We land on the steps of the church which is rather unfortunate. I groan as the stone digs into numerous parts of my body all at once. Sitting up on the steps as I hear Jack scream as he clutches his thigh. It’s bleeding heavily. Tessa rushes to him and demands that Noah helps get him inside. Once they help Jack, I limp in after them.
“Bartholomew?” Tessa shouts, laying Jack down on the floor in between pews. “Bartholomew!” She shouts again, louder this time. More desperate.
I sit on a pew near them, wincing when I look at my leg. I know that Jack’s injury is considerably worse but that doesn’t mean I need to ignore my own pain… Something about being mauled by a strange creature really brings a tear to the eye.
“He’s not here,” Tessa mumbles angrily. She rushes to his office and comes back with some medical supplies. She begins working on Jack’s wound while Noah tends to mine. I try not to wince when he removes the bandage, cleans the wound and replaces the bandage. Thankfully he does a better job this time. Probably because our lives aren’t in imminent danger.
“There are still a few hours until sunrise,” Noah comments, sitting next to me on the pew. Tessa is still helping Jack. He’s stopped screaming now which is a relief. It was starting to annoy me. Also, not screaming at pain is pretty admirable. The old Jack would have passed out by now. Or he would have died to really exaggerate his pain. “I suggest we get some sleep while we wait for Bartholomew to get back. He’ll know what we need to do next.”
Tessa nods, finishing up. “He should be able to tell us where to find the candle. Then we just need Valek’s heart. Right?”
I hesitate but nod. “Only two ingredients to go,” I say.
“Ingredients?” Noah asks. “Weird thing to call them.”
“What else do I call them?” I snap. He looks taken aback.
He just shrugs, standing. When I try to do the same he helps me despite how I just snapped at him. “Can you get Jack upstairs alone?” He asks Tessa.
She nods, raising her arm. Jack lifts into the air. He groans loudly and Tessa shushes him.
Noah laughs as he helps me towards the stairs. “Want me to carry you up?” He asks. I roll my eyes but he picks me up before I can decline. I curse at him as he carries me up. Noah just laughs. “You’ll thank me later,” he tells me once we reach the bed. He lays me down on it.
“Thanks,” I say bitterly.
He sighs as he lays down next to me. “What’s wrong, Damien? You rarely act this temperamental…”
“I don’t? Sorry, I’ll try harder from now on.” He just glares and I consider telling him the real reason. But I know I can’t. They can’t know what the fourth ingredient is. “I’m just tired Noah,” I sigh. “I’m tired of fighting and running. I’m tired of feeling powerless to so damn much. I’m also pretty tired of dealing with so much guilt, and knowing that I have even more guilt to look forward to!”
“Woah,” Noah mumbles. He’s lying on his side, looking at me. “I didn’t expect you to explode like that.” I don’t reply, so after a moment he continues speaking. “If fighting for Daniel is this hard, maybe we should run away together…”
Ignoring the sudden flare of pain in my leg, I turn on my side to look at him. “You heard me say that?” I question. “I thought you were asleep.”
“I just didn’t know how to respond,” he tells me. “I wanted to say yes but that would have been unfair on you.”
“And Tessa,” I add. “We owe her. It’s only right that we help her find Aaron. And I want to help her. I really do.
Noah smiles sadly. “You’re a good person,” he says quietly. “You’ve really grown to care about her.”
“And you,” I smirk. “No matter how hard I try; I can’t help but to care about you two.”
For a moment I think he’s going to kiss me again. I think one more kiss is all it would take for me to abandon Daniel, but I have no such luck. “Goodnight, Damien,” Noah says, turning over. I stare at the back of his head for a while before turning around.
I wake up to cold air on my bare leg. Sitting up, I see Noah removing the bandages. I’m surprised when I see that the teeth marks are no longer wounds but scars instead. They’re very prominent scars, but still.
“What happened?” I ask, shocked. I move my leg and realise there is no pain, just a dull ache.
