The Tails She Holds Close

---------------------------The Tails She Holds Close--------------------------- On the night before Ahri tries to die, she ran herself a nice hot bath and cried. She cried and cried and hated the world and cried some more until the water turned cold. When the tears dried up she was exhausted and empty and there was nothing left for her to do. Well, not exactly nothing, and she was still angry at a lot of people even though she knew she had no right to be. She was angry at the war-mongering Noxians and she was angry at the Ionian pushovers and she was angry, so angry, at all the drunk soldiers and unfaithful husbands she had ruined, because they just sat there and let her; let her crush them under her feet until there was nothing left. But most of all, Ahri was angry at herself for being fine with that. She stepped out of the tiny wooden bowl, wet tails dragging on the wooden floorboards, and strolled to the dresser. The summer heat settled around Ahri like a coat, and for a brief moment, she wished there was someone she could share this warmth with. But now wasn’t the time for wishful thinking. Ahri took a deep breath, readied herself, and spun around to face the corpse on the bed. She really messed up. The dried skin, sunken eyes, greyed hair... this was it. This was the end. Pinching the corners of the bed sheet, Ahri carefully rolled the body up in the blankets. She hadn’t wanted to kill this man. Really. She just wanted some information about the war. If anything, _he_ went too far, with his twisted fetishes and baffling demands. Still, that didn’t mean he deserved to die. ‘You’re a fool,’ Ahri whispered to the bundle. ‘But I guess this means I’m the bigger fool, doesn't it.’ Three winters, she had stayed hidden in this town at the edge of southern Ionia, preying on the lonely and vile, those that won’t be missed. But now it was all over. It was bad enough she’d killed him, but the blood-red stripes on the decorated armor meant this man was a Noxian General. The barbarians will hunt her to the ends of Runeterra for this alone. And should they tire, there’ll be no shortages of gun-wielding bounty hunters keen for an easy reward. Ahri shuddered, and her tails reflexively curled around her. The minty smell of her snow-white fur settled her pounding heart, and she swallowed down the spicy tang of fear rising in her throat. She couldn’t – wouldn’t – run forever. But if she was going to end to this torture, it will not be fear that rules her. She brushed away her tails and got dressed. She chose a pair of sturdy pants and a tattered brown coat because the place she was going to was awful. She only had one pair of shoes though. Shame too, for they were pretty, all ribbons and embodied cloth. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Had she known being human meant such a nightmare, Ahri would never have touched that sorcerer back then, no matter how appealing his waning magic felt. Ahri turned to the mirror. She glared at her burning yellow eyes, her pointy ears perking on her head, her nine fluffy, sleek tails peeking from under her robes. She’d thought it was these that made her a monster, but if tonight had proven anything, nothing about her was human. Not even her heart. But she had a choice. She could face retribution. She could die as a human. So Ahri pulled the hood tight over her head and walked towards the door. At the doorway, she paused, unhooked the lantern hanging on the wall, and in one smooth motion, hurled it to the floor. Sizzling oil sprayed onto the furniture, the curtains, the bed. Shadows raved along the walls, contorted by the blooming flames. As she turned to leave, Ahri looked to the dead man one last time. ‘I’ll make this right,’ she told him. ‘So rest in peace, you idiot.’ Then with her life burning into ashes behind her, she ran. .......................................................................................... She finally stops, five hours later, sitting against a crumbled wagon in the middle of a blackened battlefield. The sun has drawn open the darkened clouds, and pale gold light trickles onto the desolate land. Ahri looks at all the swords and shields and decaying bodies littered around her, and imagines herself as a dragon guarding her trove of treasure. She giggles. If anything, she is the treasure. Dust stirs and bellows over the horizon. The scent of blood wafts through the air. Ahri’s stomach growls, but the drones of faraway cicadas lure the pain away, and she leans deeper into the splintered wood. The earth quivers. Ahri presses her palm on the rough ground and follows the trembles with her heartbeat – a flighty, staccato waltz. It would’ve been nice to end it in the same place she was born, but this battlefield was an altar of bloodshed nonetheless, so it’ll do. Ahri turns her face to the wind and scoffs at the melodrama. _The Tragedy of the Nine-tailed Fox._ Bards will sing it around the tavern tables for millennia, if she let them. The quivering turns heavy. Rocks and pebbles jitter along the ground. Smoke swirls high in the sky and the air thickens with the salty tang of sweat and metal. Flags wave over the edge of the hill; an emerald serpent for Ionia and red axes for Noxus. Ahri sighs and closes her eyes. It'd be nice if Ionia wins. Before she could take another breath, the air bursts open. The roar of a thousand soldiers tears her tranquillity apart. Hooves and steel boots clomp the ground in unison. Horns blow. Horses scream. The booming orchestra of war thunders through the earth and pounds at Ahri’s ears. Her bones rattle. Her tails twitch. Her heart shakes. Volleys of arrows screech over her head. She has just enough time to think, _so this is war_, before a horse topples into her and wipes out the world. .......................................................................................... The skirmish lasted for thirteen hours. On that day Noxus lost three hundred men and Ionia two hundred, before both sides were forced to pull back. Ahri would have perished with those five hundred people, had the gods not intervened by throwing a horse at her. She doesn’t know how long she’d been unconscious. She doesn’t have the mind to care. She claws at the soft ceiling, digging her fingernails in the horse’s flesh, until she finally pulls herself out from under its carcass. She faces a clear blue sky, and starts to cry, because she had forgotten how clear and blue the sky could be, and it was almost too late. With an agonising grunt, she rolls onto her stomach and drags herself towards the body of a nearby soldier. She reaches out to touch his face. Still warm. She shouldn’t. But all she can think is how much she hurts and how much she doesn’t want to die. So she leans closer to suck all of his life essence out of him. But she stops. He is looking at her. She freezes, eyes wide. They stay like that for a while, taking each other in, until the young man speaks. ‘Ma was right. Death is beautiful.’ Ahri’s surprised laughter rings across the silent battlefield. ‘Thank you,’ she whispers in the boy's ear. ‘You've fought bravely. Now, tell me what your mother is like.’ Then as the dying boy recounts to her memories of gooseberry pies and rabbit stews in snowy winters, Ahri touches her lips to his and slowly, gently, pulls his soul from his body. After the young soldier breathes his last breath, Ahri places her hand on his chest and murmurs a quiet goodbye. Then she crawls to the next person, and listens to his story. She did this for eleven people. Some had moaned incoherently, some had begged her to save them, a few accepted their deaths. Regardless, in all their final moments she had done her best to give each one a warm and painless farewell. The light is beginning to fade as Ahri finally stands. Ears still ringing with the blood-chilling sounds of war, she looks at the trail of bodies behind her, and wonders at all the people who had lost their lives here and the people responsible for it. She makes a choice. She will find a way to live without killing anyone. There will be a way. There has to be a way. She’ll rip apart Runeterra to find it. She owes it to these soldiers, to herself, to carry on her tale. So Ahri straightens her back, takes in a deep breath, and bids goodbye to her life. Then, with her tails swaying calmly in the wind, she strides into a new one.
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