I took a knee, panting. How the hell isn’t this thing dead? I’m the Sovereign of Wrath! Shouldn’t I be stronger? The kaleidoscopic aura of the demon in front of me was a shuddering, warping mess and its body was ravaged to the point where one could be forgiven for thinking its appearance had once been humanoid.
Flames licked around me, protecting my modesty and my body both. Try as I might to shout, roar or otherwise scare them off, foolhardy spectators had lined the edges of the deepening pit we fought in. The other demon, thankfully, was wholly engrossed with me. That didn’t stop me from having to save two people who fell in but moments ago.
My mana was nearly exhausted, and the minor injuries I didn’t heal were quickly adding up. One of my arms was at least partially broken, and one of my horns had snapped off. My own burning blood littered the ash-covered ground and mixed with the charred bits that had sloughed off the other demon, who had thankfully stopped regenerating. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I’d win this battle of attrition.
How am I so weak!?
As my wrath washed out, I brushed against the fury of the spectators. I’d been so focused, I hadn’t noticed, but now their emotion became obvious. The thing I was facing wasn’t aware enough for its anger to be a true coherent thing—it was more a force of nature for all its wrath. The people watching were not all there out of morbid curiosity; many had lost a home or loved one tonight. Right here in this charred arena.
I drew on their anger as the monstrosity and I clashed again. I was sent flying, but as I drew warm wrath, I felt my mana reserves swell. My broken arm snapped back into place and by the time I’d rolled upright and out of the way of a great crashing limb, my broken horn was tingling as it regrew.
In a large battle, this would be…
I understood, in a moment, how wrath demons could be particularly feared. With a fresh roar, I twisted to the side of a thrusting, broken limb, batted another away with my tail, and dove toward the demonic monstrosity’s center of mass.
I clawed and punched, but for all the anger I’d drained, I was still on the verge of mana exhaustion. The fire on my body burned the thing’s red, bloody flesh black, and with a great wrenching twist, I pulled one of the largest limbs off, snapping it at the shoulder. The thing’s roar was still soundless as its main head resembled more a skull than a face, but I could feel the wheezing from whatever sort of lungs it still had working.
The monstrosity tried to bat me away, but I resisted, claws digging into bone. Muscles straining, I grabbed on with my lower arms and my tail and pulled. The limb tore free with a crackling pop. There’s no way this thing can regrow limbs when it’s so injured, right?”
I threw the limb away, eyes following its arc as it crashed into the side of our sunken arena. My gaze caught a familiar pair of figures on the rim. Aretan? Nelys? They were watching close up. Nelys cheered me on, and after a moment, Aretan did too. A few other people followed suit, but most stayed quiet. I dodged another swipe, missing the opportunity to counterattack for my distraction.
Then I felt a great fury on the edge of my awareness. I drew on it, and the anger flared and resisted. I was shocked for a moment, then I broke through their defenses and sapped the emotion, strength swelling within me. And they weren’t the only one.
I glanced up, near Aretan and Nelys, at the source of the fury. A man in white and red robes flanked by a half dozen other men and women in similar garb stood at the edge of the pit. They’re with the Church of Dhias. Uh-oh. Each held anger in themselves, closely guarded.
“Everyone! Get back from the demons!” the man I’d drained first shouted. For a moment, no one moved, except for my opponent. “Do you want to die today?” he added, hitting his staff on the ground.
There was magic in his voice, amplifying it so it echoed around to everyone present. Most of the spectators backed away, and some took off running. Aretan and Nelys took a step back but stayed, their attention now on the church folk.
I drained a bit more anger from the resisting church mages before their leader raised his hand and swung it down at the pit. Lances of holy magic, blades of wind, bolts of fire and a spike of rock flew toward myself and the other demon.
Eyes wide, I kicked off the still-smoking rubble and rolled narrowly out of the way of the holy magic—straight into the wind and fire. The fire magic washed over me, ineffective, but the wind cut down to the bone. Foreign magic fought against my healing, but was thankfully overpowered.
The demonic monstrosity took the worse hit, holy magic lancing off another limb. And for the first time that night, I lost its undivided attention.
“Shit!” I yelled, scrabbling up the loose side of the pit. I pushed my magic to heal my latest wounds and gained speed as muscles rejoined and my legs started to work properly again. I could only imagine the agony if I felt pain the same way a human did. Really, the injuries just served to make me even more furious.
The monstrosity reached the rim before me, clawing its way up with broken, burned, mangled limbs. The other demon hissed like the flame in a dying forge, moving air through ruined throats. One of the church figures from the back stepped forward, sword ready and shield up. What I’d taken for robes turned out to be a tabard over armor.
Her sword glowed with holy light, but the sheer bulk of the beast that slammed into her was too much. Her sword slashed out, nearly severing one of the things remaining limbs, but as the bulk crashed into her, she slid back, then fell to one knee.
The monstrosity rolled over her as I sprinted the last meters. A limb, hardly more than a bone spike, thrust toward her head even as the bulk of the monstrous demon started to roll over her. The others had hardly taken a step back and hastily fired spells hit just as the monstrosity’s flailing limbs threw forward at the fragile humans.
I reached them before the monstrosity took yet another life tonight. Body still wreathed in fire, I grabbed the thing’s limb, stopping it hardly a centimeter away from the woman’s eye. My three other hands dug claws into the offending limb up and down its length, giving me grip for what I was about to try. Pulling on the fury around me and mixing it with my own, I heaved and roared, jerking the monstrosity back from its soon-to-be victims.
