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In the Forests of the Night

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There was no help coming, no help expected. Zenahriel was alone, and truth be told, the only thought in his mind was Gabriela. Even as the ground transformed into a lake of blood, he saw it all, saw her snap her beloved Shade’s neck and the battle of her assassin and the ranger who sought to save her life. Zenahriel prayed that the ranger would win. Nothing else mattered.

His limbs were heavy, growing weak. He didn’t have much time. Unable to breathe, Zenahriel reached to touch his neck, feeling the gaping wound the arrow had left. The blood flow was slowing.

Please, La’Ruta, let me do just this.

He reached deep inside himself, summoned the power afforded to him, pulled on the well of energy within his soul, and called on it with despair and desperation. Whether it was La’Ruta’s mercy or his own strength, he would never know, but inky black tendrils formed around his blood soaked fingers. With weakness, but stalwart determination, they slid into the wound, stopping the flow of blood and closing the opened flesh until all that was left was an oozing, impotent cut.

That was that, he could do no more. His hand fell limp.

So… useless, he thought as he slipped into darkness.

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Something was happening behind her but she couldn’t be bothered to lift her head and turn to look. She seemed sucked up in some deep and awful abyss, a deep depression that fell upon her dense like morning fog. There was no way out from the damp and dreary reality of her existence, all of it was lay naked before her in all of it’s agonizing truth. She killed what she most loved, she killed those she wore to protect -- with her own hands, Shade, her most beloved companion -- now lay dead. Prior to his death, he had known nothing but horror and terror, and there was no one in all the world who could be blamed for this senseless act of violence. And all of it was like this -- all of life, or at least, all of her life -- one senseless and unnecessary act of violence after the other.


But this -- this hurt her so much more than anything else. More than the millions lost in Ceyana, more than the thousands lost in Veelos, more than the hundreds dead in the Ellwood Forest. Shade’s death was more than just the lump sum of the lip service she had to pay to an ambiguous collective of precious lives. He had been her friend, her companion, her trusted steed -- an extension of her own consciousness when they rode out in the night.


And now he was gone, and by her own hand.


Yes, you absolutely kill everything you touch. Why else would I make you my beloved?


Get out of my head!


She cringed at the familiar voice -- or was it a wayward thought? Her eyes closed tightly, the gold in them hidden as she tried to put herself out of this. The grief was overwhelming, and she found herself craving the sharpened point of the arrowhead that was meant to pierce her heart before Zenahriel had stepped in.




It was the smell of his blood and the sound of his prayer that stirred her from the quicksand-like depression that was growing and extending from her very person. She hadn’t realized it, but the trees nearest to her had begun to blacken, as if rotting from the inside out. From their thick roots that were buried deep in the earth, a manifestation of her grief had polluted them and sucked the life straight out of them. She tasted that very life upon her tongue now, just as the velvet like leafs above her head, which came together to make a grandiose canopy, began to wither and die. Bewildered, she sat up on her knees and looked up and around herself to find that from where she knelt a circle of death had begun to expand, and before her, Shade lay unrecognizable as skeletal remains trapped within a dried up hide of thick horse-skin.


Just let him die, called that seductive whisper deep in her head, he’ll come back anyway -- it hardly seems worth the trouble.


“No -- no more death…” she was turning now, glancing at the desperate fight that had broken out between Oberyn who had tried to kill her and Aien who was trying to save her. Beyond the two struggling men, she saw Zenahriel, spread out like a newly slain butterfly, awaiting the needle through the heart that would pierced him and preserve him like the specimens in the Solarium de las Ciencias Flora. “No, no…” she said again, crawling on hands and knees across the rough ground toward her struggling friend and one-time-lover. By the time she reached him, he was pale and cold but not yet dead. He had pulled together a few tendrils of darkness to close the small wound that had cut into his artery. He looked beyond saving, but still, Gabriela pulled him into her arms.


It was always a disturbing sight to see Gabriela as she truly was. In her petite guise, she stood and within her slender and elegant arms, she held the full weight and length of the High Lord, a man who was very much larger than she. She cradled him to her chest, and it nearly looked comical had it not been so utterly surreal.


“Fall back,” she would call to Aien, wondering if he would finally take one of the orders she issued, “Fall back into the forest -- hide.”


She couldn’t begin to understand what had happened or what was going on. Oberyn had been hand selected for this mission, she had interviewed him personally and spent a good amount of time trying to impart on him the importance of his task. It wasn't until she was sure that they shared their convictions on this matter that she had disclosed what she intended for him and his team to do, so she believed -- with all of her heart -- that there had to be an explanation for this.

