Chapter 70: Gone Fishing
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After everyone else had gone to bed, I sat up alone on watch. I really resented having to set a watch at an inn room, but if Taava was right—and I strongly suspected she was—it was a necessary precaution. And, since the beds were tiny and I didn’t need to sleep every night, I ended up staying up, sat at the foot of Taava’s bed like a large, grumpy stuffed animal.

We—particularly Taava—had expected “potential assassins” to quickly become “very real assassins who are here now and will fight to the death.” I could fault the kazzel bard/assassin for a lot of things, but I was starting to get the feeling that intuition wasn’t going to be one of them.

To the assassins’ credit, I didn’t notice them until right before they attacked, even though I’d unshifted my ears and eyes under the hood I’d borrowed from Salvador. My spear was resting in the corner—someone who suspected an attack wouldn’t leave their weapon so far away. I hated we did that to sell the illusion, but I could manage without my weapon.

They came through the shuttered window and the door at once. First in the room was some kind of ball that exploded soundlessly into an off-colored cloud of smoke. I shifted before the ball hit the floor.

I couldn’t make out five intruders yet; Taava had said there would be five. The shutters and door had been thrown open suddenly, but there had been no sound.

Two blades flashed toward me from the door side and I blocked with my two left arms. The stabs of pain I expected never happened, instead I only felt two small taps.

With smoke filling the room, I turned on my aura sight and shouted. I heard my voice as though it were underwater, and I could see a thin magic over the room—not from smoke, but from a mage. I didn’t know magic could do that, but there was a lot I didn’t know about magic. Now wasn’t the time to dwell on that thought, however.

The Black Claw assassins—I counted four of them—rushed into the room, moving to split after different targets. I knew how fast they should have been moving, but they were so slow. I could barely feel their cold anger, distant and detached.

I spun, using my tail to knock some of the smoke back, and lunged at the person going after Taava’s sleeping form. The cat-eared person, dressed in all black, didn’t even have time to react before my claws caught them.

Their body was like paper, and I flung the broken, torn thing at the other assassin who had thrown blades at me. I had expected surprise from the assassin I threw the body at, or for them to falter. They didn’t even flinch, but they also weren’t fast enough to move out of the way and the body struck them a glancing hit. The force of my throw was great enough to send the pair into the wall at speed. Even without sound, I could feel the thud the impact made.

The other two had reached Seyari and Salvador. Even with my speed, I wouldn’t have been able to stop both of the blades flashing down at unprotected necks. How dare you. Instead, I threw my magic at that cold anger the assassins held, pouring fire and fury fire through the connection. They jerked and blades stopped centimeters from their targets. I willed them to burn and they resisted, but only for a fraction of a moment. Some sort of training? I overwhelmed their defenses, surprised by my own tenacity and fury. Something within their emotion shattered.

Soundless screams tore from the pair as their bodies spasmed, then ignited into pure crimson fire. The two dying assassins seized, clutching their blades, metal flashing dangerously close to their targets. I dashed forward and threw the burning bodies away from my friends and back into the smoke.

The moment their burning bodies left my arms, I stumbled, the signature headache of mana exhaustion pounding into me. I wasn’t spent yet, though. And there was at least one Black Claw assassin still alive and well.

I glanced at the others: Seyari stirred, but Salvador, like Taava was out cold.

I saw motion in the smoke with just enough time to dive for Taava. This throwing dagger didn’t bounce off, and instead pierced my shoulder. I tore the blade out and tried to return it to the sender out the window, somewhere through the smoke.

I had strength, but not finesse; the spinning blade flew erratically out the open window and into the night. I looked for an aura, but found nothing. Racing to the window, I shoved my head out into the escaping smoke; a black cloaked figure on the next roof over was tensing to jump.

I almost climbed out after them, but there was a stirring behind me from the person I’d hit with a body. The runner was too far to manipulate their anger, and I was too tired to pull off whatever horrifying thing I’d done to those other two again. So, did what any pissed off wrath demon would do: I threw a bolt of fire at the fleeing assassin. It struck their leg and lit the cloak they wore on fire; orange flames fringed with crimson. The figure stumbled and fell off the roof. But I couldn’t afford to chase them right now.

