Torshael and Tayne's Story: A New God for a New Mission

Chapter Thirteen

Written in Collaboration with Dragonflight


Haiiro froze with one hoof raised, and he could sense Torshael behind him holding his breath. Tayne yet again flexed his claws. His power hadn't flickered, despite the shock; they were still safe. Only Myrror and Dark, immortals and demi-gods in their own realm, had ever seen through Haiiro's ability to hide. He carefully set the hoof down, not even making a sound on the cold floor, and ran over possible plans in his head. Torshael and Tayne, he expected, were doing likewise.

Zu didn't look nearly as impressed by Ishtar. She tilted her head up to look at her then, quite unexpectedly, spat, "Next time, get your bloody dagger yourself," and threw the blade at her.

Ishtar halted its flight with a simple raised hand and a gesture, plucking it from the air without even turning to look at it. "Ah, but then... you wouldn't have so politely directed our guests down here."

"Excuse me?" Zu asked skeptically, but Haiiro suddenly felt like he couldn't breathe. Surely she didn't mean--

Ishtar turned slightly, her face partially veiled by her long hair but the rest revealed to be icy pale and marked with blue. "They're right behind you, you know."

For a moment, not one of them moved. Certainly she couldn't be bluffing-- could she have guessed Haiiro stood there? Certainly not. Which meant she could, somehow, see through his ability to hide, something an extremely few and rare number of beings could do-- and all of them were more powerful than Haiiro himself. But if Ishtar was so powerful she rivaled minor deities... what good could the four of them possibly do against her?

To Haiiro's complete surprise, it was Torshael who leapt lightly down first, shrugging off the now-dubious protection of his perception twisting. He didn't, however, shrug off Tekasynos's coat. "We appreciate the thoughtful guidance, madam," he said amiably enough, offering both women a bow, though he never took his eyes off of Ishtar. Zu, after glaring at Torshael for a moment, suddenly went blurry and indistinct before vanishing completely and reappearing on Ishtar's ledge, beside her.

"I imagine you'd have found your own way eventually," Ishtar said with a chuckle, turning to face them at last, her face still half-hidden in her hair. The only one she actually looked at was Torshael: somehow, it had been the ice behind her that reflected Haiiro's presence, not her own power. Haiiro contemplated ways of smashing it. "But I'm quite tired of waiting for things."

"Then are we invited guests, to be waited for?" Torshael asked lightly enough that he might have been talking to someone far less dangerous. "I was under the impression it was your companion there who did the inviting, though she seems less than happy to see us."

::As long as she's talking, she's not attacking,:: he said in answer to Haiiro's-- and probably everyone else's-- concern. ::And we might learn something.::

"You simply caught her off-guard," Ishtar shrugged nonchalantly. "I had her extend the invitation, though there are more of you than I planned... but that will not cause any problems." Haiiro couldn't help but wonder just what she "had planned" for them, and he staunchly refused to drop his perception twist. He didn't know how her ice mirror was correcting her senses for her, but he still thought that the less visible he was, the better his chances of dodging something she threw at him, if she did.

Zu looked in his general direction, after a glance in the ice mirror, and spoke up, looking a little more controlled this time: "You are here, Tekasynos... does that mean you've reconsidered my offer?"

The infernal slid to the floor, and Haiiro stepped lightly aside so he was fully visible and standing unshadowed. "Lady, as far as I know, you've done nothing but screw with my head. Apparently repeatedly. I have no clue what you're asking me to 'reconsider', but if you're asking me something again, then it's obvious to me that I damn well said no the first time!"

Though he was remarkably restrained, for someone with a deep grudge and a lot of pent up anger, his voice still descended into an audible growl when he ran out of words. It probably didn't help that Ishtar laughed, though Zu didn't look happy. "So much for your theory that he'd be more willing without his memory," Ishtar said. "That's the sixth time he's denied you, and he doesn't even know the question."

"You would think," Torshael mused, "that one might have learned after the first several attempts, and stopped asking."

