A War to Win

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Chapter Six

As I wake I feel a nice pressure on my back and over my shoulder. Smiling, I nudge back into the warm body. One of the best feelings is waking up in bed with- Noah!

Gasping, I push his arm off and get up quickly. He sits up, rubbing his eyes cutely.

“What the fuck Noah?” I snap, wondering why he is shirtless. I’m sure he was wearing one when we went to bed…

Noah frowns at me. “What did I do?” He asks.

“You were cuddling into me,” I tell him, trying not to sound as if I enjoyed it. It wasn’t because it was him that I enjoyed it. I guess it was just the feeling of being close to somebody after so long. I hate to admit it, but I crave human contact. Everybody does, because nobody can survive in this harsh world alone. We all need somebody. I was lucky enough to have Daniel for so long, but not many people are lucky enough to find that. I was lucky, and I may even be lucky enough to get it again.

“Oh, sorry,” he laughs. I glare. “What’s the big deal?” He asks, frowning. “I didn’t exactly mean to do it. I must have just rolled over in my sleep.”

I sigh, wondering if I’m over reacting. Yes, it was nice, but I refuse to let him get the wrong idea. “It just felt a little invasive,” I explain, moving to walk from the room. “Don’t take it personally.”

He makes an exasperated noise as I leave the room and make my way downstairs. As I reach the bottom of the landing I stop by the door to the main hall when I hear voices. As I listen in, I make an effort not to go near the basement door.

“We’re going to find him,” Tessa is saying. She sounds very tired. “Aaron isn’t dead Jack; I know he isn’t.”

“Then why can’t we find him?” Jack asks in a sad, pitiful tone.

Feeling suddenly intrusive, I open the door and walk through it. Tessa and Jack, who are stood close to the door for whatever reason, both turn to look at me.

“Why are you standing there?” I ask with a frown, hoping they won’t realise I listened to them speaking. Whatever it was, it’s none of my business. I don’t want to get involved.

Tessa turns, half smiling at me. Any trace of exhaustion in her voice is gone, replaced by an admirable confidence. “Waiting for you and Noah of course,” she tells me. She’s wearing shorts that barely cover her thighs. They’re a light blue, like her tank-top. Odd choice of clothes, but I suppose since we’re just resting at the church for now it doesn’t matter what she wears. “We need to discuss what to do now that we’re all on the same team.”

I have to stop myself from cringing at that. Calling us a team is just weird. “We’ll do that once Noah gets up,” I tell her. She nods, and Jack walks past me and through the door. Not too sure why. “What’s wrong with him?” I ask once I’m sure he’s out of ear shot.

Tessa shrugs, twirling her fingers in her hair. “He never has been one for adventure,” she tells me. “He has no powers and so he feels bad that I have to protect him whenever we do anything dangerous.”

“What danger could you two get into?” I laugh lightly. “Why are you here anyway? It seems like an awfully strange coincidence that you and Jack are here when me and Noah come, looking for help from Bartholomew.”

She smiles coyly. “It is just a coincidence, I assure you,” she begins. “Unless some greater power is controlling us,” she laughs, shaking her head. “That’s a silly notion. Anyway, me and Jack are here because we needed help from Bartholomew. He was unable to help us, but the book can. I’m sure of it.” She begins walking, and I follow her.

“Why do you need it?” I ask as she leads me to yet another door I hadn’t noticed before. This church is weird.

“That’s none of your concern,” she tells me. “I won’t ask why you need it. Once we get it, we’re done being allies. It will do us no good getting caught up in each other’s missions, don’t you agree?”

I nod as she opens the door. Strangely enough, it leads to a bathroom. Three baths are in the ground, each basically a small swimming pool. “This church is amazing,” I mumble.

Tessa mumbles in agreement, moving and kneeling beside the first tub. She whispers a few words to a spell and the tub begins filling quite quickly with steaming water.

“That’s amazing,” I tell her. “How many spells do you know?”

She shrugs nonchalantly. “Quite a few. I’ve been studying magic for a few years now, so I’ve picked it up.” Once the tub fills the water stops and she gestures to it. “It’s all yours Damien,” she tells me before leaving the room. “Hurry so we can get talking about our next step,” she says over her shoulder as she leaves.

It doesn’t take long for me to strip down and climb into the warm, welcoming water. I’m unsure why Tessa did this. Maybe it was an act of kindness, or more likely a way of telling me I smelled a little since I’ve been on the road a while… She seems very confusing. Not knowing her motives worries me, but she and Jack are going to be valuable. Well, Tessa will be. Jack is likely to be nothing but a burden.

