Chapter 43 Blood War

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“So let me get this straight,” Kylii says, staring around the Great Hall at those gathered. “Magic is fading, disappearing? Then why can we still use it? Why haven’t we noticed it growing weaker?”

Seated at the table at the center of the Great Hall are Ime, Meah, Altan, Deven, Kylii, Daniil, Kiphy, Gaeren, Kordeaux Fellet, and Lyrrel. The other allied leaders have already left to return to their homelands, paying one last visit to Ime and Meah before leaving. Many of those who remained behind to live in Kellahn have begun building homes along the top of the canyon, saying they prefer the open sky to the canyon walls.

Ime and Altan have finished reporting what was discovered when they spoke to the Blood Magic.

“Kiphy has been studying magic for decades. He’s traveled the lands learning from high mages, studiers of long lost magic, and so on,” Altan says. “He can explain it, I’m sure in a much simpler way.”

All eyes move to Kiphy and he stands, clearing his throat. “It’s not easy to simplify what’s happening, but I will try. All magic is connected by the Source. The Source is where magic begins and ends. It is a constant in the turbulent, inconsistence of magic. It can be where magic can’t, but magic can’t be where it isn’t.”

“You’ve already lost me,” Daniil says. Kylii nods his head in agreement. Tanith barks at the two and they both raise their hands defensively, but fall silent.

“But studying magic,” Kiphy continues, “I’ve heard many stories of the legendary mages of old days, long before our fathers and their fathers were born. Times where magic could change the shapes of the land, where entire civilizations relied on magic to survive. These legends have become all but stories to us now, but the remnants of their existence still survive. Ruins of these great civilizations give little clues as to how they ended.

“But one consistency has continued to appear before my eyes. The more powerful the civilization the longer it took to fall. And when it fell, it was a gradual fall as though their power simply faded away. I didn’t think much of it until I met the high mage of Konquil, a city located on an island far to the east of Myldea. My first encounter with him and his city was as most encounters go. Questions were asked and hospitality given when they learned I meant no harm to their home.

“I returned to Konquil several years ago, twenty years had passed. When I met with the high mage he told me of a peculiar thing. His magic was no longer as strong as it had been when I first met him. Normally, one would assume this is due to aging and I’d come across many old mages who’s magic faded. But the High Mage of Konquil was a child of eleven when I met him twenty years prior. His magic was powerful even at that age. Now at thirty ages old, his magic was weaker than many mages in their eighties.”

“How does this prove magic is fading?” Gaeren asks. “I’ve known rare cases of magic users losing their magic once they enter a certain period of their life.”

Kordeaux stands. “I know what Kiphy speaks of. Far too many of my mages have been losing the strength of their magic far too quickly. Even taking into consideration the rare cases Gaeren speaks of.”

“Another consistency I continued to find regarding mages of legends and of times long ago were the numbers. There were far more magic users in the past than in present day. A prime example is Life Healers,” Kiphy says, pointing to Meah.

“But Life Healers were hunted, killed because of their power,” Meah says.

“In modern times yes, but records have shown that Life Healers were plentiful in many cities long ago.”

“I’m still not understanding what the cause of this fading of magic is,” Kordeaux asks.

“The Source is taking magic from mankind. Or at least something as powerful as the Source,” Ime says.

“Something as powerful as the Source of all magic? That sounds crazy,” Daniil says.

Ime takes Meah’s hand in his and they glance at each other, smiling weakly. “That’s why I’ve made a decision,” Ime says. The room grows silent waiting anxiously to hear what Ime has to say. “I’m going to locate the Source of magic to find out if it is really taking magic away. If not, I’m going to locate what is the cause and stop it.”

“Are you insane?” Kylii asks. “We don’t even have a clue as to where the Source is located.”

“Or if it even has a physical form,” Daniil adds.

“You were able to use the Seers to bring the Blood Magic into a form, can we not do the same for the Source?” Gaeren asks.

Lyrrel shakes his head. “The Source is too powerful for a human body to hold. And even attempting to connect with it leads to dementia or becoming comatose. It’s forbidden for those reasons. The only way it could work is if the Source wills it.”

