As soon as we appear outside of the church, Jack sits abruptly up and throws up. I grimace and turn to Noah. He’s sat up now. His hand is clutching my wrist and he looks wide awake. “You’re not dead,” he says, smiling faintly. He looks like he’s going to throw up too.
“Why would I be?” I question, frowning. “Apart from the obvious…”
Noah tries to stand, so I help him up, standing myself. “When I woke up in that room, Valek was there. So was Jack and the book but Jack was still unconscious.” I look over at Jack. He did nothing to help during that entire mission. Tessa is currently patting his back and offering him water as he dry heaves. Obviously he doesn’t have the stomach for this. “Valek told me that he had a special ending planned for you and Tessa,” Noah tells me. He’s still holding onto me. “He wanted to kill the two of you in a way that would amuse him before coming for me and Jack,” Noah tells me. He sounds like he has cotton in his mouth.
“Well we’re fine,” I tell him. “That bastard has nothing on us especially now that we have the book.”
Tessa is helping Jack up now. “Speaking of which,” she says. “What do we do with it? They’re going to want it back.”
Noah lets go of me, shaking his head. “Am I the only one who thought it was too easy?” He asks. Tessa and I nod; Jack just stares into the dark night sky. “Valek didn’t even try to hide it well.”
Tessa hands the book to me. It’s smaller than I thought it would be and is leather bound. On the front is numerous, overlapping pentagrams and strange writing. There’s a keyhole in one corner of the book, big enough for the key that I still wear around my neck. When I try to open the book the pages stick together, as if bound by magic. Even without opening it I can still feel the magic that I hold in my hands. Surely this is too much power for us. For anybody…
“Let’s get inside,” Tessa says. She grabs Jack’s arm and drags him in. Noah follows them.
I stand for a second, looking up at the sky. I do not know whether the dead can do anything, yet alone listen to me, but I speak nonetheless. “I’m almost there, Daniel,” I whisper. The book feels heavy in my hands the key feels like a noose around my neck. “We’ll be together again soon…”
“Damien,” Noah says behind me. I turn, smiling gently. He must have come back out. “Are you okay?”
Nodding, I approach him and the door. “I’ve never been this close before,” I tell him, stopping in front of him.
Noah smiles sadly and walks back into the church. I follow him. Bartholomew, Tessa and Jack stand around. Bartholomew looks pleased to see us, and I’m happy to see him. I haven’t given him much thought since we left but I should have. “Damien, Noah,” he says, walking to us. “I’m so glad you all made it back.”
“Me too,” I say, smiling at my companions. My friends. “It’s something short of a miracle.”
He laughs, glancing at the book that I hold against my chest. “May I look at it?”
I can’t help but to feel reluctant about handing it over. What if it’s a trick? Bartholomew could be working to get the book. He does have people, or things, locked in his basement. He could quite easily be evil! In the wrong hands this book could destroy everything we hold dear…
“Damien,” Tessa says. I catch her eye. She knows why I’m hesitating, but her smile makes it clear that it’s okay to hand it over. So I do.
Bartholomew turns it over once or twice in his hands. “This is definitely it, the Arch-Daemon’s spell book…”
“I would hope so,” Noah scoffs. “With all we went through to get it…”
“Tell me of your adventure,” Bartholomew says. He makes his way to his office as Noah speaks. The rest of us follow.
Noah makes a weird noise; a noise of frustration. “Actually come to think of it, it was an easy trip,” he says, frowning. “We ran into a few Daemons along the way but that was it…”
I frown too as we reach the office. It was too easy. Just a few interferences from Valek, but that was all. It’s as if somebody wants us to have the book.
“They probably just didn’t expect us to go there,” I say, lying. There’s something at play here. Something beyond us. “Don’t worry about it.” I’ll worry enough for all of us.
Noah just shrugs, lounging on a chair. Tessa sits next to him, leaving Jack and I standing behind. “May I have the key?” Bartholomew asks. I nod, but don’t give him it. Not at first.
When was this book last opened? What secrets does it hold that are best left forgotten? Who are we to open it? Two mages, a thief, a priest and a useless boy. We shouldn’t be unlocking this. Nobody, or anything, should be…
Despite this, I take the key from around my neck and hand it to Bartholomew. He smiles and examines the keyhole. He makes quite a show of putting the key in, turning it slowly. I don’t know what exactly I expected, but it certainly wasn’t a scream and a cloud of black smoke emerging from the book!
