Chapter 33 Blood War

Previous Chapter                                                                                 Next Chapter

The throne room is large, much larger than the Great Hall in Kellahn. The ceiling stretches high above the floor and the large windows overlook the battle still raging below. There are no mosaics, no statues, plants, or any other decoration, though shapes in gathered dust show at one time there was. It’s as though everything has been cleared from the room in preparation for what would soon be occurring in the empty hall.

At the far end sits a large throne made of black stone. Meah is sitting on the throne with heavy chains keeping her still. Her head hangs to the side and her eyes are half closed.

“Meah,” Ime yells, running towards her. Fear fills him as he has trouble telling if she’s breathing.

Reaching the center of the room, a sudden change in the room’s air pressure is the only warning Ime gets of the wall of flames racing towards him. He counters the flames with his wind, but it only results in him being pushed back a few steps.

The fire fades and Klaeon walks out from behind the throne. He spins his sword in his hand and stares at Ime, silent. His reddish brown eye glows scarlet while his other eye is closed.

Ime’s rage causes his magic to fill his body and his eyes shine like silver. “Let her go.”

Shaking his head, a strange smile stretches across Klaeon’s lips. The sword stops spinning in his hand.

“Ime,” Meah’s voice is weak and her eyes slowly move to look at him, sending a small wave of relief through Ime. She’s alive. “It’s…not Klaeon.”

Leaning close to Meah, Klaeon’s scarlet eye moves up and down Meah’s face. Suddenly, he grabs her by the chin and forces her to face him. She winces at the sudden move, but she doesn’t have enough strength to struggle.

Klaeon breathes in deeply and Meah winces. A small, soft light is pulled out of her chest. Releasing her, Klaeon uses his free hand to cup the light eagerly. He brings his hand to his mouth and swallows the light, his scarlet eye closing.

He stands up straight and releases a calming breath. Opening both eyes, Klaeon’s attention returns to Ime. His scarlet eye has returned to reddish brown and his icy blue eye focuses, slowly. “I apologize. I told him to feed before you arrived, but he wouldn’t listen. He wanted to see your reaction.”

“He?” Ime asks, confused. “You’re talking about your living magic.”

“I see someone told you about that. Doesn’t matter. You’ll all be dead soon and your magic will feed him,” Klaeon releases a little magic and the room fills with dark red shadows.

“Only one more person needs to die today, false king.” Ime throws a wall of wind at Klaeon, pushing the man away from Meah.

Klaeon runs at Ime, bringing his blade up to strike. Ime draws his sword and blocks the swing easily. Each man swings his blade at the other with the same intensity, but neither has trouble blocking or dodging. Pulling heavy stones from the walls and floor of the throne room, Ime gains an upper hand, as Klaeon has to worry about more than the sword in Ime’s hand.

But as the fighting drags on, Ime finds his body is slowing down. Klaeon’s swings appear much faster and he barely dodges them. He’s still easily able to avoid life-threatening blows, but cuts appear on his arms and legs from when he can’t move fast enough. He tries using his earth magic again to bring stones to him to use as a shield, but even his magic is taking a moment longer to react.

Distracted by what’s happening to his body, Ime realizes Klaeon has maneuvered himself behind and quickly spinning, Ime sends a large wall of wind at the Blood King. The air around him clears and Ime feels his strength and magic surge. Confused, Ime’s eyes search the throne room and he realizes the red shadows filling the room are releasing a light fog. When his wind blew the fog away, it removed the magic hidden in it.

Running to one of the walls, Ime builds his wind and earth magic before releasing it and destroying the stones. Fresh air rushes in and the fog is cleared out of the room. The sounds of the fighting below grow louder, echoing against the stone of the throne room.

Turning his back to the opening, Ime is kicked in the gut by Klaeon and thrown back against the ragged stone. He nearly falls through the hole, but grabs the broken stone bricks still attached to the wall and pulls himself safely in.

“Your arrogance will cost many their lives today. Your clever ruse at the borders may have distracted a large number of my men, but it won’t take them much longer to arrive. Once they do, those who chose to fight with you will die,” Klaeon says, raising the tip of his blade to the ceiling.

His brown eye glows scarlet and a surge of fire explodes from Klaeon’s blade as he swings it. Ime feels the heat and his mind flashes back to his fight with Teron. He remembers how the fire had burned him before. But now he had his fire back and any fear he had is gone.

Holding up his hand, Ime stops the flames in front of him. Klaeon stares at him in shock. Ime meets the Blood King’s eyes. “Guess you didn’t hear. I’ve gotten my fire back. My true fire.” He pushes the fire back and the flames encircle Klaeon.

Yelling ferociously as the fire burns him, dark shadows cover Klaeon’s skin and extinguish the flames. Once the fire is out, the dark shadows fly towards Ime. Ime leaps away from the oncoming shadows, but they turn sharply and stab through him. Ime feels his body being torn apart as the shadows dive in and out of him. But when he looks down, expecting to see bleeding wounds, there are none.

Klaeon grabs Ime by the throat and throws him to the ground, straddling himself across Ime’s chest. All the air is forced from Ime’s lungs and Klaeon tightens his hold around Ime’s throat, cutting air completely off. An excited smile stretches across the Blood King’s face and the burns from Ime’s fire are already healing. Klaeon raises his blade and aims it for Ime’s face.

A sudden gust of wind knocks the blade from Klaeon’s hand. He lifts his head to see who caused the gust, but a second one violently blows him back away from Ime. He slams into a wall near Meah and crumples to the floor.

Ime gasps for air, but the shadows still surrounding him tighten around him and he feels pain covering every inch of his skin. A third blast of wind disperses the shadows and Ime sits up as the pain fades.

A figure appears between Ime and Klaeon, his eyes filled with rage as he stares at the Blood King slowly climbing to his feet. “Get up, Ime,” Kiphy says, angrily. “You’re not dying today.”

