A War to Win

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Chapter Sixteen

After getting dressed I followed Tessa outside. It’s morning now. The sun is shining brightly and birds can be heard not too far away. Dalmerton can be seen in the distance.

“It’s a nice day,” Tessa sighs, sitting on the church steps.

I mumble an agreement, looking at Noah and Jack. Noah’s practising with Jack again. I’m not too sure why. Jack didn’t do anything in Asherton, he was unconscious the entire time. “Is Jack helping too?” I ask quietly enough for them not to hear us.

She nods slowly. “Is Noah?”

“I’m not sure,” I say. “He’s said he wants to but he might have changed his mind.”

“The two of you are bonded now,” Tessa points out, watching them. Noah kicks under Jack, knocking him off his feet. Jack recovers fast and goes to stab Noah. He misses completely of course but his effort is nice. “I don’t think he has much of a choice.”

I frown, sitting next to Tessa. “I don’t want to drag him into this because we’re bonded. If he does it, I want it to be because he wants to.” After a moment I continue speaking. “To be honest, I’m not even sure why he wanted to help me. He doesn’t get anything out of it…”

Tessa just laughs. “It would mean getting to see you happy,” she tells me. “That would be enough for him.”

After knocking Jack over again, Noah helps him up before making his sword vanish. The two of them come and stand with Tessa and I. “What are you two talking about?” Noah asks. He’s panting a little, Jack is panting a lot.

“What we’re doing next,” Tessa tells him. “Me and Jack are going to be helping Damien bring Daniel back.”

“I’m helping too,” Noah says without thinking about it.

I frown. “Really? I didn’t think you’d want to…”

“Why not?” He asks. I just shrug, not giving him an answer. “Have any of you spoken to Bartholomew yet?” He asks, changing the topic. We all tell him no. “We should go find him. He’s probably been up all night reading that book.”

Tessa stands and I follow her lead. “Probably,” she says. “Hopefully he knows how we’re going to raise Daniel.”

We all walk in together and we go straight to Bartholomew’s office. He’s pacing behind the desk with the book in his hands. When he sees us he sits down, placing the book on the desk. “What can I do for you four?”

“Did you even go to bed?” Tessa questions, sitting down and ignoring the question. Jack sits in the other seat.

Bartholomew laughs, looking at each of us. His eyes barely focus. “My dear, sleep is for the weak.”

Noah rolls his eyes. “Did you find anything out about how to raise Daniel?

Bartholomew nods slowly. “Yes and I was right. You will have to summon a Daemonic-God.”

“It’s that easy?” I ask, also rolling my eyes.

He laughs again. “Don’t be stupid, Damien.” He obviously didn’t pick up on my sarcasm. Noah gives me a sideways look of sympathy. Bartholomew might be old but he can be very bitter. “First you will have to summon an Arch-Daemon because this book unfortunately does not tell me how to summon a Daemonic God. An Arch-Daemon can tell us how to.”

“Can an Arch-Daemon not raise the dead?” Jack asks.

Bartholomew shakes his head. “No, only Gods can play with life and death.”

“Humans play with life and death all the time,” I retort. He gives me a puzzled look. “Think of all the people and things we’ve killed. Everybody in this room, except maybe Jack, has killed numerous people. Lives ended by our hands.” Bartholomew somehow looks thoughtful and uninterested simultaneously. “Now the five of us are working to raise the dead. We reap and we sow human lives. We’re all playing God.”

Tessa gave me a strange look. “Calm down dear,” she laughs. “There aren’t Gods around anymore, somebody has to do their jobs.

“There are Daemonic-Gods,” I argue.

“Yes, but all they want to do is kill and hurt things,” Noah puts in. “We’re saving somebody from the grave. With all the people we’ve killed between the five of us-” I dread to think how many that is “-we get to bring one back without it being a bad thing.”

Tessa shakes her head, smiling. “Impeccable logic, Noah.”

Bartholomew rolls his eyes. “Damien, I get the feeling you’re going to do this no matter what. Stop questioning your morals and let yourself be happy. This human need to be nothing more than human is killing us all slowly.” I just shrug, unsure what to say. “Okay. Back to how we’re going to summon an Arch-Daemon. We’ll need two things; a human heart and five beloved memories.”

Jack gasps in a very melodramatic way. Tessa stands and cracks her knuckles. “I volunteer to get the heart.”

“Tessa Byrd you sit down right now,” Bartholomew snaps. She does. “You can all go and get a human heart soon. Just make sure you take the tools you need to get it out.” Jack looks as if he’s about to throw up. “Jack, you can stay here with me. Help me to prepare.” He nods, grateful.

