A War to Win

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Chapter Three

I’m greeted with a glare as I enter the Three Wench’s Inn, still carrying Noah in my arms. The bar maid says nothing as I walk past her and up the stairs. I guess she’s pissed that I didn’t get rid of the corpse for her...

The door to my room is still open, just barely, so I just push in, being careful not to hit Noah’s head. As I enter I say the words of the light spell as the last one ran out, probably a while ago. A small ball of light appears over the bed. I place Noah down on it. “You planning on waking up any time soon?” I frown. He rolls over, yawning adorably. “You’re not even unconscious,” I realise, scowling. “You just fell asleep.”

I yawn too. I should really try to get some sleep before morning, so I gingerly sit on the bed beside him. Taking off my shoes and socks, I decide its best to keep my clothes on. The last thing I want is to sleep naked in the same bed as him. He could get the wrong idea.

Laying down, I look at Noah. His mouth is slightly open and his hair is even messier than usual. I have to resist the urge to push it out of his face. Surely it must be irritating. It’s why I keep my hair short enough to not fall over my face. Long hair suits Noah however, in a way that short hair wouldn’t.

Shaking my head, I turn and face away from him, extinguishing the light above us. “Can’t afford to think like that,” I mumble to myself. Daniel is the only one for me. Just thinking another guy is cute feels wrong. I doubt he’d be angry if I moved on, but I can’t. Not while there is still a chance we can be together…

I’m woken by a pressure on my chest. Quickly opening my eyes in alarm, I see Noah hovering above me, looking down on me. His hands are on my chest, shaking me much like a dog shakes its owner when it wants to go for a walk… The sun shines in through the window. It’s bright. I hope I haven’t slept for too long.

“What are you doing?” I ask Noah sleepily, resisting the urge to push him off. If it were Daniel, I would pull him down and kiss him. But Noah is not Daniel.

He shrugs, getting off and standing up. “Wanted to wake you up,” he says. He seems to have changed clothes. He’s still wearing black, but now with the addition of a very nice leather jacket. I’m assuming he stole it. “When you’re ready, come downstairs. We have some stuff to discuss over breakfast.” With that comment, he grabs his pack and leaves the room.

Yawning, I drag myself up despite how I’d rather just stay in bed. Who knows when I can sleep in a bed again? I put on my shoes and socks, not bothering to change clothes. Before grabbing my pack and leaving the room, I do some exercise. I wonder if Noah exercises. It can’t be easy to stay in such good shape like he is, I work hard to keep my body healthy and toned, and he’s a lot more muscular than myself.

As I walk down the stairs I wonder whether I’ll ever discuss such things with him. It’s more something that friends discuss, and we are not friends. Not yet at least. We’re allies, basically using each other to gain what we need. Becoming friends with him wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen since all mine are dead. I make a mental note to make more of an effort with him, to try and befriend him.

Entering the hall of the inn, I see him sat alone at a table. He smiles as I sit across from him. “Want some breakfast?” He asks, gesturing for somebody to come take our order. Somebody begins making their way across the room. “I waited for you before ordering.”

“Thanks,” I say. One of the women who runs this ‘fine’ establishment comes over to us, looking utterly miserable.

“What can I get you?” She asks in a monotone voice with a scowl on her face. So much for service with a smile.

Despite her obvious hatred of us, Noah smiles at her. “All day breakfast and a cup of coffee for me,” he tells her. “And for you?” He asks, looking at me. I order the same, hoping she’ll stop glaring. Thankfully she leaves. “So, Damien, what do you want to talk about?”

Didn’t he say we have stuff to discuss? It’s weird that he’s asking me, but nevertheless, I consider what to discuss for a moment. “Let’s talk about you,” I say. We should really be talking about the book, but I want to know more about this man that I’m traveling with. He frowns, obviously confused. “You pretty much know my life story, most people do. I want to know about you.”

