We're heading for the end, hopefully in a more steady fashion than lately. It's been a pleasure writing this, though at times complicated. I have high hopes for this one...well the other too, but I feel good about this one. In anycase, I don't think that there will be a CS7.html...I think this is the last section.
The two guards holding me followed Falan and I neither aided nor hindered their progress. I felt…numb. I would see Oliana, but as a prisoner and not an emissary; I wondered if that would make a difference for my argument. Falan led them ever upwards—two lefts, one right and then another up a staircase, and then another left and right. He led them into Oliana’s rooms, as elegant as one would wish for a princess about to be queen. If my room had been grand, hers were magnificent—gilded in golden etch works and no stone to be seen, perhaps covered by wooden walls. Everything was lovely and warm, but it did nothing to improve my state of mind.
“Y-you killed him, didn’t you?” I questioned Falan. We were getting closer to the false closet. Was Oliana going to run? Did the rebels really have an upper hand?
“He was dying,” Falan replied simply.
“But that wasn’t it, was it?” The question came from nowhere; I didn’t even know how it had come to mind. He looked back as he pressed a stone in the closet wall. And he smiled. I had never seen Falan really smile before and now I wish I never had.
It was not a kind smile, but he replied, “I am sure I don’t know what you mean, Calvary.” I shuddered as the wall gaped open in front of us. The room beyond was not in the least what I expected, since it was supposed to be an escape route. The room was finely furnished like everything else that was Oliana’s. There were torches all around it—a circular room with a door leading possibly to a way out—giving the illusion of warmth. Portraits lined the walls, all in golden frames and painted in vibrant color. There was a young girl with black ringlets dressed in finery with rosy cheeks and a look that made one think she might be a little spoiled, had the painter not downplayed it to one of contentment. An old man with sagely eyes also resided there along with a teenage girl who looked thin, shy, and frail. A matronly woman gazed down, sternly but not completely harsh—perhaps a no-nonsense mother. Next was an adolescent boy and then a young woman who was perhaps five years my senior. There was also a picture of a fine lady perhaps in her late thirties who bore such a striking resemblance to Oliana that she could only be her mother. Finally, there was blank wall, whose starkness was only accentuated by the frames adorning the rest of the room, as if it was missing something.
Oliana suddenly stepped from the side of the entrance into sight, standing so you could see both her and her mother in the same view, one above the other. She gave a nod to Falan and before I could say or do anything, energy…or heat--I didn’t know how to describe it—shot from Falan with the barest word, striking down one of the guardsmen. He then drew his sword and struck down the other soldier before he could even make a sound. This left me without support but also freed from their grasp. I couldn’t think. I had come to talk to Oliana, could I just run away now when I had found her? But Falan had just killed two of his own men! I took a step back, my eyes wide and breath gasping. Unfortunately I was not quick enough; Falan grabbed my jacket and spun me into the room. With a few words, the door closed, sealing us all inside. I was shaking, afraid and overwhelmed. For a moment, I closed my eyes and took a couple of deep breaths, figuring if Falan were going to kill me he would have done it already. I was here for a reason and nothing had happened yet so I wasn’t going to die yet.
When I opened my eyes, Oliana was in front of me, regarding me. I did the same of her and realized we were opposites. She was dressed as finely as the day I met her, but she was dressed for war. She wore armor made for her, and it seemed to be a brilliant silver though it was no doubt stronger than that. The breastplate gave her more of a womanly appearance than she had claim to quite yet. Any fabric that showed was a fine cream color. She wore boots, shin guards, arm bracers, and fine but sturdy gloves. A helmet was off to one side on a table and her hair was coiled tightly onto her head to accommodate it should it be placed upon her head. She was resplendent in her armor, a child-like Valkyrie. Meanwhile, I was in a simple tunic and breeches with soft, worn leather boots. The only “armor” I had was the jacket on my back that was heavily patched and looked like it had seen many years, though—knowing its source—there was no way to tell its true age. My hair hung to my shoulders and I no doubt looked worse for wear. But we still had the same eyes.
“Calvary,” she smiled, but like Falan’s, there was no kindness in it, “such a surprise to see you. We feared the worse.”
I cleared my throat and to my surprise, my voice held though it was came out haltingly, “Yeah, well I’m resilient. Oliana, we need to stop this battle. Why aren’t you in the throne room?”
“Well, in honesty, I had hoped that you would show up after all. I didn’t know how you would manage it, but I hoped. You see I wasn’t sure if you were a prisoner or a traitor. I waited here and Falan stayed out there to keep an eye out for you. It’s safer here and I can’t afford to die. Not now. And I’m afraid that that is their aim now. As for stopping the battle, why would I want to do that?” she questioned with a chuckle. All this was said evenly, logically lilting and almost lulling. Underneath, however, was something that held more menace, something that I dreaded unearthing.
I tried again, “Oliana, they’ll stop if…if only you talk to them and…and just negotiate with them. They’re scared that…that you’ll be like your father. They just don’t know what you’re like. The rebels knew both of your parents and they just want to make sure you took after the right one. If you’ll just talk to them all this can end…the dying can end.”
Oliana merely smiled, “I’m afraid the situation is long past discussion.”
“Oliana, please,” I pleaded, not willing to give up the idea that things could be resolved.
She put a hand softly on my shoulder, “Now, don’t you worry, Calvary, everything will turn out as it should. The rebels will be punished for transgressions against the heir to the thrown…and against you of course.”
