Chapter 90: Uniting Lost Souls

27th of Morning Star

"Find them for me, please! I beg you!" the ghost of the Dunmeri Saint Jiub pleaded to Ruby. As the younger girl reassured him that they'd help, despite the less than stellar introduction less than a minute earlier, Weiss thought over the situation the soul found himself in and what he was asking.

'He's definitely going to need someone to help distribute this work. I wonder if the first one is copyrighted?' Weiss thought, then paused and tilted her head. 'Do they have copyright in Tamriel?'

Weiss was sure there was something similar to the concept. She would have to inquire about the existence of a writer's guild or something along those lines. Perhaps the Bard's College would know, if not outright be the writer's guild in all but name.

"We'll see you later," Ruby told the soul before leaving, leading the two vampires away and towards their next point of interest, a large fortress not far from where they ran into Jiub.

"Not trying to be hard-hearted here," Serana spoke up, "but are we actually about to start looking for these notes? Who knows how long that might take, assuming they can even be found."

"Well, not right now," Ruby admitted, cupping her chin as she walked. "I figured…after things settle down, we could always come back. I mean, we know the portal recipe, and it's not like Mr. Jiub's in any kind of hurry."

Weiss hummed in agreement. "Yes. He practically has all of eternity. Plus he's waited about two hundred years. A little longer won't hurt."

"Yeah. I know how to priori-" Ruby was cut off by the sight of Arvak running by. "Oh, there he goes!" she said before speeding after him.

"...You know what, if it wasn't for this horse somehow leading us to where we want to go half the time, I would have fried it by now," Weiss complained as she and her fellow vampire ran after their living companion.

This time, the horse spirit led them to a structure much like a stone gazebo or pavilion with an altar set beneath it, a purple horse's skull within. A few souls stood around it, aimless, until several Mistmen rose up, causing them to scatter. The three women made quick work of them, with the worst thing that happened being an ice spike shattering against Serana's ribs. Weiss quickly went to her side but saw that the woman's armor had done its job with only a couple shards having poked tiny, millimeter-deep holes in the enchanted leather.

"If it had been fire, that might have done more than jolt me," the vampire princess said while brushing herself off.

"Guys, I think we found Arvak," Ruby said as she walked up to the skull and picked it up. "I guess, since he's an animal, his soul's not really stuck in here like all the people. Needed a vessel or something."

"So, there's a physical piece?" Weiss asked while looking over the skull and probing at it. Ruby suddenly pointed, and Weiss looked over to see that she'd spotted another soul having reappeared in the area, this one familiar.

"It's the guy," Ruby announced as she headed towards him.

"I honestly couldn't tell," Weiss admitted, following her. "The features of semi-translucent beings are hard to make out."

"Yeah, but I can tell it's him," Ruby declared with a smug smile on her face. They stopped and the soul turned towards them, a smile stretching across his face.

"Arvak!" he joyously exclaimed, and then the skull disappeared in motes of light, leaving the girls a little flabbergasted. "You saved him! His soul is free, I can feel it!"

The soul's smile shone brightly on his near-transparent face for a long moment. "He's such a loyal beast. Here, I'll teach you how to call him to you."

The ghostly being took Ruby's hand in his own, and the girl blushed for a moment. She then stammered out, "Oh, no that's fine, I- Uh? Ah!"

Weiss blinked rapidly. She wasn't exactly focusing on her magic sensing, figuring the soul was going to show her partner an actual physical way to call Arvak -which made her wonder why he needed them to find the horse- but instead picked up a strangely familiar spell pattern. Intrigued, Weiss reached out. Seeming to take that as an invitation, the soul took her hands as well, and Weiss gasped as knowledge of a new spell entered her mind.

It was much like the spell Isael created to summon M'rissi, with a nearly identical intent and similar script, the weave of it so intricate that Weiss figured it would have taken days, if not weeks, for most mages to learn it. Even a skilled Conjurer would have needed to see it laid out to pick it up quickly. Somehow, the spirit before them managed to relay that all through a touch.

When Weiss managed to blink away the metaphorical stars dancing around her head, she saw Serana also receiving the man's blessing as he simultaneously dimmed. A part of both Weiss and Ruby's hearts hitched at the sight, frightened at the implications of the soul giving a little piece of its very existence over to them, but when he looked at them again, he was still smiling, if sadly.

"Arvak can help you get around this wretched place, but I'm sure he'd be much happier someplace sunnier." He waved to them as he started to walk away, fading more and more all the while. "Goodbye, friends! Take good care of Arvak for me! Such a good horse…"

What remained of the spirit seemed to dissolve into mist before their eyes. For a moment, Weiss worried that she had seen the final death of someone's very soul, but her thoughts on that stopped when she saw Ruby focusing magicka into a spell. The younger girl released it, and Arvak seemed to step from nothingness into being right next to them. The skeletal horse calmly stepped forward and dipped his head at the spot where his dead master had vanished, letting out a sad whinny that wouldn't have sounded out of place from a living equine.

"It's okay, buddy," Ruby reassured Arvak while petting his flaming mane. "Souls can't be destroyed. He just ran out of energy so now he can't manifest."

Weiss recalled that from one of her lessons at the college. It was briefly gone over when she was taught Enchanting, how souls couldn't be destroyed or created, only altered. Although, altered meant many things, ranging from adding or subtracting energy to dividing and fusing them.

The young vampire pushed the thoughts out of her mind and refocused on the situation at hand just as Serana came up and patted the dead horse's flank gently.

"Well, I think riding around might be a bit more manageable at this point," the vampire princess stated. "I can summon a mount if you can't, Weiss."

"I should be able to. If nothing else…I have an alternative."

Weiss concentrated on conjuring a mount for herself, determined to get it right so that she didn't have to rely on the Sanguine Rose. She didn't want to imagine what the Prince of Debauchery might send her to ride. A moment later, an icy, boar-shaped creature came to be at her command. Serana nodded and brought up her own horse-shaped Coldflame Atronach, and the trio were off towards the fortress atop their tireless mounts.

The group paused only once for Ruby to investigate another false dragon skeleton, but beyond that continued unhindered. At first, it looked like the structure might be no more than a stone box, but as they made to circle it, an entrance soon came into view, and the women headed straight for it.

The gateway was illuminated by dim, violet light, and bones were piled randomly on either side of the stoop. A shimmering, translucent wall indicated the presence of a sort of forcefield or ward, which was a major sign that something important was here. As they dismounted and approached, each of the girls kept their eyes peeled for any sort of clue, but their search was stopped when a woman walked out from a dark corner and glared at them.

