"Of course not," Dante said, sounding amused, "I'm not a god. There is no 'Death-God'. I'm the Vjor-Engel." The man pulled back his cowl and scarf, revealing a handsome face, with high cheekbones and long black hair. A full, neatly-trimmed black beard covered his face. And now, now the eyes were visible. The irises were like discs of gold.
"My mistake..." Wolf said. The man seemed to radiate authority, and power. But..."Jailor? What have I done?" Wolf cried.
Dante pulled the hood and scarf back, and replied "Twenty years ago you were good friends with a woman named Lovinnia, correct?"
"And have you heard of the Witch-Queen?"
Dante leaned back. "Then you tell me."
Wolf ground his teeth. He did know, in the bottom of his heart. He kept quiet.
"Maybe I can jog your memory? She started a war that lasted ten years, killed thousands of people and three Engelari. This war ended only... three years ago? No, four. Three and a half..."
"Five years ago," Wolf said through gnashed teeth. "And some say that the Witch-Queen was called Lovinnia. I was friends with someone called Lovinnia. It's a common enough name."
"No it isn't."
Wolf kept silent again. They couldn't be the same person. They couldn't have been. It was ridiculous.
Dante sighed, as best Wolf could tell under the scarf, and said, "Well, whether you want to admit it or not, you're going to Bloodpeak Mountain, yes?"
Wolf stayed silent. He decided he didn't like Dante, and wasn't feeling cooperative.
"Well, you are. I have a way of getting there in an instant. Besides, you don't have a horse."
"I did have a horse," Wolf said, angrily. "I'll get there on my own, thank you."
"I wasn't offering help, and what do you think you're eating?" Dante said. At Wolf's expression, he said, "That was a joke. Your horse ran off somewhere."
Wolf sighed. "Fine. And how are we going to cross the desert 'in an instant'? I don't see a pair of magic horses hidden in your cloak."
"Like this." Dante raised a hand, which glowed with an eerie light, and the tree, the campfire, and everything around him vanished into swirling lights, followed by a pitch black void.
20 years ago, Wolf strode through the city, frowning.
People were fiendishly difficult to steal from here. Wolf was a talented enough pickpocket, but there were guards at every corner. And every House had different laws. Lovinnia had told him about the six Houses. The closest thing to royalty in the East, the city was divided into different territories, each one owned by a different House. Each House provided its own laws, and its own Guards. Wolf was, at the moment, in the wealthier part of House Talin's territory. After running a careful eye through the sparse crowds, Wolf singled out a relaxed-looking woman. Her arms were decorated with bangles and bracelets, and her frizzy black hair was tied back with a net of pearls. She wore a simple white dress, white being the only sensible colour in the desert. Wolf diverted his path to coincide with hers, and when he was only a few feet away he stumbled, tripped and fell sprawling in the sand. As planned, she rushed over to him with a concerned look on her face.
"Are you all right?" she said, reaching out to help him up.
"Yes, thank you," Wolf said, grasping the woman's arm and letting her help pull him up. As he did, his deft hand managed to slip off two, smallish bracelets and he quickly pocketed them. He smiled at her, and hurried off before she noticed the missing bracelets. He smiled to himself. For once, a successful theft!
Until a scream of outrage filled his ears. Damn! he thought, but he kept walking quietly until the next corner. Then he ran, his light feet making no sound in the sand. Until he tripped over someones outstretched leg, and fell face down in the fortunately-soft sand.
"And why might you be running?" a deep voice above him said, as a heavy weight pushed down on his back, "that seems very suspicious to me, after that scream. Who have you stolen from then?"
"I deny it..." Wolf mumbled, with a face-full of sand.
"Really. I was about to say you're completely innocent. But you say you're denying that? Good. That makes this easy, idiot."
Wolf was momentarily baffled by this verbal trickery. But then he focused on the mans voice. It was odd, familiar, almost like a woman's voice imitating a man... He grinned. "Alright Lovinnia, you've had your fun. Get off me."
Awww... I thought you wouldn't notice," Lovinnia said, dropping the voice. The weight was removed and Wolf got up. He held out the bracelets, "Here. I got you these."
"No you didn't," Lovinnia asserted, "you stole them from some poor woman who probably didn't deserve it. Thank you anyway." She added, taking the bracelets and slipping them on one golden-brown arm, which she raised, admiring the bracelets; one was made of red gold beads, the other pieces of quartz.
"When you're done admiring yourself..." Wolf said, jokingly.
"I am not admiring myself," Lovinnia replied, as they began to walk along the road to her house, "I simply allow you the opportunity to admire me."
"Is that so?"
"We both know it is..."
20 years later, Wolf was vomiting. The stew he had eaten tasted much worse going up.
"Really, Wolf, Wraith-Walking is not that uncomfortable." Dante said critically.
Wolf ignored this, and wiped his mouth. He'd managed to stop vomiting, but he still felt sick and dizzy, and he wondered if the taste would ever leave his mouth. Then he realised just where he was.
They stood on the peak of a small mountain of bare sandstone. A stream was gurgling out from a small spring, and the water took Wolf's mind off the discomfort. It was red, and thicker than normal water. Very much like... blood. Wolf tore his eyes from the Spring and looked down the slopes of the mountain, at the city below lying in ruins. He sunk to his knees. Because this was the work of the Witch-Queen, and he knew, knew at the bottom of his heart that Lovinnia had done this.