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Chapter 27-The Price of PowerEdit
Three Days After Iarna Learned Of Nimini's True Identity As GraverenEdit
Iarna sat at the table waiting for Graveren, slight impatience building as she pushed a meatball around her plate with her fork. He was three minutes late. "He's never late..." Iarna thought. Suddenly an odd scent assailed her nostrils, she sniffed. The smell went wafting through the palace every day right around sundown, and everyone in her party had remarked upon it, so she knew she wasn't just imagining things, but this time it was early. Then she sniffed again, not just early she thought, different.
She tilted her head back and breathed deeply, usually the scent was more complex than this, she thought. Then her eyes went wide as she realized it was a scent she knew. She quickly got up and followed her nose. Her nose led her exactly where she had expected it to, Graveren's room. She knocked, "Graveren? It's Iarna. Are you okay in there?"
Graveren answered through the door, "Hi Ia. I'm sorry, I know I'm-" he grunted, "Late. I'm...I'm fine, just gimme a few minutes." Iarna sighed and leaned against the door, "Graveren, I can smell blood in there. All of its yours and there's a lot of it." Graveren's voice took on a note of urgency, "Ia, please don't come in! You do not need to see this! I'm fine! I'll be down in just a minute." Iarna frowned, "I'm coming in."
She heard a crash and burst through the door. The sight that met her eyes made no sense. Graveren, or at least the source of blood that smelled just like his, was lying on the floor shirtless next to a large over turned tub, and the scent of blood already very strong through the door, became truly overpowering as the blood spilled out of the tub and all over the carpet. There was no doubt in her mind now, every bit of it was Graveren's, but, could that really be Graveren?
"Told you, not to, come in..." Graveren panted dejectedly as Iarna stared at him and took in how horribly red and puffy his skin was. He looked as though he had been thrown into a hornet's nest and left there. Iarna waved her hand and the blood now trying hard to stain the carpet flew back into the tub. The smell was still overpowering, but she managed to stagger over to Graveren as the heady metallic scent of the blood threatened to overpower her, "Graveren, what, what happened?"
Graveren managed to push himself upright as she went to her knees, choking on the smell and she saw that he was bleeding openly from the scars on his chest. "Hang on," He panted, "I'll get rid of that tub. Knew you'd find out eventually, but wanted to put it," he put a hand to one of his wounds, "off a bit longer." He drug himself to his feet and grabbed the edge of the tub with one hand.
He dragged it out to the bathroom, bleeding profusely the whole way, and after ordering someone in the bathroom to dump the tub, shut the door firmly. He staggered back, pulling himself along on various bits of furniture, breathing heavily as the air, still so thick with the scent of blood that Iarna was on the verge of choking on it, began to clear. Graveren picked her up and carried her out to the balcony, kicking the door open and pulling a lounge-chair along behind them with a tendril of soft bone that extended behind him like a tail.
As Iarna got outside into the cold clear night air, her head cleared and she was able to get her first good look at Graveren. His whole body was as she had noted earlier, blood red and massively swollen. Even his eyes were red, so red she didn't know how he could possibly see with them. She put a hand on his bloody chest and the wounds sealed shut, the blood around them slithering back in as she healed him with her blood magic. She sat up as he lowered himself gently into the chair, "Graveren, what happened?"
Graveren panted and looked as though he was about to pass out, "This, is the, price, of my, power. Too much, blood. Gotta, drain it. Lot more, than usual, today. S'why, was late...sorry..." Iarna laid a hand on his swollen chest, "Etake's horn, today? You mean this happens to you..." "Ev'ryday," Graveren finished, "Yeah, Toph and 'Chilles too."
He winced, "Could you, open those, back up? Being, this full, hurts. A lot." Iarna went to stroke his cheek but then paused as she realized any contact with that swollen flesh would only hurt him more. She could feel her fangs tingling, they had already elongated at the overpowering scent of blood when she had entered the room. She scrunched her eyes shut and suddenly snapped her head forward and latched onto his neck.
Graveren flinched as her fangs sunk into his neck, then he felt the blood begin to exit his veins at a rate that would've killed a normal person in minutes. Nearly fifteen minutes later, Iarna sat up and wiped a trickle of blood from her lips, "I'm sorry, that's all I can drink."
