The battle started out well. Zildath was barely able to contain his excitement when Sariel informed him they were in an arena. It took him back to the days of competition inside the Monastery as he trained to become a Blood Hunter. Those were happy times.
At first the issue was simply the sheer number of Slaad, annoying little shits. But, their numbers kept growing. He’d studied battle tactics. It’d been one of his favorite classes. Those studies and lived experience set off the warning bell in the back of his mind that despite how powerful his pack was as the battle went on, they were losing.
They were spread out far more than they usually were. The pillars they stood upon to protect them from the arena floor was a clever design, but it left him unable to use his body and his shield to protect his pack from the violent (annoying) pelting of rocks the never ending army of Slaad kept throwing at them.
When the lava raised the rooms temperature, when the two Tzakandi creatures emerged, the voice in Zildath’s mind that warned him if something was not done the battle would be lost, grew louder. He resisted though, putting his body in front of the twin creatures as he was suppose to. As he wanted to. They were quick to attack and he was happy to oblige. He preferred this, this up close and personal battle with a skilled opponent. But around him he could hear it, over the boiling molten rock, the whizz of the rocks. In between his heavy breath, the creaks of his armor, the thunk of weight against this shield, the sound of his sword cutting flesh and blocking claws he knew the damage the Slaad were causing his pack.
And it was pissing him right the fuck off.
He tried to push himself harder, feeling Nethrali’s healing magic close up wounds. He made the twins bleed, and revealed in, momentarily buoyed by the sound. If he could just kill them, he could get to the Slaad, make quick work of them, give his pack more time too –
-he miscalculated their quickness. He knew it the moment he raised his shield, countered with his sword, leaving himself exposed – he felt their claws dig in hard, ignoring his armor, adding new scars to a body that carried those marks proudly. They slammed into his mind next, dulling his senses, leaving a harsh ringing in his ears, the splitting pain in his head almost blinding him. He felt his knee buckle against his will, and he dropped down, his bloody sword suddenly support more than a weapon.
He was going to die. He’d felt his feeling before. More than once really.
The first time he’d allowed it.
The second time, he hadn’t seen it coming it.
This time, it terrified him as much as it enraged him.
He wasn’t afraid of death. He was afraid for his pack.
The pain in his head lessened and in those seconds sound & awareness came rushing back. He spared a glance, through the suffocating heat inside the room and saw them, his pack, fighting. Bleeding. But, they looked as if they couldn’t take much more.
He briefly locked eyes with Tali, saw the fear on her face as he went down. He had to get up. He had to get up.
He was going to rise, to take it, to find a way, and then he saw the Ulitharid, joining the fray.
Zildath looked down at his forearm, at the mark, remembering Nyx’s words. The Tzakandi swarmed closer, sneering, all too eager to deliver the death blow. He could feel their claws, coming, the air shifting as they attacked –
He brought his sword to the mark, and sliced it open.
For a half second there was nothing and he feared he’d done it wrong. In the next he knew nothing but pain.
Zildath always thought of pain like this blood, an ally. A weapon. Something to grit your teeth through, to use, something that made you stronger. He thought he understood pain.
He did not.
Without warning his nerve endings were aflame, quite literally. He could see nothing but the ball of fire that consumed him, hear nothing above the sound of his own screaming. Vaguely he realized the two Tzakandi had been engulfed in the fire, and his tongue tasted the ash of their demise. He would have laughed had he not been in agony. Voices swarmed around him, low and demonic, speaking in Abyssal, words he could not understand. He felt his flesh rip and stretch, the sound of his bones cracking as the fire cocooned him, forcing him through the change.
In-between all that pain was a kind of rage he had never experienced and he felt himself acting without thought, throwing rays of scorching heat at the enemies around the room he could sense were still there hurting those he loved.
The firey pain didn’t stop, only reached it’s peak and leveled off. His chest was heaving when he could finally see again, when the cracking stopped, and the torn flesh repaired itself. He knew he was different. He could feel the changes in his body, but never had he felt this kind of demonic power at his disposal.
Blood Hunters dipped their toe into this kind of darkness really, and usually at the end of their lives paid the price for using a monster to kill monsters.
This? This brought an understanding of demons he’d never had before. To know this kind of pain was to embrace rage. The only way to survive, to push through, was to not care, and take it out on anyone or anything.
His murderous intent quieted. Pack. Yes, yes. Pack.
He felt Nethrali’s hug and immediately worried that the flames that still floated over his skin like the armor he wore would harm her. He returned it, as best he could, and when he heard Tali’s voice to the Ulitharid, urging him to fuck off, he was reminded of that painful fury again.
He gently disentangled from Nethrali, and floated behind Tali, locking his eyes on the creature he would have gladly ripped to shreds.
Even so, he spoke softly to her. “Scale baby is here.”
But he did not feel like it. Even Tritheron was silent, hiding, Zildath’s mind barely able to even hear his gods followers prayers. All he knew was this incessant drive to not care, to share the pain. His blood a weapon after all.
But there was also a… temptation. A vague sense of some hidden knowledge buried within the pain – some innate, primal awareness of secrets that gods would kill for and mortals would die for. But it came with a warning, and Zildath knew that that digging at it would almost certainly unleash something that he couldn’t control.
As they walked along the halls, ready to find the Elder brain and finish this he fell into silence wondering if it would be worth it. Wondering if the pain would stop.
Wondering if he wanted it to stop.