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Oberyn had underestimated the insect he’d missed, the one he’d allowed to live from the original group of poachers, and now it was proving most costly than he’d anticipated.  The newest group’s leader—he surmised she was such by the way the others threw themselves at him, pointlessly trying to defend to; to prolong a life that would end the moment he managed to bury his blade in her heart—inspired a wild determination in this lot. But rather than shy away from the challenge, or feel frightened, the anger in his veins burned hotter.

The deranged warden felt a thrill and excitement at the contest, and determined to redouble his efforts. But first, he would need to deal with the whelps. The feathered poacher was already in poor condition, barely clinging to life as the woman scooped him up in her arms as if he were weightless.

Aien slammed into his side, dagger in hand, but would find it all but useless to him. Realizing the impact was all but inevitable, Oberyn adjusted his sword mid-fall, burying it deep into the man’s shoulder. As they smashed into the ground, rolling and toppling over each other, the weapon worked deeper into flesh and sinew, twisting, ripping, opening the wound and ensuring his arm would do naught but flop uselessly on his shoulder.

Oberyn did well to keep his sword in hand, quickly righted his perspective. He wrenched the blade free from the wounded poacher, slashing at him twice, though didn’t bother to see if either strike found purchase. He’d been in the open too long; who knew how many more of the bastards would come crawling out from the shadows. They were like roaches, always at least a dozen lurking nearby.

They’re retreating, he realized as he leaped away, bounding up into the canopy. It would be ambitious to pursue them—too ambitious, and so the rogue warden took to the shadows, blade in hand, to gather his thoughts.


The battle had been closer than Oberyn expected—that it had been a battle at all left him furious at his poor execution. They should have all of them been cut down before any realized what had happened, just as he’d done the others. These poachers, they were different. Not skilled, per say, but more motivated to survive than the others had been.

This made them dangerous.

Though, it hadn’t been a total disappointment. Two of the three were injured, and the third—the leader—well, he didn’t know what to make of her. She was incredibly beautiful in a familiar sort of way, though the intricacy of his knowledge surrounding her was hazy. Long black hair, bright, golden eyes. Oberyn was sure he knew her, had seen her. Something in his stomach churned at the thought.

They’d be slow now, dealing with their wounded. Powerful though the woman proved herself to be, it was unlikely she would be able to carry both of her comrades at once. Not very fast, at least. If the trio were a beast, it gravely wounded. It would be some time before the High Lord recovered from his loss of blood, and while the other man had only received a shoulder injury, it had been an ugly one.

It would be a miracle if he were ever able to use that arm again—assuming he was mortal.

Oberyn did a brief inventory of his armory – many of the arrows he’d salvaged had snapped at the ends from his scuffle on the ground. His sword was pristine, as was expected from an Orisian masterwork. Checking his belts, he realized he’d lost a throwing knife to the tussling, as well. I’ll have to be more careful next time, he thought, understanding the next confrontation would likely be close quarters.

Feeling a hint of eagerness, he smiled.

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Pain exploded into his shoulder, forcing the elf to drop his weapon while he and his mad captain wrestled upon the ground. Without full use of his arm however, Aien could do little as the would be assassin made his escape, darting into the trees while Aien lay bleeding on the ground. Failure to put an end to this nightmare has proved more costly than he could imagine, the fear of what may come next eating away at him ferociously.

A new plan had to be devised, and quickly. Every moment spent idle was another moment given to Oberyn to plan his next attack against them. If they could just regroup, find shelter, figure out a way to signal for help, then maybe they could make it out alive. First things first though, he had to assemble the others so they could be together and have strength in numbers. Unfortunately for him, just the task of trying to get up was difficult due to the immense pain in his shoulder.

Deep breaths helped to manage the pain, but no amount of breathing could stymie the blood, or the damage done to the muscle. The chances he could recover with full use of the appendage again were slim, with the chance of contracting an infection a great deal higher. To think that he was to die like this, after so much time surviving in this forest. Bards rarely sung songs about heroes who died of disease, not unless it was a comedy, that is.

"Your Grace!" He called, hoping to get her attention, his vision threatening to turn black with the pain. "We have to find shelter, and quickly. He will be back for us."

Collect the others, find shelter, find a way to send for help. Those thoughts stuck within his mind, keeping him focused despite the agony he was experiencing. It was the only thing keeping him going, that and the burning hatred he held in his heart for Oberyn. Until he could enact his vengeance, Aien first had to survive, which meant getting up and moving as quickly as he could. With his feet back on the ground, he called once again, hoping to get the queen's attention so they could both help get the Highlord back up on his feet as well.

This was going to be a long day.

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