His bedside table groaned with the weight of his greaves. Ravyn made a tired note to himself to modify the armor rack next to it to hold leg plates as well. He'd 'salvaged' it from a Snake's base and since those creatures had the lower bodies of serpents, greaves and boots weren't exactly standard options.
He hung his new cloak up, grateful for it in an academic sort of way. He had been told it would be needed in his battles against the Circle of Thorns and while he hadn't actually seen it do anything, he'd also not been affected by any of their truly lethal curses and hexes. Perhaps the cloak had protected him from them, perhaps not. Either way, the full cloak and shoulder cowl seemed to function as advertised.
If that was true, it would be the first bit of honesty he'd received on this whole damn island chain. That was enough for him right now. Simple truth was a rare thing to find these days...
Ravyn closed his eyes as his head hit the pillow. To be fair, there was one other bit of honesty in the Rogue Isles. Much as Lethane disturbed him, the blue elven stalker had never made any pretenses about himself. Leth was what he was, a feral beast with disturbing... but openly admitted... appetites.
Bloodrayn shook his head to clear it. The last thing he wanted to be thinking about before going to sleep was Lethane. That just seemed like a bad idea on so many levels. Desperate to have anything else in his thoughts as he went to sleep, Ravyn reached over on turned on the radio. He'd pulled the beat-up old boombox out of his quarters in Fort Darwin and brought it with him here mostly out of habit. Besides, the thing was bizarre but it was also undeniably helpful...
...in a very annoying way. A lot like Lethane in that way.
Ravyn shook his head again, letting the strains of some female singer he'd never heard before take his mind off his pointy-eared homicidal shadow. She had a nice voice. Not the nicest he'd ever heard, of course, but that honor was held by someone...
A few minutes after Ravyn started snoring, the radio stopped playing music and its dimly glowing, slightly cracked dial flared red. The lights on its age-worn faceplate flickered to life and, even though its antenna had long since been broken off, the signal it was receiving grew considerably stronger.
"And a big hello to all you bad guys and badder gals out there in Villainland! We'll be here all night playing you the top hits from yesterday, today and even tomorrow, counting down the hits and up the charts. Stay tuned for a few old classics too, like this one for the golden days of radio rock. Coming in at number 128, its the Romantics with Talking in Your Sleep!"
The soft sound of Ravyn's snoring faded into the radio's background noise, covered by the music now issuing from its single functioning speaker.
When you close your eyes and you go to sleep...
Ravyn rolled over, groaning as his body settled into even deeper unconsciousness. The bed frame beneath him, reinforced with steel rebar and concrete blocks, creaked under the sudden shift of his now more than four hundred pounds of body mass.
And it's down to the sound of a heartbeat...
One of the radio's side LEDs, long since burned out, started to glimmer. Flashing on and off, it quickly settled into a steady rhythm, slow and constant.
I can hear the things that you're dreaming about...
A soft static crossed over the radio's music, like a second station trying to bleed through. At first, it was just ghostly interference, impossible to make out, but as the song continued, it became more audible.
When you open up your heart and the truth comes out.
The song faded into the background, the second signal now the dominant sound. After a few moments of continued feedback, the new sounds became clearer, more vibrant. Everything could be heard clearly, even ambient sounds in the background. Despite the radio's abused appearance, the signal was crystal clear and perfectly projected, filling the warehouse loft with the sounds of a nightmare...
"Is... is he...?" Anthem's voice was rasping and pained, both from concern and from the agony of her wounds. The scent of charred flesh was thick in the air, most of which was coming from her. Tiny gasps of pain escaped her lips, growing louder as she tried to crawl to Ravyn's side.
Pinned beneath the rubble of a shattered wall, Bulwark could do little to help. "Don't, Ann!" It hurt to speak; at least one rib was in his left lung. "Don't move! You'll only make it worse."
She looked up at her friend, tears streaming down her seared face. "I don't care! I.. I have to see him... have to see if he's... ahhh! See if he's alive." Slowly, agonizingly, she kept moving, dragging herself over the broken stone of the cavern with hideously burned hands. Every inch forward was a new symphony of pain, both figurative and, as her mutant throat transformed each cry of anguish, literal.
"What does it matter?" Tesla could be heard but not seen. Bulwark was partially buried but Telsa was completely covered by what had once been the side of the cave. Their battle with the terrible beast now lying nearby in rivers of its own glowing blood had decimated the landscape and the survivors.
"How... how could you say such a... such a thing!?"
The massive rock slide echoed with a choking cough. "We're all dying, Ann." Another tremulous hack, followed by the sound of crackling bolts of wasted lightning. "He just got there first."