::I wonder if it has anything to do with the 'sexy' comment,:: Tayne commented privately between them, making it a joke on Zu this time rather than Tekasynos, albeit not a particularly good one. ::Good choice, Valar; she looks like she'd be a control freak.::

Tekasynos started to reply to Tayne, mental voice dry rather than offended, ::Thanks, but--::  

And then Ishtar interrupted the thought. "But back to the matter at hand!" Ishtar cried, almost gleefully, completely ignoring her seething henchwoman, if that was actually what Zu was to her. "You've been invited here because, after so long a wait, my goal is finally within my grasp. All that I require now is for one of the Exalted to bear witness, and with you here now, everything is finally in place."

From the look of her, Ishtar had been waiting for this moment-- and this speech-- for a long time. She even motioned grandly, as if acting before an admiring audience. Haiiro put back his ears at the sight of it, reminded of particularly cliche and melodramatic opponents in plays who had plans far too large for them to carry out. However, given what he'd seen of Ishtar so far, it was entirely possible her plans were possible to carry out. And, if she was to be believed, he was the last thing she needed. They hadn't walked into a trap. They'd walked into something worse.

::Dammit, I've seen this before,:: Tekasynos grumbled. ::That Ishtar woman is giving one of those cliche'd "evil villain monologues". We have to keep her talking about her plans because as soon as she stops, she's going to do whatever it is that she's planning.::

::Well, we've already ascertained that I'm good at keeping conversations going, to the annoyance of whomever I'm speaking with,:: Torshael commented, and nodded encouragingly to Ishtar. "But what do you need an Exalted for?"

The thought that he could just leave, deprive Ishtar of her precious Exalted blood, crossed Haiiro's mind. Torshael voiced it: ::We could just leave.::

::Go right ahead, if you care to,:: Tekasynos commented, ::But unless the whole world is mistaken many times over, he's not an only child.::

He had a point, Haiiro thought sheepishly. Any of his many siblings would do; he just happened to be handy, at the moment. They'd have to find a way to stop her.

Or keep her talking forever. She certainly looked enthusiastic enough to do so: she looked thrilled at the opportunity to answer Torshael's question. "For too long," she said dramatically, "this world has suffered the whims of darkness, the mark on the otherwise beautiful divine chorus that we call our gods. Twice I have tried to destroy the beast they call Yaashir, and twice I have failed, and I have lost more than anyone can fathom." Haiiro doubted that, given the extent of her power, fortress, and collection of magical artifacts. "But my eyes are open," she continued, "and I have tread across the forbidden to find my answers. Here is where I will bind the power to destroy the beast once and for all... and with the blessing of the purest of this world's blood--" Ishtar pointed the dark blade vaguely in Haiiro's direction, "--the world will be freed from this pain."

:: .... Well, shit,:: Tekasynos grumbled.

"What is this power you speak of?" Torshael asked with every appearance of interest.

"I'm afraid that's not for your ears," Ishtar continued with a disinterested shrug.

"Give them back to him," Zu growled suddenly, quietly. Haiiro picked it up without even having to try.

"Oh--?" Ishtar looked amused by the vague request.

"I want him to know the price of defiance."

Haiiro could guess what was about to happen, and he'd already taken a step back to Tekasynos in a hopeless thought to protect him when Ishtar's finger flicked at the infernal. The result was instantaneous: Tekasynos dropped to his knees with a pained cry, clutching his head, as memories flooded back into his brain, lodging themselves into place in the most jarring, difficult, and painful way possible. Haiiro could have helped-- his own mental powers were far from useless when it came to settling things in their proper place-- but he had other things to worry about just then.

"Now then, take heart!" Ishtar entreated smugly, "Your sacrifice will be for the greater good! Zu." Her expression went swiftly from pleased to cruel. "Kill the extras."

Zu smiled slowly. "Thought you'd never ask." She crouched, as if prepared to spring, and Torshael braced himself, Haiiro dropped his perception twist and narrowed his senses, and Tayne bunched up for a leap.

::Nngh-- Don't let her... near you!:: Tekasynos's strained mental voice managed. ::Run-- or fight with the other woman-- but... don't let Zu-- touch you!::

Torshael took that to heart and promptly burst into holy fire, surrounded by a near-blinding halo of power no evil creature could penetrate. Tayne was already leaping down and spreading his wings, landing with a thud in front of Tekasynos. And Haiiro was ready for the moment Zu left that platform, but Tekasynos ignored all three of them, shakily forcing himself to his feet and dropping his hands. Well, one hand. The other made a gesture that looked like it was probably rude. Zu glared. "You die first."

