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OOC: This fiction has mature themes and scenes of violence and sex. This fiction is definitely mature, and I have marked the most disturbing parts with blue text. If you have issues regarding such things depicted in a graphic manner, you are advised to skip the blue text.

Roughly one year ago...

Contained. Boxed. Caged.

That was all she had felt for the last few months. Everywhere she went in the world, there were people. There were buildings. There were roads. There was no place for a wild animal like herself.

The Morrigan was sacked out in a tree, her feet kicked up on a higher branch. Every day, she dealt with the same issue: no matter where she went in the world, there were people. And Morri only tolerated a few people; she liked fewer still and only loved one. It made finding somewhere to relax difficult.

Her speed added to the issue. She wanted to run, but if she crossed borders, there were ‘Incidents’. It made trouble for Einherjar; people got upset when she was in their country without him. She knew why – they feared her. During the war, she had been at his side, helping where he needed it. Now, people believed that she was uncontrollable without him.

Personally, Morri didn’t give much credit to the ‘Incidents’. They were all about imaginary things anyway – lines drawn on a piece of paper and somehow given weight and credence. So much importance was assigned to national borders, to those invisible lines. It was just land. It was stupid to try to contain it with fake marks on paper.

She had nowhere to run. For months, this had bothered the young feral. It had left her angry and restless, testing even Ein’s patience with her. But she had remembered something she’d been told once: quantum can do anything. So for the last week and a half, she’d funneled all that anger into determination.

Somewhere out there, there was a place for her. There was a green, living, vibrant place, full of life and struggle. It would have no borders, no boundaries. There would be fewer humans. It would be exciting to be there; free and wild.

For the past few days, Morri had slipped away every day to sit and think about what she wanted. She considered her options over and over, envisioning the world she wanted. She wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but she knew something would, if she tried hard enough.

Morri had been at this for hours, straining her impressive quantum to achieve her desired effect. All she had to show so far was exhaustion and a raging headache, but still the red-eyed woman persisted. She wanted this in a way that went beyond desire and into demands. She was demanding that things be this way; that she have the land she wanted. She pulled up her power, over and over, feeling it burn over her nerves like fire. “Yes,” she whispered as she felt the power tremble on the edge of something. There was a sense that she stood on the blade of a knife with winds roaring on either side of her. Morri flinched but held firm as she felt the touch of something old and terrible. It sought, just as she sought, and together-

Morri opened her eyes when her nose told her that everything had changed.

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The feral was still in a tree, but the familiar jungle was gone. Morri sat up a little more, her eyes widening as she realized that somehow, she’d done it. The air smelled of a million different things, all of them alive and vital. Each breath was clean and clear, devoid of the smell of too many people packed too close. It wasn’t that Ein’s country smelled – it was that it always stank of humans and what they had been doing. Here, the breeze brought her so many different things.

The trees around her were thick and close, blocking out the sun. The natural undergrowth grew from the ground, crept up the trees – basically was growing everywhere. Above her, the canopy reached high into the air, weird twisting branches and wide, flat leaves. Animals scurried high in the trees; birds screeched and fluttered above her. A snake as thick as Ein’s thigh wound over a thick log and into the brush, disappearing despite its size.

Morri dropped lightly out of the tree, grinning at the feel of virgin soil. This land had never been touched by a foot before hers; it had never been tilled and forced to bear food. It was wild and natural and possibly the most beautiful thing Morri had ever seen.

Other than Ein standing on the edge of the pit and looking down at you with those hard blue eyes. You knew he was going to change your life, even if you didn’t understand how good that change would be.

That thought drew the woman up short and she crouched nervously as she thought of her guardian. What if she couldn’t get home? “Ein…” she whimpered, panic seizing her. Viciously, she clamped down on the surge of fear and reminded herself that panic was only going cloud her mind. She’d found a way here, and she’d find a way home.

But first, Morri was going to run.

With a laugh, she shoved herself out of her crouch. She took it slow at first, leaving her Blood Racing power off. The blood-themed nova was still fast, sprinting through the forests at speeds. The trees ended suddenly, revealing an endless savannah. Morri whooped with joy, laughing as she pelted down the first slope, her slim legs pumping.

