[P] [M] evil is one half of a perfect sphere

WARNING: This thread contains material exceeding the general board rating of PG-13. It may contain very strong language, drug usage, graphic violence, or graphic sexual content. Reader discretion is advised.

Specifically, this thread is marked mature because of: graphic violence, language.

You think that you can beat them,
I know that you won't.
You think you have everything,
But no, you don't.

Each night, the wolf watched the moon wane, and waited.

He envisioned what would happen when they met again. The fantasies always ended the same – with O'Riley triumphant, slaying the woman who had attacked his people. These were bloody, vicious dreams. When the Outsider had raised arms against them, she had made an enemy of the whole of Salsola. When she had tricked and scarred O'Riley, she had made things personal.

Igor had seen him gathering up his armor. It was hard to hide things when they shared a home.

“Vhere are you going?” His cousin had asked.


“Do you want help?”

The darker wolfdog stopped what he was doing. O'Riley fixed Igor with a stern, angry gaze.


“It will be safer—”

“Do you think I need your help?” O'Riley snapped. Used to his outbursts, the foreigner held up his palms in a sign of peace. Though this quelled the growing anger in the Erilaz, he was conscious of it lingering.

Anger was always so easy. It would make him stupid if he let it consume him.

“Just stay here,” he told his cousin. “I'll be back in a few days.”

Wisely, Igor didn't argue.

The night had finally cooled. A breeze was blowing down from the Northumberland Strait, and brought with it the smell of salt and the murky woodland surrounding him. While the murky smell of moss and mud lingered, there had been very little rain for several days. The ground was solid underfoot, save for the deeper bogs that O'Riley made note of and avoided. He was unwilling to risk putting himself in another vulnerable position, especially when he was weighed down by the armor.

As the night wore on, he began to wonder if she would show. There was no telling when the Outsider might come, if at all. Someone wiser would have fled long ago, but O'Riley believed there was something else driving the bitch. She was a fanatic – and like any fanatic, she would not rest until her task was complete.

If she meant to make war, he would end it before anyone else got hurt. He would destroy her as he did every single threat that stood against the Law he and Elphaba had sworn to uphold.

O'Riley sat beneath an old pine and watched the sky. The moon was shrinking, night by night, into a cheshire grin. Deer sometimes roamed too close, only to be spooked by his presence and flee. He wanted to hunt, to smoke, to do anything but wait, and grew impatient as the hours dragged on.

Ordinary morality is only for ordinary people.
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Alone, she dragged on.

Hours or days or years were given to the bog. It kept an archive like no other, and now her passing conversation, her footfalls, her breath belonged to its depths, would be writ in inky mire. These moments would be trapped like the colossus creatures of old, anchored beyond decomposition, beyond death. What gnarled and grotesque meaning would be derived out of her carcass? None at all, if she were lucky. None at all, if she wasn’t.

One-sided by design, there was no meaning anyway.

She began to recognize the curl of the landscape. Without water, the reeds had withered head down. Green would soon fold entirely to the wheat-gold autumn, and then back to the black-white duality of winter; the world turned ever on. As she came to the last mile of wooded sea, a sound thundered in her ears, a powerful crack like lightning. Tiamat held her head and found a shrunken pine to lean against.

Her breathing came ragged. A worse pain had borne three squalling children into their arms, their home, their hearts. Out of this pain came not life, but its mirror.

“Fate comes for us all.” Laevisa stroked the hair from her face, fingers as light as a breeze. “There have been others before you. There will be others after you. All we are, all we shall ever be, is dust and dirt and sand.”

Out of these broad measures, a more dismal truth emerged. Her choices in pursuit of justice had always been in vain. For someone like her, she could not fathom it another way. For someone like her, her time would have been better spent with the ones she loved. For all of them, the breadth of perspective was not righting in its course but paralyzing in its eternity.

Her axe, too heavy now to hold, was dropped handle-up. She sank to her knees. Her fingers rooted through the soil. Tears surprised her, rivers down her nose, ferrying the broken wall of ice back to the earth drop by drop.