"Come and get it, sweetheart," he sneered back, stepping back from Tayne, who politely gave him some more room. This was probably one of those things Tayne frequently spoke of, the need to fight one's own battles, though Haiiro was loathe to leave him all alone with no support. He didn't have magic, after all....

However, Zu leapt, and Tekasynos shifted huge in a blaze of fire, and Haiiro had something else on his mind. He vanished, reappearing from his teleport behind Ishtar and, with a quick breath, was swiftly blazing with fire of his own-- especially his hooves. He bucked viciously, smashing his back hooves into the glass behind him and the lashing his front hooves at Ishtar, herself. The ice shattered, though it stubbornly refused to melt; Ishtar, apparently unprepared for the attack, took the brunt of it before stepping backwards off her platform and hovering, bruised and burned. Haiiro breathed another blast of flame at her, advancing in its wake with burning horns.

::Go, now!:: Tekasynos's command rang. He'd slammed Zu into the wall with his tail.

::Not without you, fire-boy,:: came Tayne's reply, and Zu, who was picking herself up from the broken ice, suddenly started sinking into the ice-bound floor as it melted around her feet.

It didn't do a lot of good, for as Tekasynos leapt into the air, Zu hopped free, as well, following him into the air, despite her lack of wings. ::I said go, dammit!:: the infernal repeated furiously. ::She's a bl--:: The thought broke off before it had a chance to make sense, for as he attempted to dodge her leap, leaving Zu to rebound off the wall behind him, she somehow bounced off and, unexpectedly, burst into flames.

And then was gone, leaving in her wake....

::High One preserve us,:: Torshael's first thought came to them all.

Another infernal. A black infernal. Massive, covered in spines, and pitch black-- and fastening teeth and claws in Tekasynos, mangling a wing and throwing him to the ground viciously.

::This just gets better and better!:: Tayne growled, promptly shifting upwards into full supernal form.

He and Torshael didn't even have to think about what to do. Though going up against a black was new, this, at least, was something they were familiar with. Torshael interposed himself between the fallen Tekasynos and the oncoming infernal, to her screech of fury-- a screech that resonated almost painfully in the contained chamber. Torshael threw as much of his holy power into the air between him and her as he could, trying to ignore the awful sound, while Tayne dove behind him to Tekasynos. "Hold on, fire-boy, we're gettin' you outa here," he muttered, then teleported them both-- eight feet towards the tunnel. And it made his bones ache to even try.

::Not gonna work!:: he broadcast. ::She's doing something to keep me from going anywhere!::

Zu stayed in the air above the three, eyes narrowed on Torshael, then she laughed. The laughter of a black infernal was, they discovered, a low and horrible sound. "You think you can hold me back with that pathetic display?" she demanded of Torshael. "I will not be so easily denied, whelp."

None of them were about to give up, however. Torshael's response was to silently blaze all the brighter, drawing up more holy power; even if what Purification he could summon only wounded an infernal this powerful, it was still better than nothing. Tekasynos behind him, climbing to his feet despite trailing hot infernal's blood, growled his own defiance. Tayne let loose a lion's roar in echo of both, wings spread and body ready to leap whenever it was needful.

On the ledge, not caught off guard a second time, Haiiro's flames gushed steam and water when they struck Ishtar's retaliatory blast of ice. She brandished the black dagger against him, the artifact aglow with a dark aura, but it was tiny and easy to parry with his horns and deflect through his thick forelock. She couldn't get within reach of his actual flesh as long as he kept his nose away from her, and if he was lucky he could use his vastly greater reach to wound her further. His hooves and their flame had struck, and struck hard. Surely he'd broken ribs or collarbones, or scorched enough skin to be painful, and someone in pain didn't think as clearly, he knew this-- but then why did she act like she was hardly injured at all?

And the dagger wasn't her only weapon. Behind him, the ice came alive, flowing like water around the flames licking at his own body, trying to grab at him. He tried to strengthen his own element against hers; as long as he was aflame, he was safe, but it did take concentration.