At the top, she stopped, staring. There were easily a hundred lions on the plains before her, a massive pride that seemed without end. “Wow,” she whispered, her eyes wide. Not only had she not seen so many lions, but they were all bigger than the ones she remembered from home. The closest turned to look at her, their eyes intent. They didn’t act hungry, but there was something wonderfully unnerving in their eyes. Impulsively, Morri waved to the lions, grinning.

Still excited, she turned and ran around the pride, unwilling to disturb them. A couple of males rose to their feet and began to run after her. With another wave, she pushed quantum for Blood Racing and left them behind.

Mountains rapidly rose before her, as hills rose and fell under her feet. She glanced at a massive herd of animals. Something was weird about them and her pace slowed. Morri stared at the herd, her jaw dropping as she realized that she was watching Triceratops graze. She was so surprised that she didn’t even see the log until she tripped over it, flying head over heels at 1500 kph.

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Even a nova of the Morrigan’s toughness couldn’t hit the ground at those speeds and just walk away. For a long moment, she lay there, groaning. “Ow,” she finally grumped, rolling to her hands and knees and staggering to her feet. Her quantum was already pumping through her body, patching up the bruises and scrapes her high-velocity tumble had given her.

That didn’t have her attention, nor did the pains in her body. Morri was still staring at the triceratops, her expression filled with wonder. “That’s a dinosaur,” she said out loud, as if she needed to hear someone say it. “With elephants. Dinosaurs… and elephants. Where the bloody hell did I go?”

None of the animals provided her with an answer. Morri watched the mixed band for a while before turning and trotting north again. Blood Racing was still burning through her nerves and the nova decided she wanted to see what wonders existed in the mountains. She kept her pace slow – roughly two hundred kph and she slowed when she saw something interesting. The stegosaurus that was guarding a nest; the water birds in the pond that watched her as closely as the lions.

The hills became steeper; rocks protruded from the earth. The granite was pale gray, darkening to storm-blue in places. Morri paused to study them; she had never seen rock like this before. Grinning, she pocketed a small stone for study later and began to hunt for a pass through the high rocks. Of course, what was a high path through the mountains for her was impassible for most humans and animals, making her task a bit easier.

Morri took her time, enjoying the climb – finding the hand and foot holds, marveling that she was the first to touch these places. A snap of leathery wings caused her to pause and watch a flock of pterodactyls wing through the air. This place is wonderful, Morri thought, leaning her temple against a rock. After a moment, she turned her head slightly and pressed her ear to the stone. She thought she could almost hear the slow throb of this land’s heartbeat.

I belong here.

The thought was so strong, so real that Morri was taken aback. It took a moment, but she shook off the feeling and started to climb again. Her fingers gripped the rock with her immense strength; her toes dug at the rock. She was almost sad when she pulled herself over the crest and looked down.

A wide, shining river cut the mountains in half, a blue ribbon through the gray of the granite. Morri felt yet another smile tug at her lips. “Perfect,” she whispered and started to pick her way down.

It took another few hours to get to the bottom. But Morri gradually stood on the banks of the wide river, her toes wiggling in the wet sand. The largest crocodiles that Morri had ever seen were sunning themselves nearby on the banks. They seemed unafraid of her, like so many of the animals here. Morri waved at them again before picking her way over to an open area of water. Like with the lions, there were a number of crocodiles here. Wondering why they were grouping, Morri changed her eufiber into a bathing suit and waded into the water. After her climb, a bath sounded great.

The river had a slow current and was clear and cold. Morri splashed for a little while, keeping an eye on the watching reptiles. Gradually, she turned onto her back and let herself drift along with the current, unconcerned. The crocodiles were just animals; they weren’t a threat. She hadn’t seen anything that was a threat to her yet. That was a little disappointing, she reflected, but also very safe-

The water smashed up into her from below, followed by teeth as big as her fingers. Morri shrieked as a set of jaws longer than her body closed around her, followed by the water closing over her. She had enough presence of mind to suck in a sharp breath before the waters closed over her.

Morri strained against the jaws holding her; the crocodile was the biggest she’d ever seen – or rather felt, as she hadn’t seen the bugger wrestling with her yet. It would be simple; she’d push open the jaws and swim to the surface.

