A War to Win

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Chapter Two

I reach the bridge around midday. The skies have cleared strangely fast, allowing the sun to shine brightly on Wychelm. Sitting on the ground next to the bridge, I take a deep breath, inhaling the smell and the freshness of nature. It’s been over a week since it’s been as sunny as this. It’s nice, especially as I’m surrounded by such a beautiful scene.

I allow myself some more food and a generous helping of water before standing again. The bridge spans across the river and is made mostly of stone. As far as I know, the bridges that are all across the Wise Man’s lake have been here for over a hundred years. They’re incredibly stable, which is a relief. When talking with Daniel about this lake and its bridges, he theorised that they were kept up by magic. Personally, I believe it’s just good architecture.

Beginning to walk across the bridge, I wonder how long it will take me to reach Dalmerton. Probably just a few hours, I’ll most likely get there as the sun sets. Tonight I’ll rest and make sure Noah is still there, then tomorrow I will find him! Once I have him, I should have the book- that is, if he has it…

I have considered that he may not even have it. I’ve been searching for the book for two months now, ever since I heard about it at the college in Farhaven. I went there considering joining, studying magic and doing something other than traveling, but it wasn’t for me. During my stay there, I talked with an aspiring mage who had read about the Arch-Daemons spell book. Apparently it was in Wychelm, and was wanted by many.

The friendly mage explained to me what it was. The Arch-Daemons spell book holds the secrets to long forgotten magic. He who possesses this book holds the world in the palm of their hands… I don’t want the world though. I need the book for one reason and one reason alone, and then I intend to destroy it. If the wrong person gets it, life as we know it will come to an end.

As I reach the middle of the bridge, I stop and lean on the edge of it, staring into the distance. I know I shouldn’t delay and waste time, but it’s so beautiful here. Mountains are visible along with forests and the lake that spans as far as the eye can see. I should have come here with Daniel, on a picnic maybe. We talked about it but never did. We should have appreciated the little things in life like these views, together…

My thoughts are interrupted by a sudden voice behind me. “I know what you want, Damien Harpen,” it says in an all-knowing way, startling me.

I spin, pulling a dagger from my belt as I do so. “How do you know who I am?” I demand, pointing my dagger at the daemon’s throat. It looks human, but it’s black eyes tell the truth. The daemon is tall, with short black hair and a grotesque face. It’s slightly taller than me. How peculiar. Daemons almost always take on a nice appearance when they fake humanity, this one doesn’t though.

The daemon grins. “Anybody who sees you knows you,” it says. “Don’t fret though, the world does not know you live…”

I struggle to believe it, but it does make sense. If I was known to be alive, I would be hunted… It’s likely that the daemon was just nearby and it saw me. “What do you want?” I frown.

“To help you, of course,” it says. “And I want you to help me…” It adds. The daemon wants to strike a deal. I shake my head, knowing how foolish it would be. Daemons often strike deals with humans and mages, it’s how a lot of mages get their powers, but it always comes at a cost, a very dangerous cost.

“You’re too weak to give me what I want,” I laugh, sheathing my dagger. Daemons who wish to strike deals rarely have the intent to kill. As long as I don’t hurt it, it won’t hurt me.

It laughs lightly, staring directly into my eyes. “No, but I can tell you how to get what you want.”

I roll my eyes. “I already know what I want, and I know how to get it.” I’m not lying, not entirely. I want to find that book, and I know that Noah will be able to tell me where to get it. Most likely…

“For just a lock of your hair I could save you so much time,” it continues. “You will get what you want, but at a much bigger price than what I will make you pay… For just a small bit of hair, you could have what you want within a week.”

Foolishly, I consider the offer. At this rate, I may never even find Noah. Even if I do, how long will it take for me to get the book? Then how long will it take me to use it? Even if I do find Noah, even if I do get the book, I will most likely die… Survival on this mission won’t come easily.

“No deal,” I say confidently. It takes a lot of strength to do, but I turn from the daemon, walking across the bridge and away from it. “Whatever it would tell you couldn’t help you anyway,” I mumble to myself. “My first and only daemonic deal will be with one far stronger than that…”

As I walk the final stretch to Dalmerton, the sun sets and the moon rises. I walk the same path I walked with Daniel two years ago and numerous times since. It feels the same, Dalmerton ahead of me and nothing much in sight.