“So you want to search the land for this Source. That sounds like a difficult task that would take most men multiple lifetimes to accomplish,” Deven says. “How do you intend to do it?”

“Though we make it sound as though there’s a rush, the time line for magic to run out is fairly long,” Kiphy begins. “Planning is the most crucial aspect of this endeavor.”

“As such,” Ime adds. “I don’t plan to begin the journey for several years. A course needs to be plotted and information gathered before I even set foot down the path.”

“But once preparations are made?” Gaeren asks.

Meah smiles at Ime and he takes a deep breath. “Then I will leave Kellahn with those who choose to journey with me. Most likely, to never return.”

 *    *    *

“Are you angry?” Ime asks, brushing a piece of Meah’s head from her face as they lay on the bed.

Smiling, mischievously, Meah kisses Ime’s chin. “You ask me that after what we just did?”

“I need to know.”

The smile fades from Meah’s lips. “A little. But we both knew the cost. It seems easy for now. When the time draws nearer for you to leave, I’ll probably feel angrier.”

Ime wraps his arms around her and pulls her close. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Meah nuzzles against Ime’s chest. “Of course, I’ll hate you when you leave, but I won’t mean it.”

“Yes, you will,” Ime jokes.

“At least you won’t be leaving me behind alone,” Meah says. Her eyes widen and she quickly rolls onto her side, her back facing Ime.

Ime’s brow furrows, confused by her sudden movement. “What’s wrong?” Meah shakes her head quickly. Ime sits up, fear filling him. “Meah, what’s wrong?”

Pulling the sheets close to her, Meah peeks behind her at Ime. “I didn’t want to tell you until I was sure.”

“Sure of what?”

“But it’s hard not to notice when you’re a healer. I mean, I know my body better than most people ever will.”

Ime leans over Meah to see her face. “You’re freaking me out. What are you talking about?”

Sitting up, Meah brushes her hair from her face and blushes. “I’m fairly, ninety-nine percent certain that…I’m pregnant.”

Ime’s mouth drops open and his eyes bulge wide. “How…?”

“I’m a Life Healer. My magic tells me everything about my body and, recently, I’ve been feeling something else. Something tiny and…well, alive and when my magic mixes with it, I feel a…heartbeat.”

Ime pulls Meah into a hug and kisses her passionately. When he pulls away, tears are rolling down his cheeks and he can’t keep the smile from his face. “I love you.”

Meah smiles and kisses him.

END

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Chapter 42 Blood War

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Meah brushes her hair as she sits on the bed she shares with Ime. Ime was gone when she woke up, but she knew where he went and understood why he didn’t wake her. Laying the brush on the bed, Meah pulls her hair back and ties it up with a ribbon.

She thinks back over the past few days, remembering the celebrations with a smile. She remembers Gaeren wishing her and Ime a prosperous future together and welcoming them to his lands any time they wish.

But Meah can’t help the small feeling at the back of her mind. Aryd Candok still presented a small threat to the lands freed from Klaeon’s rule. Pilian Grout volunteered to send some of his men to watch the borders in case Aryd attempts a land grab. Gradyen Hutch added some of his men to the watch as a sign of support.

Standing, Meah crosses to the bathroom to put her brush away. She gets halfway across the room when everything goes black. She reaches for anything to grab, but her hands only grab air. She falls to the floor, but her vision remains black.

“Daniil! Kylii!” Meah screams, panicking. She hears loud banging and thuds before footsteps race towards her. The door slams open and she feels hands grab her.

“What’s wrong?” Daniil asks.

Before Meah can answer, a rush of magic surges through her, knocking the brothers away. Meah’s vision returns, but instead of seeing her room, she see a circle of men standing around a body wrapped in clothe. Standing behind the circle is Altan and Ime, watching from a safe distance, but with the surge of magic, they’ve stepped closer to the circle, eyes wide.

Her vision turns to face Lyrrel and Meah realizes she’s inside the body of one of the Seers of Eraunel. Lyrrel’s eyes are wide and glowing red instead of their normal blue. Slowly he raises his eyes to stare straight ahead.