“Where the hell are we getting a human heart?” I question. Why has nobody else asked?

Bartholomew stands and begins making his way out of the room. “Follow me Jack,” he says, not answering my question.

Tessa, Noah and I are left alone in the room. “Where are they going?” Noah asks.

Tessa looks thoughtful. She’s probably reading Jack’s mind. “To the basement to get tools.”

“The basement?” I say, jumping on the chance for answers. “What’s down there?” They both shrug, much to my annoyance. “You’ve both spent more time here than I have,” I snap. “How do you not know? Have you not heard anything when walking by the door?”

“Bartholomew’s business is his own,” Noah says calmly. “What he does down there isn’t anything to do with us.”

I sigh. He’s right. I want to know what’s in the basement but this is a time I have to kill my curiosity. “Where are we going to get a human heart?” I ask, changing the topic.

Tessa shrugs. “I was just going to kill the first person I saw.”

Noah glares at her. “We’re going to the church in Dalmerton, we can kill the worshippers that are there.”

“I thought we’re currently in the Dalmerton church,” Tessa says.

“This is outside of Dalmerton,” Noah snaps. Tessa’s ignorance is concerning to say the least.

We sit in silence for the rest of the wait. After a few minutes, Jack and Bartholomew to return. Jack looks more horrified than he did when we were talking about getting a human heart!

Bartholomew walks past us and puts a small fabric bag on the desk. Jack stands in the corner of the room. “In here are some tools,” Bartholomew says. Tessa steps forward and looks in the bag. “I’m sure Tessa will be happy to extract the heart…”

She nods gleefully. “When are we going for the heart?”

“I suggest the three of you go now,” Bartholomew instructs. “Me and Jack will be ready to summon the Arch-Daemon when you get back.”

“Our second summoning as a group,” Noah says with a smile. “What Daemon are we summoning?”

Bartholomew walks around his desk and pulls a book from a drawer. “I think a servant of the Daemonic-Goddess Violet will be best. She’s well known for her willingness to make deals.”

Tessa grabs the small bag and puts it in her pack. “What is it you said about memories?” She asks.

Bartholomew looks sad for a moment. “We will each have to sacrifice one of our happiest memories during the summoning… The Arch-Daemon is fuelled by emotion, like a lot of them are. I’m hoping it is a sacrifice we’re all willing to make.”

“I will,” I say. There’s no question about it. “But none of you have to if you don’t want to. I’m already asking so much of you all…”

Noah grabs my shoulder, smiling. “You’re not asking us to do this,” he reassures me. “We want to help you.”

“I’ll give up a memory,” Tessa tells me. “With this bunch of crazy mongs I’ll quickly make more… I’m sure Jack agrees.” He just Nods.

“And you’ll make new memories with Aaron,” I say. Noah’s smile is contagious. “I’ll make sure of that.”

She smiles before quickly walking from the room, tools in hand. “Let’s go get a human heart!”

It’s unfortunate that the people of Dalmerton decided that they wanted to be active today. The streets are filled to the brim with passing pedestrians. They’re probably out getting supplies while we’re out getting a human heart that we’re going to use to summon an Arch-Daemon. Oh how I crave normality.

“So where is this church?” Tessa asks. She seems a little bit agitated. Maybe she’s thinking about how Georgina should be part of the crowd. “I want to cut a worshipper open.”

Noah is leading the way. “It’s only about five minutes,” he says. He keeps looking wearily at people we pass. He probably realises how it could prove problematic trying to cut a heart out with so many people around.

“Do you think there will still be worshippers in the church?” I ask. “I did kill quite a few when saving you.”

Noah laughs lightly. “Have you ever noticed how even if you kill a bunch of rats, there always seems to be more? You always miss one. That one then seems to duplicate and you have a whole new bunch of rats.” I nod my head, Tessa looks confused. “That’s what worshippers are like. You fight a damn war to defeat them but they still scuttle around Wychelm.”

Tessa pauses suddenly, turning around.

“What’s wrong?” I frown, looking. All I can see is people.

She shakes her head and continues to walk. “Nothing.”

As we get closer to the church the amount of people gets considerably low. People avoid this part of town. It reminds them of the war, it reminds them that Daemons and worshippers are still terrorising our country. There is nothing that ordinary people can do to stop it and this part of town is a painful reminder that sometimes all anybody can do is watch the world burn around them.

We ascend the steps. Despite it being a sunny day this area feels very shadowy.

“Do we have a plan?” Noah asks, stopping just before pushing the door open.

Tessa’s rapier appears in her hand. “Yes. Kill them before they kill us.”

