A number of hours had already passed since Eros had left to go hunting for meat, and it was nearing sunset as Kennina made her way up the hill towards the little makeshift grave.
The mist on the ground had already begun to thicken from silver to white as she reached the top, the temperatures starting to drop as the sun began dipping below the mountainous horizon but her new winter clothing did a good job of keeping her warm though her claw blades chilled her hands where she held them close.
It was a distant numbing cold which began radiating up through her knees as she knelt in the snow before the hand-made marker.
“I haven’t found him yet, but I’m trying; he’s still looking.” She told it quietly, reaching out with one ungloved hand to run her fingers over the rough hewn names. “No body was found, so I know he’s still alive. I will find him, Abban. I’ll find him and I’ll protect him.”
The sudden snap of a branch made her go momentarily rigid before she leapt to her feet and whirled around with weapons at the ready. the undergrowth heaved and jolted as something big moved through it towards her; with the sun well into setting now and evening stretching itself out across the forest to sleep it was a real possibility that what lurked in the snowy darkness was a Malformed.
Kennina braced for attack as the figure came into view only to have it promptly trip over a dead vine which had coiled itself around its ankles and go sprawling forwards about a yard away, giving her more than enough time to register the carrot-toned hair riddle with twigs and branches and the shredded hunter gear that it was dressed in.
“Seoirse!” Relief flooded through her at the sight of her friend. Relaxing from his coiled position, she took a step towards him only to have him recoil with an almost inhuman yowl.
“Nae! Stay back Yankee Rose! I...I...I can’t control myself an’ I don’t trust tha’ I won’t bite ya!”
“Bite me? What are you talking about, you’re fine! A little cut up, it looks like, but you’re going to be-.”
“Fine? Kennina, I appreciate your optimism, I do, but it’s too late; I ran an’ they cornered me. Fought the best I could but there were too many o’ them. I was bitten.” Seoirse raised his head then, and she couldn’t stop herself from leaping backwards with a shriek of surprize nearly tripping on the gravestone behind her and tumbling over the crest of the hill. His hands had been reduced to clawed talons, skin sallow and stretched tight over the bones of his once handsome face, ears sharply pointed and fang-filled mouth spilling bloody drool. One of his eyes had reverted to being completely red, only the pupil and the thinnest sliver of blue remaining in the other. “I held out for a day or so, bu’ I couldn’ keep the change a’ bay forever, my body went first. Now my mind is followin’ suit.” His voice was strained, every syllable forced out through the virus that he struggled with for control. “I’m glad tha’ I found ya’ when I did. Ya have ta help me, Yankee Rose. Kill me. Kill me before I completely become one of them; let me have at least something of a human death.”
Kill him? Was he crazy. “No.” He was her teammate. Her friend. Abban’s younger brother and the 4th in his class; the constantly laughing over boisterous and rarely not smiling Seoirse. “No. I can’t. I won’t.” He wouldn’t become a monster. He couldn’t. She wouldn’t let him. “Seoirse, there’s a cure! There’s a cabin at this bottom of this hill! The man who lives there, he gave me something that saved me after I was bitten. If you drink it-.”
“It can’t help him. Not now. It’s too late.” Eros’ face was grim as he reached the top of the hill, his eyes locked on Seoirse’s trembling form. “What I gave you is not a cure, it simply prevents the infection from taking hold. It doesn’t reverse it; nothing can. As I told you earlier, the only salvation for those damned to life as an Apelat is death.” His gaze shifted onto her now, colder than anything she’d ever seen before and as immovable as stone. “Give him what he’s asked you for.”
“No! No, I am not killing him! There has to be something else! Some other way!”
“Please Kennina! I promise you tha’ you’d ask me for the same thing if our positions were switched! It’s be hard, but I’d do it for you!”
“He’s asking you for a final favor. A human death. Would you dishonor a man you call your friend by allowing him to become the very thing that he hates-that he’s fought all his life-just so that your hands can remain free of blood?”
“I won’t do it! Make the cure! Help him!”
“I already told you, it can’t help him. not anymore. Now, Leoaică, grant his wish.” But she shook her head and didn’t move. “Very well,” reaching down to his belt, Eros drew his six inch hunting blade. “If you won’t do it, I will.”
“Eros, no! Please! You can’t!” She threw herself at him but Eros easily shook her off, tossing her down into the snow with enough force to leave her dazed and winded. Kennina was forced to lay helplessly in the snow fighting to catch her breath as he came to stand over Seoirse’s kneeling form.
Rather than strike immediately, Eros held out a hand to help him up. “Stand up. If not in battle, a warrior should at least die on their feet.” A momentary pause before the other reached out with a taloned hand, allowing his executioner to pull him upright. “Be thankful that your curse is escapable through death. Pity me, for mine is not.” The blade slid through flesh with terrible ease, blood pouring down over his fingers to glove his hand in red. Seoirse’s knee’s gave out, the blonde supporting the other man as his full weight collapsed against him.
“Thank you.” The color went out of his eyes.
Eros lowered the body to the ground, crossing his arms over his chest before leaving it to dissolve. Rising to his feet, he turned towards her to find Kennina’s face soaked with tears. “It’s harder when you knew them, but we both know that that was what was best for all of us. Best for him, most especially.”
“Best for him?” she hissed, leaping to her feet and hurling handfuls of snow at him. “You murdered him! He was still human! We could have saved him you bastard! You’re nothing but a monster!” Kennina turned and fled down the hill towards the cabin and Eros watched her go before lowering his gaze to his blood soaked hand, still clutching the knife.
If only you knew just how right you were.