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Part Three: Chapter 33

The beast lifted his red-smeared face from the body to sniff at the air. His lip curled in disgust as the sound of footsteps behind joined with a familiar scent on the breeze. Yet otherwise he remained nonaggressive: eyes glazed, staring out at nothing as if he were entranced.

“Time draws nigh, G’nilbor.” Valreecius’ words broke the spell on the ghoul, and he spun on the moon steward with wicked fangs showing and every muscle of his rippling bulk tensed. Still Valreecius stood calmly before the creature—as if nothing in the world had ever frightened him. “No more cravings. No more bondage. Your spirit free to roam where it will. Or you may remain leashed and starved till the sun’s light fails and the world becomes as ice. It’s up to you.”

“I need no witch’s lies to prod me, thin man,” spoke the ghoul. “Her son has insulted me…and for that I’ll gladly destroy him!”

The steward sighed, shook his bald white head, then continued in a tone one might use to instruct a clueless child: “Were the task as easy as that boast, she might’ve set some lesser vassal to it. You’re not the first to dismiss Dragan so easily. Do you believe yourself cleverer than Tiramas Vendhane? Stronger than Haxûd’s cursed prince? You’ll need more than both to defeat the DoomBringer. Yet…if you care to listen, perhaps I can instruct you…”

Attempting to feign disinterest, G’nilbor turned his eyes again beneath him. A claw reached down, latched onto one of the corpse’s wrists, and pulled up on the limb with a loud crack. “The man’s no god. I smelled his fear in Ost.”

Valreecius nodded. “Indeed. But you must do more than out-threaten him to prevail. The key lies with his armor. Take that away from him, and he’ll all but defeat himself.”

“I’m no thief, lurking in shadows. I win my spoils in battle.” Returning his gaze to the steward, G’nilbor brought the severed arm to his mouth, bit down on the flesh, and tore a large chunk away. No sooner than he’d begun to chew on this morsel, however, did a ragged pair of goblins dart out from behind a nearby boulder to grovel at his feet. They looked as if they’d not eaten in days. The ghoul swallowed, took another bite as the starving pair eyed him with drool on their lips, then tossed the limb carelessly away. Instantly the goblins set off for their prize, pushing and clawing and falling over each other to be the first to set hands on it. “Where did the witch unearth this armor?” G’nilbor added at last, paying no heed to the grisly scene playing out on his right. “What is the source of its power?”

Similarly unaffected, Valreecius replied: “She hasn’t revealed that secret to me. But wait and ask it of her yourself, if you wish. Even now she prepares to empty Rardonydd. Her force will join itself to ours within the week.”

To this G’nilbor only grunted in response, and it appeared that the steward was done with the ghoul for now and would take his leave. Yet he had one final comment to make:

“Our mistress tells me her son will soon lay down the armor willingly. This she has divined. But until you see Dragan without it strapped to his breast, turn your eyes upon any other man afield save him. Surely there’ll be no shortage of Sinians for you to slay.”

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