That Horrible Moment Chapter 6

She Knew

By Donraj

        As he grappled with Gilliam on the hard-packed ground, Lanal quickly realized that he was fighting a losing battle against his stronger opponent. He felt his dagger arm being pushed back inch by inch, within seconds Gilliam would be able to retaliate. Changing tactics, Lanal abruptly stopped trying to thrust his dagger into Gilliam’s throat. As he did, he set the front ends of his feet against the ground. As Gilliam’s arms shot forward, Lanal dropped the dagger and planted his hands palm down against the dirt. Kicking forward with his feet, he lifted his body into a handstand. Falling forward, he came to his feet in a crouch, already spinning around to face his adversary.

        Caught off-guard by the acrobatic move, Gilliam rolled over, landing face-down on his stomach. Trying to pull his feet under him, he began to stand. Lanal’s foot smashed square into his face, slamming him back to the ground. He rolled to the right, tasting blood and dirt in his mouth. Drawing another dagger, Lanal wasted no time in following upon the attack.

        Lanal sprang at Gilliam like a snake on a rat, dagger hand descending in a downward stab. The unarmed Gilliam, terror overriding caution, flung his right hand onto the point of the dagger in a desperate attempt to block it, impaling his palm on the needle-sharp point. Ripping it out, Lanal slashed it into Gilliam’s right side. With a scream that was more pain-filled screech than battle-cry, Gilliam dragged his feet back under him and clenched his left hand into a fist. Still screaming, he stood and slammed the padded heel of his hand into the bottom of Lanal’s jaw. As his teeth slammed together with an audible clank, the assassin’s head slammed back. Whipping his hand back down, Gilliam seized the wrist of Lanal’s dagger arm, squeezing his fingers cruelly into the nerve center. Forced to drop the dagger, Lanal broke away and backpedaled. Staggering back, Gilliam snatched the dagger with his unwounded hand

        Spitting a tooth out, Gilliam awkwardly grasped the dripping blade in his left hand. Struggling to stop his legs from trembling, he fell into a fighting crouch. Lifting his bleeding right hand before him, he forced the appendage to flex in a beckoning gesture.

        “Come on,” he gasped.



        Blackness crackled across Chell’s hands, and blackness swam across Alberto’s eyes as the life-draining spell worked its unholy magic. As his parasitical enemy drew the very life force out of his body, the world seemed to simply fall away to Alberto. Chell’s face, the dark forest, even his own body seemed to vanish. What had started as a numbness in his arms spread to the rest of his body, blocking out all sensation. The only thought his mind could produce was the certain knowledge that he was going to die.

        It was then, in that state of absolute detachment, that the voice came to him once more. As dry as bones and as terrible as damnation, its whisper seemed as loud as a thunderstorm. It was Lich.

        -You are going to die, foolish mortal. You will die, and you will come to me, and join me forever.-

        Alberto tried to deny the hissing voice, tried to form a response from his suddenly torpid brain. It was no use. Even if he did reply, what difference would it make? The demon was right, he was going to die.

        -But I can save you, little human. Open yourself to me, give your body over to me, let my power fill your soul and you will crush this one!-

        Alberto felt himself drawn to the offer, felt himself giving in, letting Lich enter him. Why not? He was going to die either way, at least this way he would have revenge. And the power… Amid the gray nothingness that swirled through his mind, the power concealed within that voice blazed like dark beacon, a darkness that somehow seemed to shine. It would be so easy…

        Just as he was about to give in, just as he was truly lost, an image flashed through his mind. He saw himself as a puppet, an automaton, a mere golem that housed Lich’s spirit. In one brief flash of insight, Alberto saw into Lich’s mind, saw what would become of him.

        He would remain here, trapped forever in this grey void, languishing in a mental prison until Lich was either cast out or grew bored with this world. Nothingness, that was what Lich offered him. No more battles, no more insane drive to power. He would never again feel lightning crackling between his fingers, never again smell the bitter tang of ozone in the air, never again feel the blazing heat of a fireball forming in his palm.