“I don’t want to die,” she confessed in a sob, twisting fistfuls of dirt.

A sliver of moon watched beyond its veil of leaves.

“Lotan,” she whimpered, a child again, heels dug in the dirt. Portland teemed around her, a living thing. Scarlett tugged her wrist sharply, up to her feet, and didn’t let go even as she pleaded. “Let me go back. I made a mistake—I left him alone.”

The woman dug her nails into her skin. The bone of her skull was glistening white, the angry flesh blistering red and black where the flames hadn’t yet claimed the rest.

Tiamat stumbled back. Breathing came heavier now, but the air wasn’t filled with smoke. It was the night. It was the moon. It was an old sailor’s story. Illusions brought forth by madness and moonlight. Land or water made no difference; they were each of them unmoored and lost at sea.

Her armor gave a thin creak as she righted herself. Her skin itched around the old ink—a kraken forever entangled unto itself, a symbol of her father, another myth. She tried to get to it, and frustrated by the buckles, she tore loose the leather pauldron and cast it aside.

“You should’ve been there,” she spat to her father. Silence ebbed and flowed. Not even his ghost returned. 

their mother doesn’t love them enough to come back.

“Can I come home, Griff?” She turned, but he was gone. She had left him back at the sunset marshes, in the cradle of that twilight realm, knowing that he would be unable to follow. If she could have stayed, would they have forgiven her?

Could she have lived without it?

She could hear the distant whispers. Tiamat whirled again, her senses alighting on the creatures scrambling into trees and under bush. Her wide eyes picked out the roaming ghosts. She snagged the handle of her heavy axe. Hunting always felt easier with a righteous purpose.

One watched her from afar. Headless, their torso splattered with blood and bits of head, the groom pointed through the trees. Tiamat staggered after it.

A cheetah, headless too, prowled among the raking boughs. Moonlight caught the sleek hills of its shoulders, the sway of its long tail. It came too close, and Tiamat let out a guttural snarl, claws ripping through bark and branch. 

If the gods could be summoned, forsaken, left to breathe hotly down their necks, then they were no longer gods.

They could be killed.

Axe in hand, she pursued the shade. She was done with questions. She knew the war began before the desert, before the witch-woman who sacrificed her children to an ancient god; before the red-haired woman who let a child pay the price for her misdeeds; before the tribes of the north took the life of that woman’s parents.

As long as there was life and love and freedom, there would be death and hate and subjugation. What was monstrous was not the existence of suffering itself, but the people who became a vehicle to its will. Suffering was her torch, and she its effigy—she would be extinguished, but not without first raining hell.

It would not be in vain.

Tiamat could smell him now. All of her senses came together like iron, soldered by the strength of her internal flame. He was a beacon or a dark mass, drawing in ground and sky and her into his eternal orbit. It did not matter if archers waited in the wings, arrows drawn. It did not matter if an army crouched in the grass.

He stood, no longer seated—she was neither silent, though smelt thickly of marsh and bog and the murky wood. Rocketing through the distance that was left, axe wreathed in its celestial crown, she bore down upon the servant of oblivion.

Without life, even death had to end.
(—) |
The silence that spread among the crickets and other noisy insects came from afar and alerted O'Riley to the approach of something out of place. He pricked his ears and strained to listen. Like determining the distance of an oncoming storm, he could only guess at how close she was and how fast she might come. It was her, he believed. Everything about their meeting felt like fate.

He stood and peered into the dark. An assassin emerged from the gloom.

She rushed him.

O'Riley had time to draw his sword, but he knew the raw power that great axe was capable of and did not want to face it head on. The horse she had killed had been cleaved so deeply she nearly decapitated it. Avoiding it as he tried to do now was the best course of action, but so fast was her attack that he was forced to try and guide the axe-head away with his blade. There was an awful noise of metal-on-metal, high and squealing, but they were moving again by then.

