A War to Win

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Chapter Twenty-Three

Once we’re out of Dalmerton, Tessa practically begins playing with Valek’s heart. She throws it from hand to hand, squeezing it. Jack laughs while Noah glares. I just avert my eyes.

“Tessa,” Noah sighs. “It’s not nice to play with hearts.”

She smirks. “And yet yours is being played like a violin...”

Noah’s glaring intensifies but he says nothing more. It’s Jack who breaks the newfound silence. “Do you think Valek’s worshipper buddies will want to avenge him?”

It’s weird that he called them worshipper buddies but oh well. “I doubt they’ll dare,” I smile. “We’ve proven ourselves to be strong. They’d be foolish to fight us!”

“Anybody would,” Tessa adds with confidence.

“Except maybe Violet,” I sigh, my mood suddenly diminishing. We have all but one thing now. Very soon we will be travelling to Deucalion’s realm and we will be fighting a Daemonic-Goddess. “She can definitely fight us.”

Tessa’s confidence doesn’t seem to waver. “The bitch is probably rusty. Also, four versus one. We hold the advantage.”

I don’t believe that for a second but I nod regardless. If one of us is confident about this, it’s a good thing. I doubt that Noah or Jack feel our odds are particularly good. I most certainly don’t.

“When do you think we’ll be going?” Noah wonders. He sounds horribly anxious and yet again I find myself wishing I hadn’t dragged him or Tessa into this.

I slow my pace, hoping Tessa and Jack will walk ahead. “Within a few days,” I tell him. Tessa and Jack do walk ahead. Once they’re out of earshot I continue speaking. “Noah, you don’t have to come with me. Seriously. I don’t want you getting hurt.”

He smiles thinly. “I’m coming with you.” I try to object again but he stops me. “Like I’ve said before, I’m with you as long as you’ll let me be. If you hit rock bottom, I’ll be right there with you. If you fly so high that you can’t even see the ground, I’m still going to be there to hold your hand. Always.”

“Noah…” I say stupidly. How do I react to that? “I’m always going to want you by my side.”

“Even when we get Daniel back?” He asks.

“Especially if we get Daniel back.”

Bartholomew grins wickedly when Tessa hands him the heart. It’s honestly a creepy look on the old guy. “Excellent!” He exclaims, taking it and walking straight from his office. “I should be able to send the four of you to Deucalion’s realm tomorrow. That is where you will find and fight Violet.”

We follow him out. It’s obvious that he’s heading for his mystery basement. “So soon?” I ask, shocked. If we win I can be back with Daniel as early as tomorrow… Marvellous.

“Are you having second thoughts Damien?” He frowns, turning around. All four of them look at me. Tessa, Jack and Bartholomew look shocked. Noah looks hopeful.

“No,” I say hesitantly, shaking my head. “I- I need him back.” I owe it to him.

Bartholomew grins again before turning walking to his basement. We stop following him. It seems weird that he’s so enthusiastic about this but it makes sense, to some degree. I doubt he’s ever had chance to do something like this. We’re literally raising the dead and fighting a Daemonic-Goddess. I doubt he’s ever come close to doing something this insane.

“So,” Tessa smirks. “It’s our last night alive. Whatever should we do?”

Noah’s sword appears in his hand. “We should train. We need to be ready tomorrow…”

Tessa pouts. “I was going to say we should get drunk.”

Jack laughs, his sword appearing too. “Noah’s right. Unless we actually want this to be our last night on earth, that is.” Jack and Noah walk outside, leaving Tessa and I behind.

“You don’t actually want to do this, do you?” She asks quietly.

I sigh. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Come on Damien. I don’t even need to read your mind to see that you don’t want Daniel back anymore,” she says sympathetically.

“What I want doesn’t matter,” I say bitterly, moving to walk outside.

She follows me but we walk slowly. “What you want will always matter Damien. If you want to be with Noah, you should be. Daniel’s dead. I don’t think he gives a damn.”

“You don’t know what he cared about,” I snap. “You didn’t know him.”

Tessa puts her hand against the door as I try to open it. “You won’t know him if he comes back… Don’t you realise he’ll be a completely different person?”