Previous Chapter                                                                                 Next Chapter

Chapter 32 Blood War

Previous Chapter                                                                                 Next Chapter

Ime tears through the Blood Army, his rage and fear mixing and giving his magic an added boost of power. His wind magic clears the path in front of him. His earth magic creates shields to block any weapons or magic from striking him. His water magic creates mist making him a harder target to hit. But his fire magic stays within him. He’s saving it for the main fight ahead of him.

He passes many of his men fighting and spots familiar faces. “Meah’s inside! Klaeon has her!”

Bruer, Fleance, Mava, Rava, and Bern finish the men in front of them and turn to him. Ime motions towards the castle with his hand and the group immediately understand. They force their way through the fighting men, meeting Ime at the doors to Klaeon’s stronghold. Bruer and Fleance force the doors open as Mava, Rava, and Bern enter with weapons drawn. They jump the few guards inside, surprising the men and easily take them out.

Ime runs through the doors and uses his wind and water magic to knock down a man trying to escape to warn the rest of the castle. He pulls the man towards him and traps him in the earth.

“Where is Klaeon?”

The man refuses to answer and Ime tightens the earth around him. The man shrieks. He motions towards a staircase leading up.

“Keep the army out,” Ime says without looking at the group behind him. He sprints up the stairs, smashing anyone he sees into the walls with his magic. He climbs higher and higher, searching the rooms he passes with quick glances.

Rounding a corner, a blade is placed at his throat. Reacting instinctively, Ime raises his hand covered in flames to the throat of his assailant. His eyes glare at Seera’s fear-filled face as she stares at the flames close to her. The heat turns the skin of her throat pink.

“Put your weapon down, Seera.”

Small movement of the blade gives Ime the impression she’s going to listen, but instead she shakes her head and tightens her grip on the hilt of the dagger. “Don’t move.”

“Where is Meah? Where is Jaxon?”

“If they’re lucky, dead. If not, Klaeon has them.”

“Where?”

Her hands shake as she stares into the intense rage and magic causing Ime’s eyes to burn with white fire. Eventually, she lowers the dagger and steps away from him. “The throne room. Straight ahead and up the spiral staircase.” Ime walks past her, the fire still dancing in his hand. She watches him, confused. “You’re letting me go?”

“I don’t have time to deal with you. But if I ever see your face again, I will kill you.” His voice is low, threatening and she believes him.

Ime breaks into a run, heading the direction Seera spoke of. But before he disappears through down the long hallway, Seera throws her dagger at his back, a final attempt to stop him.

Turning with a hand outstretched, Ime stops the dagger in midair, his eyes showing no surprise at Seera’s act. He lets the dagger fall to the floor before throwing his left hand up at her. White fire races across the hallway, far too fast for Seera to dodge, and she is engulfed in flames so hot, she incinerates instantly. There isn’t even time for a scream.

Ime continues forward, finding the spiral staircase at the end of the hallway. He climbs to the top and follows the new hallway around the castle. A familiar smell wafts down the hall and Ime slows his pace.

The bodies of those Jaxon killed lie before Ime and he stares at the scorched bodies, searching the deformed faces for one in particular. Cautiously, he steps over the bodies, piecing together what happened.

A hand grabs his ankle and he jumps, turning quickly with his hand raised, ready to kill the unforeseen threat. He stops and lowers his hand when he sees Jaxon and the small trail of blood leading from behind a pillar. Jaxon’s face is pale and his blood stained clothes dark. He gasps for each breath, coughing as blood rises in his throat, and holds a hand up to show he’s unarmed. His other hand lies beneath him, having been used to pull himself from his hiding spot by the pillar.

“Where is she?” Ime demands.

“Klaeon took her to the throne room. Just follow the trail of blood magic. It’s thick in this air,” Jaxon says, gasping between every other word.

Leaning down, Ime draws a small knife and places it at Jaxon’s throat. “Give me one good reason not to kill you.”

“I have two. One, Meah wouldn’t forgive you.” He laughs as Ime’s hand shakes, but it only brings blood from his lungs into his mouth. “And two, someone’s already beaten you to it. I have mere minutes, maybe more left.”

Scanning Jaxon’s body, Ime sees it’s true and sheaths his knife. “You helped us. You told us to find Kellahn and raise an army. Why, if you were only planning on betraying us?”

“I became a Shadow Watcher for one reason. To protect my home.”

“I thought that was why you became a slave trader?”

“I became a slave trader to hide what I was, a Rare Kind like you, and to pass messages to the hidden clans of Shadow Watchers. That was how Klaeon came to know of me. I was one of the few messengers who always returned. Beyond that, my interactions with him were few, but when I brought Meah, he chose me to handle the mission, thinking it would be a kind of poetic justice.”

“And when you stabbed him at Bloodfall? Was that part of the plan?” Ime asks, helping Jaxon onto his back.

Jaxon’s familiar smile grows on his lips. “No. I did that for my village. Somewhere inside I knew Klaeon couldn’t be allowed to keep his power. But I also knew I had to follow orders or he’d find a way to make me.”

“Threatening your village.”

“I thought if I could lead you and Meah to Kellahn and find a way to get my village there, I could break my ties with Klaeon, but he already had spies in Kellahn watching me. When Seera arrived with the whole of the Arena I knew he’d discovered my plans. My fear was confirmed when I spoke with Seera alone. Klaeon burned my village to the ground after you killed Teron. Only one option was left to me.” Jaxon stabs his finger at Ime’s chest. “Pissing you off enough to finally be the leader you needed to be.”

Ime gently pushes Jaxon’s hand away, his expression guarded. “Daniil and Kylii are dead.”

Jaxon’s pale face seemed to grow even paler. “I know. That I never wanted. I liked those brothers. I will never be forgiven for allowing that to happen. But no matter how many scenarios I played out in my head, Klaeon was always going to be victorious. Unless I betrayed you the way I did and someone close to you died.”

