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Summary Edit

King Haddock enters the ice cell in which Tree is chained and imprisoned, wishing to speak cordially with the prisoner regarding the nature of the Tyrant. The Tyrant quickly riles Haddock into anger, but Vox Arnason, who has just arrived, pleads for the king to let him to step into the dialogue. The chief war strategist, an old lover of Tree’s, hopes to speak to Tree and bring out her inner captivated personality to try to free her from the Warden’s grasp. Indeed, Tree breaks free from the Warden’s grasp. Although Changewings have begun to attack the camp, as soon as Tree broke free, the dragons back aside.

Then Vox asks King Haddock to unlock Tree’s manacles. Though still very suspicious that the Tyrant-Warden could return and attack, King Haddock releases Tree himself. The Warden immediately takes a hold of Tree and stabs Vox in the heart with her claws. Chief Akkey, the witch StarFire, the thaumaturge Lynk, and more concerned members of the Grounded Dungeon Rebellion rushed in to try to save Vox's life, but Vox dies nonetheless. He is given a reverent ship burial ceremony.

Full Text Edit

Part 1 Edit

Hemlock: Please tell me you got /that/ message. I still do not know where I am, but I rejoice at the news of the Warden's surrender. With Starfire the healer, we shall certainly be freed from her/its tyranny. However...uh, this is rather awkward. I still need help. Please send some. My messenger dragon, Virya, may or may not be able to lead you to my location. Again, she is somewhat unreliable.

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: If you mean another message than this one, no. I have only received this correspondence.

We are all relieved to see the Warden’s release, though I wish I could be as certain as you that we will be freed from the Tyranny. It will take a lot of time for StarFire to finish her work on Tree, and we are not certain if it will be successful. I also will admit I am the suspicious type and fear that the Warden surrendered voluntarily to gain an advantage and surprise us with something worse later. That is why we will guard her extraordinarily carefully.

I am worried that you are lost! I will send a party with Virya to find you. It is getting late at night, so it will be dangerous to head out now; the search party will commence in the morning.

Rebels, does anyone want to volunteer trying to find our missing Record keeper on the morrow?

Virgo: I volunteer.

Part 2 Edit

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: Alright, Tree. * steps in, hand on hilt of sword at waist, looking somehow both confident and uneasy * I’ve moved all my guards outside, but they’re all waiting right out there and will rush back in if there’s even the TINIEST hint of trouble. So don’t you try ANYTHING. But for now, it’s just you and me here. I think it’d be rather interesting if the two of us sat down and had a little bit of a conversation. A civil one, if you can manage it. Mind talking about yesterday’s events with me?

The Warden: [folds arms, chains clanking, and grins widely, leaning back against the ice spike she’s chained to]

MOST INTERESTING INDEED, YOUR HIGHNESS. BUT I SEE NOTHING OF INTEREST TO DISCUSS. HOW FARES YOUR WOUNDED ONE? [sly smile]

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: How very kind of you to ask after the injured. It would have been even more kind had you never caused the injury in the first place!

Bah! Don’t irritate me, Warden. I’m here just to talk. Simply that. No reason to be so antagonistic - and in fact, it would be in your favor to be civil, being as you know sparking my temper could cause you some serious harm. So let’s be friendly. I’m willing to try that, so please.

And I do, actually, believe we have some interesting things to discuss. Such as the nature of the Tyrant in the first place. You already make more than enough threats and allusions as it is… so tell us. How do you control Tree?

The Warden: [scoffs] YOU HAVE NEITHER THE MEANS TO MAKE ME EXPLAIN OR THE INTELLIGENCE TO UNDERSTAND MY METHODS, KING. BESIDES, ONCE ONE UNDERSTANDS THE LOCK, ONE UNDERSTANDS THE KEY…AND I AM FAR FROM WILLING TO RELEASE MY SECRETS, ESPECIALLY WHEN I KNOW YOU WILL FLAP YOUR JAWS TO YOUR HEALERS AND WITCHES THE FIRST CHANCE YOU GET.

