He’d lost count of the severed body parts, of the death that trailed after him as he made his way through the halls. Lost count of the number and races of the guards and the clients and the warriors wearing Xitlali’s livery that he dropped where they stood. Lost count of the screaming faces and the faces frozen in the moment of death. Lost count of how much blood he’d spilled, war cries he’d loosed, Selves he’d sent to the After.

It was all a blur of duck, parry, take sword, sever arm, toss arm at different guard, twirl to take the head of another guard from eir shoulders, then kick that bodiless head down the hallway to hit whoever, or whatever, it hit. Fight until steel broke, take more, and fight till the new set broke, too. Toss aside useless hilts in lieu of using bare hands or wings, feet, knees, shoulders, teeth, head. Chuck one guard at another guard. Turn a warrior into a javelin and launch her around a corner, screaming and terrified, making sure she didn’t hit the wall where the hallway crossed but didn’t keep going; made sure he could follow her high pitched cries for two hallways before he snapped her neck with a flippant flick of a wrist.

Pockets of fighting turned into entire floors. Turned into him going room by room and touching each slave he could find, freeing them of the brand that marked them as Xitlali’s property. Telling them to escape in whatever ways they could find. To get the fuck out of the City. So many slaves freed and saved in between fighting, so much death marring minds that already had double the number of scars that covered their bodies. Duck, parry, stab, slash, break jaw, tear off leg and use it as a club to mow down more guards, more warriors. Use another guard as a meat shield while a handful of slaves ran for the servants’ hallway, ducking through the door just before the building shook with a magickal attack that barely touched him. Glancing blows, bouncing off his Shields, smacked away by his wings, both magickal and non.

He’d lost count of how long he’d been fighting, how many had successfully gotten through his defenses and landed a punch or a stab, and how many hadn’t. But it didn’t matter. They were all dead in the end. Because he was feeling fucking reckless and no one who stood against him as an enemy would be allowed to live.

Never again.

Seven floors down from where he’d started he came upon a group of warriors and guards who stood ten deep, blocking the hallway from wall to wall. He could just bowl through them, could just back track and go around them. But they were brave for standing there like that and the break from the monotony was enough to keep him there. For now.

Rolling his shoulders he clicked his teeth and sent coldfire licking along his wings, burning the gunk and gore and blood off the feathers. He laughed at the way they paled, the way some of them swayed on their feet and turned a sickly green. Grinned at how others stood unfazed but wary. Spreading his arms wide, he took a step forward and while the collective of them rocked on their heels they didn’t retreat, didn’t give ground or advance. Just stood and waited. It made him pause because he knew they knew who he was. Knew they could hear, taste, smell, see, feel the way his magickal signature saturated the entirety of the City around them, made even more intense for how close they stood to the source. But still they didn’t give ground, despite being terrified, despite knowing who they stood against and the danger of doing so.

It hit him then. They were sent to die, even if all they managed to do besides that was stall me, they were sent here knowing they wouldn’t survive. And just like that the battle euphoria evaporated as cold fury replaced it because these Dhaoine weren’t evil. Guilty of allowing the atrocities that Xitlali engaged in with her Court and those who served it? Yes. But deserving of death solely for that? No.

Not if they stood down.

“If you stand aside, I will let you live,” his voice was rough from his war cries, from days gone without proper use, from centuries of abuse both at his own hands and those of others. But it still carried. Still ricocheted off walls painted with the blood and innards of guards and warriors who had ignored the warning he was giving this set now, dented from his magick winging out ahead of him like the tidal wave that precedes a hurricane. For all that he hadn’t spoken to a large group in way too long, he still commanded attention. And every single Dhaoine in that hallway and the two to either side, heard him. Heard him and listened. “Stand aside and you will not be harmed. Stand against me, come at me, and I will personally deliver each and every one of you to the River Crossing.”

He stood there waiting, content to give them the chance to mull it over. Then he felt the ripple of power dance over them all, felt it settle around them, watched their autonomy fade from their eyes and growled.

Kill him,” the attend was vicious enough that when it hit the air he stumbled but didn’t lose his footing.

Even though the only other Qishir in the area, let alone the City, was Xitlali, he still would have recognized her attend by the sheer force of it, by the stench of rotted meat and sewage. As the group before him hesitated, her attend slapped out again and his growl brought dust raining down from the ceiling. They fought it, he watched several of them try, watched several more nearly succeed but when Xitlali’s voice slithered out and cut through the air they succumbed. Not that he blamed them. Not really. Only another Qishir stood any real chance of fighting that attend and winning.

He waited until they took off towards him. Waited until those at the front were an arm’s length away before he blinked to the other side of the group right in front of Xitlali who screamed at his sudden appearance.

“Heya, cunt. Remember me?” he singsonged before he punched her in the face, feeling one cheekbone fracture and splinter under his knuckles. She stumbled and listed to one side, eyes losing focus even as her magick whispering out to touch the warriors and guards behind him. Knowing she was outmatched the stupid maeshir still tried to one up him, still tried to go at him like she was even close to being in his weight class. Dumbass un-female. 

“Mmm, I don’t think so,” he grabbed her by her throat and tossed her across the hall into the wall with enough force that the entire compound shook, that the horde of her meat shields turned as one to try and find the source. He pivoted on his right foot and went after Xitlali, fist connecting with her stomach as the warriors and guards made for him. With a thought he shattered Xitlali’s attend and issued a replacement while she dry heaved and sank to the floor with a cut off sob.

Get out of the City. Freedom and life are yours but only if you leave right now.

None of them hesitated. Just dropped their weapons, turned, and ran. He was marginally impressed that they managed not to trample each other. Looking back at the Mad Qishir where she sat on the floor in a heap, one hand cupped to her bleeding, collapsed cheek, he smiled and knew by the way she paled and a tinge of greyish green colored her cheeks and along her jaw that his true face showed through. But all her fear and discomfort did was make his smile widen.

“Now where were we?” he asked nonchalantly, as though he hadn’t just destroyed half her face. As if he hadn’t just fought his way through seven floors of guards and warriors and traps meant to keep him at bay before getting to this floor, to this moment. As though he weren’t free with the power of a City and a World at his disposal.

Her fear made the air ripe as her bladder released against its will. He leaned down, fisted his hands in the front of her dress and hauled her to her feet, pulling her to within inches of his face, his breath ghosting across her lips as he spoke. “Oh that’s right. I was just about to kill you in the slowest, most painful way possible.”

Her scream almost drowned out his gleefully sadistic giggle. Almost.

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