Her advantage was the distance the axe provided, and it forced O'Riley to remain on the defensive. Momentum was with the assasin, who continued her assault. The sharp curve of her axe caught a piece of his armor and scored the leather deeply. O'Riley swung his sword and forced her to take a step back, but this was not enough to break her furious assault. Avoiding the blows could not last forever, and each time he parried them his arms felt the full force of these attacks.
Ordinary morality is only for ordinary people.
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The ghosts were supposed to go away once the fighting began, but she felt them clamoring at every turn. Wide-eyed, spittle glazing her snarling lip, she pursued O’Riley as if there were twenty of him.

But she could not waste a breath fending them off too. The Salsolan was armored, and his sword was strong enough to ward off killing blows. It was a might made by the hands of slaves, now forever bound by duty to shield their master. This was the righteous lie she told herself, and from it she siphoned a furious power.

Every strike, whether it glanced off armor or sword, shook loose another affirmation. There was no throne she could not topple. There was no shadow that would not be banished by light. All men, all demons, all gods would be crushed under the heel of justice. Just as her axe caught hold—the red-haired baroness stepped forward, craning hungrily at the violence—he cast her back with a broad swing of his blade. Tiamat rounded her step—dancers wheeling over painted floor—and launched forward again, her breathing ragged, angry, elated. The onslaught was working. There was an opening. There was a way out of this hell. But there was still no going back.

The darkness seemed to pulse with an expectant energy, shapes shifting in the wood. Prowling just beyond her sight, the headless immortal awaited final judgment on the riverbanks of bloodshed. It was only then her consciousness prickled at the gash on her exposed shoulder, gained from a narrow miss.

"You cannot unmake me," she snarled to all of them, saliva glistening over fang. "I am justice!"

She charged him while the timing was there. All of her motions so far had followed the same relative order—a downward strike, then up again like a pendulum, creating distance with a powerful undercut. Now her grip loosened and changed, switching the side of action before she bore down on him again. The first part mirrored the usual course, but rather than swing up, she threw the end of her handle at his face. It was a move she’d been on the tail end of in spars with Rahab—I will not be forsworn—and she knew that the force and surprise of it could send one sprawling.

But she did not expect for the Salsolan to be unmoored so easily. Stealing whatever element of surprise that she could, Tiamat wheeled the axe blade back up with a blistering glee. If the Salsolan had any luck, the slice would be a clean one, and she wouldn’t have to work her axe through his neck bone again and again.
For some reason, he thought of Solomon, and how the desperate man had been [M] at the very end.

Her eyes were wide and wild, ringed with white. The night tinged her white fur with peculiar blue light. It was easy to find and focus on her hands, her feet, but O'Riley kept being drawn back to her snapping teeth and crazed expression.

O'Riley had fought more Outsiders than he could remember. There had always been danger beyond the pack's borders. When he was a boy, one of the last great wars had been being fought. Unable to participate, he had absorbed all the sights and stories as they filtered through his grandparents and peers. People came home with new wounds. Some did not come back at all. War had changed them, but that had never been the reason O'Riley lived a life of violence.

He remembered [M] the first person he had killed.

The coyote didn't need to die. Now, O'Riley believed that the Infernian had been dying – he had shot him in the throat, he thought – and killing him had been the merciful thing to do. As a hunter, he never made his prey suffer (this spoiled the meat). What happened with these Outsiders was a form of hunting too, but one which had different rules. No one ever caught him or stopped him. It was very rare he heard the word “no”, and rarer still he obeyed its command.

By being smart, he survived. Each scheme he pulled off allowed his rule to endure. In an era where peace seemed likely to linger, destroying any and all threats that tried to rise against them was required. The bandits in the mountains, the Larue family, the Mireblades – those deaths had been necessary.

Whoever this assassin was, whatever drove her, she was a threat like the others. It had been months now – seasons had passed – and still she lingered. A purpose he did not understand drove her.

When the woman shrieked at him, he realized she was mad.

That was when she struck him in the face.

It was a hard blow, and connected with his jaw hard enough to stun him. His teeth rattled in his head. He tasted blood. The wound began to swell almost immediately. If his head was not so hard, the strike might have been the opening she went for.

