A promise is an assurance, a declaration that one will follow through with something. They can be spoken by children in the school yard or kings and queens in the royal court. They can be used by lovers in declaring their commitment to one another, and they can be spoken by enemies when swearing their revenge. But most importantly, they can be broken. They are spoken lightly and easily destroyed. The number of broken promises I had been making were threatening to come crashing down. I had made false promises to my sister, Elijah, my father and Ellynia. But most importantly, I had been lying to myself.
I landed roughly on the ground, stumbling a bit before regaining my balance. The sun was shining in the canopy above, birds chirping in the trees. It was very peaceful, considering the situation I had just left. I knew that my sister probably wouldn’t be able to replicate the crossing, however my father would. And once he did, he would be after his prized weapon once more.
I sighed, flexing my fingers. Warmth spread through them, the work of fire magic. A different type of heat spread through me, mending all the cuts and wounds from the fight. The cut that Laire had managed to leave on my cheek took the longest to heal. When I tried to move again, my shoulder screamed out in pain. I glanced down, reminding me of the dagger buried in my shoulder. The injury had not healed, possibly because of the weapon still embedded in the wound.
I crouched down in the dirt, mentally preparing myself. I folded my fingers around the hilt and yanked. Gasping in pain, I dropped the weapon on the ground and tried to stand up. But much to my horror, the healing ability that had mended the rest of my wounds didn’t seem to work on my shoulder. I cursed under my breath, leaning on a tree to stabilize myself. I picked up the dagger and examined it, looking for a specific sheen. Once I saw it, I groaned and slipped the dagger into my belt. It was the same kind of poison that was on my choker. The kind that prevented healing herbs or magic from working.
I would need to find bandages before I bled out. I had heard countless stories of death in my village from men losing too much blood, wounds getting infected and internal bleeding. Another problem: how would I defend myself? I could create gusts of fire or tear up the earth, but not in my current state. And if this wound had to heal on its own, I wouldn’t be in any shape to fight. My sword had gone over the edge when I fought Laire, so I was left with my two daggers. But... when I had first crossed over into the Maeli world, Elijah had been able to transport three horses and supplies with us. It had taken a huge amount of effort, but now, if it was just a bow, some arrows and bandages... that would hold me over until I could find signs of civilization.
I closed my eyes, filtering out the sounds of birds and other wildlife. I imagined the materials in my hands, exactly how I remembered them. A wave of calm seemed to pass over me, and when I opened my eyes once more, the items were in my hands. As soon as I laid eyes on them, however, I bent over, my whole body shaking in pain. Phasing them had used all of my remaining strength. I groaned, managing to crawl over to the bandages that I had dropped. I ripped a chunk off and wrapped the fabric around my arm. The pressure slowed the bleeding, and it eventually stopped completely. For now. I hoisted the bow over the shoulder that wasn’t injured and grabbed my quiver, grunting as I tried to avoid pressure on my wounds. I limped into the forest, the pain fading, hoping to find a village or town.
After a bit, I came upon a stream, the water clean and flowing slowly. I peered down, glimpsing my reflection. I winced slightly at the mud and blood that caked my face, my dirty brown hair tangled and a mess. I glanced at the choker of thorns, my neck dripping red. I focused again on my core, trying to remove the necklace. I pulled on the earth core, trying to summon the most difficult part of Whiarheili. Metal magic. I thought about bending my necklace, pulling it apart.
The pressure on my neck lessened as I yanked the metal necklace off. Swallowing my disgust, I opened up a four foot hole in the ground and threw in the thorns. I waved my hand over the hole, closing it.
I then turned back to my reflection. Even if I didn't have many unique features, my father would be able to spot me anywhere. I glanced around before closing my eyes and steading my breathing. I slowly waved a hand across my face, before drifting it over my body as well. I was using human shifting, a magic technique that I had learned while training with my father.
When I stared at my reflection again, I was not standing there. It was a shorter, plump woman wearing a light blue long sleeved dress. She had gray hair tied up in a bun, several strands framing her face. The woman seemed around 60 or 70, but I still felt seventeen... wait no. I was eighteen now. My birthday had passed while I was in my father's care. I sighed, another thing that I had missed. The woman in the reflection followed my movements, the only proof that she was me. The human shifting had worked.
The sun was setting, and it was time to move on. Good news, I was starting to recognize these woods. We were near my hometown. The village I had promised to return to.
I emerged from the woods right before the town entrance. The sun was setting in the sky, but I could still hear shouts and loud laughter. It was market day. That would help me blend in more, with all the newcomers in town. I entered the town, trying to make myself invisible. All I needed was a sword, medical supplies so my injury didn't get infected and enough food to sustain me for a few weeks.
I didn't know if I could face Ellynia at the moment, and I needed to prepare for my father.
