CHAPTER TWO .
The wind tugged Tavia’s hair for a moment and then it raced off in a column of heat that became a little whirlwind spinning across the hill. The charms and little bells that the children had tied into the little braids at her temples jingled. The shaman told the little ones that such charms chased away the evil energies; as a sign of affection, they shared such gifts. She curled one of the little braids back behind her ear. She watched her tea simmer, the heat of the fire and the motion of the water bringing out the energies and essence of the leaves and bits of herbs she had dropped in it.
She reached out as if to warm her hand in the steam of the tea, stirring the energies with a delicate motion of her hand. To her eyes, light swirled in the water, transforming it from mere water and plant oils to something so much more.
“You do that pretty well.”
She looked up at Elliott. The former captain looked rather fantastic, she thought. He was sun-wiped, his hair as wild as it could be and yet be clean. He wore bits of his former life with the colors of the southern clans. He had somehow united these clans under his command and persuaded them to join the battle with their northern cousins, the nomads. He had the feathers, ribbons, and trinkets of the northern clans as well, all of it joyfully layered up with an almost childlike delight in how crazy he looked. She couldn’t help but laugh at him a little.
“What is that, Captain?”
“I know what you’re doing.” He sank down to balance on his toes in the same way Travis was prone to when looking at something on the ground. “My wife used to make ‘spiced wine’ for the crew,” he almost laughed. “I couldn’t see her do it and I can’t see you do it, but I know what you’re doing. You a bit better at hiding it, though. I’m surprised Shannon didn’t catch you at it.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said as calmly as she could.
“Yah, that’s what she said too. I’m far too sensitive to things to miss it, though.” He sat over on the ground, hooking one arm around his knee. “You do well for them,” he said, glancing at the group of children for whom the tea was being made. They were going about their chores of the day, hurried and anxious with the anticipation of having some hot tea when done.
“A cup of warm tea can help anyone. Children are often overlooked in war zones,” she said softly.
He brought his eyes from the children to Tavia. “How is Travis?”
She looked up at the former captain, not sure why he would care. “He amazes me at how well he is taking all of this.”
“I’m surprised at the gift that Shannon gave him.”
“His hearing? I’m still not sure how he did that.”
“Hearing is the simplest part of it. He gave much more – languages, understanding of terms and tones. He gave him a part of himself… and let me tell you, there’s not much of Shannon left to give.”
“Part of himself?”
“Within the vaults of all the wealth and power that Shannon holds, there is a small vial he keeps. It holds a tincture that he made before the war turned him into what he is now. I have seen it twice in my life, and I can feel its power in your son.” He smiled a little at some memory. “He used it on Dave, when Dave was about that age. Dave would have died without it. Shannon never really forgave me for the entire mess that forced him to use it. I disregarded his advice and nearly paid with the life of my son… it nearly cost all the family he has left. He is slow to trust me anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
“I let myself fall in love with a woman and so opened myself to a weakness. As Shannon had warned, she was hunted down and taken from me. Her escape from her people was one thing; she was a low priority in the grand scheme of things when she first came to my ship, but then Dave was born. When they learned she had a son, they moved in with a lot of power. The idea of her having a living son was an abomination to her people.”
Elliot was silent for a moment, then drew a deep breath and looked at Tavia, daring to trust her. “She was a priestess of an Elven cult and she was never supposed to have a son. She and her sisters were never supposed to lose their virginity.”
He paused, lost in his recollections, and then continued. “They came to kill Dave and me. My life was one thing; Dave’s was another. They did not count on who I was or that I would have Shannon as an ally. I called on Shannon for help. He was there almost at once. The gate he used was like none I have ever seen, but then much of what he does is unlike anything anyone has ever seen. I was a far greater wizard then, but they ruined me. They hit Dave as well. Shannon arrived after they had already taken her, but he came in time to snatch Dave from them. Shannon pulled that little vial out and poured precious drops of life into my son, healing his wounds and his mind before he turned to help me. He cooled my burns and shielded me from further attacks. I lost my wife, but, thanks to Shannon, they were driven from my ship. I am sure they think us dead. They left me so burned inside that I’m sure, without Shannon’s aid, I would have gone insane; certainly so if I’d lost Dave.” He shrugged. “I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure that he hunted them down later.”
