* * *
The smile the Wraith found spread like cancer upon his chalk white features at the sound of crumbling stone and the defiant howl of the dragon. This particular detail was his greatest concern; neither he or Ashya had the immediate means to directly fight a dragon, even one in a hybrid form and win. He didn’t expect the Ziyn that wandered the ruins below and on the surface at night to be prepared to defeat Magarathran either, but it would be enough to slow him down. Long enough to dispatch Belas.
The Wraith was weakened however. The wound on his thigh scored by Ashya had since stopped bleeding but the damage had been done. He was a little slower on his feet and a lightheaded feeling continued to dog his steps. The blood loss from the wound had been a boon of its own in acting as a lure for the dragon, but now it had become a detriment. He would need to hold on just a little longer, before all his prey were lined up just as he needed them.
On that account, the Wraith was now following the Vyssian Elf Reaver, Sir Belas Gilyre, who made no effort to mask the path of his steps nor took any measures to quiet his archaic platemail armor. While Belas hewed through branches with wide swathes of his arming sword, the Wraith moved in his wake, always leaving a distance of about fifteen paces. All that was required was a window of opportunity to make his move on the knight now. The Wraith also noted, with some amusement the presence of his spear clutched in the knight’s left hand as he chopped and sliced away. Getting that back would prove to be useful as well.
That chance came when Belas became tangled in some particularly thick underbrush and had gotten his sword caught within it. While the knight was busy pulling, cursing and fighting to free his weapon, the Wraith struck with a shoulder-tackle into the back of Belas. As the pair tumbled down a slight embankment, Belas let out a surprised bellow and scrambled to get a foothold. The narrow vision of his full-faced helm only allowed him to see the gleam of the royal spear and the figure in tattered clothing and mismatched leather and chain armor dashing away.
“Fight me!” Belas shrieked while struggling to find his footing. By the time he got to his feet and claimed his sword, the ‘peasant’ he had been hunting had slipped through the thick foliage as if they were not there at all for him. There was no time to ponder this agility in his quarry, nor the continued roars and howls of duress coming from his dragon companion in the distance. Belas had to give chase.
Sprinting in heavy armor was never an enjoyable experience. Usually, peasants had the common courtesy to cower so Belas might cut them down with much less effort, but this one wanted to run. As if that would save him. “Come and fight fool! I will make your death glorious!”
But there was no answer and no time to wait for one. Belas stormed down the incline and followed the path of disturbed dirt that led back to the ruins. Belas slowed as he approached the clearing. The ‘peasant’ was standing around a thinned out section of trees, right before the ruins, waiting for him will all the audacity Belas would expect from a seasoned warrior, not some woodland wild man.
“You hesitate,” the Wraith said with that awful, cancerous smile of his. “Why? Do you not wish to fight, now that you see who your queen has set you upon?”
“So, you are the Wraith? Consider me underwhelmed with your lack of majesty,” Belas replied while pointing the tip of his arming sword at the taller halfbreed. “If it is the will of my queen, Arisyeema Ymiyr Kasyatirma-Soryn III that you die so b—“
While Belas and the Wraith were exchanging words, Ashya dropped from below onto the knight. Her landing had been true and managed to knock the knight to the ground but ended up stumbling backwards. Again made slow by the weight of his armor, Ashya was quicker to recover with a quick forward roll to her feet. The Wraith meanwhile hefted up the spear to plunge into the opening in Belas’ ram-horned helm.
The Kiris Miran Reaver was not as helpless as the pair supposed; a fact he made known with a sudden lunge forward to take the Wraith’s legs out from under him, while getting out of the way of the attempt to slide a basilard into the shoulder joint of his armor by Ashya. The grapple succeeded, but only long enough to take the Wraith from his feet with a harsh heave of air pushed from his lungs.
The trio scrambled around each other in a hurried tangle of flashing steel and shifting bodies, as each sought purchase of a foothold. Ashya, being the most nimble of the three, tumbled away from the two men as the Wraith snared Belas in a headlock and smashed his face into a tree. While the helm protected the lot of his face, the nose was left exposed and was crushed against the wood of the tree. An agonizing snarl came from the knight, whose eyes were now watering from the sharp pain.
