Tessa begins marching furiously, leaving Noah and I to pick up his things and put them in his bag in a hurry. We follow her as she storms down the hill. Her fists are clenched so tightly that her knuckles are white.
“Tessa, calm down,” Noah says, jogging to catch up and walk beside her. I do the same. I can’t help but to feel like Noah telling her to calm down was a bad idea.
“Don’t you fucking dare tell me to calm down,” she snarls. She doesn’t stop marching. It’s weird that she’s so fast. Tessa is a lot shorter than Noah and myself yet we struggle to keep up. “Jack’s in Asherton. He’s alone, surrounded by enemies. We let them take him!”
She’s right, and nothing we say can fix what we did. The only thing that can fix this mistake is getting to Asherton and saving him, but that feels impossible. We still have a few days of travel ahead of us and who’s to say they won’t kill him? They could be torturing him right now… He could already be dead… Which would be worse?
Noah frowns, probably feeling as bad as I do. “We’re going to get him back, Tessa. Those scumbag worshippers have nothing on us.”
She groans. “Can you stop being a fucking idiot for just a minute?” She asks savagely. “They have everything over us. They have the book and they have Jack. They also have Valek, who is stronger than the three of us combined.”
Noah remains silent, and I have no idea what to say. I doubt there is anything that can calm Tessa down right now. I’d be just as angry if anybody I cared about had been taken into the dragon’s domain.
“Tessa, can we rest?” Noah asks. He sounds as exhausted as I feel. He does look considerably more beaten than I do however. He has the shadow of a black eye.
I pray that she says yes. She’s been walking at the same scary speed for hours now, not saying a word. The sun set at least an hour ago.
“No,” she snaps. “We’re going as long as we can.”
I groan, my legs burning. “Tessa we’re no use to Jack if we’re this exhausted,” I argue. “We need to be on the top of our game if we’re going to save him from Asherton.”
She stops suddenly, sighing loudly. I honestly have no idea where we are. For the last hour we’ve been walking on the outskirts of a forest with spacey trees. “Fine,” she sighs. “We can rest for a couple of hours.” She waves her arm and from the forest flies a bunch of dry sticks. They land in a pile and she angrily mumbles the words to a fire spell. “Go get us some food,” she tells Noah in a very commanding tone. He looks up where birds fly overhead. “Rabbits,” she says. “Get some fucking rabbits.”
It takes a lot of effort not to glare at her, or cower from her. I’ve never seen Tessa this angry. It’s terrifying!
Noah sighs, walking towards the forest. “Yes ma’am,” he mutters.
I follow him in. It’s half for his safety and half because I don’t want to be alone with Tessa right now. “She’s scary when she’s mad,” I say when I’m sure we’re out of ear shot.
Noah’s bow is already out and he’s scanning his surroundings. It’s strange how well he can see in the dark. It takes most of my concentration not to fall over. “Yeah, she is,” he mumbles. I kind of expected a sassy comment.
“Are you okay?” I ask, hating how much I worry about him.
He nods, drawing his bow string back and shooting. I look where it shot, seeing it miss a rabbit. I’ve never seen him miss before. “I’m just starting to see just how difficult all of this is,” he says. He shoots again and the arrow pierces a rabbit’s leg. “Even if we do get the book the chances of survival seem very slim… We’re not strong enough.”
Without him having to ask me, I walk over to the rabbit. It isn’t dead so I snap its neck with a swift movement. The arrow disappears. “You can always turn back,” I say gently. “Nobody would judge you.”
He shoots again, hitting one in the eye this time. “That’s not an option anymore,” he sighs. “For me, it never was.” He shoots a final time, killing a third rabbit.
I collect them both as his bow vanishes. “Why do you need the book, Noah?” I ask, curiosity getting the better of me.
Noah begins walking the way we came. “I think it’s time we discuss it,” he says. “All three of us.”
We reach Tessa who has stands ready for the rabbits. “Took you long enough,” she snaps.
I roll my eyes, handing the three rabbits over. “We weren’t even ten minutes,” I tell her.
“Ten minutes is all it takes for them to kill Jack.”
She cuts the head off the rabbits and begins skinning them as Noah starts to speak.
