A War to Win

By Sam_ORiley All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Romance

Chapter Twenty-Four

The minute I open my eyes I know this will probably be one of the hardest days of my life. Also probably the last. Even if it’s not the last day of my life, it’s the last day I have without Daniel. Either I die or I get him back. What great options I have given myself.

For once Noah isn’t in the room when I wake. It’s upsetting but I try not to think about it. Instead, I do some exercise before changing clothes. I’ve been slacking with exercise lately. I feel like I’m going to regret that once we’re in Deucalion’s realm.

When I get downstairs the pews are once again pushed against the walls. There’s a weird pattern on the floor. It’s not a pentagon and nobody is in sight for me to ask what it’s supposed to be. I make my way to Bartholomew’s office where I find Tessa reading the spines of the books. How hypocritical.

“Daemonology, pornography, Daemonology, history, even more Daemonology, witchcraft,” she says in a bored tone.

I cough as I enter the room. “What are you doing?”

She shrugs, turning from the books. “I got curious and I don’t know where anybody is.”

“Noah and Jack are probably outside training again,” I realise. “They do that a lot…”

“I think Noah just doesn’t want Jack to die. You have to admit; the training has paid off. Jack might actually survive the journey to and from Deucalion’s realm,” she smirks.

I can’t help but to groan at that. “Maybe.” After a pause I think about the books she was looking at. “Does Bartholomew really have a book about pornography?” I ask, trying to laugh to lighten the mood. Tessa pulls the book from the shelf. It’s incredibly dusty. “It looks like it hasn’t been touched in decades,” I comment.

“Much like him,” she snorts. I can’t help but to laugh, an actual laugh this time. She opens the book and examines it. “It’s not actually about sex,” she sighs disappointedly. “It’s just stupid shit about love.”

I take the book from her and put it back on the shelf. Love is something neither of us want to think about right now but soon we might both have it. If we defeat Violet and get Daniel back, we’ll be off to find Aaron. I’m glad we’re going to be doing that as a group. I’m not ready to leave my friends just yet.

Bartholomew walks into the office. He’s holding a wicked looking knife. “Are you two snooping?” He asks calmly.

Tessa and I quickly move away from his shelves and sit down. “We were hoping to get an insight of your infinite wisdom,” Tessa says without skipping a beat.

“Don’t be such a moron Tessa,” Bartholomew snaps. “Flattery will get you nowhere in life.”

She glares daggers at the old priest. I would crumble under that look. “It got me Aaron. It got me to where I am now. It got me your help, did it not?”

Now it’s Bartholomew’s turn to glare. “Flattery did not get you my help, Tessa. I saw potential in you. A lot of it! I’ve helped you because you deserve it.”

“Oh,” she says stupidly.

It feels very tense so I speak up. “What is with those doodles in the main hall?” I ask.

“Those ‘doodles’ as you call them are your way to Deucalion’s realm,” he snaps. Why is he in such a bad mood? “But you need to bear in mind that they will not help you get back. I assume that if you defeat Violet a new portal home will appear.”

“As well as Daniel,” I say. “When are you sending us?”

He holds the knife up. “As soon as I cut you all.”

Tessa groans. “Could you please stop being cryptic? Just once could you give us a straight answer?”

Bartholomew walks to Tessa and takes her hand. “This isn’t like when Damien went to the realm with his war allies,” he says, cutting Tessa’s hand open. She recoils as he turns to me. “Violet not only demands the four ingredients but your blood. It’s the only way to open the portal.”

“Four ingredients?” Tessa questions.

I feel myself tense up when Bartholomew takes my hand and cuts it. It’s only small but still it stings. “Three ingredients,” Bartholomew says, giving me a strange look. Does he know? How could he? “Tessa, go find Noah and Jack. Instruct them to come inside.”

Tessa nods and leaves the room. I try to go with her but Bartholomew stops me. “Are you actually going to do it?” He demands. Despite how angry he sounds there is a softness in his voice.

“Do what?” I ask, feinting ignorance.

“Don’t play dumb,” he snaps. “Are you actually going to kill one of your friends?”

I try to act like I don’t know what he’s talking about but I know it’s hopeless. He knows what the fourth ingredient is; a friend’s life… “I have to,” I say quietly. “I’ve come this far.”

