“Lorathor, behind you!” Armin shouted.
Thankfully, Lorathor didn’t wait to turn to look at what had Armin shouting. He dove forward, and Clarcia’s outstretched hand passed through the open air. Clarcia let out a low hiss and began to shamble forward.
“Light and Shadow!” Lorathor said, bringing up his arcrifle and sighting Clarcia with it. Before Armin could even speak, he fired three short bursts. Arclight flew and struck Clarcia in the shoulder, chest, and forehead. She staggered backwards and fell over. “Thanks for the warning,” Lorathor said, raising the rifle. “I thought she was dead.”
“She is,” Armin said.
“Right, now. But I mean when I came in she looked…” Lorathor trailed off. “Necromancy?”
They both turned back to Clarcia. Her limbs were jerking unnaturally as she started to rise. She reached a crab position and her head turned unnaturally until it was facing them. “Necromancy,” Armin confirmed.
Lorathor shot her again. Beams of light streaked across the small cell. Clarcia barely rocked at the impacts, hissing and scurrying across the floor with preternatural speed. “Flath!” Lorathor shouted, throwing himself to the side as Clarcia’s jaw snapped shut inches from his knees.
Armin backed up, staring at her with wide eyes. It was Clarcia. It was Clarcia. She still looked like herself, even unnaturally twisted like this. “Armin!” Lorathor shouted. “Move!”
Clarcia was closing the gap between them. When she got close, her legs folded up over her body. For a moment she was walking on her hands, then her feet finished their arc and touched the floor, pulling her body and head upright in a swift motion. Armin threw up his hands and caught her on the shoulders. She bowled him over as her head twisted back into place. They hit the floor hard, and Armin wheezed as the wind was driven from his lungs.
Clarcia wasn’t impeded. She was snapping her jaw at him, only inches from his face. There was breath coming with the snaps, each one unnatural hot and reeking of the grave. The smell was enough to turn Armin’s stomach. If not for his hands on her shoulders, she would have torn out his jugular in an instant. Even with his hands in placed, her strength was immense. Armin pushed her upwards, and her fingers dug into his arm. Armin screamed as her fingers began to tear deep furrows on his skin.
An arclight beam struck Clarcia in the back of the skull. It blew straight through, and flesh, bone, and brain matter tore from her face. Clarcia didn’t even flinch at the sensation. The jerking motion tore one of her eyes loose, and it dangled from an optic nerve on the side of the head. “Get her off me!” Armin screamed.
A tentacle wrapped around Clarcia’s neck and began to tear her backwards. Armin stared at it in wide eyed horror as more tentacles join the first, grasping and tugging at Clarcia. Scrambling back and rising to his feet, Armin looked at the tableau, trying to process what he was seeing.
Lorathor was gone. Where he had been was some kind of…thing. Tentacles from an octopus attached to a humanoid torso. The tentacles wrapped around Clarcia as she struggled against the bonds. The creature wrapped a tentacle around her throat and wound it up to her forehead, pulling her head back so her jaw wasn’t able to reach the other parts of the thing. “Armin, get out of here!”
That was Lorathor’s voice. Coming from this monstrosity. Lorathor’s voice, and now that Armin looked, he could see the eyes. Yellow and with oddly-shaped pupil.
Armin sat down hard, his knees no longer able to support his weight. It was too much by far. He couldn’t process it. This horror, something out of the depths of both the ocean and nightmare, was entangling the undead being that had once been his friend. Clarcia growled and hissed, snapping at the creature, but unable to find purchase. There were dull plates covering the tentacles, flexing with them, and her fingers could not find purchase on their bulk.
Barely able to think, Armin just kicked his leg, letting the thing that had once been Lorathor hear the clatter of the chain. Lorathor snarled and began to tug hard on the Clarcia zombie.
Armin began to hear the cracking of bones. Clarcia’s struggles became more frantic, and flesh began to tear under the force.
Someone was screaming. Dimly, Armin realized it was him.
As he watched, helpless to do more than scream, Clarcia’s arm came out of its socket. Freed from her shoulder, it started to try and wrap around the thing that had been Lorathor. He – some part of Armin was willing to accept that this thing was, in fact Lorathor, although he could not hope to process how that had happened – brought two free tentacles around to grab onto the flailing arm. Bones crunched under the stress, and then the cracking sound turning into a grinding noise.
When Lorathor tossed that arm free, it was still twitching, trying to move and rejoin the attack. However, he’d shattered every bone in the limb, and it couldn’t do anything but flop uselessly on the floor. Bit by bit, Lorathor started to dismantle Clarcia.
She wasn’t helpless though. Lorathor’s grip would slip at time, and her jaws would find purchase. She bit through the strange armor that shifted with Lorathor’s form, cracking both teeth and plate with the force. Lorathor howled in pain, although Armin couldn’t see anywhere for him to be howling from.
It took nearly a minute. Lorathor tore Clarcia bit to bit. At the end of it, Clarcia had been reduced to a collection of twitching flesh, and Lorathor was bleeding from a dozen wounds. The mass of tentacles retracted and reformed into the Sylvani Armin knew.
“Armin, I can get that chain off you,” he said. Lorathor’s skin was paler than its usual vibrant colors, and he took a step towards Armin.
Armin recoiled from the motion, bringing up his hands. “What…what the flath are you?” he shrieked.
“I’m a Sylvani. We’re shapeshifters, Armin. Remember? You saw me slip through that crack in the tower, even though it was barely an inch wide.”
Armin nodded at the memory.
“I usually don’t go that far out of the form you know,” Lorathor continued. “But I needed to. I’m sorry.”
The words were so normal, Lorathor’s tone so calm, Armin was able to start thinking again. “I…I didn’t know you could do that.”
Lorathor grinned. The expression was strained, and Armin could see pain behind his eyes. “I don’t show it off often. An arcwand or blade is usually a better weapon anyway.” He glanced over at the twitching mess on the floor. “Usually. Who was that?”
“Clarcia” Armin whispered.
Lorathor flinched. “I’m sorry you had to watch that. Come on. Let’s get out of here.” He held his finger up towards the lock on Armin’s shackle. The digit protruded into the lock, and it unclasped like he’d turned a key. “Come on, Armin” he said, offering a hand.
Armin took the hand. “Ossman. Aldredia. They-”
“We’ll get them. But first…pull yourself together. You’ve been through the deepest Shadow. But I know we can pull yourself together. We can’t let Bix and Haradeth fight Theognis alone.”
Armin nodded and took a deep breath. I’m not losing anyone else. The thought was firm and he held it in his head like a drowning man clutching driftwood. “Alright. Let’s go. And while we do…I have two questions.”
“Ask away,” Lorathor said, peering out into the hallway.
“How did you get here, and who the flath is Bix?”
Lorathor smiled. “Would you believe me if I told you those answers went together?” And, without waiting for a response, he started to explain.