“Tessa, it’s time that we talk about why we need the book,” he begins. He sits down across from her and I do the same. “Me and Damien have already agreed to help each other and we’re willing to help you too.”
Tossing skin aside, she looks at us. “What makes you think I want your help?” She asks, violently stabbing a stick through a rabbit and putting it over the fire. When we both just glare she asks a new question. “So why do you need it?”
I decide to tell her my motive first since Noah already knows it. “It’s pretty obvious, but I’m trying to bring Daniel back from the dead,” I tell her. “It won’t be easy. Bartholomew said I’ll end up summoning a Daemonic God.”
Tessa frowns, her anger dissipating quickly. “That’s suicide,” she tells me. It’s strange that she actually sounds concerned. Putting another rabbit over the fire, she continues speaking, sounding exasperated. “Surely you can’t be serious. I understand the need to be with who you care about but you’re just going too far.”
“What do you know about wanting to be with somebody?” I snap. It’ll be a miracle if Tessa is even capable of love. In the time I’ve known her I’ve seen her show next to no affection. Maybe she hides it well, or maybe like so many of us in this world all the love has been beaten from her.
“How dare you,” she snarls, all the anger back like it was never gone. Not even for a moment. “You don’t know anything about me Damien. You have no idea why I want the-”
Noah interrupts her. “So tell us.”
Tessa is quiet for a minute before sighing. All three rabbits are cooking over the fire now. I feel that we can relate to that. “I grew up in Lamridal,” she begins. “You know, our oh so amazing capital city. As you can imagine it wasn’t nice, being a mage and all. Thankfully I did grow up before the war, so mages weren’t yet killed and imprisoned without just cause. Instead we were just occasionally beaten by the Royal Guard in secret.”
Noah and I listen intently. He once told me things about his childhood, about how he became a thief. Tessa is finally doing the same.
“I lived in an orphanage for most of my life,” she continues. “But when I was thirteen there was a fire. Very few of us made it out. I was the only one to not get burned which seems rather funny now,” she laughs, touching her burn on her arm. She still wears a bandage over it. I imagine it’ll leave a nasty scar. “Anyway, that fire left me homeless. At this point I already knew I was a mage and so I spent most of my time with three other mages; Thomas, Adrianna and Allyssa.”
Wait what? “Adrianna and Allyssa?” I ask. “Were they twins?”
Tessa nods. “About a month after the orphanage burned down they left the capital. They tried to get me and Thomas to go with them but we were too scared. We had never been outside of Lamridal before so the thought was rather scary.”
“I met them during the war,” I tell her with a slight smile.
Her eyes light up a little. “Are they okay? I never saw them again… Did they survive the final battle like you did?”
“Neither of them were at the final battle,” I tell her, not elaborating.
She nods, smiling before continuing. “After they left me and Thomas continued alone. We managed to get what food we needed and we survived. For a while.” She sighs, turning the rabbits. “We both made it to fifteen before one day we were attacked.
“The Royal Guard had about ten new recruits who had just finished training. The training was apparently hard and I guess three of them wanted to burn off some steam. They found me and Thomas resting one night and they… They killed him. Or more so, two of them did while the third held me down. They punched and kicked him to death while forcing me to watch,” she says, looking at the fire. I have to admire how strong she is being about telling us this. “I managed to break free of the one holding me and knocked him back, I think he hit his head on something because he went unconscious. My telekinesis was still very weak and I could barely even read minds yet alone control them. The other two neared closer and so I was helpless. That’s when Aaron appeared, my knight in shining armour,” she says with a sad smile.
“He was a new recruit too,” she continues. “I could tell by his armour. He fought the two of them off and helped me up. He was the first guard to ever show me any kindness. Aaron was only seventeen. I’ll spare you the details of it all, but we quickly fell in love. He protected me, let me stay with him and his brother.”
Noah interrupts her. “Is Jack Aaron’s brother?”
Tessa nods. “Yes.”
“Why did you not just tell us?”