Coughing, Jaxon’s eyes glaze over for a moment, before he fights away the unconsciousness threatening to swallow him. “Have you ever wondered why Klaeon only took your fire when you first faced him?”

“He was afraid of it.”

“Yes, but not because of what it was. He thought you were nothing more than a stupid child playing with things you couldn’t possibly understand. But his magic knew what it could be and feared the potential. It’s true you’re a Rare Kind because you control all the elements, but the true rarity to your magic is your fire. It’s your life magic, keeping your source alive. You’ve felt it, haven’t you? There’s always the smallest hint of your fire magic in the other elements. It’s because they’re all tied back to your fire. Your fire is the only thing that can stop him, but it’s still incomplete.”

Confusion creates lines in Ime’s forehead. “But Kiphy helped me release my full fire.”

“You know that’s not true. You’ve found more fire. I saw what you left in the mountain pass, what your white fire did. In order to defeat Klaeon and his living magic, you’ll need that white fire and my fire, my blue fire.”

“I don’t even know how I unlocked the white fire. I don’t know how to do blue fire.”

A strange emotion passes over Jaxon’s face. “There’s only one way to learn blue fire. The same way I learned it.” With a sudden surge of strength, Jaxon grabs the back of Ime’s neck and forces him down. Their foreheads touch and Ime feels Jaxon’s magic mix with his own before being swallowed whole.

Ime tears himself away as the last of Jaxon’s magic is absorbed. “What was that?”

Jaxon collapses to the floor, his breathing strained and his skin a sickly grey. “There isn’t enough time to explain anything more than the magic of blue fire has successfully been passed on to you…just as it was passed to me from my father.” His eyes glaze over, but he has no more strength to fight back the coming darkness. “Kill Klaeon, Ime. Kill him with no mercy.”

Jaxon breathes in one last time. When he releases the breath his eyes empty of life and Ime knows he’s dead. He prays for Jaxon before standing and finishing his journey to the throne room.

Previous Chapter                                                                                 Next Chapter

Chapter 31 Blood War

Previous Chapter                                                                                            Next Chapter

Warm arms wrap around him, but the owner is unable to hold him and falls to the ground with him.

“Jaxon,” Meah cries, her voice trembling.

Opening his eyes, Jaxon sees Meah trying to lift him up, tears swelling in her eyes. He shakes his head. “You have to escape.”

“Stay still.” Meah lays him down on the floor and places her hands on his wound. “I’m going to heal you.”

Jaxon sees his blood on her arms and clothes where she held him. “Meah.”

“Quiet. I need to concentrate.” Her hands are shaking and she squeezes her eyes shut. Jaxon can feel her magic moving frantically from wound to wound, closing the smaller injuries quickly. But even her magic is unable to heal so many serious wounds fast enough with her mind unfocused.

“Come on. Come on.” Her voice shakes with rage as she realizes there are too many injuries. There’s too much blood.

Jaxon tries to place a hand on her cheek, but he can’t raise his hand above his chest. Instead, he places his hand on top of Meah’s and she opens her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Jaxon wheezes, coughing as more blood enters his lungs.

Tears drop onto his face and Meah shakes her head, squeezing the cloth of Jaxon’s shirt. “No. Don’t talk as though you’re going to die. I’m going to save you.”

“You’re wasting time. You have to escape and make it to Ime before someone finds out what happened.”

Meah’s eyes widen slightly. “But you’ll die.”

“I deserve this kind of end for what I’ve done. Besides, if you heal me, I’ll only be killed in a more horrible way. I’d rather die now.”

Leaning forward, Meah places her forehead on his. “I wasn’t lying when I said I forgive you.” She kisses his lips softly. “I owe you my life.”

Jaxon smiles. “Thank you. Please, run.” His head falls to the side and his hand falls from his chest.

Jerking her head back, Meah’s eyes scan Jaxon’s peaceful face. She panics and places her ear on his chest. She hears his heart beating softly. He’s still alive. Relief fills her, but she knows it’s going to be short lived.

Staring at his peaceful face, another trickle of blood rolls from his mouth and she rolls him onto his side to prevent him from drowning on his own blood. She leans down and kisses him on the side of his face before wiping the tears from her face.

A chill runs up her spine as something moves across her back. Magic circles her, encasing her body in an invisible force. She raises herself to her knees, readying to run for the exit. The magic tightens around her, freezing her body in place.

Fear fills her as she realizes the magic not only is keeping her still, its exploring her, feeling her magic hiding deep inside her.

Footsteps grow steadily louder behind her, the owner moving closer. She doesn’t need to turn her head to know who it is, but having the inability to do it causes her breathing to increase.

The magic trapping her body forces Meah to her feet, her heart pounding loudly in her ears. Her body is screaming for her to run, but the magic only seems to feed on her fear and the pressure around her intensifies.

Meah feels the magic turning her to face Klaeon as he enters the room. He glances around the room at the dead men strewn about the floor. They rest on Jaxon for a moment longer before moving to the ashes that used to be Loken.

Finally, his eyes lock onto Meah.

Previous Chapter                                                                                            Next Chapter

Chapter 30 Blood War

Previous Chapter                                                                           Next Chapter

Meah’s hands are bound in front of her as Jaxon and Seera lead her through the dark halls. Seera keeps a tight grip on Meah in case she tries to run, but Meah has no intention of running. She stares at Jaxon’s back with no emotion in her eyes.

It took them only two days to reach Klaeon’s castle using the help of two Shadow Watchers. Meah doesn’t remember exactly how they made it. She was kept mostly in a state of delirium to prevent possible escape, but with her senses fully returned, she knows Ime is close.

