Part 1 - The Path to Reunion

"Have ye no worries." The elder vulpin smirked as he chewed the last of his fish stew. The fox-man's red fur flickered brightly in the tavern light as candles reflected off his shiny teeth. He was speaking in the lupin language to a younger vulpin, a grimy and unkempt boy, who nodded in needless acknowledgement to everything his master said. "He be as rich as a fool, and as stupid too. Why, if we don't slip out of his home without a single copper between us, then that would be the crime!"
"But master will flog us if we fail."
"We won't fail, boy!" The vulpin cackled and sipped his wine. "I am Aurnos! The greatest vulpin thief in the world! And you, you are my apprentice Tassa. You simply cannot fail with you by my side."
"I suppose so, m'lord, but..."
"But what, boy?"
"Those flatfoots?" Aurnos snorted and laughed at the same time. "My boy, I have been evading sentinels since before you were born! It will be but a simple task of walking in, pocketing the loot, and leaving..." He leaned across the table and patted Tassa on the back of his hand. "No worries, the sentinels are of no concern to us. We just walk in, and we walk out..."

 The prisons of Scarrowfell reminded Schrau far too much of home, while the bulky Black Guards that stood sentry over the place reminded him of far too many brawls and battles to keep one's body in perfect condition. The junior sentinel would not be here had it not been due to circumstance.
The muridan head warden looked up at him as he stepped into the dingy jail and grinned wickedly, having previously been occupied with reading papers by the light of a single candle. He was a greying twig of a rodent, with a smirk that just begged for one to flatten his nose by an inch or two. "Ah, sentinel. I see you got our message."
Schrau sighed. "Of course."
The muridan nodded once and narrowed his eyes. "Well then, brave son of Welstar, it seems that your kind have been causing some distress for us."
Schrau noted how the warden pronounced 'Welstar' as if the word caused a dagger to be twisted into his belly. The truth was probably not that far removed from Schrau's thoughts, and if the warden continued with his attitude then the vulpin would almost like to test the theory of what the warden would sound like if he did indeed have a blade stuck into his guts.
Schrau was peacefully investigating an underground tower, a magnificent sight of malevolence, when he had been summoned to Scarrowfell to deal with a pair of thieves. Though the thieves were currently incarcerated in Scarrowfell, the warden had decided that he didn't want 'them shedding hairs in my cell' and had summoned the aid of the sentinel guild to take them elsewhere.
Ideally, the sentinel should have been more experienced, or at least a deputy, but Schrau was currently the only sentinel on Perdow and, conveniently, a vulpin.
"The report, if you are to be so kind." Schrau demanded.
The muridan's whiskers twitched. "I have already dispatched a runner to Limbo to present the Chief Justice with a copy of the report, child. It is your duty to deliver the criminals."
Schrau theatrically licked his thumb and forefinger before snuffing the candle with equal drama. The smell of singed fur drifted along the room, and Schrau was not immune to the pain, but the sentinel did not show any pain else he'd have to find a bag which to take his teeth home in. The point he made was simple, a reminder of how Welstar had stolen Perdow's light and in a way that was never likely to change.
The warden sighed and rummaged through the papers, drawing out a slim slip of creamy paper. Schrau smiled and took the report from his fingers.
"Oh my," The sentinel gasped in shock as he began reading the report. "Such a pair of dangerous thieves. They murdered five guards on their way in?"
"According to Baxter's chief guard, yes."
Schrau had met Lord Baxter; met him in a professional capacity as hired mediator in a lengthy property rights case and did not care much for the man, who was simply stupid and arrogant. Schrau had also met with the entirety of Baxter's in-house guard staff.
"Warden, Baxter's security detair is comprised of a xodar, an ettin, and a human who is the chief guard - Do you expect me to accept this, or did Baxter hire another three guards since I met the man?"
He berated himself for getting angry, all he had to do was shackle the pair and bring them - Kicking and screaming if necessary - To the sentinel guildhall. However, it was clear that Baxter and the warden was not exactly playing with a pair of straight dice. "So, a pair of thieves break into Baxter's mansion, murder five guards, and make off with a grand sum of..."
The warden sighed, fully aware as to what the sentinel was hinting at. Next time a pair of thieves were to be brought to him, he was going to hang them straight away if it meant he didn't have to deal with difficult vulpins. "Five hundred and seventy three in gold."
Schrau nodded and idly noted the fact that he was being paid less than that a week. But still... "Anything about that story that strikes you as odd?" Before the warden could reply, he said; "Right, take me to them now."
"We will bring them out now." The warden nodded to a pile of metal that Schrau had taken for a gilded statue but was in fact very much alive.
"That is not what I said, warden. Take me to them."
"Fine!" The muridan said, exasperated. "Leave your weapons here, and Stanley will take you to them."
"I'd feer much more comfortabre with them, thank you very much." Which was fairly true, the sentinel guild enforced a policy of stepping out armed to the hilt even if going down to the general store for a fresh tinderbox. Death awaited around every corner, it was said. Besides, Schrau didn't necessarily trust the warden to keep his weapons safe, and he also kept the matched pair of swords strapped on his back so securely that it would take several uncomfortable minutes to relinquish them.
"As you wish," He muttered through clenched teeth. "Stanley will take you to their cell. The Chief Justice will hear about this..." The muridan warned.
"Why not get Baxter's chief guard to write the report for you?" The sentinel replied as Stanley escorted him down the corridor towards the cells.
If you could have dressed a mountain in full metal plate armour and forced it to carry a sword that would make the average Fellblade feel inadequate about its status as a weapon, then you would get something approximately like Stanley. Since nearly every single distinguishing feature was hidden beneath metal, Schrau could only guess as to what species the guard was, though odds were pretty long in him being a vulpin. Still, Stanley would be useful in a jailbreak, since he could just stand in the corridor and block the way for anything larger than an atomy.
