Part II has arrived! =)

This part is really my masterpiece, you'll see the same as you read it. x)

Chapter 1 - Farewell

Kingdom of Jevarish, Fulgyr of the year 70

Meyja stared at Aron who remained standing in the doorway and looked back and forth between her and Eralion in bewilderment.
"Eralion? You?” he asked in disbelief, then he turned his gaze to Meyja.
He had changed in the past two years, his black hair was no longer shoulder length, but a little shorter and stood out wildly from his head. He had shaved his beard completely. His clothes were also clean and tidy, not even his boots were dirty, although that hadn't always bothered him before.
"So, you're going to fuck him now, yes?" Aron asked and without taking his eyes off her, pointed his finger at Eralion.
"You’re alive?" whispered Meyja.
"Of course, I'm alive! Didn't you get my message?" Aron replied confused.
"What message?" Meyja asked back.
"I wrote you a letter, Meyja. It said I had to be away for a long time and couldn't tell you personally. Also, where to find me and that you should come over so we can get married there,” he explained, his eyes filling with tears as she shook her head.
Meyja also had to blink a few times before she blurted out, “We were looking for you, Aron! For a year! We turned the whole fucking city upside down! I thought you were dead! I mourned you!”
Without realising it after a few words she had started screaming. She fell to the floor crying, clutching the stab wound on her side which had bled through the bandage, and turned the fabric of her light-coloured shirt red.
Eralion helped her up and carefully placed her back in the chair.
"You better go now, Aron," he said quietly over his shoulder.
But Aron didn't even think about it, instead slamming the door shut before following him. "Don't tell me what I have to do in my own flat, you rat!" he yelled outraged. "You cheat my life, take my wife, and now you just want to throw me out?!"
"I didn't cheat anything, Aron. You went and left her here alone. On the day of your wedding”, Eralion replied calmly and carefully pulled the shirt over the head of the still crying Meyja.
"Don't touch her!" Aron yelled and pushed him away from her just as he was about to check on the injury.
"Out. Both of you,” groaned Meyja who was tired of the whole situation.
The two men paused and Eralion still sitting on the floor asked in horror, "Are you serious?"
"I'm serious. Disappear; both of you. I can’t take this argument any longer. If you want to quarrel like children go out the door and spare me,” she demanded breathlessly.
Aron and Eralion looked at each other for a moment, then Aron asked, “What happened anyway? Why is she bleeding?”
“Because she was injured on an assignment yesterday, a stab wound. It was badly infected when I got here earlier,” Eralion replied standing up.
Aron knelt worried on the ground in front of Meyja and put his fingers on her bandage, but she pushed him back and growled, “Don't touch me. Nobody ever touches me again. And now get out of here.”
She pointed to the door and silently watched them both exit after some hesitation then checked on her wound herself. Even if she seemed strong when she threw them both out her guilty conscience weighed heavily on her shoulders like a mountain.
Now Aron had returned although she had firmly assumed that he was no longer alive. She felt great guilt towards him for not waiting for him. And also, to Eralion to whom she had never confessed her love.
Now there were two men in Sharaya who were equally interested in her. Eralion was the one she valued more as a friend than as a partner even if she cared for him. Aron, on the other hand, had her heart even after all the time he had left her alone. The moment their eyes met she realised she had come to a dead end. And this deep dichotomy called for a quick solution.
Aron and Eralion had stopped in the street and looked at each other, then Eralion asked, “Do you want to talk?"
Aron nodded still a little hostile but his desire for clarity was greater than that for revenge.
Together they sat down on the parapet of a well not far from the house entrance and were silent for a while before Eralion spoke.
"You wrote a message?" he began.
"I had. And I gave it to a messenger together with a heap of gold so that he would bring it to her immediately," answered Aron.
"We were all looking for you, you should have seen Ed. And Meyja, she was devastated. Everyone was worried about you but especially these two. After you left, she drowned her sorrow in alcohol and barely ate. She looked more like a dead woman than the woman you knew," Eralion reported.
"Until her proud saviour showed up," Aron shot him sarcastically.
"No, I've been with her for less than a year. And she was slow to let me in on her. She hadn't been able to get over your loss for a long time,” Eralion weakened the attack.
"I went because I had to. It was never my intention to just dump her. And I've waited a long time for her to finally get there. At some point, I assumed that she couldn't or didn't want to. But I hadn't expected in my dream that she didn't know anything and neither did the guild. I would have sent another letter but I wasn't allowed to. There was complete isolation from the outside world," Aron justified himself.
Eralion asked, "Where have you been anyway? And why did you have to go?"
"It was sort of a secret elite academy for the likes of us. However, I'm not allowed to reveal where their property is. Only Meyja should have known about it. An emissary now and then looks for recruits in Sharaya. He saw me, watched me, and decided I was worthy. After he told me about it, I wanted to see it. They train assassins who have promising abilities showing. After training, you are no longer a simple scoundrel, but a perfectly trained, absolutely deadly villain. Here at Ed, there is no opportunity for advancement, it is very difficult to think outside the box.”
“And I also talked about Meyja. Taelan, the emissary, found it extremely interesting and would have liked to take her with him but he couldn't wait any longer we had to leave immediately because he was recognized and the guards were hot on his heels. According to Taelan you only get one chance to go with him in a lifetime. Had I turned him down I would have been denied any other option. So, I agreed and he allowed me to leave a message for Meyja so she could catch up. That she never got it..." reported Aron, but then broke off covered his mouth with one hand and blinked away the tears that were already glistening in his eyes. 
Eralion said quietly, “You’re still my brother, Aron. And while Ed will be angry, he will welcome his prodigal son. Meyja is a different story. What you did to her with that... I realise now that you didn't mean to do this, but her trust in you is broken. She's suffered for so long, got better for a while, and now you've reopened healed wounds." 
"Does she love you?" Aron asked, although he was afraid of the answer. 
"She never told me but I think she does. It was a nice time we had together. And she even carried a child once if only briefly,” Eralion reported quietly. 
"What happened?" Aron was concerned. 
"She woke up one morning with blood all over her and it was on the bed between her legs. It's only been a few weeks since she told me I was going to be a father,” Eralion whispered wiping away a few tears. 
Aron couldn't take this leap of faith yet, even if he felt sorry for his long-time brother, he was only interested in Meyja at the moment so he asked, “How did she cope?" 
"She just accepted it like nothing happened. In retrospect I think she was even glad she didn't have to be a mother," Eralion said. 
Meyja's relief hadn't escaped his notice. He had also noticed that she hadn't seemed happy while she was carrying a child. 
They looked up when they heard footsteps and it was Meyja who approached with a bag over her shoulder and sat down on the parapet next to Eralion. 
She heard the last sentence and said, “I was really happy about it. I always knew I wouldn't make a good mother. I'm an assassin. So, there's no room for a child in my life.” She looked at Eralion apologetically. "I saw you both from the window and decided to talk to you." 
"How is your wound?" Aron asked. 
"Don't worry. I'm fine so far. Just a little blood, nothing more,” she explained. "What did the message say, Aron?" 
Aron repeated what he had already told Eralion and why he couldn't send another message and Meyja nodded silently even if none of that changed anything for her because the situation was the way it was. But she had made a decision that wasn't difficult for her and she now wanted to tell the two men so she got up and stood up straight in front of them. 
"You probably think now that I'm cut to the quick by what has happened in the last hour and I am. But I will not choose between you two. It would be unfair to you and also to myself because in a way I love you both. I'm going to leave right now, buy a horse, and leave Sharaya tonight because I've achieved everything there was to achieve here. I became the best of us all and famous without anyone knowing who I am. The Indomitable will be a legend to talk about from now on. I'm not the least bit proud of everything I've done. I want one of you tomorrow to let Ed know that I'm gone. If he wants revenge, let him send someone for me to kill. But if not, thank him on my behalf for everything he has done for me as I am very grateful to him and appreciate it all. I am also grateful to you – for the good time we spent together. It was the best years of my life so far. Who knows what's to come. I'll just see where the wind takes me and start a new life. Take care.” She finished with a smile before turning and walking down the alley towards the main street. 
The men looked at each other for a long time, stunned by the plan of the woman they both loved so much who now just wanted to go and leave them both behind. Finally, Aron got up, kicked against the stone border of the fountain, and mumbled something incomprehensible. 
"Aron, please calm down we can’t do anything about it," Eralion said calmly, the pain of the loss was deep and had hit him hard. 
But Aron shook his head, walked up to him, and whispered, “I won't give her up that easily. She's still here." 
Then he turned around and ran after Meyja, literally ran for his life, kept shouting her name. Deep down inside he couldn't and didn't want to accept her decision. 
When she heard Aron's quick footsteps behind her, she stopped, and faced him because she couldn't avoid the confrontation anyway. 
Aron stopped panting in front of her and asked, “Please can’t we talk to each other for a moment before you go?" 
She nodded calmly awaiting his words. 
He just looked at her for a few seconds before saying quietly, „Meyja, I never wanted to leave you, you have to believe me. I left expecting to see you again soon. Every single day that you weren't with me I missed you, waited for you, and looked out for you. I never understood why you didn't follow me. Now I know why and the fault wasn't yours – it was mine. I understand your pain and I deeply regret it. I also regret leaving more than any other wrong decision I've ever made. Still, I beg you give us one more chance. Please." He knelt down in front of her and looked at her desperately, tears glistening in his eyes. 
She also looked at him for a long time before she could think of the right words. 
"Look at me carefully, Aron, and then think of Eralion. What do you expect from me? That I continue where we both left off? How do you imagine that? If you want me to stay you must never leave me alone, ever,” she said quietly. 
Aron came closer standing right in front of her, he stroked her cheek lightly, and then kissed her gently on the mouth. 
Meyja closed her eyes and returned the kiss very cautiously. His lips felt alien, yet so familiar that it stung her painfully. 
"I'll never leave you alone again I swear," he whispered in a pleading voice. 
She could feel his breath caressing her skin then she opened her eyes and looked at him for a moment before stepping backwards and saying quietly, “You've already left me alone, Aron. For two years. I'm not the woman you know anymore. Deep in your heart you've known that for a long time. And you are also aware that this life you want to share with me no longer exists. It is only a distant dream.” 
Aron remained stunned when she turned away and left the place. After she disappeared from his sight, he broke down crying. 
Half an hour later, Meyja rode through the city gate on a grey stallion. Leaving behind the walls of Sharaya, she spurred her horse and was soon lost in the darkness of the Jevarish forest. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 2 - South

It was the day after Meyja's hasty departure from Sharaya and she hadn't left the capital far behind. Having arrived in the village of Effilien where she had taken a room in the inn there for the rest of the night. 

She walked up to her grey stallion and gently stroked his neck then she held out the apple she had brought with her flat, outstretched hand which he carefully took between his teeth and placed on the ground before he ate it with relish. 

 "You're almost as well-mannered as I am," laughed Meyja. 

The grey nudged her gently with his head hoping for another treat. 

"I only had the one, sorry," she said softly, patting the animal's neck, and reaching for the brush, combing its fur until it shone. "We're going to be traveling a long way so I should think of a name for you," she said as she heaved the heavy saddle onto the horse's back. 

"Are you always talking to yourself?" came an amused voice behind her. 

When Meyja turned around, a young man was standing in front of the stall in which she had kept her horse. He had his arms on the edge and was grinning at her. 

"Who are you and what do you want?" Meyja asked back dismissively while turning back to her job and tightening the saddle belt. 

"I'm the stable boy and I don't want anything, at least not from you," the guy replied and continued to watch her. 

Meyja put the reins around the animal's neck before deftly feeding the thin metal rod into its mouth and pulling the leather straps over the horse's ears that were holding everything in place. The grey chewed the bit and nudged her again as she strapped her pack to the saddle, but she ignored it and grabbed the reins. Then she opened the door of the box and led her saddled horse out into the open, the curious stable boy followed her. Outside, Meyja re-tightened the girth as she had been shown at Sharaya before swinging onto the horse's back and looking down at her pursuer. 

"Tell me, what do you want?" she asked a little angrily. 

"It's okay, lady. I just wanted to see who owns the horse you're sitting on. No old nags like they usually stand here in the stable,” the young fellow admitted. 

"Well, it's mine as I'm sure you could tell. If you don't mind, I'll leave now”, Meyja replied ironically and urged her stallion on who started moving instantly. 

"Where are you riding to by yourself?" the boy asked, walking alongside her. 

Meyja gently pulled on the reins and stopped the grey again then she looked down at her annoying companion and barked at him, „Get out! I won't tell you where I come from or where I'm going. Take care of your nags and leave me alone.” 

With that she rode on without looking back at the young fellow who had finally stopped. The grey walked at a brisk pace along the path and Meyja pulled a roll of parchment from the saddlebag in front of her knee, unrolled the map, and looked at it. She had only left Sharaya a day before and yet she could already feel the freedom that awaited her beyond the city. Even if she already missed the two men she had left there, she was sure that she had made the right decision. 

It would probably take her a few days to get out of Jevarish Forest but she had plenty of time and would enjoy the journey to the fullest so contentedly she put the map back and watched the slowly passing surroundings. A small lake glittered between the densely growing trees, the sun's rays refracted on the water surface and she had to blink. 

"Now I know your name. You're Crispin," she said smiling patting the animal's neck. 

Crispin snorted. 


"What did she say?" the man with the jet-black hair asked. 

"Nothing, absolutely nothing. She only sent me back to the stables when I asked where she was going,” the stable boy replied holding out his hand. "Can I get the money now?" 

The black-haired handed him three bronze coins and growled, „Go away." Then he looked grimly down the path his target had taken. 


The forest of Jevarish was huge and the rows of trees never ended even if green clearings opened up in between which invited to rest. But Meyja had only been on the road for a few hours and neither she nor Crispin needed a break instead she pressed her thighs against the animal's stomach and clicked her tongue softly. Crispin stretched his neck and increased the pace until they galloped down the path at a full gallop as the wind was caressing Meyja's face and bringing tears to her eyes but she savoured every breath. After a few minutes, the grey stallion slowed down on its own and fell back into a leisurely trot but there were no sweat stains on his neck and Meyja decided to wait a little longer before taking a break. She reined in the horse a little, though, and Crispin gave a snort of satisfaction before resuming his brisk walk. 

She rode on comfortably for two more hours then a bridge appeared in front of her that led over a narrow river and she steered Crispin to the bank. A little downstream she dismounted and loosened the saddle straps then pulled the reins forward over Crispin's head and took some of her provisions from a saddlebag. With that she sat down on the grass and began to eat while the stallion greedily stuck his nose into the lush green and snorted happily tearing out tufts of stalks. With a grin on her lips, she watched her four-legged companion. 

"I prefer bread and cheese then, if you don't mind," she murmured. 

She took her time, even laying down on the soft grass for a few more minutes after she had eaten, enjoying the fresh air and the chirping of the birds while her stallion grazed just as contentedly beside her. 

'If only my life had always been so peaceful...', she thought. 

That's exactly what she had dreamed of back in Voynar when she was young and naïve and for a while, she had assumed that she had been free in Sharaya as well, but the opposite was the case. She had rushed through the streets from one job to the next, constantly searching for the meaning behind it all which in the end she had never seen. But now she was here, enjoying the quiet, and thinking about where she would ride because the world was open to her. 

A while ago, she had heard of a place called Acinares where smugglers, crooks, and thieves could feel at home, the black market was thriving and someone like her would certainly not have to worry about finding employment. But did she want that? 

Did she want to continue this life just somewhere else? Did she want to keep killing? Meyja didn't know but she was sure that she wasn't made for honest work. Maybe there would be something in Acinares that was less bloody and still lucrative enough to get by with it. If all that failed, she could always go back to Sharaya or anywhere she had never been before. In the end nothing and nobody stopped her anymore. 

When she eventually got up, she pulled out the map again, and looked at the way to Acinares. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

She didn't have to turn back which was good, but the journey seemed anything but harmless. After crossing the Spes Mountains, she would have to ride through the Slumberwood until she finally reached Umenksar. And there – way down at the southwestern tip of Abarglen – was Acinares. It would be weeks before she finally arrived, but she had also escaped from the Ice Lands so why should a journey like this be able to stop her?
Meyja resolutely rolled up the map, put it back in the saddlebag, then tightened the girth again, and led Crispin to the bank so he could drink from the river. When he was done, she put the reins around his neck and mounted guiding him at a leisurely pace back to the path and continuing to follow the road towards the Spes Mountains.
"Thank you," Meyja said as she was taking the bottle that the landlady had put on the counter and went up the stairs to her room.
About an hour ago, she had arrived in the town of Aerai in the Spes Mountains which was exactly on her way, but Crispin was extremely exhausted and so she had decided to rest for two days. The stallion was now in the care of the stable master who had promised her that the animal would recover soon. She herself had treated herself to an early supper and a bottle of schnapps which she now placed on the small table under one of the windows of the pleasant room.
The sun had almost reached the horizon over the sea that lay far below the mountains. The sight of the water surface reflecting the fiery light of dusk tempted Meyja to leave the inn again. Bottle of liquor in hand she walked down to the market square and perched on the edge of the wide wooden walkway that stretched over the sheer cliff. The sea water lapped against the rock of the mountains below her feet and she could just make out a few silvery fish in it for a split second.
When Meyja wanted to look up again her gaze found her own reflection on the square glass bottle in her hand. Though she was enjoying the freedom her expression was anything but cheerful. She had dark circles below her eyes and the corners of her mouth could only be pulled up by force so she let her shoulders sag with a soft sigh and uncorked the liquor bottle before taking a long drag. The drink tasted sweet but the finish had that familiar spiciness of strong alcohol that she had been missing.
A week had already passed since her rest by the river in Jevarish and with each passing day she had wished a little more back to civilisation. Even if she sometimes enjoyed the solitude at some point, she had run out of the liquor that made solitude feel good.
Everything that had happened in Sharaya before she fled the city now bothered her more than she had ever thought possible. If she closed her eyes, she saw Aron's face in front of her, the deep disappointment that she had steered her life on different paths without him – at least as far as love was concerned. For half a year, she had been trying to convince herself that it was okay, if she continued to live as she wanted but now, she felt guilty. As if he hadn't been with her for just a few hours and found her in someone else's arms.
It was downright idiotic, she knew that, but it still didn't keep the dark thoughts away. With another soft sigh she leaned against the railing in front of her before putting the bottle back to her lips and drinking again. The last rays of the sun found her face warming the skin and blinding at the same time so that she closed her eyes and waited silently until the light on her lids had faded. A cool breeze made her shiver so she got up and sauntered back to the inn, swaying slightly a smirk on her lips. When she reached the entrance, the bottle was empty, and Meyja carelessly threw the container over her shoulder where it hit the road a few feet further and smashed with a clatter.
Through the binoculars the man saw the dark-haired woman he'd been chasing since Effilien come out of the building and head over to the jetty. He himself was a little apart from Aerai hidden behind a bush in the thin grass and watching the Indomitable who sat quietly and drank some clear liquid from a bottle. Her feet dangled high above the water's surface as she downed the supposed liquor at a rate that inspired him in awe. When she finally got up, she almost fell on her backside but she managed to stay on her feet and staggered toward the inn. Apparently, she drank a lot as indicated by her reflexes and the size of the bottle she had just thrown on the street. There was certainly no one in all of Abarglen who squandered leftover schnapps so carelessly so the vessel must have been empty. He also knew the booze that the landlady of the tavern offered to her guests and he had tasted it once or twice when he had done business here. Aerai's pear spirit was a real treat for the palate filling the mouth sweetly but emptying the head and was excellent for banishing unpleasant thoughts. She closed the door behind her and he lowered his binoculars, laid them on the grass, and instead picked up his hip flask to take a small sip himself against the coming cold.
Meyja woke up late the next morning with a pounding head and laid back on the soft pillows groaning as she felt dizzy trying to get up. This schnapps was tough, she was still sick. During the night, she had thrown up several times in the chamber pot that was next to the bed which is why the room smelled sourly of vomit. It would probably have been wiser to stop drinking after the first bottle but this realisation came a little too late now, she had to pull herself together. She made another attempt, finally standing by the bed in just her underwear, and holding her head before grabbing her clothes and getting dressed. She locked her personal belongings and valuables in the closet while she only put a few coins and the key to the furniture in her pocket, then opened the window, and left the room.
"It seems my pear spirit tasted a little better than you wanted. I'll bring you something to eat," the landlady smiled as Meyja sat down on one of the stools at the counter.
"Thank you," Meyja just grumbled nodding when she got two slices of bread some cheese and sausage.
Although she only took small bites, she had to fight the urge to run outside and get rid of her stomach contents immediately.
It wasn't until she'd finished eating that the nauseous feeling subsided.
The landlady had just come back from the kitchen and Meyja asked, “Would you be so kind as to send someone upstairs to empty the chamber pot? The door is open and the key is in it. Besides, I would like to take a bath.”
"Sure. I'll take care of it right away,” the brunette replied nodding, then went through the door again, and came back a little later with a steaming mug and a girl.
The child was about twelve years old and was grumbling around the counter and up the stairs bucket in hand.
"Sorry my daughter. Erin can be a bit rebellious at times. But she will take care of your concerns. Drink a cup of tea until the bath water is hot, it helps against nausea,” the landlady remarked in a friendly manner and put the cup down in front of Meyja.
"Thank you," Meyja murmured again.
It didn't bother her in the least that she could be seen through the night, but she found the child in her room oddly disgusting so she drank the hot herbal tea as quickly as possible and followed the girl up the stairs.
The door was only ajar and Meyja pressed it lightly so that the wing swung open silently. When she realized that the closet was open and the landlady's daughter was about to go through her things, she quickly crept up to the little one and stopped right behind her.
Erin held the fine silver chain between her fingers that Aron's engagement ring was threaded into and gazed at the gleaming jewellery in fascination.
An unspeakable rage came up in Meyja, she grabbed the girl by the neck, and jerked her around.
"Get your damn little fingers out of my affairs. Otherwise, you'll end up at the bottom of the sea, I promise,” she hissed angrily glaring at the frightened child whose eyes were wide open at her.
Nodding hastily Erin let go of the chain and the ring tumbled to the floor with a clatter. The girl took advantage of the moment when Meyja's gaze followed her most valuable possession, tore herself away, and ran out the door as fast as she could. 'Damn brat...', she thought.
Angry Meyja picked up the chain and put it around her neck where she pushed the ring below her shirt then she checked if something was missing but apparently, she had come just in time and Erin hadn't been able to steal. The chamber pot was still full of vomit and the mop bucket was by the side, so she stormed out of the room in a rage, slamming the door behind her. 
She hurried down the stairs and stood in front of the counter behind which the landlady was just about to comfort her crying daughter who immediately hid behind her mother at the sight of the stranger. 
Despite her small size, Meyja made an intimidating impression. With fists on her hips, she fixed her eyes on the crying child and rumbled, “She tried to steal from me! Is it common practice here to rummage through guests' personal belongings instead of cleaning the rooms?!" 
The landlady stood a little embarrassed up and raised her hands in defence before calmly apologizing, “I'm very sorry, really. I'll take care of the room personally in a moment and Erin will be punished, I assure you. But please be a little quieter otherwise my husband will hear us..." 
There was something desperate, pleading in her facial expression and Meyja's anger evaporated immediately, instead of answering she just nodded silently and the landlady whispered a thank you before she sent her daughter outside and hurried up the stairs. 
With an uneasy feeling in her stomach, Meyja followed the woman who was just cleaning the chamber pot and who was startled when she suddenly stood in the doorway. 
"Please forgive my daughter. I'm sure that she was just curious and didn't want to steal from you," the landlady asked and took the hand from her chest that she had pressed against it before she got up and walked towards Meyja in embarrassment. 
She closed the door and gave the brunette a searching look then calmly replied, “It seemed like it that's why I got so angry. And I wouldn't have screamed, if I'd known your husband was... well..." Meyja left the sentence unfinished, laid a sympathetic hand on the taller woman’s arm, and bowed her head; she knew only too well how the landlady must be feeling. 
"All right. Thank you for responding to my request. You know it's not that bad. He just loves me and only wants the best for the family. Most of the time, I even deserve the trouble I get," the brunette remarked. 
"What's your name?" Meyja wanted to know, recognising the resignation of her counterpart. 
"Fine, Briana. I won't tell you my name but if you need any help let me know. You’re not alone and certainly not the only woman in the world that something like this happens to,” whispered Meyja. 
Brianna shook her head violently and replied, "No, no... It's all right. Surely it will sort itself out at some point. Or I'll find the courage..." 
Her last sentence turned into a confused murmur but Meyja knew exactly what she meant and made a decision at that very second. 
Brianna absentmindedly took the bucket and left the room without another word. 
Meyja stood thoughtfully for a moment then closed the door and sat down on the edge of the bed, pondering. She had already seen the guy and knew exactly who Brianna's husband was. He was the cook of the inn and since his wife was the landlady, he was probably the owner of it. Unlike Ethan you couldn't tell what kind of scum he was but he had given Meyja a definite wink when she arrived which had struck her as a bit strange but now it opened up an opportunity for her even if it was her departure from Aerai would be a little hastier than planned. 
In the evening, Meyja sat again at the counter of the inn, a glass of wine in front of her, and brooded over the menu. Before she had been in the stables, saddled Crispin, and paid the stable fees. Her bags were ready packed in the closet and the plan in her head was slowly but surely taking shape. 
When Brianna approached her and asked what she wanted for dinner Meyja replied, "I'm not sure. None of the dishes pique my interest to be honest. Would it be possible to speak to the chef? Maybe he can offer me something else that I'm more interested in." 
Brianna instantly turned pale and shook her head gently while looking at Meyja pleadingly. "Do not do that. I beg you." 
But Meyja just smiled, she chose the correct words, and answered, “He's watching us through the kitchen door, Brianna. And he doesn't look very happy. I know exactly what you're going through right now, believe me. What I am about to offer you I will only say once. If you refuse I cannot and will not help you. However, if you wish your husband will die that very night and I will disappear never to be seen again. It's not the first time I've done this and since I've experienced the same thing as you, I'll put myself at your service and free you and your daughter from the scourge of this pig. I don't want anything from you in return except your silence. You've never seen me when they’re looking for the killer. If you agree, nod and lead me to him in the kitchen. If not, I'll have another glass of wine and the stew.” 
Waiting she lifted the glass to her lips and drained it in one gulp, out of the corner of her eye she watched the landlord who was still peering through the kitchen door behind Brianna at them. His wife took a deep breath, one could see her inner conflict. 
When Meyja already thought that she would refuse, she surprisingly nodded and replied, “Sure, please follow me." 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 3 - Control

With a satisfied smile and a feeling in her heart that she herself could not interpret Meyja got up from her place at the counter and followed Brianna into the kitchen to her husband. 

"Sherman, this lady has a request regarding food and would like to speak to you," Brianna opened submissively. 

"Sure. You can go,” Sherman grumbled and Brianna made her way out the door. "What can I help you with?" With a subtly suggestive smile on his lips, the chef turned to his guest, and Meyja also smiled a little ambiguously. 

He had short brunet hair, was tall, broad of build, had dark eyes under bushy brows, and a prominent jaw. He put the meat cleaver he was holding in his hand next to some chunks of raw meat and leaned sideways against the wall looking at Meyja. 

He would have been an attractive man if she hadn't known what sort of man he was. 

She didn't show any dislike and replied, “Well, to be honest... I have just enough coins for the rest of the trip to Sharaya and to pay for the room here. So, I wanted to ask for a discount for this dinner. I would pay... differently. You understand?” She felt like throwing up at the sickening grin that crept across Sherman’s face but she managed to keep the mask upright. 

"So that's it," he murmured eyeing her up and down, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. 

How she would have liked to hit him at that moment just for the audacity of trying to put her in suspense when she already knew full well that he would agree to the suggestion. But she remained calm as she smiled expectantly and feigned relief when he finally nodded. 

"Pick something to eat, sweetheart. I'll cook anything you want for it," he whispered. 

"Steak. Bloody,” Meyja answered immediately and winked at him. 

"I can do that," Sherman grinned, nodding. 

She turned toward the door looked over her shoulder at him and remarked, "I'm eating fast. After that, I like to stretch my legs outdoors. See you." 

"I'll find you, count on it," he replied lowering his eyes to her ass. 

With a last wink and a teasing hip swing she left the kitchen and sat back at the counter where a second glass of wine was already waiting for her. 

Brianna walked up to her and asked quietly, “He's not dead already, is he?" 

"No, he's alive. Did you change your mind? Then you should change your mind quickly otherwise he'll be dead behind the building in about half an hour,” Meyja urged a little angrily. 

She would never have hesitated when it came to getting rid of Ethan but Brianna seemed to care about her husband despite everything, she looked thoughtful for a moment but then she whispered, “Do it. For Erin." 

"I will," Meyja promised and nodded gently. 

She herself had no children and never wanted any but she could well imagine what she would have done to the man who had abused her daughter. While she wasn't exactly sure what Sherman had done, he could expect no mercy from her – what she knew was perfectly sufficient reason. 

While Meyja kept sipping her wine and waiting for her food, Brianna went about her work and served the other guests even if she seemed jittery and nervous. After a few minutes, Sherman himself came out of the kitchen and with a wink placed the desired steak in front of Meyja before disappearing behind the door again. Hungry she began to eat, amazed to find that it was the best meat she had ever tasted. 

Nonetheless, this would be the last steak Sherman would ever cook, he had to pay for what he had done to his family and Meyja was only right she should wield the deadly blade. She had never been able to take revenge on Ethan which she deeply regretted but now she could end Brianna's and Erin's suffering which seemed equal to hers. It seemed right to use what she possessed to make someone else better off, even though it would probably be the first time in her career as an assassin that she'd committed murder out of personal ambition. 

It really didn't take her long to finish, then she finished the rest of the wine, paid Brianna generously, and went to her room. There she took the packed bags from the cupboard and swung herself out through the window where she crept through the darkness to the stable and stowed the luggage on Crispin's back. To maintain the cover, she climbed back into the building and exited through the front door again before making her way to the back of the building where she would wait for Sherman. She had already provided the two daggers and the stiletto with fresh poison before she went into the dining room to eat. Now she leaned calmly against the wall of the house and waited for her victim. 

As always, she was dressed in dark, wore her leather vest, pants and boots were also leather. She wore fingerless gloves over her hands, also made of soft, dark leather. The only thing she didn't wear was the cloth that usually concealed her identity since Sherman knew who he was meeting and it would only have puzzled him if she'd received him in a mask. 

After a few minutes of waiting, however, the target still hadn't appeared and was beginning to get restless. Had Brianna warned him? Would guards soon show up instead of Sherman and try to arrest her? Suddenly Meyja was unsure whether it would be safe for her to interfere in other people's affairs. She'd been pushing Brianna because she wanted revenge herself even if it wasn't against Ethan but against someone she didn't even know. 

After all, if she just took off, none would probably notice. She wouldn't even be a swindler since favours of this kind were hardly accepted as a means of payment. And even if Sherman went up to one of the guards and complained that she hadn't slept with him in exchange for a steak the best they could do was laugh at him. At the thought of it she almost had to smile herself but then she pushed herself off the wall and walked briskly around the corner of the house in the direction of the stable. 

As she unexpectedly crashed into a body, she jumped, she hadn't expected her victim to come, but it was Sherman who was now grinning down at her and holding her upper arms in his hands. 

"Well? Where are you going, little one? What about our tryst?” he asked. 

Fear spread through Meyja when two more men she had never seen before stepped out from behind him and a look at Sherman’s face showed her that he hadn't fallen into her trap, but she into his. Still, she tried to keep her composure forced a restrained smile on her lips and looked up at him. 

"No, I haven't forgotten. But I'm not local and just wanted to look for you. Who are the two? Spectators weren't scheduled as far as I remember," she noted. 

His hands were still on her upper arms though he didn't grab her the grip was tight enough that she couldn't escape him unnoticed. 

Slowly Sherman pushed her back behind the inn to where she had been waiting for him a moment ago. 

The two guys followed them without a word but they also had a strange smile on their lips and Meyja knew immediately which way the land was laying, even if she acted stupid at first. 

Sherman pressed her gently against the wall of the house. "They're just two good friends. And we hadn't agreed on anything specific that's right, little one. All you said was that you didn't want to pay for your dinner the usual way. The meat you ate was special. Which makes it... well... a little more expensive." 

"Special? What is it supposed to be?” Meyja asked worried. 

To her it had tasted like any other meat, even if it was a bit more tender than the beef that people usually use to make steaks among other things. 

"It wasn't an animal, that's all you need to know," whispered Sherman. 

Meyja immediately became nauseated again, ashen she stared at him. One of the two guys let out a stifled laugh that sent shivers down her spine. 

"Let me go. I won't say it again," she hissed as panic spread through her. 

The two guys stepped to her side and blocked her path before Sherman released her and raised his hands to the sky. 

"And what now, eh?" he asked amused. 

She'd stabbed a hornet's nest; had no idea he was anything more than some guy who mistreated his wife and kid. It almost seemed as if she was magically attracted to this type of person. Whenever she met someone, it turned out in hindsight that relying on them or underestimating them was a mistake. And again, she had made the same mistake. 

Anxiously she continued to stare at Sherman, she barely reached his chest and otherwise he was physically superior to her, the other two would be easier to take out, but at the moment she didn't even have enough room to draw her daggers. When one of the two nameless ones grabbed her hand and slowly pushed her index finger into his sucking mouth her heart sank and she tried to wriggle out of his grip. 

Laughing he released her and said to Sherman, “You should scare her a little more, then she'll taste better." 

"What?!" Meyja exclaimed in disbelief. She stared at the man on her right before she looked back at Sherman. 

"You idiot. There will be enough time for that later. Don't you ever listen when I say something?” Sherman grunted rolling his eyes before stroking his fingers over 

Meyja's cheek. "You promised me some fun. What about it now, sweetheart?” 

"What did you give me to eat? Spit it out," she demanded harshly. 

At the moment her fear for her well-being was only limited to the contents of her stomach as she had a bad suspicion, so outrageous she didn't even want to think about it. 

"If I tell you that you will spit it out and it would be a shame for that. Answer my question,” Sherman demanded slyly. 

She knew full well he would take what he felt was his right, whether she agreed or not. Even if there wasn't much rationality left in her head in those minutes, her instinct was still at work and prevented her from acting thoughtlessly. 

"Only you. The others should go," she determined and tried to give her look something self-confident. 

In truth, she was terrified. He'd served her something that humans don't usually eat. Maybe other people's flesh, maybe something else entirely she didn't know. But if she started throwing up now, she’d undoubtedly not let sleeping dogs lie and she had to avoid that at all costs so she tried not to think about it and instead focused on Sherman who was looking down at her a little irresolutely. 

"That will hardly be enough, I think," he murmured with a gentle shake of his head. 

"You can only say that when you know exactly what you will get from me," Meyja replied hastily. Ready to grab any straw, she would have told him her parents were demons, if it had given her an advantage. 

Sherman was smirking she could see that even though he had one hand covering his mouth but when he shook his head again, she knew she'd lost. 

In a flash she pulled her knee up and rammed it into his crotch as hard as she could the force behind it was enormous because her back was against the wall and thus, she had good support. 

Panting, Sherman squatted down, his hands jerking to his crotch, and a whimper escaped his throat. 

Before the other two had time to react Meyja threw herself on Sherman and swept him to the ground then rolled over him and pulled her daggers out of her strap at the same time. 

One of the footmen went after her and tried to grab her but she ducked under his grasp and stabbed both blades into his stomach before tearing them apart and the man’s body with them. He didn't utter a sound as he watched eyes widening unnaturally as his intestines slid out of his just-closed abdomen and landed in his outstretched hands. The other just stared in her direction in disbelief before he turned and ran away, a second later he had disappeared between the trees and Meyja let out a low curse. Sherman looked up at her with fear in his eyes and howled as she bent over him. 

In retrospect, she didn't know exactly what it was but something in his gaze bothered her so much she thrust both weapons into his eye sockets at the same time and twisted the blades once around their own axis. One last groan escaped Sherman’s mouth before he also met his end. Meyja carelessly jumped over him and ran after the fleeing man for he was a witness and knew her face so she couldn't risk letting him live. 

She paused and listened to the rustle of leaves in the undergrowth as she scurried from tree to tree in near darkness. Eventually however, she lost track and due to the poor light conditions, she couldn't look for his footprints or anything like that. Out of breath still filled with horror and panic she took a few more steps forward then shoved the bloodied daggers back into her belt. She rested her hands on her legs over her knees and bent over still peering into the blackness that built up like a wall in front of her and listening to every sound no matter how low. Forests were never still, day or night – it was all the more disturbing that she heard nothing. Only the distant roar of the wind reached her ears like a noise that drowned out the fluffy silence that surrounded her. Meyja sat up, felt almost blind and deaf at the same time as she tried to orientate herself, and determine from which direction she had come. 

Suddenly she was thrown off her feet and landed hard on the floor, something heavy laying on her, and choking her breath. At the same time, she heard a gasp it was heavily overlaid on her own heartbeat which seemed to be getting faster and louder and was pounding in her head. She gasped for air but something tightened around her neck squeezing her throat and preventing her from breathing. Then she realised it was the fugitive. The guy sat on her chest and tried to choke her but she fought back violently, thrashing, and lashing out at him.  

"Die, bitch! Just die!” the man yelled madly while leaning on her neck with the full weight of his upper body. 

Meyja's hands kept reaching into emptiness, running through the loose, dry leaves, without finding a hold. Had there been anything but blackness around her she would have noticed that her vision was blurring and it was getting darker and darker. Her resistance also weakened, she no longer had the strength to defend herself against him, and the throbbing that she now felt throughout her body became slower and slower with each subsequent heartbeat. 

The faces of Aron and Eralion appeared before her inner eye, both smiled and she felt a deep longing to go to them, to be with them. Aron shook his head with a smile and winked at her. 

"Aron... why?", she wanted to blurt out but, in the end, only a short twitch of her lips was recognisable. 


The jet-black haired man hadn't seen the Indomitable all day but he was sure she was still in Aerai. Sitting in the grass he had impatiently stared through his binoculars whenever he had noticed movement at the entrance to the inn but at some point, it had gotten dark and he could hardly see anything. So, he had saddled his horse and ridden off the streets and paths to the small town to find out where the dark-haired woman had gone. He had tied his mount away from the village in the forest and now crept around the buildings on foot. Since he knew her horse he wanted to see, if it was still in the stable. 

On the way he passed the back of the inn where his target was staying and stopped short when he noticed the two corpses lying at his feet over which he almost tripped. They were two men one of whom had almost been cut in two. Its insides hung like a kinky cascade of blood and guts from the horizontal cut that ran just below the rib cage and stretched almost perfectly symmetrically from flank to flank. 

This dead man looked terrible, no question about it, but the sight of the other corpse gave the black-haired man goosebumps. The second man was laying on his left, had his hands clasped between his thighs, his legs drawn up like a new born baby curling up. The head was twisted so that the face was pointing towards the sky. 

Blood ran out of the empty eyeballs and a red gush ran out of the mouth as well which gave the dead man a bizarre appearance. It was almost as if he was just frozen in the middle of his death and screaming for help. An endless, silent cry for mercy which his killer had not granted him. 

Were these two deaths his target's account? Was it her? He couldn't rule it out but that wasn't her style, after all he knew her and had seen some of the dead that could undoubtedly be attributed to her. The Indomitable did not kill in such a cruel, bloodthirsty manner but acted in secret. Knowing how to obliterate someone without a fuss she didn't have to inflict such carnage. 

The man with the jet-black hair took one last look around and then crept on purposefully approaching the stable. He slipped silently into the barn and peered at the animals, the grey stallion noticed him and let out a growl. That was her horse – and it was saddled. Also, in the dim glow of the lamp he saw that her luggage was tied to the saddle. That meant she was still here, so he had to hurry. He hastily unlocked the shack door and walked up to the grey who eyed him suspiciously and let the whites of his eyes show. 

"Take it easy," he whispered reaching for the saddlebags. 

In one of them he found her map memorised the stages of her journey which would end in Acinares. 


Meyja closed her eyes in resignation. It was over, she was finished. And it was just as she feared. She had always known that death would find her on one of those days when she least expected it. And that she would die like one of her victims – laying in the dark like a worthless piece of meat someone had thrown somewhere. She had never given any thought to how she left her targets at the crime scene. She had just left most of them right where they had died unless one of the bodies had been laying on top of her in which case she had moved the dead. She had dishonoured these people they had died without dignity and she herself had ensured that the position of their remains was also undignified. And now her own body would also become one of those undignified corpses lying around. The only consolation was that she wasn't naked, the rest she could hardly change, at least she could hardly move. 

She exhaled one last time, stretched her arms horizontally to the side and let the tension in her cramping body soften. She couldn't hear the guy who was still sitting on her and yelling at her whilst strangling her. 

Then she felt something big and hard on her fingertips and immediately reached for it grasping the branch hidden under the leaves. With the last of her strength, she lifted it, and smashed it into the darkness. 

Air rushed into her lungs which made her reflexively gasp for more. She inhaled greedily and had to cough the next moment, choking she rolled to the side and vomited again and again into the leaves. She was still struggling for breath groping for her throat but the unfamiliar hands were gone. From somewhere a soft whimper could be heard which she couldn't quite place. 

The coughing also continued and her throat hurt unbearably but it took her two full minutes to grasp the situation she was in. She was sitting on the forest ground and next to her lay the guy who had almost taken her life. Apparently, she had hit him on the head with the branch but he wasn't dead and was wailing like mad. 

Dazed she sat up and looked for the wood but she couldn't find it, it was just too dark. Instead, her groping fingers met a small rock about the size of a melon. She pushed it over to the man until the rock was next to his head then she picked the chunk up in her arms and let it fall. With a crunching sound, the rock shattered the skull and the moaning stopped. To be on the safe side she repeated the process two more times then felt with her fingers that only slippery, warm mass and pieces of bone could be felt above the man’s neck. She hadn't even considered her daggers but she felt no disgust as she wiped her hands on her shirt and staggered away through the forest, arms outstretched. 

She didn't know how long she had been walking but at some point, a faint ray of light shone through between the trees towards which she immediately hurried. On the way there she stumbled a few more times and on the small slope that led down to Aerai she fell and rolled the last few metres until she came to a halt. Then she struggled to her feet and trudged toward the stables where she dragged Crispin out of the stall and took him outside. Luckily the stallion put up with the rough treatment, it seemed as if he sensed that his mistress needed help. But help was the last thing Meyja wanted, she just wanted to get away and turn her back on this cursed place forever. 

Arms trembling with the exertion she pulled herself up the saddle and once she was reasonably secure, she lay face down and heeled into the stallion's sides who then sprang forward and galloped out at full. 


The jet-black haired man removed his hand from his mouth as he heard the clatter of hooves going away. It really was her but she didn't seem to have her situation under control, instead she could hardly walk, coughed constantly, and hadn't even looked around to see if anyone was on her heels. He could have knocked her out in half a second and the Indomitable would truly have been just a legend people talked about. Without a sound he slid off the beam and landed on the ground before slinking back through the night to where he had left his own horse. Now he would have a nice few days in Aerai himself, knowing exactly where his target's journey was going. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 4 - Brick

Slumberwood, Yra of the Year 70

After the night that had almost cost Meyja her life, it was now a fine line on which she moved as she rode on through the Slumberwood. She almost turned back when she saw the trees looming ahead of her, rising like a sombre wall into the sky but then she realised that the only acceptable alternative was to return to Sharaya, and she pulled herself together. Crispin strode calmly down the dimly lit path, clutching anxiously at the blanket she had wrapped around her torso like a protective cocoon with only her head protruding. With every cracking or rustling in the undergrowth no matter how soft she jumped and often broke out in fits of crying the inner panic left her no peace although she knew the guy was dead now. 

She still associated the terrible experience a few weeks before with the darkness and the trees and the constant pain in her throat didn't make it any better. Neither was the fact that she had to sleep in a tiny canvas tent that offered little shelter. About every fifty yards or so there was a wooden post along the way each with a small lantern but the dim glow was just enough for her to read her map and not a yard further. 

She had been in the Slumberwood for three days and could hardly wait to reach Forstvald the only safe haven amidst the densely packed rows of trees. According to her map which she had last looked at a few hours earlier she should reach the small town soon and took a few more deep breaths although she must have looked extremely battered if she did not want to ride there with tears on her cheeks. 

Crispin trotted slowly around a long bend and Meyja reined him in surprised as she recognized the first buildings in front of her which undoubtedly belonged to Forstvald. The stable was a little above the city centre on a hill and she paid for two days right away not knowing when she could pull herself together to continue on her way to Acinares. 

Saddlebags in hand, she shuffled back down the street past the fountain in the plaza in front of the inn and into the foreboding building where she would now spend at least two nights. 

At the counter she asked for a key to one of the rooms before dragging her luggage up the stairs and unlocking the door which creaked open. Even if it smelled musty the room was still clean and she suspected that not too often guests came to Forstvald and stayed in this very room. She placed the saddlebags on the bed and sank onto the mattress beside it. She was finally able to feel reasonably safe again and before she knew it, she had already fallen to her side and fallen asleep. 


She didn't know how long she had slept but eventually the gong of a bell chiming on the hour woke her up and she opened her eyes in a daze. Her arrival in Forstvald had been at noon but since it was always dark here and it was easy to confuse day and night in this place, she would need a watch in order not to get the time wrong. Just as she was about to open the window to let in some fresh air and look at City Hall's clock tower, she noticed three dodgy-looking guys standing behind the neighbouring building and talking. Before she could step aside a man nodded up at her and the other two paused to follow his gaze. 

One of them gestured a silent salute to the stranger at the window then they made off to get away. Apparently the three of them had something to hide but since Meyja was only passing through anyway she wasn't interested in the slightest. She was busy enough with her own affairs to dig in the dirt of some petty criminals. Still, she decided to keep the window closed now that the rabble was obviously hanging around directly opposite, so she changed clothes and left the room, carefully locking the door behind her. A glance at the clock was enough to realise that it was already evening and that she had to hurry if she wanted to snag a warm meal. 

Slowly she walked down the stairs and through the dining room to the counter. 

As she sat down the innkeeper approached her. "What can I do for you?" 

"Something to eat and some liquor, whatever it is," she ordered. 

"I made a stew, if you want some. Without wolf don't worry,” he offered while pouring a large glass of greenish clear liquor and placing it in front of her. 