The castle is nearly empty with all of Klaeon’s forces fighting outside against Ime’s army. But even if people filled the halls, the cold feeling of the dark stones couldn’t be brightened. Banners hang on the walls of the long hallways bearing the symbols of the ancient language.

“You’re very quiet, Life Healer,” Seera says. “I’m guessing you understand what’s going to happen to you now.”

Meah doesn’t answer.

“I hope he’ll allow us to watch.”

“Be quiet, Seera,” Jaxon says. “We’ll do whatever our king orders.”

A large group of soldiers enter the hall from a large doorway, stopping the three from continuing on. A man wearing a black sash around his waist walks forward to meet Jaxon, a sneer twisting his face into a cruel appearance.

“Well, well. If it isn’t the fabled black-blooded caravan leader turned traitor. We expected you many days ago,” the man says.

“I’m well within my time limit, Loken. I brought the Life Healer as commanded. If you’ll excuse us, we’ve kept his Majesty waiting long enough,” Jaxon says, attempting to move through the wall of soldiers.

The men behind Loken block the doorway, stepping closer together. “I believe this is as far as you’re going, traitor. We’ll be taking the Life Healer from here.”

Meah tenses, bringing her hands together to stop them from shaking. She doesn’t like how the men stare at her, eagerly.

“I was told to bring the Life Healer to Blood King Klaeon. Not to his pet boot licker. Move your men aside.” Jaxon keeps his voice calm, but his eyes give each man a warning glance. Meah feels Jaxon’s magic growing, gathering in his hands.

“His Majesty has given me a new order for you.” Loken turns his head to smirk at Jaxon. “Return to the battlefield.”

“And what of the Life Healer?”

Loken crosses his arms and stares at Meah. “I will take care of her.”

Meah’s eyes widen as Loken fingers the dagger on his belt.

Jaxon’s expression darkens. “Blood King Klaeon personally commanded me to bring the Life Healer to him. I demand to speak with him before I even think of handing her over to anyone who doesn’t bear the title of King.”

Men appear from different doors surrounding the three. Two grab Jaxon and roughly pull him away from Meah and Seera.

Loken walks up to Meah and glares at Seera. “Leave us.” Seera hesitates, eyeing Jaxon before leaving.

Grabbing Meah by her bound wrists, Loken draws his sword. Meah’s eyes lock onto the sword, but there’s no sign she’s going to cry out.

“You aren’t going to try to run or plead for your life?” Loken asks. Meah refuses to answer, keeping her eyes on the blade. He laughs and faces Jaxon. “What happened? Did you break her when you betrayed her? Doesn’t matter, your role as His Majesty’s pawn is done. He knows you’re the one who stabbed him at Bloodfall and believes your usefulness has ended.”

Loken raises his sword, but the screaming of his men stops his swing. Blue flames engulf the men holding Jaxon. They release Jaxon and try to put the flames out, but soon fall to the ground dead.

“You’re full of surprises, traitor,” Loken says, laughing to conceal the surprise in his voice. “A magic user who betrays other magic users.”

His shining blue eyes filled with magic magnify the rage on Jaxon’s face. Blue flames dance around his hands, snaking their way around his body. Without warning, Jaxon runs at Loken and punches at the man’s face, the flames reaching for the terrified man. Loken dodges and leaps away, his men opening the circle to allow their leader room and to escape the blue flames.

Jaxon grabs Meah, the flames immediately dying out. He breaks the binds on her hands and stares into her eyes, his face the most serious Meah has ever seen it. “Hide and no matter what happens, don’t do anything until they’re all dead.”

Meah nods and hides behind a thick pillar.

“You’re going to pay for this, traitor,” Loken yells.

Loken orders his men to attack Jaxon and they all run at him with their weapons drawn. The small space of the hallway makes it difficult for the men to swing their blades freely, while Jaxon has little trouble moving from man to man and using his blue fire to kill them.

While the men distract him, Loken sneaks behind Jaxon to attack, slicing deep cuts into his sides and stomach. One of the men grabs Jaxon from behind and holds him long enough for Loken to stab his sword deep into Jaxon’s side. Jaxon kicks Loken away and slams his head back into the face of the man holding him. The man’s nose breaks and he’s knocked back. Jaxon punches him in the stomach, setting him on fire as soon as his fist hits.

Even with Loken sneaking in surprise shots while Jaxon guards against the others, Jaxon manages to kill the last man. Loken’s eyes jump from one burning corpse to another and sweat rolls down his forehead.

Blood drips to the floor from Jaxon’s wounds. He holds his side and winces, using his magic to stop the worst of the bleeding. But even with his magic working at full power, he still feels blood seeping from deeper wounds. Drawing his sword, Jaxon realizes he needs to finish this quickly.

Noticing Jaxon’s concern, Loken attacks quickly and with no mercy. But with the rest of his men dead and even with his injuries, Jaxon manages to keep up with Loken. A sudden twist as he swings his sword sends a shock of pain through Jaxon and he misjudges Loken’s next attack.

The blade of Loken’s sword stabs through Jaxon’s stomach and emerges from his back. Meah’s screams keeping Jaxon from passing out from the shock to his already severely wounded body. Loken pulls on his sword, but Jaxon grabs the blade with both hands, his own blade clattering to the floor. Blood fills his mouth and rolls down his chin. His blue eyes roll up to glare at Loken and a playful smile grows on his lips.

Blue fire climbs Loken’s blade and leaps onto the man. He tries to pull away, but Jaxon grabs his arms and holds him close. “Your usefulness never began, Loken.”

Loken screams and tries desperately to pull away from Jaxon. Releasing him, Jaxon steps back as Loken dies, even his bones burning to ash.

Swaying as his blood loss blurs his vision, Jaxon stares down at the blade still running him through. The blade stabbing into his front has melted with his fire. Using the last of his energy, Jaxon surges his fire around the sword, melting the metal into liquid and fighting back a scream as the hot liquid is forced from his wound.

