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Sample Chapter from "The Blessed Curse"
Cool wind cut across
his sweat soaked back as Neph let his sword relax in his hand. He wiped his face
with the back of his arm and studied his sister. He’d lost her attention
again. With a sigh, he followed her gaze to the courtyard wall where two kittens
had begun their own duel. “Zyi, we don’t have time for this.” Neph spoke
softly and her eyes flickered back toward him.
“They are so cute
when they are small.” Zyi’s mouth was curved into a gentle smile and her
pale blue eyes danced with amusement. “All fuzz and energy,” she added with
a wistful glance toward the kittens, her smile slowly fading at the expression
on his face.
the trial is tomorrow. You have to focus,” Neph pressed, his voice thick with
his frustration. He’d been working with her for weeks on her shields and
defense without much improvement, and she didn’t seem to be taking any of it
know Neph,” Zyi sighed. Her back straightened and she raised her sword again
with an expression that suggested he was torturing her. “I don’t want to run
the trial, Neph. It is hard for me to focus on something I hate the thought
have to, Zyi. All Delvay face the trial when they reach our age,” Neph said,
repeating words he had spoken a thousand times in the past month.
let me face it tomorrow, Neph, and let’s do something that’s actually fun
today,” Zyi offered, her smile returning as she stared up at her brother. Her
sword dipped toward the ground again as she stepped closer. “Swimming? It’s
certainly hot enough today. We could go riding. How long has it been since you
have had a break from training, Neph?” Her voice was hopeful and Neph felt
himself smiling in return.
your defense is appalling, your attacks are weak, and there are field mice with
more focus than you. We need to train.” Neph shook his head at her slowly and
her smile faded again. She nodded in return and lifted her sword once more. “I
won’t let you fail this, Zyi. We will work all night if we have to,” Neph
not like you Neph. I don’t have the warrior’s soul that Father is always
preaching about. I don’t want to fight, I don’t want to kill, and I don’t
want to face this stupid trial.” Zyi’s voice rose as she spoke and Neph
glanced back to make sure they were still alone in the courtyard. “What does
this trial prove anyway? That we are as strong as the mountains like father
says? I’m not. I admit it freely. So why do I have to face the trial?”
turned back to look at her, his eyes locking on her own. Her bitterness was as
clear in her voice as the frustration was in his. “Because all Delvay do.
Please watch your voice Zyi. If someone overhears you saying that, Father will
thrash you,” He warned in a low voice.
me for being honest? How noble is that? It would be nice to be able to speak the
truth for a change,” Zyi hissed. Angrily she pushed her pale blond hair back
from her face once more and glared at him. “Well, come on, Neph, train me to
be a better liar. Help me hone skills I despise.” Her sword raised and she
dropped low into a defensive stance.
shook his head slowly and smiled down at his twin. Her eyes narrowed at his
expression and he held up a hand in a gesture of peace. “How about rather than
train you to be a better liar, I help you earn the right to speak the truth.
Once we pass this trial, Zyi, we are full citizens. As children, we can’t
speak our mind, as citizens we can,” he offered.
sniffed and rolled her eyes. “As if you have anything to speak your mind
about, Neph. You are Father’s golden child. He gives an order and you obey.
You and Kadan are just like him,” she grumbled, but her sword was still in the
ready position. “Come on, then. Help me earn the right I should have been born
of all, get your damn shields up, Zyi. Magical protection can save your life.
Never forget your shields!” Neph snapped as he sprang toward her, his sword
flashing. If she wouldn’t listen to his words he would hammer them into her
skull with his sword.
echoed down the hall behind him as Neph made his way slowly toward his
father’s door. He paused at the sound and considered turning back to the main
hall to join the others in drinks. With a heavy sigh, he shook his head and
placed a hand on the cold stone of the door and pushed it gently open.
“Father, I need to speak with you,” Neph said in a voice just loud enough to
carry to the next rooms as he stepped inside. As he had expected the sitting
room was empty. His gaze turned automatically to the door of his father’s
prayer room as it opened.
what?” RenDelvayon demanded, his expression filled with warning. His father
was a large man, towering over his children in height and strength.
his head with respect, Neph inhaled deeply and let the breath out slowly.
Nothing he had to say would please his father. “About Zyi, Father. She isn’t
ready for the trial and honestly I don’t think she ever will be,” Neph began
in a steady voice. His father despised weakness above all else, now was not the
time to show nerves.
is my child. She will face the trial.” His father’s words were spoken in a
low voice that suggested the topic was settled.
you have Kadan and me. Do you really need Zyi to pass the trial too? Send her to
the Academy instead please,” Neph pressed. His eyes searched his father’s
face for any sign of mercy and found none.
Delvay face the trial. Zyi will as well. She carries my name. Do you expect me
to let weakness grow in my family?” Ren demanded, his eyes narrow.
you rather see her die, Father? There is a very good chance that will happen.”
Neph’s voice cracked with his frustration and his father’s eyes narrowed
I would rather see her die than bring weakness to our family. This discussion is
over Neph.” His father glared at him, daring him to open his mouth again.
shifted his feet and struggled to fight back the words he knew he would regret.
He could feel his temper rising and knew if he didn’t leave he would regret
it. No one spoke back to High Lord RenDelvayon, least of all his children. “As
you say Father,” Neph said softly through clenched teeth.
gaze moved to the painting on the mantle as he turned back to the door. It was
the only artwork in the room, and the only image of his mother left remaining in
Delvay. He felt his temper cool as memories of her surfaced. They were
bittersweet to be sure. Part of him hated her, and yet he could remember how she
had treated them. His mother had been strong, kind, and as stubborn as stone.
She might have been able to speak on Zyi’s behalf. His father might have
listened to her. At the very least RenDelvayon would have let her speak her mind
fully, which was more than he was doing for his son. Pausing with his hand on
the door Neph glanced back at his father. “Not everyone is born for war,
Father. Zyi’s calling could be something greater than either of us guess. She
could be a healer, or a scholar, or so many other things. Please just give her a
chance. Exile her and take the family name from her if she shames you, but
don’t force her to do something she isn’t capable of doing, please.” Neph
spoke the words softly and didn’t bother waiting for a response. There was
little point to it. Mercy wasn’t a word found in the Delvay language, even
when dealing with their children.
laughter erupted from the main hall, but the thought of drinking and laughter no
longer appealed to him at all. Turning slowly, Neph headed for the stairs and
his own rooms. Tomorrow would be a disaster and he knew it. Zyi had left the
courtyard with bruises lacing both of her arms and very little sign of
improvement to her defense. No matter how many times he had worked with her on
spells or blades she never improved. Her heart simply wasn’t in it. His steps
paused as he neared her door. He could still see the glow of candlelight from
beneath the door, but there was no sound from within. Without bothering to knock
he pushed the door lightly and leaned on the door frame to look inside.
was seated under the window her back pressed against the dark stone wall with a
snow cat kitten curled in her lap. Her eyes were bloodshot and dried tears
streaked her face. Looking up at him, she smiled weakly and waved him in.
tried to talk to him,” Neph offered softly as he stepped inside the room. His
eyes roved over the colorful paintings and tapestries that filled the small room
and he smiled faintly. Every other part of the Delvay keep was somber and dark.
Zyi’s room however was as bright and cheerful as a sun filled meadow.
didn’t listen,” Zyi concluded with a sigh and nodded to him. “He never
listens. Thank you for trying though Neph.”
nodded slowly as his gaze fell on the packed bag hidden just beneath the edge of
her bed. He studied it for a long moment and nodded again. “I even tried to
get him to exile you,” Neph continued as he turned back to her.
gazed up at him and then slowly stood. Carefully she shifted the kitten in her
arms and offered it to Neph. “I waited for you to come upstairs,” she said,
her tone so low the words were barely a whisper.
her carefully, Neph took the kitten and stood silently as she gathered her bag
over her shoulder. “Where?” Neph asked. He knew he should be stopping her,
but he didn’t have the heart. Their father had been quite clear on the subject
of her leaving, and he would be furious when he found out that Neph had known.
Anywhere is better than here, Neph.” Zyi whispered, her eyes growing glassy
once more. “You are the only thing I will miss here.” Moving quickly she
wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him tightly.
could feel her tears soaking through the cotton of his shirt as he wrapped his
own arms around her tiny frame. She was so much smaller than the rest of them,
so delicate and fragile. The idea of her being alone in the world terrified him,
but then the thought of her facing the trial frightened him more. If she
couldn’t stand against him and hold her shields, she didn’t have a prayer
against the odds they would face tomorrow. “Let me go with you,” Neph began
unsure exactly where the words had come from. He didn’t actually want to leave
Delvay, but then he didn’t want to see her go alone either. No one else would
understand her. Not like he did anyway. She was his twin. He knew her better
than anyone else ever could. He had always protected her. What would she do
without him guarding her from others? In Delvay it had been childish teasing.
The outside world would be so much worse and he knew it.
laughed, and the sound was choked with her tears. Pulling back from him she
shook her head and smiled. “I love you so much for offering Neph, but your
place is here and we both know it. I only waited here so I could say goodbye. I
never thought that you might go with me.” Her voice was thick and Neph felt
his chest tightening.
don’t mind leaving here, Zyi. Let me get a few things and we will go.” Neph
placed the kitten carefully on the bed and started to turn for the door as she
grabbed his arm. He paused and looked down at her once more as she shook her
head again. “Zyi, neither of us has ever been outside of Delvay. You don’t
even know what you are walking into,” Neph said gently.
better life for me, but it’s not a life for you Neph. You belong here. You do
have the warrior’s spirit. You are one of the strongest in Delvay now. In time
you will be more than Father could ever hope to be,” Zyi whispered as she
placed a hand on his cheek. “Keep them in balance, Neph. Father is as cold as
winter, and Kadan is heartless. You are the only one in this damned place with
any compassion at all. Maybe one day you will lead here, and I can come home
will never lead Delvay, Zyi,” Neph said with a faint smile and watched as she
stepped away toward the door. “How are you going to get out of here without
them noticing?” Neph asked quietly.
are drinking downstairs aren’t they?” Zyi asked, pausing by the door.
they always?” Neph snorted in response.
they should be sleeping by now. I added a little something extra to the mead
tonight. Nothing that will hurt them of course, but they will get a very sound
night’s sleep from it.” She smiled impishly as she spoke and winked at him.
