Chapter 40 - Defeat
Time seemed to stand still as she streaked toward the floor, the sharp whistle from her wings growing quickly to an ear shattering scream. The sixteen floors disappeared in the blink of an eye as she appeared to be no more than a silver spear of light. A ghost of a smile on her lips as she brought her shield up and leading after releasing her spear, flinging it to drive deeply into the sand ahead of her. Tucking her shoulder and arm against the bright shield, she saw Ja’Sessh’s eyes raise in recognition and fear in the split second before she impacted.
Tilting the shield on impact she allowed herself to glance off his heavy shoulder, driving him to his knees and into the solidified sand as he absorbed most of her momentum while she rolled with the battered shield to the side. Immediately tearing the straps free as the shield turned, she tucked and rolled to her feet, sliding to a stop only steps away from her spear while chunks of the sandy crust exploded around them, shattering off the nearby pillars and floors as the energy of her attack was spent. Turning, her eyes fell on Ja’Sessh as he struggled to rise, his blade throwing up sparks as it skittered to a stop against the wall beyond the pillars.
In the few seconds while the shards of crystallised sand continued to rain down she fanned out her wings and resettled them before shaking out her shield arm. Winter watched as the Rakshasa dazedly lashed out, a furious eye catching sight of her. She deftly twisting aside as he launched into a charge from his crouched position, backhanding him as he passed, causing him to overbalance and crash heavily to the rubble. She backed away, giving him room and watching him return to his feet as she slowly circling around him. Letting out a roar, he stood and charged, rushing her head-on.
Pulling up short, he moved with startling speed despite his size, reversing his momentum and firing his right fist at her. His eyes widened in shock as his fist met clear air, the valkyrie ducking around, suddenly concealed by his own arm. He roared again as her clawed fingers dug into his brawny arm before he was suddenly torn from his feet.
Winter turned as she released him, throwing him like a child with a rag-doll. He collided with the nearest pillar heavily, the sound of the breath being blasted from his lungs echoing throughout the hall. The last shard of solidified sand fell back to the floor, the whole trading of blows but the work of less than seconds.
“A pleasure to see you again, Ja’Sessh.” Winter said drily, watching the named rise as he clutched his side.
A dark disparaging chuckle wheezed from him before he spat out some blood, the sticky tendrils hanging from his maw, “The pleasure is all mine, bitch of the Host.”
Winter smiled slightly, her lips thin, “Do you care to keep fighting?” she said, shifting her stance, “You can either walk, or be dragged before my beloved.”
His eyes flashed menacingly, “I’d rather die than be forced to posture myself before that degenerate again.”
“That can be arranged, Ja’Sessh.” Winter said, her steel orbs watching him.
He growled lightly, “You dare to…”
“Dare? Just speaking a simple fact, Ja’Sessh. We are not built the same. Do you not recognise who you are addressing?”
“All you winged bitches look the same to me.” he snarled, “You all stood by and watched what he did, how he humiliated and degraded us. Not one of you spoke a word. You are filth, the lot of you.”
Winter smiled slowly, “How convenient that memory is, maybe you should speak with your mate, I am sure she recollects differently.”
His eyes flashed in anger, “I am sure she does.” he said, throwing his large hand out wide, scentless smoke thickly flooded the area, its thick roiling black mass blanketing the sand.
“I have you, bitch of the Host.” Ja’Sessh snarled as he stalked through the black smoke.
Kitaraiya watched from the wall under the tiers as the impenetrable smoke flooded the space between the pillars. She quickly glanced at Rhyker, their eyes meeting briefly in shared understanding. She took a few steps to Rhuthain, standing beside him.
“Thain, did he just?” she said almost in disbelief.
“Aye Kit, he did. Might as well… Come, get your brother and follow me over to Silvast. The ‘Bitch of the Host’ is going to dismantle him an he won’t see it coming. Fool that one is, giving a reaper of the old world shadows to work in. She’s probably right behind him already.”
A sudden deep grunt echoed out of the black haze, followed by the sound of sand shifting. A roar in frustration rang out, cut short by another heavy crack and thud.
Rhuthain winced as repeated blows sounded throughout the hall, “Aye, the fury is already making a pulp of him, hope she doesn’t mess up his pelt with blood an all.”
Kitaraiya glanced at him in curiosity.
“What? I just want to run me hands through it. Looks nice is all.” said Rhuthain, shrugging.
“You want to run your hands through his fur?”
“Aye, an stop looking at me like that. Can feel that look on the back of me head.” Rhuthain said.
“You are worrying me, Uncle.” she said.
“Aye, but not as much as you worry me, Kit.” he said looking over to the smoke as it started to thin, hearing a growl and wincing again just before another heavy thud shook the floor.