"Why are you doing this?" he demanded, fitting words between parries and thrusts of horn and dagger. "You were chosen to help save the world, and now you want to destroy the one who chose you? Why?"

"Let the world be damned!" Ishtar shrieked, lashing out at him with her other hand, now encased in ice and a dark, putrid energy that made Haiiro instinctively toss his head back and out of the way. "He will know the pain he caused!"

After another outward strike and parry with her dagger, Ishtar let out a most unexpected noise: it was, Haiiro thought, a giggle. Her smile was dark, and he stepped back from a faint pulse of her power, a creeping darkness. "I will end him... heh heh.... Who better to send him to the embrace of the void?" She threw back her head in laughter, practically an invite to attack her, but Haiiro was frozen for a second at the sight of the other half of her face, until now hidden by her long hair. She looked dead, fleshless, only ice sheathing delicate bones that should have been sheathed in skin. Even her eye was gone, replaced by that throbbing, unholy darkness.

"I will have my vengeance!"

Haiiro needed Torshael, his Purification, for that darkness. But Torshael had a black infernal to deal with. The ice, at least, he could try to combat. Father, if this is why you called me here, he thought swiftly, be with me now. He thought he felt a glimmer of response, a tiny inflowing of strength, and whether it was real or imagined, his spirits lifted. And without a spoken word, he interrupted her wild laughter with another blast of flame, a stronger one, enough to envelope her completely but aimed, in the main, for that broken, icy face and the darkness it hid.

Torshael had his hands full, all right: Zu's response to his power was to ignore it. She dropped towards him, surprisingly agile for her great size, bringing down the spikes on her tail. When they hit his shield of power, they stopped briefly, the purity corroding both flesh of the tail and bone of the spikes-- but Torshael's still-young power wasn't enough to destroy even her tail completely, and he ducked before she could impale him, rolling aside. Tekasynos, not idle and thankfully not grounded despite a torn wing-sail, lifted into the air behind her.

::Keep her attention, brother,:: Tayne suggested.

::With what, my acrobatics?:: he replied sourly, and this time aimed a burst of holy power at her eyes. Corroding them would do them all a lot of good. Unfortunately, Zu saw it coming and negated it with a breath of black fire. Torshael dodged again as a few licks of it actually made it through to threaten him.

But Zu still hadn't counted on Tekasynos, and he, apparently, had the same idea. He dropped like a stone onto the back of her neck, clutching at the spikes on her neck and shoulders with his hind feet and clawing viciously at her eyes with his front claws. Zu, taken by surprise, shrieked and lashed her head back and forth, trying to rid herself of her passenger, but Tekasynos, for all his lack of magic, made up for his deficiency with strength, and he clung on.

::Sounds like a good idea,:: Tayne commented approvingly, even eagerly. ::Give me some protection, brother, I'm tired of being useless!::

Torshael could have said the same thing, given how little his power seemed to be able to do, but protection he could do. Tayne surged up into his birth form, and past it in size until he nearly matched Zu herself, and Torshael covered his claws, face, and entire underside in his holy light, as thick and strong as he could make it. It looked rather silly, perhaps, but as Tayne leapt for her unprotected hindquarters, claws ready to dig in and rend the flesh of her wing-sails, it would protect him and probably cause damage, in and of itself. He just wished it could be he who was doing the rending....

Haiiro's own facial attack, though it caused little true damage, was useful in other ways, instead. She threw up her hand to protect herself, the tainted ice encasing it melting some but taking the brunt of the heat, but he was driving her back even more, keeping her on the defensive. He spat flame at her again, trying to drive her back further. The dagger she still waved at him threateningly, and he could hear-- no, sense more than hear-- as it screamed for blood and pain. He wanted to shiver, but didn't dare let himself get distracted.

Physically, he could continue to drive her, flare at her, all day and probably not cause her any pain-- she seemed half dead, and he, personally, had no talent against the undead. Maybe if he drove her into the battle with the infernal Zu he would have a chance, but then she might wind up helping Zu instead of getting in the way of something. And that dagger... if she got a strike in at Torshael or Tayne, he feared what it would do to them. She was obviously insane, so there was no way to reason with her, try and convince her of her own folly.