“I will miss you so much, Neph.” Zyi said softly as she stepped out into the
a final glance around the room Neph carefully picked up the kitten once more and
balanced it in the crook of his arm as blew out the candle and headed for his
own room. Delvay would be a darker place without her, but he knew in his heart
it was for the best. Still, that didn’t silence the voice screaming for him to
go after her, to stop her, to go with her, to do something. A lump was growing
in his throat and he could feel his eyes burning with unshed tears. With a heavy
sigh, he stepped into his own room and leaned back against the door. The kitten
stirred in his arm and he absently ran a hand through its thick fur. For the
first time in his life, he was truly alone. There was no one left in Delvay that
he could confide in, or show weakness to. Zyi never judged him for emotions.
“I should have gone with her,” he whispered to the cat as he sat it down
carefully on the foot of his bed and began to strip out of his sweat stained
clothes. Tomorrow would be a long, grueling day, and it would be best to be well
rested before facing it. Not that he truly believed he would sleep tonight. With
a heavy sigh he glanced back at the hallway once more. He doubted he would ever
sleep soundly again, knowing she was just as alone as he was in a world that was
much crueler than Delvay. The Academy might have been safe, and he could only
hope that was where she was heading.
sunlight filtered down through the trees as Neph guided his cat carefully up the
steep mountain path. By tradition the trials were held on the tallest peak of
the three mountains surrounding the capital. His gaze rose to the snow covered
heights ahead of him and then to his brother who rode beside him. “Are you
going to say anything to me Kadan?” He asked finally. Kadan was typically
quiet, but today was extreme even for him. His brother had barely even looked in
his direction since they rode out.
you know she was running away?” Kadan asked, his voice low and filled with
anger. His dark eyes locked on Neph and narrowed. “Did you help her run
watched him for a long moment and shook his head slowly. “I didn’t know she
was going to do it, but I’m glad she did. I didn’t help her, but I would
have, had she asked.”
know she wouldn’t have left without speaking with you Neph.” Kadan snapped.
said good bye,” Neph agreed, his gaze moving once more to the mountain. Kadan
would tell their father everything he said and he knew it. By the time he faced
his father, however, he would be past the trial and could no longer be punished
as a child.
should have stopped her Neph. She is weak and has proven herself a coward by her
actions.” Kadan’s voice rose and Neph turned to regard him again.
is our sister, Kadan. She is gentle and kind and has shown nothing but love
toward us. You scorn her because she doesn’t wish to fight,” Neph said and
shook his head slowly in disgust. “In my eyes, she should never have to fight,
Kadan. She has two brothers that should have been more than willing to fight for
is Delvay,” Kadan snapped, as if the words explained his anger completely.
was Delvay,” Neph corrected. “And Delvay didn’t understand her at all.
Maybe she will find others that do,” he added hopefully.
Kadan growled as he pushed his cat forward into a lope. “C’mon. I’m eager
to put this day behind me.”
and me both,” Neph agreed as he urged his cat forward. There was perhaps an
hour left of riding and then the trial. He had no doubts he would pass his
tests. As Zyi had said, he was one of the strongest in Delvay. His spells were
perfect and his shields were stronger than anyone he had faced so far, including
Kadan. With a faint smile, he followed his brother in silence as they crossed
through the thick pine forest surrounding the base of the mountain peak. Snow
began to show on the ground and the air cooled drastically as they continued to
climb, but he was used to the cold. He was Delvay, and the mountains were as
much a part of him as his own flesh.
to the side of the trail caught his eye and Neph stared hard into the trees. His
gaze locked on the woman crouched in the snow at the base of one of the massive
pines. He knew her well enough, but he didn’t understand what she was doing
here. He nodded in greeting and frowned when she looked away without returning
the gesture. He knew she had seen him; their eyes had met.
is Kes here, Kadan?” Neph asked cautiously, as he spotted another scout on the
other side of the road. Kes herself was the leader of the Delvay scouts and by
all rights she should have been south watching the borders. His brother
continued on in silence, either pretending he hadn’t heard the question or
simply choosing to ignore it. “Why is Kes here, Kadan?” Neph demanded as a
sick feeling began building in his gut.
know what the punishment for cowardice is, Neph,” Kadan answered in a low
washed over him at the words and Neph dug his heels painfully into the cat’s
sides sending it leaping forward on the path and past Kadan. Snow churned
beneath the creature’s massive paws as it scrambled up the steep trail. “No,
no, no.” Neph mumbled as the trial grounds grew closer. He knew it was futile
though. In his heart he already knew what he would see.
smell of blood reached him before he had cleared the last of the trees. With an
incoherent groan he stumbled from his saddle and staggered past the last of the
pines and into the trial grove. A circle of guards surrounded the clearing and
he could hear them move to block his way back out of the grove, but didn’t
bother to look back. His eyes were locked on the body swinging from the center
post. Her pale blond hair was matted with blood and her clothes were shredded
from being drug up the mountain side. His throat tightened as he moved quickly
to her side. They had bound her wrists and hung her from the post as if she was
a deer to be bled out. Tears burned at his eyes as he stared up at her pale
The word was mangled by her swollen lips, but it still sounded like music to his
ears. She was alive; there was hope.
Neph wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her until the rope slipped
from the post. “It’s ok now, Zyi, I’ve got you,” Neph whispered, his
voice harsh. His eyes rose to stare hard at the circle of guards. “She has
suffered her punishment. She needs a healer now,” he growled.
do not receive mercy from Delvay, neither do traitors.” The voice cracked
through the clearing and Neph turned slowly to face his father. “Did you help
her, Neph? Are you a traitor to your people?” RenDelvayon demanded.
didn’t help her, Father,” Kadan replied before Neph could open his mouth.
“I spoke with him on the ride and I will swear by the Aspects and Divine that
Neph is no traitor.”
stared hard at his brother before slowly turning back to face his father. Zyi
shifted in his arms and he could feel her blood soaking through his armor.
“She needs a healer,” he repeated, struggling to keep his voice calm.
her to the post. We do not heal cowards. You know the coward’s fate well
enough to understand that,” Ren said coldly.
is your daughter!” Neph bellowed, his panic and anger fueling his voice.
creature is not of my blood,” Ren snapped in disgust and pointed once more to
the center post. “Place her back on the post or share her fate, Neph.”
it, Neph. Let me die. Don’t fight for me, please,” Zyi begged weakly. Her
hand moved to his arm and her pale blue eyes flickered open. “Please, Neph.”
your strength, Zyi. You will need it for the ride back down the mountain,”
Neph whispered and kissed her gently on the forehead. Carefully, he sat her down
at the base of the pole and pulled off his cloak. Gently, he wrapped the thick
wool around her and slowly stood once more facing his father. “You want her
back on the pole then come and put her there yourself,” Neph snapped as he
pulled his sword slowly from its scabbard.
would challenge me for a coward?” Ren demanded, his anger rising in his voice.
sister,” Neph corrected firmly and squared his shoulders as he brought up his
strongest shields. “Consider it a challenge if you want. I really don’t
care. All I’m saying is, she is going back down the mountain with me, and if I
have to fight you first so be it.”
always knew you had a weak heart,” Ren snapped as he drew his own blade.
Stalking forward he shook his head in disgust.
least I have one,” Neph growled as he moved to meet his father’s first
attack. Metal screamed as he parried the blow. Stepping back quickly he dodged
the next swing and struck low with his own blade. His sword grazed across his
father’s armored leg. Frantically, Neph called on his magic to lend him speed
as he parried another bone jarring blow that had been aimed at his head.
can’t win here, Neph,” his father growled as his own magic flared to life
and his attacks doubled. “You may have strength, but it isn’t honed. One day
you might be stronger than me, but not today.” RenDelvayon was the High Lord
of Delvay for one simple reason: he was the strongest. No one in Delvay could
match him at swords or magic.
rather die than see her hang again,” Neph gasped the words as he struggled to
keep pace with his father’s sword. Blow after blow rang down on him and it was
all he could do to parry or dodge. At this rate, his father was right. He
didn’t have a chance. He needed a break in the assault, just one chance to
strike a solid blow.
stepping quickly, Neph circled his father and pulled on his magic once more. It
was dangerous to speed himself more than he was already, but he had no choice.
His accuracy would suffer and he knew it, but it was the only chance he had at
landing a blow. His sword flashed out again striking sparks from his father’s
breastplate and he felt his hope rise. His father had been so sure of the fight
that he hadn’t even bothered to put up shields. That was the second time he
had scored a line in his armor. Now all he had to do was hit flesh.
hope, Neph,” His father growled as he renewed the assault with a savagery that
Neph had never before seen.
back under the attack, Neph parried his father’s blade as quickly as he could,
his sword flashing like a hummingbird in the morning light. His fingers were
growing numb with the ringing of his blade. Pain flashed down his arm and he
barely had time to register the wound before he was blocking another blow.
Neph, too much speed for you to handle,” Ren scolded, sounding almost bored as
his blade bit deep into Neph’s side.
red droplets stained the snow in a spray as Ren tore his sword free once more
and continued to advance. Desperately, Neph parried the next blow and spun
bringing his sword up sharply for his father’s neck. His father dodged the
brunt of the blow, but his blade still managed to score a thin line down the
side of the High Lord’s face. His small victory was lost in the pain however.
Stumbling back, Neph stared down stupidly at the sword stuck through his side.
His own blade slipped from his fingers and his knees buckled beneath him.
a waste, Neph. You had so much potential,” Ren sighed as he moved forward and
kicked Neph’s blade out of reach. “I’ll tell you what, though, Neph. They
say I don’t have mercy, but I will prove them wrong today. If you can make it
back down the mountain, I will forgive your sins and forget this ever happened.
