The final chapter! We've done it! Thank you to everyone who's stuck with me. Y'all are the best :)
Adrian's army marched onto the Caislean grounds before the sun set that night. Jarleth and Ronan had briefed everyone on the battle plan. We all had a role to play. They had pushed me to the back of the battle line. I was going to be with Kari in the medical tent. I'd tried protesting but they'd made up their minds. Apparently they thought I wasn't stable enough to fight on the front lines. Ronan wasn't going to budge on it.
I grumbled to myself as I followed the healers to where the medical tents had been set up. I wasn't going to be much use there. I'd never been good with even basic first-aid. I had a feeling I'd just be getting in everyone's way.
They never said it, but I knew why they were doing this. Ronan was worried that if I went out and fought with the rest of them, I might run into Adrian. One word from him about Dylan's death and I might break again. I understood his concern, but I still didn't see why I couldn't fight even on the back lines. I wanted to be up there helping, not sitting back here twiddling my thumbs.
I made the consecutive decision not to follow their orders than. I was taking the first chance I found to skip out. I was going to help with the fighting no matter what.
I slid the flap of the tent open just enough to see what was going on outside as the others all rushed about inside, preparing for the inevitable wave of wounded warriors. At the base of the hill, just beyond the lake I could see Ronan and Lee. Standing directly before them was Adrian himself. They were engrossed in a heated conversation. The distance was too far for me to hear anything, but I could guess what they were talking about. Adrian had been set on fighting me and they were depriving him of it. He kept pointing out toward our meager army of praeditus. Ronan and Lee remained calm and only shook their heads at his demands.
Kari suddenly grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back inside the tent. I hadn't even realized I'd stepped all the way out. "You need to stay here, Brigid. Don't let them see you."
I groaned and rolled my head back in frustration. "What was the point of briefing me on all the battle plans if they were only going to keep me here in the medical tent anyway? I won't be any use here. I'd be much more useful out on the battlefield."
Kari violently shook her head. "No way. You stay right where you are."
The sound of clashing swords caught both our attentions. The fighting had started. Above the noise, I heard Adrian's booming voice call out to his men, "FIND HER AND BRING HER TO ME"
I met Kari's terrified expression head on. "I'll give you three guesses who the 'she' is."
"Now there definitely no way I'm letting you out of this tent. I'll keep you tied up in a corner if I have to." She said stubbornly.
I looked back at the tent's entrance. She was probably right. If they really were looking for me, I'd be safer in here. Yet staying here also meant putting the entire medical team in danger. Without them, our entire team was doomed. I couldn't just hand myself over either. That wouldn't stop the fighting. All that would accomplish was giving Adrian what he wanted. There was no way I was going to do that. Why did he want me so badly anyway? We'd changed the future somewhere along the way. This wasn't happening at all like the vision I'd seen. I took that as a good sign. Maybe now we'd stand a chance.
"I see that look, and I completely disapprove." Kari planted her hands on her hips as she glared at me.
I blinked at her. "What?"
"You have a scheming look. The face you get right before you do something stupid that gets us all in trouble." She told me. "I'm forbidding you from doing anything other than helping us."
I shook my head. "I wasn't scheming anything. I was just thinking. Why do you think Adrian wants me so badly?"
She raised an eyebrow. "You really don't know? Hasn't Jarleth told you anything?"
I frowned. "Told me what?"
She didn't have time to answer before the first wave of injured were rushed through the entrance of the tent. Kari immediately rushed in to help. Judging by the praeditus that had just been carried in, the battle wasn't going well for us. I needed to get out there and find out what was going on. What was Jarleth hiding from me? If there was a chance I could help stop all of this from happening, she had to know.
Sneaking out of the medical tent was fairly easy. Once the first wave of injured came through, the healing team were far too busy treating them to notice me. I walked right out with the praeditus who had carried the injured in. Now for the hard part. I had to find Jarleth. I needed to know what was really going on. Something told me he was keeping secrets from me that could mean the victory or loss of this battle. Why wouldn't they just let me play my part? Weren't we all still grieving over Dylan's death? If they had really kept me sidelined for that reason, then all of them should have been sidelined as well. No, there was something else going on and I was going to find out what it was.
