The dragon's throat was dark and wet. Even as it lashed its giant head side to side, Wenyanga held their breath as the muscles of its gullet undulated around them, crushing, squeezing, pulling. The venom and moisture that slicked them down its throat put tears in their eyes, singed the frays of their braids.
Had the dragon's stoneiris and soul not been frazzled by Wenyanga's wide-open soul, they would have died by now. Somnazu's soul fragment burned in their gut, keeping the dragon from crushing them to a pellet of bone and melting flesh, but they could do little more than slide down in the darkness. A thousand layers of Death aura, flattened into thin sheets to tamper the power of the voidgod's fragment, now fluttered freely around Wenyanga's soul, rippling with the pressure they usually held. Only a single film covered the fragment now.
Whenever Wenyanga had been asked how many layers their soul held, the answer had always been the same. Enough... and one more.
If there was humour to this, they couldn't find it. Eyes closed, arms locked over their chest to keep the air in their lungs, Wenyanga sank down the length of a monster...
...until the bottom of their foot pressed against something cold and hard -- a shoulder, made of iron.
The mass beneath them wasn't still. It thrashed like a drowning man, sliding further down the confined slickness. Wenyanga unfolded their arms, hooked a foot under the Pettygod's bicep, and dragged themselves down, until their chest was pressed to Tello's back. They curled one arm around his throat, right under the chin, vice-tight. His body was still harder than flesh, but it felt brittle now.
When Wenganga pressed their heart hand against his belly, the iron there crumbled like foil. There was no resistance as their fingers pushed through the metal and took a hold of his soul.
"What are you afraid of?" Wenyanga asked, the bedsheets still damp with sweat and spilt wine.
Tello sat at the foot of the bed, back hunched. The bedroom curtains had been thrown open, so the archway that led to the balcony framed his shoulders. The ocean beyond sparkled, the clouds above it cotton soft, the breeze swelling the curtains hot as breath. Still, Tello shivered.
"I don't know."
Wenyanga pulled their leg out of a tangle of blankets and reached for the pipe on the bedside table. "Of course you do."
Tello's laugh was little more than a lift of his shoulders. "And how do you know that?"
"Because when you don't know something, you go off and find out about it. When you know something, you say so. When you know something and don't say, you're afraid of it. Go on, then."
"What would it take... for you to leave me?"
"Don't be stupid."
"What would I have to do to kill the love you have for me? What mistake would I have to make for you to leave me?"
"Tello, I could love you even as I left you, but if you keep dancing around the point I might have to start singing."
He was looking out at the horizon, but he touched his liver absently, right above the bandage there from the soul splint surgery. "I just... if the situation called for it and I asked you to... to..."
"What would the situation be like?" Wenyanga sniffed their pipe. All ash. They tossed it across the room, ashes flecking the wooden floor panels, dusting Tello's shoulder, falling on the bed like motes of dust. "Would it be an act of anger or duty?"
"If the choice was my death or the death of everyone else in the world?"
"If it was you, would you kill me?"
Another flinch. "Do you have to talk about it so casually?"
"Yes, I do."
"I would let the world burn while I tried to heal you."
"Healing isn't an option, Tello, stop making excuses. It's me or the world."
"I... wouldn't be able to make the choice, so I'd end up failing both of you. What about you?"
"I'd kill you but I'd only have the strength to do it once. If I had to do it twice, I'd pour everything into killing whoever made that so. Is there a reason why I have to even consider this?"
Tello paused, then took his hand away from his liver. "Probably."
Wenyanga couldn't tell if the tears in their eyes were the vapours of the venom or something far more painful. The dragon's throat crushed them against Tello, but there was a second crushing in their chest, one that constricted tighter than any monster could. With a final shove of strength, they ripped their hand deeper into Tello's paper-brittle flesh and locked a fist around his soul.
Their arm loosened around his neck, but only so they could push a thumb between his eyes. The wail he let out was deafening even in the constricted darkness. It was worse than the first time he had cried out while she removed the soul splint all those days ago, killing him the first time... or so they had thought.
This time, his wail echoed long after Wenyanga ripped out his stoneiris and -- with a final peeling of their soul -- destroyed his spirit for good.