        He would never wield magic again.

        That last thought, more then anything else, terrified Alberto It jolted him out of his torpor and back to full consciousness. He must not give in!

        Lich’s spirit had already begun to seep into his soul, infecting his weakening aura with its malign energies. Alberto fought back, his mind locking with Lich’s across the veil that separated them, forcing the demon back. Lich struggled against him, the spirit’s dark will striving to engulf the mortal’s mind. But for all its power, Lich languished in another plane entirely, and this was Alberto’s body, Alberto’s place. Slowly, the demon gave ground.

        Alberto refocused his will, directing all of his mental strength at the psychic bond that linked them together; the tie had inadvertently forged in his reckless attempt at summoning the nightmarish beast. Slowly, he wrapped his mind around it like a vise, pinching it closed, snapping shut the gate through which Lich had gained access. Cursing him, Lich was forced to retreat to its shadowy home or have its mind cut off and destroyed.

        The struggle for his mind won, Alberto turned his thoughts to physical survival. Chell still held him in his vampiric grasp. Life energy continued to race out of his body. He could not last much longer. He needed something to break the link, something to replenish his drained body and heal…

        Heal. That was it. Calling on the last bit of his mental and magical strength, Alberto reached out to a power he rarely drew on, a spell he normally disdained.

        At the academy of Igros, Alberto had been selected for training as a healer, a battlefield medic. While expecting Alberto to work to restore rather then destroy people’s bodies was not among the Hokuten trainers’ wiser decisions (it came close to the stupidity of letting Alberto in to begin with), it had given Alberto a chance to learn real magic. Along with that magic, that glorious destructive power, Alberto had been forced (much to his distaste) to learn basic healing spells. While he had little interest in a magic that could not be used to charbroil the flesh from random people, Alberto had indeed learned it, and promptly regulated it to the back of his mind. And it was to that secluded part of his psyche that Alberto went, reaching for an energy that was almost anathema to the destructive-minded wizard.

        A cool, clean energy began to swell within him, an almost electric charge that sent shivers of pleasure through every fiber of his being. It swept through him, refreshing and recharging his ravaged body like water poured on parched earth.

        Then it reached the spot where Chell’s hands gripped his wrists. Drawn to the draining effect, the healing energy coursed out of Alberto’s body and into Chell’s insatiable grasp. The suction of the spell seized hold of the healing spell, dragging more energy out of whatever dimension it originated. More and more energy flooded in and out of Alberto’s body as Chell’s magic inadvertently wrapped the simple healing spell far beyond its limits. As the energy flow increased, Alberto’s body began to glow with an eldritch light. Under that pressure, under that sheer, constantly increasing volume of energy, something had to give.

        Chell’s spell went first.

        The lifedrain spell, for all of its lethal efficiency, was a fragile thing. It was meant to transfer small, manageable amounts of life energy from one body to another. It could only bear so much before shattering. Trying to absorb the flood of pure, unadulterated life energy that Alberto was hurling at it was like trying to fill a tea cup with a fire hose.

        With a crackle of wild energy, the spell snapped. Chell fell back screaming, his hands charred black by the backlash. He stumbled, falling unceremoniously on his rump. From this reclining position, he had a clear view of what was happening to Alberto.

        By now, the influx of life energy had formed a nimbus of light around Alberto’s body. The sheer force of the energy lifted him upward, levitating him nearly two feet off the ground. He threw back his head and laughed wildly in sheer exultation as he felt every ounce of strength he has lost replace. More then replaced! Alberto had never felt so much power; never (except perhaps for that time he had tried to summon Lich) even come close to the amount of energy released by the chance interaction of the two spells. He felt invincible, as if his skin was as tough as a dragon’s hide and his arms had the strength of a giant, as if he could spread a pair of wings and soar into the night sky!

