52: The Abyss
He led me out of my cell, wordlessly, into the light and fresh air of the castle. I had been stuck down there for what surely was days, and nothing smelled as sweet as freedom. Though, I was reminded, it was not without cost. My freedom hinged entirely on the success of an experimental treatment. I couldn’t believe that Renn was alive! The guilt that had been eating away at me since the soldiers had stormed the castle had lifted, making me feel light as I never had before. There was hope in both of our eyes, neither of us able to stop ourselves from feeling it no more than yourself from smelling a fragrant flower presented to you.
We walked quietly towards what I knew was the hospital wing. As somebody who made their living through combat, I was quite familiar with Healer Bron and his facilities, though it’d been some time since I’d been graced with his presence. We climbed staircases, breathing heavily, but speaking not a word to each other. I believe that each of us felt that if either of us broke this silence, then the other would disappear, right into thin air. Being with him again felt normal, like everything was how it was supposed to be. I just hoped I would be able to do as he suggested. She deserved to live, after this.
“We’re getting close,” he huffed, out of breath from the multitudes of stair we had climbed.
I didn’t respond; I knew exactly where we were. At least he was correct. He stopped us at the landing to catch our breath.
“I didn’t execute Spenser,” he said unprompted.
I stared at him. The last time I’d seen him, he had promised, with intense vigor, that he would do that very thing. I’d asked for him to give Spenser a choice, but I’d had no idea that he would actually listen. Relief washed over me, knowing that as much blood was on my hands, at least Spenser’s would not be added to it. I was glad for him, as all he wanted in life was a family of his own. Now, he had the opportunity to find one, to build one. Though he tried to go about it in a devious way, I was glad that his story ended in this manner as opposed to execution. I felt a rush of pleasure, knowing that Dayne had heard my advice, and taken it.
“I allowed him to choose his future, and he chose exile.” He looked me in the eyes. “Like a sane person would do.”
I avoided his gaze, ignoring his obvious comment about the choice I’d already made. He wouldn’t understand. I was tired of blood, tired of the pain, tired of the difficult decisions that life prompted from me. I didn’t deserve to continue on here. The path to my redemption was to give up my existence on this plane, to remove myself from the equation. Still, I didn’t know what to say, and the silence wore on. Dayne must’ve grown weary of my lack of response and turned to continue on our path to the hospital wing. I followed close behind.
A few more minutes of walking down the hall and we had met our destination. The hospital room’s air felt dense, suddenly harder to breathe. I couldn’t pin down why. The window lit upon the last bed, the only one occupied. I barely registered the man at the bedside, Healer Bron, the kind, powerful healing Mage that I’d come to for various cures and ailments since I arrived at the palace fifteen years ago.
All I could see was her, Renn. She still looked as fierce as I remembered her, as The Raven. But, without all of her elaborate leather armor and painted face, she looked younger, more like the sister I used to know. I ran towards her, staring at her face. Asleep, her eyes closed, she looked almost at peace. I envied her for it.
Seeing her face now, I felt chastened and stupid that I hadn’t recognized her earlier. I hadn’t seen her since we had been ten years old, and we had each changed as we grew into adults over the last fifteen years, but how could I not have recognized my own twin? She and I, though fraternal, should have known each other’s faces from the start. For ten years, her face had been one I’d seen every day. I can’t believe I didn’t know it was her immediately.
I suppose she had dyed her hair bleach white, which was different, and her face had been coated in that thick, heavily pigmented face paint every time I’d seen her, but still, I disappointed myself. What kind of sister was I?
“... did you hear what I said, miss?” uttered a calm, polite voice from the other side of the bed. Healer Bron.
“Oh... no sir, I didn’t. Could you repeat it for me?” I looked up at him to find kind brown eyes staring back at me.
His expression soothed me, and once again I understood why he worked in medicine. The man’s demeanor was enough to bring instance inner peace; I knew personally the kind of care he bestowed upon his patients. I was thankful he was the one looking over my sister. I only hoped he was as kind to her as he had been to me over the years.
“Miss, this young lady’s life force needs a burst of energy. Summon it, and as gently as you can, supply it directly into her heart. I’m sure you can manage that,” he said, winking. “I hear you’re a very talented mage, Miss High Suryan Premiere.”