O'Riley, familiar with fighters of similar weaponry, did not forget about the sharp end of the axe. When she moved to bring it back, he was already preparing to counter. His mistake was thinking she had not compensated for his superior height correctly. The blade missed his neck, but sliced into the thick leather of his pauldron until it broke through completely. It tore into the flesh and muscle beneath, cleaving a wound that began to bleed the moment she yanked the axe free.

Enraged, the wolfdog snarled and threw his weight against her. When they broke apart, he went for her with the sword again.
Ordinary morality is only for ordinary people.
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The look in O'Riley's eyes snapped her in the face. She inhabited him suddenly, like a ghost drawn into a medium, and clarity sprang loose from her watery eyes.

The world bobbed in and out of painful focus. Madness was a flood, and her struggle to breach its surface was filled with endless horror.

Tiamat had not been raised in strife. She'd been raised in sun-drenched riverbeds by a mother whose greatest flaw was that she prioritized herself first. By her own volition Tiamat had gone in search for violence, shrouding her entitlement with righteousness and embedding her bloodlust with justice. A pain had been done to her and she made it her own undoing. Now she was alone in the woods and fighting a stranger to a bloody death. Far away, her brother and best friend and the mentor she loved as a father were packing up camp. Griffin was raising her sons and daughter alone.

She wanted this; she didn't want this. She chose this path; she didn't choose it. She deserved this end; she didn't deserve it.

Inside Tiamat was a will counter to her own, fighting her at every turn and draining her of strength. This shadow self deprived her of many things, but worst of all it stole her imagination. She could not envision better outcomes nor find satiety in the fertile loam of life. She could not expand her perspective to the people she loved, and had in one way or another made them all an accessory to her ego. The greatest crime was that there was a real goodness in her heart, and she had never found it.

Implicitly, she understood this tragedy but not its source. She did not see that her self-loathing was the spring from which all other evils came forth. She just wanted it to stop.

The axe bit into his shoulder. The iron scent worked as a smelling salt, and her madness awoke with terrifying force. She convulsed with a delirious glee, laughing between ragged breaths. She cackled even as he threw her back with his full weight, sword screeching in the divots of her axe. She twisted it away. She'd struck some source of power in him too, and now his blows were brimming with energy. The next time he brought his weapon down, she nearly lost her grip.

The sword was a nuisance.

Her hand switched again. She pursued him with the intent to distract, swinging at the obvious points of weakness and favoring the parts of him most injured. When it seemed there was an opening to disarm him, the tempo of her movements picked up speed, and then crackled with a burst of ferocity. If she couldn't cut off his head, then his hands would have to do.
(—) | tiamat lol
There had never been any question as to where O'Riley Eternity would live his life.

He was the son of an ancient, royal house. His conception had been as well planned and organized as the decision to remove him from his mothers' home when he was still a boy. All of the choices that had been made for him had ensured that he did not turn out like his father, a failed experiment and proof that allowing boys to grow wild risked the worst kind of rebellion – denial and abandonment.

No one talked about where Dullahan had gone, just like no one talked about Osrath's disappearance. Duty could not hold them here because they had be swayed by this greater beyond the same way the former Lord Commander had been. All of the men who had come before him and been given the chance to rule were too weak to overcome their own baser needs.

The she-wolf they had called The Tigress had taken him, the son-of-her-son, because through him she could change her methods. A childhood spent in the shadow of open war was better than ensured safety because it suited her whims. Each time a choice was presented, Salvia Eternity made it for him.

This lack of responsibility suited a killer.

The woman he faced now was like him, in this way. If Grievous had not been there to stop her, O'Riley believed she would have killed Lyra and Casimir as easily as she had killed the horse. She was mad, and hollow. The fury which drove her now was like wildfire, and if it spread too far, it would choke the life out of all of them.

O'Riley counted her blows as best he could, but she was fueled by her wrath. Her speed increased, betraying her true skill. Twice she cut savage marks into his armor, and twice again she went for his shoulder. He thought he had her pattern figured out. They had been battling for hours, days, eons – the night was dark and everlasting, like the narrow grin of the moon. The shining blade of the axe slashed through the dark. He saw it just in time to react.