Tessa jumps up and Jack screams, Noah gasps, Bartholomew looks like he expected it. I just stand, watching the smoke dissipate as the scream grows quieter. “What was it?” I question. “Who was it?”
Bartholomew flicks through the pages of the book. “Probably nothing but a Daemon,” he says calmly. “Nothing to be alarmed about.” He examines random pages, as if looking for something. He probably is. “Our first order of business,” he tells us, landing on a page and putting the book on the desk. At this point Tessa has sat back down. “Is to lift the curse from Noah.”
Noah sighs in relief. “You can do it?”
“Obviously,” Bartholomew says. “But there is a catch, as there is with most spells.”
“What catch?” I question before Noah gets the chance to.
He smiles at me. “I’m glad you said that, Damien.” I frown at him, feeling uneasy. “Noah will have to… bind with one of you for a while. Damien is a good candidate.”
For whatever reason, I feel myself blush. “I’m happy to do it,” I say. “But why me?”
Bartholomew stands and, carrying the book, he makes his way out to the hall. The pews are all against walls. I’m pretty sure that they were in their normal rows when we went into the office. “You and Noah have bonded in other ways before,” he says bluntly. Tessa smirks. How does Bartholomew know? “It will be safest if it is the two of you.”
Clenching my fists, I look at Noah. He hasn’t said anything about this but looks sheepish. “Why do I have to bind with anybody?” He asks. Tessa and Jack have sat on one of the pews leaving Bartholomew, Noah and I standing in the middle of the room.
“The only spell that will remove the curse removes all magical ailments from you,” Bartholomew explains. “That can be quite taxing. You need to bond with somebody so that you can sap some energy from them.”
Noah sighs. “I understand that it’s dangerous for me, but will it hurt Damien? Is there any risk for him?”
I’m touched that he cares. “That doesn’t matter,” I say, smiling gently. “I’m sure you’d do the same for me, risk or no risk.”
He smiles too. “In a heartbeat.”
Bartholomew doesn’t comment on the risk. Instead, he orders us to join hands. We do. “For quite some time, the two of you will be bonded. You will have to stay close to each other or you will both probably drop dead. While you are bonded Noah will sap energy from Damien to sustain himself.” Noah and I both nod, looking each other in the eyes. Bartholomew didn’t tell us to but it feels right. Everything feels right with Noah… “Are the two of you ready?” We nod again and Bartholomew begins saying the words to a spell. He speaks another language, a strange language with more fluid words.
I feel my eyes grow heavier; Noah’s grow brighter as if he’s waking up for the first time in years. I want desperately to take him all in, the whole look of him like this; wide awake and healed all in a moment. Unfortunately, I can’t. My eyes close against my will and my body flops.
Bartholomew finishes the spell as Noah catches me, letting go of my hands. He picks me up and the next thing I know he’s setting me on a pew, my head on his lap. “You okay?” He asks. Why is he sat down? He didn’t just have his energy sapped.
I open my eyes to see him smiling down at me. A small, no, a big part of me wants him to kiss me. It could just be the magic talking, or maybe the magic is making me realise what I want. That’s not right… I know what I want. This is all too confusing.
Sighing, I try to sit up. I’m unsuccessful, weak from the magic. I really hope this wears off soon. There’s no way I can bring Daniel back if I’m this weak. It feels as if all the fight has been taken from me very suddenly… I let my eyes close again as Noah begins speaking.
“You said that would remove any magical ailments, right?” He asks.
“Yes,” Bartholomew says.
Noah sighs. I notice that his hand is in the back of my hair. “I think you’re wrong,” he tells Bartholomew. “It sounds weird but I feel as if I’m forgetting something, like there’s a block on my mind.”
Tessa laughs sharply. “Oh thank fuck,” she says. “I thought I was the only one.”
I feel too drained to say anything. To some degree, I understand what they’re talking about. Something about our journey to Asherton doesn’t add up. I replay it in my head; we left the church when Valek attacked. Went to Dalmerton with Georgina. Valek killed her, we fled. Tessa made us get drunk. Noah and I had some drunken fun. Then we travelled for a while. Valek attacked again. He took Jack. We travelled some more. He took us. We got Noah, Jack and the book before Tessa brought us back here.
