Varus followed a river running through the desert. Its water was gritty, but drinkable. The new body he had wrought to bear his bow was beautiful, fast and strong, but it came with the weaknesses of flesh. It hungered. It thirsted.
Days earlier, a crook-backed creature with a withered arm and birdlike features had told him this was Shurima, but that couldn’t be true. The Shurima Varus remembered had been a desolate wasteland.
"Was I imprisoned for so long?" he wondered.
He despised the human noises his new mouth made. It sounded bestial and primitive, but at least he could speak aloud once more. As to how long he had been imprisoned... it was hard to say. He retained no concept of how mortals measured time, and the bird creature hadn't recognized what he was. She had no idea how far back the Darkin War had been fought.
"My kind all but destroyed this world," he said. "And now we have been forgotten? How is that even possible?"
With enough time, even the greatest horrors can fade.
The voice echoed in his skull, impossible to ignore. Which one was it?or ? He suspected Val, but mortal minds were so simple and muddy that it was hard to tell one from another.
"Any race that can forget staring into the abyss of its own extinction does not deserve to live," said Varus.
We don't forget. This was Valmar, decided Varus. Horrors become myths so we can bear to hear them, so we can learn from them and not go mad.
Such a notion was ridiculous, and Varus knew he would never allow the doom of his kind to fade from memory. He was about to say so, when he heard noises from around a bend in the river ahead; shouting voices, braying animals, and the sound of tools on stone. He darted forward, into the shadow of a toppled obelisk, and scanned ahead.
The new river had exposed the sunken ruins of an ancient structure comprised of pillars and statues of the oldest Ascended. Yes, this was the source of the magic he had sensed. Old magic. The kind the flame-haired queen used to enslave his kind.
The kind used to imprison him beneath the rock of Ionia.
Tanned, wolf-lean men worked the ruins, digging out hidden reliquary chambers as thick-limbed beasts of burden dragged excavated rocks from deeper inside the structure. Warriors wearing boiled leather breastplates and carrying hook-bladed spears guarded the perimeter. Varus grinned and vaulted onto the obelisk, drawing back on his bow as he landed. Violet light built in the living weapon as it flexed, and a coruscating arrow of lightning formed in the air.
Why must you kill them? This was Kai. He hated unnecessary killing.
Varus felt his hands tremble as Kai fought to make him lower the bow.
"Your people destroyed my kin," said Varus, exerting his will to steady his aim. "That’s the only reason I need."
He sighted along the crackling arrow as a burly warrior with a forked beard and shaven scalp saw him, and yelled a warning.
So everyone you see must die?
Varus exhaled, and in the space between breaths loosed the shot. It flashed through the air to pierce the bearded warrior's heart, burning a hole clean through him. He dropped to his knees, his mouth wide with shock. Others hurled spears, but Varus was already moving. He sprang from the obelisk, sending a hail of blood-red bolts toward them, and hit the ground running.
A hook-spear swung at him. He dove to the side, rising to his feet and sending a pair of crimson shots through his attacker's chest. Varus sprinted, leapt, and dashed through the ruins, blazing shafts of light striking his targets with absolute precision.
In seconds it was over. Sixteen dead, and he hadn't even broken a sweat. He felt the anguish of Valmar and Kai within him, and grinned. Every death gnawed at them, weakened them, and made them less able to fight him.
The men excavating the ruined city fled, throwing down their tools and running for the river. Varus let them go. They were an irrelevance, and the killing of mortals without weapons always provoked the two souls within him to greater rebellion.
"Warding sigils. Potent once, but faded," said Varus, crossing the inscribed flagstones to where a towering statue of a great, serpent-headed god-warrior had once stood sentinel. Some past catastrophe had toppled it, and beyond its sandstone remains lay a lightless chamber.
He entered, the glow from the smoldering light at his heart revealing nothing but bare stone, burned black and glossy by ancient fire.
Varus sighed. "Where are you, sister...?"