The first impression Weiss and Ruby had of the woman was that she looked almost exactly like a more mature version of Serana. Subtle differences were noticed, such as the twin buns the woman had her hair in, her more squared jawline, and how worn and patched-up her red outfit appeared. Unlike Serana's red-orange eyes that could remain dim enough to blend into mortal society, hers were a bright yellow, nearly gold, and they shined against the darkness around them. Instantly, the girls knew this was who they'd been looking for: Valerica Volkihar.

"Mother?" Serana started as she ran up the stairs, stopping at the forcefield with her hands against it, nearly pressing her body to the barrier as she tried to get a better look inside. "Mother!"

"Maker…" the older woman muttered as she unfolded her arms and slowly approached them. "It can't be. Serana?"

"Is it really you? I can't believe it!" She seemed to push against the barrier while looking around, trying to spot the corners of it. "How do we get inside? We have to talk."

Valerica seemed otherwise occupied, a mildly annoyed look replacing the awe in her face as she put a hand to her hip. "Serana? What are you doing here? Where's your father?"

"He doesn't know we're here. I don't have time to explain."

The elder vampire sighed and shook her head, moving her hand up to her chin as she contemplated things. "I must have failed. Harkon's found a way to decipher the prophecy, hasn't he."

"No, you've got it all wrong," Serana assured her. "We're here to stop him… To make everything right."

"Wait a moment…" Valerica looked over to Ruby and Weiss, who were both hanging back a bit, not wanting to intrude on the mother and daughter meeting again for the first time in centuries. With the matriarch's eyes on them now, however, they both felt caught in the spotlight. "You've brought strangers here? Have you lost your mind?"

"No, you don't..." Serana tried to protest, but Valerica ignored her.

"You," she interrupted while pointing out the two Huntresses. "Come forward. I would speak with you."

Nervously, both of the young women walked up to where the other two were, the barrier just before them, and Valerica just past it. The ancient vampire's eyes narrowed as she took in the sight of them both, her arms crossing before she leaned back slightly, resting her weight on one leg.

"Not a thrall…" Valerica noted, a hint of surprise and haughtiness in her voice. She then stood up straighter and asked, "So, how has it come to pass that a vampire of mixed blood and a free-minded mortal are in the company of my daughter?"

Weiss was about to answer, before realizing just how insane the question itself sounded aloud. The answer wasn't all that much more lucid.

"Ma'am," Ruby replied, trying to sound as polite and formal as possible, "we're just doing our best to keep her safe."

Weiss resisted the urge to visibly sigh, though she certainly did so in her mind. Leave it to Ruby-

"Safe?!" Valerica screeched. "You call bringing her here safe? Has she explained nothing to you?"

Then again, there was sometimes no perfect diplomatic response.

"Serana has sacrificed everything to prevent Harkon from completing the prophecy," Valerica continued, turning her gaze towards her daughter for a moment. "I would have expected her to explain that to you."

"She did explain things," Weiss inserted. "That's why we've come here to retrieve the Elder Scroll."

"You think I'd have the audacity to place my own daughter in that tomb for the protection of her Elder Scroll alone?" the woman shot at her. She then explained in a low voice, "The scrolls are merely a means to an end. The key to the Tyranny of the Sun is Serana herself."

The vampire princess was shocked at that statement, and the other two girls looked over to her, flabbergasted.

"Wha…?" Ruby smartly muttered out.

"When I fled Castle Volkihar, I fled with two Elder Scrolls," Valerica explained, bringing their attention back to her as she held up two fingers. "The Scroll I presume you found with Serana speaks of Auriel and his arcane weapon, Auriel's Bow. The second scroll declares that 'The Blood of Coldharbour's Daughter will blind the eye of the Dragon.'"

"What's that got to do with Serana, though?" Ruby asked. Weiss was afraid to ask, as memories of her research and questions regarding the 'Daughters of Coldharbor' led to sickening assumptions in her mind.

Valerica's face seemed to darken as she looked aside. "Like myself, Serana was a human once," she said in a lowered tone. "We were devout followers of Lord Molag Bal. Tradition dictates the females be offered to Molag Bal on his summoning day. Few survive the ordeal. Those that do emerge as a pure-blooded vampire. We call such confluences the 'Daughters of Coldharbour.'"

"Offered to…?" Ruby's eyes widened in realization before she looked to Serana, then back at Valerica, horror mounting on her face.

Weiss winced, wishing the knowledge she had would just go away. Instead, as the memories of her own transformations returned, she couldn't help but realize how…fortunate she was in comparison. A bite, what was hardly worse than a rather severe flu, and maybe a seizure could hardly compare to such an ordeal. One that her family practically threw her into.

Serana mumbled as Ruby continued trying to come to terms with what she'd just been told. Perhaps it was true that time makes all wounds smaller, but Weiss was certain she saw something else in the woman's eyes. Anger? Grief?

The heiress turned her attention back to Valerica and swallowed her own emotions. "The Tyranny of the Sun," she breathed out. "You're saying it requires Serana's blood?"

"Now you're beginning to see why I wanted to protect Serana, and why I've kept the other Elder Scroll as far from her as possible."

"You think he'll kill her," she stated. Merely taking a few vials from Serana wouldn't have required much harm. Hell, Harkon already did that to check her for anything harmful during their short stay in the castle.

Valerica nodded. "If Harkon obtained Auriel's Bow and Serana's blood was used to taint the weapon, the Tyranny of the Sun would be complete. In his eyes, she'd be dying for the good of all vampires."

Weiss felt her stomach twist in a knot and her teeth grind. Her eyes gazed up, though intellectually she knew the castle and Nirn didn't necessarily lie in that direction, and her mind threw a thousand curses at the vampire king.

"We won't let that happen," Ruby resolutely replied, her earlier horror buried under her desire to defend her friend's friend.

"And how exactly do you plan on stopping him?" Valerica asked in a dismissive tone, placing her hand on her hip.

"We just need your help."

"Have you been listening to me?" Valerica snapped at the Dragonborn. "Like Serana, I'm a pure-blooded vampire. My presence on Tamriel is as much of a danger as hers."

"Then we'll stop Harkon!" Weiss shouted, surprised at the anger in her voice as much as the others were at her outburst.

