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Remembrance of the Rot Goddess

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Miquella and Malenia are both the children of a single god.

 

As such, they are both Empyreans, but suffered afflictions from birth. One was cursed with eternal childhood…

 

…and the other harbored rot within.

 

*

 

When she wakes once more, there is nothing but darkness.

 

Breathe, she thinks, forcing her muscles to contract, to shudder. It is a broken sort of movement; one that catches more sand than air. Though she is not of mortal ilk, and therefore difficulty here will not much hinder her, the pain is grounding - and alongside it, she notes, are three critical facts.

 

First - the ribs on her left are crushed from where Radahn bashed her broken form against the spears in his own shoulder, but something even now knits the fractured shards of bone back together into something whole. It is exceedingly painful, but she has survived greater agonies.

 

Second, and worse, is the gaping wound that still resides in the center of her chest, warped metal digging into the edge of the lesion that she cut into her skin with the weight of her own form. Miquella’s blade doesn’t miss, and neither does the blunt end.

 

But worst of all, the third - between the lack of light in the sky, the dry texture of sand on her tongue, and the sweet, cloying smell of ground… something… she knows that she cannot be lying where she fell on the field.

 

Someone must have moved her body after the bloom.

 

Quite a distance, too, for nights in Caelid are not so dark. They spent two days on a forced march through those lands. Though, of course, she has simply not managed to muster the strength to open her eyes, yet.

 

But when she tries, straining to blink, there is too much resistance. More than is reasonable.

 

Far too much, in fact. Her eyelids remain shut.

 

She tries again, fails again, and shifts, biting back a scream as she struggles to maneuver her remaining arm out from under her head to rub at her eyes, but recoils on contact, for the texture is not that of skin, but of lichen and-

 

- her breath hitches in her throat, and she scratches at it, because maybe it will come off, but the marred skin, the disconcerting texture, stays where it is. There is no gauntlet on her flesh hand, and good for it, for when her fingers come away jarringly wet, the damage done is less than it could be otherwise. But it is not, she realizes in dawning horror, just blood staining her hands.

 

The smell, the lingering scent of too-sweet earth and stagnant leaves and spoiled meat…

 

…it’s coming from her.

 

There is no way to avoid it now, because the evidence of it drips down her wrist, turning what little of her stomach has not yet been wrenched from her body by her own blade. The second bloom was worse than the first.

 

Gingerly, she presses a shaking fingertip to the bridge of her nose, and does not feel skin.

 

What has grown over in its place is rough and almost bark-like in texture. Not quite, though, for it is too brittle, like lichen, but long left to the elements. She traces the web of it across the ruins it has made of her eyes, now damp with what rot she’s carved out of the ruined skin along with the blood.

 

She cannot even feel where her eyes were.

 

There is no time to mourn for lost sight. Radahn will be contained, that much is certain - he will not make it far, not after what she’s done, with the rot now boiling his blood as it runs through his very being. The danger now is limited to the old battlefield.

 

…she hopes.

 

Yet, though contained, she cannot guarantee no stragglers remain among his host, and this is a danger for more reason than one. She had her knights take to the field as quickly as possible, only seizing what camps were necessary to ensure they had the freedom at their disposal to make a safe retreat, if she’d needed to order it.

 

(She’d sounded the retreat, shortly before the duel. It was not worth losing her knights when her half-brother was within her capacity to handle. Faith she certainly had in them, but she knows all too well that faith is not always enough.)

 

Caelid is not a safe place to recuperate, but she may not have a choice - 

 

Regardless, she thinks, there are ways around this, senses other than sight. Some of her ilk are better at it than others, but she’s always been keenly attuned to life and death the way that some of her half-siblings can catch the scent of a single drop of blood shed across a castle.

 

And someone must’ve dragged her here, which means there’s either a corpse or living being nearby.

 

It takes some focus, but when the strange, second sight comes, she finds it easier than ever before to parse the intricacies of the sense. Wherever she is, there’s a thick blanket of fungal growth among warped trees and shallow, muddied waters. Corpses aplenty, though not many of her host or Radahn’s.

 

Dead fish on the shores, in the lake, in the dirt. Enough so that her stomach turns.

