A War to Win

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Chapter Eighteen

I feel like I could lay here forever on this bed in a room shared with Noah in this church. It’s just me, alone with my thoughts. Though my thoughts are filled with love and hate there is a welcome absence of the two emotions. There’s a welcome absence of any emotion… We live in perpetual states of feeling and it’s a sickening thing.

After a while, I feel somebody lay beside me. It’s obviously Noah. I can tell it’s him by his weight and movement and the way he exhales as he lays down. This is better than being alone with my thoughts and memories. Being alone with him.

“I spoke to Tessa,” he says after a while. “Jack remembers a few things but it’s very muddled. When he saw me he thought I was you.” He yawns in between sentences, causing me to smile slightly despite the sincerity of what he says.

I sigh after a moment, the crushing responsibility of what happened to Jack weighing down on me once more. I knew there were risks like this. Why did I ignore them? Tessa must be furious… “Can we just continue alone?” I ask quietly. The words aren’t quite my own and yet they say what I’ve wanted to for a while. “We can leave the book. Forget about Daniel. Forget about Violet and Daemons and everything else. Let’s just think of us. We can just run away together. You’re all I need, Noah”

I regret saying it instantly and yet I want him to say yes. It would be such a selfish thing to do but sometimes selfish is all we have to keep us going. When the bravery and the motivation is all gone, self-preservation keeps us going.

When he doesn’t answer after a minute passes, I look over to him. He’s asleep. His mouth is open ever so slightly.

I smile, sitting up. He’s so cute when he’s sleeping. So innocent. I know that he isn’t actually innocent, but I silently vow to protect him nonetheless. Jack was the most innocent of us all and look at him now. I’ll protect Tessa too. I owe it to her… I’ll protect her because I forgot to protect Jack.

I stare at Noah for a minute, unable to help myself, before Tessa walks into the room. She looks like she’s been crying. “Are you okay?” I ask stupidly.

She sits on the end of the bed, not caring that Noah is asleep. “I’m fucking frustrated,” she sighs. She lays down at the bottom of the bed and puts her arm over her eyes. “I’ve been with Jack since the summoning figuring out what he does and doesn’t remember.”

“Does he remember you? Or Aaron?” I ask.

“He remembers Aaron,” she begins. “I had to remind him that Aaron is missing though… He cried. Then I told him who I was. He agreed to help me find him.” She glances at Noah. “That’s when Noah came in. Jack thought that Noah was you, which is weird. I don’t know why he remembered you but not me.” I can’t help but to feel bad despite how I have no control over it. “We talked about what we’re going to do. Jack will still help us get Daniel back, then we’re all going to get Aaron back.” After a pause she adds; “Right?”

I nod. I can’t leave them now and run away with Noah. “Right.”

“I’m sleeping in here tonight,” she tells me. “I don’t want to deal with Jack right now.”

It’s night time already? How long was I laying here before Noah came? “Okay,” I say, handing her a pillow. “Want to take my place?” She shakes her head “I feel bad that you’re sleeping at the end of the bed.”

“It’s a big bed,” she says, putting the pillow under her head. She was right. It was a very big bed. “Sorry for interrupting your gay fun.”

Sighing, I lay back down, not justifying that comment with a response. I try not to think about how weird it is that the three of us are sharing a bed as I drift slowly off to sleep.

***
“Maybe one day, Noah,” I hear. “People can only pretend they don’t have feelings for so long.”

I sit up abruptly, making Tessa jump. She’s sitting on the end of the bed. Noah is sitting up beside me. “You finally woke up,” he says with a smile.

“Yeah,” I say with a yawn. “Do we have any plans today?”

Tessa stands and stretches. “Yes. We’re going to see what Bartholomew has learned about the candle of enlightenment and the sphere of the undead.”

“Great plan,” I mumble. She didn’t mention the heart of a common enemy because it’s obvious who’s we need. She didn’t mention the fourth ingredient because she can’t know what it is. Not now, maybe not ever.

Obviously missing the sarcasm, she nods and begins leaving. “I’ll meet you two downstairs, I need to change and check on Jack.”

Noah stands and finds his bag, he had discarded it beside the bed. “Do you think it’s weird that she slept in here?” He asks, beginning to change clothes. I turn my back.

“Not really,” I say, actually thinking about it. “She’s basically lost Jack… She was probably just lonely.” He makes a noise of agreement. “We need to be there for her.”

Once Noah finishes changing he says he will meet me downstairs and leaves. I take this chance to exercise before changing. I get the feeling that we’ll be traveling today so I make sure to pick up my bag before going downstairs. Noah, Tessa and Jack are already waiting. They’re sitting on pews that, for once, are in rows contrary to being shoved against walls.

