Valkyrie III: Song of Darkness, The Novel Edition

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Chapter Twenty-Two

Lost in the moment, or more than likely the water’s ability to tantalize the senses, Belvaya found herself taking turns with the others, washing and combing Mist’s hair. Giggles filled the moonpools, mixed with the soft music that played through the air from the courtyard below. The air was peaceful, the waters invigorating, but Belvaya couldn’t help but think about the darkness.
It invaded her mind with images of the fallen Valkyrie, the trouble she had caused and that which was to come because of it. It had been decades since she’d seen Malice last, and though it was about fucking time the others reigned her in, Belvaya worried what would follow in the wake of her return. She was unstable. Confused. Those who had seen her spoke of a fury that dwell within her and that fury’s name was Marwolaeth.
“Is something wrong?” She heard Mist’s voice and turned to see the dark-haired beauty smiling at her.
“It’s Belvaya, she’s always got work on her mind!” Ashlyn grinned.
“Well now, that is not allowed in here!” Mist giggled as her mother toyed with a lock of her long dark hair. “So, tell us quickly what bothers you, so we can ready ourselves without the fog of concern in our minds!”
The Valkyrie was right. This was a day for making happy memories, her day, and Mist had somehow managed to compose herself against the dilemmas they faced. Malice was her sister, if anything, Belvaya would have expected Mist to lead the legions right into the heart of darkness to get Malice back; but she hadn’t. None of them had, thanks to the veil. It had driven Belvaya crazy, spending hours in the great libraries of Sanctuary, trying to figure out a way to just, toss it out the nearest window? That’s what they’d asked her to do. Forget about it, like everyone else had done. Forget about Malice? It just wasn’t possible, so she’d left to find Malice on her own while the rest of them did nothing.
“Come now, tell us your worries!” Ashlyn bowed her head. “We have shared many secrets, let us help you unwind your doubt!”
“You would not like what I have to say.” Belvaya frowned. “Today is not the day to lay it all out on the table. Today, is a happy day.”
“I cannot be happy knowing that you are so distraught.” Mist came forward, her hand on Belvaya’s shoulder. “Please, tell us, and know that no matter what you say, we are here to help.”
That was the problem, they were so willing to help now, five-thousand years later. “Why now?” Belvaya blurted out. “What’s changed? If she was too dangerous to subdue her before, what makes you think you can do it now?”
Malice had been consumed by darkness for years, destroying everything she’d held dear under the hands of her Masters. So, what was giving Mist reason to muster the legions against her and break the treaty? Why now and not then? What was she planning? So many questions running through Belvaya’s mind and she wasn’t sure just how deep she’d have to fall to have them all answered. She’d gone down this road once before, and alone at that. No one wanted to help her then, but they sure as hell wanted her to help now.