That left... what?

Her heart?

Well, it was worth a shot. He could always charge her, fall back on his physical attacks, if it failed.

He backed up a single step, disengaging but keeping his head lowered, half defensively and half so he could look at her directly. "How did Yaashir hurt you, Ishtar?" he asked.

Ishtar laughed at him, that eerie laugh that merely confirmed it: she was mad. But mad or not, she was not stupid. Her eyes were sharp, waiting for any opening he might slip and give her. "Oh, precious, how thoughtful of you to ask about me, even though you should be more worried for your friends." A giggle, which didn't in the least drown out the black infernal's next shriek, which left him slightly dizzy and dying to shake his head to shake it off. "Did you want to buy yourself time with a story? That doesn't always wooo-ooork," she sang, wagging her dagger back and forth, like a gruesome, oversized finger wagging in mocking rebuke.

"No," he began, focusing fiercely with all his willpower on that dangerous dagger, "I don't need time. I just want to know why. Maybe I can help--"

He was interrupted as the ledge shook violently beneath his hooves, startling him and Ishtar alike. Zu's great, black head reared back, the source of the interruption. He rocked back to regain his footing-- and his sense of balance-- as Ishtar half-turned to shout angrily at Zu, "Stop playing with them and kill them!"

Distraction. Well, he wasn't about to ignore something handed to him. He breathed out another blast of flame and, in its wake, charged with horn lowered. Even if he could just knock her from the air, the fall might hurt her-- and maybe make her drop that dagger.

Tayne and Torshael, the direct recipients of Zu's strange cry, didn't come off as easily as Haiiro. Torshael hit his knees at the pain of the scream and stayed there dizzily at its aftermath. Tayne might have done the same, if he hadn't had his enchanted claws and teeth locked into the infernal's flesh, merely driven in deeper when she all but crash-landed on the cavern floor. The smell of an infernal's burning flesh cleared his head quickly, but not quickly enough to avoid the lash of her tail into his sensitive wings. Spikes buried themselves in feathers, glancing off the golden armor along the arm but scoring past it on the flesh of wings, shoulders, and haunches. That brought him the rest of the way back to his senses, growling with pain and fury and snapping his wings shut around the spines still scraping against his spine.

Tekasynos, who was still clinging to her neck above them, slid a little, himself, and Zu briefly forgot about Tayne to smash her own head into the ledge wall. The strangled, pained cry-- most assuredly not from the black's throat-- brought Torshael back into focus, and for a moment he gaped. The spines along Zu's neck and head had buried themselves into the ice-- through Tekasynos. She didn't wait more than a breath before pulling herself free, sending several chunks of now-bloody ice to the floor, and flinging the bleeding infernal away from her. Tayne didn't see it, taking advantage of her moment of distraction to surge up onto her shoulders and reattach himself, wings and, now, coiled tail trapping her own tail and keeping her from raking him badly again.

Torshael had never healed an infernal before. He didn't even know if it was possible for holy healing to take effect on an unholy body-- maybe Haiiro could have, but he was indisputably busy.

And Zu was distracted with Tayne, who was biting viciously at her neck with still-glowing teeth and a murderous expression.

Torshael knew he had no time at all, and he made the only decision he could: he started gathering his Purification as quickly as he could manage. At the very least, maybe his power could end the poor infernal's pain-- or do to him what it did to Ahraosa. And who knew what that would do to him?

The problem with Purification was that it took so long to actually use. Bandying about with holy power was one thing, but Purification itself quite another. Torshael had to watch Tayne struggling to keep his grip on the infuriated black infernal-- had to sense that Haiiro was still battling a similarly powerful mage above him-- had to listen to Tekasynos's labored, wheezing, bubbling breathing where he lay crumpled on the floor not far from him-- while he could do nothing but stand there, trying to focus and summon power faster than he'd ever summoned it before. It came to his call and silent, desperate praying, but not even the High One would give him power in an instant, not even against an ancient black infernal.