I grinned to myself, pleased to be in this gentle man’s presence once more. He was like the grandfather I’d never had the opportunity to meet, and I silently thanked Tarah that he had been spared from the worst of this battle and prayed for his continued life and happiness. I just hoped that he knew what he was talking about when it came to Renn. The action required of me sounded simple enough. I just hoped it would work. Dayne approached my side; he must have stayed at the doorway while I had rushed to Renn.
I focused my energy, concentrating on summoning the most healing, kind, nurturing energy to the surface. This was difficult for me; I had never performed this kind of magic before. Everything I’d ever done with my magic had always been to hurt somebody, used as a lethal weapon. To wield it in this way was foreign to me. The energy warmed my hands instead of burned as it gathered, a soft, gentle energy balling up in my palms. I closed my eyes and held my hands together, capturing it within them.
Then, it felt as if I could contain it no more. Tears fell down my cheeks – this magic prompted so much emotion, more emotion than I’d ever allowed myself to express, or even feel. It was peace, it was happiness, it was love, it was everything I’d ever wanted. I was lost in the light that I had created.
I placed my palms on Renn’s chest, my fingers brushing her collarbone, the thin shift she wore a meager barrier between my hands and her skin. I took a deep breath, and pushed the magic through, into her. It was pure power that I lent her. Mentally, I pictured it squeezing her heart, supplying energy into her blood, coursing through her veins, reinforcing her limbs, just as I did when I used it to make myself stronger. I pictured the magic forcing her eyes to open.
The magic was spent. My eyes still closed, I dared not open them. I didn’t want to see if I had failed. Then, I heard sobs.
Dayne was crying, heavy, ugly sobs, his voice cracking as he whispered her name over and over again. I scrunched my eyes shut – if I didn’t witness this reality, then I could delay its truth. I ignored it as hard as I could.
Dayne grabbed my arm gently, squeezing it tightly.
“Larke, open your eyes.”
I shook my head, unwilling.
“Larke, please,” he whispered to me gently. “See what you’ve done.”
His voice was kind and soft, with a hint of awe, prompting me to trust him. Carefully, and slowly, I peeled open my eyes.
Renn was staring back at me, a tired smile on her face.
The Healer interjected into our moment, startling all of us. “She needs more energy, Larke.” He smiled at me once more. “Just a little should do the trick.”
I focused my energy once more, feeling tired, the concentration much more difficult as I felt the magical exertion threaten me, as it always did. I pushed past it though, and the magic coursed through my fingers once more. I brushed Renn’s arm with my finger, the energy flowing into her as if I’d poured it from a cup. She sighed, the energy healing her even more.
My head tipped forward, my vision blurring at the edges, as the exertion overwhelmed me. As always, and as I’d been trained to do since I was ten years old, I forced myself to continue despite the difficulties. Dayne still was holding tight onto my arm, squeezing it subconsciously. I smiled; his concern for Renn was endearing. It spoke to their relationship, their obvious friendship. Despite the pure happiness of this moment, I couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous of them. They had all of these years together, all of that time they were able to spend in each other’s company. Dayne had fifteen years to build that relationship with Renn, which was more than I’ve ever had. It just wasn’t fair, I thought. Especially since now, I knew I couldn’t stay.
Renn made to sit up gingerly, assisted by the Healer. I knew I should leave the room now, but I just couldn’t bring myself to. All I could worry about, for the time being, was the here and now. I would cherish these last moments with my sister, grateful. And, I would cherish these last moments that I had with Dayne, savoring each and every word, every look, every touch. They would be all that I had left of us, and I would take those memories with me into the Depths.
“Renn Fields, I offer you the position of Grand General,” Dayne said, his deep voice cracking on the last syllable. “Upon your full recovery, of course.” He smiled.
He still held my arm tightly, but his other hand clasped hers, fingers tight around her knuckles.
She smiled weakly, supported by the Healer and the pillows he was carefully placing behind her back to prop her up. “I accept your honor, your majesty.”
Dayne lifted her hand that he was holding to his lips, placing on those knuckles a light, chaste kiss.
He turned to me, the smile on his face luminous. “I knew you could do it,” he said, happiness radiating from him.
He embraced me without warning, his muscular arms encircling me and squeezing, pressing his face into my hair. Surprised, I lifted my hands, unsure what to do with them. But, before I could figure it out, he released me, chastened. He stepped back, his face red.
“Larke... I...,” Dayne coughed, his expression suddenly somber as he eyes stared deep into my soul. “I knew you could do it.”
My cheeks reddened, the heat flushing up through my neck and into my face. Though I appreciated his compliment, Renn wouldn’t even have been in this hospital bed if it weren’t for me in the first place.
