Chapter Twenty-Four: Where Death Goes Unkindness Follows
Braylen, standing on the stone balcony of her living quarters, looked out to the gateway of the city.
Trucks filled with what she knew to be weapons and men for her army, filed in one after other, her time had come to lead their race into the hands of death so humans could rise up and thrive, something her own kind could never dream of accomplishing. She wasn't mad and didn't carry a disease of the mind, she simply could admit their time was over and acknowledged their responsibility. Some may see it as cruel or unthinkable but in her mind she was sacrificing herself and her race for the better of human kind.
With her jewelled tiara sitting atop her head she retreated behind the sheer white curtains that floated softly on the invading breeze.
It was time to greet the guests.
“Ah Braylen, Lady of the High Council we meet again. You’re looking elegant as always” he mocked with the insufferable smile a cruel and deranged man would use when he sees something he likes and wishes to possess.
“And you’re even more repulsive than the last time we stood in one space, Horatio. But, I guess I’ll have to hold my head high while we take care of business” she replied nonchalantly, ignoring the eyeful looks of his second in command and his other so-called bodyguards that stood like lost boys behind him, some she presumed were only teenagers others in their late twenties and thirties.
Then again It was hard to tell when they were all clad in all-black bulletproof vests and uniform with firearms attached to mostly all possible places like their ammunition belts and holsters along with bigger firearms held against their backs with a sling.
“Ouch, but I thought we had something. Words hurt Braylen, words hurt” he teased, holding a mock hurt hand over the area his heart would be if he had one, along with any sympathy or judgement for what he was about to do when Braylen gave the signal.
“It was one time Horatio nothing more, now if you are quite done with behaving like a child I would like to proceed in beginning this so we can move along swiftly because as you know the king is in route to here and will dock in the early hours”
“Fine, so to be clear you want me to execute anyone who resists? As in children as well?”
“If they oppose me they are not willing to see the change so yes, kill anyone who resists even the young.” she replied coldly seemingly unfazed with the question that bounced off the layer of madness she’d built around her.
“Copy that, alright you lot gather the boys and suit up it’s time to work!” he yelled.
She watched on with malice in her eyes as they exited the stronghold into the streets where the trucks were being unloaded.
Mothers ushered their children indoors to which they locked, others were rushing for their homes or just somewhere they could take refuge from the intruders who they knew to be humans and from the looks of the weapons, dangerous.
“Horatio” she called as he turned t leave.
“Yes, my Lady?”
“You better not die on me”
“I don’t plan to Braylen, I have a lot to live for if you know what I mean” he replied observing her reaction carefully.
“I’m not sure I do, however, we both have a lot to lose so I can sympathise with you in regards to losing what we’ve achieved thus far.”
“Just be careful out there, it’d be a sad loss to lose this alliance.” he continued.
“Get on with your task Horatio and stop worrying your mind over me, you need to have your whole mind on this”
“You are always on my mind, it’s going to be difficult for me” he said jokingly, the sinister smile making its presence with the same madness reflecting in his one hazel eye, the other cloudy and glazed.
“Just do your job” Braylen responded coldly and turned away back up the staircase.
The balcony offered her a clear view of the changes in motion, terrified families dragged from their homes into the cobblestone streets some attempted to fight back but to no avail.
The clearing in front of the stronghold now laid host to the once peaceful residents of Crestfold now holding their children close and their hope closer, confusion was clear among the crowd most had it etched on their faces whereas others simply looked disbelieving and angered.
Braylen, stood high above them all like a higher power about to watch everything she’d planned come into fruition and granting them one chance to believe in her or perish.
Some looked to her for answers and pointless pleadings of mercy, she ignored it all and simply looked to Horatio who glanced in her direction for the approval to begin.
With a single dismissive wave of her hand, she watched him take centre stage before the crowd.
“Two choices you pointy-eared lot, Join your Lady of the High Council in her plans for the future and bow down and pledge your allegiance to her or for those of you wanting to be heroes of something like that then step forward and you can leave” he called out making sure everyone heard loud and clear.
He eyed the crowd like a vulture looking for its next meal, a few looked to one another but no one moved, none bowed or rose they just simply stayed where they were.