Noah yawns beside me. “Tessa cast a spell,” he tells me, standing up. “It advanced the healing of yours and Jack’s wounds. It weakened her a fair bit, but she said it was worth it.”
I stand up, thankful that I can. “Tessa’s power never fails to impress me,” I smile. “It left a pretty ugly scar but it would have anyway.”
“Battle scars aren’t a bad thing,” Noah smiles. “And now you’ll match Tessa’s burn scar.”
That makes me laugh a little. Most friends have matching accessories; we have matching scars. “Where is she anyway?”
“Unfortunately, she’ll probably sleep through the entire day, and night,” Noah says. “Doesn’t really matter though. Bartholomew probably won’t be back today anyway and we can’t do much without him.”
It occurs to me that we would be horribly lost without the priest. I never thought much about the Gods or Daemonic-Gods before I met him, but he seems so certain that they’re all real. We know that the Daemonic-Gods are, there’s evidence of them and we’re currently trying to reach one… What evidence is there of Heavenly-Gods? Ones that want to do good…
“It’ll be nice having a day to breath,” I say with a smile. I try to think about how long we’ve been traveling together. It really hasn’t been long and yet it feels like we’ve had a lifetime together to grow close.
He nods, beginning to change clothes. I turn my back while I listen to him speak. In a strange way, modesty seems more appropriate when it’s just the two of us. “I agree. I think I’ll use the time to train with Jack a little today. He’ll probably be a lot better now. He was actually useful on the island.”
“Unlike me,” I laugh.
Noah laughs too. “Damien, you’re always useful,” he tells me. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to check on Tessa before finding Jack.”
I tell him I’ll see him later before finding a change of clothes from my bag. I haven’t had a day to myself in a while, I’m not too sure what to do. It might be best to just relax. It won’t be long before we’re off risking our lives again. For all I know, this will be the last chance I ever get to relax…
With that disturbing thought, I decide to exercise and then bathe. When I go outside to jog I see Jack and Noah fighting. This time they’re not using swords but fists instead. I don’t even question it and instead begin jogging around the church and its surrounding area. Noah smiles at me when I lap around but I ignore him. I can’t help but to wonder why he never trains with me. Does he think I’m capable already or am I just not worth his time?
Noah and I are woken early the following morning. My first thought is that I should have done more yesterday. My second thought is that Bartholomew must be back.
“What do you want, Tessa?” Noah asks groggily.
She’s standing at the end of our bed. “Bartholomew is back,” she says. “He knows more about the candle now.”
I jump up, hurriedly changing clothes. Noah does the same. Once we’re dressed we follow Tessa downstairs. I make a mental note to thank her for healing my leg but I don’t have time right now. Bartholomew is standing between pews but Jack is nowhere to be seen.
“How was your little adventure?” Noah asks.
Bartholomew walks to his office and we follow him. “It was awful,” he answers shortly. “I didn’t even get any crystals. However, I did learn about the candles of enlightenment.” I sit on the chair next to Tessa. Noah stands behind me. “They are unfortunately in the capital, but we do only need one so it won’t be too hard.”
I sigh, dreading going there. “Actually getting into the capital will be hard,” I say. “No Guard will let me or Tessa through. There’s no place for mages there.”
“Thankfully not all of you will be going,” Bartholomew says quietly. He looks at us thoughtfully. “I need Tessa and Jack to help me obtain crystals. Noah will be going to get the candle. He is a thief after all.”
“And I’ll be going with him?” I assume. “We are still bonded.”
Noah laughs lightly. “Until death do us part.”
Tessa laughs too but Bartholomew just rolls his eyes. “Yes. It will take you about two days to get there. Hopefully you can be in and out within a few hours,” Noah laughs at that too. “What is wrong with you today?” Bartholomew snaps.
“Nothing,” Noah says defensively. “I’m just in a good mood… We’ve had a lot of victories lately. It takes a lot to steal a book from Daemonic worshippers and steal a sphere from a Daemonic-Queen.”