His intended victim didn't make things any easier, either. When she opened her mouth next, unable to get teeth or claws into her attacker while he ripped viciously at her flesh, the power still clinging to him burning away wherever he clawed, bit, and tore with his horns, he'd expected a scream. Instead, he heard strange words, wrong words, sinister and twisted and wrong. If he hadn't already been on his knees, he would have gone down to them at the discord they struck within him, and he clapped his hands to his ears in pain. The power he'd collected waited impatiently, glowing around him, but while those horrible words were being spoken, he couldn't do anything with it. It was all he could do to keep from screaming, or launching himself at the infernal in a certainly useless attempt to stop the sound.

When it finally did stop, Torshael took his hands away from his ears, and they came away wet. Before he could even look, he heard Tayne scream, and he forgot his own aching head at the sight of Zu's spines, spikes, and horns all coming alive, like snakes. They writhed around Tayne, who had so carefully avoided them in his attack, and bit at him, dozens at once. Tayne swatted at them with feathers and one of his paws, roaring like a lion, while still trying to hang on--

"I... told... y--you," Tekasynos wheezed painfully, "... to... run..... You... ca... n't...... w... win....."

::But we will keep her busy,:: Torshael sent through the nimbus of his power. He was almost ready, now, despite his splitting head. ::So Haiiro can do what he came here to do. Prepare yourself, Tekasynos. If this kills you... know that I'm sorry.::

And he had no more time... but he didn't need any. Light exploded out from Torshael's small, human body, enough to fill the chamber within seconds-- pain and death for anything with evil in its soul, leaving behind cleansing. For anything with more evil in it than good... destruction. Not even a black infernal could shrug off the effects of a full Purification without terrible pain and great damage. Surely not even an ancient black infernal. Surely at least Tayne could get away-- get a good bite or two and get away-- please let Tayne get away--

Haiiro felt the steadily growing power before it turned into true Purity, sensed his bond focusing past the pain, and he turned his head just enough to swat at Ishtar with his horn rather than gore her. He had to get her in the path of his bond's power-- maybe it would heal her, some. To his dismay, however, not only did she not go flying, she grabbed onto his horn and clung to his face like a leech, hand and feet freezing to the touch, slashing at his cheeks and neck with her dagger.

It was too late to stop. He charged right off the ledge and into the air, shaking his head wildly in an attempt to dislodge her. The dagger struck once, digging into the muscle on the side of his neck, and for a moment there was nothing but terrible, sickening, disorienting pain-- then the light hit them.

The next moment seemed to last forever, as if time briefly suspended while some wonderful god somewhere made everything right. Light was everything, blocking out sight, sound, and most importantly, pain. The chill metal withdrew from between his scales, replaced with warmth and unexpected strength-- not his own, but familiar somehow-- and the pain was gone, like it had never been. Ishtar's grip on him pulled free, forcing her alone into the light, to let the Purity do what it would with her.

Then the light faded, the power dissipating past the ice and stone walls, and Haiiro scrambled to put air into his wings so he landed instead of crashed. His fire had somehow flickered out while he was in the air, but he didn't care. He hit the ice with a clatter of hooves and pivoted once he had all four feet on the ground and no more momentum to send him sprawling, half-afraid of what he might see behind him, not daring to hope--

Ishtar was nowhere to be found, but at the place where she might have fallen was a pile of shattered bones and a broken, half-frozen skull. The blade-- covered in his blood, though the wound it left still didn't hurt anymore-- was stuck in the ice right next to the skull. Haiiro approached it one hoof at a time, nostrils wide and ears back. Could she have been so thoroughly... destroyed? Was that it, all that was left of her? They didn't even know why.... He pawed with incredulity at the ice around the bones, unwilling to touch them but afraid to believe it was really over.

His part of the battle, anyway, he realized belatedly. The acrid smell of smoke and singed flesh marked Zu, reverted now to human form and covered in burns, cuts, and one ruined eye-- but still quite alive. Her clothes were smoking, as if she were too hot for them, or as if she had seconds before been on fire but was suddenly dampened. She watched with her remaining, angry, red eye as Tayne struggled up from the prone position he'd landed in but didn't get very far before he slumped back down, tongue hanging out most ignobly and bleeding from dozens of wounds. He looked dazed and exhausted.

