1480 - She Found Me
1480 Outside greenway village, NETHERLANDS (five years in ardae)
Deragan was aware that somehow Radix had followed them from the Upperlands down to Ardae, though he knew not how. It was a land Radix was obviously very familiar with. So, he was conscientious of any danger as he exited his country home this morning. It was a cold November day.
Perfect for a morning hunt. Slinging a bow over his shoulder and heading across the frost-slickened lawn. Following the familiar path, he let his mind wander to his favorite topic. Her beautiful face.
And the same questions. Why? What happened to her after she gave us this…Immortality.
Loading his bow, he went in search of dinner for the household. Ducking a branch furred with silver ice.
Since that fateful day, her face was a permanent fixture in his mind. He was connected to her from the moment he lifted her in his arms. Her halo of pale hair framing her face in soft waves. Lovely blue eyes taking in his, like a starved woman’s last meal.
He sighed. Shaking his head at his own foolishness. His eyes on frosted grass.
He entered the stand of large needle trees bordering his property. Avoiding the crunch of frozen cones underfoot, he wove to the darkest part of the woods. Glimpses of green grass peered through the white coating. Trees clustered here, creating an atmosphere of warmth where the snow’s reach couldn’t freeze. He crouched to wait.
It was mid-morning before he heard the first snuffling of a brush animal. He patiently waited until it came into view.
A driter. A round, flat-faced animal whose torso was wound with succulent meat. But possessing large claws which could deeply gouge. He knew well to stay from its range.
Watching its small nose twitch and tiny eyes flicking, he was careful. Aware it compensated for the lack of smell and near blindness with its unusually large pointed ears.
He shot it through the shoulders. Watching its chest rupture with the pointed tip. Exhilarated with the thrill of the hunt.
He took his time cleaning it next to the burbling stream. Eventually reaching between the chunks of ice to briskly cleanse his hands, oblivious to the frigid water. Drying them on his tunic. He slung his bow across his chest, before pulling the driter over his shoulders. Glancing up he noticed he had lost much of the day. It was now late afternoon. And it would take him some time to get home with the meat.
Emerging from the woods into the foggy haze of evening, he was pleased to see the weather had warmed some and the frost had melted throughout the afternoon.
He jerked to a stop. Startled to see a woman standing in his yard staring up at his country home.
Long blonde hair cascaded down her back in waves. Swaying over a cream colored, lace-edged, sleeveless dress. Which exposed delicate shoulders to the brisk air.
Glow flies brightened in the descending evening. Creating a myriad of dancing lights glimmering in the fog around her head. Reflecting lightly over her pale skin.
The driter fell from his shoulders and he stared at her back in wonder. Numbly tugging the bow from him, he clutched it in his fist.
It can’t be. But he felt her presence. Recognizing it as surely as he knew his own reflection.
The bow fell from his hand.
That hair…The statuesque figure.
Wonder filled him as he stared at that slender back framing to a narrow waist before flaring out in rounded hips. All molded by the fitted gown.
His leaden feet carried him in a slow circle around her until he could see her profile staring at the house. Surrounded by dancing green fireflies, she looked like a silhouette carved in snow.
A frozen statue intruding on my lawn to stare up at my windows.
Waiting for me.
“Who are you?” He breathed.
Slowly turning to him her lips parted in a bright smile. “My name is Lacey Marcelle.”
“What-what are you doing here?” He swallowed the huge lump in his throat.
It’s her. He was certain despite that her face had been bruised and scraped. Marred by scratches and bits of rock. And this beautiful face was flawless. Still, I’m not mistaken. In eighty years, I’ve not forgotten that face.
Thought of little else… He admitted to himself.
“I’ve dreamt of this house.” She gestured at it. Giving him a long look.
“Aren’t you freezing out here? It’s the dead of winter.”
“You’re never cold.” She assessed his clothes.
He followed her gaze numbly, aware he was absent a cloak in the brisk air, glancing down his body he realized he was covered in mud and splashes of blood.
“I found it. I dreamt of it so many times…”
He took a step toward her to apologize for his appearance, sure she must be horrified. But her next words stopped him in his tracks.
“Of you. I knew I’d find you here. I’ve been looking for you.” She seemed oblivious to his state of filth.
“What?” He blinked in confusion. “I fear I wasn’t tracking.” He shook his head. Trying to clear his dull mind.
“I’ve dreamt of you.” Her eyes were riveted on his face, unfazed.
His brows furrowed and he stared at her. “I don’t understand.”
