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    With teeth

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    Joel Fulleda
    @joelfulleda

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    Short story

    With teeth

    by Graham McNeill

    Firewood was a prized commodity in the desert, but the blackened ruins of Vekaura offered a vast array of charred wood to pitch to fires.

    Starring: Renekton

    Mentioned: Azir, Nasus

    Lore

    • I
    • II

    Firewood was a prized commodity in the desert, but the blackened ruins of Vekaura offered a vast array of charred wood to pitch to fires. The city was already a complete ruin when the Scourgers of the Sands broke through the rubble of its walls; its streets were empty, and its people disappeared.



    No one knew for sure who had razed it, but the captives they captured on the Central Market road told grandiose tales of ancient gods who in their anger had burned the city to ashes and glass.

    Bloodmane Raz didn't believe them, actually.

    In Shurima, stories were the currency of the oases, payment in exchange for sharing the fire: they were living beings that grew and deformed each time they were told again. No story could pass from lips to ears without the narrator adding some macabre detail, some exaggeration that allowed him to appropriate it.

    Gods don't roam the sands, only humans and monsters.

    The Sand Lashers were a bit of both.

    They were a band of bloodthirsty warriors and looters who rode giant lizards and terrorized the dusty roads of the Sai-Kahleek in search of coins, as well as chasing the marauding Shakkal in the Valley of Song for mere amusement. When temperatures dropped in the south, Sai-Surtha, the gang's Prey Stalkers, led them to the hot north to raid caravans in search of the new capital erected in the heart of the great desert.



    The caravans were packed with sturdy merchants and priests, as well as desperate and credulous. They were those foolish enough to believe that a The former emperor had risen from his grave to reclaim his lost empire, rather than thinking that an earthquake had exposed the remains of a buried city.

    Easy prey.

    Ambushes were the specialty of the Sand Lashers, who emerged from desert storms to strike in a frenzy of cracking jaws and spears ready to pierce. Those who fought back were torn to shreds, and those who surrendered became food for the hungry mounts.

    Raz smiled as he watched the tethered lizards chew and growl at the edge of the fire: they were giant reptilian beasts with jaws full of sharp teeth and sides armored with sun-tanned scales. Their rough bellies hung to the ground, hardened by sand, and their tails whipped through the thick layer of dust that covered the cursed city.

    Ghosts roamed everywhere among the ruins; echoes of the dead traveled in the cold wind that blew across the broken stone, and silhouettes were drawn on the walls like painted shadows.

    Something had happened here. Something bad.

    Sai-Surtha threw a splintered beam into the main fire. The sparks rose into the night sky, spiraling like fireflies at the leader of the raiding band. Raz was strong, but even he would have found it difficult to carry that log. However, the skull-masked vastaya raised the heavy log like a twig; his enormous weight was nothing in front of that superhuman physique.


    Watching the sparks flicker for an instant before fading into darkness, Raz sensed a meaning he was unable to grasp.


    "Why are you looking up?" Anukta asked, following the direction of his gaze.

    The scaled plates of his heavy armor collided with each other as he moved, and his head, shaved except for a crimson Mohawk, gleamed with sweat. The tattoos on the girl's face gleamed like bones in firelight.

    "The sparks," he replied. They burn brightly and vanish into nothingness in the blink of an eye.

    -AND?-.

    Raz shrugged. -I do not know. I just thought it might be important. That it could mean something.

    "Now it turns out that you are a wise man?" Like Ngozi?

    "No," Raz replied. "Not like him." But the sparks live, burn and disappear. Like us. Like life. We are sparks.

    Anukta laughed, and the ivory earrings in his ears danced like drunken moons. "You're right, you're not at all like Ngozi." He was really smart. You're just a noisy fool.

    Raz's features reddened with anger, and Anukta's countenance showed that he was aware that he had overstepped. He bowed his head and dropped to one knee, his arms crossed over his chest and his thumbs twisted into his palms.

    "Forgive me, Bloodmane Raz," he said, knowing that as Sai-Surtha's second-in-command, he could have her thrown into the bloody jaws of the lizard herd.

    Or worse still, to those of Ma'kara, the terrible mount of Sai-Surtha.


