motion triggered another bout of nausea that Apolyta bit back and struggled not to embarrass herself further by losing control of her bowels.
“Come, Polly, come with this one.” Azhiit drew on her arm, partially lifting her as she used the sword as an impromptu cane. “This is not a good place to be, Azhiit thinks.”
“I’m better now,” she replied. “The sick feeling is fading.”
“If Azhiit did not know better. He might think you had been in a drinking contest with Baeor.”
“I think that would have felt better.”
“Polly, what happened to you? This one has seen much. But what you experienced, it made the hair all over poor Azhiit want to stand on end.”
She opened her mouth to reply when another nearby tent exploded in fire creating further chaos in the camp. Both of them looked around, searching for the cause when three balls of flame came falling from the mist. Two burst upon the ground and merely succeeded in igniting another tent while the third fell on a small group of clerks who screamed and flailed wildly.
“What in name of the Eight was-,” Wendt began as another ball of fire streaked eerily through the mist to explode on a horse that screamed as it fell. Turning in the direction the orb had come from there was only one thing he could think of to say. “Oh … shit.”
From out of the mist the glowing forms of two fire atronachs could be seen, other shadows moved around them disappearing into the glowing mist. The two were joined by two more, and then another score appeared and arrayed themselves in a semicircle around the opposite end of the camp from the undead. The battle ground stilled as men breathed heavily and eyed what was beyond the perimeter nervously.
Wendt’s lips pressed into a fine line and he reached out to place a hand on one of the young draymen who just finished moving the oil and came back for further orders. “Find yourself a weapon, son. And if you’re a religious man, I suggest you start praying.”
Balls of fire streaked into the camp, knocking men from the top of the defenses and igniting the oil the defenders had been pouring into the impromptu moat. The heat from the inferno that erupted on the saturated ground forced the defenders to stagger back as the fire raced both along the trench and up toward the source of fuel. Men scrambled away to either side, trying to avoid the scorching flames before them and the imminent explosion at their side.
Everything slowed as if time itself paused for a moment before the explosions began. The sound was near deafening and shockwaves knocked men down or flung those not fast enough to reach safety through the air. Thick, sticky globs of burning, oil-soaked sand scattered to rain destruction nearly everywhere; igniting tents, supplies, and men. Some were lucky and died quickly, killed by the burning shards of thick wood from the barrels, instead of succumbing to the shock and pain as the goop seeped through gaps in armor to scorch the flesh beneath.
“Load!” Wendt shouted, galvanizing the archers back into action. “Release! Fire at will! Take out those atronachs!”
Small hails of arrows sliced through the air to pierce deep into the unholy creatures from Oblivion. Several fell and twisted on the ground before exploding while their counterparts merely unleashed further hell upon the mortals. Draemora also found themselves to be unwitting targets as they passed unseen in the mist before the bowyer’s strings.
More shadows darted in from the mist as other Draemora, taking advantage of the confusion, began to assassinate the rattled defenders. Wendt brought the hilt of his sword around in the same motion he drew it for a backhanded swing resulting in a very satisfying crunch as he felt the skull of an assailant cave beneath the skull-crusher pommel. Men on the outskirts, most of them only clerks and engineers with basic, rudimentary fighting experience, fell mercifully quick before the onslaught.
“Fight you sons and daughters of whores!” Wendt boomed over the cacophony of battle while stepping up on a crate to make himself a target. “We will not go silently into Oblivion! Let our valor draw Arkay himself to look upon us and smile! Fight you bastards! Fight!”
“Sovngarde!” Baeor shouted, reaching out the full length of his axe to cleave into the hellish force before them. His size and reach easily allowed him to cleave through the upper parts of the walking dead and knock them back into the ones behind.
Men and women, soldiers all, shouted in defiance and stood against the onrushing enemies in a cacophony of battered steel. Scouts slipped silently into the mists to appear and strike against their attackers without warning. Mortals clashed with undead and draemora alike, falling back on basic tactics to change out with those in the forefront to give small relief in the chaos of battle. The encircled soldiers tightened their ranks as members of their company fell and through sheer determination made every step they were forced back cost the enemy dearly.
Apolyta stabbed and slashed between the men bearing the wall of shields whenever their ranks opened. Pain and sickness were forgotten in the haze of desperate terror that struggled futilely with the instinct to survive. Her small size was her advantage, since she could slip between two of the defenders and strike before they closed off the gap. More than one corpse or draemora met the business end of the blade she’d been given.
In and out of the misty shadows, Azhiit stepped with all the grace and cunning of his race; a master of the silent kill that was nothing more than the breath of silk across an exposed throat. Slipping between pockets of summoners, with each throat he cut, the magic that bound a minion to this plane would vanish, removing two or more from the battle. He had already left a double handful soaking the frozen ground and snow with their blood. Even so, it still wasn’t enough.
Another flare of light brought the Khajiit’s attention around to stare into the darkness and mist. The rattling steps and height of the new source of light brought his ears flat upon his head as he opened his mouth in a silent hiss. Lumbering hulks of bone, illuminated by blue fire, were accompanied by flesh atronachs of various sizes, moved inexorably toward the defenders.
The hollow roars of the creatures as they spotted the living warriors were enough to chill the blood and the fur covering Azhiit’s tail stood on end, tripling its size. Creatures crafted of flesh and bone charged forward with far more speed than was natural for anything of their size. Azhiit scrambled through the darkness as silently as possible, searching in desperation for the ones controlling the monstrosities to stop them before they reached their destination.
