“If you bleed us, do we not burn…?”

Fire exploded from Uuco’s body, washing over everything and everyone in the study hall.

The Red Priest’s eyes widened in the moment before the inferno washed over him. He screamed as his crimson vestments caught alight with orange and yellow.

“No!” Rintha cursed, reaching a hand toward the sling-stones on his vest. V’vendy turned and ran for the door. Corax snarled and ducked his head.

Then a finger plucked a harp-string, and a single note echoed through the library. A shockwave of purple-hued air blasted outward past the huddling Pilgrims and pushed the roaring flames away.

Corax looked behind himself. “Ira!” He exclaimed.

Ira slumped against the wall, eyes wide and alert. She cradled a harp in her lap, strumming its single string, singing at the top of her lungs. With each strum, another blast of wind rushed from her harp, holding the flames back.

“Go, my friends, go,” Ira said in sing-song. “Not for long will this Wind-Note flow–“

The string on Ira’s harp glowed brightly, and snapped in two.

The wind died down. Flames rushed in to engulf the Pilgrims–

–only to flicker and vanish from the library, leaving only scattered fires working their way up the rugs and tapestries.

Uuco the Witness, Chronicler,  flirt and sorcerous Roarer, swayed and fell flat on his face, surrounded by a ring of char and Zealot corpses.

Ira sighed and rested her chin on the bridge of her harp. “A lot,” she said, “has happened while the Lady Ira slept.”

Rintha raised his hand and brushed the hairline scar on his cheek. Nodding to himself, he drew a dagger from his belt and walked towards the unconscious Uuco.

“Rintha,” Corax said, stepping in the hunter’s way. “Don’t kill him. Let’s talk about this.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Rintha said, voice quiet and husky. “That mustached little creep is a Roarer.”

“I know,” Corax said. “I’ve known for some time.”

“And you didn’t warn us,” Rintha said quietly.

“I didn’t see the need,” Corax said.

Rintha shuddered, anger rippling through his body in a spasm. “Now I believe you’re one of the Hidden Gods,” he said. “You’re clearly used to playing with people’s lives.”

“Uuco’s found a way to control the Roarer’s curse!” Corax protested. “He’s talked and eaten and laughed with us without unleashing any sorcery.” Cora shook his snout. “I can’t stand the old codger,” he admitted, “but he deserves the benefit of our doubt!”

“Out of my way, god,” Rintha said. V’vendy the Deathweaver stepped up to Rintha’s side, nocking her last arrow to her bow.

“Sorry, Corax,” she said softly. “But a hunter has a right to his prey.”

Corax glance from Rintha to V’vendy and back again. “Give him a chance,” he pleaded.

“I already gave that sleeping Roarer a chance,” Rintha hissed. “And now he’s back in the hands of the Zealots of Evolving Evil, who will use him to commit atrocities.” He stepped up to Corax, starring into his eyes. “Roarers spread suffering; to end them is a mercy,” Rintha hissed. “Isn’t that how you made this world, God?”

Corax snarled, his tail flicking back and forth. “How–“

Lady Ira’s eyes widened. “Corax, down!” she shouted.

Corax ducked. A wicked hand of claws swept past his head. The Saurian God crouched and swept his tail in a circle to trip his attacker.

The Red Priest leapt back, slamming into a shelf and knocking clay tablets over. His  red robes and well-groomed hair were burned to charred scraps. His bare skin had seared to red and black, making the white of his bulging eyes and bared teeth stand out more.

“What does not kill you,” the Red Priest gargled. “Makes you stronger!” He ran a claw along his palm, drawing a line that oozed fresh blood. “And I’ve! Become! Mighty!” He howled, flinging his hand out and scattering droplets through the air. Mid-flight, the beads of blood ignited into white fire.

Corax turned and took the flames on his flank. Holes burned in his clothes. Char-marks stained his scales. Honking in pain, the Saurian charged, cutting the Red Priest with his sickle sword. Blood spilled from the Zealot’s side, igniting into more white flame as it mixed with the air.

“I still live-!” The Red Priest cursed, clutching at his side. “Still made mightier!”

Spin, spin, spin,” V’vendy chanted. She drew and shot past Rintha’s ear. Her last arrow, fletched with feathers from her own head, drilled through the Red Priest’s skull and out the other end.

The Priest fell back, his blood spattering the library walls, then igniting. White flame spread, mingling with the fires from Uuco’s Roarer outburst.

“My library–!” Ira blurted. She clenched her fists at her side, then sighed deeply. “We have to go,” she said, grabbing a few coils of harp string from one of the scribing tables. “Corax, did you grab my traveling harp during my nap?”

Corax’s head-feathers wilted. “I left it behind while running from the army of Zealots,” he admitted.

“Naturally,” Ira groaned. She picked up the string-less harp and walked with trembling legs towards the exit.

She passed by Rintha the Firstborn as he raised his dagger over Uuco. Ira rested a hand on Rintha’s shoulder. “Sheath your blade, hunter,” she said.

“He’s a Roarer!” Rintha shouted.

“The Lady Ira is aware,” Ira said dryly.

“He’s too dangerous–!” Rintha insisted.

So I’m aware!” Ira hissed, fingers tightening on Rintha’s shoulder. She gestured around at her burning library. “As you can see, Uuco has wrecked my home! He would have burned us all to death if the Lady Ira hadn’t woken!” Smoke drifted up to eye level. Ira lifted a fist to her mouth and coughed. “Despite that, the Lady Ira asks you to sheath you blade, hunter.”

Rintha tensed. He sheathed his blade and stepped away from Uuco

Ira picked up Uuco, slung the little Nobble over her shoulder, and walked out of the library. The other Pilgrims followed.

They walked with Ira down a hallway filled with snake lanterns. They followed her down a flight of stairs. They came to a kitchen filled with a knife-notched table, pots hanging from strings, and a hearth glowing with embers. Ira laid Uuco down on the table, fixed new strings to her harp pegs, and twisted them until her instrument was in tune. She sang:

“Flesh flows to smoothness, bones knit together

Pain fades to aches that change with the weather.”

 

The wounds on Uuco’s body faded. His eyes snapped open. He sat up. Rintha and V’vendy nocked projectiles to their weapons of choice, regarding the Roarer with narrowed eyes.

Uuco opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it. He wiggled his fingers in mystical signs. A haze of purple mana glowed around his face and then vanished.

“There we go!” Uuco declared, speaking without moving his lips at all. “Its always a pain, falling asleep: I have to redo the enchantments every time!”

All the Pilgrims stared at Uuco blankly. Uuco smacked himself on the forehead and cast another illusion spell on his face. “Whoops,” he said, lips now moving in sync with his words. “Sorry for scaring ye, folks. I’m right as rain now!”

He stood up on the table and dusted himself off. “Say,” Uuco asked. “Last I remember, I was charging that mutt of a book-breaking priest!” He blinked, face suddenly etched with concern. “What happened?” he asked.

The other Pilgrims looked at each other.

“You weren’t around to see, Uuco,” Corax said at last, bobbing his avian head up and down in sorrow. “Those Zealots…they smashed and burned everything…!”

Uuco’s face turned white. “What?” He whispered. He fell to his knees in shock. “Those bastards…those bastards!”

He screamed to the heavens in frustration, purple-tinged mana leaking from his lips, surrounding him in a surge of blinding light.

Then he turned into a potted plant.

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