Book VI Chapter 16: Wake Up!
"No... noooooo!" Bastionscreamed.
DilndrouandKelansat before theold bearas he lay in rotted grass and leaf litter that coated the forest floor, lifting their heads as one as Bastion raced onto the scene, the Flamekeeper's courier hawk darting beside him.
His eyes were only for Sasha; he rushed past Aeneski and alligator to throw himself against the bear's fur, matted with mud and reeking of something foul and acrid that he couldn't place.
"Bastion! Don't touch him-- he's--"
"Dying? Thank you, Kelan, I couldn't tell as much on my own," he snapped as he grit his teeth and lifted one of the bear's great paws, his nerves already worn thin.
"Bastion, Kelan and I have been caring for Sasha for several days now," Dilndrou sighed. "He has no obvious wounds-- and yet, since the attack, he has been all but wasting away. I suspect nothing less than foul play;Artemiois a dangerous foe withnecromancyat his command."
Kelan watched sadly as his friend stubbornly clung to his old master, climbing atop him to tug at his ears and gaze into his failing eyes.
"We've done all we could for him, I swear," Kelan insisted. "Some dark force is wearing at his very essence... I can't stop or reverse it; myvitalmastery is far from sufficient."
But Bast ignored him. "Sasha. Sasha, I'm here now. I'm right here. Please... "
Sasha's eye rolled down, the pupil contracting as he focused on the tiny elf atop him. "Honey-hair... I have waited... for you," he rasped weakly.
"No... don't speak, just... just rest here. You're going to be fine, you're not even hurt. Do you need food? Water? I can find it for you. Just... just relax, don't go anywhere..."
"It... is not so... simple..."
"Don't say that. You can't mean it-- just shut up," he begged him, gently patting the great grizzly's nose. As his palm brushed across the thin fur, it sloughed away; Bast cried out, falling back against his shoulder.
"F-fuck... Kelan. Dilndrou, both of you. Both of you, do something! HELP HIM!!"
"Bast, gods, get away from him!" Kelan shouted in horror.
Sasha groaned and lurched forward, trembling mightily before flattening against the cold earth. His fur began to fall from him in thick brown clumps, his flesh darkening and falling apart before their eyes, thick, dark-green ichor bubbling forth like rotted blood.
Horrified, Bast flung himself to the ground at Sasha's feet, doubling over to retch as the smell grew unbearable.
Like a crumbling building, the bear seemed to fall apart before his very eyes, decomposing into a mound of hairless, reeking, ropelike flesh and muscle.
"...so now it's over," Dilndrou said softly, clenching his webbed forepaws into fists as Bastion sat upon his knees, hugging his arms around himself, trembling and rocking slowly.
"No... no no no... no no no no no no noooooo," he groaned.
But the bear's golden eyes stared eerily down at him from his half-exposed skull, as though he was still watching, waiting.
Kelan saw the drawn pupils move, shift, focus.
"BAST, GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM HIM, NOW!"
The pile of rotted flesh rose before them, jaws hanging wide, eyes gleaming with danger.
It swung its great, black paw faster than they could blink; thrown airborne, Kelan could only watch as his friend soared across the clearing, slamming into a broken tree trunk with bone-crushing force before sliding limply down to land upon its roots.
"NO!! YOU STUPID SON OF A--"
Sasha-- or what once was Sasha-- turned to lunge at Dilndrou, but the alligator was faster.
Claws raised into the air, he hissed the magic words, and the morning suns themselves glared down upon the Sacred Grove, igniting the necromantic Beast-God with a blast of scorching light.
It screamed and thrashed like a demon unleashed, crashing to the ground one last time as the flames consumed it.
Kelan felt the heat upon the back of his neck, but saw nothing; he was already at Bastion's side, cursing him, cursing himself, cursing their gods and all else he could think to turn his wrath upon.
The blonde elf's neck had snapped in the impact, his face slashed open by the undead bear's wicked claws, his right eye all but torn away.
"Gods damn you... Gods damn you, Bastion! You couldn't use your stupid fucking brain for once in your life, and this's where it's gotten you," he shrieked, choking back a helpless sob.
But the maimed elf reached up to grab Kelan's wrist, squeezing it painfully; the words fell from his lips and he stopped, staring in disbelief.
Bast's grievous wounds seemed to melt away as though they had never been, the eye growing back, the clawed gash sealing up and vanishing.
With a shuddering groan, Bast twisted his head back into position, drew a great breath, and screamed and screamed and screamed as the newly-formed eye and flesh grew pale and dead again.
The Firestarters' Campgrounds
Kelan crumpled his letter and hurled it across the tent to land with his previous attempts, clenching his teeth.
There seemed to be no right way to word his letter toNefirianabout what had come to pass inAensdounin the past few days.
He could attempt to warn him of Artemio's treachery, but the letter might be intercepted or read by one of the accursed bat's own servants inChimre.
He could tell him about Sasha's death and subsequent rebirth as anundeadhorror, about how the thing had by all rights killed Bastion-- only for the man to un-break his neck and regenerate his flesh before springing back to life, true life, save that the wounds necrotized again as soon as they mended themselves... but it sounded like a raving fever-dream, and until Bastion could accompany the note back home, there was little reason for the Dreamwaker to believe a word of it.
He'd hardly believed it himself, and he had seen it with his own eyes.
"I don't understand this shit. I just don't understand," he lamented.
Dilndrou shook his head slowly, sitting quietly in his archmage's robes across the room. "If I were you, I'd tell him the truth of what happened to Sasha and Bastion. Omit the details about Artemio; don't name him, don't explain what he's done.
Bastion can relay that information-- and the demon's identity-- to Nefirian with his own lips when he delivers the message."
"Mm, that does sound effective," Kelan agreed. "I just... why, Dilndrou? Why would he ever ally with this beast? Surely, hearing and seeing what's become of Sasha and Bastion will sway him... he has to have at least that much sense."
"Artemio is a sly and dangerous fiend. He excels at manipulation above all else-- master of puppets, be they living or dead."
Kelan was still shaken by his old friend's near-death; the regenerated wound had left a strange, necrotic mark across his eye, leaving little doubt in his mind that the bear had been cursed.
It had transferred in part through the creature's claws, guaranteeing that anyone wounded by him would rot away in turn.
...at least, if they were incapable of spontaneous regeneration.
Whatever had changed in Bastion's body had saved him, even though his eye was lost forever; like the claw-wound, it became dead and pustulent as soon as the regeneration had completed, unable to revert to its previous state.
With Dilndrou's help and medicines, Kelan had one of the Firestarter medics remove it completely, bandaging it to dissuade his body from attempting to regrow it a second time.
The dead skin was less of a problem; although Bastion claimed it hurt like hell, the regeneration seemed sufficient to keep the infection from spreading or affecting any living tissue, at the very least.
Kelan sighed. "I'm going to give this a rest for now. I'm off to check on him; once I've returned, I'll write this damnable letter, and we can figure out what our next course of action is."
The Flamekeeper made his way out of the grand tent and across the way.
Bastion had been given a smaller tent nearby for privacy; he had medics checking in on him regularly, but otherwise, the odd-eyed Aeneski knew his friend would be best given privacy in which to keep himself entertained.
"Bast, are you awake? I'm here to see you," Kelan announced. "You'd better not have a hand down your kilt when I come in there."
Pulling the flap open, Kelan slipped inside--
...only to find the tent empty.
Next Chapter: Book VI Chapter XVII
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