He squirms uncomfortably, making me worry that I’ve crossed a line. Is it strange that I asked him that? “I suppose you deserve to know, since we’re allies now,” he says. “I’ll just skim through my life quickly… Is that sufficient?” He asks. I nod, smiling gently. “I grew up in the capital, which as you know is a shit hole. The King is harsh with punishments and is corrupt, to say the least. Anyway, I lived there with my Mother and Father. My Father was a thief. Not a serious one like I am, he stole what we needed to survive and occasionally things that wouldn’t be missed. My Mother worked the markets, selling things she would make and sometimes the things that my Father stole.” Noah speaks slowly, as if remembering his time there, with them.

The lady comes over with a tray. She practically slams two plates and two cups down on the table before walking away. “Pay at the desk,” she shouts behind her.

I try to ignore the waitress and listen to Noah. I didn’t expect him to actually tell me anything about himself. Perhaps he wants me to trust him, and perhaps I want to trust him. It’s been so long since I’ve felt trust. I miss it.

“When I was ten, my Father got caught trying to steal a necklace, or some stupid thing like that. I don’t quite remember what it was,” Noah continues. He pauses briefly to take a sip of coffee before telling me more. “The Royal Guard took him to the prison. The next day, one came to our house. They told us that they had cut off his hands, and that he would be released in a month.” I’m not entirely shocked by this, but I frown anyway. Cutting off the hands of thieves was a righteous punishment, according to the king. Personally I think it’s barbaric.

“A month was a long time though. Before even a week without him, my Mother and I ran out of food. That’s when I had to start stealing… I had to do it to survive. I managed to successfully steal what we needed to survive for about a week and a half, but I was caught. It was entirely my fault. I tried to steal some sweet cakes from one of the high end bakeries, that was my mistake. Greed.” He looks down suddenly, looking ashamed.

“Noah...” I say. “You don’t have to tell me this.”

He shakes his head, looking up at me and smiling weakly. “I want to,” he sighs. “I know everything about you; the magnificent Damien Harpen. You deserve to know about the mundane Noah Falstraad…”

“You’re not mundane,” I tell him, knowing it’s true. There’s something special about Noah. “You’re so far from mundane in the best possible way.”

He smiles slightly before carrying on his story. “The guards let me off with a warning, or so I thought…

“You know how the King publically executes people?” He asks. I nod, thinking of the few executions I’ve seen. It’s horrific, and that’s coming from somebody who’s killed hundreds and has tortured many of them too. “Well, the next day I was walking through the town square, the executions of the day were happening. That’s when I saw him; my Father. He was in line to be hanged.

“I pushed through the crowd desperately, but I was only ten. I couldn’t get there in time… When I finally reached the front, he was gone. He had already been hung, and it was my fault. Had I not gotten caught, he would have been released and we would probably still be a family today.”

“You can’t blame yourself.” I know that my words will not heal any of his wounds, nothing I can do will. We can only hope that these wounds become scars, and those scars become long forgotten memories.

Noah smiles sadly. “It was my fault. I’ve learned from it though,” he says with confidence. Instead of continuing his story, he starts eating. I follow his lead, surprised when the food is actually good. I worry that the woman spat in it, but I’ve eaten worst.

We eat in silence, glancing at each other occasionally. When he’s done eating, he sips his coffee before speaking. “Three years after my Father’s execution, my Mother died. I was thirteen, so they tried to put me in an orphanage. Obviously, I ran away.”

“And you’ve been traveling ever since? Alone?” I ask. He nods, smiling with a strange pride. “I admire that. You’re strong Noah, and brave. Don’t ever forget that.”

“Thanks Damien,” he says, putting his hand on mine. He pulls it away quickly, coughing. I place my hands on my lap. “We should probably talk about the Arch-Daemon’s spell book,” Noah says, smoothly changing the topic.

I nod in agreement. “Tell me what you know?”

He frowns. “Unfortunately, that is not much. All I know that you need a key to even use the book. The key is protected by a greater Daemon, which we should be able to conjure and get the key from. The key may or may not lead to the book…”

“That’s all?” I snap. He looks wounded.

“Damien this is an ancient, powerful book,” he retaliates. “Please excuse me if I’m not an expert on it.”

I feel instantly bad. It’s impressive that he even knows that much, it is a very obscure topic. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m just desperate to get it, your information is invaluable.”