    The lizard was a colossal beast forty feet long and covered in sharp scales from its tail to its three massive heads. Its gaping jaws were large enough to engulf a whole horse, and they were full of sharp teeth stained with rusty blood.


    "We're on the eve of a hunt," Raz said. "On a night like this, only the meat on the road dies." Don't make me change that habit.

    Anukta nodded and got up, then walked over to where the last of the captives were, huddled among the ruined remains of a grain depot. They had been caught on the northern dune routes from Kenethet; they were men and women who, they said, were going to make a pilgrimage south to see the new emperor. Four of them had already been eaten by the lizards, and the remaining five looked scrawny, they would be nothing more than a mouthful to the beasts. Well actually, only four looked like that. The fifth was an older man, with the skin of a city dweller, all teeth in place, and a figure that Raz thought was an indication that he had never been hungry in his life.

    "That," he said, and Anukta dragged him to his feet. His face was pale with terror, and Raz saw that none of the other captives seemed to care that he would be taken away.

    "Please don't kill me," the man said, in the faint accent of the northern shores. -I have money. I can give you a lot of money. Please, by the gods, don't throw me out to the beasts!

    "You are very well fed for a pilgrim," Raz said, fingering the man's broad stomach.

    "A pilgrim?" No, no, I ... I'm ...

    Anukta rested the tip of his spear on the man's back. "Are you what?" Say it already, unhappy! -.

    "I am Ordan Stilava, High Patriarch of the Melierax Temple of Bel'zhun," the man replied, breathing hard. "I'll give you what you want." But don't kill me, please, I implore you.

    "So a priest, huh?" Raz said and leaned over him, reveling in the scent of terror that the man exuded. "I have been told that priests are pious servants of the gods." People worthy of admiration. You don't seem like someone admirable, Ordan Stilava.

    "Kill him," said one of the remaining captives. "And do it slow."

    Raz shrugged. "It seems your companions don't like you much either."

    "He's a filthy pig who took our money and said he'd take us south, with Azir!" The woman yelled. "He feasted while we were hungry." When we begged him to give us food, his guards beat us. Another day and he would have let us starve to death in the Sai.

    Raz knelt beside the woman; her complexion was wolfish, her skin was the color of twilight, and there was fire in her eyes.

    -And who are you?-.

    "Dalia, proud daughter of the sand and the sun."

    "May the water and the shadow be with you, Dalia," Raz said. "Show me your palms."

    He spread his hands tied at the wrists with thick ropes.

    He ran his fingertips over the hardened knobs of her palms and down the sides of her thumb.

    "You're not a pilgrim either," Raz said. "These are calluses from wielding the sword."

    The woman withdrew her hands.

    -What were you? Caravan guard, grave robber, mercenary?

    "I've been all of that at the time."

    Raz pointed behind him with his thumb. "Do you think we should throw this man to the lizards?"

    -Yes. Feet first.

    Raz laughed and pulled out his bone-bladed knife, which he carved from one of Khesu's chipped teeth. His lizard was not nearly as big as Ma'kara and had only one head, but its teeth were just as long and sharp.

    "I like this one," he told Anukta, as he cut Dalia's bonds with the serrated side of his blade. -Come-.

    Dalia stood up and Raz turned to take Ordan Stilava away, who was protesting.

    "Do as he says and you may live," Anukta said with a crooked smile.

    The lizards saw it coming and the roaring in their throats intensified as they discovered that it brought them more meat. They pulled on their chain reins; the more force they exerted, the inward-facing points dug deeper and deeper into the smooth skin of their throats. Khesu saw it and opened his jaws wide, waiting to be fed.

    "Soon, my friend," Raz said. -Soon-.

    Vekaura's wood burned with the blood-red glow of the desert sunset, a good omen for the next day's ride. Its light illuminated the rest of the Sand Lashers, twenty-three warriors stationed on piled-up rubble, stone blocks, and benches brought from the ruins to form a makeshift arena around the campfire. Clad in light cloth, furs, and cooked lizard-scale armor, they feasted on the spoils of their latest plunder: salty skallashi meat and a strong fermented milk liqueur from Eka'Sul.

    Armed with their crooked tulwar sabers and toothblade spears, they were men and women whose names were the terror of the caravans that snaked through the dusty roads of the Sai. Years of looting and killing in the most extreme climates had made them harsh and ruthless, capricious and boastful, and none other than Sai-Surtha.

