Two weeks passed after the battle. Well, of course two weeks passed because time never stops, now matter how much you want it to. That much Eerie was sure of. He had arrived at Ragnorak, a stinkhole imitation of Gladshiem, in his opinion, four days after the battle. Ganzin rode quickly when urged enough…and when their body composition was a little tinkered with…
The success of the battle was a bitter triumph next to all that they had lost. Friends, family… his mother. His father, first, and his mother second. Eerie didn't even get to see her body before they burned it. But he read her name. Read all the names of the dead the way that she had outside of Gladshiem weeks ago… for Angard'dul.
Battle was life's way of making people move on. After that one night, the funeral ceremony, there had been no time to wallow in grief. Too much had yet to be done. Talk had been thrown around of going after the rogue Vampires, but the general consensus dismissed it. Sasilyna, instead, planned a continued campaign, this one based more on the power of word than the power of…well…power. When the General returned to Arhymnia, some from each region as witnesses to her words, she would organize legislative action and spread outward to other domains. As a Raziar General, her word held some weight.
They would leave in three days.
Of the Council members who had originally decided to help General Sasilyna… about half, old and new, lived. Pyr'nasi, the cheerful mage of manipulation, killed by the plague. Angard'dul, killed by eliminating the plague. Fesines… killed by a multitude of wounds, they told him. Areyah, the wind and weather mage, killed by an Iras'dah. And Entunr, whose body he had seen, burned by fire and clawed by Banshees.
Eerie wasn't even going to attempt filling in the slots – if they even decided to – until he had returned to Gladshiem and stepped into a proper hot bath. Here, nothing but the coals got warm, and they didn't even stay that way the whole night.
Of course, he had counted the others dead, too. Truly, only about a fourth of the force that had set out still lived. He guessed about half of those were fit for travel, half of those fit to travel with their own two legs. Most of Shonrad's warriors lived. Most of Arhymnia's recently gathered troops did not. Feedra's nymphs had been nearly decimated by fire, but miraculously, a good number of Bahdregans had survived. Seneluse had taken a heavy blow, but nothing that demanded a change of rulership immediately. King Lusateral… somehow… that blind old elf had lived. Now he was missing a finger, half an ear, and half a leg… but he lived, as had, somehow, his wife. He had the inkling that if Urishiu hadn't survived by stroke of Magick and luck, then Lusateral wouldn't have held out through the battle. Despite this strength in leadership, however, something told Eerie that the rulers would make one of their sons take over soon enough.
Personally, he was rooting for Tilaf. Partly because the man didn't want the role.
Sadira took charge of the Melsarrans, as both of their rulers were a bit compromised. Living, but barely. Khepera had only gained consciousness from a too-deep sleep a few days back, and Quaro'ki had nearly killed himself with the agony of almost loosing her – literally.
Sasilyna couldn't quite lead the Melsarrans with everything else she had to command and Yelanj just wanted to lie on the battlefield, snapping at scavengers. Besides, she was a dragon, and she kept saying something about "An-fehix." Crazy.
Vedis, his favorite Bahdregan (next to the man's foxy cousin, Leilan), was walking around. Void, but those creatures healed fast! And apparently, Sasilyna's blood had something to do with it. Vedis, disgusted at first, now couldn't stop talking about how good he felt and why hadn't she done something like that sooner?
Thankfully, Vedis' friend Talrik had survived as well, and watching the two together gave the others hope.
Out of all of his experience at Ragnorak, three things interested him most.
First, Renkin, the Gladshiem guard who had been taken and turned into a Vampire, had apparently fought in the battle and fought loyally. He had survived, too, and when it wasn't daytime, made himself useful by aiding the healers and helping with more physical tasks. The Vampire also spent some time with Sasilyna's sister, who had apparently become a Vampire, and her lover – also a Vampire.
Which was the second most interesting thing. Ranara. She was a gorgeous piece of work, hidden away in layers of robes, almost always at the side of her blonde Vampire. Damaros. Who apparently was also Willon's brother. Funny how it all played out. And funny how he didn't think Sasilyna had mentioned that part when petitioning for Gladshiem's help. The three Vampires shared the human prisoners – soldiers that had for whatever dumb reason decided to stick to Willon's side.
The third most interesting piece was standing right behind him. The ambrosial smell of fruit and flowers and… fire and summer wind. Dresaith. Apparently this place came complete with a succubus who had been held slave to the ruler of Ragnorak… and Sasilyna, the assumed leader now, did not care to see the scantily clad female.