He nods, smiling at the compliment. At least now I know Noah takes any compliment amazingly well. “Why do you need it?” He asks suddenly.

I considering telling him, but then surely he wouldn’t continue working with me. What I need it for is something almost impossible, something that will likely get me and many around me killed. I can’t tell him, not until he trusts in me. “I think we should keep our motives private for now, don’t you think?” I ask.

“Agreed,” he says, standing. “Now, are you ready to summon that greater Daemon?”

Grinning, I stand and follow him onto the street. It occurs to me that we didn’t pay, but I decide not to mention it. Noah is a thief after all. “How are we doing it?” I ask. He seems to be leading me out of town.

“With the help of a priest,” he tells me. “There’s a small church a mile or so out of Dalmerton, we’re going there.”

We walk through Dalmerton in silence now. It’s a dull day as the sun is hidden away behind dark grey clouds. Not many people are out today. Only a few children wonder the streets, but not nearly as many as there used to be.

The view from the inn window was surprisingly nice as it looked over the town square of Dalmerton. The elegant clock tower and the town hall were in sight there, along with the market stalls set up all around. The sky was bright without a cloud in the sky. The sun reflected brilliantly off windows all around the square.

“What are you looking at?” I heard behind me. I turned to see Daniel getting out of bed, pushing his hair back from his face. He had a wild and adorable bed head, sticking his snow white hair up at odd angles. I always found it funny that a fire mage had white hair. His skin resembled his magic however, it was tanned and flawless. Daniel had a handsome face and an athletic body like myself; the only different was he was a fair bit taller.

“Just all the people,” I told him as I walked over to him. I began fixing his hair with my fingers, enjoying the softness in my hands. “We never had a market like that in Ravenrock, it’s weird seeing so many people together without them rioting or fighting.”

Daniel frowned. “Sometimes I forget you grew up in such a violent town,” he sighed. “I wish you had grown up here, with me. You’d be happier for it.”

I shook my head, walking away from him to get changed from the clothes I slept in. I had been tired when we went to bed the previous night I hadn’t bothered getting undressed. We had been up late meeting a bunch of mages who worked for Jojen in the effort to crush the worshippers of Wychelm. “I guess it would have been nice growing up here,” I began, changing from my jeans and into clean ones. “But I doubt we’d be dating if I had, and I doubt we would now be fighting the worshippers if I had. Things happen for a reason; you know?”

He nodded, beginning to change as well. “Are you ready to go meet Jojen?” He asked me. “He wants us to train with him, see what we’re made of.”

“Will him seeing what we’re made of get him to send us on a mission?” I asked, scowling at Daniel.

He looked taken aback. “Do I sense some hatred?” He laughed nervously.

I shook my head, putting on a comfortable jumper. Walking over to him, I smiled gently. “No hatred here, I’m just used to traveling, with you,” I told him, gently kissing him.

He smiled, convinced. I was lying of course. At the time, I despised Jojen for dragging us from our traveling to start a goddamn war. We were in over our heads from the very beginning…

“You ready?” I asked, pulling away and walking towards the door. He followed me. “It’s convenient that Jojen placed us in an inn so close to the town hall,” I said walking down the stairs. I smiled at the guy behind the desk as I walked out of the door and into the square. Daniel was still at my heel.

The square looked even more fantastic once I was in it and not just looking at it through a window. It was incredibly loud too, but in a good way. I walked around the edge of the bustling crowds and smiled at people as we passed them, making my way to the town hall. Once arriving there I walked straight in with Daniel, who shut the door behind us. Jojen stood in the hall, waiting for us.

“I’m glad you two came,” he said with a smile. “I thought today we could train with each other, practice battling ready for the mission.”

I was instantly intrigued and excited. The thought of a mission, to actually do something other than sit around, was amazing. “Mission?” I asked.

Jojen nodded. “I’ll tell you more after we train, if you’re up for it?” Daniel and I nodded, smiling at each other. “Follow me,” Jojen said, leading us through the town hall.

“What’s this hall even used for?” I asked, looking around. It was such a nice building, one that didn’t seem in place. Yes, Dalmerton was nice, but not nice enough for such an elegant structure.