She shrugs. “I guess it just seemed more likely that you would let him come with us if you thought he was my brother,” she tells us before continuing. “I stayed with them for about a year and a half. It was the best time of my life with those two. The love of my life and the brother I never had,” she glares at me ever so slightly when she says the next thing. “It was all brought to the end by the beginning of the war. Just as the word of war spread across Wychelm, Aaron disappeared.”
I frown. “What did the mage wars have to do with a Royal Guard?”
“A Daemon took him,” she snaps. Why she’s blaming me is a mystery, but I don’t question it. Everybody likes to have a scapegoat. “That much is obvious. For a few weeks before he disappeared I kept seeing a shadow through windows, a thing at the corner of my eye… I thought I was just being paranoid but one night, I saw it in our bedroom. It was a terrifying humanoid shadow that disappeared after mere seconds, but with it went Aaron… The love of my life.
“Jack and I began searching immediately, it’s all we’ve been doing since that night,” she sighs. “While you were being a noble mage, fighting in a war, I was looking far and wide for Aaron,” she tells me. “So don’t you dare say I don’t know what it’s like to want to be with somebody.”
Tessa hands out the rabbits and viciously bites into hers. I eat mine more slowly, reflecting what she has told us. All she wants is to find Aaron. She’s spent over a year with Jack, searching for her love. She wants nothing more than to be with him.
Once she finishes eating she tosses the stick and left overs aside, taking a sip of water. “Your turn,” she tells Noah.
He finishes eating too. “Mine’s not nearly as interesting as either of yours,” he says. “I just need the book to rid myself of a curse.”
“A curse?” I question, tossing my waste aside.
“Yeah,” he sighs. “Near the start of the war I considered joining, but since I have no powers I figured I wouldn’t be much use. Foolishly, I decided to try and get some magic. With the help of the amulet I stole from you,” he says, glancing at me, “I summoned a Daemonic-Queen.”
Tessa laughs. “What amulet?”
I answer her question. “Shortly before the war began, Noah stole an amulet from Daniel and I,” I inform her, only now remembering what it was. When Daniel and I killed a worshipper we took an amulet he was wearing. “We thought it was worthless.”
“It was quite worthless,” Noah says. “But the Daemonic-Queen wanted it anyway. I have no idea why.”
“Did you summon her alone?” Tessa asks.
He shakes his head. “Bartholomew helped me,” he says. “But I regret summoning that bitch. She tricked me. The deal was that she gave me magic and I gave her the amulet,” he sighs, looking angry. “She gave me magic, a magical fucking curse.”
“What does the curse do?” I ask, finding myself feeling bad for Noah. He wanted to help in the war but felt too powerless. He risked a lot summoning that Daemonic-Queen in an attempt to get some powers.
“It gave me two years left to live,” he snaps. “And those two years are almost up.” That strikes me as weird. It is about two years since the war started but it feels like a lifetime.
We’re silent for a moment until Tessa mumbles; “That certainly is magical.”
Noah glares at her but laughs despite himself. She laughs too, and I can’t help but to join in. “So, to summarise,” Tessa says. “We have a gay ice mage who’s trying to raise the dead, a pansexual thief who’s about to drop dead and me, the pretty straight girl who just wants her boyfriend back… What a sad little group we are.”
“I feel like we’re missing three of us,” I say. “Aaron, Daniel and Jack. Once all six of us are together, we’ll be unstoppable.”
Noah nods. “Three mages, a Royal Guard, a thief and Jack,” he laughs. “A force to be reckoned with!”
Tessa smiles, nodding her head ever so slightly. “We’re going to get Jack back,” she says quietly. “We’re going to get them all back.”
It was dark by the time we found the entrance to the cave we had been looking for. We had been searching for a few hours. “Are you sure the worshippers are in there?” I asked Daniel, squinting to see him in the dark. That was one of the last things we did before the war. One of the last things we did that was just the two of us.
He nodded. Daniel always looked peaceful before the war that ruined him. It ruined his hope and his life and his joy. “I know that it’s a weird place for them to be,” he told me, “but they’re in there.” We were trying to kill them because of what they did. For whatever reason, they killed a young child in a nearby town. “What I don’t understand,” Daniel said, “is why they would kill someone so innocent.”
“Don’t be naïve Daniel,” I sighed. “Nobody’s innocent in this world.”
