What had taken the vast majority of a lifetime to build had now come crashing down in a matter of heartbeats. Rayward’s Gate was little more than a pile of rubble and broken foundation. The dust from the collapse had yet to fully settle but the massive gap in the city’s seal wall where the gate had been could be seen from any point in Rayward. After the rumble of stone and mortar crumbling to the earth had quieted the moans and cries of the wounded and dying crept up in to the sky above Rayward.
Tinaca opened her eyes as she coughed herself back into consciousness. She had no recollection of the fall form the arch above the gate. The last thing she remembered was walking with Kalli and watching Sir Liam and the city’s Master of Arms locked in conversation. Now she found herself entombed in a bed of shattered rock and metal. Her lungs exhaled an alarming volume of pulverized stone particles and she was bound to a fit of retching and hacking for several measures. It felt like one of the massive constrictors that swam the rivers of Silverwood had coiled itself around her chest and was squeezing the breath from her. As soon as the miserable frenzy of coughing had subsided Tinaca lamented its absence. Expelling the dust from her breast had pardoned her form the pain that the fall had brought down on her. A fleet of cuts and bruises from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet attacked in a coordinated assault of agony. By some miraculous feat, she was able to access that she had been spared any broken bones.
Tinaca rubbed her reddened watery eyes to clear her vision. Though it was not easy to see any great distance in the present state of disarray, she was at least able to discern that any impairment that came to her sight was not from damage for her body but form the lingering particulate that hung in the air. It was easy enough to see the effect of the arcane blast that the scarred mob of humans had inflicted upon Rayward’s Gate. Fragments of stone were coated in layers of cooling silver and platinum. While most of the men and women that perished in the fall had met their end crushed under tons of rock or splattered on the unforgiving earth below the gate, some of Rayward’s solders and several of the Amurai had been slain in a bath of molten metal. Tinaca felt her stomach turn as she witnessed the forms of people encased in mounds of cooling silver composite. Some features of the victims were still identifiable as human. Those who had died in the metal wash held a greater harrowing quality than the faceless streaks of red gore that caked the fragments of the gate’s wreckage.
“You are so strong,” came a hollow voice from Tinaca’s right hand side.
Tinaca was able to sit upright but when she tried to stand she found that her left foot was solidly trapped under a heaping pile of stone. She rolled and shifted to look at the speaker. She felt her heart fall thought the bottom of her chest as her eyes came to rest on the shape of Kalli. The Bloodwoods Clan hunter had not been so fortunate in the fall from the top of the gate. A mix of rock and twisted metal had smashed the woman’s lower half. Tinaca watched as a tide of red flowed out from the rubble covering Kalli and sounded her in a scarlet circle. “Do not move. I will get you clear,” Tinaca said. She started to grab and pick at the pile of debris pinning her foot but to no profit.
“No, there is no use. I am finished. Get yourself away. They will be here soon,” Kalli said as she choked and spat a soggy red mess from her sliced lips.
“I will not leave you here,” Tinaca responded defiantly.
Kalli looked at Tinaca with a soft calm in her eyes. Her face relaxed in an expression of understanding. “If you will stay then please hold my hand,” Kalli said gently.
Tinaca paused only for a moment before she sprawled out and stretched as far as she was able. She grit her teeth and fought against waves of pain sent by the countless wounds on her body. Tinaca battled for every inch until she was able to touch her fingertips to Kalli’s. He foot felt like it was about to pop off form her body but she killed the pain and lurched forward enough to finally lock her palm with into dying woman’s grasp.
“Your skin is softer than I thought,” Kalli said with a scene acceptance in her voice. “I spent so much time not liking you. I wished I had realized that I liked you sooner, then maybe…” she said trailing off into a quiet moment of internal lament. “Too much time lost but this is good,” she continued holding Tinaca’s hand tightly and offering her the last smile she would ever have to give. “Never wait…” she said as her grip loosened and then finally went limp.
Tinaca continued holding Kalli’s grasp for several moments past the hunter’s point of death. The sound of the chimera horde charging the hole in the wall was getting close enough that the ground was starting to tremble. The immanent rush of the monsters into the breach cut Tinaca’s mourning short and she returned to attempting to extricate herself from where she was trapped in the stone fragments. Her frantic attempt at freedom slowed as a feeling of present danger pricked at the back of her neck.
“Lord Marx. Lord Marx Roseway. I am Lord Marx. Worthy. I am worth. I am worthy. Lord Marx,” came the deranged sound of a man’s unhinged ramblings.