    The Prey Stalker sat on a throne of stacked blocks turned to glass by immeasurable heat. A vastaya from the east, the warrior leader was half a length taller than Raz and had a colossal build, a rock-like lion head and a body covered in overflowing musculature. Her hair was long and thick, and in each of her braids were woven talismans and steel cords that she said were magical.

    Sai-Surtha's slanted golden eyes narrowed as Raz approached.

    "What bring me, Bloodmane Raz?" Asked the Prey Stalker.

    “Fresh meat!” Raz yelled as he snatched Ordan Stilava from Anukta's hands. "A soul rich in deception and full of arrogance."

    "As Ma'kara likes it," Sai-Surtha replied, as he reached out and stroked the nearest head of his mount with his claws. The lizard growled and hissed, opening its three jaws wide. Raz saw chunks of rotting meat between the beast's yellow fangs, as well as its pink throats gleaming in the firelight. His many eyes, like tar pits, glowed hungrily. The beast had already eaten most of the group of captives, but its appetite was endless.

    Ma'kara was an alpha predator and the rest of the beasts had to wait until his hunger was satisfied.

    Raz pushed Ordan Stilava into the fighting circle by the fire. Its boundaries were marked with skulls, and the sand inside was red and sticky. Ordan Stilava fell with a crash and knelt before Sai-Surtha, clasping his bloody hands as in prayer.

    "Please, mighty lord, don't kill me!" He whimpered.

    The Sand Lashers laughed and Ma'kara stiffened forward, eager to gut that generous chunk of meat. Sai-Surtha jerked the chain reins sharply back, but the beast's hunger and desire to engulf the patriarch remained intact.

    "Have some fun with him, Bloodmane Raz," Sai-Surtha ordered. "Make him entertain us!"

    Ordan Stilava tried to get up, but Raz kicked him in the back. The warrior raised his arms high and turned slowly with a big smile on his face.

    "Brothers and sisters!" He yelled. "Our desert loot is nearly exhausted." It's time to go hunting!

    Cheers reverberated through the crumbling walls of the city. Fists and spears rose into the air, accompanied by the bellowing of lizards.

    "The caravans from the east and the north plow the dusty roads in search of water and shade!" He bellowed, strutting around the circle. "But what will they find?"

    "Death!" Cried the Scourgers of the Sands.

    Raz put a hand up to his ear listening and leaned forward.

    -That?-.

    -Death!-.

    "Again!" Raz demanded.

    -Death! Death! Death!-.

    Raz smiled and held up a hand for them to be silent. Stillness prevailed throughout Vekaura, broken only by the crackling of burning wood and the agitated sobs of Ordan Stilava.

    "That's right," he exclaimed. "Death will come for them, as it will for all of us." But before the Jackal leads us to the Sunless Lands, we will spill the blood of our enemies and take what was once his. The world demands strength and punishes weakness, so I offer this blood to all of you!

    There was a clamor as Raz crossed the arena to Ordan Stilava and cut the rope that bound his wrists.

    The man gave thanks between sobs, but the smile faded from his face when Raz put the serrated knife in his hands.

    -That? I do not...-.

    "You're free to go," Raz said.

    "Free?" Stilava asked, a sudden gleam of hope in her eyes. -Really?-.

    -I give you my word. All you have to do is step out of the circle and I'll let you go.

    Raz smiled when he noticed that Stilava had understood what he was offering her. He stepped back, spread his arms out to his sides, and turned his back on the trembling captive.

    Aware that he would never have another chance, Stilava ran to Raz with the dagger raised.

    At the last instant, Raz dodged the blade, spun around, and punched Stilava in the face. The man fell like a paralyzed beast and the dagger slipped from his hands.

    "Upstairs," Raz said, kicking the blade across the sand at him.

    "Please," Stilava implored, ignoring the weapon. "You told me I was free." His face was wet with tears and mucus, and a trickle of blood trickled from his broken nose to his lips.

    Raz lifted Stilava to her feet and placed the knife in her hands once more. He leaned down and whispered, "These are your last moments in this world." The gods are watching you. Is this how you want to meet them? Covered in tears and snot? Show them you're worth something and maybe they'll take pity on your soul!

