The news of Klaeon’s death spreads across the battlefield quickly and those who don’t flee immediately surrender with little to no fight. The allied leaders make their way into Klaeon’s castle to meet with Ime and Meah in the throne room.
It takes time for Ime to convince the leaders to leave Klaeon’s body where it lies instead of propping it somewhere for the armies to see or to carve it up for trophies.
“Don’t bother with that. There’s already a plan for him,” Ime says.
“And what would that be?” Marin asks, suspicious.
“Nothing that concerns you at this moment. When we return to Kellahn we’ll talk in more detail.”
The allied leaders stare at him confused. “I think we’re all a little troubled to hear you have plans we weren’t aware of,” Jada Boor says, gripping the hilt of her blade tightly. Sensing her anxiety, the other leaders tighten their holds on their own weapons as well.
Stepping between them and Ime, Deven raises a hand. Tanith and Saunem stand on either side of him, their backs arched. “This is something discussed between Ime and Altan. It concerns the prospect of discovering how to prevent a similar being from ever gaining power in these lands.”
“That answers nothing,” Pilian Grout says.
“Are we really arguing over a dead body right now?” Meah asks, angrily. Her eyes scan the faces of the leaders before she motions to the opening in the wall of the throne room. The cheers from below echo through the tense air. “We’ve won. Klaeon has been beaten and here we all are standing in a room arguing.”
The allied leaders stare at her in surprise. Meah doesn’t understand why until Audra Sellin steps forward with a cunning smile on her face. “And when did you arrive, Life Healer? I thought you stayed behind?”
“The Shadow Watchers captured me and brought me here,” Meah answers.
Eyes turn to Ime. “Is that why you took off like a madman in the middle of battle?” Herbart asks.
“Lyrrel used his power as a Seer to inform me of Meah’s capture. Though how exactly he did it I’m unsure,” Ime says.
“It seems to be quite a coincidence that she’s captured and brought here in time for you to finally find the power to break through the enemy’s forces. And truly coincidental you managed to reach Klaeon before he killed the Life Healer,” Aryd Candok says.
Ime steps forward, his anger growing. “I hope I’m mishearing the tone in your voice. If not, I think we have nothing left to talk about here.”
“There’s plenty to talk about,” Aryd says, stepping closer to Ime. “Now that we’ve won, what happens? Do we all return to our lands and that’s it? There’s still the matter of the lands Klaeon ruled over.”
“I agree with Aryd,” Pilian says, though his tone is less defensive. “These lands that have been under Klaeon’s control for many years can’t just be abandoned.”
“Are you suggesting someone take Klaeon’s place? Do they even need a king to rule over them?”
“What if someone else tries to rise to power? Should we simply allow them or wait until they become as corrupt as our previous enemy?”
“These lands are free to do as they please. If they choose to have a king so be it. The only point of this war was to defeat Klaeon. We’ve done that, I’d like to return home and celebrate our victory,” Ime says.
“And you have no intention of naming yourself as a ruler?” Aryd demands.
“Is that what all this pointless bickering is about?” A voice asks from behind the gathered leaders. Everyone faces the intruder with surprise. Kiphy walks in followed closely by Gaeren whose face is pale and eyes wide. “The war is won, those who fell have been brought back from death, and the remaining Blood Army is fleeing or surrendering. There’s still a lot to do, that’s true, but right now I think celebrating our victory and the amazing feats that have occurred is more important.”
“You’re only saying that, old man, because you were brought back from death by the Life Healer,” Jada Boor says.
“Maybe, but will your soldiers truly go against the ones who brought their comrades back to life and who insured the death of the Blood King?” Kiphy asks.
“Gaeren, are you hearing this? They’re planning things together right in front of us,” Aryd says.
Gaeren stares at everyone the surprise still on his face. “You are all fools.”
“Even if your unfounded accusations are true, can any of you really do anything to stop them? Ime’s fire was the only thing Klaeon feared. And Meah,” Gaeren’s voice trails off a moment and he touches one of the many holes in his armor. “Meah’s magic can bring back the dead. If you all choose to fight them because of paranoia, know you’ll also be fighting me, my army, and most of your own men.”
The allied leaders tense and move together. “Are you serious? Where is this coming from?” Jada asks.
“You were the last one of us to join the alliance,” Herbart says. “It took a pointless fight to make you realize this war was important.”
“Are you willing to be ruled by these two?” Marin asks.
“We never said we wanted to rule. In fact, we made it very clear that once Klaeon was defeated the land would have no universal king. The lands would be self governing and free to choose their own paths,” Meah says angrily, moving in front of Ime. Ime pulls her back, but she shoves him off. “None of you really seem to be afraid we’re going to try and take over. You’re all trying to put your own foot on this land, make a claim and you just want another enemy to unite against.”
“What did you say?” Farrow asks, angrily stepping forward.