“He will still be the person I loved.”

She smiles sadly, letting go of the door. “It’s funny than you said loved, not love.”

Gritting my teeth, I open the door and walk outside. The coldness is strangely welcome. Noah and Jack are sparring in the knee deep snow. Preparing for any terrain I assume. “Can we get in on the fighting?” I ask, creating a sword from ice and walking to them.

Tessa groans as she steps into the snow. She draws her rapier from the air. “You can fight me Damien,” she says. “Let Noah and Jack practice together.”

I turn to her. She’s considerably less intimidating when she’s stood in an abundance of snow. She’s so short that it goes partway up her thighs. She’s shivering too. “Are you cold?” I mock.

“Cold hearted? Definitely.”

Instead of retorting, I go on the offence. She parries each of my attacks effortlessly. Before long, I’m forced to be defensive, struggling to block her relentless attacks. Tessa laughs when she strikes towards my heart. It’s too fast to block so I’m forced to jump back. It’s almost like she’s trying to kill me! Another strike forces me to jump sideways. I lose my footing however and fall into the snow.

Tessa laughs hysterically, walking over to me. She offers me her hand and I take it. Instead of pulling myself up however, I drag her into the snow. She shrieks as she’s buried beside me.

I jump up as Noah and Jack run over to see what the commotion is. I could be mature about this, but it’s probably my last night alive. If we can’t get drunk, we might as well have some fun… As Tessa stands up, I wave my hand and send a barrage of snow at Noah and Jack.

Noah jumps to the side and falls into snow while Jack is knocked backwards. Tessa laughs wildly, rushing to Jack. I expect her to help him but instead she shoves more snow on him. Noah jumps up, hurling a snowball at me. I laugh when it hits me in the face before retaliating with one of my own.

It misses him completely. Noah wades through the snow towards me, pushing me down on my back. I drag him down with me, gasping when he lands on top of me with his face mere inches from mine.

“Shit, sorry,” I say quietly.

I try to get up but he doesn’t let me. “Don’t be sorry,” he tells me. Maybe it’s the snowy scene or maybe it’s the fact that this is what I want but something drives me to kiss him.

It doesn’t last long because Tessa and Jack are just a few metres away. Noah, after kissing me back, stands quickly up. He helps me up too. Tessa and Jack are busy throwing snow at each other. Thankfully they didn’t notice.

“I’m going to go inside,” I say, shivering as I look at the setting sun. “Tomorrow is going to be a long day. We need our strength tomorrow.”

Tessa smiles at me. “We’ll stay and train some more. Go and make the most of solitude. Once Daniel’s back you’ll have none…”

I force a laugh as I walk to the door. I glance over my shoulder before I go inside. I try not to think about how this might be the last sunset I ever see.

Daniel had apparently thought a similar thing as the sun was setting on what was his final day. “How many people will never see a sunset again?” He wondered, looking from our window over the town square. Mages were gathering there in large groups. They were all coming to Dalmerton ready for the final battle, ready to die.

“I don’t know,” I sighed from where I sat on the bed. “Like five?”

He glared at me but he softened quickly as he moved to sit next to me. “Damien,” he said quietly. “I don’t think I’ve apologised for dragging you into this. It wasn’t our war to fight but it’s almost over now. If we can just survive tonight, it’s all over. We can be together again with no complications.”

I smiled sadly. I knew that he was wrong. Even if we did survive, nothing would be the same. “You don’t need to apologise. We’ve done a good thing fighting this war. We’ve saved lives.”

“But we’ve risked our own. We’ve also wasted like a year of our lives!”

“Regret won’t change any of that Daniel,” I pointed out. “Now stop apologising. We need to go join the other mages.” The others that didn’t include Isaac or Adrianna. I felt our odds of winning the battle were drastically lowered without Isaac there but I said nothing.

Daniel stood, sighing. “Do you think it’s too late to leave?” He asked.

I sighed too. He was exhausting me. “Yes. There are worshippers all around the city. We wouldn’t make it very far.”

