Chapter 15.2

Nariain stirs through the pot of hot water with a sense of disbelief. It’s like fate itself is playing a prank on her. The powdered herbs in the pot, they are lucky she always carries some with her, slowly coloured the water green-yellow, a sign that her brew is almost finished. It already has taken too much time. Time that should’ve been spent assaulting the necromancer’s last fortifications, rather than brewing potions. But out of all of those stupid men, it had to be the healer that got mortally wounded, while the rest got off with bruises and some shallow gashes.

She takes the pot off the fire with half a mind to instruct them to feed it to the patient once it had cooled down, but she decides against it. Somehow, those oafs would manage to misunderstand even such basic ideas. Of course, it takes an eternity for the drink to cool down to a point that it wouldn’t scald the man’s throat.

With her patience nearly running out, she feeds a spoonful to her patient and then starts to replace his bandages and reapply some of her herbal salve on the wound. Tanac, she believed the others called him, winces in response to the salve. She knows it stings a bit, but couldn’t restrain a biting remark: “You’d be much worse off without it.”

“I know,” the injured healer offers her a faint smile. “I owe you my life, Lady Nariain.”

She sighs agitatedly. “For the hundredth time, I am not a lady.”

As before, the man is taken aback by the remark. No matter how often she repeated herself, they just don’t understand. “Drink some more in an hour,” she instructs and walks away in search of some solitude. On her instructions, they had left the city before treating the injured and had taken shelter in a small copse of trees between the city and Donash’s castle.

She walks through the trees until she’s out of eyesight, but she can still hear the men talking. “We must seek to reunite with Sir Avarron,” she recognizes the voice of the bard. “Without him, we cannot face the Necromancer.”

“Why?” the brash warrior asks. “Because it makes for a better story? I don’t need to be a knight to chop his wrinkled head off.”

“Because of the prophecy. Or did you forget it specifically stated it has to be Avarron?” The rogue sneers.

She knows the prophecy. The intimate relationship with the knight revealed it to her long before they had heard it. Yet the simpletons clearly misunderstood the words. Avarron’s sword wouldn’t be able to destroy the necromancer. No, that task is hers and hers alone.

When she starts listening again, the discussion has moved to whether or not they should return to the city and look for Avarron. They finally show some hints of sensibility when the old warrior argues that they’d only get lost. The discussion quickly devolves into bickering when some suggest moving forward and others, including the bard, refuse to attack the castle without their knight.

Like dogs without their master, they just bark. Nariain turns around sharply and heads back to the camp. Her sudden appearance interrupts the current argument as she casts a disapproving look over the lot of them. “I don’t care what you’re going to do, but I’m going into that castle,” she points up the hill behind them. “I’ve done all I can for your friend and I’m not going to sit around and wait.”

“Lady Druidess, surely you understand that we cannot assault the castle without Sir Avarron,” the bard tries charmingly.

In response, Nariain pulls up her sleeve, revealing her blackened arm. She masks her own shock at how far the black goo has crawled up, now reaching beyond her elbow, as she explains: “You may have the time to wait, but I don’t.”

Before the startled men have a chance to respond, she adds: “The only cure for this is to kill that monster, which I’m going to do right now,” before she leaves them again and heads straight for the castle up the hill. Behind her, they burst into argument again, but she completely ignores them. With or without help, she’d end this once and for all.

The palace looks completely abandoned. The stone walls are coloured a pale green blend of weathering and moss while the double doors are worn and mossy, showing ample signs of rot. They stand open, as if inviting her in. She passes through the gate cautiously, expecting another ambush, but the courtyard is completely empty, save for the weeds coming through the cracks in the pavement. She crosses the courtyard straight to the main entrance, but finds the heavy doors shut tightly.

Yet as soon as her black hand touches the wood, it starts to rot and wither away rapidly. In but a few moments, there is a hole large enough to step through. As soon as she does, the doors start to regenerate. She smirks confidently. Using the necromancer’s own power to penetrate his admittedly clever defences is extremely satisfying.

As she turned away from the door, she sees a single unliving, dressed in ornate armour, in front of her. Her smile grows. If this is all there’s left of the army, this will be over with quickly.

The unliving makes an elaborate bow for her and speaks in surprisingly clear voice: “It is an honour to finally meet you, Lady Arteiss. If you’ll allow me to introduce myself, I am Lord Valfíor.”

Nariain’s teeth gnash. “Don’t ever use that name,” she threatens.

Lord Valfíor completely ignores her words as he continues: “Master Donash has been eager for your arrival, milady.”

“Nariain. My name is Nariain,” she says as final warning for the unliving noble.

“Now, would you be so kind and follow me to the throne room, Lady Arteiss?” Valfior pushes the last straw.