“I am on a bit of a time limit so can we hurry this up please before I start making the decision for you” he groaned, his fingers ran over his pistol in the holster fastened to his belt, he’d used the same weapon for so long it was like a part of him, an unmoving sidekick that hadn’t failed him so far.
Hushed whispered swam through the huddled groups, ore than occasionally they’d look to Braylen but she had no remorse in her eyes and they began to lose hope.
Horatio’s eyes snapped to the right of the crowd as an elderly woman removed herself from behind a taller body, she held a calming aura not seeming scared in the slightest as she moved towards him stopping a feet steps away, hands holding on another in front of her.
“What’s your name granny?” he sneered to which she held her composure.
“Salvia” she stated simply holding her gaze on him "Salvia Floros"
“Well Salvia, what is your choice?” he hummed as his fingers circled the grip of his gun.
“I wondered how long it’d be before we saw humans in our city again, however, I didn’t expect this in the slightest” she spoke softly looking up Braylen and Back to Horatio. “You won’t let us go”
“You’re a smart one” he nodded drawing his gun and tapped the barrel lightly against his chin like one might do with their finger when thinking, as he paced around. “What do you think boys? Am I lying about letting them go or am I telling the truth? I guess you’ll have to find out won’t you”
The tension in the whole space grew no one dared move, not with a weapon being swung around before them while also being surrounded by armed guards.
“I guess so, before you kill me I wish to deliver a message from someone I met not too long ago”
“Well I’m sure I can wait and listen so continue but make it quick”
“Kaydence Banshaw, the Winged boy who passed through here who bears the mark of the Terra clan, the boy you simply let go.” she stopped and looked up to Braylen with a smile. “He is the son of Vallen and Halwen Harkhallow, his father is Lord of the High council and you missed it. Whatever your plans are Braylen that boy has more to do with it all than you think, how do you assume the King is on his way here? You won’t win and no one here will side with you, your son will abandon you just like your husband, I notice things around here and I know when something’s wrong. So tell me, your highness, how do you wish to die?” she smiled maliciously up at her.
Braylen looked to Horatio who seemed a bit taken aback by the new information, their eyes met and she gave a nod.
The barrel of his gun raised in line with Salvia’s head as she turned to comfort the crowd, he cocked it and didn’t hold back as his finger lay on the trigger.
A shot rang out, the crowd froze, many gasped as parents held their children tighter hiding their faces from the horrors.
Salvia’s body collapsed landing with a deafening thud, her head hit the ground with a light crack, blood trickled thickly out of the circular wound at the back of her skull oozing out onto the cobblestone.
As more flowed out it began to wind between the gaps in the stone, Braylen looked at the scene below her with finality before looking to the others.
“Does anyone else want to oppose me?” she asked arrogantly
when no one moved she smirked and waved her hand again at Horatio who called his men in to surround the gathering.
As she retreated into her living quarters, screams, cries and gunshots erupted from below as well as the stampeding of horror-stricken citizens.
* * *
“Kaydence how much further? My legs hurt” he complained from behind Kaydence.
“Mayfel if you ask me that question again you won’t make it to Evangelis, if your legs are tired sit on your horse”
“It hurts more sitting down” he replied in a mumble.
“Well, I guess you’re stuck walking then aren’t you”
Since Mayfel had woken up and the storm unexpectedly avoided them, being somewhat drawn to something out to sea, they had covered a good amount of miles.
Although not having much difference in scenery other than the varying trees of the Bristling woods, a big rock here and there, bushes and small beginnings of other plant life, if he looked carefully enough things that would otherwise be missed by tired eyes became more noticeable and unexplainable.
Trees dotted around the mud trail they were following seemed odd, not in the sense that something was wrong with them but he couldn’t say that he’d seen trees with holes carved out of their trunks before.
The wood inside was mostly coated green from moss as time formed a capsule around the remnants of whatever resided inside the small room-like structure, hundreds of folded pasts left behind in the bark, each one telling a tale of old in a language spoken among the voiceless.
Soft light trickled through the leafy canopy giving everything a subtle green tint, something about the atmosphere seemed welcoming whether it was the buzz of life surrounding them or the warm and humid feeling making it seem so comforting and alive.
