Bloodletter – 6,277 words

({A/N}: This is a rough draft that captures a part of a larger world that I had intended to write a multi-chapter story about, but it didn’t quite pan out. This story gives an introduction to a couple characters while featuring the magic of Bloodletting most prominently. If I end up writing three or four short stories in this universe that end up this long, I’ll make a category for it.)

Something stank about Brightstone.  Lyova could tell that about the place right away.  It wasn’t a big place.  Just a quiet coastal town in southern Daault.  They had gone there following the trail of smugglers, but when they got there, it had become more than clear that it had been a false lead.  Theirs was the first ship to arrive there in months.  

Besides that, the town was tiny and insular.  Not the best place for strangers to be passing through regularly.  Everyone there knew everyone.  Even they incurred their fair share of strange looks— Chalstor and her.  Though, it might’ve been Chalstor to catch the most attention.

He was a godling.  Living proof of the lifeblood of the Patron Deities.  His skin was a kind of living stone.  It was just as flexible as flesh, but twice as strong.  One look at his smooth, onyx-colored appearance and the town couldn’t keep their eyes off him.  That wasn’t strange on its own.  Godlings were rare sights this far away from greater cities.

With their ship needing repairs from the storms they had passed through on this wild goose chase, they were stranded in Brightstone for some weeks.  Chalstor had been unworried.  He was somewhat of a celebrity here, and he didn’t mind the attention.  Lyova kept to herself, as she always had.  It had been through that that she began to notice things.

Flames in the town never seemed to shine as well as they should have.  It wasn’t like they were any less bright, or burned any differently.  It was as if the darkness was stronger here.  Lights couldn’t pierce it properly.  But that wasn’t the only thing.

Sleep came harder here, and it was harder to wake from it.  When the two of them weren’t around, or just coming into an area, parts of the town were unusually quiet.  It was as if the town was only awake when they were around.  And for a fishing town, the boats in the harbor never seemed to leave.

There was something very wrong there.  A magic that shouldn’t have existed.  Lyova could barely feel it, but for it to be that ingrained in the town, it had to be powerful.  It felt like her own magics.  And that scared her.

Despite all of it, however, Lyova had been willing to ignore it.  She lurked around the harbor each day, and the repairs on the Hound seemed to be going well.  The townspeople were doing as they said they would.  That was all she really needed to see.  Once they were done, she could get out of that cursed place.  Let whatever was going on there be alone.

That changed when Chalstor disappeared.  

She had returned from one of her trips surveying the Hound’s repairs to find the door to his room at the inn kicked in and the interior ransacked.  His bed had been destroyed from when he had been dragged out of it.  The part that worried her the most was how his priceless guns had been left right where he had left them in their case.  This hadn’t been a robbery.  They had wanted him specifically.

The innworkers swarmed around her as she descended the stairs, offering her fake stories and fake help.  But she knew better.  Brightstone was rife through and through with whatever force sat on the sidelines.  No one could be trusted and she couldn’t waste time playing nice.

Once back on the street, the townspeople watched her knowingly but silently.  They knew.  Even the innworkers had given up, watching her with dull eyes from the threshold of the building.  All of their postures were unthreatening, but they all faced her.  It was unnerving.  But they didn’t seem to be interested in stopping her.

Lyova opened her Eyes.  Magic users— like her— had a way to increase their sensitively to its presence dramatically all at once.  It was useful for detecting magic, but when something was strong enough, it was a way to track down large sources of it.  This one flooded her ears like thunder.  She flinched, the sound of a heartbeat thrumming through the air, resonating from somewhere farther inland.

She had known it would be powerful by how she could sense the enchantment without her Eyes,  but this was something more.  It was alive.  

The shock of that realization faded beneath her determination.  Tilting her head, she roughly judged the direction of the source and turned toward it.  The people of the town had closed in a circle around her.  The vacancy in their eyes made her shiver.  What was this?

Lyova marched toward the edge of the circle.  The people parted silently for her exit.  She didn’t look back as she left town, but she could feel their gaze on her the whole way out.  They weren’t stopping her.  They were confident that she couldn’t stop whatever was happening.  She wasn’t sure whether to let that get to her or just feel grateful that she didn’t have to cut her way to her friend.