I try not to stare at Jack but it’s hard not to. He looks so different. Jack isn’t looking at anybody, or anything in particular yet his gaze looks accusing. His eyes look sunken as if he hasn’t slept in weeks. His mouth keeps twitching as if he’s going to say something.

Tessa catches me looking at Jack and glares. I stop. “Where’s Bartholomew?” I ask.

“In his office,” Jack says, surprising me. Since when does he contribute to conversations? “We thought we should wait for you, since it’s your boyfriend we’re resurrecting.”

“And it’ll be your brother we’ll be finding,” I retort. He somehow makes me feel like I need to defend myself.

He just rolls his eyes and stands, walking to the office. Tessa sighs before following him.

Noah frowns. “He’s so much different,” he says sadly. “Who knew Jack could be intimidating?”

I shrug, walking to the office with Noah following me. Tessa and Jack took both seats so we stand behind them. Bartholomew is sitting in his chair. For once he doesn’t look incredibly tired. He has a book in front of him, as usual.

“I’m glad you all came,” he says with a smile. “I’ve found out how to get one of the things we need. Unfortunately, it will not be easy.”

Noah laughs. “Since when has anything been easy anyway?”

Bartholomew laughs too. “Good point, Noah…” He pauses as if he expects one of us to speak, but when none of us do he continues. “I have learned what spheres of the undead are.” Jack gasps in a sarcastic way. We all ignore him. “Daemons who serve the Daemonic-God of death have them. They’re gifts of sorts that have horrible power…”

“What power?” Tessa asks, sounding weary.

“When anything near a sphere dies, it doesn’t really die,” Bartholomew says, sounding unsure of himself. “Whatever dies near the sphere is reanimated and forced to serve whoever owns the sphere. It’s a horrendous, dark magic.”

I grimace, remembering the undead at Rishoven. At least now I know what they were… “Why does Violet want one of them?” I ask.

“I don’t think she wants one,” Bartholomew says. “I think she wants you to prove yourselves. As far as I know, there is only one sphere of the undead in our realm.”

Noah frowns. “Where is it? I’m betting somewhere dangerous!”

I can’t help but to smile as Bartholomew continues. “Off the coast of Wychelm there is a small island,” he says. “It is controlled by a Daemonic-Queen. A few hundred years ago, it was a nice island. Lots of people lived there. This Daemonic-Queen had just been given a sphere so she went to the island. She slaughtered everybody who lived on the island… They’ve served her ever since.”

“Wow,” Jack laughs. “How have we never heard of this place?”

Bartholomew narrows his eyes. “Because nobody wants to talk about an island that’s inhabited by dead people, Jack.”

“I would,” Jack says. “I’m sure Tessa would too. She seems like a twisted person.”

Tessa crosses her arms and remains silent. More guilt floods through me like a tsunami. He’s so different now. The one person who shared Tessa’s love for Aaron is now a vicious asshole.

“You had better leave this attitude behind when we go to this place, Jack,” Noah snaps. “There’s no room for your newly found cynicism and there is certainly no room for you to be a massive dick.”

“Well at least I don’t like massive dicks,” Jack mumbles.

Tessa uncrosses her arms and stands. “Jack Stormcrow!” She shouts, making me back off. “You do not get to speak to people in that way, especially not your allies and your friends! If you want us to help you find Aaron, you had better shove your new cantankerous attitude up your ass!” She says each word with a peculiar gusto.

Jack stands too. Despite how he’s a lot shorter than even Tessa, he still looks intimidating. “You people are not my friends,” he snaps. “We’re allies but that’s only because we’re using each other. Don’t forget that.” With that, he storms from the room.

Tessa sits back down, slumping in her chair. “We’ll find him before we set off,” she sighs. “If this place is as bad as it sounds, we need him with us.”

“When are we setting off?” Noah asks. I’m surprised that he doesn’t question whether Jack will be useful or not.

Bartholomew walks to a shelf and pulls off a large, rolled up map. He flattens it on the table. “If you set off within the hour, you should reach a harbour by tomorrow afternoon. You should be able to find a sailor willing to take you to the island. You should arrive at it by night fall tomorrow.”

“Oh good,” I mumble. “We’ll get to the island of the undead as night falls…”

Bartholomew ignores my comment and continues. “I should have a map of the island somewhere,” he says. “It shouldn’t take me long to find it. You should all go get everything you need for this trip, and you should try to cope with Jack.”