    Stilava's gaze filled with hatred and Raz jumped back as the priest tried to stab the knife into his abdomen.

    Then he delivered another thrust, aimed at the throat. Raz deflected the blow with his hands and stepped away from Stilava, who slashed savagely like a maniac. The man lacked skill with a weapon; it was evident that he had never used a knife before, except to cut pieces of fine meat on his plate.

    "Very good!" Raz scoffed, laughingly dodging the clumsy attacks. "Come on, gut me!"

    Behind Stilava, Raz watched as Khesu raised his head and noticed that the constant rumble of the beast's throat had grown into something else entirely. He blocked a high lunge with his armored forearm and landed Stilava a hook blow to the stomach.

    The man doubled over at the waist, gasping for air, but this time he didn't drop the knife.

    Raz glanced at Sai-Surtha and found the Prey Stalker standing, staring at the city gates. Raz turned again and saw something move in the shadows beyond the firelight. A golden glow flickered in the darkness, and although the shape seemed to move like a person, it was too large to be human.

    Then something moved through the air in an arc.

    Raz followed the object with his eyes as it crossed overhead, until it landed on the side of the fire.

    The warriors around the circle screamed in alarm and took up their weapons, while the lizards, smelling the scent of blood, frantically tugged at their bonds.

    Raz opened his mouth in surprise as he recognized the warrior he had tasked with guarding the west gate of the city. Uksem Heartbreaker.

    Or, rather, half of it.

    Uksem lay in the midst of a rapidly expanding pool of blood, as a massive amount gushed from where her body had been bite off. Amazingly, his eyes flickered and his hands scratched the sand, as if he didn't accept being dead.

    Raz took a step toward Uksem, but a sudden pain in his side made him cry out.

    ¡From there to Stilava!

    Distracted, Raz had become an easy target, but it was a poor attack, misdirected, and lacking enough strength. Instead of piercing a vital organ, he cut the skin on her hip.

    Raz spun around to see the man back awkwardly to the edge of the circle, a savage grin on his face and Raz's knife in his hands.

    "I'm free!" Stilava said. "I came out of the circle." You must let me go! You promised!-.

    Raz shook his head. He had no time for nonsense. Not right now.

    —Khesu. Mátalo—.

    Ordan Stilava whirled around just in time to see the giant lizard approach with its sharp jaws wide open. They slammed shut and the High Patriarch disappeared. Only his footprints in the sand and a trail of blood in the air remained as indications of his recent presence.

    Raz pushed the man out of his mind as the shadow moved toward the campfire from the city limits. It was hard for him to breathe.

    Gods don't roam the sands, only humans and monsters ...

    How wrong he had been ... outright and totally wrong.

    He walked upright, like a human, but the similarities ended there.

    Even hunched over he was half a head taller than Sai-Surtha, and trailed a thick tail behind him.

    He wore dusty armor of dull gold and rusty bronze.

    The eyes were yellowish in color and the rough skin was a mixture of green and ocher.

    Blood ran like reddish threads between his sharp teeth.

    Its mighty head was lowered, its crocodile snout sniffing for fresh meat.

    Raz knew this creature. He had seen his image carved into the walls of a sunken temple and had it engraved on the blade of his own spear.

    He had heard his name spoken in whispers in the oases.

    The makhru, wandering and eyeless declaimers who were said to be able to speak to the spirits of the ancients, told sobering tales of this god's wanderings to warn people of his unbridled aggressiveness.

    "The herald of Azir ..." Anukta said, her head held high in astonishment.

    "Renekton ..." Dalia uttered.

    The giant turned his head towards her when he heard her name and drew an immense curved blade that he carried on his back. Such a weapon could split a skallashi in two.

    "Where ... is ... he ...?" The god inquired.

    His voice was scratchy and dry, the product of an eternity of screaming.

    Despite the sheer power that the god's presence exuded, Dalia stood tall, defiant in the face of his unimaginable power.

    On the contrary, the lizards rested their bellies on the sand, their gaze lowered in submission as they silenced the sound in their throats. Even Ma'kara lowered his three-headed body to the ground, something Raz never thought to contemplate.

    He forgot the pain in his side as he resisted falling prostrate like them in awe. His lips twisted in an expression of contempt as he saw the Sand Scourgers who had gathered around the circle kneeling.