“But they didn’t do anything to me!” I replied, shaking my head, “They didn’t want to hurt me!”
“Oh?” Oliana queried simply, raising an eyebrow. In a flash the incident with Berin flashed through my head. I felt my knees go weak and I must have paled. “Ah, now you remember.”
“It…it wasn’t their fault,” I said weakly, “that…that was just one person. They don’t want to hurt us, but they’re desperate and scared!”
“Ah,” Oliana replied, circling me with a look of consideration, “but where there’s one, there’s undoubtedly more. And wasn’t it humiliating? Remember, Calvary, we are linked. I know what he did…it was a ‘he’, wasn’t it?” She smiled almost empathetically as my eyes widened. I bit my lip and looked away until I could compose myself and she waited.
I took a deep breath, “But…but the letter, you said that the…the shadow had passed! I thought…I thought….” How much did she know? Did the link only account for pain, or did Oliana know other things?
She smirked, “A ruse, my dear. What reason would they have to kill you if they thought you were no use?”
“What if they had killed me because I was no use!” I exclaimed.
“Well, it would at least keep those who would kill you to kill me at bay. In any case, it apparently worked out better than I could have possibly planned.” She took me congenially by the arm and led me further into the room.
“What do you mean?” I was aware that Falan flanked me, the prickle in the back of my neck made me think I was the recipient of his undivided attention. I was a wreck and he apparently still thought I was a threat to the princess.
She smiled, “You have been the most difficult Shadow Dweller I have ever encountered, Calvary, I’ll give you that. Although I will admit, previously I was not a candidate for the thrown, since my father was still king. He was a paranoid man, Calvary. Generally I found it best to stay on his good side and in any case, one could learn interesting things trying to stay in that man’s good graces.
“And my mother? Of course I’m sure that’s who you meant by the ‘right one’ to take after?” Oliana chuckled, “She tried to keep both of us out of his way. I suppose Gwen, my mother, was what you would call a good woman. I think he may have tried to kill her at least once, but she wouldn’t leave. Wouldn’t leave me and I think perhaps my father was not always as he was towards the end. Her loyalties kept her here and eventually she died for them and people suspected my father. And he let them. He always used to say that fear was power. You know that, don’t you Calvary? That fear that makes it so you cannot move? These rebels are merely an inconvenience and when this is over no one will dare rise up again. This is my trial by fire.” We were standing in the middle of the room on a raised dais. There were symbols carved into the stone and shackles born into the rock where there was room. Part of me wished desperately to the hope that I could still talk sense into Oliana, but I knew that nothing good was about to happen. I didn’t know what her intentions were, but I had once told Daemon that I would not just roll over and die. That still held true.
Without warning, I pulled away from her, but oddly enough she let me go. It wasn’t until a moment later that I realized she was letting Falan do his duty as her guard. There was no challenge for him, it seemed he held my arms pinned to my sides almost effortlessly. I struggled, but he pushed me down and closed the shackles around my wrists.
“What are you doing? Let me go!” I demanded, but Oliana only smiled. Her smile was beginning to sicken me the more I found out.
“Why, Calvary? This is of course for your own protection. We will all stay here until it is safe. Besides, we never did get a chance to get to know one another. Relax, we can talk as you wished.” I bit my lip and nodded. How much time did I have? I really didn’t have any illusions left, I was pretty sure Oliana meant to kill me.
“Very good,” she replied, “now where did we leave off?”
I didn’t want to discuss fear, let alone my own, so I said, “Your mom.” The sarcastic part of my brain—which was apparently still functioning—got a real kick out of that response.
“Ah yes. Well, she tried to keep me away from my father as much as was possible. My father, on the other hand, welcomed me into matters of state and anything else he felt I would benefit from. You see Marius—no matter how paranoid—could not believe that a little girl, his own daughter, could ever usurp him. As I grew older, however, my mother found more excuses to get me away. ‘A war room is no place for a young woman’, ‘she needs to learn to be a proper woman or she will never have respect should she ever come to have to rule the land’, and other such things. And my father would never disagree because somewhere in that delusional, power hungry mind, he still loved her, or at least cared about her. As I said, he allowed the rumor that said he killed her. Of course a little girl could never be capable of getting a hold of the right herbs to slip into a tea so that the person would never notice something wrong until it was far too late.” She smiled a little, “Marius didn’t even think it possible and so they went out the same way though years apart, because I still had things to learn from my father.”
I didn’t want to get her angry so instead of an outburst, I weakly said, “Y-you said I was the most difficult Shadow Dweller you had dealt with. There were others?” My concentration went to taking deep, even breathes; in and out or I would panic.
“Indeed. Do you see that old man there?” she questioned, pointing to one of the pictures. I nodded and she continued, “If you can believe it, he was one of mine. Not a strong one, not dangerous like you. I was weakly as a child, however, and so my father—not about to take the chance of his only heir dying—thought that one could not hurt. I was probably about eight when my father took me here with the old man. He was a scholar and so the old symbols interested him.” Oliana trailed off as if not seeing the present anymore, thinking back to that moment.
“Yes?” I prompted. The way I was situated, I could not see Falan. However, it seemed that as long as Oliana was occupied, I was more or less safe.