        He trembled, this time in excitement rather then pain. He spun around wildly, then slowed as his eyes fixed on Chell. He grinned. Time to test those feelings…


        Every fiber of his being focused on the battle to save Hanlon’s life, Xavier did not even notice Rosa’s furious duel with the bandit assassin. Healing grace poured through his hands and into the wound the old fighting monks chest in a steady, pulsing rhythm. The energy seemed to sing to Xavier, a vibrant, humming song as wild and beautiful as life itself.

        But it still was not enough to repair Hanlon’s bolt pierced heart. Xavier could feel Hanlon’s life slipping away despite all his efforts, he could feel the man’s spirit about to fall away from the aged body.

        Gritting his teeth, Xavier forced his own life energy into the spell, sacrificing his own essence in a desperate attempt to empower the spell beyond his mortal limits. Pouring his very soul in the effort, Xavier begged St Ajora, begged God Himself, for the grace to save Hanlon. As the strength left his body, Xavier began to grow dizzy and light-headed.

        As Xavier hovered on the verge of unconsciousness, he felt a delicate pair of hands place themselves atop his own. A soft, silvery light filled his vision, banishing the darkness behind his eyelids. A deep sense of peace swept over him, and in that moment he felt Hanlon’s wounds begin to close.

        The heart was the first thing to be affected, its ripped chambers drawn together into a whole organ. The aorta, severed by the deadly projectile, reattached itself, and blood began to flow through it once more as the organ began to pump. As the flesh miraculously regenerated, the crossbow bolt was forced out, to fall harmlessly to the ground. The wound closed behind it, leaving not even a scratch behind.

        Xavier tilted his head back, eyes raised heavenwards, as the glow faded from his hands.

        “Praise God,” he whispered reverently.



        Realizing that he had played with his opponent enough, Dukane decided to finish the job. There were other targets that needed to be killed this night, and he had delayed his business too long already. As Rosa painfully pulled herself back to her feet, Dukane sprang forward, blades ready. The right-hand short sword thrust in high for her throat, while the other snaked in low towards her belly. As he came into striking distance, he swept his foot in a kick aimed at her injured knee. Rosa twisted to defend herself, but he was so fast…

        A burst of light flared behind Rosa, so bright that it seemed a star had fallen to earth. Dukane was far too experienced to allow himself to be distracted by the unexpected display, but something else followed it. A wave of sensation swept over him, a cool, tranquil energy that made Dukane shudder inexplicably. A nameless dread shot through him as it did, and for one brief moment the red aura that surrounded him flickered and died.

        It returned instantly as whatever power had swept over Dukane passed him by, but in that instant, everything changed. As the haste magic flickered, Dukane stumbled, his movements out of synch and off-balance. He immediately began to recover, but in that split-second his defenses were gone.

        Rosa was quick to seize the opportunity.

        Sword held in both hands, Rosa slashed up at a diagonal angle. Cutting through empty air where a blocking sword should have been in position, the razor-sharp blade instead sliced into Dukane’s right wrist. The sword cleaved the appendage, off with a grisly crunch, hand and sword. Rosa’s momentum carried the sword to shoulder level as the hand went flying. Altering the angle of her blade, Rosa hurled her body into a spinning cut, lopping Dukane’s head clean off.

        Rosa fell to her knees exhausted, her sword dropping from her suddenly nerveless hands. Her head swam, and her body swayed as she closed her eyes against the dizziness. Only one thought burned clearly through her dazed mind.

        She had survived.



        From his vantage point in a tall tree at the fringes of the camp, Drake saw Dukane’s death. That displeased him, the assassin has been one of his better followers. Well, he had found his first target of the night. Flexing his powerful leg muscles, the helmeted and armored warrior leapt from his crouching position atop the branch. With the unique ability that marked him as a Dragon Knight, he soared through the night sky towards his prey, nearly twenty feet away. As he hurtled towards the woman, he pulled his spear in line for her heart.



        As he looked up, Xavier saw the dark form descending upon Rosa. He shouted a warning at her, knowing even as he did that it would do no good, knowing that Rosa would never be able to react in time.