“You heard me. You’re trying to make Ime and me out to be exactly like Klaeon. Man up and simply state that you want to take over this land to extend your own realms. Or you can keep making up enemies now that the true threat is gone and knock each other off one at a time.”
Ime pulls Meah back. “We’re leaving. Any who choose to come back to Kellahn with us are welcome. The rest of you can stay and fight or do whatever you feel is more important than celebrating our victory against someone who needed to be stopped. And we’re taking Klaeon’s body with us for our own needs. That is not up for any debate or fight.” Ime’s eyes fill with magic and wind blows gently through the throne room. “If any of you try and stop us, I won’t hesitate to defend myself and my wife.”
Shocked silence greets them and Meah slaps Ime on the shoulder. His magic lowers as his own surprise fills him, but then rekindles as he remembers the group facing him.
“If you attack Ime and…Meah then I’ll defend them to the end,” Deven says, echoing growls coming from Saunem and Tanith.
“My mages will fight, as well,” Kordeaux says, standing next to Deven.
“The only ones who’ve been using any sense of a brain have been these two. They have my men fighting on their side,” Audra Sellin says. She steps next to Kordeaux as Gaeren and Kiphy join the group.
The leaders left look at the group facing them in silence. Gradyen Hutch crosses to the other group and soon Herbart and Marin do the same. The only ones left on the opposing side are Jada, Aryd, Farrow, and Pilian.
After a strained silence, Jada, Farrow, and Pilian release equal sighs and look at Aryd. All three face him and he glares at them. He shoots a nasty look at Ime and Meah then storms out. His shouts of anger echo down the hallway.
“He’s not going to give up on this,” Pilian says. “He’s been eyeing lands south of the mountains for some time. That may be the only reason he even agreed to fight.”
“We should probably head outside. Our fighters are probably curious as to where we are,” Herbart says. He eyes Ime and Meah. “And congratulations on your marriage.”
The leaders head out of the throne room, congratulating Ime and Meah. Staying behind are Kiphy, Gaeren, and Tanith. Saunem attempts to stay, but Tanith nudges him after Deven and he reluctantly follows his master.
Moving close to Meah, Gaeren takes her hand in his. “You saved my life. I am indebted to you and Ime. If you ever need my aid I will answer the call without hesitation.”
“Thank you, Gaeren. Hopefully, we won’t need to call you for anything serious.”
Nodding, Gaeren laughs, but the look on his face is still one of disbelief and shock. “I never believed the stories about Life Healers, but I’m thankful that I was wrong.” He shakes Ime’s hand and follows after the leaders.
Turning to Kiphy, Ime steps forward and stares at the old man with relief and tears threatening to fill his eyes. “Daniil and Kylii would’ve been proud of you for what you did.”
Laughing, Kiphy bows his head. “But you were the one who properly avenged their deaths.” His eyes glistens with unshed tears and he smiles at the two. “When did the marriage happen? I don’t remember being present for it.”
Blushing, Ime and Meah smile at each other. “We chose to do it in secret. The only one who knows is Lyrrel and Altan,” Ime says, beaming at the memory.
“I see. Why did you choose Lyrrel to act as witness and not one of your comrades?”
A shadow passes over their faces. “We did it the night following Jaxon’s betrayal,” Ime says.
Placing a hand on their shoulders, Kiphy nods his head, understanding. “The fear of death leads many to move plans into motion sooner than they thought ready for. I understand.” He peers back at the door to the throne room to make sure they’re alone before leaning close. “Jaxon is alive.”
Both stare at him with wide eyes. A smile appears on Meah’s face. “I brought him back?”
“Yes, and luckily I reached him first. His magic is gone. He explained that he passed his blue fire to you, Ime. But I was able to use magic I took from the Shadow Watchers and took him somewhere safe from the leaders.”
“Why? You had reason to hate him as much as them,” Ime says.
Kiphy tightens his grip on their shoulders and meets Meah’s eyes. “Against my better judgment, I chose to believe in the man you continued to claim he was, Meah. Though I may never forgive him for what he did, I feel living with the guilt and shame will be punishment enough…for now.”
“Can I see him?” Meah asks.
“Perhaps one day soon, but for now, he’s requested I keep his location from you until he feels he’s ready to face you again. He did want me to pass on a message to each of you. He wanted me to tell Ime, don’t ever let Meah be captured again or else he’ll find you and prove he doesn’t need magic to kick your ass.”
Meah laughs and Ime gives her a look. She stops, but the smile on her face makes Ime smile.
Kiphy continues, “To Meah, he simply wanted me to tell you he’s breaking his old habits.”
Cheers from outside, remind them about the armies waiting below. “You should go and face the crowd. I’ll make sure Klaeon’s body reaches Kellahn safely,” Kiphy says, heading for the body on the floor. He stops and, as an afterthought, adds, “When you return to Kellahn, you should have a proper wedding.”
Before Ime and Meah can respond, Kiphy places his hand on Klaeon’s body and disappears.