A shade of youthful smile crossed her lips, “I was in my favorite dress, it was the color of the outer edge of daffodils, a pale yellow. I remember I was standing to the side a little bit, wondering why we were in such an old, stuffy, dark, dank room. The old man was carefully bent over the symbols, murmuring to himself, squinting in the dim light. My father stood behind and slightly to the left of him. His lips moved though I couldn’t hear what he said. Then he drew his sword, swung it down, and the old man’s head was rolling until it stopped about there,” she pointed towards below the portrait of her mother, “The blood had spattered onto my dress, it seems to be the main thing I remember from that day. The color of red on yellow…oh well. In any case even then I could feel the difference, I knew I was stronger. My mother wondered why I didn’t wear that dress anymore, but father got rid of it afterwards. He didn’t want my mother to know, which now I find somewhat funny, since there was so much that he didn’t hide from her.” I felt sick, enough that I was afraid that I might faint or throw up. The shackles on my wrists were clattering softly and I realized it was because a steady tremor was running through me.
“Th-these people…these people were your Shadow Dwellers?” I stammered weakly.
She regarded the frames with some form of appreciation, “Yes, except for the portrait of my mother of course.”
I tried to keep my mind on the sound of the chains clanking softly together, anything to keep my thoughts away from what I was learning, “A-and…and they’re all d-dead, aren’t they?”
“I suppose they are,” she said with a chuckle, “though they are of course immortalized in these portraits. And I guess technically they still linger in some form.”
Chink, clink, chink, “I-I’m not hearing this…” I barely realized I had spoken out loud until I heard a soft low laugh from behind me.
“Do you know what is happening here, Calvary?” Falan questioned evenly.
My shoulders tensed and the hair on my neck stood on end, making me shudder, “Yeah, I think I do. I take it you two believe the whole thing about killing your Shadow Dwellers making you powerful. Does the theory that we’re not really people--just aspects of your personality--make it easier for you to sleep at night?”
Oliana laughed lightly, a sound eerily similar to that of the chains, “It is certainly true that one’s abilities are increased. I don’t know about them being a part of one’s personality. Amusing thought, that somehow an old man could be a part of me. Or a waif like you for that matter.”
My eyes widened and my breath caught in my throat, “I…w-what do you mean by that…I’m….”
“That is Falan’s department, I am afraid my knowledge centers in more physical and social aspects. He is the one that finds you. Although I do sometimes enjoy learning about where my Shadow Dwellers come from. When you know something about them it is just so much easier to win their sympathies or at least buy their support.” I dared to look back at Falan, to look into his face and try to figure out exactly how much they knew. In truth, I could have cared less if they knew I had been living on the streets for a while, but I couldn’t stand the thought of them knowing much more of my past.
“We were curious. That attack, did it hit a little close to home?” Falan questioned as if it were the most natural thing in the world. There wasn’t a hint of cruelty in the tone and in fact just from the inflection he may as well have been asking about the weather. It was probably the most he had ever said to me at one time without being addressed, but easily the most wounding. I pulled Janus’s coat closer around me, half wishing that it would regain some of its earlier power and dampen what I was feeling or maybe that it would swallow me up. I wanted to be angry, but it kept slipping away from me. Shame reddened my cheeks along with the tears that had started falling from my eyes.
Somehow I managed, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I think we hit a nerve, Falan,” Oliana said softly, kneeling beside me.
“It is little wondered,” Falan continued, “that you made such a protest about the servants, since you are little or no better than them.”
I shook my head, “Stop it.”
“You ran away from your step-father. You run away from a lot of things, don’t you Calvary?” Falan responded.
“No, no, no,” I murmured. My eyes focused on the incomprehensible symbols adorning the floor. I tried to concentrate on the metallic tinkling of the chains, but I couldn’t seem to block my ears. Oliana made me bring my head up until I was looking into those eyes like mine.
“You know, Calvary,” she said gently, almost musically, “we’re not so different from each other. We both killed our mothers.” I could feel my throat constricting around a cry that tried to pull itself from my vocal cords and out of my mouth.
“No, it’s not true,” I choked, “it wasn’t my fault.”
“Oh,” she crooned, “You’ve nearly convinced yourself of that, haven’t you? But not everyone showed up that night, did they?” It was reasoning that must’ve entered my mind about a thousand times. What if I had just stayed home? I had only missed a couple of rehearsals for cross-country; one more wouldn’t have hurt. It wasn’t like I had had a lead role anyway. But I had always hated it when people blew off drama just because they had a smaller part and thus thought they wouldn’t be missed. It was attitudes like that that had people calling line constantly only two weeks before a performance. But just that one time, if I had only decided to screw drama that one night, my mother might have still been alive. How could I tell myself I wasn’t responsible? How could I blame Geoff for hating me? My head was almost to the floor now, just so I could avoid looking at anyone.
“How do you know all this?” I breathed. For about a minute there was silence except for the crackling of the torches. I wondered if they had heard me and though perhaps it was better if they didn’t, because I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to know the answer.
Falan’s voice the back of my neck twinge, “When dealing with other worlds, it is fairly easy to look along the timelines if you know what you’re doing. Of course some are more difficult than others. There is a difference in how time passes from world to world and so generally there is a sort of…space between them so time in one does not disrupt time in another. Using that space, one can look one way or another along the line to a certain extent.”