"This whole…crazy thing about the Tyranny of the Sun," she ground out. "It's a stupid plan of Harkon's, and I don't want any part of it. It won't make things better for vampires, it'll just frighten everyone else and then choke the world to death. From the moment I heard about it, I knew I couldn't let it come to pass. So when the first opportunity arose, we set out to make sure he would never get his hands on the Scrolls or whatever they were sending us towards."

Weiss put her hands to her hips and leveled her gaze with the ancient vampire before her. "We're putting a stop to this, with or without you."

Valerica smirked for a moment and crossed her arms again. "Well, I can feel the certainty in your voice, but it's not so simple. Harkon would crush you the moment he decides to take things seriously."

"Maybe," Weiss admitted. It hadn't been all that long ago that she felt his immense strength above her own, ready to stamp down on her and everyone else in that castle should it suit him. "But I'm going to try."

"And I'll be there to help her," Ruby backed her vampire friend. "And so will all our friends. That includes Serana, too." Weiss thought she saw Ruby's teeth grind for a second as the Dragonborn pointed at Valerica. "She's your daughter! Don't you care about what she wants?! She believes in what we're doing, so why can't you believe in her?!"

The vampire matriarch sneered for a moment, but then cast a softer look at her child.

"Serana, these strangers may think they stand a chance, and that one may call herself a vampire, but they know nothing of our struggle. Why should I entrust you to her?"

Serana scoffed. "These 'strangers' have done more for me in the brief time I've known them than you've done in centuries!"

"How dare you!" Valerica snarled. "I gave up everything I cared about to protect you from that fanatic you call a father!"

"Yes, he's a fanatic... He's changed," the younger Volkihar admitted, sadness taking over her voice. "But he's still my father. Why can't you understand how that makes me feel?"

"Oh, Serana." She shook her head. "If you'd only open your eyes. The moment your father discovers your role in the prophecy, that he needs your blood, you'd be in terrible danger."

"So, to protect me you decided to shut me away from everything I cared about?" Serana shot back. "You never asked me if hiding me in that tomb was the best course of action, you just expected me to follow you blindly. Both of you were obsessed with your own paths. Your motivations might have been different, but in the end, I'm still just a pawn to you, too."

Serana looked downcast as her gaze fell to the floor for a long moment. "I…want us to be a family again. But I don't know if we can ever have that. Maybe we don't deserve that kind of happiness. Maybe it isn't for us."

She took a deep breath and released it, looking back up at her mother with a strengthened resolve. "But we have to stop him. Before he goes too far. And to do that, we need the Elder Scroll."

For her part, Valerica looked a little ashamed, her eyes averted and a hand rubbing at her shoulder. "I'm sorry, Serana. I didn't know... I didn't see. I've allowed my hatred of your father to estrange us for too long. Forgive me. If you want the Elder Scroll, it's yours." She looked back over at Weiss and Ruby, her gaze alternating between them as she straightened herself.

"Your intentions are still somewhat unclear to me," Valerica admitted, squinting her eyes at Weiss and Ruby in clear suspicion. But it went away after a moment." But for Serana's sake, I'll assist you in any way that I can."

"Thank you," Ruby said to her, now calmed.

"So, you'll give us the Elder Scroll?" Weiss asked.

"Yes. I've kept it safely secured here ever since I was imprisoned. Fortunately, you're in a position to breach the barrier that surrounds these ruins."

"Oh yes," Weiss said as she looked about at the massive thing. "I was meaning to ask about that. You didn't raise it yourself?"

"No, it was raised by the Keepers when they couldn't take my soul for the Ideal Masters. You need to locate the tallest of the rocky spires that surround these ruins." She pointed towards one, which the younger women immediately noticed looked a lot like another spire they had visited earlier. "At their bases, the barrier's energy is being drawn from unfortunate souls that have been exiled here. Destroy the Keepers that are tending them, and it should bring the barrier down."

"Keepers," Ruby mumbled before pursing her lips for a moment. "They wouldn't happen to be large, dark spirits armored and armed in dragonbone, would they?"

"I don't know where the bone… Oh, so you've seen one?"

"We beat one on the way here," Ruby confirmed.

"Beat it?"

"She killed it," Serana reaffirmed Ruby's claim while gesturing to the Dragonborn. "Weiss and I…mostly just assisted her."

Valerica looked intrigued by the information. "Perhaps you're much more powerful than you appear." She shook her head. "It won't do to be complacent, though. There's a dragon that calls itself Durnehviir roaming the Cairn. Be wary of him. The Ideal Masters have charged him with overseeing the Keepers, and will undoubtedly intervene if you're perceived as a threat."

"Oh yeah, a dragon?" Serana asked as she smirked. Ruby could hardly hold back a blush as the vampire princess began to explain who Ruby was to her mother, slowly morphing the elder's expression into one of surprise.

"That…changes a lot."

"So, the Mara stuff is mostly Imperial?" Yang asked, her interest in the religious background of the world piqued by the question of her status as Champion of Dibella.

"Very much so," Lydia confirmed with a crisp nod. "I've been told that back in the day, a 'marriage' in Skyrim was just two people deciding to live together and start a family. They say the Imperials wanted ceremony and pomp, so now we have weddings. I think the longest one I was ever at was thirty minutes, not counting the time eating at the reception."

"What about worshipping Mara herself?" Blake asked, her ears twitching as she listened in for any intruders.

"My ancestors certainly did so. Even in the days of the Totems, she was revered as the Mother Wolf," Lydia replied, and Yang couldn't help but make a toothy grin at that. "Of course, she wasn't considered the Goddess of Marriage at the time; she was the Hearth Goddess of Family, Motherhood, and Love."

"Speaking of, you ever thought about shacking up with someone?" Yang asked, then paused in thought for a moment. "Oh wow, that saying is actually way more accurate here!"

Lydia chuckled with a shake of her head. "Nothing serious. I've run across a few good men and women. Not sure why, but Housecarl Hrongar tends to start...vetting any man who appears to be courting me. At first, I thought it was jealousy, but when I learned a little more, it turned out he was just looking out for me, if in a rough way."

"Isn't that a little odd?" Blake spoke up as she turned to look at Lydia, a hint of concern on her face. "Just some guy you work with inserting himself into your love life?"

"A little, but the man has looked out for me ever since I was young. He was good friends with my father. Practically an uncle to me."

"If only his actual niece was half as well-mannered," the Faunus grumbled.

"I think the oddest one was this Orc named Yarenlal," Lydia revealed, idly gazing up at the ceiling as she lost herself to her memories. "When we first met, I just thought he was going to be like every other Orc who thought he would just nab whatever woman was around for the night, but he was actually a rather sweet man, all things considered. He was just looking for someone to talk to, and I happened to be the lucky pair of ears."