I realized a couple steps into the fray that I didn't have any sort of weapon on me. I'd been too focused on Jarleth and his secrets that I'd completely forgotten to arm myself before stepping out into the middle of a battlefield. Stupid.
There were plenty of weapons lying around, yet most were still in the clutches of the lifeless warrior that had wielded it. I didn't have a choice. Holding my breath, I crouched down and tugged one of the swords free from a fey's cold, dead grip. I looked up again just in time to see a sword mid-swing and it was coming directly for my head. I shouted in surprise and lifted my own sword in defense. The two swords met with a jarring blow.
I struggled against the fey as he threw his weight against me. He was stronger than me. I couldn't keep this up. Without allowing myself to think about it, I followed a move Ronan had taught me once. With one last burst of energy, I pushed hard against his sword, giving myself a few extra inches and rolled to the side. The fey's sword slammed into the ground mere inches from my face. I leapt to my feet and used the pommel to knock him out. He crumpled to the ground and I quickly leapt over him, heading back into the thick of the fight.
I met a few more apposing swords along the way. It all past by in a blur. I wasn't sure how I was still alive. I acted without thinking. All the lessons I had tried to blow off but Ronan wouldn't let me were finally coming into play. For once, I was thankful for his stubborn, bossy nature. If it weren't for him, I'd probably be dead.
Finding Jarleth was easier than I thought it would be. He fought right alongside the other praeditus. I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn't this. Jarleth stood in the center of a swarm of fey, fending them off with at least a dozen swords all floating in the air around him. He had a sword in each hand as well. I'd never stopped to wonder what Jarleth's gift was as a praeditus. It seemed now I was finding out.
Within only a few minutes, not a single fey remained around him. I wasn't sure where they'd all gone. Once one of his swords hit their target, the fey would vanish in an explosion of dust. I hoped he wasn't killing them all. I knew it was a fight and people and fey were going to get hurt and probably die, but we should avoid as much killing as possible. It was our job as praeditus to keep the peace and protect both human and fey after all.
When Jarleth saw me, he looked disappointed but not at all surprised. "Brigid, I told you to stay in the tent."
I marched right up to him and waved my finger in his face. "What is that you refuse to tell me? Huh?"
"What are you talking about?" Barely raising his head to acknowledge the new threat, Jarleth suddenly swung his sword out and another fey disappeared in a cloud of dust.
"You know what I'm talking about. There's something you're not telling me and it's something important." He grabbed me and pulled me around behind him as another fey attacked. "If I had to guess, it's something that could stop all of this senseless fighting, or at least turn it in our favor. But since you're not telling me what it is," I angrily slammed the butt of my own sword over the head of an approaching fey, "I'm guessing it's not something that would end well for me."
He didn't say anything, but when he looked down at me his eyes were filled with regret. "I did not tell you because I knew you would do it without any thought of the consequences. Especially given the present circumstances."
"What is that supposed to mean? Are you saying I can actually do something that would help?"
Jarleth sighed and motioned for me to follow him. We maneuvered our way through the fighting, occasionally needing to pound a fey or two into the ground. We eventually made it to the weapons tent which was abandoned. This one had been completely emptied already. We were running out of supplies fast. At this rate, the praeditus weren't going to last very much longer.
"Tell me, Brigid. Do you truly want to know? There is some knowledge that simply should not be shared. Knowing this will change you forever." Jarleth warned.
I crossed my arms. "Tell me."
He closed his eyes and sighed. "Very well then. Please, have a seat. I have a lot to tell you in a very short time."
Looking back on it, I could see why Jarleth hadn't told me before. I wouldn't have told me if I'd known. There was no turning back now though. I knew what I had to do and if I did it right, I might even be able to save Dylan. That thought alone drove me forward. First, I had to find Adrian. Instead, I found Ronan.