Tessa stands again. “I’ll certainly deal with him,” she mumbles. As she leaves the room and walks past us she mumbles an apology for his sudden homophobia.

As Bartholomew begins looking for the map, Noah and I leave, heading to the stairs together. “I know we need everybody we can get for this,” I say. “But maybe we should leave Jack behind.”

“Unfortunately, I disagree,” he sighs. “Who knows? Maybe his brand new anger will be a fuel. He might be useful now…” That explains why he didn’t question Jack’s involvement with this mission.

I mumble an agreement as we reach our room. Everything I need is already in my bag so I just sit on the bed. Noah does the same. “Neither of us even need anything,” he laughs. “We should have just stayed downstairs and helped Bartholomew.”

“Unfortunately, I disagree,” I say, mimicking him. He glares. “I get the feeling that Bartholomew doesn’t like anybody touching his things. He would probably cast a weird spell on us.”

Noah laughs and I can’t help but to smile. Why do I smile every time he laughs? Perhaps Noah is the one casting a spell on me. “We can just wait here for Tessa and Jack,” he says. “I doubt they’ll take long.”

I nod. “I hope Jack doesn’t keep making vicious little comments,” I sigh. “It just reminds me of what I have to do to him.” Noah gives me a puzzled look. “I mean, what I did to him.”

I guess that’s that decided. Didn’t even take any conscious thought.

“Damien, he did that to himself,” he tells me. “Don’t you dare feel responsible.”

Before I can respond, I see Tessa peek her head into the room. “We’re ready to go,” she tells us reluctantly. “Jack’s calmed down a little but don’t expect hugs and kisses.”

I grab my bag again and walk to Tessa. Noah does the same. “Where is he?” I ask as she goes towards the door. She’s wearing a brown leather jacket over a revealing red top. I don’t even question her choice of clothes anymore. I’m sure she could fight off an army, single handed, in a ball gown…

“He’s waiting outside,” she says once we get to the bottom of the stairs. She waited until we reached the bottom of the stairs to speak. It’s almost as if she wants to silence whatever is in the basement. “We’ll get the map from Bartholomew and then get going.”

We reach Bartholomew’s office but he isn’t here. On the desk is a rolled up map, four teleportation crystals and a note. Tessa approaches the items and reads the note aloud. “This is a map of the island and four teleportation crystals for when you need to get off the island. They are my last crystals so I have gone to obtain more ready for your future endeavours. Good luck, I will see you all soon.”

“Why didn’t he just tell us in person?” I ask, frowning. I don’t ask aloud, but I can’t help but to wonder how an old man hopes to get things as precious as teleportation crystals alone.

“Sometimes when you get an idea you just have to do it,” Noah says. I don’t quite understand what he means by that.

Tessa puts the map and crystals in her bag. I’m praying that this won’t be another time that four are taken on a mission, but only three are necessary. I need all three of them alive.

We follow her outside where Jack is sitting on the steps. For a second I consider pushing him down them. He wouldn’t die, but he’d be hurt and forced to stay behind. That could be a good thing.

Tessa glares at me and I glare back. Around her my thoughts are never my own…

“Come on, Jack,” she says, walking past him. He stands and follows her. Noah and I do the same, walking behind. “We’ll travel until it gets dark then find the harbour tomorrow.”

Jack groans. “Why don’t we just use the crystals to get to the island?”

How does he know about those? Maybe Bartholomew saw him on his way out… “Because then we have no way to get off the island,” Noah sighs.

“I doubt we’ll be getting off it anyway,” Jack mumbles. I don’t think I can handle this.

“Let’s pray that we do,” Noah snaps. “If not we’ll be stuck there forever as nothing but empty vessels of who we once were…” Thanks to me, Jack already is one.

Thankfully nobody responds to that. The silence that takes us over is very welcome.

***
We get a lot of distance covered with little to no conversation. Tessa managed to get Jack to recall everything he remembered, I assume it’s a weird coping mechanism. He recalled a few things from his childhood, most of which included Aaron. His memories ended around the time Tessa must have moved in with them. He did remember a few things after that though, none of which made sense. He said something about Diana, whoever that is. Maybe someone he knew before Aaron disappeared?

Once the sun begins to set, Tessa sits down, groaning loudly. “I hate walking,” she sighs. “Why can’t I fly? What good is telepathy and telekinesis when I can’t fly?”

Noah puts his bag next to her and touches his bracelet. His bow appears in his hand. “I’ll go catch some food,” he says, looking around. We’ve stopped near a hill. To our right is a forest. He begins walking towards it.

