She paced the length of the cave, the talons of her feet scraping against the stone floor. Water dripped from the ceiling into the pool at the far end, reflecting the violet glow of the rune work of the walls and ceiling of the cavern.
“Those damned Dead Hunters!” she screamed.
The girl had been with them, all of her sources had said so. However, it was that Dead Hunter girl. Marisandra hoped she had succeeded in gouging out her eye.
She fumed as she continued to pace, unsure of how she could have been fooled. Unless… No, it couldn’t be. There was no way.
She seethed and screamed in fury, rumbles answering the shrill echoes. The Great Tree was waking up, becoming aware. More rumbling ensued as he seemed to stretch his great roots. Reaching ever deeper into the frozen waters of the aquifer below. Even the runes themselves began to twist and writhe as the roots that made up the walls came to life., lending energy to the runes.
“You old fool! You can’t stop me!” she screamed at the cave. “You and the girl will both die!” The tree rumbled again, as if in answer.
“Taunting trees and screaming obscenities… A fine Queen of Death you would make.” came a voice dripping with sarcasm.
She whirled then, angrily turning to face the darkest corner of the cavern. A pair of yellow glowing eyes stared back as a chuckle issued from the blackness. There was a scrabbling sound as he neared the edge of the dim light, then a dark and scaled hand reached out for the body of Lord-King Andraes.
Before Marisandra could stop him, he pulled the body into the darkness and away from the ever-growing light from the runes. “Thank you for the gift,” he purred. “And I didn’t get you anything.”
“I swear that I will end you.” she hissed, eyes narrowing to slits.
“Better than you have tried.” he said sweetly.
He had been watching them from farther up the stair, where he had been told to wait, as they broke the news to the girl. Their precious Princess of the Mountain. His sneer twisted into a grimace of joy at her tortured reaction, making it worth losing his pet over the falls.
It amused him how naïve Tanis and his men were to trust him. But then, why wouldn’t they? He was their brother-in-arms, after all. All they had witnessed was him driving a dead creature to the river and consequently over the falls. They need not know that it had ever been his to command.
His lips curled slightly at how they had reacted to the presence of a Necromancer to be nearby. Little did they know…
When Erinael regained consciousness, she found much of the afternoon to be gone and a horrendous taste in her mouth. Camp had been made on the ledge, and still no fire. She could make out the telltale signs of sigils having been marked in the dirt at the steps leading from the ledge, and many of the scouts were no in sight.
“They’re out hunting.” the Mender said, kneeling next to her. “Drink this.”
“We’re running out of food?” Erinael asked in disbelief, glancing at the liquid in the cup. There was an oily sheen to its surface and it had a distinct medicinal smell. It was sure to taste awful.
“They’re hunting a Necromancer.” the Mender said quietly. “Now drink.”
Erinael scowled at the news as well as the taste of the liquid in the cup. It was horribly bitter and quite possibly the most disgusting thing that she had ever tasted. There were even chunks at the bottom.
“What was that?” Erinael choked, coughing and spluttering.
“Dead Hunter medicine. It lacks the bedside manner of River Clan medicine, of course, but it is quite effective.”
Erinael’s stomach felt queasy and the foul taste in her mouth was only made worse by burps from a sour stomach. Handing the cup back to the Mender, she didn’t protest as the woman encouraged her to lie back down. With her back to Idriss, she immediately closed her eyes and focused on slow breaths in through her nose and out through her mouth, lest her stomach decided to empty itself. The Mender gently smoothed Erinael’s hair from her face as she softly hummed a lullaby until Erinael drifted off to sleep.
The next thing that she was aware of was that she was moving. It startled her at first to find herself being carried across someone’s back like a pack or a small child, but then she recognized Tanis’ voice as he urged her to be calm. He called a halt so he could let her down.
“I’m sorry, Princess, but we couldn’t wait.” Tanis apologized. “We needed to put some distance between us and the Necromancer.”
Erinael nodded in understanding as she adjusted her tunic and leggings. The foul taste was still in her mouth.
“How do you feel?” he asked, his expression pained. They felt the loss of Andraes just as much.
Erinael shrugged. “Numb. It doesn’t seem real.”
“But it is real, and it will only get you killed if you cannot accept that fact.” Tanis held her by the arm, forcing her to look at him. “The body was stolen before Final Rites, and your attachment is sure to be used against you. Lord-King Andraes is no more and you have to accept that.”