Anthem kept crawling, ignoring the sharp stabs of agony as her tortured skin split open across her palms and legs. "Don't say that! He... he has to... has to be alive." She was so close now, just a few more feet of bleeding effort and she would be with her fallen husband.
Bulwark closed his eyes, unable to watch her hurt herself like this. "Ann, look at him. How could anyone have survived that?" He gestured with his one free arm, pointing to Ravyn's sprawled body. "He took the blow that would have killed us all, Ann." There was terrible regret in his pained voice, especially at the next words. "He's gone. He died to save us."
"No!" Anthem's voice made the cavern shake, her powers active even with her body so ravaged. The rocks covering her teammates trembled and shifted, several shattering into dust and shrapnel or rolling over the mass to fall into the pool of glowing, bestial blood at the base of the landslide.
"Not..." Another cough echoed out of the stones. "Not that it did us any damn good. Nice sacrifice, hero."
Anthem struggled to Ravyn's side, reaching out to touch his face even as she looked up at the cascade of rocks with furious eyes. "How... how could you say that!? You're only alive now... because of him!"
A long chain of choking coughs were Anthem's only answer at first. Then, once the wet noises calmed down, Tesla's scything tone returned. "Yes, great. Just lovely. Even when we're dying you're on his side. We wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for him!" Though his voice was no kinder, it was getting softer. Each breath was obviously becoming harder for Tesla to catch.
Bulwark's rumbling words interjected. "That is unfair, Tes." He tried, and failed again, to free himself from the crushing embrace of the earth. "We all agreed to come down here. You..." Bulwark had to wait for a moment as a sharp pain in his chest threatened to end his words in a scream. When it passed, he continued. "You can't blame him for us being here. If it wasn't for us, this ritual would have succeeded."
A faint, angry crackle send sparks shooting out of the depths of the rockfall. "So what?! So another nameless dark power gets some supplication by some mutant serpent people! We saved a room full of homeless people. Yay! We get to die so a dozen hobos can live to drink on a street corner another day..."
Anthem had all but tuned Tesla out. She was curled against Ravyn's side, clutching him, weeping as much as her burned eyes would allow. Lying beside him, surrounded by the rising tide of the beast's luminous blood, she was oblivious to everything. She felt cold. Alone. Afraid.
Bulwark was not. "Tes, that's enough!" He then spat up a mouthful of blood, his lungs rebelling against his own raised voice. "You know why we had to come down here. If this creature had been fully reborn, it would have given those snake-priests immortality and heralded the end of the world." His last few words were barely more than a whisper. There wasn't long left to him; his pulse was slowing. Everything was getting dark.
"Says who?! Some psychic bitch uptown? Well, you know what?"
"If this big lizard was still alive, I'd let his ass get reborn! Hell, I'd help! I don't want to die, Bul. Do you?!"
"No..." Bulwark sighed, breathing in past lungs that felt aflame. "No, I don't."
In the darkness of the landslide, the crackling light of Tesla's life flickered and dimmed. "I don't, either, big man..." Then, quietly, "Screw Ravyn and screw saving the world. I don't want to die like this."
Bulwark patted the stones near him quietly, consolingly. "Everybody dies, Tes. Try to take comfort in what we've done. We'll be remembered forever, my friend." He coughed up blood again, his lips now soaked. "That's true immortality."
Then, softer, Tesla murmured just loud enough to be heard. "Immortality?"
Bulwark nodded to himself. "Yes, Tes. No one will ever forget the sacrifice we've made today."
The depths of the stone slide glowed a little brighter, the exchange of tiny bolts of electricity within sending out a low rumble of thunder. "Sacrifice." Then, "Bulwark, you're a genius."
Nearby, ignoring everything around her, Anthem pulled herself up to rest on Ravyn's chest and weep. She did not care about the warmth welling in the massive wound across his chest. She did not even notice the heat of the shining blood now cresting over the sides of the rocky plinth beneath them. Nothing mattered now. Nothing at all.
And silently, helplessly, Ravyn laid beneath her. He could hear everything, feel everything... but he could not move. Paralyzed by the force of the dragon's death throe, he was powerless to move. All he could do was rest below a rain of tears and pray that the end would be kind to them all...
The sound of a machine gun on a nearby street corner shook Ravyn out of his sleep. The radio shut off instantly, dials and lights going dark before Ravyn could even see they'd been on. He jumped out of bed and dashed downstairs, hoping that no one innocent had been caught up in one of the gang wars that constant raged outside.
And in the shadows of the loft, crouched in the rafters, Lethane held very still. He had been there since Ravyn laid down. Watching. Thinking.