Hopefully I can locate Noah quickly, before he moves again. If I do locate him, I’ll just talk to him, see if he’ll listen to reason and tell me what I need to know. If he won’t, then I may have to resort to harsher tactics. I don’t exactly want to do that. Despite Noah being a notorious criminal, he’s kind of a nice guy. I’ve only met him once before, very briefly. He stole something from Daniel and I shortly before the war, I don’t even remember what it was. Unlike a lot of thieves, Noah Falstraad takes only what he needs, or at least that’s what I’ve heard about him. He’s just doing what it takes to survive, like myself.

It doesn’t take long for me to enter Dalmerton. It looks a lot better than the last time I saw it, as it was again under attack. A few people wonder around, probably on their ways home after a day of hard work. I try to blend in, which is tricky as all of these people look like they never leave the town. It’s easy to distinguish between travellers and townsfolk. Travellers always look a hell of a lot more tired, and almost always carry packs with them. Townsfolk are cleaner too, which isn’t saying that travellers have bad hygiene, it’s just that they get less opportunities to clean.

“Hey, do you know where there’s an inn?” I ask a man who passes me. He looks like a blacksmith, covered in soot with an apron and big, muscular arms.

He smiles at me. “There’s a mighty fine one just down that road,” he tells me, pointing. “The Three Wench’s inn,” he laughs.

I frown. “That’s an awful name for an inn!” How did I never hear of that in the year that I lived here?

He nods in agreement, walking away. “Bloody good service though,” he says over his shoulder.

Beginning to walk down the street he pointed to, I keep an eye out for the sign. It doesn’t take me long to find it. The Three Wench’s inn seems quite basic. The entrance is lit by the gas lamps that line the streets. The sign is small, and the door seems very old. Pushing it open, I see that the inside isn’t much nicer. There are lamps scattered around, lighting the room a little. There’s a bar, behind it stands a woman. She’s a large woman with a pretty face and brown hair.

I approach the bar. “Hello, I’d like to rent a room,” I tell her, looking around. A few people sit at tables. Two men play poker in the corner, and a woman sits beside the hearth, staring into the flames. I make a mental note to not trust the opinions of strangers. This place is far from being ‘mighty fine’ as the blacksmith put it.

The woman smiles at me, leaning on the bar. “Five silver for a night,” she tells me. I pull my coin purse from my bag and give her the silver. “Anything else?” She asks.

Nodding, I place a gold coin on the counter. “I’m looking for Noah Falstraad. Have you heard anything?”

Grinning, she takes the coin and pockets it. “I know he’s in Dalmerton, he came earlier today” she says. “And I know he’s searching for that fancy little book.”

Well that was bloody useless. I already knew that! “Thanks,” I say begrudgingly. She gives me a mocking smile and hands me a key before walking away to wipe the bar.

I examine my key, walking towards the stairs. Room seven. The key looks ancient, big and clunky. The stairs inn creak as I walk up them, as does the landing once I reach it. I sure hope that’s because of how old this place is contrary to a problem with my weight…

The door to my room looks old too. This inn needs some serious work. I put the key in the lock, and with some difficulty, open it. The room is dark, so I mumble the words to a light spell. In the middle of the room a small ball of light begins to hover. The room has only a bed, a small desk and chair, a closet and a bedside table.

I go straight to the desk, placing my pack on it and sitting on the chair. From my bag I pull my map and a water bottle. After taking a few sips of water I scan for Noah, holding my hand over the map and saying his name several times. Thankfully, Dalmerton lights up. It means I still have time to find him. Hopefully he won’t leave in the middle of the night, because I am exhausted.

Yawning, I stand and stretch. I consider going to get something to eat, but decide to do it in the morning. For now, I do some exercise before stripping and climbing into bed. The mattress is lumpy and the pillow feels like it’s a dead raccoon but still, it’s a bed. With a wave of my hand I put out the light, and hope that sleep comes soon.

Sleep doesn’t come easily tonight though. Perhaps it’s because I’m back in Dalmerton. This place feels like a place of doom now, the place where you wait for bad news to reach you. That’s what happens when you use a town as headquarters for a war.

