War and Despair

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Chapter 36

The Geomancer knelt by Callen’s little patch of flowers. The breeze whispered through their petals, causing them to sing a quiet song.

“It’s today, huh?” Callen said.

“Yes.” The Geomancer said. “I’m sorry. I know you cared enough about him to sacrifice your life.”

“It wasn’t just for him. You would have been hit by the dryads’ spell, too. Knocking him into you was the best that I could do. He’s let himself fall into darkness. There’s nothing that I know of yet that can save him, except himself.” Callen said. “Do what you have to. I’ll be back here giving you all the power I can.”

“Thank you, Callen. If I fall today, know that I’m saying goodbye now.” The Geomancer said, a tea trickling down her cheek. “Take care of things until the next Geomancer comes.”

“You probably won’t die. Only have a few limbs painfully removed.” Callen said, giving a small laugh.

“You can be very reassuring.” The Geomancer said drily.

“Why thank you. Good luck.” Callen said.

The creature sat next to Columba. She looked different than she had when she had first left their cottage with him. She looked healthier and more beautiful. Her hair had darkened to a deep, raven black. Her grey-blue eyes had darkened to deep indigo. Her full lips looked like they’d been covered in fresh blood. All trace of her earlier gentleness was gone, replaced by something fierce and dark.

The creature wasn’t sure he liked the change.

“They’re waiting for you on the Aalen’s field.” Columba said absentmindedly.

“Why do you call it Aalen’s field?” He asked her.

“It’s the location of the last battle of Prince Aalen and his sister Natori.” Columba divulged.

“I haven’t heard this tale.” He admitted.

“Prince Aalen’s twin sister Natori went insane. They think that she was cursed by a sorcerer, she went insane and left the palace and roamed the countryside killing common folk. Her attacks got closer and closer to the palace, until she burned it down. Their baby sister and step-mother were inside at the time. Aalen was stricken with grief and met his sister on the battlefield. They say that the fields ran rood with her blood that day. Aalen won the battle, but it was a hollow victory. He impaled himself to join his sister. Their blood mingled together on the grass, forever changing the place.” Columba told him. “The story was wiped from history.”

“Then how did you know it?” the creature asked, immediately regretting it.

“I’ve been on the other side. Knowledge knows no bounds there.” She said, smiling a smile that was both sly and sad.

“I shouldn’t have asked that question.” He apologized.

“Do you plan on meeting them?” Columba asked, changing the subject.

“Yes.” The creature said, knowing that was what Columba wanted him to do.

“Good, darling. You’re strong enough to kill them. You can have the hearts of the twinborn, and you can give the rest to me. We’ll be back together soon.” Columba purred.

“Shall we, my dearest?” asked the creature, extending a hand. Columba took it, giving him a dark smile.

They ran to Aalen’s field. Ranks of men and women stood on the field, just waiting to be torn through. He could see the twin born standing in the center with two women that he didn’t recognize. The two dragons stood around them protectively.

“Kill them!” Columba hissed into his ear. “Kill them all! Kill them, kill them, kill them!”

He charged forward and tore his hands into the first man.

Durazno stood near Tansy. The eerie peace before the battle was grating on his nerves. The place would’ve seemed too beautiful to be a battlefield, if not for the thick black lines carved into the ground.

He heard a battle roar and saw the creature charge onto the field and rip through the first of the king’s soldiers. The men closest to him yelled in fear but held rank. Something was wrong. The wind, the wind was too strong.

Durazno heard the beating of wings before he saw the dragons. There were hundreds of them in every size and color. The dragons breathed a stream of fire onto the first row of the king’s men.

“Archers! Fire!” He heard Naranja shout somewhere to his left. A volley of arrows flew towards the dragons. Instead of focusing on the creature, Tansy pressed her palms to the ground and shut her eyes.

A glowing white shield rose over their soldiers, only to disappear with the next round of dragon fire. The Pyromancers smoke mages tossed handfuls of leaves onto their braziers, thick white puffs of smoke billowing up.