"Aw, that's nice," Yang intoned while adjusting her seating position. "What happened there?"

"Well, after a few weeks, and getting my bedposts repaired, he headed out west, intent on helping rebuild Orsinium. We said our goodbyes, and we've exchanged a few letters since." Lydia noticed Blake's reddened cheeks. "What?"

"...Did you have to share the bedpost detail?"

"What's the matter? We're all grown women here, and it's not like I went into detail."

"Yeah, Blakey." Yang added in a teasing tone, giving her partner a cheeky grin. "She didn't share anything about his huge, green pecs, or the washboard abs you could grind meat on, or how I bet she liked it when he'd hold her hands down and-"

"Now now, don't start assuming things you don't know," Lydia warned the werewolf. "Unlike you, I know all about your tryst with an Orc."

"Oh come on!" Yang objected. "I only kissed him for like, a minute at most."

"Then swore that you'd defeat all the chieftains in Skyrim to prove your strength," the Nord pointed out. "All because he made one quiet comment complaining about how he might not be able to have a human woman."

"Sheesh, I don't even remember the guy's name," Yang grumbled. "Or most of that night."

"Do you always kiss and forget?" Blake teased her.

"Only two times," she answered, holding up two fingers. "Mister Orc Boy I Can't Remember the Name Of, and some girl at an 'End of School' party a couple years ago. Although in that case, I was totally aiming to get her name afterward, but the guy who threw the party's parents came home early and everyone had to ditch."

"Wow, just gonna tell your girlfriend all about your conquests like that?"

"Ohho, so you're my girlfriend now?" Yang leaned over and pulled Blake closer to her. "Good to know."

The Faunus blushed brightly, but leaned into the embrace, and Lydia was thinking of an excuse to head into the Refuge, when suddenly Blake jumped, her ears up in alert.

"Something just triggered the Alarm," she said to the other two, switching on her Nightingale Armor before looking around, seeing the blue glows of moving creatures beyond the walls. "We've got contacts, human-sized, heading down the halls towards us."

Lydia and Yang jumped to their feet, quickly buckled up anything loose, and prepared their weapons.

"Crap! What do we got?" Yang shouted, preparing herself for combat.

"I think three- No, four!" Blake corrected herself. "One's walking in front. Can't tell vampires from thralls like this, so be prepared for the worst."

"Damn! Thought we'd have more time." Yang quickly texted a message to Weiss' scroll, hoping she didn't get distracted by the alert. There was about forty minutes until their next check-in, and during the last it was clear that they were likely going into some heavy combat.

'All right, no time to freak out,' she told herself. 'These guys won't get past us.'

One last strike, and the Keeper bowman was down. Ruby scooped up its oversized dragonbone bow after it collapsed and looked the weapon over.

"Man, this is actually pretty cool!" She gave the string a test pull and let out a low whistle. "Practically a ballista."

"Yeah, a real spear launcher," Serana grumbled, dusting off her skirts while standing up from behind a partially shattered pillar with one of the dragonbone arrows embedded into it. "Remind me to never come back here when we're done."

"Certainly," Weiss concurred as she emerged out from behind the same pillar. "I'm not really thinking of ever returning myself."

"I'll pop back in at some point," Ruby told them as she stowed the bow away on her back, idly picturing a mechanism that would fold it into a more convenient size to carry without compromising its strength. "There're some things here I wanna do, and I've already paid the entry fee so I might as well take advantage of that. Plus, I think I've gotten used to this place." She then took out a handful of Soul Husk and started eating it like a snack.

Weiss shook her head then looked back where they came from. "Right. Well, let's see if we can get back-"

Ruby jumped off the platform, causing Serana to gasp and run over to the side. A loud Shout of "Feim!" was heard by them both, and Weiss sighed.

"My word…"

Ruby looked up as she faded back from her ethereal form and munched on another bite of Soul Husk, wondering if her friends were going to join her. A moment later, dark fluid and purple lightning shimmered near her and the two vampires appeared as it dissipated.

"Ah, you went and used the teleportal."

"Yes, we used the teleportal!" Weiss grumbled, only mildly annoyed by her partner's antics. "Most people don't decide to jump off the side of a floating building for expedience's sake."

Ruby shrugged at that. "I've got landing strategies. You should practice yours more often. Never know when you'll have to use them."

Serana looked back and forth between the two young girls. "I'm sorry. Landing strategies?"

"When fighting Grimm, one never knows when they might be launched up or carried off high and then dropped," Weiss explained. "Landing strategies are the different plans Huntsfolk use to safely hit the ground without taking too much damage or wasting a lot of Aura."

"I used to use my baby's recoil for most of mine," Ruby inserted. "But with the 'Become Ethereal' Shout, I can just turn myself into an indestructible spirit for a few seconds."

"That sounds like it would be incredibly useful in combat," the vampire princess mused.

"Not as much as you'd think," Ruby told her with a small frown. "Nothing can hurt me like that, but I also can't hurt anything back. Heck, I can't even trample grass in spirit form. I'm just glad that nothing stays in me when I turn back to normal. That would be weird."

"Huh." Serana wondered about that for a moment. As she did, the skeletal horse trotted over to the girls, sniffing at what Ruby had in her hands.

"Hey Arvak. Want some Husk?" Ruby asked while offering the spirit-based plant pieces. The horse munched at the food, making Weiss wonder how exactly that worked, and Ruby patted his flank. "Yeah, that's a good boy. Let's get back to Valerica, yeah?"

"Yes. If mother was right, then the barrier should be down."

The other two summoned their own mounts, and they made their way back to the fortress. While Serana's gaze stayed focused and Weiss was checking on their messages and sending a status update to the three back on Nirn, Ruby's eyes kept drifting off. Every once in a while, they passed close to some bones that were much larger than the rest, a good few of which were draconic skulls. However, each of them were fakes, and she could tell. It was a mystery she didn't have a straight answer for. The Ideal Masters were able to obtain dragonbone somehow. After all, the Keepers and their weapons were basically made of the stuff. At least, in the Keepers' case, their shells were. What was with all the fakes then? Failed experiments?

Her thoughts returned to the task at hand as they came close to Valerica's fort.

"Okay, we'll need to hurry," Weiss warned them. "Blake, Yang, and Lydia said someone has entered the secret underground area. It's just a matter of time until they find their way to the lab and the portal."