The heartbeat led her outside the town and toward a break in the trees of the forest.  Behind her, not one person had followed.  The town was dark and still.  Wherever they went when they weren’t maintaining the illusion, that seemed to be where they had gone.  There was no point pretending anymore.

She looked away and ventured into the woods.

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The beats grew louder and louder until they were unbearable, and she released the Eyes with a sigh of relief.  The sound faded to give way to the sounds of the forest.  Which was just as unusually quiet as the town.  No birdsong or sounds of animals moving through the undergrowth.  Even the wind had died away.  It all made each step she took uncomfortably loud.  She didn’t know what she was walking into.

Nerves threatened her surety.  Engaging on this mission to save Chalstor had been pure reflex.  Over the years, they had helped each other out of their fair share of scrapes.  The two of them really had little in common.  The same line of work.  Managing to always be outsiders wherever they went.  And the simple truth that when they were gone, no one would miss them.

Lyova knew she wouldn’t abandon him, but that little peek into the magic at play here had shaken her.  She had been to all four Isles, and she had never met such a concentrated source.  It was powerful enough to enchant the whole town and the forest.  Nothing like that existed along men and godlings.  It scared her.

Her thoughts nearly stopped her from noticing the stairs.  They were carved into the ground, descending between two oak trees that looked as old as the forest.  She didn’t need the Eyes to feel the magic emanating from where those stairs led.  Nausea suddenly surged in her and she clamped a hand over her mouth.  Alien, old magic.  It touched hers and burnt on contact, the two forces incompatible.

But she wasn’t here for herself.  Lyova swallowed the discomfort and started down the steps.  The sunlight faded, replaced by the cold press of dirt and stone.  She had to look behind her to be sure that it was still day.  It was as if the sunlight stopped short of the hole.  Like what happened in the town, except more focused.

She ignored it.  Fancy light tricks.  Sure.  Keep moving.

The steps descended several meters down, ending suddenly at a stone door.  Dirt and roots clung to it like it had been unearthed.  But someone would have to know that it was here to dig here.  There was something engraved into the stone— erased by time and rain.  It had to be ancient.

Lyova put her shoulder against the door and pushed.  It inched open beneath her weight, turning on hinges so rusted that it was a miracle they still moved.  Beyond it, a stone hall stretched out, defined by a light at its end that still left most of the tunnel blanketed in darkness.  

It was so much more than she was expecting to find.  The magic beat against her skull, daring her to keep going.  It was an almost physical resistance now.

The door to the tunnel began to close on its own, pushed by some mechanism that stopped it from remaining open.  She quickly slipped through before it closed with a subdued rumble.  Something in herself stopped her from checking to see if she could open it again.  She wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

Just as that thought crossed her mind, the sound of footsteps echoed down the corridor.  Lyova made a split second decision, flattening herself against the wall and watching for whoever was approaching from deeper in the tunnel.  The figure came into her view, coming into focus.  It was a man dressed in dark clothing, crossbow held in his hands.  His eyes were what caught her attention.  There was no empty look there.  Only fanaticism.

Lyova wanted to know what she was dealing with, but she had to work fast.  He was coming her way.  

She drew her stiletto knife and pulled back the sleeve of her duster to get access to her pale and scarred skin.  She grit her teeth and slashed the knife across her forearm.  Hot blood welled out of the gash, following the curve of her arm and dripping toward the stone floor.  Before it could touch the ground, however, it vaporized in the air.  Every drop of blood turned into a fine red mist that swirled up around her, the gash fading into a white line.  It was Sanguis.  The power in her blood, extracted and harnessed by the only kind of person who could reach it. A Bloodletter. That was her.

It flew to her finger as she reached out and drew on the air, crimson particles lingering after her movements.  The shape of a layered triangle took form before her between the man and her.  Lyova reached through the power and seized the man’s will with her own.  The glyph faded.  The man froze in his tracks.

The blood vessels beneath his flesh became as black as pitch against his light skin.  His eyes turned blood red.  He opened his mouth to scream but he couldn’t bring himself to make a single sound.  Whatever had controlled him— whether it was the strange magic or his own mind— he was her thrall now.  She made him take the crossbow, place the pointed end of the bolt against the roof of his mouth, and pull the release lever. 

The glyph vanished as the man dropped to the ground with a quiet thump.  Lyova stopped hiding and strode past the corpse, its drawn blood swirling up into the air after her.  Magic like that was what made people afraid of people like her, but that day she found she didn’t care.  They had brought this on themselves.