Prove you are worthy of the name Delvayon.”
you.” Neph growled as he pulled the sword from his own side. With a snarl he
forced himself back to his feet and glared in defiance at his father. Wiping one
hand across his face, Neph steadied himself and raised the blade shakily toward
his father. “I’m not done yet.” He growled though he could feel his
strength fading quickly as his blood colored the snow below him.
would be wiser to use that strength to crawl back down the mountain and beg
forgiveness, Neph,” Kadan called from his place near the entrance to the
him be,” RenDelvayon called to the surrounding guards and motioned for them to
leave the grove. Turning back to his son he smiled coldly. “If only your
judgment was as sound as your determination, Neph. You could have been a son I
would have been proud of.”
ground his teeth and willed his body to move. Raising the sword over his head he
sprang at his father with every ounce of remaining strength he had. Pain shot
through his limbs as the sword rang hard against metal. His father’s
gauntleted hand was wrapped around the blade holding it firmly in place.
a smile Ren twisted the blade, wrenching it from Neph’s weakened grasp, and
shoved hard against his son’s chest sending him crashing back into the
bloodstained snow. “Better judgment, Neph,” his father repeated as he
flipped the blade around and replaced it in his scabbard. Turning, he walked
back toward Kadan without another glance back. “Leave them both.”
heavily, Neph watched as the grove emptied of people. Most wouldn’t look at
him and those that did had expressions of disgust written plainly on their
faces. Not even his own brother would meet his gaze.
didn’t want you to die with me,” Zyi whispered, her voice weaker than it had
of us is going to die. I will get us out of here,” Neph mumbled as he pulled
himself closer to her.
Neph? Neither of us knows spells to transport yet.” Zyi’s voice was filled
with despair and she sounded close to tears.
give me a minute,” Neph muttered as he pulled his dagger from his boot and
began to cut strips from the end of his cloak. Clumsily he wrapped his wounds as
best he could and placed the dagger once more in his boot. “Ready?” he asked
softly as he pulled himself to his feet once more. It took every ounce of will
he had to remain silent through the wave of agony, but he wouldn’t allow
himself to make a sound. She was in worse shape than he was, and he needed her
to keep hope. If she knew how wounded he was she would argue with him, and he
didn’t have the strength to spare for that. Carefully, he leaned over and
picked her up. Pain tore through him with a wave of dizziness as fresh blood
soaked his bandaged side.
me Neph,” Zyi begged as she struggled weakly for him to put her back down.
“You don’t have strength enough for yourself. Taking me will just kill us
of us is going to die,” Neph repeated through gritted teeth. “I will get us
both down the damned mountain, and it will be the last either of us sees of
Delvay. I’ll even let you decide where we go Zyi. As you said, anywhere is
better than here.”
wouldn’t be like this if mother was still here. None of this would have
happened. Why didn’t she take us with her, Neph?” Zyi muttered softly. Her
head dropped limply against his chest as she spoke.
would have hunted for us, Zyi, and she knew it. We are his children. He never
bothered to look for her, but she knew he would hunt for us. I can’t blame her
for leaving after what I’ve seen today.” Neph paused and tried to force more
cheer into his voice as he continued. “Maybe we will find her out there in our
travels. She could be living in Sanctuary, or maybe Arovan. I’ve heard Arovan
has mountains too, and she always loved the mountains.” He didn’t really
believe the words as he spoke them, but maybe they would give Zyi more hope to
mother had left years ago, and there had been no word since. At the time it had
been a betrayal in his eyes. She had abandoned them, and Neph had never wanted
to see her again. Today, however, had opened his eyes to a lot he hadn’t known
about his father. He had always known RenDelvayon to be cold, but he had never
before seen him as cruel. He could only imagine what his mother must have
endured beyond the sight of others. Despite the words he had spoken to Zyi,
after today he wondered if Ren truly had let their mother go. As coldly as he
had left his two children to die, Neph could well imagine Ren sending hunters
after his runaway wife. It wouldn’t have been to bring her home though, and he
knew it. Zyi didn’t need to think about any of that now, however, and neither
did he. There were more important things for him to focus on now.
you Neph,” Zyi mumbled, her words barely coherent. Her head hadn’t moved at
all from where it rested against his chest and her eyes were no longer open.
you too, Zyi. Now save your strength and quit talking. There will be plenty of
time to talk once you are stronger,” Neph mumbled as he stared hard at the
crooked path leading out of the grove. Gently he shifted Zyi’s small body in
his arms and willed his feet to move forward.
was a three hour ride from the city to this grove. He could only imagine how
long it would be walking while wounded. He did his best to keep from stumbling
as they left the sheltering circle of pines that surrounded the grove, but it
was impossible once he was beyond the trees. The path was steep and slick with
snow and loose rocks. Each slip of his foot sent agony through his body and it
was all he could do to keep from making any noise. Zyi was resting as far as he
could tell and as weak as she was she needed all the peace he could give her. He
wasn’t sure what they had done to her beyond the dragging, but he knew she
needed a healer as soon as he could reach one. Zyi was so weak that every moment
he delayed might be her last. With that thought firmly in his mind, Neph forced
himself to continue long past the point where his body gave up. Wounds didn’t
matter; pain didn’t matter. Zyi mattered.
was falling as Neph rounded the last corner in the path. The lights of Delvay
shone brightly through the trees below him. His mind was so fogged with
exhaustion that he almost giggled in relief at the sight. Carefully, he leaned
back against a massive oak and it was all he could do to keep from sliding to
the ground. It was the first break he had allowed himself, and it was only
willpower that had kept him moving this far. His strength had failed him hours
ago. Gently he shifted Zyi and her head lolled against his chest to hang limply
over his arm. “Zyi,” he whispered as he moved his arm to cradle her head
back against him. “Zyi,” he repeated as panic rose in his chest. Her face
was lax without even the flicker of an eyelash. Fumbling, he pulled the cloak
back away from her and allowed himself to slide to the ground as he pressed his
fingers against her neck, desperately searching for a pulse. Her body was still
warm to the touch, but there was no sign of life from her. “Zyi, please,”
Neph pleaded. “Zyi, we are there. Please, just open your eyes, make a sound,
damn it Zyi please.” His words poured out of him in frantic gasps as he
struggled to find any signs of life in his sister.
is dead Neph,” Kadan’s voice was a whisper in the night, but still it froze
Neph in place.
were pouring down his face and he had been whining like a child. If Kadan chose
to act he would have full right to kill him for his weakness. He hadn’t even
heard his brother approach, and yet when he looked up, there he was looming
against the twilight sky in his dark plate armor.
her body and follow me,” Kadan ordered. The expression on his face was like
stone. If he felt any grief at Zyi’s passing, it wasn’t showing.
not leaving her,” Neph hissed through clenched teeth. He had managed to stop
the tears, but there was nothing he could do about the tightness in his throat.
They had been so close. If only he had been able to walk a bit faster. Zyi would
be alive if he hadn’t been so weak.
will feed her body to the cats Neph. Do you want to watch that? You know what
the penalty for cowardice is,” Kadan said in a level voice.
wasn’t a coward, Kadan!” Neph bellowed as he staggered to his feet. “Do
you know how much courage it took to defy Father?” he demanded as he cradled
Zyi’s limp body closer to his chest. “Do you know what kind of strength of
will it took for her to beg me to leave her behind? She was willing to die
alone, Kadan, and not once did she plead for help. You will not call her a
watched him silently, his dark eyes flickering once to Zyi’s body then back to
Neph’s face, his expression still neutral. He shrugged as if the point
wasn’t one worth arguing over. “Say what you will about it, Neph, but Father
is the one that will determine what is done with her remains, and he sees her as
a coward.” The cold practical logic of Kadan’s voice burned through Neph’s
are you here?” Neph demanded. His temper was burning so hotly now he didn’t
even consider his wounds anymore. Carefully, he sat Zyi’s body down behind him
and turned to face his brother once more. Kadan was older and better trained,
but Kadan was predictable in his fighting. If his brother answered poorly, Neph
would guarantee he bore the scars for his words for the rest of his life.
was waiting for you,” Kadan explained calmly. “Father said you would die. I
knew better. Technically, you have accomplished the task he set for you. You
have made it back down the mountain, and I can assist you to the healer now.”
me in burying our sister, Kadan! Do that much and I might find a shred of
forgiveness for you,” Neph snarled.
don’t seek forgiveness, Neph. I’ve done nothing wrong. You are the one that
broke our laws. A coward hangs, you know that, and Ren declared her a coward,”
Kadan replied with another shrug, his eyes moving past Neph to scan the forest
told you not to call her that,” Neph snarled as his fist slammed into his
Kadan’s jaw with bone breaking force. His brother’s attention had been
elsewhere, and technically it was a sucker punch, but that didn’t matter at
all to him at the moment. All rational thought fled his mind as he hammered his
anger into his brother’s flesh. Neph didn’t bother to defend himself when
Kadan started fighting back. All that mattered was delivering punishment to his
brother. He didn’t care if he was wounded further. It was their fault that she
was dead. Kadan had left her to die, and Neph had failed to save her. Both of
them deserved to feel pain now.
stubborn as your mother was.” The voice echoed through his mind from what
seemed like a thousand miles away. “You almost died you know,” the words
continued and slowly Neph’s fogged thoughts registered the sound of Kes’
voice. A damp cloth brushed at his face and he lifted his arm feebly to brush it
away. “Stop it, Neph. I’m wiping the blood from your face. Or what’s left
of your face, anyway. What were you thinking, picking a fight with Kadan when
you were already wounded?”
away from me,” Neph mumbled as he forced his eyes open. The world blurred
around him then slowly came into focus. Bright sunlight showed through the
window illuminating his room in the Delvay keep. Kes frowned down at him from
beside his bed, her hand poised to deliver another swipe of the wet cloth.