“Killing my vessel wasn’t enough for you, Fire Mage?” the voice coming from Lyrrel’s lips is cold and distorted. “Now you pull me from the Source to trap me in the body of your Seer?”

Stepping forward, but being careful not to enter the circle, Ime stares at Lyrrel with a guarded look. “We have unanswered questions Klaeon didn’t provide for us.”

“Questions?”

“Living magic.”

Lyrrel’s head leans far to the side. “That isn’t a question.”

“Where did you come from Blood Magic?”

“I have a name, Fire Mage.”

“As do I. But that isn’t the answer to my question.”

“My brethren and I came from the dying magic of men.”

“What do you mean dying magic?” Ime asks.

Lyrrel’s lips curl up into a smile. “Mankind is proving itself unworthy of the Source’s gifts. In order to punish you, the Source selected the powerful mages of old to be reborn as living magic. Our goal is to cleanse the magic from men, but we were trapped by one of our own. One who believes mankind is worthy of magic.”

“And that’s why you need the body of chosen individuals to roam free,” Altan says, keeping away from the circle.

Lyrrel’s eyes snap to Meah and her breath catches in her throat. Does he know she’s watching?

“Yes,” Lyrrel says, sending a shiver of fear through Meah. But Lyrrel looks at Ime. “But once they die or are killed we return to the cage that holds us. Unless we are destroyed by those who know how.”

“You’re speaking of Life Healers,” Ime says.

“Not only Life Healers. There are others, but those aren’t the questions you want answers to. Ask me the one question burning in your brain.”

“Where is the Source?”

“Far away, safe in lands you can never reach.”

“You underestimate us.”

Lyrrel laughs. “You overestimate your own abilities, Fire Mage. The Source has already made its judgment.”

Taking a deep breath, Ime moves closer to the circle. Meah feels the Seer she inhabits tense. One thought repeats in his mind, don’t enter the circle.

“It seems the Source put a lot of responsibility on you and your brethren. Once you were trapped, how did the Source decide it would cleanse mankind? Especially, I’m assuming, with how many times you’ve all failed even when able to escape your cage, as you call it.”

“You don’t need me to answer that question. The Borrower knows and if she isn’t too weak after resurrecting so many, the Life Healer knows.” Lyrrel leans forward even though Ime is far from him. “Or perhaps you already know and you just want to hear it out loud as confirmation.”

Ime steps closer to the circle, within arm’s reach of the closest Seer. “I’d like to hear it from you. It may give me reason to allow you to return to your cage instead of destroying you.”

The expression on Lyrrel’s face twists into rage. “You can’t destroy me, Fire Mage. All you will do is kill your Seer.”

Ime turns his head to stare at Meah and she realizes he knows she’s watching. The smile on his face makes her heart drop into her stomach and she tries to shake her head. No, don’t enter the circle. Don’t enter the circle. She tries to scream the words, but they only echo in the mind of the Seer.

Placing a hand on the Seer closest to him, Ime enters the circle and magic fills the room with immense pressure. Altan falls to the ground, covering his head as the walls shake with power. Lyrrel’s eyes shine bright, blood red and Ime is forced to his knees.

“You’re a fool, Fire Mage! This circle was to protect you. No one can save you from my hunger.” Lyrrel raises a hand at Ime and dark shadows race towards him.

The shadows wrap around Ime and force him to his feet. He struggles, but the magic is too strong. He’s slowly dragged towards Lyrrel.

“Magic will fade from mankind. The Source is retrieving what it gave and eventually you will all be powerless once again. Once that happens my brethren will break free from our cage and feed freely on the Source and gain its power. Then we shall rule over mankind as gods.”

Life Healer now is your chance. The voice of the Seer Meah inhabits echoes in her mind.

As if woken from a dream, Meah sits up in her room and is greeted by Kiphy’s smiling face. “Time to go,” the old man says. He takes Meah by the hand and suddenly they’re in the cavern with the Seers, Ime, and Altan. Ime is almost in front of Lyrrel and Altan is unconscious.

“Destroy the Blood Magic. I’ll take care of Altan,” Kiphy says, rushing to the fallen leader’s side.