AND I KNOW YOU HAVE NO INTENTION OF HURTING ME. YOU HAVE NOT THE WILLPOWER. TREE’S FACE LOOKS AT YOU STILL…I CAN SEE HER FOND MEMORIES OF YOU. 

Vox Arnason: [enters]My King, I’ve returned. If you don’t mind, I’d like to have a word. We can remain in the presence of our… uh, guest, for lack of a better term.

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: Speak, then, if it is safe to say in front of her.

The Warden: [amusedYES, LET’S HEAR IT, BOY.

Vox Arnason: [clears throat]

You recall that a short while ago, only days into our revolution, I made attempts to connect with Tree through the Warden. I had signs that I was making progress, growing stronger and stronger with each interaction.

I believe that the one factor holding me back from succeeding was the surrounding chaos of battle that kept the Warden distracted. Here, in this holding chamber, there is nowhere for the Warden to go. We are alone, and on higher ground.

I want one more chance to get to Tree.

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: Proceed. I will step aside and watch.

Vox Arnason: Warden. I do not address you from this point further. I decline to acknowledge any and all interruptions from you -- I'm simply looking to bring my friend back... Tree...

The Warden: A FUTILE ENDEA//VOR…IT SEEMS THE ONLY ONE UP HE#RE IS ME

Hemlock: Update from Chief Archiver Hemlock: I...I think I know where I am now. I've been listening for a while, and I hear a voice. Maybe more than one; it's hard to hear over all the dragon calls and screeches. I think...I think I've found the dragon training arena. The Warden's dragon training arena. We thought that she trained them herself, yes? ...Well, I'm not so sure now. Her apparent surrender is becoming more suspicious each minute.

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: Oh my gods. Don’t engage. Get reinforcements now if you need to go in further.

Vox Arnason: Please, Tree... buddy, it's me. You have to listen to me. You've fallen under the control of a complete lunatic, and I won't rest until I see you back to the way you were. You're still here... I feel it. Your eyes may have dulled, but they are still your own. I know you can hear me...

The Warden: HER EY%ES HAV E BEEN OP]]PENED, FOOL. 

SH$E C45= IS H]]]2_K…

v0//:x…L…0$t…v…

DON’T MA#KE ANO .THER M0+V [E

Akkey Black: *barges in, frantically whispers* My liege! An army of Changewings are coming this way!

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: * whispers back * Prepare for defenses, Chief. Take the forefront on this one. My place right now is with Tree.

Emily: I will go where people need me.

Brooke: As will I. **Flies around on whispering death**

Akkey Black: DEFENSE, FRIENDS.

Akkey Black: WARRIORS, WE NEED HELP. DEFEND THE FORTRESS. OUR SCOUT IS SO NEAR TO HIS GOAL. WE MUST STAND STRONG BEFORE HE’S DONE.

Emily the Alpha: YOU CAN DO IT.

WE BELIEVE IN YOU LOSTVOX.

Kierra Starlord: I shall stand and fight! I have swords if anyone is in need!

Hemlock: I have a request. Might it be possible for you to send a riding dragon my way? Something stealthy, preferably, so I may hope to avoid detection. It is a great request, but I have with me a book that must never fall into enemy hands and only a knife and a small messenger dragon to defend it. Also, I do not think we should attack the dragons and trainer(s). There are too many. Our only option, I believe, is to defend the base from the Changewings and ensure the warden's security.

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: Hang out for now and wait. We will send a dragon as soon as we can, but we are hard-pressed for defenses because Changewings are attacking our camp, too.

Akkey Black: THE DRAGON WHISPERER’S DRAGONS ARE ABLE TO TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES. WE SEND ONE TO YOU.

Hemlock: Great thanks, Chief. I will be back soon, but not too soon, as, in case you haven’t caught on yet, I’m not very good at this ‘full pitched battle’ thing. I’m sorry I can’t be of any use in this situation.

