Two Battleborn warriors at odds with one another are forced to work together to survive.
~ O ~
Thorn leaned back against the tree's trunk and gave a frustrated huff, keeping one keen eye on the path far below despite not having seen another living soul for hours. This advance scouting mission Ghalt had sent her out on was a bullshit waste of time – she could be slaughtering Varelsi scum with Montana and Oscar right now! Instead she was lounging around in the canopy of Ekkunar's jungle all day grappling with her inner rage. Yes, the Battleborn had saved the last star together, and the dim light of Solus peeking through the clouds above this Eldrid planet was a warm and comforting reminder that the darkness was, for now, being held at bay. They had won. So why was she still so damned pissed off? The answer was, it wasn't enough. Not yet. Every last Varelsi, every remaining supporter of that dick Rendain, would have to pay with their blood, with their dying screams, to even begin to make up for the aching sense of loss she felt in her chest every time she took a breath. An arrow for every head.
Not even the rough bark of the ancient Ekkuni tree at her back was reassuring, she rarely could take pleasure anymore in this wild place she called home only out of necessity. Her true home had long ago been swept away by the rising tide of oblivion. The very thought provoked another swell of fury in the Aelfrin warrior and she gritted her teeth hard to resist the urge to scream. It wouldn't do to give away her position, just in case there did happen to be any enemies in this area. And more than that, she was loathe to give her partner on this mission any idea where she might be. Climbing this tree was more than a strategic vantage point – Thorn was hiding out.
Trevor Ghalt, in his infinite leader's wisdom, had realized that their Eldrid sniper was beginning to crack and thought some time away from open combat would be good for her, to help her relax and recharge. To "Commune with nature, or dance around naked, or whatever the hell you guys do out there in the woods," were his exact words. Melka, who had been there at the time, had rolled her eyes, one hand on her cocked hip, "Sure Ghalt, that's what all Eldrid do, we strip down and commune with every plant in sight." Thorn, meanwhile, had been mostly speechless in her anger but knew protesting wasn't going to get her anywhere but benched. And Nova's Captain had been canny enough to refrain from telling Thorn who he was sending along as her partner and backup on this joke of a mission until they were already in the drop-ship and there was nothing she could do about it. Because if she had known there is a good chance she would have jammed an arrow in Ghalt's eye right before promptly impaling herself.
Needless to say, she'd immediately given her partner the slip once the ship's bay door had opened – he was fast and tried to keep up with her, shouting for her to wait, but nobody could beat the Aelfrin in a sprint and she'd outpaced him to disappear into the Ekkunari jungle. Once inside its protective cover Thorn was a ghost, a hunter, a predator in her element. He had no hope of finding her if she didn't want him to, and she most definitely did not.
It wasn't her proudest moment, no. In truth it felt a bit like pitching a tantrum as a child would, but Ghalt had to know she would balk at having to spend an entire week scouting out the far reaches of Ekkunar's wilderness with the one man she hated almost as much as she hated Rendain himself. Jennerit bastard! Verod Rath wasn't much better than the power hungry warlord in her eyes, and sharing space with him on the ride over had made her flesh crawl and her fingers twitch eagerly at the string of her beloved longbow Kreshek – he may have been a hero among most of the other Battleborn but she would never see him that way. She could not deny he was a capable warrior and had never failed in his duties, proving his loyalty to their cause despite his Imperium allegiance time and again. None of that changed the fact that the very sight of him left a bad taste in her mouth.
In the distance a faint but familiar sound pricked her ears, pulling her abruptly out of her angst-ridden thoughts. The ringing clang of energy blades striking in quick succession echoed through the dense foliage from somewhere far to the northeast of her current location, audible at this range only because her part of the jungle was so quiet and her hearing was exceptionally sharp. Apparently her idiotic arrogant ass of a partner had run into some trouble and found himself in a fight. With no visual line on the battle she had no way of knowing if he was outnumbered or had things well in hand, if it was merely local wildlife or a Varelsi void bloom. No part of her wanted to go help the arrogant Jennerit bodyguard, but she imagined what Ghalt would say if Rath died out there alone and she stood by and simply let it happen. Actually he probably wouldn't say anything at all – he'd just use one of his shotguns to splatter her brains across Nova's command console. Time to suck it up and do her damn job. Damnit.