"Right. We'll grab the Scroll and head back up." She looked over to Serana. "Sorry we can't stay longer to let you guys reconnect. If you want to hang back a bit…"

"No, it'll be fine," Serana responded, closing her eyes for a moment. "We just… There'll be time for all of that later. We have to ensure father doesn't find out about this place. We can take all the evidence and clues away, but if the portal is there and someone tells him…"

"Got it." Ruby looked ahead just as they crested the hill before the gateway. They quickly dismounted and walked up, noting that the glowing barrier from before was completely gone, with Valerica awaiting them.

"You managed to destroy all three Keepers," she noted. "Very impressive."

"Can we get the Scroll now?" Ruby asked, feeling a little rushed. "Something just came up, and we need to hurry back to help our friends."

"Yes. Please, follow me," Valerica beckoned them as she headed towards the ebony double doors. "Keep watch for Durnehviir. With the prison's barrier down, he's almost certain to investigate."

The four walked through and began trekking towards the other side of what appeared to be a graveyard with a dais in the center. Weiss was about to ask Valerica about the place when a familiar roar, only sounding strangely gurgled, resounded from the discolored sky.

"It's Durnehviir! He's here!" Valerica warned them as she drew her shortsword and ran for cover. "Defend yourselves!"

Ruby brought out Crescent Rose while Weiss drew Strahlendjuwel, and the silhouette of a dragon flew in from the other side of the fortress, banking to a stop and then landing upon the wall. Neither could get a good look at him through the dark fog that hung everywhere, but all heard him Shout something, leading to a stream of blue energy coming from him and then splitting, hitting four different areas and turning red.

"...Well that didn't do-" Ruby started, only to stop when Bonemen rose up from the spots hit by the dragon's power. "Oh."

"He's summoning an army," Serana concluded, hitting the nearest Boneman with a bolt of lightning.

Ruby and Weiss split, both focusing on different groups of unliving spirits. Weiss doused a set in flames before swiftly picking them apart with her rapier, while Ruby cut down each of hers in a single swing. As the Dragonborn sliced through the last near her, the ground rumbled from behind her, and she spun around while trying to keep her balance to see the dragon had come up close.

Ruby gasped at the sight of Durnehviir. He was sickly green and looked rotten, like putrid flesh, with part of his skull and spine exposed and the fetid meat barely hanging from the bones in places. His wings were full of holes, resembling more webs of worn leather than real wings. Only the four horns on his head seemed to have escaped whatever gave him his decayed appearance, looking bone-white against his green and black body.

"Qeth Gol Motaad!" the undead dragon Shouted. Ruby prepared to dodge the attack, but it spread over such a wide area that she was unable to get out of its way. However, a few seconds later, she realized it wasn't exactly aimed at her as the ground beneath her began to shake violently.

The dragon then spun and slammed down his tail. Ruby rolled away, painfully bouncing as her footing was lost, and then the ground began to break under the combined forces, rock and dirt shifting around her.

"Feim!" Ruby Shouted before she could be buried underneath the rolling earth. She bounced away from the shaky portion of ground, and the dragon turned back around to look at her more closely, a spark of interest in his sunken eyes.

An ice spike skewering his neck took Durnehviir's attention away as Weiss charged in.


"I'm good, Weiss!" Ruby called back as she darkened to material form once again, getting back to her feet as they faced off against the dragon.

Ruby went in at an angle, keeping away from the patch of ground that was beginning to settle. A rotten wing came at her, and Ruby ducked beneath it while raising Crescent Rose. She caught it against the sharp, black claw and let herself be pulled in by it. The Dragonborn spun as it came to a stop, letting the momentum of Durnehviir's wing carry her forward and slice at his neck. Ruby found it strangely easy to carve through, but as she turned back and saw the damage she did and how little it seemed to be affecting the dragon, she realized it wasn't at all effective.

"Guys, I just cut out his throat, and he's still going!"

"My flesh matters not, little one!" Durnehviir said as his wings came up and flapped, causing a fierce gust of wind. A second flap sent him back into the air, and then he spun. "Yol Toor Shul!"

The two Volkihar vampires ran out of the range of the fire while Weiss summoned a ward to hold it off from her. Ruby dodged as she burst into petals and headed towards Durnehviir, her scythe reared back to deliver a blow to his guts, but his talons came up to grasp at her, forcing her to plunge her weapon into the ground to suddenly brake and keep herself from running into their grip. The claws missed, and the dragon continued flying away, beginning to circle around the graveyard fort.

"Diil Qoth Zaam!" he Shouted, the blue energy spearing out from him and summoning masses of Soul Cairn unliving once again, only this time Mistmen and Wrathmen joined the forces of Bonemen in attacking the four women.

"Damn!" Weiss cursed, looking around at the forces set against them and back up at the dragon. "If he can just keep doing that… Ruby, cover me!"

"What are you doing?" her partner asked as she sped over to her side, bashing aside a Boneman and fending off two Wrathmen.

"I have a feeling Durnehviir's not going to come back down where we can get him," she explained as she focused on her core, pulling the strange points at her heart and navel together before releasing her breath. Blood-like magicka coated her and then burst as she assumed her Vampire Lord form, then she shot off into the air after the dragon, Strahlendjuwel still in hand as she left Ruby's belated protest behind.

The dragon spotted her and bent his neck back at a disturbingly unnatural angle to fire Lightning Breath in her direction. Weiss dove under the beam and switched her Dust dial over. A moment of focus, and then a yellow glyph appeared just ahead of her. She set a clawed foot upon it and felt the energy flow through her as time seemed to stretch and slow. At the peak of her Time Glyph's activation, she shot forward and summoned several glyphs just ahead of the dragon. The one just ahead of her turned black on her command, and she bounced off of it towards another, cutting across the back of Durnehviir's neck as she did. She leaped again, slicing at the same spot before hitting another glyph, changing it from simple to repulse, and making another jump.

After three more jump cuts, Weiss felt time resuming its natural rhythm upon her and flew upwards. Durnehviir was roaring, possibly from pain, though Weiss wasn't sure if the zombie-like dragon could even feel pain. Then the roar resolved into recognizable Words.

"Tiid Klo!" Weiss' eyes barely had time to widen in alarm at Durnehviir dilating time in turn, before the dragon climbed up to reach her in a blink with his moldering jaws outstretched. The vampire lord tried to twist away, only to cry out as the teeth snapped closed over her right arm and wing, her Aura straining against the pressure. Her sword arm was still free, but as her assailant banked into a smooth curve and she attempted to bring her weapon to bear, Durnehviir responded by shaking her like a rat. She snarled in pain, and as she met the undead dragon's eye she thought she saw a hint of smugness.