Wendt saw the enemy incoming and tightened his jaw as he twisted his blade into the dying creature at his feet. Yanking the sword free, he analyzed the situation in only moments and reached a decision. This battle was lost and so he bellowed his last order. “Break ranks! Battle squads form up! Retreat! Make for Dragonclaw! The rest of the legion must be informed!”
Baeor turned to look in the direction of the noise and swallowed heavily before his legs took leave of his senses. Swiveling his body, he rushed toward the line that would be the impact point of the onrushing abominations. Bellowing his warcry of Sovngarde once more, he leapt and used the shoulders of one man to carry him higher into the air as his great axe swung back in an underhanded arc.
Like some avenging angel, the nord came down to land before one of the largest. The mighty axe swung upward in a blur of blood blackened silver before he turned to grip it with his other hand. Speed and muscle drove the head deep into the chest of the oncoming creature while Baeor rolled his shoulders beneath the weight. With strength worthy of a titan, he pushed upward and forced the creature to lose its footing and flail as it became airborne for only moments before crashing down to the earth on its back.
Men and women, without question, drew their faces into grim masks at the commands their Centurion gave. None would misunderstand that this was no longer a battle to win, but only one to somehow, by the grace of the Divines, survive. Yet to a one, they followed orders and broke the larger ranks in order to form up into small strike groups of eights or tens. Shoulder to shoulder at right angles the smaller squads followed Baeor into the thick of the fray. Turning together in practiced synchronization they assaulted the horrors before them trying to cleave their way through the misbegotten enemy and break away to open ground.
“For the Empire!” Came a cry from a small group of people.
Three engineers, alchemists all, with their war cries rivaling the greatest heroes, charged out toward the summoned creatures, laden with small urns, vials, and bags of small metal bits. Several of the faster undead and draemora raced after them, sensing what they thought to be weak and easy prey. To their credit, the two men and one woman made it quite some way, using speed and agility instead of heavy defenses.
As the three brave souls were surrounded by and overwhelmed by the enemies collapsing upon them, they turned to hold one another’s shoulders in a deathgrip. It was only moments before they could no longer be seen and their cries rose above the clash of the battle that surrounded them. The sounds of their agonies was suddenly cut short when fire salts, oil, sulfur, and shards of metal erupted in a great yellow-orange explosion that shredded the pile and scattered pieces in all directions. The heroic sacrifice buying desperately needed ground for their fellows trying to escape the trap that had been laid for them.
Wendt dragged Apolyta along to rejoin with Baeor who was hard pressed with his axe in constant arcing motion. The three companions were struggling and Apolyta stayed on the constant defensive just trying to protect the blind spots of the other two. The cries of other groups could be heard as more men were laid low on the slick and treacherous battleground.
The reappearance of Azhiit to them was a welcome relief. Where the girl didn’t have the time or strength to attack, the swift blades of the Khajiit easily made up for it. Baeor, his strength finally at an end, stumbled and fell into the muck as they had made it midway through the press of the enemy. With shouts of combined hate and glee, the draemora who’d been dancing just outside of his axe range lunged in to strike.
They turned to defend their friend and family, lashing out with violent abandon at those who came near. Yet for all their ferocity, they weren’t able to stop the bulky flesh atronach from crushing the nord’s head where he lay on the ground. Tears came, but there was no time for the sorrow that welled up within the hearts of the remaining three, only the need to fight on and hope to survive.
Apolyta brought her blade around in a wild swing that caused it to shatter when it met the head of a caitiff’s mace. A piece of it sheared through the light chain on the right side of her shirt and through the leather beneath to embed itself in her flesh. Pain shot through the girl and she could feel the warmth of blood dribbling out of the wound.
The Draemora, sensing victory raised the weapon high and began the descent to crush her skull. Lunging forward desperately, she shoved the jagged tip of the rest of her blade upward between the plates of armor. The being coughed and drove its shield arm forward with all its strength at her head; caving in the left side of her helmet and staggering her backward to trip and fall over Baeor’s corpse.
Apolyta’s vision narrowed down to a small point that watched the stars twinkling in the sky. Her chest hurt, and her limbs weren’t listening to her tell them to get back up. She could feel something dribbling along the side of her chest. Blinking several times she tried to clear her vision, but one eye didn’t want to work right either.
She could just make out Wendt’s silhouette as he turned to look at her with a twisted up expression of horror. She watched the silhouettes of cruel blades explode from his chest as he looked at her. He smiled then, as his blue eyes softened in that way he had when apologizing for something. It was almost surreal as if he were held up by strings and being lowered to the ground like a puppet that no longer held the interest of a child.
When he came to rest with his head resting on her chest, her arm moved enough to brush her fingers through his close-cropped grey hair. Another pain lanced through her, just under her ribs on the left side as another Draemora shoved a cracked spear through Wendt’s torso to make sure he was dead. Something snapped as the weapon was pulled out and her vision dimmed further.
Through her haze she saw a familiar, if blood streaked, fuzzy face peering at her with a cheshire grin and felt soft paws brush her chin. She tried to smile but wasn’t sure her face was working right. Something wet was brought to her mouth and she realized how dry it was. Greedily she gulped down the strangely sweet tasting offering.
“This one is sorry, Polly,” Azhiit said before looking back a moment at his leg, which happened to be missing from mid thigh. “But Azhiit, now he must leave you too. He goes to the Twin Moons. But he has done what he can to ease your suffering. Live for us, kitten, if you can.”
Light flared in her vision as the she felt her furry friend move over her, and she thought it sent dull waves of pain coursing along her body. She was vaguely aware of the fascinating way fire liked to turn upside down as it came toward her. She wanted to touch it, to play with it and make it dance, but she couldn’t move. When it reached her, the world turned black.