After traveling through a large hall we came to a garden type place. It was very large, surrounded by a high hedge. Tree’s littered the garden, and it had an incredibly pretty fountain in the centre. “The Mayor uses the town hall and a bunch of meetings are held here, but that’s about it,” Jojen told us. He moved and sat on the edge of the fountain, facing Daniel and I. “It’s also going to be where we plan our moves against the Daemon worshippers. Full time.”

Daniel grinned, much to my surprise. “So you’re basically declaring war?” He asked.

Jojen nodded and smiled gently. “It’s going to be tough, but I think it’s the best thing to do, for Wychelm. If you two are willing to help me, I want you both here in Dalmerton, helping me in command.”

“We’d love to!” Daniel exclaimed at the exact same time I said; “We need to think about it.” We shared a look of anger and shock.

Jojen coughed awkwardly. “I’ll let you two talk about it,” he told us, walking away. He stood on the other side of the garden, doing stretches for whatever stupid reason.

“Daniel we’re only seventeen,” I told him before he could speak. “We’re not ready to fight in a war.”

“It’s not even exactly a war,” Daniel sighed. “More a series of battles where we easily crush them and stop them from rising up and coming to power.”

Unable to help myself, I rolled my eyes. “I don’t think they’re rising to power.”

“Firstly, don’t roll your eyes at me,” he snapped. I knew it irritated him, but I could never help it. “Secondly, they’re attacking places and taking over. They already have numerous cities captured, they almost had this one!” I decided not to ask how he knew that. Either he was assuming or he had been talking to Jojen without me… “Damien, I need to do this. I have to help destroy those who will destroy us,” he told me. He didn’t say it, but he might as well have said “with or without you.”

I looked away from him, wishing he wasn’t so stubborn. There would be no persuading him, that much was clear. “Fine then,” I sighed. “I’m in.”

Daniel grinned ear to ear. “Should we tell Jojen?” He asked. “He might tell us about that mission he mentioned earlier.”

I knew it would be nice to do something. Yes, it was going to be tough but stopping the worshippers would be worth it. “Sure,” I said, faking a smile. I had felt a sense of dread about that mission from the start.

We walked to Jojen, and I made a point to hold Daniel’s hand. “We’re in,” I said, trying to take control of the situation. “But we’re not training. We’re getting straight down to business. Tell us about the mission.”

Jojen nodded, smiling. “I like the way you work, Damien,” he said. “I trust that the two of you are strong, so our mission shouldn’t fail.” I wondered if he would ever get to the point. “The three of us, and my sister, will be infiltrating their headquarters. Together we will attempt to kill their leader; Valek. If we succeed, the war should stop before it even begins.”

I frowned. Stopping the war would be amazing, but… “What if we fail?” I asked.

He sighed, smiling sympathetically. “We die.”

The sun is at its peak in by the time I see the church, sat atop a small hill. It’s much smaller than the one in Dalmerton, much less impressive too. This one has no stained glass and quite a short steeple.

“Does a priest even live there?” I ask Noah, frowning.

He nods, pushing his hair from his face. “Yeah, just one. He’s nice, a little lonely though.”

“You’ve visited him?” I ask.

Noah nods again, smiling at me. “He’s helped me a few times, and will hopefully help us this time.”

We reach the bottom of the hill. There are small stone slabs shoved into it as makeshift stairs leading to the doors of the church. Noah goes first and I follow behind him.

“Did you ever marry Daniel?” Noah asks suddenly.

I sigh, wishing he wouldn’t talk about Daniel. “No,” I tell him. After a brief period of silence, I decide to say more. He deserves to know about me after all he told me early. “We said we would after the war, but we didn’t both survive the war. It was obvious that getting married during a war would be problematic. I’m glad we didn’t though.”

We reach the doors and stop for a moment. “I’m sorry Damien,” Noah says. “You deserved to marry him. But you’ll find somebody new, and you’ll be happier with him than you’ve ever been before.”

I smile but know that’s not true. If I get my way, I won’t need somebody new.

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