“Your wife was something special, I take it.”
“To me and to the world,” he said with love filling his eyes, even now. “She was a priestess. She had a lot of magics that she hid. I have seen you brush on a few of them. I almost find it hard to think you’re honestly a human.”
Tavia laughed. “I fail to be many things, I think, but human I am. That is the one thing I am still certain of.”
“Human or Elven, I see the priestess in you. You can deny it; I don’t ask you to confirm it… I just wanted you to know I see it, and it makes me worry.”
“Worry?” She asked after a moment of studying her tea. She looked up to Elliott; he stood, watching the children.
“I know how the world reacted to her son; I fear for yours. He has a whisper of a very ancient and powerful magic in him now.” He looked back to her. “But more, I think you did far more for Shannon and the others than they had any idea. You are so subtle and humble in your power that in the chaos of this place, it would be easy to miss. I know Shannon. He will not last much longer. He is struggling to stay sane as it is, and without your aid…”
She looked back to the tea. “It was he who left me here, not I who left him.”
“I know. That makes me worry even more.”
“Why?” she asked, looking up again.
“Shannon is… complicated in many ways. He works very hard to make things simple. He rules with utter power and a cold hand. He allows no weakness and surrounds himself with those that he can kill without a hesitation. He avoids anyone he might pause over. He does not walk in the parks or deal with the common man. I expected him to grab Dave, meet me, and simply find a way to gate us out of here. He is that way for good reason.”
“Shannon is what Shannon is. I expected about the same of him. I don’t know the relationship he has with you or Dave, but I know there is one. Dave went to great effort to hide it, for fear of the reaction of the priests, I think.”
Elliott laughed. “He’s my cousin,” Elliott said.
“You’re Purtan?” she asked, a bit shocked.
“Yes. Under the scars and the masks and magics, I’m Purtan. I tell people I am part human to help hide things, but I’m as Purtan as any can be, I guess. Whatever I was got burned up pretty good, though. All I have for magic is what I have mastered since. The cores I had are charred and would drive a man crazy if not for the tricks that Shannon has taught me.”
“He does not share that sort of thing. I don’t think you do, either. Why are you telling me these things?”
“I have to get back to them. I have to protect Dave and I have to help Shannon. If Dave is captured…” he shook his head. “I can’t tell you how bad that would be. If Shannon loses control and, god forbid, he hurt Dave and later learned it was him….. We can’t have that. But I can’t get out of here alone.”
“I know nothing of the shields or the way out. There’s no way we can catch up to them.”
“I do know a great deal and I can get us out of here, but I need your help and I really think you should go with me.”
“Why? As you said, I can do a great deal of good for these people. I would be content to make tea for the children.”
“I know you would…. that’s why I tell you things to make you understand what I’m asking you to be a part of. Not even my son knows who his mother was, or that he’s a pure half-blood: Purtan, Elven. He thinks his blood is far more blended then it is.”
Tavia got up, took the little almost-flat tea pot and began to pour tea into the little cups of the nomads. As if they were called, the children came running to happily take the cups from her. She smiled and moved to make another pot.
“Tavia,” he said softly as she sat down. “Just help me get my son home where I can protect him. Please.”
“I am not a warrior,” she said, crumbling herbs with her fingers into the cold water. “I have my own son to consider and I’m needed here. I went as far as I was asked to and did what I could. Obviously I wasn’t as valued as you think I should’ve been. You assume a great deal of what I am. Maybe I just make good tea.”
“I think you are mistaken. I think you were valued and that’s why he ran as far and fast from you as he could. He took the first chance he saw that you would be safe and used it. I think he valued you far too much in his own mind.”
She half-laughed and shook her head. “Oh, hardly! I’m not that young to think so foolishly, or to even wish such a thing.”
Elliott watched the fire for a bit, not saying anything, just looking troubled for awhile, and then finally spoke. “Do you know what happens to a healer who is tortured?”
“Their cores kick into work and heal them.”