Black spots cover his vision and Jaxon falls to the ground.

Previous Chapter                                                                           Next Chapter

Chapter 29 Blood War

Previous Chapter                                                                                     Next Chapter

“Are you sure we’re allowed to be in here?” Bon asks, following Cal into the noisy paddocks. The sound of ruffling feathers and small chirps echo in the dark.

Cal takes her hand and smiles. “It’s okay. Deven said I could come here if I promised to feed them when I did. Come on, it’s almost time.”

They walk through the paddocks. Hokiocs watch them with their large eyes. Cal hands Bon a handful of seed and motions her to hold her hand out to the nearest hok. She does, hesitating. The hok slowly moves forward, its head tilting at odd angles to allow both eyes to see the seed. It gently takes some seed from her hand, cautiously at first, then with more fervor. Bon giggles and Cal motions her to throw. She throws the seed to the floor and the other hoks venture out to peck at the new food.

“Come on.” Cal urges Bon further into the paddocks.

Sunlight shines through holes in the walls. The two move to the back where a single hokioc lies on the floor. She lifts her head and stares at Cal and Bon with wide eyes. Her feathers are a deep scarlet with white stripes on her wings.

Cal tells Bon to stay still. He walks slowly towards the scarlet hok with his hand palm down and eyes lowered. The feathers on the hok’s back rise and she chirps quickly. Cal smiles and coos softly. The hok lowers her feathers and lifts her head up higher. She jerks it in the way birds do to stare at Cal’s hand. Cal reaches his hand forward and holds it in front of the hok’s sharp beak.

“That’s it, Kit. You remember me. I told you I’d bring a friend,” Cal says, gently.

Kit, the scarlet hok, leans close to Cal’s hand. She hesitates then closes the distance, rubbing her beak against Cal’s hand. She closes her eyes and coos, echoing Cal’s soothing voice.

Cal turns his head to look at Bon. “Move slowly and let her touch you first.”

Bon takes a sharp breath in. She moves painfully slow towards Cal and stops next to him, nerves shaking her body. Kit opens her eyes and the feathers on her back rise. Bon places her hand palm down in front of Kit’s beak. The large bird’s eyes scan Bon and she snaps her beak open and closed. Bon pulls her hand back in fear, but tries again, this time meeting the golden eye staring at her.

Kit’s feathers lower and she rubs her beak against Bon’s hand. Bon smiles and looks at Cal. He’s smiling at her and when their eyes meet he turns away, trying to hide the rush of blood to his face.

“You said you had a surprise for me,” Bon says, her smiling growing larger at Cal’s reaction and a tiny flush filling her cheeks.

Cal moves to Kit’s side and kneels down on the ground. Bon follows him and kneels next to him. He taps Kit on the side. “Are they ready, Kit?”

The large bird ruffles her feathers and stands. Underneath her is a nest filled with six eggs. They’re laid in a circle with one at the center. They’re all light purple with brown spots. Kit sits on the opposite side of the nest from Bon and Cal. She gently touches the eggs with her beak and chirps happily.

Bon’s eyes widen with awe and she turns to Cal. “When will they hatch?”

“Today. At least, that’s what Deven said.”

They sit together for many minutes, waiting. Kit continually checks the eggs with her beak and moves them as needed, the way only a mother can tell. Bon leans on Cal, watching with intense eyes. Cal can’t keep a smile from his face with Bon leaning against him. He focuses on the eggs to keep from staring at her. They lose track of how long they’ve been sitting in the paddocks until they see a stream of setting sunlight appear on the wall above them.

The paddocks grow darker and Cal nearly asks Bon if she wants to head out before the sun completely sets.

Before he can say the words, the center egg falls over and Kit’s head perks up. She makes a soft sound and leans down close to the pile. Bon sits and moves closer. Cal watches her.

The center egg rocks and the sound of cracking is heard. A small crack appears on the shell. A small piece falls to the ground and a tiny cheep is heard. The other eggs move as the first tiny hokioc emerges from the center egg.

Its feathers are light blue with light purple stripes on its wings. It falls to the ground and gazes up at Kit. It squeaks loudly for such a small bird. Kit leans down and nudges it back onto its feet. Its tiny legs wobble and it falls to the ground again. Kit nudges it again and this time it’s able to stand. The others emerge from their eggs and squeak together in a tiny chorus. Their colors range from dark blue to white.

“They’re amazing!” Bon gasps. Her voice startles the newborns and they turn to her. Their tiny feathers stand up and low hisses escape their throats.

Kit snaps her beak and puffs out a breath. The tiny hoks face their mother and turn back to Bon. The first to hatch hops to the edge of the nest and tries to jump over the raised edge. Bon reaches to help, but stops and meets Kit’s eyes. Kit motions her head forward, giving permission.

“She trusts you,” Cal says, happily.

Bon reaches her hand down to the tiny hok and holds her palms together inside the nest. The tiny bird hops onto her hands and she carefully lifts it up. She brings it close ot her face and the tiny animal leans close to her. It cheeps happily and rubs its small head on her cheek.

Bon laughs and an idea pops into her head. She quickly turns her head to Cal. “Should I name her?”

“How do you know it’s a girl?”

She raises an eyebrow. “I’m a Healer, remember?”

“I don’t think Kit will mind if you name her.”

Bon returns her attention to the chirping hatchling in her hands. She peers over the light blue and purple feathers and then stares into the hok’s black eyes. The bird chirps and flaps her tiny wings, stretching the new muscles.

“Skye.”

Approving her name, Skye hops and trills. The other hatchlings join in the chirping and hop up and down excitedly. Kit nudges each hatchling, her large golden eyes closed with happiness. Bon carefully places Skye back into the nest and she excitedly joins her brothers and sisters.