“We think that the proximity of the other world may have something to do with the effect of a Shadow Dweller on one in Coren,” Oliana continued, “since at this time yours is so close to ours, it was fairly simple to find you and get to know a little about your past. I think it’s somewhat fitting that my last Shadow Dweller and I would have such a thing in common.”
I shook my head, covered it with my hands, “No, it wasn’t like that.”
“No? And what did you do when you woke up in that machine? After you tried to wake her up? You left,” Falan reasoned simply.
“I went for help!” I exclaimed weakly. It was so cold, I remembered. I was remembering and I didn’t want to. My thoughts were drifting back to that night, reliving it while mentally I cowered away from the memory as I always had. The way the snow clung and the wind howled through the trees. Cold wind against my neck where my jacket ended. The sound of the ice breaking again when I staggered out of the van and the water—first freed in the crash and again now by my steps--soaking through my boots. Climbing up the hill—crying and shaking from the fear of the accident finally hitting me—not even feeling how sore I was because of the cold. Not feeling the cut on my cheek, or the fact that my neck had that stretched feeling like when you almost pull something, the kind that would be sore later. Walking down the road until I came to a house and desperately banging on the door until someone answered. White, the woman said I looked so white. And…and…
“And left her there,” Falan said.
My breath was coming quicker, as if I had been running, “I-I couldn’t do anything…she was…I tried and…please stop it…”
“Of course,” Oliana said gently, “you had to get yourself out. And it can be so hard to tell if someone is actually breathing or not.” It felt like someone was squeezing my heart. I couldn’t have made a mistake, could I? There…there was no way. I had done all I could. But I had never really let myself believe that before and when actually confronted with it, what chance did I have to deny it? Everything was so fuzzy from that night. What if she had been…
“No,” I whispered against cold stone, my breath shuddering.
“Unforgivable,” Falan said simply. If I had been sensible—if Falan and Oliana hadn’t so skillfully been pushing my buttons, breaking me down—I may have realized how ridiculous that statement was coming from Falan. He certainly didn’t hold anything against Oliana for her crime. However, that was the furthest thing from my mind. I was dwelling on the past, something I had been avoiding ever since it happened. Before it had been anything to distract me from these facts, these events, but now I was stuck as if my wrists weren’t the only things shackled. Then something brought me back to where I was at least partially—the soft chink of metal being placed on stone. I lifted my head, exposing my hot, tear-stained fact to the cooler air. There I saw a dagger, one of the daggers I had brought. I stared at it as if I couldn’t quite figure out what it was or what it was for.
Oliana murmured softly to me, “You can make it better. Take the dagger, Calvary.” Numbly, I did as I was told. My grasp was light on the leather binding. “Good, very good. You miss your mother, don’t you?” I nodded, staring at the fine silver-colored blade. The torchlight flickered lazily and their light was reflected onto the wall in vague dancing lights. “You wish you could tell her you are sorry, don’t you?” I nodded again at Oliana’s soft voice--it was so comforting somehow--a gentle lull. “It won’t be so hard, really. You needn’t worry. You won’t ever have to worry again. You can just…sleep. A dreamless sleep.” Sleep, it didn’t seem so bad when you put it that way. Looking back now, I realize that Daemon had been right to not want me to come along. I may have managed to push the emotions that had been released somewhere far back in my mind, but they weren’t gone. The fact that they were still not resolved, however, was part of what made me so susceptible to suggestion. Never before in my life had I ever given suicide serious thought.
Oliana took my free hand and squeezed it reassuringly. The hand holding the dagger was shaking, but I tilted it toward me dazedly, toying with ideas and studying the blade. It was my great fortune that I did not have long to think or Oliana to “comfort” and persuade. I heard the sound of stone grating on stone as the great passage door opened. Only a second later, the sound of metal rasping on sheath as Falan drew his sword. I turned and saw…Orion? And yet not just Orion but, Janus, not fully visible—sort of transparent—and at times seeming to overlap Orion. And then behind them was Daemon.
“Calvary!” Daemon exclaimed as he took stock of the scene. Orion stood to one side of the door so Daemon could enter in farther. At the sight of him, some of the fog was leaving my mind. He knew what had happened and he hadn’t blamed me. And I loved him; I had someone to live for. We both needed each other and how could I be so selfish as to leave him behind? These thoughts didn’t run through my mind in a cohesive sentence, but were more of a pervading feeling. I still wasn’t quite together enough to think straight. But the dagger tilted away from me again.
“Not only alive, but among the rebels,” Falan said with interest, then looked at Orion, “I see my blade was not sure enough, care to try your luck again, former Guardsman Orion?”
Daemon glared at his Shadow Dweller, “Release her.”
Oliana smiled, “Oh, I don’t think so.” By her tone, Daemon may as well have been asking her whether she thought it would rain or not.
“Release her or I will kill you.” I had never seen Daemon like this, not when he had told me he would kill me if he had to, and not when he had called me selfish. The closest match I could recall is when I told him that Berin had touched me. He really meant it. No one moved or spoke. Far away, I could just hear the battle raging on, but there was no way to tell who had the upper hand. Daemon turned to Orion, “Go help Naida.”
“What?” Orion questioned, surprised, “But…”
“Go! I’ll handle this.” It looked as if Orion wanted to protest, but suddenly he turned and—in obedience—left. I almost thought that I had seen Janus’s lips moving before Orion had had a chance to argue again. Janus remained even though Orion was gone. Only Shadow Dwellers and the shade of a god remained, though I wasn’t sure if anyone else could see him.