“They draw on the energies of the earth and will heal and heal and heal. It’s a highly coveted prize of a Blood to control a healer who is strong enough to keep in constant distress, yet not die in the process. A Blood who possesses a healer who can fuel them both, even as half of the energy drawn in keeps the healer alive, is a powerful man. Consider what would happen to a healer in hell. There is no earth energy.”
“I don’t know,” she admitted.
“The core will burn itself up, turn itself inside out and, if the soul and mind are strong enough, draw on the power of that realm. Can you imagine the horror? The pain?”
“No,” she said, “I can’t, and I don’t wish to.”
“Now imagine you go through such a torment, having just watched your wife and children be tortured and murdered by demons, and all of it due to your soul-bonded partner. Imagine all you know ripped away, your life, your name, your flesh. Escape that, come back and find yourself exiled, denied, and the bloodshed laid on you. Bit by bit, build yourself back into sanity, a sanity that allows you to steal back slivers of yourself; build up a means to stand on your own feet, to stand up to the man who did that to you. Choke your rage down, swallow the grief down and move. Whatever you do, don’t feel anything. If you risk it, you might lose grip on your rage and grief.”
He folded both arms around his knee. “That is Shannon…. once healer-priest; now, immortally in pain. Then this happens and he’s pushed so far… my God… what was he thinking exposing himself to the risks and demands he has endured for the group of you.” Elliott wiped his eyes. “What was he thinking, risking getting within a hundred miles of Oirion?” He looked up with the fear and distress clear in his eyes.
“Gerome has done evils to this world that I can’t, even for a moment, deny. I can’t heal such things. I make tea; that’s all I do.”
Elliott ran a hand though his hair, tugging through the tangles, struggling with what he needed to do to convince her.
“I am sorry, Elliott,” she said. “I have to worry about Travis first, and he can be given a chance to be a normal child here.”
“Not if Shannon falls,” Elliott said with startling force. He wiped his eyes again. He took a deep breath. “He is a vampire, betrayed by the Church.” He looked to her, expecting that to matter.
“I know,” she said softly.
She nodded mutely.
After a moment she continued, “In fact, I have guessed as to what his rank would have to be to have such power and control, but that does not change my obligations to Travis.”
“Why?” he appealed. “Every parent loves their child, but, Tavia, he can come. I can give you any life you want outside the Barrier.” He looked up as Travis put his little hand on his mother’s shoulder. She looked up to see his very serious and sad expression.
“There is nothing you can do,” Travis said. “If you gated to them, you would tell Gerome right where he is. We can never reach him on foot and if we interfere now, we will cost him what focus he has left,” he said
“Travis…” he appealed gently. “I know you’re a very smart child, but if Shannon doesn’t have help, he will fall.”
“Yes,” Travis said softly. “He will fall. Not you, not my mother, not even I can stop that.”
Elliott could not look away from the boy, nor could he accept that a child would say such a thing.
“How can you say that?”
“Because he will.”
“I can’t accept that.”
“Travis.” Tavia put a hand on her son to stop him from saying something more. He knelt by the fire, looking so innocent. He curled his long, coiling, blond hair behind his ears and reached his hands toward the fire.
“Many people deny what they are able to do,” Travis spoke. “They fear… they think… they stop their actions. Time and again, the powers about them put them right where they must be in order to gain what they need for the tasks of the soul, but they stop, they turn away, and they shrink down. The greater the task, the greater the soul, the harder it is. When great souls collide, great and terrible things happen. Time and again, souls are brought together, and each time, if they deny the ‘Will of Creation,’ it gets more forceful. And once again, now is the time. Souls are about to collide, and it will hurt.” He lifted his deep blue eyes to the man across the fire. “Creation cries for this to stop. Souls scream to heaven to make it end.”
Elliott watched as tears filled the child’s eyes.
“Do you believe that God hears him? That God cares?” Travis asked.
“I want to believe that, but I have seen too much.”
“Travis,” Tavia warned softly.
“He will go if he does not understand,” Travis whispered to his mother. “He is already packed.”
“I am going,” Elliott said. “I had hoped you would come with me.”
“If you go, he, you, and Dave will fall into Gerome’s hands and it will all be over.”