Then a long, buzzing blur slammed into the side of his face from below, revealing itself to be a nearly spear-sized arrow now skewering the joint of Durnehviir's jaw. Weiss traced the almost buried fletching of the projectile to where Ruby stood with her new giant bow in hand, then rotated Strahlendjuwel's cylinder again as the dragon's mouth loosened with a crack. She coated the blade with Wind Dust before shoving it in the gap between his teeth. The subsequent explosion of air was enough to blast them apart, Weiss shooting upwards while Durnehviir was shoved down, even as his jaw was nearly ripped completely off.

She focused two glyphs to appear at his wings while another came to be behind her at the apex of her rise. The dragon suddenly found his movement arrested as armored hands sprouted from the sigils to grasp his wing bones, and an outpouring of ice magic backed by Ice Dust was channeled towards the glyphs, augmenting them and further holding Durnehviir in place with rime glazing over his appendages.

Behind her, the Arma Gigas came out and began to swing its blade with a spin to further add power to its strike. Weiss flew down with it, keeping it on point and aimed at the weakened vertebrae joint. The dragon managed to turn his head enough to look up, but had no time to react to the oncoming summon. Apparated blade sliced through fetid flesh and bone, decapitating the dragon.

Weiss released the dragon's body from her glyphs as she landed with her Arma Gigas behind her, both stepping into an elegant pose as the dragon's corpse landed behind them, Weiss out of habit, the summon because of its odd attitude. At least until Weiss stumbled under the impact of a flying glomp, courtesy of Ruby.

"You don't get to scold me for being reckless after pulling something like that, got it?!" the Dragonborn mumble-yelled into her shoulder, and the mage just hugged her back and nodded against Ruby's neck instead of trying to argue. In retrospect, charging off on her own to challenge an ancient dragon in aerial combat, without even trying to coordinate with her teammate, really had been foolhardy of her.

Releasing a sigh as she returned to her normal form, Weiss turned around and blinked as she saw the body 'dissolve' for lack of a better word, rather than burn up as she expected. Violet energies coalesced around the body and head as they disappeared, turning blue just before it all went away, not even bones left behind like she'd gotten used to.

"Uh, okay, that happened," Ruby said while stowing her scythe away. "I, uh… I didn't absorb a soul there."

"Was it a puppet or something?" Serana asked as she and her mother walked up to where the two Huntresses were.

"No," Ruby answered. "He was using the Thu'um and stuff. It's more like…something was missing, or he was only half there."

"A projection, maybe," Weiss guessed. "There's honestly no telling."

"Perhaps he's not dead," Valerica proposed, her arms crossed and head inclined in thought. "Volumes written on Durnehviir allege that he can't be slain by normal means. Unless they were mistaken… It's possible that your killing blow has merely displaced Durnehviir's physical form while he reconstitutes himself."

"So he could come back, without another dragon to revive him?" Weiss asked, more than a little uncomfortable with that thought. It was bad enough that he could keep summoning small armies with seemingly no end, but being unable to truly kill him meant that it really was a losing battle of attrition.

"How long do you think it might take?" Ruby asked the vampire matron.

"Minutes? Hours? Years?" Valerica offered with a wave of her hand. "I can't even begin to guess. I suggest we don't wait around to find out. Now, let's get you the Elder Scroll and you can be on your way."

With that, she went back to leading them over to the other side of the field to a niche between two sets of stairs, where a pile of books, several alchemy instruments, and a long, silver and wood chest were all placed within. Valerica opened the chest, revealing the gold-colored Elder Scroll within. Ruby and Weiss looked to one another for a moment, then Weiss reached inside and grabbed it.

"It's…lighter than I imagined," the youngest of the vampires said as she held the Scroll to her partner. Ruby had retrieved some rope from her pack and started measuring out how much they'd need to keep it secure.

"Now that you've retrieved the Elder Scroll, you should be on your way," Valerica told the girls.

"Wait, you're going to stay here?" Ruby asked her, distracted from her measuring for a moment.

"I have no choice," Valerica explained, sadness evident in her voice. "As I told you before, I'm a Daughter of Coldharbour. If I return to Tamriel, that increases Harkon's likelihood of bringing the Tyranny of the Sun to fruition."

"There…could be a way to avoid that," Weiss offered. "We have something, an ancient artifact… Well, it might not be as ancient for you. It allows us to transport ourselves to a pocket dimension of Oblivion, where a powerful mage created a sort of home base. In fact, I would say it's much safer than staying here."

"Really? You believe that?" Valerica questioned her.

"The only way to enter is with the artifact, an amulet. We haven't made any alternative portkeys."

"Hmm, perhaps," Valerica mused as she tapped her chin. "I would have to see it for myself before committing anything. I might not be able to go back to Tamriel, but getting out of the Soul Cairn would at least provide some respite."

"That's something, at least," Ruby reckoned, giving a small smile to Serana, who gave her one of her own. Fatigue then struck at Ruby, reminding her of her current status. "Oh, uh, before I forget, do you…think you could help me get my soul back?"

Valerica raised an eyebrow at that, then smirked as she scanned Ruby with a spell in hand. "So, my daughter applied some of the lessons I taught her about necromancy, did she? Don't worry, I think I can help you."

"That's good," Serana said. "I wasn't sure if I was misremembering that part about the re-absorption."

"You remembered correctly, I believe," she told her daughter before looking back at Ruby. "Your soul essence was trapped inside a gem. When you and Serana entered the Soul Cairn, it was 'given' to the Ideal Masters as payment. You simply need to retrieve the gem. The moment you touch it, your soul essence will be restored."

"Oh, well that's good. No big spells or challenges, right?"

"No. It should be rather straightforward. We simply need to go and collect it. There's an offering altar not terribly far from here. I'm willing to bet that the gem you're looking for is there."

"Okay, that's good. We'll go grab my soul and head back to Nirn."

"We should hurry," Weiss told them, checking her scroll. "They're saying the intruders are about halfway through."

"You think they're arguing?" Yang asked her partner, holding her axe tightly.

"Looks like it," Blake answered, watching the blue glows through the Nightingale Veil. "Or a…particularly heated discussion about something that they came across. It's hard to say, their voices are too muffled to hear clearly."