Considering no one had heard or even seen fae life leave or return to Evangelis since the war everything else about Himiratia seemed to be thriving and almost cared for.
Even the abandoned farms and run-down houses showed signs of new life as nature reclaimed what was once hers, with all of the ivy and wild plants latching around the bricks and wood it made structures blend in.
In a way everything went back to their previous form, wood broken down and rotted into soil to which will encourage new growth and the bricks that once hosted shelter for families now hosts for others much smaller and of a different species as they use the fallen bricks to create a home.
It was nice to think Bregan’s life wasn’t wasted, while he lived he cared and lead his people even through his own hardships, he raised a boy who he should have resented because it wasn’t his own and yet held features of the woman he once loved.
Even in death Bregan’s life lived on amongst them, he couldn’t see him but the things Bregan had taught him and showed him, the memories he was gifted lead him on and now Bregan’s sacrifice would go on to help other lives and help create new ones.
“You’re thinking about him aren’t you? Bregan I mean” Mayfel spoke up having fallen into step next to Kaydence and his horse. “You get this look on your face when you think of him almost like, you’re lost in thought”
“I was just thinking what it would have been like if things were different if he had lived instead and I had died” Kaydence replied and kicked a loose stone with his bare foot, up the trail ahead watching it get lost in the sea of grass expanding out on both sides of the trail.
“Well from what you’ve told me about him, I think if it had been the other way around he would have fought to no end to make people hear your name and know what you’d done.”
“Isn’t it weird how we think of the ones we love more when they’re gone than when they surround us? To me Bregan was always going to be there, I never even thought of his life coming to an end even when I was old enough to understand life and death. Even now”
“Kaydence that’s normal, no one wants to think about what happens when the day comes and they lose someone close.” Mayfel said comfortingly.
“I do, I think about what it would be like to lose people, like you. It’s foolish I know but I just feel like if I think about it more, play the different scenarios out in my head then when it actually happens I won’t be as hurt” he said
“I know it seems like it would help Kaydence but nothing can prepare you for losing someone, you will mourn and you will grieve but it’s normal. Don’t numb yourself to emotions”
“Well hopefully this will all end and I won’t have to miss anyone else” Kaydence replied and gave a half-hearted smile to his companion.
“If it makes you feel any better, I’m not planning on dying anytime soon” Mayfel said, hoping to lighten the mood.
“That’s good to know”
A gust of humid air brushed past, ruffling their hair and Kaydences feathers, it was a sensation that sent chills flooding through his body.
Dandelion seeds trailed along as did the woodland scent of earth and fresh growth, dust caught in the sunlight streams illuminated like minute fireflies as a golden haze fell over the forest.
“This is a sight to see” Mayfel said breathlessly.
“Yes, it is” Kaydence replied and turned to catch the expression held on his face.
The indigo glazed with gold falls, slightly tanned skin now a soft and gentle orange and his composure completely relaxed and his guard down to the point he seemed like an ordinary boy enjoying the golden hour in the woods, not a boy who carried half the weight of the world on his tired, troubled shoulders.
Kaydence could only imagine how his own face looked, his already gold eye probably revelling in the light, his blue he assumed would look somewhat like the ocean as the sun begins to set on the horizon, but they were just guesses.
“Mayfel, we have to keep going”
“Yeah, ok” he replied distantly.
* * *
Zachariah sat utterly lost and hopeless on the slope behind the base, it had been days since Helena had gone missing and he could do absolutely nothing to get her back.
Fraya had given him barely anything, but then it was his own fault after all he betrayed her and let her down like he was doing to Helena.
He had come some close to doing something he’d regret just to get the information he wanted, even as he had stood with a knife held firmly to Fraya’s throat his sister made her way into his thoughts, she wouldn’t have wanted him to cause someone else pain to save her even if he had caused that person pain in the past.
His eyes were cast to distance but all the same, he was looking at nothing, he just wondered how many more people he’d disappoint or let down before his time ended, he guessed he had a rather good tally already so there was a high chance he’d fail at trying to stop what’s engrained in his own being.
There had been no new intel from any of the scouting groups and Everette had reported back with nothing other than where she had managed to travel to which by now was at the border of the fey lands.
Everything was going wrong and the more his mind dwelled on it all, the less the pieces of the gigantic and complicated puzzle seemed to fit together.