“Aye, she’s going to pulverise the fool.” he said, glancing over his shoulder at Kitaraiya as she supported a limping Rhyker, “Bet you he’s thinking twice about putting those daggers in your legs.”
Rhyker grimaced as he limped.
Kitariaya’s eyes narrowed.
“What Kit? When you’re used to using your power an suddenly you can’t, you have to make do. Its easier to catch and return throw a dagger instead of say, a crossbow bolt or an arrow. An some enemies, don’t even bother firing anything at them.”
Rhyker nodded, leaning against the wall and allowing himself to slide down.
“Kit, can you change back to your usual self? Girly-like and not some blood-thirsty monstrosity that gives me the chills.”
Kitaraiya’s jagged smile made him shiver, “Aye, like that.” he said, looking back to the shadows in the slowly dispersing smoke as a silence descended over the chamber.
“Thain, what do you see?” said Silvast as she leaned against the wall of the passage.
“I be thinking that maybe she’s done. She’s dragging him to us. He’s looking pretty limp.” he said, giving Silvast a quick glance and noting her easy stance before taking a few steps forward and waiting.
“Oi, Winter, does the furry fool still breathe, or are you dragging a new pelt over for me?”
“He breathes, Thain.” Winter said bluntly, her hand wrapped around the Rakshasa’s thick wrist while she dragged him along.
Winter shook her head as she came to a stop and rolled Ja’Sessh onto his stomach, pinning his arms back. She felt a sharp drawn in breath from beneath her.
“Thain, your belt.” she asked with an outstretched hand, “Quick.”
“Aye.” he responded, quickly unbuckling and handing it to her.
He watched as she bound Ja’Sessh’s wrists efficiently, setting his arms in a way that he couldn’t release them.
“Not worried he’ll be able to… You know, break them?”
Winter smiled, “No, but maybe in a few hours he’ll have recovered enough. If I am remembering correctly, his code won’t allow it.”
“But, you’re not taking chances, are you?”
She gave him a quick smirk as he squatted in front of Ja’Sessh’s head and reached out, stopping as he saw the flicker of movement and the sharp flick of his ear. A deep breath causing Winter to lift as she knelt on the cross of his thick wrists.
“Unnecessary…” he rumbled softly, letting out a deep breath.
“Aye? What was that, kitty?”
“This…” Ja’Sessh said, shrugging his shoulders and coughing, his blood dribbling from his torn lips.
Winter refused to move, “I can not trust that you still abide by the code.”
“You have defeated me in open combat, humiliated me as only your kind can do, Gatekeeper.”
“That’s a strange notion of open combat, kitty.” said Rhuthain.
“It does not matter, a Gatekeeper of the realms will defeat me no matter the odds.” he rumbled, his voice low and resonating, “She was acting on orders from her master that is all.”
Rhuthain met Winter’s eyes with a confused expression, mouthing the word “Gatekeeper?”
Winter frowned, her lips twitched angrily before twisting the bindings until Ja’Sessh breathed in sharply, “You speak of what is no longer.” she said with a hiss.
“That I doubt. Once was, always will be.” Ja’Sessh said, trying to tilt his head enough to look with his good eye, the other swollen shut.
Rhuthain’s eyes narrowed as he watched the anger playing on Winter’s features, he reached out his hand and ran it though the Rakshasa’s fur atop his head, before running it between, then behind his ears with a grin in return to the furious glare thrown at him.
“Doubt, kitty? I don’t know what you are talking about with all this ‘Gatekeeper’ nonsense, but you spoke much too much to one who is a master at speaking bullshit. What’s more, taunting a dwarf, there is a golden rule against it, just can’t help ourselves.”
“I do not care what you…” Ja’Sessh started before being talked over.
“You think you are the first pretentious prat we’ve dealt with? Half expected you to be a villain with all your talk about how you’ve got us where you want us. It was like some fool was waving a big flag saying pick me, pick me, I want to be next. I know you are a fecking demon.”
Quickly sharing a glance with Winter, Rhuthain continued, “Now, since you are just glaring at me an not flapping your lips. I’ll tell you what you told me, with all that lively banter before you got your arse handed to you. You fear the Host, especially his Valkyries. No, not just fear, maybe respectful terror.” Rhuthain mused, before chuckling at the white-blue glare.
“Let me catch you up, since you seem to be obtusely ignorant. The Host is no more, he fell before the world did. His valkyries are no longer his, since he’s dead an all. What gets me is how old you are, what maybe a little younger than…”
“The Valkyrie came before the Rakshasa to this realm. They are the Gatekeepers.” Ja’Sessh corrected.
