Heart of Gold

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8

Jeff pulled himself together enough to open his backpack and make two small potions. One he drank and the other he poured onto a cloth and gently applied to Genevieve’s bruises.

“It won’t heal you completely, and it doesn’t fix broken bones, but it will reduce the swelling and ease some of the pain away.”

She looked up at him and smiled sadly.

“You are so careful with your power, and so reckless with yourself.”

“What do you mean?”

She blinked a few times and then sighed.

“Nothing really, just, I guess, I mean that I’m worried about you.”

Then she smiled and slapped him,

“But I’m also still angry at you.”

He smiled in reply and gave her the rest of the potion to drink before standing up.

“Ok, let’s go get Bertie back and deal with my brother once and for all.”

She stood with him and frowned.

“How do we find them?”

His smile broadened, then he closed his eyes and started muttering under his breath. A few moments later when he opened them they looked more like a night sky than eyes, and Genevieve gasped in surprise. From his perspective he was looking through Frank’s eyes, trying to get a bearing on what he could see.

“It looks like they’re not far from here, in what looks like a large house. I think they might even still be in town.”

Spotting Michael standing off to one side, Jeff closed his eyes again and shifted his consciousness. From Michael’s perspective, he saw Frank was giving some kind of fury inducing speech, rousing the small band of thugs he’d gathered and pointing at Bertie who sat unbroken on a table. He could also see the sign of one of the other inns nearer the outskirts of town through a window behind Frank.

“I know where they are, come on!”

Jeff closed his eyes and shook his head a few times, then excitedly grabbed Genevieve’s hand and led her out and down the street. They arrived just as Frank was getting to the end of his speech. With a few quick waves of his hands, Jeff pulled the door off its hinges, pushed almost everyone in the room up against the walls and ripped Frank’s axe from his hands.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Frank!”

Jeff’s voice boomed and the men held against the walls tensed at its potency. But Frank stood resolute in his anger.

“Me? What about you! Turning against your own kind, against your family! And for what? An egg? A dragon? Think, Jeff, that thing's gotten into your head, it’s manipulating you.”

Jeff blinked hard at his brother, shocked at what he’d just heard and it allowed Frank just enough space to quickly snatch Bertie off the table and lift it above his head.

“Jeff!”

Genevieve yelled, and with a clench of his fist, he froze his brother in place. But sending that much constant force in all directions was taking its toll. He wanted to hold everyone still, but not actually hurt anyone, and his hangover wasn’t helping.

“I’m not going to let you do that!”

Michael, who was also held against the wall, strained to get free then yelled out.

“Look at yourself, Jeff, using your power against people to save a dragon. It’s turned you against your nature. It’s using its magic to affect yours. And it made you use magic on dad so that he’d retire.”

Jeff turned to look at his younger brother and a rush of sadness hit him. It was such a short-sighted idea, that they had always been right to hurt dragons and that to turn against that idea was some kind of insanity. Then the other men, feeling a slight ease in the pressure holding them, started to fight and push and cry out.

“It’s too late for him, the beast has poisoned his mind!”

“We need to fight to get free, he can’t hold all of us forever!”

The harder they pushed the more concentration it took to hold them and Frank in place, but it also meant Jeff couldn’t move. Genevieve, on the other hand, ran past him and tried to pull Bertie free.

“Frank, stop this!”

Sweat was running down Jeff’s face and he knew he’d have to change tactics soon or risk making things worse.

“Never!”

Screamed Frank as he managed to pull a leg free and kick Genevieve out of the way. Another rush of emotion hit Jeff and his eyes suddenly burned bright crimson. He spun in place, holding Frank in place with one hand. With a word, arcs of purple energy erupted from his fingers blasting half of the thugs through a wall. Turning his attention back to Frank and lifting him into the air.

“I will not let you…”

But before he could finish Michael tackled him, and everyone dropped to the ground.

“It’s for your own good, Jeff, once it’s gone, you’ll realise the truth.”

Frank quickly scrambled back up to his feet, Bertie still in hand, while Jeff fought to break free from his brother without hurting him. His mind being pulled in too many directions for him to form a clear thought and as Frank was about to hurl Bertie against the ground Genevieve swung his axe into the side of his neck. Frank coughed out a small spray of blood as his eyes went blank. Genevieve let the axe go just in time to catch Bertie and pull it, while Michael and Jeff both looking on in horror and screamed out,

“Noooooo!”

Michael’s grip fell loose and Jeff ran to catch Frank as he fell, guiding him to the ground.

“Frank! Frank, look at me, Frank!”