Graveren looked at her, the swelling all but gone as the punctures in his neck sealed shut at a touch from Iarna. Iarna's eyes had gone from lilac to blood red, her cheeks had become rosy as well and she seemed to have filled out five to ten years worth of her figure in minutes. He raised a hand and stroked her cheek, even her usually white-blonde hair had taken on a reddish gold tint after drinking so much blood, "That won't hurt you will it?"
She smiled and held his hand to her cheek, "Not for an instant. It's like wine to me, I'll burn through it all by morning." She leaned down and kissed him, "Not quite the romantic dinner I had in mind, but I think it'll do for an appetizer." She suddenly laid down next to him and cuddled up against him, "Tell whatever servants are in the bathroom to go get our food. It'll take them at least fifteen minutes to bring all the food up, and I want a few minutes alone with you." Graveren smiled broadly and yelled for his servants to go get the food, the table and everything on it.
A Week LaterEdit
The man stumbled into the throne room and collapsed, "King Bumi!" Bumi rose as servants helped the man up, "What is it?" "The, the Hunt!" The man exclaimed, his voice trembling with terror and exhaustion, "Llamaton's been destroyed! They're coming for Ram's Dam tonight!" Without even waiting for instructions, Graveren, Elsa and Achilles rocketed past the man and out the huge double doors, bits of bone laced armor flying out after them.
Iarna rushed to the door, staring in horror at what the storm she could only term a blizzard raging outside, "Graveren!" Bumi rose, "Come back inside Iarna, and don't worry about them," He smiled, "The White Hunt should be the ones worried right now." He looked at the servants helping the man up, "Take him to a guest room and get him warmed up. It looks like frostbite's trying to set in, make sure it doesn't."
Bumi looked at Iarna, who hadn't budged from the threshold. He smiled and went to stand by her, "I'm glad you're worried about my grandson, but there's no need to be." Iarna looked up at him as he continued, "This is the price of our power. We pay for our high status in times like these by being the power that drives away the wolves when they howl at the door." He smiled and rubbed his huge mechanical arm, "Makes me wish I was still young enough to go with them." He patted her on the shoulder, "Don't worry about them Iarna, they've done this a thousand times. Please, come back inside, Graveren wouldn't want you to catch a cold fretting over him." Iarna cast one more fretful glance at the snow whirling outside and then came back in and let the old Bone-Monger king close the door.
An Hour Later, Ram's DamEdit
The sun was going down as the White Hunt arrived on the slope above Ram's Dam. It was hard to tell of course, the sky was still dark with clouds overhead and the snow was still falling steadily, but the wind had been stilled before the Hunt so as not to disrupt their aim. Lord Frost, the leader of the Hunt and still one of their most dangerous warriors, despite walking with a limp after a mountainside shattering battle with King Bumi, raised his hand to signal his warriors to begin the attack.
The White Hunt only numbered about two hundred able Huntsmen strong, and this party was only about a half that, but they were each powerful enough to fight ten regular Death Bringers alone. In force and favorable conditions, they could rout an army a hundred times their number. Just as Frost was about to lower his hand to signal the attack, he twisted his hand and caught a bone dagger that would have otherwise split his hand in two. There were suddenly three whoompf-ing impacts and three figures appeared on the slope beneath the Hunt in bursts of snow.
Frost growled in consternation, the Three Monsters of Omashu. He had hoped to pull off at least a few more strikes before those three caught wind of the Hunt's activities. He scowled and then lowered his hand. Frost knew that they wouldn't win this fight, but maybe they could kill at least one of them, he thought. His second in command, Kiera, raised a horn to her lips and blew, unleashing the war call of the Hunt, a sound feared throughout the entirety of the Uendelig Mountains. Without warning as the echoes of the horn blast faded away, the Bone-Monger on the right, Toph the Dragoness, knelt and slammed her fist into the ground.
Suddenly the ground erupted before her as something came thrashing up out of the earth, sending several Huntsmen flying as her two brothers charged forward. The Hunt paused, they had all seen the Three Monsters before, and they knew how dangerous the Bone-Mongers were. Kiera sighed, "Cowards." Then she drew her sword, which blazed to life with deadly white flames, "COME ON!" She spurred her steed and charged, her subordinates following as her courage rekindled theirs.