After several minutes of clanking down the corridor with the noise of a hephastian being pushed off a cliff, the guard and sentinel stopped at a door and Stanley produced a key from somewhere.
Even though it was a heavy-duty key, it still looked ridiculously tiny in Stanley's gauntleted fist. Schrau was reminded of thoughts of an insect tending to her eggs as the man-mountain unlocked the door, and yet he managed it much more delicately.
With a single push, the door swung open and Stanley stepped aside to allow Schrau into the cell. Schrau, a longtime study of various holding cells over the years made an immediate check for the chamber pot. It was there, almost hidden beneath the cot along the one side of the room. He stepped into the cell free of the fear of a soon-to-be escapee perched above the lintel waiting for the opportunity to bash his head in with the said chamber pot. He made a mental note to teach that important detail to his grandchildren, if he lived that long.
The youngest of the two vulpin thieves sat, curled up in the corner of the cot covered in a grey scrap of a blanket and shivering. If Schrau could believe the story of the five dead guards, then it was clear that the young vulpin's partner had done all the work. The child probably barely knew how to use a dagger properly. The eldest vulpin was standing in the fetid corner, mumbling to himself, berating his poor fortune and blaming everyone but himself.
"Right then, lads." Schrau said in the lupine tongue. "Let's be 'aving you."
The youngest vulpin merely doubled up in fright. The edges of his being appeared permanently blurred as he shivered. The eldest vulpin sighed, threw his head back, and began to turn. "A bloody sentinel, that's all we fu-"
His gaze met Schrau's and his eyes widened. Schrau felt his jaw drop.
"As I live and breathe..." The thief muttered.
"Stan, take the boy and wait for us outside." Schrau ordered without looking sideways. With an unusual grace, the guard entered the cell without even having to bump the sentinel out of the way and moved towards the boy, shackles in hand.
The child tried to force himself deeper into the corner, eyes wide with fright.
"Go with the nice... Thing," The elder thief said. "Don't worry Tassa, things are going to be fine..."
The boy still shivered in fright, but allowed Stanley to shackle him and lead him out.
The sentinel slowly shook his head and whispered, "Well, this is a fine coincidence..."
"Indeed. Still..." The thief quietly said, before spreading his arms wide. "Schrau! It's a miracle to see you again!"
"You too, Casna!" Schrau replied, stepping forward to hug the thief. "Casna Aurnos, it's been a long time!"
"Far too long, boy!" They disengaged and stepped back. "So, you managed to escape from that pit, or did Aldar suddenly go stupid and sell a vulpin to the sentinel guild?"
"I-" Schrau began, before his face fell. "Aldar is dead, I killed him."
"Well, that's a small mercy, but-"
"But he killed everyone." Schrau quietly said. "Everyone's gone."
Casna blinked slowly twice, his jaw slackening. "Everyone?"
Schrau nodded. "All gone..."
"But... But..." Casna shook his head. "So it's just us?"
"No." Schrau heavily sighed, before continuing. "No. Aldar had sold a fair few slaves, I'm looking for them." He forced a smile. "I remember that you and Sroush were sold to the same person. How is he doing?"
"Dead, my boy." Casna sniffed disdainfully, making clear that he and Sroush had not been the best of allies. "He likened him to be the greatest vulpin thief in all the universe. A vault guard disagreed quite violently. Master was quite upset."
"Of course." Schrau nodded. "And I seemed to remember that you had designs on being the greatest vulpin thief there is. How is that going?"
"I'm afraid I may have to retire, my boy."
"Hah! I'm afraid so!" Schrau produced a pair of shackles and glanced once, apologetically, at Casna. "Unfortunately, though the report written about the incident is without a doubt a fallacy, the fact that you and your apprentice were caught red-handed cannot be disputed. I'll have to take you to the Sentinel Headquarters on Wysoom, present you to the Chief Justice, and allow him to hear the details of your case."
Casna said nothing as Schrau shackled him, though the memory of such bindings back in the slave den stabbed deeply at his heart. "So... You're looking for the rest of our people?"
"I am."
"I can help." Casna pleaded.
Schrau shook his head. "No, you can't."
The elder vulpin grinned widely. "Oh, but I can my boy. All I need is for you to help me..."
Schrau sighed and began to lead the thief out of the cell. "Casna, if you're asking me to get you off this charge-"
"Could you?" He interrupted, with more than a hint of hope in his voice.
"No. No, I can't. The Chief Justice already has the report, or will do when he staggers out of bed this Wysoom morn, and he will expect to see me bring a pair of vulpin thieves to him."
"But Schrau!" Casna's voice descended into an unbecoming whine. "If not for me, then for the boy and for our people!"
Schrau sagged. "I'm sorry. But..."
"But? But what?"
"Would you turn in your master?"
"Would that help?"
Schrau nodded. "It won't save you from justice, but it will put you in a favourable light. I could also draw from the obvious inaccuracies in Baxter's report, and I have no doubt with your cooperation that you will receive a significantly reduced sentence."
"Ah, well then. Honour amongst thieves and all that, but..." Casna sniffed, tried to rub his nose but nearly punched himself out with his other hand as it was dragged up by the bond to the other. "I never liked the fool anyway... A rather decrepit vampire named Ustov be his name. Very old, very stupid, has many a contact with the old families of the universe."
"Old families?" Schrau asked with interest, realising that they had reached the front office. Without a further word, he nodded to the warden who nodded to a guard who pushed the boy into his path. Without breaking stride, Schrau placed a hand on the pup's shoulder and led him towards the door.
"Aye. The old muridan families here and the jinn clans of Raji mainly, though he does often bend the ear of others - Lupine packs of Perdow, dragonian clans of Sosel, even some-"
"Dragonian clans?" Schrau asked. "Interesting... I think I should have a word with this Ustov personally..."

