Gangrel's usual smile grew wider as he leaned back against the thick trunk of a lone tree. Really, she thought she could sneak up on him?
"You know, sweetheart," he said clearly, stifling laughter, "if you're trying to hex someone, you should at least attempt to be quiet."
"How did you know?" a gloomy voice asked in a flat monotone, no trace of shame in the words. The trickster loosed a bark of laughter.
"Grimleal stealth is an oxymoron," he snickered. "You're all so predictable! Hiding behind doors, creeping through alleys, standing in the back of crowds, they're the tactics of cowards, time tested by your kind. To get through to me would take more creativity than your twisted mind is capable of."
"If you didn't bother Nisha so much," Tharja grumbled from behind the tree, "then I wouldn't be tempted to curse you."
"Ah, the standard excuse of the weak. How I've missed it!"
The dark mage finally came out of her hiding place, her dark tome clutched to her chest, glaring from under her bangs with narrowed dark eyes.
"I liked you better when the very sight of Nisha made you quiver with fear."
Gangrel's smile vanished as his mood soured. He glared at the small woman, one hand curing around the hilt of his knife. Unperturbed, Tharja smirked. Oh, she was in trouble now.
Sliding the short steel blade free of its restraints, Gangrel flipped his knife once in the air before stood abruptly and seized her by the neck and slammed her against the tree trunk. She struggled for a moment until his knife lightly touched it to unprotected throat. Tharja froze, her eyes widening. His smile returned, cold and sadistic now.
"One day, that tongue of yours will cost you much," he hissed, his voice low and menacing. "Pray to whatever gods you will that when that time comes, it's not me who demands payment. I have a reputation for making these things last so much longer than necessary."
Gangrel quickly re-sheathed the knife and released her as Nisha came out of the field of tents that was the Shepherds' camp and called out to Tharja, waving the gloomy woman over. The dark mage trotted over to her mistress' side. She wouldn't tell, Gangrel knew: her pride bound her tongue tighter than any knot. If the Grimleal could be counted on for one thing, it was their ability to stay silent.
As the women spoke quietly, Thaja shot him a dark look that said "I'll get you later." This drew Nisha's attention and she stared at him quizzically. Gangrel shrugged, faking boredom, though he couldn't fully contain his superior smirk. This earned him an eye-roll from the tactician, who turned her back and vanished back into the camp
At long last, Gangrel was finally alone. The sun had been bright all morning and the afternoon was sweltering. Well, sweltering by Ylissean standards; this heat was nowhere near the intensity of a Plegian summer day. The former king enjoyed the warmth, closing his eyes, thankful for the solitude.
"Don't let Maribelle catch you doing that; she'll give you a tongue-lashing for not doing your chores."
Gangrel twisted around and saw Stahl guiding his white horse from the temporary paddock. The verdant paladin paused a moment to adjust the saddle, turning away as Gangrel leaned back against the tree.
"If Maribelle had the courage to even come find me," the Mad King drawled, "she certainly wouldn't dare pass judgement, not with Nisha backing me."
"What makes you so sure that Nisha would side with you?" Stahl asked, not looking up from his mount's equipment. Gangrel's eyes narrowed. Before he could ask the young Shepherd what he meant, the roar of a dragon was heard through the camp. Nah—in her dragon form—came flying into camp, shouting "Risen! Risen!"
Both men looked at each other at the exact same time.
"Bet I can kill more risen than you," Stahl challenged.
"Blargh!" the entombed cried. Gangrel laughed.
"Oh, are you trying to be scary? Well I hate to be the bearer of bad news," the red-haired man sneered, "but any threat you posed was left in your grave. If you go back, maybe you could find it. Here, I'll help you."
If the entombed could have given an articulate comment, it would have been along the lines of "Oh crap." The silver blade in Gangrel's grasp tore easily through the Risen's flimsy body, turning the creature into dark fumes. The Mad King laughed as it disappeared, lunging at the next undead creature eagerly.
Risen were so easy to kill. And fun! As more risen evaporated into smoke, Gangrel stole a glance over his shoulder at Stahl riding his white horse, cutting down his enemies with relative ease. He wondered for a moment how many kills the boy had, before he was distracted again by the battle.
It was afternoon by the time the fighting slowed. At this point, Gangrel had killed roughly thirty risen. He was certain that he'd killed more than Stahl, but there was no real way to be sure with the battle still raging. The Mad King paused for a moment, scanning the horizon to find any more of the undead creatures. He only saw one, and it was fighting Nisha, so he didn't even bother starting towards her; she could handle it, he knew.
But what happened next was so surprising that all thoughts left Gangrel's mind and he just watched, dumbfounded: as the dead berserker charged, axe held high over its head, Nisha had moved as if to dodge, but something went wrong and she stumbled. Defenseless, she had raised her blade to attempt halting the blow, but was unable to stop the deadly weapon's path. The world froze as the sharp metal pierced her skin, sending a trail of blood following the continued arc of the heavy blade.
The next few seconds were a little blurry in Gangrel's mind. He remembered running towards the falling tactician, racing Stahl to get there and kill the Risen first, but he didn't actually remember reaching Nisha's side, nor dropping his blade somewhere along the way.
Both men knelt beside her, looking her over for wounds. As usual, she was mostly untouched. There was just a gaping slash in her midsection to worry about.
"Oh man..." Stahl paled a little as he saw the injury. "Nisha, you still with us?"
"Ow," the tactician said in reply, sounding a little surprised. "He got me. That really hurts."
"Of course it hurts!" Gangrel snapped, anger breaking though his shock. "You were just gutted with an axe!"
