She heaved, great, gasping, shuddering sobs, still clutching the sword in her hand. Her tears that fell on the blade glistened and glowed blue, etching fine, dark lines into the metal as they traveled along it. She was oblivious of the carnage she had left around her. She only knew the pain inside.
Eventually, her weeping subsided and she pushed herself upright again, though still on her knees. She had fulfilled her purpose for entering this gods-forsaken forest. She held the sword up before her eyes, examining the now-perfect metal, fresh and new as the day it had been forged. The blood of these beasts had fed it, restored it, returned it to its former glory.
As if in acknowledgement, a voice spoke in her mind. Mistress, it said. It is time. There is work to be done.
Malika nodded. “I know,” she replied. “This task that has been given me is great, perhaps too great. Just allow me this time with my grief.”
Would that I could, Mistress, came the sword’s reply, but another approaches.
Onwards and forwards, path guided by faith, Orthael strode on. He did not see where his feet feel, he did not know where the end of his journey lay, he did not drive the weapon that tugged him onwards on its lethal dance. The golden light at the tip of the sword traced across the hearts and throats and claws of the Lesser Dead that swarmed from the trees as if to overwhelm him with the weight of their bodies.
Now and again he murmured prayers of supplication and delivery, words of comfort and delight that kept the darkness within at bay. Then he would shout promises of retribution and redemption to assault the darkness without.
All throughout, the Dead were returned. Scores were flung backwards or even vaporised where they stood by scintillating bolts of flame. Some were swept away by sword and mailed fist. Others yet dissolved where they stood, the Fire’s divine presence sufficient to send them on.
This way, tugged the fire in his heart. The night is not yet over.
At long last, Orthael returned the sword to its guard position and stood quietly for several seconds before realising there were no foes left to slay. That was not to say that he was alone, however. There was someone in the clearing beyond the trees, a silhouette that knelt low at the very centre of a circle of destroyed bodies.
Lycans, thought he. Not the Dead. Ashmar’s touch lies not on these.
The flame that tugged was still now, burning low. Neither spark nor smoke nor ember spoke, and so Orthael approached. The figure was slight, young, female. She rose to a full kneel, lifting and displaying a sword that rang clear with power.
Orthael strode on until he reached the very edge of the clearing and waited, for though he could not see her tears he could feel the grief within her crackle – fierce and hard like the wrath of the Fire. He stood, patiently.
Surely the Fire had brought him here, moving through the world on its mysterious and benevolent dance. There was no need to rush the moment.