“Get away from me!” Neph snarled with more conviction and forced himself to
sit up. Pain echoed through his body. Every inch of his flesh seemed to be
bruised or bleeding.
haven’t had a healer, Neph. You are going to tear the wounds back open. Lay
back down,” Kes ordered in what had to be her best impression of a motherly
voice. Her tanned face was creased with worry and he could see glassiness in her
dark green eyes.
brought her to him. I saw you in the woods, Kes. How dare you even come near me
after what happened,” Neph growled. Ignoring her words he pulled himself from
the bed. His knees wobbled beneath him, but he gritted his teeth and forced
himself to remain upright.
had no choice about that, Neph,” Kes said softly. She started to move toward
him then hesitated and shook her head at him. “Please, Neph, lie back down.
Lord Delvayon won’t let a healer in to see you, but he says if you live you
have passed the trials.”
his trials,” Neph snarled, his gaze searching his room for his armor.
please lie back down. You are hurt worse than you think,” Kes repeated.
leaving,” Neph informed coldly. Staggering on his feet he moved to his closet
and began to shove his travel bag full as quickly as he could.
You can’t be serious, Neph. You can barely cross the room,” Kes argued as
she moved up behind him and tugged at his arm trying to pull him back toward the
bed. She wasn’t forceful, but the little strength she used threatened to
unbalance him. Shrugging her off, Neph turned and glared at her, allowing her to
see just a glimpse of the hatred he felt. With a gasp she stepped back, staring
at him in shock.
the hell out of my sight. I’ve never hit a woman before, Kes, but if I so much
as see you again, I will kill you.” Neph spoke the words with cool promise.
I had no choice,” Kes muttered. Fumbling, she opened the door behind her still
staring at him with wide eyes.
all have a choice, Kes. You chose to kill my sister,” Neph snapped his eyes
flashing with anger, but he knew he was in no condition to act on it now. It was
taking everything he had just to pack his bag.
I refused, he would have thrashed me Neph.” Kes pressed herself against the
door frame her eyes intent on his every move.
that is the problem with Delvay. We say we kill cowards and yet everyone in this
city is a fucking coward. No one speaks his mind; no one dares defy my father.
You are all weak, pathetic bitches. Never again will I soften my words, and when
something is wrong,” he paused and locked gazes with her, “I will act on it,
despite the consequences. I will never again bow down before someone who
doesn’t deserve my respect. Lord Delvayon can kiss my ass and so can the rest
of this god-forsaken place. I will not return to Delvay until that bastard is
please, I know you are angry, but he has forgiven you.” Kes’ eyes searched
his face frantically as she spoke, as if she was looking for some sign of
rational thought. It was clear from the expression on her face she thought he
had gone mad.
will never forgive him, or any of you for that matter. This is not what Delvay
was. We were the heroes in the past, and he has led us down a much darker path.
I will keep the name Delvayon for one single purpose: to set everything
right.” Glaring at her, he motioned toward the door once more. “Go,” he
ordered, allowing anger and hatred to fuel the word. She fled the room without
another word, confirming his thoughts about cowards. They should all hang as Zyi
his bag over his shoulder, Neph walked from his room and down into the main hall
ignoring the staring faces that watched his progress. He had no words for any of
them. They had avoided looking at him in the grove, but they all watched him
Kadan called from behind him, but he ignored his brother and continued for the
door. He had one more purpose in Delvay and then he would leave and never look
back, at least not while RenDelvayon lived.
made his way in silence through the front gate and up the small path that led to
the trial grove. Her body was still where he had left it, as he knew it would
be. It was custom to leave the remains of cowards or traitors for the scavengers
of the forest. He had known Kadan would leave her here, despite the fact that
she had been neither.
his bag free from his shoulder he dropped it to the ground and knelt in front of
her. His eyes traced over her face memorizing each detail. She had been his twin
in everything. They shared the same eyes and pale hair. The only difference had
been their strength. All of his life, Neph had believed he was the stronger of
the two of them, but Zyi had proved him wrong. Out of everyone in the city
below, she had been the only one strong enough to tell RenDelvayon “no,” and
she had died for it.
he pulled his dagger from his boot and gently cut a lock free from her tangled
blond hair. Wrapping it carefully around his hand he sliced the edge of his palm
and let his blood run slowly down to mingle with the dried blood already
staining the hair. “I’m so sorry, Zyi. I should have gone with you, or stood
up to Father. I don’t really know what I should have done. I just know I
should have done something.” Neph paused and stared down at the bloodstained
hair. Silently he clenched his fist around it before looking back down at her
body once more. “It won’t happen again, Zyi. I promise you that. From this
day forward I will speak my mind and to hell with the consequences. I will not
back down when I know something is wrong.” He paused and tightened his hand on
the hair. “I promise you I will help those who truly deserve it, as I should
have helped you Zyi.”
on the path behind him drew his attention and Neph glanced back at two riders
approaching. Letting out a slow breath, he stood and tucked the bloody strand of
hair into his cloak pocket before turning to face them. He closed his eyes for a
moment and willed himself back to calmness. There were so many emotions churning
in his gut it was nearly impossible to keep from sobbing or screaming. Neph
wasn’t sure which he truly wanted to do.
recognized both of the riders however, and now was not the time for either.
our beliefs the dead do not hear our words. Once the soul has left the body it
is in the hands of the Divine and no longer cares for mortal concerns.” His
Aunt’s voice was calm and level as was the expression on her wind-burned face.
She was younger than his father by several years, but it didn’t show in her
features. KayDelvayon lived most of her life outdoors and the effects showed in
her numerous scars and deeply tanned skin.
doubt you are here for theology lessons. Are you planning to drag me back?”
Neph asked coldly.
frowned her disapproval at his tone and shook her head, her long brown braid
bumping slowly against her armor. “We are planning to help you bury your
sister,” Kay explained in the same neutral voice. Turning back to her snow cat
she pulled a shovel from behind the saddle and tossed it to the second rider.
“Kadan start digging the hole. I need to speak with your brother for a
had purposely avoided looking at Kadan until that moment, but now he couldn’t
help but watch in stunned amazement as his brother caught the shovel and dropped
from the saddle wordlessly. Without so much as a glance in Neph’s direction
Kadan set up the hill and into the woods his gaze searching the ground as he
have nothing to say to anyone,” Neph began, but his Aunt cut him off with a
have plenty to say to you, so shut up and listen,” Kay snapped. Turning, she
searched the area until her eyes landed on a spot beneath a massive pine that
was reasonably clear of rocks. With another quick gesture in his direction she
made her way to the spot and dropped down into a cushion of pine needles.
don’t have to listen to you. I am apparently a citizen now,” Neph grumbled,
but even as he spoke the words he was walking to join her. Her clear brown eyes
settled on him as he sat down across from her and he could see how exhausted she
don’t have to waste my time seeking you out, either. I love you, however, so I
did. You love me as well, so you will listen,” Kay said with a sigh. Her gaze
trailed past him for a moment to Zyi’s body and a flicker of pain crossed her
face. She shook her head sadly and met Neph’s gaze once more. “I won’t
defend what your father did. I will explain it to you though,” she began.
don’t want you to explain it. I don’t want to think of him at all,” Neph
snarled, and sat back quickly as her large palm connected squarely with the side
of his head in a solid smack. Blinking he stared at her in shock. His Aunt had
never raised a hand at him before, even when he had deserved it.
said shut up and listen, Neph. I’m tired and I have no patience for petulance.
I rode all night to reach here when I heard what happened,” Kay snapped back
at him. With another sigh she rubbed the fingers on the hand she had smacked him
with and shook her head lightly. “Thick skulled brat,” she muttered. She
shifted where she sat and adjusted her sword before continuing. “The trials
have always been part of Delvay, Neph. In the beginning, however, they were only
for our warriors. It wasn’t until after your Grandfather died that it was
decided that everyone must be a warrior and therefore everyone must take the
trial. Not everyone agreed with it, but Ren was in charge so they accepted
Neph grumbled, his expression filled with disgust.
is the penalty for treason, Neph?” Kay asked sharply her eyes narrowing.
varies depending on the severity, but typically it’s disembowelment and being
left to the mountains,” Neph answered slowly with a frown beginning to form on
is ruled by the strongest, it always has been. To disobey or to go against a
direct order of our leader is considered treason. So unless you can take Ren in
a fight, you accept what he says. No one in Delvay can defeat my brother yet.
You might have considered that before you spoke so harshly to Kes. She had no
choice but to do what she did.” Kay’s tone had grown harsher and Neph could
see the anger she was working so hard to control.
do you mean, yet? You think Kadan will ever take over?” Neph asked dryly and
shook his head in disgust. “Kadan doesn’t have the balls to challenge
neither did you before today, but no, I wasn’t thinking of Kadan,” Kay
answered with a faint smirk staring pointedly at him.
widening Neph returned her stare until she nodded slowly. “Me?” he asked
dumbly though she had already answered his question.
brother is a strong ruler, but he isn’t a good ruler, Neph. He is doing the
best he can with what he has, though. The trials weed out the weak for several
reasons and if you will be silent long enough I will let you know them.” Kay
paused and watched him as he nodded for her to continue. Her gaze flicked back
to Zyi once more and her anger faded to what seemed to be resignation to his
eyes. “Delvay is failing Neph. Our heroes are gone and we are losing our
strength. There was a time when only the best were chosen to defend Delvay. Now
if we need numbers why do we kill our children?” Neph broke in.
glared at him for a long moment and rolled her eyes. “I am explaining that,
Neph,” She grumbled shaking her head at him once more. “It’s two reasons
mainly. We cannot show weakness to the outside world. That is why our children
are not permitted to leave Delvay at all until they are past the trial. If our
enemies had any indication of how weak we are now, they would march in force
without hesitation. We are insular, we always have been. Now, however, it is
more hiding rather than anything else.” Her words faltered and she rubbed her
face. “The other reason is for future generations. Our blood is already too
weak now, Neph. That is why we don’t allow commons to live amongst us. We
can’t afford to weaken ourselves further. Our lands are harsh; they do not
provide much. We cannot have a large population here, and we cannot force the
strong amongst us to provide for those too weak to take care of themselves.
Everyone must do their part, and if they are too weak to do it…” her voice
trailed off and she shrugged at him.
could have left like mother did. He could have exiled her and taken her name and
then it wouldn’t have reflected back on Delvay. He didn’t have to kill
her,” Neph argued a spark of his anger returning at her callous words.
he couldn’t have, Neph. Do you have any idea how many children fail the trial
each year?” Kay spoke gently and watched him as he shook his head slowly.
