I packed my bag light in case trouble decided to pursue me along the road. It was a mistake leaving Avernon, but if I stayed with her she would have been killed. We both would have been killed, probably in our sleep. Instead, I decided to kill her in her sleep. Not actually, but figuratively. By leaving while she slumbered, I know she will awaken to a nightmare of my creation. I doubt she will ever forgive me. It is for the best, regardless if she is ever able to see it that way.
I shift the bag higher on my shoulder, shoving my fingers between the bag strap and the bone of my collar in the hopes of alleviating the dull pain the weight of the bag is causing. Even though I did pack light, the strap of the bag itself seems intent on tearing through my skin.
The path in front of me is mostly dark, save for slivers of moonlight that sneak through the massive tree branches spread overhead. A dark fog attempts to flood my path, but the slivers of moonlight will not allow it to consume my way. I am glad for this. I sense ill specters within the fog, but have yet to see them.
The air is damp, and my lungs feel as if they are filling with wet cotton. I wonder how long it will take for the Separsese to catch up with me. Even though I displeased him by stealing the talisman, he will not be pleased when he discovers what I did with it. He will undoubtedly hunt me to the corners of the planet. That is why I had to leave Avernon. That is why I had to leave my love behind, sleeping, naked after a night full of passion. I doubt I will ever cross paths with one like her again. If
I don’t outwit the Separsese, I doubt I will cross paths with anyone ever again.
Suddenly, like mice scurrying out of the path of giant’s feet, the slivers of moonlight which have kept me company thus far flee, and the dark fog fills in the path around me. I am left in pure darkness. I set my bag on the ground and quickly pull out my pack of matches, lighting one upon the side of my shoe. The small glow barely illuminates the area around me, but it is enough to show me who I face here in the Drashard Woods: the Separsese.
His face hangs in the darkness as if he has no body. The wrinkles traveling his face create a map upon his countenance, one that hints at many adventures and much age. But the texture of his face is nothing to his eyes which glow a soft amber color in the darkness. The smile upon his lips are filled with poison as he opens them to speak to me.
“Victor. Did you really think you could outsmart me?”
“You came for your talisman?” I ask.
His body comes into view. He is wearing a flowing purple robe. It is what he usually wears when he sentences his people to execution. “You took a holy artifact. Where is it?”
He circles around me, but I refuse to follow him with my sight. Instead, I stand straight and tall in the hopes of hiding my fear. “I don’t have it.”
“You destroyed it?”
The Separsese hisses like a serpent. “Why?”
“You were going to use it on me, weren’t you?”
“How do you know that? The talisman you took was the Oborong. An ancient artifact with the power to heal. Why would I use that on you?”
“In order to heal one, it drains the life from another. You were going to use it to drain my life to heal you.”
He stopped and grinned madly. “More clever you are than I ever gave you credit for. Yes. My intention was to destroy you to build myself up. However, now that you have destroyed the talisman, I will have to take your life in other ways. First I will drain your life, your blood, and then the blood of your beautiful Avernon. And the blood of her child.”
My heart slams against my ribcage, screaming to get out of my chest. “Child?”
“You did not know?” he says, flashing his rotted teeth. “She carries. I sense the power in the life she holds within her womb.”
“Leave her. Take me. I’m the one you wanted all along.”
“Yes, but you have destroyed the artifact that would have allowed me to fill myself with your essence alone. Now I need more than just yours in order to fill myself with life. That child will be the perfect source…unless.”
I can’t help but sneer. “Unless what?”
“I will allow you and your significant others to live. You pledge yourself to me. Your spirit. Your soul. Your life. You do my bidding, and I will allow you to live.”
He shrugged. “Fine. Have it your way. Lay down.” He waves his hand and I feel my body collapse to the dirt. “Roll over.” I roll onto my back. “Die.” My insides suddenly feel as if they are being drowned in corrosive acid.
“No!” I scream.
The pain stops.
The Separsese looks down upon me. “Did you say something?”
“I will serve you,” I say with a whisper.
He waves his hand and I stand to my feet. I feel something prick my right hand. I look to it and see a strange purple skull stamped into my skin.
“Go back home,” the Separsese says. “Go back home and enjoy your Avernon and enjoy your new child. Just know that I will have need of you soon.”
In the blink of an eye, the Separsese is gone and the slivers of moonlight return to my side like fair-weather friends.