“Something is missing,” Noah mumbles. I feel him shiver. “Somebody wanted us to forget something.”
Bartholomew sighs. “This is very troubling,” he tells us with a strange sincerity. “Here I was thinking I was just here to help you raise the dead, lift curses and find lost loved ones. Now I have to deal with memory loss.” Is he making or joke or is he seriously displeased? I can’t tell. “The four of you should go to bed now,” he says. “You’ve had a long journey, even if you don’t remember some of it. I’ll see what I can find out about finding Aaron and Daniel.”
I open my eyes again, sitting up successfully this time. Tessa walks over to Bartholomew and says something quietly to him. I can only just hear what she says. “Focus on Daniel. Damien needs him back.”
“Can you get upstairs by yourself?” Noah asks, obviously paying no attention to Tessa.
I nod, removing my focus from Tessa and Bartholomew. Instead I make my way to the door. I can hear Noah behind me, walking slowly to match my sluggish pace.
It takes me too long to get to our room. When I do, I sit straight on the bed.
“Thank you, Damien,” Noah says, walking in after me. He closes the door. “I know that you’ve endangered yourself for me and I really do appreciate it.”
I stifle a yawn. “Don’t worry about it,” I tell him. “Most of what we do is save each other.” He laughs and crouches in front of me, unlacing my boots. “The hell are you doing?” I question. For whatever reason my hand finds its way to his hair. How is it so soft? And messy?
He laughs awkwardly, looking at me as he takes the second boot off. “It’s the least I can do,” he says slowly. I know what’s coming next and I do nothing to stop it.
Noah basically launches himself at me, pushing his lips against mine while shoving me down on the bed. The kiss electrifies me, waking me up just like the magic woke Noah up. “This is so wrong,” I moan when he removes his lips from mine. He moves them to my neck instead.
“Then why does it feel so right?” He questions between kisses.
I moan again, caught up in this fantastic moment once again. This time it feels different, better. I could blame the magic but this is all me and all Noah. Just the two of us caught up in our lust.
No, not lust.
Not love either.
This is a heavenly place in between the two.
Unlike last time I don’t instantly feel regret. Even though this is only the second time, and hopefully the last, waking up next to Noah like this feels so natural.
He groans beside me, sitting up. “Well,” he says calmly. “That was a mistake.”
I disagree. It was one last night together to get it out of our systems, one last time before we move on and raise the dead. “The last one we’ll make,” I say, getting out of bed and hurriedly getting dressed. “This is it,” I say. “The last time we share a look or think about being together. It’s definitely the last time that we’ll actually be together.”
Noah nods, yawning and laying back down. I didn’t expect him to react like this. I didn’t expect to react like this! “I’m glad we got that out of the way with,” he says. “In about half an hour we’ll go see Bartholomew, see what news he has on raising Daniel.”
Standing at the edge of the bed, I look at him. His eyes are closed. “You’re still going to help me?” I question. “Even after we just slept together and now I’m saying we’re done with whatever this was?”
He laughs. “We’re bonded now, Damien. I have to help you.” After a pause he adds; “also I want to.”
I shrug and grab my things before leaving the room. As I walk to the baths I realise how weird it is that what happened isn’t phasing me much. I don’t feel like I’ve betrayed Daniel or hurt him. If anything I hurt Noah by sleeping with him then telling him; “it’s definitely the last time that we’ll actually be together”.
In my defence, it hurt me too…
When I reach the baths I see that all of them are full but nobody is in the room. That’s convenient. I put my pack on a bench and undress before wading into the warm water. Closing my eyes, I sigh in relief and let the water wash over me. I let it wash away the dirt of our adventure and the shame that I should be feeling over last night.
My mind wonders to the war. How much more history are we going to repeat in the coming months? Soon we’ll be planning ahead like we did shortly before the end of the war. Hopefully this time we come up with an adequate plan.
Jojen had called for a meeting in the town hall. This was quite sometime after we rescued Allyssa and Adriana. We were all growing impatient as we hadn’t done much since that night. It was a relief that Jojen had called a meeting. I arrived with Daniel and Isaac on time but we were the first there.