Torshael, across the cavern from the rest and marked with blood on both sides of his face, staggered to his feet, slumped down again, then managed to get himself up and half ran, half fell to Tekasynos's side. The infernal was lying where he fell, smoking but still in one piece, unlike Ishtar, or any other lesser infernal faced with Purity like that. He was awfully quiet, though, bleeding sluggishly from wounds much more serious than Tayne's and from one side of his muzzle.

"Hmph. At least this wasn't a total loss."

At the sound of Zu's disgusted snort, Tayne actually made it onto his feet, all in one scrambling motion, baring his teeth at her in useless defiance. Torshael had his hands on the motionless infernal's side, against one of the worst of the punctures-- probably one that pierced a lung-- but managing to do nothing but get his pale hands, once-white robe, and Tekasynos's enchanted coat stained red. "I can't..." he muttered feverishly, "it won't work... don't be dead, Tekas, or I'll--"

He was too tired to heal anything worse than a hangnail, but he refused to admit it. Tayne wasn't any better, and he was busy standing protectively between Zu and the rest of the room, anyway. All Zu did was look amused at his snarl.


"Aaaah!" Haiiro clattered back from Ishtar's bones at the sound of her furious scream before he realized it wasn't actually coming from them. It was coming from-- nowhere. Or everywhere. Like she was a disembodied spirit, hovering somewhere in the ruined chamber.

You will pay for this defiance! she raged from nowhere, and Haiiro glanced around once before making to approach the bones once more.

" ... Ishtar?" he asked, ears flicking back and forth uncertainly.

The skull had vanished. Tayne's startled growl made him look up again. Zu held it now, somehow, the cranium in one hand with her other on the jaw. She was... playing with it, moving it in some mockery of speech.

Zu! Ishtar's offended voice snarled.

The infernal ignored her, dusting ice from her arms and looking amused. She looked-- healthier. Haiiro and Tayne both stared, dismayed, as they realized she was healing, regenerating from the Purification, from Tayne's mauling, even from Tekasynos's claws to the eye. "That's not fair," Tayne whined under his breath; only Haiiro was close enough to hear it. As it was, Haiiro agreed with him! 

"Well," Zu smirked, "since the lot of you managed to ruin my fun here, I'll be taking my leave.... If I see you again, though... you best be a great deal stronger. Otherwise you'll die." She hefted the skull again, clicking its jaw at them, making it "speak" as she chirped, "Bye bye!"

Tayne lunged awkwardly for her, but before he could take more than a couple strides, the infernal vanished in a blast of black fire. Haiiro stamped unhappily on the ice, crushing another of Ishtar's bones. He should have known that having her body destroyed wouldn't be enough! Tayne was clawing furiously at the ice, himself, hissing out a stream of the worst curses a supernal ever uttered-- not that they were particularly terrible-- all aimed at the head of the black infernal Zu.


Torshael's sharp sending brought Haiiro's head snapping over to his bond, who was still half-leaning on Tekasynos's side, now with his ear-- his bloody ear-- pressed to the even more bloody ribcage. He didn't look as if he'd paid any attention to Ishtar's continued existence or Zu's taunting disappearance.

::Stop berating yourself and get over here!::

"Coming," he said, cantering over anxiously. "Is he...?"

"Still alive," Torshael answered quickly. "Just barely. I can't do anything... I don't have--"

"You don't have anything left," Haiiro finished when the supernal broke off. "And I do."

"Yes," Torshael admitted with difficulty.

Haiiro gave his bond's bloody shoulder a brief nuzzle before bending his head over Tekasynos's body and summoning up what reserves he had for his borrowed healing magic. It wasn't enough to heal much, not without outside assistance from one of the supernals, but he could at least keep him alive-- repair the worst wounds and get him stable.

"Tayne?" Torshael called shakily, and his brother came over reluctantly, still fur-fluffed with anger at Zu's escape and his pawsteps just as unsteady as Torshael's voice. "Maybe... you should call in that backup... see what they can do with whatever's left in this mess...."

"Probably a good idea," Tayne sighed. "And they can take us someplace warm and let us sleep for a week or two."

Another good idea, Haiiro thought, before he devoted all of his waning attention on Tekas. 


Chapter Fourteen

Back to Torshael - Back to Tayne

Back to Haiiro'Hiwatari