“I’m glad most of the citizens evacuated,” he said. Daniel walked over to his bag and pulled a small scroll from it, the one he got from Deucalion’s realm. ‘A last resort’ he called it… He slipped it into his pocket and acted like he hadn’t. “There are only a few left in the city, right?”

I nodded wearily. I wanted to ask what the scroll was but I got the feeling he wouldn’t tell me. “Just a couple of citizens and any worshippers who come in. I think they’re just waiting for Valek to lead the charge.”

“He’ll charge any minute now,” Daniel said. “We should really go join the others.”

I stood, collecting my daggers from the table and making sure everything was in check. My clothes were suitable for fighting. My daggers were sharp. My magic was ready but something felt wrong. It wasn’t exactly a surprise that something felt wrong considering the upcoming battle but it was unsettling nonetheless.

“Let’s finish this,” I smiled as we walked from the room.

It was hard to tell how many people were gathered in Dalmerton’s town centre. It made me realise that not only were mages fighting to stop the worshippers, but normal citizens of Wychelm too. They fought beside us but afterwards rejected us.

Jojen was standing on a pedestal in front of everybody. It felt like he waited for Daniel and I to join the crowd before he began speaking. I assumed he was going to give a pep talk and I was not disappointed. “For almost a year now we have been fighting these low-life, Daemonic-Worshipping scum!” Jojen shouted. The crowd fell silent as soon as Jojen spoke up. “This all ends tonight! We will win this war and we will bring peace back to Wychelm!”

The crowd cheered but Daniel and I remained silent. We were the only two people there who had been by Jojen’s side through most of the war. We saw the death of his sister. We were there to see the failed assassination attempt on Valek. We were with him from the start and we were there at the end. What a bitter feeling it was.

“Once Valek falls the rest of the worshippers will flee,” Jojen said. “I will lead a small force to find Valek in this mayhem. Everybody else will kill any worshippers they can and any Daemons they may have by their side…”

A silence fell suddenly over the crowd. It felt as if they didn’t think Daemons would play a part in the battle. “What naïve fools,” Daniel said quietly beside me. I laughed a little but it felt forced. The sun was almost done setting and with it went my hope.

“Good luck everybody, remember when you’re fighting that you’ve changed our country,” Jojen shouted to finish his speech. It felt weak and not at all motivational.

The crowd dispersed quickly. Everybody was on their way to wait somewhere for worshippers and Daemons to attack. They were on their ways to become targets. Trying not to think about how many were moments from their deaths, I followed Daniel through the crowd towards Jojen. A couple of other mages were with him but none that I recognized.

One was a short woman with short, spikey black hair with red tips. She looked pretty ridiculous and it was hard not to stare. When Daniel and I reached her she introduced herself as “Raven”. She didn’t seem particularly pleased to meet us.

The second was a guy with a short sword in each hand. He was about my height and had dark blonde hair that fell over his forehead. He had a cute, innocent face so it was weird seeing him holding two swords. He didn’t look at all like he belonged there. He introduced himself as “Lewis”.

Lastly there was Mary. She carried a heavy looking mace and had a grotesque scar across her face. “These are the mages you were talking about?” She asked Jojen.

“Yeah, Damien and Daniel,” Jojen said. “The six of us are going to be killing Valek. Hopefully.”

Lewis smiled awkwardly. “We should be able to quite easily. It depends on who he has with him.”

“Where are we hoping to find him?” I wondered. “I doubt he’ll come to us.”

“That’s exactly what he’ll do,” Jojen commented as he looked around. The town square was almost empty. Lamps illuminated the entire city like never before. The red glow of the fire was like war paint for the streets. “Valek’s mission during this battle is the same as ours. He needs to kill me. I need to kill him.”

I frowned. “I feel like me and Daniel have targets on our backs too,” I commented. “No offence to Lewis, Raven and Mary but we’ve done so much for this war too.” I wasn’t sure what my point was.

Jojen nodded. “The battle will end when either the three of us or Valek is dead.” Mary and Raven both scowled but Lewis accepted that he wasn’t very important. I suspected they were there to add numbers to our little group. People to die in our place. “The worshippers rely too much on Valek. He’s their strongest member. Our side knows that the three of us are the only ones that can deal with Valek.”