Part 2 - The Path to Meeting

"I am sorry." The servant wheezed, "but my master isn't seeing any visitors today."
Schrau shivered and drew his travelling cloak around him tightly. It was almost an unwritten law that dark vampire lords build their mansions high up in the mountains, and Ustov's estate high above Scarrowfell was no exception. They did it almost everywhere, even on planets that did have sunshine where the only thing obscuring the vampire from searing sunbeams were clouds. Schrau glances up, it was noon on Perdow, and he could clearly see his homeworld eclipsing the sun high above.
In the words of the great vulpin philosipher, Dasna, in his written works "The Shadow World" - "I could see my house from down here."
"I am here on officiar business." Schrau repeated for the umpteenth time. "Now, your master has the choice of seeing one sentiner sergeant, or a dozen deputies. Which do you think he would prefer?"
"I'm sorry, but it's not your business to speak for my master's state of mind." The humanoid was thin and exceedingly pale even in this light. Schrau wasn't sure if the servant was human, vampire, or something else entirely.
He reached over his shoulder and gripped the hilt of one of the Glammring blades he wore, and the temperature dropped a further few degrees. "Then maybe I should make it my business." Schrau said through clenched teeth.
The servant smiled and withdrew. "Good day, sergeant." And the door slammed shut.
Schrau stood there, hand still on sword and staring at the huge chateau like an idiot. "I have orders!" He bellowed, releasing his sword and smiling in relief as a warm breeze passed over him. "I'rr be back!"
Studying the walls of the castle, the sentinel began formulating a foolproof plan on how to get into the building. Compared to the grand palace of sultan Odie on Raji, it would be a snap. In five minutes he'd be standing over Ustov and beating a confession out of the vampire. Easy as falling off a log.

