Somewhere in Rodentia, standing vigil over a fallen tower, one of the Imperium's lowliest guards farted. He blinked, surprised.
A flower on the Indy Plains, or what little remained of the free Plains, sprang to sudden life. It grew three sizes larger than normal in the span of a minute.
A coyote, scavenging for food in the desert far above Below, decided to gulp down a mouthful of sand. It quickly regretted the decision.
A merchant in Bottomless, in the midst of a deal to smuggle a wealthy orcish debutante out of the city, abruptly keeled over dead. His client screamed.
Harold the Mayor, carving pictures of trees into his cell wall with a stone, felt a sharp, painful tingle in his left arm. He complained to one of his squat, green guards, but the guard ignored him.
No one would ever make a connection between their odd moments of discomfort and the blazing Catastrophe in Dragomir's hands. Not even Iko truly understood Dragomir's weapon, though had he learned the truth, he would not have been surprised.
"Please... stop ruining... my... temple," Iko huffed, looking around in dismay. "I wanted to... redecorate, but not... like this...."
The temple looked near as bad as the rest of Below. Most of the rat statues were gone, either defaced beyond recognition or reduced to smoking rubble. Two of the columns lay in pieces, bringing several large sections of the roof down in the process. The ground, once smoothly pristine, bore countless scratches, cuts, and gouges, courtesy of the Catastrophe's tip.
Dragomir cut again. Iko ducked out of the way. The Catastrophe sheared halfway through a third column. At the same moment it cut through the stone, a little girl in Pubton collapsed for no good reason. Her mother helped her up, and they carried on to one of the city's shelters.
Dragomir clutched his chest. His inky black fingers seemed to merge with his skin. Disgusted, he pulled away, instead clutching the side of his head. Something wet and sticky dribbled out of his left ear. He staggered, dipping to one knee.
Iko stood on the opposite side of the dais, watching Dragomir. His hat was gone, sliced in two, and several tips from his spiky hair lay lost in the ruins of the temple. Lumpy, ashen grey skin peaked out of the slices in his robes, though it looked unharmed. Iko steepled his long fingers together, seemingly a man in prayer, though he was breathing as hard as Dragomir.
"Hoo... you... you have stamina... I'll give you that..." Iko wiped sweat from his brow with his sleeve. "No wonder you survived... for so long... shame you didn't... keep... Traveller's strength... or you'd be a hell... of a warrior..."
Dragomir shook his head. He tried to rise, but his knees buckled. He collapsed to the ground, and just before his neck hit the blade of the Catastrophe it vanished. He panted on the floor, half crying, half laughing.
"This... bullshit..." Dragomir weakly pounded the ground with a fist. "Such... all... just bu... b-bullshit... ha, ha... ha..."
"Oh, c'mon... you can't... be done... yet..." Iko shook his head. "Can't keep up with... with an old man...? You owe me... more..."
Dragomir laughed, rolling onto his back. He stared at his trembling hands. One was coated in a thin smear of green blood.
"It's true," Iko insisted. He flopped onto his butt and propped himself up with his arms. His fingers snaked out of his sleeves, clicking against the floor and oozing. "I... because of me, you can... use that thing... properly... now... man, you glitches have... all the fun... in life..."
Dragomir considered asking what Iko meant by 'glitch'. Instead, he ran one of his shaky fingers along his forearm, testing. The tip of the finger, already pointed, transformed into a razor-sharp nail and drew a line of green blood. Dragomir's laugh echoed throughout Below, scaring the phantasmal rats that wouldn't dare to approach the temple.
"Tainted," Dragomir eventually said, dabbing at the blood. "This... this is what... what they meant... I guess... ha, ha... yep, pretty... pretty fucking... tainted..."
"Don't... don't change the subject!" Iko coughed. He breathed deep, forcing his lungs to pull air into his chest more evenly. In, out, in, out. "Ack. T... there. Yes, you're... tainted. Whatever. I wouldn't worry about what... rats... think, if I were you. They're little bastards."
"Like you!" Dragomir howled. He rolled weakly from side to side.
"Yep," Iko agreed. He settled into a more comfortable position. "My little brother is right about me. I'm... quite the bastard. You still owe me one."
"I... I don't owe... you... shit..."
"You're wrong on that." Iko stroked the remains of his beard. Much of it was gone, cut away by the Catastrophe. "I revealed your secret without revealing your secret. Now you know what my brother... what Bora... wouldn't tell you. And I did it without anyone else finding out. You can still lead a normal life, once you figure out how to change back to your human form. Can probably manage that before you leave this temple."
Dragomir's frantic laughing died. His voice became a tired hiss. "You... kept your fucking... secret... by getting people killed... Logan... Jeffrey... Celine... Plato and his rat - "
"Plato's still alive. And the rat."
" - and Grylock... gods, Grylock, he suffered... so much... and it's your fault..."
"Oh, please." Iko rolled his eyes. "None of them had to come with you. If you'd shown up alone, we could have spoken the moment you set foot in Below. I was hoping you'd be smart enough to reach the same conclusion and ditch your friends in the night, but noooo, you had to be the dutiful leader. And the goblin? He was a moron! Who carries a poisonheart around all the time? Little fool was begging to die."
Ignoring the last comment, Dragomir gritted his teeth. "Then... you could have said... you only wanted to meet me..."
Iko smiled, almost shyly. "True. I suppose I could have done that."
"Bas... bastard." Dragomir coughed. He felt a little better, the pain in his head clearing. "For the sake of... asking... what the hell... do you want...? Assuming I do... owe you... a debt..."
Iko answered at once. "Death. Mine, to be specific."
Dragomir rolled onto his belly to stare at the hermit. He rubbed his eyes to make sure he wasn't still dreaming. "W... what? Why?"
"You don't get to ask that question," Iko replied. "I want death. You'll give it to me. Using the Catastrophe-Formerly-Known-As-Crimson."
For almost a year, Dragomir had wanted to kill Iko. He'd thought of their inevitable confrontation every day, overlapping it with the memory of his daughter's severed head, speaking to him from the mud. He'd concocted dozens of scenarios, from poison to stabbing to poetic decapitation, in which he could do away with his tormentor. Even after his role in Edmund's death, Dragomir refused to let go of Iko's execution.
And now, the old man was asking for it. Dragomir suspected that Iko would beg if given no alternative.
"No." Dragomir lowered his head to the floor. The refusal steadied his lungs at last. "I won't do it. Find someone else to do your dirty work."
Iko sighed. He didn't say anything for a long time, long enough for Dragomir to pick himself up, dust himself off, and stare at the old man, waiting. They studied one another, Dragomir conscious of the slow crack of masonry above them. Given enough time, the roof of the temple would completely cave in and kill them both.
Eventually, shrugging rather easily and abruptly, Iko spoke. "Fine. Then I'll have to have another conversation. With your wife."
Dragomir barked a laugh, but his stomach also lurched. "Wow. What a grown-up. Gonna tell on me?"
"Yes, I am." Iko's eyes glittered. "I'm going to tell lovely little Libby that her husband is a Non. One of the monsters that has ruined her life, several times over. Considering how she's reacted to freakish family members in the past, can you just imagine how that news will go over?"