There was a haze of red creeping into the edges of his vision. He ignored it - had no choice but to ignore it - but he knew what it meant, just as he recognized all the other signs. The burn that had settled into the muscles of his arms and shoulders, the ache in his throat, the hollow rawness within when he reached to wring just a little more magic from his depleted reserves. He knew his own body, knew its limits well, and he knew, without consciously thinking about it, that he was close to the edge.
He'd left conscious thought behind hours - days? - ago, and there was no artistry in the rise and fall of his heavy blade. Just brutal, two-handed efficiency, the shock of impact singing up his arms and the rending of armor and hide and flesh and bone beneath it, over and over and over again in what had become a steady, almost mindless repetition. It carried him on in spite of the exhaustion, and the shapes that went down in front of him in the dark blended together until he could hardly tell one from another. They were all monsters anyhow, twisted and misbegotten creatures summoned to bar the way and wear him down. He left them broken behind him, one after another, a trail to mark his passage.
If his rhythm broke now, that would be the end of it.
The pale gleam of his weapon was dark with blood; it sprayed out from every impact, drops trailing in the wake of each savage arc, almost as though the red mist at the fringes of his sight was clinging to it... except that the things he killed rarely bled scarlet. What spilled from the wounds he dealt came in shades of black and green and milky yellow. The only thing carrying red in its veins here was him - and his teammates, making their way somewhere else in the decaying corridors of this labyrinth, long since separated from him. A necessary evil, that split, not meant to go on for as long as it had... were they looking for him now, or had they been brought down by the enemy? Or maybe they were moving on, giving him up for dead...
The upswing of his blade wavered, the weapon that had for so long been a comforting weight grown far too heavy in his hands. The rhythm faltered.
He pushed the thought out of his mind and brought the sharp edge down again, the crunch of splintering chitin and the discordant squeal of his kill overlaid by a buzz of static in the back of his head. Drops of ichor spattered the crumbling stone of the walls as he hefted the blade again, sinking back into that pattern, hacking at the twitching hulk until it collapsed to the floor and was still, moving on in readiness for the next like the killing machine he'd been trained to be. Distantly he found it in him to wonder if this was what he had been striving for in all those years of training, this empty place where the world narrowed into the target and the kill, but then another shape rose up before him with bared fangs and reason drained away entirely, leaving him with just that simple repetition. Again. Again.
The passage came to an end up ahead, a junction with halls branching left and right. He chose one blindly with no pause for consideration, rounding the corner to be met by a sound that carried no meaning for him. Another shape moving toward him, small and quick and bright; he brought his blade down to intercept it and it crumpled, another cry strangling off into a gurgle as the weapon bit deep, shearing through the bone. The spray of blood splashed across his face, shockingly warm against his skin, a metallic tang in mouth and nose.
Thick rivulets striped the broad flat of the blade as it lifted, weeping tears of arterial scarlet.
His momentum shuddered and died.
He hadn't seen the others, but he could see them now - some of them bleeding themselves, crimson marks on stained and battered clothing, weapons as filth-dark as his. Bruises on pale, shocked faces. Fear and incomprehension and a sudden, stunned silence that smothered everything.
The white noise in his head rose into a deafening roar.
It took a monumental effort to look down, and for an interval his eyes could make no sense of what he saw; it was like looking at some abstract painting, seeing nothing but shapes and colors with no meaning to them. Only a few details resolved themselves through the fog that crept over his eyes. Dark hair splayed over pale skin. A hand limply curled, upturned as though in supplication. The wet track of a tear tracing the curve of a face. And blood. So much blood.
The grip of his weapon slipped from numb hands, the heavy weight of it crashing to the floor at his feet.
His vision went red.