Brooke: ONE IS ON ITS WAY, FRIEND.

Vox Arnason: You're so close, Tree! I'm here, bud! Just keep fighting! The Warden has no power over you. We are all here to help you -- just break out!

Treepelt Halfpaw: %]]\_

&6]34-5

lostvox?

Brooke: **rushes to tree**

ARE YOU OKAY, MY DEAR?!

Vox Arnason: YES BUD THAT’S IT! Tree! I’m so glad to see you. So, so glad. Are you okay? Are you hurt?

Treepelt Halfpaw: I…I think so…oh gods, my head…why am I all tied up?

Akkey Black: HE DID IT. THE MAN DID IT. *laughs with tears*

Emily: It’s over? Lostvox broke the curse?

Vox Arnason: Untie her, my King. We are safe now. I can sense that the Warden is gone.

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: I…. I….

How can you be sure the Warden is permanently gone?

Hemlock: Please, I beg of you, do not untie Tree. This could still be a ploy, and I am sorry if it isn’t, but we must be careful always. The Changewing attack, the apparent recovery…Please.

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: It very much could be a ploy. I am very suspicious about it.

But risks will be taken. I will be responsible for the results. And do things go downhill, I will be the first one to stand up against the Warden. She is right here, right in front of me, and my sword Endeavor is on my hip.

Hemlock: But…I am sorry, my king, but…if this is a ploy, and if it cannot be avoided…would you risk having to kill a friend?

Vox Arnason: I need you to believe me. We need Tree on our side to end this, and she’s no good tied to a wall.

Vox Arnason: [takes a knee in front of you] Tree -- are you alright? It's okay, he can't hurt you now... I'm here, Tree... you're my best friend. Don't ever forget that. [pulls into hug]

Treepelt Halfpaw: [eyes wide, slowly hugs lostvox back]

l..lostvox, I…I’m…

[slowly turns head to look at him, and suddenly he jerks as her claws violently pierce his heart]

.

Î̞̯̫̭͖̇͗’̙̮ͣͩ̃͌̾͌M̲̯̳͓ͭ͆ ̱̣͎̠͑̾̇ͫG̞̩̫̲͚̯͆ͣͩ̀O͇̼I͉̜͎̺̼̹̜Ṇ̰͈͎͕̓̄̂ͪG̲̱̫̃̑͛ͤ̿ ̻͇̮͚̤͔̜̔T̠̘̟ͪͨͫ̒O̖̦̱̭͈̓̉͐ͦ̌̊͂ ̙̫̏M̱̰̻͖̪͉̑ͦ͆̾͑I̖̩̳̳̼̤ͮ̓̇ͣ̐S͇̼̬̘ͦ͗ͧ̌S̫͎͇͔̒ ̮͖̙̪͊͑̽ͫ̾Ŷ̩̋͒ͮ̇̔̽ͅO̬̲̻̖͍ͯ̇́ͦ̓U̟͆̐.

Vox Arnason: …Tree…

Hemlock: GODS ABOVE I

Emily: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Akkey Black: NO! LOSTVOX! NO! THIS CAN’T BE! *tries to defend*

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: *Pulls out sword and swings RIGHT at Tree, stepping between Tree and lostvox, even though it’s too late.*

Akkey Black: *pulls lostvox out of the way, lets the king handle tree, blubbers and calls his name* You can’t die here!

Treepelt Halfpaw: [suddenly screams and falls backwards, JUST missing the sword]

My King! What…?

[sees lostvox]

oh

oh my—

[starts shaking] thor, no [scrambles to his body]

LOSTVOX

LOSTVOX, PLEASE, NO

majorardilla: Tree, no Warden YOU WILL PAY FOR WHAT YOU DID!

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: *In a voice-cracking, pained scream*

GET.

AWAY.

FROM.

HIM.

*Pulls out sword and places it RIGHT under Tree’s throat*

Step.

Away.

Now.