“Of course, I had to try.” Looking at Renn, I said, “She’s my sister, after all. I would’ve done anything for her.”
She looked weak and tired, but still smiled softly up at us.
“I want to speak with you later, Renn,” I said, the last fifteen years welling up in my eyes, threatening to overflow in the form of tears. “We have a lot of catching up to do.”
Her face, not full of anger and fear as I’d half expected, was that of a tranquil knowledge and acceptance. Did she forgive me? Could such a thing even be possible?
“Of course, sister. I’m sorry I didn’t reveal myself to you before,” she said apologetically, almost sheepishly. “I have to admit that I was afraid to. Fear held me back.”
“There is no bravery without fear,” I said to her, smiling as I spoke our father’s words.
I felt the years wash away, and suddenly we were just two children again, basking in the glow of each other’s company. Maybe it really was possible to be myself again, the girl who I used to be before all of this had come between us. I desperately hoped it was possible, and as I was watched my reflection in Renn’s brown-black irises, I found myself believing that it could be.
Dayne breathed in deeply, interrupting our connection, and said, “Larke, I’ve been wanting to ask something of you.”
“Anything you ask, name it,” I said, imbuing my words with as much truth and honest intention as I could, “and if it is within my power, I will do it. I owe you everything.”
I meant every word. I owed Dayne my own life, as well as my sister’s. He helped her when I failed, brought me to her, and through him, now I had her back. After fifteen years, I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed her company until I was able to see her again, be her sister again. I sighed, finally content with the outcome of the day for once.
“Will you be my Grand General as well?”
He had surprised me again, first with his unprompted hug, and now with this offer. Two Grand Generals? Most Kings only had one; that was the point of it being ‘Grand’.
“I know you probably think you don’t deserve this,” he insisted, “but your place is here, by my side. If you will pledge your loyalty to me, to us, we can rebuild this country from the ground up.”
“Why the two of us?” I asked, still puzzled, glancing at Renn. Two Grand Generals would likely disagree and that would cause problems for efficiency.
“Life is balance, Larke. Have you learned nothing?”
I still stared back at him, incredulous.
“You two are two halves of a whole,” he explained. “You complement each other. Consider your powers, and hers. Consider her knowledge, and yours. Consider – everything about yourselves – you two are perfectly balanced. You’ve been separated for most of your lives,” he urged, “Why push yourselves apart?”
I tilted my head, looking back and forth between Dayne and Renn. He had a point. She and I, though twins, had been as opposite as we could be. We had led opposite lives, grown opposite strengths, become opposite people. I considered his offer. I would have to stay, and serve his Kingdom, if I accepted. Could I do this, and lead his army with Renn? Could I allow myself this true opportunity for redemption?
Leading with Renn tempted me more than I could describe; I wanted to spend time with her. But I had to be honest with myself. If I stayed, I would have to watch Dayne do what every royal must eventually do... get married, start a family. It wasn’t until now that I allowed myself to admit that I had completely fallen for him. He had been my enemy first, become a good friend, and somehow through the journey, had become so much more than that. But we could never be together; I had known that from my relationship with Nya – it was a similar situation. The royals had their own rules to follow when it came to this. I didn’t think I could handle watching him fall in love with someone else.
I stared down at my hands, unsure of what to say. To refuse would be a great insult, and a mistake on my part. This was what I was meant to do. If I didn’t accept, what would I even do? I knew nothing else but this.
Then again, if I did accept, what would I do? Plan Dayne’s strategic advances, give him advice on whatever princess that happened by? The thought shot a pang directly into my heart, twisting it. Then again, perhaps that was what I deserved. Maybe that should be my lot in life, what I’d earned, by blindly following the Urion family down this path. Perhaps, this was fitting.
I debated in my head, Dayne watching me intently, Renn calmly observing from the hospital bed. Choosing the ultimate torture, I nodded at Dayne, who had been waiting patiently.
“I accept your honor, your majesty,” copying Renn’s words exactly.
Beaming, Dayne smiled wider, This must be a very happy day for him. I braved a smile on my own face, trying my best to hide the despair I felt inside as I thought about the future that was sure to come. I owed this to Dayne. He deserved this happiness. I needed to make things right with him, and I had to be here to do that. What I thought I’d wanted before, death, was the easy way out. I couldn’t allow myself off the hook that easily.
