A form emerged from the swirling black - an embodiment of evil. J’s haste did the trick and summoned a manifestation that had contained us for the past… where had time gone? Did we rest during this journey? Maybe on the ship? But the ship wasn’t real; in fact, none of this was. I gripped my hands and tested my strength for a brief moment too - was the encounter in Hansur part of this illusion? No. Raw power coursed through my veins - the oath remained intact.
A menacing roar shook the defiled grounds - the call of a dragon. I had heard this wretched sound before, but we were an army standing before this sort of adversary in the past. Fate, and the errant arrow plucked from a holy bow, would not be part of this tale. It did not matter. This atrocity needed to end.
Hansur’s gift overwhelmed me with these thoughts, projecting outward what was going through my mind. It radiated out of me, and I could shape its movements. A blast of cold erupted from the dragon’s gullet - Ake gasped beside me. I projected it outward and took the brunt of the blast, but spared my dreaming friend from a quick demise. Pain seared through my skin as a reward for my care, but I would not be fallen so easily by an enemy. My voice boomed,
The creature pulled into focus, much like I had seen things before. It’s easy to allow your emotions to command your actions. All too easy. I was a snarling wild mess of a person, and there was value in that. It allowed me to do some great things, but there were unnecessary mistakes that cost our party gravely, specifically, the girl I struck down in front of Attala. She had a calling too, and she should’ve had the right to pursue that path. Move forward Ren, this journey is not finished.
I squared with the dragon alongside J, who had assumed an unearthly form. This had happened before as well. She pounced upon the dragon and rended it with a vicious strike, and I couldn’t help but smiling. Change is good. The dragon reared and showed its strength in return, tearing at us with sharp teeth and claws. Without the adrenaline pumping through my body, the pain felt more real and was tougher to ignore. But it kept me in focus.
The dragon took to the sky, opening up its belly to an attack. I gripped my anchor hard and swung true in the style I was accustomed to. The edge gripped hard and burst into an opalescent shimmer, biting much deeper than I thought it could. This was the work of Hansur and our Oath, impossible to do while enraged.
My allies followed the beast up to the sky, which left an open canopy betraying the night. It had been so long since I just stood up and looked at the sky and its stars. Bird Girl had mentioned that there was nothing up there. Maybe the dragon should be free.
No Ren. It is an embodiment of evil. It must not only be punished, but it must no longer be in existence. This is a certainty, as much as the Sun coming up in the East and down in the West. It sickens you to look at this abomination. Take that fire and project it outwards.
“Grovel!” I commanded, voice shaking with divine power. The dragon locked eyes with me for but a moment and snarled, but obeyed. How? Even I was surprised by this, resolving myself to the appointed task. It knelt in front of me, but I didn’t hesitate. It sensed no weakness in me and desperately nipped at my battered body. Blood spilled one more time, but it gave an opening for J to come down and end it. A necessary sacrifice. I might have faltered before, but not in front of this… thing. I caught myself before falling into unconscious, and saw my enemy fall.
Only its heart remained, pulsing with evil power. I glanced at the others and gauged their reactions. Of course Dorian wanted a piece of it; another angle to pursue his own goals. I looked into his heart and saw a reflection of this beast’s. Were he more of a threat he might have been in this same scenario. J guarded the heart, mistrustful of the others. She had a point - this was something that could be seized by those with ill intent. Ake seemed in a sort of praxis about the thought of capturing this for his own devices. I understood - I’d need to kill him if he tried to seize the opportunity - but even so I was disappointed that he didn’t at least try. I let the TIP speak its peace, then ended the heart as a slayer should.
We kept the Black Bell mercenaries with us, our group feeling some value in doing so. Snow had covered the remains of the camp that Rinn had just laid to waste. Some time had passed - I know not of how long it had been, but my assumption would be months. I would ask Ake of his thoughts on this transpiration, but he seemed more occupied with his new pet. I then turned to the mercenaries - I guess one needs worms to go fishing, after all. I fed and watered them, then we set camp and slept.
And then I dreamed. This was the reward of the oath. Ake had shared details about it, but in seeing the factory I realized that this was a terrible and potent gift, indeed. Carson was illuminated by a brazier, administering some torture on a poor sod. I approached, and had a chat with my beholden.
I saw him through different eyes in this space. Away from the Crimson Sail, isolated to his own thoughts and devices, I saw only now that Carson is concerned with certainty. He wants predictability, and it was something that I resoundly rejected when I was younger. A slave never chooses. They only obey. I tested this since moving to Malkara and befriending the TIP, but Carson made this point crystallize in front of me. If he isn’t around, who then obeys the dark voices in this world? The Camonna Tong is a dangerous group, yes, but only to the weak and misfortunate. What if Simon had mobilized and fed off of the mistrodden? Or something worse yet than him? Carson was bad, yes, but he was also a person. And I had surrounded myself with many bad people. So long as he doesn’t grovel, he might serve useful in my quest.