They were flying in the open when Quartz first heard the wing beats. Glancing into the distance, Quartz caught his first glimpse of them: dragons.
Dragons were powerful - dangerously so. Quartz may be an adept fighter, but dragons? If somebody had managed to track them down, and was hunting them with a squad of five dragons... Their only chance was to reach the nearest city and pray for safety. But the closest settlement was miles away. By then, they would be dead.
How had somebody managed to track them? Such a feat was nearly impossible, Quartz cursed. Somebody must really have wanted them dead, to send five dragons after them.
"Do you see them?" he called out to Ghost. She nodded, as the assassin scanned the land below for any hiding places. Nothing. Nothing but fields and forest; nowhere sufficient that the dragons could not simply burn.
Ghost snorted, slowing. What was she doing? Didn't she realise that to fight them was, ultimately, to die?
"Ghost, what are you doing?"
The Guardian snorted, tossing her head impatiently. Go, said the look in her eyes. "You want me to leave?" Again, the Guardian nodded. If she were in her humanoid form, then perhaps Quartz could question her further, ask her what she hoped to achieve. Why? Did she think she could defeat them? Such a notion was foolish - five dragons against a single Guardian? It was hopeless, he thought, as he left her. She was being stupid. But he wanted to live; he was an emotionless assassin and he cared only of himself.
He glanced back, to see the five huge, monstrous dragons diving towards the lone Guardian, ready to tear Ghost apart. There was a stabbing pain in the assassin's chest: a horrible, painful feeling that spread all over. Why? He was a heartless killer; he shouldn't care. Maybe it was merely the loss of a powerful ally, but surely that wouldn't feel like this, like the world was crushing him and pounding him into the earth below.
Besides, it wasn't like he could help, anyway.
A deep below of pain tore through the air, and Quartz realised it belonged to one of the other dragons. Perhaps she had a chance; perhaps she wasn't lost. That thought lifted some of the compressing pain from him, and - he told himself - it was insignificant; he should just accept it and acknowledge the Guardian's fate.
Quartz found himself turning around, his eyes narrowing in a loathing that was directed solely at himself. Why was he turning back? Another roar of agony, too deep to be Ghost, echoed through the previously silent night. He reasoned that he was turning back simply because the roaring filling the sky belonged not to Ghost but other dragons, reasoned that he was turning back because she was winning, and he could regain his pride if he returned to help.
But the next roar of agony was definitely hers; Ghost could recognise the dragon's tone anywhere. So why was he not fleeing from the forest in which the dragons had gone down? He shouldn't care about her!
When he reached them again, four of the dragons were mere corpses, their huge bodies limp and unmoving as they sprawled across the bloodstained ground.
The last was tearing relentlessly at Ghost's throat, its rider preparing to strike the Guardian with a spear. Before he could, Quartz had lodged a knife into his throat, killing him instantly. He should leave, now. Ghost was losing to the final dragon; she was bloodied and broken and there was no saving her. But he couldn't leave; something was keeping him here, and - Quartz told himself - it wasn't that he cared about Ghost, it wasn't that the sight of her, so very close to death, sickened him when she should be like every other victim of death he'd ever seen. She should just be another body, meaningless and worthless as soon as she hit the floor. She shouldn't be tearing him apart.
Quartz did the only thing he could think to do: he dived at the dragon and stabbed deep into the creature's eye. Turn around, he told himself as the dragon screamed in agony, allowing Ghost to break free. Turn around, and save your own skin; you don't care about her and you don't care about anybody.
But he couldn't. Because deep down, he did care, and he didn't want her to die.
Somehow, Ghost managed to rise above her opponent, crushing its skull within her own powerful jaws.
The moment later, she fell to the ground, her eyes flickering up to Quartz. He was beside her in a second, as her body sunk back to her humanoid form.
"Ghost, why?" Quartz almost screamed the question. Why had she done this for him? Why hadn't she just obeyed the laws of survival, as they both had been learning to do for their entire lives?
"You know, Quartz... There are some things more important... Than survival," she laughed weakly. For a long moment, he looked into her eyes - constantly shifting pools of silver and grey.
"No! You're not supposed to care!" he screamed, clasping her hand. He didn't want her to die; not now, not ever! She couldn't leave him alone!
"Neither are you," she coughed. "But... But you came back."
"Just shut up and save your energy!" he yelled, his grip on her hand tightening. "I'll get you to a healer, and you'll live!"
"Who would ever heal a Guardian?" she asked, with a touch of scorn to her voice. Helplessly, Quartz shook his head. "Besides, I'm already as good as dead." Each word was dripping with agony, and Quartz couldn't bear it. She couldn't abandon him to the cruelty of this world; she couldn't! "Just don't forget me, okay?" The rising of her chest was getting shallower; fainter. Why? Why did this have to happen to her?
"Don't leave me! Please!" A tear rolled down his cheek. Long gone was the emotionless mask of the assassin.
"Promise me!" she insisted, an imploring look within her eyes.
"I promise! But stay with me, Ghost, stay with me! I'm begging you!"
There was no reply from the Guardian.
Empty, lonely silence. The quiet that Ghost should be filling, with her calming voice and her mockeries. That would be forever empty, because Ghost couldn't fill the empty space, because Ghost was gone, because he'd abandoned her. And suddenly, Quartz hated himself, hated himself for not acknowledging her when he could; not being loyal to the only friend he'd ever had.
He'd never even told her that much - that she was his friend, not just his acquaintance.
"Ghost! Don't leave me, Ghost!"
And now he was screaming, begging her to come back, and he'd never once told her that she even mattered. Not even as she was dying, dying because he'd left her, dying because he'd let her simply die for him.
Tears streaked down his cheeks, dripping from his chin and shattering on the floor. He turned back, to the body. To the corpse.
To Ghost, who had died saving him.
He picked up her body, wondering why he'd never smiled at her.
He carried it - her - gently in his arms, wondering, time and time again, why he'd never called her a friend.
He wanted her alive, with him. He cared; he cared so much it felt like his chest was being torn apart with sorrow.
Ghost: his only friend; his only ally; his constant anchor to what remained of his sanity.
And now, Ghost was dead, and he could never tell her that she was more than just a tool for his cold, seemingly empty heart.
Because now, she was gone. Gone forever.