I wandered through the marketplace, searching every person for a face I recognized. I eventually spotted a weaponsmith, and even though I knew his prices would be outrageous, I needed a sword. I hefted the small bag of coins I had lifted from my father and approached the booth.
The salesman eyed me with concern, and I realized I still looked like an old lady.
"What does a lovely lady like yourself want with a weapon?" he asked, glancing at the purse I clutched. Nothing you can ever hear about if you want to keep your head, I thought to myself.
"Oh! My little grandson thinks he's going to be a great general and commander of armies." I giggled lightly, trying to get the man to sell to me. No one would blink an eye at an old grandmother trying to promote her grandson's dreams.
"Tell him that he's gonna need a war for that," the man chuckled, examining the swords. I giggled again, doing my own examination to try and find a sword that was fit for me. For a cheap price.
"That one looks like the one he had, before he broke it." I pointed to one of the swords. It was simple, not very intricate, but seemed to be my size and light enough for me to handle.
"Are you sure?" He frowned. I checked the price, seeing that it was the cheapest one in his shop. Of course he would want me to look at another sword. However, if it was cheap that could mean it wasn't the highest quality. I lifted up a very similar, but slightly more expensive one. The merchant smiled, preparing to make the deal. He knew that I wouldn't go any higher.
"Oh... I don't know. That other one looks the same, but this one is so much more expensive," I whined, getting his attention again. He frowned for a second, before regaining his composure.
"I'm sure we can bring it down a few coins," he amended, trying to get me to accept. I nodded in agreement, pulling out 24 gold coins. It was my final offer, considering the original price was 27. He seemed reluctant, but took the coins nonetheless. I said thanks before trying to find the other items.
I knew that my mother had some amount of food and water, but medical supplies were rare and hard to come by. Speaking of my mother, it had been almost a year since I had last seen her. I wondered if she would be happy to see me or if I would be scolded since I was without Laire.
I grimaced, dreading the inevitable. Discarding the need for medicine, I started making my way up the dirt path, towards my home, where my brother and mother were.
A single light was on in the cottage, and I could see my mother's shadow moving around inside. I stepped up the rickety stairs, trying to stay as quiet as possible. I reached to open the door, before realizing that I was still disguised. I transformed back into myself but decided not to hide my injuries. She would figure it out soon enough.
I knocked once, the noise echoing around the forest. It was almost dark now.
"Coming!" my mother called out. I stared at the ground as she opened the door. Mother gasped, and I mentally prepared myself for screaming and yelling. What I didn't expect was the hug she immediately pulled me into.
"Oh my Celyssia, I thought I would never see you again," she murmured against my hair. I stood frozen in shock.
"I- I...," I stuttered. Mother pulled back to examine my face, tears streaming down her face.
"I am so sorry. Please come in." She pulled my arm, dragging me to one of the wooden chairs. Once I had sat down, she examined my face and body. Her eyes lingered on my shoulder. Shaking her head and muttering under her breath, Mother disappeared into her room before returning again, carrying fresh bandages and ointment.
We both were quiet as she dressed my wounds, the only sound was me wincing as she wrapped my arm. When Mother was done, she took the seat across from me and was silent.
"Where is Laire?" she finally asked, leaning back in her chair. I could feel the tears start falling down my face as I thought of my sister, the look on her face when Laire stabbed me. She hadn't even looked remorseful.
Mother watched patiently, but I could tell she was worried.
"H... he got her. She's alive but…" I managed to choke out. My mother looked confused as she examined me.
"Who has her? Is she ok?" Mother asked. I stared at my hands, hating the words that would come out of my mouth.
"La... sis has changed. It's my fault, all my fault." The tears fell faster, and my mother stood up and walked around the table to hug me.
"Sh... shh... it'll be fine," Mother whispered in my ear.
"Father... father is still alive," I said, still trying to wrap my head around the fact. But Mother didn't look happy or excited about the news. Instead she looked like she expected it, like it wasn't a surprise. I stared, confused at her reaction.
"Of course that weasel is," she murmured, leaning on the table. "He could never leave, could he?"
"What do you mean? I thought you would be happy?" I asked, reaching out to put a hand on her arm. Mother glanced up at me, glaring into the air before she managed to calm herself down.
"So you've been to the Maeli world?" she inquired, meeting my gaze.
I was too tired to attempt to lie. "Yes. That is where we went. I didn't know what it was at first, we were tricked," I replied, and she sighed in defeat.
"I tried to protect you all your life, but at some point you were going to have to go there. It's fate. Celyssia, give me strength." Mother looked up towards the ceiling.
"Wait, you know about the Maeli realm?" I realized that she had used its name first.
"Yes. Your father brought me there countless times."
"So you knew he was the..." I couldn't get the title out.
