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Kruul Story Arc Part VII - The Reaper Rises

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Kruul Story Arc Part VII - The Reaper Rises

 

Zhonyja retraced her path out of the sacred caldera and emerged onto the slope that led back towards the encampment, rage still steadily thrumming through her. She ignored the new notes in that rage, the hunger that seemed to come from the mark spreading across her body. It, too, was part of Kruul's plan and she would have to see what she could do about it, but that would have to wait for now. Now she needed to seek out his accomplices, the other witch doctors. She needed to extract answers. Vengeance hissed a voice inside her heart that wasn't entirely hers. 

The anger was coiled in her so tightly that she could hardly think and to vent she pulled her axe free and swung it at an offending tree. Swearing as she fumbled, her left wrist sweeping the air near the grip and her consequently one-handed swing so unbalanced it slapped the tree with the flat of the blade and twisted it out of her remaining hand to fall on the ground. 

For a few moments, she stared at it with disbelief. She had never dropped her weapon. Not since she'd earned it, a thousand fights ago. Then, at last, she yielded. Falling to her knees, she cried. Tears of rage. Loss, fear and shame over how long she had followed the orc that had ultimately betrayed and abandoned her. What good was she now? Embittered and one-handed, unable to even swing the weapon that had defined so much of her life. For a few precious moments, she let herself grieve for a life spent serving a dream that she now realised had always belonged to another.

Yet if there was one thing that life had instilled in her above all others, it was that weakness existed to be seen, recognised and overcome. Those lessons were so deep in her soul that they could never be dislodged, even by the betrayal of the very one who had instilled them. 

So she cried, for as long as she let herself, and then she rose, steady on her feet, looked at her axe for a few breaths and then, with determination, left it and walked on. She expected to feel something leaving behind such a symbol, but all she felt was sadness overlaying a steadily rising tide of rage. It was a half-day walk to the encampment, Kruul had always kept himself one step removed from any chance of fighting unless necessary. It had always surprised Zhonyja that the battle, no matter how it ebbed and flowed, seemed to remain in the same general area. Now, as she walked, she began to suspect that was entirely by design, though she had no idea how he could have orchestrated it to be so. He would need to have control over both sides to do that, she thought with a mixture of dismissiveness and sinking despair. It sounded impossible, but she had long ago learnt not to underestimate her father. Although she thought with sadness, she ultimately hadn't learnt that lesson well enough. 

The unnatural rage that built within itched across her skin in the wake of the twisting of the mark. The difference between her anger and rage from the mark remained. However, the distinction already faded as she walked. As if the mark was somehow becoming accustomed to her. That wasn't reassuring, but with it also came a sense of new power that was familiar. She felt as she did immediately after returning from a summons, charged with otherworldly energy that crackled in her veins. She loved that feeling, but pairing it with this rage was dangerous. Unfortunately, she wasn't in the mood to take notice of her introspection, and she wanted nothing so much as to punish someone.  

She saw the encampment coming far earlier than expected and realised that somewhere along the way she had broken into a jog and then a run. Part of her mind recognised that running a half-day walk without stopping, slowing or ever feeling uncomfortable was at least unusual. The rage that had been driving her forward wasn't interested, and the thought slipped out of her mind almost as soon as it came, drowned in the sudden assessment of everyone she saw. The camp was her home for some time, but it didn't feel like it, it felt like…hostility. Every glance that came her way felt like a covert sneer, assessing her as weaponless, wounded, weak, no threat. She seethed under their gaze, and she struggled to refrain from challenging everyone she passed. These were her people, but when she looked at them, she wanted nothing more than to tear them apart. She needed to find the Witch Doctors and fix everything. Otherwise, she already knew she wouldn't be able to stay here. An Orc encampment was no stranger to violence, but she could feel her desire to fight everyone she saw, soldiers and camp followers alike. 

She had forced herself to walk, but it was unbearable, and she'd broken back into a jog before she realised. It drew even more stares, but she was past them faster, making them somehow more comfortable to ignore. The Witch Doctors tents stood nearer the war-front, on a small rise that gave them a decent view of the field of battle and as she approached it the two guards at the base of the hill held up arms to stop her. 