But it wasn’t. The jaws held her with crushing but not lethal force. Morri strained harder, but the merciless trap that held her didn’t yield. This reptile had nova-level strength. Her lungs already ached with the need for air, but red-eyed nova took a precious moment to pulse her node. She wasn’t surprised when she got a return ping from her captor, but she was surprised that she got three other answering pulses. There were a lot of more novas out here than she thought, and all of them were pretending to be crocodiles?

That thought didn’t help when she was grappled by a nova stronger than her. Morri tried to wiggle; she was successful in getting loose, but before she could swim up, the teeth caught her and pulled her lower again. Her lungs burned now and Morri knew her need for air was getting desperate. Her knives sprang into life, the blood holding together against the water to form their deadly lengths.

Twisting around, she stabbed at the croc, and its blood soaked the water. It jerked away with incredible speed; she started to kick up but before she could surface, it caught her feet and yanked her down again. It’s speed in the water was impossible; her speed was superhuman but no match. Her lungs expelled air, drew in water – the sun shown down on the water, a beacon so far away – it was all going black –

Morri passed out; her last thought was Einherjar and sorrow he’d never know what happened to her.

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Consciousness returned with pain. Morri rolled onto her side, retching water out of her lungs even as she strained to draw a deep breath. The dual struggled left her wheezing and choking. She felt hands on her, someone massaging water out of her chest. The hands were hard and firm; they reminded her of Einherjar’s – so strong and powerful. That familiarity died when she was tumbled onto her back suddenly and felt those hands rip through the crotch on her eufiber.

Morri’s red eyes widened and she forgot attempts to breathe as something much more important demanded her attention. A man was kneeling between her legs; his skin was mocha-colored and he had long braids. He could have been a twin to her, save for his eyes. Those were the golden crocodile eyes with a diamond slit for a pupil. With a snarl, she kicked the man in the face, rage and fear combining into a potent adrenaline boost. His head moved a little, but she felt the kick all the way up to her thigh. Grinning, he said something in a strange, growling language and one of his hands pinned her chest to the beach. His other hand held his erect shaft.

“No!” Morri screamed, her teeth bared and her Blood Weapons forming. She screamed that word over and over again as she seized time and cut him six times in the space of a second, the words becoming a single sound.

He roared in pain and backhanded her. It was like getting hit by a bolt of lightning. Her ears started to ring and she saw gray in her vision again. She was only dazed a few seconds, but it was enough time for him to position himself and thrust into her. It was a brutal maneuver; he forced himself into her body without consideration for the harm he was doing.

Morri shrieked but didn’t stop fighting, trying to force him to stop his terrible shoves. She stabbed at him, her blades cutting him but unable to pierce his armor. She didn't stop; her cuts weren’t doing much but they were doing something. With another roar, he caught one hand, then the other, shoving them both down to the sand and pinning them with one of his. She bit at his wrist and earned another ringing blow across the face. Dazed and weakened, Morri twisted against him, almost getting away from him – if she could get away she could run! She’d be fre-

The man had been holding back. Baring his teeth in the rictus of a grin, he shoved hard, harder than he had before. Something in her body gave; a bone. Her singular awareness of her body told her it was her pelvis. It literally blinded her with pain; all she saw was a haze of white. The urge to lie down and give up was enormous and yet the feral didn’t. Couldn't.

Each of her rapist’s thrusts was now a weapon; her broken bone grated painfully with each movement. Morri was fighting still, but everything below her waist was a nightmare of pain. With a groan, he ground against her for a long moment. Morri shrieked with rage; while he was enjoying coming, she wiggled an arm lose and stabbed her knife in his eye.

He screamed with outrage and jerked back from her. With a howled curse, he kicked her, the blow ripping her off the ground. Morri went flying through the air; she hit the sand hard, rolled and passed out.

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Hands were pushing at her. Morri hurt and remembered vaguely that she had a reason to protest being touched. The memory was fuzzy through all the agony racking her body. Voices in a strange language filled her ears. Someone lifted her up and pressed a cup to her lips. A foul brew poured over her tongue; Morri choked on the taste.

The feral nova floated in and out of consciousness, the pain always hammering at her senses. She struggled to focus on herself, but the crippling agony made thought difficult. She was aware that people were talking to her, doing things to her, but she couldn’t quite rouse herself…

Full consciousness came at night; Morri opened her eyes to stars. The glittering constellation spread itself across the sky and Morri wondered if she was in the jungle. The stars were too bright for her to be near a city of any kind. Then she remembered the dinosaurs and the strange new land, and then...