"Without wolf? Are you saying you usually cook with wolf meat?” Frowning she took a sip of the liquor the disgusting taste almost making her choke. 

"I do that sometimes, yes. Don't you like the Rot Liqueur?” he asked grinning. 

"Not particularly but so be it," she murmured swallowing her disgust and with it another sip of the disgusting brew. 

The landlord disappeared into the kitchen and came back shortly afterwards with a bowl of stew and some bread which Meyja took and went to one of the tables. The guy seemed odd she didn't want to talk to him any further so she sat in a corner and began to eat in silence unobtrusively watching the other customers. The environment only seemed to affect her mood everyone else here seemed completely normal, yet she wondered why one wanted to live here in particular. 

The stew was a lot tastier than the liquor and before she finished, she downed the liquor in one gulp, then ate the rest, so she wouldn't keep the foul taste of the drink on her tongue. 

Just as she was about to get up a man stopped by her table and asked politely, 

„Good evening, lady, may I sit down with you?" 

"Excuse me, I was just about to...", Meyja began but when she recognised one of the three guys she had seen through the window. She became curious, nodded, and stayed seated. 

He took a seat across from her. 

"Forgive me, I wish you a good evening as well," she added apologetically. 

"Not worth mentioning. After all we just greeted each other at the window, didn't we? My name is Brick”, he introduced himself and gave her his hand. 

"Meyja," she replied evasively and put her hand in his, his handshake was firm. She couldn't and didn't want to say anything about the thing at the window, instead she planned to sound him out subtly without him noticing anything. 

"Just as I came in, I saw that you tried the Rot Liqueur. May I invite you for another glass?” he asked kindly. 

Meyja shook his head violently and he had to laugh briefly. 

"It was my first and last glass of this stuff but I wouldn't mind anything else," she admitted sniffing. 

"All right, then I'll bring you anything else," he replied before getting up and walking to the counter while Meyja watched him go. 

There was something about him that fascinated her and since otherwise she would have just sat lonely in her room, she didn't mind a little company. On top of that he seemed to have secrets otherwise he wouldn't have to meet people out of sight – and that particularly appealed to her, even if it was probably more because of his looks than her lack of interest in secret-keeping. She eyed him as he stood at the counter, his medium-length dark hair tied back in a short braid, he wore full beard and clothes similar to hers, black leather trousers and a shirt, but his was dark red. 

He came back to her table with two glasses in his hand and handed one to her. "To new friends with some Crimson Bryden." 

Like his shirt the drink was also dark red and after they had toasted Meyja sipped hesitantly before she smiled and nodded. "Much better. Thank you." 

"No problem. What drives you to Forstvald?” he wanted to know.  

"I'm just passing through to be honest. I don't intend to stay in the Slumberwood," she explained honestly. "Forgive me, please but I like the weather better elsewhere... where there's sun, for example." 

"I can understand that. It also took me a while to get used to the gloomy surroundings." He smiled and took another sip. 

So, it wasn't just her that this forest was affecting the mood. The people here had just gotten used to never seeing the sunlight. 

"How long have you been here?" Meyja asked interested. 

"A few years. Where do you want to go if you haven't arrived yet?” He just didn't seem to tire of asking the obvious. 

Since there were few options on where to travel from here and she couldn't have hidden it she replied, "I want to go to Acinares." 

Brick's eyes lit up and he downed his Crimson Bryden before remarking, "If that's where you're drawn to, we seem to have similar interests, Meyja." 

She drank up, too. "What do you mean?" 

"Only rabble hang around in Acinares. A woman like you must have a special interest in this place to travel there. I'm right, aren't I?” he persisted. 

"And you are rabble, too, or how am I supposed to understand that?" she replied and then got up. "The next round is on me." 

She took the glass from his hand, took it to the counter, and ordered another round. She also paid for the Rot Liqueur and her supper from the innkeeper then went back to the table with two full glasses of Crimson Bryden. 

"You just called me rabble, that wasn't nice," Brick remarked, thanking her for the drink, as she sat down and handed him the glass. 

"If Acinares is full of rabble I'll be one of them shortly because I really intend to hang around there. And since you think we have similar interests I concluded that you also belong to us,” Meyja shot back amused. 

"Touché." Brick laughed. "I admit it, I'm rabble, too, so that at least settles it. But what kind of rabble are you? Smuggler? Thief? Assassin?” He leaned forward and looked into her face thoughtfully, then whispered, “The latter, isn't it?” 

Meyja looked at him closed. "What makes you think I would tell you something like that about myself?" 

He sat back a bit and they both drank again before he replied, “I think you would be bored with smuggling and a thief would never travel such a long way to get to Acinares, when Sharaya is much closer and more lucrative. But what drives an assassin to Umenksar now?” 

"What if I'm none of that?" Meyja avoided and emptied her second glass. 

He also emptied what little was left and took both glasses before standing up and answering, "Then you would be the first one so far that my judgment failed. And you would have to tell me who wants to strangle a respectable woman like you.” 

He turned and fetched more bringing a whole bottle of Crimson Bryden to the table. 

"And what if I tell you that you really misjudged me?" Meyja asked and thanked him for the drink with a nod. 

"I know a liar when I see one," he replied with a wink. 

"And which of the categories may I now assign you to?" she wanted to know and looked at him steadily. 

Brick was skilled. He managed to get information out of her that she would never otherwise reveal, but now that he knew she, too, wanted to know who she was looking at. 

"The same," he replied meeting her gaze without blinking. “I run a humble organisation here in the Slumberwood. While we're mostly muggers robbing a horse-drawn cart here and there are times when someone needs to be pushing up the daisies. We also deal in stolen goods.” 

They talked for a while more about Brick's gang called the Savage Syndicate and when the bottle of Crimson Bryden was also empty Meyja got up to get a new one. 

As she turned her back on the counter and was about to go back to the table, she saw that Brick had disappeared. She stood there for a moment in astonishment and then went up the stairs with heavy feet and the bottle in her hand. 

The assassin hadn't even realized that she was already heavily intoxicated and had to bend down to hit the keyhole, but eventually she managed to open the door. 

Meyja locked it from the inside and turned to her room when she realised that she wasn't alone. In a flash, she threw the bottle at the man sitting on her bed tearing the daggers from her back. Unsteadily, she tried to fix the guy with her eyes but although her thoughts were still reasonably clear, her body didn't want to obey her properly anymore. 

Brick caught the bottle and held it in his hands remarking calmly, "You seem to like 

Crimson Bryden a lot if you take a whole bottle up to your room." 

"Why exactly are you sitting on my bed now, eh?" She was visibly annoyed. 

He put the bottle on the floor by the bed and stood up then slowly walked towards her and stood right in front of her. 

She still held the daggers in her hand, she didn't trust him, even if he didn't look hostile. 

"Because it's a bit quieter here and I have an important question for you," he whispered. 

"That is?" she wanted to know. 

He said nothing and motioned for her to put away the daggers. 

For a moment she looked at him suspiciously but then she slowly pushed her weapons back onto her back and he explained, "I could use a woman like you. Do you want to join the Savage Syndicate?” 

"No," she answered immediately. 

"That's unfortunate," Brick murmured. 

Suddenly he pushed her backwards against the door and kissed her. Meyja opened her eyes in surprise for a moment but then she returned the kiss. 

'Fuck it all...', she thought. 

This man had her hooked she knew it but didn't fight it, his attraction to her was greater than any reason. Not even the experiences in the Spes Mountains could keep her from giving in to him without the slightest resistance. Even when Brick slowly pushed her towards the bed and she lost her leather vest and shirt she let him do it the desire in her had long since taken control. 

She pulled the shirt over his head and unbuttoned his trousers before she stripped off her own underwear along with his and kicked the boots aside while their mouths joined again in a never-ending, intense kiss. He slowly pushed her back onto the bed, laid down on her, and she gave herself to him willingly. 


When he finally got up after what felt like an eternity of mutual caresses and grabbed his clothes, she looked up at him visibly confused. His arousal still loomed high in his midst, yet he got dressed while she lay naked in front of him not quite understanding what was going on. 

He looked down at her again, then whispered, "Good luck in Acinares." 

A moment later he had disappeared through the window, Meyja looked after him in bewilderment clutched her head and thought about what exactly had happened. Eventually she got up, got dressed, and closed the window. Still brooding she lay back on the mattress and fell asleep a few minutes later. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 5 - Rum

Meyja encouraged Crispin with a click of her tongue and the stallion obediently went into a calm trot. They had already been on the move for several hours but the animal showed no signs of tiring. She was a little surprised and at the same time very happy they managed to leave the Slumberwood behind after only six days. Only three nights ago in the morning she had ridden south out of Forstvald. Although Brick hadn't reappeared after the strange night, she still felt like she was being watched all the time and kept looking around. It was not far to Umenksar and the air around them was getting warmer. A sweltering heat beginning to creep in, so she reined in Crispin to slow him down to a leisurely pace. Then she took off her leather vest, tied it to the saddle, and picked up the map. A camp was marked along the way, they would reach it shortly after escaping the Slumberwood. 
Putting the map back in the saddlebag, she saw the bottle of Crimson Bryden that was also inside and suddenly she knew what had happened in her room that night. It was the stuff that made her take on Brick so easily, she was sure of it. There had to be something in this drink that was even more disinhibiting than ordinary liquor and made her compliant. However, she wasn't upset because it had been breath-taking to sleep with him. A smirk crept onto her face as she thought of it but that didn't make this strange man any more likeable. Should she travel back to Sharaya she would try to avoid Forstvald and spend the night in the wilderness but she wouldn't want to deal with the Savage Syndicate again and the chances of slipping past them unnoticed would be better, if she avoided that town. 
Blinking, Meyja looked up and saw that the dense canopy of the shadowy forest had just given way to blue sky and bright sunshine. The trees were also further apart and looked more exotic. 
They had indeed reached the desert of Umenksar and even though it was almost unbearably hot and Crispin was sweating profusely, she rode on slowly with the camp only a short distance ahead. Behind a sand dune she spotted some tents on the edge of an oasis and, relieved, steered the stallion toward them. 

Umenksar, Javar of the year 70 

Crispin calmly walked the last few meters towards the hills behind which lay the goal that Meyja had been aiming for more than half a year. Even if the journey here had been more difficult than she had first thought, they had made it. A narrow path led through the hills covered with dense ferns and Meyja had to duck her head to avoid bumping into the branches of the palm-like trees.
Once at the top, she reined in her animal companion and looked around in awe. Below her lay the infamous bay. Numerous dwellings built of simple timber planks clung to the rocks surrounding the bay where a few smaller ships were anchored. The wooden walkways ran between the buildings were bustling with activity, boxes were carried or pulled on simple carts. She rode slowly down the steep path to the smugglers' town before dismounting exhausted from the saddle. To her right were stables where she stabled her horse and then set out to explore on foot.
With her bag over her shoulder Meyja walked aimlessly through Acinares until she discovered one of the few brick houses in which numerous traders were bustling about. She stopped in front of a display with airy clothing.
Fifteen minutes later, she had bought some sleeveless linen shirts, two pairs of black leather shorts, and a small sack of juicy apples for Crispin. Continuing on her way she eventually reached a tavern where she took a room, washed her sweaty body, and put on her new clothes. The trousers were extremely short, barely covering her bottom and the top of her thighs but given the tropical temperatures she didn't mind the revealing. Until she fully adjusted to the desert heat, she wouldn't be able to use her old clothes unless it got very cold at night which probably wasn't the case.
With the apples she went back to the stable and fed brave Crispin until there was nothing left then she stroked his neck again and left the building through a side exit.
"The lady need help exploring this nest?" whispered a dodgy looking guy sitting on a barrel near the exit.
Meyja stopped and looked at him for a moment. His skin was dark, his hair was matted into strands which he had tied back with a red scarf that ran from the top of his head to the nape of his neck. He wore a white shirt, black leather pants, black boots, and an eye patch covering his right eye.
As he climbed down from the barrel, she said reluctantly, „Just some information on how to earn some gold coins here."
The man grinned widely and stepped closer, making her instinctively back away.
"I didn't mean that way of earning gold," she snapped at him. 
He rubbed his frown and replied, “Well then, there isn't much I can do to help you. 
Unless you like getting your hands dirty.” 
"Tell me," she demanded curtly. 
"Besides the smuggling that is practiced here the trade with the elves is very popular but you don't look like you were to speak La'zhiji or get involved with that pointy-eared Goblin scum," he said quietly and led her to the back of the stables where it was a little quieter. 
"I'm not interested in smuggling," Meyja replied. 
"What were you thinking about? You are in Acinares, my lady. There's not a great deal here that doesn't have anything to do with trade or smuggling,” he remarked calmly. 
"Don't tell me crap I know for a fact that there must be something going on here as well. A place like this doesn't only live on the black market,” she replied and looked at him expectantly. 
For a long time, she had thought about whether she would want to continue killing when she got here. Up until the night in Aerai her opinion had differed but this experience made her realise that she had to kill in order to stay alive. And if it was just a deterrent, she'd be fine with that, too. 
A knowing expression crossed his features before he nodded. "Sure thing, thieves and thugs are everywhere." 
She shook her head gently realising he wasn't coming out and withholding the information she needed. "How much do I have to pay you so that you really tell me what I want to know?" she asked with a smile and used her proven strategy with the subtle smile. 
He grinned a little embarrassed nodded again and said, “Come behind the tavern tonight and I'll tell you what you want to know." 
Meyja pushed him against the wall in a flash, simultaneously drawing a dagger, and holding it to his throat, then hissed, “If you want to play any jokes with me, I'll throw your head down into the cursed bay, I swear." 
"Take it easy, it's all right," he murmured raising his hands defensively. "I'll tell you everything. There is sure to be something to do for those like you. Just linger around the fences' house in the late evening and you're bound to find what you're looking for." 
"Thank you," Meyja remarked, put away her dagger, and calmly walked away. 
Even if she didn't know where the house of the fences was, she still had enough time to find out. First of all, she wanted to recover a little from the exertions of the journey and made her way back to the tavern. 
After taking a seat at the counter the innkeeper she had seen earlier approached her. He was one of those Goblins, green-skinned, had long, sticking-out ears, a huge nose, and was extremely short. 
His voice was both shrill and raspy as he asked, "What can I get you?" 
"What do they usually drink here?" she spoke softly, making the question sound rhetorical, so the innkeeper would assume she just wanted the usual. 
A woman sitting to Meyja's right said, “Bring her rum, Skink. I'll take care of that.” Then she gave the stranger a friendly smile, moved up to her, and shook her hand. 
"I'm Emma." 
Meyja struck and murmured, „Meyja. The rum thing isn't necessary. Thanks." "Alright. You haven't been here long, have you?” Emma asked. 
She had light brown almost dark blonde hair, brown eyes, and freckles on her narrow nose and cheeks. Her clothes were similar to the guy she'd just met at the stables. In contrast to her pale skin Emma’s was slightly tanned and her stature was more delicate than Meyja’s, also she had no rum in front of her but what looked like juice. 
"No, I'm not." She didn't know this woman and although Emma seemed nice, she was wary and didn't want to give too much away. "What are you drinking there?" 
"Wildberry Juice. It's not just elves who love this stuff,” Emma replied with a wink didn't seem to want to give up and nodded to one of the free tables behind them. 
"Let's change seats, it's a bit quieter there." 
Without waiting for an answer, she got up, and headed for the other seat. Meyja followed her a little hesitantly, took her jug with her, and sat down at the table with Emma. 
"Tell me, where are you from?" Emma wanted to know and gently pushed her drinking vessel with supposed juice against Meyja's jug. 
"Sharaya," Meyja murmured curtly and took a sip of rum. 
The lie had escaped her lips reflexively, even if it was almost unbelievable because her hair had not only become lighter and lighter, not only from the merciless rays of the sun, but also through the passage of time and the dyed black had soon given way to the natural red tone. 
"You're not very talkative, are you?" Emma remarked sipping her drink as well. 
Meyja shook her head, now she had to smile, too, she was sure that she and Emma pursued similar activities, but she had never met such an open representative of her kind. "Where are you from, Emma?" 
Emma grinned. “I was born in Effilien but now I live in Sharaya. Forsyth himself sent me here. You could say it's a business trip.” 
Meyja frowned questioningly. "We're definitely of the same breed. Then what is someone like you doing in Acinares on behalf of the capital?” 
"Well, Forsyth also has an interest in his ships not being hijacked and robbed all the time. I'm here to stop that. But that's all I can tell you. Secret thing you understand,” she replied. 
Knowing that Jemar Forsyth was the king of Jevarish, Meyja nodded. "So, you belong to the king's secret service," she summarized quietly and Emma nodded as well. 
Meyja's rum was already empty and she got up to get another one also taking Emma's mug to the counter and letting Skink refill them. 
When Meyja returned to the table, Emma thanked her, drank some of her juice and then nodded her chin in Meyja's direction. "And what are you doing in Acinares?" 
"I'm not doing anything yet, I just hoped to be able to steer my life here in new directions," admitted Meyja. 
Emma raised an eyebrow and looked up at her sceptically. “Lead in new directions? Here? That can’t mean anything good." 
"Can you tell me where the house of the fences is?" Meyja asked openly. 
Emma leaned forward and looked at her intently, then she whispered, “I would advise you to leave as soon as possible, Meyja. Just the fact that you're asking me about the house of the fences... That speaks for itself and you get caught up in things you don't want to be involved in. In addition, you're a Voyneress which is also not without its dangers. You don't have to worry about being followed here, but still..."  
"Let that be my concern, I'm not a well-behaved little girl. But you seem to know quite a bit about Acinares... What is the price of your information?” Meyja asked further. 
Emma shook her head. "None. I'll tell you everything that's going on in Acinares. 
But not here. If you don't mind, I would prefer a private place.” 
Meyja nodded looked around briefly and then got up, together with Emma she went upstairs to her room where she carefully locked the door. 
"So, what do you want to know?" Emma asked. 
"All. What business is done and what crooked things are going on here.” Meyja leaned against the small table that stood against the wall. 
Emma sat on the edge of the bed and thought for a moment then said, “Apart from smuggling inland they trade in the wood elves of La'zhij, Goblins and Trolls. Goods stolen from the Kingdom of Jevarish are mainly smuggled. In addition, stealing and robbery is common within the town. There is much murder and manslaughter, racketeering, and a few honest pursuits, but these are so few and far between that they hardly need mentioning.” 
"Please tell me more about these murder and racketeering things," Meyja asked. 
Emma looked at her warningly again. “The few who made it big in bootlegging employ their own thugs who collect money from those who can’t fight back. Anyone who pays to the black-market barons can still be sure of their protection. That is also the job of the thugs – to protect the blackmailed. However, if someone doesn't want to pay the assassins come in and kill those making room for new being able to get blackmailed who might be more willing to pay." 
"Who are the black-market barons?" Meyja was increasingly interested. 
But Emma shook her head. “Hardly anyone knows that, not even the thugs themselves. And that's why I'm here. I'm trying to locate them." 
Meyja further asked, “What does Sharaya have to do with black-market barons from Acinares?" 
"Very easy. They are responsible for numerous thefts and hijacked ships. Goods belonging to Jevarish were looted apart from the usual raids on the trade routes. And that's why the criminal ranks should be thinned out a bit," explained Emma. 
"I understand. But then how do you become one of their thugs or assassins? If you don't know who to turn to?” Meyja wanted to know. 
"You make a name for yourself. If you manage to get their attention, one of their minions will come and court you on the Baron's behalf. But I wouldn't recommend that. Not only because you'll get in my way and it could end badly for you, but also because these barons are not to be trifled with. They are dangerous”, Emma whispered, folded her arms in front of her chest, and looked at Meyja seriously. 
"And where is the house of the fences now?" Meyja repeated her question. 
"The big stone building where regular trading takes place during the day. That's where the dregs of all of Acinares' scum hang around at night. The name house of fences is only used in these circles, actually it’s called House of Merchants. If you value your life, stay away from there.” Emma got up and stopped in front of Meyja. "Be reasonable, Meyja. That's why I told you all this. So that you don't get sucked into things that are shady and dangerous. Better go to Sharaya and look for a decent job there.” 
Now Meyja gently shook her head. "That's where I come from. I travelled for months to get to Acinares. And in Sharaya I didn't do any legal work either. I murdered for gold. So don't worry about me, I know what I'm doing and I have no intention of getting in your way. All I needed was information like yours. Thank you, 
Emma, I really appreciate you enlightening me.” 
Emma sighed and turned towards the door. "Why did I assume you were reasonable?" she asked wryly then left the room. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 6 - Entrails

It was the night of the next day and Meyja watched the stone building which she now knew was the house of the fences. She had bought her new clothes there the day before, but now all but one entrance was locked. People were coming and going – masked, dodgy looking people. Emma's information seemed to be confirmed so she pulled her cloth over her face and walked firmly towards the opened passage. She stopped next to the door, leaned against the wall, and waited while people, Goblins, and Trolls ran past her and looked at her briefly. She had never seen Trolls before, their warlike people lived only in the remote jungle areas of Umenksar and she didn't like the big, skinny creatures. In her opinion their fingers were too numerous and their dull look sent a shiver down her spine. The Trolls' hair was moss green to black and their long arms hung almost to the ground. Fingers and toes ended in razor-sharp claws, and the speech when they opened that stinking, tooth-bound mouth came out like a rasp. Acinares was a neutral place, there was no affiliation with any kings, so one met the most diverse peoples here and drove more or less friendly trade. 
Eventually, the guy she met at the stables came out of the building and stood next to her. "I see the little lady has taken my advice to heart." 
"What do you want?" Meyja asked harshly. 
"Nothing. But I think you want something because you're here,” he replied. 
She pushed herself off the wall, stood up straight in front of him, and continued to ask, “Do you have anything for me? Or do you just want to talk tough?” 
"I'm sure I have something for you to do. But I don't know if you're reliable,” he retorted. 
For a moment she smiled below her mask then she replied, „Find out." 
The guy pulled a scrap of parchment from his pocket and handed it to Meyja, saying, „Shey owes McKinley some money since he lost at a card game the other night. So, it's gambling debt. I want you to recover it and bring it to its rightful owner. If Shey doesn't want to cooperate, intimidate him. Come up with something in a pinch, he's not known for being easily persuaded." 
She unfolded the rag and looked at it swallowing at the sum that was listed. Although she had never worried about her livelihood when she worked for Ed, she was amazed at the eerie crowd that seemed to be dealt with in a single night playing cards. This McKinley wanted five thousand Crowns from Shey – not including the interest which was another two hundred Crowns. 
Nodding she pocketed the parchment and said, “Almost done. Anything else?" 
"Prove yourself and I'll give you more to do. You have two days. If you don't make it pray to the gods that I won't find you," he answered and walked away. 
A satisfied Meyja returned to the tavern, went to her room, and thought. She'd finally gotten something to do although the guy was kind of intimidating no doubt because of his odd eyes. But that's about it because she already had an idea that would certainly persuade even hardened debtors to pay. Even if she wouldn't lay a finger on Shey she was sure it would work. With her plan in mind, she lay down to rest, she wanted to get the box she would need the next morning until then she rested. 
The next day Meyja was up early and first went to the stable to check on Crispin. She brought the grey stallion some apples and petted him for a while before she left the bay on foot and went out into the jungle. She already had the box with her, a careless dealer hadn't looked for a moment and so she had stolen the box made of rough wood without further ado. She hid the wooden box behind a huge fern and then crept through the undergrowth which was swarming with all sorts of creatures that would unwillingly aid her in her plan. 
Hours later, the container was full to the brim with smelly, fresh entrails from various animal jungle dwellers and Meyja dragged it back into the bay. Blood ran down her fingers and legs but that only added to the plan and brought a wicked grin to her lips. Shey mostly hung around the jetty where the big ships came in, the scrap had all the necessary information written on it, including a description of the debtor. From a distance she saw the man with the huge moustache who was sitting on a barrel and keeping an eye on what was happening on the jetty. Groaning she put the box down in front of him. 
"What's that about?" Shey wanted to know and frowned at the blood-smeared Meyja. 
"Kind regards from McKinley and the last of his debtors," she replied with a smile and pointed to the contents of the box. 
Shey instantly paled and climbed down from the barrel, a Goblin standing a little further started giggling loudly as he watched the scene. "Shut up, Fizz!" Shey snapped at him scratching his head. "I wanted to pay but then I was stopped. Here is the gold including the interest that I had agreed with McKinley.” He handed Meyja a bag full of jingling coins. 
Without a word she took it and turned taking it across Acinares straight to the store the parchment said McKinley owned. Nobody stopped her or tried to rob her, the blood probably had an intimidating effect not only on debtors and only brought her looks that were partly scared partly confused. When she reached the store, she pushed open the door without knocking and found her client face to face. 
"You?" Meyja asked puzzled. 
It was indeed the guy from the stables and the house of fences who was grinning at her. "Did you slaughter poor Shey?" he asked back laughing and took the bag from her. 
"No, I haven't. But you could have told me that he owed you gold,” she replied breathlessly. 
"What would that have changed?" McKinley retorted and counted some coins from the bag which he pressed into her bloody hand. 
"Probably nothing," she replied with a shrug and put the gold in her pocket without counting it. It was a lot she could tell by the weight and size of the coins. 
"Tell me where the blood came from?" he asked. 
She told him about the box causing McKinley to laugh out loud again. 
"It's a shame I didn't see his face but word will get around and the other debtors should be crawling out to pay in the next few hours. Thank you, my lady,” he said giving a mocking bow. 
"Don't call me that all the time," Meyja growled and wiped her cheek angrily smearing blood on her face. 
"Then tell me your name. Lest I snub you further on future assignments,” McKinley replied. 
"Good, Meyja. I assume you are interested in continuing to make good gold. There's work to be done and I always welcome someone so shrewd,” he replied and when she nodded, he handed her a few more scraps of parchment. “I wrote down how long you have until each task has to be completed. Good luck. It would be a pity for you, so make an effort.” 
With this threat in mind Meyja turned towards the exit, left the shop, and went back to the tavern. In her room she washed the blood from her sweaty body in a wooden tub and put on fresh clothes, she also cleaned her daggers and boots thoroughly until everything was clean again. Then she counted the coins McKinley had given her. It was five hundred crowns which was a handsome sum for such a ridiculously simple job. She studied the individual scraps of parchment carefully; the tasks would keep her busy for a while, they were about similar things to the Shey thing. Eventually, she left her room, went downstairs, sat down at a table, and ordered a mug of rum and some food. It was already dusk outside when she had spooned out the stew and since she had enough to do for the next few days she sat and drank more rum until, at some point, tired and drunk she staggered to her room where she fell into bed and fell asleep immediately. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 7 - Heat

Meyja sat on a barrel in the shade on a sunny afternoon the following week looking out for one of the debtors she was tasked with intimidating for McKinley. Her entire body was drenched in sweat even though she hadn't moved an inch in an hour. Acinares was an interesting place whose mysteries lured her and she had decided to make a new life here, even if the oppressive heat despite her light clothing still bothered her. She put her tin water bottle to her lips, never taking her eyes off the broad pier below as one of the wanted men passed. She hastily screwed the canister on and slid it into the holster on her belt before slipping off the barrel and giving chase. As if she couldn't melt butter in her mouth, she sauntered after the man who made his way unerringly through the small town and finally stopped in front of a market stall where he exchanged a few words with the Goblin vendor.
Meyja stepped next to him and looked with mock interest at the window display which contained all sorts of useless things. Next to a row of liquor bottles lay a few firearms, one of which she picked up and looked at. Surprisingly she liked the gun immensely, even though she had never thought about using such a weapon. The debtor, meanwhile, was having an irrelevant conversation about some goods that were about to arrive at the port and he wanted to sell a few crates to the Goblin who seemed to own the stall.
" know about it," concluded the debtor and cast a sideways glance at Meyja.
The Goblin nodded and followed his gaze before addressing the supposed customer, “Can I help?"
Meyja acted indecisive, weighed the gun in her hand, and answered, “Does this work?"
"Woman, if you knew something like this, you wouldn't have to ask stupid questions," the Goblin retorted cackling.
She gave him a sharp look and replied, “And if you wanted to make a deal, you would answer."
The debtor grinned broadly, a gold tooth flashed out of his mouth, and he put an arm around Meyja's shoulders before leaning towards her, pointing his finger at the gun, and explained, “Look here. The hammer cocks and fires when you pull the trigger. So, it should work perfectly.”
Meyja nodded slowly then asked the Goblin, “How much?"
"Three thousand gold," he answered lurking.
The debtor laughed out loud and said, “That thing isn't even worth a tenth, you old crook."
"Don't ruin my business, you bloody bastard!" the clerk snarled.
She didn't feel like listening to the two of them arguing so she tuned in again, “I'll give you a hundred."
"Three hundred," the Goblin haggled.
With a shrug Meyja put the pistol back in its place turned away and made preparations to walk away to show her disinterest.
It worked out brilliantly because the salesman hurriedly shouted, “All right, one hundred! Give it to me!"
With a smile she pulled her bag of gold out of her pocket and began to count while the Goblin watched with wide, greedy eyes. The obnoxious little green-skinned creatures weren't as interested in anything as gold she'd quickly discovered. And none of the alien races she found as repellent as the Goblins, although Trolls were very ugly it was the Goblins who always had to be watched out for because they always tried to cheat you. She took her time counting, only taking the smaller, less valuable coins to annoy the little crook a little more but ended up handing him a whole heap of gold across the table which he hastily grabbed.
With a happy grin on his face he remarked, “Thank you very much, come back soon."
"Certainly not," Meyja replied while pushing the gun into her waistband and putting the pouch back in her pocket.
The debtor had watched the scene with amusement and followed her as she walked away from the booth. She was seldom happy about the effect she had on men but now she had lured her victim, even if he had directed his eyes at her barely covered bottom to her displeasure.
She stopped abruptly turned to him and asked, “Can I help you now?"
"No, but maybe I can help you again, my lady. I can show you how to use it,” he answered with a wink.
Meyja thought for a moment, then an idea came to her, and she nodded. "With pleasure. I don't have any plans at the moment anyway."
She shifted her weight to one leg tilted her hips and ran one hand down her ponytail as the other was resting on her waist watching the effect with thieving glee.
The debtor swallowed and scratched his bald head in embarrassment before stammering, “Then... let's go."
"Show me the way," Meyja requested and walked alongside her victim.
McKinley had instructed her to get rid of the guy and where he kept the gold he owed him. If everything went smoothly, she would be able to test the pistol for suitability right away.
"What's your name?" she asked the man who led her over a narrow wooden plank under one of the wide footbridges.
They were standing in a secluded area below the houses and just above the water with no one to be seen far and wide.
"Gilligan. And yours?” he wanted to know and stopped.
Either he was lying or she had baited the wrong guy because the guy on her list was called Ferret.
She didn't show it and replied, “I'm Sia."
"Nice name," Gilligan smiled and held out his hand.
With a quiet thank you she pulled the pistol from her waistband and placed it in his palm which made him laugh.
"You are a woman of action. You didn't think for a second that I wanted to shake your hand. But anyway, let's get started,” he grinned and took a closer look at the weapon.
"Excuse me," Meyja murmured and acted embarrassed.
She'd noticed what he was aiming for she just didn't want him fondling her hand.
He waved her off and said, “It's a nice piece you got there but you should clean it and oil the hammer when you get a chance then it'll be easier to cock."
"I can do that. But how do you shoot with it?” she wanted to know.
Gilligan handed the gun back to her before he drew his own pistol and replied, “I'll show you."
Then he took black powder and lead balls out of his pocket and showed her how to manoeuvre the charge into the barrel in which one first filled some black powder and put the ball on top. A flint was attached to the hammer which produced a spark when the trigger was pulled. This ignited the powder through a tiny hole at the rear end of the barrel and let the bullet shoot out.
"Once you've fired it you have to reload it. There are more modern pistols out there but yours just works that way,” Gilligan concluded.
Meyja nodded slowly she had understood how her gun worked but she was still unsure about his identity so she weighed the loaded pistol in her hand for a moment, put her thumb on the hammer and considered whether she should risk simply shooting him.
Gilligan made the decision for her by pointing his gun to her head and demanding,
“--Drop it, rookie. I know exactly who you work for.”
"What? What are you talking about?”, she tried to avoid him but she dropped her gun on the ground.
At that moment a shot was fired, Meyja jumped in shock, Gilligan also twitched visibly and she took advantage of his momentary inattention pounced on him simultaneously pulled out one of her daggers and rammed it into the man’s neck. He didn't have a chance to use his weapon. When his body fell backwards onto the wooden planks, he was already dead. Pain shot through Meyja's body; it flashed brightly in front of her eyes. With a loud groan she rolled off his body and grabbed her lower leg where the shot from her own pistol had hit her.
'Crap...', she thought.
She struggled to her feet, glancing around, but no one seemed to have noticed her struggle at least she couldn't hear any footsteps approaching. Limping she dragged the body to the edge of the pier and pushed it over where it fell into the water with a loud splash. Then she grabbed the dead man’s gun which was still lying on the ground and dragged herself away.
Luckily in Acinares brawling in public was the order of the day – if not worse – and so no one paid any heed to the bleeding and sweating young woman who was limping toward the tavern.
Arriving in her room she collapsed exhausted onto the bed and looked at the injury which gave off a dull violent throbbing. The lead bullet was lodged deep in the flesh had entered her calf on the outside, torn a wide hole in her tissue, and appeared to have been stopped by the bone. To her relief it hadn't broken. The force of the shot hadn't been enough to break it which was the only reason she was able to walk at all. However, her position was precarious because she knew she had to remove the bullet to avoid dying of lead poisoning – if she didn't bleed to death first. Dark, viscous blood was constantly seeping out of the wound and she was beginning to feel dizzy.
She slipped her stiletto from her boot and wiped it carefully on the bedsheet before lighting the candle on the bedside table and heating the blade over the flame. Eyes closed, she took another deep breath and carefully guided the blade into the wound until it hit something hard. She hadn't touched her flesh yet but it was sure to hurt when she started to loosen the leaden ball so she stuffed a clean section of sheet into her mouth and bit down firmly before continuing.
Groaning she levered the tip of the blade under the lead bullet tried it from all sides and just when she thought she wouldn't make it, the bullet yielded surprisingly. The stiletto suddenly slipped past the surface and plunged deeper than intended, drawing a scream from her that was only muffled by the sheet in her mouth. For a few seconds she threatened to lose consciousness but she caught herself and ripped the blade out of her leg which was bleeding even more profusely than before. She hastily spat out the bed sheet and pressed it onto her leg, the white of the fabric quickly turned dark red but after a short time all the overflowing blood was absorbed and she could see the bullet flashing out. With her left hand she was pinching the flesh around the wound, the fingers of her right gripping inside the wound trying to grab the bullet. Groaning she forced herself to continue, although the pain was overwhelming and tears were running down her cheeks, she would never be ready to give up now.
At some point, the deformed bullet slipped between her fingertips and Meyja slowly pulled it out, her entire body was covered in sweat when she looked at the bullet for a brief moment and then began to treat the wound. She poured a long gulp of liquor down the hole to disinfect it, then panting she wrapped a bandage around her calf and tied it carefully before sinking back onto the mattress and laying there exhausted until she fell asleep.
In the morning, she had made her way to the hiding place her boss had told her about and where she had actually come across a sack full of coins, which she had discreetly taken.
Now she threw the leather pouch on the table in front of McKinley and growled,
“Here's your gold."
He didn't look at the container but glanced at her leg and asked, “What happened to you?"
"Let that be my concern. Those orders are done,” she evaded him putting her scraps of parchment next to the bag.
McKinley kept nodding as he leafed through the slips of paper and when he got to the end he said, “There shouldn't be any assignment left either, Ferret was found stabbed to death yesterday."
"How tragic," Meyja remarked ironically and shifted her weight to the sound leg.
"Sit down," he commanded.
"Thanks, I prefer to stand."
McKinley gave her a long inscrutable look, then stood slowly, and circled her a few times before placing his hands on her shoulders from behind and digging his nails painfully into her skin.
"I said sit down," he hissed menacingly into her ear as he pushed her into the chair she was standing next to. She gave in immediately sinking down with her head bowed submissively and her boss sat back in his place still staring at her intimidatingly. "And now you tell me what happened," he demanded pointing in the direction of her injury.
Meyja didn't dare to turn him away again and reported on the events of the previous day leaving out no detail and McKinley listened in silence.
After she finished, he said, “Such incidents endanger not only your work but also me. You got the right guy, but if I didn't know better, I'd think you were a fool. But you are not. It was a mishap that won't happen again, is it?" With a hasty nod she agreed and he continued, “You're temporarily useless in this state so I'll give you something else to do. Starting tomorrow, you will come here and help me with my personal affairs. Someone else will take over your assignments. Do you understand?" She nodded again even though she didn't know exactly what he meant.
"Good. Get some rest and don't let that get inflamed. Go to Druma and tell him I sent you to, tag you, and take care of your wound. You can find him behind the house of fences in his shop. Now get out of here."
Meyja got up with another nod left the building and turned in the direction her boss had just described to her. Walking still caused her great pain and she would even have willingly accepted the help that was surprisingly given to her.
It was already noon and the sun was already beating down so hot that she had to lean against the walls of the houses a few times because she felt dizzy.
After about ten minutes, she had reached the house of fences and walked around the building behind which there were several shops in a narrow alley.
She trudged from entrance to entrance looking for the emblem McKinley had told her about the day before which could be found almost anywhere in Acinares. It was a circle crossed by two parallel horizontal lines and another vertical line marking the buildings that belonged to their gang. Although gang was a rather vague term in this case because they were more of a whole organisation which no doubt had to be headed by one of the black-market barons. After McKinley had opened her eyes to the subtle signs, she had also noticed some strange symbols belonging to other barons that she had better be wary of.
There was a fierce struggle for dominance among the unknowns of Acinares and even the minions would fight among themselves whenever they got too close. The fact that this Druma should now mark her probably had something to do with belonging to one of the barons but she could not imagine anything by that.
Meyja noticed the sign from her boss next to a shop door and limped exhausted into the shop which smelled strongly of some herbs that made her dizzy even more. A Troll of all people was sitting on a cushion in the corner and opened one eye as she walked in. Carpets were spread across the entire surface of the floor, bunches of dried plants hung from the ceiling, and jars with indefinable contents and various idols stood on the shelves.
"Are you Druma?" she asked the Troll and supported herself on a beam when her eyes went black.
Druma nodded, then rose, and came toward her. He had long hair in which several braids were braided and on which he had threaded colourful beads. His huge body was clad in a coarsely woven robe and he wore wooden bracelets on his arms.
"What you want from Druma?" he demanded with a cracking voice.
"McKinley sent me," Meyja explained.
"Yeah. I know,” the Troll grunted pointing his seven-fingered hand to the corner where he had just been sitting.
Groaning she collapsed onto one of the huge pillows and explained, “I have a wound I want you to tend to. He also spoke of a mark. But I don’t know what that means either.”
"I know," Druma replied, crouching in front of her.
He carefully untied the bandage and looked at the injury then got back up and walked over to one of the shelves where he started moving something around that she couldn't see so she just lay on the pillow and closed her eyes.
It wasn't nearly as warm in Druma's shop as it was outside but pleasantly cool and she enjoyed the temperature, even if the fumes made her a little foggy.
Druma seemed to be lighting some stinking herbs again because it smelled even spicier than before and she almost wanted to protest but when she opened her eyes, he was standing in front of her and holding out a cigarette.
"Smoke that," he said and she involuntarily grabbed the cigarette.
"What's that?" Meyja wanted to know, she didn't feel comfortable with the strange smell.
Druma was back at the shelf and noisily rummaged around in it. "Against pain."
"All right," she murmured and obediently began to drag on the cigarette which soon brought a confused grin to her lips.
Colourful shapes danced in front of her closed lids and her body became strangely light she almost felt as if she were flying and didn't even notice that Druma was doctoring her.
He rinsed out the wound even inserted one of his clawed fingers to feel for fragments that the lead bullet might have left behind, but Meyja felt nothing of it, just lay listlessly on the big, soft pillow and smoked the herb he had given her.
Finally, the Troll applied ointment to the wound, stitched it up, and wrapped a bandage around her calf, then stood up.
"Undress," he said and grabbed a strangely shaped, small wooden pencil and a can.
"What?" she asked frowning.
She assumed she had misheard but Druma repeated, “Shirt off. For drawings, got it?"
"I... uh... well..." she mumbled enraptured, even though she didn't really understand what he was up to anymore at that moment.
With difficulty she managed to pull the shirt over her head and lie on her side as the Troll commanded her. She didn't notice what happened next, her head became incredibly heavy, and she fell asleep.
When Meyja woke up a few hours later, she looked around disoriented until she remembered where she was. She was still laying on the pillow in Druma's shop, the Troll was sitting across from her with his eyes closed, and seemed to be meditating as he had been doing when she entered the shop. Noticing that her chest was bare, she hastily pulled on her shirt, and stood unsteadily.
"Thank you," Meyja said softly, took the ointment he had put in front of her, and made sure that she got away.
As she stepped outside, the tropical heat hit her like a slap, and immediately made her pores sweat again. Trying to remember what had happened in the shop, she headed for the inn and was surprised that her leg didn't hurt anymore. Instead, she noticed a slightly painful tugging under her right armpit which worried her enough not to sit down directly at the counter, but to go to her room first.
When she got there, she immediately took off her shirt and looked at in horror what Druma had done. So that's what McKinley meant by marking. The Troll had tattooed her. It was the mark of the black-market baron, below her armpit at chest level the black circle with the three bars about six centimetres in diameter shone out at her from her pale skin.
'Damned...', she thought.
Had she been sane she could at least have asked Druma to make it smaller but now it was too late and she was marked, although she did not know whose mark it was. The only consolation was that it was always under her clothes and nobody would discover it, though that was probably the whole point. This way her affiliation would be recognizable to those to whom she showed it and everyone else could only guess who she belonged to. She was still angry after all she would have preferred a less intimate position and negotiated the size if she had been able to. With an exasperated groan she kicked a wooden beam and then left the room to indulge in the rum. 
When she woke up the next morning the gunshot wound was throbbing painfully again and the tattoo was also burning unpleasantly. Meyja was terribly thirsty but reaching next to the bed showed her that she had already drunk her water. So, she pushed herself up rubbed ointment on both injured areas, dressed, and went downstairs where she had Skink give her fresh, cool water. Bottle in hand, she made her way to her boss, drank greedily as she walked and finally left the empty bottle on a crate before entering McKinley's store. As she now knew it wasn't even a shop, it was just a cover just as Ed's shop had served as a hidden meeting place for the Deathshade. 
McKinley was sitting behind his desk and stood up when she walked in. 
"Good morning," she greeted him and her tone indicated that she was in a bad mood. 
"Likewise. Show me what Druma has done”, he instructed her immediately and stopped in front of her. 
Meyja reluctantly lifted her shirt and showed him the tattoo which he honoured with a smile and a satisfied nod. 
"He's getting better. Lucky you, then,” he grinned showing her his own mark which was in the same place but looked a lot sloppier and washed out. 
She folded her arms and didn't react to his comment, just silently waiting for him to tell her why she was here. 
"You don't like it?" McKinley asked and she ground her teeth, shaking her head. 
"No, it's huge and I would have preferred it in a... less personal spot," she admitted. 
Now her boss shook his head and replied, “That wouldn't be possible. Size, colour, position... all of this must be identical for everyone, otherwise someone who saw our sign on a house wall could have their tag and pretend to be one of us. You must never show anyone, do you understand?” 
"Yes, boss," Meyja answered nodding and hoping that he would finally let her out of the conversation and give her a task. 
"Good," McKinley murmured thoughtfully. 
Then he took her to his private rooms, let her shave, cook for him, and even forced her to clean his flat. She did all of this in silence grim-faced and resentful only relaxing a little when he sat her down at his desk and handed her several lists detailing the debts a number of people owed to McKinley.  
"Some of them are into it twice, it's all a mess. Find the promissory notes, sort them, and write a new, up-to-date statement of all debts. You can go after that,” McKinley ordered, placing a box full of promissory notes in front of her. 
Even if she would have preferred to go through Acinares and beat up the debtors, at least he left her alone with this boring work and she spent the following hours calculating with concentration. By the time evening fell, she was done, and he dismissed her for the rest of the day which she spent at the inn's bar with her best friend, the rum. Before she fell into bed drunk, she looked at her tattoo again and realised that her anger had evaporated, she had already seen uglier ones than her own. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 8 - Havoc

