“How the Other Half Dies…”

As Ricky, Zealot of the Evolving Eye, watched his friends fall around him like scythed wheat, he wondered how it had come to this.

To his left Cardias fell, throat pierced by a white-fletched arrow. Cardias, who’d given Ricky his bread crust their first evening in the barracks. Cardias, who’d always had a smile and off-color joke to share.

 

Ricky glanced right and saw the Harp-slinging Noblewoman pierce Rianna’s heart. Rianna, who’d tutored Ricky, helping him grow three extra tails just in time for the Crimson Initiations. A beautiful, dedicated woman, who’d dodged all of Ricky’s assassination attempts and never borne a grudge.

 

They had grown together, survived the Weakness-Purging Pits together, and drank the draughts that turned their blood to fire together. Those years had been golden, friends working and striving towards the pinnacle of evolution, all under the sagely gaze of Priestess Ramia.

 

In the corner of his eye, Ricky of the Evolving Eye saw Priestess Ramia collapse, burned by the mustached abomination’s lightning and reduced to a charred husk.

 

Ricky of the Evolving Eye started crying.

 

The Saurian froze, his gold-hued sickle swords halted mid-swing. “Could you stop that?” He asked, crest-feathers wilting in discomfort.

 

Ricky kept crying.

“It’s only that I don’t enjoy slaughtering crying people,” The Saurian explained. “It’s like taking your sword to a baby.” He brightened

 

Tears tracking down his cheeks, Ricky slashed the Saurian with his dagger. The Saurian turned and took the blow on his thick saddlebags. He swung his iron-weighted tail at Ricky.

 

Ricky leapt over the spinning tail, robes fluttering up and revealing bony legs he’d always been embarrassed to expose.

 

The Saurian hissed, spittle flying from the gaps in his teeth. He swung at Ricky again.

 

Ricky dodged that attack, and the next and the next. He twirled and leapt across the room, dagger flashing out to bat aside the wicked Saurian’s blows.

 

Hairs stood on the back of his neck. Ricky threw himself forward as a lightning bolt flew over his head.

 

“Tarnation!” the mustache-bearing Nobble cursed, disappearing in a flash of lightning and appearing next to Ricky. “Stop moving, boy!”

 

Ricky squeezed more blood from the cut in his palm and flung it at the Nobble’s face. The blood ignited, setting the tips of the Nobble’s mustache alight like candle wicks.

 

“Ah!” The Nobble shrieked batting at his face. “Water! Someone get water!”

 

Every one of Ricky the Zealot’s nerves shivered with tension. Every gust and stir of air seemed to press against his exposed skin. As a result, it was only natural for him to lean forward, letting an obsidian stone pass by his head. It was only natural for him to step left, as a white-fletched arrow parted a hole in his loose red robes.

 

Ricky turned his head in a circle, noticing sling and sickle, sword and bow, all turned against him. That’s when he realized he was alone; that his sworn brothers and sisters, his revered tutors and hallowed masters, were dead.

 

Ricky the Zealot lifted a sleeve, wiping away the tears on his cheek and the snot dribbling from his nostrils. He felt a fire take hold in his chest, not doused by his sorrow, but stoked.

 

“I am Ricky!” He shouted at his enemies, flipping his serpentine dagger into a reverse grip. “I am a Zealot of the Evolving Eye, and I shall not fall here!”

 

The Pilgrims who had butchered his brothers and sisters attacked with bullets, arrows and blades. Ricky the Zealot moved among them like fluttering cloth, like a cricket from reed to reed. He felt light, righteous, untouchable. He threw back his dagger for a thrust–!

 

The Noblewoman with a harp stepped forward. Her finger plucked the last string on her harp, which glowed purple and shattered. She spoke words that set the air shivering, words humming with scorn:

 

“Sound with no song.

Red hands used to kill.

Your bad breath alone

More makes the world ill!”

 

The insult seeped through Ricky the Zealot’s ears, striking him with a surge of dizziness.

 

In that moment, he tripped, fell forward, and landed on his own dagger.

 

“Damn…it…” Ricky wheezed. Blood seeped from his dagger, spread across the floor and ignited, turning Ricky the Zealot into a human bonfire.

 

“Ow! Ow! Ow!” Uuco the Witness cried out, as he teleported from point in a panic. Finally, he managed to bat out the flames charring his mustache. He walked over and looked down at the burning body of Ricky.

 

“Wow siree!” He exclaimed in a tone of genuine admiration. “That was a sick burn indeed, Lady Ira!”

 

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