The hatchlings play together under the watchful eye of their mother, Bon, and Cal. Cal lights nearby lanterns, providing warm light in the paddocks. The hatchlings finally manage to hop out of the nest and play on Bon and Cal, causing both to laugh loudly. The tiny birds move to their mother and climb on top of her back. She’s tired and simply lies still as they playfully wrestle each other on her back.

“Bon, Cal,” a winded voice calls into the paddock.

Both turn and see Lyrrel walking towards them. He’s pale and his usually clear eyes are foggy. His breathing is heavy as though he’d been running.

“Lyrrel, what’s wrong?” Cal asks.

“I need you both.” He kneels behind the two. “And I apologize, but it might be unpleasant.” He places his hands on their shoulders and closes his eyes. The world goes black around them.

When it returns, the three find themselves surrounded by fighting men. Bon screams and Cal moves in front of her, grabbing for a weapon that isn’t there. Lyrrel squeezes their shoulders, comfortingly.

“Stay calm. We aren’t really here. We have an important message to deliver.” Lyrrel leads the two through the fighting where none can see them.

“Why did you need us for this?” Bon asks, turning away from a dying man.

“I needed to tap into your healing magic, Bon. Cal added an extra boost to my ability so I could find the one we need to deliver our message to at the right time.”

“What do you mean at the right time?”

“We’re currently walking through a battle happening a couple days from now.”

Bon and Cal look at each other with a mixture of confusion and surprise.

Ime runs in front of the three, raising the earth to block Klaeon’s men from killing three downed magic users.

“Bon, take Cal’s hand, please,” Lyrrel asks. Bon does so quickly and with his hand free, Lyrrel places it on Ime’s back. The earth suddenly rises around them, encasing the group in an earth tomb. Ime jumps away from Lyrrel’s touch and turns, fire encircling his fist. He stops when he sees Bon, Cal, and Lyrrel.

“How?” Ime demands, the rush of fighting still in his voice.

“There’s no time to explain. Altan is dead. Seera killed him.”

“Meah?”

“Jaxon returned and took her. They took her to Klaeon. She should be there by now. You have to save her before the Blood King kills her.” Lyrrel winces and Bon and Cal hold him up. “I’m out of time. Save her, Ime.”

Ime’s eyes fill with hot rage and he destroys the earth surrounding them, shooting rock towards Klaeon’s army. He runs through the shocked crowds of men, easily fighting his way towards Klaeon’s stronghold, his fire burning brightly.

Lyrrel falls to the ground in the paddock, gasping for air. Bon and Cal open their eyes and stare at each other in confusion. Then they turn their attention to Lyrrel.

Previous Chapter                                                                                     Next Chapter

Chapter 28 Blood War

Previous Chapter                                                                              Next Chapter

Days of fighting have left both sides with casualties, but no clear sign of who’s winning.

The afternoon sun shines down on the battlefield mercilessly. The bodies of men, women, and beasts lie scattered. Soldiers gather the dead to prevent disease and from the possibility of crushing the bodies as the fighting continue.

The wounded line up for the Healers to use their magic. Messages arrive stating the movement of the rest of Klaeon’s army is increasing as they make their way to the final fight.

As Ime enters the foray of battle, a strange feeling grows from inside. He wonders if Meah is all right. He wonders if the strangeness of the air is being caused by the magic filling it, or if it’s simply the feeling that this would be the deciding day.

He comes across Berk weeping and discovers the reason quickly. Gaeren has been slain. His body is run through with spears and swords of varying sizes. But judging from the site of the battleground, the ones responsible perished as well.

Berk waves Ime away when he tries to comfort him and a passing rogue group of Blood Army soldiers try to attack the grieving man. Berk is forced from his sadness and easily wipes out the group, his rage ignited. He runs head long into the front lines of the Blood Army, sending a surge of energy through Ime’s forces.

They push the Blood Army back, gaining ground and moving ever closer to the towering castle where Klaeon is believed to be hiding.

The allied leaders fight with gusto and excitement, barely showing the exhaustion of the long battles. The word of Gaeren’s death does little to hamper their fighting spirits and for some gives them something to inspire their soldiers with, claiming the next round of deaths as vengeance for the loss.

As the day of fighting comes to end and both sides rest, new thoughts echo through the allied forces. How long before the full Blood Army gathers at the castle? How long can the allied forces fight before turning the tide of the war?

The sun rises and fighting continues. Herbart Slayer and Marin Varth lead the first wave of attacks, barreling through large concentrations of Klaeon’s men. Small victories are celebrated as the army moves ever closer to the Blood King’s castle.

Magic races through the air from both sides and the allied forces lose ground as large golems of stone and earth rise and swing large weapons made of boulders and tree trunks at the fighters.

But still the war goes on and Klaeon has yet to actually be seen.

Previous Chapter                                                                              Next Chapter

Chapter 27 Blood War

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter

The setting sun casts dark shadows on the walls of the canyon. Meah walks to the Great Hall in silence. She wonders how long the fighting has been going on, knowing they must’ve reached Klaeon’s lands. How many have already died and how many more will have to die before the war is over?

Passing citizens greet and say words of comfort to her. She appreciates each word, but can’t help feeling their pity growing as the days go on.

Cal and Bon have tried to keep her occupied, having her join them in exploring the parts of Kellahn they haven’t visited, but today Meah told them she wanted to be alone.

She went down to the burial site to pay her respects to Daniil and Kylii, remembering their time in the Arena and the long journey to Kellahn. Being alone in the burial site only reminded her of her inability to bring anyone back. In order to distract her from these thoughts she decides to see Altan. Perhaps he’s received news from the army.

The Great Hall is dark when Meah enters. She walks to the center, where the table is still set up. She stops. Altan is seated in his throne at the head of the table. He’s collapsed on the table, his eyes wide in shock, but there is no life left in them. Blood pools around the slash in his throat.

Meah doesn’t move or react. She only stares at the figure leaning against Altan’s throne, spinning the knife in her hand.