Meah runs into the circle, the magic weighing her down and nearly causing her to stumble. Lyrrel’s red eyes lock onto her and he raises his other hand. Shadows fly towards her, but she fills herself with her magic. Wherever the shadows grab for her, her magic burns them away.

Running to Ime, Meah destroys the shadows holding him and steps between him and Lyrrel. Meeting the now fear-filled red eyes, Meah walks towards him. Her magic grows and she can feel the Blood Magic trying to force its way from Lyrrel’s body. But Lyrrel is still aware and conscious deep inside and holds the Blood Magic from escaping.

Meah places her hands on the sides of Lyrrel’s face and stares into his red eyes. She concentrates and a new figure appears before her, a man wearing clothes from a time long past. A twisted crown sits on his head and blood stains his skin. His red eyes stare down at his form and recognition fills them.

“You…can’t heal me,” the man says. “I don’t want to be healed.”

Meah shakes her head. “No, but I can free you.”

The man glares into Meah’s eyes. “The Source will only choose another to take my place.”

“And we will fight them, too.”

Magic rushes down Meah’s arms and into the man. He screams as light erupts from him. He fades, but Meah feels something slowly cutting her off from a connection she hadn’t realized was there. Before the connection is completely gone, she reaches her magic down it and feels an immense power. She can’t tell where it is, but she knows it senses her and she is thrown back into her body.

The Seers collapse to the ground and Ime pulls Meah away from Lyrrel. Lyrrel falls, unconscious and breathing heavily, light from the crystals fade and the pressure of magic lifts from the cavern.

Kiphy and Altan approach, being cautious when they step over the Seers to enter the circle.

“Did it work?” Altan asks, his eyes unfocused.

“The Blood Magic is gone,” Meah says. She looks at Ime. “Though I thought you were only going to be asking him questions, but since Kiphy was at the ready to bring me here, I guess you had other plans.”

“We couldn’t let it return only to be placed in a new vessel. The only way to stop it was to destroy it,” Ime says.

“We’re sorry for the deceit, Meah, but there was no other way. The information it provided was useful though, correct?” Kiphy asks Ime.

Nodding, Ime stares at Kiphy, gravely. “It’s as you feared. The Source, or at least something claiming to be the Source, is pulling magic back.”

“Why do you think it’s something claiming to be the Source?” Altan asks.

“Let’s talk about this back in the Great Hall. Right now, I think we should help Lyrrel and his Seers get to some fresh air,” Kiphy says.

“What about Klaeon’s body?” Meah asks.

Altan shakes his head. “He can’t be buried here.”

“We’ll burn his body and bury his ashes in the mountains far from here,” Kiphy says.

Meah eyes Ime, pleading. Understanding what she’s asking, Ime says, “Burn his body, but save his ashes.”

“Why?” Altan asks, shocked.

“We’ll discuss it in the Great Hall.”

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Chapter 41 Blood War

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The celebration lasts two full days. When it feels as though it will calm, a new wave of excitement fills the citizens.

A ceremony is held at the largest square in Kellahn honoring the allied leaders. Herbart Slayer, Marin Varth, Pilian Grout, and Gaeren Banish are thanked for their aid and new, stronger friendships are formed between the lands. Gradyen Hutch, Jada Boor, and Farrow Klighdan are granted their own lands. Kordeaux Fellet and his mages are welcomed to Eraunel to learn more about magic and offer training to the younger Seers.

Several of the allied soldiers decide to remain in Kellahn and more celebrations begin due to the news.

The third day following the army’s return the sun rises on a quiet city. The air is cool and a light fog rises from the river below. Ime stands at the edge of the docks for those who fish in the river. He waves his hand in front of him making the mist swirl into delicate designs. Altan and Lyrrel stand behind him.

“Everything is prepared. Are you ready, Ime?” Altan asks.

Lowering his hand, Ime turns to the two. He stares at Lyrrel. “Do you think this will work?”

“I can’t give you a definite yes, but I think it will give us more answers than nothing.”

Ime heads into the burial site followed by Altan and Lyrrel. They walk past many graves and deeper into the cave. Altan takes lead to show the way to the oldest areas of the burial site. Torches line the walls providing warm light.