“No, I didn’t think you did. Too many, Neph. As I said, Delvay is failing.
How could Ren let his daughter walk away after forcing so many others to die in
could have let her go when she ran away. He could have disowned her after she
was gone, rather than turning his back on her after she was already on death’s
doorstep,” Neph broke in once more.
he couldn’t. Despite how you say no one would know where she was from, they
would. All it would take is Zyi talking about her past. One little whisper to
someone she trusted and soon everyone where ever she was would know she was High
Lord Delvayon’s errant daughter. People gossip, Neph. I loved Zyi as much as I
love you, Neph, and I grieve for her passing, but she was weak.” Kay leaned
back against the Pine tree and watched him as a wave of emotions washed over
desire to lash out was so strong he had to bite his own tongue. Instead, he
tilted his gaze up to the pale blue sky and tried to rein in his emotions once
more. Kay had always been honest with him. Some truths however were painful to
him all of it Kay. Don’t let him walk out of here thinking he will find
her,” Kadan’s voice broke the silence between them and Neph turned his gaze
back to his brother. Slowly he looked back at Kay a frown creasing his face.
won’t I find my mother if I search for her,” Neph demanded cautiously.
closed her eyes for a moment then turned to glare at Kadan. “I was getting to
that Kadan. I trust the grave is done?”
is,” Kadan agreed.
your words then or I will be digging another and you will be measuring your own
work from the inside,” Kay said in a clipped voice before turning back to
strength is failing Neph. Magically, you are the strongest child that has been
born in the mountains in the last five hundred years. Your sister showed
potential as well, but she didn’t have the strength of will that you do,”
Kay began carefully.
does my magic strength have to do with my mother?” Neph snapped.
are stronger than father ever was. It’s rumored that you are stronger than my
Grandfather was. You don’t show any of the weakness that is plaguing Delvay.
What does that tell you Neph?” Kadan growled, drawing another glare from their
I’m warning you for the last time,” Kay said levelly. Turning back to Neph
she shrugged. “There is no pleasant way to explain, Neph, but what Kadan says
is true. Add the fact that you were born early by nearly two weeks and the fact
that your hair is blond while your mother's was chestnut and well…” Her
words trailed off once more and she shrugged again.
I’m not truly Delvayon?” Neph gasped his eyes flickering between the two of
mother was a cousin of our house, so technically you do have some Delvayon
blood,” Kadan offered gently.
then who in the bloody hell is my true father?” Neph demanded.
one but your mother knew that, and no one has seen or heard from her since the
night you cast your first spell at three years of age. It was strong enough to
knock a hole through the keep wall, and far more powerful than any Delvay child
would have been capable of. After that Ren told us all that she had run off.
Most of us didn’t believe it,” Kay explained softly. She chewed on her lip
for a long moment before meeting Neph’s eyes once more. “Delvay won’t
stand much longer at this rate, Neph. My brother is leading us to ruin and only
a few of us even realize it.”
you expecting me to save it somehow?” Neph asked incredulously.
I’m not expecting it, but I’m hoping that you will,” Kay answered softly.
“There is no one else that is strong enough to take control from him. Go and
learn, Neph, gain strength and wisdom, and consider what I’ve said today. I
will pray that you return, but I will never expect it of you. The choice is
entirely yours and Delvay will do as it always has and try to survive either
way.” Standing slowly, she dusted her armor off and looked down at him.
“Let’s see to Zyi now and make our peace with our grief,” she said softly.
thought it wasn’t allowed to bury those accused of cowardice? Why are the two
of you helping me with this?” Neph spoke carefully to keep the anger and
frustration from his voice. They were both questions that he truly wanted
answered and he didn’t want to give them reason to ignore him.
buries their dead, Neph. Most sneak out of the city to do it to avoid
difficulties. No one leaves their child for the wolves, though,” Kay answered
with a sigh.
simply shook his head and shrugged. “She was my sister, Neph. I do what I must
to keep him happy, but I didn’t want this anymore than you did. I simply knew
I wasn’t strong enough to challenge him on it. You lived, Neph, I wouldn’t
have. My hopes are resting on you as much as Kay’s are,”
haven’t forgiven you for allowing it Kadan. You should have spoken up
regardless of strength. Maybe if the two of us had stood together he would have
listened.” Neph stared hard at his brother as he spoke, but Kadan didn’t so
much as flinch. Instead he smiled with approval.
don’t expect you to ever forgive me Neph, and if you do I’ll be
disappointed. I doubt I’ll ever forgive myself. Don’t expect me to say more
on the topic, Neph, let it lie between us as it is. You never know when you are
being watched, or by who,” Kadan turned with those words and walked silently
back toward the trees where he had dug the grave.
the body, Neph,” Kay said softly as she followed after Kadan.
sound of footsteps rang through the early morning darkness outside his tent.
Neph glanced up briefly as the regiment passed. The faint gleam of their armor
was barely visible through the crack in his tent flap, but still he recognized
them as Goswin forces. Turning back to his table he opened his bag and began
pulling his dueling armor from its depths. The leather had been stored for
nearly a year without being oiled, but it was still soft and supple and the
metal studs that lined it shone as just polished. Systematically, he began
removing the leather armor he typically wore, dropping it piece by piece into
his travel bag. On a normal day, he wouldn’t have bothered switching his armor
out. Today wasn’t normal, however. Today the odds were set so far against them
it was almost laughable. He needed every edge he could get today. Jala’s life
depended on it. Flipping the leather vest over, he examined the inside
carefully, checking each metal stud for any sign of filth. Satisfied that it was
as clean as he could make it, given the circumstances, he pulled the vest on
over his scarred back. The sharp metal points jabbed into his flesh as he laced
the armor on and he seized the pain in his mind.
channelers generally chose the elements for their focus, he however had chosen
pain and the anger it bred in him. Fire could be doused and wind was a gamble.
Pain, however, was always in ready supply, either from his armor or simply from
the world itself. Sanctuary was filled with pain, and Neph had never had
difficulty summoning anger. His focus was as constant as the sun and sky and had
never failed him.
laced the bracers on next, followed by his gloves. Each piece of armor bit at
his skin, the pain more an irritation than anything else. Over the years, he had
developed a pain tolerance that would have impressed any masochist. Today,
however, he needed more than irritation. He needed to channel everything he
could. Flexing his hands, he tested the spikes digging into the back of his arms
and inhaled deeply. A small smile spread across his lips as he slammed his two
arms together driving the spikes deep into his flesh. Agony tore through him and
he seized it, opening the full channel to his magic. His reserves soared as his
focus narrowed on the pain.
finally see why you have such a sunny personality,” Shade’s voice whispered
from the tent flap and Neph turned to glower at him.
do you want?” Neph snarled as he shoved the rest of his discarded armor into
his bag. It was bad enough having Madren in the camp, but Shade Morcaillo was
almost too much for him to stomach. Shade weighed every action on a moral scale
before doing anything. He had actually had the audacity to argue against going
to Arovan. It had been a combination of Neph’s reminding Madren that he
wouldn’t have a country to protect if not for Jala and plain intimidation that
finally decided the matter.
sent me to get you. He says the witches are ready to begin the portal and
well…” Shade paused and smirked at Neph. “You scare the hell out of him,
so he sent me to get you. Probably a good thing, too, if he had seen you
pounding spikes into your skin, he might have fainted. May I ask why, exactly,
you did that and how, exactly, you intend to shroud the entire portal spell?
According to Madren you are going to hide the entire army from the Rivasan mages
and I frankly think it’s bullshit.”
you can’t ask, and I don’t give a shit what you think,” Neph growled as he
pulled the bag over his shoulder and shoved his way past Shade and into the
chill of the early spring morning. The sun was just beginning to show itself for
the day, which meant he didn’t have much time. The Rivasans were giving Jala
until morning before they attacked, and if they were literal in their words they
could already be beginning the assault. There was no help for it, though. The
preparations had taken most of the night. It had been a chore in itself to
gather the Delvay and prepare them. Most had no stomach for fighting after their
failure to protect their own homeland. Once again, Neph had called upon
intimidation and his pathetically small army had gathered and prepared.
Goswin forces had been the time-consuming part. Madren simply didn’t have the
temperament to bully his forces and the debate on his side over whether they
should actually participate in the battle had taken hours. It likely could have
been decided much sooner had Shade simply kept his mouth shut, but then as long
as Neph had known Shade the man had never been very good at that. For every
action, every choice, and every dream, Shade Morcaillo had an opinion and it was
usually opposing whatever was suggested by others.
haven’t given up talking him out of this, you know,” Shade began
conversationally as they crossed the camp.
you succeed, I will personally rip you apart. I thought you were supposed to be
Jala’s friend,” Neph responded coldly.
am. That’s why I’m trying to respect her decision. She sent you here to
live, not to run back to die,” Shade said, firmly repeating words that Neph
was utterly sick of hearing. It had been the same argument all night.
in his tracks, Neph whirled on Shade and stepped closer to him. Staring down
hard at the smaller man, Neph summoned his darkest glare and almost smiled when
the slighter man simply stared back up at him without the slightest hint of
nerves. While it would have been nice if Shade would have cowered like everyone
else did when they glimpsed his temper, Neph had to give the boy credit for his
nerves. Even if he was a self-righteous prick with too many opinions, Shade
Morcaillo did have spine.
might actually work on others, Neph, but it isn’t working on me. I can be
intimidated, but it takes someone a hell of a lot scarier than you. Vaze might
have been able to do it. You want to call him back?” Shade offered in the same
has more important things to do than silence you. He is summoning the other
nations to support Jala, which leaves me the task of shutting you the hell up.
So let’s see if I can actually accomplish that, Shade,” Neph began his voice
low and filled with warning.
but you are welcome to try,” Shade sighed with a slight shrug and stared back
up at Neph matching his glower with a curious relaxed expression.
are going through the portal, and we are going to help Jala. I know she wants us
to live. It’s possible she wants us to live almost as much as I want her to
live, Shade. The key to friendship is you respect their wishes when you know
their choice is the right one. Jala’s isn’t, so I’m not respecting it.