The thuul reminded Schrau of Stanley, the prison guard back in Scarrowfell except with more spikes and a less cheerful attitude. Standing just before him in the doorway was the servant Schrau had met earlier.
"Impressive, sentinel. No doubt we will be sending a message to your superiors highlighting how ingenious and cunning you are."
Schrau smiled, "You praise me too werr."
"Nevertheless, it will be a long time before we release you."
Schrau sighed. "Don't you want to know how I got in?"
"Frankly, no." The servant said as he withdrew, slamming the door shut behind him.
Schrau glanced around the room, then at the shackles around his wrist. "Okay, so maybe it wasn't as ingenious as I thought." He mumbled to himself. "I shouldn't have fallen off that log..."
Well, the shackles would be a trivial matter. An experienced raccoon could pick them open, but the thuul on the other side of the door would be a significant problem. Separated from his equipment, Schrau stood no chance of taking down the massive guard. Even with his swords it would be a near-impossible chance. Schrau kicked the chamber pot beneath his cot and was rewarded with the scrape of hardened clay - Again, useless. With a metal pot at least he could probably cause a few dents in the guard's thick skull before it broke.
With a small sigh, the vulpin produced a few thin scraps of metal that had been hidden in a small and almost undetectable pocket in the lining of his coat. So simple, if Schrau had been in charge of the incarceration details in this place, he'd do a bloody good job of it. A few seconds later, the iron shackles popped off his wrists.
Rubbing the worn patches of fur at his wrists, a testament to years spent a prisoner, Schrau began the lengthy process of finalising his escape. First, he thought of what was without a shadow of a doubt the most insane, daring, and foolhardy plan he could think of. With that in place, he began altering small variables such as the reactions of others, possible errors, and the fact that he wasn't an insane mage with enough powers to wipe Perdow's presence from the universe. The third stage was a further round of fine-tuning, as was the fourth.
Eventually, he formulated a plan that was not insane, daring, and foolhardy but also much less likely to see his head stuffed and mounted above Ustov's fireplace. Rolling his shoulders to ease the tension, Schrau took one brave step towards the door.

One blade lodged in his ribs, and the other pressed against his thin throat, Lord Ustov stared at his assailant with a wide-eyed terror that was quite unbecoming for a lord of the night.
"Tell me, why is it that I'm not snapping your neck at this moment?" The vampire asked.
Schrau smiled. "Because if you did, you wirr be unabre to escape sentiner justice. We rook after our own, Ustov."
"Lord Ustov." Ustov corrected.
Schrau smiled and repeated the word "rord" several times in a childlike manner.
"Oh, very well. Your kind do so annoy me."
"Sentiners or vurpins?" Schrau asked, but didn't allow him to answer. "Werr, Ustov, I think it's time we talked."
"About what?"
"First, two thieves under your emproy were arrested and detained by Scarrowferr's Brack Guard, whereupon they handed responsibirity to the sentiner guird." Schrau paused to catch his breath, and to allow Ustov enough time to mentally slot the correct words into his mangled language. "Fortunatery, the sum they acquired from Rord Baxter was recovered, however as their emproyer you are responsibre for severar other costs: In specific, compensation for the ross of severar guards, as werr as generar compensation and a standard fee to both the Brack Guards and the sentiner guird. Respectivery, five thousand gord pieces, twenty-five thousand gord, eight thousand gord, and six thousand."
"Baxter is a fool." Ustov snarled.
"Soon to be a richer foor at your expense." Schrau added, vaguely aware that he was charging Ustov for the deaths of five guards that certainly had never existed. Sometimes, Scarrowfell justice could be distinctly fulfilling.
"Secondry," Schrau continued, "You have hitherto been charged with irregarry detaining a sentiner sergeant. Depending on how a court of raw would find the case, an offence which is punishabre with five years incarceration, or a payment of eighteen thousand gord, three of which to the sentiner, five thousand for court fees, and the rest directry to the sentiner guird."
"You trespassed on my- Ah!"
Schrau had twisted the blade stuck in the vampire's skinny ribs, feeling the scrape of bone on metal. "You'rr survive." He told him. "And I was here on officiar sentiner business, viz: Charging you with the actions of your two thieves which I notice you have not denied any responsibirity of or for."
That mail-order course in legalese was certainly paying for itself.
"Oh, all the lords of these lands retain thieves." Ustov snorted. "I was merely stealing back what Baxter stole from me last month."
"I know, but Baxter's thieves weren't caught." Schrau smiled. "Yours were, and justice must be served at any cost." His grin faded and he pressed the blade tighter into Ustov's throat, twisting it slightly so the edge drew the thin substance that Ustov called blood. "Third, something personar for me. I've heard that you have contacts with many ord famiries and crans of this universe..."
"Crans?" Ustov repeated.
"Crans! Crans!" Schrau emphasised.
"Oh, clans, well?" Venom flared in Ustov's eyes. "What do you want?"
"Kuroryu." Schrau whispered. "I want to find them."
"Kuroryu..." Ustov quietly repeated. "Ah, I remember. Dragonian clan, pathologically insane cannibals, some scandal a year or so back. Youngest son left the family unit and joined the Fallen..."
Schrau gave neither confirmation or correction.
"I'm sorry." Ustov muttered. "I do know of the Kuroryu clan, but I don't deal with them directly."
"But you do dear with them?" Schrau pressed.
Ustov tried to nod. "We trade. My gold for prisoners or slaves that Kuroryu has grown tired of but hasn't eaten yet."
"I deal with a middleman, a broker, a quite disgusting werewolf known as Astane Tasna. Find her, and find your precious Kuroryu clan." Ustov spat.
"Isn't it bad form to revear the identity of your middreman to a sentiner?" Schrau teased. "Not pranning on dearing with Kuroryu ever again?"
"Perhaps, maybe after we've all had a chuckle about your grisly demise at Tasna's jaws." Ustov grinned. "You'll also note that I haven't told you where to find her."
"True." Schrau conceded. "Stirr, I enjoy a charrenge."
"Good." Ustov nodded, before vanishing into mist. Schrau fell forward, grazing his cheek on the blade that had been on Ustov's throat. "The money for Baxter's 'compensation' will await you on your way out. Now leave here, before I lose my patience." Ustov's disembodied voice returned.
Schrau rested one blade on his shoulder, the other's point bouncing on the floor. "Okay. But the sentiners wirr be back to bring you in for rocking me up..."
"I look forward to it."