***

Ashlyn looked at Belvaya for a moment, debating how much to tell her. For as long as any of them could remember, Belvaya had been an ally and yet she was still an assassin with some very old ties. There was no telling how old she was, or who her family was, who they’d been loyal to and where they all were now. Not even Belvaya knew those answers.
Born to a noble father, yet her mother had not been his mate and therefor Belvaya had had to watch her older half-brother fight in the arena, from the crowds. She’d loved those fights, mostly to catch a glimpse of her father, but that was about as much as she remembered. She had no idea where she’d grown up, which planet they lived on, or what had happened to land her in a den of thieves and cut-throats.
Half Vampire, half something else, she was a force to be reckoned with, but at the same time, she was conflicted. So much like Malice, so daring and full of spirit, Belvaya may have been as lost as Malice, but she had always remained loyal and she deserved to know the truth. It was the least Ashlyn could do, considering what Belvaya had done to try and bring Malice back on her own. She had tried, when no one else would. She had failed, but the spirit was there.
The Elder took a deep breath before she spoke. “What has changed, is Malice herself.” She paused a moment, waiting for everyone to settle before she continued. “While it is true, she has caused damage that will take years to repair, she is on the brink of breaking free of the darkness that binds her. There have been signs that she is gaining more control.”
“So, she’s fighting the Host?” Belvaya asked with a cocked brow, shuddering as one of Mist’s Elven females lifted her hair to braid it.
“Did I startle you?” She asked, hesitant to proceed.
“No, no. I just…” She paused, turning to Ashlyn. “Something must have happened?”
“Malice was too well protected before, growing more powerful under the Host’s control, but the others have banished her, ordered her to destroy Misthaven and prove her worth. She is at a crossroads…”
“I really hope you don’t consider that a good thing?” Belvaya grumbled beneath the soft touch of the sponge.
“But it is!” Ashlyn grinned. “The further she gets from him, the easier it is for Malice to take control.”
“How do you know Malice is in control?”
“Simple, if it were the Host, Misthaven would be in ruins by now. Malice is stalling, taking her time. She has a plan.”
“Then she has to know there are only two ways this will end.” Belvaya shook her head. “If she destroys the city and proves her worth, she could ask for Pathen’s head and gain control of the whole regime. They would be obligated to give it to her and we would lose half, if not all of the city.”
“And if she doesn’t take Misthaven?” One of the others let out.
“She forces us to kill her.” Belvaya sighed and hung her head. “I for one, am not prepared for the latter!”
“Amme, I can’t do that, she is my sister.” Mist protested; a look of fear draped across her face.
“She may not give us a choice, child.” Ashlyn replied.
“The only way to truly free her, is to make the Host turn on its master, until then, she will not give her up easily.” The wheels in Belvaya’s mind were already turning and Ashlyn had to contain herself.
She was going to need that mind, and a whole lot of luck if they were going to bring Malice back. Mist too, was nodding as Belvaya explained. “If she doesn’t listen, we take away the Hosted, then the Host would have no choice but to leave and find another.”
“How long would she have to be, dead, for?” Sif whispered, as if saying out loud were a sin.
“We must try and reason with the Host first.” Mist cut in. “But, it would only take a short while, then we can bring her back.” The Valkyrie closed her eyes for a moment.
Ashlyn knew what her daughter meant. To bring back life, one must also take it. She was well aware of the need for a sacrifice. “Not to worry, I have seen to it that one is found!” She smiled at her daughter, though it had helped only a little to ease Mist’s mind.
“There are other forces at work here.’ Sif cut in, hoping to ease the tensions. “Together with their help, Malice will one day be free.”
“You are sure the sacrifice is willing?” Belvaya eyed Ashlyn. “It must be willing to die for the cause.”
“I have seen to it that only the right candidate be selected. I trust them to do what is right.” Ashlyn replied with a nod of her head. “It will be done.”
Mist wasn’t too sure she could take the life needed, but finally relented as she and the others made for the edge of the moonpool. “I would ask that you contact these others, and ensure they hurry with their plans.” She added, eyeing her mother as Belvaya had. “Malice needs our help, and fast.”
Mist knew what Ashlyn was up to, she knew her mother, and whether she approved was beside the point. Ashlyn would stop at nothing to keep her daughter sane, even if it meant giving orders in her name. If there was any wrath to be had, Ashlyn would accept it knowing she’d done what she had to, to keep Mist safe.
“Things will work out!” Ashlyn smiled at Belvaya, as she too, made for the dressing room.
“I would hope so, for the path ahead is dangerous and dark and we will need all the help we can get.” She replied, climbing from the pool.
Hope was all they had at that moment, but it was enough and Ashlyn smiled as she followed behind the assassin. What she found in the dressing room was a lighter mood and some well needed laughter. Gowns and shoes, all of Elven design, lay waiting for each of them. It was a good thing they all had something joyous to partake in, for the tides of war were churning and chaos was rising on the horizon. A wedding was the perfect distraction and would see them all to better spirits; if only for a few days.

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