Behind me, I heard Seyari cough violently. The sound suppressing magic was gone.

The assassin who wasn’t dead stirred again. I dashed over and pulled them up with my two upper arms, out of the pile of guts and meat flaps that was their former partner. Careful not to break them yet, I slammed the Black Claw assassin against the wall, loudly.

Taava had insisted they wouldn’t talk. I was surprised one of them ran away and, for a moment, considered attempting to simply incapacitate the assassin I held.

They tried to reach for something subtly and quickly with one hand, and their tail flicked to one side. I slashed their arm with my claws in a spray of blood, nearly severing the limb.

Their tail whipped forward, and I blocked it—barely—with another hand. Something round and lit dropped to the ground. Panicked, I bent down and tossed the orb out the window, two arms still holding the now-squirming assassin.

I looked up at them and met cold eyes. Before they could try anything else, I snapped their neck.

Outside, over the wide street in front of the harbor, the orb—apparently a bomb—detonated with a thunderous boom like a cannon shot.

Smoke still filled our room, but Seyari quickly blew it out with her magic.

“Seyari!” I shouted and ran over to her. “Are you okay?”

She coughed in response. “P-poison gas.”

Poison gas? My throat had itched a little, but I guess I was immune—it wasn’t magic.

Then I remembered Taava and Salvador who were still asleep. Oh no. Please no!

I ran to check on them while Seyari got her breathing under control. Both of them had an erratic pulse.

“Seyari!” I shouted again, not knowing whether I’d been heard by her or others in the inn.

Not like it’d make a difference after a bomb went off.

Seyari coughed again and looked at the prone forms of the others. “S-shit. I’m on it, just let me—”

I ran over, picked my girlfriend up and held her out to Salvador, who was closest. She didn’t protest beyond a grunt of air. Seyari’s holy magic flared, and I saw Salvador’s breathing grow easier, then faster as he stirred to wakefulness. Not waiting for him to come to, I dashed her over to Taava. Again, Seyari’s holy magic glowed out.

In front of us, Taava’s breathing evened. Unlike Salvador, she jolted awake, panic in her wide eyes.


Taava felt magic cast on her and her years of ingrained training snapped her out of sleep in an instant. Her arm, already in place, fetched the hidden blade (poisoned of course) and thrust it forward, aiming for the neck her half-awake mind could see.

Instead of her blade parting flesh, her forearm was stopped by a crimson blur. She fuzzily saw a hand grab around her forearm, long black claws in place of nails.

Her brain started to catch up and Taava remembered where she was. Still disoriented, her mind tried to process what happened. Had she been drugged? Not the night before, which must mean…

Everything snapped into place. The Black Claw!

Their sleeping poison would do this—but she wasn’t dead!

Taava looked up, panicked, toward the face of the figure whose hand had grabbed her arm. Her eyes moved past a familiar human face with oddly glowing eyes, and whose neck she had tried to slice open.

Farther up still, she landed on the face of a monster. A gorgeous, humanoid-like monster; one whose eyes and horns showed their true nature. Slitted irises of cold blue floated in a void of black.

Those eyes widened, instead of narrowed, when Taava twitched her arm.

Black lips opened and a forked tongue spoke, revealing sharp, predatory teeth. “Taava, are you alright?”

The monster’s voice was smooth, deep, and… kind?

Taava looked up again at the monster’s eyes, wide with what couldn’t possibly be concern. She looked at the hand grabbing her arm. She still held her blade, and the monster’s grip was loose, gentle. Maybe she could—

“Taava!” the monster said with more urgency. “It’s me, Renna! You’re safe now.” Taava tried to pull her hand out, but the grip tightened so fast she didn’t even see the monster’s hand move. “Do you recognize me?” the voice continued. “Take deep breaths.”