Ashya launched herself at Belas’ prone back and drove her Kaalcite blades into the small of his back. Metal screeched against metal as two pointed dents were made in the Hell-forged armor, but no puncture. A flailing backhand from a mailed fist hit Ashya squarely across the jaw and sent her reeling. The Tashrani gypsy had spun around once from the brutal blow and had found herself dazed for a moment. Long enough for Belas to recover and throw himself at her, with the point of his arming sword leading.
This commitment to slaughtering Ashya had bred another moment of opportunity for the Wraith. When Ashya parried off the sword strike from Belas, the Wraith took his spear in an inverse grip and plunged it into the weak point Ashya had made with her basilards. The heavy boromandite tip punctured the armor and impaled the Reaver through the small of back, into the stomach. While failing to punch the spear through the chest plate of the knight’s armor to achieve a total impalement, it was clear that Sir Belas Gilyre’s life had been shortened from centuries, to minutes.
The Wraith walked slowly around as Belas dribbled red life from his lips and scratched at the ground in an attempt to reclaim his arming sword. For Ashya, it was not unlike watching a plains lion circle a conquered Lasher cow, before feasting upon it. She swore an oath that if the Wraith did what he normally did to the dead, she’d burn this poor sod’s corpse herself to prevent him from adding desecrating it.
“Finish it,” Ashya said finally, as the Wraith picked up Belas’ arming sword. She turned away from him and his sadistic joy at another man’s death, sickened by the very sight of it. “Finish it and be done with it. There is a dragon we must deal with yet. You do not have time to gloat.”
“As you wish,” The Wraith said while driving the arming sword between Ashya’s shoulders with such force the weapon sundered through the meat of her innards and lanced through her stomach. He yanked the weapon free to allow her to fall to the ground.
Ashya lost her immediate sense of direction as she collapsed. All she could see was the haze of moonlight and the silhouette of the Wraith above her. He had at least did her the justice of pulling the sword out, rather than leaving it in her like some forgotten slab of meat on the butcher’s block. She wasn’t sure if it was an effect of her final moments or that having the purity of darkness upon her, that she could see the faint, sinister glow of his volcanic orange gaze. Were she not all ready dying, she would have sworn him to be every bit the wraith urban legend painted him as.
“You will go to your end cleanly,” The Wraith stated, noting fleeting life in Ashya’s gaze. “Butchering you for Arisyeema to see does not serve my purpose.”
“Purpose?” She managed while coughing up blood for the effort of speaking. Death was a certainly now; whatever spite she had towards her killer and the murderer of her comrades was lost in the overall lack of difference it made now. She would go to the Old Gods with a smile, not with a curse on her lips.
“Know that I am Nilharys, bastard outcast of the queen, Arisyeema,” he began. “My purpose is her death for the life she has given me. Each corpse is a message, a warning that the day approaches where I will stand upon the dais of her throne with a sword bloodied in her spent life.”
“She has all ready defeated you, Nilharys the Wraith,” Ashya replied with her last breath. “She holds you on a chain of revenge that you will never break. You will never be free of it.”
As the Tashrani woman passed from life into the veil of death, Nilharys slid Ashya’s eyes shut and propped her against a nearby tree. True to his word, he would leave her corpse unspoiled. Her final words only yielded a thin, rueful smile from the halfbreed; there was no part of him that wished to be free of this chain of revenge. To him, it was an anchor that kept her within blade’s reach.
Ashya was right on one matter however. Nilharys didn’t have time to gloat. He could hear the mighty dragon’s roar in the distance and the sound of crumbling stone. Magarathran must have gotten free somehow and dispatched the Ziyn that had been lurking nearby. In much the fashion of his moniker, Nilharys disappeared into the wood, sufficing to leave the butchery of this night as message enough that his mother’s days were numbered.