The man. Morri stifled a whine of agony as her memories came back. "No," she moaned, pressing her hand to her eyes to stop any tears. But it was definitely a yes. He should have killed me. That was his mistake. Because I won't make that mistake in return. Blinking against the moisture in her eyes, the feral nova directed her quantum to start healing; she'd need to be healthy to kill him.

A murmur of voices and a bright glow caught her attention, and the dark-skinned woman turned her head to see two women huddled around a tiny fire. One was short and cinnamon-skinned; the other was tall with pale skin and dark hair. One of the women, the short one, edged over to her. “Hello,” she said, touching a hand to Morri’s forehead.

“Where….?” Her voice cracked painfully.

“You’re on the Scale’s island, in the center of the Nir,” the woman told her, smiling soothingly. “My name is Hifa; my friend over there is Menli, our medic.”

Nooo,” Morri hissed, grabbing the woman's wrist and barely remembering not to squeeze. “Where. Is. That. Cocksucker?

There was a moment of silence as the woman blinked at her. “Do you mean Khatar? The Tyrant? The Scale King?"

“The one… who raped me,” Morri ground out. It was hard to say that but it helped. Making it real, making it a problem, made it something to solve. And she had some very sharp, very bloody solutions for this exact problem.

The woman was silent for a long moment. “You were raped by the Tyrant Khatar, Morrigan.”

“How… do you… know my name?” Morri gasped. Talking was helping. Thinking was helping a lot – the more she thought, the more she fought past the pain. And as she fought past it, the better she got using her powers, including her healing.

“I’m a telepath,” the woman said softly. “I found it, while we were healing you. I swear on the Queen, I have not dug any deeper than your name. It’s how I’m talking to you, telepathically, as you don’t know our language.”

“When I get up, you’re going to tell me where to find him,” Morri snarled, her voice already stronger. “I’m going to kill him.”

“You can’t kill him!” Hifa protested. “He’s a King!”

“I don’t care what he is,” Morri hissed. “He is dead.” She felt the bones of her pelvis fuse together and her pain was much decreased. With a gasp, she sat up, her bruised muscles still sore. “Just as soon as I catch him, he’s dead.” Just like Vyse. Just like Hatchins. No one does that to me, and lives. No one!

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“You need to rest,” Hifa protested, reaching for Morri’s shoulders. The red-eyed glare stopped the short brown-skinned woman; Hifa smiled uncertainly as she pulled her hand back. “Morrigan, you very much need to rest.”

“I need to get to my feet and find this Khatar,” Morri rasped, her throat still sore from screaming. She did just that, putting shaky legs under her and standing upright, still sore from unhealed bruises. “I need to kill him.”

“You can’t kill a king,” Hifa protested. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t. I’m saying it’s impossible. No human can kill one of kings or queens. I know he raped you. He does it all the time, to all the women he captures, humans, Suns, even Dwellers! I know he hurt your eyes. But you can’t-”

“My eyes? They’ve always been this way,” Morri said, confused.

“But… only kings or queens have those kinds of aberrations,” Hifa gasped. She pressed a shaking hand to her mouth. Behind her, a man hobbled out of the dark, his eyes on her. “You… you’re a queen?”

“I am a princess, technically,” Morri said to them. She was aware that they were gathering a crowd of people. They made her nervous; they watched her in the dim light like they wanted something from her.

The man asked something and Hifa said, “You have powers, like… flight?” The man was missing his leg below the knee and leaning on a crutch. As Morri looked around, she realized that a lot of the men were missing parts, while the woman looked… haunted. Like she had, in all the pictures she'd seen of herself from her early days of life.

“I can’t fly,” Morri said. She held up her hand, blood already running up her arm. It congealed into a bloody blade, shining wet and thick in the light of the fire. “I can do better than that.” Hifa sank to her knees; the other humans followed suit. Morri stared at the bent backs before her, restraining the urge to curse at them. They were as bad as cattle, as sheep, bending their necks to her just because she’d flashed a power at them. “Get up,” she ordered after a moment.

“Yes, Blood Queen,” Hifa replied, standing shakily.