        Where is your God now?

        In a flash of insight, Xavier knew what he had to do.



        As she opened her eyes, Rosa saw him, saw Drake swooping down like an owl on a mouse. She froze, turned immobile by the nightmarish vision. She tried to shake it off, tried to dodge, but she knew it was too late. Helplessly, Rosa stared into the face of death.

        Something appeared in front of her. At the last moment, Xavier hurled himself in Drake’s path, arms out wide in a protective gesture. Drake slammed into him, his momentum combining with Xavier’s to thrust the entire length of the cruel spear right through Xavier’s body. Before Rosa’s horrified eyes, it protruded bloody out of the front of his chest. She met the young priest’s eyes, which had gone wide with shock. She tried to say something, but no sound would emerge from her lips.

        Xavier looked down, saw the spear sticking out of him, and knew that his life was over. For a moment, he felt despair threaten to sweep over him, but with the wisdom and strength that had guided him all his young life, he put it aside. Raising his head, he met Rosa’s eyes again. Somehow, despite his horrific wound, Xavier smiled.

        “Forgive him Rosa,” he whispered. “Don’t let your hatred consume you.”

        A look of peace came across his young features. Slowly, his eyes began to close.

        Callously, Drake yanked the spear back out, ripping the wound further open and letting Xavier’s unsupported body collapse to the ground.

        “Fool,” he said contemptuously.

        Shocked, shaking with grief, Rosa slowly looked up at the armored man, Xavier’s murderer. With a shriek of rage that sounded like an animal’s howl of pain, she leapt at him.



        Ellis reached the camp to find that the fight had already begun. The bandit cavalry had ripped into the unsuspecting guards, already reduced in numbers by Lanal’s planning and agents. Many died in the initial charge, but the survivors had fallen back among the wagons for defense. The tighter conditions hampered the mounted bandits movements, and soon a pitched battle raged within the camp.

        Ellis started to raise her bow to lend her comrades the best assistance she could by attacking the bandits unguarded flank, but then, from across the camp, she saw it. She saw Drake swoop down on Xavier, saw him butcher the helpless man and turn to fight off Rosa’s counterattack. She saw, and she knew.

        Her arms began to tremble with sheer terror, her legs threatened to buckle. In her mind’s eye, she saw another camp, long ago. As the years slipped away, the thick smell of smoke filled her lungs as the pure night air vanished.

        And she knew that man.

        It all came back to her at that moment, as clearly as if it were happening again before her eyes. In that moment she was no longer a confident, seasoned adventurer, in that moment she was once again a frightened child, hiding under a pile of wreckage as she watched her family being massacred.

        She knew then where she had recognized Lanal from, and why he had filled her with such irrational terror. She stood there, oblivious to the danger around her, as she relived the night when the Touten Knights had ridden in and decided to wipe out a small band of performers that their leaders thought might be spies.

        She knew.

        It was all happening again.



        Enraged beyond reason, Rosa slammed her sword down in an overhead cut. Drake easily blocked the clumsy blow with the haft of his spear, then spun the weapon in a counter-clockwise circle. The force of the parry sent the weapon flying from Rosa’s sweat drenched hands. Reversing the spin, the brutal warrior slammed the butt of the weapon into her jaw. She went down, sprawling in a heap on the hard, cold ground. Pulling his weapon back, Drake pumped his arms back for one final thrust.

        Something leapt on his back, wrapping its legs around his armored waist for support. Hands like stone chopped in at his head from either side in a deadly strike. The force behind them would have broken his skull open if his head had been bare. Drake’s sturdy helmet saved his life, but the buffet sent his world spinning around him.

        Drake hunched forward as much as his thick armor would allow. The sudden move sent the unseen assailant somersaulting over Drake’s shoulders. At the same time, Drake angled his spear upwards, hoping to catch his attacker as he fell.