Heaving another sigh, and annoyed with herself for a multitude of reasons, Thorn dropped out of the tree she'd been camped out in to land lightly on her feet. She took only a moment to orient herself and gauge the direction the fight sounds were coming from before gripping Kreshek tight and taking off in a fast sprint toward them, muttering to herself.
"Rath, you better be up to your ridiculously pointy chin in Varelsi berserkers, you prick."
~ O ~
He watched the Varelsi skulk's featureless white face split under the force of a well-placed blow from his blade, feeling a deep sense of satisfaction as its shadowy malformed body immediately crumpled to the ground. It was an easy kill, but he could ill afford to bask in that satisfaction when there were hundreds more clambering to take that one's place in front of him, to all sides of him. Well, hundreds may have been a bit of an exaggeration, or it could be entirely accurate since he'd stopped counting the waves of aliens pouring out of their black tears in the fabric of space, and so far they weren't slowing. He'd also lost count of how many he'd killed so far. A lot. The great warrior Rath did not tire easily, but his arms were beginning to drag, he was feeling the weight of his katanas Order and Axiom in a way he rarely experienced. If he were being honest with himself, he could not keep this up much longer.
A sudden spark of defiance inflated his chest, making him draw a deep breath and press on, giving a battle cry and fiercely driving back the the Varelsi hunter attacking him. He was Verod Rath of the Jennerit Empire! He was a legendary swordsman! He would not be taken down by these intergalactic vermin! They crowded in on him even as he struck down one after another, slashing and spinning in a blur of death that further exhausted him with each passing moment but he had deep reserves and a determination to match. If they were going to kill him he would take as many with him as possible first. Soon their clawed swipes were getting through his defenses, his Bladekeeper's Vestment thankfully absorbing much of their weak attacks and shielding him from the worst of the heavier hits. Eventually though even his armor would give out. He knew he was running out of time.
Rath crossed his blades and drew them sharply apart in front of him, cutting through the air with his sheer will and pushing it out away from him to knock a few Varelsi up into the air and stun them, giving him enough time to turn and protect his flank from incoming attacks. They were trying to overwhelm him, and nearly succeeding. If those damned portals didn't close soon and stop spilling more vermin out of them he would be completely screwed.
He growled in his throat and cut down two more skulks, mentally cursing his partner on this so-called mission for her utter failure. He might die here, all because she couldn't be bothered to control her personal feelings and act as a professional. It had been no secret that she loathed him, but it hardly mattered in the face of duty and honor. Emotions were a thing of inconvenience and distraction to be kept tightly in check and locked away. Emotions got a warrior killed on a battlefield, or in this case got her partner killed because she needed to go climb a tree and have a good cry while he went on patrol alone. The Aelfrin archer was a savage and a disgrace, and her lack of self-mastery was a liability. He couldn't work like this! If he lived through today he planned on having a few stern words with Ghalt over her lack of qualifications for their team. Marquis may have been a psychotic greed-obsessed magnus, but being overly emotional was never a problem with him and he was an accomplished sniper and reliable teammate in his own right. They didn't need a loose cannon like Thorn risking their missions every time she had a temper tantrum.
The skulk impaled on this end of his sword struggled briefly before he kicked it off and lunged for the next one, his breathing coming more labored, ragged. His armor was tattered and although it was regenerative it was being damaged at a rate that the nanotech could not keep up with, exposing ever-widening patches of his vulnerable bare flesh underneath. And no sooner had he had this thought, stabbing another skulk in front of him through the face, than he felt a white-hot flash of pain strike up his back. It was intense enough that Rath actually cried out and stumbled forward, his vision blurring and a ringing echoing in his ears as he struggling to maintain his footing. He slashed his blades out in an arc as he turned, nearly freezing from the agony, not so much aiming for anything specific so much as trying to keep his enemies clear of him for a moment so he could recover. Then he saw it, his new attacker.
