The world of Rahul shimmered and wavered beneath the tall man's feet. The power of the land sought to protect its mistress, but he would have none of it. He had been given his orders, and they were clear: find her, kill her.
He moved quickly over the cracked earth, his steps light despite the weight of his mission. He would not let her escape him this time. Not like in that wretched valley so many years ago. The barren soil—picturesque for a Vacanti painter—had been his home for months during his search for her; he knew every rock and stream as well as he knew the lines on his palm.
The valley had never seemed so beautiful as it did now that he was free of it. His dark hair billowed out behind him in a wave as he ran forth into the world once again, leaving behind all that was dear to him—his wife, his children—in order to complete this task.
They had promised him a boon that could only be granted when Aria died by his hand. When she drew her final breath at last, he would have what he wanted most in all the world: freedom from this service to evil men bent on subjugating a nation that was not their own.
But even if she did not escape him again this time—or perhaps especially if she did not escape him again this time—he knew better than to think there were no costs to this freedom.
Any victory came at a price, and any price was worth paying if it meant an end to servitude forevermore. So be it, if the cost was more than he could bear.
If freedom came at such a cost, then let there be no other way than this hunt across Rahul's torn landscape;
let there be no other journey home for him or for her;
let their paths intersect in death once more.
The man-made no sound as he ran through the field after field; from hilltop to hilltop, then down into a ravine where a stream gurgled over rocks hidden beneath green water laced with algae; and on toward a forest where black-barked trees swayed heavily under their burden of mosses and fungi and ferns; and onward still until finally he reached an area from which there was nothing but crumbled walls around jutting stones and trailing vines.
But here, among these ruins lay hope: hope that somewhere nearby Aria might be found because these stone walls had been built by humans long ago who had lived here briefly long before these lands had become so hostile.
Here among these ruins, there might yet be clues: broken arrows, rusted knives perhaps even some coins stamped with symbols or images from an era long past. These things she might need, should she come here seeking shelter or sustenance during her flight across Rahul's hostile landscape.