“You don’t look surprised, Life Healer,” Seera says, smiling.

“Should I be? You’ve done this before. Betrayal isn’t new to you. Did Klaeon even really torture you or did you have one of your men cut your arm off to make it more believable?” Meah asks.

Seera’s lip twitches with a painful memory. “Klaeon did torture me, Life Healer. He enjoyed every second of my pain, but he offered me a deal and I’m not stupid. Only stupid people side with the smaller army.” She puts her only arm on her hip. “I thought for sure you would at least cry more. Are you going to call for help?”

Meah doesn’t respond.

“No? Why not?”

“Because she doesn’t want them to kill me,” a voice says behind Meah.

Closing her eyes, Meah takes a shaky breath in to fight the tears back as she listens to the footsteps growing louder behind her. “Why?”

Jaxon presses himself against her back, leaning his head over her shoulder to speak into her ear. “To survive.”

“I forgive you.”

Confusion fills Jaxon’s face and his brow lowers. “Forgive me for what, exactly? I’ve done a lot and none of it deserves forgiveness.”

“For everything.”

A smile forms on his lips. “I’m glad.” He places a strange smelling cloth over Meah’s mouth and her eyes droop. She sways and Jaxon lifts her off the ground as she falls unconscious. He looks at Seera. “Let’s go.”

“What should I do with the body?”

“Leave it for the guards to find. We have a time limit and if we’re late, we’re both dead.”

Seera nods and walks to the door. Jaxon follows, but pauses next to one of the pillars. He waits for Seera to exit the Great Hall before turning his head enough to eye the pillar.

“Tell Ime.” He continues walking and stands next to Seera outside the doors. A shadow overtakes them and all three are gone.

Stepping out from his hiding spot, Lyrrel watches with a blank look, his eyes glowing a light blue.

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter

Chapter 26 Blood War

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter

One hour later, an attack occurs on the Blood Army. Reports sent to the other garrisons asking for aid tell the story that during the early hours of the night they were overrun by Ime’s army. The attack begun with sneak attacks, destroying weapon storages and food supplies. Following these a wave of hysteria moved through the camp. Fifty thousand men claimed to see lights floating around the camps.

After the lights disappeared, the men claimed there were men sneaking around and attacked many of their own comrades. Two hundred were killed and many of those afflicted by the hysteria were placed into cells.

Once the hysteria passed a second wave of attacks occurred. This time unseen archers hiding in surrounding trees sent wave after wave of arrows into the camp. The seemingly random arcs of the shots made it difficult to locate where the attackers were.

Two of the enemies were found and taken prisoner while three others were killed on the spot. The two were questioned, but before any information could be garnered from them, the three that were killed reappeared as corpses and killed a number of men. The two managed to escape in the confusion and set fire to many of the camp’s tents, killing hundreds more.

Similar attacks continued the entire evening, not allowing any of the Blood Army to sleep and to remain alert. When morning broke, twenty-seven thousand men were dead and Ime’s army pulled back.

Every night the attacks continued. For an entire week, the Blood Army is attacked, unable to perform its own method of fighting.

At the end of the week, most of the Blood Army is gathered at the northern entrance to the Blood King’s lands. As soon as they arrive they attack Ime’s camp only to find it empty and the army long gone.

Ime’s army is marching with little interaction from the large forces of the Blood Army. They make it to Klaeon’s castle by the end of the week and prepare for battle. The men who remained behind would rejoin them in a few days, but by then the war will already have been going.

The army surrounding the castle is two hundred and fifty thousand strong, an equal size to Ime’s army. When announcements ring out through the Blood Army about the approaching enemy army, the soldiers scramble. The surprise Ime had been hoping to achieve has worked.

“I’ll be damned. I had little doubt this would actually work,” Herbart admits. “What are your orders?”

Ime draws his sword and aims it at the castle with Tanith growling excitedly beside him. “Attack and leave none alive. But if Klaeon is found leave him to me.”

The army races forward and fights soon fill the battlefield. Ime and Tanith press forward through the battling armies, searching for Klaeon.

The Blood Army keeps Ime’s forces back. They try to fight their way closer to the castle, but Klaeon’s soldiers refuse to lose any ground.

Ime charges through the battlefield. He helps his men and women when they’re overpowered. He assists the Healers by clearing paths through the fighting for them to reach the wounded.

While helping Tristan and Skara maneuver several severely wounded, Ime is surrounded by the remnants of the Shadow Watchers. He’s able to get Tristan, Skara, and the wounded away, but the Shadow Watchers circle him and cancel out his magic, making him powerless. He’s forced to fight with his sword, slaying many, but they still overpower him. Shadows trap Ime and his sword falls to the ground.

Before the Shadow Watchers can strike the final blow, Gaeren and Berk surprise the group, easily fighting against their shadow magic. Handing Ime his sword, Berk sneers at him. “Don’t make my defeat at your hands more embarrassing by dying before you even reach Klaeon.”

“Afraid to face him if I die?” Ime says, taking his weapon.

Berk tightens his grip on his sword, but Gaeren places a hand on Berk’s shoulder. “Even if Berk won’t admit it, I’ll do it for everyone. Yes, we’re afraid we’ll have to be the ones to fight him. None of them will admit it, but his magic frightens us.”

“And so does my magic,” Ime adds.

Gaeren smiles. “Anyone who says they aren’t are lying.”

The three return to the fighting and Ime focuses his efforts on locating Klaeon, but there are no signs of the Blood King anywhere on the battlefield. The sun sets on the first day of fighting and no sign of Klaeon can be found.

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter

Chapter 25 Blood War

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter

The army reaches the border of Klaeon’s lands, setting up camp a good distance away, readying for their first attack. In the distance, creating a strong wall against Ime’s forces is the Blood Army. Scouts are sent ahead to gather what information they can on the opposing forces.