With a beautiful, haunting CLANG, the two weapons collided.

The sword flew through the air, and crashed into the tall grass out of sight and out of reach.

Unarmed, O'Riley faced the dog and snarled a challenge.

Then he ran.

Ordinary morality is only for ordinary people.
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She hadn’t been born to madness, but she’d been made accessible to it by the course of her life. The wars, the battles, each and every kill had nudged her ability to reason further away. Tiamat had weathered the extremes of hardship until these extremes became her normal, until all other measures seemed ineffectual by comparison.

Rahab and Pazuzu had been right, but they did not - would not - see that right made no difference.

The Salsolan was right too. Tiamat was a killer. She would have slaughtered them, children and all, for she was convinced that wickedness so deeply rooted could not be purged in any other way. Only an absolute end would absolve them. That was true justice, and she would have delivered it, if only he did not stand between them.

And then he fled.

Her axe swung heavy at the air where he stood. She didn’t see which way the sword flew, only twitched at the sound of it skidding into the grass. Her eyes roved, whites flashing. For the first time, she felt tremors of pain where his blade had caught her.

A long red stripe marked her thigh, and her weeping shoulder was growing numb. He’d caught her across the middle once when he’d forced her back, and the leather armor there hung in half like a gaping maw. She thought her ribs might’ve cracked.

Tiamat loped after him and caught her breath, as if she were winding down the end of a long run. The key to hunting was simply endurance, and her madness poured endless strength into the empty vessel of her heart. It was her only ally now. The legion of ghosts rallied at her sides, hungry for another warrior to add to their ranks.

“Coward,” she called after his silhouette, there and gone again. The scent reeled her through the wild brush, the dark feathered boughs.

You summoned me.” She licked at her teeth and smiled. “Your sins summoned me.”

Spotting movement, she rushed forward and snapped her axe at the empty air. Her snarls of impatience ricocheted in the silence. “I know you, Salsolan. With every act of evil is born its righteous twin. I am your light, and you, my shadow.”

The witch woman had said it so, once in the wood and once in the desert, and once again now, between the leaves of the trees. Tiamat was given to An-nar, and she was the cleansing fire.

“That's why you fear me. That's why you call for me.”

She laughed bitterly, though it came wheezing. The ground spun, earth and sky eddying in the sound of her labored breaths. Then she found him.

He was running towards the thick trunk of a tree, too far away to rush on foot. 

Tiamat bounced on her toes. Pain shot in sparks and stars across her vision, but she’d felt the motion a thousand times before and knew it with her eyes shut. The heavy labrys looped the air at her side, building momentum. She glimpsed a memory with each revolution—Rahab smoking in the dunes, limned by moonlight; Lotan racing her to the river; Griffin teasing her at the prow of the ship; Mateo framed by the stone walls of that holy place, alone.

Once upon a time they'd all set out to meet their fate. Could it have been that the only destiny between them was tragedy? It brought them together, it tore them apart.

When the weight and the feeling of everything came together in glorious unison, she let go.
(—) |
The wolfdog who had played a principle, and indeed, fatherly role to O'Riley during his years of development had been a shrewd, calculating man. They had begun their lessons early, when O'Riley was merely a boy. He had been forced to learn to challenge his mind when it came to games that required risk and strategy. Many of his bedtime stories had been of battle, and of wars long passed.

Stannis had taught him not only how to be clever, but how to win.

Blood oozed from his wounded shoulder, leaking out in the gash she had cut in his armor. The padding beneath it was thick and intended to provide a secondary layer of protection. By now, it was soaked through – he could feel a notable dampness spreading down his arm. She hadn't cleaved him deeply enough to sever feeling, but he was well aware that with a huge weapon like the axe the risk of this was great. Worse, he was without his sword now. Even if he avoided that first strike, if she managed to land a riposte blow upon him, it could undo him.

She followed him into the forest like an unwanted shadow, some phantom given form so that it might punish him for every past transgression. It felt, sometimes, like there were too many to recall. The impressions the world had left upon him were carried in the shape of scars and dreams: the lessons he could carry, and the nightmares he could banish. There were spells and sacred herbs that could undo curses.