The man hadn’t had another thrall over him that she had to force through.  He hadn’t been controlled by the magic like the people in the town.  Whatever she was walking into, these were the people who stood behind the magic, not who were controlled by it.  Fanatics.  Or cultists.  What forces were they meddling with?

Two more of the appeared ahead, coming down the hall toward her.  Lyova walked toward them calmly, the body of their comrade in plain view behind her.  She drew her swordbreaker with a hiss of steel— a short sword lined with notches on one side.  The image of her marching down the hall with steel in both hands was enough to give the fanatics pause for a single moment.  And then one rushed toward her.

He brought a broadsword down in an overhead swing, intent on cutting her down in a single blow.  There was a wildness in his eyes that burned like phosphorus.  She brought the swordbreaker up and caught his swing dead just as it was about to reach her.  She tapped into the Sanguis, letting it empower her strength past what her body was capable of.  Fear flashed in the fanatic’s eyes.  She drove her stiletto into his heart once, twice.  The blood that gushed from him joined the swirl around her.

The second came at her from the side with an axe, but she was even faster now.  Lyova caught the bottom of his axe in a notch and sent it spinning out of his hands with her enhanced strength.  It clattered against the ground and slid away down the hall.  He was so busy staring at his hands in shock that he didn’t notice her swinging stiletto until it opened his throat with a brutal release of blood.  The messy wound paid off, fueling the storm of red mist around her as she walked away from his body.

It was all about momentum.  She couldn’t retain the Sanguis for too long.  She had to keep going.

The hall was long, and it slowly began to curve downward the farther she followed it.  Deeper and deeper.  Who had made this place?  The support arches spanned the ceiling like the ribs of a whale.  Strange, wild lines covered the walls leading farther into the structure.  With the help of the blood magic, it was easier to walk in the face of the unknown force, but it didn’t hide its power.

When the hall leveled back out, she came face to face with two more cultists standing before a set of huge oak doors.  These two were just lounging around, crossbows leaned against the wall as they nursed cigarettes.  She didn’t bother trying to hide her approach.

The first one to see her dropped his cigarette with an “oh, shit!” and scrambled for his crossbow.  He brought it up to her and released the bolt with a twang of string.  Lyova threw out a hand and let the bolt impale her hand straight through the palm.  The pain fled beneath the Sanguis and she yanked the bolt out with a spray of her blood.  Comparing the power of her blood to that of others was like comparing whisky to water.  She grinned maliciously and dashed toward the men.

Suffice to say, the sight stunt was more than enough to put them off their game.  The first abandoned his crossbow and drew a sword and took a stance at her approach as the second loaded a bolt with shaky hands.  

Lyova evaded around the sword’s bite like a viper, stepping into the fanatic’s space and driving her palm up into his jaw with a strength that made it shatter audibly.  His head snapped back and he crumbled.  The second managed to load a bolt.  Too close.  She tried to dodge but it caught her right in the shoulder.  A scream of pain and anger ripped through her and she brought the swordbreaker right down through the crossbow with an explosion of splinters and steel.  

The cultist retreated, back hitting the wall.  Terror filled his face.  “Please…”

The Sanguis urged her onward.  More.  She forced herself to ignore it.  If she followed what it wanted, that would be surrendering what little power she had over its hold.  “Go,” she snarled at the man, pointing down the hall with her swordbreaker.

He didn’t say anything, just turned and ran down the hall, stumbling more than once in his fear.  

Lyova took a deep breath, centering herself.  Losing control wasn’t an option.  She was here for a reason beyond killing.  She wrenched the bolt from her shoulder and healed it with a flash of fiery pain that she barely noticed.  The nature of her magic had forced her to an inhuman level of pain tolerance.  She grabbed the handle of one of the oak doors and hauled it open.

The room beyond the hall was wide, long, and cloaked in shadow.  She channeled an ounce of Sanguis into her eyesight, forcing the room into focus.  It looked as if the room had been a library before the fanatics moved in.  Bookshelves filled with decaying books lined the outer walls, with tables and chairs filling the center area.  There were doors on all four walls, but she could feel the tug of magic coming from the far one.  Most importantly, the room was empty.