Entering a large cavern, Altan heads for one of the branching off tunnels. Low chanting rises from the depths and they walk into a smaller cavern. Seers from Eraunel stand around a body wrapped in cloth at the center of the room.

Altan steps to the side to allow Lyrrel and Ime room to enter. “What are they doing exactly?”

“Preparing and praying. This kind of magic is dangerous when dealing with negative spirits or evil souls,” Lyrrel says. “Most of the prayers are for protection.”

“Are you worried?” Ime asks.

Leaning his head to the side, Lyrrel shrugs. “Any time we use our magic there’s a chance for something to happen, whether it’s good or bad…that’s the risk we take.” He faces Altan and Ime. “I do have to warn both of you, if this does work, no matter what you hear, don’t enter the circle.”

Ime and Altan agree and Lyrrel walks to the head of the circle and takes a deep breath. He pulls a blue crystal from his pocket and bows his head. He joins in the chanting then raises his voice to start a new chant. Magic fills the room and the other Seers each pull out a matching crystal. Their voices vibrate the room and the crystals begin glowing with blue light.

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Chapter 40 Blood War

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The celebrations fill the canyon, but the main event occurs at the Great Hall. The entire city and the allied armies gather for Ime and Meah’s wedding. Meah manages to find a dress made from the same silk as her bracelet. The material is a beautiful white with gemstones sewn throughout to give the illusion of magic swirling through the cloth. Her hair is pulled back into an intricate braid with loose strands framing her face.

Ime wears a grey silk shirt, matching his eyes, and a brocade vest with his symbol sewn onto the left breast. His eyes glow with excitement and his smile is a permanent fixture on his face.

The ceremony is quick and the following celebration sets off the hundreds of other celebrations throughout the canyon. Daniil and Kylii demand an entire recount of everything that happened after they died.

Stories are shared, excitement is palpable in the air, and food and drinks are handed out liberally. Ime and Meah manage to find time to themselves to simply sit and watch everyone dance or celebrate in their own ways.

“It’s over,” Meah says, leaning her head on Ime’s shoulder. “We’re free to do what we want.”

Kissing the top of her head, Ime sighs and squeezes her hand. “And what do you want to do?”

Watching Daniil and Kylii hugging Mava, Rava, Bern, Tristan, and Skara, Meah lifts her head and stares into Ime’s eyes. “I want to see your village.”

Ime’s breath catches in his throat. “Why? It hasn’t been my village for many years. I don’t know if I can face them after what I’ve done in the Arena.”

“I think finally putting an end to Klaeon’s rule cancels that out,” Meah says, smiling. “They must’ve heard about it by now. Let’s go.”

“Tonight?”

A sly smile forms on Meah’s lips. “Not tonight, but soon. I have plans for you tonight, husband.”

Ime and Meah are dragged back out into the celebration and dance. As the crowd gathers around them, Meah’s eyes lazily scan the crowd to see who’s dancing with whom. Her eyes stop on a cloaked man standing at the edge of the celebration in shadow. His face is covered, but she recognizes the blue eyes even without the glow of magic filling them.

She tries to fight her way towards him, but a shadow passes over the figure and he’s gone. Thinking back on the wedding ceremony, Meah tries to remember if she saw any unusual shadows in the Great Hall. A proud and relieved feeling fills her.

“We want to dance with the blushing bride!” Kylii yells, grabbing Meah by the hand. Daniil takes her other hand and both brothers spin her around the dance floor before Ime can protest.

Ime finds a seat next to Kiphy and relaxes. “I saw Jaxon made it for the wedding.”

Laughing, Kiphy eyes Ime. “If he missed it, I knew Meah would never forgive him. Though it did take some convincing that I wouldn’t turn him in.”

“I think Meah knew he was there. Have you really forgiven him?”

“Have you?” Kiphy gives Ime an inquisitive look. The playfulness fades, as Ime remains quiet. “Klaeon did burn Jaxon’s village to the ground. No survivors. Jaxon made me take him there to be sure. Klaeon’s men didn’t even bury the charred corpses.”