O'Riley believed that magic was real. He was a son who's very existence was made great by superstition and the greater lies that those in power use to remain. His purpose was to be the greatest might his pack and all its ideals might put forth, so that they would endure forever. No mad dog would stop him.

Her voice was loud and commanding. The sound of it silenced the wood.

Now came the gambit.

Among the trees, O'Riley had a chance to avoid the axe. He had expected her to come for him. More to the point, he knew that eventually, she would do as she did then – hurl her mighty weapon like the killing tool it was. She had done so when she killed Casimir's horse, and now again when she tried to kill him.

Fortune saved him. The axe flew through the air and struck true, but not within his body. Instead, it buried itself deep into the bark of a nearby tree. She was already running for it, as if the two were compelled – as if she recognized that he had a chance to turn back and seize the weapon for himself. Some unholy energy fueled her now and compelled her after him like a whirlwind.

He didn't go for the axe.

The only way to win the game was to play it better.

O'Riley reached above his head and into the low-hanging branches of the nearest tree. He had marked it earlier, in the hours before her arrival. That was why he knew what lay hidden, tethered by the loosest of cording and soon freed by force of his efforts.

The winter when this all began, Kamari Kaiser (anonymously, though he had identified the source soon enough) had gifted him a beautiful short-sword. It was not shaped like his primary weapon, and had taken him several months to fully understand how best to wield the dao. He thought it was a very fine gift and treasured it dearly, and had until this point not taken it into battle. There had never been a need for him to carry both swords until now.

Once again armed, O'Riley turned to face the madwoman. He charged her again, intent on preventing his assailant from reaching the axe.
Ordinary morality is only for ordinary people.
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Her aim was true. It was the Salsolan who was treacherous.

There was no time nor breath to waste on words, but a guttural cry bolted out from the deepest chambers of her heart before she could stop it. It was a primal note, a mother’s fury. The axe was the last of her brood; it had slain the others in the nest just to survive. Now her neglect had plunged its fate into uncertainty.

But he did not reach for the axe.

Tiamat heard the sound of the sword before she saw it.

Cold rushed up her spine. She was thrown into nightmare, tipped down into leaf-litter and skittering insect. She was running reckless, she was weightless. She was cursing her mistakes.

O’Riley had built the board and laid the pieces. His new weapon had been stored there, and he’d relied on her to throw the axe. The revelation smarted worse than her wounds.

She knew him, but he knew her too.

Hatred propelled her with the force of stars, a rocketing, ageless combustion unto itself.

Then she was breathing again, and intuition gripped her where all other senses had turned feral. All she needed was to slip past him, and those precious seconds of lead would be just enough to reach her axe. Tiamat felt this even if her muscles were slow to recall the gummy strength afforded them by a lifetime of activity. A younger version of her could have pulled off the feat without injury, a fish darting into the tide. Now the timing would cost her. A bitter laugh tangled with her teeth. She’d racked up a debt of blood, hadn’t she?

The Salsolan charged her with renewed confidence. It was a sight to behold, the mountain of a man crushing forest underfoot, blade grinning vicious glints of moonlight. A weaker warrior would retreat. A sane warrior would retreat.

Tiamat didn’t slow. She forced their paths together, a beeline to collision. Maybe she’d always liked the thrill of free-falling. She was like that big red comet, so full of fear that she’d rather crash into solid ground than face ages in that dark, lonely space.

And if it meant annihilation, then so be it.
(—) | NPCs:
hi ilu sorry for slow T_T;
<3 Well worth the wait! Please do not feel compelled to reply asap, this morning was just O'Riley time.

In other worlds, she killed him with that weapon. A shadow half of himself was felled by her hands. The axe would come down like a guillotine and cleave his head from his shoulders. Emboldened, the dog would take his corpse and rally an army to destroy Salsola. It was inevitable her invasion would fail, O'Riley believed. There would be tremendous cost. All war came with cost.

Salsola was simply too powerful to fail.

He could not allow it to fall.