"We…did bust a lot of gargoyles on the way in," Yang noted.

"I doubt it's merely that," Lydia spoke up. "We know from Weiss that these are petty creatures with a lot of infighting. They simply might have been arguing about who is the one in charge."

"Could be," Blake agreed. "Whatever it was, they're moving again." She checked her scroll and hummed in interest. "Okay, Weiss, Serana, and Ruby are on their way back. They're making one last stop."

"What's so important that they have to-" Yang grumbled while checking the group message. "Oh, okay. Yeah, that's important."

"What?" the Housecarl asked, concerned about the delay.

"They're picking up Ruby's soul," Yang answered.

"Ah," the Nord muttered, briefly shivering at the implications before steeling herself. "Understood."

Upon exiting the fort together, the four women came to a pause at the sight of Durnehviir having returned, looking more whole than before, though still like a zombie. He was perched upon an ancient furnace, seemingly waiting for them patiently. Ruby and Weiss reached for their blades, but the dragon held up a wing and spoke.

"Stay your weapons!" he called out to them, causing the two warriors to halt, but otherwise remain at the ready. The dragon then lowered his wings and inclined his head. "I would speak with you, Qahnaarin."

For a moment, the two Huntresses looked at each other, then Ruby cleared her voice.

"I, uh, think he means you," she said to her partner.

"Wha- Why me?" the heiress asked, feeling incredulous.

"You beat him." Ruby then gestured her forward. "Go, uh, talk to him. I'll just…stand over here."

Weiss shook her head and looked back at the dragon. It was no less intimidating, even if she had beaten him once already. If anything, it was worse. A dragon was a dragon at the best of times, and this one was already experienced in fighting her, and now knew that she could use a form of time manipulation. Still, Weiss steeled herself and walked forward, making sure she was the picture of sure-footed grace every step of the way.

"Hello…Durnehviir," she began. "I had thought you would be dead."

He animalistically shook his head. "Cursed, not dead. Doomed to exist in this form for eternity. Trapped between laas ahrk dinok, between life and death."

"Then why are we speaking now?"

"I believe in civility among seasoned warriors," the dragon explained, shifting his wings and looking at Weiss with a hint of a smile, "and I find your ear worthy of my words."

He gurgled out a laugh. "My claws have rended the flesh of innumerable foes, but I have never once been felled on the field of battle. I therefore honor-name you 'Qahnaarin.' Vanquisher in your tongue."

"Ah, I see. Thank you, I suppose," Weiss replied, then respectfully nodded towards the dragon. "You were also a worthy opponent. Had it gone on much longer, I fear I would not have found myself so lucky."

"Your words do me great honor. My desire to speak with you was born from the result of our battle, Qahnaarin. I merely wish to respectfully ask a favor of you."

"I see." Weiss wasn't sure what sort of favor an undead dragon could possibly ask of a handful of mortals like themselves. "What is it you need?"

"For countless years I've roamed the Soul Cairn, in unintended service to the Ideal Masters. Before this, I roamed the skies above Tamriel. I desire to return there."

"Can you not return, then?"

The dragon shook his head. "I fear that my time here has taken its toll upon me. I share a bond with this dreaded place. If I ventured far from the Soul Cairn, my strength would begin to wane until I was no more."

Weiss blinked at that and felt a smattering of sympathy in her heart for the being. She wasn't sure how it happened, but from the sound of things, Durnehviir couldn't return to his own home in a similar way to her and the rest of Team RWBY. Only in his case, it sounded like even trying at this point might kill him.

"What can we do to help?" Weiss heard from behind her. She half-turned to see that Ruby had walked up as well and was now enveloped in the conversation.

"Ah, Dovahkiin," he said as he looked over to the girl. "I feel it clearer now. Your Thu'um was far too developed for a young one like you, save for those with Sos Se Dov. Yes, I was hoping you would help facilitate this…favor I have to ask of Qahnaarin."

"Sure, if it's just to help you out, we can do it," Ruby said.

"Very well," Durnehviir answered, happiness rising in his voice. "I will place my name with you and grant you the right to call my name from Tamriel," he told them. "Do me this simple honor and I will fight at your side as your Grah-Zeymahzin, your Ally, and teach you my Thu'um."

"You'll teach us your Shout?" Ruby asked. "The one that summoned all those Bonemen?"

"Not only that one," Durnehviir said. "I have learned of and made a Shout that will rip at the soul, tearing it from the weak and weakened, and bring forth the dead."

Both girls' eyes went wide at that explanation.

"What?" Ruby squeaked out.

Weiss didn't want to imagine what such a Shout might have done to either of them if Durhenviir had had a chance to use it against them. At best, it might have acted the same as the Soul Trap spells. At worst, it might have ripped their Auras and souls right out of them.

"Can you…never use that around us?" Ruby requested, apparently having the same thoughts.

"If you insist," he agreed with no hesitation. "Then, Dovahkiin, hon dii Thu'um. Mindok nii. Dur Neh Viir!"

"Dur Neh Viir," Ruby repeated, a rumble flowing from her through the air and ground, solidifying her hold on the name.

"When you once again are under the heavens, call for me, and I shall teach you my Thu'um, and I will fight alongside you." He then looked back towards Weiss. "Qahnaarin, while I wish nothing more than to give you my name and Thu'um as well, I can see that doing so will not be very effective."

"I'm afraid not," Weiss agreed. "The Voice is beyond me. I understand the theory behind much of it but, in practice…"

Weiss trailed off, but there wasn't any need to elaborate further. Durnehviir was able to understand her perfectly. Her answer was expected, and the ancient dragon nodded his head.

"Then, I have something else for you. Perhaps it will be of great value to you." Durnehviir then reached up to his head with one of his wings, wrapped the long claw around one of his upper horns, and pulled, snapping it off after a few long seconds. Weiss was stunned, and Ruby gasped at the act.

"Let this horn echo with your calls, and all those who follow your intent," Durnehviir said as blue and gold energies wrapped about the piece of horn, gently carrying it out of his claw and through the air. "In the eyes of Bormahu, I declare you worthy, and stow upon this gift an everlasting power. May it guide you through bright and dark."

The horn floated over to Weiss, held aloft by the strange, almost unidentifiable magic, until it rested in her hands. Strangely, the place where it broke off was smooth, and the tip had a hole rather than a sharp point.

"I… Thank you for this," the vampire said with a small bow. She didn't understand all of the implications, but she had a feeling this was something of great significance to dragonkind.

"I shall be the one thanking you."

