Cornelius felt the disturbance of Viker’s arrival yet dismissed it as unimportant. He was still concentrating on his mission of vengeance which included both Amryn and the fighter’s pilot. Even the insistence of his companions paled into insignificance next to Clari’s loss. Ngulu the Broken was nothing more than a means of conveyance to him, and the demon was himself lost in introspection. His base hunger had returned with his renewed strength and he eyed the humans around him with the gaze of a predator choosing between a number of choice snacks.
“I do not like this monster,” said Sir Frederic to Burns, swinging the sword in his hand with feeling.
“Me neither,” muttered Burns, torn between the nearby threat of Ngulu and the burning forest, “however, I think we need to concentrate our efforts on getting out of the way of the fire first. If needs be we can deal with the demon afterwards.”
“What about Cornelius?” asked Kam.
“What about him?” responded Burns, checking his rifle and swinging his pack to his shoulder.
“Will he come with us?” insisted Kam, his old loyalty pushing him to ask the question.
“Don’t know, and don’t really care,” replied Burns, “he seems a little preoccupied and I for one have others things on my mind.”
“We should at least ask him,” said Kam, moving to face the now dismounted Cornelius. Ngulu hissed in warning and Kam took a pace backwards.
“I would move we warn my people,” said Sir Frederic, “there is a real threat from both the flames and any of those Ambryn who remain.”
“Agreed,” said Burns, “saddle up LLorente.”
Llorente said nothing, gathering his meagre possessions and ensuring the portal key was safe within his jacket.
Kam tried again but the dragon-tattooed man ignored him, staring past the flames at the distant hills. At last he spoke.
“I go to the mountains and the Tower beyond,” he said in a monotone, “come with me or not, it’s your choice.”
“Not, then,” said Burns, “LLorente and I will go with Sir Frederic where we can at least do some good.”
Cornelius smiled, or at least that Burns hoped was what the expression was intended to be.
“Very well,” he said, “we will part company here. Be warned though, once you leave I cannot protect you.”
Burns laughed, “Up until now, I think we have been protecting you from yourself. It’s time we started protecting others, as our duty dictates.”
Cornelius bowed his head, then moved to climb on Ngulu’s shoulders.
“It would be better,” he said to Kam, “that you go with them. Ngulu and I have work to do.”
He ignored the look of hurt on Kam’s face and without another word, the demon leapt into the sky, unfolding its leathern wings.
“I think,” said Burns to Kam, “that your choice has been made for you.”
Kam waited for a moment, watching the demon and he who had once been his friend disappear into the distance, before turning and following Burns. Whatever he now was, the Cornelius of old seemed to have disappeared for good.
Cornelius felt no pang of regret. Indeed, with the parting of ways came a freedom of both responsibility and deviation from purpose. Ngulu did not need to speak, his baser instincts were served well by Cornelius’ single-minded purpose. There would be battle, death and feeding wherever his new Master went. His strength grew with each moment and soon he would be greater than any of his rivals. Then he could think of his relationship with Cornelius further.
They flew above the flames, noting the struggle of the few remaining Ambryn in their passing. Neither stopped to ponder what fate might hold for Burns and his companions. What would be, would be. Their way led towards the mountains and the Tower beyond.
As they rose higher, Cornelius detected the presence of others, and he raised his eyes to the horizon to follow the flares of the descending ships. Some moved towards the hills to his left, but the main body continued on towards the Tower. He felt Viker’s probe and contemptuously slapped it away. They would meet soon enough.
Ngulu the Broken also felt the attempted intrusion and in his burgeoning return to power experienced some disquiet. He sent out a call of his own, his cunning and need for self-preservation reawakened.
Above him Cornelius too felt Ngulu’s summons and smiled to himself. Treachery appeared a way of life to Ngulu and his kind. It was but to be expected. Although she was dead, Clari still remained a part of him. Who else had he ever needed?
Onward they flew, skirting the hills where now they could see the flash of weapons fire and reaching the plains once more. Cornelius’ vision wavered as Prophecy meshed with reality. He shrugged it away. He needed no sword, nor Taartun followers for what he wished to do. All he knew was that the Tower would provide him with the key to the destruction of his enemies. Beyond that, he cared not.