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Quietly, wordlessly, they moved through that black, dead scar on the face of the world. There was absolutely no sound now; no birds, not even ravens. Motes of ash still hung in the air, floating dreamlike wherever the wind would take them, otherworldly presences that hung in memorial to all that had once been. The world reeked of the aftermath of flame, and of death. Evorlette gagged more than once, and finally gave in, covering the lower half of her face instead of cradling her wound. That stench was worse than pain.
The things they saw were more horrible than they could have imagined. Here and there were strewn about half-burned bodies of those who had been knocked into submission by the barbarians and then left to die licked by the flames. Their mouths hung open in noiseless screams, their glazed eyes staring outward into infinity, into the souls of any who dared to pass by. There, in the ruins of a distant home, a child hung suspended in the air, skewered by a spear that was now lodged into the earth. Neither of them looked at that one for long. They moved as quickly as their feet could carry them, keeping their eyes down on where they walked. Curious eyes could not linger in this place, they found.
Finally, though, as they reached what had once been the town square, where Evorlette had made her stand against the wicked invaders, they found him. There, a flame was still lit, burning a pile of corpses to that same ash that carried all else. This ritual burning would ensure that the honorable dead would not be left to the ravens, and that those who lingered would not have to behold the pained faces of the dead, as Egorias and Evorlette had. The stranger performing the ritual had his back turned to them. He was dressed simply, in a brown cloak with his face concealed by the hood, and he did not move.
The roar of the fire, and its dancing colors, seemed as out of place in this world as a delicate red rose in the midst of winter snows. It drew Evorlette and Egorias nearer like moths, until they stood at the stranger’s side. Still, he did not move or acknowledge their presence in any way. He simply stood, staring into the flames which carried away all that remained of his kin. They were now able to see his face, a brown-bearded face with eyes sunk deep into his skull. His eyes were dark, and his hair hung about them in a thin curtain as he scrutinized the flames, oblivious to all else.
They both knew that face.
“Imerre,” Egorias and Evorlette said in unison. At last, he turned, as if the sound had woken him from a deep and abiding trance.
“My brother, Rend…” he moaned. “…he is gone.” This was met with deep sighs all around. For a moment, there was silence, and then Imerre continued. “But there is more to it than that… His heart was pierced by the blade of an angel.” He turned to face the both of them. “It was just before the attack. At that time, only two were absent from the scene… you two.”
Evorlette paled. “Imerre, listen to what you’re saying! You can’t possibly think that we killed—”
Imerre roared, drawing a sword from his side and charging them in a headlong rush. “The first to make excuses is the guilty party!!!” he screamed at the top of his lungs.
Egorias pushed himself in front of Evorlette quickly, drawing his blade but not uttering so much as a word in his own defense. He met Imerre’s foolish charge forcefully, catching the attack with his sword and then pushing back with renewed vigor. Imerre stumbled backward, dark eyes full of hate.
Evorlette hung back, trying to reason with him. “Imerre! Are you mad!? None of us would have done this!”
Imerre ignored her, coming forward with another slamming attack, which Egorias blocked with laughable ease. He pushed him back again, but did not come in for an attack of his own. Again, Imerre came forward with another rush, and Egorias prepared to block again. Unexpectedly, Imerre then dropped low, tackling Egorias around the lugs and dropping him to his back. Egorias spun in his fall, landing out of Imerre’s way with a cry. He charged at Evorlette with a howl.
Fear widened her eyes, fear laced her feet with lead. But not her arms. She whipped her blade outward, swatting the charging brute across the ribs and halting his advance. “Listen to me!” she cried desperately, wincing with every word she spoke. “Maybe the barbarians stole someone’s blade! Why will you not listen to me!?”
Imerre was beyond words now, in such a berserk frenzy that he could not be reasoned with. His attacks were powerful, but foolish, showing no thought at all, and Evorlette found them easy to counter even in her wounded state, though allowing the force of Imerre’s blows to ring against her blade and thus pass through her entire body was a painful experience. Twice, she managed to land blows on his arms, meant to lessen the effect of such murderous, pounding attacks, but Imerre still came on.
Egorias regained his feet shakily, and rejoined the fray, but now Imerre was spinning, ducking, dodging. The crazed man still came at Evorlette, and with every attack she was forced to block she could feel her body weakening.
She landed a counter here and there as he continued to ravage her with blunt, brutal force. The grievous damage he was inflicting would soon cause her to stagger, and then she would be beyond hope. She stepped backward, allowing for some room between herself and Imerre, the same way she had done with the barbarians. Then, she lengthened her attacks, striking loosely and lightly, in quick succession. If she did not allow him to close in with his punishing attacks, she hoped that she could hold him at bay.
But he was too quick. He clipped her with his shoulder as she was pulling back her blade, and she tripped over her own feet in an attempt to pull back and away. She fell onto her back with a tremendous groan, and was not able to rise.
“No!” cried Egorias, charging in Imerre’s way. He dived between them, blocking the attack that had been meant to finish Evorlette. The two began a new duel, the strategies much the same as Evorlette had been using. Egorias tried a light attack, but Imerre knocked it away with force. Imerre tried to hammer Egorias, but Egorias ducked and aptly countered.
Trying to regain her footing, Evorlette groaned when pain shot through her. Her wound had opened more widely. She could not move.
Egorias and Imerre still danced around each other, and thankfully Egorias always took ground where he could defend Evorlette. He landed an attack and pushed back the berserk titan. He dived under Imerre’s sideways swipe, letting a sliding momentum carry him as he struck a glancing blow across his foe’s thigh. Then, he hit a third time, rising quickly from the nimble dive and landing a terrible slash all the way down Imerre’s back. Angrily, Imerre fell face-first onto the stone street. He was still not finished. Berserk fury propelled him onward. He regained his feet, surprising Egorias, who had thought him finished, and then came at him again.
The dance was frantic now, the blows faster than ever before. Both combatants sweat from every pore, breathing slowly and deeply. Imerre hit first with a low shot at Egorias’s right knee. Egorias went over the low attack, thinking to push Imerre down with the flat of his blade, but that only gave Imerre the opportunity he needed to spin to the side and hit Egorias across the arm, and again across the leg, a rapid two-step combo.
With his sword still held low, Imerre was open to Egorias’s grab. The protector gripped Imerre’s armor at his collarbone, then slammed the hilt of his blade into Imerre’s face, once, twice, three times. Blood poured like a fountain from Imerre’s face, and he was temporarily blinded. Then, Egorias turned the sword, and pulled Imerre onto the point of his blade, impaling him without mercy or any appeals to reason.
He kicked the man off his blade, and left his corpse lying on the road with all the others.
When he turned back to Evorlette, he found her already gone. She had passed on, into a sleep from which she would never awaken.
Egorias was alone.