Part 3 - The Path to Death

"A sentinel has been looking for you."
Astane Tasna stopped, a mug of ale half way to her lips, and she looked up and glared at the informant. "Ustov! That bastard..."
The informant shrugged his shoulders. "Perhaps. Watch yourself, my lady."
Astane growled and downed her drink in one gulp, twin streams of beer running down from the corners of her mouth. In her human form, Astane had many qualities that those lowly simians would believe to be striking. Her cheekbones were high and her eyes cold, and a long head of silver hair flowing down her back. "This sentinel, who is he?"
"A lowly sergeant." Tor whispered. "Vulpin." The human grinned. "If circumstances were different you would no doubt be-"
"Still thy tongue." Astane snarled.
"Anyway, he's been asking questions and greasing palms. He seems quite interested in you, my lady."
"Thanks." Astane said as she rose from her seat. "I'm out of here, time to lose that nosy runt, and then I'll make Ustov wish he was dead. Again."
The werewolf burst out of the bar, and ran past the Tree of the Dead. She lost herself among the alleys and passages of Scarrowfell before stopping and concentrating.
She shifted. Silver hair growing across her body, her mouth elongating into a muzzle, and vicious claws and teeth sprouting.
Astane shook her head to clear the minor disorientation. When her senses fully returned she became aware of sarcastic clapping behind her. Spinning on heel, she saw a vulpin slowly applauding her in the mouth of the alley.
A scruffy green jacket, circlet, badge. It could only be the sentinel that Tor had warned her about.
"Well, well, well. Ustov told me you'd be hard to find." The sentinel mumbled. "He was wrong, it's amazing what money will buy."
"Tor told me you had been buying information." Astane confirmed. "It must have cost you a pretty penny."
"Actually, I only had to bribe two people." The sentinel grinned. "One to find out who was the local informer of the criminal element was..."
"...And with that knowledge in hand, you knew who to bribe next." Astane said, smiling. It was easy to smile in this situation, all she had to do was imagine Tor lying in the gutter, strangled by his own intestines. "So, now you've found me, I'd like to know which sentinel I'm about to kill."
"Schrau Cadnos, at your service." Schrau offered a slight military bow. "And I wouldn't kill me if I were you."
"Why not?"
"Sentinels look after their own. If I die, then so will you."
"I do not think so."
"One way to find out." Schrau offered. "Anyway, aren't you the slightest bit curious as to why I'm here?"
"I heard that Ustov's place got rolled by a sentinel. Rather embarrassing, his major domo and one of his thuul guards killed. However did you manage it?"
"If I told you, you wouldn't believe me."
"Cute. So can I kill you now?"
Schrau drew his swords with a brief flourish. "I'd like to see you try, I really would, but I think we can sort this out without resorting to violence, don't you think?"
"You thought wrong." Astane retorted.
There was a sigh from the sentinel. "Lady, your whereabouts were bought very cheaply. Don't inflate your already bloated sense of importance." Schrau almost felt the wave of pained anger from the werewolf. "Now, all I want to know is where I can find the Kuroryu clan."
"That's it?" Astane snorted. "One of my masters has betrayed me, what makes you think I'll betray the other?"
"If it makes you feel better, then Ustov only told me about you because he expected you to butcher me."
"Thanks, that does make me feel better." Astane tartly replied. "Still, what makes you think I'd betray Lord Kuroryu."
Schrau sheathed one of his blades and then reached for something at his belt. He tossed a small leather bag about midway between the two, where it bounced with a soft clink of coinage.
Astane regarded the purse. "Even if that was full of rubies, it wouldn't be enough."
"You've been a very naughty girl, Astane." Schrau glibly noted. "Racking up offences as if it was fashionable to be a criminal. There are two ways to pay for crimes when caught; in cash or in kind." The vulpin nodded. "That purse is filled with electrum coins. That's how much your outstanding warrants are worth."
"Really?" Astane snorted. "You're attempting to buy information from me with the promise of amnesty for all my crimes-"
"Previous crimes." Schrau quickly corrected her. "Previous known crimes."
"Whatever. Let's just say this isn't the sort of behaviour I'd expect from a lawman."
"Paying for the freedom of a known criminal is illegal." Schrau noted. "You could do whatever you like with that money, keep yourself fed and clothed for a few months, live in abject luxury for a few days, whatever you want. It's a mere coincidence that the contents of that purse will buy you pardons for all the crimes you've so far committed."
But not the murder of Tor, Astane noted, or indeed the slaying of a sentinel. "Like I said, this isn't worth the trouble I'd get if Lord Kuroryu found out I was the one who told you where to find him."
"Would it be enough for you to tell me of someone who knows?"
"Ah, responsibility by proxy." Astane nodded. "Maybe. Are you sure you want to know this?"
The sentinel nodded.
"There's a little plague afflicting Welstar right now. He's already eradicated the denizens, shall we say, of several Sikkarian temples." Astane grinned. "Now, you're probably wondering what else Sikkarians are good for-"
"Anyway, he's highly predictable. You might want to try the Temple of the Seraph..."
Schrau blinked slowly. "He? You mean the young Kuroryu?"
Astane nodded. "His name is Daste. If you hurry, you might be able to catch up with him before he and that blasted Fellblade gets too strong." Astane stepped forward to pick up the purse, staring all the while at Schrau. "And, in fact if you manage to kill the errant hatchling, Lord Kuroryu might invite you to his den to congratulate you himself. I daresay that Lord Kuroryu would not actually mind me pointing a sentinel in the direction of his son."
"No love lost between them?"
Astane laughed. "None whatsoever."