    Submission was for the weak; respect was earned with blood.

    The creature advanced, ignoring the warriors' presence. Only when Sai-Surtha rose from his throne did he deign to lift his head and acknowledge his existence.

    "I am Sai-Surtha, Prey Stalkers of the Sand Scourgers," the vastaya said, unleashing a scaled shield from Ma'kara's mount. "How dare you enter my city and kill blood of my blood?"

    Renekton looked at the ruins around him and blinked, as if seeing the devastation for the first time.

    "Is this your city?" He asked.

    "For tonight it is," Sai-Surtha replied, drawing his falcata, a sword almost the same as the god's, and took a step toward the battle circle.

    "Then you must know where it is," Renekton said, and joined Sai-Surtha in the circle, as if it were a prescribed ritual. "The rulers must know everything, see everything!" To all the liars who whisper. Sweetened words and falsehoods. I heard them. Nobody listened to me. Nobody listens to Renekton ...

    Raz stepped back to meet Anukta and Dalia out of reach of the circle of warriors. Renekton's words made no sense, and he had no interest in staying closer than necessary to those giants.

    "Who are you looking for?" Sai-Surtha asked, twirling the falcata in her hand.

    "Traitor!" Renekton bellowed, spasming the strained muscles in his neck. "To my disloyal brother!" Tell me where it is or you'll know the agony.

    Sai-Surtha's laughter echoed off the crumbling walls of Vekaura. The Prey Stalker was a being of colossal appetites who got his pleasures wherever he found them. Raz watched him study Renekton's physique; with his hunter's gaze he searched for vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

    "The Jackal?" Sai-Surtha asked. "Nasus?"

    Renekton winced at the name of his legendary brother; just hearing it seemed to cause him great pain. Possessed by inscrutable madness, he dropped the curved blade and pressed one of his clawed hands to her forehead.

    "Don't speak his name," Renekton warned in a thick, raspy, dry voice, menacing like an approaching sandstorm. "He was here, I know." The magical trail of the Ascended extends throughout this place, but it does not go any further. Here my brother and the one who whispered in the dark fought. The sands of the desert called to me and the murmur of the winds told me of their coming. Now tell me where he is, or he dies!

    "And if I had that knowledge, what would you give me in return?"

    "Nothing at all, but it might not tear you apart."

    Sai-Surtha shook his head, turned ninety degrees, raised the falcata over his right shoulder, and held out the shield before him.

    Renekton laughed, his laugh was terrible and melancholic.

    "Do you think you can resist my power?" I am an Ascended. A god for your kind!

    "I always wanted to kill a god," said the Prey Stalker, brandishing a sword engraved with runic seals and hanging charms taken from the dead. "And if it has to be a disturbed and consumed one, so be it." With his sword he struck his deep crimson armor and said, "I took this sword from a grave in the Endless Plain, and this armor from the skeleton of an ancient warrior." It was your size. I'll kill you with your kind's weapons.

    Renekton roared in fury and lunged at Sai-Surtha. He slammed his curved blade against the Preystalker's shield, splintering scales.

    Sai-Surtha's response matched the fury of his attack. Renekton stumbled and the Prey Stalker skewered his falcata between his ribs, from which blood spurted as black as oil. Renekton struck back, crashing into the shield again.

    "You deny my revenge while you take refuge in these ruins made by him!" He roared.

    Another hit. Renekton staggered, then turned, and lowered his head. He kept his distance.

    Raz saw a sign of respect in the god's gaze.

    He expected to dispatch him without difficulty, but Sai-Surtha was a warrior of enormous strength and skill, with weapons and armor on par with Renekton's. The Sand Lashers were no longer kneeling, but waving their weapons and chanting the name of their warrior leader.

    Sai-Surtha lunged his jagged shield over Renekton's shoulder and face. Renekton pushed him away and leaped to the side, more agile than expected in a creature his size. He flicked his tail, but Sai-Surtha dodged it and seized the opportunity. He broke Renekton's guard with the shield, wrapped his arms around him, and threw it across the battle circle.

    Renekton fell into the fire and rolled. Flames blackened his skin and embers flew into the darkness of the night. He shook his crocodile head and spat; blood trickled down its fangs.

