In which Ghost hears a name and casts a shadow.
Darkfang Baddog the Third had not had a good day. Not that Barghests ever had good days, or even days at all since dawn didn’t com to the dark realms. But this non-day had been not-good more that most.
It started when a goblin with a whip, out to collect a group of Barghests for some upland raid, had passed over Darkfang, whipping him on the muzzle when he had tried to join the raiding party; but that supreme insult was not the end of the bad non-day. He had found a female Barghest in heat, but she had chosen his own whelp Bloodeye over him. He had found a stray pixie lost in the woods and chased it down, only to discover he had chased the illusionary double not the real one. He had even choked on an old bone he was gnawing and coughing it up had put a painful gash in the roof of his own mouth. It was not a good day.
And then he saw a nightqueen and a hunter, alone in the badlands, just talking to each other. This could go well. Perhaps they would take him on as the leader of their hunt, or perhaps they were alone because they were betraying some dark lord and he could get praise for tattling on or killing them. Since he couldn’t make out their speech (were they talking in some kind of code?) he decided to approach.
The moment he left the shadows the hunter spotted him and must have pointed him out to the nightqueen because she turned to face him as well.
“My Lord Barghest,” she said to him in a clear, unwavering voice, inclining her head in the shadow of a bow without braking eye contact. It was an unusually formal greeting, the sort usually reserved for lesser beings addressing pack leaders. Darkfang was flattered, but also a bit confused. What was her game?
“Lady,” he growled in reply, continuing to stalk forward. To his surprise, she simply stood there and watched him. She didn’t seem worried or upset; it was as if she simply wanted to see how close he would get. How close should he get? The hunter seemed worried; perhaps he should circle around to get near the hunter. Or would that seem like he was hiding behind him? He had to say something! “I’ve been in these lands for many years; your face is new to me.”
“I track a thief,” replied the nightqueen.
“All souls are thieves, stealing the life of others to remain.”
“This stole from my hunters’ hand.”
Darkfang bristled at this and stared at the hands of the hunter. The hunter’s fingers lacked the flat claws of the erect species, but clearly once had had them. “Garzdook,” Darkfang growled under his breath. Claw-stealer, crippler, soul-ripper, a goblin so good at harming others that they said even the Unseely Court was afraid to cross him. This was not a fight to enter. A bad non-day just got a lot worse. To help Garzdook’s victims was suicide; to kill them was to help them, from Garzdook’s point of view, and thus also suicide. Darkfang turned to flee.
He heard the hunter shout something, then felt a sharp pain enter his back. Looking down he saw the tip of the black blade that the nightqueen had carried protruding from his chest. To flee, as it turned out, was also suicide.
As his soul started to leave his body, Darkfang was aware of the two rushing forward to his corpse. She was a dryad, he saw now, and he held a sun, a potent elven blade. He spoke, and freed from the limitations of a brain Darkfang understood him.
“You were surprisingly good with that sword.”
“Then why do I feel like I was bad?” asked the Dryad.
“Because being good with a sword is being bad,” replied the human. “That’s what they are for.”
There was a moment of silence as the dryad pulled the blade from Darkfang’s body. “When he saw your missing fingernails he said ‘Garzdook’, and turned to run, I’m guessing to get help” she said. “I know ‘garzdook’ isn’t a word, so it must be a name of some kind.”
“Ten minutes in and a lead already,” replied the human; “this is promising”. Darkfang’s soul was thoughtful at this. His last act had been to help someone? Perhaps that would have weight in whatever was to come next. With that thought he turned yon and vanished from the land of mortals.