Don’t you see what you’ve done? I trusted you, I trusted you, and look what you did! I don’t care if you’re the Tyrant or you’re Tree right now. I can’t trust either of you. I don’t know who’s going to come out when, or why, or how. I don’t care if you remember what happened. I don’t care if you’re confused.

All I care about is the blood on lostvox’s chest.

You did this.

*Pulls out handcuffs and shoves, with full might, Tree up against the ice block again. Steps right up, threateningly close, and stares her straight in the eye as I secure her back to the ice post*

Tyrant, I know you can hear me in there. You think you’ve won? No. You’ve just sealed your own misery. I offered a friendly conversation.

That’s not what you’re going to be getting from now forth.

You chose to mess with King Haddock?

You chose to rile me?

Well you are in my grasp, under my mercy. There are going to be some changes in your treatment, Tyrant. And you’re going to like none of them.

*very softly whispering, as I step away from Tree*

I… did this.

The Warden: [gasping, leaning away from sword, a tear falling] no, no, Haddock, I would neve$6]6]]…

[grins]

YOU’RE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT, FOOLISH KING. 

Quicky Slippy: *walks up to king haddock, wrists held out* Lock me up too. If this is the kind of stuff that happens under the influence of the warden, I don’t want to risk being taken over again and hurting anyone. I don’t remember what happened last night, but I doubt it was good. Lock me up for both my safety and everyone else’s.

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: [cold voice] We will do as you say. You will be locked up. Separate cell from Tree, just as high of security.

Akkey Black: Commander stellae-ignis! *dragging lostvox' body* Commander! We need your treatments! He's lost a lot of blood!

Vox Arnason: ..where’s Tree… did we do it?…

Akkey Black: YES! That’s it keep talking to me, my good man. Do not die on me! I still need to find the Commander! Here, put pressure on your wound.

Tree has unfortunately, been controlled once again. The King is very much upset and is short of killing the tyrant. WE wish no more deaths tonight.

Vox Arnason: oh my friend…thank you, but there isn’t anything you can do… for me… (cough) the King… where is my King… 

Akkey Black: Lostvox is dying this very minute in my arms at the fortress PLEASE COME NOW.

Commander Starfire: Comander StarFire is on her way. 

Akkey Black: NO! No… stay with me, sir! The King will come, I swear! I shall call him! *tells whoever’s with me (omg who are you lol SOMEONE JUMP IN) to call the King*. But you must stay alive! 

Lynk: I’ve already tried to contact the King, we hope he can make it on time.

Akkey Black: KING HADDOCK

KING HADDOCK

KING HADDOCK!

Emily: Your majesty, please hurry!

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: * Haddock whirls around angrily *

I AM BUSY! I AM TRYING TO PREVENT A CATASTROPHE! *angry shout* WHAT IS GOING ON???

Vox Arnason: …my King… (coughing) …please…

Commander Starfire: I am here!! I am here!! Where is our scout! Lostvox, I have everything prepared for her when she arrives back to base.

Katie: It's too late…

Akkey Black: *INTERNALLY FREAKING OUT AND PUTTING PRESSURE ON LOSTVOX’ WOUND*

Vox Arnason: (so much blood and bleeding)

Treepelt Halfpaw: [slips into lucidity, pupils getting big again, tears streaming]

lostvox…lostvox, don’t leave…

i’m sorry…

Vox Arnason: Tree… (gasping) my friend, forgive yourself… as i do…

The Warden: [growls, shakes head]

SHE’LL NEVER. SHE’LL LIVE WITH THIS UNTIL THE DAY OF HER DEATH, SCOUT. PERHAPS I’LL LET HER SEE YOUR FINAL MOMENTS.

Akkey Black: HE’S GONE.

*wails*

HE’S DEAD AND THERE WAS NOTHING I COULD DO.

Commander Starfire: I am so sorry. I didn’t get there in time.

Vox Arnason: …no, I’m still here… barely… (spewing blood)

Akkey Black: I WAS WRONG. HE’S STILL ALIVE. 