    "You know where it is!" Renekton roared. "I can see his sly look through your eyes." Tell me!-.

    Sai-Surtha lunged at him once more and managed to dislodge a chunk of the golden armor from Renekton's side. Instead of backing down, Renekton got up and lunged at Sai-Surtha with a swift string of slashes. The Prey Stalker blocked the first, but the second and third reached its furry fur. The swords of the fighters met in midair, screeching in a lethal dance of silver and bronze.

    Renekton turned left. Sai-Surtha, to the right. They were both bloody and exhausted.

    The Preystalker attacked first with a low cut towards his rival's ankle; Renekton blocked it, then turned and launched a stabbing thrust that dislodged shards from the gold plates on Sai-Surtha's shoulder pads.

    "Legends say you are a mighty god of war," Sai-Surtha said between gasps. "It is said that you took that blade from the hands of a dead king of Icathia." And how you broke his hilt, as well as his army. Sai-Surtha shook her head. "How low you've fallen, how lost you are."

    Renekton grunted and charged at him. Sai-Surtha parried the first attack with his shield and resisted the second with his falcata. He blocked a third, and dodged the fourth by sliding with a screech of ancient steel that sent sparks of jade.

    Then a brutal bite tore into Sai-Surtha's shoulder, and the Prey Stalker slammed back his head howling in pain. A flick of his tail sent blood spurting from his chest. Both warriors fell back, bleeding from their multiple wounds.

    Renekton smiled, showing his teeth stained with Sai-Surtha's blood. "The only thing keeping you alive is stolen magic." Without them, you would already be dead.

    "And still, I'm still standing," Sai-Surtha said, bowing mockingly.

    Renekton shifted his curved blade from hand to hand, then grabbed it with both of them and landed an overhead attack on Sai-Surtha. The Prey Stalker stopped the blade with his shield, but fell to his knees from the force of the blow.

    Then it rolled down Renekton's side and cut his thigh.

    The god stumbled away, blood running down his leg.

    From outside the circle, Raz wished Sai-Surtha would end the fight, rise to deliver the killing blow.

    The fighters approached again, their weapons clashing like funeral bells. Sai-Surtha's shield was in pieces and Renekton's armor hung from it like tatters of gold. Renekton launched a frontal attack and the tip of his ancient blade cut deep into Sai-Surtha's cheek.

    The leader of the Sandblazers spat teeth and fractured Renekton's ribs with a two-handed sword blow.

    Renekton was amazed by her ferocity, and by a pain that probably none of her kind had felt in centuries. He staggered and his yellow eyes clouded as he relived poignant memories and visions of triumph and death that the sands of history had long covered.

    "Please!" Renekton bellowed. -Brother! It is very strong! It must be done!

    The words made no sense, but sensing an opportunity, Sai-Surtha searched for Renekton's throat. The curved blade rose to deflect him; too late, too slow. The falcata slashed Renekton's face from jaw to temple. He grunted in pain and flailed his blade uncontrollably.

    It was a clumsy attack, but it pierced through the armor and lacerated Sai-Surtha's side.

    Undaunted by the wound, the vastaya responded with a swipe that left Renekton's wrist dangling by the tendons.

    Renekton threw his head back and roared as Sai-Surtha brought him closer and pierced his entire sword through his heart.

    The Sand Lashers cheered and Raz raised his arms in triumph.

    The two fighters remained standing for a moment, as if embracing; the tip of Sai-Surtha's falcata protruded through Renekton's spine. Streams of black blood gushed from the wound with a hissing sound, as the sand on the ground turned to glass.

    Renekton rested his severed cheek on Sai-Surtha's shoulder.

    "All you had to do was tell me where my brother is," he said. But now it's too late.

    "Too late for what?" Sai-Surtha asked, drawing his sword and taking a step back.

    "For you to live," Renekton replied.

    A pale emerald glow emanated from the god and pierced his flesh like rays of scorching light. The sand in the circle rose into the air and surrounded Renekton in swirls of dust as he rose to his full height.