Tinaca looked to see the shambling form of a scarred and brunt man scrabbling over the wreckage of the gate. He was dripping with hot platinum from open flowing wounds. The man was hardly recognizable as human. He clutched a broken rusty dagger in his hand and as he sputtered his sting of gibberish he moved among the rocks, viciously stabbing and finishing off any living Rayward soldiers or Amuari who were trapped in the debris. She felt her heart freeze for a second as the man noticed her and starting moving towards her like a serpent would close in on a grounded bird with a broken wing.
Tinaca rapidly searched for anything resembling a weapon close bye. He bow and quiver had been lost in the fall but she could see Kalli’s quiver was still attached to her back. There were still a few arrows that managed to remain intact during the fall. Even without a workable bow, Tinaca knew she could adequately defend herself with a single arrow despite being pinned to the ground. She pulled and strained against the pile of rock weighing her down. Tinaca reached for the fletching on the closest arrow peeking from the quiver on Kalli’s back. The taste of hot rot filled her mouth as the arrow hung just out of reach and she could feel the fast approach of the screaming madman. She could sense that her time was out and she rolled back and was greeted with the horrific sight of the scarred man, dripping molten metal from his body and brandishing his balder over her with killing intent.
“I am worth something. I can still have value. I am Lord Marx. Lord,” said the man with a wild bestial quality as he prepared to bury his steel in Tinaca’s throat.
Before the man could let his weapon find it’s mark, he was bowled from his feet by a blur of red. He crashed into the dusty rubble with Brother Pratt’s arms firmly wrapped around his body. In a few moments of chaos the two men fought like staved dogs over a scrap of meat. The scarred man and the junior Councilman regained their footing and there was a moment of nothing that followed the madness of their combat.
“I am Lord Marx Roseway,” coughed the man. Blood caked his lips as he spoke. He looked down at the hilt of his knife driven into his ribs up to the hilt, then to Pratt’s hand tightly grasping the pommel of the weapon. The scarred man dropped to his knees, coughing and sputtering. He tried to speak once more but the only thing that came out of his mouth was a sloppy gurgle. The life faded from his eyes and he fell back to lay still.
Pratt clung to the bloody dagger and could do nothing more than look at the scarlet hue masking the shoddy blade. “I…I could not…I…” he stammered incoherently as his focused finally managed to leave the weapon in his hand and return to Tinaca. Pratt stood there in shock babbling as the dagger clattered to the ground and his hands went to the sides of his head like he was trying to keep it from flying off of his neck.
After several more moments of valiant twisting and squirming, Tinaca was able to free herself from the collapsed pile of stone. She immediately limped to Pratt and took his trembling hands in hers. She could feel his body stop shaking once she touched him. “Shh, it is all right. You did the right thing. You saved me. You saved me again,” she said with profound admiration in her voice. Her eye’s normally so dark and sullen now shown with all the brilliance of the stars sparking in the night sky. Even though he was a shaken husk of a person, Tinaca had never before been so taken with the majesty of the man standing in front of her. It was like she was seeing him completely remade anew. She could not tell if it was he who had transformed or if it was her perception of him that was altered but she knew that their bond was forever changed. She looked at him and recognized something in his face that was so familiar it was as if she was looking into a mirror. Her eyes dropped to the lifeless body of Kalli at their feet and the final words of the Bloodwoods Clan hunter sounded in Tinaca’s mind like the crash of ocean waves meeting the shore.
“I could not let him…I could not…because I…I…” Pratt continued to stammer until he was silenced by a deep and soulful kiss on the lips from Tinaca.
“I know. I love you as well,” Tinaca said with astounding ease. The words came to her like fond memories and she found her mind realizing something that her heart had known for ages. Her confession pulled Pratt from his shock and he met her eyes with a glassy gaze of his own.
“The gate…” Pratt tailed as he drank in the spectacle of the ruined fortification.
“There is nothing for it now,” Tinaca said as she quickly bent down and relieved Kalli’s body of her quiver and remaining arrows. “You have done enough in this battle. You need to fall back. I will find you after,” she continued as she pointed to the mix of Rayward soldiers and Amurai forming a rudimentary battle line around the gap where the gate had collapsed.
Pratt offered no objection and quickly darted for the safety to be found behind ranks of fighting men and their shields. Tinaca searched the rubble franticly and was able to find a bow that had managed to survive the gates demise intact. She nocked an arrow as the first of the chimera horde reached the breach. With a practiced hand and expert aim Tinaca let fly the first arrow of the last battle she ever expected to fight it.