COMMANDER STARFIRE, YOUR TREATMENTS, QUICK.

Commander Starfire: Oh Bless, I have arrived on time. We must cauterize your wounds to stop the bleeding. This is going to hurt.

Treepelt Halfpaw: [sobbing, manages to choke out]

I’ll swim…and sail…on savage seas…

Emily: NO

STOP THAT RIGHT NOW

*ALPHA ROAR*

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: * finally, after being yelled at by Chief Akkey, RUSHES into the room *

* falls to knees and sobs *

I… I am so sorry. I failed you. I failed you.

* turns to Tree *

* screams *

SILENCE!

Commander Starfire: I am loosing him! I am loosing him!

Akkey Black: SIRE, WE’RE LOSING HIM. ORDINARY MEDICINE ISN’T WORKING. WE NEED MAGIC.

Katie: *fly in being carried by terrible terrors* Hey! Bet you thought I was dead! I barely made out of there before… whoa, what happened?.. Kept pressure on those wounds. Here. Rips off some cloth. Switch it out. I’m  witch doctor. I could send my dragons for supplies but I’m not sure they would make it back in time…

Grey Bergman: We got to try! Maybe we can send out more members with your dragons! That way we can cover more ground and be back in time to help lostvox

Vox Arnason: …if you…(cough) …would…

(approx. time of death — 7:57PM MST)

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: You’re too late!

Katie: Noooo! If only I had known sooner maybe I could have made it in time… *falls to knees*

Treepelt Halfpaw: [chokes, then with an escalating scream]

NOOOOOOOOOOOO!! 

Emily: TYRANT

 YOU WILL PAY FOR WHAT YOU’VE DONE

Kierra Starlord: nononONONONONONONO

sasstrid-and-dorkcup: WHY ARE YOU ALL DEAD SET ON MAKING ME CRY

Nefertsukia: WHATTTTT GUYS GUYS

YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS!! IT’S TIME FOR A…

VIKING FUNERAL!

crack open the yaknog tankards, pass 'em 'round

Seasick: may the Valkyries welcome you…. 

Lynk: …and lead you through Odin’s great battlefield

Seasick: May they sing your name with love and fury, so that we might hear it rise from the depths of Valhalla. And know that you’ve taken your rightful place at the table of kings. For a great man has fallen: A warrior. A scout. A rebel. A friend.

Akkey Black: HE’S DEAD.

HE DIED IN MY ARMS. THE KING WAS RIGHT THERE… THE HEALER.. THE ALPHA… EVERYONE WAS THERE… EVEN TREE… BUT IT WASN’T ENOUGH.

IT WASN’T ENOUGH.

Lostvox IS DEAD.

Grey Bergman: NO! He can’t be!

Akkey Black: May the Valkyries welcome you and lead you through Odin’s great battle field.

May they sing your name with love and fury, so that we might hear it rise from the depths of Valhalla.

And know that you’ve taken your rightful place at the table of Kings.

For a great man has fallen: A singer. A scout. A blogger. A friend.

Quicky Slippy: *sheds single tear upon hearing this and starts walking towards designated cell to be locked up, thinking they don’t need the doubt of having someone formerly under the influence of the warden at the funeral*

Katie: *everyone prepares their bow and arrow*

Vox Arnason: (lostvox’s ship begins to play)

Akkey Black: *puts arrow on bow* *shoots arrow*

Commander Starfire: *looks at blood covered hand shaking violently*. I am so sorry lostvox. I am so sorry.

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: * shoots arrow late, much after Chief Akkey. because of tears in eye, completely misses boat *

Emily: *Blows ice breath up in the air*

Emily: The Tyrant will pay for what they’ve done.

Grey Bergman: We must avenge him! The Warden will pay!

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: [ominously icy voice]

We shall.

Kierra Starlord: *dark tone* Shit just got real.