Jala chose to sacrifice herself to save others,” Neph paused and shook his
head at Shade. “The problem with that is, she needs to live to save others.
Without her, everything falls apart, Shade. Look at who has rallied behind her.
She has Soulreavers and Arovan working together for the love of the Divine. She
has dragons at her call and the Firym on her side. Even Oblivion calls her
friend. No one else could do that. She has me willing to die for her, Shade. I
wouldn’t die for my own bloodkin. Jala Merrodin is the linchpin that could
hold everything together and possibly stop the endless wars, and she is about to
die. Salvation for all of our people is at hand, and you want to let it slip
away. I don’t care if every man and woman I take through that portal dies, as
long as Jala lives. I will see this world become a better place, Shade, and Jala
is the key.” Neph paused in his words again and stepped closer to Shade until
they stood barely inches apart. He let his glower fade and stared hard at Shade,
willing him to see past the anger to see the pure conviction in his eyes. “We
are going through that portal and we are going to do everything in our power to
see that Jala Merrodin lives and if you get in my way one more time on this,
Shade, I will kill you. When I kill someone there is no coming back. I’m not
blustering, I’m not threatening, I’m promising you. Not even Rose will be
able to call your soul back if you open your mouth one more time to say we
should let Jala die. Are we clear?”
the spikes in your armor are your focus isn’t it? Pain as a focus, that’s
pretty clever,” Shade murmured with interest and patted Neph lightly on the
shoulder before stepping around him. “Well said, Neph, you should have
explained it that way last night. We are wasting time, you know. The Witches
have been ready to open the portal for about twenty minutes now. I’m sure they
are tired of waiting,” Shade called over his shoulder as he strolled off
toward the center of camp.
the Rivasans don’t kill him today, I’m going to kill him myself,” Neph
growled as he followed after the rogue trying desperately to ignore the jaunty
tune Shade was whistling.
long can you hold the shroud over us?” Shade asked softly, his eyes locked on
the distant Rivasan forces.
as long as I need to,” Neph replied quietly. The relief at seeing the Rivasan
forces still preparing for their assault had been so overwhelming he had nearly
smiled. Given his current company, though, that would have been a horrible idea.
Both Madren and Shade would have gotten the wrong impression and likely not even
the Divine could have silenced their chatter had he shown anything resembling
at how many there are. I have to admit I’m terrified,” Madren whispered from
his other side. Madren fidgeted in place and turned to look at Neph. “Aren’t
you scared?” he asked.
Neph answered firmly and let out a sigh. From what he could tell the Rivasans
were about to make their first charge. That in itself would be a blessing.
He’d much rather be fighting than listening to either of his companions. He
tried his best to ignore Madren’s stare but finally sighed and looked over at
the smaller man.
Madren asked, once he knew he had Neph’s full attention. His gaze locked on
Neph with an intensity that was unnerving. Madren shook his head in amazement
when Neph answered with a simple shrug and looked truly shocked. “If I were
you, I’d be witless with terror. I mean you are a complete and total asshole,
Neph. I don’t know anyone that is a bigger ass than you. Even the Rivasans are
nicer. There is no way you will escape penance in hell. There are probably
demons in the Darklands that have committed fewer sins than you. If you die, you
are going to be condemned for decades. I mean, I’ve seen you kill people for
getting in your way. Hell you killed two people last night and I don’t even
know why. I will probably just pass on through the life stream and begin a new
life, but you are completely screwed, Neph. I can’t believe you aren’t
terrified. To think of the endless torments you will face in the afterlife makes
my skin crawl. I mean, they say you have to serve five years penance for every
drop of innocent blood you shed. If that’s true you will never see sunlight
again, Neph.” The sincerity in the man’s expression and voice was so
overwhelming that Neph couldn’t decide if he wanted to laugh or choke the
little bastard in response, so he settled for simply glaring at Madren.
Madren, you are getting kind of loud with your tirade,” Shade broke in and it
was obvious from his tone he was struggling to contain laughter.
continued to glower at Madren for another long moment before turning his
attention back to the Rivasan forces. They were sending front lines forward and
by the look of the soldiers they were planning to open with Hellfire. It was a
typical Rivasan attack and Neph had no doubt that Valor would have Jala more
than prepared for the tactic. His muscles tensed as the first wave of fire
washed through the valley to pour over Jala’s forces. “That’s it, when
they move for the third wave, we hit them hard on the flank,” Neph said firmly
as he turned back to join his own forces. A long wavering note faint on the wind
gave him pause and he turned his head to stare in the direction it had come
from. The noise was similar to a wolf’s howl and it brought a smile to his
in the name of the Divine was that?” Madren hissed, his gaze moving from Shade
battle horns. The Shifters will be here soon and I’d wager Arovan rides beside
them. Help is on the way, girls, so you can quit your trembling,” Neph
answered, the satisfaction clear in his voice. With the smile still firm on his
face, he swung up onto his snow cat and glanced back at his ranks. For a Delvay
force, his numbers were pathetic. Kadan had sacrificed nearly everyone in Delvay
trying to hold the capitol. Neph couldn’t blame him for it, though. Without
their Capitol, Delvay had no hope whatsoever.
luck on the ground,” Shade said with a sigh and turned to leave the small
stand of trees they had chosen as cover.
aren’t fighting with us?” Madren asked, turning to watch Shade go with a
look of bewilderment.
are dragons on the field. I’m going to be fighting where I function the
best,” Shade answered as he tossed a storage gem into the air and caught it.
Looking back at them he smiled and winked at Madren. “I will be looking out
for you from above,” he promised as he tossed the gem once more and caught it
be praying a dragon manages to swallow your ship,” Neph replied, his gaze
already back on the battlefield. From what he could tell, Jala had managed to
keep the Hellfire from reaching any of her forces.
I’ll hope like hell that if that happens, the bastard chokes on my ship and
falls on you,” Shade called back faintly, his form already disappearing into
the ranks of waiting soldiers.
hope everyone I fight beside lives,” Madren said quietly and glanced at Neph.
“Even the complete assholes,” he added softly.
you were hoping for something sentimental from me in return you are wasting your
breath,” Neph grumbled without bothering to glance at Madren. His focus was
fully on the Rivasan forces. “Get on your horse, Madren, and get your men
ready to charge. We have Rivasans to kill,” Neph ordered quietly.
must be impressive,” his Aunt’s voice rose from the ranks beside him and
Neph turned to look at her. She was the only family he had left amongst the
living, and the only one in his family that he had ever truly respected. To see
KayDelvayon still amongst the living when he had arrived in Goswin was a
blessing from the Divine in his eyes. Without her help, he would have found the
process of taking over leadership of his people a much bloodier affair than it
had been. So far he had only had to kill two men for challenging him. Without
Kay’s support, the number would have been much higher and he knew it.
She is, but you will see for yourself after the fight,” Neph agreed his gaze
moving back to the field.
are horribly outnumbered here, Neph. Are you sure we will see anything after the
fight?” Kay asked. Her voice was steady, though, with no sign of fear in it.
will win today,” Neph replied firmly, his eyes searching for Jala, though he
knew it was a useless endeavor. He had no hope of spotting her in the valley she
had chosen to make her stand. His muscles tensed as the Rivasans launched
another wave of fire into the mouth of the valley and he dropped the shroud of
magic he had been holding over his small forces. “Now!” He bellowed, his
voice ringing clearly through the entire grove. His heels dug deeply into the
side of his snow cat and the beast launched forward in a powerful leap. Battle
cries rang out on all sides as the men and women of Delvay followed him.
Rivasan forces wheeled to meet the charge, though by the expression on their
faces they had not expected the attack at all. The lines he was hitting now were
reserves, and given how badly the Rivasans outnumbered Jala’s forces, Neph
guessed these men hadn’t thought they would see fighting at all today. He
smiled at the thought of proving them wrong. The Rivasans had barely managed to
get their shields up and their swords drawn as the combined might of Delvay and
Goswin slammed into them. The Rivasan lines bowed dangerously, but somehow they
managed to hold, and Neph found himself packed in the middle of tight lines with
chaos surrounding him on all sides. Gritting his teeth he pulled on his magic to
speed his attacks. His sword flashed in and out of the fight as he seized every
opportunity for a clean strike. In truth his mount was likely doing more damage
than he was at the moment, but then that was what the creatures were bred for.
The Snow Cats of Delvay were legendary for their savagery in battle.
distant cry across the field drew his attention for a bare breath and he glanced
up long enough to see Flameriders pouring through the Hellfire the Rivasans had
summoned. Hope rose in his chest as the odds against them lessened and he
returned to the fight with enthusiasm. Blood sprayed across his cheek as a
Delvay rider beside him fell and he hastily tightened the lines and pushed
forward to take up the slack from his fallen comrade.
just need to hold the lines for a few more minutes.” The voice beside him was
an unfamiliar one though it was obvious the man was talking to him. “Oblivion
will be hitting from the other flank very soon, NephonDelvayon. Hold these lines
just a bit longer and then you must get to Jala,” the man continued. He was
slight of build, though the muscles on his wiry frame showed he was no stranger
to fighting. His armor was mismatched, with chain and plate and even places of
nothing more than leather, but his bearing was that of a seasoned warrior.
Despite his ragged appearance, the red-haired man was obviously no stranger to
battle. He glanced over at Neph and winked. “Watch out,” he called with a
back quickly, Neph barely registered the outline of the sword plunging toward
his face before another thinner silvery blade blocked the attack. Eyes widening,
Neph glanced down at the slender blond haired man who had saved his life.