Frank turned dully toward the sound but his eyes couldn’t register what he was seeing. Michael appeared next to Jeff and quickly grabbed Frank’s hand.

“Do something!”

Jeff looked at Michael then back down at the bleeding wound, desperately trying to remember everything he knew about healing magic. He then held a hand over the gash and closed his eyes as a white-blue light started glowing around his palm. The light slowly began sinking down into Frank’s neck and knitting it back together.

“Faster!”

Screamed Michael and Jeff frowned trying to push more thought and power into his brother, but as their life forces mixed, he could feel that it was too late. Frank had slipped beyond the veil and while Jeff could put his body back together his spirit was gone. The light around his hand faded and tears started streaming down his face.

“He… he’s gone.”

Michael looked down at Frank, whose eyes had turned blank but remained open, then back at Jeff. For a moment his mind was empty and then he fell onto Jeff’s shoulder crying.

“No, no, no, no, do something, please!”

Jeff wrapped his arms around his brother and held him as they cried and Michael yelled out furious accusations of pain and sorrow. Genevieve sat wide-eyed in the corner of the room holding onto Bertie, her own tears welling up in her eyes as she watched the event play out. After a few minutes, the thugs who hadn’t been blasted through a wall picked themselves up and quietly made their way out, realising one by one that they’d either gotten involved in the wrong cause or that any attempt to try and attack Jeff was a mistake they wouldn’t survive. Jeff eventually reached out a hand and closed Franks eyes before getting Michael to his feet and taking him out of the room. Dumbly Michael tried again to say,

“It’s that damned creature affecting you.”

But his conviction had faded and Jeff said plainly.

“You know that isn’t true. That isn’t how magic works. You know I’ve always hated what we do, you should have known that I would never have been able to do it forever.”

Michael sniffed and tears started to roll down his cheeks again.

“I just, I just wish it hadn’t gone this way.”

“Me too, Gods me too.”

Genevieve had waited until things settled before slipping out the hole in the wall with Bertie and heading back to their room in the inn to wait for Jeff, who despite all warnings and good sense dragged Michael into the nearest bar for a drink. They sat silently for a few minutes then raised their beers to Frank and Michael’s eyes once again sparkled with tears. Jeff took a sip, then stopped himself, remembering his morning, and let out a long sigh as the stress of the day leaned on him all at once. Michael saw the shift and said quietly.

“What are you going to do now?”

Jeff thought again about taking a sip of his drink but didn’t.

“Same thing I was doing before. I’m taking Ber… the egg to a place I know it’ll be safe.”

A flicker of an idea prickled the back of Michael’s mind.

“The magic school?”

“No, those guys would have even less of an idea of what to do with it than I do. No, if… if I’m being honest there is an old rumour about an ancient red dragon who lives in the mountains to the west of here, near the school. I’m going to take it there.”

Realising that they had gotten it wrong caused Michael to once again choke up and say.

“Gods I wish this hadn’t happened.”

And Jeff reached across to hug his brother, and said quietly.

“You can come with me, if you’d like. Then we can face mom and dad together when we’re done?”

Michael pulled himself together and sighed.

“No, thank you, but no. I think someone should make sure Frank gets home, and I think I should do it.”

Jeff nodded.

“That’s good of you. You have the money to get it done?”

Without waiting for an answer, he reached for his coin purse but Michael stopped him with a gesture.

“Yeah, yeah I’m good thank you.”

They finished their drinks in relative silence, then hugged and went their separate ways. With Michael going to go collect Frank and make arrangements to take him home, and Jeff arriving back at his inn to find Genevieve crying on the floor cradling Bertie.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I… I was just trying to protect Bertie and you seemed like you were being overwhelmed and, I was still so angry from last night and this morning and, and.”

He knelt down next to her, rested his head on her shoulder and said plainly.

“My brother died today, because he was a fool. A fool who chose glory and praise over right and wrong.”

She put her arm around him and he nestled his head a little bit more comfortably, then she whispered.

“I’m… I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, me too. But you saved Bertie. And if I was thinking clearly, I could have and should have done that fight differently. If I wasn’t hungover, I would have. And if I wasn’t drunk last night I probably wouldn’t have had to.”

He sat up so he could look at her then said.

“I’m sorry I put you in that position, and thank you for being the strong one while I was falling down. Because I was.”

Tears once again welled up in her eyes but for a different reason now, and she leaned forward to kiss him on the forehead, exactly where she’d hit him earlier that same morning.

“So now what?”

“Now we keep going. We still have a job to do.”

She smiled and they quietly packed up their things, paid for their room and continued on the road towards the mountains.

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