“I wonder how it is you plan to ‘handle this,’” Falan stated, his sword drawn, “You are out-numbered and even if Princess Oliana does not fight, the girl could be easily killed before you took two steps.”
Daemon glared, “Is that how it will be then, Falan? Are you going to hide behind a defenseless girl?” Falan’s eyes narrowed and he started to walk towards Daemon. In seconds the sounds of sword clashing was echoing through the room.
Oliana bent towards me, “You would have him die here?”
“What?” I asked, shocked and suddenly frightened—scared for Daemon.
“Falan will kill him,” Oliana said, smiling grimly, “would you have that?” I shook my head, my eyes wide. It felt like something was caught between my throat and my stomach. “Pity, it seems like those who come close to you are destined to die.” My eyes widened. I didn’t know how much Oliana really knew about me, but by that statement it seemed to be a lot. It never occurred to me that she was guessing about my feelings towards Daemon based on my reaction to the idea of his death. “But maybe…maybe without your…influence on things, maybe he might survive. What do you think?” She waited for an answer, but when I did not respond, she added, “Your track record is awfully poor. Give him a fighting chance.” My mind still muddled, I saw--almost absently—the dagger rising a few inches.
But Daemon was listening, “No, Calvary! Don’t listen to her! She wants you to die so we can’t stop her!”
Oliana still whispered, “Silly boy, he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t know. Your father, your mother, nearly that former guardsman that was here, perhaps that one he mentioned, Naida was it? This is a battle isn’t it? So many of those you care about could die. And now him, Daemon. Do you really want to see that? Do you really want another death on your hands.” I ducked my head, shook it sadly. I stared at the crisp edge of the dagger.
“Calvary, don’t be foolish!” his words were labored and accented by the clang of metal on metal, “She knows nothing about you! She is wrong!”
Oliana shot a glare at Falan, “Stop his chatter!” From behind my curtain of hair, I saw Falan nod. I heard him begin to mutter, though his moves were still careful and deliberate, slashing and parrying.
“Calvary, you have to listen! Calvary, I erhuylir uin!” Falan’s words had finished and Daemon’s words had been reduced to the equivalent of gibberish to me. He spoke, yet the only thing I could make out was my name, said with a strange intonation and accent.
“His words had no meaning to you,” Oliana stated, “no meaning to ones such as us. As meaningless as they are to you now. You can’t understand them now, can you?” I shook my head, and looked at Daemon who was fending off Falan’s attack with expert strokes. His spare glances were for me, but that would get him killed. And with my apparent look of incomprehension he seemed almost disheartened a little. Another thing that could get him killed. And it would be my fault if he died.
“Please,” I begged, “tell Falan to stop…d-don’t hurt him.”
Oliana ignored me to a point, “His death will be on your hands. If you had not come today, he would not be in this position. See, he tires. He is distracted. It is only a matter of time…unless….” Her eyes strayed to the dagger in my hand. My gaze followed hers. The sentence intimated that he would be spared if I…if I…
“We share a lot, Calvary,” Oliana said, “pain and experiences. We could share everything if you just…you know what you have to do. And soon you could see your mother and father. We are so alike, Calvary. It would be so easy to end the pain, wouldn’t it?” I looked at her--her gentle face and hungering eyes. The image of an innocent princess and of a strong queen was attached so firmly to her bearing. Weakly, I nodded. She bent close to me and smiled sweetly. “So much simpler.” Again, I nodded. Our mirrored eyes stared back at each other, until one couldn’t tell one pair from another. Hungry, sad, understanding, weak, firey. The dagger in my hand plunged. She blinked and then shock registered on her face. At this range, it was easy to see the spaces in her armor and even easier to hit the mark. Perhaps if she hadn’t mentioned my mother, or how we were ‘alike’ things would have gone differently. Somehow I was reminded of all I had learned, and remembered that even if she said Daemon would live, it didn’t mean it was true. Warmth spread onto my hand and I shoved her back.
“Oliana!” Falan exclaimed. Daemon took advantage of this and shoved Falan back against the wall, his blade horizontal against Falan’s throat. Oliana’s movements were slowing and she was coughing up blood. A reach toward Falan—as if he could somehow help her—and then she collapsed. I fell back, shaking and trying to avoid looking at my hands. Daemon said something to Falan, but with a snide look, Falan only shrugged as if he couldn’t understand him.
Shakily, I demanded, “F-fix it. Undo w-whatever it is you did.”
“And why should I do that?” Falan questioned in a tone that was anger and bitterness.
“The sword at your throat seems decent motivation,” I answered, “so you do w-what I tell you and maybe I can keep Daemon from killing you.” My tone stayed relatively steady, I was trying to sound stronger than I was feeling. I kept my attention on the twin pair, anything to avoid looking at Oliana, the shell that had once housed her intelligence, cunning, madness. Maybe it had been inherited from Marinus, or maybe it had been imposed by his ‘lessons.’ Whatever it was, it didn’t change that she had once been alive, that her body would never move again.
Falan’s face contorted into a snarl, “Go to hell, bitch.” As I had noted before, some phrases seem to transcend language, whether it has to do with tone or expression is anyone’s guess. I saw Daemon’s body tense and looked away just in time to avoid seeing the population of the room halved. I hid my face in my forearms because my hands were still dirty and I didn’t want to touch my face. In a moment, Daemon was freeing my hands and wrapping me in his arms.