She hurried across the room, but something stopped her at the center.  There was a cast iron grate set into the floor that rattled as she stepped on it.  It was loose, like it had been moved recently.  She stopped, kneeling and pouring more Sanguis into her eyes to look into the darkness.  

Bodies.  It was full of bodies.  Dozens of godlings had been killed and dumped here, their stoneflesh mutilated and torn apart.  Stone skin the colors of sandstone, marble, limestone, slate, granite.  All of them looked like they had been torn apart and drained of blood, reducing them to chunks of rock.  Like statues.  That’s why there was no smell of rot.  Everything living had been taken from them.

The swirling ribbon of Sanguis accelerated in response to her emotions, becoming violent in its motions.  She clenched her fists and they began to shake.  Chalstor.  She had to find Chalstor.  

The doors ahead of her crashed open.  Five cultists came through, weapons drawn.  The heartbeat wreathed their forms with silent power that made her bones ache.  Their eyes were wide and insane, like something else was behind them.  They shouldn’t have been able to see her in the gloom, but not one of them wasn’t looking at her.

The force behind this place had noticed her.  And her interruption wasn’t appreciated, clearly.  A ridiculous laugh bubbled out of her lungs.  “You could’ve just left us alone,” she called out to the approaching line of thralls.  They didn’t answer.

Lyova took one last look at the pit filled with corpses.  A part of her was glad the thing hadn’t passed them by.  Dozens of innocents had already fallen to this.  The kind of power that could generate…  She had to stop this.

As if sensing her thoughts, the enthralled fanatics closed in on her silently and passively.  When they attacked, they attacked together.  She retreated backward with a leap, flinging her stiletto straight from her belt.  It caught one of them in the stomach, but the man didn’t as much as flinch.  They kept coming.

She had to play defensively.  Her swordbreaker caught a blade on the swing, but two more found their mark, cutting slashes down her side.  She had to twist out of the way in order to avoid being impaled on the fourth sword.  That wasn’t going to work.  It was like fighting one man.

She had to cut off a few of its arms or this was going to end quickly.  Sanguis flooded her muscles and she lunged for the one she wounded, wrenching the stiletto out of his gut and planting it in his throat.  His body finally seemed to fail with that, but she earned a lightning bolt of pain as a broadsword cut into her thigh.  

She snarled, the Sanguis becoming a whirlwind as it evaporated from her wounds and those of the dead fanatic.  The sight of the crimson storm gave the thralls pause.  “Haven’t seen a Bloodletter before, bastard?” she said, getting back to her feet and drawing a long gash down both of her forearms with the point of her swordbreaker.  

The fanatics overcame their pause and swept forward into the cloud.  It was like swinging at smoke.  Lyova caught a sword blade in her hand and wrenched it out of the man’s grip.  She turned and shoved it into another’s heart.  Between the mist and the power it gave her, it became easy.  The last two fell stumbling and blind in the fog, prey for her steel.

It was terrifying.  It was wonderful.

She gasped, releasing her power before it could dig its claws in any deeper.  The bloodlust vanished with the last traces of Sanguis as it burned away closing her wounds.  The loss of it drove her to her knees.  Her entire body felt fried, her muscles exhausted like she’d been running for days.  Blood loss turned her vision spotty.

Being a conduit for that much blood magic always held a cost.  But she couldn’t be done yet.

Her legs trembled as she got to her feet, but they held her.  That was all she needed them to do.  Lyova forced one step after another and walked toward the source of all of this.  It might’ve just been her imagination, but she swore the beating tempo of the magic signal sped up.  In anticipation?  Or fear?

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The final chamber made Lyova sick to her stomach.  It was tall and cylindrical, the stone walls carved with complex, massive murals.  On the floor was a starlike pattern of black-stained canals.  They led into a central pit that was only a few inches wide.  Around the edges of the room hung the bodies of godlings over the canals.  They were stabbed with jagged knives, run through with spears, torn apart down the middle.  

But then she recognized one of them, still dripping with black blood— the blood of godlings— to her right.  It was Chalstor— his obsidian skin standing out amongst the other godlings.  He was in much better shape than the other godlings.  Two serrated daggers had been driven into his ribs on both sides of him, the blood dripping down his sides and into the channel below him.

Lyova hurried over to him.  “Chal?” she said, cutting the ropes that held his hands over his body and lowering him to the floor.  “Are you with me?”

