The first sound to break the fragile silence came from Rot. Kneeling in the middle of a snow-covered pumpkin patch, his normally luminous blue eyes darkened slowly as his mouth dropped open and his head tilted back. One would suspect a cry of agonized grief at the sight of his beheaded sister. What instead issued forth was like nothing the man had man before.
In front of him, arms limp but still clutching the sickle in his hand, Magnus the Scarecrow felt his heart (provided he still had one) grow heavy with regret. He'd sought to prevent
Alma's involvement for so long and yet he was the one to strike the killing blow. While cursing himself he rather quickly resolved that now his deformed sister, with her abnormally long arms and clawed hands, could rest at last. It had been a tragic loss but now he'd accomplished so much more than originally intended. The physically strongest of resistors and source of hope for the inhabitants of the boarding house was now gone. Rot had lost his reason to continue living his immortal existence and would no longer be a threat...
Magnus staggered forward, feeling a sudden explosion of raw power behind him push against his back, following the noise that seemed to split the sky.
It was a howl of the damned, the excruciating cry of a tormented beast, the unbinding of centuries of rage all rolled into one. Chancing a look over his shoulder, Magnus glimpsed from behind his back bone mask the source of the whirling energies.
It was Rot.
His eyes had turned from blue to a blazing orange and his stood, bent backwards howling to the sky as his rage surged to the surface. It was... frightening. Magnus had to chuckle nervously at the display. So much power was simply pouring forth and amplifying his brother's howling. He had so much power inside him, so much he had plenty to waste on his grief alone.
"You're a bigger fool than I thought," the Scarecrow muttered to himself, allowing himself a chastising shake of the head. "All the years you've been immortal... you've been willingly bottling up all that anger. Every death, every broken promise and friendship. Everyone who hurt you, it was all stashed away and for what?" The answer dawned as he asked. "You were going to use it against the Scarecrow, weren't you? Save it up for the one last big bad in the hopes of destroying yourself along the way."
As if in response, Rot's burning gaze turned to Magnus and he charged, arms extended to grab and rip his hated brother to pieces. But the collected Magnus was too quick for the berserker and quickly traced a sigil with the sickle's tip before thrusting his hand through it, channeling the woven spell to his palm which slammed with considerable force onto Rot's forehead.
"That is the most selfish excuse I've heard. Enjoy being alone with your thoughts, brother. Heavens know I certainly did."
The glowing of Rot's eyes dimmed until his irises were dark purple. The swirling vortex of power faded as it flowed back to wherever Rot was keeping it in his psyche. Again falling to his knees, the immortal grabbed his head with both hands and began to howl again, this time a mournful noise without the amplification of his anger. The fool would be no threat now and the Scarecrow took some delight in knowing his goal was now so close. Victory was at hand.
"Now, just one last head to collect- Argh!"
No sooner had he turned back to the site of Morana kneeling beside Alma's remains when another obstacle appeared to disrupt his victory. From his left side came a blur of motion before a substantial force slammed into Magnus and sent him rolling to the right. Turning with sickle still in hand, he scowled at the larger-than-average gray wolf staring him down. It was the werewolf, Gar. Magnus cursed himself for forgetting the beast's presence and readied himself.
"You won't stop me this time, mongrel," he snarled as Rot clawed at his own face behind them. "I'm too close... too close to finishing this and I will not be waylaid by an overgrown dog!"
In response the wolf only seemed to grow larger, roughly larger than a horse and very, very pissed off.
"So be it," Magnus growled, producing a second sickle from behind his back as he and the giant wolf charged each other.
From inside the boarding house, Doctor Allister was once more trying to get back into her extended sleep schedule when she felt the building shudder as Rot's tormented howling rang through the air. The naga physician knew very well what it meant, that bone-headed immortal coming to her asking for a way of keeping his anger in check just a bit longer. It was getting harder and harder to control it, he had said, fearing for the lives of the tenants should he finally snap. Outside something tragic must have occurred for Rot to fall head-first into rage.
Slithering as fast as she could with only time to bundle in one large overcoat, Allister emerged on the scene just in time to see Magnus lock Rot in his own mind. Alone with only his memories, it was one of the cruelest acts Magnus had performed... that is, until the doctor laid eyes on Alma's decapitated form. As Gar charged into battle against the Scarecrow, Allister became aware of Alma and Alma alone, slithering fast and whispering under her breath.
"No, no, no, not her, no, no..."
It was a tragic sight: Morana, kneeling beside the headless body while cradling Alma's head in her arms, weeping. The girl's bright, long hair cascaded into her lap as the doctor slowly and robotically checked for signs of life.