After what feels like hours of tossing and turning, I hear a noise outside the door. Did I lock it? Surely I locked it…

I sit up, conjuring another light to hover above me. Somebody’s trying the handle. It is locked… Maybe they’ll leave? No. I hear the sound of lock picking; the metal wires against the tumblers of the lock.

I know I should move, prepare myself, but instead I sit frozen. How is that possible? I have fought in a war but I’m scared of somebody breaking into my room! What the hell is wrong with me?

The tumblers finally click, and the door creaks open. I’m surprised when Noah Falstraad walks in, looking mildly sheepish. He closes the door behind him before turning to look at me.

“Are you naked?” He asks, frowning. He looks tall, but that might just be because I’m sat down. He’s wearing black travel clothes and has a pack thrown over his shoulder, one much like mine. He runs a hand through his thick, wild black hair, pushing it out of his face. His blue eyes stare at me, making me feel revealed and judged.

“Well I’m sorry,” I snap. “If I knew somebody was going to break into my room I wouldn’t have slept naked!”

Noah laughs, moving across the room and sitting on the chair, still facing me. “Calm down Damien,” he says with a smile. “I was just checking.”

I honestly have no idea what to do here… The plan was for me to find him, not for him to find me- naked and unprepared!

Swallowing my pride and sense of embarrassment, I get out of bed, hurriedly getting dressed. “Well that was quite the peep show,” Noah taunts.

Shit. My daggers are on the desk. “Why are you here? And who do you know who I am?” I question, approaching and standing over him.

“We’ve met before, remember?” He asks, trying to get up. I push him back down onto the chair. “Normally I like being the dominant one, but whatever works for you works for me,” he comments.

Grabbing a dagger from the desk, I quickly place it against his throat. “Don’t mock me,” I command. “Tell me what you know about the Arch-Daemon’s spell book and I might let you live.”

Noah moves so quickly I can barely react. With one swift motion he knocks the dagger from my hand and wipes my feet from under me. I fall back, landing on my back. He picks up my dagger, kneeling beside me and playing with it. “I’ll happily tell you what I know,” he begins. “I’ll tell you because I want us to work together to get it,” I frown at that, confused. “Admit it Damien, neither of us are strong enough to get it alone. Together, we can get it with ease. We can both use it before destroying it.”

Why would he want to destroy it? And I actually hadn’t thought much ahead of finding Noah. It does seem unlikely that I could get it alone. Maybe getting help from Noah would be what’s best. It’s likely that he’ll try to double-cross me, but I’m sure I can outsmart him…

Nodding, I begin to get up. He lets me. “Fine. Let’s help each other. Tell me what you know.”

Noah hands me my dagger, and I sheath it. “Wise choice, Damien.”

“Don’t call me Damien,” I instruct. “At least not in front of other people. I want as few people knowing I’m alive as possible…”

“Okay, I’ll call you Tommy,” he says with a strangely serious tone. “You’ll be my troubled little brother.”

I have to resist the urge to stab him. “I’m pretty sure I’m older than you,” I snap. “And we don’t need a whole story we just need people to not know who we are and what we’re doing.”

He pouts. Does he see this as a game? “I’m eighteen,” he says. “You’re seventeen. I’m older.” He’s only eighteen? He looks so much older. Doesn’t act it, but looks it!

“I’m nineteen,” I snap. “I was seventeen last time we met. You were… You were only sixteen?”

He nods, smiling proudly. “Yeah, you surprised that a sixteen-year-old managed to steal from two powerful mages?” Noah laughs, but is suddenly silent, as if listening for something. “Do you hear that?” He asks, looking around. I shake my head. He rushes suddenly to the door, throwing it open. I hear him running down the stairs. I quickly grab my pack and other dagger. I follow him, holding the dagger in my hand and slinging the pack over my shoulder.

As I walk down the stairs I hear it, screaming and banging. Upon entering the main hall of the inn, I see worshippers littered around the place, maybe five of them. Noah fights two at once while the other three are attacking people, including the bar maid.

I rush to her aid, seeing that Noah seems to be doing fine. He has a sword, one that radiates magical energy.

The bar maid struggles as the worshipper shoves her against the wall. “Where is Noah Falstraad?” He demands. I hear Noah shout “I’m right here!”.

