War and Despair

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Chapter 23

Nessa woke with the same bad feeling that she’d had in the pit of her stomach for the past week. Something bad was going to happen. Or maybe it had already happened.

Umber and Ember seemed to sense it two. The two of them had been tired and drained for the past days. Luckily, they hadn’t had to fight any battles in several days, or they would probably be dead.

The bad feeling grew when Nessa was summoned to her father’s tent. The voice of the dead blind man haunted her dreams at night. The conviction with which he had stated his loyalty to the royalty with. Nessa tried to tell herself that it had been a mercy, that the blind man had nothing to live for.

It hadn’t worked. The blind man hadn’t been dirty and unkempt. He had been clean, shaven, hair cut evenly. Someone would miss the blind man. He had family, or maybe even a wife. Someone would miss him, just like she missed her mother, and the way she was starting to miss Callen.

Nessa had never really realized how Callen felt. Her sister had never been very open with her emotions. Callen had just kept them bottled up for years, until the pot had finally boiled over. Nessa hoped that Callen was still alive. She would ask her father to let her look for Callen.

Nessa entered the tent. The rest of her father’s war council was already there. Nessa sat down next to her father.

“Our attack failed to draw the king out. We need to launch a direct assault. But, there have been rumors that the rebels Durazno and Naranja are at court, staying hidden. This is worrying. If we launch an attack, who knows how many dragons we will lose to Naranja and her archers or Durazno.” Grabus said.

“What are we to do, then? Reynold said.

“Nessa, what do you suggest we do?” Grabus asked, taking her by surprise.

“Our attack did nothing but turn the peasants against us. If we use our dragons to kill peasants, we’ll never get new recruits. We need to use her dragons differently, in ways that will earn us allies.”

Reynold and Grabus looked at her thoughtfully. “It might work, but it will take time. That’s something we don’t have. Soldiers are getting tired of this war. They want to go home, some are mass deserting.” Reynold said.

A messenger halted the conversation by bursting into the tent. “There’s something you need to see, sir!” He panted.

“Is it far, boy?” Grabus asked, annoyed.

“Yes sir! You’ll need horses!” The boy gasped.

They mounted the fastest horses in the camp and followed the messenger boy up onto a ridge.

“What’s there to see, lad?” Farhan asked.

“Look down to the left, sir.” The boy said. They did so.

They had somehow missed the field of corpses to their left. They had been arranged to spell out the sentence ‘Tell the Geomancer’. Cardan, one of her father’s captains, was riding around the field examining the corpses. Nessa and Grabus galloped their horses down from the ridge to join him.

“It’s Silurian’s company. Whoever did this killed every human and dragon here.” Cardan called. Nessa looked down the line of the corpses. The one thing the corpses all had in common, was the bloody hole where their hearts should have been.

“This isn’t the work of humans.” Grabus murmured. “Whatever did this ripped their hearts from their bodies with it’s claws. Look at the marks at the edge of the wounds.”

“Looks like the wounds on that soldier that we found impaled in the tree branches.” Reynold said quietly, crouching by the carcass and poking at the wound.

Strangely enough, that was exactly what it looked like. The soldier had been one of the rebels that a dragon had picked up and thrown at a tree. They’d found him hours later. He had had jagged wounds ripped into his chest where he’d hit the tree branches. His face had been unrecognizable where the tree had skinned him.

Silurian and his men and dragons all bore similar jagged marks on their chests. Nessa bent down to look more closely at the woman at her feet. The scent of rot assaulted her nose.

Nessa noticed something lodged on the wound. Nessa gritted her teeth and wrapped her fingers around the piece of debris. She pulled it out as quickly as she could and wiped it off in the grass. It was a twig.

“General, look at this.” She said holding it out to her father. “It was lodged in her wound.”

“A twig?” Reynold said, eyebrows raised. “These soldiers had their hearts ripped out by a tree-man?”

“It may have fallen there.” Cardan said. “How far down was it lodged, lass?”

“Pretty far down.” Nessa answered.

“Reynold, Farhan stay here and investigate this Cardan.” Grabus ordered. “Nessa, come with me.”

Grabus wheeled his horse around and cantered off. Nessa hurried after him. She didn’t speak until they were out of earshot of the three men.

“Father, I ask permission to leave my post and search for Callen.” Nessa begged quietly.

Grabus turned and glared at her. “Your sister deserted.” He said flatly.

“From a war she never had a choice about being in! You never knew how she felt about all this, you never cared, father!” Nessa exclaimed.

“Your sister made her choice!” Grabus said forcefully.

“She’s family! She’s out there somewhere, and she might need our help!” Nessa argued.

“You ask for my permission and my answer is no, Nessa.” Grabus growled. “We will be mounting another attack on the capitol soon and we need you here, not out chasing your sister.”

Nessa halted her horse. “No.” She said.

“What?” Grabus asked, glaring back at her.

“No. I refuse. Every one of those people we killed had family and friends that will mourn them. Just like we miss mother. I am going to find Callen.” Nessa said.

“No, Nessa! You will stay right here, and you will do as I tell you! That is an order from your father and general!” Grabus thundered.

Nessa looked back at him and smiled sadly. “You just don’t get it, do you, father? Mother died, and you blamed it on Callen all those years. Now Callen’s gone, and I will be to, soon. Who are you going to blame this time? Yourself.” Nessa galloped her horse past him and into camp.

She ran quickly and saddled Ember. Umber poked his head up sleepily.

“Where are we going?” Ember yawned.

“We’re going to find Callen.” Nessa said, climbing into the saddle. “C’mon Umber.”

The dragons took to the air, happy to finally be going after Callen. The bad feeling in the pit of Nessa’s stomach was finally easing up. For the first time since she’d killed the blind man, Nessa knew that she was doing the right thing.

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