Umenksar, Derun of the year 70 

Weeks later, Meyja finally managed to escape McKinley's private commissions and continued to work as a debt collector. Her boss had turned out to be a real bully, even if he paid well but she didn't care about the coins in this case, once her leg had healed, she'd pestered him into giving her a few scraps of parchment. The pressure he has been putting on her ever since and the threats he has repeatedly directed at her were slowly but surely getting to her.
As dusk fell, she had returned to the tavern – exhausted and tired – and sat down at the bar as she did every evening eating and drinking mug after mug of rum. After the third shot she was slightly intoxicated and lost control of her thoughts. Aron and Eralion sneaked into her head on the sly and her heart grew heavy.
Meyja missed them both, including Eralion who had come off the worst of the whole affair. After all, he didn't even get a chance to talk to her again. Regardless of the loss, she had abandoned him, pushed him away, even though she had loved him, and all because Aron had turned up again. But had she really loved Eralion? And did she love Aron? Both were special people, each unique in their own way and as different as they were, she still loved them both so differently.
Eralion was her rock, he had brought her out of her grief, not giving up on her despite all the setbacks she had caused him. For a long time, she had resisted being too close, even if they were very close physically, she didn't let him share in her feelings but always kept him at a distance. Or maybe it was more because her feelings towards him had been more friendly than true love. Even if she wasn't as happy about the abortion as she had said, he hadn't known until she fled Sharaya that she hadn't wanted to be a mother. Instead, he found out because Aron had suddenly come back. The man who had left her alone – twice! And once she had nearly died of grief. But he had also saved her life, also twice. Did that balance each other out? Did it undo all that? No, it wouldn't!
Aron was a stranger to her, she no longer knew him, had almost not recognised him when he suddenly stood in the door. The kiss in Sharaya had also felt so strange, as if they no longer fit together. That's how it was it wasn't going to end well, even if they found each other again, even if she fell in love with him again, even if... actually what? Why should she even think about it? She wouldn't let Aron back into her life in a thousand years.
Meyja could already see the bottom of her jug and motioned to Skink to refill her mug.
"Why such a gloomy expression? You weren't thinking about me, were you?” she heard a familiar voice behind her.
'No...' she thought.
She closed her eyes for a moment, took a long gulp from her already refilled tankard, and then cast a hostile look over her shoulder. The man with the jet-black hair smiled when she looked at him for a moment, but Meyja simply averted her gaze and continued to drink in silence. Should he be standing there she didn't give a damn... did she? In truth, she was not at all indifferent to his appearance, her heart pounding in her chest, her palms sweaty, and she felt the anger seething in her stomach because she knew exactly why he was here. Because of her. 
Aron sat down next to her at the counter laced his fingers together and looked at them silently but she didn't look at him. The innkeeper brought him rum as well, then, they sat quietly next to each other and slowly drank their schnapps. 
How could it get so far? They had loved each other once and everything she had achieved was thanks to him. Now she ignored him like a coward but she couldn't help it, she had nothing to say to him.  
Everything she wanted to tell him she had already told him in Sharaya so she decided to put an end to the awkward situation, finished her drink, put some silver coins on the counter, and got up. 
"Meyja, wait," Aron asked softly but she had already turned away and was going up the stairs to her room. 
The door slammed shut behind her and she angrily kicked the chair which bounced sideways. 
When the knock came, she took three steps across the small room and yanked open the door again, but when she saw him standing there, she kept her already clenched fist pressed to her thigh. He was Aron, her teacher, her mentor, her partner – her former fiancé. She stared at him tensely, unable to say or do anything not even able to hit him, even though she had meant to. For the audacity to just turn up here and wreak such havoc on her emotional world. 
"May... may I come in?" he asked quietly. 
Meyja only took a step to the side, if she yelled at him, not everyone would have to hear it immediately. Aron kept his head down and rubbed the back of his neck uncertainly while she slammed the door, went to the bed and sat on it in a confident pose. How he had found her was no mystery to her for he found anyone, if he wanted to. She just stared at him until he sat down in the chair with a soft sigh still keeping his eyes down. 
"Meyja, I just want to talk to you. In Sharaya, you didn't give me the chance to say anything about everything you accused me of." When she nodded silently once he continued, “I'm so incredibly sorry for everything that happened. I know exactly what I did to you with that. Eralion and I have been talking about this. But I love you, Meyja. And I know you have feelings for me, too, otherwise you wouldn't be reacting like this right now." 
"I don't feel anything," she snapped off his approach. 
Her gaze was hard and dismissive but it looked different in her she longed for him like someone dying of thirst for water but she couldn't admit it he had hurt her once too often. 
Aron had stopped, her few words had hit him, she could see that and it hurt her. Slowly he got up and lowered his eyes again while he walked towards the door like a beaten dog. Meyja also got up and followed him to lock the door behind him. 
In the passage he stopped and said softly, “I'm sorry I wasted your time." 
They stood close together and looked at each other silently her gaze had softened and at some point, she raised her hand and stroked his bearded cheek. Aron had been on the road just as long as she had been and looked exhausted and unkempt. His beard was long, he certainly hadn't even shaven it on his journey. His hair had also gotten a little longer again, it stood up in a tangled mess and she brushed a few loose strands out of his face with her fingertips before she dropped her hand again. A longing tug in her gut made her take another half step back. He mustn't know that she still loved him, or else... 
Then Aron pulled her to him and kissed her passionately, he had broken her inner resistance with just one gesture. 
Kissing him back she pressed against him cupped her hands on his neck and held him tight. She would never let him go again, after all they belonged to each other. 
"I missed you so much," he whispered. 
"Me too," she answered softly. 
For a while they stood in a tight embrace next to the door and kissed then she broke away from him, closed the door, and led him to the bed where they sat down together.  
"I'm sorry, Aron. I was unfair when I said I felt nothing. The truth is that I still love you. Even though we've both changed a lot. And even if it's going to be difficult to find a way again... after everything that's happened,” Meyja said quietly. 
He wrapped his arms around her again and hugged her gently before whispering, "I wasn't as good to you as I should have been either. You had every right to leave me after something like this and say mean things. I can deal with that and I deserve it. I love you, too. Maybe someday you can forgive me.” 
“Not yet, it still hurts too much. But at some point, I will be able to do it for sure”, she answered quietly, silent tears running down her cheeks. 
She pressed her face against Aron's neck and breathed in his smell which she had almost forgotten. 
On the Academy estate he'd spent every free minute up the tower watching for approaching horsemen but she hadn't come. Even if it had never been her intention, he had suffered the entire two years he had spent there. His training was tough, including learning how to deal with torture and doing the same to his comrades as they did to him. There one always practiced on each other so one not only learned what it was like to torture someone but at the same time how it felt and how to survive it without going insane. In the end he even spent four weeks in the basement of the property chained in a corner and he was almost glad that Meyja hadn't come otherwise she would have had to suffer the same as he did. 
But it had made him strong, even if he had never felt sorry for himself, pain was only an illusion for him, one could hide the feeling if you knew how. She'd been through something similar before, six years of torture at the hands of her own husband and she probably would have graduated from the Academy without batting an eyelid. But in the end, she didn't need that she was also remarkably strong and her abilities were beyond what could be called talent. Being an assassin was her calling, as if she were born to kill alone. 
"Are you coming back home with me?" Aron wanted to know; she could hear from his voice he was crying, too. 
"Not yet, I have something to do here. But after that I will return to Sharaya with you, I promise” Meyja replied quietly. 
He hugged her gently, laying back on the bed with her, and asked, “How long do you have to stay here? And what do you have to do?" 
"A few errands to do, not too difficult but it will take me about four days. In retrospect, I'll be a few coins richer for that," she answered quietly. 
Aron nodded slowly before he suggested, “Just leave it alone what's going to happen? When you leave Acinares tomorrow, the whole thing will be over.” 
“No, when I accept a task, I also intend to complete it. Even though I won't be here much longer I don't intend to smear my name," she replied shaking her head. 
She had changed a lot, although the assignments had always been serious to her so she had always kept an eye on the cost-benefit ratio, he didn't understand the meaning of the assignments in Acinares. She had made a decision she was confident in and wasn't ready to back down from it as it seemed important to her so he would wait for her. He had made the mistake of leaving her side before and would never repeat it for nothing in the world would he leave her alone again. He wanted this woman in his life and no other. The fact that she accepted him as a partner again was the greatest gift that could have been given to him, but at the same time he was concerned her earlier carelessness had given way to bitter seriousness and not too much of his Meyja's lovable character was left. 
"I still can’t believe we both got another chance," he whispered. 
She snuggled up to him before replying, “Me neither. I was actually thinking of you earlier when you spoke to me. And of Eralion to be honest.” 
Aron was silent for a moment then he said, “He's fine I think." 
"Do you think so or do you know it?" she asked. 
"I think so we didn't talk very long I also left a few hours after you left the city. He still tried to stop me but quickly realized he wouldn't be successful.” He sighed. 
"Are you aware that I will have to talk to him at some point when I return to Sharaya?" Meyja wanted to know and Aron nodded silently. 
They laid side by side in silence for a few minutes but then he pulled her onto him looked into her eyes and whispered, “Let's not talk about him on the first day of our reunion." He gently took her face in his hands and kissed her deeply. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 9 - Run

When Aron woke up the next day, Meyja had disappeared but she had left him a scrap of parchment on the bed that said she wanted to do some of her assignments and would be back by evening at the latest. So, he got up and washed himself in the wooden tub which she had filled with fresh water for him then he went downstairs, sat in the tavern, and had breakfast. The sweltering heat of Umenksar was even getting to him and since he was still in his long clothes, he set off to get something airier.
As he strolled along the boardwalks of Acinares and approached the building where the merchants were selling all sorts of useful things a door next to him was flung open and a man fell out landing on the wooden planks at his feet and doubled over groaning. He was followed by Meyja who hadn't noticed Aron yet, she turned the guy onto his back, sat on his chest, and punched him hard on the cheek, there was an audible crack and the injured man cried out briefly.
"Next time, pay your debts right away so I don't have to come back. Do you understand?” she hissed at her victim.
She hit him again on the already broken cheekbone before she got up and noticed Aron who had stopped grinning a few meters next to her.
"The practice with Renny seems to have borne fruit," he said with a smile while Meyja wiped her bloody hands on her shirt and the guy crawled back into his dwelling behind her.
With a quick look over her shoulder she nodded and grinned at Aron. "He deserved it."
"I would have as well but I hope that I will be spared the beating. What you did to him didn't look like much fun,” Aron remarked and pulled her to him.
"He'll have some of that for a while, I guess," she replied, wrapping her arms around her lover, reaching into his hair, and planting a lustful kiss on his lips.
"As for your beating... you got your pardon last night."
 "How generous," he whispered sliding his hands down her back gently stroking her buttocks before giving them a gentle slap. "Those skimpy clothes really suit you."
Surprisingly, an unknown man approached her and Meyja immediately let go of Aron, took a step away from him eyeing the stranger.
"I have a message for Meyja. Brick is waiting for you in Forstvald to join the Savage Syndicate,” the guy said, already turning to go.
"Then tell him he can wait a long time!" Meyja called after him angrily and watched the messenger until he had disappeared.
Her heart was in her throat when she looked at Aron again.
"What was that? What was he talking about?” Aron wanted to know and frowned at her.
"A long story, I'll tell you tonight. I still have a lot to do until then, sorry,” she murmured evasively kissed him once more and then walked away without turning around again.
Aron looked after her worried, she had seemed almost disturbed when she left and he wondered what she had to do with such strange guys. There were still a few hours until evening and that was how long he had to live with the uncertainty, so he first went to buy shorts, some sleeveless shirts, and spent the rest of the day exploring the bay.
Late in the evening the door of her room opened and Meyja shuffled in. Aron had just been laying on the bed staring at the ceiling now he got up to greet her. Exhausted she wrapped her arms around him and leaned against his chest.
"How was your day?" she asked softly.
"Uneventful. And yours?” he wanted to know.
She pulled away from him, undressed, and squatted in the tub before speaking. "Exhausting, but I think I'll be able to finish all my orders tomorrow. If McKinley lets me go, we can head to Sharaya the day after tomorrow.”
His gaze swept over her body for a moment and lingered on the tattoo under her arm. "Who is McKinley again? Who is Brick and – by Derun – why the hell are you tattooed? What is this injury? What the heck happened?”
She fished the sponge out of the water and let the cool water run over her chest head back and sighed softly. “McKinley is my employer here in Acinares. The tattoo marks my affiliation, I didn't have it done voluntarily. I sustained the injury in a fight with my own pistol. And Brick is a guy I met in Forstvald. He leads the Savage Syndicate, a gang roaming the Slumberwood. Brick wanted me to join them but I declined the offer. That he's sending someone to follow me all the way to Acinares is disturbing. I thought he was content with my refusal.”
"What exactly happened? And what makes him want to take you into his gang?” Aron asked and sat down on the chair. The whole thing seemed extremely strange to him.
"Brick and I met at the inn in Forstvald and had a drink together. Later he suddenly disappeared from the guest room and when I went to my room, he was waiting for me there and wanted to know if I would join. Supposedly, he would have use for someone like me. Like I said, I declined, but I was incredibly drunk and didn't resist his physical advances," she said quietly.
"Are you saying you did it with a perfect stranger who broke into your room?" he asked stunned.
Meyja opened her eyes looked at him steadily and then nodded honestly. Aron rubbed his forehead with his fingers and exhaled audibly. "Have you been among the whores or how can one explain this madness?" he whispered.
Angry she threw the wet sponge at his head and hissed, “Don't call me a whore! I don't know anyone who has sunk his cock in some cheap whore's holes as many times as you! At this point I was unattached and free to sleep with whoever I wanted! Not only you guys have physical needs!”
"Is there anything else you want to confess to me?!" he also yelled angrily and threw the sponge back at her.
Meyja got up, put her hands on her hips, and remarked defiantly, “No, but that wasn't a confession because it was sheer madness to sleep with him and I don't regret it. Does it disturb you? Then go!"
She pointed to the exit and Aron got up, eyed her for a moment before he left the room and slammed the door behind him.
He couldn't believe that she had gotten into bed with the leader of some gang who was now having her followed. The whole thing not only put Meyja in danger but also himself, after all the messenger had seen them together. Unless Brick's interest was limited solely to her talent, he would surely want to eliminate Aron as his rival, so they both had to be extremely careful from now on. If it was even relevant because after the argument, they had just had their relationship to each other was beyond murky. He resented her about Brick but the fact that she'd told him how much she liked it pissed him off even more. Even if she was right about the whores he still felt attacked in his masculinity.
Meyja was no less dismayed by the events of the day. He actually blamed her for sleeping with a stranger even though he wasn't any better himself in that regard. Even if she still liked to think back to it, she hadn't wanted to tell him how much she had enjoyed Brick's touch. Unlike Brick, however, she loved Aron with all her heart and would never give up on him just because there were other attractive men in Abarglen. Tired she sat in the wooden tub and washed before she got up and put on the clothes despite her wet body. She had to go look for Aron before he did anything stupid and she also wanted to apologize to him.
It was already dark when she walked between the buildings, at some point she found Aron sitting on the edge of a jetty, his legs dangling over the edge, and he was looking out over the night bay. Meyja took a seat next to him and also let her eyes wander the view had something peaceful about it, the reflection of the stars on the water surface was beautiful and the light breeze caressed her bare arms and legs.
"I'm sorry, Aron. I didn't mean to throw you out. And I can understand that you're angry,” she lied.
The apology was meant quite seriously but the understanding was completely lacking. If she admitted that, though, they would only keep fighting so she deliberately withheld that part of the truth from him.
"We have to be careful, Meyja. Who knows what this guy is up to. If he has me killed to get you, you're vulnerable. And even you can’t take on a whole shady gang," Aron said quietly. "Should that happen, just promise me one thing... Get out and hide so he doesn't find you. I can’t stand the thought of him catching you."
"How did you come up with something like that, Aron? Brick just wants me in his gang, nothing more. You don't have to fear for your life,” she answered calmly.
"Yes, Meyja. Brick's motives are clear. You probably don't understand it like I do but I know how men think. The whole situation calls for us to take extremely good care of ourselves. And it's not my own life I fear for – it's yours. Please promise me that you will flee if something happens”, he said quietly and looked at her intently.
A shiver ran down her spine and she nodded. She had never considered all of that and what Aron had just said made sense, Brick posed an incalculable danger.
"Thank you for listening to me." Aron put his arm around her shoulders and gently hugged her. "I'd be more than willing to create unnecessary drama for the cause but the consequences would be incalculable if we took it all lightly. I love you, Meyja.
And I don't want anything to happen to you."
She put her arms around his waist. “I love you, too, Aron. If anything happened to you, I wouldn't take it either.” She looked at him silently for a moment before standing up and taking his hand. "I still have to introduce you to someone," she replied with a smile.
"Anyone else? You make friends very quickly. Please tell me that he is not dangerous,” Aron asked and got up.
"Not at all," she replied with a small giggle.
Then she led him to the stables and stopped in front of the stall that housed her grey stallion.
"A horse?" Aron asked confused. 
"No, not just any horse. This is Crispin and he carried me all the way here,” she replied laughing, entering the box, and scratching the grey on the forehead. 
"That's why it took you so long to travel. A couple of times I almost rode into you. It was pure luck that you didn't discover me," said Aron. 
He went after her, hesitantly stroking the animal's mane. 
"Let me guess... the annoying stable boy in Effilien was on your account?" she wanted to know and when Aron nodded, she sighed softly. 
"A stupid guy but that was to be expected. After all, not everyone can be as brilliant as I am,” he remarked with a grin. 
Meyja laughed again, went over to him, hugged, and kissed him tenderly. 
Crispin didn't seem pleased his apple delivery lady let go of him and knocked the two of them over with his head sending them giggling onto the straw. 
"Cheeky horse," Aron said quietly. 
He still didn't get up, lay on top of his companion, and kissed her again. 
At night the barn was deserted, none came and caught them making passionate love on the straw, completely oblivious to the world around them. Not even when they were still laying there for a while, stroking, kissing, and enjoying the reunion they did get they bothered. 
After finally getting to his feet he mumbled in amusement, “You're crazy." 
Meyja pulled her shirt down before she got up and slipped into her pants. "I never denied that." Only then did she realize that Crispin must have been watching and she blushed. 
"Your horse is just as naughty as you are it seems to me," grinned Aron. 
"We should get him a mare when we get a chance so that he can relieve the pressure," Meyja suggested with a laugh and scratched the curious stallion's neck. 
Aron shook his head and pulled her to him. "What happened to you, Meyja?" he asked quietly while looking deep into her eyes. 
"What are you talking about?" she demanded confused. 
He released her, instead taking her hand, and leading her out of the stable he climbed onto a roof and sat on the clapboards overlooking the bay. Meyja followed him and was still waiting for his answer. 
Only when she sat down next to him did he explain himself. "Yesterday I admittedly had some concerns about your change. I feared that you had become very serious and that your attention was only focused on important things but you convinced me otherwise. You're still the Meyja I love more than anything in this world, still happy, carefree, and just as crazy as the first day," he said quietly. 
A tear of emotion stole from the corner of her eye and ran down her cheek. "And I love you, Aron," she whispered and wrapped her arms around his neck. "For everything you've ever done for me. For being my teacher and teaching me what keeps me alive every day. And for taking away my fears. Only with you by my side can I be so carefree and happy.” 
Aron held her in his arms and stroked her back silent tears ran from his eyes, too. He may have really taken away her fear but Meyja had unintentionally brought fear into his life in the first place. Fear that one day she would not be with him, fear that something would happen to her, and fear that she would meet her end before him. Even if it seemed irrational, he dreaded every second of the moment when death would part them. He needed her more than the air he needed to breathe and if she were gone there would be nothing left for him to live for either. 
When she had left him in Sharaya, he himself had felt the pain he must have caused her by his disappearance – no feeling could compare. Riding after her was a matter of course for him, he could never have given up on her, even if she had rejected him. And if only he could have seen her from afar it would still have been better than living without her altogether. But he didn't tell her any of that, it seemed pathetic to him to base his entire existence on her so much. But that's how he felt, she was just everything to him. 
Meyja entered McKinley's shop and he watched her waiting sitting behind the desk. 
"I've done everything," she said and looked at her boss expectantly. She didn't quite know how to convince him that he would let her go after all it had been difficult to elicit orders from him that did not only concern him personally. 
He got up, walked around his desk, and leaned against the edge while shooting her with his gaze menacingly. 
She swallowed nervously a few times then opened up to him, “I don't want to work for you anymore. To be more precise... I am planning to leave Acinares tomorrow.” 
"That is very unfortunate. You left a lasting impression. The debtors really tremble when I just threaten to send Meyja over. Besides, you make a good barber,” he replied stroking his stubble with a grin. 
"That may be so, but I have my reasons," she replied dismissively. 
McKinley stopped grinning, pushed himself off the table, and approached her lurking. "That would be?" 
"I don't think it's any of your business. That's why I won't tell you anything else”, she dismissed him again. 
He paused for a long moment, looking down at his feet, and then nodded slowly. "Well, it's really a shame, but I guess there's nothing I can do about it. Sit down. I'll have a last glass of rum with you," he said as he turned and went to the sideboard where he kept his collection of different types of schnapps. 
When she didn't move, he looked over his shoulder, and Meyja sat down resignedly, he had made it clear to her that it would be painful, if she didn't give in. 
McKinley leaned back against his desk in front of her and handed her a glass before toasting her. "To the best barber and debt collector I've ever had," he whispered draining his glass in one gulp. 
Meyja did the same she was drinking harder than ever and wanted to disappear as quickly as possible to go back to Aron who was waiting in her room. 
McKinley fixed his piercing gaze on her, cocked his head, and asked, "I'd still be very interested to know why you're throwing this away. You've made a name for yourself in a matter of weeks and you'll earn a huge pile of gold with every order. In addition, I gave you additional work which I also paid generously. Now who is it that pays so much better?” 
"I don't care about gold I have more than enough of that. With all due respect, my reasons are my private affair and really none of your business. And if you... if... if...", Meyja answered and clutched her head. 
A look at his grinning visage showed her it was his fault that she was feeling increasingly groggy. 
Her tongue was so heavy that she could not speak and when she tried to stand up, she fell lengthwise. The last thing she knew was her empty glass rolling across the floor and McKinley's voice commanding, “She's planning to run. Take her to the boss.” 
Then darkness enveloped her. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 10 - Whispers

Meyja woke up, still laying on the floor, and could hardly breathe because a cloth sack had been pulled over her head. Her wrists were tied so tightly in front of her stomach that her efforts to untie the rope were in vain. Groaning she rolled onto her back and listened to her surroundings. She was in a building, laying on a rug, and could hear the waves of the sea and the screeching of seagulls so she probably hadn't been taken from Acinares, but to the black-market baron McKinley reported to. If she really was in the house of one of the barons, things were looking bad for her because the identity of the masterminds behind all the gangs was the best-kept secret in the entire desert and she certainly wasn't going to be let go just like that.
"She's awake," she heard McKinley's voice then footsteps approached her and Meyja ducked her head in fear.
She was grabbed and raised somewhat roughly until she sat before McKinley moved away from her and she heard a soft whisper.
"Tell us why you want to leave Acinares," he demanded.
Meyja feverishly thought about what to say to them her short silence made him come back and pull the sack off her head; his gaze was intimidating as always.
As she started to look around, he grabbed her face with one hand, pinched her cheeks, and whispered, “Don't even try. And now talk.”
She had only realised that she was in a large lavishly furnished room, the furniture seemed very expensive and there were some palm trees in pots which in a region where fresh water was scarce would not be cheap to water either. As soon as he released her, she bowed her head obediently. “I want to go back to Sharaya. There were certain things that made this decision seem right to me," she admitted. 
"Which one?" he persisted.
Apparently, the baron was behind her and had instructed McKinley to conduct the interrogation. "Someone came here to take me home."
"Who?" McKinley asked.
Meyja didn't dare to lie, she was sure that the two would have noticed, and killed her without hesitation, so she quietly confessed, “My lover."
McKinley looked past her at his boss again then gave a curt nod and commanded,
"Get up and sit at that table over there. Don't look around."
Meyja did as he was told, got up slowly, and went to the chair McKinley pointed to. She almost cried from fear but she pulled herself together, took a deep breath, and blinked tears in her eyes. She would never show weakness or reveal her fears even if she was sure they would not let her go after all she had tried to betray a black-market baron – or so they thought.
"We know who you are. In Sharaya, they call you the Indomitable,” McKinley opened up.
With a slight nod Meyja confirmed his statement and explained, “It was me. But the days of roaming the streets, killing other guild members are gone. I was never proud of it, but it was the only thing that made me build a life. At that time, I also got to know Aron, my companion. He was my teacher and taught me everything.” Her fear made her talkative, she had already given away more than she had intended.
McKinley got up from the table and walked around her then the sack was pulled back over her head and the footsteps receded before whispering resumed. "Where can we find this Aron?" he wanted to know.
Meyja became ice cold. Not only would they kill her, they would kill him as well since he was the reason she wanted to leave. He was probably also suspected of knowing too much, after all she could have told him everything. To save him she would have done anything, without thinking twice she would give her own life for him and even kill herself if asked to do so. 
"Speak up or I'll force it out of you," McKinley threatened.
“Please... He doesn't know anything. I didn't tell him anything, after all I didn't know anything myself. Spare him, I beg you,” she begged crying, her tears soaking the dark fabric in front of her face.
The footsteps came back to her and she was grabbed roughly on the back of the neck right next to her ear she heard McKinley's voice, “Let's just make sure for ourselves you're not lying. If you told the truth, nothing will happen to him. And now tell us his whereabouts. Now!” He literally yelled the last word and she jumped in shock.
"Never..." she whispered through sobs.
There wasn't much left of her strength and steadfastness she didn't care about the impression they had of her either, after all it was about Aron's life.
McKinley grabbed her neck again yanked her to her feet and violently shoved her forward onto the table before pulling the sack off her head again so she could see him unbutton his pants as he circled the table.
"Sing, little bird..." he whispered angrily and she closed her eyes.
He whispered, “Then live with the consequences."
She thought he was going to rape her now, but then she felt the fabric pulled over her head again and heard his footsteps moving away from her.
The familiar whisper began then McKinley said, “In the Salty Breeze, then. All right."
Her body shook with cramps when she heard the name of the inn where they had stayed and inwardly, she was already blaming herself for having put Aron in this danger. McKinley's heavy footsteps came back and she was sat down on the chair again then he left and she heard the sound of a door then there was silence only the sea and the seagulls could be heard – but she knew she wasn't alone.
The Baron was still here, she could feel his presence filling the room in an overwhelming way. Even if it could be construed as disrespect, she addressed the word to him.
"Believe me when I swear to you it was never my intention to betray you. I would never dream of divulging any of this. I don't know who you are and neither does Aron. The only thing he shouldn't know is the location of your mark on my skin. But he is my lover, so how could I hide it from him? According to McKinley half of Acinares knows I'm collecting the debt for him so that knowledge could hardly be construed to Aron's disadvantage. I beg you... take my life if you want revenge... But Aron doesn't know anything... He... he... is a good and honourable man... I don't want him... to die... not like that..."
She was crying so hard that she didn't hear any of the footsteps approaching her the hand that suddenly lay on her shoulder startled her and she jumped again.
"Kill me. My life for Aron’s”, Meyja whispered with a pleading undertone in her voice.
Before she got an answer the door opened again and the hand disappeared. Several people entered the room Meyja could hear that and listened hard for a sign of who it was.
Another chair was placed next to hers then someone flopped down on it and she heard Aron scold, “Who the heck is that?"
"Aron, are you okay?" Meyja asked excitedly and turned her head towards his voice.
"Meyja? What's going on here?” Aron sounded confused.
"Silence!" McKinley thundered and the two prisoners fell silent. "Seems like we brought the right guy here at least. Nice to make your acquaintance, Aron. Now you're going to answer a few questions for me. Otherwise, you will remain silent do you understand?” Apparently, Aron had nodded because McKinley continued speaking. "Good. Now tell me why you are in Acinares and what you intend to do here. And what have you to do with the Indomitable?”
Aron hesitated for a moment then he replied, “I'm here to take her back to Sharaya with me. I have ridden after her since Effilien in Jevarish, my sole mission was to bring her back home, nothing more. She said she had some errands to do for a certain McKinley and would come with me then. Other than that, I don't have any plans. It's all about Meyja."
She began to cry again before she felt Aron's hands on her leg they were bound like her own and she anxiously grabbed his fingers holding him as tightly as she could as McKinley's footsteps moved across the room and she followed the whispers heard from the baron.
"I'm so sorry, Aron. I love you...", breathed Meyja.
"Are those the guys from Forstvald?" he asked softly but she could hear the excitement in his words.
She shook her head though he couldn't see it and replied, “No, they're not..."
"Shut up!" McKinley snapped at her and she obediently fell silent.
Aron gently squeezed her hand and whispered barely audibly, “I love you, too."
Then McKinley's footsteps came back and they heard him sit down opposite them the next moment he pulled the sacks from both of their heads and they blinked at each other in surprise.
Aron's gaze flicked to McKinley a moment later and he asked, “If you're not that
Brick, who are you?"
"That's McKinley," Meyja answered quietly.
He sat back and said, “So he already know my name. Didn't you say he doesn't know anything about us, Meyja?"
"Your name is on your own shop. What's secret about that?” she retorted.
McKinley looked gloomy for a moment then a female voice came out and announced laughing, “Already enough with this gossip theatre."
Meyja recognised her immediately without thinking about it, looked over her shoulder, and asked in disbelief, “Emma? You?"
Emma sat with a big grin on her lips behind a huge richly decorated desk that faced a pair of open glass doors. The view of the bay from here was breath-taking but right now there were more important things than a beautiful view. The brunette had placed her feet on the furniture and between her fingers she was holding a thick cigar which she lit and enveloped herself in its thick smoke.
"Untie them, Kin," she instructed McKinley who then cut her bonds with a knife.
As soon as she was free, Meyja got up and marched over to her friend with her hands on the table she hissed, “What was that about, Emma?! I was freaking scared!”
Aron had gotten up, too, but he still didn't understand what was going on so he just listened. McKinley also stood silently watching the scene no less confused.
"I know. And that was my intention, too. You ignored all my warnings and I wanted to teach you a lesson,” Emma admitted, stubbing out the cigar in an ashtray, and taking her feet off the table.
Meyja frowned and asked, “But why? Why are you doing this to me?”
"You know, Meyja... I had a thing for you from the start so I put Kin on you to get you into our ranks before you get caught up with someone even worse. In that sense, I even saved you... in a way at least.” Emma answered seriously.
"You want me saved? By making me believe that our lives are hanging by a thread?” Meyja repeated sarcastically.
"Sit down first. Kin, bring them chairs and something to drink,” Emma ordered and McKinley rushed to comply.
Aron took a seat next to Meyja and Emma began to explain, “As I told you in the tavern black-market barons are not to be trifled with. By making you one of us I was able to keep an eye on you and make sure you didn't end up floating in the bay anytime soon. Kin met you at the house of fences on my orders and luckily you took the bait right away. If I weren't something of a friend, just wanting to leave Acinares would have cost you your head. And Aaron as well. But like I said since I have a thing for you, you're free to go where you want. Under two conditions, of course.”
"They are?" Meyja wanted to know and took a sip of the rum that McKinley had placed in front of them.
Leaning forward Emma replied, “Firstly, you're keeping absolute silence about yours truly, and secondly, you're keeping your distance from all other black-market barons."
Before Meyja could reply Aron intervened, “Agreed." He gave Emma his hand and she shook it with a smile before she offered Meyja the same hand.
"All right," Meyja murmured and also sealed her promise with a handshake.
"And you are now a black-market baroness?" Aron asked interested whereupon Emma nodded.
"Then the thing about Forsyth was a lie?" Meyja wanted to know.
Now Emma shook her head gently and admitted, “No, I'm kind of a double agent. I work for Forsyth and earn some extra money by trading. Nobody in Sharaya suspects that the disappearance of the ships is my fault. And I want it to stay that way. If you start talking, I will find you and you will end up as fish food – I promise.”
After a short nod Meyja asked, “How do you know that I am the Indomitable?"
"That's my little secret. But the fact that I know it should show you that nobody can hide from me. Neither the Indomitable nor the Unseen,” Emma answered with a grin and winked knowingly at Aron who then looked down on his knees and reached for the shot glass. 
Meyja nodded again when she realized that she and Aron were not as unapproachable as she had always assumed. Emma seemed to have contacts and powerful friends who could find out anything she wanted to know and that made her a person better not to have as an enemy.  
"We swear not to say a word about what happened in Acinares, McKinley, or you. I would be happy if we could really remain something like friends, Emma," said Meyja. 
"With pleasure. But now I have another question. You just mentioned guys from 
Forstvald and the name Brick, Aron. What do you two have to do with the Savage Syndicate?” Emma wanted to know and leaned forward with interest. 
Meyja explained, “Brick seems to want to add me to his ranks at any cost. I met him in Forstvald and already declined his offer there. He then sent a messenger after me who reminded me again here in Acinares that Brick was expecting me to join the 
"Are they dangerous?" Aron asked immediately, one could see his concern. 
Emma sat back looking thoughtful for a moment then nodded honestly. "With all due respect, for people like you two they can be really dangerous. I've dealt with them before and know Brick slightly. In my opinion he's a lunatic that every woman should stay away from. He also tried this scam with me but I also refused. Then he started sending me flowers and when I didn't respond he instead sent letters threatening that, if I didn't come to him, he would have me killed. I'm hard to get hold of and I suspect his attention shifted to someone else after a while but eventually it stopped. But since Meyja isn't a black-market baroness with a well-established bodyguard I'd advise you to keep a low profile. If he can’t find her, he'll eventually stop chasing her. His sphere of influence is not particularly large so you should be relatively safe in Sharaya.” 
"So, my impression didn't deceive me," Aron murmured and gave Meyja a long look. 
He didn't seem know-it-all but she still felt patronised and shook her head in exasperation before turning back to Emma. "Is the Wild Syndicate as influential within the Slumberwood as he said it is? Or is that just megalomania?” 
Emma laughed out loud and replied, “No, not half as influential as he would like. He's a little crook who's got a bunch of stupid guys around him and is now playing big. He black trades with another baron and sometimes comes to Acinares for negotiations. Most of the time he doesn't show up here only every now and then a small cart comes along and two of his men use it to transport the goods to the Slumberwood. From what I understand the stuff he buys is stuff that he then passes on to Jevarish. Cloth, gunpowder, liquor... that sort of thing. You can’t earn a fortune with it and if you don't have gold, you have no influence. A simple calculation.” 
It didn't sound to their ears at all as if they had to worry about their lives and Meyja and Aron relaxed a bit again. 
"Thank you for the information, Emma. That calmed me immensely," said Meyja. 
"Never mind. But remember that you should still keep in the background. Disappear of the picture for a while and everything will be fine. I'd be happy to provide you both with one of the ships that will take you to Sharaya,” Emma offered, then stood up to say goodbye. "If I ever need two great assassins, I know I can count on you. And if you both need the help of a powerful friend you know where to find me. If I'm not here get in touch with Kin, he's sort of my go-to girl.” 
McKinley looked away in annoyed silence. 
Meyja couldn't help but smile as she got up as well. 
"I was pleased, Emma. Even if it was a bit... disturbing at first,” Aron remarked and gave the brunette his hand. "We would like to accept the offer with the ship." 
Emma chimed in and replied, “Be careful and take care of each other. I'll send someone to take you to the ship when the time comes." 
Meyja also shook the hand of the black-market baroness and left the room at Aron's side. McKinley’s was one of expression of suppressed anger as he led them through the huge building to the exit, letting them out, and slammed the door behind them.  
"What a day," groaned Aron and Meyja nodded in agreement. 
Then hand in hand they went back to the tavern, shared a few mugs of rum, and soon fell asleep peacefully. 
The next morning, they woke up snuggled together in the tavern's bed, smiling, and kissing over and over again barely able to keep their hands off each other. At some point, there was a knock on the door and Meyja hastily pulled the sheet over her naked body. 
Aron got out of bed, grabbed his dagger, and stalked towards the door. "Who's there?" 
"McKinley," answered a familiar voice and Aron opened only it in his underpants. 
Meyja's former boss walked in without being asked and motioned for Aron to close the door before opening, “The baroness asked me to tell you that she had one of her ships cast off. It will set sail towards Sharaya in the afternoon and take you on board, if there is still interest.” 
His gaze rested on Meyja for a moment too long who involuntarily pulled the fabric higher. 
Aron saved her by stepping between the two and nodding and confirming, 
“Thanks, we'll take it." 
McKinley looked him up and down briefly then he nodded as well and turned to the door, opened it and went out into the hallway. 
Then Meyja thought of something else, she jumped up, wrapped the sheet more tightly around her, and ran after McKinley who was just about to go down the stairs. 
"Wait!" she called softly and stopped short when he turned to her and looked at her questioningly. “I just wanted to know, if it would be possible to take a horse on board. I would hate to leave mine here to be honest.” 
He looked down at her thoughtfully, then nodded again, and murmured, “That should work." 
"Thank you," she answered with flushed cheeks, turned on her heel, and hurried back to her room where Aron was standing in the passageway waiting for her with a smile. 
She kissed him on the lips, passing in, and grabbed her clothes while he watched with a grin. 
"What are you waiting for?" she asked laughing and threw his shirt over his face. 
He put it on and then shooed her across the room as she tried to escape squeaking happily. When he had already caught her after a few seconds, she rewarded him with another kiss, and they packed their things together. 
They had left Acinares behind before nightfall and stood together at the rail of the ship that would take them to Sharaya. The view of the sunset was beautiful and Aron put his arms around Meyja who then leaned backwards against his chest and closed her eyes. 
She felt Aron's hand which wandered into her pants and touched her private parts. 
"Let's go downstairs to the cabin. Then I'll show you how much I really missed you…" 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 11 - Thunderstorm

Sharaya, Kingdom of Jevarish, Voy of the Year 70

Aron stopped in front of Ed's shop and took a deep breath, Meyja took his hand and looked at him while her thumb stroked the back of his hand. She didn't need to say anything, he knew that he could count on her support for what was about to happen. He hadn't seen their common boss for more than two years, even after he came back from the Academy, his full attention was on Meyja and there hadn't been time to visit Ed. The stocky, dark-haired man had always been like a father to Aron, ever since he'd turned up at the store begging for work with his brother in tow more than fifteen years ago. It wasn’t foreseeable how Ed would react when he met the man who had made off in a cloak and dagger operation and Ed had thought him dead for a long time, only Eralion had promised to inform their boss about it that Aron was very much alive. 
But it wasn't just Aron who had to expect a thunderstorm, Meyja had also abandoned Ed and it was only because of her that Aron hadn't turned up in the shop after his return. This put a lot of strain on the guild as the couple were the two most capable people and the only ones who could do the really difficult jobs. When Aron explained Ed's concerns about the relationship with Meyja neither of them would have thought that one day it could happen that assuming the worst could become a bitter reality. However, it had already happened and they couldn't undo it, they could only flee forward and they owed it to Ed to explain themselves. 
Aron lifted his head and looked at Meyja as well a long look later he had plucked up enough courage and slowly pushed open the shop door the bell rang to announce their arrival. They stopped side by side at the entrance; they could hear footsteps clumsily approaching the curtain in the back room. 
Ed was stunned in the passage when he saw the two. He looked old, his hair was grey, and his skin was wrinkled. For a moment he just stared at Meyja and Aron then his eyes filled with tears. 
"Aron..." he whispered and slowly walked towards his lost son. 
Weeping, the two men wrapped their arms around each other and held each other for minutes while Meyja stood by, carried away by the emotionality of both of them, she also cried silent tears of emotion and regret. 
"I thought I'd never see you again," Ed sobbed in agony. 
"I'm so sorry, Ed," Aron answered quietly and looked at his companion in tears. 
Meyja understood immediately and locked the shop door, Aron already led the still stunned Ed out of the sales room to take him upstairs. 
Then she followed them both, climbed the steps into the room where the 
Deathshade so often met and where Ed was now sitting at the table. Aron looked up briefly he was still crying and was just pouring a mug of schnapps for their boss who gratefully accepted it. 
"I can hardly believe it. A few months ago, Eralion came to me and said he had seen you and you were still alive. But he also said Meyja left town and you followed her. I thought that was it... And I'll never see you again,” Ed sobbed. 
Shaking his head gently Aron sank into a chair. “But only to get her back. It took so long because I had to ride after her all the way to Acinares. Please forgive me, Ed, it never was my intention to keep any of you in the dark as to my whereabouts. Meyja didn't know anything either although I had sent her a message. The messenger never got to her or she would have told you I was fine.”  
"I would have, of course," murmured Meyja and sat down with the two men. 
Ed looked at her with watery eyes. „It hurts me, too, that you let me down. But I'm glad to see you both again and I forgive you whether you can explain it or not." 
She looked down at the table. "I could but I doubt that anyone outside would understand. Still, I'm terribly sorry." 
Meyja was also still crying silent tears, even though she was happy that Aron and Ed were reunited, she felt bad and mean. The knowledge of having left behind someone who seemed to care about her hurt, even though she didn't love Ed like 
Eralion or even Aron. Just the fact that he liked her was enough to blame herself but Aron pulled her out of her gloomy thoughts by grabbing her hand that was laying on the table. 
When she looked up, he gave her a loving smile before turning back to Ed. "It might be a minor thing right now but you can count on both of us. If we're still 
Deathshade, of course..." 
"You are. Until your death which will hopefully be many years away. But I'm afraid things are looking very bad for us right now. We were quickly supplanted after there was no one left who would have been able to stop the other guilds,” Ed replied bitterly. 
"What does this mean? Didn't Tasim and Raemur do anything about it?" The shocked Aron wanted to know. 
Ed nodded a little absently, one could tell he was upset that the Deathshade weren't the undisputed community they once were. 
Eventually, their boss said quietly, “Yes, they tried. But many years of experience is not enough. It takes talent for something like this. The talent that's in both of you. That other men don't have. Or should I say decreed? Tasim is no longer with us; he was killed on one of those assignments two weeks ago.” 
Aron turned deathly pale and covered his mouth with his hands while Meyja also looked dismayed. They had liked Tasim; he had been the most popular of all men, had taught not a few what later opened the doors of the guild for them. 
But such was life as assassins, the majority of them met their deaths before he or she had even reached their prime and all were aware of the dangers of trying to kill others. 
"I'm so sorry, Ed," Aron whispered as his shoulders were jerking uncontrollably at the grief for his brother. 
Meyja also offered her condolences, still crying softly. 
Aron turned his head and looked at her with a pained look; she could see the fear he had for her and which she also felt when she thought about the fact that he also was in constant danger. 
"I've seriously considered quitting and closing the shop. After all, I've gotten old and I don't know how many more losses I can take before I perish. You are like a son to me, Aron. But at some point, every man meets someone who is smarter than himself. And I don't want to have to mourn your death one day," Ed said quietly, but Aron shook his head violently. 
"You'll never have to. We're both here and we're up to it. Don't worry so much the Indomitable and the Unseen are at your service and will help the Deathshade to regain its former glory," Aron promised. 
Meyja was silent brooding for she wasn't afraid for herself or for the other men, but if it meant that her lover was no longer in danger, she would accept that there was no longer a guild. But she didn't want to stab him in the back so she nodded and resolved to discuss this matter with him when they were alone. Even if he didn't seem to think about it at the moment, he would certainly agree with her, if she made him aware they could then lead a life together in peace. But it took time and it wasn't an easy decision to make too quickly. 
Ed thought just like her because he replied, “Let me think about it, okay? Come back tomorrow and we'll talk about the future of the Deathshade, but it was a bit much for today. I've become an old man." 
With an indulgent nod Aron got up and put his hand on Ed's shoulder who also got up and hugged the young man tightly. 
"Take care you two," her boss murmured, wiping his eyes with a smile. 
"Sure. Nobody catches us both on the wrong foot,” Aron replied. 
"I hope so," Ed grumbled and let go of him before he turned to Meyja who was standing a little unsteadily next to her chair. "Come here, child." 
With a touched smile Meyja returned Ed's hug then they said goodbye and left the store. 
As they stepped onto the street, Aron suggested, “Let's take another walk to the pumpkin field. I haven't been there for so long." 
"With pleasure. I feel the same way. Since your disappearance I couldn't bring myself to visit this place,” she admitted quietly and walked alongside him through the evening streets which were slowly becoming quieter. 
The hustle and bustle had subsided, only a few people were still out and about, most of them seemed to be on their way home, surely looking forward to a hearty meal and their families. But the couple's hearts were just too heavy and their thoughts too dark to enjoy the evening of a beautiful winter day. 
Arriving at their tree, they sat down in the snow and Aron put his arm around 
Meyja's shoulders before remarking, “You're for the end of the guild, aren't you?" 
For a moment, she didn't know how to explain it to him but then she nodded slightly. “Yes, I am." 
He sighed softly, leaned his head back against the tree, and looked at her then whispered, “I understand you because I know why. You're scared for me." 
"But you're afraid, too, you can’t deny it. Just imagine what it would be like to live a life of peace. You wouldn't have to kill anyone anymore and you wouldn't have to fear every second that I'm not with you that I won't come back,” she replied meeting his gaze. 
He realised how serious she was about it and she was right in what she said. In his eyes however, the idea of buying a house and being able to grow old side by side was downright utopian. 
"You know I've been working for Ed for almost as long as I can remember. And that's why I killed most of the time which I never really had a problem with. The thought of giving it all up and living a middle-class life scares me. But if you want it, we'll face it together," he said softly. 
With a hesitant smile on her lips, she nodded, and snuggled up to him. 
"Then there is one condition though," he objected. 
She looked up at him again, “Which one?" 
With a smile he stroked her cheek and whispered, “Finally become my wife, 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 12 - Screams

The next morning, Meyja woke up naked in Aron's arms, he was also not wearing anything and opened his eyes when she kissed him on the lips. 

"Good morning," she said softly. 

He smiled broadly. “Good morning to you, too, love of my life." 

She had happily accepted the third marriage proposal the previous evening and regardless of all possible observers they had made love in the snow next to their tree before Aron got up and scratched a cheesy heart into the bark of the trunk with his dagger. Then they went home happy and Meyja put the ring back on her finger before they became intimate again. 

The hunger and the longing for each other hadn't subsided yet and so Aron lay down on her again addicted to the ecstatic expression she had on her face when she came. A short time later he was rewarded and Meyja panted to the summit together with him which he finally rewarded with a big smile and a loving kiss on her lips. 

"I'll never get enough of that..." she sighed happily and looked up at him with a smile. 

He agreed nodding. „Me neither. You are irresistible.” 

Then he got up and was about to go into the next room to get a bottle of water when Meyja slapped his bare bottom with a grin. “And you’re the same." 

He growled playfully, rolled her onto her stomach, and gently bit her bottom. 

"Yummy... good enough to eat," he laughed as he continued on his way. 

After he drank half a bottle and handed her the jar for her to do the same, they embraced again, and caressed each other with devotion. 

"With you by my side I'm the happiest woman in the world," she whispered smiling. 

The corners of his mouth lifted a little more. “You also make me the happiest man, Meyja." 

Then he put a hand on her neck, pulled her towards him, and kissed her again. 

When they finally managed to tear themselves away from each other, they got dressed and hand in hand made their way to Ed to let him know what they thought about the dissolution of the guild. Aron held the door open for her and she thanked him with a nod and an uncertain smile because this visit to her boss wasn't as pleasant as the news of their renewed engagement. Although Meyja was in a very good mood, she seemed depressed when they greeted Ed. 

Aron also seemed worried. “Let's go upstairs, Ed. There is a lot to talk about I think.” 

"I think so, too. Please lock the door, Meyja,” her boss asked and went ahead through the curtain with Aron. 

She was still standing next to the entrance anyway and complied with the request as a matter of course, turning the key in the lock. But just as she was about to follow them, she saw through the small window set into the door that someone had stopped in front of the building. In disbelief Eralion covered his mouth with his hands and stared at her through the glass. 

'Damned...', she thought. 

She wasn't prepared for him but she opened the door and let him in before locking it again behind him. 

