The Queen’s Deception – Chapter Four

4

Sir Belas Gilyre was not fond of hunting people through the woods. He was a Knight-Captain of the Order of Bones, a scourge of his enemies on the battlefield and not some common sheriff to be sent on errands such as this. Yet, here he was with the less-than-pleasant Magarathran, the Sky-Fear hunting down a pair of people who were probably no better than average hunters. He glanced up at his shape-shifted draconic companion and shook his armored head with mild disgust.

“This is truly a waste of our time,” Belas offered. “A glorious offensive is merely hours away and we’re tracking down scurrying peasants in the woods.”

“Then why bother looking at all? We have two corpses. They were dead when we found them but who else would know?” Replied the towering Magarathran in a low, growling voice that sounded as though it was coming from the ground under the pair, rather than from his tooth-filled maw.

“The Queen has eyes and ears even where dragons cannot see them,” Belas replied with another shake of his head. “Of my people, she is considered one of the foremost in illusionary magic. She could be standing here, now and neither of us would know of it.”

“It’s doubtful she would waste the time, but if you feel so inclined to continue hunting this prey, the scent of their blood went northeast.” Magarathran replied with a rumbled disinterest. Like Belas, the dragon felt as though this was merely a peasant hunt and beneath his vast power. A veteran of many engagements with both the armies of Vyss and the neighboring human lands of Brookshire, Magarathran usually sent whelps to do this sort of work.

Belas removed his helm and pushed his fingers through the shoulder-length crown of white hair atop his head. The pale-skinned Elf Knight had, despite his concerns, actually considered abandoning the chase and heading back with news of a clear path. There was little harm in letting rabble go free and likely, when the whole Xannti army swept passed here in a few hours, they’d be caught in by soldiers, or by the planned razing of the wood itself. Yet, Queen Arisyeema had been so specific about this section of the woodlands being picked over as a crow picks the rotting meat off a bone. Sir Belas took his helmet and firmly placed it back on his head, with the internal conflict resolved.

“We press on. One of them is wounded by the blood we’ve found. They couldn’t have gotten far,” He concluded. “They’ll have to take shelter by nightfall in any event. These woods become a different place entirely when Ka sets below the sky.”

* * *

Ashya nestled her back against the tree she had climbed into and watched the sunset bleed red, pink and lavender across the clear heavens. There was a moment of sad fondness that crept into her heart as she thought of Malcolm and Quinton. There had been a knot of guilt in her stomach since siding with the Wraith, the murderer of her two friends. She had wanted to avenge them with unrelenting fury, but instead she was sitting in a tree, aiding the very halfbreed that took her friends from her. It made her feel less like a friend and more like an accomplice to the act.

Now that things have, for the moment anyway, slowed down, Ashya had some time to debate whether or not she wouldn’t be better off on her own. She could slip away in the dark and leave the Wraith to his doom with the reaver and the dragon not far behind them. It would be no less than he deserved and no one would blame her for running from such a situation. Many fled the Wraith of the Wood and nobody called those survivors cowards.

Yet, to her that is exactly what she would be.

More disturbing was how intrigued by the Wraith Ashya was. These ongoing examples of strange code of ethics and surprising fighting tactics for somebody who was supposed to be merely a wild halfbreed killing people in the forest made her wonder who the Wraith was and why he was being hunted so vigorously. It is known that the Elves of Vyss forbid their people from siring children with humans. The penalty for this is a relatively quick, but horrific death, by way of being thrown into a pit full of ever-hungry ravager worms. The parents on the other hand, received a few weeks of torture, before a public execution.

These families of the halfbreed children were never hunted that vigorously if they did manage to get away. Once out of Vyss, they were left alone, but so few actually managed to get away. It was a brutal and foolish way in Ashya’s eyes. Her own people had many mixed-breed children with the Asyndi of the Shar`Vaire clan; an ancient and many say wicked race of once divine beings that served the Old Gods, before being cast down for dissension and betrayal. They were accepted by both the Asyndi and the Tashrani peoples with open arms. She felt pity for the Wraith then, as she imagined the sort of life he must have had to get to this point, to become the person he is now. Killing him almost seemed like a mother’s mercy than a warrior’s duty.

Ashya was broken from her reverie by the sharp crack of a branch. From her position in the tree, she had both ample cover from the skies and fairly good cover from the ground below. The particular tree she had chosen had many branches with thick, green leaves so it allowed for her to blend in with relative effectiveness, providing she did not move overmuch. To the south of her position, she could see the movement of something big moving past her with cracking branches and murmured conversation she couldn’t quite understand for the distance of it. If she could hear and see this, so could the Wraith, but she couldn’t see him.

The other problem was Ka had nearby been swallowed by the night. If what the Wraith said about the Ziyn that reputedly lurked here when darkness fell, then the option to abandon the Wraith to his doom was rapidly becoming no longer an option. Ashya had resolved to fight despite her misgivings for it, but now this tree had become little better than a prison for the potential lethality of the ruins below.

All she had to do is not die. Isn’t that what Malcolm had said?

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