Grey Bergman: But how? I know we lost a great warrior today, but we got to keep cooler heads here guys! We can’t afford to lose more of us! We can’t let lostvox's sacrifice be in vain! We need a plan of action!

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: I will speak to you in private later regarding our course of action.

Grey Bergman: Great! I’ll be there!

Peachdoxie: I am no Valkyrie, but I will personally lead the fallen Scout to Valhalla. It would be an honor to guide lostvoxto the Hall of the Slain.

Seasick: i THINK LOSTVOX WAS JUST GIVEN LIKE 3 SEPARATE VIKING FUNERALS LMFAO

I was doing one, and akkeyroomi was doing one… someone else did one I think… if they don’t make it to Valhalla, I’m going to be pissed.

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: FOR THAT DEATH, MY LATE BATTLE STRATEGIST WILL BE IN VALHALLA!

Part 2 Edit

[alone, chained to her ice post, Tree hangs her head, shoulders heaving]

I’m sorry…

[lifts her head]

.

O͓͑̔͒ͮ̚F͖͉̳ͣ̇ͯͧ ̬̳̘̳̬ͧ͛ͩͬ̒C̥̭͈Óͪ̾ͥͯ̂U̮̭̬̔ͭŘ̘̮ͤ̉͌̇́ͮS̾̿ͧE̯̘̅̽͛̚ ̟̗̤̟͌̍̎͌͑͂Ȳ̗̪̥̒̆O͕̮U̔̇̅̑ Ạ͕͍̫̰̀ͅR̻̥̭͔ͅE̥ͪ̋̇̊̏ͯ.̖̯̖̊̎̍ͬ̊̍̃

no…no, leave me alone…

FOOLISH CHILD, DO YOU REALLY THINK YOU CAN DRIVE ME OUT

N-no…[whispers] I’m a monster…

AND A HORRIBLE ONE, AT THAT. HOW WILL YOU LIVE WITH THE PAIN YOU HAVE CAUSED. THE GUILT YOU FEEL.

shut up—

OH, IT’S FAR TOO LATE FOR THAT, TREEPELT. FAR. TOO. L̖ͬ̌ͮA͑̿ͅT̝̖̄ͤͦ̀ͯ͑E̥͕̟̘̠͐̆̾̃̉.

Part 3 Edit

Akkey Black: All is quiet, all is still. The warriors rest and heal, crying themselves to sleep at the loss of a great and powerful comrade. Even those who have given themselves up for fear of being controlled once again doze, their dreams dark and disturbing. 

All is quiet, all is still. The warden herself is asleep, but treepelta113 is not. She whimpers gently and mournslostvox' death. On the other side of the fortress, a king gazes sadly upon the moonlight. kingofthewilderwestis weary and worn. His shoulders sag with worry and grief. Was this rebellion really all worth it?

All is quiet, all is still. A lone shadow gathers food from the kitchen into her basket. Bundled up in the warmest of hoods and cloaks, the warrior slips out into the night. Her breath misty and cold, she looks back to the fortress, a sad heap of war and death. "This chief bids you adieu, my king."

All is quiet, all is still. And so the Rebellion slumbers.

Part 4 Edit

Lostvox was almost defeated.

He had gone straight to her cell, of course, as soon as he’d heard. Hours and hours he had spent there, trying in vain to snap her out of it. The banter and the jokes, the reminiscences, the encouragement—that had been so hard to force out, seeing Tree tied up like this, the mad glint in her eye, hissing and spitting and fighting to break free.

Worst were the times when the Warden lost control, when Tree seemed to come back for a split second—and then was gone. Each time, his heart soared, and each time, when the crazed Warden returned, it plummeted and smashed on the hard, unrelenting earth.

But still he kept on, for Tree was his friend, his dearest friend, and never in any life could he bear to lose her.

The steady stream of murmured encouragement was running dry, now, in the dark hours of the night. The rebels had kept a near-silent vigil since the sun had set—near-silent but for Vox’s constant voice, trying and trying in vain. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to hold back the tears, as he whispered, “You’re so close, Tree. I’m here, bud. Just keep fighting. Keep fighting. The Warden has no power over you. We’re all here to help you—just break free.”