Eralion immediately pulled her to him and hugged her as she was hesitantly returning the gesture. "You're here again..." he whispered. 

Meyja closed her eyes and internally hated that she enjoyed his closeness so much. "Yes, I am." 

In the morning, she had been happy to have Aron by her side, to be able to wake up next to her fiancé and she had not wasted any thought on Eralion. But now he was here and she could feel him. 

He let her go, took her face in his hands, and wanted to kiss her but she turned her head in time so that his lips met her cheek. 

"Eralion, I..." she began softly but didn't know how to tell him. 

Out of the corner of her eye she could see Aron standing in the passageway to the back room watching the scene. Eralion noticed him, too, and took a step away from Meyja. 

Aron had only wanted to see where his beloved was and to find her entwined with his rival gave him a stab. He turned around without a word and let the curtain fall back. 

'Crap...', she thought. 

Eralion looked down at his feet for a moment before whispering, “So… you took him back. I understand..." 

"Eralion, wait," she pleaded, holding his hand as he reached for the key to the shop door. "Let us talk about it." 

"There's nothing more to talk about. You dumped me, Meyja. And didn't even give me the chance to talk to you alone again,” he said and she could see pain in his eyes. 

"I realise that you are the one to suffer in all this and I have done you a great injustice. I would like to apologise for that. It hurt me, too, it had to end like this. 

Seeing you and not being able to be there for you… hurts..." she said softly. 

He just looked at her for a moment then he pulled her to him again and before she could help it, she found her lips on his as he was kissing her passionately while he held her body against him. Pausing she wasn’t having the heart to push him away immediately but she had to tell him the truth he deserved.  

"Come with me, Meyja. We'll fix it together..." he murmured as he unlocked the door and pulled her outside behind him. 

"Eralion, no! It's impossible... Aron...", she protested but he still held her tight kissed her again and prevented her from continuing to speak. 

As much as she still liked him, she loved Aron more and fought him, tried to push his hands away. 

The shop door opened again and Aron who hadn't gone back to Ed but had been listening behind the curtain came rushing out of the shop and roughly pushed Eralion aside. 

"Let her go! She won't go anywhere with you because she belongs to me and she will stay with me," growled Aron and put his arm around Meyja's shoulders. 

Meyja put a soothing hand on Aron's chest, Eralion looked back and forth between the two when Aron's body jerked. 

She looked up at him, his eyes wide as he looked down, he coughed a breath out and a gush of blood escaped his lips. 

A movement in the corner of her eye caused her to tear her daggers out of her belt, then Meyja threw herself on the attacker who was just pulling his blade out of Aron's back. With a lightning-fast thrust she rammed the weapon into the stranger's neck. Eralion took a long stride to Aron and caught him before he fell, carefully laying him on the ground while the assassin's corpse collapsed next to Meyja. 

"No!" she yelled, rushed towards Aron, and got on her knees next to him. 

"Flee, Meyja," he breathed weakly while she crouched crying next to him on the ground. 

"Aron, stay with me... don't leave me... please..." 

A pool of blood spread beneath him, staining the snow and Meyja's knees red. 

"I love... you... get yourself... to safety..." he ground out, raising his hand to her face, and stroking her cheek. 

"I love you too, Aron. Please. Hold on please...", she whispered but Aron gently shook his head with a loving smile.  

"No... let me... go... Too late... But I... will always... be... with you..." he murmured, then his gaze went blank, and his limp arm sank to the ground beside him. 

"No! No, no, no, no, no!” Screaming she leaned on his chest clinging desperately to his lifeless body and curled up in tears. 

It couldn't be, he couldn't be dead... He was Aron, the Unseen, her fiancé... He couldn't be gone... She needed him after all... 

But Aron no longer heard her screams, felt neither her tears on his neck nor the warm blood seeping into the cold snow from the deep stab in his back. He had left her and all that remained was an empty shell, next to which Meyja lay in a red puddle and was still screaming. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 13 - Cuts

Ed came out of the shop and fell on his knees next to Aron's corpse, Eralion stood up in amazement and tried to pull Meyja to her feet but she fought back violently still crying and screaming holding onto her dead lover. Eralion released her and ran into the store, moments later the horn of the Deathshade rang just once over the city, filling the streets of Sharaya with its dark, menacing sound. 

When they heard of the death of one of their brothers, the men rushed towards the store from different directions. Within two minutes they had arrived one after the other as they had heard Meyja's screams from afar and looked down at the fallen Aron in dismay. Raemur and Sully had to help Eralion drag Meyja away from the corpse and into Ed's shop. Deval and Will carried the body into the shop and placed it on the counter while Eralion hugged the still sobbing woman and sat down with her on the floor of the salesroom. 

Meyja was covered in blood all over but she only noticed it after a few minutes and then squirmed out of Eralion's embrace. 

"No!" she yelled, ripping off her clothes, and then falling back on the ground, arms wrapped around her knees, and crying in despair. 

The Deathshade stood around them deeply affected for it was a bit much at once. They hadn't even known that the two were back in town and now Aron was dead and the almost naked Meyja lay weeping at her feet in the midst of the bloody clothes. Eralion scrambled to his feet and stripped off his shirt then motioned for Thom and Raemur to help him. Together they lifted the confused young woman’s torso and pulled the shirt over her head before Eralion took her in his arms again and continued to hold her.  

"You are not alone, Meyja, I am with you. I love you and will always be with you,” he whispered, ignoring the embarrassed looks of the men. 

"Who did this guy belong to?" Raemur asked looking around. 

They had all seen the killer's body still lying on the street but no one knew whose job he had come. 

"It's my fault!" screamed Meyja. 

"Guards!" warned Deval who was standing by the door and peering out through the small window. 

Eralion pressed his hand over Meyja's mouth who fell silent. 

Only when Deval gave the all-clear with a nod did Eralion release her again. 

"Aron is dead because of me. And he saw it coming..." she added a little quieter and sat up sobbing. 

Eralion asked in horror, “What do you mean by that?" 

"I'm sure a gang from the Slumberwood is behind this. Their leader wanted me to work for him but I refused. His name is Brick and the gang is called the Savage Syndicate,” she said trying to wipe away her tears which continued to flow unstoppably down her cheeks. 

She then recounted her journey, how she met Brick, the messenger in Acinares, and Aron's fears. 

The Deathshade had listened silently and Eralion murmured, “So that's what Aron meant when he said that you should flee." He looked at Meyja in dismay. 

“We can hardly take on a whole gang. If this guy is really only after Meyja then she needs to leave town. For her safety and our own,” Raemur said and looked around again. 

An almost unanimous nod was the answer, only Eralion didn't nod, he continued to stare at Meyja who would now undoubtedly leave him behind again.  

"I'll pack her things," Thom said and took a step toward the door. 

"Don't go alone. Who knows how many are already in their flat,” Raemur murmured. 

He reached into the pocket of Meyja's pants which were still laying on the floor, took out the key, and handed it to Thom before telling Sully and Deval to go with him. Raemur locked the shop door after the three exited and then looked at Eralion. "You will stay with us, brother. We need your help here in Sharaya. Love or not,” he said seriously. 

Eralion nodded silently and stood up before he helped Meyja to her feet who avoided looking toward the counter. 

The whole time, Ed stood by the corpse, silent tears streaming down his face as he held Aron's lifeless hand. He had only just seen him again and now he was laying in front of him with pale skin and that blank look in his eyes. Ed gently closed his eyelids with his fingers, watching over his prodigal son, and silently praying to the gods that he was in a better place now far away from ruin and death. He already missed Aron even before his body had cooled down. The loss left a deep hole in Ed's heart he would never be able to fill. This man had been his be-all and end-all, the only reason he had carried on the guild for so long and not retired years ago as planned. 

Will carried over a chair that had been in the corner of the room and said, “We need to change Meyja's appearance for it might help that she isn't immediately recognised." 

With a nod Raemur went to the young woman, pulled her roughly to her feet, and pushed her towards the chair. She sank down into without resistance then he stepped behind her and drew his dagger. Will took the clip out of her hair and Eralion still watched silently as Raemur used his blade to first trim her long hair and then remove the metal ring from her nose. 

She did look really different when they finished with her a few minutes later the haircut was extremely short, just long enough to tuck a few strands behind her ear. 

Will nodded his approval and opened the door to the returning men. 

Thom put a bag in front of Meyja's feet and said, “I packed everything that seemed important. Although nobody was there, the flat had been broken into, and searched.” 

"It's about time she goes away. If they know where she lives, it'll only be a matter of hours before they show up here. We were cautious but you never know if someone hasn't followed us," added Deval. 

The sad Eralion took Meyja's hand and bag then led her through the curtain into the back room. Almost tiny in his oversized shirt, she stood lost and apathetic in the middle of the full-stuffed room, tears welling up in his eyes again as he rummaged through her things and selected some clothes. Obviously, she wasn't able to do anything right now so he would have to dress her. He carefully pulled his shirt down over her head, moistened a rag with some water from the wooden tub in the corner, and wiped the blood from her face and trembling fingers. 

Even though the blood had seeped through her own shirt and smeared her stomach and chest he didn't dare touching her there. So, he pulled one of her clean linen shirts over her head, lifted her arms one by one, and guided them into the sleeves before kneeling in front of her to pull a pair of pants on her. She let him lift her feet listlessly not responding to any of his touches, just standing there as tears trickled down her expressionless face. 

Then he hugged her gently and whispered, "I don't know what else to say. Except I love you and will always be there for you. But I can’t accompany you, you have to protect yourself. Do it for Aron, he wanted it that way. Take care, Meyja.” 

She nodded silently, took the bag he handed her, and went through the curtain to the front of the store. Eralion reached for his shirt but before he put it on, he pressed the fabric to his face, and inhaled her scent which he would miss so much again. The tears he had been successfully holding back were now streaming down his cheeks. 

He could hear footsteps and the bell ringing. 

After the shop door slammed shut, he got on his knees and sobbed loudly because she was gone once and for all, wherever she went, she would not come back. 

This time it was final. 

Raemur, Sully, Thom, Will, and Deval had Meyja in their midst and escorted her briskly out of the shop always wary of having to defend themselves but no incident occurred and they made it safely into the long stable block at the edge of the old town. 

"She must be far away from here. Maybe the dwarves will take her into Emerald," Raemur suggested. 

"Let her decide for herself which place she chooses for her exile. It would probably be better, if we didn't know where she's going anyway," Deval interjected. 

A unanimous nod followed his words. 

She knew exactly where she was going. To the place of her darkest years, to her homeland of Voynar. As a punishment for herself after making sure Aron died because of her. If she didn't find death merciful at the hands of Brick or the Destriers, at least the demons of her past would drive her insane. 

The men raised their hands in farewell and she knew none of them would miss her but it was her own fault and the more she was hated the better. Dejected she mounted Crispin's back who the men had already saddled after pointing out that she had a horse and one of the many animals was hers. 

She pulled the hood lower over her face before gently urging the grey stallion and riding away through the alleys. 

The Riverlands, Medelya of the Year 71 

A few weeks later, Meyja stood in Seacity and looked out over the Riverlands crisscrossed by rivulets. From a merchant she bought provisions, a map, a simple tent, and blanket before she went to the stables to check on Crispin. 

Fifteen minutes later, she rode out of the small city and towards a bridge. Her thoughts revolved around Aron whom his love for her had killed. If only he had died happy but instead, he'd perished just seconds after dragging her from someone else's arms. She had dishonoured him and herself with it. Calling her a whore in Acinares had been perfectly accurate. Self-loathing clouded her senses, she rode blindly down the road nearly taking the wrong turn that would take her further east and into Hyrunar. She wouldn't even be able to be there at his funeral. Surely Aron would be buried in some hole in front of Sharaya's gates and this great man would be forgotten as quickly as he died. And it was her fault, hers alone. Because she couldn't keep her legs together. 

As she rode on, she slipped her clean, sharp stiletto out of her boot and rolled up the sleeve of her shirt. She wanted to bleed like Aron had bled when he took his last breath in her arms. Ferociously, she cut her forearm a few times, not deep but it was enough for blood to trickle out of the wounds and over her skin. The sight of the cuts and the pain calmed her down a bit and finally brought back the tears that had already dried up. 

Sharaya, Kingdom of Jevarish, Medelya of the year 71 

Eralion Mason stood silently beside Ed and the other Deathshade as the aged priest delivered his speech in their midst the matt black wooden coffin that held Aron's remains. The body had remained in the freezing cold crypt beneath the cathedral for weeks until the priest had scheduled the ceremony. 

“In life, Aron Gray was a great man who carried love in his heart. And those he loved, he protected with the light in his heart from all the evil and the darkness in the world which reigns wherever the light of the gods cannot shine,” said the priest and Eralion stopped listening to him. 

Everything the old man said sounded to his ears like a big pile of crap that he rattled off every time someone pegged out. At Tasim's funeral just before they had already heard the same boring, meaningless words and Eralion wanted to scream. Anger, desperation, and pain. Nobody could have saved Aron, not the gods and also no other power of this cursed world, his brother was dead, and lay in a box on a pile of wood. The guild no longer existed, Meyja had left and he was left with nothing, he was alone. 

As four novices came up and lit the woodpile under the coffin, Eralion turned and walked away between the tombstones to the stone parapet beyond which lay the little lake. Unable to hold back the tears any longer, he began to sob, crying silently with shaking shoulders. 

It felt like an eternity later that he calmed down a bit and looked over his shoulder at the grave site which was now almost deserted, the men and priests had left only Ed was still standing in front of the blazing fire. Eralion slowly approached his former boss and gently put a hand on his shoulder as he reached him. Ed didn't react, just stared wordlessly into the flames as tears were running down his cheeks and into his beard. Rarely had Eralion seen him like this, not even after Aron had disappeared had Ed looked so terrible. 

Eralion took his hand from Ed's shoulder in resignation but he remained standing, even as it began to rain and the drops tried to wash away the tears and sadness, neither of them moved. 

There was nothing left for either of them where they could have gone anyway so they stood in the rain and silently mourned the loved ones they had lost each in a different way. 

Destrothos, Fulgyr of the year 71 

Two months later, Meyja had already started the last part of her journey home and was in the lands of the enemy Destrothos. A few miles away, but already in sight, the Wall of Voynar loomed into the sky, a gaping gap in the middle of the masonry. So, the undead had managed to tear down the bulwark, after all. She reined in Crispin on a rise and looked back over her shoulder for any pursuers. Even when she could see none, she quickly spurred the stallion on, guiding him down the hill, and toward the passage into the Ice Lands. Obediently, the animal rushed forward, swung wide, and snorting made its way across the grassy steppe. The biting cold wind brought tears to Meyja's eyes but she didn't even think of slowing down, instead leaning far forward on Crispin's neck. 

A strange wooden-sounding crack made her turn her head again and she noticed with a start that two undead were behind her. Three more just rose from the ground and when Meyja looked ahead again the ground crept in front of moving bones. 

'Crap…', she thought. 

She had ridden straight into a trap set by the enemy who must have been just waiting to get unsuspecting victims like her. Frightened she jabbed her heels into Crispin's sides and the stallion accelerated again, also running in panic from the creatures which one by one crawled out of the ground to his hooves, and gave chase. The undead were relatively slow but their sheer numbers were enough to cut off Meyja's path. Desperately she tugged at the reins and guided Crispin who fortunately still trusted her, rather than simply running blindly into their misery in an arc around the undead. 

Then she spurred her stallion on again who galloped towards the gap in the wall while Meyja kept glancing over her shoulder and noting that the undead retreated as soon as they reached the safe passage into the Ice Lands. She looked around again reigned her horse then sprang from the saddle, hastily tied the reins to an abandoned fixture, and clambered onto the remains of a catapult. She kept a lookout for the undead who moved back to where they had crawled out of the ground and disappeared again in a blink of an eye, causing Meyja to blink in amazement. 

No matter how hard she stared at the grassland, she couldn't even see remnants of what had just happened. But how did these monsters manage to hide in the ground? 

And how had they disappeared back into it so quickly? 

When Crispin mumbled his discomfort, she looked down at him and the next moment she heard voices deep and raspy echoing through the narrow valley in which she was. 

Terrified she jumped down from the catapult and untied her stallion before scurrying with him behind a distant palisade where she crouched and peered around a corner over the former battlefield. 

The few years she had lived away from her homeland had not been enough to let all the remnants of the war against Destrothos rot away, instead numerous wooden fortifications and catapults stood in the narrow pass that led up into the Kingdom of Voynar that no one had been able to clear away in such a short time. She could also make out rusty swords, shields, and human bones, but she didn't have a chance to think about them because two figures just came around the corner. 

They were Virtheriā, huge and hairy. All of a sudden Meyja felt like she had been transported years back to the time when these beasts had murdered her family and although she knew better she felt hatred sprout within her. They had taken her brother; the most important thing in her life had fallen victim to these beasts and she put a grim hand on the butt of her weapon. Her eyes followed the two of them who meanwhile moved on two legs across the battlefield and spoke quietly to each other. 

The silver grey was probably a Virtherion for his voice was deeper than that of the black Virtheria. 

The dark-furred woman was just asking, “Now where do we start?" 

"The Dyphuom represents a niver-endin’ abundance of spiritual power that we will harness. But always remember that it is playin’ with fire and ya can easily burn yer fingers. Ya need a lot of patience to become a good Shepherd of Souls,” said the silver-grey. 

Meyja could no longer hear his companion's answer because they had already passed her and disappeared through the gap in the wall to the Destrian side. 

It was now or never – she had to act or they would come back and she was no more than a few fleshy lumps as was the rest of Voynar's population. She hurriedly grabbed Crispin's reins and pulled him back through all the fortifications where she mounted and urged him up the path. 


Yardleyu Faegan Blake walked alongside his student while explaining the most important concepts she would need as a prospective Shepherd of Souls when they heard hoofbeats a long way behind them. 

His head snapped around and he sniffed the light breeze which blew a scent that seemed strangely familiar to him but he just shook his head impatiently. 

"Wot wus that?" he growled lurking. 

She listened, too, then pulled up her lips. “A rider." 

Immediately the two got on all fours and rushed back the way they had come down. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 14 - Escape

The Ice Lands, Fulgyr of the Year 71

Meyja pushed Crispin even harder and headed purposefully for a small forest that was on their left and through which they rushed. Although she was already laying on the neck of her mount as branches brushed her cheeks several times but she did not notice the pain – the panic that filled her heart was still too great. She didn't know for sure that the Virtheriā were after her but she could guess and the more randomly she changed direction the better it would probably be. 

After a sweeping switchback she had reached the top of the climb and saw the outline of Talheym in the thick haze ahead, so she steered the stallion back into the forest and moved on through the trees. Though she could not ride as fast now she kept off the tracks, zigzagging between the trunks, and trotted forward until eventually she was past the village of Talheym. The Virtheriā seemed to have lost her as well at least she couldn't spot any pursuers, so she reined Crispin in, and let him crane his neck as she rode calmly but warily on. 

Now she felt the rising biting cold even more which quickly crept into her limbs and her face began to hurt, especially where it had brushed against the branches. She groped for the wounds with clammy fingers but only felt the pain she felt as her fingertips touched the injured areas. She pulled her cloth mask from one of the saddlebags and tied it across her face, pulling her hood down, and letting the leather jacket sleeves slide forward over her hands. Like this she rode on, crossing the road to Waldskorn at full gallop again after making sure that nothing and no one saw her. 

As dusk began to fall, she stopped between all the trees of the coniferous forest and stiffly dismounted to set up camp for the night. 


The student stopped first and looked over her shoulder at her teacher who was still sniffing and holding his nose in the wind. 

"I think we've lost track," she said softly. 

Yardleyu gave a short nod before transforming back and stroking his long white blonde hair. "Ya may be right ‘bout that but still... I felt like I recognised that smell..." he answered seriously. 

"Who?" she demanded also taking on her human form. 

He waved her off. “Niver mind. I guess I was just wron’." 

It had been Eadda's scent he had smelled but he wasn't sure if that was really there or if it was just wishful thinking as he wanted it so much that she would eventually come back. Ever since the Ares had restored self-determination to him, he had often fancied that he had smelled his sister, but it had never been true. And this time, too, he would be disappointed of that, he was sure. 

"Let's go back," he suggested and with a loud crack of bones transformed into the silver-grey Virtherion. 

She gave him a long, inscrutable look before nodding and turning into the black beast to follow him. 


Meyja awoke early the next morning and sat up inside her tent, teeth chattering. When she realised where she was and that she was alone, she began to cry silently. In her dream, Aron had just held her in his arms, stroked her hair, and told her that everything would be fine – but now he wasn't here. Pulling the stiletto from her boot she studied the gleaming blade for a moment before pushing back her sleeve and drawing the edge down her now badly scarred forearm then watched the blood trickle down her pale skin. She felt the same liberation she felt whenever she hurt herself, showing her that she was still alive.  

"I'm so sorry, Aron," she sobbed softly, tearing the bandage soaked with old, dried blood that was still wrapped around her arm over the cuts, and curling up under her blankets. 

A few minutes later, she was finally able to pull herself together and put her things away which she tied into a small package with a rope and threw out of the tent. As she poked her head outside, she realised why she was so cold since it had been snowing while she slept. It wasn't unusual for it to snow in the third month of the year, but she wasn't used to the cold anymore. 

She looked around but she couldn't see Crispin anywhere. His shackles which usually kept him from running away were where she had put them on him. 

'Damned…', she thought. 

She scrambled to her feet and turned on her own axis her eyes on the trees between which the morning haze still lingered. 

"Crispin!" she called out softly making clicking noises with her tongue. 

A low growl made her turn again and she noticed with relief that her grey stallion was just returning to her. She walked over to him and wrapped her arms around his neck. 

"What are you doing? It's dangerous up north and you shouldn't venture that far alone,” she scolded, even though she knew he couldn't understand her. 

Crispin nibbled at the waistband of her trousers, wanting to let her know he was hungry but she was hardly carrying anything to feed herself. So later she would have to find him some hay or shovel the snow off the grass somewhere. Explaining quietly that if they hurried, they would reach Voynar today as she saddled and bridled the grey. Then she tied her blankets to the saddle, packed the tent in the bag she always carried it in, and fastened it next to the blankets. 

When she reached the end, she rubbed her hands together again, breathed on them, and climbed onto Crispin's back before he started moving of his own accord and carried her unerringly towards Voynar. 


"To Sharaya? Ya sure?” the student asked aghast as she was staring at her teacher in disbelief. 

Yardleyu tentatively shook his head. "No, I'm no’. But there may be sumone out there who can help us... In a way, at least.” 

"Help in wot way?" she asked and frowned. 

"Well… Ya don' have to understand it just yet. But when I come back it will all make sense I promise." 

She sighed softly. „If ya say so, Master." 


Leaving behind the rows of trees that had offered at least some shelter Meyja rode up a hill from which she enjoyed a moment's breath-taking view over the capital of the people who lived in the Ice Lands. As in those days, Voynar looked quite imposing but the evil that clung to the city like a curse sent a shiver down her spine. It was already dusk and she urged Crispin on again and the stallion continued through the snow and carried her down to the road. 

She rubbed her hands together again, her fingers already turning blue, and her teeth chattering inexorably, even though she had wrapped one of the blankets around her. The cold couldn't stop all this, but soon she would have arrived at the destination of her journey and there was certainly enough wood left in her family's home to start a fire. 

She paused again on the bridge leading into the city, wondering if it was the right place to settle there for now. But now she had no choice because it would soon be dark and looking for another shelter was simply too difficult. She was tired, cold, and hungry. 

A bed was waiting for her at her parents' house and she also hoped for a warming fire in the fireplace and possibly some left over from the canned food she had hated so much in days gone by. Now none of this sounded as repulsive as she had felt before the snow had fallen. 

Pressing her heels gently into Crispin's flanks, she steered him across the bridge and on to the left where the Blake's estate was. Even if there was some fear of what she might find there. 

The alleys were all dark not a soul about when Eadda Blake got to the front of the property and looked up. 

Knees weak she slid down from the saddle and tied the grey to the gate that blocked the way to the small stable that had also belonged to the Blakes. Her heart pounding in her chest as she walked towards the entrance of the building she had once called home, but the door was locked. So, she circled the property and hesitantly went in through the ruined kitchen door. The passage to the entrance hall was also open, dead silence reigned throughout the house, only now and then the wood of a beam cracked. Her father's parlour and dining room looked the same as before, only everything was a little dustier but there was nothing of interest here and she turned to the stairs to the upper floor. The steps creaked as she put her feet on them, step by step, she climbed the ascent. 

What was she doing here anyway? She didn't want to see any of this because it had been her home where she had spent time with her brother and had been tormented by her mother with annoying parenting measures. 

Still, she walked down the hall to her parents' bedroom, they still lay in their bed on the black sheets, their bodies almost completely decomposed, only their sleepwear draped tight over their remains. Startled she clamped a hand to her mouth and turned away walking back out into the hallway and into her own room. 

Everything here seemed as if someone had stopped time, and if the bed were made you would think the maids would still be at work, but that wasn't the case. Probably not a single person had been here for four and a half years. 

She sat down on her bed for a moment, felt the hard mattress, and decided to spend the night here if nothing unforeseen happened till then. 

If Aron were with her, she would certainly be able to bear all of this more easily, but she was all alone – he was dead and she still blamed herself for it, even if her view of his death had changed in the meantime. It hadn't been her fault that he died, after all she hadn't plunged the blade into his body, even if she had inadvertently triggered the events that had led to his loss. Brick was the culprit; he was obsessively fixated on her and she assumed he couldn't handle it when things didn't go the way he thought they would. And only because of him she was here and had to face her long-suppressed memories. Because of him she was alone. 

She pulled back the sleeve of her shirt and looked at the numerous scars and cuts she had inflicted on herself in the self-hatred that had gripped her in the weeks after Aron's death. Although she had been able to free herself from it every now and then the desire to see her own blood and to feel the pain and the satisfaction that followed the cuts returned. It was the only outlet she had found and the only thing that helped her when the memories of Aron returned and threatened her to go insane. 

She sighed and got up pushed her sleeve back down and quietly walked out into the hallway where the residual light of the day reflecting off the smooth surface of the wooden floor revealing the scratches left by the two Virtheriā. The library door hung slightly on its hinges and creaked open as she pushed her hand against it and she had her eyes closed as she listened but the mansion remained silent. 

She reluctantly entered the room with which she connected the best and the worst memories of her home. How many times had she spent the evening sitting in the armchairs in front of the fireplace with her older brother but then Sean had died here and Yary had been wounded. That she had survived that night was down to sheer luck and Yardleyu's skills or her life could have been taken so quickly back then. 

For a moment she wondered, if it wouldn't have been better but then she thought about Aron again and the fact that she had never met him. Even if he was dead now, if she could ask him, he would surely say that it was all worth it and that he'd rather have had a short life with her than a long life alone. 

"Do you hear me, Aron? I will always love you no matter what,” she whispered blinking back a few tears. 

Then she stepped next to Sean’s corpse which was laying on the darkly discoloured wooden floorboards because his blood and that of her parents had probably darkened considerably over the years and therefore appeared black. 

"I'm so sorry, Sean," she said softly kneeling and being silent for a few minutes thinking about her brother who passed away. 

Her family deserved to be buried so she went out and got some fresh sheets from the closet in the hallway. She spread two of them over Sean’s remains and wrapped him in the cloth. The corpse collapsing and she carefully tied the corners of the sheet together. 

She did the same with her parents, one by one she carried the dead down to the entrance hall and laid them side by side. Then she went outside to the gate where Crispin was still tied and took him into the stable before giving him hay and water which he ate snorting greedily. 

By the time night fell, she had already carried water from the well and firewood into the house and searched the pantry for food, but apart from a few jars of preserved fruit, vegetables, and sausage everything was spoiled. Meyja laboriously raised the kitchen door and pushed it closed then clamped a broom against it, so it stayed in place before lighting a fire in the stove and under the kettle that was heating the bathwater. 

It was bitterly cold and she hadn't bathed or eaten anything warm in weeks, so she opened two jars of vegetables and put them in a pot, which she placed on the stove. She scooped water for tea into another pot and poured the rest of the contents of the buckets she had filled at the well into the cauldron. 

The vegetables and tea were ready long before the bathwater, so she sat with them on a chair in front of the stove and began to eat with a little salt it was the tastiest meal she had had since leaving the Riverlands. She didn't particularly like the tea but in view of the temperatures she liked to drink it, it warmed you from the inside out while she held her stiff, cold fingers in front of the stove. The cold of Voynar hadn't bothered her before, she was used to it, but after the much warmer climate in Sharaya and the tropical heat in Acinares, she shivered bitterly from the freezing temperatures in the Ice Lands. 

At some point, the water in the cauldron began to steam and she placed a bucket next to it before tilting the bulbous metal vessel so far that the contents spilled over the rim and into the smaller tub. She was able to fill all three buckets with it and groaning carried them up the stairs one after the other to the washroom where she tipped them into the bathtub. 

In retrospect she harboured undreamed-of appreciation for the maids who had done this work several times a day and she was glad that she had always treated them with reserved friendliness. She hastily undressed and climbed into the tub enjoying the warmth of the water soothing her aching limbs and tense muscles. 

Only when she almost began to freeze again did she climb out and dry herself with the woollen towel she had laid out. Then she changed into fresh clothes and went back into the library where she closed the curtains on the windows and lit a fire in the fireplace. It was so cold that she didn't want to sleep in her room where there was no way to start a fire. Instead, she got her own and Sean’s mattresses from the rooms and laid them one on top of the other in front of the fireplace, took her pillow, and the blanket she had bought in Seacity and made herself comfortable staring broodingly into the flames. 

She felt so alone, Aron wasn't with her, he would certainly have warmed her and full of recurring despair she began to sob softly curled up and cried for her lover, pictured his face as he smiled at her and asking for a kiss, leaned towards her. But she didn't feel him, he was dead, gone from her, and she would never see him again. There was no one left to be there for her, no one to listen to her, and no one she could ever love as much as him again. Her heart felt as if an invisible hand was gripping it and the sharp fingernails digging in till blood was oozing out. Meyja pressed a fist on her chest hit it hard, but the pain wouldn't let her go. 

"I need you, Aron. I miss you so much..." she sobbed desperately. 

At some point, she couldn't take it anymore and reached for her stiletto which would give her false consolation. As her body shook with crying spasms, she pulled her sleeve aside and sliced deeply into her flesh, traversing the sharp blade three times across her forearm before looking at her handiwork and realising she must have gone too far this time. In a panic, she jumped off her bunk and ran out into the hall where she ripped open the closet and pressed a clean sheet over the cuts. 

'Crap...', she thought. 

In her panic, she couldn't remember where her mother had kept the needle and thread, so she would have to consider the only other option that would quickly sew up the wounds. Back in the library, she picked up the stiletto again and held it over the flames until it was almost too hot to hold then pressed the blade to the first cut. The pain ripped through her body till she squirmed and screamed, fighting the reflex to pry the metal from her arm. The hissing sound and the stench of burned flesh were terrible as was the burning emanating from her forearm but she bravely pressed on holding the stylet over the fire again and cauterizing the other two cuts as well. When she was done, she fell to the side as it was getting dark around her, she lay unconscious on the floor in front of the fireplace. 

After a few minutes, she woke up again, panting at what she had done. Although it was no longer bleeding, half her forearm was burned and the skin blistered. Groaning, she got up and staggered to the washroom where she held her arm in the already cold bathwater until the pain subsided a little then went back into the library and nicked the bloody sheet a couple of times tearing it into strips and bandaged her wounds with it. 

Exhausted, she lay back on her makeshift bed and sometime later fell asleep in the cool air with her injured arm. She no longer heard Crispin's distraught whinnying, nor did she hear the falling kitchen door, the creaking in the entrance to the library, or the heavy footsteps approaching her. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 15 - Cold

When Meyja opened her eyes the next morning, she felt strange, her injuries still burned terribly, but that wasn't the reason for the uneasy feeling. An unsettling presence filled the room and when she turned her head, she saw the outline of a person sitting in one of the armchairs a few meters away from her. 

Startled she jumped up and pulled the daggers from her back. 

"Who is it?" she asked. 

"Put these things away, Meyja," came a voice. 

She backed up to one of the windows and drew back the curtain eyeing the familiar visitor who rose from the chair. "Cayden?" 

Cayden Kavanagh smirked and walked towards her. "I'm sorry I scared ya." 

"Oh, that’s okay," she said somewhat embarrassed and waved him off. "It's really a surprise to meet you here. How long has it been now?” 

He thought for a moment. “Three and a half years, if I remember correctly. A lon’ time, ain’t it?" 

"Whatever..." she murmured softly. 

Cayden had apparently worried about his eye colour for nothing at the time because they shone in the ice blue typical of Voynar and his hair was white blond again like her brother's once was. Otherwise, he hadn't changed very much from the outside – in contrast to her. Meyja herself had become thin since Aron was no longer with her. In addition, she always had dark circles under her eyes and when she smiled it seemed anything but sincere. 

His gaze fell on her forearm before she could hide it and he asked worriedly, 

"Where did ya get those injuries?”

She pulled her sleeve over the wounds. "It was broken glass. As I climbed onto a shelf in one of the houses to get to the canned food at the top, the rotten wood gave way and I fell. Likewise, the wine bottles that had been standing further down on one of the shelves.” 

"Ya better take better care of yerself," he scolded. "We need every man and woman to restore Voynar to its former glory. Ya too. Wot am I gabbin’ ‘bout? We just need ya. I don' know anyone who is as loyal as ya." 

Meyja just nodded seriously and was silent for a moment. “How did you find me here?" 

"Yer horse has left its mark. It wus hard to miss this mornin’ that sumone came to Voynar with the snow,” he remarked smiling. 

She had actually forgotten to attach a branch to Crispin's tail which smudged his hoofprints as soon as her stallion made them and she covered her face with her hand in embarrassment. 

"Somehow I missed it," she admitted sheepishly. “But I assumed the town was deserted anyway. Where do you live?" 

He grabbed her hand and led her back to her makeshift bed while he settled himself in the chair. “Actually, at my family's estate out of the city. But the snow caught me by surprise, so I took shelter two houses down.” 

"But it snowed the night before last. Why didn't you use yesterday and go back?” she wanted to know. 

"Have ya been to the estate before? It's a lon’ way there if ya don' have a horse," he replied laughing softly. "Especially if there's snow." 

Meyja now had to smile as well. "And now you want to borrow my horse, right?" 

He shook his head. "No, no... I'm in the process of tamin’ one of the feral animals that live up here. I also have a followin’ that will pick me up this afternoon if I haven' returned by then." 

She nodded in understanding and smiled distantly. "Good." 

Cayden tilted his head at her and asked softly, "Will ya join us, Meyja?" 

With a gentle shake of her head, she dismissed him. "No, Cayden. First, I want to be alone for a while. A lot has happened in the past year and I need time to organise my thoughts. I'm really sorry." 

"Nobody should be alone here in the north," he objected, but she shook her head again more violently. 

"I still have to. I didn't choose that, but it will be for the best,” she retorted not daring to look at him. 

He asked softly, “Wot happened, Meyja?" 

She shrugged silently, looked down at her knees, and fought back tears. Then she pressed out, "Aron is dead." 

"I'm very sorry for ya." Before she could resist, he knelt in front of her, and pulled her in his arms. 

Although the closeness made her uncomfortable, she began to sob quietly, leaning her head on his shoulder she cried for Aron, and Cayden stroked her back. 

Eventually, she realised the absurdity of the situation, pulled away from him, sniffling, and wiping her eyes. 

"Excuse me," she murmured meaning Aron rather than her counterpart. 

Cayden gave her an encouraging smile. "It's okay. I don' think that's a bad thing, ya know?" 

"But I do. If you consider that Aron has already..." she began, but then broke off her words, shaking her head. "Not so important." 

"Wot did Aron have ‘bout me?" Cayden asked. 

Meyja put her hands on her head and replied, “Please. Why don't we just talk about something else?”  

"Because I want to know, Meyja. Tell me,” he demanded seriously. 

His piercing gaze intimidated her and – although she didn't know why – she suddenly felt that she was afraid of him. There wasn't really a reason for that but she had a feeling that Cayden Kavanagh was dangerous. So, she would have to quickly think of something to lie to him again. Her mind was racing and her heart was pounding in her chest. 

She acted as if she was still reluctant to tell him the truth before murmuring, "He had already given you a lot of thought. I was finally able to convince him that everything is fine. Nothing else." 

"’Cause of me. I see.” Cayden leaned back, then got up, and sat down next to her on the makeshift bed. "But now he's dead and yah’re unbound again, do I understand that correctly?" 

"No, I'm not unbound, I'm in mourning. Give me the time I need to get over this. Then we'll see what happens," she said. 

Though she feared challenging him by turning him down, she still had to do it to preserve her freedom. He hadn't noticed the two previous lies and she hoped that he would now believe her in this move as well although he would then have to wait an eternity for her because she wouldn't dream of joining his entourage. 

And as hoped Cayden agreed, “A’ight, then take yer time. But I expect ya to come to me afterwards and we can think ‘bout how we can help Voynar get back on its feet." 

"Agreed," she lied again without batting an eyelash. 

It was obvious that he expected his way to be clear now that Aron was no longer alive but she wasn't about to give in to him. Especially now that she had seen how bossy he could be and at that moment there was nothing sympathetic about him anymore. She would sooner go to the Ares and join them than join forces with Cayden Kavanagh who she thought knew what he was up to. 

He gave her a satisfied wink before leaning forward and forcing a gentle almost cautious kiss on her which she hesitantly returned. 

Then he whispered, “Take good care of yerself." 

Only after she had nodded did he get up say goodbye and leave the building. She watched him through a gap in the curtains with a queasy feeling in her stomach as he walked down the street and disappeared around the corner. 

Almost distraught she went down to the kitchen and opened a jar of preserved fruit, ate her breakfast standing and thought about what Cayden had said to her. She had seen that he was already pursuing a plan to save Voynar and for which he certainly wouldn't need her. Nobody would control her, not even the curse of the Virtheriā could take possession of her, and if she ever met death, she would welcome it with open arms. 

Cayden Kavanagh had been rude to her and she hoped he wasn't coming back here to trail her or anything. 

"I miss you so much," she whispered to the heavens swallowing a few times to keep from crying before heading outside to feed Crispin. 

Despite the cold she began to pile up a small pile of wood, trembling and with clammy fingers, she kept taking logs from the firewood store and putting them on top of the pile until it was finally big enough. Then she went inside and took the wrapped bodies of her family one by one, placed them on the pile before pausing and staring at the sheets in silence for a moment. 

“Voy, bless my parents and brother, they used to pray regularly in Voynar Cathedral all their lives. I truly was less conscientious, but, in their memory, I wish a proper burial for my family.” 

She prayed to the god of winter, the patron god of the Voynarians after whom their homeland was named. Voynar meant under the protection of Voy. Using two flints, she lit a torch she had wrapped, soaked in alcohol from her father's parlour, and brought it to the pile of wood which then also caught fire and her family would be handed over to the ancestors. 

After the funeral, she explored the surrounding buildings on foot, searching the cellars and pantries for food, and putting everything that was still edible into the large bag she carried with her. 

With her sizable haul of food, she went back to the Blake estate at dusk. She would last at least a week on the food she found today, even if it was just more jars and a varied diet looked different. Eventually, she would move somewhere where she could grow some vegetables and hunt to support herself but until she found the right place that would have to wait. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 16 - Stiletto

The Ice Lands, Vilia of the Year 71

A few days later, Meyja woke up early, ate the fruit from one of the preserving jars again, and then went outside wearing two thick furs. She groomed and saddled her horse before mounting his back and making her way to Weather Point. She wanted to see Ethan’s mansion, face the memories that would undoubtedly haunt her there, and finally be done with it. 

The stallion calmly climbed the incline and before long the building she had been aiming for appeared in front of her. It still emanated an unsuspected menace. The windows even after all these years seemed like empty eyes staring down at her hostilely. She boldly dismounted and tied the grey to a fence then strode briskly toward the entrance and kicked the door which crashed against the wall in the hallway. Calmly she looked around the small parlour and was disappointed to find that all the liquor bottles on the dresser were empty, so she kept searching. If it didn't attract uninvited visitors, she would surely have set fire to the house but as it was she just wandered the rooms of the basement looking around for useful things. She found absolutely nothing that was of any use, not even food in the kitchen cupboards or pantry. 

With a queasy feeling in her stomach, she finally went upstairs and into the bedroom staring at the bed where Ethan had raped her daily for six years. Meyja had expected that she would have to cry if she were here, but she felt nothing but anger, no sadness, no fear, no self-pity. Just anger at the man who had used his power over her revelling in her pain and screams while she was breaking inside. 

He had disfigured her, not only inflicted deep scars on her body, her soul had also suffered unimaginably, so that she had not gotten over it for a long time. But now she stood here, bravely confronting her memories, immediately crushing any form of negative emotions. Ethan – that filthy bastard – was probably dead, she hadn't seen him since she left these walls. He certainly would not have survived the war against the Virtheriā that followed. After all, he had been an officer and had had to fight alongside his unit against the beasts. Satisfaction filled her heart; it served him right now to lie somewhere and rot while she herself was still alive. 

"If you can hear me, scumbag, rest assured you couldn't break me. I am alive and stronger than you have ever been. You were nothing more than a ridiculous wretch molesting a weak child. May your dick fall off, if you still exist anywhere in this world,” she murmured. 

"But I can hear ya," came his voice behind her. 

The next moment, a hard blow hit her on the back of the head, throwing her to the ground before she could react. 

"And it's good to see ya again, Eadda." Ethan grinned evilly, rolling the dazed woman onto her back. Then he sat on her, tucking her arms under his knees so she couldn't move. 

Fear gripped her heart as she looked up at her husband, even though he was older and had a long beard on his face she would have recognised those eyes at any time. She had made a fatal mistake coming here, now everything she had already experienced would be repeated. 

"Yah've changed," he purred feeling her body for weapons. 

"And you not a bit," she replied. 

Ethan grinned. "I wus extremely sad when ya left me. If ya had stayed with me, our home wouldn' look so shabby today. It's a shame it had to come to this. But I always thought ya weren' a good wife. My mother wouldn' listen to me, may she rest in peace." 

"And I already knew what a sick bastard you are. Why don't you just follow your mother and die? Then you can tell her about your outrages,” she answered quietly. 

She would never show him her fear, nor would she beg, it would be pointless anyway. He would only be feeding on her weakness, and if she screamed or cried, she would only make it worse, so she just stared at him steadily. 

"Do I hear yer cherished memory of our time together? I also thought it was very nice, even if ya were a miserable housewife, ya always fulfilled yer other marital duties to my satisfaction. If they were limited to this room here of course,” he remarked with a smile. 

Meyja felt nauseated but she pulled herself together. "You are the most disgusting scum that ever lived. Not for a second was this my home. I wasn't your wife; I was your prisoner. And you weren't a husband but a lousy pig who had to hide his poorly developed mind. You are ridiculous, Ethan.” 

He put a hand to her throat, choking her until she gasped, and tears welled in her eyes. Just before she could faint, he loosened his grip. “No, ya stay with me so that ya can benefit from it, too. Wot kind of husband would I be, if I didn’ share all the fun with my wife?” 

Noticing her chest strap he turned the coughing Meyja onto her stomach before drawing the two daggers and throwing them out into the hallway. 

"Don't touch me!" she growled. 

Ethan chuckled. "How rebellious yah've become. I'll be happy to touch ya, maybe this time I'll finally be able to break ya."  

"Never," she replied but he just laughed in amusement. 

Then he stripped off her coats while she struggled fiercely but it was useless because he was physically far superior to her. With a loud ratchet he tore open her shirt and looked at her back running his finger devoutly over each scar. 

“Ya are a work of art, Eadda. And I created ya. My personal paintin’ that I am particularly proud of. Maybe I'll sign it with one of yer daggers when I'm done with ya for today,” he murmured before hitting her hard on the head again and turning her onto her back, again she lay dazed under him. 

As he bent down to her, she spat in his face, causing him to pause for a moment. He slowly wiped her saliva from his face before slapping her cheek several times with the palm of his hand. 

She knowingly suppressed any cry of pain; she would never give him this satisfaction. However, when he grabbed her bare chest, she forgot all good intentions and roared her hatred at him while trying to wriggle out from under him. 

Panting he opened his pants and showed her how much her resistance still aroused him. 

"Yer screamin’ feels better than stickin’ my cock in ya. Did ya miss him?” he wanted to know. 

She closed her eyes in disgust as her fear had given way to panic and she feverishly wondered how to get her stiletto which fortunately he had overlooked. It was out of reach while she was lying on her back, but she knew how to get him to turn her over again. She hastily pooled saliva in her mouth and then spat right into his crotch, smiling provocatively up at him while he glared down at her angrily. She saw his rushing fist before it hit her cheek, giving her a ring in her ears. 

In fact, he turned her back onto her stomach before pulling down her pants. 

“Yah're goin’ to feel how much ya missed me..." 

Using his familiar grip on the back of her neck he pushed her head down onto the wooden floorboards then slid back until he was sitting on her thighs and entered her hard. 

She gritted her teeth, trying to just block out the pain, as Ethan groaned and moved on top of her. 

"Scream a little, okay?", he begged and giggled madly but she was doggedly silent. 

He held her hands behind her back so she couldn't break free to reach for her stiletto. When he pulled out of her, she wondered for a moment but then she felt his tip groping for her back entrance and she involuntarily spasmed. 

'Crap... NO...', she thought. 

He drilled her ass brutally and she screamed again completely forgetting about the stiletto as the pain overwhelmed her. She lay crying under him, howling repeatedly while he sexually assaulted her and was moaning loudly. 

"Yeah... scream for me that feels so good..." he gasped. 

He was everywhere, violating every part of her body at once, the pain nearly made her faint, and she kept screaming just to stay conscious. The pain robbed her of any clear thoughts for an eternity and Meyja couldn't help but sob in sheer desperation her face pressed to the dusty ground. 

At some point, when she already thought it would be better, if he just killed her, the stiletto came back to her mind. She pulled herself together, lifted her foot, and at the same time wriggled her right hand out of his grip, she quickly pulled the saving blade out of her boot and blindly rammed it backwards. With a yelp Ethan fell sideways and she was free. 