The smoke surrounded roughly a third of the dragons’ heads and blinding them, but it wasn’t enough. He saw Sim jump onto a low flying dragon and tackle its rider. The Hydromancer and the Aeromancer pressed their palms together, a burst of light rippling from their hands and over the field. The creature ripped his way through another rank of men.

“To me!” Durazno shouted, gathering a group of men and women. They rushed at the creature, hacking off pieces of his body. It was no good, though. Every time, another piece of flesh grew in to replace the lost one. They pulled back, trying to put as much distance as possible between them and the monster.

Nessa stood beside Tansy with her sword drawn as Tansy focused all her power into protecting the warriors. She slashed at a small dragon that got too close, it flapped away screaming. The creature was getting closer and closer, ripping its way towards them, soldier by soldier.

Nessa tried to fight down her panic. What would she do if he actually got to her? The next dragon that flew close, she recognized. He was a large emerald colored beast, but it was his rider that worried her.

Her father. He jumped off of his dragon and drew his sword. Recognition sparked in his eyes, but it didn’t mean mercy for her.

“Traitor!” He shouted. “Die!”

Nessa danced out of the way. “I refuse to die by your hand!” She shouted at him. “I’m through playing the loyal daughter for a man who deserves no one’s loyalty!”

“Where is your sister?” Grabus roared, swinging his broadsword at her.

“Dead.” Nessa replied, parrying.

“Your mission was useless! You deserted us for a dead girl!” Grabus shouted angrily.

“A dead girl and a blind man.” Nessa whispered.

“What?” Grabus asked.

“You never stopped to think about how heavily the murder of the people you ordered dead would way on your daughters, did you?” Nessa asked angrily. “Did you?” She managed to hit his hand with the flat of her blade. He dropped his broadsword and drew his second sword.

“My wife left me two weak hearted women instead of sons!” Grabus growled. “Was that worthless little Callen really worth dying for?”

“In every way.” Nessa said, blocking another of his blows. “She died to give another the chance to live, even if he didn’t deserve it. If you’d been in his place, Callen might still be alive.”

Grabus gave a roar and knocked her to the ground. He kicked her sword out of her reach and punched her in the stomach. Nessa curled into a ball of pain, and Grabus advanced on Tansy.

Tansy had her back turned and was fully focused on shielding the soldiers closest to the creature. She couldn’t even see him coming. Nessa dragged herself after her father. She managed to stand and tackle him just before he reached Tansy. She wrapped her hands around his throat and squeezed.

She shut her eyes as the life went out of him. She kicked his body to the side and retrieved her sword. His dragon who had stood back and watched the fight with his cool stare finally spoke.

“I didn’t know you had it in you, little human child. I’ve been waiting for this moment.” The dragon said. “Become my apprentice. You have the anger to fuel you, but it doesn’t control you like it did Grabus.”

“What would it take?” Nessa asked, stepping closer.

“Kill the girl that you just killed your own father to protect.” The emerald green dragon ordered.

“I will do it.” Nessa said, and rammed her sword into the dragon’s eye. “Or maybe I won’t.” She whispered to his corpse. She walked back over to stand at Tansy’s side.

Ceridwen could here the battle raging somewhere in front of her. She had to get there in time. She’d found another woman in the Geomancer’s house caring for Marigold. The woman had given her a letter from Silt. Half of it was a goodbye, but the first half had told her that they were waging war on the creature.

She stopped and leaned against a tree for a moment, panting. She changed into a dragon and took wing. She broke through the trees and flew as fast as she could. The treetops blurred beneath her, until she was out of the forest altogether. Below her, she saw a mess of blood and fire.

She saw the creature ripping through person after person. She saw hundreds of dragons wheeling around her, breathing fire and slashing humans open with their claws. In her mind, she saw the ash-dragon and her burning home and family.

