Arsan lay in the middle of a circle of dead. He was pale, dying from his wounds. How did this happen? This was my fault, I should have been quicker. Nell was by his side, holding his hand, trying to comfort him. Her lips were moving. I imagined she was telling him that I had done it, convincing him that all would be ok now, but nothing was ok. Nothing would be fine if Arsan died. I wouldn’t be able to go on. I cared for him too much.
Leaving the haunting images of the sphere and Farenan lying helplessly on the cave floor, I ran. Nothing was going to stop me from getting to Arsan. I was the only one who could save him, he needed me.
The cave blurred past me as I ran. I didn’t stop as the light from the fires dimmed, or when the undead that were retreating back from the surface passed by me in the caves. They were on their way back to nothingness, something I wouldn’t allow Arsan to experience. Not now.
Through the darkness I bolted, letting my magic guide me. It took me to the crevasse, where the light of day shown down upon my pale face. It was a long way up, but I had to move quickly. The cave began to shake. Rocks fell from the walls around me. Up above my head the crack in the earth slowly started to mend itself, closing to the world of the living for good. If I didn’t escape, climb to the top quickly, I would be trapped in this desolate hell for ever.
My hands moved swiftly, grasping to any rock that would hold me. I remembered how the undead were climbing, almost jumping from rock to rock. I mimicked their movement and found that it was much faster. Up and up I went, flying to the surface, pulling on all the ancient magic I could find to help me. If I didn’t make it, two lives would be lost today, mine and Arsan’s. I had promised Ruan that we would come back. I couldn’t leave her without anyone at all.
A few more feet to go. The fissure was almost gone, but I still had time. With one last surge, I grasped the ledge above, the cold air of the world of the living touching my dead skin. It felt nice, alive. I longed for that feeling in my chest again. I waited for it, but nothing was happening.
I pulled my body out into the open air, exhaustion overcoming me. I rolled across the cold, icy ground, letting the fissure snap shut behind me with a shudder of the earth. That’s when the pain hit me.
My heart was beginning to beat, slowly pumping, one thump and then another. It was excruciating, but I welcomed it. Blood began to flow through my veins again, turning my pale skin a shade of rosy pink. The feeling of stiffness in my joints melted away. The only thing that was left was life, filling my body with the sweetness of the upper world. I took a deep breath of fresh air, the first one into my newly living lungs. It was amazing. The feeling of life was something I would never take for granted again.
I willed my legs to move, to crawl the few feet over dead rotting bodies to sit at Arsan’s side. He was watching me, his face pale as mine had been in the Underworld. He was close to death. I could feel him slipping away.
“Tabri.” His voice was raspy and weak. I had never heard him sound like this before. It scared me. Arsan was always so strong, he was my rock.
I placed my fingers over his lips. “Hush, save your strength.”
I felt the touch of death in his skin. He was cold, weak. I needed to do something. My hand lingered around his cuff. It was pulsing warm, reaching out to me. My magic burned in my chest, pulling me to touch it. I let my hand move towards it, giving over to the feeling. A tear fell down my cheek, as my magic drained from my body. I could feel it moving toward Arsan’s wound, healing the dead, broken flesh around the opening. “Hang in there. You’re going to be ok.”
Arsan’s hand lifted, touching my hair. My white hair. It must have turned colors when I had died. He played with the strands between his fingers before his fragile strength left him and his hand dropped. Arsan’s breathing was shallow and long between. He was slipping away in front of my eyes and there was nothing more I could do. I willed my magic to move faster, but the extent of his wound was vast. It was working as fast as it dared, making sure it didn’t miss anything.
I pulled the rocky armor away and placed my free hand on Arsan’s chest. I could feel his heart beating, but it was slowing, weakening with every passing second. No, Arsan, you have to hold on. Tears fell freely down my face, dripping on the frozen ground below me. I felt a thump on my hand, then a pause. The last thump came slowly. He was gone, his heart had stopped beating.
“No,” I moaned. I was too late. If only I had been able to subdue Farenan quicker, then maybe Arsan wouldn’t have been hurt. Then he would still be here with me. “No, this wasn’t supposed to happen. We were supposed to be family, you and me and Ruan. You can’t leave me here, you can’t leave me.”
I bent down and touched his lips again. They had gone ice cold. There was no sign of life left in them. I kissed him one last time.