And then his head snapped up against his will as he heard Tree’s soft, hoarse voice whisper back, “…Lostvox?”

He couldn’t keep his eyes from widening. That was the first time she had said his name! Please, please, please, he thought, numb to Brooke’s excited yell and rush of movement as she dashed to Tree’s side. 

Yes,” Vox said, hardly daring to believe it, “yes, bud, that’s it! Tree! I’m so glad to see you. So, so glad.” He dashed the tears from his eyes. “Are you okay?” he asked in an urgent tone. “Are you hurt?”

“I…I think so…oh gods, my head.” She pressed her hands to her temples. “Vox…vox, why am I all tied up?”

A relieved, sobbing laugh came from the edge of the cell. “He did it!” Akkey whooped. “The man did it!” 

“It’s over?” Alpha asked in a hushed tone. “Lostvox broke the curse?”

Vox didn’t hear any of it through the pounding in his ears, the salty tears streaming down his cheeks. “Untie her, m- my King,” he managed, etiquette forgotten in the joy of Tree’s return. “We’re safe. The Warden’s gone, I can sense it.”

“I… I…” The king shook his head slowly. “How can you be sure the Warden is permanently gone?”

"I need you to believe me,” Vox was saying, the words spewing from his mouth before he had a chance to think about it. “Please. We need Tree on our side to end this, and she’s no good tied to a wall.”

Then arrived, with an insistent flapping of wings, a Terrible Terror demanding Haddock’s immediate attention. He unrolled the letter, scanning it quickly, and scribbled a hasty reply. The messenger dragon was back almost immediately, and this time, the king took only a cursory glance at the message—”But…I am sorry, my king, but…if this is a ploy, and if it cannot be avoided…would you risk having to kill a friend?”—before tossing it away in disgust and turning back to the gathered soldiers.

“Sire!” came Akkey’s voice from outside. “For some reason, the Changewings stopped attacking!”

“Odin’s soiled underpants and the gods of…” the king muttered, ignoring Vox’s continued string of protests. He unconsciously fingered the hilt of his sword.

“Enough!” yelled Haddock over the chaos.

The room fell silent.

He swore under his breath. “I will unlock her myself.”

Vox sobbed in relief as, with a sharp click…the manacles snapped open.

And then Tree was collapsing into his arms, their hot tears mingling, her head buried in his shoulder and his knee digging into her stomach and they fell to their knees, with Vox whispering in a choked, tearful voice, “It’s okay, he can’t hurt you now…I’m here, Tree…you’re my best friend. Don’t ever forget that. You’re my best friend, and I’ll never let you go. Don’t ever forget that, don’t ever forget that I…I love you, Tree.”

And then she lifted her head to look at him, her face wet with tears, but…but…

There was something wrong with her eyes.

And the second Vox realized it, a horrible dread sank into his stomach, and then she was speaking, and he couldn’t understand what she was saying, and—

And a cold, burning pain ripped through him as he gazed, disbelieving, at his dearest friend, with her claws dug deep into his chest. But no pain could compare to the horrified look that flashed across her face at the last second as she realized what she had done.

               _______________

He couldn’t feel his body anymore. All he knew was the lingering touch of her hand on his cheek, and her soft, beautiful voice whispering his name. He could hear it now, he realized. He could hear it

“I’m still here…” he choked out through the blood filling his throat. “Still…here. Just barely…”

And her voice, her tear-choked, sobbing voice, singing to him: “I’ll swim…and sail…on savage seas…”

The blood was coming faster, thicker, and he barely managed, through the deep, hacking coughs, to croak back, “…With ne’er a fear of drowning…”

“And gladly…ride the waves of life…” Her hands. He could feel them, grasping clumsily at his, lending him the strength for three last words…

”..If you…would…”

And then there was nothing.

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