        The figure, agile as a monkey, flipped right over the trap, landing on his feet right in front of Drake. Spinning to face him, the man smashed an open palm strike into the dragoon’s armored jaw. Drake stumbled back, waving his spear defensively to ward off any further attacks. It was then that he received his first clear view of his enemy.

        He was old, at an age when most men would have spent their days spoiling their grandchildren and annoying their adult offspring. He was bald, his scalp covered by leathery skin that looked like it might block a fairly determined sword slash. He was shorter then average, and his limbs were covered by cords of lean muscle that reminded Drake of a goblin’s physique.

        “Your name,” Drake asked flatly.

        “Hanlon,” the old warrior replied, equally emotionless.

        “You are worth killing.”

        With that, Drake began to circle slowly, a movement Hanlon mirrored. They paced each other precisely, eyeing each other like junkyard dogs about to rip each other’s throats out. Silently, their gazes locked, they watched for an opening.



        As Ellis stood paralyzed, the battle for the survival of the camp raged on. The defenders, knowing full well that they were fighting for their lives, fought like cornered sand panthers, but they had been caught by surprise, and they were badly out numbered. The tighter quarters gave them some advantage, but inevitably one mercenary after another fell. Victory for the bandits seemed assured.

        Then the watchers decided to join in.

        Ellis was the only one to see the pale figures as they loped in on all fours out of the underbrush and towards the melee. As they reached the encircled wagons the stunted figures hurled themselves into the fight, slamming into the unsuspecting riders and dragging them down from their seats. Those whose necks were not broken instantly in the fall had only seconds to realize their fates before razor-sharp teeth ripped out their throats. Their surviving comrades wheeled about in confusion as they turned and identified their attackers


        The caravan’s defenders, who had luckily been bypassed in favor of the mounted bandits, wisely fell back and allowed their unexpected saviors to focus on the bandits.

        One of the ambushers turned victims stumbled out towards them. He had lost his chocobo, his right arm hung broken at an unnatural angle and blood streamed from his forehead. In a pleading tone, he begged them to save him from the vicious monsters, for them to band together in the name of their common humanity. His face grim and pitiless, one of the guards stepped forward and skewered the man with his sword. Raising the gore stained weapon above his head, he turned to his companions.

        “If the gobs want to fight them, let’m! Untie the birds!”

        The others scrambled to do so, untying the lines that held the terrified chocobos in place. They hadn’t been paid enough for this!



        A scream split the night as one of the caravan guards was impaled on a bandit lance. Recognizing the voice of one of his men, Hanlon’s eyes flickered towards the source of the agonized sound though the wagon blocked the battle from view. Noting Hanlon’s distraction, Drake seized the initiative. He rushed forward, stabbing in with his deadly spear. Hanlon backpedaled away from the attack, the spear tip grazing his chest. Retracting his weapon, Drake kept up the offensive, forcing the unarmed warrior to retreat backward. On the third strike, Hanlon caught the shaft of the spear on his forearm and deflected the weapon out to the side. Darting forward down its length, Hanlon head butted Drake square in his armored forehead.

        This seemingly idiotic action truly hurt, but it also knocked Drake back half a step. Pressing the advantage, Hanlon kicked straight up with his right leg, smashing it into Drake’s jaw. As the dragoon’s head snapped backwards, Hanlon fell into a leg sweep, knocking Drake’s feet out from under him. The armored juggernaut toppled.

        As Hanlon positioned himself to the finish off the fallen warrior, a new threat intervened. Three of the goblin raiders stalked into the area, eyes wide and red. And by the toothy grins on their ugly faces, they did not particularly care which humans they were fighting.

        Reevaluating his priorities, Hanlon backed away from Drake. Calmly, the old man tried to figure out just how he was supposed to get out of this one.



        A scream ripped through the night as a brilliant flare lit the forest bright as noon. As both Lanal and Gilliam paused and tried to figure out what was going on, they heard the sound of a tree falling to the ground. Lanal could not be sure, but he thought he recognized the voice as Chell’s. A sinking feeling fell over Lanal. What was going on over there?