“Where can I find the Tyrant?”

“You won’t have to,” Hifa replied. “He’ll come back for you. He always comes back to hurt us again.”

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By daylight, Morri had a much better idea of her situation. The island they were on had no trees or buildings; nowhere to hide. The vegetation was sparse; it was a very shallow island. The inhabitants fished, caught wild birds and harvested some kind of grain that grew in the shallow water. It wan’t much of a life. One good flood and they’d be wiped away. The river was wide, but from what Morri could see, shallow; most of these people could have walked across. The real impediment was the steep cliffs on either shore.

Actually, it wasn’t just the cliffs; they’d face the crocodiles, too. Morri had counted over seventy of them before she gave up. Of those, at least half were longer than twenty feet in length. She’d gotten at least four node pings; there were many more of them out of range who could be novas. The red-eyed woman could escape though. Morri knew she could get a burst of speed and probably run over the water. She might even make it most of the way before she went in, and then she could be a good distance up the mountain. She could escape and return for Khatar.

But these people couldn’t. Morri thought of a tormented young girl on the floor of a cage and felt something inside of her twist. She’d asked Ein once before why he’d made her his responsibility. And he’d said, “If not me, then who?” And now she stood on a foreign shore in a fucked-up land and found herself wondering, If not me, then who?

“So which one is he?” Morri asked as she shoveled salty rice into her mouth. They were giving her everything she wanted: food, water and even bedding. She'd accepted it all; it was all a very good distraction from the screaming voice in her head. She was very deliberately not thinking about the fact that she’d been raped by a crocodile. As long as she didn’t think about it, she could resist the urge to curl up in a ball and moan.

Hifa shook her head. “Submerged somewhere, or further up the river. Don’t worry. He’ll come back.”

“Why are you here?” Morri asked, glancing down at the woman.

The cinnamon-skinned woman sighed. “I was captured by a lessor king last year, while gathering herbs by the river. It wasn’t safe, but my niece was sick. She needed the medicine. I’ve been here ever since.”

“Is that the same for all here?” Morri asked, glancing around at the forty or so people here. How many more had just died here, lost before she came?

“Yes, more or less,” Hifa said, rubbing her arms with her hands as if cold. “Khatar is a monster. He traps people here because he can. He likes to play with us. He does it with other species, too.”

“Other?” Morri asked, returning her eyes to the woman. “What others?”

“Like the birds they capture. The Sky-callers offer harm to none, but the Scales still torment them,” Hifa said. “My father told me that the Scales didn’t used to be like this, but Khatar has lived for over a century. The time has twisted his mind.”

“I don’t care how taint-maddened he is,” Morri said harshly. “He dies.”

“I hope you can,” Hifa replied. She didn’t sound sure of herself.

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“Blood Queen! Blood Queen!” None of them spoke English, but they’d learned how to say her name – or what they thought was her name. She’d tried to get them to call her Morri, but they’d refused. They’d insisted on calling her Blood Queen and she’d given up trying to change them.

The nova rose and turned in one smooth movement; the man calling to her blinked at her fluid grace. He muttered something that might have been a curse or a benediction, then shook himself and pointed. “Khatar!”

“Finally!” Morri had been waiting most of the day, eating, resting and healing. She was ready, as ready as she would get. Part of her wished that Ein were here, to watch if nothing else. The last time she’d killed her rapist, he’d been watching over her. But he wasn’t and she had dedicated herself to this course. She followed the man to the eastern shore, her glowing eyes pinning themselves on the reptilian form that coursed through the water toward them. Even with so much of him submerged, he seemed massive. “Back up,” Morri ordered, then turned and shoved him gently when he didn’t move. “Back! Get me Hifa. Hifa!” The man nodded and turned to run.

Morri backed up, giving herself room and watching the beast slide closer. He was graceful in the water, almost beautiful. She didn’t care; he could be as lovely as Bombshell and she would still kill him.

“Blood Queen?” Hifa stood just behind her.

“Translate for me,” Morri ordered. “You can talk to his mind, like with me?”

“I can speak Saurpod,” the short woman assured her. “I can translate… but aren’t you killing him?”

“Sure,” she muttered, “but first things first.”