He sighs loudly. “Very well. Just know that you don’t need to do it yet. Wait until during the battle with Violet. If you do it carefully it’ll look like she killed whoever you chose.”

“Why are you helping me?” I wonder. “And how long have you known that there’s a fourth ingredient?”

“I’ve known the whole time,” he answers bluntly. “And I’m helping you because we both know who must die. Jack.”

I wince at his name. All this time I’ve been wishing him well just so I can slaughter him myself… I’ve known I would kill him from the start, deep down. “He’s not who he once was,” I say. It feels as if I’ve swallowed a pebble.

Bartholomew nods. “It’s why he must die. There is a darkness inside of him and it will only grow.”

“We’re ready,” I hear behind me. I turn around to see Noah standing in the doorway. He has snow on his boots and some in his hair. “Let’s do this.”

Walking from the office I pray that he didn’t hear what me and Bartholomew was discussing. Surely he didn’t. Noah cares for Jack. Tessa does too… I’ll be hurting them both for my own gain. What kind of monster am I slowly becoming?

Tessa and Jack are standing beside each other. Tessa holds a cut of fabric against the small wound on her hand. I’ve allowed the blood to flow onto my hand. Probably a poor choice but I’m beyond caring.

“Do you all have everything you need?” Bartholomew asks. He takes Noah’s hands and cuts it. “Once you go through the portal there will be no returning until you defeat Violet.”

“We have everything,” Noah says. He already has his sword drawn and his magic bracelet is on his wrist.

Bartholomew moves to Jack and cuts him too. “Say your goodbyes to our world,” he says in a sinister tone. It sends a shiver down my back. It seems as though he’s talking to us all but he’s only talking to Jack. This will be the last time they see each other. “When you’re there, remember what you’re fighting for.”

Tessa puts her hand gently over her heart. “Aaron,” she whispers with a faint smile. “After this I’m getting him back. I will find him.”

“We’re with you, Tessa,” I say. “Every step of the way.”

“I would hope so,” she laughs.

Bartholomew walks to his office and comes back out with the heart, the candle and the sphere. He also has the knife with the blood in hand. “I wish you all the best of luck,” he says. “If we never meet again then I hope to see you in the afterlife.”

Nobody knows how to respond to that so we remain silent as he begins saying the words to a strange spell. After a few seconds a small hole opens up in the ground. A dense purple mist fills the hole. Bartholomew throws the items into it one by one. As he does so, the portal grows until it’s big enough for us to jump through.

“Bye bitches,” Tessa grins, jumping straight through. Noah goes next, remaining silent when he jumps.

“Until the next life Bartholomew,” Jack says sadly before going through.

I’m the last. “Thank you,” I tell him. “I owe you my life.” I jump before he can respond. I wonder; am I jumping to my death or to a better life?

***

“Where the fuck are we?” Tessa demands, looking around with a confused look in her eye.

“Deucalion’s realm,” I answer, standing and rubbing my head. We’re not in his mansion, that much is obvious. We’re in a dark tunnel with rough stone walls. Tessa has a mage light illuminating the way. “I’m not sure where though.”

A sharp laugh draws my attention behind me. In the tunnel stands a tall, powerful woman. She wears a tight, black dress that covers almost her entire body. Her long hair is somehow a darker black than the dress. She holds her hands on her hips and looks down on the four of us. “So we meet again,” she says, grinning wickedly.

Looking at her makes me feel devoid of all air… “Again?” I say, trying to remain calm. I want to look at my allies to see how they’re reacting but my eyes are glued to her.

“Oh, silly me,” she laughs, gently tapping her forehead. “I erased your memories of our last encounter…” She raises one hand and clicks her fingers.

The memories rush back to me so suddenly it hurts! Diana, Deucalion, the library near Asherton, Violet… We’ve played right into her hands!

“Did you miss me, Damien?” Violet asks.

I grit my teeth. “Not even slightly.” I know I should reach for my daggers or do something but I’m frozen.

She rolls her eyes, obviously amused by my hapless efforts. “You can relax, for now. We’re not fighting just yet. You have to find your way from the catacombs first.”

Catacombs? So that’s where we are… Yet another sense of dread fills me like icy water.

