The wound Nikolai had received had not been deep; within a few days Skade had judged him fitter than ever and begun to send him out on defensive patrols. Nikolai cared little for the missions he was sent on, but did them with robotic precision and dependability. Soon he had, if not respect, at least a little fear from his comrades in Skade's personal contingent of guards. Just a day before Nik left for his Hunt, in fact, three woodcutters with muscles the size of the logs they carried had stumbled onto a patrol being done by Nik and Ragta. The dragon had tried to spare the group and send a message to the resistance, if there was one but he was too fast. Nik had run the first through from behind, lopped off the head of another, and then danced past the third's swinging axe to lay him low as well in less than a minute. There was blood still dripping from his eyelashes when they got back.
But these encounters seemed to Nik as but a dream. The woman had told him to kill, and so he did. There would be no consequences. But the dragon did seem troubled these days... he knew that it was most likely his duty to care, that some feeling of concern should have been aroused by Ragta's nervousness. Yet, that knowledge did nothing to arouse him. Life was still grey, a smudge of dullness sullying quiet thoughts. Perhaps this most recent job was to be the one that would free Nik, he thought. The mission was different, certainly. Just find and kill two girls, along with everyone else he met without the password. Cyllell. Already three days in the wilderness, and no sign of anyone. Just grey and that word. But he would find them eventually, and track them, and kill them. It was his job.
Below the pair as the flew galloped a horse and rider. Ragta had read their message, one of despair and carnage from the valley- lands, some time back , and had tried to keep the knowledge hidden from Nikolai, but he was no fool. Something was up, he knew, and the more he let on that he understood the more she panicked. Soon the rider's position and strength were ascertained, well enough for Nik to drop in. Reigning in the dragon he readied his sword and prepared a passing cut, but Ragta was not responding. She slowed to a pace half that of the horseman's, but again her thoughts betrayed her. He jumped as she began dropping back, and cleanly cut off the left arm of his opponent mid- fall. He screamed a cry of pain and rolled off his panicked horse, to writhe in the dust and leaves like a worm.
"Oh gods... My arm.. You monster..."
His blade came down again, and the moaning stopped. A spark of satisfaction jumped inside him, for the mission was now begun.