“Nor do I.” She smiled in a self-deprecating way. “But I was walking this path today, going to Greenway Village. And here it is.” She gestured to the house then over to him. “Here you are.”
“Perhaps you’ve seen me afore?” He offered, easing closer to get a better look at her. His blue eyes roved her face. Taking in every detail.
“No. I watched you leading those men into that canyon. I saw where I was. Who I was. And I fell to save you. Because I…loved you…” She reached and caressed his cheek.
She seems stunned at her own words.
Good. I’m not the only one.
“I know how crazy it sounds!” She laughed. “But I swear to you it’s the truth.”
“I think we should talk.”
Explain to me what this is about?
He stepped back and her hand slid from his face. “Would a picnic suit you? Perhaps here on the lawn?” He offered, evading her touch. “I could have heat blocks warmed for us and find you a cloak.” He offered, hoping offering a picnic out here would assure her he didn’t have questionable intentions. He waited in suspense for her response.
What if she’s not whom she seems?
She nodded, beaming. “I have so much to tell you!”
“I’ve many questions.”
True to his word, he ordered a quick picnic prepared of cured meat and warm bread. Setting out a blanket and carefully wrapped the heat blocks. After she was seated, he laid them to each side of her.
“May I?” He asked, raising a thick wool mantle.
She nodded and lifted her hair for him to lower the cloth over her shoulders and tuck it around her. Her hair fell back into place. He caught the faint aroma of vanilla. Felt the brush of the satin tresses across the back of his hand. Making his breath hitch.
“Are you cold?” She shot him a worried glance.
Tight lipped he shook his head as he sat opposite her.
They ended up talking far later then he’d intended. The sky was fully dark, and he was forced to walk the beautiful young woman home.
Stolen time with her.
Deragan was riveted. Not only by Lacey’s beauty but by her intellect and kind heart. She spoke long of her loved ones. Mother, father and older sister. Her family home was only a short mile from his house.
Her soft blue eyes were bright with excitement as she spoke of dreams she’d had of him. Strange memories haunting her.
“Someday I’ll write all these down.” She vowed. When he said nothing she continued, “Do you remember me?”
“I could never have forgotten.” He whispered.
As they arrived at the end of the walk to her lovely white and brown home he bowed over her hand. Pressing a soft kiss there. Reluctant to let her go.
“Would you do me a kindness?” He asked.
“Please don’t go to the village without someone to look after you. It could prove unsafe.”
She eyed him a moment and nodded.
Deragan was thinking of Radix and his minions.
If she’s right, if she is The Fallen one, Radix will come for her. He watched her until she was safely through the door of her house. When he comes after her, I’m going to be there.
As soon as he returned to his country home, Deragan clasped the Dragon’s Eye pendant tight in his hand, using it to summon the other knights.
Once the Forever knights had convened in Deragan’s parlor, he explained to them the strange meeting with Lacey Marcelle.
“It’s insanity for us to think…It’s impossible!” Mardichi declared tossing his arms as he paced before the Captain. Running his tanned hand through thick red hair.
Careful. Deragan watched him through slitted eyes.
Seeing his look, Mardichi settled. Moving into he shadows next to the fireplace.
“Are you certain?” Alazareth asked. Blue-green gaze wary.
Yes. It’s her.
“How can it be?” Excitement tinged Raese’s voice.
I don’t know. He stared at them all expressionlessly. Arms crossed over his thick chest, he was unmoving.
“Did you smell Cimmerii?” Lucien tossed out, worry written over his face.
“Do you think I’d be so careless?” Deragan’s lips whitened, keen gaze flicking to his Second.
“You’re right. You’re never careless.” Lucien changed his tone at the warning.
“How can you be sure, though?” Tev queried certain to ensure no disrespect seeped into his tone.
Deragan lifted a staying hand. “I know how ludicrous it sounds.” He shook his head. “But she remembers us…All of us. She remembers falling for our souls in Billar. She remembers making us immortal.”
She couldn’t know that unless it was her.
“Did you tell her the story?” Mardichi asked skeptically.
“Do you think I’m a fool?” Deragan’s head slowly turned to Mardichi.
The barbarian shook his head. Realizing his mistake.
Lucien and you? Deragan’s annoyance was mounting.
“I told her nothing.” Deragan snapped.
“My Captain,” Sebastian said softly, causing all eyes to turn to his tall tawny frame. “Is it possible she could be one of Radix’s elaborate traps?”
Like the girl at the ball in the UpperLands. Deragan studied the blonde man carefully.