“In hir heul, Calvary, in hir heul,” he whispered, rocking me gently. He was trying to reassure me, but I couldn’t help getting more upset, because I was being reminded that we couldn’t understand each other.
The Dust Settles
“Calvary, Calvary,” Daemon said, trying to get my attention when I would have preferred to stay in his arms, my cheek pressed against his cool armor. He pushed me away to arm’s length and motioned to the door, trying to express urgency.
I shook my head, not wanting to move, “No.” He nodded though, and stood up, pulling me with him. Daemon left my side for a moment and I cringed as I heard him shifting Oliana’s body. When he returned, he took my hand and tried to press the hilt of the bloody dagger into it. I resisted, but he kept his hand clasped around mine until he must have felt sure I would keep it, and left my side again. Ordinarily, I would have dropped it anyway, except Janus mouthed, “Just this last thing.” Resigned, I kept the dagger and Oliana’s helmet, which Daemon handed to me next. Again, he left me and I hazarded to raise my eyes a little from the stone floor; a mistake. My eyes met the twin pair of Oliana’s, and both pairs shared an expression of shock.
No, mine held more horror having to face what I had done. I had never believed killing to be an advisable way to solve one’s problems. Though I knew she had killed many, including her parents, I felt no satisfaction in what I had done. Perhaps the dead were now mollified, but I would see those eyes in my mind for a long time. At the sight of Oliana’s death-touched face, I let out a cry and sought Daemon.
“Nnn…Nyo! No!” Daemon said urgently before I had actually faced him. His tone and the fact that he had managed that one short syllable in my language halted me. I glanced towards Janus’s shade and when he shook his head, I turned towards the entrance of the room and focused on an ornate wall fixture in Oliana’s room.
“Leryin,” Daemon said from behind me. I would have voiced my incomprehension, except Janus appeared in front of me and beckoned. I figured that Daemon or at least Janus must’ve wanted us to get moving, so I headed out of the room, through Oliana’s and into the hallway.
“Do you see him?” I ventured, gesturing at Janus.
“Calvary….” Daemon said, his voice tinged with sadness and regret. I knew he didn’t understand and that he probably couldn’t see the god of change.
We continued on and when Daemon wanted me to turn, he would say my name and tap the appropriate shoulder. And if that wasn’t enough, Janus stayed ahead of us, a silent guide.
Finally, we arrived in the throne room and I was guided to a pair of heavily barred doors. Daemon tapped my left shoulder and I turned away. Janus beckoned, so I walked the few steps over to him.
“Out there,” he whispered, “you must speak.” I dreaded what this meant, but I nodded. Anything to make it over, to end this. Daemon came up behind me and signaled. He had opened the doors so I went through and he followed. Suddenly, a lot was clear, like why I had the dagger and Oliana’s helmet; proof. We were on a balcony meant for proclamations to a gathered populace. But instead of peasants, the main battle raged below us.
I held up my amulet so Daemon could see it and said simply, “Me.” Inside I couldn’t fathom how I could possibly make myself heard over the din.
Daemon had this covered however; he murmured a few words that even now I couldn’t remember, perhaps because I knew no magic. He put a hand on my shoulder, partially to reassure and partially to tell me to begin. I took a deep breath to steady myself. This was like any onstage performance, so though I felt sick inside, I knew once I began all that would matter were the lines—or so I hoped. Once again I was to play a symbol.
“People of Coren,” my voice rang out clearly and was as loud as if I had a megaphone, “People of Eriashen.” Slowly, the sounds of clashing weaponry began to die. They were all still on edge, not willing to put away their weapons in case it was some sort of trap, but at least they weren’t killing each other anymore.
“The time to fight is over, “I said, and hoped it would prove correct, “I hold the helmet of the Princess Oliana of the line Nerium and the dagger that killed her,” I paused to steady myself again and placed the pieces to the side on the guardrail that surrounded the balcony.
“She is dead along with her Guardsmaster, Falan Yoranson,” there was silence where there had been murmuring and I had a feeling it wasn’t entirely to do with my words. I chanced a glance at Daemon and saw why he had stayed behind me this whole time. His face was somber as he held the head of Falan up for those below to see; further proof. If Falan was truly dead, surely Oliana shared his fate. I leaned heavily on the guardrail of the balcony and let out a breath. It took all I had to stay and keep talking. I continued my speech softly, though thanks to Daemon’s spell, everyone heard.
“Everyone, look around you, at the people you are fighting. Some of you, I know, have family in this crowd. You are fighting against family, friends, and neighbors and for what? Them?” I gestured towards the castle, “Your future Queen? Let me tell you something. She, not Marinus, killed her mother and him as well. Any Shadow Dweller you may have heard was in the castle has perished at her hands. She told me as much herself and I was to be next. I do not know the extent of Guardsmaster Yoranson’s deeds, but I do know that he tried to kill his Shadow Dweller, Daemon of Elserware, summoned the other Shadow Dweller from their worlds, and killed Bran of the Sightless.
“These Shadow Dwellers you may think to be no persons of consequence, but on each worlds they are someone’s child, or mother, father, sister, or brother. They could have been your children or your parents or sibling. Oliana and Falan did it all for their own sakes, to gain power. If it served them, was what to keep them from actually killing one of your own?