"He told you?" Ronan bellowed above the noise. He angrily sliced his sword through a charge fey.
I dodged an attack and kicked him in the face, sending the small fey flying backwards. "I made him tell me. You guys can't keep me in the dark forever."
"Yeah but now you're going to go do something stupid." Ronan said through gritted teeth.
"What do you care? It's not like you ever have before." I grumbled under my breath and ducked to avoid another incoming blow. As difficult as it was to sword fight on a normal basis, it was even more difficult to do it while arguing.
"You can't just go throwing your life away like that." He knocked the fey down and turned to me. His breathing was heavy and the fire behind his eyes was so intense I had a hard time meeting them. "Is this what Dylan would want?"
"I'm not just going to throw away a chance to bring him back." I planted my feet firmly and straightened my back, trying to look as big and intimidating as possible. "It's a double win. If I can stop this war and bring Dylan back, why would I? I'd be stupid not to."
"You do understand the consequences if you do that, right?" He questioned.
I nodded. "I know what I'm getting into. I've already made up my mind and you won't be changing it. I just need your help to get to Adrian. Preferably without dying before I get there."
Ronan groaned and ran a hand across his face. "Fine. I'll take you to him, but if you start to do anything even remotely stupid, I'm dragging you out of there. Even if I have to knock you out to do it."
I raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything. I followed behind him as we fought our way through the destruction and chaos.
We found Adrian a little too quickly. I wasn't sure I was ready for this, or if I could even do it but I had to try. Not only would it stop this bloody battle, but it could also save Dylan's life. That alone made it worth the effort.
Adrian laughed when he saw us approaching. "Don't tell me you're here to surrender!" He called from his position atop a pooka in horse form.
"Not exactly." I took a deep breath and stepped forward. "Actually, I'm here to end this. The fighting isn't necessary. All you're doing is killing innocent people and fey." I motioned to the chaos ensuing around us in every direction. "What will killing everyone accomplish? What's the point in ruling when you have no one to rule over?"
He shook his head and clicked his tongue at me. "My sweet young lady. You will never truly understand the complexity of these situations. I suppose that's alright though. You won't need to understand once everything falls into place. I do not plan on keeping any of the praeditus alive for long after this is all over."
Ronan clenched his fists at his side. I placed a hand on his shoulder to keep him from attacking the man. "I don't need to understand your insane motives to stop you." I spoke through clenched teeth. "All I need to know is that I'm returning the world back to the peace it used to have."
Adrian laughed. "Peace is a broken word. It's no longer attainable. If you keep reaching for something that can't be caught, you'll end up hurting yourself."
"Maybe you're right. Maybe I can't put everything back perfectly, but I can help start them down the road for recovery. Peace is possible and I'm going to prove it to you, even if it hurts me along the way."
"How very noble of you." Adrian scoffed. "That's the thing with praeditus. You all are sickeningly noble. Just another reason to get rid of you."
"That's it. I can't take this anymore." Ronan stepped up and in one swift movement knocked Adrian off his horse. The pooka sped away without another glance. Apparently it wasn't just Ronan and I who were getting fed up with Adrian's antics.
"Huh," I crossed my arms over my chest and smirked at the man as he groaned and rolled over onto his hands and knees, "thank you, Ronan. Having him down here will make this go so much easier."
"Brigid," Ronan warned.
I ignored him. I took a step toward Adrian. From my talk with Jarleth I was fairly certain I knew what to do. Whether or not I could pull it off was another question that I wouldn't be able to answer until I tried. I knelt down next to him. My grin wasn't friendly as I met his eye. "Tell me, Adrian. You're a seer. At least that's what you told me once. So I imagine you've heard of an frithdhílse."
His eyes grew so wide they looked like they were about to pop right out of his head. I took that as a sign he knew what I was talking about.