“Why delay?” Tessa snaps. At least one of us has the nerve to step up to Violet. “Can we not just get this over with?”

Violet laughs again. Short and sharp like a dagger. “I like to play with my food before I eat it dear,” she says calmly. “Anyway, I’ll leave you now. You know where to find me.”

Before we can even react, a web engulfs her suddenly and then vanishes. What a wonderful encounter that was.

Nobody speaks for a minute until Noah breaks the silence. “Am I the only one who was kind of attracted to her?” He asks. A small part of me dies each time anybody says something so stupid. “I know she’s a Daemonic-Goddess and she’s a snake but still.”

“Firstly, she’s a spider,” Tessa snaps. “Secondly, how dare you objectify a woman!”

“Holy fuck, can you two stop?” I say, trying not to shout. “We’re in the catacombs of a dead Daemonic-King and you two are being children!”

Noah looks sorry but Tessa just rolls her eyes. “Deucalion is dead, isn’t he?” She muses. “Diana killed him.”

Jack nods. “I can’t believe we forgot all that.”

“Diana is now another threat we have to worry about if we make it back home,” Noah sighs.

I can’t help but to groan. “Speaking of getting back home, should we try and get out of these catacombs? They’re awfully spooky.”

Tessa smiles at me. “That’s the best thing you’ve ever said Damien. I’m so proud of you.”

“Which way do we go?” I ask, ignoring her comment. The light doesn’t illuminate much of the tunnel but it looks to go on forever each way.

Tessa shushes Noah when he tries to speak and closes her eyes. After a moment she begins walking in a random direction. “There’s like, a Daemon or something this way,” she says with a ridiculous confidence. It occurs to me how funny it is that she can be rude to a Daemonic-Goddess but Bartholomew can always seem to tame her.

“So we’re going towards it?” Jack asks. He follows her despite his reservations. Noah and I do the same.

“Violet has obviously put obstacles in our way, things to slow us down or kill us,” she answers. “That’s my best guess anyway. It’s either do this or wonder around aimlessly.”

Unfortunately, she’s right and so we continue to follow her. After a while we’re forced to turn left. Once we do, the stone walls and ground begin smoothing out. After a little more walking I begin noticing gravestones in the walls. Most of them are crumbling away but a few can be read. I try not to pay attention to them. There’s only one dead person I need to think about right now.

Noah stops in front of me very abruptly. “What the hell?” He gasps. Tessa and Jack turn around. “Look at that.”

I look where he’s pointing and I’m forced to stifle a gasp. He’s pointing at a strangely pristine grave with no date, only a name. “Isaac Hawke,” I whisper, utterly confused. “That makes no sense!”

“Why is it the only grave that hasn’t eroded?” Noah wonders.

“It isn’t,” Tessa says.

My attention turns to the gravestone beside Isaac’s. “Alexis Boult,” I read. “Who is she? And why does Isaac have a gravestone in Deucalion’s catacombs? He’s alive…”

Noah shivers and turns his back on the graves. “There must be some explanation. We can ask Isaac about it if we see him again.”

“Good idea,” I comment. “Because Isaac can be trusted to give a straight answer.” I don’t doubt that I’ll be seeing him again. He seemed strangely sure of it last time we met and he’s definitely not dead. People like Isaac aren’t easy to kill.

Tessa begins walking again and we have little choice but to follow her. I force Isaac and his gravestone from my mind.

“How long until we reach this Daemon?” I ask impatiently.

She glares as another corner approaches. “It’s literally around this corner Damien. Why don’t you go first since you’re so eager to fight it?”

Biting back a nasty remark, I push past her and turn the corner. As I do so I ignite the tunnel with a mage light. The creature in front of me is much like the one Daniel and I fought back in Dalmerton. The only difference is it stands on two legs.

I draw my dagger as it turns to me. The Daemon lets out a terrifying battle cry and charges towards me. It lashes out at me with a spear and I cut at it. The spear misses me and I’m able to duck past it. I expect the Daemon to attack me again but it charges towards my allies instead.

“It’s hideous!” Tessa shrieks, drawing her rapier.

