Chapter 21 Blood War

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The fires have all been put out. The wounded are moved into the city for better treatment and recuperation. The destroyed tents are cleared out and damage is evaluated. Many offered their assistance in the cleanup and now sit, exhausted throughout the camps.

The bodies of the dead are organized into multiple piles, denoting where they hail from so they can be sent home for proper burial with their families. One large pile is for those who will be buried in Kellahn.

Bruer and Fleance have been told of Jaxon’s betrayal. At first, they believe it to be a trick and they threaten any who say it, but when they join Meah and the other allied leaders at the top of the canyon and see the smoldering remains, they realize it’s true. Silently, they help gather the bodies even as those working shun them and yell harsh insults at them.

It takes several of the allied leaders to intervene at one point when a large group of enraged soldiers threaten to kill Bruer and Fleance. Even with the threats, Bruer and Fleance remain silent and continue to assist in any way they can.

Kiphy stays with Meah and they wait patiently for the group that went after Jaxon to return. When Kordeaux’s men return with Saunem and no sign of Ime, nerves rise. Kordeaux speaks with his mages privately, saying they’ll be more comfortable recounting what happened to him alone.

Saunem limps towards Meah and collapses to the ground in front of her. She leans down to the dirty and bloody khorgoi and places her hand on the side of his face. She can see the concern in his eyes and fears for what Kordeaux has to say.

As Meah heals Saunem, Kordeaux walks to the allied leaders and waves Bruer and Fleance over. “I have news. Some bad and the rest worse, though some of it my men believed would be better heard from Ime’s mouth.”

“What can you tell us, then?” Pilian Grout asks.

“Jaxon’s betrayal was long planned. He’s been a spy for the Blood King since your group escaped the Arena.” Kordeaux meets Meah’s eyes, but she refuses to look away from healing Saunem. But she listens carefully. “In fact, the escape was part of the deception. He’s been communicating the group’s entire journey to Kellahn and giving Klaeon information on the army.”

Several of the allied leaders scoff and grunt angrily. “Then everything we’ve been doing in order to surprise him was for nothing?” Herbart declares.

“Surprise?” Gaeren interrupts. “You can’t honestly believe a man preparing for war doesn’t have at least an idea of his enemies forces? As we’ve been spying on him of course he’s had spies checking on us. He probably knew about the size of our forces without Jaxon betraying us.”

“What else, Kordeaux?” Altan says before the other leaders have a chance to rebuke Gaeren.

Kordeaux’s expression grows grim. “I think the rest should be heard from Ime.”

“Why didn’t he, Tayli, and the Shadow Watchers return with the others?”

“Apparently…the Lakeen brothers remained behind to fight a surprise attack. Ime went back to assist them after a large surge of magic.”

“A large surge of magic?” Deven asks.

“Was that the light we saw hours ago?” Jada asks, motioning her head towards the mountains.

“Yes,” Kordeaux answers.

“We’ll have to wait for Ime and the brothers to return to find out what happened, then.”

An hour passes and the group waits patiently, their eyes searching the distance for any sign of Ime, Daniil, and Kylii. Meah finishes healing Saunem and he sits up, leaning against Meah for comfort. She strokes his mane, her mind racing with images of Jaxon and Ime fighting, fearing for either’s death. She doesn’t even notice Mava, Rava, Bern, and Cal appearing from helping with the burned camps. They stand around her, waiting.

A shout brings her out of her fantasies. Eyes grow wide with excitement when everyone sees the small group approaching. Relief floods through Meah when she sees Ime, but his expression sends a cold shock down her spine. She climbs to her feet, quickly, surprising Saunem. Her magic erupts forward, racing to Ime, but stopping when it reaches the cart.

As the group grows close enough for everyone to see the cart, shocked silence moves through them. Their eyes linger on the two wrapped bodies and the mourning khorgoi guarding them. Kiphy stands, his lips thin lines on his face and his eyes dark.

Meah is the first to make a sound, screaming and falling to the ground. Mava and Rava kneel down to her, catching her as she falls to prevent injury. They hold her close, whispering words of comfort in her ears, but her screams drown everything out.

Altan and Deven turn their heads away from the sight, fighting the wetness in their eyes. Bern and Cal are pale and the shock has frozen them to the spot. Bruer and Fleance, knowing the cause lies on Jaxon, guard their emotions from their faces, but Fleance eyes Mava apologetically.

The allied leaders have mixed reactions, depending on how well they knew the brothers, but most pray to their gods for the brothers’ souls to pass easily to the afterworld. The ones with the largest reactions are Jada and Kordeaux, having gotten to know the brothers personally well.

When close enough, Ime locks eyes with Altan. There is a moment Altan thinks Ime will speak, but to his surprise Ime faces Sharin, Grydor, and Hevdar. “Take them down to the city. They’ll need to be prepared for funeral rites.”

The three magic users glance to Kordeaux for permission and their leader nods, solemnly. They begin the long journey to the bottom of the canyon. Altan and Deven follow to assist. Saunem leaps into the cart as it passes and cautiously approaches Tanith, his head lowered submissively. She doesn’t have to strength to raise her head, but her white eyes roll in her head to stare at him. She chirps once and he lies down next to her, placing his head gently on her side.

The allied leaders, Bern, Cal, Bruer, and Fleance follow in silence, knowing they can no longer do any good above. Kordeaux sends his magic users into the camps to announce the funerals for all those who died this day.

Walking forward, Ime stops next to Kiphy, refusing to meet the old man’s eyes. Instead, he stares at Meah’s shaking form being held by the Eene sisters. Meah raises her eyes to his, begging him to tell her something he can’t.

“Was it Jaxon?” Kiphy’s voice is calm, choosing his words carefully.

Shaking his head, a flash of rage passes over Ime’s face. “Tayli and his men betrayed us as well. Daniil and Kylii killed them all.”

“But Jaxon escaped?” Again calm and careful.

“Yes.”

His shoulders shaking, Kiphy takes a sudden sharp intake of breath. His hands clench tightly and a strange sound escapes his throat. He drops to the ground, slamming his fists onto the ground. Cracks explode through the hard, dry earth. The cracks run away from the canyon, showing how even in his distress Kiphy is aware of the world around him.

For a moment he sits there, his head down, hands clenched so tight his knuckles turn white. Then with a whoosh of breath, he stands and follows the cart down.

Ime waits until Kiphy is completely out of sight before finally making his way to Meah. He kneels in front of her as Mava and Rava slowly lean away from Meah. With a look from Ime the Eene sisters nod and leave Ime and Meah alone, quickly heading down into the canyon.

Unable to hold herself up any longer, Meah collapses into Ime’s arms, her sobs shaking her entire body. Ime tightly holds her close to him afraid she’ll melt into the earth if he releases her. Stroking her hair, he whispers soothing words in her ear with his own sorrow-filled voice.

His voice cracks and, covering his eyes with one hand, he allows the tears he’s been fighting back to come.

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