        Time for a change of plans.

        Cocking his wrist, Lanal hurled the short dagger straight at his enemy’s throat. Gilliam, distracted by the disturbance, noticed it at the last second. With barely an instant to react, Gilliam reflexively twisted his wounded arm into a block. The dagger thudded into the flesh of his forearm, drawing a scream from Gilliam’s raw throat.

        Battered as his target was, Lanal probably could have slain Gilliam if he kept up the fight, but at this point that wasn’t a chance he was willing to take. His enemy had proven too resourceful, too lucky. His gut told him that things were going south, and Lanal had long ago learned to heed that voice.

        As Gilliam dropped his dagger and tried to stem the blood flow from his arm, Lanal turned and fled.


        As Hanlon eyed the approaching goblin trio, Drake pulled himself to his feet nearby, leaning on his spear for support. With a reptilian calm, he analyzed the new situation.

        Goblins traveled in groups. If there were three here, there were likely thirty nearby. That could throw his carefully executed attack plan out the window.

        He turned his head towards his aged nemesis and smiled beneath his mask. No reason to stay here.

        Flexing his legs, he sprang into another of his unnatural leaps. Landing atop one of the wagons, he examined the main battle.

        Goblins, a whole mob of them, were tearing into his men. They fought with the agility of monkeys and the coordination of a wolf pack. They circled and pounced, switching freely between standing upright and loping on all fours.

        His raiders had managed to form up in a rough defensive square, abandoning their mounts to stand back to back. Goblin and human corpses littered the ground underfoot, but for the moment the tight formation was keeping them alive against the wild creatures.

        Drake shook his head in disbelief. Where had they come from?

        Dismissing the question for the time being, Drake sprang into action. Hurling himself across the intervening distance, he landed like a thunderbolt in the goblins’ midst. His spear took one in the throat as he landed. Immediately he yanked it out and slammed the butt end into the wrinkled forehead of another, cracking its thick skull. As it fell to the ground, Drake spun his spear in a pinwheel, driving the diminutive creatures back.

        Turning his head to his bandits, he barked an order he was not used to giving.




        The trio circled Hanlon slowly, lips pulled back in snarls. The old man stood calmly, arms akimbo and body completely relaxed. He took a deep breath, clearing his mind for the fight ahead. Finally, the goblins broke the impasse. With feral snarls, they fell to all fours and charged him. Hanlon stood stock still, an easy target.

        At the last second, his eyes flew open. He dashed forward, just as two of them pounced at him. He leapt between them as they hurtled through the air, snapping his legs out into a double side kick that slammed into their respective skulls. They went sprawling to either side. Hanlon landed in a crouch. Straightening, he looked at the third goblin.

        “Can we discuss this?” he asked, politely addressing the creature in its own harsh language.

        “I will rip open you chest and eat your heart!” the fiery goblin spat back.

        Hanlon really did not think it was exaggerating.

        Hissing, it fell to all fours and charged him. At the last moment, the cunning creature hurled itself into a roll to the left rather then leap at Hanlon as its compatriots had. Coming to a halt behind him, it hurled itself at Hanlon’s vulnerable flank.

        But Hanlon was no longer there.

        As the goblin had gone into its roll, Hanlon had fallen into a low crouch. The course of the goblin’s leap carried it over the ducking warrior, or it would have had Hanlon not stood straight up and grabbed it by the throat. Placing his other hand under the diminutive creature’s crotch, Hanlon slammed it into the side of a nearby wagon. As the dazed creature struggled to regain its wits, Hanlon shifted his grip to hold it with one hand. Closing the other hand into a fist, he slammed it into its gut. As the breath was blasted out of it, Hanlon tightened his grip around its neck and lifted it from the ground.

        “Now,” he said calmly, “you are going to answer some questions for me.”



        They lunged and leapt, rolled and retreated, swarming him, fighting in perfect coordination. They were fast, and strong, and viciously adept at fighting.

