She walked the night forest, sky blue light on her fingertips lighting the dark, twisted paths through the primeval woods she saw grow from the beginning.
She moved now in silence, embracing the quiet, but the night creatures grew still in abject terror and reverent fear at her passing; she’d culled their souls to her purposes before, and they hide, though she finds them all the same when they’re needed.
It was said of her that she desired to be among humanity once more.
As I tracked her she’d circled me, finding me before I saw her.
“You seek to kill me?”
“To what purpose?”
“Gold and lands. No more hunting. No more fighting.”
She considered me as I regarded the blue flame on her fingers. “Lower your weapon.”
“Will you compel me if I don’t?”
“No. Lower it.”
I will never be able to say why, but I did.
“Serve me, hunter, and I’ll see that you have all you desire.”
“The king has proclaimed you a blight on the land to be removed.”
“And what do you say?”
“I do the king’s bidding.”
“But there’s no reason to; I’ve harmed no one.”
“Even so, he lives in fear of you and your kind.”
She stepped closer: “Fear is crippling; you’re not afraid. You’re standing here before me, seeking my life, regarding this light. Is it to light my way, or is it, in fact, a soul I balance between realms?”
“I…I don’t know.”
“Follow me, and find out.”
She put a finger to my lips; the scent of honeysuckle wafted under my nose. “He is not as powerful as he believes. There are things all around us, even now, that don’t even know his name.”
The finger left my lips as she continued, and they were cold where she’d touched them.
“You understand this. There’s blood on your hands, and a man’s plans follow him into the dust of his birth.” The realization and answer to her question came at once; she’d already taken the king’s life, his soul shining in her hand.
I found myself growing sad. “Give me the light; let me restore him.”
“You know who this is, then?”
“Then why restore him, after what he did to you, sending you here to risk your life?”
“He was my king. You had no right.”
“Hear me well, hunter: neither did you, to anyone’s. To rob a man of his life is a profane thing, no matter the hand that does it, no matter the method used.”
“There are reasons.”
“The reasons are as varied as the methods, hunter. The end is the same.”
Her words poured like cold water in my ears, and gave me pause.
She walked past me, pressing deeper into the forest, and like a vassal, I followed.
The crypt was underground, awash with oracular illumination.
I thought to throw my blade at her back, now unwilling to face her, but she’d know, and what would become of me then?
“You keep them here?”
“I don’t keep them, hunter. They choose to stay. I could no more bind them here than I could love them.”
“And what of me?”
“You, I have bound.”
“Though you don’t love me?”
She stopped, turned to face me. “I wouldn’t bind what I loved.”
“You speak in riddles.”
“No, hunter. You are true to your nature, that’s all. I didn’t compel you to come here. You were free to let me go, and free to go, were you not?”
I realized she was right; I’d felt no magic bring me here.
We were in a chapel of sorts, the ceilings lost in shadow, black candles burning with that spectral blue light.
“Where am I? What is this place?” I asked.
She smiled, cupping the blue flame in her hands as she lifted them to her mouth.
She blew out the light, and I felt myself dissolve into the darkness, her soft laughter revealing that I’d become the hunted, and fallen prey.
She desired to be among humanity once more, but on her own terms.
No more hunting.
No more fighting.