“Be safe,” I shout after him. Jack rolls his eyes and sits down, away from Tessa. “I’ll just build a fire then,” I mumble. I put my bag down and walk after Noah. I don’t catch him before he enters, so I loiter around the edge of the forest, gathering wood.

After about ten minutes he emerges, carrying four fat rabbits. “What are you doing?” He asks, frowning at me. My arms are filled with sticks.

“Gathering wood for a fire,” I say. Isn’t it obvious?

“Yeah, that is pretty obvious,” he laughs, beginning to walk back to where Tessa and Jack are. “Hopefully it doesn’t act as a beacon.”

“Since when do you worry about that?” I wonder. “I think we’ve proven that we can handle whatever is thrown at us.”

He shrugs. “It just occurred to me that Valek will want the book back. We need to be extra cautious.”

I frown, thinking about it. One of the things we need is the heart of a common enemy. Noah said himself that it’s obviously Valek we need it from, he’s messed with us all. He killed Jojen and Georgina and countless other people. He kidnapped Jack. He’s put us all through hell. “It wouldn’t be the worst thing if he attacked us,” I say. “We do need to kill him… Tessa and I have already proved that we’re able to.”

Noah doesn’t say any more about it. Once we reach the camp site, I put some of the sticks in a pile and begin making the fire. Tessa takes what sticks remain and begins making frames to cook the rabbits on. Noah begins skinning them, not as well as Tessa does it of course. This would be a great group effort if Jack was actually doing something.

“Jack,” Noah begins, sounding cautious. “You thought I was Damien when you first saw me, after… it happened.” Jack nods. “That means you must remember some of what’s happened since you’ve known us? What else do you know?”

He shrugs. “I just remember a few names. Damien, Diana, Bartholomew… It’s hard to put the names to faces. It’s why I thought you were Damien.”

Tessa frowns. “You thought I was Diana for a little while,” she sighs. “Who is Diana anyway? None of us have heard of her.”

“That’s weird,” he mumbles. I’m glad that he’s not snapping and being mean. Maybe he’s calmed down. “I swear I met her after you guys…”

Nobody speaks once the fire picks up. After a few minutes Tessa begins cooking the rabbits. “We should take turns sleeping,” she says. “Noah and Jack can sleep first. Damien and I will wake you halfway through the night.” We all nod, trusting in Tessa’s decision.

After a while, she hands us each a rabbit. I gratefully take mine and devour it. We made the mistake of not eating through the day. Sometimes it’s easy to forget despite how eating is a necessity.

The sun has set by the time Noah is done eating. He says goodnight to us before laying down, using his pack as a pillow. Jack just lays down, staring up at the night sky.

Before I know it Tessa is waking them up. Once they both sit up, she lays down with her back to all of us. I try to get comfortable but fail horribly. After about fifteen minutes of tossing and turning, Noah moves beside me. “Want to use my lap as a pillow?” He asks quietly.

I frown, looking up at him. His blue eyes are shining brilliantly. The stars in the sky are his crown. “Are you joking?” I ask quietly.

“I’m comfortable, I promise,” he grins.

Reluctantly, I move my bag and place my head on his lap.

***
The next thing I know, it’s morning. Noah has positioned himself so that I can still lay on his lap while he reads. It can’t be too comfortable for him, so I get up.

“Good sleep?” He asks.

I laugh, looking at the others. Tessa is still asleep and Jack is sitting with his back to us. “Amazing,” I smile.

Jack makes a fake gagging noise, making me stand and stretch. “Is there a lake nearby?” I ask. My water supplies are running short and I need to wash.

Tessa sits up and yawns. So much for being asleep. “Yeah, we can make a short detour to one and walk along it to the harbour.” She stands and throws her bag over her shoulder, walking straight away. Noah and I quickly follow her while Jack lingers behind. “We should reach the harbour by midday, like Bartholomew said. It shouldn’t take us long to find somebody who’ll take us to the island.”

“Just scout for somebody stupid,” I say, only half joking. “Or just really brave… You have to be one of the two to go to the island.”

“Which one are we?” Noah asks. “Stupid or brave?”

Tessa laughs. “We’re a mix of both.”

We get to a lake within an hour. It’s not very big but it suffices. We all wash, change and fill our water supplies. We don’t really bother with modesty, once you’ve stolen an ancient book from Daemonic worshippers with people you don’t really bother hiding things anymore. I spare a glance at Noah when he’s changing and silently admire his muscle. I notice him do the same with both me and Tessa. As usual, Jack keeps to himself.

