The Dark

Friggin Stygian bitch! What is she doing here? Spoiling my aim, costing me my kill! Left with no choice, I step in to hide my intent. Ticked off, I hack at the Stygian, but she’s too smooth. As Ivy’s tracker moves in, she runs.

I lie down, panting. Ivy’s all over me, blurting out her thank you’s, thinking I saved her. I grin up at her. Later, bitch! I will get what’s mine later!

We tramp back to the ruins, me still fuming. My perfect plan shot. It had worked well, leaving tracks counting on Ivy to hire a ranger. It had sure lured her out of crowded Tombstone. All for nothing.

Thankful, she takes me up to Gathord’s tower. Her tower now, she claims. This possesiveness bodes ill. We talk long, for the first time. She’s all nuts having found me, and I almost go sweet on her. Then she goes on and on about the Jade and how it’s her heirloom and where did I find it? I fret and fuzz, but there’s clearly no chance. She’s adamant, sick! It can’t be hers! It’s mine!

I nearly lose it, thinking to ramp her and run. Only she's got too many friends, they would never let me get far. Unable to stand it any longer, I leave.

Next morning finds Gathord back in town. Looks like’s found what he went looking for in Khemi. He’s spent the night in the stables with his two new tramps. I smile. This is nicely playing into my hand. Ivy will be in a state when she finds out. With her claim to the tower, there will be harsh words. Maybe I will get lucky and Gathord kills her. Then the Jade will be mine again.

I follow Ivy as she goes to meet him. Seeing the fine doxies he brought, she goes off on a rant. I almost feel sorry for Gathord. He looks cranky , but he’s slow to kindle. I am sure to make snide remarks, trying to fan the flames. No luck. One of his bitches steps in, trying to soothe. This gets Ivy white-hot. She’s yelling curses now. Gathord finally warms up to her and is making threats of his own. But there it dies.

They both back down, Gathord even offering to build Ivy a tower of her own. Frustrated, I turn away. My feet somehow find their way to the beekeeper’s wife. She welcomes me with an enigmatic smile and invites me in.

We chat. Mostly of nothing, only hinting of our past. The mood turns melancholy again, or at least for me. Nefteri offers tea, a welcome distraction. I quickly turn the conversation to the ring, telling her I know where it is. Is she still interested? She is. I promise to bring it soon.

Nefteri is quietly smiling as she lets me out. Her parting words hint of friendship. But I am feeling queer. There’s this terrible sense of foreboding, the like of which I have known before. All I want is to leave, before I hurt anyone, again. Back at my place, I make my decision.

...

Ah, my love—
If only, you had lived.
With the Jade now lost to me,
The memory of you slips into darkness.
The Darkness in which I
Must slip soon too.

Epilogue
A raven’s hoarse call brings up Khahadur's head. The bird flies close, looking down on him, its glittering eyes fierce, defiant. It shrieks again, as if saying, “Mine!”. Only now the tracker picks out the faint, sweet smell. Ignoring the raven, he lets his nose guide him.

The winds have swept the rocky plateau clean, but for a few hardy shrubs. Tatters of faded clothing are tangled among them, catching his eye. It is not far from there, that he finds the bones, shreds of flesh still clinging to them. The skull is staring up with empty sockets. The hair, once thick and dark, now matted with dried blood and grit. Not much else is left, a broken belt, sandals, a dagger.

It is enough. The tracker knows whose remains these are. He met this girl, once. She was his game. What was her name ... ? The raven shrieks, furious. It wants to return to its meal. Distracted, Khahadur shrugs and moves on, bearing his news to the town of the dead below.