He tilted his head, golden eyes sliding open.  “Ly?”

She held his head so that she could look into his dazed face.  “I’m here.”

“You came,” he said sleepily.

“Of course I did,” she said, slipping a roll of bandages from her belt and pulling out one of the daggers with a gush of midnight-colored blood.  It didn’t land in the canal, but it slowly seeped into it, following some force.

Chalstor barely had the energy to flinch at the pain as she wrapped his wounds.  “I make a good damsel in distress, huh?  Very enticing?”

“Moron,” she said with mock disgust.  “Can you walk?”

“Gotta stop it.”  He gestured weakly toward the other godlings.

“I will, but we have to get you out of here.”

She fit one of his arms over her shoulders and hauled him up with her.  Some of the fatigue began to fade, but she still felt lightheaded from the blood loss and burnt out from the magic.  Which was unfortunate, because Chalstor was heavy.  They made their way toward the door by hugging the wall so she didn’t have to hold his whole weight.

Before they could make it through the door, another cultist stepped out into their path.  He was a monster of a man, easily seven feet tall with a greatsword slung over his back.  His head was shaved and adorned with swirling, complicated tattoos.  His gaze was neither vacant or crazed, but his movements were too perfect.  He was enthralled, in a way, at least.

Lyova put Chalstor back down against the wall with a groan.  He wasn’t at a risk of bleeding out— probably.  She drew her swordbreaker and stiletto  and backed away from the fanatic as he entered the room.  

“My master has given me the ability to speak, but make no mistake.  It will be His will that drives my hand to kill you,” the man rumbled.  He reached up and drew the greatsword with a flash of gleaming steel.  “Consider it an honor to die by His control.”

“I’ll pass,” she said with a confidence she didn’t have.  

The man frowned and advanced, bringing his sword down with both hands.  She dodged the strike and went for the man’s throat as his sword cracked stone.  A surprising speed seized him and he backhanded her with one of his huge hands, knocking her backward off her feet in a tumble.  It hurt more than she expected, and she tasted blood.   But she got back into her stance.

“You will need more than tenacity to beat me,” the fanatic said.  “I fight for my god.  Through Him I am empowered.”

“Are you the one who started all this?”

The man smiled with rotting teeth.  “Yes.  It is I who uncovered my master’s sanctum and answered His call.  It is I who followed His commands.  It is through I who will bring about His return.”

She inched forward.  “You killed all these godlings.”

The iron in her voice actually made him falter, but the dumb confidence replaced it just as quickly.  “Yes.  And I will bleed as many as it takes to bring about His return.”

“If you make it through me.”

He laughed.  “I do not see an if in this bout.”

Lyova lashed out with her stiletto, sending it flying straight into his left shoulder.  He grunted and pain and stepped back, wrenching the knife free and throwing it across the floor with a long trail of blood.  “Dirty trick.”

She reached out to his blood, but His magic was all-encompassing here.  It wasn’t hers to claim as her own.  Even the blood in her own wounds and those of Chalstor refused to respond to her.  She was cut off from her power.

“My master tells me that if you wanted to call upon the power of blood, you should not have come to His chamber.  Here, He is unchallenged.”

“Right,” she said, “now, are you planning on killing me, or—?”

The fanatic charged toward her with a roar.  She threw up her swordbreaker to try to stop his blow, but without the Sanguis she only just managed to stop it from cutting straight across her chest.  Its point drew a long, bleeding cut in her shoulder as she tried to shove him off of her.  He won the strength contest, sending her back off her feet for a second time.  Her knife slipped from her fingers in the fall.

He was there in a flash, bringing his sword down toward her gut.  She rolled out of the way and his sword smashed into the stone floor as she scrambled for her swordbreaker.  This wasn’t working.  She relied on her magic to overpower foes stronger than her.  Without it, and being as tired as she was, she didn’t have much of a chance here.  But any blood she managed to draw was beyond her power.  

Lyova managed to get to one knee before he came at her again.  She was down to one trick.  The edge of his greatsword slammed into one of the notches of her swordbreaker and she held it fast, managing to keep the edge away from her body with both hands.  It wasn’t something she could keep up.  