It was all the child could do to not start crying.
Elliott didn’t understand and didn’t want to. He wanted to go and not feel so helpless. He couldn’t stand to think of Shannon falling, or the pain that hell would inflict on Dave before the end. Tavia and Travis didn’t comprehend who Shannon was. There was no way they would abandon him if they did.
Elliott started to rise.
“Tyraphen,” Travis said desperately to stop him. Elliott stopped at the Purtan name, a name that he had never used in public at all. He looked at the child.
“I said he would fall; I did not say he was doomed. Please, stay here with us and help these people. The people of this land need you, and if you stay, the land will heal you.”
“Shannon has been left and abandoned too many times. I don’t know if he told you that name or not, but I’m still going. There’s nothing you can say to make me leave him to this alone. Just as I see now that there is nothing I can say to make you help him.”
Elliott got up, ready to leave. Travis jumped up and grabbed his wrist. Elliott turned to tell the child to let him go, but it was not a child he saw at all. Elliott turned to pull away, but he was not let go of. It was just a split moment. The one step took him out of the plains of the nomads, to a place so clear that he could see the very trees on the mountains that soared up to the brilliant blue sky. He could see the stars in the sky, even in the sunlight. The moons cast softness to the brightness of it all. The hills were alive to the brink of the snow fields, with little lilies coming to life against the cold end of winter.
“Look at me,” Travis said.
“No,” Elliott refused, terrified of what he might see behind him.
“Elliott,” the man’s voice said softly, “you continue to deny me?”
“This is a trick, either some spin of demonic magics or the trick of a woman angry at a man who set her aside.”
“No. No trick. Look at me.”
Elliott didn’t want to; he struggled for all that he was worth to not do it, but he had no choice. Compelled, he finally turned. Standing there, just as he appeared in every dream, on every wall, and in the very features of the line of his descendents, was Armond. Elliott could not deny it, even if he wanted to. He could hardly stay on his feet as he started to shake and cry.
“Why?” was all that he could choke out. “Why have you allowed all this?”
Armond shook his head. “No. I tried to stop it.”
“He was your son! He was your priest!” Elliott almost regretted his words when he saw the tears that they caused.
“I cannot explain, not even here, but you must trust me. Stay with me; help me. You do not know what even this will cost me.”
“If he will fall…”
“He must,” Armond said. “There is no other way that he will be desperate enough to allow for another soul to touch him. Oirion must come to understand the truth without a word spoken. Tharadon must face his fears and accept his place. David must become his own man. Many, many parts must fall into place, and if you are there, they will crumble, and it will all be for nothing. Please. This,” he gestured around, “this will set me so far back…” He looked around sadly before he looked back to Elliott. “I will need you to help me survive this childhood. I cannot help him until I have the power to do so, and no child can hold that.”
Elliott swallowed hard. “I won’t be able to talk of this, will I?”
“Does Tavia know who you are?”
“It’s said that those who see your face live to serve you.”
Armond smiled faintly. “I cannot make you more than you chose to be. If you choose to walk with me, it may serve the world well, but I do not ask it of you. I ask only that you try to trust me and that you do not go south.”
Elliott had to look away. He couldn’t stand to see the pain and grief in the face of the founder of his race. He squeezed his eyes shut, telling himself that Armond was not a god, he was just an angel. All Purtans knew that… silly; archangel was just another word for the same thing that others called gods. All good pirates knew that.
“Why don’t you just kill Gerome?”
“That will serve no purpose. He is, in fact, the last best defense we have against the emergent forces.”
“I don’t understand.” Elliott turned back, certainly not expecting that.
“I do not expect you to. I cannot explain it either. You must just trust me.”
There was a moment that felt as if the world dropped away. Smoke rose up, swirling out of the fire, and Travis swayed. His eyes rolled back as his body began to sink to the ground. Elliott caught the child as he fell. Tavia was right there, concern and fear on her face.
“Travis,” she touched his young face.
Elliott drew him up into his arms.
“Let’s lay him down. I think he is just tired.”
She looked at the captain a moment.
“Are you staying?”
“Yes,” he said softly. “At this point, I pretty much have to.”