Tessa replaces her revealing red shirt with an even more revealing black one. She ties her jacket around her waist and makes sure her hair looks good. When Noah gives her a questioning look, she says; “I might need to flirt our way to the island. One of you might as well, if it’s a female sailor.”

“Or a gay one,” Noah adds. He unbuttons the top buttons of his shirt and smirks.

I roll my eyes as we begin to walk, following the river. I know that we need to get to the island. We have to get there even if it means flirting, or even stealing a ship. Hopefully it won’t come to that.

The harbour can be heard and smelt before it can be seen. The smell of salt water fills my nose and I can hear distant shouting. Tessa grins as the harbour comes into view. The sight of the ships and the people scuttling around brings a smile to my face too, for whatever reason.

It occurs to me how weird it is that we have harbours in Wychelm. Chances are they’re just used by brave explorers and for transporting good to other harbours and islands like the one we’re stupidly going to.

“Look,” Tessa says as we enter the large crowd of people. I look where she’s pointing. It’s a sign saying ‘ships for hire’. “Worth a shot.”

Noah nods. “You go there with Jack, Damien and I will look for other sailors.” Tessa nods and drags Jack off. I ask why he suggested we separate. It’s rarely a good idea. “I want some time away from Jack before we get on a ship with him and sail off to an island where we might get trapped forever,” he answers. I nod, understanding. “Also it is going to prove problematic finding somebody to take us there…”

We walk through the huddle for a while with the sun baring down on us. Eventually we find another sign that says ‘ships for hire’. Noah approaches, smiling at the guy holding it. He’s wearing a large grin an equally large, equally ridiculous sun hat. He’s incredibly tan. Perhaps the sun hat is new.

“Hi,” Noah says. “We’re looking for a ship to take us to an island.”

The sailor nods, dropping his sign on the ground. “Is it just you two?” He asks. His eyes are wild. It’s almost as unnerving as Jack.

“We have two more people with us,” I say. “Is that a problem?”

He shakes his head. “Where do you want to go?”

This could be a problem. “The island ruled by a Daemonic-Queen,” I say sheepishly.

“I’ll take you!” He exclaims excitedly. “I’m Morgan,” he tells us, holding out a hand. I don’t want to shake it. Thankfully Noah does it. “Where are your friends?” Morgan asks, looking around as if they’ll show themselves suddenly.

Surprisingly, they do. Tessa and Jack emerge from the crowd. Tessa looks grumpy. She’s wearing her jacket and her arms are crossed over her arms. Jack’s smiling for once.

“This is Morgan,” I say, gesturing at him. “He’s willing to take us to the island…”

Tessa looks surprised. “That’s great!” She says, her irritation dispersing.

“I’ve been to the island before,” Morgan says, beginning to walk. We follow him towards a dock. “It’s a pretty scary place so I’ll be staying on the boat.” That’s a relief. He’d just die on the island. I don’t think he even has a weapon. “You four can take a row boat from the ship.” As he says that, we get on the dock and points at a ship. A very small ship. As far as I can tell, it has sails, a small cabin and maybe an underdeck. I’m not sure. I’ve never been on a ship.

“It’s magnificent,” Jack says dryly.

Morgan doesn’t catch onto his sarcasm and gets on board using a haphazard plank of wood that connects the ship and the dock. We wearily follow him on board.

“This might not look like much,” Morgan says. I’m glad he knows. “But it’s run by magic.”

Tessa rolls her eyes. “That’s not at all reassuring. What kind of mage has the power to control boats?”

“The kind who lives for the smell of the ocean, the kind who lives for the danger of the harsh waves…”

Now it’s my turn to roll my eyes. “How about you just take us to the island? Save the dramatics for people who aren’t on suicide missions.”

Morgan scowls at me before turning his back. He raises his hands in the air and the ship suddenly jolts. The four of us stagger and move to clutch the railings as the ship begins moving with a strange speed from the harbour. Tessa is laughing lightly while Noah is cursing beside me.

“Are you okay?” I ask, standing without support from the railing. Noah clutches to it tightly. I put my hand on his shoulder, frowning. “Are you okay?” I repeat.

He nods slowly. “I had forgotten how much I hate boats… They’re not natural.”

I see Tessa and Jack move away towards Morgan. Noah leans over the edge of the ship and inhales deeply. “I don’t know why I did that,” he mumbles. “The smell is awful.”

“We’ll only be on the ship a few hours,” I tell him, wishing I could help. “We’ll be at the island by night fall.”

Looking behind us, I see that the harbour is already in the distance. A little magic goes a long way. Funnily enough, the same goes for love, hate and all things in between.

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