It's inky black tentacles hung down in long, twisting lengths of energy the color of a fresh bruise, long inhuman arms dangling at its sides and that blank white face hovering above a writhing mass of shadow. A fucking Varelsi veil walker. It must have slipped out of the portal behind him, taking advantage of his preoccupation with the easier targets to strike out at his unguarded back, scoring a deep wound. He could feel the wet heat of blood spreading across his skin, flowing freely from the long wound and down his spine.
A powerful wave of dizziness swept over him, causing him to take a stumbling step backwards, looking up at the veil walker while it regarded him silently, as if evaluating him. So drained of strength and standing alone in the face of such an enemy, not to mention the few of its minions he hadn't yet killed still surrounding him, Rath knew he could not win this fight. The thought of retreat whispered through his mind, as was only natural in such a desperate situation, but he quickly cut that down. He was a true swordsman – to die in battle was honorable, to turn and run was the way of a coward. Honor and duty were everything to him, they were that by which he defined himself. He would never run, he'd rather fall on his own blade first.
Drawing himself up to his full impressive height (though the veil walker still towered over him, hovering above the ground as it did), Verod Rath tightened his grip on Axiom and Order, determined to take the Varelsi leader with him. He would shed every last drop of blood in his body and die like a warrior, swords in hand.
The Keeper of the Blade tensed his weary muscles, preparing to launch himself at the veil walker, just as a glowing arrow struck the monstrous alien through the neck, protruding from the opposite side. It gave an otherwordly squeal of pain and writhed in place, tentacles lashing out wildly as the ground all around them erupted in a circle of interwoven sigils cast in bright green light. He didn't need to look to know it was Thorn, finally arrived and casting her Eldrid magic to give him an edge, cursing their enemies, and the seasoned warrior did not hesitate to seize the moment of surprise. With a furious cry he raised his swords and threw himself at the remaining Varelsi, ignoring his exhaustion and his serious wounds, becoming a whirling living blade of death itself, cutting anything in his path to ribbons. The veil walker recoiled from the onslaught, its tentacles unable to penetrate his flurry of strikes, another two arrows sinking deep into its side as he pressed it back and it fell to the ground, no longer able to hold itself up. He focused the last shreds of power he possessed in slashing deeper and deeper into the Varelsi leader while the smaller skulks dropped around him from well-placed arrows to their faces, Thorn's taunts and war-cries accompanying each thud. With a final roar Rath ceased his spin and drove both Order and Axiom deep into the chest of the veil walker, the creature dissolving back into the void from whence it came just as Thorn's Blight evaporated into the air.
A strange silence fell over everything with the battle so quickly concluded, Rath standing still with his blades extended in the finishing blow though his enemy was gone, the portals closed. Only the sound of his own harsh breathing and his speeding heartbeat rushed in his ears. Drained and wracked with pain, suddenly he realized how close to death he had truly been, a trembling taking over his weary body. With tremendous effort he lowered his trustworthy blades, trying to lean on them but unable to keep his balance anymore, falling to the ground in what felt like slow motion and his swords tumbling to the side. He didn't even feel the ground meet him, darkness already creeping in on the edges of his vision. Perhaps he was going to die after all, perhaps it was his fate. Above him the sky of Ekkunar was dimming too, the day closing down into night as the last star slipped out of their part of space to light some other sky for awhile. It was a beautiful sight, one he didn't mind being his last.
That view was blocked when a shadow abruptly fell over him, a tan and painted face with two huge green eyes peering down at him and a frown barely wrinkling her smooth forehead, long white hair brushing the center of his chest as she knelt beside him. There was something magnetic in the depths of her eyes, and also something like... Concern? Surely not, his failing brain was imagining things. But she was... What? It was funny that he had never really looked at her before, and now it might be the last thing he ever saw. The encroaching black kept marching forward across his conscious mind and Rath didn't fight it, switching him off and drowning the image of her wild beauty in darkness.