    It was no longer the stooped figure that had entered Vekaura, and Raz could see the true face of the ancient god as his form was filled with long-forgotten magic and his dimensions were magnified with the power of the sun itself. His wounds healed and his skin re-formed scarless, radiant with vitality. The blood gushing from his detached scales turned from black to deep red before separating from his body and forming floating drops of ruby. His hand, dangling from the string of sinew, fused again with bone as the broken armor of gold and bronze flowed like luxurious wax to reassemble and restore its luster.

    His eyes, previously yellowish and opaque, now blazed like newborn stars, full of clarity where before there had been clouding and madness. All the warriors around him fell to their knees in expectant supplication. Even Raz, who did not kneel before any human, was not ashamed to bow before such a being.

    He could feel the power that had forged this creature into scorching waves.

    This was a being that demanded reverence, a warrior god of such potency that his majesty could not be captured by any legend.

    The falcata slipped from Sai-Surtha's fist, useless in the face of the towering monster.

    Renekton reached out with his restored hand and lifted Sai-Surtha from the ground by the neck like a puppy.

    "Little mortal," Renekton said, its echo reverberating off the crumbling walls of the city. "I am an Ascended." I crushed armies and destroyed cities, sealed their gates and condemned them to fire. I reduced the world to a wasteland countless ages ago, and you thought you could face me?

    With a dismissive flick of his wrist, Renekton tossed Sai-Surtha's body toward Ma'kara. The huge lizard's heads snapped up and its jaws snapped open and shut.

    Raz shuddered at the sound of bones crunching and shredded flesh as the three heads reduced their former master to shreds.

    Renekton bent to take the Preystalker's falcata, which, despite its colossal size, resembled a toy sword in his hands.

    "Who claims this sword now?"

    Raz felt all the gazes of the Sandstrusters on him as he was second in command to Sai-Surtha. He felt his blood run cold and his body languished, as if cold fat had clogged his veins. He let out a shaky breath, aware that taking the falcata would mean death.

    He stood up and took a step forward; his dreams of one day becoming the leader of the Scourgers of the Sands had a new sour taste.

    "Sai-Surtha died by your hand," he said. "The sword is yours." You are now the Prey Stalker of the Sand Lashers.

    "My time commanding bands of warriors is long over," Renekton replied, and Raz thought he saw a deep melancholy glow in the fire in his gaze. "I do not want an army, nor a cortege of followers as I search for my brother's trail beyond these walls." They would do well to stay away from these lands when I find him.

    The warrior god threw Sai-Surtha's falcata at Raz. He stabbed into the sand, with a slight movement.

    "Your leader," Renekton said, stepping out of the circle and approaching him. "Did he know anything about my brother or did he die for nothing?"

    "I don't know what he knew," Raz replied, then withdrew the sword from the sand and extended it in defiance.

    "What are you doing?" Renekton asked.

    "If you're going to kill me, then I'll put on a show you won't easily forget," Raz replied. "If you want my soul, I'll make you earn it."

    Renekton laughed and shook his powerful head.

    "You are nothing to me," he said. "I seek the heart of a god." I only threw the sword at you as a sign of your rise to ... what did you call it? Prey stalkers, that is. You are now the Prey Stalker.

    Raz lowered his sword and saw on its blade the reflection of the warriors gathered around him.

    He couldn't hope for a better sign of favor than the word of a god.

    "Mighty Renekton," a voice said, and as Raz turned around he saw Dalia stand next to Anukta. "On our way south, the man who enslaved us spoke of an order of scribes searching for a buried library." It is said to be hidden in the cliffs beyond Zirima. I do not know if there is any truth in this, but if the stories of your enlightened brother are true, perhaps he is also looking for that place ... -.

    Renekton sighed and his gaze was lost in the distance, immersed in bitter memories.

    "Knowledge was always his passion," he said. "At one time, we almost fought over my desire to destroy the great library of an enemy city ..."

    Renekton turned and walked back into the shadows the way he had come.

    As the darkness engulfed the ancient being, it seemed to return from its colossal and majestic divine form to the state of the wandering beast, stooped and sad, lost in madness, with which it had arrived at Vekaura.

    With Renekton out of sight, Raz turned to Dalia and Anukta.

    "Do you want to live?" He asked Dalia, bending down to retrieve his tooth-bladed knife from the bloody ground where Ordan Stilava had been eaten.

    "Yes," he replied.

    Raz handed him the weapon and nodded at Khesu's hissing, reptilian silhouette.