Hifa had no time for other questions. The massive crocodile was pulling himself up onto the bank. His long body seemed to go on forever, drawing out of the water like a scaled nightmare. A large golden eyes focused on her; his steps slowed and Morri thought she could see the confusion in its eyes. Then a naked man stood before her, cupping his already hard shaft. He was cinnamon-colored again, with black, braided hair. His eyes even had the same exotic tilt that hers had. Only those eyes remained inhuman. He spoke in a grating voice. That thing is the first thing I'm cutting off of him.

“He’s commanding you to kneel and receive his blessing,” Hifa translated.

“Bugger that,” Morri snarled. “Tell him to let the humans go. And any other prisoners.” Hifa stared at her in complete disbelief. “Tell him!”

“He’ll kill you!” Hifa protested. The shifted crocodile repeated a similar phrase as he had before, his voice taking on a harder edge.

“He can bloody well try,” Morri snapped. “Tell him!”

Her voice shaking, Hifa turned and spoke to the man. The arrogant smile faded, replaced by anger. He barked something and Hifa squeaked, “He said to kneel now, or he’ll… crush your skull.”

“Tell him this is his last chance,” Morri said, blood running down her arm to coalesce into her favorite sword, a bastard that resembled Ein’s. “And tell him I’m the Blood Queen.” Might as well use the bloody name if they’re going to saddle me with it.

Khatar gasped something. “He knows you’re a queen,” Hifa whispered. The man’s form changed and shifted, heading back to the crocodile. “I think… he’s going to kill you.”

“No, he’s not.” Morri felt a grim satisfaction roll through her; she had never planned to let him live but had hoped to get these people out first. She'd be satisfied to see them to safety before taking her vengeance. Khatar's fate was sealed; he'd just shortened his time. She raised her sword higher, preparing for the attack. Live or die, she was going down defending the downtrodden. If I die, I hope you learn how, Ein, and I hope that you are proud.

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Khatar rushed her. Water was his element, but he was still fast on the land. A human would have been lunch. Morri was unimpressed.

With a streak of red, she slid to the right just ahead of the massive jaw. Her sword swung over her head and came down in a vicious chop. It would have gone through a tree but only bounced off of the massive snout. Khatar roared at her, but Morri wasn’t done. Three more attacks were unleashed by the enraged woman; they each left a shallow cut on Khatar's torso as he rushed past.

The next strike was the raping croc’s – his tail snapped at Morri, bowling her backwards. The red-eyed woman rolled with most of the blow, coming up on her feet and readying her sword. “You’re tough,” she admitted, “but I can make you bleed.” The cuts on his face and back healed up but Morri smirked, pleased. A long fight suited her just fine. She had a lot of painful payback to dispense.

Khatar bellowed; the sound was as big as he was. It slammed into Morri, tearing her off her feet and into the shallow water. The next roar from the monster sounded victorious as he lunged for her, no doubt trying to subdue her via oxygen deprivation again. Morri leapt high into the air, her body twisting and spinning as she controlled her jump. Khatar hit the water hard, sending a spray of the clear, cold moisture into the air. He was already turning as she came back down, landing in the sand. A swipe of her sword cut deeply into his skin and flesh.

He doubled back, his head twisting sideways to grab her. Morri ducked under the snap and rammed her sword into his mouth. The crocodile jerked from the blow; Morri started to follow it up with another attack but he punched her and knocked her down the beach. She hadn't know that a crocodile could use it's feet like that, but she was going to have to stop assuming anything about her enemy.

Morri was back on her feet so quickly that her tumble and recovery seemed one action. Broken rib, she thought, then dismissed. That wasn't important. The fight was important. She turned to face the crocodile only to have a wave of water tear over her from behind. The water hit her like a train, scouring skin with it's force. Morri snarled as it receded, holding to land through her nova-level strength - only to have Khatar rush her as the wave rolled back out into the river. Morri spun away from his teeth, then darted back in for the attack. Leaping him like a pommel horse, she stabbed downward as she passed over. This thick scale there turned her blade.

A murmur of voices intruded on her perception; it wasn't enough to stop her attack, but it did help her. The watching humans were cheering - for her. Then the chant started: "Blood Queen! Blood Queen! BLOOD QUEEN!"

This is where I belong.