Before I can go and help I hear a similar battle cry down the tunnel. I throw the light down and see more of the Daemons, three I think, charging towards me. Violet sure doesn’t want this to be easy…

I shove my dagger back into my belt and hold up both hands. I send a barrage of thick ice shards at the charging Daemons. Thankfully, they pierce into two of their necks and they crumple to the floor. As the third one reaches me I dodge under a swipe of its spear as I draw my dagger. I swipe it across the Daemon’s neck. It doesn’t take it long to follow its brethren to the grave.

“That was tedious,” Noah comments, walking up to me. I look over his shoulder to see the other Daemon beheaded. “Which way now Tessa?”

She pushes past him. “The same way we’ve been going for a while now. Why do you insist on asking stupid questions?”

Jack laughs as we follow her down the tunnel. I can’t help but to wonder whether it will be the last time he laughs. He’ll never get to see his brother again and it’s going to be my fault. Will I be able to bear the burden of what I’m soon going to do? I guess only time will tell…

We walk in silence for about ten minutes before we reach a section of the tunnel with numerous turnings. “Which way?” I ask.

Tessa again closes her eyes. “This way,” she says after a couple of seconds. She leads us down one of them.

“Are you sure?” I question. I’m pretty sure she just picked one at random.

“Definitely. We’re almost out of the catacombs now.”

Noah smiles. “That was quicker than expected.”

After a few more minutes the tunnel begins going uphill. A few minutes more and the catacombs do end, like Tessa said they would. They lead us into a strange, open space. The ground is black rock with veins of red. It’s very uneven. Across the open space I can see Deucalion’s mansion. It’s quite some distance away but I know that’s where Violet is.

“Is there even a sky?” Noah asks, looking up. I do the same and instantly regret it. Above us is a black expanse of nothingness. It’s as if the stars, sun and moon have all gone away and vowed to never return.

“Let’s not think about that,” Tessa mumbles. She begins marching forward towards the mansion. We get about half way there before she freezes. “We’re not alone.”

Frowning, I look around. I’m pretty sure we are alone. Who, or what, else could be here?

My question is quickly answered when a man appears in front of us very quickly. At least I think it’s a man… He’s freakishly tall, at least a foot taller than any of us. He’s skinny too, wearing all white clothes that have smears of blood. He also wears a mask with only eye holes. Bright blue eyes peer through them. Messy blonde hair covers his head.

“Who is he?” Jack asks wearily.

Tessa shivers, squinting at him. “Somebody that Violet sent, that’s all I know.”

The man steps forward and as he does, we all step back. “My name is Seth,” he tells us. His voice is monotone and everything he says sounds forced. “I’ve been sent to warn you.”

“Who sent you?” Tessa commands.

Seth breaths very heavily. “The Gods.”

I feel myself gasping. He’s lying, he must be!

“What is your warning?” Tessa asks. Noah and Jack seem shocked too but Tessa doesn’t care.

“Turn back now,” Seth says. “Turn back or you will repent.” Seth waves an arm and beside him opens a portal. A portal back to Wychelm… “Don’t say you weren’t warned,” he says before disappearing just as quickly as he appeared.

Noah laughs nervously, approaching the portal with caution. “What the fuck?” He whispers.

“You should go back,” I say. “This is your chance,” they all glare at me but I continue speaking before they can silence me. “I don’t know who he was, but if he was really sent by the Gods you have to listen to him.”

Tessa rolls her eyes and drags Noah back from the portal. “We’re beyond the control of Gods Damien.”

I grit my teeth, wondering what it will take to convince them. If I can get them to go back maybe I can bargain with Violet and she won’t demand that one of them dies. “Just go,” I say sternly. It doesn’t matter though. Before I even finish saying it the portal snaps shut. “Fucking marvellous,” I mutter.

“Oh look, it’s time to repent,” Tessa laughs. She begins walking again but abruptly stops very quickly. “Well,” she mumbles, looking up. “It apparently is time to repent…”

Groaning, I turn my attention to the sky. From over the castle flies a creature bigger than anything I’ve seen before, bigger than even Deucalion. It’s entirely white, like Seth was. It has a horribly large body entirely covered in scales. Its head is probably as big as we are with teeth that could tear even a house in half.

“That is a dragon,” Jack says dumbly.

I nod slowly. “A dragon that is coming straight towards us…”

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