A Sword of Greed and Envy: A Nokturn Rising Novel

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Chapter 22

When we reach the western border of Arcanum, we send scouts ahead to see what we are up against. They return at nearly sundown, grim looks on their faces.

“It doesn’t look good, My Lord,” one of them says.

“They have at least five hundred soldiers,” the other says.

What options do we have? We cannot retreat. We have nowhere to retreat to besides Mortem, and the state of things there is still unknown to me. I don’t know if High Lord Allister will back his son, or if things are more strained between them now than ever.

“We push forward,” Ash says, coming to a decision.

The men seem uncertain and I realize they need encouragement. They cannot ride into battle with insecurities.

“Men!” I call out, turning to face them on my horse, “We may be outnumbered, but the Arcanum faction is weak. They are distracted by their thirst. They do not know true battle as we do, nor do they know true victory! You have long suffered under the threat of being preyed upon by those who think us weak. That ends tonight!”

A few cheers ring out amongst the group, feeding my energy.

“Tonight, we will crown a new king!” I cry out, “One who will lead us into a new era of equality! Tonight, the Dark Lord will be crowned the Dark King!”

The soldiers roar to life, Mortem and Medeor alike, raising their weapons in the air with excitement. The deep scratches on my back burn, and I can feel the wet, sticky blood soaking through my shirt, reminding me they need to be tended to. I turn to one of the scouts, “I need you to find a healer. Look for someone bearing the black mark on their wrist.”

Healers that had chosen to be loyal to Ash and the Mortem army had taken to marking themselves with a black slash across their wrist, making them easy to identify should we need to find one.

“Yes, My Lady,” he says, hurrying off.

“What are you doing?” Ash asks, “Talking about me becoming king?”

“They need encouragement,” I tell him, “Something worth fighting for. You on the throne is worth them risking their lives.”

“And you will sit the throne with me?” he asks, skeptical.

“If that’s what you choose,” I say, examining the blade of my knife to avoid looking into his eyes, knowing I’ll be lost if I do.

“And if we lose?” he asks.

“Then I will have died for a cause I believed in,” I say.

“And what cause is that?” he asks.

“A world worth fighting for. A world without humans living in fear of Nokturns,” I tell him.

“And you think that is what I want?” Ash questions, making me second-guess myself for a moment.

“I believe that you do not see humans the way that most Nokturns do,” I say, “And though you might not be the most enthusiastic advocate for equality, I know that you won’t fight against it either.”

He smirks at me, taking my hand in his and lacing our fingers together. The soldier finally returns with a Healer in tow. She’s an old woman with long gray hair, braided down her back. Her eyes are soft and kind and I wonder how long she has lived in Arcanum. She smiles kindly at me but doesn’t speak. Instead, she gestures with her hands and I realize that she is mute.

“This is Thea,” the young soldier says, then leans in closer to me as the old woman kneels behind me and tears open the back of my shirt to fully expose the wounds left by the Werewolf’s claws, “High Lord Lucian’s soldiers cut out her tongue years ago.”

“What?” I ask, horrified, “Why?”

“Apparently, she said some blasphemous things about Lord Killian,” he says with a shrug.

“See? This is what is wrong with Maldara,” I say with exasperation, “You lose a limb or an organ just for simple acts of humanity and decency.”

“That will all change soon,” Ash assures me, looking pained as he watches Thea stitch the gaping wounds.

There is something very human about him, whether he admits it or not. He is compassionate where others of his kind are not. I think about how terrible it would be to lose him, then I remember, I have bound myself to him for life.

After dark, Taron and I sit next to the fire, as everyone drifts to sleep. The stitches in my back make me feel stiff and itchy. I can’t move and bend as smoothly as I could without them. Taron nudges my shoulder and I look at him.

“He’s not how I imagined Reapers to be. He’s different,” he says.

I nod, looking over to where Ash slumbers on the ground, “Yes, he is.”

“You’re different too,” he says, giving me the opening that I need to dive into this conversation.

I nod, “I know,” I tell him, “I’m sorry for not telling you.”

“How long have you known?” he asks.

“Since I first went to Mortem,” I admit, “There was an incident and it just happened. I didn’t know what it was. I was so scared, Taron.”

“I’m sorry,” Taron says, “For everything.”

I shake my head, “You reacted in the only way you knew how. I get it.”

“What is it?” he asks, “I don’t understand what you did back there. I’ve never seen a Nokturn do that.”

“I honestly don’t know what I am, or the extent of what I can do,” I admit, “I’m trying to figure that out, but that isn’t easy when there’s no one else like you around for guidance.”

Taron nods in understanding, “Do you think that since we are twins, that I might, you know?” he hints, not really wanting to say the words himself.

“I don’t know,” I say softly, “Anything is possible. I think recent events have proven that.”

We sit in silence for a few minutes before he finally speaks again.

“He wrote you letters,” Taron admits, looking guilty.

“What?” I ask in confusion.

“Ash wrote you letters, while you were home in Medeor,” he says, toeing the dirt with his boot.

I narrow my eyes at him. Ash had mentioned such letters but I hadn’t thought much about it since.

“You hid them from me,” I say, knowing it’s true.

“Not me,” he insists, “Father. But, I knew of it. I should’ve told you.”

“Yes, you should’ve,” I agree, “Things might be different now if you had.”

“I realize the problem with Maldara is that we cannot all coexist,” Taron says, “Not without united leadership. Hell, even then, it will be questionable.”

“He’s the only one who can unite us,” I say, looking back at Ash.

Taron shakes his head, “Not alone, he can’t,” he says, “But with you, it’s possible.”

Could he be right? Would Ash and I united on the throne be the key to change? I let the weight of his words sink in as I move to lie down next to Ash, curling into him and closing my eyes.

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