 

But she does not have long to ponder them, nor the body leaning against the nearby tree, a young woman half-consumed by the violent rot at her side, which eats into her shoulder from where an arm certainly must’ve been, because the sound of battle rings out from barely a few dozen meters away.

 

Some of the sounds are familiar - the edge of a winged spear catching on metal, the scraping of a blade’s edge against the joint of armor, wet footfalls of someone light on their feet but not in their garb.

 

Finlay fights not like a woman possessed, but akin to a well-honed tool, automatic but not unthinking. Maleenia thanks whatever remains of the Greater Will that out of all of them, it was her who lived. Disobedient til the end, for she’d seen that blow Finlay had landed on the Starscourge, and-

 

-she could’ve killed Finlay, in the aftermath. The knight’s spear, small wound as it dealt, was what gave her the opening, in the end. 

 

And yet, Malenia does not call out, thinking better of it, and pauses. It takes a moment of focus and a shuddering breath to sense out what she has remaining in the way of limbs. Finlay, it seems, has recovered her prosthetics, and the act makes her burn with a strange and unknown shame. The port on the left leg is slightly damaged, but Miquella’s work on the extension of the limb itself will hold, so she should be able to fix it with the proper tool.

 

(The blade is beyond warped, but she did not expect, in all honesty, to see it again. Nonetheless, Finlay has left its mangled remnants by her side, the crushed golden fingers only half-attached.)

 

If she could fully sit up, she thinks, perhaps she could manage it. Sitting up, however, is an exercise in trying to turn without aggravating the wound on her chest any more than absolutely necessary. The last thing she wants is a repeat performance.

 

It is eerie to hear Caelid so silent after weeks of battling down through the plains from the north. Even but a day ago, there was more than one mere swordsman fending off several ill-omened creatures. It is strange to hear silence where there were so recently two armies. 

 

But, she forces herself to admit, it is not just the absence of battle that unnerves her so.

 

The fish are not the only dead animals within what strange sense she has in lieu of sight. Turning to lift her head, it becomes quickly clear that the ground is littered with carrion birds, turned carrion themselves. This smell, she can now discern, is a more familiar kind of rot - corpses left to decompose, baked beneath a relentless sun.

 

Shit. Her flesh arm is wounded too, she learns, as it fails to hold her weight when she tries to rise above the elbow - something in an upper muscle isn’t quite right, a torn ligament, a broken-

 

There’s a laugh from the dark, and she flinches, freezing in the middle of the motion at the vague sensation of the presence behind her. The gloomy shape lingers, coalescing into something approximately the size of a large man but not fully tangible.

 

“Some,” the grave voice of Morgott calls, “had hopes for you. Once.”

 

Speaking is still beyond her, for breath requires movement of the lungs, and there is still a deep hole knitting itself back together, tendrils of meat winding amongst themselves like climbing flowers-

 

He makes a discontented noise. “Look,” he mutters, “at what you’ve wrought, sister.”

 

She cannot, and he must know that. But from what little she can glean-

 

-that young woman’s corpse. Another, armored, slumped against the broken shape of a doorframe, in the only remaining wall of what must have once been a shack. Sickly, mold-tainted roots twist around the foundations of old ruins of what was once a lakeside fort. There is no lake left now. Just a swamp.

 

But he’s wrong - she was not the only one who wrought this destruction. Off in the distance, a large shape staggers through the sand, dragging a trail of bodies behind. The rot may not settle calmly amidst the dust, but neither do the meteor fragments.

 

And yet… she cannot stop thinking of the flower petals left in the wake of his footsteps. The battle but five minutes away, and the sickly smell of the blood shed. Finlay’s face, burned into her mind, eyes now overgrown and bleeding-

 

“I,” she coughs out, finally, reaching for the detached prosthetic with the edge of a limb, “have tried-”

 

He does not let her finish. “Effort,” Morgott interrupts, voice entirely detached from sentiment beyond reprimand, “is meaningless in the wake of consequence such as this.”

 

He does not intervene as she struggles to sit, and she is thankful that he, at least, does not comment on the disorder of her person. Perhaps he does not believe it worthy of remark - the bloodied mess of her face, the hole in her chest, the mangled remnants of her armor.

 

“To engage him so was a wilful betrayal,” Morgot says, quietly. “I cannot tell if I hope more for it to be thoughtless or not. What have you made of yourself?”