Nariain’s staff shoots out and hits him square in the face. Valfior staggers backwards and slowly regains his balance, but Nariain is upon him in an instant. A second strike smashes the corpse into the wall, armour clattering against the stone. “Where is that pile of bones?” she asks.

The pale face offers her a smile, revealing his yellow teeth. “If you’ll just follow me,” the unliving says as he gets back up his feet and gestures into the main hallway.

“You first,” Nariain says. “And keep your hands where I can see them.”

Valfior makes another elaborate bow as he walks into the wide, open hallway. The rich and opulent decorations, tarnished as they are, remind Nariain far too much of home. “Hurry up,” she instructs her guide. “I don’t have all day.”

“I assure you, Donash is just as eager to meet you,” Valfior replies but doesn’t move any faster towards the end of the hallway, featuring the third set of double doors in the castle.

Moving at practically a crawl, they approach the doors. Nariain has to restrain herself from rushing ahead. That was obviously exactly what the necromancer wanted. When Valfior politely opens the door for her, she grabs the unliving by the shoulders and with a firm kick, casts him into the room. “Donash, you need to work on your pet’s balance!” she yells as she waits for the trap to trigger. When a moment later, nothing had happened, she throws the doors open and enters.

***

Leaning casually into the throne, I watch the sidhe storm into the throne room, right into my trap. She strides forward, planning to drag me out of this comfortable seat and beat me until I’ll beg for death. But before she sets her second step, she’ll feel her body stiffen. An elaborate circle of ancient symbols of power, drawn on the floor around her, give her pause. The symbols stir her memories and she casts me a furious glance. “I’ve broken your hold before, necromancer,”

I smile behind my mask as I calmly leave my throne and approach her. “Unlike you, my dear Sidhe, I have learned from my mistakes.”

That’s when she’ll notice that the circle is drawn in the same black essence that covers her arm. “You really think that a bit of black goo is going to stop me?”

Defiant to the end, she’ll attempt another step, but all it takes is one word, “Hold,” and the circle will not release her feet.

Even then, she refuses to ackowledge that I’ve already won. I’ll be happy to explain: “The blackness of your arm and now your feet, it is me. It is me, crawling over you and consuming you like a swarm of locusts,” I’ll pause and watch her. Her eyes glow with hatred, her fists are clenched and her glowing hair waves in a ghostly wind. She is at the brink, so I push her over: “In time, there will be nothing left of you and everything that is you will be mine. Your death, Nariain, is my life. My immortal life. And there is nothing you can do to stop it.”

The banshee departs her corporeal body and lunges at my throat. Her cold ghostly fingers penetrate my neck, harmlessly, and yet she’ll muster the force to throw me back into my throne. “I can kill you,” she gives me an eager smile, thirsting for my black blood.

As her frigid claws vainly try to clutch me, I’ll taunt her: “Try.” She cannot touch me, her spectral form penetrating my skin, flesh and bone, but leaving no mark. But I can push her: “You cannot harm me. My death will be from my own hand. Is that not what you wanted?” I get up from the throne again.

“I can lift the curse,” she’ll resist my push.

So I push harder. “Try,” I’ll taunt again, knowing that she cannot. I have made the curse my own and she’ll know it as I force her back into the flesh. “You are mine, Nariain. You’re caught in my web, I crawl up your arm and thanks to my great-grandson, I run through your veins.”

She’ll smile, believing to have found a flaw in my plan. “Avarron’s blood is not the same as yours.”

Here, I have to admit, if I had not foreseen this conversation, I wouldn’t have known what she’ll reveal. But I do, a true testament to my power. So I feign ignorance: “You think that Avarron is a changeling, don’t you? Of course you do. I put all the hints on your path. But the knight is my direct descendant.”

Her smile’ll widen. She never really believed the whole changeling ruse. “Of course he is not a changeling. There is not a shred of Fae in his blood. No, it is the blood of Arasaihan, the underworld dragon, that runs through his veins, and makes your ancestry all but irrelevant. You are but a leech, parasiting on powers beyond your feeble mind.”

It is this revelation that saves me, and it is this revelation that gives me precisely what I need to make my dominance complete. “Dragon’s blood. Highly powerful and increadibly malleable, especially in the hands of a master of the blood arts, like myself,” Hidden in my robes, I press my thumb against a dagger, black blood dripping down the blade’s edge. The dagger shoots forth from my robes and I plunge it deep in her chest. And with it, I put my own blood into her body.

Her response is more than a cry of pain. It is a furious, howling wail of death and agony. It will send my mind reeling as pain washes over my body like a wave of hungry flames. I’ll bring my hands to my ears in an attempt to block out the sound, but it echoes within my skull. I am brought to my knees, trembling. A lesser man would have been devastated by the torment, his mind shattered, but I’ll survive the ordeal. I cannot die by anything but my own hand.

> Chapter 15.3

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