All this blood in one room, and she couldn’t use any of it.  It was frustrating.  She had to get him out of the room.  Or—

She bit down on her tongue as hard as she could.  It took all of her willpower to keep her mouth shut against the pain.  It only got worse as the disgusting feeling of warm blood filling her mouth with a coppery taste trigger her gag reflex.  But she could feel this blood.  It sang with promises of power.  She accepted them.

Lyova exhaled a cloud of Sanguis that swirled around her.  Shock and disbelief appeared on the fanatic’s face.  She smiled with bloody teeth and braced her hand against the broad side of his greatsword.  And twisted the swordbreaker.  The blade of his sword snapped off with a screech of metal.  

The fanatic retreated several steps, holding the severely stunted remains of his greatsword.  Its blade was slanted and jagged.  He stared at it, unbelieving.  “My master… my master is displeased.  You should not be playing with these arts.  They are His.”

“I didn’t ask for them.  I was born a Bloodletter.  Trust me, I wouldn’t have chosen this.”  Her life would have been easier without her “gifts”.

“It is irrelevant now.  Your blood holds more power than these little drops of godhood.  He will take your blood and be complete.  He is done with me.”  The fanatic smiled, real tears of joy in his eyes.  And then he slit his throat with the broken blade of his sword.  

She stared in horror as he gurgled and gasped, clutching at his throat while blood flowed between his fingers.  He slumped, then collapsed beside the center of the chamber, his blood draining into his god.  The sound of thunder rumbled up through the stone, shaking the chamber.  When the final drop of blood slipped over the edge of the hole, a jet of black mist shot up from its depths.

Black, like the blood of godlings.  It made sense in a way, that the godlings could create a god through their blood.  She knew firsthand how potent godling blood could be.  

She also knew she couldn’t fight a god.  

Lyova rushed toward Chalstor.  She had to get him out of there.  When she knelt beside him to lift him up, he looked up with wide eyes behind her.  

Thick tendrils of smoke wrapped around her midsection and tore her back from him.  She flew across the room and slammed into the opposite wall.  Something cracked in her back and she gasped in pain.  The smoke held her several feet up from the ground.  It closed around her limbs, seizing them in place.  She couldn’t as much as budge them.  Even breathing was difficult against the pressure on her chest.  

The smoke gathered in a pulsing, amorphous orb over the room.  The offshoots that held her against the wall split off from it like branches, beating with the main mass.  The very air in the room blew with the heartbeat, buffeting her hair with each gust.

She tried to speak— to breathe— but it was impossible.  Her own heart began to hammer in her ears, and she trembled.  This was something wrong.  A being of bloodthirst and greed.  For the first time in her life, she prayed to the Deities.  Not that they would save her, really, but that they would stop this thing from hurting anyone else.

A thick, trunk-like tendril emerged from its body and snaked through the air toward her.  As it neared, it divided into several smaller and dove for her.  First, they sunk into her shoulder wound.  Fiery, unimaginable pain exploded there.  She could feel her blood vaporizing, joining that of the god’s as it drove itself through her blood vessels.

Lyova opened her mouth to scream and the rest shot down her throat, filling her lungs and burning through the capillaries there to enter her blood.  She tried to clamp her jaw shut or to push it out of her lungs with a breath, but it was like it had become solid inside her body.  The black spots in her vision grew, and her strength began to fail her.

She felt herself began to burn away.  It was turning her into Sanguis.  Her blood didn’t even need to leave her body for it to use it.  It was cruel.  This was her magic.  

Lyova smashed her will against the Sanguis as it filled her, raging against it.  She had spent her life honing this talent.  This being had no right trying to brute force it from her fingers.  It took finesse, it took will.  All this thing had done was get a bunch of lackeys to murder innocents.

She had suffered for this power.  It was hers.

An enraged scream broke through her, and when it passed her lips, it was red mist that emerged with it.  The god recoiled.  She channeled the strength she had snatched from it, forcing her arms back from the wall and grasping the tendrils around her.  They turned red in her fingers.  The hue spread up the thick trunks of the tendrils until the god had no choice but to split them off before her corruption reached it.

She fell, freed, with a crashing heap to the ground.  But now she was hungry for more.  There had never been this must Sanguis at her fingertips before.  The god recoiled, retreating up into the height of the room.

All she needed to do was touch Him, but He was fifty feet in the air.  “Damn,” she spat, her earlier fear gone as she tried to figure out a way to get up there.  

