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The ghostly form led the way through the murky miasma. The orb atop his scepter cast a hazy yellow glow. Odd, Randwulf thought, he could breathe in this air, thick as dark water. Breathe, yes, but beneath the damaged plate of his armor, the pain in his side burned hot with each step. He struggled to keep pace with the ghost, whose gray robes and white hair undulated slowly behind him, reminding Randwulf of blades of waterweed held captive in a river's current. He placed his trust in the apparition before him, yet he couldn't help but wonder, was it leading him to the Great Hall of Light or the Pit of Everlasting Darkness?
Randwulf's feet became heavy stones, each step forward more difficult than the last. Must ... rest. He eyed the ground, longed to lie down, just for a moment, to regain his strength. About to collapse onto it, he felt a nudge against his arm. Metal scraped against metal. He heard the nicker of a devoted friend. A moment of joy, but Randwulf questioned, "Lyftgeswenced ... how?" He slid his gaze toward the circle of light. The ghost glided steadily forward, offering no reply.
Randwulf reached behind his horse's faceplate to stroke the smooth hair of his jaw. He searched the animal's armor for signs of penetration. Relieved to find no injury, the wounded knight gripped the saddle's pommel and dragged himself up, a groan escaping his throat as he did so, certain his side was being torn apart.
Lyftgeswenced kept steady pace with the ghost. From atop the saddle, Randwulf scanned the darkness, still unable to see anything beyond the glow of the ghost's orb. Shifting his weight, he endured yet another sharp twinge. But worse than the pain,worse than not understanding these strange surroundings was the promise whispered in his ear as he lay dying in the field. "Only her death will pay for what her people have done to us."
"No!" But Randwulf couldn't utter it then. He could only listen to pounding hooves as they carried her away. The despair caused by knowing he failed in his duty to protect her penetrated the depths of his soul.
His next remembrance was the call of a night bird heralding the coming darkness. Ka-ree! Ka-ree! Cornstalks rustled softly in twilight. The ghost appeared over him, his hand extended to help Randwulf rise. Believing he'd met the ultimate fate of countless warriors, and seeing no deceit in the ghost's demeanor, Randwulf clasped the ghost's hand.
Now, being led through this underworld, taking shallow breaths to lessen the ache in his side, Randwulf questioned in his mind, But does pain come with death?
Lyftgeswenced trudged on through the stifling ether. Randwulf's head bobbed forward, and he slept, sitting, until the faint sound of thunder stirred him awake. Lightning flashed in the distant haze, but it gave no hint of what lay ahead.
The thunderous booms grew louder. The horse twitched his ears back with each auditory assault. Fog swirled around them as lightning flickered. The ghost stopped to face horse and rider, raised his scepter in the roiling mist. Randwulf saw his lips move in some significant pronouncement, but the din drowned out his words. An earsplitting bolt struck the orb, and the ghost vanished with the light.
Randwulf cried out, "Don't leave me!" But the protest was lost in the roaring thunder. He gasped for breath, certain he'd met his fated end, until the murk lifted suddenly.
Gauging the new situation, Randwulf grasped his sword, and his warrior instinct took charge...