He walked through the night, stopping for nothing, unburdened by human feelings of tiredness and need of sleep. It was because of this he knew that inevitably, even with his slow lumbering pace, the Highlander and he would meet again. When they rested, he would appear, like a wraith, and crush the life out of them. Or would he?
Ard knew Antrax wanted him to chase Quentin. Why, he wasn't quite sure, but he suspected that it had something to do with the magic.
Of course. It was so obvious, now that he had time to think and the killing lust had gone from his mind. He'd seen enough of Antrax to know that it coveted power, and what, after the technology of the Old World, was more powerful than magic?
That was his fate, then. Capture Quentin Leah and his magical sword. That was why he had been turned into something so despicable, so loathsome.
Anger flared in him briefly at the thought, that the young Highlander was responsible for all this. It made him think that Quentin deserved to be dead. How could he have been so vile, showing off all his magic and making Antrax want it bad enough to make him, Ard Patrinell, into a—a wronk?
Shades, what am I thinking?
It wasn't Quentin's fault. It wasn't even Walker's fault for bringing him along.
Walker. A chill ran down his human arm. What if someone else had been turned into a wronk to chase him? What if that someone had been Ahren?
What if everyone was either dead or being chased by the dead?
What if, what if, what if. The questions continued, and he was too heartsick to answer them.
For two days he chased them, more often than not surprising them when they thought they had eluded him temporarily. But always, he emerged from their confrontation barehanded, with no magical sword or a Highland body. Tamis knew him that well.
Tamis! He couldn't bear to think of her, not when he knew that he was chasing his former lover as well, might end up killing her and bringing both of their bodies to Antrax so that it could harvest what parts it wanted. She was an excellent Tracker, and Antrax might use that to its advantage. The thought made him sick, but it was nothing new. Of course he had already thought about it all a hundred times over ever since Quentin, Tamis, and the Elven Hunters had appeared in that steely gray tunnel that led him to where he was now. Inevitable, all of it. And such a waste.
Once, while tracking the two, he came upon the Rindge village. And was helpless to prevent its destruction. He must have killed hundreds of people that day.
Somehow, though, he didn't care so much anymore. At the beginning, when he had first emerged from that tunnel, he was wrecked with grief at killing those red strangers and the Elf Wye. But now, emotions were leaving him like sand between cupped hands, to be carried away on the current. The only things that mattered to him now were Tamis and death.
The third night. A sense of foreboding draped over him like a stuffy blanket, weighing him down and making him nervous. Something was going to happen this night.
Ard walked on, following Quentin and Tamis' trail with ease. Despite all their efforts, he still could tell where they went. A stray twig here, a crushed leaf there. Being a former Captain of the Home Guard, he knew all the tricks.
And then they appeared.
The two were just standing there, weapons in hand but motionless nonetheless. The Sword of Leah glowed softly in Quentin's hands. Bright moonlight reflected off her blade, illuminating Tamis' hard face. The face of a former lover desperate to avenge the person she had cared so deeply for.
Patrinell almost unconsciously cast his eyes around. If they were willing to take a stand and fight, then there must be some sort of trap lying around.
Ah, yes. A few feet in front of them and to the left was a piece of dirt-brown cloth sticking up. From its position, he could tell that they were standing to the right of some sort of pit—the scattering of grasses and twigs certainly seemed to suggest that.
He watched Tamis move left, a little ahead of Quentin, picking her way carefully, until she stood directly behind the pit. Closing on her with inexorable determination, he was spurred on by her taunting words and loosely held sword.
"Come and get me," she was whispering. "Come and fight me like the man you really are, not this piece of flashing metal."
It was so good to hear her talk again in something other than a scream, even though the words stung and broke his heart. It was so good to know that she was still alive and as vivacious as ever, despite the events of the past few days.
Ard prayed that this would never change about her.
Then he remembered Quentin, who was the real object of his hunt. He turned towards him.
Quentin froze up from the suddenness of it, breathing rapidly. Ard came towards him relentlessly. His weapons lifted as he prepared to strike him down.
"Do something!" Tamis screamed.
It almost seemed as if Quentin had been in another world and had been jolted back rudely, so abrupt were his movements. He darted right so fast that Ard failed to hit him, then just as the other began to close in on him again Quentin shifted to the left.
Patrinell charged, his blades held before him, and the next thing he knew he was in a deep pit, covered by dirt.
There was a soft screeching where metal parts grated against rock, but it didn't seem as if anything serious damage had been done.
He stood up, his metal feet balancing precociously on the sharp stone, wishing that the fall had been enough to kill him, just as a light appeared from overhead. It illuminated the sides of the pit and he could now see roots sticking out, handholds waiting for him to use. He began to climb out.
When the two appeared again after running off in search of something or other, looking frenzied, they began throwing rocks, limbs, dirt, anything they could get their hands on to knock him off. Several times they succeeded, but each time he wearily picked himself up again and climbed back up, always looking them straight in the eye, even after they stopped looking in his.
After a while the projectiles became less varied and were reduced to mounds of deadwood. He realized what they were doing too late, after they had thrown their torch in as well and the pit became a blazing inferno. His human arm blistered, became charred as the flames licked hungrily at his skin.
He screamed soundlessly at the pain that was consuming him, that would, with any luck, guide him into oblivion but would take its time in doing so. Tears of pain and desperation welled up in his eyes, but the heat quickly evaporated them.