"I-It's not working," Morana whimpered, rocking herself slowly.
"What isn't?" It was extremely hard for Allister to keep a calm tone herself.
Morana's pale blue eyes looked the naga in the face. "She won't heal herself... why won't she?"
This was a question they had all feared to ask themselves. "I'm not sure. Perhaps her process couldn't keep up..." she trailed off upon noticing Morana's runed fingernails and muttered out of shock, "... those aren't the hands I gave you, are they?"
Morana froze for a moment, eyes wide. Looking down at Alma's face, her peacefully closed eyes and sleepy expression, she felt hope starting to rekindle. "I think I can heal her."
"It'd take a long time to explain. Please, I need your help and I can't answer questions. I just hope I'm right..."
As Morana and the doctor worked fast, the battle between Scarecrow and werewolf pressed on.
Magnus was quick and took swipes with his sickles whenever the opportunity presented itself, realizing too late the wounds were healing faster than they could be inflicted. The damn tools were made of iron, not silver, and the wolf was too clever to present his neck for decapitation. As Magnus failed to dodge another running tackle and rolled backwards, his head knocked against an item he'd forgotten about:
The arrow he brought to Morana.
It had a silver tip, perfect if fired from a bow but Magnus had lost sight of the weapon. No matter, he could still use it to gain an edge. As the werewolf charged again, the masked man threw one of the sickles. The beast dodged it and Magnus took his chance to grasp the arrow behind his head...
In all her years, Doctor Allister had never seen magicks like this. Those hands of Morana's, the ones Magnus crafted just for her upon her creation, the runes inscribed on her fingernails gave her impressive abilities. As her hands glowed a soft purple hue, she worked, realigning Alma's head with her body. Her fingertips worked fast, reconnecting severed vessels, fusing the spine back together and closing the entire wound with a simple sliding of her index finger. A second passed in which the naga feared their efforts were in vain when Alma's body twitched.
"It's ... working...?"
Suddenly Alm'as eyes opened wide and she took a deep, gasping breath as if emerging from underwater. A couple breaths later and she soon turned on her side, coughing softly as Morana and the doctor both wept with joy and hugged the clawed girl.
"R-Rot?" the girl croaked finally, her voice hoarse after the procedure.
"He's... not himself," Allister finally answered just as a piercing shriek filled the air.
All eyes turned to the combat in the pumpkin patch where the tide had turned in Magnus's favor.
The silver-tipped arrow had been lodged in Gar's right hindquarters, slowing him substantially and no doubt leaving him in great pain. Magnus took the opportunity and converged on the beast, slashing away with his sickle while Rot staggered on his feet and thrashed with head in his hands.
"Keep away!" he howled to no one but the voices in his head. "Stay away! Oh, god, I'm sorry! Just stay away!"
Morana turned to Alma and the doctor. "He's trapped with his memories... I've seen Magnus do this to a man that tried hunting him down after his village was slaughtered by the Nails. The man eventually killed himself but Rot..."
They all knew. Rot's immortality cursed him to this madness. Time was running out as well, Gar would not last much longer against Magnus unless a solution presented itself.
"S-Sing to him." They turned again to Alma, still hoarse but gradually regaining her strength as she sat up. "Whenever he got like this, I would sing to him to calm him down. You've got a beautiful voice, Morana. Sing to him!"
Morana hesitated and looked down for a moment. "But... I can only sing about tragedy. You know, dirges and such."
"Perhaps a dirge is what's necessary," Dr. Allister spoke, eyes wide with realization.
With one last slash across the face, Gar fell onto his side, panting heavily and bleeding from multiple wounds. The wolf was still alive but crippled so long as that arrow stayed right where it was. The Scarecrow himself had not escaped without injuries himself; the beast had gotten a lucky bite and mauled his right leg to the point that bone protruded from the flesh. No matter, walking was not beyond him now and with two immediate threats neutralized-
"What is this...?" he muttered, seeing Morana moving away from the half-snake doctor and a very much alive Alma. "The hands... dammit all, I should never have given you those hands!" Walking as briskly as his mangled leg would allow, Magnus started to intercept Morana as she approached the raving Rot. He would have her head this time, no mistake.
As he raised the sickle to take the strike, however, Morana closed her eyes, raised her arms and began to sing.
((Morana's song here! ))
It stopped Magnus in his tracks for a good moment. He had never heard this dirge from her before, this thought-probing melody that threatened to peer into his thoughts. The Spike lodged in his forehead prevented such a probe... but the Scarecrow realized too late that it was another who was the intended target.
