As he returned to the fire, he could tell something was off. The logs sat smoldering in their pile, wispy trails of smoke floating into the night sky. The leaves on the ground had been moved, he noticed, covering all marks on the ground, including ones Ariss had noticed he and Lucy had made on their way up here. He clenched his fist, hand going to the solid hilt of his sword. They weren’t alone. Somebody who knew that they didn’t want to be found had found them, and was trying to hide it. Ariss turned back around, setting off at a run, back toward the field. As he went, he began to yell out. “Lucy!” He called. They already knew they were there. There was no point hiding anymore.
He leaped over logs, unaware of the stress being put on his ankles. It didn’t bother him at all. Even if they broke, he wouldn’t care. Injuries didn’t trouble the dead man. Injuries didn’t even slow him down.
He weaved between trees, catching trunks every now and then to aid his turning, swinging himself around and pushing towards the field. There was muffled chatter from somewhere to his right, as one of their pursuers called something out to their accomplices. Ariss ignored it. He needed to get to Lucy, and fast. She could be caught off guard, unaware. If they caught her, he would have another person to apologise for, another person to think about in his loneliest moments. He would be alone again, if they caught her, and they would expose magic once again.
As soon as she had eaten enough, she pulled away from the corpse, looking away, ashamed. She licked her lips, if only to rid herself of the ring of blood around her muzzle, and felt a shudder run down her spine. The metallic taste of the creature’s blood tainted her mouth, refusing to leave it. She needed a drink, she thought to herself. Something to wash the taste away, something to let her forget what she had done.
She threw herself down into the grass, lying on her side and thinking. It was at this point that they decided to attack. It was at this point, that Lucy found herself encased in a tangle of ropes and chain.
He burst from the tree line, airborne for a few seconds as he leaped over the first meter of the long grass. Ahead of him, he saw dark figures against a lighter skyline, standing around some snarling creature, straining against bonds at their feet. His anger flared, and he let out a war-cry. Gripping the sword with both hands, he closed the gap, his final step transitioning smoothly into a wide swing, which caught the first of the figures by surprise, and dug into his ribs. There was a splutter, as Ariss pulled out his sword, already turning and starting to swing at the next one as the first fell, gasping for breath.
Merciless, he ploughed through the men as they came. They put up a decent fight, one that would have killed any other man, but Ariss ignored it as bullets sliced through his chest, as knives tore out chunks from his arms. The last two, he let escape, as they ran from the scene, yelling to each other and any survivors. The dead man turned around, amidst the wreak of blood and bodies.
Lucy had stopped struggling against her bindings, instead falling into silent horror as she watched Ariss killing, again and again. She didn’t say a word, finding herself frozen in place as he knelt down beside her, using the long edge of his sword to slit open the ropes holding her. She eyed the blade nervously, and flicked her tail in its newfound freedom. She felt the icy cold of his strangely liquid blood, as it dribbled slowly from his wounds, spreading like treacle on her scales. Once he had taken a few steps back, she stood up, and shuddered. She tried not to look at the scene of war around her, and walked on a little.
Ariss stayed behind, looking down at the bodies with annoyance, before he called up toward her. “We can’t go back there. They know we’ve been here.”
Lucy froze, twisting her neck around to look at him. She tried to focus on his face, not the faces of those who had fallen. “R-Right.” She called back, begrudgingly turning around, and speeding up a little as she moved past the bodies. “Which way do we go, then?”
He shrugged. “It doesn’t really matter. As long as we don’t go back, we’ll be safe.”
They began to walk. The atmosphere had changed, from one of collective relief, to a feeling of fear, duty and guilt. It was to be a long, silent walk, as they spoke not a word to each other. It was a walk Ariss had walked before, and he wasn’t keen on reliving it.
His mind span for a while, as different thoughts sparked through his mind, as he tried to think of something to say, something to focus their minds on something other than what had just occurred. He could tell Lucy didn’t like it. He didn’t blame her.
In the end, it was Lucy who said something. “I wouldn’t be going through this, if you had left me to die.” She said, quietly. “I wouldn’t be like this if you’d only just waited a minute longer.”
Ariss stared at the ground as they walked. He said nothing when she looked at him, expecting an answer. He said nothing to protest what she said nest.
“I could be sitting at home,” she continued, “I could be with my father, my sister, my brother. We could all be… be happy. I could have found a job, I could have gotten my life back on track.” She sighed. “Instead I’m stuck on the run with some cold-hearted man who I barely know, who also kills things for a living.”
“I don’t need to kill them.” He muttered, wiping the blood of his blade and sheathing it. The survivors weren’t stupid enough to come back, at least.
Lucy stared at him in silence, before she corrected herself. “Who kills things for fun.”
Ariss didn’t say anything.
“… How did you come back to life, anyway? How come nobody stopped you becoming…. This?”
There was nothing, at first. He was just… awake. Except he wasn’t. Lucas opened his eyes slowly, wincing as he felt a headache ebb away, just after a spike of pain. Propping himself up on his elbows, he looked around. He was in some sort of cave, he noticed. The walls were jagged, the ceiling high and covered with long, dripping spikes. It took him a few moments longer to realise he couldn’t feel any heat. He didn’t feel cold, he didn’t feel warm. He felt nothing. He frowned, looking down at himself and stared in mild surprise at the gaping hole in his chest. His shirt lay in rags on his shoulders, with very little actually holding it on. Blood had pooled around where he lay, forming a dark, sticky and red puddle around him. The clotted blood around his wound had started to stiffen, and was coating the ragged edges of his ribs.
Lucas reached down gingerly, steadying himself on one arm, and tapped his own rib. Then, he took his hand, and slid it through the hole in the middle of his chest, watching with mild amusement as he touched his own back. After a minute or two, he looked back up, and tried to remember what had happened. Then, he saw it. The dragon that had killed him lay, curled up tightly, deeper into the cave. It had dropped him on its way in, bored of playing with the lifeless toy. Anger flared up within him, and Lucas stood up, finding his body worked without any difference to how it was before. Quietly, he walked around the sleeping creature, retrieving his sword from where it had dropped a few steps away, before he walked up to the dragon.
Looking down at it, he raised the blade. It sank into the skull with ease, and the dragon’s yellow eyes flickered open briefly. It had not expected its dinner to open its eyes again, much less stand up and finish the job. A faint smile found its way to Lucas’s face, and he sat down next to the creature, unable to feel the dying warmth of its body.
He sat there for a long while, waiting for death to claim him, as he had finished what he deemed to be his ‘unfinished’ business. After a good four hours, he decided nothing was going to happen, and stood up.
Lucas looked down at his chest in puzzlement, deciding he needed to check. Picking up his sword, he readied it in his hands, holding it as perpendicular to the wound as possible. After mentally counting to three, he pushed the sword in, and let go. It didn’t move. After a few seconds, having checked his back, where the tip of the sword exited, and the front, where it entered, he decided he was, most likely, dead. What he couldn’t figure out was why he was still alive.