Chapter 23 Blood War

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The night air provides little comfort in the dark room. Meah walks to the foot of one bed and kneels. She places her hand on the mattress and takes a deep breath. The two beds that had been pushed together still smell of them. Meah had gotten so used to their smell it’s strange she could even tell it’s there at all.

Tanith watches Meah with one white eye open. She’s curled into a ball on the bed Meah assumes was Daniil’s. Meah sits on Kylii’s bed and takes in Tanith’s dark scales.

The khorgoi had been scratching at the door to the brothers’ room when Meah found her in the middle of the night. Once she’d opened the door, she had trouble finding a reason to leave. The room felt wrong without anyone in it.

“You shouldn’t be in here.”

The shadow at the door moves into the small ray of light flowing through the open window. Ime’s hair is messy and his eyes droopy. He only wears loose pants, his chest glistening with sweat from the nightmare that surely awoke him.

“Come back to bed, Meah.”

The tears roll down her cheeks. She doesn’t raise a hand to clear them, knowing it would be a waste of effort. “Why is this happening?”

She feels the bed droop with Ime’s weight as he sits next to her. He doesn’t speak, only waits for her to continue when she’s ready.

“Why did this have to happen?” She turns her tear stained face to Ime. “I spoke with him the night before…hours before he…” She stifles a sob.

“Who?” Ime asks, softly, wiping a tear from her cheek with his thumb.

“Jaxon. We spoke about forgiving past and future wrongs. I should’ve known something was wrong. If I could’ve only seen what he’d been trying to say, maybe I could’ve helped him.”

Ime’s eyebrows furrowed. “You think it would’ve ended differently? He betrayed us, Meah. He’d been planning on doing it since he helped us escape from Bloodfall. He lied to us and killed many innocent lives.”

“Klaeon must’ve threatened him or he has a plan. He always has a plan.”

“You’re defending him? Even now? Even after hearing what he said, with Daniil and Kylii dead, you defend him?” Ime’s voice steadily grows louder.

Tanith lifts her head and huffs at Ime.

Meah stares at Ime confused. “Of course. He’s saved our lives many times in the past. He even attacked Klaeon to help you.”

“It was all part of his deceit! He’s been telling Klaeon every move we’ve made. He’s the reason Eraunel burned, he’s the reason Teron knew where Kellahn was, and he’s the reason Daniil and Kylii are dead.”

Meah jumps to her feet. “No! Klaeon is the reason! He’s the one who made the Arena. He’s the one who ordered magic users to fight. He’s the one who tore us apart. He destroys everything and he’s going to destroy you and me, too.” Her hysteria blinds her from the discarded cloth on the floor and when she tries to leave she trips.

Ime is there to catch her in his arms. He pulls her close, but she shoves him away, falling back onto the bed. Her sudden landing makes Tanith jump and she growls at the two angrily, baring her teeth.

The tears pour down Meah’s cheeks like a floodgate has opened and she cries out. She cups her hands over her eyes and sits up, leaning forward so her head is between her knees. She wails uncontrollably, her back shaking furiously.

Moving slowly towards her, Ime kneels in front her and places a hand on her back. Feeling his touch, Meah sits up and falls to her knees on the floor, burying her face in Ime’s chest.

“Daniil and Kylii are dead. If I was a true Life Healer, I could bring them back. But I’m too weak.” Her tears and snot from her nose cover Ime’s chest, but Ime only wraps his arms around her and pulls her closer.

They sit that way for several minutes, minutes that feel like hours to Meah. Ime doesn’t speak. He only holds her and Meah is thankful. She cries until her eyes burn and her throat itches from rawness. She takes deep, shaky breaths, her lip quivering every other intake of breath. She coughs as her hysteria calms and finally raises her eyes to Ime’s face.

She expects to see disgust or annoyance for her crying, but all she can see in his face is love. His own eyes have been crying as he held her, feeling her sorrow and wishing he could stop it.

His hand strokes her cheek and he smiles. “Better?”

She nods. “A little.”

Ime nods his head at Tanith who stares at the two, her head twisted in an awkward position. “We should probably leave. I think she’s had about as much as she can stand of us.”

Meah laughs, but it only brings on a coughing fit. Ime scoops her up in his arms and carries her back to their room across the hall. He places her gingerly on the bed and kisses her before climbing in next to her. She moves close to him, wrapping her arms around his body. He wraps a protective arm around her and both drift in and out of sleep.

Several minutes pass and Tanith leaps onto their bed, curling up into a ball at their feet. Ime moans and his shifting wakes Meah.

“None of us should be alone tonight,” Meah says when Ime readies to kick the khorgoi off the bed. He considers her words and lies back down, allowing Tanith the chance to stretch out a little covering their feet.

The added warmth eases all three into a mercifully dreamless sleep.

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