Taava took a breath, feeling her heart beating frantically. She had trained against this poison, learned how to induce a response that would fight against the lethargy of the toxin—but she couldn’t feel the toxin.

“Wha?” Taava managed inelegantly, the syllable slipping out in Raavian.

“Seyari healed you. We’ll explain in a minute, but the poison’s gone and you’ll be okay.” That same voice spoke again. Familiar.

Taava’s heart thundered in her chest. Ba-dum. Ba-dum.

“People are coming, Taava. I’m going to shift back now, but I need you to say you’re okay, okay?”

Taava took another, deeper breath and her heart slowed. The thumping resolved into two sets; one from inside her and another from outside the inn room they were in.

Inn room.

More pieces fell back into place: Seyari, Salvador (not Sal—he hated Sal), and Renna.


Taava looked up at the face of the demon Renna. She was smiling kindly, almost motherly. The expression looked odd, Taava thought, but not wrong.

Just unexpected.

Taava blinked and demon Renna was replaced with human Renna. The hand gripping her forearm lost its claws.

Seyari fell onto the bed and mumbled a complaint about “giving her some warning,” before she sprung up and dashed toward her bags, reaching for clothes.

Taava processed Seyari in her nightshirt, Renna still dressed, and then her own nudity. Given fuel, the comfortable personality she’d spent so much time crafting slipped over her, safer than any mask.


Taava worried me. Her eyes were wide and panicked, but her motions—while fast—were more like a magical construct than a person: very precise. I’d only ever seen one construct once when I was in Ardath and—

Now isn’t the time for that!

The footsteps outside the open door were growing louder. Salvador groaned softly elsewhere in the room.

“People are coming, Taava. I’m going to shift back now, but I need you to say you’re okay, okay?” I spoke as kindly as I could, with a soft, no-teeth smile.

To my immense relief, Taava seemed to finally relax, so I shifted back. I’d worn my semi-modified clothing in anticipation of tonight’s events, thankfully.

I lost my lower arms when I shifted, which dropped Seyari onto the end of the bed unceremoniously.

“Give me some warning before you change back!” she complained without any real anger, before hopping up to get dressed.

In front of me, Taava’s odd neutral expression was rapidly replaced by a smirk. Then, she looked down at her bare breasts, back up at me, and slapped me across the cheek. “Pervert!”

I stifled a giggle and threw the blanket back over her, mostly unfazed. “I’m glad you’re okay! Sorry I caught a peek when Seyari was maybe saving your life.”

Taava pouted, and pointed to her bag. “Get my clothes.”

The footsteps got closer. I was reminded of a certain fateful night in Port Princely. The bath in this place sucked compared to that night. Tossing the bag to Taava, I quickly moved over to the viscera on the floor.

“Should I burn this?” I whispered to Seyari.

She looked at the grievous wounds while taking a position by the door, which she pulled closed. “Not all the way—we might need their appearance to explain what happened.”

I nodded and sent a small bit of my little remaining magic to burn up the corpse’s abdomen. I wasn’t an expert in wounds, but to me it looked less like this person had been shredded by a weapon no one here had.

Seyari was helping Salvador up. He coughed reflexively a couple times, but indicated he was okay. Like me, he’d chosen to sleep in his clothes.

I looked for the other two bodies. They were charred skeletons, held together only by thin remnants of tendons. Surprisingly, their clothes weren’t burned at all.

“How do I explain this?” I whispered.

Someone banged on the door.

“Congratulations Miss Master Fire Mage,” Seyari responded quietly. “I’ll get the door.”

Seyari walked over to the door and I took a seat at the edge of her bed, looking at the brutalized bodies, and desperately wishing for this night to be over.

I knew it was far from over.

Zarenna can be very scary if push comes to shove!

Also you probably noticed this: Third person? Yeah, after a combination of feedback and experience, I've decided to (with potential rare circumstances excepting) write other perspectives in third person. I wrote Feather (62) after having decided this, but stuck with first person just to keep the first volume consistent.

Let me know what you think!

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