Tessa sighs suddenly. “It’s nice that you’re in a good mood, but this is far from over. This won’t be over for a long time.”
“That’s the spirit,” Noah groans. “No need to count our blessings. Let’s just focus on the bad things in life.”
Bartholomew stands and walks over to a shelf. “I’m assuming you boys know where the capital is,” he says. We nod, everybody knows where it is. Lamridal is just a few days south of Dalmerton. “Me, Tessa and Jack will set off around the time you do. We’re going to some caves.”
“Is that wise at your age?” Tessa blurts out. My heart goes out to her and her foolish mistake.
“Young lady,” he says with a strange calm. “If you doubt my abilities because of my age, we can always go outside and test them. With age comes great wisdom as well as immense power.” Hearing that from Bartholomew sends a shiver down my spine. I hadn’t considered what magic he must have; I don’t really want to think about it.
Tessa looks down at her lap. “My mistake.”
Bartholomew pulls a map off the shelf before making his way from the room. “Noah, Damien, I’ll see you in a few days. Tessa, meet me outside in an hour. Bring Jack.”
Tessa nods and waits for him to leave. “I wish I was coming to the capital with you two,” she says quietly. “It wouldn’t make much sense though. Just getting Damien in will be problematic enough.”
I sigh and stand. “Lamridal is such a hell hole,” I say. “I’d rather fight that Daemonic-Queen again.”
“It wasn’t much of a fight,” Noah remarks. “There wasn’t exactly a definitive loser. We stole her sphere, but she stole our dignity.”
Tessa rolls her eyes as she stands. “Don’t be so prideful Noah. That’s what will get us killed.”
He smirks. “I pity who, or whatever, tries to kill any of us. As long as we’re together we’re unbreakable.”
“And so I dread the day we separate,” I say.
“Which is today,” Tessa says irritably. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go exploring with an ancient priest and a bitter little boy.”
I can’t stop myself from giggling as she leaves the room. It’s ironic that she told to rid himself of pride when she walks with the confidence of a queen.
“Should we get going, then?” Noah asks after a moment. I nod and follow him from the room. “Damien,” he says as we approach the stairs to grab what we need from our room. “If I do die, make sure I have a nice funeral, okay?”
I nod, confused by his sudden request. “I won’t let you die, Noah,” I tell him. He smiles gratefully. “Somehow I feel like you’re the most likely to survive all of this.”
“You overestimate me. I may live though all of this but I most certainly will not survive it…”
Survival in the worst of times isn’t possible, not really. I was one of the only two people to live through the final battle but I didn’t survive it. A big part of me died that day. It died with Daniel. Even if I do manage to bring him back, I doubt I will ever be whole again.
So many people did die in the war though. Allyssa and Thalia were two of the many lucky enough to die before the final battle. Isaac and Adrianna were also lucky enough to not have to witness it, but that was for different reasons.
Just a day after we returned from Deucalion’s realm, Isaac spurred us all into motion. The sun was just rising outside of my bedroom when there was a loud knock on the door. Daniel slept through the knocking so I climbed out of bed to answer the door. I wasn’t entirely surprised that it was Isaac but it did make me wish I had thought to wear a shirt.
“Wear something nice and meet us in the garden,” he commanded.
I was too tired to question why so I just nodded feebly and closed the door. Daniel was already sitting up in the bed. His white hair was ridiculously messy. “Who was it?” He asked, yawning.
“Just Isaac,” I said, sitting on the bed beside him. I fixed his hair with my hand as we talked. “He said to meet us in the garden. And to wear something nice.”
Daniel frowned. “Do you think they’re having a funeral for Allyssa?”
“Probably,” I sighed. “Hopefully all the other countless people who have died already will be spared a thought. Thalia included.” Once I fixed his hair, I stood up and looked for something to wear. “We never had a funeral for her, did we?”