“Is that why you didn’t see your sons until we returned?” Ime asks.

“I couldn’t leave him there to bury the dead alone. But he wouldn’t let me help. Thought it was a fitting punishment for abandoning them without any way to defend themselves.”

“He wanted to move them to Kellahn, safe from Klaeon.” Ime stares at Meah. “If he’d succeeded, Klaeon wouldn’t have had a hold on him. I think he wouldn’t have betrayed us.”

“Possibly, but then you wouldn’t have gained the white flame. Jaxon understood the need for sacrifice. It killed him inside to do what he did, I think. But he knew it needed to be done.” Kiphy cleared his throat. “Becoming a Shadow Watcher…I still can’t fathom why he did that.”

“He said it was so he could protect his village. He passed messages, knew Klaeon’s plans.”

“I’m not talking about the Shadow Watchers that allied themselves to the Blood King.”

Ime stares at Kiphy confused, but Meah dances towards them. “Enough talking. More dancing.” She grabs Kiphy’s hands and pulls the old man onto the dance floor.

Taking Kiphy’s spot is Deven. He leans close to Ime. “Lyrrel would like to know when you want to examine the body?”

“Two days. After the celebrations have calmed.”

“Lyrrel isn’t sure what he and the Seers will find, but he’s confident it will at least be a good starting point.” Deven hands Ime a drink. “Are you sure you want to do this? It sounds like it could take many years to find the answers you’re looking for.”

Ime takes a large gulp of the drink, wincing as the alcohol burns his throat. “If that’s what it takes to find them, then that’s what it takes. This is something that must be done.”

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Chapter 39 Blood War

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When Ime and Meah emerge through the doors of the castle, the army’s cheers hit them like a wall of noise. Their names are chanted through the hundreds of thousands of men and women gathered. A small number of Aryd Candok’s men stayed behind, but the rest of his army has already headed back to their homeland of Linbodi.

The allied leaders already confirmed Klaeon’s death, but Ime is urged to repeat the news. “Klaeon is dead. His reign of evil is over and this land is now free. But those of you who fought for him are welcome to our ranks if you so choose. We shall be returning to Kellahn, but for those of you who fought so gallantly, you are welcome to join us or head back to your homes and families.”

More cheers follow and it takes several minutes for the immense crowd to be calmed before Ime continues. “I thank all of you for fighting and for any and all sacrifices that were made in order for this victory to be achieved. This war was not only won by me, but by all of you. A celebration is waiting for us when we return, not only for our accomplishment,” Ime pulls Meah close. “But also for the freedom of all lands and magic users and non-magic users across this amazing land of Myldea.”

Cheering nearly deafens Ime and Meah, but soon the army is on the move, making its way back to Kellahn. As they march, some peel off to head back to their homes or to spread stories to the passing towns, villages, and cities about the battle.

The returning army reaches Kellahn within two weeks and a large gathering waits for them. Nearly the entire city of Kellahn is waiting for them at the top of the canyon. But the most surprising group waiting for the army is the one standing at the front.

The first one they see is Altan with Lyrrel, Bon, and Cal standing on either side. Meah’s surprise soon turns to shock, joined by Ime’s shocked face when they see the two standing off to the side.

Ime and Meah run ahead of the army to reach Daniil and Kylii before the army. They wrap their arms around the brothers and tears fall freely. Tanith leaps onto Daniil, licking his face and nuzzling him. She does the same for Kylii and to his surprise he can hear her voice.

Altan approaches Ime and Meah, beaming. “Welcome back.”

Meah smiles and hugs Altan, whose eyes widen in surprise. “How is this possible?”

“You did this,” Lyrrel says. “The release of your magic was strong enough to reach us here in Kellahn.”

Altan faces the entire army as it approaches. “Our returning victors, a celebration has been prepared in your honor.”

Ime takes Meah’s hand and they smile at one another. He steps forward. “We’d like to request an addition to the celebration.” Altan motions for Ime to continue. “A wedding celebration.”

The crowds cheer and Daniil and Kylii congratulate Ime and Meah. Altan doesn’t argue the fact they’re already married and agrees. The army disperses, heading down into the city for the celebration.