It was Chavias that stepped forward and put a staying hand on the Captain’s bicep. “You should let someone check it out. See if they see what you did, Old Friend.” Chavias urged quietly.
Despite that he and Deragan were particularly close the touch earned his hand a glance that had Chavias retracting it.
“Of course.” Deragan relented. “I’ve already considered the ramifications of me being wrong.”
I could let her close enough to kill us.
“It’ll be you, Sebastian. You’ll go to the Marcelle Manse down the road. Look at her, speak to her if you need. Tell me if you don’t think it’s her. I’ll listen to you.”
Sebastian looked a little leery.
He doesn’t want to be the one to bring me news I won’t like.
But Sebastian did as directed.
“Captain,” Rhyers stepped forward. “Permission to check the area for Cimmerii stink?”
Deragan gave a solemn nod. Go.
But he couldn’t deny he was feeling the first vestiges of hope he’d felt in half a century.
He watched Rhyers’ tall shadow slip around the corner of the wall and head out the door without a sound. If there’s cimmerii out there he’ll find them. Deragan prayed there wouldn’t be.
A giant shadow shifted from the far corner of the room. Mardichi was uneasy.
“What?” Deragan sensed his dissension.
Mardichi was silent.
“It unnerves me she’d happen across you.” Mardichi’s gaze was skeptical. He lumbered from the shadows. The afternoon light brightening on his red hair. “I could collect one of her so called-family and find out the truth in short order.”
By torturing them. Deragan knew it was the barbarian’s way.
“You’re not torturing her family!” Tev cried.
Deragan shook his head adamantly. “Whether a tool of cimmerii or not, Mardichi, she’s still only a young woman herself.”
Mardichi’s brows lowered darkly.
“I truly must find you a friend.” Deragan vowed shaking his head. “You’re too severe.”
Thunderclouds crossed Mardichi’s face but he knew better than to say anything.
Deragan’s fists tightened, tucked under his elbows. Waiting for his reaction.
“Sometimes a man needs killing.” Mardichi shrugged.
“And sometimes they don’t!” Tev hissed from across the room. “Is violence all you can accomplish? You’re little better than Chavias somedays.” Tev gestured to the darker man.
“Careful little brother.” Chavias warned. Eying the youngest of them.
Deragan’s gaze was level on Mardichi. Voice calm, as always. “Our duty is to protect what’s sacred not seek to destroy.”
Mardichi sighed relenting. “I’m far better at destroying then protecting.”
“Perhaps it’d not be so, if you had something worth protecting.” Deragan said shrewdly.
“Hmm.” Mardichi rumbled.
“Sebastian is rather good at matchmaking.” Lucien offered with a grin. Earning a glower from Mardichi.
“He’ll not be finding me a wee woman like I were some lonely old man!”
“He could certainly try.” Lucien threatened, moving to put furniture between himself and the red-haired behemoth.
Mardichi began circling the chairs. “I could strangle yer wee neck.” He was already reaching out hands that looked more like hunks of meat.
“You’d have to get close enough.”
“Quiet!” Deragan silenced them as effectively as if they were children chastised by a parent.
More serious matters at hand.
Lucien straightened and nodded.
“Besides, if Bast wishes to meddle he’ll do so either way.” Deragan said dismissively.
There were a few acknowledging grunts at that.
Mardichi huffed. Ducking the doorframe to lurch from the room.
Deragan slumped into a seat to watch the dancing fire in his parlor. Something which usually had a calming effect on him. Though it certainly isn’t today.
All of them waited in suspense in Deragan’s parlor for the hours it took for Acharius to step in to announce, “He’s returned.”
Sebastian strolled in with a baffled expression and huge eyes. “There’s no doubt that is her.” He shook his head astounded. “Just to look at her, you can tell it’s she. She spotted me, laughed, and said she knew you,” He nodded to Deragan. “Would send me. She remembered me offering for her life in Billar…She couldn’t know that!”
“What?” Lucien was stunned. “You’re not one to be deceived…”
Sebastian shook his head slowly.
“You’re sure?” Chavias asked.
“It’s her.” Sebastian said. “You can feel her power, and the magic in her touch. Just as back then. She’s surrounded by blinding light.”
“You’re the only one that can see the light.” Tev reminded.
“It’s all around her.” Sebastian shook his head, dumbfounded. “There’s no mistaking her.”
I was right. Deragan was relieved. I’m rarely wrong.
“You’re certain?” It was Raese.