“Good plan,” I mumble as Noah pushes the door open.

There are only three worshippers in the church. All the pews are gone leaving a large open space. The three worshippers are standing in a circle, their eyes fixed on the centre. “It is coming,” one says eerily. “It is very close.”

“Oh what is?” Tessa says, slamming the door behind us. The worshippers turn to us looking shocked. “Care to share?”

The middle worshipper conjures two black short swords that she holds with two hands. Her dark brown hair is tied back tightly in a ponytail. “Honey you better leave,” she says with a teeth baring smile. “Before it arrives.”

Tessa raises her sword arm, smirking. “Your heart will be especially dark,” she muses. “It’ll be so nice to hold…”

The worshipper gives Tessa a confused look before charging forward, one sword in the air and the other ready for defence. Before I can go to help Tessa I feel an arm around me. One of the worshippers has teleported behind me.

His arm is around my throat and he’s squeezing tightly. My instincts kick in. I draw a dagger, digging it in behind me as I stomp on his foot. My dagger finds flesh and he jumps off me. I spin around, noticing Tessa fighting the dual wielding worshipper while Noah is fighting one that has shape shifted into an abnormally large wolf.

The worshipper I now face holds a hand over where I stabbed him. The wound heals and the bleeding ceases. He charges at me, knocking me to the ground. When I land with a thud I push him off me with a strong blast of wind. The worshipper flies straight up. I roll across the floor as he crashes back down, landing face down on the floor. I wince as I stand.

Noah’s sword cuts deep into the wolf as I look at him and Tessa has the dual wielding worshipper on her knees, her swords by her side.

“Your friends are dead,” Tessa says calmly.

The worshipper just smiles before looking up. “Soon yours will be too.”

Tessa rolls her eyes before stabbing the worshipper through the throat. Blood spurts from her mouth before she falls backwards, dead.

Tessa’s sword vanishes as she kneels behind the worshipper. She pulls the tools from her bag and gets to work.

Cringing, I turn my back while she extracts the heart. It’s not really something I want to see. It’s strange how eager Tessa was to do it but I’m glad she was. It’s nice having her around. She’s so independent and strong. I never have to worry about her.

“Done!” She says with pride after a few minutes. I turn, unfortunately catching a glimpse of the heart as she puts it in the bag. “Shall we go?” Noah and I nod, walking to the door. “Maybe I can sacrifice this memory,” Tessa says behind us. As Noah reaches for the door Tessa gasps loudly, I turn in time to see her waving her arm. I’m suddenly tossed through the air and towards a wall!

I grunt as I hit the wall, rolling to the floor. Noah is beside me. Before either of us can ask why she did it the church shakes as if there is an earthquake as the door and the surrounding wall crumbles away.

Suddenly, the large Daemon from Asherton bursts into the church! Tessa only just manages to get out of the way as it barrels towards her.

Noah helps me up as it skids to a stop in the middle of the church. Its heavy breath can be heard from where I stand. Its black skin looks as if it absorbs light and its teeth look as if them will consume all three of us.

“How do we kill it?” I ask. It’s hard to stop my voice from shaking as it looks like it’s about to charge again.

“Decapitation could do the trick,” Noah suggests. Even now I feel the need to roll my eyes.

The Daemon charges forward at Noah and myself. I clumsily jump to the side while Noah manages to literally jump over it! I wince as I land, already sore from when Tessa threw me at a wall for my own safety… It halts to a stop beside me. It’s terrifyingly close. I can hear its loud breath as it turns to look at me with its eyes that are gateways to hell.

The Daemon suddenly rises on its hind legs. I can hear its back cracking horrifically as it straightens up. Its front legs bend and snap horrifically, turning into black arms that end in hands with creepily long claws.

Its attention is still on me. I feel as if I’m frozen in place. The only thing that spurs me into motion is the fact that I don’t want to have to be saved again.

Jumping up, I pull my daggers from my belt. Noah is behind the Daemon and Tessa is to its side. They both have their swords at the ready. The three of us charge at it in unison. Noah and Tessa both hack at its legs while I dodge its attacks; it’s trying to claw me and it’s quite the task avoiding it. As it strikes, I cut with a swift motion. Two of its claws drop to the floor beside me resulting in a horrifying scream from the Daemon.

The three of us jump back, panting. They made no impact on the Daemon. Its skin is thick like leather.

“We need magic,” Noah shouts. The Daemon turns to him, snarling. “Blast me!” Tessa and I hesitate. “Now!”