The hair on his forehead was matted to his skin with sweat. I brushed it back, letting my fingers trace the lines of his cheek and chin.
Nell was sitting across from me, watching me. Tears ran freely down her face, something I never thought I would see. “I’m sorry, Tabri. I couldn’t save him.”
“No, Nell. Don’t blame yourself. I wasn’t quick enough with my task.” I leaned over and hugged her as tightly as I could. We had both done everything in our power to save him, but everything wasn’t enough. We had all understood the consequences of this mission. Someone was bound to be hurt or killed and we had accepted that when we volunteered. I just never thought it would hurt this much emotionally. It was worse than my heart coming back to life.
I heard a faint thump. What was it? Another thump came. Both Nell and I looked down at Arsan’s chest. There was another thump, a little stronger than the last. I placed my hand lightly over Arsan’s heart. Could it be? Did the magic heal him? Another thump, I felt it in my palm this time. I cried out in glee as another beat hit my hand.
Nell jumped to her feet, running her hands through her long red locks. “This can’t be.”
“No, it can’t, Nell. But it is. Who am I to argue with this miracle?” Arsan’s heart began to beat faster, stronger with every thump. Within seconds it was moving at a normal pace. Arsan slowly opened his eyes, and looked at me. His cool blue gaze watching my face, watching the tears of now joy stream down my cheeks. “You’re alive.”
I ran my hand up his chest. The wound was gone, healed over without a scare. There was nothing there to even indicate that he had ever been wounded. I searched with my magic, to see what was under the skin. The bleeding had stopped and everything was as it should have been.
Arsan’s hand pressed against my cheek, his thumb wiping away my tears. I could feel the warmth radiating from his palm. It was the feeling of life within him. My new found love for that feeling was overwhelmed with joy. He would be ok.
“Don’t you ever do that to me again, Arsan McVey.” Nell was wandering close by, her arms folded over her chest as she tried to sort out her new emotions.
Arsan smiled his warm grin, the one that won my heart over back in the monastery. “I will try not to for your sake, Nell.”
I shook my head in disbelief. There was so much to living that I still had to experience, but it was all so overwhelming. It would be nice to curl up in a cave for a few months and just sleep for a while. “Let’s go home.”
A loud uproar of cheers erupted as we entered the mountain cave. Every Artican was in the market place, packing the large cavern full, there was no more room to stand, but no one seemed to care. There were even people lining the balconies and windows of the nearby homes. I slowly scanned the crowd. There was not a sad face in the bunch, only bright faces, happy faces. They were cheering for us, for what we had accomplished. I hadn’t subdued Farenan for recognition, but to save my people. I hadn’t been prepared for this reception, but I welcomed it just happy to be alive.
Tull emerged from the crowd with Pella in his arms and his wife at his side. I was glad to see him. He pulled me into a loving embrace, something I had always longed for, family. Ruan was right behind him. She ran into her brothers waiting arms, giving him a thankful squeeze.
In all the excitement, Nell had disappeared. I hoped she didn’t feel left out. If she hadn’t come with me, or given me the information about the Underworld I would have failed, miserably. She should be here, receive her hugs. I’m sure someone would hug her.
I went looking for her, finding her in a dark corner, but she wasn’t alone. The younger counsel man was with her, talking to her. Nell brushed her hair behind her ears slowly. I noticed the rosy ting to her cheek, was it a blush? How odd. She smiled at the counsel man and he smiled back. I had never thought of Nell as one to fall in love, but I realized now that anything was possible. I let her be without interruption and went back to my family, wondering if a human and fury relationship would ever work.
Tull held his hands up to silence the crowd, the roar died down quickly. All wanted to hear what he had to say. “Tonight, we will have a feast to celebrate. We not only rejoice over the victory over evil, but of the home coming of our lost children. This day has been a long time coming, and we should be grateful.”
The crowd erupted in cheers again. I felt warm inside. My magic jumped with excitement, pulling energy from the others nearby. Arsan put his arms around my waist. He leaned in and kissed me. This time his lips were warm and full of life. I could get used to this new life, being held by Arsan and spending time with my family. My family, the thought made me smile. Not long ago I thought I didn’t have one, but now, I was overwhelmed with love, a that love I treasured.
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