“Have a look for yourself.” Sebastian gestured to the road. “She said she’s been born anew, twice already. And her energy to return comes from the moon. As long as it shines,” He looked above the rest to meet the Captain’s blue-eyed stare. “She’ll come back.”
Deragan’s grip on the armrests of his chair turned white knuckled.
“This is insane!” Mardichi shook his head.
“Anymore insane then an angel falling for a Captain of poor knights?” Sebastian retorted, effectively silencing Mardichi.
Not something easily done. Deragan knew.
“There’s nothing.” Rhyers said quietly from the back of the room.
No cimmerii tracks.
Rhyers had entered the house without a single one of them noticing.
I hate that.
“I hate tha’ ye’re so bloody quiet.” Mardichi grumbled echoing Deragan’s thoughts. “Ye always’ scare the ‘ell out of me, creepin’ ’bout.”
“That’s fine,” Rhyers retorted. “Your unpredictability combined with your moodiness scares the hell out of me.”
“I could show ye ‘moody’.” Mardichi spat through gritted teeth.
“You usually do.” Lucien laughed.
Making Mardichi growl.
“I think you should see her again.” Sebastian cut in. For once silencing the teasing rather than instigating it.
Garnering Deragan’s attention. His head whipping in Sebastian’s direction.
“I agree.” Alazareth stepped next to his twin.
United in something, for once. Deragan nodded.
Deragan met with Lacey Marcelle time and time again.
The knights hovered around them. Still fearing she might be a minion of Radix’s.
Rhyers did daily checks for tracks.
Unfortunately, all thoughts Lacey was cimmerii were banished the day Rhyers found Deragan and Chavias talking in the kitchens. Insistent on interrupting them.
Not now. I’m speaking.
“Just a moment.” Deragan lifted a staying hand.
“Captain.” Rhyers emphasized.
Deragan’s head rotated to him with a slight snarl. What did I tell you?
“They’re hunting here.” Rhyers explained instantly.
“Cimmerii?” Deragan’s brows shot up.
No wonder his urgency.
“They’re here.” Rhyers’ voice turned sorrowful.
“Where?” Chavias’ eyes lit yellow as he peered around Deragan. Anger emanating from the dark warrior.
He’s already prepared to fight.
“Lurking around Marcelle Manse. I found tracks and the smell…” Rhyers shook his head at the mere memory of the repugnant odor. “There’s no question it’s cimmerii.”
“I’ll go with you.” Chavias stepped around Deragan. “We will hunt them down and kill as many as we can before they can return to tell Radix.”
Rhyers gave a quick nod.
They left the kitchens headed out across the meadow.
And Deragan now knew for sure what he’d believed all along…It is her.
Radix wanted her power for himself. A tool to twist the world into demons.
At full power, she’ll be a dangerous weapon for Radix to get his hands on. A creature that could lure countless humans to a dark fate and brutal deaths. He’ll want her at any cost.
She’s already mine.
He can’t have her. Deragan’s jaw hardened.
Lacey Marcelle, The Fallen, swayed Deragan’s hard heart in ways he hadn’t thought possible. She has my heart and all my longings wrapped in her tiny hands.
Every day one or the other of them made the walk on Greenway Road to the other’s Manor. Her chaperone forever in attendance, as expected.
But eventually I’ll have her alone.
At my side forever.
My mate. Deragan courted her relentlessly and she savored his attentions. Smiling eagerly at his approach. Giggling each time, he pressed lips to her hands. They walked the gardens of his home, talking and laughing together.
I can’t take any more of this distance.
She is the one. He could no longer resist asking her father for the endorsement to marry her.
A hard thing. For an alpha to ask another man for what he wants.
Blessings were given and the ceremony was small and beautiful in those pink and purple gardens they’d walked together so many times.
Then the cimmerii changed their behavior. For first time they became aggressive instead of lingering to watch her, dark figures emerging to charm her.
The day of their wedding in the garden, Radix stormed through the onlookers. Leaving a trail of gray dirt over everything he touched. “If she is not to be one of mine,” He pointed a gnarled shaking finger at Lacey, watery gaze squinted on her. “Then she’ll not remain for yours!” His red-orange eyes glittered malevolently. His short nose wrinkled in rage.
He’s threatening to kill her? Deragan in his fine overcoat crouched. Tucking Lacey behind him. The other knights circled her and him in a protective ring.
Radix and his cimmerii attacked but there were too many Forever Knights. His dark force was beat back. It was Radix’s first lesson that the knights were able to shapeshift into various creatures. Typically a primary shape such as a katash bird, the winged beasts with razored teeth. And as a secondary shape, sometimes multiple, typically feline or canine in nature.