I must confess that there is strength in numbers and so I can’t decide whether it’s a good thing that we’ve agreed to stop working together once we have the book. On one hand, it stops them from getting involved in what is basically my suicide mission. But on the other hand, it means I have to do it alone which drastically lowers the chance of success.

Sighing, I finish cleaning myself and get out of the tub. It starts draining itself, much to my confusion. Nearby on a counter I spot a towel and clean clothes; presumably meant for me. I walk over and dry myself before examining the clothes. The trousers are black, tightly fit but flexible. There is also a long sleeved, white t-shirt and a very well made leather jacket. I grin as I dress, loving the feel of the clothes. I get my boots and put them on before leaving the bathroom with my old clothes discarded.

Noah is waiting outside of the bathroom when I open the door. “We’re all ready to talk, Damien,” he says. “We need to discuss what we’re going to do next.”

I nod. “Where are the others?” I ask as he begins to walk.

“Bartholomew’s office,” he tells me as we reach it. “We’re not sure where he is, but we can talk without him.” Noah opens the door. Tessa is sat on the desk facing us with her legs crossed and her arms folded. Jack sits at one of the seats looking sheepish.

“Nice bath?” Tessa asks, tilting her head slightly to the side.

“It was great,” I say, feeling somehow like an outsider. Noah moves and sits next to Jack. I stay standing beside the door, which I shut. “Obviously our next step is locating the book,” I say, touching the key that still hangs around my neck on a chain. I had forgotten it was there. “The key could be of some use, but the important thing is we have it now.”

Noah nods. “It’s great that we have the key,” Noah says. “Without it the book is useless, which does make me wonder… Wherever the book is, it’s probably with somebody who wants the key. By getting it we basically put giant targets on our backs.”

Tessa frowns. “I hadn’t thought of it like that,” she sighs. “Anybody could be coming for us right now.” Jack squirms uncomfortably at that comment. Tessa puts a hand on his shoulder.

“We’re safe in the church,” Noah says. “But we can’t stay here forever. We’re running out of time.”

“What are you talking about?” I ask. “It’s not like the book is going anywhere… As far as we know.”

Noah sighs. “It doesn’t matter,” he tells. “I just feel like we should hurry up and figure out where the book is. Sitting around is doing us no good.”

Jack speaks suddenly, surprising me. I didn’t take him for somebody who puts ideas forward. “Why don’t we just scan using the key?” He asks. I laugh suddenly. He frowns, obviously discouraged.

“That’s a good idea,” I tell him. “I’m just laughing because nobody else thought of it.”

“Oh,” Jack says, smiling slightly. Tessa smiles too, looking at me as she does so.

Noah stands and walks past me. “I’ll go grab a map,” he says, opening the door. “I have one upstairs.”

I follow him from Bartholomew’s office and into the main hall, shutting the door behind me. “This is our last chance to leave them,” I tell Noah quietly as he walks towards the stairs.

He keeps walking, but answers quietly. “I realise now that we need them,” he sighs. “Or at least we need Tessa. Jack could be useful,” he continues, climbing the stairs. “But we need to be careful with him. He could die, we need to prevent that.”

I nod. “Obviously. I hate taking responsibility, but I suppose they are our allies now.”

We reach our room and Noah walks over to his bag, which he had put by the bed. My bag is over on the other side of the room. He pulls a map from it and stands. “Where do you think the book is?” He asks.

I shrug. “I’m hoping in Wychelm. That way it should come up when we scan for it. If it’s not in Wychelm, we’re screwed. It could take months to find it. Maybe even a year.”

Noah sighs, walking again from the room. “Let’s just hope it’s in Wychelm then,” he says. “I don’t have a year…”

I decide not to question what he means by that. We’re allies only until we have the book, that much is obvious. Like Tessa said, there is no need for us to get involved in each other’s business. It would just get messy, then we’d end up owing each other and it’s likely that somebody, if not all of us, would die.

We reach the office and walk straight in. Tessa and Jack stand, making it easy for Noah to lay the map on the desk. I walk over and remove the key from my neck.

“How does this work if I’m not looking for a person?” I ask, frowning.

The door suddenly bursts open behind us, causing us all to turn. Bartholomew walks briskly in. He has blood stains on his cheeks and robes.

“What the fuck,” Tessa gasps.