The limb cracked, but held. Surprised at even my own strength, I whirled, pulling my counterweight tail just up and over the stunned paladin. At the height of momentum, I turned downward toward the pit and threw the other demon as hard as I could at the rubble-covered bottom. The monstrous demon flew through the air and toward the floor of the pit with startling speed. Its body connected with an immense bang punctuated by the cracking of bone.
For a moment, I met the paladin’s stunned eyes, and then I spun past and down, kicking off the rim and over the remaining licks of flame. I sailed through the air at nearly the same speed as the demon I’d thrown, two fists held forward, arms rigid. Struggling as it was, the other demon took the force of my fists straight on its main skull.
The monstrosity’s entire head shattered. I grabbed a shoulder with one lower arm as I sailed past, turning the thing with my tail. I gripped it with my other arms and brought it overhead and down onto the charred stone, carrying all the momentum of my charge through and into this next hit.
I turned, used my tail to counterweight, brought it over my head, and slammed it down again.
And again. And again.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
The church mages, unfortunately, weren’t idle. More magic from the church landed, this time finding home on my body as well as the monstrosity. Holy magic burned through my flesh, but I was lost in the moment. I pulled on any anger, any fury I could find—only barely aware enough not to damage anyone.
Each time I slammed the other demon down, my claws dug deeper and my flames charred its body closer and closer to whatever this thing had for a heart. With a cracking, tearing sound, its odd torso opened, and I tore my way inside, ripping and tearing and burning and roaring. Somewhere, I had found the heart, or whatever had kept the thing going. I crushed the organ between my hands.
The monstrosity died, and its body exploded, chunks of charred flesh and bone sent radiating up and out of the pit. I was sent flying as well, the last of the demonic-tinged mana swirling chaotically, more violent than I could deal with.
I hit the rim of the pit and tumbled back down. I could feel bits of stone poking into holes where I shouldn’t have holes. More magic was thrown down at me, ravaging my already damaged body. Blackness crept into the edges of my vision.
No no no! Not now! Not yet!
“Go Renna! You got it!” I heard Nelys’s voice through the haze.
“She’s on our side!” Aretan shouted concernedly.
I forced myself to move—roll, dodge, anything. Some of the magic missed. Still more hit me. I rolled to the bottom of the pit and splayed out in a pile of charred demon bits. The fire clothing me flickered and faded out, the dregs of my mana using themselves to try to repair my dying body.
I’m… I’m dying.
I tried to summon more anger to pull to save myself, but I was too damn tired. I was far away at the bottom of the pit—when did it get so deep, so dark?
I heard a shout—no words, just a voice. The familiar voice reverberated around my head, pushing the blackness back. Seyari? I felt her fury. Raw, bright, familiar and so incredibly pure in its vitriol, its scorn.
I don’t. No…
She was spent, hurt. If she fought, then everything—and I—and we…
One of my limbs twitched, then another and another. I drank of Seyari’s anger and fury, willing her calmer. Just enough to take the edge off. Just enough to maybe help everyone see reason. The pit around me brightened, and the fog started to clear from my thoughts.
Oh, there’s the pain.
I could hardly stand for the agony, but I managed to claw my way upright. My one working eye, blurry as it was, showed a standoff at the rim of the pit. I heard Fira and Rodrik shouting too. Why would they…? Their anger felt genuine.
I stumbled toward them, pulling on fury and rage. Up on the rim of the pit, I saw shoulders relax slightly as I took their fury. Vitriol and curses from both sides curbed their intensity while my thoughts started to wage an internal argument of their own.
Don’t take too much.
But I’m so damn hungry and tired!
No! You’re better than that! Have some dang control, Zarenna.
I—you’re—I’m right. I have control.
With just enough functional limbs to move, I ascended the cliffside. The noise of my climbing drew attention. Tension rose again, and with it the arguing.
“No…stop…” I mumbled hoarsely. “It’s over. We don’t… need to fight.”
All eyes were on me when I reached the rim. The church folk had stepped back from the edge and six pairs of eyes locked onto mine. Fira, Rodrik, and a big, big group of company mercs stood at the ready. Five people reached for me: Seyari took one arm, then Salvador and Aretan, then Taava, and Nelys pulled my limp, broken tail up out of the pit, too.
My friends all helped me to my feet and Seyari planted a chaste kiss on the side of my cheek. I could feel her lips against my teeth. Her breath tickled and tingled with lingering holy magic, but not unpleasantly. At least, in a relative sense. I was still in too much agony to think straight, but I knew I must have looked quite the sight.
“Please,” I wheezed, “We don’t have to fight.” I coughed hard, spitting blood that sizzled when it hit the blackened cobbles. “That thing’s dead.”
Nelys hugged my waist protectively.
“Stand aside,” the church leader spoke curtly, patience long gone. “Don’t let that thing into your heads. We’ll kill it and get all the rest of you cleared tonight.”
“No,” Seyari stated, drawing (and I presumed not for the first time) the line in the sand. I sagged against her, Salvador and Aretan straining to keep both me and the exhausted half-angel upright.
“If I may,” Fira interrupted, looking to a silent Rodrik who nodded hesitantly. They took a deep breath, letting the pause lengthen. “Zarenna Miller there is an employee of the Gelles Company and a citizen of Ordia. As such, she is under our protection.” Into the stunned silence, they added, “What exactly has she done wrong?”
I heard a response, but the words decayed into mush as the last of my magic ran out and I collapsed into my friends’ arms.