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     The closest creature swiveled its blood red head toward Saora and Jaybird. Its mouth dropped open and a low hissing sound bubbled out. Saora blinked at it, her breath caught in her chest. No eyes, the thing had no eyes at all. A tentacle shifted toward them.

     A blur of white fur slammed into it, tearing a chunk of the gel-like flesh from the creature. Jaybird’s white wolf companion, Rocky, spat out a mouthful of meat and charged again. The creature reared back, its hiss as loud as a scream. Tentacles batted at the wolf, keeping it at bay, and connected on a hind leg. A high pitched howl burst from his muzzle as blood dribbled over his gleaming fur. The red liquid pulsed and, in the corner of her eye, Saora saw the Deathbringer’s magic glow brighter.

     “Keep away from it!” she screamed. “Its attacks feed Saurfang!” Saora flung her hand at Rocky and the wounds closed. The wolf leapt away from the creature, narrowly missing another tentacle bite.

     A bladed, wickedly-curved bow appeared in her peripheral vision. Three arrows sat notched on its string. Jaybird’s long fingers tightened on the grip and the priestess could see his shoulders relax and freeze at once. He’d stopped breathing. The bowstring was released and the arrows soared across the platform. With three quiet thunks, they buried into the blood creature’s tentacles, pinning it to the ground.

     Behind the priestess, a low, echoing voice chilled her to her core, “Katra zil shukil man’ari haguul!” Green magic pulsed around the blood creature. Black ooze burst from its mouth, barely leaving room for another hiss of pain. It bucked and trembled, so desperate to escape the tortuous spell that it wrenched itself free of Jaybird’s arrows. Another flurry of arrows buried themselves in the creature’s gaping mouth. It stumbled, coughed more of that ooze, and collapsed on the cold stone, dead.

     Saora glanced behind her in time to see the green magic fade from Pips’ wide eyes. Her tiny fingers relaxed from their unnatural grip and color seemed to find its way back to her cheeks. For just a glance, Pips looked...evil. Then, she was back to her smiling, silly self. Saora shuddered and cleared her throat.

     “What language was that?” she asked.

     That green fire flashed in Pips’ eyes again as her lips curled into a wicked smirk, “Ignorance is the key to salvation.”

     A triumphant yell drew Saora’s eyes to the other side of the platform. The second creature was riddled with arrows from Shalvaris’ bow and being torn apart by her black wolf. It was clearly dead.

     “The ground runs red with your blood!”

     “Goddess, no!” Teagin cried.

     Red tentacles of blood ripped a soul-shattering scream through Vendaci’s helmet. The death knight staggered and dropped to all fours, her sword loose in her weak grip. Saurfang towered over her, cackling madly.

     “Feel our King drain your pathetic life, traitorous sister!” he said.

     Behind him, Celesi pulled back her arm, “She’s not your sister!” Her armored fist slammed into the orc’s jaw, knocking him away from the fallen Frozen Knight. Zapz dodged between Saurfang’s off balance legs, slashing between the armor with his knives. A scream warned Zapz of the incoming attack and the rogue danced away. The orc roared, furious, and swung at the charging Edriaine. The cat jumped back, his form fast enough to stay safe, but collapsed as his legs tried to catch him.

     He whirled around to face Teagin and snarled, his blood loss showing in his whitened gums, “What the hell are you doing, elf?”

     “I’m trying!” Teagin said. Tears dripped down her flawless cheeks.

     “Stop whimpering!” The druid cat roared, “What kind of a soldier are you? Do your job or go home!”

     “Enough!” Saora whirled her staff in front of her body, breathing a quick prayer. She gripped Benediction’s shaft and swung it in an arc toward the group. Gold magic surrounded the three cursed fighters and burst like fireworks. Vendaci’s fingers gripped her sword as she pushed off the ground and charged at the Deathbringer. Katrina whooped, wiping blood from her face before rejoining the fight. Shaking his massive head, the giant cat shoved himself to his feet.

     His fangs flashed at Teagin but his glowing eyes found Saora, “She’s going to let us bleed out! She’s weak!”

     “You need to worry about Saurfang,” Saora scowled, “not the healers.”

     “Then, handle it, priestess!”