While waiting for the scouts to return the allied leaders meet with Ime at the center of the camp. The large tent easily fits the group comfortably even with Farrow Klighdan’s simit sitting next to her.

Ime holds a map drawn by Lyrrel’s Seers of Klaeon’s castle and the surrounding lands. “Our original guess was most of the forces would be focused on the northern entrances. But we were unclear how far north he would place his first wave.” Ime traces his finger around the northern edge of map. “From what we can tell, the army standing before us is numbered anywhere from seventy-five thousand to one hundred thousand. With the total Blood Army at five hundred thousand, I think we should expect this to be the most concentrated of his border guards. But that could be a ruse and he may have one hundred thousand men ready at any given point. Which leaves a far lower number stationed at his castle.”

“The main focus now is should we attack or try to find a less guarded entry point into his lands,” Deven asks.

“With five hundred thousand men I don’t think there’s going to be a less guarded entry as Ime stated. Wherever we try to force our way through, the rest of his forces will gather there,” Pilian Grout says.

“And if we split our forces, it will leave us weaker to any reinforcements that arrive to assist those we attack,” Herbart Slayer says.

“Splitting our forces also makes it harder to communicate efficiently. It gives Klaeon easier access to interception and learning of our plans while we remain in the dark of his moves,” Marin Varth adds.

“Although, if we send small groups to perform surprise attacks from different directions, the actual location of our main army may be misconstrued,” Pilian adds.

“But the men standing in front of us have more than likely already reported our location,” Jada Boor says. “For that plan to work, we’ll still have to fight this garrison before enacting the surprise attacks.”

“How quickly can we mobilize our full forces?” Ime asks.

The allied leaders stare at him, curiosity filling their faces.

“If pushed, I’m sure two hours is possible,” Deven answers.

Gradyen Hutch glares at Ime with disbelief. “We’ve been marching for several weeks. Do our men not even get one night to rest?”

“Are you planning on attacking tonight?” Aryd Candok asks.

Ignoring the questions, Ime looks at Kordeaux Fellet. “How many mages do you have that can create illusions?”

Kordeaux glances around at the allied leader’s confused faces before returning his attention to Ime. “I have about a dozen with differing levels of skill. Why?”

Pointing to Herbart and Marin, Ime hands the map in his other hand to Deven. “Pick two dozen of your most trusted men and women and have them meet with Kordeaux’s mages here in one hour. Everyone else, pass the message that we’ll be leaving in two hours. Leave the camp as it is, but gather all food, weapons, and other essential supplies.”

Marin is about to speak, but Herbart grabs him and immediately leads the man out, a large smile on his face. Kordeaux soon follows, still unclear as to what Ime’s planning. The rest of the allied leaders stay where they are.

“What are you planning, Ime?” Farrow asks.

“Pilian is right. Wherever we enter Klaeon’s lands, his army is going to gather. I’ve given you orders, now go before we lose too much time.”

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter

Chapter 24 Blood War

Previous Chapter                                                                               Next Chapter

The army is ready, standing in formation together, filling the top of the canyon. The allied leaders stand at the front, waiting. All wear the colors of their respective armies, but one thing ties them together. The flags that fly bear the same symbol. Meah is the one who chose it. It’s a symbol from her dreams, the one she’s come to know as Ime’s symbol.

Standing at the front of the army, ahead of the allied leaders is Ime. At his side is Tanith, her dark scales catching the light of the morning sun. He calls an order and it’s echoed through the ranks of men and women. The ranks salute and the army marches to war.

Those remaining behind stand at the top of the watchtowers lining the edge of the canyon. Others stand at the base of the watchtowers cheering and saying their final goodbyes.

Meah watches the army from the same watchtower where she spoke to Jaxon for the last time. Next to her stands Altan. Against his wishes, the allied leaders decided it would be best for him to remain behind with a group of his most trusted soldiers to keep the city safe while Deven goes in his stead.

Bon and Cal, the youngest of those who escaped the Arena stand behind Meah, angry they can’t join the fight, but understanding why. Lyrrel stands with them, volunteering to assist with communications between the army and Kellahn.

Sitting away from the group in a chair with her arms and legs crossed is Seera. It’s the first time she’s been allowed out of her cell since she arrived, but with the news of Jaxon’s betrayal she is now accompanied at all times by two guards who stand on either side of her.

“How long will it take them to reach Klaeon’s lands?” Cal asks, not aiming his question at anyone in particular.

“With an army this size, two weeks at most,” Altan says.

“And how long do you think the fighting will last?” Bon asks.

“I think Ime intends to end it quickly, but war is never quick. Some last days, most last years.”

Circling an arm around Bon, Cal’s eyes burn with an intensity befitting a young man. “I hope this war is a quick one.”

“We all do,” Altan says bowing his head. “And hopefully the gods will shine upon our men and women with favor.”

It takes a long while for the army to disappear in the distance. The thousands of fighters eventually meld into one blob of shadows then into a single line of black before fading away to nothing and leaving the vast plains empty.

Watching the horizon with worry in her eyes, Meah wishes she could see further. She stretches her magic as far as it can go, but it’s pointless. She bows her head and prays to the gods to protect Ime and those fighting. When she raises her head the sun is already high in the sky. She turns and realizes only Seera and her guards are with Meah on the tower.

“Where did everyone go?” Meah asks.

Standing, Seera walks towards Meah. “They left over an hour ago.”

“An hour?”

“You’ve been standing there for three hours, Life Healer. I volunteered to stay behind with you, much against everyone’s wishes.”

Lowering her eyes to the stone floor, Meah believes Seera. It only felt like seconds to her, but Meah knew more time had passed. She feels a comforting hand on her shoulder and stares up into Seera’s face.

A reassuring smile is on Seera’s face. “He’ll come back.”

Previous Chapter                                                                               Next Chapter