I woke as Engle stepped outside, probably to escape the smell of his own blood. It wouldn't do to disturb him now, so I lay still, pretending to be asleep.

A short time later, I heard his voice and Salleem's. I sat up so I could hear them better.

“Don’t say her name. Don’t you fucking say it!” Engle snarled. “And do not think you know me, thief. You know nothing. Not you, not Heather, and never that elf.”

I stiffened in surprise. I'd never heard any man speak with such poison in his words before. I closed my eyes and let my other senses take over.

The immediate presence of darkness was overwhelming. It was greater than any I'd felt before, and its source was unmistakable.

This darkness radiated from Engle.

He must have been hurt far worse than I thought. I'd thought that his darkness was strong enough when I had first met him, but it had grown exponentially. He had already been a beacon for the denizens of the dark. Now, he was an irresistible lure.

Cursing, I sprang to my feet. Outside, Salleem was saying, "Well, I'm a thief, aren't I? I think I can steal Lyric back." As he spoke, things started moving just out of their sight.

"Get down!" I yelled to them, summoning a sword. They stared at me, startled, and then Salleem pulled the two of them down onto the ground.

With a battle cry, I met the first of the creatures.

It was far larger than the shadows that had attacked me in the forest, and far more solid. My blade bit deep into it, and darkness spilled out like blood. I pulled my sword free and prepared to strike again when a loud bang echoed around me.

The creature fell, a dark hole in its head where Engle had shot it. Glancing back, I saw him standing, a look of pure rage on his face. "Get inside!" I yelled to Salleem. "We'll handle this!"

I didn't wait to see if he obeyed; instead, I jumped straight for the next creature. Engle shot them again and again, completely without pity or remorse. "Good," I thought. "He's learning."

Between the two of us, the creatures either died quickly or were forced to flee, nursing severe injuries. I had to stop Engle from pursuing them. "Stop, Engle!" I yelled. "They're beaten! Let them go!"

He kept trying to chase them, so I forced him down to the ground with a net of shadows. I held him there until his battle-frenzy had worn off. "Are you okay now?" I asked him.

"I'm fine," he snapped. "Let me up."

Raising an eyebrow, I removed the net and offered him a hand up. Ignoring my aid, he stared after them and asked, "What were those?"

"I think they were Orcs," I replied. "Hard to tell, even with the moon out." A sudden pain in my shoulder made me pause, and I rolled my arm around, trying to ease it. "Anyway, they won't come back. They're probably reporting to their king, anyway."


"Even brutes like Orcs need a leader. Each tribe has a king, and he makes all the decisions for the tribe." I snorted. "He's probably the only one smart enough to."

"Why'd they come here?"

"Tricky ground," I thought. Aloud, I said, "Orcs are known to be attracted to dark energy, like the power I wield. But...I don't think they were after me."

"Then who?!" Engle's eyes permitted no more delaying.

"I think they were after you," I said hurriedly, hoping he wouldn't take it as badly as I expected him to.

"Me? Why me?"

"Do you remember what I said to you, in the forest?"

Engle's face darkened at the memory. "I remember that I punched you after you tried to kill Heather."

I winced. "And I regret that. You throw a really good punch, by the way. Anyway, your darkness was already powerful then. I'm quite frankly amazed that you're still...uh, alive."

"What were you going to say? You hesitated before 'alive.'"

I sighed in resignation. "Darkness erodes the hearts and souls of those who touch it. Eventually, you become something less then human. I was going to say that I was amazed you're still human."

"And you are?"

I chuckled quietly. "I've spent a long time resisting the dark. It comes naturally now." I shook my head. "Anyway, you wanted to know why they attacked you. I told you that Orcs are attracted to high levels of dark energy, so that would make me the obvious target, right?"

"Right..." Engle said slowly.

"But something changed today. Your darkness is now far more powerful than my own. I'm sorry to say it, but unless you let me help you with it, you won't be able to retain your humanity long enough to see your daughter again."

The End

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