        But Drake was no less skilled, no less vicious. Working his spear brilliantly, he fought the mob of goblins to a standstill. He impaled them, cracked skulls and sent them flying. The ones that survived the blows wasted no time in rising to their feet and throwing themselves back at him. They were insane, seeming to care nothing for their own lives.

        Drake knew he would soon be overwhelmed.

        His men tried to obey the order to retreat, but the goblins were hot on their heels. The ones that simply broke ranks and fled were run down like animals. Their screams were the worst ones.

        Drake had bought all the time he could, he had to leave now. A goblin wrapped itself around his right leg, its sharp teeth gnawing futilely at his heavy metal armor as it immobilized him. Raising his other iron booted foot, Drake stomped down on it, hard. The broken creature’s grip relaxed, Drake shook it off.

        He had to leave.

        Gathering himself, he made yet another incredible jump, coming to a landing in a thick-limbed tree at the edge of the camp. Grimly, he watched his bandits being torn apart. Some had managed to flee into the forest, but the goblins were in hot pursuit, Drake doubted he would ever see any of them again.

        Wondering if he would be able to salvage anything from this disaster, he retreated into the forest night.



        Rosa knelt beside Xavier’s still form, her entire body shaking with grief. Cradling his head in her arms, she didn’t even feel the pain of her injuries as she rocked back and forth. She vaguely heard the sounds of combat nearby, but she was too numb to raise her head and see what was going on.


        “Why, why did you do it? You knew I hated you, you knew you would die, why did you do it? You could have stayed home, lived a life of luxury, why did you have to go and do this? Why?”

        As the hot tears obscured her vision, Rosa dimly saw a light begin to glow before her. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she stared in blank amazement as a silvery light came into being atop Xavier’s chest, right on the wound that had killed him. The light began to rise up, solidifying in a small, perfectly formed crystal. The luminous crystal, no bigger then her fist, hovered at eye level with her.

        It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Somehow, it reminded her of Xavier.

        Her hand trembling, she slowly reached out to touch it. As her fingertips brushed against it lightly, she was surprised to feel that it was not hard at all. It was warm, and indescribably alive. As she made contact with it, a burst of warmth shot through her body. She gasped as an unearthly sense of comfort filled her soul, and everything seemed to fall away…

        She was unaware of it, but her body fell to the ground. Oblivious, she sprawled face down beside him.



        Gasping for breath, the cut in his side flashing pain with every jarring step, Gilliam sprinted through the forest. He had recovered his sword, although he wasn’t sure if he could actually wield it at this point. His wounded right arm was tucked against the side to minimize the bleeding, and he held the sword clutched awkwardly in his left hand.

        But that didn’t matter, the stubborn mercenary’s mind insisted. Lanal’s treacherous attack (why had he betrayed them?) could only be part of a larger plan. These bandits, whoever they were, were far more cunning and skilled then they had been given credit for. Gilliam wondered just how many other people in the merchant’s guild were part of the operation.

        But that was beside the point. His comrades, Ellis, all of them were likely fighting for their lives. Ignoring the pleas of his damaged body, Gilliam picked up the pace.

        He was very surprised to learn that the fight was over.

        The camp site looked like a scene out of Hell. Bodies were strewn everywhere like rag dolls, blood stained the grass and made it as slippery as ice. The screams of the wounded and the dying added an infernal chorus, and Gilliam found himself wondering when the demons would appear.

        A cry caught his attention. He turned to see Ellis curled up behind a tree, he arms wrapped around her knees. He ran to her, crouching down beside her. She started to panic as he approached, but relaxed slightly as she recognized him.

        “G-Gilliam?” she asked pitifully.

        Gilliam started to ask what had happened, wanting to gain a picture of the situation, but was cut off as Ellis flung her arms around him and collapsed sobbing against his chest. Instinctively, Gilliam wrapped his arms around her, murmuring something soothing, wondering when the sun would rise.

Chapter 7

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