This drove him with greater need than vengeance, and kept him focused on the task at hand with cold precision. His gamble had paid off – he could kill her.

She came at him like a comet, and wasted no time trying for the weapon as O'Riley had predicted she would. These few saved seconds gave her an advantage, and for the wolfdog, the outcome was the difference between a clean victory and what ultimately happened.

Their collision was inevitable and monumental. They were a battle of ideals, a conflict between two zealous viewpoints with similar all-or-nothing conclusions. After such a long hunt and drawn out conflict, the two of them had changed. The pursuit had changed them. Everything that had happened in-between had gotten under their skin and into their blood, but this – this final, great battle – was all that really mattered.

He felt her breath on his face. If he hadn't moved so quickly, she would have pierced his eye as she intended.

The blow was powerful and razor-sharp. Her teeth struck down and into his skin, puncturing deep and tearing away skin and soft-tissue underneath. His nose blazed with white-hot fire. He jerked like he had been electrocuted, and his attack – which would have cut her wide open – lost the greater part of its momentum and direction when the thrust was interrupted. O'Riley roared with fury.

Before he could fully react, her snapping teeth struck again.

He was bleeding.

His face was bleeding.

It was the sensation that came after which truly drove him into a frenzy. The instant her teeth cut into his pointed, sensitive ear, all hell broke loose.

He started screaming at her. Thunderous barks broke from his throat, noises that became twisted by more primal snarls and a singular, furious command. She had to die. To this end, he gave up on any consideration for bringing her back in one piece. He would make his point to her and everyone who dared believe them weak by rendering her asunder here and now.

The sword hacked and stabbed, and every chance he had to cut her with his own fangs he took with furious abandon. Fighting wasn't just about form and practice. Improvisation, tenacity, and stubbornness all mattered in a fight. Endurance mattered. The fresh wounds to his cheek, nose and ear, all of which were bleeding profusely, felt like they were burning his face.

O'Riley struck at her over and over again. This was what she had summoned at the beginning, when she first dared shed Salsolan blood.

She would have her reckoning.
Ordinary morality is only for ordinary people.
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Nothing else was left.

Tiamat reverted to her claws and teeth, though she knew O’Riley would not be toppled by such things. The fight had been called moments—lifespans—ago. All that was left was the end that was not yet an end.

Linked by the taste of his flesh, she felt the instant his energy changed. She’d hit a deep vein, electrified some new passion in him. Tiamat didn’t escape.

Somewhere in the frenzy, her blood-slick hand had grabbed the axe and wrenched it free. But she was too tired, far past her threshold, her limbs lame and her breaths labored, and O’Riley knocked it back into the flooded marsh, into some inky blackness where it would not be easily found again.

He hacked away at her. Armor flew to pieces. Bruises and bloodstains flowered over her body. She held the line, an act which felt more futile with each passing moment.

When one sharp blow knocked her onto her back, Tiamat didn’t get up again.

In the end that was not yet an end, while her head lay cloud-like on the grass, still ripe with the smells of late summer and the dewy petrichor rocking at her consciousness in waves, she had the thought. Of her blood soaking down, down deep into the rich loam, and bright-black fur melting into sun and rain of each passing day, of those worthy attendants of nature harvesting her vessel until white bone was left, to be sawed apart by time’s teeth until that too was gone.

She was not the sum of all things, not a faraway star or celestial Titan locked in eternal battle with another, a universe trying to know itself. She was none of these things.

She was the mottled green of decay, the red of dredged clay, the luminous blue of eyes non-staring; she was the axis of color. Black, which held the moon and sun; black, which was not the raging complexity of eternity but the complete sum of nothing.

Of all that she became and of all that she had carved into existence, Tiamat desired only this. To hold. To be Whole.

The thought nourished her like rain. Anger, the fire that burned on egoistic love of itself, extinguished. And her hatred was revealed for the brittle, charred structure that it was; a small, childish need to have mattered, to not be insignificant. She’d allowed her existence to be defined by others, people she then misattributed to her own suffering. But now that she was nothing, she was for the first time something for herself, and the truth was beautiful and real and painful all at once.