He turned away from the view west, toward Gladshiem, and looked down. The late summer sun was high overhead, warming the stones a bit. In the courtyard by Ragnorak's gates, men shouted specifications and loaded wagons. Sasilyna would leave in three days, and more would leave back to Gladshiem or wherever they had come from. But many would also be staying here, cleansing it of hundreds of years of Vampire rule and making sure, mostly with Magick, that evil was not welcome again.
"Sire?" the succubus said, and he pondered a moment her bonds. Strictly speaking, she was to serve the leader of Ragnorak… But how deep was that Magick, and was it now broken, or merely shifted? It sounded like a new project to him – finding out and tinkering with something he doubted Dresaith would mind much.
He reached for the woman's hand, grinning. Void, if Sasilyna, technically the new leader of the fortress and thus Dresaith's master, didn't want to see the succubus, then he would just take her somewhere behind closed doors instead…
The light of day was a bit hard to get used to. After spending so long around Vampires, servicing them mostly in the night and in a land without much sunshine anyway, the dazzling glow of the forest further south was almost blinding.
Rekem stopped to rest, and knew immediately where he was.
It was trying to think of a more difficult spell he'd performed than the one that had taken him here. There were few. Interestingly, it would have been twice as hard for him to completely snuff out the ruby's Magick. So instead, he had simply transferred the bond to Willon's sireling, Damaros, who had, coincidentally handed over his ring to Ranara. With all the right blood spilled, the web had changed the hands of power from Willon's to Damaros', and had not drained Rekem so much that he couldn't escape.
Escape to the Re'Asoona Village. Ironic, wasn't it? The location where Willon had insisted upon his return through magic was now the location he rested today… two weeks or more after the Vampire's death.
Before, the village had been nothing but ash. But now… humans, elves, and nymphs called to each other. Hammers struck wood. Leaves rustled as they were woven together for insulation on new homes. The residents were rebuilding. Rekem cautiously moved forward and could just see through the trees that one longhouse and a few cabins had been erected. One of them, right on the road, had to be an inn.
Ah, well, what could it hurt? The only people that even knew of his betrayal were dead. Vampires, really, but far away, now. To everyone else, he was a wise and old man. To the clever, he was the rare necromancer from Vharmine. Harsh, but reputably handy.
And his true master, widely hated but also respected more than Willon, awaited him in Gilmorda.
She stepped slowly, cautiously. Feet touching sunlit stones fearfully.
A bird cooed beside her, soothing, purring. "You're fine, see? It's fine…" Damaros said. She believed him, but still went at the same pace. Sunlight. Warm. Well, mostly warm. It was steadily becoming colder and colder in this land, which didn't bother her too much, anymore.
Sunlight. Rays of the sun kissing her cheek between gusts of salty wind. They were down in the courtyard, passing workers who didn't pay either of them much mind. A few glares that she ignored. They made their way up, into the stairs beside the gatehouse. Darkness. But more warmth, as if the stairwell were a dusty wooden oven for the sun to heat. Then fresh air and fresh sunlight on the catwalk.
She inhaled it, savoring it. It was like…freedom. True freedom. No dungeons, no hiding in the shadows, and no fear. No true fear. Ranara spread her arms and lifted them to the sky, fingers drawing sunlight in like the branches of a tree, beckoning the sunshine closer.
Damaros was still beside her, his hand at the base of her back. Quiet. Comforting. Protective. Even the bond with him was no slave collar, for all that it could be. It was… liberating, too.
Ranara laughed. Smiling, she laughed loudly, purposely, and let the sound echo over craggy foothills, coniferous trees, back down into the courtyard, and up through the clouds.
Satisfied, the redhaired new Vampire spun and leaped up on Damaros. Her feet lifted easily off the ground, as if she were meant to fly. He laughed, too, then, and held her tightly. The same temperature that she was. Cold, but touched by the sunlight. When he set her down and she pulled back, his eyes were a sparkling metallic color, like silver bending in the firelight to look a blinding gold-white.
"Ranara," he murmured, brushing back strands of her hair that the wind and jumping had pulled free from her braid. "Are you happy?"
Sasilyna's scowling face, bruised but healing from battle, and Lorenda's calmer, paler countenance came to mind. Her sisters. They would all leave tomorrow, journeying home. And Damaros would be with her.
To answer, she pulled his head down, lips pressing to his. "For now, yes."
When his arms wrapped around her, she smiled and added something she knew would goad him into fiercer kissing. "Although, if Saul were here, I might be a little bit more-"
Damaros didn't let her finish the sentence. And Ranara didn't mind, smiling and basking in the light of a wonderful afternoon.