Zack felt utterly lost, alone to walk the paths hidden from his sight with nothing but his stressed mind and grieving heart, no compass to help him navigate, no stars to guide him and no map to detect the masked footsteps of those that hopelessly walked before him.
It was like losing his parents all over again except this time he had no other family to fall back on or to put all efforts into protecting, he felt like he didn’t have a purpose.
Without Helena, he’s nothing but a man.
“Zack!” Aveline called from the front of the building, to say he had no energy or interest in having a conversation was an understatement. He really didn’t want a conversation, no matter who it was with.
He couldn’t find the energy in him to respond verbally which left him to subtly hint at her to continue by raising an eyebrow baring in mind she was a good distance away and would have missed it if she didn’t know him as well as she did.
“I just got word from one of our scout teams! Five trucks were seen heading to the capital, they crossed the borders! Zack the accords have been broken, we have a chance to cross the borders!” she continued to call to him.
Zack remained seated, his eyes long having drifted back to the invisible horizon as he took in the words that now spun around his mind.
One by one the words clicked into place, memories of him and his sister when they were younger invaded his consciousness.
Tickle fights when they were first left to fend for themselves, he would start them knowing it’d make Helena happy because she knew his weak spots whereas he didn’t attempt to win as long as it took her mind off their situation at the time it would be worth the discomfort.
When they grew closer to their teen years and they were taken into their new home she’d watch him like a vulture at dinner before asking if he was going to eat the rest to which he’d always respond no just to see the twinkle of happiness and satisfaction in her eyes even if it meant going hungry.
And even now she’d mess up his already tousled and uncared for hair which she knew all too well annoyed him just like when she’d use a baby-like voice to tease him, but he’d put up with it. He’d complain yes, but a part of him liked that she held onto the small habits, annoying or not he missed it now.
“Get everyone geared up I want them in the vans ready to go in five minutes!” he called back.
Rising to his feet he felt his seized up joints click and stretch, his vision finally focused on the blaze of sunset scorching the far off hills.
Aveline was quick to retreat knowing he wasn’t in any mood to carry out a discussion or hear any words of sentiment because none of it was going to make a difference until they got the missing half of him back.
“Gear up, he wants everyone in the vans pronto. Let’s go!” she hollered while storming into the main room with intent.
Clad in their all-black, combat- like uniform with their group’s logo of a silver silhouetted raven mid-flight sewn to the breast pocket, weapons adorned her belt a mixture of daggers, holstered guns on either hip and throwing knives.
Two ammunition belts slung over each shoulder to cross her chest, both filled with glinting silver bullets.
It was true to say she had backups of backups, including the daggers slipped down the insides of her combat boots in case of an emergency, but they were heading into poorly known lands especially when they get to the capital and there’s no saying what they could encounter and in her opinion, you could never be over-prepared.
In record time everybody was in the vans awaiting their leader’s orders.
Zack stood facing into the building, back turned to his men, Aveline couldn’t make out if he was scared to face them or if he was taking in every last detail and memory of the place he called home like he was expecting to not return.
She knew the man before her, was different and he had every right to be, but she was concerned with how disconnected he’d been over the past few days, she’d have to remind him to eat and drink and everyone knew he didn’t sleep.
It wasn’t exactly a hard sign to miss when he’s wandering the halls and circumference of the building in the dark like some sort of supernatural being.
All in all, he wasn’t acting like her Zack, but then again was anyone acting themselves lately.
“Our main goal is to save Helena but, we can’t forget about Rowan either. He has been trapped in the Capital for longer, now there’s n saying he’s still alive but we owe it to him to at least try. Now we don’t know the reason as to why the trucks are heading to Crestfold so stay vigilant and don’t under any circumstances let your guards down.” he said.
He turned to face his small ally group with pride, hoping it would cover the fear and weariness.
Aveline herself and the other members looked back to their leader, one by one their hands raised.
Palms facing their chests, wrists crossing over as their thumbs linked together and fingers splayed.
With the setting sun, a display of silhouetted shadowed ravens collected into an unkindness on the bricked wall before them.
Countless joined by one, one silhouette bigger than the others, that of their leader.
“Raven’s, it’s time to fly”