Something sharp dug into her side. Tiamat convulsed awake. Time was short now, an end that was soon an end, and O’Riley’s fury was quick.

She tried to see through the swelling where he’d hit her. One last look at the devil. Oh, she hated him once. He’d worn the face of countless hurts, a lifetime of injustice done unto her. He’d been the real martyr. A villain made so that she might embody strength and virtue. A trite farce; she’d been a piss-poor actor of good and he had played his role to perfection.

How could she hate him for that?

“I am sad for you,” she rasped, teeth slick red, dirt smarting at her wounds. She was sad for him the way she was sad for herself. In the end, he’d joined her up on that stage. She’d needed him, and he must have needed her too.

The irony of hate, how much it relied on love’s very ingredients.

She wanted to tell him why she was sad, but the words would not come to her lips. They pressed there in between wheezing breaths, like creatures sleeping in a crowded wood.

Once she was gone, he would be left alone with feeling. Nothing would ever feel as good to him as killing her. He would be chasing that love until the end of days.

She did not see him again.

At last quiet, Tiamat began to dream.

She dreamt of a lionness, gold and powerful and haloed by the fires of a rising sun. She was warmth, true warmth. Tiamat wanted to weep at her feet and beg forgiveness.

She dreamt of a crane in flight, three silver fish wriggling in its beak. She wanted to shoot it down with her quiver of arrows. Instead she watched it stretch its wings and turn into the night.

She dreamt of the crescent moon. It dove upon the earth and cleaved it in two. Where it shattered came a wailing of devils, their voices rising into the stars.

Ilu Ilu Ilu <3
At the very end she saw him – not the devil for whom she had spent a lifetime seeking, nor a great faceless god-avatar sent to destroy her holy light. Just him as he was at that moment.

His face was ruined, cut deeply by her fangs. The open wounds spilled hot blood down his front and into his mouth and eyes. It was staining the palest parts of his fur as it cascaded down from his torn ear. The sharp, stabbing pain from where she had torn his skin was an omnipresent thing. She had changed him. The last time she had scarred him, he had nearly given into doubt and despair. His feelings had hardened like steel, forged now by the black magic of all-mighty ego that had always allowed him to endure.

Pain could be overcome.

Loss could be overcome.

He would destroy her because he was stronger than she was.

Something about her words and the strange expression on her face infuriated him.

“Shut up,” he snarled. Blood spread across his teeth and tongue. He should have cut her damn head off, but he let the sword go and put his hands around her throat. That felt right, and personal. Their fight had been good. She deserved this sacred, intimate gift of death.

You don't even know me,” O'Riley insisted, but she was gone.

Something else was there.

It came from the forest with such speed and force that O'Riley at first thought he had been trampled by a horse. The terrible power of the blow was solid and well-aimed, and when it collided with his side the force of the strike knocked him away from his bitter enemy. Beneath the armor and below the surface of his skin, multiple ribs broke.

The pain was immeasurable. O'Riley tried to scream, but the air had been forced from his lungs. He gasped and nearly vomited when he inhaled blood. The sound of heavy footfalls against the forest floor warned him that the secondary combatant was coming again.

O'Riley scrambled to find his feet and met the secondary attack directly. It smashed against his arm, bruising the skin beneath the heavy armor. The force of this blow aggravated the earlier wound, and O'Riley fell again.

The giant would have killed him. He was poised to do so when other voices began shouting – and as if summoned by them, this white-haired golem vanished back into the night.

A wave of pain jolted through O'Riley, who used the last bit of his conscious strength to crawl towards a tree and brush that looked as if they would provide cover. He made it this far before his body gave out, whereupon he collapsed and struggled to breathe.

The strangers and their horses disappeared to parts unknown. They took the woman with them.

Silence filled the space where their battle had raged. The sounds of insects returned over the next few hours.

Where he lay, hurting each time he took a breath, conscious that he was still bleeding, O'Riley closed his eyes.

<3 ilu, i love these two, carrying on the blood feud~
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Ordinary morality is only for ordinary people.
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