Their snarls filled the air and they ripped Radix’s little cimmerii nonis apart.
And they learned of Radix’s telepathic link to each of his demonlings. The feral cries of the Forever Knights splintered the crowd and sent them fleeing.
At least this time, we won. Deragan had been disappointed to see the overturned benches, crushed flowers and the decay that now touched everything that’d been decorated to celebrate he and Lacey’s marriage.
Deragan watched the retreat of the black skinned creatures. Sensing this would not be the last time he dealt with Radix. Now he sees us as a real threat. He’ll be more diligent. After all these years, I can spot another predator when I see one.
As Deragan tried to enjoy the days after his union with his beautiful wife it was constantly disturbed by Radix determinedly picking off their numbers at Deragan’s House.
It’s no longer a sanctuary. He’s going to keep whittling away at us.
Deragan’s anger mounted every time he found one of his pack dead out on the grassy borders of his home. His hunger for vengeance building. I’m going to get careless. That’s what he wants. Deragan could clearly see the tactic but it didn’t make it any less effective.
He summoned his knights to crowd into his foyer. He stood atop the stairs in the fading light. Lacey close to his arm, clinging to the rail with a tearstained face.
“It’s time to separate, My Knights. You will go.” He ordered. “Scatter. We can never again unite numbers unless circumstances necessitate. Unless approved by me. We’re easy marks when we cluster.”
With solemn nods and much reluctance, they took to the sky and land to vanish into the night. Heading to the far realms of Ardae.
“Except you Acharius. You will remain.” Deragan pointed to the right wall of the foyer where the bearded blonde giant dutifully walked to stand.
The only other one that remained was Sebastian. Standing stoically in Deragan’s foyer with his arms crossed over his chest.
I knew he’d fight me. Deragan took the stairs down to him.
Sebastian watched him. Blue-green eyes expressionless. Usual laughter absent.
“You will go.” Deragan said.
“May I argue?”
“No. You may say your piece. But you will go.”
Sebastian swore. “If I leave you and the Fallen,” He gestured up at Lacey. “You’ll be vulnerable here. He’s already been hunting us on your territory.”
Deragan blinked at him.
Seeing his words had no effect, Sebastian blew an aggravated breath but complied. Turning and leaving as the large feline. Heading back to Grier, with a roar.
Deragan turned to the only knight remaining. The one he’d directed to stay. A brawny man.
Acharius Sevence. A former Viking who doesn’t hesitate in battle and has a deeper sense of duty then most.
“You must take the artifacts. Find somewhere dark and deep in the earth to keep Radix from sensing them. We have to protect them from both Ardae and the Upper Lands.”
Radix will use their power to end humanity.
Acharius nodded gravely, understanding what Deragan entrusted him with.
Ardae was so similar to the UpperLands. A reflection of the world they’d come from but more lovely. Tucked on another plane and hidden by its magical elements. And many sacred creatures that had long ago gone extinct in the world Deragan had grown up in, still ran rampant in Ardae. Mythical creatures.
But here, they call dragon’s ‘katash birds’.
In the UpperLands the rarest creatures had been hunted.
Like we were hunted there. Deragan recalled. Billar Canyon was in that world. Where they’d been cornered and prepared to be massacred until The Fallen. His gaze glided up to his beautiful wife. Who’d silently watched, heartbroken, as the men that had become like brothers to her were chased from her home.
In the UpperLands people had realized we weren’t aging and there were too few places to hide. We were driven here.
“Where are they?”
Deragan was distracted from his pensive thoughts when Acharius asked.
He and Deragan found a husk bag dense enough to carry the weight of the treasures. Together, they wrapped the artifacts in old cloths used for just that purpose for decades. Then piled the artifacts carefully within the bag.
“Be careful.” Deragan cautioned.
Don’t let Radix get his hands on them.
Acharius nodded gravely, understanding the importance of his task.
Deragan released his grip on the bags and in short order, Acharius was on his way to find a deep den.
Somewhere dark, and safe, and preferably close to water. Which will make it harder for Radix to sense them.
There, Acharius would hide the greatest treasures of the Forever Knights.
Leaving Deragan alone to protect his precious wife.
Sniffling she reached a hand down toward him.
Climbing the stairs with a pained sigh he aimed for her. Taking her small hand and wrapping his arms comfortingly around her.
They’ll be okay. They’re the toughest creatures alive.