Bartholomew speaks quickly, panting as he does so. “The church is under attack! You have to get your things and leave immediately. I think they’re after the key.”

Tessa grabs Jack and walks towards the door with him in tow. “We’ll go get all of our stuff, you boys see what we’re dealing with.”

I nod and follow her out into the main hall with Noah and Bartholomew behind me.

“They’re standing outside the front door,” Bartholomew says. “Worshippers. They’re trying to break my protective spells.”

As Tessa and Jack go upstairs, I walk to the front door. “Do you think they’re able to?” I ask.

He sighs loudly as Noah moves to stand beside me, opening the door slightly. “They will, but it will take them about an hour. I suggest the four of you leave through the back and go find the book. Now that there is competition, time is of the essence!”

“We can’t leave you here,” Noah exclaims, sounding upset that Bartholomew would even suggest we leave.

Gently pushing Noah out of the way, I peek through the crack in the door he has made.

“I’ll be fine Noah,” Bartholomew tells him. “Once the four of you are gone I can cast some new spells. They will not get to me.”

About ten worshippers are standing around, not too far away. They’re standing close together. A few of them have books, presumably ones to help them break Bartholomew’s spells.

The worshippers part suddenly, allowing one to walk through them and towards the church. I recognize him instantly. He doesn’t look as if he’s changed a bit. It’s Valek.

“That’s impossible,” I whisper, slamming the door just as he looks at me. “He’s dead… He…”

Noah grabs my arm, spinning me around. “Damien, what’s wrong?”

I pull my arm from his grip and walk away from the door. “Bartholomew is right,” I say, trying to stop my voice from shaking. “We have to leave, now! If they get the book and the key, everything we know and love will be destroyed.”

How is he alive? Did the worshippers bring him back? If they can do it, surely I can. Or maybe he just never died…

“Calm down,” Noah says with a frown. “Surely you’re being a little melodramatic.”

Bartholomew shakes his head, pushing Noah towards me. “Damien is right. As soon as Tessa and Jack come back down you are leaving,” he instructs sternly. “You have to get the book before them and then come straight back here. I will make sure to put up far more powerful protection.”

Tessa and Jack walk up to us, both looking concerned. Tessa hands me my bag and Jack hands Noah his. “This isn’t going to end well, is it?” Jack asks.

“Don’t fret dear child,” Bartholomew says with a warm smile. “We will all make it through this, and we will all be using that book.”

Jack smiles weakly, but Tessa doesn’t look convinced. “If this is goodbye, thank you for everything Bartholomew,” she says. She’s wearing clothes more suited for travel now; black jeans and boots but still a tank top. She sure can change quickly.

“This isn’t goodbye,” he tells her with a reassuring tone.

Noah doesn’t bother saying goodbye, instead he begins walking to the end of the office. I follow him with Jack and Tessa behind me.

“Be safe,” Bartholomew shouts after us. A pang of guilt goes through me. We’re leaving him here all alone to deal with them, to deal with Valek… He should be fine though. He better be.

“Once we leave we’re going straight to Dalmerton,” Noah says, pulling on a book from a bookshelf. Of course this church has secret passages. I’m not even surprised. “If we’re quick it should take us half an hour at the most. The worshippers probably won’t even know we’ve left the church.”

The bookshelf opens, revealing a dark passage way. Before anybody else does, I cast a light spell, illuminating it. Noah walks straight though as if he’s done this before. I follow him, having to crouch down a little. The passageway doesn’t go for very long before we come out at the bottom of the hill, far away from the front door and hopefully out of sight of the worshippers. Tessa comes out after me, and then Jack.

“No time to stop,” Noah says, walking straight away while brushing dust from his messy hair.

Sighing, I walk beside him, looking back. The passageway seems to have disappeared. I’m assuming it’s Bartholomew’s magic. Tessa and Jack walk close beside each other not too far behind us.

“Do you think Bartholomew will be okay?” I ask Noah.

He nods. “Yeah, he’s a lot stronger than he seems. Bartholomew can take care of himself,” he tells me. Who’s he trying to convince? Me or himself? I never considered that Noah probably sees Bartholomew as a father figure. He lost his real father when he was young, and he did mention that Bartholomew has helped him numerous times before.

Before I can speak again, Tessa moves to walk beside us. “I think there’s a Daemon nearby,” she says, sounding quite worried. “If it sees us it’ll report to the worshippers, and then we’re screwed.”