Panting she scrambled to her feet and rushed out into the hallway, picking up her daggers, and pulling her pants up. The pain was unbearable but she knew how to find relief. Angrily she hobbled back to Ethan who was laying on his side, his fingers pressed to the wound on his side, the blade unsheathed, and clutched in his free hand glaring at her. 

“Put down the daggers, Eadda. Otherwise, I will kill ya,” he threatened. 

She gave a wicked laugh and deftly kicked the stiletto out of his hand sending it flying across the room and then planted her foot on the fingers covering the wound and leaned her weight on them. 

He cried out again and she whispered, “Scream a little more for me, it feels so good." 

With one quick movement she sliced once across his thigh and Ethan screamed again. 

"Now you will feel how much I've missed you... How long I've waited for this moment..." she murmured grimly. 

The next two hours kept her from indulging in her pain, but she enjoyed inflicting the same pain on Ethan that she had endured for so long. She would have loved to torture him longer but eventually, to her own displeasure, she lost interest in seeing him suffer, so she severed his throat with a single slash watching the blood spurt and Ethan Walsh gasping for his last time. 

Meyja sank to her knees crying, kept her hand pressed to her buttocks, and felt warm moisture flow from her back. 

'Damned...', she thought. 

It had taken her far too long to finish him off, she lay whimpering next to his corpse for a few minutes then struggled to get up. Just in case he ever got up again she grabbed his member and severed it with a single cut, smashed one of the windows in disgust, and threw the body part out. She retrieved the stiletto and then dragged herself out of the building to where her horse was still tied to the fence. 

Whining she pulled herself up and draped herself face down across the saddle before slowly steering Crispin toward town. Now it was really over as she had killed the man who had abused her again and robbed him of his manhood, he would never be able to do something like this to herself or other women again. How he had survived in the Ice Lands for so long, she had no idea, but at the same time she didn't care. His death was the only thing that interested her. She was still annoyed that he had caught her, her whole back was throbbing, and a sharp pain emanated from the injury but at least she was able to get it back at him. 

Taking the grey stallion to the stables, unsaddling, and then limping into the washroom with a bucket of fresh water was a great pain for her. The agony was paralysing her and making every movement a feat of strength. Groaning she took off her trousers leaned the mirror against the bathtub and sat down on the cold floor with her legs apart. She wasn't hurt and couldn't see a hint of the blood she'd felt before and though it still hurt, relief washed over her. Nevertheless, she washed herself first with the cold water. After that she went down, back to the well, and got three more buckets, heated the water, and bathed until she finally felt reasonably clean again. 

"I know you don't think so, but I feel like the most pathetic creature in Abarglen," she whispered. 

She kept talking to Aron, even if she didn't get an answer. It gave her the feeling of being connected to him. Possibly he even heard her and just couldn't make himself heard. 

Meyja was on the brink of insanity, yet she still clung to her sanity by any means necessary and fought the insanity that repeatedly afflicted her. She'd struggled to stay sane, even after years of being locked away in her insane husband's mansion, even though Yary had been the key to keeping her from going insane. The return of isolation, the end of which was not foreseeable was the most dangerous thing about her situation. Although there had been times in her life when she was willingly withdrawn from those around her, she was gregarious and needed reassurance that she wasn't dying away but still existed. Nothing felt worse than the fear of being dead without realising it. Locked in a nightmare like this for eternity. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 17 - Voices

The Ice Lands, Yra of the Year 71

A week later, the burns and injuries on Meyja's arm had healed reasonably well, even if the scars would look terrible. To her relief, Cayden Kavanagh hadn't reappeared but seemed to comply with her request and left her alone. 

She had spent the days either wandering around the city, looking for something to eat, or sitting in the library reading all sorts of books that might be useful to her later. 

Now she almost felt like a scholar, she knew about the herbs that grew in the Ice Lands, knew their benefits and effects when it came to injuries, and general physical well-being. 

The time since Ethan had supposedly raped her, she had been very reserved about food as she had been too afraid of going to the latrine again. She imagined that the strained muscle would still tear, if she didn't restrain herself. Her stomach was bloated and hard when she pressed against it, it hurt inside, so she decided to go herb gathering. Bloodroot was an effective remedy for indigestion she had read that and memorised the descriptions and drawings that went with it. With a small sickle and a basket, she trudged through the forest and looked around for the plant she was looking for which she finally discovered under a tree, the reddish leaves betraying the soothing roots underground. Luckily, it had thawed after the snowfall and finding herbs wasn't too difficult for a layman like her. Meyja carefully dug in the ground until she had dug up the entire growth then she cut off the useless leaves and put the remaining roots in her basket. She did the same thing with three more plants then made her way back into the property. 

There she fetched a bucket of water from the well and washed the Bloodroot carefully before cutting the thick roots into small slices and boiling them in a pot with some water. She poured the brew into a mug and sipped it carefully, it tasted disgustingly bitter and her entire mouth felt furry but the effect was not long in coming. 

She hastily put down the almost empty drinking vessel and ran through the kitchen door into the open already opening her trousers and having arrived in the latrine she immediately threw herself onto the wooden seat. 

Groaning and in severe cramps she relieved herself then left the latrine sweating and looked up at the sky. 

"If I'm not pathetic then I don't know what is." 

Aron didn't answer but she knew that he would have laughed if he had seen her. 

Although she felt almost at home now she wouldn't be able to stay on her family's estate, the settlement was too far north to grow any vegetables and she still had to worry about her supplies after all she couldn't be off forever live in the mason jars. 

So, she went back to the library and gathered her stuff, put everything in a big bag, and then pulled out an old map of the kingdom. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Get to know us

Safest would be a safe house in Waldskorn, the town was far to the south behind a mountain range and far enough from the city and the wall that Cayden wouldn't show up there anytime soon. Talheym was also a possibility but it was there she had seen the two Virtheriā when she arrived in the Ice Lands, so she did not wish to meet them again. 

The route would take her halfway across the kingdom, the Blake estate being in the southeast quarter of the city but she would be at Waldskorn within a few hours, so she hoped. 

Satisfied with her plan, she rolled up the parchment, and put it in her pocket then looked around the library again. “See you soon." 

She shouldered her bag and went out to her grey stallion bridling him and hoisting the saddle onto his back before leading the animal onto the road and mounting. Gently she pressed her heels into the horse's flanks and steered him to the northeast, soon she had left the city behind and rode on southwards. 

Many hours later, she reined in Crispin until he stopped and peered through the darkness at the town she had chosen as her new home. She had never been there and while she risked being spotted, if she approached the prospect of finding a well-stocked pantry was extremely tempting. Her provisions were almost gone. Only one jar of sausage and one of vegetables left, so she urgently needed to find something to eat or she would starve to death soon. 

It was snowing again, it had been clear for a whole week, but now the sky had opened, and thick white snowflakes kept falling on her. 

After another half hour of observing, dusk set in and Meyja, tired and cold, rode towards the village. Directly ahead were the sprawling stables where she housed, fed, and watered Crispin, then walked toward a palatial estate, and gazed up at the mansion for a moment. The architectural style typical of Voynar was also found here the half-timbered facade was built with wide wooden beams in order to be able to bear the weight of the roof. 

She slowly climbed the steps leading up to the entrance and pushed one of the wings which opened silently and she eased into the dark building before closing the door and looking around. Even though it was so dark, she recognised the shadowy interior. She walked quietly through the wide entrance hall and examined two rooms branching off it, taking a particularly careful look around the kitchen. A door led to the pantry and she descended into the great room where she lit one of the lanterns and began searching for food. 

Contrary to her expectations, she did not find a morsel of food. That meant someone had already been here and she felt queasy as she walked between the shelves. 

Nevertheless, she discovered a few bottles of schnapps and took one of them. The contents looked like ghost wine; the liquid shone blueish towards her when she held the glass container up to the light. But liquor alone wasn't enough to survive so if she couldn't find some food in one of the other buildings, she would have to make her way to Talheym tomorrow. Meyja put out the flame of the lantern and went up the stairs to leave the building again but in the entrance hall she was taken aback. 

When she heard soft voices, she stopped, and listened startled. She couldn't understand the spoken words but they seemed to come from an upstairs room. Silently she crept up the stairs and the conversation grew louder, carefully peering into the unlocked room for a second, it took only a moment to see the three seated in the room. Two humans and a black Virtherion who were completely unknown to her spoke quietly to each other but loud enough for her to make out the words. 

"Amelia, ya can’t do that. After all, we can’t just go to Kavanagh and make peace,” one of the men was saying. 

A rough female voice replied, “Then we'll just wait for a better opportunity. I didn' say ya really should do it. It was just an idea for later, Logan." 

It was probably a Virtheria called Amelia and Logan was one of the humans. 

"We shouldn' argue, it doesn' make sense. Directin’ the aggression against each other and no’ against the undead only sows doubts and discord that we should avoid,” remarked the third voice which must have belonged to the other man. 

"Listen, listen… He spoke," Amelia laughed and Logan joined in. 

Meyja's stomach rumbled loudly, she backed away hastily, and closed her eyes hoping that the three of them hadn't heard her. 

"There wus sumthin’..." Amelia murmured. 

Meyja heard the rustling of fabric and the scratching of claws on the wooden floor. 

The Virtheria came in her direction, cursing silently Meyja crept into an unfamiliar room, and leaned the door before hiding behind a bookshelf. 

A minute later, she heard noises from the door and pressed herself against the wall holding her breath and listening anxiously. It was almost a low ominous whisper and before she knew what was happening a glowing black unidentifiable thing appeared in front of her. It was like a fog and Meyja instinctively felt that touching it would result in unimaginable pain, so she stopped and stared into the strange emptiness that floated right in front of her face and whispered incessantly. The soft unintelligible voice echoed in her head and she had great difficulty not groaning at the pressure that suddenly seemed to build up in her skull. 

"Come out, ya have no chance of escapin’," Amelia barked from the direction of the door. 

Meyja was frozen with fear, unable to move, she just kept staring at the strange mist that still threatened her. 

"There are three of us and yah’re alone, be reasonable," Logan added calmly. 

Meyja swallowed. “Then take this thing away." 

A moment later, the fog disappeared and Meyja took a deep breath before stepping out from behind the shelf. 

"Well, look at that. Who we got there? A Kavanagh spy lookin’ for information, I assume,” the Virtheria said looking the intruder up and down with her piercing gaze. 

All three of them stood in the entrance and cut off her escape route looking down at Meyja with hostility who stood there frozen and intimidated. 

"Wot are ya lookin’ for here?" Logan demanded. 

"I'm not a spy I was looking for something to eat and a place to sleep for the night," Meyja explained reluctantly as her stomach growled its approval loudly and she hastily pressed a fist on her stomach. 

"Seems to be true, at least about the food," remarked the third. 

"Yah're so gullible, Lyam," Amelia replied, glaring at him before shifting her gaze back to Meyja. "Come on, let's gab a little now." 

When she didn't move, Logan approached Meyja and grabbed her arm to lead her outside. 

"Hey! Take it easy, I'm not running away,” she protested. 

Logan replied, "I'd rather play it safe." 

He led her into the dining room and pushed her into a chair at the long table then the three sat around her. 

"Now tell me why are ya here?" Amelia asked. 

"As I said before I was looking for a place to stay and food," Meyja replied. 

"Right here?" Lyam remarked. 

"Yes, right here," Meyja replied impatiently. 

"Why here?" Logan wanted to know. 

"Why not? I didn't want to stay in Voynar anymore that's why I came here. What is reprehensible about that?” Meyja asked back. 

"Where ya come from? And are ya a Virtheria?” came the next question from Amelia again. 

Meyja was getting tired of being squeezed by the strangers but when she wanted to get up, Logan pushed her back onto the chair. “Sit down. We're not done with ya yet,” he growled. 

"Just let me go. I don't want anything bad for you and I'll just disappear again as if nothing had happened, I promise," Meyja asked. 

"Answer my question," Amelia demanded again. 

"As already said. So far, I've been in Voynar and no I'm not a Virtheria", Meyja murmured resignedly. 

They wouldn't just let her go like that; she was sure of that now. 

"Wot does a woman do alone in the Ice Lands?" Amelia asked. 

"What am I supposed to do here? I'm trying to survive and I was looking for something to eat," Meyja admitted again. 

"Why?", Logan now wanted to know. 

"Why?" Meyja echoed. "Because you have to eat, if you don't want to starve." 

The three exchanged brief glances, finally Lyam asked, “Did anyone follow ya here?" 

"Not that I know of," Meyja replied truthfully. "But who should be chasing me?" 

"Well... maybe Kavanagh," Amelia piped up again. 

Meyja lied, “I don't know any Kavanagh. At least not personally.” 

"We have sumthin’ to fear from anyone who knows the fact that we're here," Lyam replied. 

Amelia gave him a warning look. "Be quiet. That does no’ concern her." 

"Kavanagh is looking for you, isn't he?" Meyja now asked. 

Logan shook his head and replied, “No, we aren’ on his list. But until we know how trusting yah’re, ya won' know ‘bout us." 

"I'm not interested in you. Apart from your first name and your current whereabouts I don't know anything and I don't want to know anything. All I want is food and a place to stay, nothing more. I'll go my own way and let you do whatever you want, I don't really care," Meyja promised. 

"Impossible. Tell us everythin’ that has to do with ya and Voynar or ya won' be goin’ anywhere anymore,” Amelia growled. 

“I was born there. Voynar is deserted and because I couldn't find anything to eat there I came here”, Meyja repeated. 

"Wot kind are ya? And wot's yer name, anyway?” Amelia wanted to know. 

"My name is Meyja and my job... well... you could call me a mercenary," Meyja replied. 

Logan said, “I'm a mercenary, too." 

"Then we have something in common. How nice,” Meyja remarked dryly. Her stomach was growling again and she pressed a hand on it again to silence it. 

"I think I'll get us sumthin’ to eat first. Don' tear her apart in the meantime," Logan said looking at the Virtheria with a smile. 

"We shall see..." Amelia growled softly. 

"Ya really look frozen. I believe yer story. But tell us wot kind of mercenary are ya?” Lyam asked. 

"Assassin, murderer, bounty hunter. Call it what you want,” Meyja answered with an indifferent undertone in her voice. 

"Scum," Amelia remarked snidely. 

"I don't have to listen to that from someone like you," Meyja shot back and stared at the furry woman hostilely.  

"Am I scum, too, Amelia?" Logan asked with a grin who had just returned with a platter full of different dishes and sat down at the table again. 

"No, but yah're no’ a sneaky assassin either," Amelia replied sweetly pulling up her lips. She was grinning as well but it didn't have the amusing effect it actually disfigured the hairy face. 

Logan smiled and pushed the plate full of fragrant food into the middle of the table while Meyja's mouth watered. The three grabbed hungrily but she held back as she still wasn’t trusting the strangers. 

"Wot? Are ya afraid we want to poison ya?" Logan asked with a grin. 

"Don' worry, Meyja. We’d niver do that,” Lyam said shoving a large chunk of meat into his mouth. 

He had slightly longer blond hair and a full beard, gave Amelia a challenging look, and raised his eyebrows with a grin when she looked at him. 

"For real? Is that necessary?” Amelia moaned and when Lyam nodded, she turned back into a human. 

She was pretty, had light blonde hair that she wore up in a bun, and she looked warily at the unwelcome stranger. 

"Only ‘cause of ya," she said in Meyja’s direction and slowly began to eat. 

"Let's be polite. After all, Logan eats normally, too,” Lyam said with a wink. 

Logan nodded and pushed the serving plate right in front of Meyja. 

"Now eat, everythin’ is fine with that. Nobody wants to poison ya,” he said kindly. 

Meyja hesitantly grabbed a leg of meat but sniffed it before she bit into it. "Thank ya," she murmured. 

She glanced at Logan and wondered if he was a Virtherion, too, Lyam's statement suggested so. Logan had long white-blond hair that he wore shaved down the left side, his beard growing along the edge of his broad jaw. Like Lyam he was muscular but he didn't look like an assassin, so he had to be a different kind of mercenary. He also didn't have any weapons so Meyja didn't have any clues and didn't dare to ask. "I don' like to eat in my non-human form, it's so barbaric," Lyam said amusedly in Meyja's direction who just shrugged and continued eating. 

She didn't care what they looked like if she knew where she was. As for Logan, she was a little unsure, it was very difficult for her to judge him. Of all those present Amelia was the most dangerous. Meyja didn't know how to counter magic, if there was a fight. Lyam was peaceful and diplomatic, Logan also seemed friendly almost giving the impression that he had a thing for his fellow mercenary. 

"Ya like it?" Logan asked and Meyja nodded silently. 

Apparently, he caught her look. "Yah're probably wonderin’ if I'm also a Virtherion, ain't ya?" 

"To be honest, I don't care. I'm just cautious and like to know who I'm up against in terms of… shall we say… physical superiority,” she replied. 

Logan grinned broadly. “I'm superior to ya in any way, even in my human form." 

"I doubt it," she replied promptly. 

Amelia frowned but said nothing, Lyam smirked and stayed silent as well. 

"Oho, sumone is very sure of herself." Logan laughed. 

"I know about my abilities; it has nothing to do with conviction. Besides, I'm not proud of being an assassin even though I'm good at it," Meyja replied. 

"How come ya don' have an accent?" Amelia asked. 

"I lived in Sharaya for quite a while and only came back to my homeland a few weeks ago," Meyja replied. 

"Tell us all ‘bout it. Why did ya come back?” Amelia prodded. 

Meyja thought for a moment as she got into serious trouble with this question because she didn't want to mention Brick's gang and the Deathshade, so she decided to lie and only tell part of it. 

"Well... At some point, I realised that the capital of Jevarish doesn't hold much in store for someone like me. And it had been a few years which is why I decided to return home,” she lied. 

"Just like that?" Amelia asked. 

"Yes, just like that," Meyja lied again and tore the last piece of meat from the leg with her teeth. 

"Would ya please wait outside for a moment? I'd like to gab to the others in private,” Logan pleaded. 

She nodded and walked back into the entrance hall, the black mist that Amelia seemed to be summoning with a dark murmur followed Meyja, frustrating the plan to leave. Sitting on the wide staircase, she waited a little impatiently to be called again. The voices of the three Virtheriā echoed softly down to her, but she could not understand what they were talking about, so she got up again and started to approach the passage. However, the fog cut her off and she let herself sink back onto the steps. 

"Crap," she growled darkly. 

A few minutes later, Logan appeared behind her and the fog was just dissipating into nothing. 

"A’ight, ya may come back in," Logan said smirking. 

She got up and followed him back to the table although she was sure that a decision had not just been made about whether to kill her or let her live, she was still nervous. 

Amelia looked at Meyja for a few seconds. "Meyja, we just voted on wot to do with ya. And the decision wus made to let ya in, if ya agreed no’ to tell anyone.” 

"In what matter?“ Meyja asked somewhat confused. 

Amelia rolled her eyes while Lyam replied, “Our business." 

"And what if I don't want to? What if I just want to go for a walk and go my own way?” Meyja wanted to know. 

"Then we'll stop ya," Amelia replied. 

Meyja thought for a moment, but she longed for a community and for someone she could talk to. It was also safer since the three didn't want anything to do with Kavanagh and could keep him off her back. 

So, she agreed, “I swear I'll never say a word to anyone." 

Logan smiled again and Amelia nodded before she began to explain, “Well, we are here in Waldskorn ‘cause we want our homeland back. The undead have been up to mischief for far too long and since Kavanagh has no interest in includin’ the Virtheriā in his new Voynar, we've made that our mission. Ya said earlier ya were a capable woman, so we decided to add ya to our ranks. Even if it is also yer own home, ya could make a decisive contribution by workin’ with us.” 

"What is this supposed to look like? What do I have to do?” she wanted to know. 

Logan replied, “We monitor the undead that are in front of the wall. It seems they're up to sumthin’ but we don' know wot it is. As an assassin, ya should also be able to perform sum less dangerous spy actions. We always play it safe, so we don’ just send ya sumwhere and leave ya alone with the task but there has to be concrete evidence and then ya have all of our backin’.” 

Amelia nodded. “Cayden Kavanagh must no’ know of our operations or he will charge us all with treason and execute us as soon as he catches us. Therefore, everythin’ that is said or done here is absolutely secret and nobody – I stress nobody 

– is allowed to know anythin’ ‘bout it. Got it?" 

Meyja nodded again. “I have, don't worry." 

"Well, then ya can take her with ya now, Logan," Amelia said firmly and stood up. 

"It wus nice to have made yer acquaintance," Lyam said with a smile and shook hands with Meyja. 

She chimed in and returned Amelia's nod of farewell. 

After Amelia and Lyam left she looked at Logan and asked, “Take away? Where to?" 

"Outwards. We live in the houses of Waldskorn." He also got up and went with her down the stairs and through the entrance hall to the outside. "Ya have a horse?" 

"Yes, it's in the stable in front of the village," she answered. 

"Well, we meet here almost every day, so ya can take it to one of the other stables tomorrow. But tonight, yah'd better come with me immediately," he said with a smile. 

"All right," she replied curtly. 

She followed him through the door into the open and walked with him through the nocturnal streets. In a small square Logan finally stopped and spread his arms. 

"Well, pick one of these humble dwellings. Except for that.” He pointed to one of the buildings. "That’s where Amelia lives." 

She nodded and replied, “I don't care as long as it's dry and there's a fireplace." 

“They are all more or less dry. And they all have a fireplace, too. But that behind ya has sum other advantages,” he remarked and led her towards the entrance. 

When they entered Meyja looked around in amazement, it seemed to have been something like a taproom. Downstairs was a counter with a fireplace behind it and many liquor bottles on it, a table with a few chairs on one side and a long bench on the other was also here. 

"Take a look around I'll be waitin’ outside for so lon’." Logan said with a wink and left. 

A little hesitantly she climbed the stairs and looked around the upper floor, there also was a fireplace and a large bed. She put down her bag she had been carrying over her shoulder and then went out to Logan. 

He was leaning against a fence opposite the entrance and was smoking. As she stepped out the door he asked, “Wot are ya sayin’?" 

"It's nice. If nobody has nothing against it, I'll stay here,” she answered and cheekily took the cigarette from his hand, drew on it herself, and exhaled with relish. 

Then she gave him back the smouldering stalk and murmured, “Too bad." She leaned against the fence next to him and returned his puzzled look. 

"Wot's too bad?" he wanted to know. 

"Well, I just thought you might smoke Philos," she said with a smile. 

"Philosopher’s herb? I'm no’ a king to throw my money out the window. Just tell me ya bought this stuff at some point?” he wanted to know. 

"I rarely didn't have one in the house when I was in Sharaya," she confessed. 

Logan looked at her in disbelief and was silent for a moment before saying, “This is insane. Ya could certainly have bought half the city for that number of Crowns.” 

"What am I supposed to do with half Sharaya, if I don't have anything to smoke then?" she asked amused. 

She knew he was exaggerating, although Philos was extremely expensive, she could have bought at most a house or two with the amount of gold she had invested over time. But she hadn't felt the need to live in a whole house, the flat had been nice. 

It had been her home – together with Aron. 

"Shall I show ya where I live?" Logan asked after flicking away the last of his cigarette. 

After Meyja had nodded, he pushed himself off the fence, and led her down the road out of Waldskorn towards the cemetery which was a bit off. 

There was a small building there, the door of which Logan unlocked then he stepped in front of her and spread his arms again before saying solemnly, “And this is where I live. Take a seat. Ya want beer?” 

"Gladly," Meyja answered and looked around. 

There was only this one room, in it was a table with two chairs, a bed, and a sailor's chest at the foot of it. There was a fire burning in the hearth so he couldn't have been gone long. She strolled over to the table and sat down, Logan placed a bottle of beer in front of her and toasted her with his. 

"To a new champion for our cause," he said with a smile and clinked glasses with her. 

Then he lit the lantern that was on the table and rolled another cigarette. "Want one, too?" 

Meyja nodded reluctantly and thanked him when he handed her the cigarette, she pushed the cigarette between her lips and lit it with the help of the lantern. Normally she would have been uncomfortable walking into a stranger’s house, but now she didn't care, she was just glad to have some company. Also, Logan didn't give the impression of being up to anything, but seemed like a thoroughly decent man. 

Logan leaned back and smoked with pleasure, for a moment he eyed the young woman sitting across from him. “Tell me sumthin’ ‘bout yerself." 

"What am I supposed to tell you? I was an assassin in Sharaya now I'm back home in the Ice Lands,” she said evasively and took a drag on her cigarette. 

"Do ya have family?" he wanted to know. 

"I don't think anyone is alive anymore. And you?” she asked back. 

He nodded and said softly, “A sister, but I haven' seen her for a lon’ time. She is also involved here but has other duties to attend to. She and Lyam are shamans, in fact he wus her student for a while. But he has no idea where she is either.” 

“How many are there actually?” Meyja wanted to know and took a sip of beer. 

"Well, Amelia is sort of our leader, then there's Lyam and my sister Chloe, ya... and me. Oh yes, I nearly forgot Adam,” he said with a smile. "Adam ain’ a Voynarian but is also from Sharaya." 

"I'm flabbergasted since there are so many of us, we should have rebuilt Voynar long ago," she remarked ironically. 

Logan laughed and replied, “Kavanagh makes life difficult for us every now and then. So, it's goin’ to take a while I guess.” 

"What do you have to do with Kavanagh? Why is he standing in your way?” Meyja asked. 

Logan frowned. “He has his own agenda. It also has sumthin’ to do with the Ares far as I'm aware. Apparently, he doesn' like the fact that they demanded their right to have a say. How so?" 

"Just out of curiosity," she admitted. "What do you usually eat?" 

He nodded briefly. “Most of our food is organised by Lyam and we also grow sum vegetables in a field here in Waldskorn and there are sum apple trees. But since we have another winter, we can’t harvest anythin’ and limit ourselves to huntin’.” 

"And so, you are a mercenary. Of what kind?” she wanted to know. 

“Well… I joined the army at a youn’ age like many my age. There I completed basic trainin’ and worked for another year as a private. The pay was low and the service itself was borin’ and uninterestin’. So, I retired from the army and worked as a guard for various people who needed protection and who needed my services more than the army. The pay was better, too, but I didn' just do it for the money. I did it out of conviction. It was a time of peace and I just couldn' make sense of such a huge army. The peace didn' last lon’, however, and I wus attacked and bitten by a Virtherion one evenin’ outside the home of a family I promised to protect. I wus able to hurt him, too, and he fled but shortly after that I was one myself.” 

She nodded concerned. 

So, he was a swordsman, like all the men who had served in the army, and she not only decided to not tell him about her work as an assassin, but not to tell him anything anymore. She didn't know why she felt that way because actually Logan was quite personable and friendly had a really engaging personality and a good heart. Nevertheless, she pushed aside any self-doubt and closed her heart so that he wouldn't even think of sneaking inside. 

Meyja drained her beer, stifled a yawn, and got up. "I was very pleased, but I'd like to retire now, if you don't mind." 

Rising as well, albeit somewhat surprised at the sudden departure, he replied, “Of course. Ya know where I live. Should anythin’ happen, don' hesitate to contact me. I'll pick ya up tomorrow evenin’ and take ya to the estate then ya can pick up yer horse and brin’ it here on the way back." 

"All right, thanks for the hospitality," she thanked him. 

"No problem, yah're welcome," he dismissed with a smile then he brought her to the door locked it behind her and Meyja went back the way. 

Once in her new abode, she bolted the door, and took one of the liquor bottles upstairs where she sat on the bed and drank herself crying uncontrollably. 

"I miss you so much... I can’t take it anymore..." she whispered sobbing and curled up. A little later she fell asleep. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 18 - Lies

The Ice Lands, Javar of the year 71

Meyja sat down with Logan next to Amelia and Lyam at the table in the manor's dining room at which, in addition to the two Virtheriā, there was a man she didn't know. 

"Meyja, this is Adam. Adam, this is Meyja,” Amelia introduced and gave the two a short time to shake hands. "Adam saw a few undead gabbin’ apart from the others this mornin’. We just gabbed ‘bout it and would like to send Meyja there to spy. Any objections?" 

A unanimous shake of the head was the answer. 

Meyja leaned back and listened, she already felt very comfortable in the ranks of the rebels. She and Logan had almost become friends and got together every few days to sit and talk. Mostly they talked about trivial things because she didn't like to talk about herself and he respected it. They also went to the meetings at the estate together. Crispin was now standing in a smaller stable not far from her house where the other horses were also kept. 

"How many were there?" Logan wanted to know. 

"They were four and about half an hour in a forest clearing before they came back and disappeared in the direction of Destrothos," Adam answered. 

He had long dark hair, dark bushy eyebrows, and an equally dark beard and he looked grim as if he were always in a bad mood. 

"Well, then I want ya to watch the clearin’ and see how often and regularly they go there. When we know ‘bout it, Meyja will hide there and watch wot the rotten scumbags are up to,” Amelia demanded and gave said a waiting look. 

"Sure, no problem," Meyja answered indifferently. 

Logan quietly excused himself, got up from the table, and walked out while Amelia continued talking to the assassin. 

"How good are ya at climbin’?" their leader wanted to know. 

"That shouldn' be a problem," Meyja said evasively. Over time she had lost all concerns and her accent slowly returned. 

Her eyes briefly followed Adam who had also gotten up and was going out through the same door Logan had exited through. 

Amelia pulled her lips up again. “Good. From a tree ya should have a good overview of everythin’ that is goin’ on. However, should ya be spotted, ya would have little time to escape.” 

"It won' be necessary as lon’ as I just have to hide and eavesdrop. Or do ya expect me to wipe out those stinkers?” Meyja asked, looking back and forth between the Virtheria, and the shaman’s apprentice. 

Amelia shook her head violently and raised her clawed hands before hastily replying, “No, no, don' worry. Ya should only observe. I forbid an attack as lon’ as we do no’ know how many there really are and wot they are plannin’.” 

Meyja nodded again and expressed her agreement, relieved that she wasn't sent into uncertainty. 


Logan was standing outside of the building and was just buttoning his trousers when Adam surprisingly stepped up to him. At first, he thought he just wanted to relieve as well, but as he turned to go back into the manor, Adam struck up a conversation. 

"This Meyja is a beauty, don't you think?" Adam grinned over his shoulder while relieving himself. 

Logan frowned in irritation and turned back. "Wot makes ya think that?" 

"Don't you have eyes in your head? Her ass alone..." Adam remarked, whistling softly through his teeth. Then he, too, buttoned his trousers and followed Logan. 

"I do have eyes but they focus more on the essentials," Logan answered evasively. 

"Then tell them to take a closer look. It's worth it, believe me. I would give anything to find her in my bed without a piece of cloth on her. One night with her..." Adam continued and laughed softly. 

Logan interrupted him, “I don' worry about that; my heart belongs to Voynar." 

Adam grinned a bit wider and winked at Logan. "Who speaks of the heart? It's all about one thing, Logan." 

"Please spare me that. This is ‘bout my homeland and no’ ‘bout any conquests. If ya want to try to land with her, so be it. But without me,” Logan replied angrily and opened the door that led to the entrance hall. 

He was about to go into the dining room when Adam grabbed him. 

"Wait... Look at her. Just for a moment,” Adam whispered inaudibly for the three of them who were in the room. 

So far, they hadn't noticed the two men in the passage, so Logan complied with the request and looked at Meyja who was standing next to Amelia with her back to him and was looking at a spread out roll of parchment. He already knew that she was pretty, although out of respect he had never looked at her that way. For him the sight of her was nothing earth-shattering, she was a good-looking woman and he liked her, if more because she wasn't stupid and simple-minded. While her red hair and dark blue eyes were not common in the Ice Lands, that was no reason for him to approach her either. Still, there was something mysterious about her that he couldn't fathom, so he was happy to chat with her to get to know her better. 

When Meyja walked around the table to her chair again, he moved without further comment and entered the room, Adam also followed him without a word. 

But he gave Logan a short wink again after they had both sat down in the round again and Logan shook his head gently and closed his eyes for a moment, annoyed. 

"Fine. Wot ‘bout Chloe? Anythin’ from her?” Amelia was asking looking back and forth between Logan and Lyam but both shrugged. 

"I can look for her among the giants but other than that I have no idea," Lyam suggested. 

"We actually really need her here, I can’t keep this goin’ on my own," Amelia muttered thoughtfully. 

"Ya don' need to but ya have the perspective. Unlike the low-ranking foot soldiers,” Logan remarked grinning. 

"Ya tryin’ to tease me again?" the leader replied and pulled up her lips. 

Logan laughed in amusement and Lyam laughed with him, Adam didn't make a face and Meyja didn't understand that Amelia was joking, she couldn't read Virtheria's facial expressions. 

Unlike Amelia who hardly ever transformed into her human form, she had never seen Logan as a Virtherion. One evening she asked him about it and he said he didn't feel comfortable walking around in his fur. He only took on his second form when there was a fight or when he had to rely on the keen senses of the animal within him. 

Amelia continued, “We'll be postin’ guards, Meyja and Logan takin’ the first shift. In the mornin’, lie in wait and watch the clearin’ from a safe spot. The day after tomorrow, I'll take over with Adam. Lyam, ya go get some food. Forget Chloe, she'll show up eventually. Any questions?" 

"When will we meet here again?" the shaman wanted to know. 

"In three days. Take care of yerselves,” Amelia said and got up. 

They said goodbye and Meyja went outside with Logan. 

"Why does Adam wear a Sharaya tabard?" asked Meyja. 

"Let me explain later, that's a lon’ story," he retorted, nodding forward with a scowl at a couple of men coming towards them. 

The small caravan of riders was led by Cayden Kavanagh and Meyja went cold as soon as she saw him. Now it would no doubt come out that they knew each other and she already feared Logan’s reaction to that. 

"Meyja. Wot a coincidence to meet ya here right now. How's yer arm?” Cayden asked. 

"Evenin’. I'm fine, thanks,” she replied dismissively. 

"Good to hear. Who's yer friend?” Cayden wanted to know. 

"Wot ya want?" Logan asked back eyeing the man on the horse suspiciously. 

"I do no’ want anythin’. Wus just checkin’ my lands," Cayden replied calmly. It didn't seem to bother him that Logan seemed hostile. When neither Meyja nor Logan answered, he got off his horse, handed the reins to one of his companions who had also dismounted, and approached Meyja. "I thought ya would come to me first before ya join any rebels. I find that a bit insultin’ to be honest,” Kavanagh purred reaching out to caress her cheek. 

She involuntarily backed away from him and his fingers reached into nothing. For a moment he looked like she'd hit him, then he clenched his fist and dropped it. 

"I see," he murmured his face expressionless. "Take care, Meyja." 

"Ya too," she replied tonelessly. 

Logan kept his arms crossed and made no move to show politeness either, so Cayden and his men mounted their horses again and headed off in the direction they had come. 

Logan grabbed her arm angrily and pushed her towards her house. “Meyja, wot the heck ya have to do with Kavanagh? Ya said ya don' know him. Or am I rememberin’ wron’?” Logan seemed angry. 

"That wus a lie. I'm sorry..." she answered guiltily. 

"Is that a joke? If so, I don' think it's funny,” he growled acidly. 

"No, that’s no’ a joke." She gave him an apologetic look then unlocked the door to her dwelling, sat down at the table, and began to relate, “There are a few things ya don' know ‘bout me and actually shouldn' know either.” Logan had followed her and sat down opposite her nodding darkly for her to continue. She sighed softly and continued, “I met Kavanagh in Sharaya. There he served in the city guard under the name of Darius Bryce and when I entered the city, he saved me. He ordered his subordinates to let me go after they had already taken me to a chamber and started interrogatin’ me. The story I made up said I wus from Northaven and my mother wus a Voyneress, so I had red hair. Luckily for me I was in Northaven for quite a while before reachin’ Sharaya which is why I no longer had an accent. That's how Kavanagh wus able to save me. After that we met again by chance one evenin’ when I wus sittin’ on the city wall and smokin’. A little later, I found out that the man who taught me everything I can and know today had been commissioned to kill Darius Bryce. And... I'm sorry... But I saved Kavanagh from certain death. After that I helped him get out of town followed him myself a while later, and here I am today." 

He nodded gravely before asking, “But why is Kavanagh so interested in ya?" 

"I do no' know, to be honest. But I've been wonderin’ for a while why he seems to care so much ‘bout me," she replied. 

"Yah’re one of the few who didn' get hit by the curse. That's nice for ya, but it could also be the reason that the bastard Kavanagh is after you," Logan said. "Even though 

I have no idea how you escaped without at leas’ getting bitten." 

She explained, “The Ares helped me disappear. They took me out of the country on a ship which probably saved my life. To be honest, the whole time I wus here I wus thinkin’ about visiting them and thankin’ ‘em.” 

"How are ya goin’ to do that? They can’t even understand ya,” Logan objected amused. 

Meyja looked down at her knees in embarrassment. “Yes. They can.” 

"How so?" he blurted out confused. 

"Well... I'm wot they call a Whisperer. I wus born with that gift," she confessed. 

He was a little pale when he replied, “Yah’re a Whisperer? I always kept their existence a mystery. But I also thought of the Ares as a legend ‘til I awoke as a tamed Virtherion.” 

"It's all true. The Ares and Whisperers exist,” murmured Meyja. 

After a few minutes of thoughtful silence, he said, “I think I need a beer now. Or something stronger. Ya comin’ with me, I think we have sumthin’ to gab ‘bout, don't ya think?" 

"Sure. I have nothin’ else to do anyway,” she replied. 

"I know," he replied and couldn't help but smirk. 

So, they silently walked side by side to his house. 

Logan liked her, she soon noticed that, but she hadn't let him get close to her, she was still too attached to Aron and her heart belonged only to him, there was no room for anyone else in it. She liked Logan, too, but that didn't change her feelings at all. The situation was the same as back then with Eralion who also had tried very hard for her and Meyja wondered whether it would be possible to get involved with Logan without betraying Aron. 

When they got to the door and Logan unlocked it, she asked, “Give me a minute? I'll be right there." 

He nodded, entered his house, and closed the door. 

Meyja walked a few meters looked at the gravestones in the cemetery before she looked up at the sky, closed her eyes, and whispered, “Wot ya say to that? 

Would ya approve of that?" 

The wind caressed her face and blew a loose strand of hair aside, it almost felt like a caress, and she couldn't hold back the tears they ran silently down her cheeks. 

He had answered. 

For the first time. 

Aron wouldn't want her to be sad she knew it. 

"I love ya so much, I miss ya every second. But it just wouldn' be the same..." she whispered crying. 

The wind blew again, this time a little stronger, and ruffled her hair. Sobbing she knelt, sat in the snow for a while, and cried softly. Aron encouraged her, wanted her to dare that she wasn't alone, and that she didn't live her life with sadness in her heart. 

She didn't know, if she was ready yet and if it would be fair to Logan not to really share her feelings with him. Eralion had accepted it although it must have been difficult for him, she didn't want to do the same to anyone else again. But would it be worse than rejecting him entirely? And what exactly did she want herself? She didn't know, helplessness reigned inside her. If only she could ever be happy again, if she could smile at someone the way she always smiled at Aron. But all she felt was sadness in her heart and a wish to be with him anywhere, even if it was Derun's realm. Dying seemed like a grace to her when she could be reunited with her lover and no longer be alone. The living gave her no consolation – on the contrary. It hurt so much not being able to get involved with anyone, not being able to give anyone the love she carried so much of inside herself. 

"Meyja? Is everythin’ a’ight?” she heard Logan’s voice behind her. 

She hastily wiped away the tears and looked over her shoulder before nodding. "Yes, everything’s a’ight. It's okay.” She got up clumsily and brushed the snow off her trousers then walked up to Logan. “Shall we go inside?” 

He still looked at her a little worried before he nodded and they went together into the cottage where a cosy fire was already crackling in the fireplace. There were two open bottles of beer on the table and Meyja sat down, took a sip before looking at Logan. 

He walked over to her, took a seat, and gave her a searching look. “Are ya sure yah’re okay? Ya don' look very happy." 

"I've just got a little too much on my mind and heart right now," she murmured smiling apologetically. 

"Would ya like to gab ‘bout it?" he offered. 

"No, I don’ think so. But thanks for the offer,” she replied. 

"It just makes me a little sad to see ya like that. If I can help ya in any way, let me know, okay?” he said softly and Meyja nodded. 

Logan also nodded and looked at her in silence for a long time. She could feel his tension, apparently, he had to restrain himself from coming closer to her immediately, instead he leaned back calmly and took a sip from his bottle. 

"Wot else do ya want to know ‘bout me? Yah've already found out my dark secret ‘bout Kavanagh,” she began softly. 

"Is there anythin’ I should know ‘bout ya before...?" he asked, shaking his head, and rephrasing his words. "Is there anythin’ I should know ‘bout ya?" 

"Before wot?" she asked feigning confusion. 

"Nothin’, it's okay," he dismissed. "Is there anythin’?" 

Meyja knew immediately what he had actually wanted to say, her palms began to sweat, and her heartbeat accelerated, it scared her. "There's a lot ya can know ‘bout me that ya shouldn' know. I have experienced many bad things and have become a cautious person. If I seem withdrawn, it's nothing personal. I just can’t gab ‘bout sum things; it hurts too much. My body may be marked by many scars, but my heart bears more of ‘em. Maybe I'll be able to tell a little more over time but for now that’s all you need to know." 

Logan nodded silently and they were silent for a while, drinking their beer, and thinking. 

Eventually, Meyja asked, “Why is Adam wearin’ a tabard from Sharaya?" 

“He wus part of a scoutin’ party from the Jevarish capital and reported to a Sharaya marshal. We found him by accident at the gates of the wall where he wus hidin’ from the undead. His squad wus already dead, so we took him and he's been here ever since. While there's been sum trouble with him, he's basically decent and won' betray us to Forsyth," Logan explained. “This surcoat is for credibility. If he is caught, he will pretend to be a scout which is not particularly suspicious. Though lon’ gone from actin’ as one, he still sends reports to the Marshal every few weeks, sayin’ there have been no events here in the north. In a way he is the necessary evil to protect us, but he is dedicated to our cause, and we are grateful to him for that.” 

"Troubles? Of wot kind?” Meyja wanted to know. 

He chuckled. “Nothin’ significant. It took us a while to get alon’ with him and to know that we could trust him. Plus a few misunderstandings that I won' rehash any more, forgive me." 

"Okay, that at least answers all the questions I had ‘bout it." Meyja took another sip from the bottle. 

He didn't look at her and she could see how much he was still struggling with himself, eventually he lost the fight, and got up. 

"So," he stammered. "If I tried to kiss ya now... would I have to fear yer daggers?" '
Do not do it…!' she thought. 

Meyja held her breath and widened her eyes as she looked up at him. As she had feared, it had happened. He would try to get closer to her but there had also been the wind. She decided to ignore the voice in her head at least give him a chance – and herself as well.  

"No... I don' think ya need to..." she replied quietly before getting up on trembling knees and standing directly in front of him. 

He gently took her face between his hands and kissed her tenderly, she just let it happen and returned his kiss. As she leaned against him, she could feel his heart beating fast and violently as well. For a moment she broke her lips from his and looked at him. 

"That wus nice," he whispered. 

Meyja nodded breathlessly her cheeks were still red. “Yes, it wus." 

Logan looked deep into her eyes before he pressed his soft lips to hers again. 

They stood there for a while and kissed tightly then Meyja took a step back and looked at the floor in embarrassment. 

"Logan... I... I can’t go any further, I'm sorry," she mumbled. 

"Ya don' have to apologise for that. I don' want ya to do anythin’ ya don' want to do,” he said softly and they both sat down at the table again. 

"I... I wus married here in the Ice Lands. It wusn' a voluntary marriage, my parents forced me into it. And I suffered… ‘cause he did things to me that I didn' want. After six years my brother got me out," she said quietly. 

He covered his mouth with his hands and looked at her in shock. 

Meyja didn't know why but she used Ethan as an excuse so that Logan wouldn't get too close to her, even though she had long since shared the bed with other men. Now wasn't the right time to be intimate with him and she was afraid of it, but she didn't know why either. In her heart a wide variety of feelings fought with each other and she was confused, the kisses and Aron who supposedly answered with the help of the wind completely confused her. It felt so dishonest not to be able to just say how she still felt about another man long buried. Logan would certainly have understood but she still couldn't reveal it, something was holding her back with all might.  

"I'm so sorry, Meyja," he whispered from under his fingers. 

She looked down at her feet in embarrassment. "Thanks." 

"Is he the reason for yer scars?" he asked cautiously. 

“No’ only, but for most of ‘em. Sum of ‘em I brought to myself and an even smaller part came from my job,” Meyja said. 

"Is the bastard still alive?" Logan wanted to know. 

Meyja slowly shook her head and thought with satisfaction of Ethan who had finally been served justice by her own blade. 

"Wot happened to him?" he asked further. 

"He wus stationed right at the Wall when the war started. So, it's near certain he's dead now,” she lied not wanting to tell what happened at Weatherpoint Manor. 

Logan got up again, knelt in front of her, and took her hands in his. “No matter wot happens. I won' let anythin’ like this happen to ya again. If he's still alive I'll kill him if he gets too close to ya. And if Kavanagh wants to get to ya, he'll have to get past me first. I swear I will protect ya with my life." 

She reached up and hesitantly stroked his cheek. “Thank ya, but I don' want anythin’ bad happen to ya." 

"I don' care. I'll protect ya no matter wot the cost," he replied looking at her determinedly. 

It just wasn't right. This man would give his life for her, if it was necessary. For a dirty liar. Meyja decided to get him out of the line of fire. Even if she hurt him. She would have to get rid of him soon, it was for his own good. The other option would be to tell him the truth, but she didn't think she would ever have the courage to do so. On top of that, a small voice in her head kept whispering Logan only wanted to get her to sleep with him and then systematically destroy her. 

She leaned forward and kissed him tentatively on the mouth then rested her forehead on his. “I think I'd like to rest now." 

"Sure, ya want me to take ya home?" he asked, getting up. 

"No, it's okay. I can manage to get there on my own,” she answered with a reserved smile, got up, and put on her fur coat. 

He opened the door and stepped outside behind her then he pulled her to him and kissed her again tenderly. 

"A pleasant night. Ya know where to find me,” he mumbled looking deep into her eyes. 

She nodded. “Thank ya, have a good night, too. We'll see each other again in the mornin’." 

"I'll pick ya up," he said with a smile.

Meyja nodded again and walked down the street towards her home. 

