Destiny - Part 2
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They were back aboard the Weatherlight, their rescue mission complete, their departure time suddenly screaming upon them as the enemy warship Predator discovered their own vessel floating above the stronghold’s gardens where they boarded. Gerrard was on deck, commanding, elated with their success and the minimal price they’d paid to succeed. Unfinished business that could easily wait. Their party more or less intact. Wounds that would, in most cases, heal.
Below deck, in a bunk reserved for the injured, his oldest friend Mirri died.
After she had drawn her last breath and went swimming one last time in a long-forgotten memory of her litter mates, she closed her eyes as Crovax had done when his fate seemed upon him on the bridge. She could hear her own purring, self-comforting and loud in her ears. She heard the latches lifting on the door as someone, probably Orim the healer, came to check on her. She heard her heartbeat, withering and surrendering. Nearly done. Nearly free.
Dangling at the end of her life’s rope, she simply let go, and the fall to freedom was silent and long.
“Mirri?” Crovax breathed into that silence some hours later. He stood over her bunk in the shadows, his black skin blending with the darkness. He could not hear her breathing. “Mirri, are you—?”
“Fine,” she whispered, opening her eyes.
Her pupils were gone, washed away, and the white holes in her head that stared up at him were ones Crovax had seen before. They glowed in the darkness that engulfed them both. He stepped back, one hand dropping to his sword.
“Oh, Selenia,” he said. “What have you done?”
“The only thing I could,” Mirri answered. “Was it me or the vessel I was trapped in that you loved? It shouldn’t matter where my soul lives, as long as it lives with you.”
The Weatherlight shook as its engines began to fire up and turn the ship, tipping the chamber toward the dead thing in the cat warrior’s body. The bunk swayed, and somewhere up above, a cannon boomed in the distance.
Crovax took another step away. “Whatever you are, don’t lie. Selenia wouldn’t speak of souls—she never had one. And you’re clearly not Mirri. So, who are you?”
The cat warrior sighed, stretched, touched the bloody bandages across her stomach. The wound was more pleasing than damaging to her now. “Baggage. Your baggage.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Oh, I think you do.” She bared her fangs at him with such ferocity that Crovax almost laughed in his fright. Mirri said, “I’m the delivery you failed to claim. One death and one curse, but I suspect you knew when the angel died what final blessing she was meant to bestow. Your instinct to let her kill you was smarter than your intent to kill her first, but you allowed Mirri to make the claim instead. You should know she’s not too pleased with you right now. The names she calls you in here. Shameful.”
Crovax drew his blade, his head far steadier this time than when he last faced those dead angelic eyes. “Set her free. Now.”
“Why don’t you come in after her?” Mirri came to her feet, slouching as if parts of her insides were broken. The ship rocked with another cannon explosion. “If you’ll accept the curse as your own, you can have her back. Spare yourself the explanation to Gerrard that you let his best friend become a blood-drinker. Toss yourself overboard and let the others believe you were lost in the confusion. Split your soul with Selenia and accept what is rightfully yours—her preordained gift.”
She—it—must have known what Crovax’s reply would be. Perhaps it could read the answer in Crovax’s own eyes, or perhaps the sum of combined insight of the dark angel, the cat warrior, and the new being they had become when joined was greater than the parts. Either way, when the ship jolted in sudden descent, the thing that had been Mirri was on him, claws out, fur bristling, fangs gnashing. Where she laid a hand on him, he bled, and the smell of true lifeblood seemed to transform her. Her colors thickened and flattened in the half-light. Her jaw hung slack, her cheeks sinking until her face was hollowed like an unidentifiable corpse discovered in an old cave. Crovax cried out, backpedaling, abandoning all pretense of battling this monstrosity. He fled toward the battle cries on the deck, and it followed him on all fours, leaping stairs, stabbing holes in the floorboards as it came.
On the deck, beneath that red-and-black sky Gerrard had first described as a bruise, Crovax could see salvation in the others—Gerrard was at the rail, Tahngarth the minotaur mere feet behind him. Sisay, returned to them by the force of Gerrard’s will, commanded on the far side of the Weatherlight. But beyond them rose a massive ship the shape of a pincer, the Predator, the enemy, the superior force to be reckoned with. Even Gerrard, all ego and confidence, seemed bowed by the unexpected arrival of Volrath’s ship. Crovax rushed toward them, the Mirri-thing’s breath at the back of his neck; Gerrard bellowed for a steeper descent as the Predator barreled toward them in what seemed to be a ramming assault.
“Beware—” Crovax began to shout, just as it hit him from behind. Gerrard reached for him as he tipped over the rail; Tahngarth reached for Mirri. Neither of them was close enough, and together, Crovax and the cat warrior plummeted into the overgrowth of the gardens below them.