Daniel shook his head and walked into the cave, holding a ball of fire in his hand for light. The cave was basically just a corridor with a lot of room. We walked in silence until it opened up into a larger area. There were torches lit on the walls and there were sleeping bags around the room as well as a table and chairs. There were four worshipper sitting around the table.
“You guys know how this goes,” Daniel said confidently. His other hand became engulfed in flames.
The worshippers stood. Two conjured swords and the other two remained without a weapon. I didn’t bother holding a dagger, instead I let my magic flow through my hands.
Daniel waved a hand and fire shot at the four of them. Only three were lucky enough to move away. The fourth was caught in the fire and screamed loudly as it burned his robes and him. The smell of burning filled the room as the other three ran at us.
I formed a sword from ice and lunged forward at one, blasting the others with wind. My sword pierced into his gut and he crumpled against it, dropping to the floor with my ice sword. Daniel was fighting off the two others. He lit another on fire as I turned, stabbing the last one in the throat. They both dropped dead.
“That was really easy,” Daniel said, frowning. “Were they even trying?”
I shrugged, looking at each of them. I noticed something shiny around the neck of one of them and walked over to him. It was a golden amulet, quite a big one. I ripped it from his corpse, frowning at it. “This looks like it’s worth a lot of money,” I said, standing.
Daniel nodded, smiling. “We avenged a dead child and we’ll make some money,” he laughed. “Today’s a good day.”
We got to the town where the child had died quite quickly. Since it was night we found an inn and rented a room.
“Do you think anybody in town will buy it?” I asked Daniel, putting the amulet and my pack on the desk. I lit a ball of light that hovered in the centre of the room.
He shrugged, stretching and taking off his boots. “Probably,” he said, stifling a yawn. “If not we’ll just go to a bigger town and sell it there.” He sat on the edge of the bed, taking off his jacket and shirt before laying down.
“Are you tired?” I frowned, feeling wide awake. He nodded and sighed. “You should sleep, I’m going to exercise,” I told him.
Daniel fell asleep quickly and so I exercised alone. We did it together often, before the war at least.
After a while I joined him in bed despite not exactly feeling tired. Just being next to him felt nice. We didn’t even have to be touching for me to feel like it was all okay. At that point of life, I thought it all was going to be okay. I never imagined that soon after we would fight in a war and lose our future together.
Just as I was drifting off, I heard a creaking. I sat up, turning to the source of the noise. There was somebody in our room standing by the desk. He picked up the amulet and pocketed it.
“Who are you?” I commanded, standing.
He turned to me, looking frightened. “I’m Noah,” he said quietly, glancing at Daniel who was still asleep. “And I’m sorry, but I really need this amulet!” He pulled a ball from his pocket and threw it at my feet. A grey smoke engulfed me, causing me to gag and feel dizzy. Unable to help it, the smoke made me to drop to the ground, unconscious.
Unable to sleep, I sit up. Noah is reading a book but Tessa is sleeping despite her objections to this rest. That’s beautifully ironic.
“Can’t sleep?” Noah asks, closing the book and putting it in his bag.
I shake my head, sighing. “I was just thinking about a few years ago when you stole that amulet from us,” I say. “How did you know we had it?”
He considers it for a minute. “It was kind of just a hunch,” he tells me. “I didn’t even do anything with it until months later when I gave it to that Daemonic-Queen… I guess she put the thought in my head,” he laughed. “Bartholomew once told me that most of what we do is something a Daemon wants us to do. I guess he’s right.”
I shiver at the thought.
“We’re almost there now,” Tessa says quietly as we finish following a path through a forest. The sun is rising now. We slept through the afternoon yesterday after travelling through the morning. We then travelled through the night. Noah pointed out that the worshippers and Valek might be coming for us too and for whatever reason, we figured that travelling through the night would be best. “Asherton is basically just over that hill,” she says, pointing to one.
Noah nods. “Is this the part where I scout ahead?” He asks, sounding a little weary.
Tessa nods, frowning. “Don’t die. Please. We need you.”
I can’t stop myself from walking close to him and hugging him. The thought of him dying alone in there is strangely painful. “Be safe, Noah.”