"Since you seem to know what I'm talking about, I assume you know what that means for the both of us. Pulling this off will make us both disappear. Neither of us will be coming back. I'll wipe us both from history. It'll be like neither of were ever born. This battle ends, Dylan keeps his life and the praeditus can go back to doing what they do best. Keeping the peace between fey and mortals."
"You wouldn't." He didn't sound sure.
I raised an eyebrow. "Wouldn't I? Doing this means bringing my brother back, saving the entire praeditus population and protecting the fey. Why wouldn't I do it?"
"You are insane."
"I won't let you." He said, though his threat was empty. He had no way of stopping me and he knew it. "You won't succeed."
"Absolutely not." Lee's voice suddenly sounded behind me.
I sighed but didn't turn around. "I don't have a choice, Lee."
"The boy is right," Adrian tried, "you should not attempt something so complex."
I shook my head. "You won't be talking me out of this. Either of you. I've already made up my mind. This is the best way."
"Brigid, think about this." Lee pleaded. The desperation in his voice made me look up. "If you do this, there's no coming back from it. The others might not remember, but I will. Please don't do this to me."
His words made me pause. They wouldn't remember me at all? Doing this would cause my entire existence to fade. Jarleth hadn't mentioned that. Not that it made a ton of difference. I still needed to do it. Standing up straight again, I turned to face Lee. He'd been there for me since the day we'd met. I owed him so much yet here I was, preparing to say goodbye. If we'd had more time together, I could see myself falling for him. The thought of that was so crazy it actually made me smile. He was a god after all.
I stepped forward and cupped the side of his face with my hand. Smiling up at him I said, "You'll be ok. You all will. I'm going to make this right. Do me a favor, would you? Look after Dylan? Make sure he stays out of trouble."
A single tear fell from his eye and I gently wiped it away. Going up on my toes, I went to plant a kiss on his cheek but he turned just in time to capture my lips with his own. It only lasted a moment but it left a fire beneath my skin. He turned and strode away before I could say anything.
"Brigid?" Ronan yanked me from my shocked stupor. He pointed back toward Adrian. "You're prisoner is escaping."
Adrian had jumped to his feet and was sprinting back towards the fey's camp.
"I suppose I should go after him."
Ronan shrugged. "Or you could just let him go and forget about this whole thing."
"Yeah, nice try." I sprinted off after Adrian. With a cry, I leapt forward and tackled his legs. We both crashed to the ground. I kept a tight grip on his ankle even as he attempted to kick me off.
"Let go! You insolent little girl. I will put you in your place, once and for all."
I saw his other leg come up for what would probably be a crippling blow to the head. It was now or never. I closed my eyes and focused my mind. Instead of surging forward like I normally would in a vision, I forced my mind to focus on a moment in the past. As far back as I could remember. The day of my first combat lesson. Back before Ronan had taken over the position as instructor for the class. It was nearly twelve years ago now yet it felt like only yesterday. I smiled at the memory. I'd been so nervous.
The world began fading around us. It was like a slow motion version of a regular vision, only I wouldn't be coming back from this one.
Ronan stood beside me. Our eyes met for a moment and he gave me a small nod. A send off of sorts. I smiled. Adrian and I both disappeared into a brilliant display of white hot sparks. The next thing I saw was Arawan's face smiling down at me as he offered me his hand. Dis Pater was a few feet away yanking Adrian to his feet.
"Did we do it?" I asked Arawan as I took his offered hand.
He nodded. "You've done it. You stopped the war and brought back your brother. Honestly, I was a little skeptical. I owe Dis a new set of robes now."
"You bet on me?" I laughed.
He shrugged without any shame.
"Everyone else is alright then?"
"Well, Darcy is still out there, but I think your boys can handle him just fine. It seems in this new reality, he is not nearly as bent on world domination. Perhaps it is the abscense of Adrian that has caused this change."
"As long as he's not causing any trouble, I'm ok with that."
I may not be able to be with them, but knowing that they were all alive and safe was enough to make me happy. It was finally over. And I was happy.