“Even now at their request, you do so for them. Princess Oliana had the chance to negotiate with the forces of Krievsh and to ease their concerns, but she did not. She had you fight. So I ask you now to put all of this away. Those who fought on their side, no one blames you and you will be treated fairly as long as you do the same towards those you fought against today. Now is the time to speak of life. It is up to all of you to make peace and rebuild for your sakes and for those you protect. Please, end this now.” There was a quiet and soft murmuring. Everyone was still uneasy and alert. And then a voice broke through the charged air.
“I, Aerin Thuritz, once of Ruen, will put up my weapon as a sign of good faith.” And he did just as he said, sheathing his sword. His men followed his example.
“I, Naida Cedrus of the hold of Krievsh, put up my weapon as a sign of good faith.” She also made good and the shape shifters changed back to human form. There was a pause, the people seemed hopeful. Some looked around for who might speak next.
It was a man in full armor at the steps to the main door of the keep, “I, Trystan Branson, first Guardsman of Eriashen, second to Guardsmaster Yoranson, put up my weapon as a sign of good faith.” When he did this, all of the guardsmen—with varying degrees of happiness—followed his example. With that, the rest of the rebels let out a cheer, also putting away their weapons. A few headed toward the main door where Trystan waited. Since among them was Naida and Aerin, I figured it must have been the disenfranchised leaders, ready to negotiate the terms for peace. I had other worries.
I walked into the throne room and Daemon followed behind me, silent except for the sound of his armor shifting. When I waited, he stepped up beside me—thankfully he head left his proof behind on the balcony. We stood facing the godly shade, though only one of us knew it.
“I did what you wanted,” I said grimly, “now there is something that I want from you.”
“I cannot,” Janus replied.
I glared, “You mean you won’t. You’ve got what you want, now screw everyone else!” It took Daemon’s hand, needing something to anchor me for a minute. I hoped suddenly that he didn’t think I had gone crazy after all.
“I mean that I…am not allowed to do any more. My last act, officially in this, was to give you the opportunity to participate.”
“But you were there!” I vented, “You watched it happen!”
“No,” he smiled dimly, I could barely make it out because half of his face seemed hidden in shadow, “I blessed my follower and withdrew when I saw fit. It was enough to get Orion to the keep and Daemon to the chambers.”
“So if Oliana had been about to kill me, you would have just let it happen.”
“I would have had to. You humans have a certain measure of free will. You had me worried for a little while. The two paths were both so plainly visible though so different--you even had me fooled for a time. I don’t admit that lightly. But you acted admirably and then spoke eloquently,” Janus explained.
“I don’t see killing as admirable, only at times sadly necessary,” I said softly.
“I know,” Janus said gently, his face oddly kind, “as I said, I cannot repair this damage. It is within my power, however, to offer one last thing.”
“And that is?” I questioned.
At that moment, Janus gained substance and somehow I knew these words were for Daemon too, “I can send you both back to your home worlds. You would remember nothing.” The thought of losing Daemon—before in death or now in this way, worlds apart—caused a crushing feeling inside me. But going back to how I was—never knowing him or what had happened here, and still unable to come to terms with the loss of my parents—was even worse. It still hurt to think of my parents, but because of what I had faced, it was grief and not guilt. My mother’s death and Geoff’s grief and anger were not my fault. If I went back, I would be hiding and half-hollow again. I was not going to run away this time.
I realized Daemon was watching me and after squeezing his hand, I said, “No.”
Daemon smiled then, tightened his grip on my hand and also said, “No.”
In a guarded way, Janus looked pleased, “Very well. My blessings, Shadow Dwellers.” With that, Janus was gone.
The days passed in spurts of dizzying swiftness and mind-numbing slowness. Many of the people I had grown close to were now tied up in negotiations. Even Orion—who had no title to claim—was called upon to give advice because he had knowledge of both communities.
It seemed that their biggest concern, however, was who was going to rule. The last thing they wanted was for history to repeat itself. They discussed having a king or queen, or one of those as well as a group of officials that could overrule a decision if need be. Of course, I was hearing all of this second-hand. I had not been asked into the deliberations, though I was neither surprised nor disappointed either. Daemon was excluded as well, not because they believed that he would have nothing to contribute, but because they could not understand him and vice versa. Actually, Orion had mentioned that Daemon’s name had come up as a potential ‘king,’ but that idea had been scrapped once they found out he had lost the ability to speak to them. Aerin’s name had also been thrown around a few times, much to the gruff, but kind old man’s surprise.
“I do not be knowing what they think I can do for them, but if that’s how it plays out, I suppose I’ll be doing my best to go right by them,” he told me once, running a hand over his head. I thought that if it ended up that way, it would be a good choice. Aerin had always seemed fair to me.
Daemon was taking things fairly well most of the time. For a while, he was very quiet and it was sometimes difficult when he was trying to make himself understood but just couldn’t seem to manage it. He would get angry and frustrated, turning away from me and glaring or pushing a chair harshly out of his way. At times like this, all I could do was go after him, wrap my arms around him, and softly say his name. It was hardest because I couldn’t do anything more to show him that I was going to be there no matter what as long as I could help it.
Slowly, we both began to try to teach and to learn. Orion—in his spare time—began to teach both of us the language of Eriashen, Coren’s largest known province. In time, both of us would hopefully be able to speak to these people and each other without the use of amulets.