A smaller globule of black Sanguis exploded from the god, hitting one of the godling corpses with an net of tendrils.  They engulfed it, literally holding it together as black fire ignited in its eyes.  The godling’s corpse began to move, snapping its bindings and landing on its feet before her.  It lurched toward her, swinging drunkenly.  Dead, hollow words leaked from its lips: “you dare take my power—“

Lyova caught its strike and delivered a boosted kick into its knee that pulverized stone.  She shoved it down, grabbing onto the tendrils that encircled it and ripping them free.  They entered her own cloud of blood as two more godling corpses were revived and dropped down to meet her.

This time she didn’t even bother protecting herself.  She grabbed the tendrils that gave them motion and started tearing them away, even as their cold fists shattered her collarbone and cracked her ribs.  It didn’t matter.  Soon their power joined hers and her bones reconstructed with an agony she barely noticed.

She gathered the newly gained Sanguis in her legs and leapt up toward the wall, climbing halfway up the chamber and grabbing onto the solid stone, her fingers digging into it like butter.  This thing wasn’t a god.  It was a pool of blood collected by some fanatics playing ancient cult.  It had more power than her, but she was a Bloodletter.

Lyova kicked off the wall and launched herself into the orb of concentrated Sanguis.  It engulfed her, pushing her toward its center.  Alien Sanguis flooded her, compressing her with an unnatural force.  It tried to fill her lung again, to suffocate her.  She grit her teeth against the pain as she felt her bones break beneath it, and shoved her will against it.  It was a dark and angry power that blood contained, but she was angrier.  The being became undone as her red influence spread out from her.  

The room became a hurricane of crimson Sanguis as she snuffed out the mind behind the power.  This time she didn’t fall.  The sheer force of it slowed her decent, setting her shakily but safely on the ground.  More.  She smiled, stretching out her hands into the storm and feeling it passing through her body.

Lyova could understand how this kind of power could make you think that you were a god.  It was pure potential.  Giddy joy bubbled out of her in a laugh.  This was better than being a god.  She was here, and she could do whatever she wanted with it.  No rules or distance.  

She wanted more.

Chalstor had gotten to his feet and was leaning on the wall.  He waved at her, exhausted, as she looked to him.  “That was a first.  Did you kill it?”

The storm picked up her swordbreaker from the ground and delivered it to her hand.  She walked toward him.  Realization appeared in his eyes.

“You have to let it go,” he said, desperate.  “Remember, you lose yourself in it.  This isn’t you.”

She took the swordbreaker and drove it into his chest.  He gasped, grabbing onto her shoulders as he coughed up blood that immediately entered her cloud.  “It’s okay, Ly.  Not your fault.”

Lyova hesitated.  This was her fault.  This was her power.  It was what she wanted.  But she didn’t want to hurt Chalstor.

The storm lost its focus, turning into a cloud of loose and unclaimed Sanguis.  Without an anchor, it drifted around formless and aimless until it evaporated into nothing.  The weight of her blood loss and exhaustion hit her like a lightning strike.  Chalstor was there to catch her, one hand holding her up and the other holding his wound.

“Oh gods,” Lyova said.  “I’m so sorry.”

“S’alright.”

“It’s really not.  Goddamn it all.  You better not die.”

Chalstor gently eased them both down to sit leaned against the cold stone of the chamber walls.  “I would prefer not to.”

“Fuck, I’m sorry.”  She tried to will any energy into her body to move, but the “godlike” proportion of Sanguis that had just passed through her scorched her out.  

He laughed.  “My fault for traveling with a Bloodletter.  Though I’m guessing that was what saved us in the end.”

“You’re infuriating.”  She focused on the blood that was running down his shirt, but just as she managed to break a wispy trail of Sanguis up from it, he grabbed her hand in a vice grip.

“Don’t.  You’ll kill yourself.”

“If I don’t, I can’t patch you up.”

Chalstor waved a hand.  “Don’t worry yourself.  I’ll do it.  I’m just getting the courage up to pull your fucking knife out.  Let’s just rest a second.”

Lyova tilted her head back against the wall.  Around them, the room was full of bodies and the heavy smell of blood.  The two of them were both nearly dead.  They had succeeded in beating their record of creating a shitshow.  “Fucking hell,” she groaned.

“You can pick the next port,” Chalstor said, and then he pulled the knife out.

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