    "I did it with one of his teeth," he said. "If he lets you ride, you'll be part of our group."

    The woman nodded, and Raz was pleased to see her lack of fear.

    "And what will you ride?" Anukta asked.

    Raz hung Sai-Surtha's falcata behind him with a leather bow.

    He fixed his gaze on Ma'kara's central head and shook his shoulders. Shreds of flesh hung from the creature's serrated teeth as it glared hostilely at its approach.

    "Well, we can do it by hook or by crook ..." Raz said. ▲ UP ▲

    References

     v · eHistories and Events
    History events

    Some random short stories:

    • The Healer's Gambit
    • The cage
    • Below zero
    • Ice Hearts
    • The Gift of Poison
    • El Verdugo
    • The Winged Beast
    • The recollection
    • Monsters (Short Story)
    • Shadow and Fortune: Chapter Four
    • The Last Light
    • The Echoes Left Behind
    • The Wedding Ruiner
    • Who Does the Desert Know?
    • The Recruit
    • Turmoil
    • Loneliness
    • A Deserved Tip
    • The Mysterious Seamstress
    • The Bricked Up Mansion

    All 208 short stories ...

    Some random videos:

    • Vanished Hope
    • Descent into the Tomb
    • Beyond the Garden
    • Before Glory
    • The Path of Shadows
    • Without escape

    All 68 Video Stories ...

    Some random comics, narratives, or reveals:

    • The Prince's Lament
    • The way home
    • Reborn
    • Zaun Amorphous Combatant

    All 0 comics, 8 narratives and 9 revelations.

    Calendar of Events

    Annual

    1. Lunar Delight (Chinese New Year)
    2. League of Lovers (Valentine's Day)
    3. Masquerade (Carnival Season)
    4. Great Hunt (Easter)
    5. Urf's Day (Fool's Day)
    6. Summers (Summer)
    7. Anniversary (October)
    8. World Championship (October)
    9. Harrowing (Hallowe'en)
    10. War of Nine (Christmas)

    Others

    • Blood Moon (Blood Moon Hunt)
    • Winter Olympic Games
    • Legends of the Field (FIFA World Cup)
    • Camp Yordle (BR)
    • Cosmonautics Day (UK)
    • Ocean Week (OCE)
    Historical
    • Diaries of Justice
    • Judgment
    • Instrument of destruction
    • Shadows of condemnation
    • Shadows beckon
     v · eHistories and Events
    History events

    Some random short stories:

    • The Healer's Gambit
    • The cage
    • Below zero
    • Ice Hearts
    • The Gift of Poison
    • El Verdugo
    • The Winged Beast
    • The recollection
    • Monsters (Short Story)
    • Shadow and Fortune: Chapter Four
    • The Last Light
    • The Echoes Left Behind
    • The Wedding Ruiner
    • Who Does the Desert Know?
    • The Recruit
    • Turmoil
    • Loneliness
    • A Deserved Tip
    • The Mysterious Seamstress
    • The Bricked Up Mansion

    All 208 short stories ...

    Some random videos:

    • Vanished Hope
    • Descent into the Tomb
    • Beyond the Garden
    • Before Glory
    • The Path of Shadows
    • Without escape

    All 68 Video Stories ...

    Some random comics, narratives, or reveals:

    • The Prince's Lament
    • The way home
    • Reborn
    • Zaun Amorphous Combatant

    All 0 comics, 8 narratives and 9 revelations.

    Calendar of Events

    Annual

    1. Lunar Delight (Chinese New Year)
    2. League of Lovers (Valentine's Day)
    3. Masquerade (Carnival Season)
    4. Great Hunt (Easter)
    5. Urf's Day (Fool's Day)
    6. Summers (Summer)
    7. Anniversary (October)
    8. World Championship (October)
    9. Harrowing (Hallowe'en)
    10. War of Nine (Christmas)

    Others

    • Blood Moon (Blood Moon Hunt)
    • Winter Olympic Games
    • Legends of the Field (FIFA World Cup)
    • Camp Yordle (BR)
    • Cosmonautics Day (UK)
    • Ocean Week (OCE)
    Historical
    • Diaries of Justice
    • Judgment
    • Instrument of destruction
    • Shadows of condemnation
    • Shadows beckon


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