Once there, she took another bottle of schnapps, stripped down to her underwear, and crawled under her covers where she drank everything down to the last drop, crying, and whispered, “I love ya, Aron." 

Almost every night desperation found her and the alcohol helped her sleep at all. The images of Aron's end ran in her mind, as if in an endless loop. But the memory of the blackest of days had meanwhile become cloudy and washed out. Sometimes she even killed him herself in other versions it was Eralion who wielded the deadly blade – like today. 

Her body shook from crying fits until she finally found the longed-for sleep. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 19 - Exodus

Meyja woke up to a knock. She sat up, hastily rubbing her eyes as she remembered she was on a watch, and rushed out of bed.
'Damned...', she thought.
Logan’s voice came through the front door inaudible and she called out, “Wait, I'm on my way!"
She had to pick up her clothes from the floor where she had thrown them carelessly the night before. She hastily slipped into her pants, took the rest in her hand at first, and ran down the stairs.
"Come in, but keep yer eyes closed," she asked after unlocking the door.
"A’ight," Logan answered and blindly felt his way along the wall into the house.
"Sorry, I overslept." She turned her back on him and slipped on her boots.
He smiled with his eyes still closed. "It's okay we're very early. Take yer time."
She had assumed her shirt was still tucked into the leather vest but it wasn't there.
Logan frowned and asked, “Why? Is that no’ good?"
"No, I didn' mean ya at all," she answered and darted back up the stairs to look for the missing piece of clothing.
Logan opened his eyes as her footsteps receded. “Are ya a’ight?"
"Yeah, I just can’t find my shirt. And the others aren' really fresh anymore,” she retorted.
It rumbled loudly on the upper floor.
"Meyja, wot ya doin’ up there?" he asked laughing and looked around.
"I'm lookin’ for that damned piece of cloth!" she yelled in exasperation.
"Is it maybe this down here?" he picked up an almost tiny black linen shirt from the banister, eyeing it in disbelief, unable to believe she could fit in there.
"Are yer eyes closed?" she asked a little calmer before covering her chest with her hands and slowly walking down the stairs.
"They are." Logan was standing at the foot of the stairs, holding out the shirt she was looking for by his outstretched arm, his eyelids closed obediently.
"That's it, thanks," she murmured, taking the fabric from his hand, and slipping it on quickly. "Ya can open ‘em again."
He smiled at her, but she lowered her head to the floor and slouched her shoulders, exhaling audibly as she held up a leather strap.
"Wot's that?" he asked confused.
"My chest strap in which I carry the daggers. I forgot ‘bout it in all the excitement.
Shite..." she explained with a sigh.
He gently pulled her to him and kissed her forehead. "Take it easy there's no need to rush. Get dressed in peace, I'll wait for ya."
"Thank ya," she whispered undressing once more after he walked out.
With the chest strap against her bare skin, she got dressed again, tied her braid neatly, and then followed him outside.
As always Logan waited leaning against the fence and handed her a cigarette, he held another in his other hand which was already lit.
"Thanks very much. Good mornin’ first of all,” she said embarrassed and kissed him lightly on the mouth, she lit her cigarette, and leaned against the fence next to him.
"Good mornin’ to ya, too. Did ya sleep well?” he replied and looked at her.
"Nothin’ special. How ‘bout ya?” She inhaled the smoke.
He shook his head gently. “Not really. Sleep took a lon’ time to find me."
They stood side by side in silence and smoked while he held her hand. After Meyja had also flicked away her glowing butt, they saddled their horses, and left Waldskorn in south-east direction.
Well beyond the edge of the forest they tied up their horses and continued on foot until they reached the forest clearing where the undead were said to gather.
On top of a hill, they crouched on the ground behind a bush and Logan pulled his monocular out of his pocket, observing the clearing, and the path that led to the wall.
"Nothin’ to see," he murmured, lowering the monocular.
They made themselves as comfortable as possible, Logan sat cross-legged and
Meyja lay down on the fur she had brought with her, her gaze directed to the sky.
A few more silent minutes passed before he asked softly, “When are ya goin’ to tell the others?"
"Wot ya mean?" She acted clueless even though she knew he wouldn't budge.
"That ya know Kavanagh and that we... well... are a couple," he murmured, peering through the scope again.
"Logan... To be honest, I didn' intend to reveal the latter any time soon... But that I know Kavanagh I'll confess at the next meeting. Even if I will probably destroy sum trust with it.”
As she glanced at him, he put the telescope back in the snow, and nodded. “Actually, our connection is none of their business. But ya are goin’ to betray their trust, yah’re right.” He looked down at her softly.
An uncomfortable tug ran through her gut, the confidence he had in her made her feel even more guilty. "Ya know... I..." Meyja began but then she broke off and shook her head.
"Ya... wot?" He lay down next to her on the fur and looked at her inquiringly.
'Don't say a word about it... He'll use it against you...', she thought.
Avoiding his gaze. “Nothin’, it's okay. I just had a thought.” The voice had strangely stopped her from opening to him. 
Logan gently turned her head towards him with one hand, kissed her tenderly on the lips, and she kissed back. Only when he put his hand on her stomach and began to caress her, did she break away from him. 
"I'd like to take it slow... very slow," she whispered apologetically. 
"Take as much time as ya need. As I said nothin’ is further from my mind than to harass you.” He took his hand from her. 
He just smiled at her for a few seconds then grabbed the monocular again and surveyed the area, hastily scrambling to his feet, and kneeling behind the bush. 
"There they are," he said excitedly. 
Meyja also got up quickly and squatted down next to him. "How many?" 
"Three. They are headin’ towards the clearin’.” Logan handed her the monocular. 
She brought the object to her eye, and, after a short search, saw the three undead walking through the forest at a leisurely pace, the putrid flesh partially hanging loose from their bones, and the clothing also seemed to be almost rotten. 
"Wot do we do now?" she asked quietly and lowered the apparatus after the undead had stopped in the clearing and seemed to be talking. 
"We'll wait for them to leave. Then we'll go home ourselves,” he said and looked at her seriously. "I'm no’ comfortable with the thought of ya wantin’ to go there. That’s bloody risky.” 
"I know, but sumone has to do it," she retorted. 
That was the end of it for her but Logan shook his head. "No, ya are under no obligation to risk yer life. If ya just say no, that’s it. Then we will wipe them out and the issue will be closed.” 
“Ya know yerself that where they come from there are many more of ‘em. And if we kill ‘em, more will soon appear, and they've been warned. It would be downright foolish to challenge Destrothos in this way,” she dismissed his objections. 
He knew she was right, silently taking the monocular from her hand, and looked through it. “There. They're leavin’ again," he reported a brief time later. 
The undead headed back the way they had come. When they were out of sight, Logan got up, and pocketed the monocular. 
Meyja who had already been laying on the fur again also rose to her feet. "Wot ya up to today?" 
"Nothin’ specific. Would ya like to come to my place?” he asked and she nodded. 
He started to move and she caught up with him, grabbing his hand and smiling sheepishly when he looked at her happily. Her heart was sinking, she had really grown fond of Logan in the time they had spent together so much, and it felt so wrong to lie to him. Something had to happen for it to work between them, it just couldn't go on like this, even though they had only gotten so close yesterday. Today she was sure that there were only two options, either she had to dump him, or she had to tell him the truth and quickly. In any case, she wouldn't be able to live with this feeling of dishonesty much longer, every second her guilty conscience pressed her more to the ground, stole her breath, and any clear thoughts. 
When they were back in Waldskorn they unsaddled and tended to their horses. They exited the barn and Logan followed the road to the left, instead of turning right to his home. 
"I don' think I have to tell ya that yer house is in the other direction," Meyja remarked. 
He grinned. "No, ya do no’ have to. But I want to show ya sumthin’ else.” 
She nodded silently and followed him silently through half the town which was already dusk until they reached the part of Waldskorn that had been destroyed by fire. Charred black beams protruded from the remains of the buildings and Logan picked his way between the stone blocks that had once been part of the walls. 
Meyja looked around, couldn't see anything that would have been of interest to her, but at some point, Logan stopped and pointed to the ruins of a house that had been on the outskirts of town. 
"Here it is," he remarked quietly. "My former home." 
Now she understood why he had brought her here. "How lon’ have ya lived here?" 
"’Til I went into the army. I left Chloe and my old masters here. I wus no’ there when the Virtheriā came and mortally wounded all three. Chloe's body was stron’ enough for her to stay alive lon’ enough to be transformed, but by that time my parents were already dead. If those beasts hadn' infected her, my sister wouldn' be alive either, so that wus it with the curse also something good. Well… Figuratively…” Logan’s voice trailed off to a murmur. 
"Almost like me. Even though I had one more brother who wus also killed,” she answered softly. 
"Wot happened?" he wanted to know. 
“They came at night when we were sleepin’. I heard my parents’ dyin’ screams, woke up the younger of my two brothers, and we fled to the library to my older brother. We barricaded ourselves there, but they broke through the door, and we couldn't defend ourselves. The younger one was killed when he stood protectively in front of me, he looked at me before he died.” Meyja swallowed before she could continue. "As one of the two beasts came towards me, I already thought it was over. However, my older brother managed to flee the attackers, but he was bitten in the process. Then he made me flee because sumhow he already knew what was goin’ to happen to him. And I left him. That wus the hardest decision of my life ‘cause I loved him more than anythin’. From then on, I wus alone. How I managed to get out of Voynar and make my way all the way to the bluffs I don' remember. I didn' even have a horse, just a fur coat and a dagger. One of the Ares met me at the bay and took me to their village from where I wus taken away the next mornin’.” 
"I'm very sorry, sweetheart," Logan murmured in concern. 
She looked at him and said sadly, "I'm sorry ‘bout yer family as well." Then she shrugged, sighed, and walked towards the house. 
The next moment Logan jumped her from behind and threw her over so they both sprawled in the snow where he released her so she could get up. 
"Excuse me... The well..." he explained while he got up again. He pointed to the hole in the ground that had previously been completely covered with snow and which he brought to light with a kick. "Ya couldn' see it, but I still knew it wus there." 
Meyja was a little subdued and nodded. "Thanks. I probably really would have fallen in.” 
"The cover must have rotted." Logan took one of the wooden planks laying around which he carefully placed over the shaft. 
"Or burned," she added, grabbing one of the boards as well. 
Logan nodded and they continued until the well was no longer an immediate threat. Then she looked at him with flushed cheeks and he took her by the hand walking with her into the ruins of the building where he had spent his childhood. There he kept pointing to corners and described to her so vividly what it all looked like that she could even picture Logan’s mother standing at the stove and cooking. 
"My mother niver cooked at least no’ after I wus born," Meyja murmured after they had finished. 
"I guess ya had servants who did all that," Logan replied, stepping up behind her, and wrapped his strong arms around her body. 
She leaned against him and nodded. “Maids for the house and servants for the stable. Plus, all the teachers who were responsible for my education.” 
"How many different teachers did ya have?" Logan wanted to know. 
"I don’ know. One for readin’ and writin’, one for sewin’, one for embroidery. An etiquette teacher, a history teacher, a scholar who taught me about the gods and took me to the cathedral where I learned how to behave during prayers and who taught me to read the night sky to know the time of the year to determine. A cookin’ teacher... I really hated her and I guess she hated me no less. A teacher who taught me how to dance, another how to work at the table…” she listed. 
Logan interrupted her laughing. "Now if ya say you had sumone who taught ya how to do yer toilet, I'll call yer parents crazy." 
"There really wus. He taught me proper personal hygiene,” she noted giggling. 
"Yah’re jokin’, aren' ya?" he asked looking down at her in disbelief. 
She shook her head. "No, that's no’ a joke. I even had to learn how to defecate without makin’ a sound. After all, I wus a lady and sumone could have heard me.” 
"I knew some aristocrats missed sum marbles, but that's really beyond good and bad," he said. 
"We girls just had to be perfect for marriage and the social responsibilities that came with it," she murmured sombrely. 
"Ya are perfect just the way ya are. Whether ya make noise when ya sit on the latrine or no’, I don't care at all,” he answered softly and turned her around. "Fart and belch as much as ya want, ya won' get rid of me." 
She lifted her left foot and noisily dropped one. "I've always wanted to do that." 
Logan roared with laughter and picked her up off the floor, kissed her deeply on the mouth and she wrapped her arms around his neck holding on to him as she kissed back. 
"Wait..." he mumbled and sniffed. "Oh no, get out of here!" 
He set her down hastily and took her by the hand, together they ran laughing through the ruins back to the intact part of the city. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 21 - Trap

"Why didn' ya tell me right away?" Logan wanted to know. 

He knew the answer and he understood it completely, but he still wanted to hear it from her mouth. 

Meyja sobbed. “I... I just couldn'. I love him and couldn' betray him." 

"Betray? Why would ya have betrayed him with that?” he asked further. 

"I don' know, it just felt like it because then we would have probably already slept with each other," she replied. 

He didn't understand that at all anymore. "But ya shouldn' have shown me yer affection by doin’ that. There are other ways. Nothin’ was further from my mind than to make ya do sumthin’ ya don' want. I just wanted to be close to ya nothin’ more." 

"I know. But that way I could be sure that ya keep enough distance that I don' even get tempted. I wanted at all costs to avoid hurting ya afterwards. If you had found out later about Aron and my feelings for him and we had already slept with each other it might have been even worse. Do you understand?” she replied. 

He thought for a moment then murmured uncertainly, "I don' know. On the one hand yes, but on the other hand it makes absolutely no sense. So, ya didn' want to share the bed with me so as no’ to hurt me if I found out wot was goin’ on afterwards. But how does the betrayal of Aron fit in there?” 

“It would have seemed like treason if ya hadn't known ‘bout him. Then I would have kept quiet about him and thus soiled his memory. Ya should have known beforehand and I wusn' ready for that," she explained. 

Logan put an arm around her shoulders. “This is very confusin’ and a bit crazy, but I think I get what ya mean. Still, ya niver had to do things with me ya don' want to. I respect yer choices ‘cause I respect ya as a person, Meyja.” 

She wiped away her tears and looked up. 

'Crap...', she thought. 

A light had blazed up in the valley below Waldskorn she guessed it was somewhere in the wilderness on its way to nowhere, and a quick glance at Logan was enough to see that he'd noticed it, too. 

They both got up hastily and Meyja asked quietly, “Wot we do now?" 

"Keep an eye on it. I'll try to reach the others," he murmured and ran away. 

The bright glow continued to move she suspected someone was carrying a lantern and walking fast north. That someone could be Kavanagh's people, undead, or a total stranger. 

When Logan still hadn't come back minutes later and the light was already illuminating some trees between which it would probably disappear soon, she picked up some stones from the ground and placed them with an arrow and an 'M' on the top of the fountain pointing in the direction she was hurrying away. In the stable she fetched Crispin out of the stall, put the bridle on him, and rode bareback into the night. 

Ten minutes later she had arrived at the spot where the light had disappeared between the trees, silently she slid off Crispin's back, tied him a little to the side, and crept back. With her eyes on the ground, she looked for tracks and soon found them in the snow. They were small imprints such as only the withered half-decayed feet of the undead could leave. As Meyja followed the footprints she noticed the entrance to a mine, and she drew another of her marks in the snow before venturing down the shaft. 

The half-collapsed passage underground seemed very narrow but there were numerous parallel passages, and when she thought she saw the glow of the lantern she hid in complete darkness behind a couple of rotting boxes. She carefully peeked over it but the light had already disappeared she couldn't see anything else, and Logan hadn't appeared either. 

It was strange that the undead came to the Ice Lands at night, they never did, at least nobody had ever reported it and Logan’s reaction to the glow in the dark suggested it as well. So, it was important to find out what was going on whether it was dangerous or not. Before Meyja could sneak out from behind the boxes, however, three undead came along the tunnel in her direction, one of them was actually carrying the lantern. With a pounding heart, Meyja watched them stop, talk quietly and then continue towards her hiding place. 

'Damned...', she thought. 

Meyja hurriedly crept a little further away from the cone of light from the lantern into the next parallel corridor and glanced around the corner at the enemy who now took exactly the way she had come. 

She got freezing cold. If Logan followed her now, he would run straight into the undead's arms. She hurriedly crept back the way as quietly as she could, overtaking the three and reaching the exit. As she looked for her arrow, she could see that an 'L' had been painted in the snow next to the 'M'. So, Logan was already here in the mine. Panic gripped her and she looked around but couldn't see him anywhere, so she stalked towards the enemies until she saw the lantern light shining around a bend. Cautiously, she peered out from under the shadows down the passageway where the undead were approaching inexorably, and saw Logan apparently trapped behind an old half-weathered barrel, if he fled, they would notice him just as much as if he stayed sitting. 

He had also seen Meyja and waved his hand, obviously wanting her to disappear and get to safety, but she shook her head resolutely and crept back into the parallel tunnel to get behind the undead again. 

When she reached the point behind the enemy, she picked up one of the rusty pointed axes lying around and banged the tool against the wall of the tunnel until she heard an approaching patter. 

She hastily dropped the axe and darted back to where she had been able to see Logan. Fear and panic took hold of her she fell headless around the corner and unexpectedly crashed into a body whose arms immediately clasped her. 

"Get out of here," Logan whispered and pulled her back to the exit. 

Together they ran to where she had tied Crispin and where his horse was also waiting. They mounted on the backs of their bareback mounts and spurred them on, hastening by detours back to Waldskorn where, in silence and thoughtfulness, they led the horses to the stables. 

Only when they were back at the place where Meyja lived did Logan’s pent-up anger erupt. "Are ya crazy, Meyja?! Ya could have killed yerself ya realise that?!” he hissed. 

“Who could have guessed that they would come here? Usually, they stay beyond the wall. I just had to know what they were up to,” she defended herself in a whisper. 

They stared at each other furiously for a few seconds then her shock dissipated, and she burst into tears. 

"It's okay, come here," Logan murmured and hugged her rubbing her back until she calmed down. "I'm sorry." 

"No. I'm sorry, that was incredibly stupid. And I would niver have forgiven myself if something had happened to ya,” she answered softly. 

"I'm fine, don' worry. And I wusn' in as much danger as ya were for a second. Are ya hurt?” he asked. 

Meyja looked down at herself. “I don' think so." 

"Yer hand," he noted worriedly, gently pulling her wrist towards him. 

"How did that happen?" she asked confused, looking at the wound that stretched across her palm. 

He squinted at the injury. “I can hardly see anythin’ here. Come with me and I'll take care of it." 

"No, it's okay. It doesn' hurt, I can do it myself,” she tried to ward him off. 

She felt bad that he wanted to take care of her after she had tried to dump him earlier. 

"Meyja, please. Let me help ya and then we'll gab ‘bout everythin’ again, okay?" He almost begged and she paused for a moment before nodding hesitantly then followed him down the street to his cottage. 

Logan unlocked the door. “Go ahead, I'll get some water and be right with ya." 

"No, I'll come with ya in case they followed us after all," she replied and followed him to the well that was at the back of the hut. 

"If they followed us, we're in bad shape anyway, I don' have my sword with me. When I saw ya were gone, I immediately rode after you. And even a Virtherion is better off with a weapon in a fight.” Logan pulled the bucket up. He had just smiled slightly but as his gaze wandered past her, he turned pale, uttered a suppressed curse, and yanked her to the ground behind the well. 

Startled Meyja turned her head in the direction he was looking and discovered the three undead who were heading straight for the small house. "Is the fire in the fireplace still burnin’?" she whispered startled. 

After Logan had nodded, she pushed her cloak off her shoulders and drew the daggers, but he immediately grabbed her. “No, they will kill ya. Let me go, I'm stronger than ya." 

Shaking her head gently she whispered, “They would hear ya comin’ and hurt ya. If 

I kill 'em silently neither of us will be harmed. Trust me." 

He gave her a long look and kissed her deeply before letting her go. 

She sheathed her weapons first then silently climbed up the building and crept across the slippery roof to the front. One of the undead was standing guard outside the front door the other two must be inside. Meyja pulled the stiletto out of her boot and one of her daggers from her back, she gently struck the blades together so that a faint clanging sounded. The moment the enemy looked up at her she hurled the throwing knife at him stabbing right through his eye before he could even utter a sound. 

Before he hit the ground, she was beside him laying him gently on the snow, pulling her stiletto from his rotten skull and listening. She had dealt with the first one completely silently and calmly heard a conversation between the others inside the house which she could not understand, but which at the same time did not sound the least bit excited. She brushed the stiletto briefly through the snow at her feet before slipping it back into her boot and, both daggers in hand, made her way to the door. 

A quick look through the window next to the entrance showed her that the undead had their backs to her. They were still talking quietly when Meyja peered inside once more and then silently crept towards the two enemies from behind. The undead's bones were so porous and decayed that she had little trouble ramming a dagger into their necks at the same time and jerking the blades together. Within a fraction of a second their existence was extinguished, and they fell to the ground in front of Meyja with their neck vertebrae severed. 

She stood breathlessly between her victims but to be on the safe side she stabbed the dagger through the eye socket into each of their brains and then went out. 

Logan was still crouched behind the fountain, but he jumped up as soon as he saw her coming.  

"Are ya okay?” he asked worried looking her up and down. When Meyja had climbed onto the roof, he had already blamed himself for exposing her to this danger. 

She nodded. “They didn' get to do anythin’ to me. But I'm afraid yer house will stink for quite a while ‘cause that was a huge mess.” 

He shook his head in disbelief and threw his arms around her neck hugging her tightly. "It doesn' matter. All that matters is yah’re okay. I can handle the dirt,” he whispered relieved. 

"Give me a scrap of cloth and I'll bandage it up quickly and help ya. And before ya protest – I insist,” she demanded. Then she freed herself and briefly put her hand in the bucket of water that was still on the edge of the fountain. 

When she turned around Logan was shaking his head with a sigh. "Good, then help me to take ‘em to the forest," he replied and walked ahead of her into the house looking down at the dead enemies in bewilderment. "Yah're crazy. Three undead. 

Alone. Within minutes.” 

"I ain’t crazy, just good at it," she snapped off his words tying the strip of linen he was holding out around her hand. 

They searched the remains together but the undead had nothing of interest, so one by one they carried the bodies into the forest and covered them with snow. 

Back inside Meyja finally allowed herself to be persuaded to sit down and drink the beer Logan put out for her before he squatted on the floor and cleaned up the mess the bodies had left. 

"It really stinks. Maybe ya should leave the door open tonight and stay at my place,” she suggested sniffing when he finished, washed his hands, and sat down next to her. 

"A’ight, then I'll pack a few things. Do ya have ointment at home?” he asked. 

She nodded, so Logan packed his clothes and all the important things he didn't want to leave here, and they went over to Meyja's dwelling. 

The two would certainly have been tired, but the excitement of that night kept them awake for a while and so they sat at the table and talked about the undead and how to proceed. 

"In any case, I have to tell Amelia ‘bout it first think tomorrow. For the first time it would also be better to move. If it's still safe here in a few weeks, we can return. But I think the undead are doin’ everythin’ they can to find their missin’ people and will definitely show up here soon.” Logan took a sip of the homemade schnapps that Meyja had served him. 

She was in the process of bandaging her patched hand. “Where do ya want to move to? Talheym is even more dangerously situated than Waldskorn.” "Could be difficult, I agree with ya," he nodded thoughtfully. 

"It'll work out somehow," she murmured looking at her bandage. 

Meyja knew which topic he would now address and of course he asked a minute later, “How are things goin’ with the two of us now?" 

'Run away...!', she thought. 

She ignored the voice in her head and the urge to follow orders, but she felt responsible for the mess she had created and now had to clean up without hurting him too much. 

She was silent for a few seconds. “I don't know, Logan. It would probably be wiser to end it. If I ever could, I probably could never love ya as much as ya deserve." "And if so?" he asked. His voice was full of hope. 

Eventually she would be able to she was sure of that, but she didn't want him to have to wait for her, so she just shrugged helplessly. 

"Wot are ya thinkin’ ‘bout?" he whispered. 

"The fact that I don' want ya to wait for the possibility that one day I might have the same feelings that ya might develop. And that I wish ya would turn to a woman who loves ya with all her heart, will give ya children and give ya everythin’ ya need,” she answered honestly, yet devoid of any emotion. 

Logan covered his mouth with one hand and blinked, Meyja's stomach tightened painfully when she realised how much her words had hit him, but it was the truth and she owed it to him. 

He fought back the tears for a while, at some point he swallowed and said in a hoarse, trembling voice, “But wot if everythin’ is already completely different than ya think? Wot if I want to risk all of this? Wot if I don' want children? And no other woman, but ya, Meyja? ‘Cause I already love ya?” 

She stared at him thunderstruck, silent tears streaming down her cheeks as she realised, she had waited too long before sending him away. In his eyes she could see that he too was telling the truth, he really loved her. And it broke her heart because Aron had always looked at her the way he was looking at her at that moment. 

Not a sound left her lips as she opened and closed her mouth a few times in disbelief. What on earth did these men see in her? Aron? Eralion? Raemur? Brick? 

Cayden? And now Logan? 

She wanted to know and she needed to know in order to protect herself, so she asked while crying softly, “Why?" 

Logan smiled as he began to talk. "Ya have a sense of humour, we have laughed so much in our short time together that I have no’ had to laugh in my entire life. It brightens my heart to see yer face. I've niver been a particularly happy person, but ever since I've met ya, I've found myself thinkin’ ‘bout ya and grinnin’ like an idiot which is probably partly ‘cause yer also the most beautiful woman I've ever met. Ya are beautiful, Meyja – no matter how many scars may adorn yer body. And yah're honest, ya can hide things if ya want, but I don' think for lon’. Ya care a lot about the truth, I'm sure of it.” 

“Since today I also know that ya are incredibly competent and that ya protect those ya care ‘bout with yer life. Ya could have just run to safety ‘cause I ran into the trap all by myself. I'm also a Virtherion and can defend myself quite well without a weapon. But instead, ya risked yer life for me by distractin’ the enemy from me. I could see the undead from where I wus hidin’ when ya made that deafenin’ noise. 

They fled for a moment and even almost saw me, ya frightened ‘em so much. 

Eventually they yelled at each other for a moment and ran in your direction.” 

“And then, even though you were hurt, ya saved me once more, wipin’ out all three within a few minutes. Yah’re as intelligent, beautiful, deadly, and funny as ya are small. I know ya don' have a problem with yer height, that is why I say it casually. All of these reasons are just a tiny sample of the qualities that made me fall in love with ya.” 

“When ya showed up at the mansion, I was taken with ya almost immediately. Ya radiate this subtle secret in a way it's almost wicked and ya might no’ even know it, but it wus allurin’ and irresistible from the start. I tried to resist ya but I couldn', instead I first fell in love with ya and later I felt this deep need to want to be by yer side forever. ‘Til my death. I knew then that I love ya, Meyja." 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 22 - Shards

Meyja had been listening in silence the whole time, but when Logan said the last sentence, she couldn't help but sob. Aron had used almost the same words when he revealed his feelings to her, even if he hadn't been that detailed. The basic statement was the same. And these were the very qualities she could hardly change, never let anyone down or never laugh again, let alone wilfully reverse the impression she was making. Even the scars hadn't disfigured her enough to make her unappealing to look at and she couldn't get stupid that easily either. Her competence alone she could destroy, but that would probably never be enough. She would be forever doomed to be a walking object of attraction for men. There were benefits to all of this; for she could manipulate people, if she wanted to, but she reserved the benefit of this for emergencies – after all it was highly immoral. 

Logan had stood up and was walking towards her, taking her hand to gently pull her to her feet, and enclose her in his arms. 

She didn't resist, snuggled up to him, and cried bitter tears while he was happy to hug her. 

Only when she still hadn't regained her composure after quite a while did he hold her a bit away and looked at her. "Meyja, why are ya cryin’ so much?" he asked softly, almost feeling a little stupid. 

Anger swept over her, anger at herself and anger at everything and everyone around her. "Why am I cryin’?! ‘Cause I am the way I am! I don't want to be this! Ya confess yer love to me with the same words that Aron used back then! And now he's dead and that is because of me! I brin’ only misfortune and ruin! If Ethan had just slashed me, I wouldn't have brought disaster upon so many people!" she yelled beside herself and pushed Logan away. 

Then she swung herself over the counter and smashed every bottle she could get her hands on. She didn't even feel that she had cut herself a few times. One glass container after the other slammed against the wall, the shards flew away in all directions, and the alcohol spattered like rain down the whole room. 

Logan who had initially ducked for cover now rushed towards her and held the still screaming Meyja. "I'm sorry! Please stop before ya hurt yerself!” 

But she was still completely beside herself and yelled, “I can’t take it anymore! And 

I don't want any more!" Then she sank to the ground and begged him crying, 

„Please... please just go... I can’t take it all..." 

"Meyja, calm down. We can gab ‘bout anythin’..." he asked desperately. 

She had just passed out in his arms and he carefully picked her up, carried her upstairs, and laid her on her bed. So that she wouldn't continue to run amok and end up hurting herself, he tied her to the bed frame with ropes before he looked down at her again and then hurriedly left the building. It was already day and he was hoping to find Lyam somewhere so he could help her. 

Logan ran over to Amelia's house and banged his fist on the door. "Amelia, open up! It's me, Logan!” As he waited for a sign of life, he realised he was crying, and hastily wiped away the tears. 

The door flew open and Amelia's golden wolf eyes regarded him with concern. 

"Wot happened, Logan?"  

"Is Lyam with ya? I need him! Now!” Logan urged and rushed past her into the house. 

The apprentice shaman was really here and looked up in shock when he saw the panicked man walking towards him. 

"Lyam, I need yer help! Sumthin’ is wron’ with Meyja! She freaked out in a second, screamin’, rampagin’, and hurting herself ‘til she passed out! I tied her to her bed so she can’t hurt herself! Please help her!” Logan begged still unconsciously screaming and Lyam got up immediately. 

Amelia followed the two men, together they ran over to Meyja who was still unconscious in bed. 

Lyam sat quietly on the edge of the bed and placed a hand on the unconscious woman’s forehead. "Tell me exactly wot happened, please. Did she smoke or drink anythin’? Maybe eaten as well?” the shaman asked gently. 

"We smoked Philos last night but that wus hours ago, I don't feel it anymore. When night fell, I saw her with a bottle of schnapps which I think is still by the fountain on the other side of the square. And we just drank sum of the booze she made herself. But I'm fine, I don't feel weird or uncomfortable apart from the situation of course... We haven' eaten anythin’ for a lon’ time as we were up all night. But she does that more often, she once said. And just now we were sittin’ down at the table and gabbin’, it was a bit emotional, she started cryin’ and I hugged her. She couldn' calm down and I asked her why she wus cryin’ so much. Then she freaked out, pushed me off her, started screamin’, and threw the bottles against the wall. I held her so she wouldn' hurt herself more ‘cause she was still upset and then she passed out." 

"Wot were ya gabbin’ ‘bout? How emotional wus it?” Lyam continued. 

He'd just checked the wounds, but they were just a few minor cuts, nothing to worry about. Even when he continued to examine her more carefully, he could not see any external abnormalities, Meyja's oral mucosa and tongue also appeared normal apart from the fact that she was unconscious and had terrible bad breath she appeared healthy. 

"Very emotional. I… told her I love her,” Logan mumbled closing his eyes. 

"Ya wot?!" Before anyone else could say anything, Amelia's lips curled up in a bizarre grin. “Ya charmer..." 

"Amelia, please... Logan, ya and Meyja seem to be close. Ya know of any bad experiences that might have traumatized her?” Lyam intervened again. 

"A trauma? Ya sure it couldn' be the liquor or sumthin’?” Logan asked puzzled. 

Lyam shook his head. “Her body appears perfectly healthy apart from minor injuries which are no’ serious. So, it might have sumthin’ to do with her spirit. Maybe ya accidentally triggered her dropout with yer words. But maybe Amelia should go outside ‘cause that would be a bit too personal. Unless Logan doesn' know ‘bout it." 

"Even if I do, I'll find out anyway, ya know me." Amelia took a seat in a chair that was in the corner. 

"She's okay," Lyam mumbled looking at Logan expectantly. 

He sat on the edge of the bed and put his head in his hands. “I don' know much… but she wus married for six years, the bastard raped and abused her. And she lost her fiancé ‘bout a year ago. After his death she returned to Voynar." 

"Wait... She wus raped for six years and then got engaged again?" Amelia asked. 

Logan nodded. "I thought it was a bit strange, too, but he wus like her soul mate." 

"Come outside with me, Logan. Then we can gab privately and Lyam can do his stuff,” Amelia said. 

"I can do it, just go," Lyam asked the still worried Logan and smiled encouragingly. "Thanks," he just murmured and followed Amelia outside. 

Meanwhile Lyam rummaged through the various herbs in his bag which he always carried with him, he opened the small tin full of Stinkweed and held it under Meyja's nose. As her eyelids began to flutter, he capped the container, and pocketed it while she slowly regained consciousness. 

"Lyam? You?” she whispered recognising the shaman. 

He nodded. "Yes, it's me. How are ya? Ya know wot happened?" 

"No’ exactly, no. Logan wus here and said sumthin’, I can’t remember more,” she answered evasively. 

"It made you freak out and riot, Meyja," Lyam explained calmly. 

"Possibly," she remarked curtly and looked away. 

The shaman sighed. “Ya don' know exactly wot happened, do ya?" 

She shook her head silently and tears filled her eyes. 

"If I untie ya, will ya promise to stay calm and gab to me?" he demanded. 

After she nodded, he untied her, and let her sit up before sitting down on the edge of the bed himself. 

"Why did ya react so explosively to a declaration of love, Meyja? Does it have anythin’ to do with yer late fiancé?” Lyam asked quietly. 

"Wot did Logan tell ya?" she growled. 

"He said sumthin’ ‘bout a husband who did bad things to ya and said that yer fiancé died a while ago." When Meyja was silent he continued, “I examined ya when ya passed out and didn' find anythin’ that could in any way indicate yer breakdown had a physical cause. So, I suspect Logan may have inadvertently triggered sumthin’ related to repressed emotions." 

"Wot ya want to hear from me now, Lyam? I will not whine like a little child nor spread my life story. Wot's gone is gone and I don' see the need to deal with sumthin’ I can’t change anyway," she said. 

He looked at her sympathetically. “But ya can do sumthin’ ‘bout it, Meyja. No’ the fact that certain things happened but the way ya deal with ‘em. If ya face it, instead of stoppin’ yer thoughts or even thinkin’ that maybe ya deserved it, ya can eventually let it go. Don' get me wron’, I don' mean to imply that ya see events the same way that wus just a shot in the dark, a theory, nothin’ more." Before heading down the stairs, he added, “It's probably a bit much for ya right now, but I'm sure Logan has an open ear for ya. If ya need my help or have any questions, ya can always come to me.” 

She murmured a low thank you and just sat on the bed while Lyam left the building and joined the other two who were still engaged in a more than heated discussion. 

Logan immediately stopped speaking and turned to the shaman. "Is she awake? 

How is she?”  

Lyam nodded. "She is. Even if she's a bit upset, she's fine so far. There are a few things ya really need to gab ‘bout, though. But I won' say more ‘bout it, that's her business. Although frankly I was a bit shocked by her reaction..." 

"Logan, come to me later with Meyja. We still have some things to gab ‘bout, too,” Amelia demanded then walked back to her house with Lyam. 

Logan just nodded before heading towards the door that the shaman had left open. 

He took a deep breath and called softly, “Meyja, may I come in?" 

"I'm upstairs," she replied. 

He entered the building, climbed the steps, and hesitantly sat down next to her. She stared blankly at the wall, seeming withdrawn and dismissive which made Logan remain silent for a few minutes. 

"Lyam said I should gab to ya, but I don' know ‘bout wot," Meyja began after a while. 

"He said that to me, too. He only spoke of a few things, but it would be yer choice to tell me," Logan reported. 

She nodded and looked at her hands that lay in her lap, constantly rubbing her fingers together while she wondered if and how she should confide in him. 

"I'm sorry I hurt ya. The whole thing wus just a bit much for me. And I can’t remember wot happened after ya asked me why I wus cryin’ so much," she admitted. 

"Well... ya pushed me away and started screamin’. It was messy and I hardly understood it, but ya said that it would have been better, if Ethan had slashed ya open then ya wouldn' have caused so much misery on people. Ya also said that Aron had chosen the same words when he confessed his love to ya back then. I grabbed ya when ya climbed over the counter and smashed all the bottles that were there. Then ya begged me to leave ‘cause ya couldn' take it anymore and passed out," he said blinking away the tears that had come to him at the thought. 

"Crap. Please forgive me I wusn' with me," she murmured. 

"It's okay, I'm aware of that. Don' blame yerself for it. But ya must also forgive me. Lyam wanted to know if bad things had happened to ya and I told him about yer husband and Aron,” Logan answered softly. 

"Course, I forgive ya. I just don' quite understand wot that has to do with it. It's part of the past." She just wasn’t seeing the connection. 

“He spoke of trauma. I can’t imagine much of it either, but I know it has sumthin’ to do with experiences that haunt sumone for a lon’ time," he said quietly. 

In fact, she still carried everything she had experienced around with her in the evenings, she cried herself to sleep, and was then plagued by nightmares. Even if she no longer woke up screaming, she was only very rarely able to sleep peacefully throughout the night, and she usually woke up bathed in sweat at some point. It had just been different when Aron and Eralion had been with her, then the dreams had become fewer, and she had finally felt safe. 

“I really can’t take it anymore, Logan." Silent tears of desperation ran down her cheeks, she pulled her knees to her chest, and wrapped her arms around them. 

"Do no’ give up. Don' let it destroy ya,” he pleaded and hugged her trembling body. 

"It destroyed me a lon’ time ago. I'm a wreck, held together only by a few invisible cords that are slowly starting to break, one by one. I no longer have the strength to hold myself together," she said tonelessly.  

"No, ya are wonderful, Meyja. And I love ya. I know ya can do it, if ya want it. Let me help ya. Please..." he begged softly. 

Inside she felt the hopelessness that brought her back the emptiness she had felt when Aron left her. The grip she had been holding on to her mind was also slowly dissolving, making her feel like she was standing on an abyss that was slowly but surely pulling her down. If she let go now, she knew she was lost forever. 

"Logan, would ya do me a favour?" she asked. 

He cocked his head, nodded, and looked at her expectantly. 

"Will ya get sumthin’ from the Philos, please? I need this now," she murmured. "A’ight, but don' do anythin’ stupid, okay?" he asked. 

"I won't, I promise," she replied, slightly lifting the corners of her mouth. 

He kissed her forehead gently and gave her a loving smile then went downstairs and got the envelope from his pocket, along with tobacco, paper, and matches. 

She thanked him, as he handed her the things and sat back down beside her. Then she twisted a strong tube out of it and lit it. Leaning against the wall behind the bed, she happily inhaled a few puffs and passed the tube to him, as the relaxing effect kicked in. Logan leaned next to her and they smoked two cigarettes in silence until Meyja had overcome the feeling of powerlessness for that moment and started to talk. 

Without using any names, she told him in detail everything that she had experienced so far. Beginning with her childhood, the marriage, the loss of her family, the escape from Voynar, the guild in Sharaya, her two companions there, the betrayal on the latter of the two, up to the events in Forstvald and Acinares, the murder of her fiancé, and the return to her homeland. She also told of her husband's rape again and subsequent murder of him, as well as the feelings she had when she lied to Logan. 

After she finished, she rolled another cigarette, and handed it to the shocked man next to her who gratefully took it. 

"This... is all so unbelievable. It seems to be more than a single person can take,” Logan mumbled slowly blowing out the smoke. 

Meyja could hardly believe that she had managed to tell everything without shedding a tear. That she could even bring herself to do it seemed a miracle and almost felt like a victory, a triumph over her past. 

"And yah’re still alive, sittin’ here next to me, and grinnin’, givin’ ya the hammerin’," he smiled and looked at her. 

"Indeed. I didn' even notice that to be honest," she said with an embarrassed laugh and pulled the sheet over her head. 

Logan put the cigarette on the bedside table and grabbed Meyja tickling her through the fabric that prevented her from struggling and she squirmed, squeaking, until he finally let go of her. 

"That wus mean," she remarked grinning. 

Leaning over him she grabbed the cigarette and gave it a few more pulls before smothering the embers on the floor by the bed. Then she stretched out on the mattress kicked off her boots and shoved them over the edge onto the floor. 

He did the same looked at her and whispered in amusement, “I ruined yer hairdo." 

Giggling she fingered her head and realised he was right about that, too, so she pulled out the clasp and placed it on the bedside table. 

"Pretty," he said running his fingers through her long, red hair. 

Giving a mischievous grin she returned the gesture and whispered, “Likewise." 

Then she snuggled up to him and kissed him carefully on the mouth, Logan put his arms around her and returned her kisses which seemed to be quickly becoming more self-confident. 

He could sense where this was going and had doubts about whether it was right, so he parted his lips from hers and asked, “Are ya sure ya want this?"  

"Definitely," she answered softly and kissed him again. 

Her hands wandered under his shirt, caressing his muscles as she pressed her lower body tightly against his loins. Logan lowered his head a little and kissed her neck. With a lustful gasp she closed her eyes and could finally surrender to him. 

His hands which had just been on her hips wandered over her body, caressing her contours until they finally reached her bare skin. He stroked up her waist and gently touched the bottom of her breasts and let go of her to get rid of the leather vest first. Meyja pushed his shirt up and pulled it over his head then ran her fingers further down his chest over his muscular stomach down to the strip that rose from his crotch. Smiling she ran a fingertip down along it until she reached the waistband of his pants. 

"Ya like that, don' ya?" he asked grinning. 

She giggled softly and nodded. “Indeed." 

Logan rolled her onto her back and slowly peeled off her shirt looking down at her as he knelt in front of her and ran his hands over her bare breasts. Even though he had already seen these he was still amazed that they felt so good under his fingers. 

Meyja excitedly opened her mouth and gasped for air, but she let him take the lead lifting her pelvis when he opened her pants and pulled them down. His surprised expression upon noticing her completely hairless pubic mound made her smirk in amusement. 

"And I like that," he remarked with a wink. 

A while ago in a fit of boredom, Meyja decided to remove all the hair that used to grow down there. The decision turned out to be spot on after his reaction to it. 

He looked at her naked body ran his fingertips over her tender skin, over her nipples which were already erect, then further over her stomach, to the insides of her thighs. 

She spread her legs expectantly revealing a view of her bare, uncovered crotch, which he studied for a moment before stroking it with the palm of his hand. 

He shook his head in disbelief. “I've niver touched anythin’ so soft." 

Logan gently parted her privates with two fingers and moved a third across her entrance. Breathing heavily, she stretched out to him, and he penetrated her with a fingertip before he brought her wetness to her pearl and stroked it gently. She responded with a lustful gasp to his caresses, moved her pelvis slightly and grabbed the sheets with both hands. Almost in slow motion he shoved a finger inside her and as he undid his trousers she sighed in honour of his touch and spread her thighs a little further. 

He continued slowly stroking her rough wet inside for another minute then got off the bed and stripped naked. 

Meyja had sat up and watched him with pounding heart, her gaze only grazed his member for a moment and the desire to feel it inside her became overwhelming. When he knelt on the mattress in front of her again, she immediately snuggled up to him, pressing her lips to his and his body back into the pillows. Then she straddled his thighs while their mouths melted in a hot kiss. 

Resting her hands on his chest, she slowly sank into that impressive arousal that pushed deeper inside her until she gently stretched herself. With a soft groan she arched her back and moved in sync with his gentle movements. Logan couldn't help but gasp as he felt her warm tightness, the feeling overwhelmed him, and he pulled her onto his chest hugging her tightly as they made love. 

It seemed almost unbelievable how close he was to her at that moment, she couldn't even tell where her own body ended and his began. His breath warmly caressed her neck before their lips met again and they kissed greedily and lovingly at the same time. The rhythm of their movements matched each other perfectly without even faltering for a moment, and Meyja caught herself wishing that these minutes of togetherness would never end. Aron had even slipped her mind completely while Logan let her go and she straightened her upper body to lean on his broad chest again and look at him with half-open eyes. 

Unable to close their lips and breathe calmly they gasped and held eye contact while Meyja involuntarily began to move faster at which point he abandoned his caution, grabbed her bottom with both hands, and pressed her hard on his loins. That she liked it he could tell from the passionate expression on her face and the louder moans that rose from her throat, almost whimpering. 

After a few more minutes she reached the climax, her entire body starting to tremble and her muscles cramping so much that she was unable to move herself any further. Instinctively he continued holding her buttocks with his hands and thrusting his stiff member into her again and again in regular movements from the hip until soft screams tormented themselves from inside her. 

Fascinated by her undisguised lust he looked at her, her enraptured facial expressions and the reaction of her body seemed almost unreal to him. Logan had shared the bed with other women before, but none of them seemed to have ever been as fulfilled as Meyja was at that moment. Even before her own climax had subsided, she heard Logan’s increasing gasps, culminating in a throaty hoarse groan as he climaxed as well. She even felt his ejaculation which shot out of his violently twitching member and ran hot into her vagina. 

Breathing heavily, she laid down on his chest and he wrapped his arms around her body and hugged her. Then he kissed her sweaty neck and savoured her scent. 

"That wus amazin’," he whispered with a beatific grin. 

She turned her head to look at him before replying, “More than that." 

"More than amazin’?" he asked with a smile, and she nodded with a smile back. 

"Yah're right. There is no word that would do it justice.” 

She shrugged in amusement and kissed him again, taking a long time to break her lips from his. 

When they were already laying next to each other and smoking again, he remarked, “Ya seem very happy right now." 

"So am I to be honest." 

Logan beamed. “Me too." 

She looked away thoughtfully for a moment then looked at him again and pleaded, 

“I don' want ya to go, Logan." 

"Where should I go?" he asked confused. 

With a gentle shake of her head she explained, “Actually, I meant more that I want ya with me, by my side. As my... partner. I want us to be a couple.” 

He wrapped his arms around her. "I want that, too, Meyja," he whispered touched. 

Then he looked deep into her eyes and said softly, “I love ya." 

She took his hand, slipping her fingers between his. "Give me a little time, will ya? I don' know how lon’ it will take me. But since I was able to confide in ya and we both shared the bed; I feel a much stronger connection to ya than before.” 

"Ya get as much time as ya need. It's nice to hear that,” he replied smiling and blushing a little. 

Noticing his embarrassment, she raised an eyebrow questioningly. 