It was weeks after the truce had been made that Naida made a suggestion. Here at Eriashen, it was frustrating to be reminded every day of the fact that one didn’t belong. She suggested that we pack up and journey into the countryside for a few weeks. She and Orion were not going to be needed for a while, since discussions were going to be focusing on borders and holds to the east. Krievsh was not a border fief and was located more to the west if anything. Orion maintained that he had told them all he could at least three times over. And it would be a good opportunity for both Daemon and I to mentally recuperate and begin the task of learning.
The next day found us on horseback laden with supplies, blank, and half finished scrolls as Naida hoped to take us into little known territories. Naida led on Night Myst, setting us at a pace that was fast enough to cover ground but slow enough to talk. Most of our talk was spent trading words. I removed my amulet so Orion and Naida took turns teaching us words for things like “horse,” and “sky,” and “tree.” I was beginning to see the sense that my old school’s French department had in teaching us so much vocabulary and, in comparison, so little of what I had deemed the ‘important stuff.’ With a good-sized vocabulary and a little knowledge of grammar, one could at least hopefully get the gist of a conversation.
After a while of this, Daemon surprised me by saying, “No.” He then pointed at me. When he saw I didn’t understand, he pointed to his horse and said the Eriashen equivalent and then pointed at me. After repeating this for a rock and a bird that happened to be flying by, I thought I understood what he wanted.
I pointed to the horse and said plainly, “Horse.”
“H…Hoars,” he said. I repeated and this time he managed it with a little less difficulty. We continued in this manner and even Orion and Naida joined in. Meanwhile, a plan started to form in my head.
That night, while Daemon was looking for some water, I told Naida and Orion about my plan because I would need their help to make it clear. It was probably one of the most embarrassing conversations of my life.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Orion said—I had put my amulet back on by then—“so you’re telling us you want our help to teach Daemon the word ‘love’ in your language because…”
When it became clear he was waiting for me to fill in the blank, I answered, “So I can tell him.”
“Tell him what?” Orion grinned.
I mumbled, “That I love him.”
“What was that?”
“Oh Orion, enough,” Naida said, “of course we’ll help.”
“What I don’t understand,” Orion began as he coaxed an ember into flame for the night’s fire, “is how you could let him leave like that—go into battle where he could have died—without telling him.”
I licked my lips nervously, “I…hadn’t admitted it to myself yet. It wasn’t until Bran made me face it that I realized, and by then I couldn’t because he would have sent me back.” Orion nodded solemnly, remembering that day and Bran along with the others who had died. When Daemon returned, we continued pointing and naming in both English and the native language of the land.
That night when we went to bed, Daemon smiled at me and said, “Eut zeahuin.” It was something he said to me every night when we parted ways and one of the many things I couldn’t understand.
The next day, we began work on the plan. As we rode, we were taught as before. After a while, Daemon turned to me and indicated for me to teach. With much difficulty, I tried to convey the significance of the word “I.” By the time we stopped for a lunch break, he understood “I,” “you,” and some other random words I had given him. That night I planned to try. He was a fairly quick study, but I had to try to show him an abstract term, something far more difficult than pointing to a plant and saying, “bush.”
We stopped earlier that day—around dusk--and I motioned to Naida and Orion. Then I sat down and encouraged Daemon to do the same.
Daemon looked at me and asked, “You?” Since he had learned it, he used that as the distinction between learning from Orion or Naida and learning from me.
I nodded, “Yes.” He smiled at me. I looked at Naida and Orion and they nodded back, though Naida looked a little less than enthused. Orion just looked mischievous.
I let out a breath, pointed at Naida and Orion and said, “Kiss.” They did so.
Daemon looked at me, “Kihss?”
I nodded, “Kiss.” Once more, Naida and Orion demonstrated. Daemon’s expression was almost identical to the impish one on Orion’s.
He leaned forward and kissed me, then said, “Kiss.” I smiled and nodded; now for the hard part.
I put my hands together, linking my fingers, and said, “Orion and Naida. Orion love Naida.” Orion pulled Naida closer and smiled at her. After a moment, she smiled too.
“Lu…Luhve…?” Daemon asked sounding confused.
“Yes, Orion love Naida,” I said again. Daemon watched the pair intently as if he was trying to catch one small action. The two were gazing into each other’s eyes, smiling slightly. It was as if Daemon and I were no longer there. They kissed and it wasn’t forced or staged. Daemon looked at my fingers, and then back at them. They were oblivious.
Suddenly, Daemon looked very excited, “Zea! Love!” He looked at me, trying to see if I understood, but it was my turn to be confused. He took my hands tightly in his, “I…I…zea…I love…Calvary! I love…you!” he said finally. My stomach did a flip-flop and I smiled and nodded. I was excited because he got it, but fear was sitting in the pit of my stomach.
“Daemon,” I said. His face sobered and he regarded me seriously, seeing something was on my mind.
I took a deep breath, “Daemon I…love you!” I saw his eyes change the slightest bit. They softened, and look almost surprised. Then I was pulled into his arms and he was kissing me.
“Calvary,” he said, “Oh, Calvary.” It was a time where language wasn’t a barrier that kept him from expressing what he felt, because this time I was feeling it too.
“I love you,” I whispered into his ear, “I love you.”
Page 1 ~*~*~ Page 2 ~*~*~ Page 3 ~*~*~ Page 4 ~*~*~ Page 5