"Conqueror? All powerful one? Yes. I met him at his prime, when he had a huge following. However, your father loved me, and he settled down at my request, wanting to start a family. Cayden was done with power, but unfortunately, power wasn't done with him." My mother looked lost in thought, reminiscing about the past. Her gaze refocused, staring right at me.
"You always looked just like him. Whenever I saw you, I saw him. I am so sorry. I was worried you would hurt this family, like he did."
That explained the past few years.
"It's okay…I know who he truly is now."
She eyed me carefully, her eyes stopping at my neck.
"Did he do that to you?" she asked.
"Yes. He was training me to... become the best Vallah there ever was," I replied, quoting his words. I assumed my mother knew what Vallah were, if she knew of the magical realm.
"Did he do the same to Laire?"
"Not exactly. I was practicing magic, she focused more on fighting. She did this to me." I gestured to my shoulder.
"I see." Suddenly, her head jerked up, scanning the air around me.
"What is it?" I questioned. It was out of character for her. Mother abruptly stood up, motioning for me to follow.
"Nothing. Not yet at least. I have something to give you though."
We arrived at a small cabinet at the back of the house. There was a small padlock on it, but Mother produced a key that was hanging from a chain at her neck.
"This hasn't been opened in so long. When your father first left, I would come down here every night," my mother murmured as she turned the lock. She slowly opened the door in anticipation.
There were only four things in the vault. A small golden ring, a leather pouch, a compact and a simple dagger. My mother took out the items and laid them out on top of the cabinet.
"Each of these was your father’s. They were his most prized items." She motioned to the items one by one. "The compact holds the picture we had drawn of us days before he left. The ring was my engagement ring that he gave to me. He carved it out of solid gold himself. Even though he didn't have the skill of a smith, he spent weeks on it."
I watched a tear fall down her cheek.
"And the bag?" I asked tentatively, not wanting to interrupt the moment. She pulled open the strings, a necklace falling out. Flowers, flames, snowflakes and clouds were expertly carved on it.
"He left the only thing that could defeat gods, as he put it. Your father said that gods still roamed our worlds and that we needed to be on guard.”
I thought of Rune, Quire, the pale girl, Celyssia and Rune's brother.
"He was right," I whispered, rubbing my hand over the designs. My mother glanced up to look at me.
"What exactly have you been through?" she asked, brushing my cheek gently. I sighed, thinking over the past six months.
"Father returning was one of the worst things that happened to me, but it definitely wasn't the strangest," I replied softly. Mother smiled ruefully before turning back to the safe.
"Maybe you could spend the night-" She was cut off by a shout in the distance.
"He said that the house was over here! Bring all of them alive! Boss is gonna pay us well!"
My gaze shot to the window, where I could see torches and figures moving outside. I lowered my gaze into heat vision, and I could see around 20 men.
"Your father is here. He has finally come for us," my mother muttered under her breath. I glanced at her face which was surprisingly calm.
"Wh- wha do you mean? Daddy is here?" My mother and I whipped around to see Beno standing behind us, clutching his blanket between his hands. His strawberry blonde hair was messy, and he looked like he had just woken up. He looked older, his features more defined. A pang of sadness went through me as I remembered that I had missed a year of his life. Beno didn’t seem surprised to see me, but he was probably still half asleep. My mother immediately turned to me.
"I know this is a lot to ask, but can you take Beno with you?"
I stared in shock at her.
"Why would I be leaving? And wouldn't you be coming with me?" I stepped back a bit. Mother looked sadly at me and Beno, who looked terrified.
"You can not let your father take you again. You are the key to defeating him," she put her hand on my shoulder, avoiding the one that was injured. "And someone needs to make sure you get out without being caught. Don't worry, I can defend myself," she promised.
"But... I don't want to leave you, please… come with us," I pleaded. She silently shook her head.
"Take some bandages and supplies with you, and some food. The Wessexs brought us food and water," she said, leading me over to the table. Mother quickly grabbed some provisions and threw them into a satchel. I watched as she put the compact, ring, necklace and bag in as well.
"Alright. Now go. May Dirania be with you," she murmured as she handed me the satchel. I was going to point out that she used the wrong goddess, but all of a sudden, a boom came from outside.
"Go!" Mom shouted, pushing me towards the back door. I grabbed Beno's hand, pulling him with me. He followed, not really sure of what was going on. We were halfway out the door when I glanced back one more time, wanting to say goodbye to my mom. But instead of her standing there, a large gray wolf was pacing in the living room. When I gasped, the wolf slightly turned her head to me and seemed to smile.
"Your dear mother has some tricks up her sleeve," the wolf growled. "I am prepared to give your father a warm welcome."
Tears streamed down my face as I pulled Beno even further out into the yard.
She nodded, turning away as I closed the door, sprinting into the forest with my brother, not looking back.
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