Part 4 - The Dead End

The rain scythed down from the heavens, soaking the sentinel as he finally made it to the Temple of the Seraph. Schrau had no idea if his quarry had arrived before him, but if not he could at least rally the acolytes, or at least warn them of the impending assault.
The front doors were open, and Schrau almost lot his footing several times on the stone floor. The temple was all too quiet.
Too quiet. Too late.
He unsheathed his blades and stilled his breathing for a brief moment. There, near the rear of the temple, a scream. Schrau ran forward, not even checking for survivors. No point.
A door to the massive rear chamber of the temple hung off its hinges. It hadn't been so much as broken down as slashed in half. And inside...
The dragonian stood over the corpse of a priest, wings outstretched and a Fellblade held above his head in a two-handed grip. The Fallen's helmet obscured much of his face, but the beak still protruded in a wicked sneer.
The Fellblade struck like a snake, plunging deep into the priest's chest. The corpse jolted slightly, before quickly crumbling into dust.
Schrau wasted no time, he knew the Fallen was distracted. With a brief roar, he charged.

"Excellent, young one..." The Fellblade whispered. "Now, let us dispose of this annoyance."
Daste's head came up, almost too slowly, to see the vision in sentinel green charging at him, a pair of shimmering blue blades held in his hands. Dwarven blades, Daste noted, expensive stuff.
The young dragonian grinned, Fallen had need for but one weapon, and the Fellblade was much more than a match for anything this sentinel could muster.
Daste gripped the Fellblade tighter, or did the Fellblade grip him tighter? It didn't matter to him that he was unable to tell the difference between the two. At least this sentinel obviously had some spirit in him, and that would satisfy the blade's needs, at least for this day.
He waited until the vulpin was a blade's-length away, then struck like lightning.

Schrau felt the kiss of the Fellblade on his ribs, tried to force the pain out of his mind, and rolled away from the blow. A wild swing with one of his swords failed to penetrate anything, and the grating of dwarven steel against the blue metal of the Fallen's armour set his teeth on edge.
'Good,' Schrau thought. 'concentrate on the small things. It'll get you through this in as few pieces as possible.'
Schrau slid back, quickly pressing the down on the wound at his side with his forearm. Flesh wound, not even deep enough to bleed profusely, certainly not enough to worry a biomancer over. Redoubling his grip on his blades, Schrau swung them both, one at the neck and the other at the sword arm.

The one blade locked against Daste's neck guard, but the other at least managed to crease the light plate around his forceps. Daste grunted and felt his grip slip, before his fingers locked rigid.
"Not now," The Fellblade roared. "I won't let you go now!"
Daste nodded. Yes, the Fellblade would look after him. It knew what to do, would ensure victory. Daste stepped sideways and, using his bulk, shoved the sentinel back. The Fellblade came down in a wide overhead chop, which the sentinel had to block with both his blades crossed.
Instead of doing something expected, such as raise the sword again or withdraw it from the block, Daste added his own weight and leverage to the Fellblade, which forced the vulpin's arms to sag ever so slightly. Eventually, his strength gave out and he had to almost fly backwards to avoid getting a face full of Fellblade.
"His heart is pure." The Fellblade informed him. "Distract him."
Daste leapt back, assisted by his powerful wings. As the sentinel recovered, Daste grinned.