Trusting him, I splay my hand. A dense cloud of ice shards and snow fly at Noah. At the same time Tessa raises her hand. I can’t see anything but I know she’s using her magic. Noah raises his sword and the magic is absorbed into it. The sword glows with a bright blue light.

“Give me a boost,” Noah commands.

I expect Tessa to but she unexpectedly collapses. At the same time the Daemon begins moving again, practically pouncing at Noah. I gasp and send a blast of air at him. He uses it to float above the Daemon, somehow manipulating my magic- presumably he’s using the sword. With a swift motion he brings his magic-infused sword down. It slices through the Daemon’s neck. Noah, the Daemons head and the body all hit the ground in unison.

Noah grunts loudly and I have to resist the urge to rush to him but I know Tessa is more important right now. Why did she collapse?

As I reach her side I see that she’s still breathing. That’s a relief. I shake her gently as Noah kneels beside me. “Tessa,” I say. “Tessa wake up we have to get out of here.”

She opens her eyes, sitting up quickly enough to make me jump. “Oh, that Daemon was such a bitch!”

Noah laughs a little as she stands. “Why exactly did you collapse?”

“I was supressing its movements,” she explains as she checks on the heart. “It broke free and I collapsed. Not too sure why.”

“It’s a real mystery,” I say.

We walk to the door, or more so, where the door was. Now it’s just a big hole in the wall. The street is in ruin and I can’t see anybody at all. Nothing makes people retreat inside like a rampaging Daemon…

“Should we mention the Daemon to Bartholomew?” Tessa asks as we walk towards the door. Hopefully Bartholomew and Jack are ready to summon the Arch-Daemon. I’m strangely curious to see what memory I will be forced to give up.

Noah shrugs. “There’s not really any point, all it would do is make Jack worry.”

I open the door and see that the room is covered in lit candles. There’s a new pentagram drawn in the room. This one is a lot bigger than the one we used to summon the Greater-Daemon and this one has a lot of strange markings in the spaces. They’re presumably markings of protection.

Bartholomew stands at a point already. Jack is standing far away from the pentagram.

“Do you have the heart?” Bartholomew asks. Tessa walks around the pentagram and hands the bag to him. “This is a very dark heart,” he mumbles, taking it from the bag. He puts the bag on the floor behind him and places the heart in the centre of the pentagram.

Noah stands on a point beside Bartholomew. “What can we expect from this summoning?” He asks as I stand beside him.

“I doubt the Arch-Daemon will want anything other than the heart and memories,” Bartholomew says. “So we can hopefully just expect it to tell us how to get to Violet… It probably won’t put up a fight.”

Tessa smiles as she stands next to me. Jack reluctantly takes his place in between Bartholomew and Tessa. “Do the same rules as last time apply?” Tessa asks. “No talking unless talking to and being careful about what we say?” She looks at Noah when she says that.

Bartholomew nods. “Yes. I suspect it will wish to speak to Damien since he is the reason we’re summoning it.” I nod, thinking back to the Greater-Daemon. Tessa said it was thinking about me. What made me so fascinating to it? “Shall we begin?”

We each reluctantly nod. It’s too late to go back now. “Once I begin saying the words, your memories will be taken,” Bartholomew tells us with a sad look. “You have a few minutes before I begin. Choose carefully…”

What happy memories do I even have? I can think of so few and I don’t want to sacrifice any of them. But I have to… If my friends are willing to do it, then I have to as well. I’ll leave what memory is taken up to the Arch-Daemon.

Only a minute passes before Bartholomew begins saying the words. They’re similar to what he said to summon the Greater-Daemon and yet I feel like they hold more power. He says them with far more conviction. The heart in the centre of the pentagram disappears suddenly-

My first kiss with Daniel!

“No,” I say quietly. “Not that one!”

I look at the others. Jack looks at each of us in horror, obviously confused about something. Tessa is crying ever so slightly as she raises her hand towards Jack. He stops looking at us and instead fixes his eyes on the middle of the pentagram. I meet Noah’s eye and wonder what memory was taken from him. He doesn’t look all too phased. I don’t feel all too bothered by it either... What memory was taken from me?

From the centre of a pentagram slowly rises the Arch-Daemon. Surprisingly, it is about human size. It’s wearing a horrifically dark robe that covers everything except it’s pale, bony hands. It’s floating in the air. A hood covers its head.

“What wonderful memories,” it sighs with a terrifying glee. Unlike most Daemons I have met, this one sounds human. “I thank you all, for them and for the heart.” It turns to face me- or at least I think it does. It doesn’t really have a face. “Damien Harpen,” it says. “I knew I’d be hearing from you soon enough. How nice it was for you to summon me.”

