DUM-DUM-DAAAAAHHHH! *cue scary organ music*
Previously: If It Moves We Can Kill It
Merrill wrenches open the door to her house with so much force that it slams against the outer wall, sending debris clattering off the roof tiles. She disappears inside without looking back.
Carver does not follow. He always knew that Merrill’s oh-so-confused act was mostly that: an act, a mask, a way to hold the world at arm’s length — for whatever reason, he didn’t pry. But this fury, this violence – he’s never seen her before quite like this, roaring about like a sleeping dragon awakened –although perhaps, deep down, he’s not as surprised by it as he should be.
Eventually Merrill returns, two objects in hand. One is her staff. The other – “Is this one of your table legs?”
Merrill nods, offering Carver the ill-carved block of wood. “Sorry it’s not a sword. It’s the best I could do, given the circumstances.”
Carver thinks of the heavy oak table he and Garrett once secreted from the trash heap outside The Hanged Man—the one they’d chosen for Merrill’s new home specifically because its legs had looked so solid. “But how did you…“
Merrill shrugs unapologetically. “I broke it off.”
Carver’s eyes widen. “Ah.”
If she notices his surprise, Merrill is too preoccupied to register it. “Ready?”
Carver nods silently, and together, they walk back to the alleyway.
When they arrive at the sewer grate, however, Carver’s heart skips. The rusty iron grate is wide open, the unlatched lock sitting primly on a crate a few feet away.
Merrill spits something foul-sounding in Elven.
“I don’t understand,” says Carver, voice rising. He tugs at his hair. “We locked it from the outside. I remember locking it. You saw me lock it.”
“Well, someone unlocked it,” she grumbles. “Obviously.”
Without hesitation, Merrill starts down the narrow staircase. But she hasn’t descended more than two steps when something scrabbles against the roof tiles above.
They both freeze. Meeting Merrill’s eyes, Carver points a finger upward. She nods. Slowly she raises her staff, the dimly glowing talisman at the top casting pale illumination on the rooftops.
In the feeble light, a set of sharp teeth gleam.
Merrill moves first, shooting a bright bolt of spirit lightning at the glinting teeth. The bolt hits the creature and it screeches. Fingers twitching, it loses its grip on the rooftop and plummets to the alleyway dirt below.
“Good shot,” Carver can’t help but call out. In response, Merrill offers a tight, humorless smirk.
When the creature hits the ground, however, it regains its footing immediately, skittering toward the place from which it heard Carver’s voice. Carver brandishes his table leg, ready.
Merrill shoots another bolt, catching it in its flank. A black burn tears into the creature’s leathery skin, ripping it apart as easily knife through paper. This time, however, the thing does not stop; it simply continues its charge toward Carver.
The creature leaps. Wildly, Carver swings the table leg. Wood connects with flesh, knocking the creature against the alley wall. It slides down, cracks blooming in the clay wall from the impact.
The creature snarls, shaking its head, and lunges again.
Carver tries to bring the table leg up again, but the thing is too near, and the creature lands on his chest, the force pushing them both to the ground. Merrill shouts his name as dagger-like teeth sink into his shoulder. Carver roars in pain.
Carver punches the thing, again and again, on its side, on its hands, on its eye sockets. But it does not flinch, nor remove its teeth. Instead, Carver feels a long, slick tongue dart out and lap against his skin, licking his blood, tasting it, savoring it.
Carver shudders in revulsion and doesn’t stop to think, just closes his eyes and murmurs a quick prayer, the first one he can think of, a Holy Smite.
Above him, the creature goes limp.
Merrill then unleashes a barrage of spirit lightning, blasting the creature off him; Carver groans as the teeth rip from his shoulder. The creature, however, does not move or react from the blows, even as its skin blackens and curls away from the muscle. It remains as limp as a rag-doll.
Carver unsteadily regains his feet, hand to his ruined shoulder, as Merrill continues to throw lightning at the thing. The creature’s skin turns black and pulpy. Bits of flesh and bone begin to fly off. And still it does not move.
“Merrill,” Carver gasps. “I think it’s dead.”
She pauses, eyeing the creature.
It does not move.
She shoots another blast of lightning at it.
It still does not move.
She walks up to it and, after a moment’s careful inspection, rams her staff through its battered head, cracking the bone.
It does not move.
Finally satisfied, Merrill turns to him, her expression tight and contorted. When she sees his shoulder, however, the tension melts away, and she limps over to him.
“Are you alright?” she gasps, hands hovering above his shoulder.
Carver nods. He rolls his arm, testing the wound, and winces. Those teeth were longer than they seemed.
“I’ll be fine,” he grits. Then he forces a smile. “Maker, Merrill. You’re right scary when you’re angry.”
She smiles up at him. “I know. Let’s get you to Anders.”
Then from the still open sewer grate comes a tired groan. Startled, Carver yanks Merrill behind a stack of crates.
A robed man emerges from the stairwell. A hood obscures most of his face, but Carver sees a flash of grey hair, a long, aquiline nose, high cheekbones. In one of his hands is a small canvas sack; the other clutches a worn, unadorned staff.
Carver’s heart sinks. A mage.
The man notices the pulpy, broken creature crumpled against the alley wall, and, for a moment, he goes very, very still. Then he flicks his fingers, and the heavy sewer grate closes without so much as a whisper. He sprints down the alley away from Carver and Merrill, disappearing behind a corner
The two scamper out from behind the crates and give chase, but when Carver turns the corner, the man has already vanished.
Huffing, Merrill turns to Carver. “Friend of yours?”
Carver shakes his head.
“Never seen him before. He’s not one of ours,” he mutters, eyes narrowing.
Merrill swears again in Elven.
“The robes, though, those I do recognize,” adds Carver. “Starkhaven colors.”