"Oh... it's just... after all, I'm thirty-two years old and yer no’ the first woman in my bed. But niver before has it been as wonderful as it wus with ya. As if I could only really touch ya with it ‘til now. I mean no’ on a physical level, but rather yer response to bein’ touched. It felt like I wusn't just touching you… I was... caressing yer soul... 

That sounds so silly,” he murmured covering his eyes with his free hand. 

She shook her head pulled his hand away, so he was looking at her again. "No, it doesn' sound like it. That’s exactly wot I felt. Ya didn' just touch me on the surface. It felt like we were completely fused together. And I thought it was just as wonderful.” 

Logan smiled happily before pulling her back to his chest and wrapping his arms around her. They held each other for a long time, snuggled and kissed until they finally fell asleep. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 23 - Humanity

Meyja woke up in the evening of the same day by a knock on the door, Logan was still asleep, so she crawled out of bed carefully so as not to wake him and got dressed hastily before going down the stairs to the door. It was Lyam who brought something to eat. 

"Meyja, good evenin’. How are ya?” he greeted her. 

"Good evenin’ and thank ya, I'm fine." She was letting him in. 

"I'm glad." He stepped in, looked around. "Ain’ Logan here anymore?" 

"Yes, he's sleepin’ upstairs right now," she replied softly. 

"Oh, sorry for the interruption, I'll be right away. The eggs won' last much longer, it's best to eat ’em today," he said in a low voice and put the bag on the table. 

"Thanks, we will," she promised. 

After Lyam left, she looked around as well and sighed softly as she realised the extent of her collapse, broken glass was everywhere, and it stank of liquor. But if she started cleaning now, she would undoubtedly awake Logan and she didn't want to do that yet, so she took the eggs out of the bag and walked around the counter to the oven. She built a fire in it and set out a clean pan in which to fry the dozen or so eggs before slicing some bread and going back upstairs, two plates in hand. 

Logan was lying on his stomach and still sound asleep when she sat on the edge of the bed. Her gaze swept over his impressive, naked body; his backside no less muscular than the rest of him. She listened deep within herself and felt a tiny spark of love for him, alongside the affection she had already shown him. It wasn't a big fire that was burning hot yet, but it reassured her immensely that it was there. 

She set the plates down on the bedside table before laying down next to him and gently stroking his arm to wake him up. 

Logan grunted softly before he opened his eyes and smiled sheepishly. "Yah’re awake. And dressed.” 

"Good evenin’, sleepyhead." She smiled. 

"Oh dear, how lon’ did I sleep?" he wanted to know. 

She shook her head reassuringly. "No’ for very lon’, it was early afternoon when we fell asleep, I think. Lyam woke me up, he brought sum food. So, I fried us scrambled eggs. I hope ya like that.” 

"Thank ya. That smells incredibly delicious. And of course, I like scrambled eggs,” he said smiling. 

Her gaze grazed his body once more before she took the two plates and handed him one of them. 

He noticed that she was looking at him and grinned. 

"Ya have an impressive body," she murmured with mock insult and ate some of the egg. 

"Are assassins such slackers?" he asked laughing and bit his tongue the next moment when he realised that he had also included her deceased fiancé in his words. "Sorry, I didn' mean to offend anyone." 

"It's okay." She waved him off generously before adding, “I wouldn't call them slackers; Aron also wus muscular. The one after him wus more of a wiry build. But compared to ya, they both probably seem like slackers. In any case, no one wus as stron’ as ya. And no’ that large either.” 

Her eyes darted down to his lap for just a split second, but it was enough to make her blush. She really hadn't wanted to judge that, and Logan wasn't inattentive enough to overlook it. 

He choked on the scrambled eggs, coughed, and patted his chest while staring at her in disbelief. "Ya didn' really say that, did ya?" He cleared his throat noisily before putting on his shirt and continuing to eat calmly. 

"I actually meant yer height. But anyway, while we're at it... yah’re a bit more... well-built down there, too,” she admitted giggling, her cheeks literally glowing, and she was annoyed that she'd been caught. "Let me stress I didn' mean to tell you that. Nothin’ was further from my mind than evaluatin’ yer manhood.” 

"First of all, I want to say yer scrambled eggs are delicious, and also let me tell ya I'm flattered ya feel that way," he replied amused. 

Meyja murmured a quiet thank you for the praise, but as he continued to grin broadly, she gently jabbed her fork into his side. “Don' make fun of me." 

"Oi! Ouch!” Logan laughed and raised his hands defensively as far as he could with the plate. 

While they continued scooping up scrambled eggs, he kept glancing at her with a smile, only when she lowered the plate and gave him a warning look, he said, “These are the precious moments that make me love ya, Meyja." 

"I just watched ya sleep for a moment and I think I love ya a little, too," she admitted. 

Logan beamed happily as they ate and gently pulled her into his arms as soon as she had set the plates aside. "I wish we could just stay here now. But I think Amelia still wants to give us a good talkin’ ‘bout the undead I think,” he murmured and kissed her tenderly. 

"She already knows about this? Crap..." Meyja cursed. 

He nodded and explained, “She wus here before ya also woke up and gave me a good talkin’ as soon as I took her outside, so Lyam could take care of ya in peace." "She probably knows ‘bout both of us, doesn' she?" she asked. 

He confirmed her suspicion with a silent nod then kissed her again and got up to get dressed. 

"I'm sorry I put us in such a stupid situation," she apologized, reaching for her clasp, and tying her hair in a ponytail. 

He shook his head gently and said softly, "Please don' blame yerself, after all everythin’ turned out fine, didn' it?" 

Fully dressed, he kissed her forehead affectionately and she had nodded, then hand in hand they walked over to Amelia to listen to her gossip. The Virtheria was really very angry and inveighed Meyja hard before her anger slowly evaporated into hot steam. Logan’s proposed move was reluctantly approved by their unofficial leader, but a temporary retreat was the safest bet in case a whole undead search party turned up in Waldskorn. They decided to pack up right away and meet up with Amelia, Adam, and Lyam after nightfall. 

"Phew, she really wus mad," Logan murmured as they stepped out of the building. 

"I heard that!" Amelia's voice came from behind them before the door slammed shut. 

Grinning they continued their way and headed towards the house where Adam lived. It was their job to let him know, Amelia wanted to tell Lyam herself. 

When they arrived, Logan knocked hard and called out, "Meyja and Logan are here!" 

Adam opened the door and let them in.  

"Good evening. What is it?” the grim guy asked and looked at the two visitors expectantly. 

They wished him the same before Logan explained what it was all about. 

"Never thought that the little one would make such a mess here," grumbled Adam. 

"Leave her alone. We both made that crap together,” Logan replied and put his arm protectively around Meyja's shoulders. 

Adam put on a strange grin and Meyja didn't see him dead serious for the first time. 

"So, you two, huh?" he asked then nodded to Logan and got a little more serious again. "Thank you for the message." 

They said goodbye, Adam wished them a lot of fun, and they went back to Meyja's house. 

"I guess he couldn' resist the last comment. But who can blame him, after all he already fantasised ‘bout ya,” Logan remarked and locked the door behind them. 

Meyja looked at him in horror. “He has wot? Are ya serious?" 

“Ya are simply beautiful and fascinatin’, Meyja. I'm no’ the only one who sees this,” he replied softly, pulled her to him, and kissed her tenderly on the mouth. 

She looked up at him and whispered, “I just wish they could just leave me alone... there's always sumone after me and I just don' get why..." 

"That's how men are... But I'll take care of ya, don' be afraid," he answered just as quietly. 

For a while, they stood in a tight embrace in the devastated room and kissed, he smelled incredible, his animal scent was strangely attractive to her. 

"May I ask ya sumthin’, Logan?" she asked. 

"Of course, always. Ya don' need to ask permission,” he said smiling. 

She thought for a moment how to phrase it. "Did ya have to hold back when we did it? So, ya don' change?" 

He loosened the hug and stroked her cheek before answering. “A little. But I have myself extremely well under control and ya don' have to be afraid of me. I won' hurt ya; I swear." 

"I'm no’ afraid of that either. But from havin’ to rein in yer lust too much and no’ being able to enjoy it the way ya should. And all ‘cause I'm only human,” she replied uneasily. 

"No, Meyja. Do no’ say sumthin’ like that. No’ only are ya human, ya are blessed to be human. I, on the other hand, am cursed, a monster slumbers inside me, constantly lurkin’ to overpower me. Even if it forces me to hold myself back, I still can enjoy it. And I think it's wonderful to feel ya. The trust ya have in me is an incredible gift ‘cause as soon as I touch ya, yah’re in danger. Even though I can control myself I'm afraid to give myself to ya, fear for ya and for hurtin’ you,” he said calmly. 

"Don' ya sumtimes miss lettin’ out the Virtherion in ya?" she wanted to know. "Amelia and Lyam often walk in their inhuman forms, and they seem happier then." 

He shook his head gently. "I wouldn' call it missin’, but the longer I put it off the harder it is to push the animal back. Many of us have resigned themselves to our fate and seem happy with it. But it's just the easier way for ‘em to deal with it. I don' want to accuse anyone of anythin’, certainly there are one or the other who really enjoys bein’ a beast. But I wus born human and I refuse to give up my human identity,” he explained patiently. “Also, I love a woman who is as fragile as she is beautiful. And ya deserve a man by yer side, not a hairy unsightly animal.” He stroked her cheek again with a loving smile. 

"I'm no’ as weak and fragile as ya think, Logan. There's also a tough beast slumberin’ in me, even if it doesn' have fur. My daggers are my claws and if I choose, I will brin’ death just as ruthlessly as the Virtheriā did who killed my family,” she replied grimly. 

He couldn't help but smile. "Ya are sweet, Meyja, and yer determination is impressive. I'm no’ tryin’ to make fun of ya, but I think wot it means to be a 

Virtherion is beyond your imagination.” 

She thought for another moment. “I'd like to be able to understand." 

Logan took a step back before removing his shirt and kicking off his boots. "You must have seen a transformation before." 

As she shook her head, her heart was already beating in her throat, and she looked at him with wide eyes. 

“Oh… Then please don' be alarmed. It looks awful and sounds just as awful. But I promise nothin’ will happen to ya, so ya needn' be afraid.” He crouched where he was standing. 

Logan groaned in agony as his bones snapped with a sickening sound, at the same time light fur sprouted from his skin until it covered his entire body, his face grew long and sharp teeth poked out of the huge maw that had once been his mouth. His fingernails and toenails mutated into claws while his limbs and ears lengthened and deformed. It all happened in a matter of seconds and finally a snow-white Virtherion who had just been Logan was sitting on the ground in front of her staring at her with golden, predatory eyes. 

She hadn't been afraid, neither for herself nor for him when he had issued his warning. But within the moment of his change, her hand had jerked to her mouth fingers pressed in terror against her lips, and tears welled in her eyes. 

Crying silently she apologized, “Forgive me, Logan. I actually had no idea wot it wus like to have to live with it. I am so sorry." 

He carefully wrapped his hairy arms around her and gently hugged her. "It's okay, I don' blame ya in the least. But now look at me closely so that ya can see wot a monster I've become”, he said in a deep, rough voice and let her go. 

She looked at the changed shape of Logan, running her fingers through his thick fur looking up at him. 

"After the initial shock... Wot are ya thinkin’ now?" he wanted to know. 

"Right now, I'm amazed at how soft yer fur is," she admitted. 

Then she smiled and stroked his neck and hugged him. She didn’t even reach his armpits before he had been a little more than one and a half head height taller. 

After a few seconds, she released him and took his huge paw in her hands, examining the claws which were longer than her fingers. Her daggers, on the other hand, looked like toothpicks, his claws razor-sharp protruding from his fur. "Probably nobody but me wants to get to know ‘em voluntarily," she mumbled and Logan chuckled and growled. 

The sound made her jump in shock and even as she looked up at him, he was already transforming back and hugging her. 

"Sorry, I didn' mean to scare ya," he whispered. 

"It's okay, ya didn'," she fibbed embarrassed. 

"I could smell it, for a second there wus this awful stench of yer fear. Nothin’ smells worse than a loved one's anxiety," he revealed her little lie. 

"How does it smell?" Meyja wanted to know. 

He gave a helpless shrug before attempting to explain. “Kind of like death, excrement, and blood. Your own floral-sweet scent wus barely perceptible. It just took my breath away.” 

"It's okay, I know I don' have to be afraid of ya," she replied smiling mildly. "I'll get used to this alien shape, too. Ya just surprised me, that’s all." 

Relief spread through him, and he hugged her tightly again. Her reaction was more positive than anything he could have hoped for. "Now we should really pack," he said with a wink and laid out a few empty bags which they then quickly filled with their belongings. 

After they were ready to leave, Meyja pulled on both of her fur coats and gave him a sideways glance. "Aren' ya going to put yer coat on, too? It's cold outside." 

He shook his head with a smile before opening the door for her. "I won' need it. 

Just wait." 

When they finally stepped outside the house into the truly icy night air, Meyja let out a soft whistle. Now she also understood why he had not clothed himself, because the square was piled with a large pile of luggage that they would never be able to divide between their mounts, if each of them rode. No doubt the Virtheriā among them would transform to keep up with the horses – and for defence should the need arise. 

"Why didn' ya say that earlier?" She already saw herself riding alone next to Adam. 

Without waiting for an answer, she walked away and headed for the stables where Crispin greeted her with a low grunt, anger simmering inside her at his stealth. 

Logan who had scurried after her put a hand on her shoulder and frowned at her, as she turned to face him. "Wot's the matter?" 

Meyja's eyes were rolled up so that he could only see the whites in them when she replied, “I know. So that ya beasts can keep to yerselves, I ride with Adam. Go and do wotever ya feel like doin’. I already thought I might feel sum love for ya, but now ya leave me at the first opportunity. It was so stupid to trust ya. Ya ain’ no’ special at all, ya are nothing but scum!” She jabbed his chest hard with the tip of her index finger making him instinctively take a step back. "And now go away! I do no’ want to see ya! I hate ya!” Her otherwise rather deep voice climbed to unexpected heights until it had become a painful screech during the last words. 

Logan stood there dumbstruck, couldn't believe what she was accusing him of. The back-turned eyes seemed almost demonic and the way she spoke was suddenly strange to him, as if he didn't know her anymore. But he didn't follow her request to go, instead he stared back, his mouth slightly open as he looked back into her empty eyes, simply not knowing what to answer. 

She just stood motionless in front of him for several minutes, her breathing was rattling, almost laboured, and Logan felt fear growing in him – fear of her. It took him two more minutes to decide to gently touch her shoulder and another to bring himself to raise his hand, heart pounding in his chest. 

When he slowly stretched out his arm and his fingers were only a hand's breadth away from her, she suddenly reached behind her neck, grasped the hilt of her dagger, and whispered, “Forget her ‘cause she is mine. Mine alone. If ya don' leave now, I'll make sure she stabs ya in yer sleep." 

Horror gripped him and he took an unsteady step back before asking in a trembling voice, “Who are ya?" 

A deep, throaty laugh that seemed out of this world left her lips and Logan felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up in horror. The next moment, she suddenly fell over and he couldn't even catch her in his shock before she fell sprawled on the ground and lay motionless. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 24 - Decay

Logan stared at the back of Meyja's head who was still lying on the floor in front of him and didn't move. Before he remembered, knelt next to her, and took her daggers and stiletto. He always kept an eye on her hands and was prepared for her to attack him but nothing of the sort happened. He carefully turned her onto her back to face her and realised that her eyes were now closed as if she were asleep while a thin trickle of blood flowed from her nose. He pushed one of her lids up noticing that the eyeballs had rotated back to a normal position and the pupil was pointing straight ahead and slightly upward, as is common in sleeping people. The irises looked odd to him though, almost black, instead of the dark blue they were normally tinted. But he wasn't sure if it was the poor light for the barn was only lit by a lantern. The gaze was blank, so it seemed she was really asleep which surprised him a little but wasn't worrying because she was breathing calmly and evenly again now. 
Just as he was about to remove his finger from her eyelid again, her vision suddenly sharpened, staring at him while she gasped in air at the same time. Startled he jumped away from her, just suppressing the reflex to turn into a Virtherion. Meyja sat with her back to him, her upper body bent forward, and she tried to breathe heavily, coughing which she only managed to do after what felt like an eternity whereupon she began to cry softly. 
Logan was still thunderstruck staying right where he was, palms sweaty, and heart pounding, waiting to see what she did or said next. But she just sat huddled sobbing so hard it made his chest hurt. 
"Meyja?" he asked softly. 
She twitched no less startled than himself when she woke up and turned to him obviously disoriented. "Logan? Wot happened? How do I get here?” 
She struggled to her feet, knees shaking, and took a few unsteady steps toward him but he backed away before she could reach him. 
"Please stay where ya are," he murmured extending his palm toward her to reinforce his request. 
She stopped immediately and looked at him with wide eyes. "Wot is it? Are ya a’ight?" 
Logan was white as a sheet and he was shaking though she couldn't tell, if it was fear or cold that was causing the shivering. From the look on his face, it was pure fear for he looked at her as if he had seen a ghost. 
"No... Please stay here, yes? I need to see if Lyam is still here,” he replied turning around. 
"Wot does this mean? If yah're no’ well, I should look for him, shouldn' I?" 
"Just do what yah're told! Just this once!” he yelled dodging her again. 
When she nodded silently, he left the barn and ran over to the meeting point where an angry Amelia was already waiting for him. The horses were carrying the luggage on their backs, Adam already in the saddle while Lyam sat quietly next to Amelia, turning his hairy head to look at Logan as he arrived. 
"Where are ya two, Logan? Damn it, wot are ya up to for so lon’?!” the Virtheria scolded and growled menacingly. 
Lyam recognized Logan’s concern immediately and assumed his human form before stepping up to his friend and putting a hand on his shoulder. "Is it Meyja? Wot happened?" 
With a helpless shrug Logan’s shock dissipated and he couldn't help but cry whereupon Lyam gave the Virtheria a meaningful look and nodded towards the horses. 
"Adam, we're goin’ ahead. Who knows how lon’ it will be here. Let's hope there aren' any unpleasant surprises in store for us”, Amelia grumbled and started to move at Adam's side. 
After the two were out of earshot Logan began, “Ya will probably call me crazy, but I don' think it can be trauma that is troublin’ Meyja. Or does that include sudden changes in her personality as well?” 
"Change of personality? Yah'll have to explain that to me,” Lyam replied frowning. 
"I can’t explain it, that's it! She suddenly got angry out of the blue, left me and went into the stable. Course, I followed her and wanted to know wot wus goin’ on when she turned to me. Her eyes were blank only the bare eyeball showin’ and she demanded that I go and leave her alone. I just couldn' say anything to it, so I stopped and stared at her. She didn' move either and at one point I reached out to touch her. Then she reached for her dagger and told me to forget her because she belonged to this… this thin’. She spoke as if she wusn’ herself. And when I asked who she was, she laughed. That laughter... It sounded almost unearthly... I've never heard anythin’ so horrible, Lyam." 
Logan’s report alone was enough for Lyam's blood to freeze as well and his best friend's helpless look didn't make it any better. 
"That really doesn' sound like trauma," the shaman murmured concerned. "And I must admit I'm completely at a loss ‘bout this." 
"That's not all. She threatened me that, if I didn' let her go, she would stab me in my sleep. Then she passed out and fell to the ground like a deboned fish. Lyam, I don' know wot to do. She scares me, I don' even recognise her anymore." 
"Is she still there?" Lyam wanted to know; his fear evident in his eyes as well. 
Logan slowly shook his head. "She woke up when I examined her eyes and doesn' seem to remember anythin’ ‘bout it." 
Lyam nodded thoughtfully. "Let's go and talk to her. It's not going to help us just standing here in the cold tryin’ to figure out wot's goin’ on with her. At leas’ we have to find a solution to get her to this village ‘cause she canno’ stay here alone, it would be too dangerous.” 
Logan followed him, letting Lyam who had dressed hastily go ahead into the barn where Meyja was busy saddling Crispin. 
When she heard the two men come in, she tightened the saddle’s belt, and then turned around. She still didn't understand why Logan suddenly wanted to keep her at a distance and wondered what had happened after they left the house because she couldn't remember anything else. And now he was standing halfway behind Lyam looking at her with a hardness in his eyes he hadn't even displayed when the rebels had gotten them in the mansion that time. 
She greeted the shaman with a nod. “Wot's goin’ on now? Would ya two be so kind as to enlighten me?” 
"Course. But how ‘bout we go inside again? It's getting’ a little cold out here,” Lyam suggested calmly. 
"A’ight, I'm done here anyway." She grabbed the reins and led her stallion outside where she tied him to a fence and then went into the house she had occupied for so long. 
After she shed her coats and sat down at the table, Logan and Lyam sat across from her. Logan placed her weapons on the table in front of her which made her feel like she was being interrogated and she crossed her arms defensively over her chest. 
"So?" she started the conversation looking back and forth between the two men. 
Lyam nervously cleared his throat. “Meyja, do you know wot happened in the stables earlier?" 
She just shook her head, eyes fixed on Logan who avoided her gaze. Since it was a bit lighter in the house than in the barn, he had seen immediately that her eyes were really jet black and there was no difference in colour between her pupils and the iris. 
"Would ya like to tell?" the shaman asked Logan. 
With a short nod, he agreed, and began to describe the events in great detail but he didn't look at her for a second. "And in case ya hadn' noticed, Lyam, her eyes are really black. So, it wusn' the twilight of the lantern," Logan finally concluded. 
"I noticed that, but I'm afraid I can’t place it. To be honest, I've niver encountered an illness that makes the eyes turn so dark. She also doesn' seem to be sensitive to light, suggestin’ it's not just dilated pupils we're dealin’ with. There are certain disorders where a person can develop different personalities and under other circumstances, I would have thought it possible... But those eyes..." Lyam replied seriously. 
"Ya want to make fun of me! I would niver have said such a thin’! Logan is my partner, so why should I offend him like that and threaten to kill him?!” Meyja snapped at Lyam before turning to Logan. "Ya know how I feel ‘bout ya, Logan! Or no’?! Didn' I tell ya?! Up there, in bed?!” 
"Ya have! And then something happened to ya that I don't understand! I'm as upset ‘bout this as you are! I love ya, Meyja! But I'm scared, too!” Logan retorted. 
"From me?!" she hissed angrily. 
"Yes, that too! And ‘bout ya! And for my own life! Ya were no longer the woman I met! Ya should understand!” he yelled throwing his arms in the air helplessly. 
His words gave her a painful pang. "I see," she murmured under her breath before getting up, pulling on the two cloaks, and reaching for her weapons. "Then it's probably better if my journey has a different goal than yers. Stay well and take care of yerselves.” 
"No! Please stay!” Logan begged close to tears. 
"Farewell," she whispered tonelessly and left the house the door slamming shut behind her. 
"She's out of her mind," Lyam blurted out aghast. "We have to stop her. Take this.” He handed the distraught Logan a small vial he'd pulled from his pocket before stripping off his clothes and transforming into a Virtherion. 
"Wot's that?" Logan looked at him confused. 
"A sleepin’ potion. I need ya to distract her while I sneak up on her from behind. As soon as I hold her, ya must feed her the contents of the vial. Can ya do it?” Lyam looked at him intently. 
"Ya want to capture her?" Logan was visibly shocked. 
"And ya want to lose her?" Lyam growled. "’Cause that will undoubtedly happen if we don' act quickly." 
Logan got up. "Let me try sumthin’ different first. If it doesn' work, we'll overpower her but I refuse to just ambush her like an animal when there are other options. 
Reasonable options.” 
"A’ight. If ya need me grab the back of yer head and I'll be there,” Lyam admitted, and slipped out into the night. 
Logan took a deep breath then he also left the building and walked across the square where Meyja was just tying her last belongings to the saddle, he hid the vial in his fist. 
“Meyja, please allow me to take another minute of yer time. I just want to ask ya one more thin’," he began. 
She turned to him with her face expressionless but she nodded. 
"Thanks. Well... earlier in the stable ya said ya already thought ya could feel love for me. Is that the truth?” he asked hopefully. 
"I don' remember sayin’ that. Ya know it exactly. And if ya don' mind, I'd like to leave now,” she replied dismissively. She turned away from him and put her hands on the saddle but before she could pull herself up, a wave of emotion washed over the mask she'd been trying to maintain for some reason. Of course, she loved him, but it hurt her too much that he seemed afraid of her to stay with him. 
"But I do mind that ya just want to leave me behind." He wasn't about to give up on her, he loved her far too much for that, even if he didn't know that this feeling was mutual. 
Meyja wanted to turn to him, tell him that she wanted to stay with him, but something deep inside her stopped her. A buzzing sounded in her ears and before she could react velvety darkness engulfed her. 
Logan looked at her, hoping so much that she would give him a chance, but when she finally turned to him after what felt like an eternity, he was startled. Her eyes were rolled back again, so he could only see the whites in them. 
"I told ya she's mine..." Meyja whispered angrily and drew her daggers. 
"Lyam! It's happening again!” Logan yelled in panic as he backed away. 
The beast within him pushed to the surface and the pressure in his body increased until he thought his head was about to explode. Even as he fought the curse, he saw Lyam emerge from the darkness. Crispin got startled and galloped away which seemed to warn Meyja, for just as Lyam lunged to knock her off her feet, she ducked under him and pointed one of the daggers in his direction. Lyam could no longer dodge the blade and the sharp edge caught his side, teaching him a long slash. Whining he hit the ground next to Logan who then gave in to the inner urge and transformed. He didn't notice that he dropped the vial but instead rushed towards Meyja who skilfully rolled to the side and avoided him. But Logan was faster and more agile than her, a kick in her back threw her to the ground.  
Before she could get up, he pinned her down his paws fixed on her hands which still held the daggers and looked at Lyam. "Lyam! I lost the vial!” 
"Look out for it! We need it, I don' have any more!” Lyam barked excitedly, pushed himself up, and began bleeding to search for the glass jar in the snow. 
Logan looked around as well and eventually spotted the potion on his left just an arm's length away. "Here!" 
Even before Lyam was with him, Logan, without thinking, reached out his paw and grasped the vial – just as Meyja's freed hand drove the dagger backwards. He howled as the blade slammed into his thigh but instead of letting go, he bit her arm snarling, and she let go of him with a yelp. The taste of her blood was downright disgusting and he fought against the rising urge to gag that was now raging inside him. 
The shaman dragged himself towards the two, took on his human form, and breathlessly wrestled the two weapons from Meyja's grip which he then threw aside. 
Logan was finally able to spit out her arm and handed the vial to Lyam who groaned and opened it with trembling fingers. 
"Let her go, ya filthy beasts! Yah'll niver get her!" Meyja yelled wriggling and thrashing around with her free hand which Logan then grabbed and held tight.       "Rthryldra zsha drykthan..." she murmured in a dark voice and Logan felt that she put her fingertips on his wrist. 
Before he could react, a stab of pain shot through his body, he whimpering let go of her, and she waved her hand again. 
"Wot wus that?" Lyam asked dumbfounded. "Can she do magic?" 
"No’ that I know of," Logan growled grabbing her arm again to steady it this time making sure to stay away from her fingers. "Give her the damn stuff to shut her up." 
Lyam nodded briefly and tried to reach her mouth with the vial, but she still struggled too hard and finally he gave Logan a resigned look and said, “It won' work like that. Can ya turn her on her back?” 
"She still has a knife in her right boot. Better take it off her, just to be safe,” Logan mumbled. 
Breathing heavily Lyam moved around the two and grabbed Meyja's right foot which he had to hold with all his might to get to the weapon. When he finally succeeded, he simply threw the stiletto into the darkness before struggling to his feet. "Ya can turn her over now." 
Logan brought Meyja's hands together behind her back, grabbed both wrists with his left paw before pushing his right arm under her neck and rolling under her. He wrapped his legs around her body so that she could not move. 
"Disgustin’ rabble! I'll make her slit ya all open!” she hissed gritting her teeth as Lyam brought the vial to her lips. 
"Whoever or wotever ya are, we'll bring ya down, I swear to the gods," Logan replied. 
She was just about to say something when the shaman pushed the glass container into her mouth in a flash and finally brought the potion to its intended place. 
Meyja swallowed coughing before continuing to scold, “You disgustin’ critters! This plan will not work! Niver will ya... will ya... ya..." 
Her tongue failed at first then her resistance weakened noticeably until she finally fell asleep. 
"Let's hurry," Lyam murmured his side still bleeding profusely. "Did she get ya, too?" 
"Yes, she did." Logan pushed Meyja's body off him before getting up and transforming back to look at the injury. "Damned." 
"We should tie her up before we both take care of ourselves. I don' know how lon’ the potion lasts in this kind of insanity," Lyam said. 
Logan nodded, lifted Meyja's limp body in his arms, and took her back into the house where he placed her on the table and took off her fur coats. 
"I hurt her badly, too," he remarked sadly. 
"Don' blame yerself, ya had to," Lyam replied and handed his friend a rope with which he tied Meyja's feet. 
Before they could tie her arms, the shaman cleaned the bite wound, applied an ointment, and bandaged it with linen cloth then Logan wrapped the rope around her wrists, too, so it was tight enough that she couldn't wriggle out but not so tight that the blood flow stopped. 
Finally, they healed themselves, luckily Lyam's cut was only long and painful while 
Logan’s wound was worryingly deep, and the shaman even had to sew up the stitch. 
When Logan finally limped back outside with Meyja over his shoulder he murmured, “Who would have thought that she didn' tell me crap back in the manor. She's really good, and if it weren' for the two of us, one of us might have died this night.” 
"Ya think it was her?" Lyam asked carrying his bag in his hand. 
"I'm no’ sure," he answered softly. "But I have to find out. Actually, I assumed that sumone had hexed her but since ya as a shaman can’t do anythin’ with her symptoms it's goin’ to be difficult to find out exactly wot's goin’ on." 
"But I'm just an apprentice. Yer sister could certainly say more about that. Maybe ya should take Meyja to the Ares,” Lyam suggested. “Or Amelia knows sumthin’. The Shepherds can also do very cruel things and she may know sumthin’ that we shamans don' have a clue ‘bout.” 
Crispin had returned and was standing nervously in the square, eyeing the two men with ears cocked back suspiciously but recognizing his mistress, he stopped as Logan walked slowly towards him and grabbed his reins to lead him to the stable. 
"There wus sumthin’ else I almost forgot though... Her blood," Logan said thoughtfully. "When I bit her, I felt it. It wusn' like regular blood, it had an awful taste that made me choke." 
"Wot did it taste like?" Lyam asked. 
Logan murmured, “Hard to describe. I don' know of anythin’ that tastes like it, but if there were an associated smell it would be that of decay.” He tied Crispin to one of the metal rings set in the barn wall before setting Meyja on the ground and untying his own horse from the shed to saddle it. 
"Decay… I don' know, if ya want to hear, but I can’t do anythin’ with this information either. It sounds anythin’ but healthy though,” Lyam answered seriously and squatted down next to Meyja to examine her again until Logan was done. When he couldn't see anything, he whispered, “Wot's wron’ with ya, poor thin’?" 
"We'll find out," Logan said firmly. 
Minutes later the two men rode side by side out of Waldskorn, Logan perched on Crispin's back and holding the still peacefully sleeping Meyja in front of him, her legs dangling to one side while Lyam guided Logan’s fallow horse. 
The shaman murmured, “As Amelia said... Let's hope for a journey without incident." 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 25 - Clarity

Kingdom of Jevarish, Javar of the year 71

Yardleyu stopped in front of the building in Sharaya that had been described to him. A weathered wooden sign hung over the entrance listing daggers and accessories, but when he tried to open the door, he found it locked. It had taken him so long to get this far and so much more to finally locate someone who knew the woman he assumed was his sister. So, leaving without having accomplished anything was out of the question and he knocked noisily.
Yary's hair was black, although he did not know that Eadda had also used Melenyte to change the colour of her hair at the time, but unlike her he was aware of the effects of the tanning reagent and had blacked out his mop of hair before he entered the capital of Sharaya. He had been told about this shop in one of the inns whose proprietor had briefly known the young woman. However, the guy Jared, had also said that he hadn't seen her for quite a while and that the owner of the shop Yary was now standing in front of had probably already gone out of business.
Bouncing nervously on the balls of his feet, he waited until heavy footsteps approached on the other side of the door and the entrance opened a crack.
"What do you want? The store has been closed for a long time. And by that, I mean really closed. Not just for a few days – but closed closed.”
The older man facing Yardleyu had thinning hair that must have been black at one point in the past. He was stocky, plump, missing a few teeth, and his eyes were suspicious.
"Forgive me for interrupting but I don' want to buy anything, I'm looking for someone. A certain Jared gave me the hint to try it here with you”, explained Yary. "There's no one here anymore. I thought Jared, this fool, knew that”, the old man growled and wanted to close the door again.
Yary pressed the wood gently and pleaded, “It's about my sister. Please…"
"Who are you?" the man whispered and eyed the unwelcome visitor from top to bottom again.
Yardleyu cleared his throat softly. “It would be fine with me, if we didn' discuss this on the street. In a way, I'm no’ a welcome guest in this city, if you understand..."
"Alright. But don't even try to mug me. I have no gold. Not for a long time”, the old man growled and opened to let Yary in.
"I have no interest in Crowns, should that reassure ya. It's all ‘bout my sister," the young man replied as he stepped into the store and looked around.
"You already said that. And now I want to know who the hell you are,” the older gentleman retorted angrily.
"My name is Yardleyu Faegan Blake. I come from Voynar to find my sister Eadda. Here in Sharaya, she called herself somehow else... Maja or something like that. Jared couldn't remember exactly."
"Meyja," breathed the old man and you could see that his eyes were getting wet.
Yardleyu perked up. "Yes, that would be possible. Do ya know her? Has she been here? Ya know where she is now?” The excitement made his hands tremble.
"Come with me, boy. We're going upstairs. Then I'll tell you everything I know,” the shopkeeper urged.
Yary followed him through an old dusty curtain first into a back room where all sorts of junk were laying around, and then through a door that was probably once hidden but which was now crooked on its hinges and therefore could not be closed. The old man was clearly having trouble going up the stairs but when Yary offered to help, he refused and dragged himself up the stairs cursing.
"It's my fucking knee," he explained sweat glistening on his forehead.
Yardleyu didn't know the answer to that, so he just nodded silently and let the man who still hadn't introduced himself continue ranting. Eventually they luckily reached the top of the steps and the old gentleman dropped into a chair. From the shelf behind him he fished a bottle of liquor and two clean metal mugs before pouring them both some, pushing the drinking vessel across the table to Yardleyu.
"Sit down," he grumbled eyeing the young man a third time.
He really did have an amazing resemblance to Meyja, even if he couldn't say exactly why because the differences between the two first struck him. Yardleyu's eyes were ice blue and shimmered strangely which he could not interpret whereas Meyja's eyes had been dark blue.
"Thanks," Yary murmured as he sat down and gave his counterpart an impatiently waiting look.
"Well... Meyja...", the old man began thoughtfully. "She worked for me for a couple of years. I'm Ed Young and I ran a guild of assassins until they left. The store below was just a camouflage. But this was sort of where my men met. Meyja was the only woman who ever made it into my ranks. She killed for gold, and she was incredibly good at it. She is still spoken of with great respect here. From the Indomitable."
"Wait a moment, Mister Young. I find it almost impossible that my sister could harm anyone, let alone kill them. Please describe this lady for me just so I know if I'm not wasting your time.” Yary looked puzzled not to say shocked.
“When she arrived in Sharaya, she had red hair which she later dyed black with Melenyte on my orders. Her eyes were blue, darker than yours. She wasn't very tall and would only have reached under your chin at most. A slim, petite person and yet beautiful. Does that sound like your sister?” Ed wanted to know.
Yary nodded, the corners of his eyes glittering.
"You said her real name is Eadda?" Ed asked.
Yardleyu nodded again. „It wus, by that name that she wus born. Eadda Abigail Blake. She bears our mother's first name ‘cause she was the eldest daughter of our parents. And the only one. Didn' she ever tell where she came from?"
"She said that she was from Northaven that her mother was a Voyneress and that she married her father before the war broke out but that both were already deceased. I didn't believe her. It later turned out that she really lied. She never said anything about a brother either,” Ed explained.
"That sounds a lot like Eadda. She guards her secrets with iron secrecy. But sorry for the interruption, please continue,” Yary murmured slowly nodding.
"Well, where was I? Oh yes... She was one of my best assassins just like Aron. He once said that she was born to kill. Aron was her teacher, she robbed him before she became a member of the Deathshade or even found out about us. I didn't think love could develop between the two. But I don't know everything either. They loved each other so much, even though I was against it. Nothing and nobody could separate the two at that time.” 
"Where can I find this Aron?" Yardleyu asked. 
He could see he'd hit a sore spot because Ed's eyes immediately filled with tears. 
"Aron is dead," Ed breathed trying to pull himself together.  
"I... I'm very sorry, Mister Young. I didn' mean…” Yary started but was interrupted. 
"Stop it, it's over. You didn't know about it, so stop apologising,” Ed snapped at him. "And stop calling me Mister Young. My name is Ed for everyone – including you.” 
Yary nodded hastily. "A’ight, Ed. Wot happened to those two?” 
Ed continued, "Aron disappeared on the day of their planned wedding. After an assignment he did not return to the flat he shared with Meyja. The next morning Meyja burst into my shop in tears. The entire guild was looking for Aron, but he was missing. She fell into a bottomless pit of grief, got drunk constantly, fought in the stone hall, and smoked Philosopher’s herb. She must have spent thousands of Crowns on the stuff. It only got better when she got involved with Eralion. He also worked for me. Even if she never quite got back to her old self, at least she had stopped drinking. And then one evening Aron suddenly appeared in her door. I don't know why but she overreacted, bought a horse, and left the city. Aron too. Eralion came to me the next morning and told me about it. She ripped his heart out of his chest with that, poor bastard.” Yardleyu hung on his lips every word, so Ed continued. “We struggled. After Aron's disappearance Meyja had taken on the really difficult jobs but suddenly neither of them was here anymore and everything sank into chaos. Then one of my men was killed on an assignment and I was about to shut down the guild. Suddenly, Meyja and Aron were standing in my shop, they were engaged again and I... I just couldn't be mad at them. Aron was like the son for me that I never had, and I was his father that every orphan boy like him would wish for. And Meyja was also dear to me, so what should I do?” 
"I don't know what one would do in a situation like this," Yary answered truthfully. When footsteps were heard on the stairs, he gave Ed a questioning look but he just said nothing and nodded to the man who entered and gave Yary a puzzled look. 
"Well, I didn't even know that you had visitors today, Ed," remarked the stranger and placed a bag with purchases on the table. 
"Yardleyu, this is Eralion. Eralion, this is Yardleyu. He's Meyja's brother and he's looking for her," Ed opened. 
Eralion gaped in disbelief at Yary until he stood and held out his hand. 
"My pleasure. Ed has already told me a few things. From you and my sister”, Yary began a little shyly. 
It took Eralion a second before he struck and replied, “Likewise. I... I didn't even know you were alive. She once told me about her family but said they were all dead.” 
"Well, as you can see, he's alive. And he's just trying to find Meyja. Or Eadda as her real name is,” Ed remarked. 
"Eadda?" Eralion blurted out. "I hadn't the faintest idea..." He dropped into a chair next to Ed and gratefully accepted the mug of liquor that Ed handed him. 
"You wouldn't happen to know where she was going, would you?" Ed asked him. 
Eralion shook his head regretfully. "No, unfortunately not. But after that gang-thing 
I think she must have headed north.” 
"Gang-thin’?" Yary repeated. 
Ed nodded and explained, “I don't know very much about it. But when Aron reappeared and Meyja left town he rode after her. At some point, the two probably ended up in Acinares. This is a smuggler town in Umenksar. The way there leads through the Slumberwood where there seems to be a gang that Meyja got into the enclosure. At least she said something along those lines. Give my old memory a jolt, 
Eralion. You heard more about it than I did.” 
"Of course." Eralion nodded. “She believed that Aron was murdered by this gang. It's true that Aron was killed by an assassin, at least I was there but we never found out what was going on. Meyja babbled something about Aron's death being her fault and that the leader of this gang was after her. I can’t say if she was right about that. However, there are few places she could have gone and since the Slumberwood is to the south and she believed she was being followed the only logical conclusion was that she went north. Isn't she at home in Northaven?" 
Yary shook his head embarrassed at Eralion's ignorance of her origins. "She's not from Northaven. We were born in the Ice Lands and raised in the kingdom of 
Voynar. I'm sorry she fooled you all." 
Ed started laughing uproariously, Yary looked at him first and then at Eralion in confusion. 
"Boy, that's nothing to apologise for. And it's also not something that we would hold against her in any way. If a girl like her manages to fool us all for such a long time, it's our own fault and we must take our hats off to her,” Ed remarked, still chuckling in amusement. 
Yardleyu remained silent at first and looked at Eralion who had had to swallow realising that he had probably never really gotten over her and that there were numerous wounds that she had left in his heart. And he felt something else. 
He was ashamed of what his little sister had done, although at the same time he could understand it. 
"What is it?" Ed asked the two men sitting at his table expressions frozen. 
Eralion just shook his head and sipped at his mug he hadn't bothered to argue with Ed for a long time because anyone who engaged in a war of words lost. 
But Yary was not aware of this fact and he did not shy away from confrontation with an old man. "I just think yah're wrong, Ed. With all due respect I don' think ya can blame sumone for fallin’ for a lie. Cleverly sown information or fragments of truth mixed with untruths have brought down entire kingdoms. And I'm convinced that my sister can lie damn well, if she wants to. If there's one thing she's never learned, it's to have faith. I don' know how much ya know ‘bout her, but she wus betrayed by her own parents as she could barely walk. They forbade her to play, imprisoned her, and punished her if she tried to resist. The sole purpose of her existence in this world wus to form an alliance with another family through her marriage. None in all Abarglen is less valuable than a girl born into an aristocratic Voynarian family. Even the maids and grooms were more respected than my little sister.” 
“Eadda had been thirteen for five days when she was dragged out of bed in the mornin’, put in a wedding dress, and handed over to a sadist who violated, beat, and cut her with a knife every day for almost six years because she did not cry when he abused her. She wus no’ allowed to leave the house, had to relieve herself into a bucket, and wus only allowed to wash with ice-cold water. When I got her out of there, she was just a scaffold of skin and bones, more dead than alive from him starvin’ her. He would have killed her. if she had given him a son and he had been old enough to survive without his mother. Thanks in no small part to me for bein’ spared that ‘cause every few days I rode to the house they lived in and fed her a potion that I knew she would never be able to have children again, if she took it for so lon’. But I didn' tell her ‘bout it, so as not to spoil her hope that one day she would be able to live a completely normal life.”  
“She would have only had the choice between two options anyway, neither of which would have corresponded to what she would have wanted. If Eadda lied to ya then it is extremely unfortunate that she felt compelled to do so. But now that ya know the background, please tell me Ed... Ya still think it's amusing to be lied to and duped by sumone like her?" 
Ed's mouth opened and closed a few times, seeming to have no answer to what Yardleyu had just explained to him. 
Eralion shook his head in disbelief. He had known that Meyja's husband had molested her and cut her off, he also knew that she had not married him voluntarily. But she had never told him anything about the circumstances under which she had had to live. Suddenly, he felt like he had never really known her. And yet, he still longed for her.  
"Well… I'm very sorry, if I offended ya, but I care a lot ‘bout the truth and I felt I owed ya some clarity after everythin’ that happened here. I thank ya for the information and will be leaving tomorrow to look for her elsewhere. Maybe I'll really find wot I'm looking for in our home country. Have a good one,” Yary murmured before standing up, nodding goodbye to the two men, and making his way back to the inn where he had stayed. 
Eralion and Ed were silent for a while, thinking about what they had just learned about Meyja. Eventually Ed got up and looked out the window at the first snowflakes of the year falling. 
"Do you think he's right?" he asked quietly. 
"And will you go with him? To the north?” Ed asked further. 
Ed remained silent for a few more minutes. "I hardly thought I would ever hear from her again. But now you can keep the promise you made to me and go to her. At least one thing became clear to me today... Why Aron gave her this title. She is truly an indomitable woman and I wish I could tell her myself how much respect I have for her. And everything she's done for us here. Someone like her is destined to rewrite the history of this world.” 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 26 - Snow