He stood, looking back down at Renn on the bed, then glancing at me. Renn nodded her head at him, signifying something I didn’t understand. He cleared his throat and offered his hand to me to help me up. I took it, confused. What else did he have to say to me?
“Would you take a walk with me?”
“As if I could deny my King,” I joked halfheartedly, hoping to ease the tension.
He barked a nervous laugh and held out his arm for me to take. I accepted it.
We walked out of the hospital wing and wandered down the hallways. For a few minutes, we were silent. It wasn’t the typical, comfortable silence we usually shared, for he was so tensed that I could practically feel the discomfort roiling off of him. It was palpable. What was going on here?
We ended up in a long balcony that ran the length of the entire castle. We stopped in the middle, each of us appreciating the view. You could see the whole city from here; the town square, the streets that spun off of it, the river as the two halves converged into one whole. The countryside, though far away, was just visible enough, forests dotting the hills. It was beautiful. I sighed, taking it all in. Whatever Dayne had to say, he didn’t want to say it in front of Renn.
“Larke?” he said, turning his face to me.
My hands rested on the balcony as I leaned forward into the breeze. I inhaled, sighing deeply.
“You have my attention,” I said finally.
He was standing back from the balcony some. I wondered if he was afraid of heights. Strange, that he would come here then, if that was the case.
“I’ve been wanting to tell you this for a long time, now.”
The peaceful countryside had eased my mind, making me braver in my words.
“What could that possibly be?” I asked, closing my eyes and smelling the fresh air as it wafted past us.
“I think I’m in love with you.”
“I think I’m in love with you,” he said again sheepishly, avoiding my gaze and rubbing the back of his head, mussing his black hair. “I’m sure you don’t feel the same way, but I wanted you to know.”
I stared at him, shocked. He still wouldn’t look at me, twisting away to avoid me. Did he say... that he loves me? Could that be true?
“So, you’re sure I don’t feel the same way?” I said softly, resting my hand on his shoulder, his back to me.
He twisted back around slowly, his red face in front of mine. His eyes were wary, nervous, yet they met mine, the blue of the ocean staring back at me.
“It took me until now to realize it but... I have feelings for you, too.”
I could see the emotions ripple across his face in various different expressions. Surprise, nervousness, wary hopefulness, and then finally, a small smile creeping at the edges of his mouth. I stared at his lips, wanting to kiss that little smile into a full one so badly, I could barely restrain myself. Then again, why should I? He had just admitted his feelings for me, and I for him. What was holding us back now?
“May I kiss you?” he whispered sweetly, his eyes flickering back and forth between mine. He inched closer, and closer, yet still respecting my personal space.
“Of course, now co –”
He cut me off with a swift kiss, our lips pressing together, hungry for each other as if we were starving. His hands were suddenly in my hair, knotting into my messy braid. Mine caressed his neck, his jaw, his cheek, and came to rest on his chest.
A wave came over me, stealing my breath, and it was like nothing I’d ever felt. His mouth, burning hot, seared onto mine, a passionate embrace welding our bodies together. We were like magnets, of two opposite polarizations, impossibly glued, pulled towards each other like a moth to a flame.
Panting, our foreheads pressed together, he whispered, “I want to see where this goes.”
“As do I,” I whispered back, my eyes still closed.
He took his forehead away from mine, yet still he held me close as he looked into my eyes. “Then let’s do this, together, or not at all. Will you explore the unknown with me?”
Every doubt I’ve ever had, every regret, every mistake and lie I’ve ever made, all came down to this. They brought me here, to this moment. Could I do this? Could I overcome everything I’ve done thus far? Trembling with fear and excitement, I knew my own answer. It was hiding underneath me, just under the surface, despite all of the denial I’d laid over top it these last several months. All this time, I knew exactly what I’d wanted. The question was, would I allow myself this? Should I allow myself to find my own redemption? My breath was ragged as I considered his question. His heat was burning me in the stark contrast of the cold air surrounding us, the winter breeze whistling around our entwined bodies. Such is the way of life, I thought. We were fire and ice, the mountainous island in the midst of the sea, the light in the darkness. We shaped each other, molded by our experiences and our own respective journeys. I knew my answer; I knew how I felt about him, about the Ryne, about our possible futures. He, too, was my opposite, my balance, my equilibrium. I had to follow the laws of nature, my heart racing, pounding itself against my chest like a thousand galloping horses locked inside my rib cage.
“I would stare down the abyss, as long as you are by my side.”