     “Ed!” Celesi yelled. The cat whirled around and raced at the paladin. She knelt, her shield overhead. Edriaine landed on the shield and the two pushed, Celesi up and Edriaine out. He rocketed at Saurfang and, with the added speed, smashed the orc into a wall. If the hole left in the stone wall was any indication, that attack had hurt.

     Saora ran to Teagin’s side as the druid collapsed to her knees. Tears streamed from her unfocused white eyes and her arms hung weakly at her sides. Her lovely pale skin had paled further, giving her a strangely ashen complexion. Saora had to shake the elf’s shoulders before those eyes finally found her.

     “I can’t,” Teagin breathed. “I just...I just can’t.”

     “Feast, my minions!”

     “By the Light,” Saora looked up.

     Two more creatures rose from pools of blood. One was too close to the fighters surrounding Saurfang. Jaybird, Shalvaris and Pips all turned to target that more dangerous monster. The ignored creature focused on the two healers and charged. Teagin screamed, burying her face in Saora’s dress. Saora clutched her close and pointed her staff at the creature. There wasn’t time to move. There wasn’t time to be scared. But she knew there was nothing she could do to stop that thing from eating the two of them and feeding the orc more power. Inches away, the creature’s mouth gaped open.

     A flash of silver blinked between the healers and the monster. A soft click sounded and white smoke burst from the ground, blinding Saora. As quickly as it came, the smoke vanished, revealing a giant block of ice with the blood beast trapped inside. To Saora’s right, Shalvaris tossed a salute and drew another arrow from her quiver.

     “Hey Jay!” she hollered. “Check the back!”

     Seconds later, Jaybird’s thick arms wrapped around the healers and pulled them away from the encased beast. He half carried, half dragged them across the platform. Teagin sobbed and clutched at Jay’s muscled arm. He gently shook her off before turning back to the frozen creature.

     “Shalv, burn it!” he yelled.

     The other hunter smirked and pulled a round metal trap from her pack. She ran at the frozen beast and vaulted over it. She rolled across the stone floor, dropping the trap in front of the ice. At the end of her roll, she raised her purple, double-limbed longbow at the creature and notched a heavy, blunted arrow.

     She pulled back the bowstring, “Bleed this!” And she fired.
I struggled with this chapter for weeks before sitting down one day and hammering it out in a couple hours. Funny how that happens. I'd forgotten how much I love fight scenes. It's complicated with ten people to focus on instead of the five I'm accustomed to. More personalities to juggle, more spotlights to grant. It's a challenge, but so much fun.

Zodiac love!

Edriane was one of those personalities that just didn't put up with weakness. He was intelligent, headstrong, analytical and so damn competitive it was nearly a handicap. He was definitely an alpha, and the only one that seemed to be able to keep him in check was Kasino. He liked other people in the guild but would only take orders from the guild lead.

One night, Kasino had to leave early and Ed and I took control of the raid. (That in itself will tell you something. No one wanted to follow Edriaine. I had to step up as co-lead or half of our 40 man raid would leave.) We made it through a few trash mobs when one of my hunters' pets ran ahead down a hallway and pulled an extra group. It was a known bug that happened occasionally in that hallway, but Ed flew off the handle and started berating the hunter. I told him to back off, that the hunters were my problem, and he turned his anger at me. We spent five minutes arguing instead of killing mobs. The raid didn't last long after that.

But we were friends. We didn't chat about our personal lives or favorite things. I don't even remember his real name. But Ed knew I could play, and he respected me for it. He didn't have much of a sense of humor, but outside of a raid I could get him to laugh (or at least smile) as much as I could anyone else. When he left Zodiac to start his own guild on another realm, he asked me and a select few others (like Zapz) to go with him. We all refused. We wouldn't leave Kasino and Zodiac. He warned us that the guild was dying, and we knew he was right, but we were all loyal to a fault. It took a year and a half for his prediction to come true. He didn't see Icecrown Citadel with us, but, for this story, I couldn't leave him out of it.

Especially not when I had the chance to let him do what he did best...tearing apart a player who couldn't pull their own weight.

Teagin's story isn't mine to tell, but Saora's told me some...interesting things about her and her time raiding. You'll have to ask her for the details ;)

Just realized I can't remember his voice. I remember Kasino's, Celesi's, Zapz's, a handful of others, but I don't remember Edriaine's. Don't know why that saddens me...
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August 4, 2014
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