Screaming, Morri faced her monster, her attacker, her rapist. A surge of power rolled through her, unlike any she'd felt before. Her sword dropped from her hands to splash at her feet as the power burned through her. The red-eyed woman felt a pull of quantum; then Khatar started to bleed. It wasn't just from his wounds; fluids leaked from his nose, from his eyes, his ears - even coming out the pores of his skin. Khatar screamed, thrashing in agony, and still Morri drew on that power, pulling it with all the strength of her node. The blood came to her, crawling across the sand to roll around her, brushing over her skin like a lover. The hot warmth smelled of life and death; it clung to her skin like a scarlet marker of her name. It crawled up her legs and over her eufiber, a gory benediction of her victory. The chanting humans had found a new volume; the sound seemed to roll back and forth across the valley, gaining power as Khatar lost his. And just as it seemed that there was no end to the blood, that the thundering cry "BLOOD QUEEN!" would sunder the very earth they stood on, Khatar died with a final, explosive breath. The world hushed in shock, trembling in fear of the Blood Queen.

Covered in the blood of her enemy, the Morrigan screamed her victory into the sudden silence.

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“Hifa!” Morri shouted as the last echoes of her victory cry faded.

The human scurried to her side, dropping to cower at Morri’s feet. “Yes, Blood Queen?” The reverence in the voice was hard for Morri to bear; she didn’t like being the center of attention, much less the subject of any kind of reverence.

“Get up. Tell them, the other crocs, that we are leaving,” Morri ordered. She could hear the inflections and tones of King Einherjar in her voice. “Tell them that any who oppose us face my rage.”

“Yes, Blood Queen!” Hifa’s eyes were filled with tears as she turned to the watching crocodiles, who seemed completely stunned. As the woman began to growl and hiss at them, a flicker of white caught Morri’s eyes. She looked high up the mountain to see a large white bird, standing on an outcropping. It was a heron or crane, or something like that; Morri wasn’t sure what kind of bird it was. To her surprise, the bird dipped its head at her. Hesitantly, Morri raised her hand, giving it a little wave. With a snap of wings, the bird rose and fly away.

“Well, are they going to cooperate?” Morri asked Hifa as the woman returned.

“Yes,” the native said, weeping openly. “They’re letting us go. They want to know what your commands are.”

“My… bloody hell,” Morri sighed, pressing her hand to her forehead. “Let me guess – the strongest rule here?”

“Among the Scales, yes,” Hifa said, bowing to Morri. “You’re the Queen of the Scales.”

“I want nothing to do with them,” Morri said harshly. “Tell them… tell them to sort out a better way to pick leadership in the future. I’m not their Queen and after letting that… Tyrant rule and abuse people. Had they left me alone, he’d still be alive.”

Hifa frowned. “That’s their way, Blood Queen,” the woman told her. “I’m not sure that they know how to be another way.”

“Then they can learn, and they’ll bloody well do it without me.” Morri’s expression was implacable. “Tell them to find their own way. They stood back and let him do what he did to the others. I’m sure they even helped. We all have to answer for what we do, and what we allow. Tell them that they’ll have nothing more from me.” Hifa nodded and walked away, leaving Morri standing alone on the beach.

"And Hifa?" The call drew the woman back. "We take the time to skin Khatar. His hide is mine."

"They'll find that offen,,, offensive." Hifa had started strong but her voice quailed in the face of Morri's stare.

"Good." Morri looked up, where the bird was no longer visible. "Get them moving. I don't want one of those arseholes to decide they can best me after all. I won't mind killing more of them, but we have better things to do. Hifa bowed and left.

For a long moment, Morri was quiet. I belong here. The thought was no longer aberrant. She looked up at the blue sky and wondered if this is what Ein had felt when he had freed the Congo. “Not quite the same,” she murmured. She could never tell him about this, about what Khatar had done. She couldn’t bear to admit that she been raped again.

Turning, she looked at the humans watching her. They needed her; the climb out of here would be hard, particularly on those missing limbs or the sick. But they’d make it; she’d see to that. Hifa spoke to them, and they turned to Khatar's body. Morri grimaced at the weakness to their movements and went to help. It'd be a long day; probably a long trek to somewhere safe. But she owed them that much.

And then… she’d see what other tyrants lived here. There was a whole wide world here…

And it all waited for her.

This is where I belong.

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