"Well, I'll just be calling your name," Ruby said. "Nothing big."

"Trivial in your mind, perhaps. For me, it would mean a great deal."

After bidding the dragon goodbye, the four made quick headway to the place Valerica suspected Ruby's Soul Gem to be. The structure was large, though not quite the size of Valerica's chosen hiding spot, but was guarded with several of each variety of Soul Cairn dark spirit. It was also denser, with a labyrinth-like set of halls that would have led Ruby astray several times over if she hadn't had backup.

"Aw man," the Dragonborn groaned when she spotted the teleportal at the end of the hall.

"That's it," Valerica said. "It should be through here."

"But I hate these things!" Ruby complained. "It's sting-y and staticy."

"Just discharge the static via a lightning spell," Weiss told her before stepping through. Ruby sighed and followed her, moving along so that the two Volkihars could come after them, grimacing at the feeling of static running through her. At least Weiss' advice paid off as she sent out a spray of electric sparks.

"Whoa!" she muttered upon seeing a large, violet crystal floating over what looked like an altar. On the altar itself, she saw a Black Soul Gem and a dim, red light glowing from within the gem. After the other two came through, Valerica gestured to her.

"There it is. Be careful, though. That is one of the Ideal Masters, or at least the catalyst through which they act. No one is sure if it actually is them. It will try to drain you as you approach."

Ruby gulped. "Any way to avoid that?" she asked.

"Be swift."

She sighed at that and got ready. One foot forward, the other back, arms at her sides. One leg pushed while the other drew itself in, and she was off, bursting into petals a second later, reappearing within reach of the Soul Gem a second later and grasping it. As soon as her hand gripped the gem firmly, however, she felt herself pulled inward and outward, the world stretching from her vision and then flying away. Ruby gasped as she took in the new sight around her, feeling as though she was floating, but yet had something solid under her feet. Somewhere far from her, towards what she thought was the 'center' despite the lack of context, was a pillar. It was broken, missing chunks out of it and barely being held up by beams of wood that seemed ready to fall apart at any moment.

A roar sounded out and Ruby looked over and up to see a dragon coming towards her, but not one she had ever seen before. It looked black and red, with scales falling off of it in such volume that Ruby was surprised that there was anything left of it after a few seconds. The dragon roared again and flew in low, stopping a few meters from Ruby's position in a cloud of scales and what Ruby could now see were petals. The cloud slowly settled, its individual pieces fading away to reveal not a dragon, but a humanoid shape. At first, Ruby couldn't make anything out about it. It seemed incomplete, distinctly un-whole. At first, she thought it was nearly formless, merely the basic shape of what might be called 'human,' but then she saw that there was a faint outline of something eerily familiar. Then it struck her. The shape she saw was hers.

"My soul," Ruby realized, stepping towards the missing piece of herself, but then the soul shard jumped into a defensive stance, and Ruby saw that it wasn't just her own form there. There was another layer, fainter than the Ruby-like one she recognized. It covered the smaller one like armor, a corona of scales, claws, and horns. The face of it, when it could be seen, had a jaw full of knife-shaped teeth. At the back of the outer form, there was a pair of wings, hanging low. It was like a dragon had taken to humanoid form.

Ruby then felt something roll off of the shard. Fear. Pain. Indistinct memories of wrongness and cold. There was something else, too mild to be hate, but aimed at Ruby herself in anger. The Dragonborn sorted through these things as best as she could, trying to figure them out before she felt something far more specific.

Her fear, as deep and seemingly uncharacteristic as it was, of losing her team, her friends, everyone important to her. The loneliness that struck out from that felt amplified, and then she looked to the shard and realized that that was what it - she? - they felt.

A part of her own soul…felt like she had abandoned it.

"Hey, it… It wasn't like that. I had to…"

Fear came, but there was more attached to it. It was her fears for Weiss. The fear that her friend and partner might be going into something dangerous. Something that she could help her with, but only if she was there with her. Fear and anger about what happened to Yang. Gut-wrenching terror when she heard about Blake nearly dying to Isael, and the sickening worry she felt until they were given the all-clear about her condition.

And then the feeling of pain. The cold severing of her soul and the twisted draining it endured. The shard, a piece of herself she had given up to reassure herself about Weiss' safety, they felt all of that and that they had been abandoned, not by friends and family, but by her.

Ruby…abandoned herself.

Tears ran down her face, and she fought the overwhelming urge to break down crying outright.

"I'm…so sorry."

Rage poured towards her, but it somehow felt…less than it could have been. There was that draconic side of her, subdued, but always there, even in this shard. It wasn't a wholly different entity that Ruby could separate from herself whenever she felt like it. It was still her. It was all her.

Ruby stepped forward. The shard stiffened, but didn't make a defensive posture again. She took another step, and they seemed to loosen up, watching her intently.

Ruby walked forward, reached out, and pulled the shard to her.

"I'm sorry," she said to her whole self. "I'll always do everything in my power to protect those I love, but I'm not going to destroy myself doing it." She looked over to the pillar and saw that it was whole once more.

"I promise."

Ruby snapped back into the Soul Cairn, an empty Black Soul Gem in hand. Suddenly, a stream of blue energy slammed into her, and she could feel it draining her. A ghost of a memory, one of being drained in a similar manner, came to her, and Ruby looked up at the crystal doing it, anger flowing through her being at what this thing did to them-her.

"Fus! Ro! DAH!" she Shouted, knocking the Ideal Master up and away from her, sending it end over end through the dark sky into the distance.

"Ruby, are you all right?" Weiss asked in concern for her friend. "You seemed dazed there for a moment."

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. Just…did a little soul-searching, I guess," the younger girl said with a chuckle.

"...I'm not sure if you mean that literally or not."

"Amazing," Valerica muttered, looking over to where the Ideal Master had been launched. "I heard tales of the Dragonborn, but I would have never thought your power could reach high enough to imperil an Ideal Master. Even in a minor fashion."

"Jerk deserved it," Ruby grumbled, her soul shard's memories of being under its 'care' slowly coming back to her. It was hard to decipher, as what made up a 'soul' was inherently different from what a mind of flesh often dealt with, but calling it torture and psychological manipulation wouldn't have been inaccurate.

"All right, let's get back to the others," Ruby declared after a moment. "We need to head off those other guys coming in."

Qeth Gol Motaad! - Bone Earth Shake (Earthquake)

Diil Qoth Zaam! - Undead Tomb Slave (Soul Cairn Summon)