The allied leaders each congratulate Ime and Meah and welcome the Lakeen brothers back. Jada Boor in particular, gives Kylii a lengthy hug, but doesn’t say a word. When she releases him, Kylii’s face is alight with excitement and he can’t keep the large smile from his face.

Everyone heads down the path to the city, but Meah stops Daniil and Kylii. “Hold on. Wait here for a minute longer.”

The brothers stare at her confused, but soon they understand. They nod and Meah leads Ime down into the canyon as a lone figure appears before the brothers. Meah catches a peek as the three figures embrace and Kiphy’s sobs are heard behind.

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Chapter 38 Blood War

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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.”

“What?”

“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.

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Chapter 37 Blood War

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Bon, Cal, and Lyrrel stand in the crypts at the bottom of Kellahn’s canyon. Altan’s body lies on the slab of stone, cleaned of the blood and dressed in his finest robes. The burial rites had been completed and the people of the city had already left. The three stayed behind to pay their final respects in private and to visit Daniil and Kylii’s bodies still in the holding graves in the walls of the large cavern.

“It isn’t fair. I can’t do anything except heal cuts and bruises,” Bon says. Her face is still damp from her tears. “What good is that, if people still die?”

Cal wraps his arms around her. “Don’t think about it like that, Bon. You’ve helped a lot of people.”

“But I couldn’t save them.”

Lyrrel places a comforting hand on Bon’s head. “Your magic is still growing. It takes time for Healing magic to fully form. Skara, Tristan, and even Meah didn’t start off powerful. They grew into it. You will, too.”

Reluctantly accepting Lyrrel’s words, Bon stands. “I wish it didn’t take so long to grow stronger.”

The three pray for Altan and place flowers on the floor in front of the Lakeen brothers’ bodies. They leave the burial site, making it to the opening before a powerful gust of wind knocks all three to the ground. Bon screams and Cal grabs her, pulling her close. Loud voices from the city signal the gust affected the entire city and mass confusion fills its citizens.

Lyrrel is the first to leap to his feet. His eyes are shining blue and his expression is blank as his magic reacts to the magic left in the air.

“What was that?” Cal asks, helping Bon back to her feet.

Lyrrel’s eyes fade and an excited smile appears on his face. “That was caused by magic.” The excitement in his voice is odd surrounded by the bodies of the dead.

“What kind of magic?” Bon asks.

“It felt like Meah.”

“But she’s with Klaeon and Ime, at least a month’s journey away. How could she send something that powerful so far?”

A shout from behind makes all three jump. Strange sounds fill the cavern as numerous voices rise from the depths.

“Gods above! I’m blind!”

“Take the cloth from your face, idiot.”

“Oh. That’s better.” A loud thump echoes from inside. “Why can’t I walk?”

“We’ve been dead for a while now. It’s going to take some time to regain our strength…and blood flow.”

Bon, Cal, and Lyrrel turn at the familiar voices and run back into the burial site. They’re shocked when they see the three figures moving in the crypts.

“Daniil, Kylii, Altan?” Cal’s voice is tiny.

The three men stare at the three staring at them. Altan, having only been dead for a few days, stands and looks at his hands. “What happened?”

Kylii crawls across the floor to his brother. Daniil lifts his legs with his hands over the edge of the grave. “If I had to guess, Meah brought us back?”

“Meah did? But we’ve been dead for…how long have we been dead?” Kylii asks, looking at Lyrrel.

“One month.”

“Really? A whole month?”

Altan rubs his sore throat where the wound that killed him is no longer present. “Have any others been brought back?”

“Don’t know. We haven’t checked any where else.”

Screams of shock and elated happiness rise from the deepest parts of the crypts and Altan smiles. “I think that answers my question. Thank the gods we don’t fully bury our dead until after a month.”

“I second that,” Kylii says, climbing up to sit next to his brother.

Altan shakily walks toward Lyrrel, Bon, and Cal. “Help those two up to the Great Hall. We have some work to do.”

“Work?” the brothers whine.

“We have a celebration to prepare for,” Altan answers, beaming. “The war is over.”

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