“Aye, you said. To be living so long an to be so daft is perplexing. See we’ve been having some issues with our strength down here, must be something your mistress did when she built the place. Now, since you were so full of yourself, I made a bet to meself that you’d kill your pawns, since you’re so mindlessly superior an all.” Rhuthain tapped him on the head with a stubby finger, “An, another thing, why would I be concerned about those humies you brought with you, was going to cut them down to size anyways. That one our valkyrie friend here was watching over, that humy who was guiding us would pass as well and she’d come since this place is nicely sealed up against telepathy and the like. Sound about right, Winter?” he said, quickly giving the valkyrie a look.
“No, Thain. I had been up there a while.”
“You been watching all this?” he asked, surprised.
“Of course, I have been waiting for Sessh here to show himself, I am blind to his kind until he walks out of those shadows. But I can still feel them, smell them. But, I was not exactly expecting him to make such a spectacular fool of himself though.” she looked over to Rhyker in concern, “Rhy, I’ll fix you up as soon as we get this sorted out. A few moments.”
Winter shifted, allowing her knee to press in harder, her captive stiffening under her, “Sessh, you injured my adopted son and daughter.” she said, running a nailed fingertip along the edge of his ear threateningly before pressing his head flat to the floor, her face close, “Do not think it will go unpunished.”
“W-Winter?” Ja’Sessh almost whispered in recognition, “How could I not feel your presence? I would never have engaged… The Host has not passed, without him you...”
“Aye, kitty. He’s more than dead.”
Winter shook her head and retrieved Rhuthain’s belt, throwing it to him before standing, “How could you be so detached?” she said under her breath, “Let him up, Thain.”
“You sure about that? What if he goes all feral again?”
“He won’t, code or not he will not attack. There is too much at stake and he is well aware of it. The future of DeKaalenstaad is on the line, a single foiled attack of ignorance can be forgiven. Any more will not.” she turned, her wings pulling in tight and stared at the prone Rakshasa, “Stand or kneel, I do not care which, Sessh.”
Winter looked into the shadows of the passage, “Silvast?”
Rhuthain watched the Rakshasa carefully in Silvast’s pensive silence as he drew himself into a kneel. His clothing battered and torn, the fur covering his form barely concealing the dense muscles while they rippled fluidly under his skin.
“How could you withstand such a beating? I saw what she did.” Rhuthain said,
“I did not withstand anything, dwarf lord. She held back.” Ja’Sessh replied, his voice a deep rumble while a tendril of blood dribbled from his mouth, “She did not use her claws, nor even a quarter of her strength.” he said, his one good eye watching Winter.
Silvast’s calm voice reached them, “Yes. I agree.”
“What are you agreeing on, Sil?” Rhuthain asked.
Winter turned, letting her form shift, wings and hardness retreating and her sultry form of the eladar wilderelf returning as she crouched over Rhyker and placed her hands on his legs, covering the sealed wounds. A faint glow built under her hands and after a few seconds she motioned to Kitaraiya. Ja’Sessh watched her movements intently, the beast that she was assisting her brother to stand. His eye strayed back to Winter, meeting hers as he realised he was being watched.
“I will escort him back to DeKaalenstaad and meet with the Empress and her people on Antrandis and Silvast’s behalf. Thain?”
“Aye, I agree. You offering to speak on me behalf? I can’t ask for a better negotiator for the clans.”
Winter dipped her head, acknowledging his words.
“You will not be allowed within the borders of the DeKaalenstaad.” Ja’Sessh rumbled.
“Yes I will, Ja’Sessh. I will not be denied.”
“An agent of the Host will be attacked on sight. No one crosses out border.”
Winter smiled, giving him a nod, “Stubborn now as you were then. I do not know how you managed to remain so isolated to not know the comings and goings of the Eld.”
She glanced at Rhuthain, shaking her head, “When was the last time you ventured out, Sessh? Before the fall?”
She watched as Ja’Sessh frowned, his ears pricking slightly, “You see, the one who truly deserved my gift found me and us after the new gods breathed life back into the Eld. He gave us life and purpose as our creator intended, Sessh.”
“New gods? The gods have forsaken us, Gatekeeper. Those that remain are beyond our reach. The Host is your master, no other. You stand before me, so he must be alive.” he rumbled calmly while wiping at a lip.
“And you were once a conservator of Escorath. I assure you, Neci lives, as I have seen her with my own eyes.”
“Impossible. The dragons are no more. I have proof enough. The sanctums are ruins and those that remain are being taken by your kind. And this ‘fall’ you keep mentioning, the dragons fell with the...”
“Aye, it’s like talking to a solid chunk of stone, ain’t it?” interrupted Rhuthain, “Got an answer for everything… Sil, you feel like contributing?”
“Not yet.” came her voice from the passage.
Winter frowned, feeling Rhyker touch her shoulder, “Rhy?”
“He does not know.” she heard him say softly, turning her head slightly as his words sunk in.
She looked at the kneeling rakshasa, her eyes narrowing, “Sessh, how long has it been since Neci abandoned Escorath?”