"Are you sure?" he asked. His black hair had been cut and he'd finally shaved the beard sitting in bed had gotten him. He looked better.
"For the last time, yes," Sasilyna answered. "And I'm General. Stop questioning me, or it'll be an outright challenge. If no one else can get away with such behavior, then you don't either."
Rylan grinned, but said nothing as she buckled her knapsack. Tomorrow. Tomorrow they left for Arhymnia. With her sisters. Safe.
She chanced a look over at the Shonrad warrior, who ….looked horrible, if better than before. He leaned against the windowsill. A gauntlet of white gauze covered the salve and burns on his sword hand. The bandages extended up to his elbow. Half a pantleg had been sheared back and then reattached using simple toggles so that administrations to the wounds there could more easily be made. And whatever scratches, one set pink and angry down his cheek and neck… were colossally worse beneath his shirt. It seemed he had a knack for attracting Iras'dah and their deadly talons. But at least he seemed more at ease than ever before about his father's death. A sense of closure had to have come with the defeat of a huge number of Demonics.
The room was too warm. And Lorenda wasn't going to be sleeping in here tonight. She'd said she wouldn't sleep until late and didn't want to wake her sister. Hmm.
A basin of water was on the nightstand, and she moved towards it. "When was the last time someone looked at your chest?" Sasilyna said, dipping the cloth into it. The water was tepid. This place cooled everything almost immediately.
She knew he had moved from the windowsill, bare feet stepping towards her in the small room, even with her back to him. Firelight from the hearth wavered as he passed, and besides… she just knew. The smell of ashes, dried blood, sweat, mint leaves, and soap. Something else… horses. Rylan had been with the horses today, the idiot. He wasn't even really supposed to be walking for long periods of time; it kept opening his wounds. But she'd been with them, too, yesterday. When Eerie had come, he'd ordered a foot caravan come as well, and though they had taken longer, they had brought supplies and… Kilan, her Barsone horse. The land here was too rocky to risk riding him, so she'd kept their fun to a few trots inside the main courtyard.
Rylan's hand on hers stopped her thoughts. "I don't want you to look at my wounds tonight, Sasilyna," he said, his voice low and near her ear. "You know that."
Her heart… for a moment she wondered if Ranara gave herself away anymore the way a human did, heart pounding like a caged drumbeat. Sasilyna swallowed, breathing herself calm.
"I demand nothing," he continued. "But I don't want you to play games either. You either want something or not. You either care for something or not. And since we've already had this discussion before-"
Rylan didn't have the chance to finish. The General had turned and, hand still wet from the basin, covered his mouth. His eyes went wide.
"I know. Just give me a minute."
That was all she said. Then her hands moved, down to his shirt. Lifted it up and over his head. Dropped it to the floor. Yes, the wounds were worse… More white gauze and even padded cloth here and there covered what she knew were deep, raking claw marks. One was a spear wound. They had been afraid of infection with that one. Red had already leaked and dried through areas, uneven streaks like paint on canvas.
"And I hope you know how much this is going to hurt," she added, swallowing again and reaching up to his neck.
He chuckled, voice calm as his fingers touched her not-bandaged arm. But she could feel his heart beating faster than hers under her hand, hear just a slight tremble in his breath. Feel his body shake as she moved closer. "I promise I'll be gentle," Rylan said.
She jabbed him in the stomach, beneath the major wounds, where scarring had already taken place. "Don't worry about me. You're the one that's going to be bleeding before morning, moron."
If he moved much at all, the wounds shrugged open. Always. One of hers did, too. But that didn't matter.
Sasilyna kissed him, pushing him in stumbling steps back to the bed. There were few words, then, and they were softer ones.
Tomorrow, they left for Arhymnia. Tonight, there were no more deadly battles.
For all that he had traveled the old world wide and far, Saul was quite sure he had only been on the ocean once. And the weather had definitely been warmer. Ice and wind bit his face and fingers like an overexcited kitten, and even standing behind the cabin like he was now didn't protect him from the brunt of it. Amara seemed unbothered, staring into the clouded night air.
"Now, now," he grumbled, putting his hands into his pockets. New clothes, with better coverage than the decades-old rags he had worn, were wonderful. "There's no reason to look so glum. We're only on a freezing cold ship with no sign of humans to feed on after being prisoners for so long and only having a little bit of pig's blood every now and then. Oh wait. You weren't a prisoner. So cheer up. Things could always be worse."