The Arch-Daemon is very obviously terrifying. It radiates terrible, dark magic and reeks of deceit. “We’ve given you things that you clearly enjoy,” I say slowly. “Now tell us what we need to know.”

The Arch-Daemon laughs sharply. “You want to know how to get to my mistress. She’s happy for me to tell you.”

“Your mistress is Violet?” I ask. The name sends chills down my spine.

“Yes,” the Arch-Daemon says. “She’s staying in the realm of Deucalion, the Daemonic-King that you people helped to kill.”

I frown. Tessa and Noah look just as confused as I do. Jack isn’t really showing any emotion. Bartholomew is just chanting. “We didn’t kill Deucalion,” I say, feeling defensive. “I fought him once, during the war, but I didn’t kill him.”

The Arch-Daemon laughs again. “Oh that’s right. You don’t remember…”

“Remember what?” I snap. I then realise I shouldn’t be snapping at such a powerful being.

“Tessa Byrd,” it says suddenly, turning to her. “You’ve proven to be quite powerful… Even Violet herself is impressed with you.”

Tessa grits her teeth. “Thanks.”

“I’m sure you’d be reading my mind right now,” the Arch-Daemon continues. “But you’re in his, aren’t you?” It asks, gesturing at Jack. Tessa nods, her face incredibly tense. “He screwed up horribly. You’re piecing him back together…” What the hell is it talking about?

“Yes I am,” she snaps. Unlike me, she obviously has no issue with being rude to powerful beings. “Thanks to your weird memory fetish.”

“It’s delicate work, isn’t it?” The Arch-Daemon asks her, taunting her. “Even you’re struggling, though then again; even I would struggle. The boy stupidly gave us a very important memory. If you’re not careful Tessa, he won’t remember anything; let alone you!”

Tessa bows her head and lets out a quiet sob. Her arm is still raised towards Jack.

“Just tell us how to get to Violet,” I demand, furious. How dare he mock Tessa as she tries to save Jack! I don’t quite understand but as far as I can tell- Jack gave up a vital memory and now he is at risk of forgetting everything... Tessa included.

The Arch-Daemon laughs, turning to Noah now. “I know what you want, thief,” it says. “I can give it all to you with a wave of my hand.” Noah ignores the Arch-Daemon, staring past it with a stoic look on his face. “I know you can’t resist me. You more than other thieves could never resist getting what you want whether that thing was a human or object.”

Clenching my fists, I again break the rule of only speaking when spoken to. It’s a counter-productive rule anyway. All it does it let the Arch-Daemon grip its manipulative claws into us. “Just tell us how to summon Violet and then leave.”

It turns to me. “Haven’t you been listening Damien?” It asks. “It isn’t a case of summoning my mistress. It’s a case of getting to her. My mistress has already told me that if the lot of you can get to her alive and defeat her in combat, she will bring Daniel back to you.”

“She said that?” I question. It’s hard to believe. “Surely that’s too simple.” Getting to another realm isn’t all too difficult and I’ve defeated plenty of horrific monsters in combat. I get the feeling that Violet is all about brains contrary to brawn so it can’t be that hard…

“Yes. Enticing, isn’t it?” The Arch-Daemon sighs. “You have forgotten about a few factors however,” it continues. I stifle a groan and resist the urge to look at my allies. Seeing Tessa so vulnerable is painful, seeing Noah so strangely emotionless is worst. “Violet has added new layers of complexity to hinder your progress to the realm in which she resides. You also underestimate her power.”

“She underestimates our power,” I retort. I shouldn’t provoke it but I just want it gone.

The Arch-Daemon laughs. “I sure hope we meet again Damien,” it says, raising a hand towards me. A small scroll appears and floats towards me. “This will tell you how to get to her… Know that it is for your eyes only.”

I pluck the scroll from the air once it’s in reach. As I do, the Arch-Daemon vanishes just as it appeared.

“Don’t break formation!” Tessa commands. Her arm is still raised towards Jack and tears stream down her face.

Noah looks at me now, his harsh expression gone. Now he looks almost as vulnerable as Tessa… Who knew that the absence of one happy memory could make such a difference? Jack is at risk of forgetting everything, Tessa’s strength all left her in a moment and Noah’s emotion was gone too, if only for a moment…

Have I changed yet? I sure hope so.

Bartholomew’s chanting has stopped, leaving the room with only the sound of heavy breathing. It feels like an eternity before Tessa drops her arm and walks to Jack.

He looks around, blinking. He opens and closes his mouth a few times as if unsure what to say. Finally he asks; “Who are you people?”

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