Growling under his breath, Magnus raised his free hand to the sky, summoning from the woods around them the multitude of reanimated ravens at his command. With a finger he pointed to their target and watched the birds, with their iron-talons and beaks, converge upon the singing Morana.
As her wordless lyrics poured forth, Morana abandoned her physical body to peer into Rot's mind. This was a gift she was not certain Magnus had given her. Perhaps this was a trait belonging to the woman whose voice she possessed? Regardless, she herself saw that which tormented Rot to his very soul.
Over two centuries of immortal life he had lived and the entire time he was haunted by two looming specters whose faces were hidden from view. In Rot's mind he was smaller, younger and without his stitches, dwarfed by the figures he feared. The younger Rot was running, never gaining distance, always running hopelessly from his past. As Morana peered into his world, she felt Rot make eye contact with her and for once, he seemed to relax.
She changed her tone slightly, conveying her presence was helpful instead of hurtful. Turning to the looming shapes advancing on them, Morana changed tone again to directly affect them, stripping the hooded visage away to reveal the faces Rot feared:
Father, murdered by son's hand while in the grip of madness, the blood of this man's murder had stained Rot's hands for so long. The guilt, the regret, the trauma of murdering one's parent...
it was little wonder why this man's face haunted Rot's dreams.
And his mother, a widow who spent her remaining days mourning her two deceased children, Alma and Magnus, while cursing Rot's name and disowning him as her son before finally succumbing to sickness.
Morana felt guilty, forcing herself into Rot's mind and learning the truth behind him. She saw how the years of deathless life had taken a toll on him, even before his first run-in with the Scarecrow and his minions, back before his brother had taken up the title after being reanimated. She saw his grief when Alma had been reanimated as well but without the memories of her past life, a little sister with no knowledge of her brother's existence. For the longest time, she simply knew him as 'Mister Rot' and nothing else.
The years of promises made and promises broken; the people he'd failed to save or protect; the people that turned on him... Morana saw it all and her physical body wept as she sang, oblivious to the birds tearing at her flesh.
"No more," she spoke into Rot's mind and shifted her tone again, singing with greater gusto.
The faces of Rot's parents must be put to rest. She turned her dirge to them, bidding them to the afterlife and away from their tormented son. As the faces vanished Morana and the younger Rot both glimpsed a relieved smile from both the mother and father before disappearing completely. To Rot's deceased friends and loved ones she sang to them as well, watching the mental Rot grow taller as his sanity returned.
Finally, as she retreated from his mind and returned to her body, Morana's song turned to tragedy as she became aware of the intense pain in her body. The crows and ravens had done their work, attacking her body and especially her arms. They had been torn apart, bones as well. The hands Magnus returned, with their life-saving magicks, were gone forever, shredded to pieces at her feet before the crows finally dispersed.
As she sank to her knees, song finally dying out, she felt herself hauled again to her feet by Magnus's hand. He held one of her pale horns in his free hand and huffed angrily in her face.
"I've had enough of you," he snarled, raising the sickle one last time. "You will never sing again, little freak! You've robbed me of enough victories for one day and now- Aagh!"
His rant was again cut short as Magnus felt something heavy lodge itself in his back. Daring a look over his shoulder he saw Rot, eyes a clearer blue than ever before. Immediately he knew what had struck him: Rot's hatchet, buried in his spine given how the Scarecrow could not move his legs properly. In that instant, the protectors of the boarding house sprang into action.
With skilled movement, Doctor Allister used her serpentine lower body to reach out and grasp Morana around the waist, pulling her out of Magnus's grasp to safety just as Gar sprang into action. The huge wolf reentered the fray with fangs bared, grabbing the already mangled leg and swinging Magnus off his feet. The wolf spun, shaking and thrashing his opponent like a dog with a chewtoy, slamming Magnus against the ground over and over until finally the leg cracked and tore off, sending the Scarecrow tumbling through the air, hatchet still in his back. Below him was Alma, eyes flashing with anger as she reared back with her claw-fingers making a fist as he approached the ground.
"I warned you!" she cried, her red left eye glowing like a hot coal as she delivered a punishing punch to the Scarecrow's chest. Bones shattered, his torso folding inward before the force of the blow sent him flying, even dislodging the hatchet from his body. Broken, bleeding the black, tarry blood all Nails carried within them, The Scarecrow tumbled backwards to the center of the pumpkin patch, broken and writhing on the ground.
"You... won't stop me... I'll get... get you-" he trailed off after raising himself on one unbroken elbow to glare at Rot. In response, Gar tossed the severed leg from his mouth in a near perfect arc, letting the limb drop right onto Magnus's head. In seconds the reanimate crows descended on their Creator, lifting his mangled body (and all the pieces) and bearing it off to the woods towards the peat bogs that made up the Nail encampment.