Ceridwen dove past the dragons and turned into a human as soon as she hit the ground. She checked to make sure that the stone that the Hydromancer had given her was still there, and she moved slowly towards the creature.

“Give me his heart!” Columba screeched in his ear as he flung the corpse of a smoke mage with mismatched eyes aside.

About one hundred yards from him, he saw a beautiful, slender girl with fiery red hair advancing slowly. Her dark gray eyes bore into his. The pale gray rags that she was rapped in fluttered around her in the breeze.

“Kill her!” Columba hissed.

His hand found the flower petal from Callen’s flower that he had tucked into his pocket. “No.” the creature said, turning to look at Columba. This beautiful, terrible creature in front of him wasn’t his wife. She was something else. “You aren’t her, you haven’t been her since you left the house.”

He buried his claws in her ghostly flesh. “Killing all those people wouldn’t have brought Columba back would it have?” He asked the ghost sadly.

“No. It wouldn’t have.” The ghost said. Then she was Columba again, smiling that soft, sad smile at him. “I love you, darling.” The creature tried to hold onto her as she disappeared. She was gone.

He looked around at the sea of people, living or dead. So many slain by his own hands. His sister walked toward him slowly. History was about to repeat itself, another brother and sister would face each other on a field that still bore marks from the last battle. He watched her come closer, his despair growing.

Ceridwen walked toward the creature that had claimed her as his sister almost three weeks ago. She wanted him to have a name, and for him to live happily, away from anyone that had suffered from his actions. What he had done that day was hard to forgive, but she could try. She doubted everyone else would.

He stood still, waiting for her. Blood dripped off of his branch-like fingers. For the first time, she saw his face. It was covered in ridges of tree bark, small, dark, eyes rested in pit-like sockets. A pair of antlers extended from his head. Tightly curled tan fur covered his scalp instead of hair.

She stopped in front of him, leaving only about six inches of space between them. He stared at her, eyes full of despair. She met his gaze unflinchingly.

“Have you come to kill me?” He asked despondently. She shook her head and pulled the stone’s chain out of her rags.

“What is your name?” She asked him.

“I have no name. You know this.” He said. “I’ve never had one.”

“My name is Ceridwen.” She said, taking one of his branch-like hands. She let the images fill her head. “Your mother abandoned you. You grew up alone in the forest, and eventually married the love of your life. But she committed suicide after your son died. Then a ghost that looked like her started haunting you a few days ago.”

“I just banished her.” The creature rasped.

“There was a reason that your mother abandoned you.” Ceridwen said, a slow realization coming over her. “You were never human. Your mother knew that from the moment that you were born. She hoped that you would die after she abandoned you. It didn’t happen, though. Against the odds, you lived. You lived, and you loved, you felt sorrow and you felt anger. Just like any other human being. But you aren’t human. I don’t know exactly what you are, but I do know one thing. You are something that shouldn’t be here, and your name is despair.”

She pressed the stone into his hand as she spoke. A column of beautiful, pure white light shot out from between their hands. The creature slumped forward and fell on top of her.

“I’m sorry for leaving you to deal with this.” He whispered. Then he was dead. Gone just like that.

Then the Hydromancer was beside her. She whirled on the woman. “You didn’t tell me that it would kill him!” She screamed at the older woman.

“I didn’t know that it would.” Llyn said defensively.

“His death will weigh me down until the day I die.” She said, her voice cracking. “He was the first to show me kindness after I was turned into a dragon. My first friend, the man that claimed me as his family, and I just killed him. After I promised not to.”

Ceridwen felt arms around her, the Geomancer’s arms. They lifted her onto a dragon’s warm, leathery back. Then they were airborne. But all she saw was the white mark that the stone had left on her palm.

She was dimly aware of the Geomancer leading her into a dark bedroom and quietly shutting the door as she left. Ceridwen stared into the shadows, still remembering the dead weight of the creature on her shoulder. The tears didn’t come until much, much later.

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