Annika slowed now, finally, with the distance between her daughter and herself and the hyenas grown, their path leading them out of the Sill, away from the Five Tribes Desert, and with the distance between herself and the pack of jackals that lay near their path closed now to almost nothing.
She placed her daughter down gingerly, silently placing a finger to the yearling’s lips, drawing out a thin dagger from her belt, hidden away many years, but still sharp as the last time she had drawn it. She crept along the wall of the ruined building peeking out into the square.
The sight of the Ghul did not surprise Annika, save perhaps that it was only a single Ghul, separated, its pack of jackals not yet present, and that it was one so young looking, so thin and starved. She suspected it had not eaten for some time, which made sense in these fringes, for Ghuls could only consume the flesh of sentient creatures.
The sight of her fellow Parua, however, did surprise her—what was one of her brethren doing here? He had a cut on his cheek, red blood streaking in the tan fur of his face as he slowly circled the Ghul, scimitar held out to guard against the creature’s next attack.
Annika waited till the Ghul’s back was turned to her, its attention focused on the young Parua male before it, bearing down, snarling, and waiting perhaps to allow its pack to reach the ruins. She crept forward, silent as a mouse, her bare paws padding through the sand with care, shrunk as low as she could leaning forward till her clawed hands nearly scrapped the sand.
Then, when the moment was right she moved quick as lightning, a single great leap forward and the knife in her hand stabbed up, penetrating the back of the Ghul, digging deep and opening its foul heart. The creature howled in pain, fighting to maintain its form, fighting to stay alive, awake.
Its jackals echoed its howls off in the desert, crying out as their connection to the Jinn shriveled till it had been severed completely, then scattering off in separate directions—no longer a pack at all, just a dozen jackals in the same area.
Finally, the cry died on the Ghul’s lips, for while Ghuls can live through much, can reform their bodies from next to nothing, and can die a dozen or more deaths before their final one, there is nothing they can do when their true heart has been pierced by silvered steel, the one surest way to send its soul onto whatever hell Ghuls went to in the end.
Mitzia watched in wonder as her mother tossed the shriveled husk away, digging the bloodied dagger into the sand to clean the filthy black slime that oozed from the dead Ghul’s heart. What had overcome her mother, a simple merchant that she knew how to kill that monster?
Annika looked Maba in the eyes, locking her own pink eyes on his, “Peace of Padaga be with you, brother. What brings you into the Sill this night?” Maba swallowed, his heart still beating from his close encounter, trying to find the will to speak.
image by Michael Jaecks