We all knew why the battle relied so much on us so I wasn’t sure why he was explaining it. All it did was make me feel obligated to stay alive… The battle was a lot of pressure. If the worshippers defeated us, then it would mean they could overthrow Wychelm. We had to defeat Valek.

“I think it’s begun,” Lewis sighed. The sound of fighting was surrounding the city. “Do you think Valek knows where we are?”

“Obviously,” Raven snapped. Despite how the six of us were the only ones at the square now she was looking around wearily. “People that powerful-”

Jojen cut her off, holding up his hand. “He’s already here.” We all turned to see what Jojen was looking at. Across the square Valek had appeared. He was accompanied by two women and a Daemon.

The Daemon looked rather hideous. As far as I could tell, it had no face, not even eyes. It was on all fours and it’s back was arched. It’s front two legs weren’t exactly legs but more like spears. It was covered in reptilian scales. The Daemon was about twice the size of a human and looking at it made me feel sick.

The women were both fairly tall. One had black hair and the other had red hair. Neither carried weapons.

“Finally!” Valek grinned as he walked forward. His allies stayed back. “This war has come down to this. There may be a giant battle waging around us but let’s be honest, we’re the only ones who matter.”

Jojen stepped forward and laughed. He probably found Valek’s egotistical attitude as amusing as I did. “You’re right in that regard, Valek. We’re the kings and they’re nothing but pawns.”

“What an awful metaphor,” Valek grimaced. “You can do better Jojen…”

“This isn’t the time for wit,” Jojen snapped. “This is the time for you to die.”

Valek drew a sword from the air. Jojen did the same. Jojen had Deucalion’s sword which had somehow become the perfect length for him. “Damien, Daniel,” he said quietly. “You two deal with the Daemon. The rest of you deal with the women. I’ll try and handle Valek. His death will mean the end of all of this…”

We nodded. I drew a dagger and Daniel’s hands became engulfed in fire. Lewis gripped his swords tightly. Mary held her mace with both hands. Raven pulled a machete from her back and held it with one hand. Black mist circled around her other hand.

The six of us charged, hoping for a pre-emptive strike. Obviously it failed and they met us with all weapons blazing.

As instructed, Daniel and I focused on the Daemon. I ducked under it as it charged at me while Daniel blazed it with a spit of fire. The fire did nothing as the Daemon turned its attention to Daniel. It moved towards him, ready to stab him with it’s weird weaponised leg. As it charged I stomped my foot on the ground, covering it in ice that spread beneath the Daemon.

It skidded comically towards Daniel who jumped out of the way. I threw my dagger to Daniel who caught it with ease, it was as if we were thinking the same thoughts. He ran at the Daemon which struggled to stand on the slippery ice. Daniel stabbed down at its neck and miraculously pierced through its scaly hide.

The Daemon crumpled to the floor and I thought of how it seemed too easy. Putting my concerns aside, I turned to the rest of the battle as Daniel moved to stand beside me.

Jojen and Valek were using both their magic and their swords. They appeared and disappeared all around the town square trying to get an advantage over the other. They both seemed to move with lightning speed and seemed able to predict the other’s plans.

Lewis, Raven and Mary seemed to be struggling against the two women. One of the women had a whip that seemed to be made of shadows. There was a cut across Lewis’ face presumably caused by it. The other women had a dagger in one hand and a sword in the other, both like the first woman’s whip.

She jumped back to dodge a strike from Raven. As she jumped she threw her dagger. It soared through the air towards Mary who wasn’t quick enough to dodge it. The dagger stabbed into her throat. Blood spurted out and she dropped to her knees.

“C’mon,” Daniel gasped, running towards them.

I made the ice that covered part of the ground disappear as we ran forward. By the time we reached them Mary had dropped to the ground. It was four against two and yet I felt outnumbered.

