Manu forced air hard into his nostrils and smelled blood. He liked it. He drew his eyes around to the fanned flames that rippled at the base of the building. With one last fold of his eye that faced the most intense of the flame, the structure screeched a slow, rising hiss before giving in and collapsing under the strain.
The cold rush from the frozen river beyond filtered past the smoldering flicker and even though the fierce light flooded his eyes, Manu felt a dark shape appear and draw itself up along the rafters above him.
“It is done,” said the shape.
“Yes,” said Manu simply.
“The Sklar Quah will be pleased, I’d imagine.”
“Flame is holy to them,” rumbled Manu, “but tonight, it is the blood of all Shoanti enemies that will be the holiest of all.”
“Good. Korvosa needs many things to survive. And tonight it might just be a cleansing fire.”
Manu produced a short, thick snarl, a deep bone rattling noise that was the closest thing he had to a laugh. This was the first time he’d taken the Sklar Quah’s fires to use. They were a potent extension of Manu’s already pronounced ability to kill and kill thoroughly and completely. The Orcish fury would build and thunder in crashing blows upon the helpless skulls of those too foolish or ignorant to comprehend the completeness of their finality. The criminals on the docks had been just those kinds of fools, too slow and unwitting to prevent their systemic and sequential deaths by the falling destruction that was the Earthbreaker of the Skoan Quah.
The dark shape would have taken the approach in unseen quiet, finding unprotected channels and exploiting them.
But there was no protection from Manu. The noise of a barred door splitting apart and being hurled into the room was the only warning the few criminals waiting inside received. They snapped up from their game of cards to see the mass of Orc and hammer step over the wreckage of the door and draw their piddling blades. They rushed him one by one and one by one the raging power of the Manu crushed men into unrecognizable flesh. It began to dawn on the last in his final moments of life that his death was eminent and pointless and dropped his blade in an attempt to beg, but had not even made his first gasp of “Please” before Manu’s hammer ended the source of the noise.
Manu sniffed for the blood again and found it drifting over the smoke. It brought satisfaction with the memory.
“Before you continue tonight,” said the dark shape, “you might consider wearing… this.” From within the recesses of the black cloak was produced the skin mask of a bugbear, its flesh long since cut away, leaving only the cured and dried face of a creature in eternal terror.
“What is the point,” Manu snarled. “There will be none alive to tell.”
There was a smile from the dark shape, the last embers of the building shining through the dissipating smoke.
“Perhaps you should. To build fear, you first need a name,” he lifted the mask, “and a face.”
Manu stared at the grotesqueness of the withered bugbear skin. He had killed many of them before, but always enjoyed their savage dedication to combat. They weren’t like the souls throwing themselves against the blows of his hammer without the knowledge of their futures as paste. The bugbears accepted the severity and mercilessness of death, reveling in it even as they faced down their final moments.
Manu liked that.
“I will need to make room for my tusks,” he said, taking the mask.
“Good. Let them see: Blood Maw, for what it will truly mean.” There was a crack of a whip and the shape launched through the smoke and was gone.
Manu stood alone again in the Korvosan night and stared after him. He had known the Shoan Quah title he had been given. The ceremonies had been performed in secret and no outsiders were allowed within their borders. The penalty was death. Manu was not entirely surprised to see him again when he reappeared at his camp with tales of unnatural winters far to the south. Yet he had not known him to have been that close. This should not have surprised him either.
Manu stepped down to the wharf where the fire had nearly consumed the old architecture to heat and crumpled blistering wood. He bent down and thrust his hand into the heaping white ash, still white hot to touch. It burned Manu to the touch and he ignored it. Withdrawing a fistful of the ash, he began to rub it deeply into the face of the mask, as the Shoan Quah would prepare their bodies before war.
Manu stared down at the mask. Its sunken eyes had taken a heavier, ghastly quality. The ash clung to the dried skin and its expression of terror had been replaced with one of grim, ferocious insanity.
There was a crash of scuffle behind him and he knew his destruction had gotten the attention he had hoped for. He turned to see a growing band of cutthroats, mercenaries, and criminals gathering at the far end of docks. They had attempted to block his escape with their numbers, leaving only one way out: through.
“Who are you!” screamed one at the front. “Identify yourself!”
Manu pulled the bugbear’s face down over his own, driving his tusks easily through the paper of its leathery skin and drew his hammer.
“I am Blood Maw!” he roared, “Of the Shoan Quah!” and charged.