Matthew was awake. At least, Treyp thought that he was awake. It was difficult to tell because his breathing was even and he lay perfectly still on his back. She was on her side, her hair a dark spray across the pillow behind her, and had both of her hands on his nearest arm. He was not a monster of a man like Geran, with thick ropes of muscle upon muscle, but she could feel the hardness of his strength and was comforted by it. Not so much so, however, that she was able to sleep. There was an impatience in the way that she watched him, searching his face to see if he would opens his eyes, and there was a fidgiting nervous in every minor motion she made as she shifted her legs and body for comfort.
"Would you stop that?" He said at last, without opening his eyes.
"Staring at me like I'm a cut of mutton at market, for starters." The annoyance he expressed was present only in the content of his words. His tone was comfortably neutral.
"I can't sleep." Treyp told him.
"So, if I'm awake, and you're awake..."
"Because it is not the time for it. You are under stress, and afraid, and that makes you think that you are lonely." Still his eyes did not even flicker. He would still seem asleep were it not for the words slipping through his lips. "You are conflicted enough about what passes between us without adding that to it."
"I'm conflicted? What about you?"
Treyp's hands flinched slightly away from him as if stung, and she stared at him with big, almost black eyes. Then her lovely features were contorted with fury. Rather than lash out at him in any way, though the idea of shoving him to the floor may have held some appeal to her, she twisted away. Some petty part of her made sure to jostle and bounce the mattress as much as possible as she moved and squirmed to create as much distance as she could without hanging herself over the side. Matthew sighed behind her, and she folded her arms over her breasts. Then, finding the sight of the far wall nearly as disagreeable, Treyp screwed her eyes tightly shut.
She was asleep within moments.
...and she was running for her life once again. Treyp was but one step ahead of the shadow that chased her, and her leaden legs could not carry her much further. It cursed and spat at her every step of the way.
“Dryad whore!” It howled close enough for it's hot breath to brush against her neck.
“Bitch!” Came the growl in her ear as she rounded a corner and bounded down a flight of steps.
“You can't hide from me!” The hateful thing bellowed as she came to the end of the narrow hallway and ducked through the lone door she found there.
Matthew was still on the bed where she left him. She cried out, but he could not hear. Though neither his expression or his position had changed, there was a gaping hole in his neck and so much blood soaked into his black shirt and the sheets around him. He was gone. Her rock, her anchor, the one man besides her uncle who she knew that she could depend on was dead.
The thing that had been chasing her hammered into the door behind her, rattling it on it's hinge. A second impact sent a crack running down it's middle as she turned to face it. Crying and defenseless, she could only watch as it finally exploded inward in a shower of splinters and hungry shadows...
Treyp was already awake, blinking blearily and casting her terrified eyes toward the door. It remained as solid and unbroken as she had last seen it in the waking world. “A dream,” she told herself. “It was only a dream.”
The assurance did little to calm her nerves. And what was that smell...?
She was already turning to check on Matthew when she noticed the figure crouched within arm's reach. A clump of curly blonde hair rested atop it's head, above black eyes that began to burn from within with a curious red light as she caught sight of it. The rest was a sudden flood of sensory input; the black lines carved into it's nude body, the claws of the same color which were already extending toward her as the creature started to rise. An expression of homicidal glee split it's face into an even more horrific grin, exposing the sharpened teeth within.
Time slowed to a crawl as Treyp realized that she was about to die.
Her lips parted to release her final, despairing scream of terror, but before the sound could escape her throat she felt the bed move beneath her. Matthew was rolling across her, and she caught the glint of steel in his hand.
“No, Demon!” The assassin grunted as the claws which had been aimed for Treyp's face tore into his shoulder. “Not today.”
Then he responded to the attack in kind. Geran had once described Matthew as one of the deadliest men he had ever encountered, and in that moment Treyp saw the proof of it. Were he fighting a human opponent, the man would have been dead a half dozen times over in but the few seconds it took for her to shake the paralyzing fear from her limbs and scramble away. Erek, however, was anything but human these days.
“Kill me once, boy, shame on me!” The demonic visage of a dead man crowed at it's opponent. “Kill me twice...”
Those claws swiped forward again with a speed that Geran would have been hard pressed to match. The blow would have taken another man's head clean off his shoulders, but caught only the collar of Matthew's shirt. Fabric shredded and a thin trickle of blood spilled from the small scratches left on his skin in their wake. As before, the human barely reacted, save this time to change his tactics. Rather than killing strikes, he began cutting at joints, at tendons, and other vital points that held a man's body together. This troubled Erek a great deal more than before. It leapt away from the engagement a few moments later, it's left arm hanging temporarily limp and useless at it's side.
“Oh, you're good.” Erek said with disgusted, grudging respect. “I think I'm done playing with you.”
“I am just getting started, Creature.”
Matthew swept forward on swift, sure feet to close the distance between them, but his knives found only the empty air. Erek was simply gone. Vanished. The assassin cursed and spun back around, checking behind himself. Then he turned in a slow circle about the room. There was no sign of his enemy. His questing eyes met Treyp's from where she stood against the wall on the far side of the bed, and she shook her head. She had no idea where the thing had gone either.
“But damn, damn it all.” Matthew muttered and turned himself toward the door. It was then that he felt a presence immediately at his back, but there was no chance to react.
Erek's good right hand snaked up from under his arm to grab him by the throat. Long, needle sharp claws dug into the sides of his neck. He tried to strike at the vile thing's arm, meaning to disable it as he had the other, but the demon jerked him this way and that with it's great strength. It was impossible to mount any kind of attack in this predicament without risking a deep cut into his own flesh. That was acceptable, of course, but not if it did no damage at all to the intended target.
“You're dead, boy,” Erek hissed in his ear an intimate, almost sensual whisper. “My talons are deadly and wet with the venom of all the hate and suffering I have nurtured here. Don't worry, though. That isn't the death I have in mind for you. I am going to take a great deal of pleasure in crushing the life from your miserable, murdering little--”
“Hey! Dead thing!”
If Matthew had been able to draw a breath, he would have sworn at Treyp and yelled at her to run. Erek's grip was firm, however, and he could barely manage a choking gurgle. Then, and it may have been the lack of air to his lungs playing tricks on his eyes, but he thought he saw the light in the room change. What could that be? It was too bright and steady for flames.
“Get your hands off my boyfriend!”
Treyp's hands were blazing bright with the same golden magic she often used to heal wounds, and when she grabbed Erek by the shoulder the demon cried out in surprise. It lost it's grip on Matthew as Treyp, using every ounce of her Dryad's strength, hauled the damned thing backwards, spun it around, and swung her right fist up and into it's face. There came a satisfying crunch and Erek was lifted from the floor, landing nearly half the length of the room from her. The fight gone out of him for the moment, the demon disappeared once more.
The young dryad stared at her hands, not quite understanding what she had just done. To the knowledge of herself and everyone who knew anything about it, her ability did nothing but heal. Why, then--? Matthew's coughing, as he once again sucked air into his lungs, dragged her away from that consideration and she moved to his side.
“Can you get up?” Treyp asked. Without waiting for an answer, she slipped an arm through his and pulled him to his feet. “We can't stay here, Matthew. Come on.”
He tried to speak, coughed again, then managed to rasp an answer. “Boyfriend?”
The scowl on Treyp's face could have been transplanted directly from her uncle Geran's stock of expressions. “Shut. Up.”
Matthew seemed inclined to do just that, coughing again as she half-carried him from the room.