Neither of them had traveled through the Goswin portal with him. This man,
however, Neph recognized. He had seen him once before when the man had been
struggling to talk Jala out of her quest into the Darklands. Neph had watched in
mute silence as Jala had turned her back on the man and renounced her faith. His
name was Fortune, and this was the last place he should have been.
your head back in the fight, Nephon, we are depending on you,” the first man
called as his blade flashed forward again, dropping two Rivasans to the blood
sound of battle horns from behind him rang out through the trees and Fortune
laughed as the musical notes faded. “They will clear the path for you soon,
Neph. Be ready. Jala is in more danger than you know. She needs you at her
Neph stammered stupidly glancing to his side for confirmation, but both men were
gone and it took all of his attention to stem the flow of Rivasans pressing
forward into the gaps in his lines.
in the name of the Divine,” Kay gasped beside him as they managed to push the
Rivasans back, giving themselves a much needed moment of rest. At first Neph
thought she had witnessed the presence of the Divine as he had, but quickly
realized her attention was across the field. The sky had darkened in the north
and lightning lit the clouds beyond the battle field. Her gaze, however, was on
the single rider charging toward the Rivasan lines. His armor was black as was
his horse and it only took a moment for Neph to recognize him as Zachary Dark of
Oblivion. “Is he mad? He is charging alone,” Kay hissed, her gaze dropping
back to their own battle as the Rivasans pressed forward again.
isn’t alone,” Neph replied, his eyes moving past the Oblivion knight to the
dark figure standing just beyond the battlefield and barely visible against the
darkening sky. The man’s ragged black cloak was stretched taut in the storm
winds and his black armor flashed in the lightning beyond him. Neph pulled his
attention away from the Aspect of Destruction as he raised his hands to the
battlefield beyond and the black inky shapes of Harvesters began to rise from
the ground surrounding Zachary’s charge. Where a single knight rode moments
before, an army now ran, and from the bloodthirsty cries echoing across the
field, the damned souls of Oblivion were more than ready for the fight.
snarl from his snow cat brought his attention fully back to his own problems and
Neph quickly dispatched the Rivasan that had managed to score a wound across his
cat’s side. The Faydwer battle horns sounded behind him again and from the
pitch they were much closer. “Firym is here and Oblivion, and by the looks of
those storm clouds, Arovan and Glis will arrive at any moment. Faydwer is
closing from behind us. We will make it through this, Kay.” Neph gasped the
words out between sword blows and edged his cat closer to his Aunt to strengthen
their lines. He fought against the desire to gaze across the field. The words of
the Divine had left his gut churning with concern for Jala, but there was
nothing he could do about it yet. The sound of charging hooves behind him grew
louder and he tensed. “A path will be open soon,” he whispered to himself,
wondering how exactly the Faydwer were going to open a path through the bloody
mess before him. Even with the other allied forces joining the fight, the
Rivasans were still standing strong on the field.
light hum hissed through the air beside him as the earth began to tremble behind
them. Two arrows drove into the Rivasans closest to Neph, knocking them back
savagely. The shots were well placed and buried to the shaft. Both men were dead
before they hit the ground. “Wisp,” Neph grinned as he spoke the name, his
attention flickering from the purple and white fletching on the arrows to the
trembling ground behind him.
the hell are they doing? We are going to be trapped between that rise of earth
and the damned Rivasans,” Kay snarled as the ground behind them bucked and
rose to form a solid wall behind them.
more arrows pegged into Rivasans, each bearing the purple and white fletching
and Neph whispered silent thanks to the Fae and used the moment of peace she had
given him to frantically search the field for Jala. The Merrodin forces had
moved beyond the valley now, and he could see Valor among the Firym pushing the
Rivasans back, but there was no sign of Jala.
hoof beats grew thunderous behind him and the ground shook with the force of it
as the first of the Faydwer knights reached the battle. Shadows darkened the
ground around him as a massive white horse launched himself from the newly risen
earth behind him and Neph barely managed to dodge as a slender form dropped from
the back of the warhorse to land beside him. More horses leaped gracefully over
the ledge, their riders striking with deadly grace as the beasts landed in the
stood gracefully from her crouch as she landed, her bow already thrumming with
more arrows as she fired with perfect accuracy into the Rivasan ranks ahead of
them. Glancing over, she smiled and winked up at Neph. “Sorry I’m late,”
Wisp called cheerfully, her musical voice barely audible over the pounding
field before them was cleared of Rivasans as the Faydwer ranks plowed through,
scattering their lines. “Are you going to let the god damned pixies out-fight
you?” Neph bellowed to his own forces as he grinned down at Wisp. “Thank
you,” he said in a voice just loud enough for her ears. “I have to get to
Jala now, Wisp,” he added, his gaze moving once more to the valley as he
pressed his cat forward.
will clear a path, then,” Wisp responded and raised a hand over her head. More
shadows darkened the ground as Faydwer archers moved forward along the earth
bank behind him. Wisp dropped her hand motioning toward the valley and the
archers began their deadly rain of arrows without hesitation. Somewhere beyond
their range of fighting the scream of a dragon rose on the air and Wisp shook
her head at him frowning. “My archers can clear the Rivasans but there is
nothing Faydwer can do against dragons.
will have to hope that Jala brought her own dragons then, or that Shade can
handle them with his Spell Hawk. I’ve seen him strafe the field a few times,
but it wasn’t against anything scaly,” Neph replied quickly as he offered a
hand down to Wisp to pull her onto the cat behind him. “You have command here
Kay. I have to get to Jala,” Neph yelled back over his shoulder as he pushed
his cat forward into the clearing the Faydwer charge had created. It was a risky
maneuver. It wouldn’t be long before the Rivasans closed ranks again and then
they would be surrounded by enemies, but he didn’t have a choice. Bright light
flashed from the mouth of the valley and Neph’s attention snapped in that
spell is that?” Wisp gasped behind him, her bow still thrumming as she
peppered the enemies ahead of them with arrows.
not a spell. That is raw magic and way too much of it,” Neph replied hoarsely.
“Jala, what have you done,” he whispered, his mind filling with dread. The
sound of the battle faded around him as his focus narrowed on the magic and he
pushed the cat forward faster. He had to reach her now. That was more magic than
even he could handle and he knew his reserves were larger than Jala’s. That
much power would rip any mage apart unless he could reach her and somehow
you use magic to transport us?” Wisp asked, her voice filled with concern.
shook his head savagely and motioned with a free hand toward the chaos of the
battlefield. “Too many moving objects here, Wisp. I couldn’t find a free
place to set us down that would be close enough to her to help. We have to cross
this shit,” Neph answered loudly. The Rivasans were closing in around them and
the noise of battle was growing so loud words were almost impossible.
cheer rose from the inner ranks of the enemy and Neph’s cat slid to a stop as
a massive form rose from the center of the field. “Oh shit,” Neph hissed as
the dragon rose to its full height and unfurled its immense wings. Its scales
were the deep red of drying blood and by its sheer size there was only one
dragon it could be. “That is Nerath himself,” Neph gasped. The dragon
twisted his tail, lashing, and the screams of horses shattered the air as the
Faydwer forces were scattered by the attack.
have to do something, Neph!” Wisp screamed behind him.
is the dragon that killed my grandfather, Wisp. He is a legend. His own damned
country is named after him. What do you propose I do?” Neph snarled back. He
could see his allies scattering back from the field and knew the battle was
swiftly turning against them. Someone definitely needed to do something soon,
but he wasn’t sure what.
think you should kill it before it kills my brother!” Wisp snapped, her hand
smacking directly into his back, driving the spikes of his vest deep into his
flesh. Pain flared and Neph seized it, channeling the magic into a spell. The
wind around his cat rose viciously as his magic tore through the Rivasans that
had been closing on them, tearing flesh and armor alike to shreds. “Pain is
still your focus to channel, isn’t it Neph?” Wisp demanded loudly.
Neph growled through clenched teeth as he readied another spell.
ripped through his leg and he nearly lost the spell. Glancing down he stared
hard at the dagger protruding from his thigh and then back at Wisp who was
glaring at him. “What the fuck!” He demanded as he unleashed his newest wave
of destruction on the Rivasans.
and Channel and kill that damn dragon!” Wisp ordered sharply, her slender hand
rising quickly to point at Nerath.
started to answer as another sound rose on the wind and his heart lurched
painfully in his chest. It was a scream and he knew the sound of that voice as
clearly as he knew his own. By all rights he shouldn’t have been able to hear
her so clearly from across the battlefield. It was filled with complete agony
and it was rising from Jala. It was a sound that couldn’t be mimicked and he
had fought enough duels and seen enough battles to recognize it for what it
truly was. It was a death cry.
the second time in his life, he hadn’t been strong enough, and someone he
loved was dying because of it. Pain and anger rose in his chest and he felt
something snap inside. He couldn’t say if it had been in his mind or in his
heart, but magic roared in his ears. Every muscle in this body thrummed with
power and the only spells that rose in his mind were the forbidden ones. The
penalties for Death magic no longer seemed important, however. The only thing
that mattered was punishing his enemies. First, however, he had to get rid of
the damned dragon. Turning slowly in his saddle, Neph regarded the creature, his
gaze narrowing as he studied the ancient magics that protected it. Wards were
nothing to the forbidden magic. He had spells that would eat through the
protection as easily as they destroyed flesh. Never before had he been willing
to unleash them, however. According to the magic lore, there were seventeen ways
to kill with magic that would utterly destroy a creature with no hope of
returning to life or the life stream. Neph knew twelve of them, and he intended
to use all of them today.
what is wrong with you?” Wisp gasped, as she dropped quickly off the back of
his cat, her eyes wide as she stared up at him.
glanced from her to the shroud of dark magic that covered him, rising like
shadowed flames from his skin. He didn’t bother to answer her question and he
ignored the look of fear on Wisp’s face as he began to chant softly in a
language that had been dead for centuries, speaking the words of a spell that
had been forbidden even longer. The Dragon’s battle cries turned to roars of
agony as the first of his magics wrapped around the creature. To the naked eye
it looked like no more than shadows covering the deep red scales, but Neph knew
the truth of it. Each tendril of darkness was driving down through the creature,
burrowing into muscle and bone alike and twisting. He continued to chant and the
dragon writhed as his spell literally ripped it apart from the inside, piece by
piece. This was simply the first stage of the spell designed to immobilize the
victim, the next stage would target the mind and then finally the soul. By the
time he was done, there would be nothing left of Nerath the red beyond whispered
tales of his demise.