"Ssso, sssentinel. What kind of interrogation isss thisss?"
'Good question.' Schrau thought. 'You should've asked him the questions you wanted before trying to lop his head off.'
"Daste Kuroryu." Schrau quietly said. "I'm here because..."
The dragonian's mouth was quietly moving again.
"No!" Schrau yelled, before charging forward.

"I've told you before! Do not close your eyes when invoking magic! If you lack the concentration to-"
Somehow, Daste managed to ignore the Fellblade's lecture. It wasn't easy, but he had it within himself. With the spell firmly secured in his mind, he opened his eyes and began. "Oculusss mal-"
"I warned you!"

Schrau didn't even let him finish the chant, whether it would be successful or not. He charged, leapt, and brought both of his blades down in a wild swing.
Luckily, the Fallen seemed to have the dependency of closing his eyes when invoking magic. Not a problem, at least not for Schrau.
Schrau slammed both of his blades down on the top of the dragonian's helmet by the flats. Schrau had wanted to bring both edges down onto the Fallen's head, but the flats did the same job.
Plus, Daste had bitten down hard onto his tongue. The fleshy blue protrusion sticking out from the pointed beak of his mouth almost gave the dragonian a comical appearance.
Still, no time to laugh. Schrau swung one of his blades and struck, again with the flat, soundly against the side of Daste's helmet, popping the horned effigy off his head.

Daste was still seeing stars when he heard the rattle of his fallen helmet. The Fellblade came up on its own accord, and the dragonian felt it strike something.
The sentinel screamed, and at this time Daste's vision returned. The sentinel had taken two paces back, his left arm bleeding almost at the shoulder, but his paired blades still in his hands.
"Die!" Daste snarled, taking a step forward and winding up a punch. His gauntleted fist connected solidly with the vulpin's face, right between the eyes.
The sentinel flew backwards, fell onto his back, and rolled head-over-feet nearly twenty meters away. He quickly pulled himself up onto all fours, coughed, spat blood, and groaned. The vulpin looked up, his nose streaming blood, and tried to blink the pain away.
"Sssoon, there will be no more pain for you. You may thank me." Daste sneered.
He charged.

Schrau pulled himself up onto one knee, still trying to shake the disorientation of the Fallen's mighty punch. Daste said something, but Schrau couldn't hear for the ringing in his ears.
'Lucky I don't have a skull fracture.' Schrau thought as he squeezed his eyes tight. When he opened them, Daste was charging and had covered almost half the distance between them.
The sight of the massive dragonian and his awful Fellblade jolted Schrau to full consciousness better than anything else in the universe could. He tried to stand, to roll away, to even move, but his legs were locked in pain and fear.
Five paces away, Daste stopped and skidded the remaining distance. With a wicked sneer, he raised the Fellblade above his head in a two-handed grip.
Schrau crossed his arms and closed his eyes, and the swung both his blades in flat arcs. He felt them connect, his wrists jolting, and the shattering of metal drowned out his terrified scream.

Daste staggered back, again almost dropping the Fellblade. The weapon however redoubled its grip and lashed out in a futile attempt to decapitate the vulpin as the dragonian almost fell over his heels.
Daste looked down to his stomach. So mighty was the vulpin's double-strike that it managed to shatter his breastplate on his stomach. The metal around the chest and back remained, but the stomach plate was gone. His undershirt was shredded, and a sticky sensation greeted his probing fingers.
Daste raised his gauntleted hand. Blood. His own blood on his own fingers. Daste once again pressed his hand to the thick scaled skin of his stomach and found a pair of deep cuts there.
He was bleeding to death. The blow wasn't fatal, but unless he bound his injuries soon he would be dead.
"Kill him!" The Fellblade demanded. "He has wounded you! He has humiliated you! The Nameless One demands his soul as punishment for his actions! Kill him!"
Daste's heart pumped a little faster, more blood gushed from the cuts on his stomach. He growled and took a step forward.
The Fellblade vibrated in his hand. "Kill him!"