Eventually, the flames died out, but Patrinell still remained, almost unchanged save for the steaming arm and the face that was creased with renewed anguish and hopelessness. Quentin saw it and recognized it for what it was.
Tamis reappeared, thrusting a huge branch at Quentin, and together, the two of them used it like a battering ram to try and knock him off, to try and disable his working parts. Time after time, they succeeded, but then while preparing to use it, its end got too close to Patrinell and he took hold of it with both hands, dropping his weapons.
He propped the branch against the side of the pit like a ladder and began his slow, ponderous way up. All the while, he mourned the loss of grace his former body had once possessed, the life he could have lived if this hadn't happened. He mourned the fact that he had to attempt to kill his allies in order for his peace to come.
Most of all, he mourned Tamis, who he knew would give up her life in order for him to be laid at rest. And she was still long, with so much ahead of her…
She was screaming something about promises right now, her fury lashing out brutally at Quentin, then she ran off somewhere. Meanwhile, Quentin peered over the edge at him, wearing the same expression as Ard, only to a lesser degree. The Sword of Leah was in view as well, burning white light.
The white light. This was the one thing that had any hope of releasing him. He prayed that Quentin would keep his head while in combat and not do anything stupid with the Sword.
Then Tamis was back, hauling another shorter, stouter branch than the original, and the two strove to knock him back down again, where he belonged. But Patrinell was prepared and took the ram right out of their hands before they had even scored one hit and knocked them backwards with one powerful blow. A blur of light soared across the darkness, and Ard knew that Quentin had lost his grip on the Sword of Leah.
He got out of the pit while the Highlander was still searching for his sword and was met by a defiant Tamis.
"Tamis, run!" Quentin shouted.
The same words were echoing in his own mind.
But Tamis didn't run. She was too incensed to back off, too angry with Antrax to just stand by and watch her lover suffer like this. She charged, so furious that she knocked him backwards, and his blackened human arm stiffened in pain as her short sword jabbed into it. His metal arm grappled with her as well, but she wrapped her arm around the long knife and shield, with careless disregard as to any injuries she might sustain.
Quentin, currently in the background, began to yell out "Leah! Leah!" which Ard recognized as the Highland battle cry. He went after them, a possessed look in his eyes, and slammed into both without much effect. Ard watched as Quentin, rejected, stepped back and with strength fueled by the injustices of what Antrax did to people, swung the Sword of Leah with such fury that he severed Ard's human arm off.
An expression of shock and disbelief flashed across Patrinell's face, and physical pain like he never knew before swept over him. He closed his eyes, but nothing could ease it. His mouth opened in yet another soundless scream.
Opening his eyes again, both of which were narrowed like a cat's, he watched as Quentin's face contorted in anger and look more determined than ever. Even as Tamis was clawing at the clear protective shield over Ard's head, tears streamed down her cheeks to land on him.
His arm grappled feverishly with Tamis' long knife, unaware of the fact that the Sword of Leah had been jammed into the ball-and-socket joint between his shoulder blade and arm until it had broken off, the blade dropping from the now useless fingers.
He stepped backwards hesitantly, not sure what to do now that both his arms were gone, and decided to shake free of Tamis, who was still clinging to him. Quentin came closer, the shining Sword of Leah still held in his sweaty hands, attempting to damage his legs while Patrinell couldn't adequately defend himself.
After what seemed like hours and hours of lurching through the night, the Highlander finally broke off the right foot. Ard fell to his knees, defenseless save for the clear half-sphere over his head.
Submission. On his knees to beg. But to who? And for what?
He looked up through a light sheen of blood at Quentin, his savior, his angel of death, and watched as the Sword came hammering down on the shield time and time again until it was finally cracked. The Highlander then shifted his attack to the metal legs, and after countless blows that made his whole body shake with the power of it, severed the left one off as well.
As he fell backwards, unable to hold himself up any longer, he saw Tamis off to the side, clutching her chest, a mass of bloodied flesh. He had killed her, his lover. The tears came again, blurring his eyesight, but it didn't matter. At least… they had defeated… Antrax… and put him… to peace…
A bittersweet happiness rose up in him, but it was quickly washed away by the pain and horror of the past few days.
Unbidden, the memories came back.
How the creeper had captured him.
How he had watched from a glass container his body, headless and with only one arm, been dragged away by the sweepers.
How, in a dreamlike state, he had seen himself become something else.
How it felt when he had killed Wye and the red-skinned people.
How Quentin and Tamis had eluded him day after day until now, this moment of reckoning.
How he had pushed Tamis so close to the abyss of death that one more misstep would send her toppling over.
"Finish it!" Tamis rasped, her voice harsh and choked with blood. "Keep your promise, Highlander!"
And finally, how he had become so grotesque a thing that even Tamis called him an it now, and not a him.
Ard Patrinell's humanity was gone. All that remained was for Quentin Leah to destroy the thing that had once held it.
The Highlander stalked up, sadness in his eyes as he looked at the helpless former Captain of the Home Guard, and shattered the face shield in two quick blows, gasping with the exertion. Warm night air washed over him, caressing his face, whispering farewell in his ear. The stubs of his detached limbs twitched slightly.
I'll be waiting for you, Tamis, Ard Patrinell thought before the Sword of Leah came swiftly down towards his face and gave him the peace he had been seeking ever since the day he had seen his arm floating in the clear liquid so, so long ago.
- End -
A/N: Well, I finally finished it. I hope you enjoyed reading this… by the way, pleeeeeease review! :p