Daniel shook his head as I threw him a shirt and put one on myself. “I’m assuming Jojen paid his respects in private. It’s not like we knew Thalia very well.”
“We hardly know anybody who’s fighting this god forsaken war,” I pointed out. “It doesn’t mean we should’ve grieve for the dead.”
He smiled thinly as he stood and dressed. It didn’t take us long to get to the garden. The rising sun was casting beautiful shadows along the grass and the rippling water of the fountain. On the far side Isaac, Adrianna and Jojen were standing beside each other. As Daniel and I approached I caught sight of two gravestones. It struck me as weird since there were obviously no bodies but I remained silent.
Isaac cleared his throat before speaking. “We’re here to day to remember the lives of Thalia and Allyssa. Both lives were cut too short by the war they so bravely fought.” The words he spoke did little to commemorate them, or the countless others. Sometimes the hardest part of a tragedy is knowing what to say.
“But the war is coming to an end now,” Isaac continued. “In a few days, Valek and the rest of the worshippers will march on Dalmerton. I’m not entirely sure what the outcome of the battle will be but I will not be here to see.”
His speech was starting to feel less like he was saying goodbye to the dead but instead like he was saying goodbye to us. Us who would soon also be dead…
“What’s your point Isaac?” Jojen snapped. He had not looked away from the gravestone marked ‘Thalia’.
Adrianna was doing the same with Allyssa’s. I was surprised that she was not crying. “His point is, we’re leaving. You can win this war without us.”
Adrianna surprised me further when she turned her back on us just like that. With one last look at her sister’s gravestone, she walked out of the war and our lives.
Isaac followed her lead, but not as abruptly. “Jojen,” he began, turning to Jojen. “You were a fool to start this war but you’re brave to follow through with it. I doubt you’re going to survive but still you’ve changed Wychelm for the better.” Jojen glared but shook Isaac’s hand regardless.
Isaac turned to Daniel next. “I’m not sure what to say to you,” he said. Daniel rolled his eyes. “There’s a slight chance we’ll meet again, but not as the people we are today.” Nobody bothered questioning what Isaac meant. I suspected he was drunk. “And finally, Damien. I’m sorry for almost killing you. It was quite rude of me…” I sighed, wishing he would just leave. “We will definitely meet again. I look forward to it.”
“Same,” I mumbled with uncertainty. I shook his hand before he left and turned to Jojen and Daniel. “That was weird.”
They nodded in agreement. Despite how it was morning they both looked as exhausted as I felt. The war had taken a toll on all of us and it wasn’t over yet. In many ways, it would never be over.
“We should really have thought to go through Dalmerton,” Noah says, looking at the sky. The sun is setting now and there’s nothing in sight except for grass and hills. “We’re lacking in anything to eat…”
I look up too. There are no birds. “I’m sure one night without food won’t kill us,” I tell him. “And besides, going to Dalmerton would be risky. Valek is obviously after us.”
Noah sits down. He looks strangely defeated. “Then why hasn’t he attacked us yet? Do you think he knows we want his heart?”
“There’s no way he could know that.” I shiver a little, wishing we had a fire. It’s going to get cold but we’ve already travelled very far today. I doubt Noah has the strength to travel further. I most certainly don’t.
“Then maybe he’s just scared of us,” he muses. “Or maybe he just stopped caring about the book.”
I sigh, moving closer to him. “Let’s not think about it,” I say, shivering again. I knew that summer has ended but this cold seems very abrupt.
Noah nods. “It’s going to snow,” he says. I curse and he laughs. “It should be me cursing, Damien. You have ice magic. You’ll be fine.”
“It doesn’t give me immunity to the cold,” I tell him. This is really unfortunate timing. Snow has always felt like a bad omen to me. It snowed when my parents died. It began snowing right before the end of the war. When hell will it bring this time?
“Hopefully it holds off for tonight,” he sighs, laying down. I lay right next to him. He doesn’t question why. It’s obvious that we need stay warm. Somehow it’s always warmer when Noah is with me.