Lewis foolishly charged forward towards the woman with the whip. She swung it and managed to knock both his swords from his hands. He tried to retreat but like Mary, he was too slow. The woman swung her whip again. That time it wrapped around Lewis’ neck…

She yanked on the whip, pulling both it and Lewis’ head off. As she did that, Daniel held his hands towards her and barraged her with a wave of fire. The woman screamed horrifically loudly as her flesh cracked and melted underneath the heat.

The other woman turned to Daniel and ran towards him, sword ready to stab him. Raven appeared suddenly between them. She swung her machete as the sword stuck into her. Both Raven and the woman dropped to the floor, dead in a heartbeat.

“Why did she do that?” Daniel gasped. He looked both shocked and guilty.

“Because this ends with us,” I whispered. The sounds of fighting were getting closer. I turned around to see a group of mages running into the square.

Daniel grabbed my hand and began running away from them. “We can’t be caught in that,” he tells me as we rush down a street.

“Where are Jojen and Valek?” I wondered, realising I hadn’t seen them in a while.

As if to answer my question, they appeared in front of us as we turned a corner. The street was a dead end and Jojen was backed into a corner. Daniel and I watched the two of them unnoticed.

“This is where it ends,” Valek mused. Jojen’s sword was on the ground. He was panting heavily, obviously too weak to use anymore magic… Valek’s back was to us. “Any last words, Jojen?”

Jojen looked past Valek and to Daniel. “Do it,” he said.

“Very well,” Valek laughed. He raised the sword and with one swift blow, he ended Jojen’s life.

I gasped loudly as Daniel grabbed me again, dragging me away from Valek.

“Do what?” I asked. We were going back to the square- to the town hall…

Daniel was breathing heavily. He looked as if he was going to cry and it made me realise I felt no sadness over Jojen’s sudden demise. “I didn’t want it to come to this,” Daniel whispered.

“Come to what?” I demanded as we reached the square again. The battle had reached its peak. Jojen was dead and Valek was presumably about to announce it to everybody. It felt as if it was the end.

“The last resort,” he said sadly. Daniel ignored the battle and instead rushed into the town hall.

Once the doors shut behind us he told me to cover it with ice. I did as he instructed. “Daniel, what is it? What’s the last resort?”

He pulled the scroll from his pocket and unrolled it. “I got it from Deucalion’s realm. It’s a very powerful spell, obviously.”

“What does it do?” I wondered. We were running out of time.

Daniel took my hand in his as he looked at the scroll. “It… It will kill us all. Everybody in the town. Including us.”

I felt suddenly sick to my stomach. Of course the war would boil down to this, the death of literally everybody! “Cast the spell,” I said bitterly. All the hopes of my life with Daniel were gone. Our options were limited. We could let Valek announce the death of Jojen and our forces would surrender. We could either let the worshippers take over Wychelm or we could die with them… At least I’d die with Daniel though. “As long as I’m with you, it’s okay.”

He smiled sadly. “I love you Damien,” Daniel whispered. “I’m so, so sorry we couldn’t be together.”

“I love you too,” I said without hesitation. “I will never stop loving you.”

Daniel stared deep into my eyes once more before turning to the scroll. He held my hand tight as he said the words. The words that would kill us all. “We have a few seconds,” he said once he was done. The scroll dropped to the floor.

“We have eternity together now,” I said. Who knew that it took mere seconds to accept your death?

He pulled something else from his pocket as the sensation of dark magic filled the air. “Not just yet, Damien,” he said, putting the object in my hand and stepping back. “Go anywhere but here,” he whispered.

I looked at the object as the world collapsed around me. A teleportation crystal- the one meant for Thalia! I got one last look at Daniel, at his snow white hair and his brilliantly handsome face. One last look before I was whisked away from him.

I didn’t even know where the crystal took me. I fell to the ground as soon as he was gone. He was gone. Daniel was gone. Every fibre of my being was being torn apart and I prayed for the sweet release of death. But it didn’t come.

Why did he not take me with him? Now I was cursed to roam the earth without him! He gave me the gift of life but I felt as if I would never feel alive again…

It took me too long to get up from where I sat sobbing. Too long to recover from the mortal wound to my heart. But I recovered, eventually, and isn’t that what matters?

No. Not really…

He broke me beyond repair.

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