She recognised them, and that didn't calm her. Rorah and Partara were two of the most senior members of the black-skins, the witch doctor's guards. She'd never joined their ranks but had enjoyed higher status as Kruul's chosen, which had always annoyed them. She'd thought of them with disdain on a good day, but now, with the mark searing her mind, it was all she could do to halt and unclench her jaw enough to greet them. Rorah's heavy-lidded stare flicked down and up, pausing on her wrist before returning to meet her sullen gaze. 

"The doctors are in important consultations and do not need visitors."

She bit back a snarl and levelled her tone with difficulty. "I have an urgent need for them."

He snorted, "I see that," he considered her, a sneer teasing one corner of his mouth "You seem to have misplaced your weapon. And your hand."

She tensed further at his tone, losing your weapon was, for a warrior, a shame only surpassed by that of surrendering or desertion. She spoke through gritted teeth, grinding the words through her rage-choked throat.

"It was no longer a suitable weapon for my….changed circumstances."

His eyes widened in mock surprise. "Oh of course without a hand I suppose what you need is a shield to strap to that arm. The armourers can find you one. I'm…." He choked off as her remaining hand flashed forward and caught his throat, lifting him clear of the ground as Zhonyja drove him backwards and slammed him into the fence that ringed the Witch Doctors compound. 

"It's ok. I've found a more suitable weapon". Zhonyja hissed as his neck snapped in her hand. She heard Partra draw her blade behind her as Zhonyja dropped to her knees, effortlessly drawing Rorah's blade from his scabbard before his body even began to fall. Zhonyja whirled to her feet in a lunge that buried the blade in a surprised Partra's throat before she had raised her blade to strike. The alarm cry she'd intended was a gurgle of frothing blood as the blade tore free as Zhonyja lunged forward. Her brain not playing any part as she quickly stripped Partra's vambrace off her arm and strapped it to her forearm, wedging Partra's short sword between, the blade protruding a few handspans past the stump. 

It wasn't elegant or comfortable, but the pain went unnoticed and now her stump, however unwieldy, was a blade. She picked up Rorah's blade and strode up the hill. Behind her, alarmed shouts and questions began from those who had seen the fight, but she was well known and respected if not liked, so no one would be sure what to make of it. That confusion bought her enough time to reach the tents long before the alarm, and she strode through the flaps of the central commune to find a quorum in progress.

To their credit the witch doctor's realised what was happening far quicker than she expected, eyes widened in fear and recognition around the room as they turned and saw the distinctive blade and vambrace, the blood.

"So we are too late", Hartuck spoke softly, and she registered the sadness in his tone. "He has betrayed us all."

The sight of them seemed to drive the mark's rage even higher, and she could do nothing, say nothing as she snarled and attacked.

The small part of her mind that remained her own was appalled by the slaughter as the witch doctors tried desperately to fend her off or escape. The force flowing through her was overwhelming as she moved with a quickness and ferocity Athien had never seen. Zhonyja's strikes tore through flesh, bone, wood and canvas without slowing. By the third strike, Partra's blade and vambrace split free from her arm, as it lodged in the body of an elderly Witch Doctor and the support pole of the tent behind her. Zhonyja didn't slow, bludgeoning with the stump hard enough to crack a skull or rib, Rorah's blade drenched in the blood of those who, until now, had been the most influential people in her life. Tears ran down her face, rage and sorrow mingling without any effect on the carnage her body wrought. 

It was over in short order. Zhonyja stood in the centre of the tent, panting and crying as finally, the rage subsided, sated. As it receded, a new emptiness dragged at her as realisation began to sink into her soul. She vomited and then fell to a crouch shaking. She had destroyed everything. The carnage before her wasn't all the Witch Doctors, by a long shot, but it had been the ruling council, the most respected and adored members of the last three or four generations, all dead by her hand. She'd killed two of the more respected warriors incidentally along the way. She could never be a part of Orc society again. Any society. They would hunt her. Forever. As of this moment, Zhonyja was an outcast even if the rest of her people had not yet realised it. 

The worst of it was that she had no idea why. 

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