“Who is she?” Tiriana asked.
“Who are you talking about?” Virion asked in return, deflecting his girlfriends question.
“You know who I’m talking about,” Tiriana retorted. “I know you were talking to Aien about her. You said you wanted to ask her out.”
“That’s ridiculous,” he said, though he looked guilty as he said so. “You’re the only girl for me.”
Tiriana caught the look and nodded her head, satisfied that she had been correct. There was someone he was interested in, someone other than her. That was fine with her, though she was surprised how much it wounded her pride. She was never really into Virion. He was just a passing fancy, and she was far too young to settle.
Virion squirmed as Tiriana held his gaze. Then he looked away. The surface of the lake rippled as the autumn breeze blew in from the north. The days would soon begin to grow cold, but the warmth would last a few days yet.
“You always know,” Virion said at last, still looking over the lake.
“Being the daughter of a seer has its advantages,” Tiriana smiled. “I too am blessed with the gift.”
“That’s an unfair advantage.”
“And you being the son of the General of the King’s Forces doesn’t help you at all?” she laughed. “Come now, we all know that you have a wandering eye, just like your father. Tell me, how many bastard siblings do you have wandering about in foreign places? The baker’s son also bears a strong resemblance. You two could be twins.”
“That’s enough,” Virion growled, tightening his grip on the hilt of his sword.
“What’s wrong? Do you wish to slay me like one of the beasts from the forest?”
“I just wish you to be quiet,” he said, loosening his grip, “and let me think.”
“What’s there to think about? You want to move on to greener pastures. That’s fair. I have no intention of letting you take me to bed, though I know that is your wish. I’m sorry for that, by the way.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for.”
“I’m sorry all the same. I know how much that bothers you. Your friends and colleagues boast of their conquests and I refused to be conquered. You can’t boast to them, or do you boast anyway? Do you tell them what a vixen I am?”
“Shut up,” Virion hissed, pulling his sword out of its scabbard and standing up suddenly.
“I was only teasing,” Tiriana said, her eyes wide in terror.
“Shut up,” he hissed with more urgency. His eyes began to dart around as he took a defensive posture facing the forest with Tiriana and the lake at his back. It was only when she stopped talking that she heard it, a snap of twig and the rustle of leaves that was not quite natural. Someone, or something, had found them unawares, far from bustle of the city or the castle.
Tiriana closed her eyes and began to probe their surrounding with her mind. It was not a talent she had cultivated, though her mother had admonished her for neglecting her studies. She admonished herself for being so lax and careless now. Had she been more diligent, she might have given them better warning of the impending danger.
She probed the shadows, first near the borders of the forest and working her way in. Usually the area was teeming with life, but everything had fled. They were the only living beings for miles. The source of the disquiet eluded her until she found it and gasped.
“What is it?” Virion asked.
“Direwraith,” she replied as all color drained from her face. She began to tremble.
“Here?” Virion spat, his hands tightening their grip on his sword. He stood up straighter, determined to defend them from their deadly foe. He was far outmatched and they both knew it. It would take several trained warriors, well-armed with protective enchantments to equal one Direwraith much less defeat one.
“We have to make a run for it,” Virion said, his eyes looking for an escape.
“Too late,” Tiriana groaned. “It’s here.”
A menacing shadow emerged from the edge of the forest, gliding towards them. In its wake, a trail a decay seeped, marring the perfection of this paradise. It wore only a dark cloak the billowed in the wind, hiding an emaciated frame. It’s rasping breath reeked of death and its eyes shown blood red.
“You are not welcome here,” Virion yelled as he took a step back.
The Direwraith only cackled. It brandished a sword from some unseen fold of its cloak as it advanced, gliding swiftly towards them.
“You are not welcome here,” Virion yelled again, bearing his teeth, as he lunged towards the fell creature. The creature easily parried the attack and Virion fell to the ground.
“My quarrel is not with you,” the Direwraith hissed as he glided past him. “Leave and I may let you live. I’m here for my own.” Then the creature began to move towards Tiriana, extending a skeletal hand towards her. “Come,” it bade her. “It is time.”
“Never!” Virion screeched, rising up and putting himself between it and its quarry.
“You have chosen death,” the Direwraith cackled excitedly. “So be it.”
It swifty raised its sword and made to strike at Virion before Tiriana launched herself between them and yelled. “Lia’not!” A burst of light began emanate from her body causing the creature to shriek in agony. “You are not welcome here, herald of death.”
“I’m here for mine!” The Direwraith screeched. “I will not go back emptyhanded.”
Darkness began to seep from the creature as a vapor, launching itself to assail Tiriana. For a moment the darkness began to overwhelm her and the light began to flicker. Virion could only raise his hands to shield his eyes from the blinding light, but for a moment, he could see Tiriana’s silhouette and the encroaching shadow.
“Tiriana!” He yelled, more in helplessness than terror. Though he was overcome with terror, his resolve did not falter and wished he could be of more use. He knew, however, that it was more perilous to strike blindly at an unseen foe. More likely, he’d strike Tiriana.
“Lia’not, Unbadid Hal!” Tiriana bellowed and the light of a hundred suns burst forth from her, the heat raditating from her scorching everything near. Virion fell to the ground as he tried to protect himself from the unbearable flame.
And then darkness descended. Not the unholy darkness from the Direwraith, but that of the blessed night. Tiriana glowed for a moment alone, all signs of the fell creature gone. On the ground, rays of scorched earth radiated away like spokes from a wheel.
“It is gone,” Tiriana said before she swayed and collaped.
“Tiri!” Virion screamed. He stood up and raced towards her, wondering how he found himself several yards from where we was standing as he ran. He fell beside her, her skin hot to the touch but he found no signs of burns on her pale skin. She seemed to glow like the moon for a moment but the light began to wane.
“Over here,” Virion heard someone say. He looked up to see several of the King’s warriors led by his own father. “What happened?”
“Direwraith,” Virion croaked as he finally managed to take Tiriana into his arms. Her skin felt cool to the touch now. Her breaths were shallow and she had taken on the pallor of death.
“How did you manage to survive?”
“Her,” was all he could say before he was lost in tears.
“The burst of light?” his father asked, though he had not expected anyone to answer. Virion’s father looked for a moment of the frail body sprawled on the ground. “Nureso, Ecolve! Bear her up. We must take her to her mother. Quickly!”
“Will she be alright?”
“I’ll be fine,” Tiriana said so only Virion and his father could hear, though her lips did not move.”
“Take me to my mother. She’ll know what to do. General? You must hurry to the king. A war is coming. I saw this in the Direwraith’s mind. A war is coming and we must prepare. They are coming for their own, and I refuse be one of them.”
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