Grabbing the back of the worshipper’s robe, I pull him off the bar maid. He spins, trying to punch me. Thankfully, I dodge the blow, digging my dagger into his abdomen as I do so. He gasps, falling to the floor. The bar maid begins kicking him as I move to help another, but as I approach the worshippers disappear suddenly in puffs of black smoke.

I look around, seeing only scared citizens and the angry looking bar maid, still kicking what is now a corpse. But no Noah… They must have taken him.

Cursing under my breath, I turn back to the bar maid. She’s different to the one who served me earlier. “Where do the worshippers stay in this town?” I demand. She makes a gesture as if to tell me to pay her. “I literally just saved your life,” I mumble, pulling out a gold coin from my pocket and handing it to her. Unfortunately, I have no time to waste. If they kill Noah, I’m screwed. He’s my only solid lead on this damned spell book.

“There’s an abandoned church on the other side of town,” she tells me, happily taking the coin. She’s stopped kicking the corpse now… “They’re usually there.” I don’t bother questioning why nobody has dealt with them yet, and immediately make my way out of the inn. “Aren’t you going to take the corpse?” She shouts angrily after me. Needless to say, I ignore her.

The cold night air shocks me. Even with my ice magic, the cold still gets to me sometimes. It’s rather weird…

Dalmerton is quiet now, most of the gas lamps have gone out. As I set of down the street I wish I had asked the bar maid for more specific directions, but I recall the way to the church from when I was last here. It doesn’t take me long to find it. Last time I came to this church it looked considerably better than it does now… It still stands tall, made of a very nice looking stone. Most of the walls however are chipped, as if somebody made a special effort to try to destroy them… No windows are still intact, all are destroyed. It’s a shame really, I’ve always had an appreciation for stained glass.

Approaching the door, I wonder whether this is worth it. I have no way of knowing how many worshippers are on the other side, and whether they have Daemons with them. Is Noah worth it? No, but the information he has is… That is, if he’s still alive.

Pulling a dagger from my belt, I kick the door open. I’m surprised to see only four worshippers, standing around something at the far end of the church. Candles are lit, so I don’t bother casting the light spell. Before they see me, I throw a dagger through the air. It soars, landing in the back of the head of one of the worshippers. I silently congratulate myself for such a fine throw as he crumples to the floor.

“Where is Noah Falstraad?” I demand as they turn around. All three are men, each has a knife in hand which strikes me as strange.

“He’s right here,” one laughs, stepping forward. “He’s alive, for now.” I conclude that he must be unconscious or gagged since he didn’t announce himself like he did back at the inn.

I walk forward far enough so that me and the worshipper are a few meters from each other. “Give him back, and I may let you live,” I tell him, trying to sound threatening despite being outnumbered.

The worshipper grins, shaking his head before running forward. A large sword appears suddenly held by both his hands, replacing the knife. Gasping, I jump back as he swings at my legs. Thankfully he misses. As he swings again, I see a fireball soaring towards me. I dodge to the side, avoiding the fireball but not the sword! It wasn’t a strong blow, but it’s enough to knock me down and cut my arm, forcing me to drop my dagger.

I move so I’m lying on my back, looking up at the worshipper. He readies his sword, about to bring it down and end my life. I throw my hand forward, causing a powerful blast to send him flying backwards and into a pew. I jump up, hearing him grumbling.

The other two worshippers run forward. These look considerably weaker than the previous one, more nervous too. I consider sparing their lives, but decide against it. Instead I conjure a dagger of ice in each hand and hurl them forward. One hits a worshipper directly in the forehead, killing him instantly, but the other misses.

He runs at me, a short sword appearing in his hand. I easily side step his first blow, grabbing his arm as I do so. I force my magic into him, feeling his arm and blood freeze beneath my hand. With a loud scream, he drops dead. That wasn’t so hard…

Walking toward the front of the church, I see Noah tied to a table, unconscious. I tap his shoulder, then shake him angrily. “Wake up,” I command. He doesn’t listen… Untying him, I check his pulse. Still alive. “Wake up,” I say again, shaking him angrily. “Don’t make me carry you,” I snap. He still doesn’t listen. We have to get out of here fast, so I pick him up, carrying him in my arms.

“You owe me,” I mumble, walking from the church with the hopes that nobody sees us.

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