As their foe vanished from view, Morana lay where she'd been deposited by Allister. Her own body torn apart and aching all over, she finally succumbed to the pain and fell into unconsciousness just as Rot entered her field of view. The very last image she saw as the immortal standing over her... then nothingness.
The world slowly came into focus again as Morana opened her eyes. They were very dry and even moving her eyes hurt. But she was still alive and indoors again, back in the Claw Arms clinic.
The sterile white ceiling had become too familiar since her arrival and yet, here she was again.
"Ah!" She gasped as the memories of earlier returned. The battle with Magnus, her dirge to Rot, the crows...
Sitting up was difficult as she was missing more than her hands this time; her arms had been severed at the shoulders, torn off by the reanimated birds. It did not help her body ached from head to toe as she became aware of the other injuries sustained during the conflict. She'd suffered again and was once more awake, alive and helpless. As the tears began to well in her eyes, a familiar voice broke the silence.
"Oh, you're awake!"
Blinking in surprise, Morana gasped as she was lifted into a sitting position by experienced hands. The horned girl felt a bit of relief knowing she was in the care of Dr. Allister again and smiled. "Thank goodness..." she whispered, earning a little chuckle from the doctor.
"If I had a nickle every time I heard that," she mused and paused before adding, "I'd have a quarter." That got a little giggle out of Morana and she finally took a good look at her surroundings.
The clinic looked as well-maintained as it usually did but it was quickly apparent she was not alone with the naga doctor. On the bed to Morana's left lay both Alma and Gar, fast asleep. Gar was back in his smaller, slightly normal-sized wolf form with some bandages on his hindquarters where he had been struck by the silver arrow. Alma was curled up on her side, blond head resting comfortably on Gar's side. Her claw tips dangled slightly off the side of the bed and they both seemed to snore softly in tandem.
"I've never seen Gar stay in one place so long," Allister finally said, shaking her head but smiling at the two.
Morana blinked. "Um... h-how..." she coughed, suddenly aware how dry her throat was. "How long was I out?"
"At least three days," the naga answered while holding a cup of water with a straw for Morana to sip. She nearly spat in surprise.
The doctor nodded and her dark eyes glanced downward. "Him too."
The head of black hair against the edge of her clinic bed had gone unnoticed until this point. She knew that mop too well, she'd seen it every time she tried to meet the eyes or speak to the one person who'd kept his distance from her.
He too was fast asleep, seated on the floor with his back leaned against the bed. "He insisted on keeping watch," Allister explained as she conducted her routine examinations of Morana. "I don't know what you did but... you made things easier for him."
Her mind reeled. "B-But all I did was sing... didn't I?"
Doctor Allister paused before replying. "A while back, Rot told me the customs his family conducted when burying family members. As part of the burial process it is tradition for the dead to be sung to, to rest their weary souls. Typically a surviving family member or even a songstress is required to do so. When his family died one after another, no songs were sung. His mother went mad with grief over the loss of her husband and two favorite children, thus no proper burial for them was conducted. Even after Rot buired his mother at last he could not bring himself to stay in his old home and left them in their graves."
Morana remembered the faces she saw in Rot's mind, the restless faces of his parents haunting him for more than two centuries. "He blamed himself," she said and earned a somber nod from the doctor.
"Under normal circumstances, Alma would have been the one to sing a dirge to their parents. She would have after all this time as well, had she any memory of them after being reanimated by the previous Scarecrow. But you, I don't know how, but you were able to help Rot finish putting his parents to rest. In all the time I've known him he's never looked so relaxed. You gave him a great measure of peace, hence him sticking by your side."
Without another word of explanation, Allister one more lowered Morana to lie back down. "Now, you get some rest. In another day I'll have some replacement arms for you and we can get you put back together."
"W-Wait! I don't understand... I thought he hated me..."
The naga chuckled again. "He doesn't, dear. This is just his way of expressing gratitude. When Rot keeps watch over you, you have not just a friend but a guardian who will not abandon you. If he's a little shy sometimes, don't hold it against him because that's just how he is. He's even endeavoring for sewing lessons just in case you need patching together in the future."
This time, the tears were not for pain or sadness. This one time, for the first time, Morana's tears were of happiness. Smiling to herself, she closed her eyes and let herself be lulled into a comfortable sleep by the combined presence around her.
"I'm not alone anymore..."
Chronicles of the Undying
Stories involving around my RP characters will be posted here. These will be little events or even flashbacks that will occur or have already occurred outside the boundaries of my roleplays.