Nisha winced at his loud voice, her brow furrowing in pain. Scowling—and muttering some choice words under his breath—the trickster withdrew his physic staff. As he checked the cut, trying to determine how much he could actually help, the young paladin stood and watched silently, shifting from foot to foot in an anxious manner. This did not help Gangrel's concentration in the slightest, only irritating him at a moment when he needed to be calm.
"By the gods, will you stop hovering, boy?!" the red-haired Plegian snapped, unable to rein in his temper any longer. "I cant focus when you're standing there!"
"Well, what else am I supposed to do?" Stahl asked, throwing his arms open wide in a helpless gesture. Gangrel's scowl deepened and he pointed back over the field.
"Go kill the leftover Risen," he hissed. "I can't very well protect her when I'm using a healing staff."
Surprisingly, Stahl didn't argue: he just mounted his horse, drew his sword, and galloped away. Gangrel was far too irritated to be grateful—pah, as if he could ever possibly grateful to that child—and returned his attentions to Nisha. He was concerned about the depth of the injury, unable to see any better with her cloak and shirt in the way. As blood continued to seep onto the grass, he finally reached his conclusion.
"I can't heal this all the way, not with this thing," Gangrel held up the physic staff as he spoke. Nisha nodded once, her jaw clenched tight from the pain.
"This...this is why..." she gasped, "why I wanted you..to get more practice using staves!"
"Duly noted," Gangrel replied. "I'll do what I can, but you'll need a stronger healer back in camp to fully recover."
Nisha nodded again and Gangrel raised the staff, the magic slowing the bleeding of the gaping wound, though it did not close completely. The tactician's grimace faded some, but her hands were still twisted into fists. She relaxed a little as the healing slowed and stopped, a look of fatigue crossing her features.
"I'm...not sure I can get up," she admitted, smiling weakly. Gangrel snorted.
"Of course. Just one more thing for me to do."
Despite his complaining, the Mad King didn't hesitate to slide his arms under her and pick her up. He staggered under the new weight for a moment before regaining his balance. As he walked, Nisha closed her eyes, her breathing deepening as she fell unconscious.
If it had been anyone else, he would've left them lying in the field, a job for someone else to do. If it were anyone else, he'd have slung them over his shoulder to carry them instead of carefully in his arms. So why didn't he treat her the same he wondered. Why had he gotten so worried in the first place?
It can't be loyalty, he mused. She's Ylissean after all and I'd never do a thing for those dastards.
But she's different, another part of him whispered. She hasn't told anyone about your moment of weakness, and she's watched your back on the battlefield plenty of times.
She just wants to keep me indebted to her, so that I'll do something like this for her to pay her back.
Then why aren't you complaining about it?
Shut up, he told himself. Stop thinking. I'm repaying her, ugh, kindness. Nothing more.
As he came into camp, he was snapped out of his reverie by the shocked cries of the Shepherds.
"Nisha!" Lissa yelled, running to the forefront of the gathering crowd. "Oh gods, is she all right?"
"She's not dying," Gangrel snapped, "but she's blasted close! Where's the medical tent?"
The princess snapped out of her panic, clearing a path through the throng to one of the larger tents. As he passed by the Shepherds, he heard whispers flying between them, catching half-sentences.
"...he did that?"
"...misunderstanding, I'm sure..."
Ignoring them all, Gangrel entered the healers' tent, laying the bloodied tactician on one of the cots. The moment she was laid down, Libra came over, checking the wound. The Plegian man moved out of the priest's way, sitting against the tent wall. His arms, chest and hands were drenched in her blood, but he didn't feel disgust in the slightest. Alright, he was a little disgusted, but he was mostly concerned about the amount of blood she'd lost.
To say that Gangrel had seen his fair share of battle would have been an understatement; he'd seen hardly anything but blood and death since he was a teenager. As both foot soldier and King, he'd watched countless Plegians fall dead from wounds similar to the one Nisha had suffered. Just as before, he was powerless to do much more than watch as a life bled away despite his healing. If the tactician died, he knew that not even the gods themselves could save him from the wrath of the Ylissean League. If Nisha didn't survive...
He wasn't sure how long he'd sat there, observing the drying bloodstains, but he was brought out of his morbid thoughts when he heard Nisha groan. Standing, he stood by the edge of her cot, watching her dark eyes flutter open.
"What—?" she tried to ask before she gave in to a bout of coughing. Libra came back with a cup of water and helped the tactician drink, vanishing back into the tent when she was done. Nisha swallowed before she tried to speak again.
"Did...did you carry me all the way here?" she asked. Gangrel rolled his eyes.
"Do you have to ask?" he said in response, gesturing to his bloodied torso. This drew a smile out of her and she struggled to sit up, finally making do with propping herself up on her elbows.
"Then I have nothing to say but thank you." She cocked her head at him, her smile widening. "And say sorry for spilling so much of my blood on you; it's just terrible of me, isn't it?"
"Absolutely shameful," Gangrel agreed, smirking. He was about to add more, but he was unceremoniously shoved out of the way by a blur of dark green. An annoyingly familiar shade of green, incidentally.
"Nisha!" Stahl cried. "Thank the gods you're okay!"
"Yes," she laughed. "Thanks to the gods—and a well-placed madman—I'll live to see another day."
The paladin didn't so much as glance towards the so-called "madman", instead continuing to hover over her, asking if she needed anything, is she was in pain, anything he could do to help. It was positively nauseating.
"You know where to find me, tactician," Gangrel said over his shoulder as he exited. "I'll leave you two alone. After all, I know when I'm not needed."
Or wanted, he added in his mind, noting that Stahl had taken his place by the bed already.
Nisha looked ready to protest, but Stahl drew her attention away again. The Mad King felt a stab of rage, and stalked outside the tent.
Someday, boy, he vowed, someday you'll go too far, you'll say the wrong thing, and when that day comes...not even Naga herself will be able to halt my wrath.