“How many people did he summon?” Isaac wondered aloud, sitting down. We were in a room with a large square table. Around it was over ten chairs.
“Probably not that many,” I said. I sat beside Isaac and Daniel sat beside me.
We sat in silence for a while. The only noise was of Isaac’s nails tapping against the table. It was annoying me but I didn’t say anything.
After a while I heard voices behind us. “I told you we wouldn’t be the first here,” Allyssa said. She sounded grumpy.
“Jojen definitely isn’t the first here,” Adrianna sighed. She sat beside Isaac who she smiled warmly at. “Where is he?”
Isaac took Adrianna’s hand in his. I hadn’t realised they were together. “He should be here any minute now,” Isaac said. “Do you think we’re all he summoned?”
Allyssa nodded and sat down, not sitting next to any of us. “Probably,” she mumbled. “The five of us are the only half-decent mages fighting in this fucking war.” Adrianna rolled her eyes while Daniel, Isaac and I just stared at her, confused.
“I appreciate the compliment,” Isaac said, laughing lighting. “But I think there are more than us. He just has the rest of the strong ones fighting the front line.”
She scoffed. “Why the hell aren’t we fighting on the front line? We’re all strong and confident enough.”
Adrianna sighed. “I’m not,” she said. “Isaac has taught me to use a staff well but I don’t think I’d be much good on the front lines.” As soon as her injuries had finished healing fully, Adrianna and Isaac spent a lot of time together. He had taught her to fight amazingly. Maybe they got together throughout their training.
“Don’t say that,” Isaac said. “You’re just as strong as the rest of us.”
Allyssa repeated her previous question. “So why the hell aren’t we fighting on the front line?”
Jojen spoke behind me, making me jump slightly. “Because we have something far more important to do,” he answered. We all stared at him, wondering what the hell he was talking about. As he continued to speak he moved to sit across from us. “The six of us are going to get a weapon and then we are going to bring on the end of this irksome war.”
“Great plan,” I snapped. “But how do you hope to bring on the end?” He was just being stupid. You couldn’t just culminate a war at will.
He smiled at me. “Valek’s strongest forces are on their way here, to Dalmerton.” The room tensed up at that. Why was that the first we were hearing about it? “We’re going to greet them with open arms, let them fight us instead of just defending against them. We probably have two weeks before they get here. That gives us plenty of time of get a weapon that can cut through the lot of them.”
Isaac laughed sharply. “We’ll be putting the whole of Dalmerton in danger if we do this. And what weapon? You keep talking about a weapon.”
“We’re going to be getting a weapon,” Jojen explained calmly. “The six of us will travel to the realm of the Daemonic-King Deucalion and we will steal his sword.”
Daniel made a strange noise beside me. It was hard to tell what he thought about it, he hadn’t really said anything. Personally I liked the idea despite how ridiculous and unrealistic it was. Yes, it was dangerous and impulsive but it was a good plan. Valek would charge into Dalmerton not knowing we had such a powerful weapon and we could kill him and his worshipper allies all at once. The war would end. I could go back to being alone with Daniel.
“This is actually a good plan,” I said. Jojen looked confused. It was probably the first time I ever agreed with him. “A lot of our citizens will die but…”
Isaac sighed. “They’re just collateral damage, right?” The venom in his voice was potent enough to kill.
A pang of guilt went through me. Sometimes it was hard to remember that people weren’t just pawns. “That’s not what I’m saying Isaac,” I groaned. “With this plan, it will minimize the casualties.”
“He’s right, Isaac,” Adrianna told him.
“I know,” Isaac snapped. “This just… It feels wrong, bringing the enemy here. I know that it’s the best thing to do but still.”
Jojen frowned. “We understand your concern,” he said. “But we need you on board.”
Isaac stood up abruptly, as did Adrianna. “I’ll help you get the weapon,” Isaac said, “but then I’m leaving…” He looked as if he was going to say more but didn’t. He walked from the room and Adrianna followed.
After a moment Allyssa did the same. “Gather us again when you know how to get to the damn realm,” she muttered as she left.
Jojen, Daniel and I sat in silence. It felt horribly tense so after about five minutes I did what any sensible person would do. I walked away.