I sigh, looking around. I can’t see anyone or anything other than us, and it’s unlikely that it’s hiding because there is nothing to hide behind here. “What makes you think there is one?” I ask her.

“My telepathy,” she says. “It’s hard to explain, but I can just sense thoughts nearby that aren’t ours.”

Noah glares at her suddenly. “Are you reading our minds?” He asks.

She rolls her eyes. “No, why would I want to? It’s all just homoerotic stuff in your heads. Not my cup of tea.”

“I’m not even gay,” Noah snaps. “Damien is, but I’m not.” I try not to seem shocked by that. I really thought Noah was gay… “I’m pansexual.”

“What the fucking hell is a pansexual?” Tessa says, sounding angry for whatever crazy reason.

Noah laughs lightly. “You straight people are so ignorant,” he sighs. “Pansexual means I like whatever. It means I see what I want,” he continues, glancing at me. “And I get it.” I look away from him, praying that he was just joking.

Tessa looks as if she is about to say something, but before she can Jack screams behind us.

I spin quickly, instantly seeing what he sees. A few metres from him has landed a large, winged Daemon. It’s about twice the size of any of us with black, bat like wings that span very wide. It has a leathery, humanoid body with arms that end in clawed hands. It holds a long whip in one hand.

“Oh great,” Noah sighs as Jack runs beside Tessa, grabbing her hand. “A kinky greater Daemon.”

“We have to kill it!” Tessa states. “If we don’t our position will be compromised.” She pushes Jack back, standing in front of him. In her hand suddenly appears a long rapier. It’s obviously an expensive make, and she looks like she knows how to use it. “Jack, stay behind us. Damien, Noah, distract it so I can get behind it and cut its wings. After I get cut them, go for its heart and its throat.”

I nod, pulling a dagger from my belt. Noah holds the same sword he used back at the inn, I’m assuming its magical since he pulled it from thin air.

We rush forward together as Tessa weaves around it. The Daemon lets out a horrific battle cry before swinging its whip towards us. I duck, but Noah makes the mistake of trying to cut it. He’s knocked off his feet, his sword flying away.

Standing up again, I face it, rushing forward again and hacking at it. I’m only eye level with its abdomen which is rather frightening, but I’ve faced worst! Its leathery skin makes my dagger practically bounce off. As it reaches forward with its free hand, I rush backwards, forcing it to lean forward. As it does so, I see Tessa jump on its back, cutting its wings with impressive speed.

The Daemon howls as Noah runs back to my side, arching its back and throwing Tessa to the ground. She lands on her feet, bending her knees as she does so. I realise now that I really did underestimate her…

“Finish it!” She shouts. Her rapier flies into the air before launching straight towards the back of the Daemons throat. The rapier pierces straight through, causing blood to squirt forward.

The Daemon swings its whip again, this time too quickly for me to react! It hits me hard, sending me sprawling to the floor. It turns to me, looming over and looking bigger than ever. Purple fire appears in its hand, growing quickly…

It launches. I can’t move. Too scared to react. I can only pray it’s not powerful enough to kill me.

Before it can hit me however, Noah jumps in front of it, hitting the ball of purple fire with his sword. The sword absorbs the fire and the force of it stagger Noah. He goes with the force though, using it to spin on the spot before running at the Daemon! He jumps up, stabbing his sword into the Daemon’s heart before falling to the ground.

I get up and run to Noah, dragging him away from the Daemon as it collapses. It begins disappearing, making a quiet moaning as it does so.

“Are you okay?” I ask Noah as I help him up. He nods. “Thanks for saving me…”

He smiles, walking over to where his sword now lays and picking it up. “It was nothing,” he says. “Tessa was really amazing there.”

She picks up her sword too, wiping it on the grass before it disappears. Noah’s does the same. “And you said I’d be useless,” she laughs.

Jack walks over, looking terrified to say the least. You’d think he has never seen a Daemon before. “Is it dead?” He asks.

I nod. “Yeah. Daemons usually go back to their own realms when they die in this world. It shouldn’t bother us again.”

Noah begins walking again, towards Dalmerton. “We need somewhere to stay that isn’t an inn,” he says. “Barkeepers will give us away just for the fun of it.”

Tessa speaks up, sounding a little weary. “I have a few friends in Dalmerton. We can stay with one of them.”

“I’m sure Georgia would be happy to help,” Jack says.

Tessa nods. “Yeah. Let’s go to Georgia’s house. We can plan our next moves from there…

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