he looked was destruction. The smell of burnt flesh and blood saturated the air
so fully that even when he closed his eyes, he could still see the battlefield
clearly in his mind. Corpses covered the ground before him, but Neph didn’t
spare them a glance as he crossed the last stretch of the field that separated
him from where Jala had fallen.
crowd had gathered in that area and they all watched him in silence with
expressions of suspicion on their faces as he approached. The last of the battle
was a blur in his mind. He knew he had called on more magic in those few minutes
than he had in his entire life, and all of it had been dark. There would be an
accounting for it, he was sure. Regardless of how he had used the magic, it was
forbidden magic, and even his allies would want him punished for it.
could wait, though. He would face it without fear later, after he had seen Jala,
or what remained of her. The crowd parted as he continued and Neph could feel
their gazes on him, but his focus was on the path ahead. The ground where she
had been standing was charred black and cracked from the heat of the magic she
had channeled, but there was no sign of her body. It was possible that nothing
remained but ashes, but he didn’t think so.
paused at the edge of the burnt ground and scanned the area until he spotted the
massive forms of the Bendazzi crouched in front of a tent deeper in the valley
where Jala had been camped. Slowly he began moving that way, his gaze lingering
on Marrow’s powerful white form. The fact that the Bendazzi was still alive
gave him hope. Marrow was a Familiar and by the laws of magic he should have
died with Jala.
no use, Neph, the Bendazzi won’t let anyone near that tent,” Shade called as
he approached. Neph hadn’t even noticed Shade in the mingling crowd, and
pretended as though he still hadn’t. He had no desire to speak to anyone now,
and not even the Bendazzi would stop him from seeing her.
cats did appear to be ready to attack, but Neph didn’t slow his steps. His
hand dropped to the top of Marrow’s head as his other hand pulled back the
tent flap and he lightly brushed his fingers through the thick plush fur. “If
anything can be done, Marrow, I will do it,” Neph promised quietly as he
stepped inside the dark tent.
took only a breath for his eyes to adjust to the dim light and only a second
more for him to spot Valor sitting near the back of the tent with her body
cradled in his arms. The knight had wrapped her in is battle stained cloak and
was holding her tight against his chest. His head was bowed. Neph couldn’t see
the expression on his face, but he could tell the man was sobbing by the way his
shoulders silently shook. Crossing silently to where Valor sat, Neph crouched
down beside the man and slowly sat down cross-legged. He could tell by the
stillness of her form that she was dead, but for the Elder Blood that didn’t
always mean the end. He needed to see how bad the damage was, but couldn’t
even get a glimpse of her flesh with the way Valor had her shrouded and clutched
so tightly to him.
Neph began softly, his tone as gentle as he could make it. “I want to help,
Val, but I need to see her so I know what can be done.”
shook his head slightly in denial and refused to look up from where his face was
buried in the filthy cloak. “You will say the same as the rest of them. They
say she is dead and she isn’t. She will return. I’ve seen her do it before,
Neph. I just have to keep faith and pray. She isn’t dead.” Valor’s voice
was ragged with grief and by the tone alone Neph could tell how close he was to
you know I will do anything I can to help her. If you are right and she isn’t
dead then it will be easier if I can help mend the body for her to return,”
Neph pressed. He knew it was false hope he was feeding Valor, but there was not
much else he could do. From the amount of raw magic he had sensed, Jala’s body
was likely damaged beyond repair, but he wasn’t sure Valor was stable enough
to hear that now. Still, he had seen Jala do things no one else would ever have
been capable of. He felt a flicker of hope rise in his chest at the thought that
Valor could be right, and carefully contained it. He couldn’t allow it to grow
in his mind until he saw the body. The disappointment would be too bitter to
bear if Valor was wrong.
you want to help, Neph, then pray. I tried to tell them that when they tried to
take her body. They want to bury her, Neph, and they can’t. She isn’t
dead!” Valor’s voice rose as he spoke and he slowly looked up to meet
Neph’s eyes. “She isn’t dead, Neph, no matter what she looks like now, or
what they say, she isn’t,” he insisted. His blue eyes were bloodshot and
Neph could see a faint gleam to them that spoke of madness. “Everything
we’ve done, everything we’ve suffered, it doesn’t end like this Neph. I
won’t let it. We have to have faith.” His words grew slurred as more tears
flowed down his face and he shook his head again pulling her body closer to him.
cloak pulled away as Valor moved her and one pale arm fell limply to the ground.
The skin was cracked and burned in places and still glowed faintly with magic
deep within her body. Slowly, Neph leaned forward and lifted her hand, examining
the rents in the skin. Gold dust drifted slowly down to the dirt below her as he
brushed a thumb across the wound. The magic had burned so hotly within her that
it had dried the blood in her veins.
was as he had feared, and no matter what Valor said there was no coming back to
this body. With the magic still coursing so strongly through her damaged frame
there would be no way to use magic to heal the wounds, and as damaged as she
was, her soul would not remain even if Ash himself called it back. His thumb
brushed once more across what remained of her hand and he felt his own eyes
brimming with tears. He didn’t have the words to explain any of this to Valor
without risking what was left of his sanity. Truthfully, he wasn’t too sure
about his own state of mind at the moment. He wanted to sob like a child and
scream at the same time. They had been so close, a breath from victory, and then
fate had stolen her from them.
forward he carefully tucked her hand back under the cloak and sat back once
more. Resting his elbows on his knees, Neph leaned forward and covered his face
with his hands. His anger was gone and his pain was fading to despair. He was
drained physically, emotionally, and magically, and he simply didn’t care.
There was no longer anything worth fighting for and no reason to get back up
again. The world was shit and that was that. How could he find the words to save
Valor, when he didn’t know how to save himself.
aren’t praying, Neph,” Valor whispered and the sound of his voice pulled
Neph back from the darkness his mind had been retreating to.
not sure exactly who to pray to on this, Valor,” Neph admitted quietly.
to her, Neph. Put all of your faith in Jala,” Valor replied without
she had the blood of the Divine, but she wasn’t a god. She can’t hear
prayers as they do,” Neph informed him gently as he slowly slid his hands down
his face and stared at the lifeless body.
back on everything she has done, Neph, and say that again,” Valor snapped, his
head rising once more. The gleam was stronger in Valor’s eyes and Neph
wondered if he truly would recover, once he moved past his denial. Neph had
known the man loved Jala, and was utterly devoted to her, but he had never
guessed how deeply those emotions ran.
slowly, Neph leaned forward and pulled the cloak back from Jala before Valor
could stop him. Her face was as cracked as the skin on her arm had been and her
beautiful violet eyes were completely burned away. The magic within her pulsed
slowly, giving off faint light and Neph shook his head slowly. There was no way
to soften what had to be said, and the sooner it was done the better. Both of
them needed to face that fact and try to move on. Despite how much Neph wanted
to give up now, he couldn’t, neither of them could. They both had
responsibilities in the world beyond. “Valor this body is broken and Jala is
gone. Even a god couldn’t remain in a form this damaged. Look at her, Valor!
Look at the glow of the magic, damn it. Even you can see it. I know you can!”
Neph snapped, his words breaking on the last words as his throat tightened.
“You have to let her go and so do I, damn it. This does no good for either of
us.” The last words came out more of a sob than anything else and Neph let his
arm fall back to his lap heavily as tears coursed down his face.
still lives!” Valor snarled, his hand flying up to point at the shadow of the
Bendazzi through the tent. “If Jala was truly dead, her Familiar would be
dead! You are supposed to be the one that believes so strongly in the gods,
Neph. Why is it so hard for you to have faith in her?” he demanded.
she wasn’t a god, Valor. She was my friend, she was our leader, and she was
truly a Dasharran, but she wasn’t a god. Valor, she channeled enough magic to
kill anyone. That much raw power would have destroyed her soul as much as her
body. Please let her go,” Neph pleaded. He wasn’t even sure why he was
wasting so much energy on the knight. Valor had never been a close friend of
his, but he had meant so much to Jala. Perhaps in some twisted fashion, he
believed that saving Valor would be a last service to her. Perhaps if he could
just save Valor, it would somehow redeem him for failing her.
can’t. If I let her go, then I have nothing left. They took my family and they
destroyed my home. If I give up on Jala, I have nothing left. It doesn’t end
like this, Neph. They don’t win. I won’t let them.” Valor spoke in a
broken whisper and shook his head slowly in further denial.
is your home now, and it still stands. They didn’t win, Valor, we did. You may
have lost your brother and sister in this, Valor, but you still have your
parents. Which is more then Legacy can say. Finn may have sired him, Valor, but
you were the closest thing he had to a father. You read to him, you played with
him, and you comforted him when Jala couldn’t. You say you have nothing. I say
you aren’t looking hard enough. Let her go, Valor, and go back to Merrodin.
You are the only one that can help that child right now.” Neph let the words
pour out of him in a final attempt. If the mention of Legacy didn’t pull Valor
back from the brink, he truly didn’t know what would.
I believe Jala is dead, then they have won.” Valor spoke the words so quietly
that Neph almost didn’t hear him. Slowly, the knight looked down at the broken
body in his arms and nodded. “You are right, though. She will need a new body.
I’ve seen her create them before in Goswin. They can bury this.” His voice
was faint and the words stilted as he carefully lowered Jala’s remains to the
ground. He stood slowly and unsteadily and nodded down at Neph. “You are
right. Legacy does need me, and I need him. He will have faith.” With those
final words, Valor left the tent. Neph watched him go in silence and wondered if
there was anything left to the man’s sanity at all. Shaking his head slowly,
he gathered Jala’s remains in the cloak and stood. They would want to give her
a hero’s burial, and the sooner that was done the sooner he could leave
Arovan. He would stay long enough for the ceremony and gather his wounded, but
no longer. Without Jala, everything would be falling apart again very soon, and
he needed to reclaim his homeland before it did. The Rivasans still held Delvay,
and it would take all of his remaining strength to win it back.
Copyright © 2011, 2012 Melissa Myers