She made it almost twenty feet before Achilles the Stag rammed her horse head on with his huge horned helmet, picked it up over his head and threw her and the horse both to behind the rear of the Hunt's forces. The weight of the horse falling on her was sufficient to break Kiera's leg and several other bones besides. She was barely able to stay awake as the strongest man in the world charged on, not even winded by the inhuman feat of strength as he continued to wade through the Hunt's forces, sending horses and Huntsmen flying like ragdolls.
By now the thing Toph had called out of the ground had fully unearthed itself and was revealed to be the skeleton of a dragon. She was now perched on its head as it too began to strike out furiously against the Hunt, its massive claws and fangs wreaking havoc as it rampaged through the comparatively tiny Huntsmen. To the Huntsmen's credit, many of them did actually manage to catch hold of the massive rampaging skeleton and attempt to climb it, but they were all knocked off by flying bone blades the instant Toph saw them.
While Toph and Achilles dealt with the Huntsmen, Graveren challenged Lord Frost. Frost climbed off his horse; he knew being horseback wouldn't help him against the Black Lion of Omashu. He drew his sword, an immense double edged weapon that even most Bone Mongers would need both hands to wield. To the immense Lord Frost though, it was as light as a twig. As he drew his blade and settled into his ready position, bringing his massive shield around to the front, both shield and sword burst into the Hunt's signature white flames.
Graveren smiled behind his metal mask, and without a sound rocketed forward, a fist pulled back to punch the immense Huntsman. Frost readied himself for a devastatingly powerful blow. He had seen the Black Lion punch through many fine shields, and knew that he wouldn't be afraid to try such a technique on the leader of the White Hunt. Graveren stopped short though and twisted, revealing to Frost what his flapping cloak had been hiding: A huge spiked tail.
Now Graveren's tail whipped around and utterly blindsided Frost, the steel hard spikes punching through Frost's thick cloak and denting the armor beneath. As the tail knocked Frost reeling, Graveren completed the spin and hooked Frost's shield on the spikes, yanking him even further off balance as Graveren spun the rest of the way around, allowing the already cracking spikes on his tail to detach as he spun and hammered a massive blow into Frost's ribs.
Frost slammed into the ground, acutely aware from the intense pain that the Bone-Monger had just shattered every bone in his torso with magic and also that this probably meant he was about to die. Frost's fingers clenched around his sword, no, he thought, not like this... Graveren couldn't hear Frost's thoughts, and wouldn't have cared if he could. With a savage stomp, he made the countless sharp fragments of Frost's ribs and spine whirl through his innards like a storm of little knives. Frost managed to cough up a little blood before he died.
Graveren lifted Frost's sword as the flames died and tested its balance, "Not bad, not bad." He set it on his shoulder and smiled at his siblings as they demolished what was left of the Hunt's strike force, "Winners keepers." His eyes suddenly widened as the immense dragon skeleton Toph was piloting collapsed without warning as a burst of white flames erupted above its skull and Toph's shriek of pain cut across the battlefield. A second later Achilles roared in pain as an arrow wrapped in white flames punched through his breastplate.
Graveren twisted and the one meant for him flashed past in a streak of light. Across the battlefield, the Hunt's best marksman smiled at Kiera as he lowered his bow, "Got two of em." He stowed his bow as down on the slope Graveren ran to help his siblings while the remaining Huntsmen moved to finish them off. The marksman lifted Kiera, "Now let's get you out of here before those two get up and figure out who shot em." Kiera smiled as the marksman lifted her onto his horse, "Thanks Jacques." She lifted her horn to her lips and tried to sound the retreat only to find that the attempt made her cough blood. Jacques took the horn from her and sounded the retreat before bellowing, "FALL BACK!"
The Huntsmen immediately left off trying to finish off the madly flailing Bone-Mongers as they lashed out furiously and hurried back up the slope to the safety of the mountains. Graveren had to hold Achilles down with his magic as he quickly ripped off his brothers armor and extracted the still burning arrow buried in his ribs. Graveren tossed the arrow aside as the wound steamed in the cold air, and without pausing to see if Achilles was okay because he knew his younger brother was inhumanly tough even for a Bone-Monger, ran to check on Toph.
He found her in the midst of a pile of broken dragon skull on her hands and knees, "Toph! Are you okay?" "Grav," she asked shakily, "Why can't I open my eyes?" Graveren drew closer and saw something that made his blood run cold. Toph's eyes were wide open and the skin around them was badly burned. The marksman had blinded her.