"You don't know the first thing about-"
"I know everything about you," Saul answered in a deadly soft voice. She had turned, venomous and ready to strike at him, and he stepped forward, daring her to do something. She was shorter than him by a foot, which helped in the intimidation. "I know what you're doing here, I know what you plan to do once you get to Uraasan. Suck up to the major power and get in close. Stay nice and cozy for a while. Except, the thing you didn't count on is how much I agree with your brother, and exactly how opposite of you I am. When you kept your cold nose tight against Willon's neck all those years, I rotted in a dungeon for doing what was right. Now, Uraasan is lucky if it even has a leader, let alone a human one. So it's in shambles, again thanks to your brother, and you know what the funny part is? We are going to piece that nation back together. We are going to work with worthy humans, humans who hate Demonics fully, and if you try to go back on it, if you try to betray them, me, then I'll make sure they have a chance to take out all of their frustration onto you."
Just a few humans, Saul knew she was thinking. But Amara also knew who had brought down Ketil Delkyn years back and who had just brought down Willon and his entire army. Just a few humans.
Not far away, an Iras'dah and Vampire were looking curiously at them as they secured riggings absently. Life on a ship could get boring, quickly.
Saul smiled. He had her. Threats, smoking intimidation, and someone to remind her where she should be. That was really all she had ever needed to stay in line, even as a Vampire. Too bad Damaros had never seen that. A good thing Willon never had. Or used it to its fullest.
Then he touched Amara's head and moved to the bow, where an Incubus flashed him a grin from the helm – servant to …the ship? Or the captain of the ship? Again, Saul stared out over the sea – an expanse of darkness even with the safety lantern in the prow. Icebergs, they had said, frequented the waters. Darkness, as usual.
But there was freedom on this darkness. Freedom smelled like ice and wind and a cruel lover…but he reveled in it. And a fate far better than what would have awaited him in Ragnorak was on this sea and beyond.
"Thank you," he said, spotting a few stars behind an empty trail of scuttling clouds. He looked at them. Ranara and Damaros. Ranara, who had always been good, though she hadn't known it. Damaros, who had not been good in a very long time, and knew it. Both had come together when the time was right… and the result, in addition to a lot of kissing, had been Saul's freedom.
For that, he would always remember and cherish them.
And who knew? Maybe someday, when Uraasan was back together and Amara still kept in line, Saul would leave the icy north and take a bard's journey south…to see some old friends.
A/N: This is so dedicated to spikedmango, my talented beta reader and (amazing writer) friend. Without her, I know I wouldn't have finished this story, and she's helped me so much along the way (understatement of the past four years). If you haven't checked out her writing, do it NOW! Or you'll regret it when you have to pay when she's a published bestseller. Thanks also to my readers, the silent and spoken, the dedicated and her-then-gone alike. I write this for you as much for myself (and my muse).
anticlimax: I can't wait until you get further in the story. Unfortunately, that's where the editing, proofreading, and writing gets better. But I'm glad you've enjoyed most of what you've found, and that you've given me some honest critical questions to consider in revision. Good luck reading the rest of it!
City of Glass by Cassandra Clare: It's fitting that this is my concluding read here. I just finished it in ... about 24 hours. And it's not a small book. Just amazing. I said it was fitting because it's the conclusion of her trilogy, The Mortal Instruments, and also because I personally have so many connections to her book. I've followed her writing for the better part of the past...five years, so technically, I've been reading her stuff for as long as or longer than I've been writing this story. I won't bother with a summary since it's the third in the series, but I will say this: it may be a young adult series, but it's full of the best writing any adult could ever hope for, including but not limited to a rich, webbed, suspenseful, unique plot and hilarious, yet deep and lovable or hateable characters and references that are to die for. If you haven't listened to me on any of the past Recommended Reads, listen to me on this one: Check out Cassandra Clare's writing. And she has a new series coming out Fall 2010!
What's next, indeed. I've already written a kind-of prequel called Rosethorn for this story, and I say kind-of in the sense that it happens at the same time as the latter-half of this story, but in the city of Gilmorda. It kind of sets the stage for a sequel, if I actually decide to write one. I'm considering it, but I need to revise half of Three Powers first, and to be honest, it's more in my mind lately than ever before. I've also been fleshing out the beginnings of a Sci-Fi abotu a very different species of Vampire in the future of Sasilyna's world... I'll try to get a website out, but you can always check my author profile for status updates. So "keep a weather eye on the horizon."