Schrau managed to open his eyes, and saw that Daste had stepped back. The Fallen's breastplate was all but gone, and the wounds on his stomach looked life-threatening.
Schrau managed to stand, and noticed that his blades felt odd. The balance was gone and the crosspiece rattled slightly on both of the swords. A quick glance at both of them confirmed his suspicions; both blades were fractured, cracks appearing around the magical dwarven runes down the length.
Schrau groaned. If he so much as struck anything with either blade, they would shatter. As they stood now, they could be repaired at any blacksmiths, but if either broke it would require him replacing the broken blade.
Defenceless, Schrau had no way to further subdue the Fallen. Of course, he could distract him for long enough to let blood loss weaken him, but that was much easier said than done. He was no longer dealing with the wounded dragonian, but the invincible Fellblade that commanded him.
Daste took a step forward, his face furious but his pace cautious. He hadn't noticed that the two swords held by his opponent were all but useless. That, in some way, gave the sentinel an advantage.
Schrau stepped forward, and slipped in a pool of blood and rain water that was still dripping down his long leather coat. He landed heavily on his back, but at least managed to save the swords.
It was pretty ironic, he considered as the dragonian's booming laugh seemingly shook the temple. He had beaten his opponent in form and ability, but had been defeated by a puddle.
Life wasn't fair. And now it was almost over.

Daste laughed. Wounded he may be, the downed vulpin would prove to be no further opposition. Two sword strikes would be all he needed, one through the heart and another into the soul.
Oddly enough, a song came into his head. He didn't understand the words, but the tone seemed quite suitable for the occasion. He began to sing it.

"What good is life in face of these hollow lies?
What dreams could become such despair?
My heart is torn, my soul is frail.
Uh... End...?"
Schrau's eyes jolted open, he had heard that song countless times before. He sat up, staring incredulously at the Fallen who, despite everything, sang quite passably in the lupin tongue, even though he seemed to be stumbling somewhat over the last line.
"End it now, do I not deserve as much?" Schrau automatically supplied.
Daste stopped in his advance, seemingly surprised by this current turn of affairs. "You know that sssong asss well?" He asked.
Schrau nodded. It wasn't one of a dozen or so vulpin folksongs repeated across the universe. "Fara... Fara arways wanted to sing her songs." Schrau quietly said. "She was quite creative."
"If a little sssad." Daste said, his tone matching Schrau's. "Ssshe would alwaysss sssing while ssshe worked. Nobody but the vulpinsss knew what ssshe was sssinging, but her wordsss alwaysss ssseemed to bring everyone down." Daste blinked slowly as the Fellblade rattled in his hand. "What'sss the sssong about?"
"Death." Schrau answered. "Despair. Sorrow."
"Indeed." Daste nodded. "Ssshe killed herssself in the end. Got hold of a kitchen knife and ssstabbed herssself. They sssaid ssshe died with a sssmile on her lipsss." A grin reached the Fallen's mouth. "Now I underssstand. Thossse ssshackle marks on your wrissstsss and anklesss. Your fury. You were a ssslave."
Schrau nodded. "Your cran bought severar of my peopre. I want to find them."
"And to do ssso would mean that you want to find my home." Daste nodded. "Father would disssapprove."
"I don't think that you care much about your father's approvar. Terr me."
Daste regarded him. "You attacked me. I underssstand why, but for a Fallen there is no forgivenessss." He listened closely to the words of his blade. "One ssswing. We will take one ssswing, and if we are both ssstill here afterwardsss, I will tell you how to find your preciousss kinfolk." Daste grinned and raised the Fellblade high above the head, a malevolent grin on his face.
The Fellblade descended, leaving an ugly black wrinkle in the fabric of reality as it passed. Schrau's eyes widened, and he stumbled to his feet with a roar.
The world rift widened, an evil ebony circle in space and wide enough to obscure Schrau's view of Daste. Schrau lunged for the worldrift, not entirely sure what would happen if he entered it from the wrong direction but well beyond considering such things.
The rift closed suddenly, and Schrau once again slipped on a puddle of blood; this time the blood of Daste that had pooled around his feet as he stood over Schrau while talking about Fara. Schrau fell heavily onto the floor, once again hearing the shattering of metal as his blades broke.
He was suddenly all alone in the Divine Temple of the Seraph. Since he found Casna in the prisons of Scarrowfell just a few days ago, he had been following leads like a trail of breadcrumbs through a maze. Now the trail ended, and he was still no closer to his goal than before.
A flash of lightning illuminated the stained glass windows of the temple, accenting the eeriness of the completely ransacked temple. Schrau would have to write reports on the incident, go into detail on how he found the temple empty save for a dragonian Fallen. Relive the battle blow for blow. Go into every single horrifying detail again and in triplicate. And also he would have to procure replacement weapons.
As the storm outside worsened, Schrau momentarily forgot all of this as he considered just how close he had came. Close to victory, close to death, close to killing the one lead he had in the world. Every single one of those thoughts came crashing down in his mind, and with every single realisation he came to the conclusion that despite the closeness of his encounter with Daste Kuroryu, he was in fact further from everything.