I had learned that the town hall had baths, for whatever crazy reason, so I went there. A bath would help clear my mind. It would help me see whether what we were doing was right. It felt right to end the war. It felt right to be able to kill Valek and the worshippers. What didn’t feel right was allowing them into Dalmerton.
The people of Dalmerton let us use the town as headquarters. We owed them. We owed them safety but instead we planned on staging a giant battle there? It was screwed up but it was war. Every little decision you make in a war effects so many people.
I opened the door to the baths and instantly wished I hadn’t. Isaac and Adrianna were in the room. Isaac was standing in front of Adrianna who was laying on the floor. Isaac’s shirt was off, revealing a muscled back and arms. He had strange black markings over his left arm, they spread to his shoulder but stopped there. They almost looked Daemonic…
Adrianna gasped when she saw me and I rushed from the room. That was not something I wanted to see!
I didn’t get far before I heard Isaac behind me. “Damien, wait!” I did, turning. He was putting on his shirt. I caught a glimpse of the necklace. It was a gem… “Sorry about that,” he said, standing in front of me. I was standing with my back to a wall. It made me feel trapped but it would look suspicious if I moved.
“My bad,” I said, avoiding his eye. “I should have expected that.” That was a lie. Nobody should expect to find people doing that in a public place, all muscled backs and markings on show.
Isaac laughed sharply. “Don’t tell Allyssa what you saw,” he instructed, his mood changing drastically.
I looked at him. His tone was scarily serious, as was his hardened face. “Doesn’t she know the two of you are together?” I asked. I felt as if I was staring down a wolf that was waiting for me to show my throat. “You were holding hands in the meeting.”
He suddenly pushed me against the wall, staring furiously at me. “If you tell anybody, I will kill you.”
I gasped, trying not to panic. My back ached horribly as he kept me pressed against the wall. “Okay.”
Isaac didn’t let go. “I mean it, Damien.” I nodded. It was hard not to resist but I knew he was stronger than me. Maybe that had something to do with the markings. “Allyssa thinks it’s just a casual thing,” he explained. Thankfully, he stepped back, letting me get off the wall. I had to stop myself from running away. “It’s not that. We’re just friends who like to have sex together,” he told me. I grimaced.
“I don’t need to know this…”
“As soon as we get the weapon, Adrianna and I are leaving,” he told me. His tone was still deadly serious. “You should come with us. You and Daniel, or just you.”
I couldn’t stay there another second. “I’ll consider it,” I told him, trying to walk away.
He grabbed my shoulder and gripped it tightly, holding me in place. “Come with us.”
“I’ll consider it,” I repeated through gritted teeth. He nodded, letting go. I hurried away.
That side of Isaac terrified me. I knew he was strong but having him use his strength against me was unnerving. What I didn’t know was that he had strange markings and that he wore a gem around his neck.
I didn’t tell Allyssa about Isaac and Adrianna, or Daniel. Not only was it none of their business, but I dreaded to think what Isaac would do if I told anybody.
I’ve been in the bath for too long now, my skin is beginning to wrinkle. I quickly get out and find a towel. After drying myself, I wrap it around my waist and sit on the bench next to my pack. The door opens. I don’t bother covering myself; Noah’s seen everything anyway, Tessa had seen my thoughts and Jack can stare all he wants. I have nothing left to hide from these people. My allies. My friends.
“Washing away the guilt?” Tessa laughs, sitting next to me.
I scowl. “Reading minds again?”
She shrugs. “Like I’ve said before, thoughts are too loud for me to ignore. You and Noah have especially loud ones…” Neither of us say anything for a moment. “Are you still going to get Daniel back?” She asks softly. There is no more mocking in her voice.
I nod. Daniel has always been more of a priority than Noah. Always.
“I want to help,” she says. “Jack does too. The four of us make a great team.”
“I appreciate it,” I say. “But shouldn’t you focus on Aaron?” I think of what she said to Bartholomew. Why did she want him to focus on Daniel? “The dead can wait.”
Tessa shrugs. “So can Aaron.” Another moment passes between the two of us. “Damien,” she says quietly.
“I’m glad we met. You’re a good friend…”
I can’t help but to smile. “You too, Tessa.”