 

What have any of them? They have all changed, she thinks, since Godfrey fell. Too loud and too silent. 

 

Marika most of all.

 

“More than most,” she mumbles. “You failed to stop him. We both know what would’ve-” 

 

“You,” Morgott interrupts, “have sealed your doom, by stooping to their level. Perhaps even more than that.”

 

She had thought she was too wounded to feel fury. She was wrong. “Do you have,” she mumbles, “ anything to offer beyond criticism, brother ?”

 

Morgott makes a solemn noise. “You make the same mistake as the rest of our lot, bar one.”

 

“You exempt yourself from that. Do you exempt-”

 

“She,” her half-brother cuts in, “has forsaken us, little Malenia. There will be no winner, when the dust has settled. There is no going back. Your father’s place at her side will be claimed by none other.”

 

You exempt yourself undeservingly ,” she all but spits. “You and your-”

 

“-careful,” Morgott interrupts. “Of you all, he alone never strove against mother’s-”

 

“-she’s left, ” Malenia cuts back in. “You are not wrong, in that she has forsaken us. Do not attempt to beguile me into believing that you hold her in any sort of esteem.”

 

Morgott sighs. It’s a heavy noise, and the weight of it makes her burn inside, because it’s almost pity, and she cannot abide that. “Perhaps,” Morgott says, with a quiet hum. “There is merit to the vision she had. One free of ambition, bar stability. One I seek to honor.”

 

She has nothing left to say to that. 

 

“And one you have failed to realize,” Morgott finishes.

 

The quiet king of Leyndell stands in the wake of the ruin she wrought. In the distance, Radahn roars - a ragged noise, with none to answer him save for an army and a half reduced to meat, blood soaking the sand. Limgrave is littered with the damn things - broken corpses and roaring kings - from the whelp’s fool attempt at grasping beyond his own nature, hand after reaching hand. 

 

“I would tell you to give regards to your brother,” Morgott starts, quietly, but she does not let him finish this time.

 

“I have nothing,” she says, tempering her voice insofar as she is able, “to say to yours.”

 

A shake of his head. “Perhaps,” Morgott begins, coldly, “you are more the ill omen than I. Ruin of us all, in the end.”

 

There is a shout from beyond, followed by the splash of steel in shallow water. Finlay has finished, and has not the sense to stay away. The conversation must end soon.

 

“Do you want,” Malenia starts, letting the bitterness seep into her voice, for the fault in this all is Morgott’s as well as her own, “to test that theory of yours?”

 

But he merely shakes his head.

 

“Caelid can hardly bear the burden of the third, can it?” 

 

“Besides,” he says quietly, eyes fixed on the approaching knight, “I have not come solely to berate you for your sins. I come bearing ill-portents.”

 

“When do you not?” she retorts. “Keep them to yourself.”

 

“You are smarter than that, Malenia,” he retorts, coolly. “The branch rots. The curse has cut the scion from the center of the offshoot. You will find no solace upon your return.”

 

It is what he came here to say, she thinks, bearing the pain no mind as she rises on one bloodied stump, coming to kneel on the jagged edge of warped metal in one swift, only half-broken motion to grab at his robes. Even she cannot tell if she seeks to strike him or throttle him, because either way he deserves it, for thus speaking about Miquella-

 

Because only one creature would dare to do such a thing, to waltz into their home in her absence in complete disregard of all propriety to carve a piece from the Haligtree, and knowing Miquella-

 

“To command death,” Morgott continues, infuriating in what little explanation he deigns to give, “is not in the child’s nature.”

 

“It is that of my guards-”

 

“-And for that,” he replies, bitterly, “nothing will come of the union but the sorrow innate to them both.”

 

A hand - not his - on the joint of her broken shoulder. Finlay attempts to help her upright, but her knight struggles under the weight of her movement as Malenia lunges for him, cursing. 

 

“I take my leave, Severed,” Morgott says, with icy politeness, as Finlay stares at him in a combination of shock and awe, having finally put the pieces together. “But I caution you, child. I find you so easily led. Let it not be your downfall a third time.”

 

She grabs for him a third and final time. There is a burst of pain in her chest, Finlay’s fingers digging into the shoulder she can still feel, and then there is nothing much at all.