The Ice Lands, Derun of the year 71

Logan and Lyam had ridden all night and when morning broke, Meyja had started to move mumbling but then she slept peacefully on. 
"I think she'll wake up soon," Logan murmured looking over at Lyam seriously. 
He nodded and replied quietly, “If that happens, we can hardly prevent it." 
Silently the two men spurred their horses on and galloped through a slight dip where the snow was particularly deep. 
Crispin stumbled slightly and struggled not to fall because there was something hidden under the snow that Logan couldn't see. 
Meyja was rudely shaken out of sleep and opened her eyes looking around disoriented and felt that her hands and feet were tied. She realised where she was and that she must have just been kidnapped. Unobtrusively and with forced calm she began to tug at the rope but couldn't get it free before trying to look up at whoever was holding her on her own horse's back. The hood of her fur coat was in the way though, so she couldn't recognise anyone. So, in all her fear, she decided to persevere and wait for a favourable opportunity to escape. 
After the sun came up and they still hadn't met Amelia and Adam, Lyam steered his horse closer to Logan. “Ya sure we're still right?" 
Logan nodded. "Absolutely sure. Amelia told us the way. Up to the junction for Voynar continue south and just before Talheym where the mountains are gettin’ closer to our right off the beaten track, further and further east. We left the road 
‘bout two hours ago, so it shouldn' be too far now.” 
Meyja's thoughts raced. Why did Logan and Lyam hold her captive? Why had they tied her up? It just didn't make sense, unless… Before she could think any further, a long, drawn-out howl made her hair stand on end. 
"That wus Amelia," Lyam remarked startled and the two men urged their horses to a gallop again. 
After a slight incline they could finally see the other two rebels, surrounded by riders, with Kavanagh on his horse in the lead. 
Logan immediately braked Crispin until he stopped while Meyja had also seen who threatened her former comrades-in-arms and swallowed anxiously. 
"Shite," Logan exclaimed and Meyja thought she heard a hint of anger in the word that she couldn't classify. When he turned her head to see her face, she pretended to be asleep. "She's still no’ awake. But we can’t get her down there. If Kavanagh sees her, he won' leave without her,” he told Lyam who could see fear in his eyes. 
The shaman steered his horse in front of Logan to block Kavanagh’s view and whispered, “Then we have to leave her here. The snow is deep enough, let her down, and ride after me. As soon as Kavanagh's gone, we'll come get her.” 
Logan nodded and looked down at Meyja sadly, then he kissed her gently on the forehead, and slowly let her slide into the snow. 
After the dull hoofbeats of the two horses had gone, Meyja rolled onto her stomach and peered over the edge of the snow. 
Logan reined in Meyja's grey stallion beside Amelia and eyed Kavanagh with hostility. 
"Two more. Is there a nest of ya disgustin’ mutations around here sumwhere?” Cayden asked with a smirk. 
Logan stared at him in silence, having to pull himself together not to transform, and attack Kavanagh. 
To his relief Amelia spoke up and asked Cayden, “Wot ya want from us?" 
"It's no’ ‘bout wot, it's more ‘bout who I want," Kavanagh replied softly while staring back at Logan. 
"She's no’ with us anymore," he replied crossing his arms in front of his chest and pushing his chin forward. 
"Wot's he gabbin’ ‘bout, Logan?" Amelia wanted to know. 
He answered his leader so quietly that none of the strangers could hear, “’Bout Meyja." 
Meyja saw that a few words were exchanged, then she rolled back onto her back, and untied her ankle cuffs with her fingers which were clammy from the cold before pushing herself to her feet. After a last wistful look at Logan, she was just about to walk away when she heard a horse snorting behind her and spun around. 
They were three mounted guys whose blond hair suggested they were Voynarians, but Meyja didn't recognise them, so they probably belonged to Kavanagh's group. As one of them dismounted and came towards her, she hastily tried to pull her stiletto out of her boot, but it wasn't there. So, her desperate attempt to defend herself would fail before it even began, and she took a few steps back, losing her balance, and sliding another couple of inches on her backside before the man got to her and she deftly slipped his feet under his body. 
Before she could jump up and run, the guy had her down and his hand over her mouth, his eyes on the gathering of Kavanagh's men and the rebels. 
After a second, he looked at her again, and whispered, “Calm down. We mean ya no harm. My name is Cyan, this is Brennan, and Nyall. Please promise me that ya won't scream if I take my hand away, will ya? Nod if ya understand.” 
She stared hatefully into his face but then she realised that she had no choice and she nodded calmly whereupon Cyan took his hand away. 
"Are ya with Kavanagh?" she asked. 
Cyan shook his head and when he looked down at the gathering again, she saw fear in his eyes. Kavanagh would never accept such cowards into his ranks, she was sure of it. Still, she hesitated for a moment to put her trust in them, looked at the other two men who looked just as scared as the first. 
"Would ya be so kind as to let me go? I'm getting’ short of breath,” she moaned gasping before the guy relieved the pressure on her chest. 
"I'm sorry," he apologised. 
"Thanks. Too kind,” she remarked sarcastically, glaring at him. 
"Who are ya, if ya allow me to ask this question? And why were ya tied up?” Cyan wanted to know looking her up from head to toe. 
Kavanagh looked away from Logan and up the hill where he could make out the dim outlines of mounted figures. Then he looked back at the rebels and murmured, “So she's no’ here anymore... ‘Cause she's up there, ain' she?" 
As he urged his horse, leading it towards the crest, Logan followed his gaze, cursed under his breath, and slammed his heels into Crispin's sides causing the stallion to gallop startled. If Kavanagh found Meyja, something would happen that he could not predict and that he must avoid at all costs, for he had no doubt that this man posed a danger to all of them, and Meyja in particular. 
Before Meyja could answer Cyan, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye and saw a rider approaching the hill whereupon he got up and she looked up at him in panic. He seemed to understand within a second that she was now in distress as well and pointed to the ground while waving his companions to understand that they should help him. 
When Brennan and Nyall reached them in a few steps she asked quietly, “Wot are ya up to?" 
"Just trust me and lay on yer stomach," Cyan whispered urgently. 
After she did as he said, the three of them began shovelling snow at her with their bare hands until a whole heap loomed over her the turf peeping out of the white. 
Only seconds after Meyja was out of sight, Kavanagh reached the crest of the hill, halted his horse, and eyed the men in wonder. Logan appeared next to him looking no less confused at what he saw but unlike Kavanagh he understood what was going on almost immediately and had to fight back a grin with all his might. 
"I told ya she's no’ with us anymore," he announced condescendingly though the undertone of his words made a different sense to Kavanagh. 
Kavanagh snorted derisively. “I know ya have her hidden sumwhere. And I will find her, count on that.” Then with a rough tug on the reins he turned his horse and galloped toward his men who were already coming toward him. 
"Stay down there," Logan whispered to the pile of snow. 
After Kavanagh finally got far enough away, Logan got off Crispin's back and began shovelling the snow off Meyja. 
"That wus close," he remarked relieved, helped her to her feet, and hesitantly pressed her body which was shivering from the cold to him. 
Cyan, Brennan, and Nyall stood a little undecided next to the two when Logan stroked Meyja's cheek and briefly looked into her eyes. "Ya a’ight?" he asked softly. 
She nodded. “Yes. Just… cold.” Her lower jaw was shaking uncontrollably, making her teeth chatter. "Thank ya," she added glancing at the three men.  
"It's okay." Cyan waved her off. "But now I'd really like to know wot's actually goin’ on here." 
Logan nodded to him and replied, “Sure. I owe ya an explanation. I know. But no’ here. Where are ya three from right now and where are ya goin’?” 
While Cyan was answering him, they also reached the remaining rebels and the pack horses. "We've just come from the mountains from the giants. Actually, we wanted to look around Talheym and Waldskorn to find out how the situation in the Ice Lands looks at the moment. And ya?" 
"Our goal is the abandoned village at the bluffs. We've just come from Waldskorn and I wouldn't advise ya to go any further. Undead are roamin’ around there these days and it's simply too dangerous for three Virtheriā to face ‘em,” Logan replied seriously. 
"Nice to see ya," Amelia remarked, giving the three men a friendly nod. 
"Ya... know each other," Meyja remarked in surprise. 
Logan nodded before he suggested, “But now let's move on otherwise yah'll freeze to death. Yah're going to come with us, aren’ ya?” He looked questioningly at Cyan, Brennan, and Nyall. 
The former gave the other two a somewhat perplexed look but when they nodded, he said, “Very well. We will follow ya.” Then the men mounted their horses again. 
Meyja was still bitterly cold, so Logan quickly lifted her onto Crispin's back where she could sit astride the loosened ankle cuffs. Then he climbed up behind her, turned to Amelia and before he could ask, she gave a nod of her head to indicate that they didn't have to wait. 
"It's no’ far. Half an hour I think,” she explained calmly although she was surprised at Meyja's tied hands. 
So, Logan murmured his gratefulness and set the stallion in motion who calmly trotted ahead. 
He had actually wanted to speak to Meyja, but he didn't know what to say, so he kept quiet just like her. 
Their path led them along the edge of the forest, on and on, and just as Logan was beginning to think that Crispin would no longer be able to run that fast, he spotted the gable of a building, peeking out from between the treetops. Relieved he reined in the grey, headed towards it at a leisurely pace and a few minutes later reached a hidden spot in the dense forest where he stopped. 
"Yah'd best wait here a moment then I'll go and see if the coast is clear. I promise I'll come get ya as soon as I know there's no danger,” he said calmly. 
She slowly slid off her horse's back and sat on a tree trunk where there was no snow. She said nothing and treated Logan with disregard until he had disappeared between the trees. 
Meyja sat undecided for a moment and looked around then began pacing to keep from getting cold. Meanwhile she thought about her situation, about Cayden who now seemed to be after her as much as the Savage Syndicate, and suddenly she realised that Logan was in danger just like Aron once was. Fear welled up in her gut. 
If she lost a loved one again... But... was Logan that for her? Did she really love him? 
After all, he had tied her up without telling her why he had done it... 
She realised that she had stopped inadvertently, took a deep breath, and then started walking in the direction Logan’s tracks pointed to her. She tumbled hurriedly through the snow which had piled up in waist-deep contractions here, too, until she realised that she had lost the marks left by Crispin's hooves and had to stop. 
To make matters worse had she lost her way? Although she wasn't that cold at all anymore, she felt despair inside her a deep black emptiness that had germinated inside her bringing tears to her eyes. Fear for Logan grew into a panic she had never felt before. Images formed in her head. Pictures of Logan laying in the snow. He was naked and the white beneath him was slowly turning blood red. Although she didn't want to see it, the images moved closer to her until she could see that something had torn him apart. Disembowelled he lay at her feet amidst copious amounts of blood. 
Terrified Meyja covered her mouth with her fingers to keep from screaming. Her hand was also bloody and was shaking as she looked at them. A look down revealed the horrifying magnitude of what must have happened. She was also naked; her pale skin smeared all over with Logan’s blood and in her hand, she held one of her daggers. She began to scream madly, dropping the weapon before throwing herself on the ground, and trying to rub the blood from her body with snow. But it didn't work no matter how hard she rubbed and scratched – it only got worse. 
That's when she realised, she was lying right next to his corpse and the snow she had tried to use to free herself from it was already soaked in blood. Crying and screaming she crawled backwards but Logan’s face was right in front of hers he held her tight screaming, too. An unimaginable tremor went through her body her head was thrown so that she could not think straight until she sat still. Her cheek burned and the dizziness made her stomach feel sick, so she kept her eyes closed hoping it would pass. She had to think. About Logan and why she killed him. The tears were still running hot down her cheeks. She didn't want that... 
"Honey?" she heard Logan whisper. 
When she opened her eyes blinking, he knelt in front of her and looked at her in horror. 
Sobbing again she pleaded, "Please forgive me. I love ya. And I didn’t want any of that..." 
"It's fine. I love ya, too. Calm down..." he mumbled. 
Logan was sensing that something was very wrong and carefully lifted her into his bare arms and carried her towards the nameless village as he had promised. It seemed to him that this time she had had a panic attack even when he found her. The way she'd been rolling and yelling made him suspicious. Her screams had shown him the way, although he had assumed an attack at first, and had hardly expected to find her physically unharmed. At first, she was still sobbing as he hobbled her the short distance to the village but by the time he got there, she had fallen silent and fallen asleep. She hung almost like a child in his arms and he caught himself thinking what an honour it would be for him to be able to bear children to this beautiful woman one day – when all was well again. 
He'd left the door of one of the run-down gloomy-looking houses open when she started screaming, and he carried her inside, laying her carefully on the musty smelling sofa before kneeling beside her, and plucking a strand of red hair from her face. He hadn't thought for a second about leaving her, not when she threw the liquor bottles nor when she rammed the blade into his thigh in her madness.  
He wanted to be there for her, by her side, no matter how difficult it was and how much he suffered from it himself. As he knelt on the floor and looked at her, he didn't even realise that he had started crying himself. When Lyam surprisingly stood in the door and his shadow fell on Logan he startled, got up, and wiped his eyes. 
"Oh, it's ya…" Logan mumbled. 
"Did sumthin’ happen again?" Lyam asked quietly stepping next to Logan, and looking down at Meyja. 
Logan just nodded silently. 
Only when the shaman knelt next to the sofa and put his hand on Meyja's forehead did he explain, “I left her in the forest to first see if the coast is clear here. Then I heard her scream. I've niver heard screams like that before... It almost sounded like she was... I don' know... Sufferin’ an unimaginably cruel pain. I transformed instantly, ran back into the woods, and wus with her within a minute. She lay in the snow, still screamin’, and thrashin’ ‘bout. Although I spoke to her, she didn’ come to her senses only when I shook her and gave her a juicy slap in the face did she open her eyes and recognise me. Then I brought her here immediately. I don' understand it anymore..." 
Lyam shook his head, stood up, and said, “She has a bad fever. I don' know to wot extent this can have sumthin’ to do with these dropouts but it would at leas’ be an indication of it. I have a potion for the fever that ya should give her. Or I'll do it as ya prefer. However…” He knelt again, felt her forehead one more time, shook his head, and sighed. 
"Wot?" Logan asked nervously. 
"Fortunately, the fever ain’ very high yet," Lyam remarked quietly. "If we can’t lower her body temperature, she won't survive long, though." 
A queasy feeling rose in Logan’s stomach. "How ya mean that?" 
"That if we don' act quickly enough, she will die. Let me try to wake her up..." Lyam murmured before speaking to her, calling her name, and finally putting his hand on her shoulder to shake her gently. 
Meyja didn't react, just continued sleeping, breathing calmly through her nose, even when Logan tried to wake her up, she didn't move. 
A few seconds later, Amelia suddenly stood in the doorway, put her fists on her hips, and scolded, “Wot are ya doing here? The horses are still outside, and yer luggage won' unload itself!” Realising that the two men were kneeling next to Meyja and looking genuinely concerned, she walked closer frowning under her rarely seen blonde hair. "Wot’s it this time?" 
"Amelia, really?! Meyja doesn’t' regain consciousness and yer standing here like the personified accusation?!" Logan snapped at her beside himself with anger. 
Lyam called his sanity, “Logan, please calm down. However, he's telling the truth, Amelia. Meyja no longer comes around. She has a high fever and strangely black eyes.” 
"Black eyes? Like the giants?” Amelia asked puzzled. 
“No, only the iris is discoloured. I'm no’..." Lyam began but Amelia pushed him aside, almost in a panic fell on her knees next to Meyja, and looked at her own eyes.  
"No..." she breathed aghast. 
"Wot's goin’ on?!" Logan didn't understand. 
Amelia first felt the pulse on the wrist then on the neck of the unconscious woman before carefully pushing Meyja's lips apart with her fingers and smelling her mouth. "Crap! Just when Yardleyu ain’ there!” she yelled before getting up and looking seriously at Logan. "She's... How shall I put it... obsessed? A stranger’s soul entered her body. That of a dead person. This can only be the work of a very powerful Shepherd. Hence the fever, the colourin’ of the iris, and the racin’ pulse. The fact that these symptoms occur at the same time is worryin’. Usually, the eyes are first noticed, then the fever slowly sets in before the sufferer finally falls into a coma.”  
“I noticed the black eyes for the first time before we left. She also rolled her eyeballs back so far that ya could only see the whites. She suddenly spoke confused and attacked us. When we tried to take her down, both of us were hurt before we could disarm, and stun her,” Logan whispered. 
"It really does sound like bein’ possessed by another soul. And it also explains the handcuffs… But I'm no’ at all familiar with that, just read ‘bout it,” Amelia countered. 
Logan looked at her while silent tears ran down his cheeks and asked, “Wot can we do anyway?" 
Amelia's expression darkened visibly. "Pray to the gods we find a way to get the foreign soul out of her. And that before it takes Meyja's soul with it." 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 27 - Souls

After Amelia's words, Logan sank to his knees stunned. "This is a nightmare," he breathed.
"Unfortunately, no’. I'm so sorry for her and for ya, too, Logan. But we must pull ourselves together and take certain precautions, otherwise she doesn' stand a chance,” Amelia replied quietly.
Lyam who had just given Meyja the antipyretic potion stood up and asked, "Wot can I do?"
Since Logan still didn't respond, Amelia took the lead. “Check if there's a bed upstairs. In the meantime, I'll go outside, and tell the men to mind our things."
Lyam nodded and went up the steps to where there was a cradle and a wide bed that must have once been used by the parents. Thinking he knew what Amelia was up to, he returned downstairs without having achieved anything and followed his leader outside where she was getting her luggage off the back of one of the pack horses.
He took two of the large bags from her and explained, “There is only one marriage bed and one cradle."
She shook her head. “We need a narrow bed that we can put by the fireplace. And I would try to draw a spell around it, maybe it will help.”
Nyall who had just untied Meyja's belongings from Crispin's saddle and witnessed the conversation said, “I don' know exactly wot this is ‘bout but if it helps, I can organise a bed."
Amelia nodded and thanked him before walking back towards the building Lyam following her. "I'm goin’ to rummage in my pockets for the book I read about this hauntin’ in a moment and see if there's any information that paints a clearer picture. I need to know exactly wot's goin’ on and how we can help Meyja. While I'm readin’ you need to get some salt for the containment circle. At least an ounce. And there's no harm in catchin’ a few ravens, but I need them alive."
"Ravens?" Lyam repeated questioningly.
"It is no’ for nothin’ that ravens are considered the bringers of bad dreams. Of all livin’ beings, these birds are closest to the Dyphuom and thus to the realm of the dead. Since the soul now residin’ in Meyja's mind must be that of a deceased person, the presence of ravens might ease its transition back into the Dyphuom," Amelia explained succinctly.
"Wait, wait... This is all a bit too much for me. But I got the thing about the containment circle. I'll bring salt and ravens alon’ with anythin’ else you ask for. But please tell me one more thin’…” Lyam stopped in front of the door and looked at her seriously. "Why don' we take Meyja to the giants?"
"Can you whisper?" she asked him.
Lyam shook his head.
She growled, “See, neither do I. And I doubt they understand wot we want from
"So, ya want to wait until Yardleyu returns?" he asked.
“Or until I have an idea myself. But we have no other choice, Lyam.” She disappeared inside the building and the shaman followed her with the bags.
When they entered, Logan was sitting on the sofa, and holding Meyja in his arms who still didn't move. "Is there anythin’ I can do as well?" he asked.
“Nyall has agreed to brin’ a bed for Meyja. But I don' think the mattresses are any use after all this time. At the end of the village is a barn maybe there is straw that hasn' gotten mouldy and ya can use that to renew the fillin’. But wait until he gets here.” Amelia was rummaging in her pockets.
"If ya want, ya can come with me afterwards. We need salt and need to catch some ravens,” added Lyam.
"I better not ask... But of course, I'll come with ya," Logan replied.
"Ha!" Amelia's exclamation made the two jump, and when they looked at her, she triumphantly held up the leather-bound book she was looking for.
Lyam shook his head slowly a few times before turning and going back out to get firewood.
Logan scowled down at his lover, stroking her cheek incessantly, hoping she could feel his presence.
A few minutes later, Amelia stepped in front of him and knelt on the floor the book in her hands one of her fingers between the pages.
"Did ya find wot ya were lookin’ for?" he asked softly.
She nodded, flipped to the page, and began reading,
“Conditions and consequences of the Soul Transformation:”
“If ya have successfully haunted yer soul host, they will first be struck by nightmares at night. As the story progresses, the soul host becomes increasingly suspicious, stubborn, and passionately competes in verbal battles. Lon’-gone events also weigh heavily this can even lead to purely imagined dreams of the day or a relivin’ of those distant affairs.”
“On this occasion no’ inconsiderable souls have lon’ since succumbed to madness. This stage is often captured by the host's kin. When examinin’ the sufferer, practitioners see the deep black colouring of the eye stroma and perceive a foul breath.”
“If you leave it at the affliction, yer soul host will soon feel a racin’ pulse, culminatin’ in a fever, growin’ to the point of unconsciousness. Durin’ this burnin’ body temperature, the heart begins to pound more slowly in decongestant levels ‘til they appear to be dyin’.”
“The death stands there in relation to the ability of the soul host. A vulnerable soul host will expire sooner than a capable one.”
Amelia put the book down in shock and looked up at Logan.
Helplessness was written all over his face. "Wot's that supposed to mean? How much time does she have left?”
Logan could read but in direct comparison to Amelia he was rather uneducated and had never come into contact with such old writings because books were hardly necessary to wield a sword passably. The meaning of the words didn't seem to be completely clear to him, so Amelia had to explain it to him.
“It describes the signs that we have already seen at Meyja. I don' know if she suffered from nightmares, but the exchange of words described here definitely took place. The black colour of the eye stroma, it’s the iris, is also mentioned here. Add to that the foul-smellin’ breath, the high heart rate, and the fever. I'm sure she'll eventually fall into a coma but like Lyam said... if we can hold the fever at least for a while, we'll buy valuable time ‘til then. And even if she’s unresponsive at a point, she won' die right away. Her body is stron’ and she doesn' appear to be very susceptible to illnesses which also plays into our hands in this case. If all goes well, she has ‘bout a month to live, I reckon. And by then, we're sure we'll have found sumthin’ that will help her, Logan. Don' grieve too much, she needs ya now."
"Yah're right," he murmured nodding and looked at Meyja again before he got up and carefully laid her back on the sofa. Then he gave Amelia his hand and helped her to get up. "Thank ya for tryin’ everythin’ to save her. I will niver forget that for you,” he whispered and hugged her tightly.
She almost got a little maudlin, too, and slapped his back with the palm of her hand when he let go of her.
Before she could reply there was a loud rumble and Nyall carried in a bedstead with Brennan.
"Sorry, Lyam!" Nyall exclaimed with a smirk.
The shaman picked up the log that had just fallen when the two men with the furniture got in his way. "It's okay," he said indifferently.
"Where should we put it?" Brennan demanded, pausing indecisively.
Amelia walked across the large living room to the fireplace and adjusted the bed while Lyam set about building a fire.
Logan watched with a lump in his throat as four of his friends worked together to save his companion's life.
"Do ya also have a mattress for the frame?" he asked in a hoarse voice.
"Sure thing, I'll bring it over in a minute," Brennan replied nodding.
"No need, brother," Cyan remarked standing in the doorway with the straw-filled sack under his arm.
Behind him entered another man that Logan knew well. "Logan! Nice to see ya again!"
"Drystan, that’s a surprise. Also,” Logan replied playing along with the complicated-looking gossip sequence that only the two of them knew.
Drystan then punched Logan’s chest and shoulders several times with his fists but dropped his hands in disappointment when Logan didn't cooperate. "Wot's up?"
"I don' feel like it." Logan turned away to take the mattress from Cyan.
Lyam had watched the scene from the fireplace with an icy face and gave Drystan a withering look at the back of his head before continuing to light the fire. When he finally got a spark and the tinder started to burn, he stacked a few logs on top and stood up. Luckily Drystan had disappeared outside with Logan and Lyam was able to relax for a moment which he wanted to use to check on Meyja.
On his way to the sofa, he passed the table where Amelia was sitting deep in her book, and he stopped for a moment. "Amelia, did ya know Cunningham would show up here?"
She looked up and asked in amazement, “Drystan is here? Where is he?"
"Outdoors. But apparently, ya didn' know anythin’ either. Feel free to read on,” Lyam remarked.
"Wait... First of all, read this." She turned the book over to him and Lyam read the text she had already read to Logan.
After he finished, he murmured, “It's amazin’ wot ya guys are capable of..." He gave Amelia a shaken look.
"We can do it but we don' must," she retorted. "Wot ya think ‘bout it? Would it be possible?"
Lyam nodded sadly. „Yes, absolutely. I just hope we're no’ on the wron’ track, after all."
"I don’ believe that. But we should definitely gab to Chloe,” Amelia murmured, delving into the letters again.
Lyam walked on to the sofa, kneeling on the floor in front of it. He was relieved to see that Meyja's temperature probably hadn't risen since he last put his hand on her forehead. He looked at her thoughtfully, wishing she would wake up because he had so many questions for her. The book he had just seen was definitely not one for shamans or magicians but was full of instructions on how to perform the darkest of all forms of magic. Only a Shepherd of Souls could do something with it which meant that Meyja must have had a fight with one. There had to be a reason why someone would want to commit such egregious cruelty to – what he had to admit – a very pretty woman and seek to ruthlessly torture her to death.
"We will save yer life, Meyja. I can feel it,” he whispered stroking the tips of his fingers down her cheek and sighing softly.
"O'Shea!" came the voice from the door and Lyam closed his eyes for a moment before getting up and turning to Drystan who had just returned.
"Cunningham," he replied through clenched teeth.
Logan was in the process of putting the fresh straw-filled mattress into the bed frame and patting it flat. 
"Let me help ya," Lyam murmured and began slapping the pallet to turn away from Drystan.
When Logan gave him a knowing look, Lyam bowed his head in embarrassment, and remarked, “There's a cupboard upstairs I might find a sheet there." Then he turned and went up the stairs.
Drystan walked up to Logan and asked softly, “He's still no’ over it, is he?"
Logan just shook his head and led him over to the sofa to take his mind off Lyam.
"This is Meyja," he explained quietly.
"Yer wife?" Drystan seemed very interested.
"No’ quite. We love each other but we're no’ married, even though I wish we were," Logan replied his sadness clearly visible on his face.
Drystan stepped next to Meyja briefly felt her forehead then his gaze fell on the rope tied around her wrists and he frowned. “I usually imagine bein’ tied to the bed with a fever differently. Wot’s wron’ with her?”
“It's less ‘bout wot she's lackin’ and more ‘bout wot she has too much of. There are two souls livin’ in her body,” Lyam who had just come back explained bitingly, handed Logan the found sheet, and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
"Wot ya mean?" Drystan asked startled.
Lyam growled, “Haunted by a Shepherd of Souls. If we don' find a solution soon, we will lose her."
The dismay was written all over Drystan’s face as he looked at Logan and breathed, “I'm so sorry. Is there anythin’ I can do?
"Get a new rope at leas’ twenty feet lon’," Lyam replied harshly, pointing to the door.
Drystan nodded briefly and went out to do as Lyam asked of him, closing the door behind him.
Logan glared at Lyam and growled, “Wot are ya doin’, Lyam? Stop treatin’ him like dirt, he really doesn' deserve it. Yer a shaman, so shouldn' ya live in harmony and peace with all livin’ beings? Or at least strive for it?” 
“There are a few exceptions and Cunningham is scum to me. As lon’ as I've been alive, he's been there to make my life miserable, and he's always done it with thievin’ glee. Maybe one day I'll be able to forgive him but no’ yet. Get over it,” Lyam retorted, just as angry.
Logan replied with a resigned sigh, “The fact he's here means at least that Chloe should show up soon. It wus also ‘bout time.”
Lyam nodded silently, took the sheet from his hand, and spread it out on the mattress. Logan took off Meyja’s boots and fur coats. lifted her in his arms, and carried her to the bed.
"I'm goin’ to look for salt," Lyam announced before walking out as well.
Logan carefully put his lover on the bed and sat down next to her on the edge.
"I just wanted to say that I like Meyja, even if I often can’t show it very well. So, it goes without sayin’ that I help her,” Amelia said quietly from the table.
Logan gave her a grateful smile and nodded once before being overcome by his emotions, he buried his face in his hands, and burst into tears.
Hearing her get up, he felt her hands on his knee after which he explained through sobs, “It's just... I can’t imagine how I could go on livin’ without her anymore. Even though she's layin’ here next to me, I still miss her so much. If only I could gab to her and tell her how much I love her. I would give anythin’ to see her smile and feel her lips on mine one more time. But... it doesn' work... And I keep askin’ myself... Why her? Why Meyja? Couldn' it have happened to me? Or someone I don' know?"
"Let's get sum fresh air right away, shall we?" Amelia whispered with a meaningful sideways glance at Meyja which fortunately Logan couldn't see.
Sniffling he nodded. "Okay. But first let me collect all the weapons. I don' want her to get hurt if she wakes up in the meantime."
Amelia smiled softly. “I have my dagger with me. Unless either of ya have weapons hidden in yer luggage, she should be safe.”
"I don’ know. She had knives and daggers hidden in every corner of the house in Waldskorn, so I'm sure there's a full arsenal of thrustin’ weapons in her pocket,” he murmured looking down at her. "Let's just wait ‘til Drystan gets here with the rope."
At that moment the door opened and said one came in. "Well? Where do ya come from, Amelia?” Drystan grinned and hugged her tightly.
"I've been here all this time readin’ over there at the table," she remarked with a smirk.
"Well then. When ya girls are engrossed in yer books it's easy to be overlooked,”
Drystan teased laughing. "Sorry, Logan, here is the rope Lyam wanted.”
"Thank ya very much," Logan replied and walked aside a bit where he pulled his knife out of his pocket and cut the rope into four equal pieces.
Then he put the blade back in its place and returned to the bed where he untied Meyja's handcuffs and carefully but firmly fixed her hands and feet to the frame so that she couldn't hurt herself or anyone else.
"Well, let's go outside for a moment, shall we?" Amelia's face looked genuinely worried, almost gloomy, and when the two men looked at each other in amazement, she growled, “Please...
Drystan cleared his throat softly before nodding and leading the way, Logan followed him, and Amelia couldn't help but cast a searching look at Meyja before closing the door. 
"We must call everyone together immediately. I read sumthin’ and everyone who's here needs to know ‘bout it,” Amelia opened in a whisper. "I'll meet ya in the barn." 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 28 - Bullying

The Riverlands, Derun of the year 71

"In three days, we should finally have arrived in the Ice Lands. Then it will take us another day or two to reach Waldskorn where my people are,” remarked Yardleyu whose horse trotted briskly down the road. 
Eralion nodded. "That's good news. I don't think the horses will last much longer either." 
That same evening, after Yary had spoken to Ed, Eralion had shown up at the Drunken Beggar inn and begged him to take him north. He didn't really value company especially from people he barely knew and had nothing in common with, but Eralion was quiet most of the time and seemed to sense that he had no interest in idle conversation. Still, Yardleyu wondered if giving in to the pleading and taking his sister's ex-lover with him was a good idea, since she might have had her reasons for leaving him, too. 
"Listen. I'm really not sure we'll find her there. If no’ I won' accompany ya back to Sharaya, I simply don' have time for that. But if we do find her which I really hope I don' know if she wants to meet ya. I haven' seen her myself for more than five years and can therefore hardly assess the situation. I wus surprised to learn that she seems to be interested in men at all after her marriage. She used to be very direct and honest and if she chases ya away don' fight it just walk away. If ya cause her grief, yah'll have to deal with me. But wot am I gabbin’ ‘bout... I've already mentioned all that several times," Yardleyu monologized. 
"And I promised to respect her wishes whenever you spoke of them. Nothing is farther from my mind than bothering her. But if I can talk to her, I'll finally be able to make my peace with this. I'm sure you understand that,” Eralion replied. 
"Sure, I understand that. Otherwise, ya wouldn't be here either," Yary grumbled. 

The Ice Lands, Derun of the year 71

The would-be Shepherd paced the barn impatiently, the hem of her robes dragging through the straw that littered the floor but Amelia didn't care. She kept searching her mind for the one piece of information that could turn the tide. 
Lyam's eyes followed her but he said nothing so as not to disturb her. 
Yardleyu had once related the location of the property he grew up in and spoken of a loose floorboard in the building's library where he still kept most of his notes. And that's exactly what his student was trying to remember now because their precarious situation demanded that she does something and for that she would need Yary's notes. They didn't have enough time to search all Voynar for a room with a library that had a loose board in the floor. In its heyday, Voynar had had more than two hundred thousand residents living in myriad houses and even if they only searched the decadent mansions of former aristocrats, they would find more than a hundred huge buildings. And then somewhere out there Kavanagh was waiting for them to make a serious mistake. 
As Logan entered, followed by the other men, Amelia stopped and looked around. Drystan, Cyan, Nyall, Brennan, Lyam, and Adam were here which made them complete. 
"There wus a development that affects us all and I can’t hide it from you. Logan asked earlier why Meyja wus the victim of such an insidious attack and although it wus a very rhetorical question it still holds the key to the whole thin’. While not the key to Meyja's well-bein’ there is a reason she was chosen and this information may help us save her." She paused briefly meaningfully before continuing, "That Cayden, Roarke Kavanagh's son, is a coward, everyone here should be aware. But wot hardly anyone knows... His family only came to power through deceit and manipulation a lon’ time ago ‘cause the ancestors of the Kavanaghs were the first known Soul Shepherds who subjugated shamanism in order to use it for sumthin’ evil. And they were the ones who discovered that with the help of the souls from the afterlife ya can haunt a human bein’ who then acts like a puppet. I guess I wusn' even wron’ when we first met Meyja and referred to her as a spy of Kavanagh. She wus sumthin’ like his spy but without knowing it. I don' know how but he managed to implant the soul of a deceased person in her and with it learned everything we planned and were goin’ to do. The Shepherd that haunts a person can always connect with their victim, see through their eyes, hear through their ears, and even control the body if powerful enough. In Meyja's case this manifested itself in rollin’ her eyes and violently attackin’ Logan and Lyam. Logan said she wanted to break up with the two before leavin’ Waldskorn but it wusn' of her own volition it was due to the Soul Shepherd's influence. Had ya let her go she would have ridden straight to Kavanagh and told him everythin’ he wanted to know ‘bout us that he didn' already know.“ 
Stunned silence filled the barn and the first to speak was Lyam. "But we both know that Kavanagh ain’ a Shepherd himself. He lacks the dark aura and that tell-tale gleam in his eyes that ya can also see in Yardleyu. And when we met there were no 
Shepherds among his ranks either. So, who did this to Meyja?” 
"I don' know to be honest. But from here there are only two ways ‘cause as far as I know an obsession can only be broken in these two ways. First, we need to find the Shepherd who did this to her and kill him. The second option would be technically easier but would we really be willin’ to hand Meyja over to Kavanagh and hope that he would command the Soul Shepherd to voluntarily remove the curse from her?” Amelia looked gravely at the men facing her. 
"If it means she doesn' have to die, I would. And then I'd make Kavanagh pay for everythin’ he did to her,” Drystan murmured. 
“That's like ya, Cunningham. Kavanagh corrupted Meyja, so why shouldn' he just have her... Maybe the plan will work she can break free and yah’ll be fine. But did ya ever think that Logan loves Meyja and he doesn' want to give her out to a sick bastard like Kavanagh?” Lyam snapped. 
"And yah'd rather play the hero, O'Shea? Risk the girl's life and get killed tryin’ to find that Shepherd? Then at leas’ she died in Logan’s arms and he can give her back to the ancestors himself!” Drystan exclaimed mockingly. 
Lyam's mouth fell open, his gaze darting to Logan who was leaning against the barn wall next to him, expressionless staring at the floor. 
Amelia intervened before the argument could escalate. "Please calm down, ya two. It won' help if we hit each other's heads. Wot I really wanted wus for everyone to know wot's goin’ on. And that ya know that nobody is allowed to say a word ‘bout our plans in Meyja's presence. We don' know when we're being overheard and when we're no’. We will clarify everythin’ else in the comin’ days as soon as Logan has been able to sink in this information a bit." 
Amelia knew that Logan couldn’t do anything right now and that Lyam probably had to take care of Meyja's health, so she divided the remaining five men into different jobs that needed to be done while she continued with reading her book. And so, Adam Wright and Nyall Quinn went on patrol looking out for Kavanagh and his men who must now know where the rebels were. Brothers Cyan and Brennan Daly went into the forest and set traps for the ravens after which they would hunt and try to get something to eat. And Drystan Cunningham went gathering herbs so that Lyam could make new potions for Meyja. 
Although Drystan was also a shaman and, unlike Lyam, had almost completed his training, Amelia didn’t dare deny Lyam the task of taking care of Meyja. She was aware of the rift between the two which also involved Logan’s sister Chloe, although she didn't fully understand her role in it all. But of the three shamans, Chloe was by far the best in her field and the most advanced. Should she ever show up it would no doubt be the sensible thing for her to take care of Meyja's health but until then that task fell to Lyam. 
Logan returned to Meyja accompanied by Amelia and Lyam, he seemed very thoughtful and didn't say a word, just pondering what would be best for his beloved.  
She lay motionless in bed, apparently still sound asleep, so he sat on the edge and stroked her hair. Was someone listening through her ears at that very moment? It didn't matter to him because what he had to say to her, they could hear calmly. 
"I love ya, Meyja. And I'll never give up on ya, if there's even the slightest chance yah'll get better and I can hold ya in my arms," he whispered. 
Then he collapsed again and clung to her body crying. Helplessness and desperation robbed him of any rational thought and he couldn't help but sob uncontrollably at his powerlessness in the face of her situation. 
Amelia and Lyam looked at each other in embarrassment and the shaman pulled a small box out of his pocket which he handed to Amelia without a word. She thanked him with a nod for the salt that was inside the container but wanted to give Logan a moment to calm down before she cast the spell. So, she motioned for Lyam to follow her outside to give the couple some privacy and he followed her as expected. 
It was already dusk when they stepped outside and Amelia exhaled audibly. 
"Damn, this vibe really pisses me off," she remarked. 
Lyam knew it was her way of saying that she felt so sorry for Logan and Meyja and he nodded concerned. 
"Will ya tell me why ya don' get along with Drystan?" she asked quietly. "I just want to understand it ‘cause I've seen a little bit of it, too, and I know Chloe was involved, too. And I like to be informed if there are any disputes in our ranks.“ 
"A’ight. But ya won' tell anyone wot I'm ‘bout to say, keep it quiet I beg ya,” Lyam murmured and sat down on the front steps. 
Amelia nodded and replied, “Ya know I think knowledge is power, no’ chatterin’ on." 
"Yes, I know that." Lyam had to chuckle before he began to tell seriously, “It started in our childhood. Logan, Chloe, Drystan, and I grew up in wot is now the destroyed part of Waldskorn. As ya know, Logan and I are the same age just like Chloe and 
Drystan is the same age. Logan and I had been best friends since we could walk but eventually Drystan began to hand around the Hayes family plot and became friends with Logan. After that I was more and more alone ‘cause Drystan wusn' interested in playin’ with me, only in Logan. I later found out why that wus. He wus in love with Chloe. Just like me… I told Logan ‘bout it and he promised no’ to say anythin’. But eventually Chloe came to our house and pretended to play with me. Of course, I didn' turn her away and we went behind the house where there wus a high hedge in which I had made a kind of camp and which I wanted to show her. So, we sat down in the bushes and I proudly presented her with everythin’ I had created with my own hands. That’s when I realised, she wusn' even listenin’ just staring at me and when I asked her wot was goin’ on she kissed me square on the mouth. I didn' know wot to say or do, so I just stood there like an idiot and stared at her, too. Then she turned and ran away. Logan later confessed to me that Drystan put her up to it ‘cause my best friend let it on to him that I liked her.” 
“And that wus far from everythin’ but only the beginning of countless harassments. The end of it all wus that Chloe who wus interested in the old shamanism from a very early age and already knew quite a bit ‘bout it. After regainin’ our self-determination became an apprentice with the giants and wus then supposed to teach herself. In addition to sum strangers, she also had the choice between Drystan and me. But knowin’ that Drystan doesn' really take anythin’ seriously she chose me. I was so happy because I niver stopped likin’ her and suddenly she became my teacher and I could spend all day with her. But I reckoned without Drystan who systematically sabotaged me by sneakin’ into my tent at night and swappin’ the herbs for others. The next day, when I was supposed to mix a potion that Chloe trustin’ in my abilities drank, she developed a terrible rash all over her body and her throat became so swollen that she couldn' breathe. She then chased me away and took care of Drystan instead – as he had planned. I apologised to her more than a dozen times and showed her the jar that wus supposed to have sage in it but it had stinkweed in it and eventually she believed me that someone had played me. But she didn' think it wus Drystan thinkin’ of the other scorned apprentices who she thought were playing a joke. I will niver forget her answer to my question ‘bout my further education... She said: 'Lyam, I'm sorry but I have now started to train Drystan. Just ‘cause we both had a tough start together doesn' mean I can send him into the desert. I swear I'll teach ya everythin’ as soon as Drystan is done.' And as ya know Drystan niver became a shaman, so neither did I. I am and always will be a useless apprentice who can only make a few simple potions. ‘Cause of Drystan Cunningham.” 
"That... must be a joke, right?" Amelia asked raising an eyebrow. 
Lyam shook his head. "No, I'm totally serious. This feud has been goin’ on for ages but I just can’t do anythin’ ‘bout it. He's a lot better lookin’ than me, has a better education and sleeps with Chloe." 
Amelia wide-eyed and laughed in disbelief. "But that’s a joke." 
“In the mornin’ as I left the village of the giants I sat on a stone in the upper square. 
There where people got together who could do sumthin’ with the term shamanism. The fur in front of Chloe's tent entrance wus pushed aside and Drystan came out, shirt in hand. And he blocked the passage lon’ enough for me to see Chloe sleepin’ on the bunk no’ a piece of her clothes on. So, I packed my things and left. I showed up at yer place a little later," Lyam continued. 
"That's incredible. And if I didn' know ya weren' a liar, I'd think the whole story sounds far-fetched. But wot does Logan say ‘bout that?” Amelia wanted to know. 
"I didn' say a word ‘bout it to him. He still thinks it's because of our childhood thin’," Lyam replied. "I didn' think it was right to let him know wot his older sister wus up to. But Drystan no’ only denied me the chance to live with Chloe, but also to get a proper education. And that's why he's like a red rag for me." 
"But ya can still complete yer education," Amelia objected. 
Lyam chuckled. "I'm thirty-two years old, the golden years are over. It wus easy for me to study when I was youn’ but no’ anymore.” 
“Yardleyu will also be thirty in a few months. Nivertheless, he learns sumthin’ new every day and at an impressive speed. Ya can if ya really want it, Lyam. Yah're no’ just sum useless apprentice and ya can do a lot more than mix potions,” Amelia replied. 
Lyam retorted somewhat indignantly, „Yah're comparing me to Yardleyu? That’s unfair, hardly anyone can keep up with him. In the field of magic nobody could fool him at leas’ if wot he says is true. And now as a Shepherd of Souls he's probably even better. It's easy for him, ya know? We couldn' be more different ‘cause he's learned an incredible wealth of skills and I can’t do anythin’. I'm a nobody compared to him and Cunningham.” He slammed his fist onto his knee before leaning forward and cupping his face in his hands with a sigh. 
"That ain’ true," Amelia murmured glancing sideways at him. 
Lyam looked up. "And how, by all the gods, would ya know that?" 
"I just know. And I also know that ya should believe in yerself more to be able to develop yer full potential.” She had a smirk on her lips before she got up and weighed the box with the salt in her hand. "Let's go to Meyja and Logan then I'll show ya how to draw a spell. It niver hurts to know that.“ 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 29 - Ban

Amelia entered the room with Lyam where Logan was still sitting by the bed and was just dabbing Meyja's fever-sweating forehead with a damp cloth. 
"Please forgive me," he murmured a little absently. 
Amelia put a hand on his shoulder. "It's okay. I can’t imagine how awful it must be for ya to see her like this. Whenever ya want to cry, cry. In this situation it is no’ surprising to be unnerved ya really don' need to be ashamed of yer tears. And whenever ya want to gab yah're very welcome to come to me. But know that I will do everythin’ in my power to save her.” 
"Me too," Lyam added swallowing hard when Logan looked at him with watery eyes. 
Logan got up and hugged Lyam tightly while patting him on the back. "Ya were always my best friend, Lyam. And ya will be for all eternity. I like Drystan, but no’ nearly as much as ya.” He released him and patted the back of his neck brotherly. "Thank ya from the bottom of my heart. If ya two weren' here... I have no idea wot I would do." 
Amelia grinned. "Ya would be desperately lookin’ for us." 
"Probably." Logan couldn't help but smile, too. 
"Well, now that it's clear that Logan would be lost without us... Let's go outside for a moment to think about the ban," Amelia remarked with exaggerated anticipation holding up the can of salt like a trophy. 
Then she reached for one of her books that had the runes they needed in it and Lyam took a lantern from its holder so she would have enough light to read for by now night had fallen and it was hard to see one’s hand in front one’s eyes. Sitting again on the steps in front of the entrance she showed the shaman the magical signs each of which had a different meaning and would be used to keep certain energies away while Logan gave them light. 
"I think we should... Hm... No, that wouldn’ work..." she mumbled to herself thoughtfully frowning. 
Lyam looked over her shoulder and asked, "Xi, Ryl, Lok, and Fey?" 
"Ya canno’ use Xi in conjunction with Fey. These two would block each other and the ban would no longer have any effect. But if we negate Ayr with Dy we get the meaning of Xi.” Amelia's face brightened and she grinned widely. "Do ya see? Don' ever say yah're useless and can’t study anymore." 
"Wot does that have to do with it? It just made sense at first glance,” Lyam dismissed her compliment and stood up. 
She gave him another knowing smirk as they headed inside but Lyam didn't see it anymore. 
Logan held Amelia's hand for a moment and whispered, "Now wot did that mean?" 
She hesitated for a second but then answered just as quietly, "Gab to him ‘bout 
Chloe and Drystan and yah'll understand." 
He could tell from her look that she wasn't going to tell him another word about it so he let her go and followed her back to Meyja's bed. 
Amelia first began spreading a narrow line of salt around the bed until it formed a closed circle, in the four cardinal points she inserted four smaller circles into the large one so that their edges touched. And in those little circles she carefully drew the runes they had chosen. The last rune being Dy and it was little more than a long line making a small crease at the bottom. 
But when Amelia moved her hand at the perfect angle, holding the can, salt trickling incessantly it had an effect she never thought possible. 
Cayden descended the long stone staircase inside the Kavanagh estate to the basement which smelled of mould and something else that he recognized as death and decay. Down here was also the family tomb for the deceased Kavanaghs were not cremated and handed over to the ancestors like simple farmers but buried in sarcophagi so that their souls would remain in Abarglen. He didn't know which of all this mumbo-jumbo was true but the dead stank a lot worse than usual this morning. 
His path led him to the left and through a large cellar room in which man-high rotting wooden wine barrels lay in the appropriate stands. After the penultimate barrel he turned to the right. The door in the wall was open and he investigated the room behind it but nobody was in it only the usual candles were burning in their holders and drawing bizarre shadows on the stone walls. 
"Dorcha?" he called and listened. 
No answer. 
"Dorcha! Where are ya?!” he yelled again. 
He still didn't get an answer but the stench made him increasingly suspicious and suddenly he knew that she had opened the crypt. 
With a groan of exasperation, he walked back through the large basement room and down the hallway that sunk into the mountain from the bottom of the stairs like a spear into soft, living flesh. Apparently, his ancestors thought that if they built the passage to the crypt long enough their decaying bodies wouldn't smell too bad but the reality to Cayden's chagrin was different. It was with great effort that he could bring himself to walk down the long sloping corridor to the end.  
The ornate metal door of the burial ground had indeed been opened and the source of the foul odour clearly lay beyond. 
"Dorcha, wot is this? Why are ya sittin’ in that hole?” Cayden asked, looking around, one hand pressed over his nose and mouth. "And why have ya been smearin’ the walls?" She had drawn some unknown runes on the stones and the sarcophagi, on the floor was some kind of incantation circle in the centre of which sat a woman, a lump of charcoal in her hand shaking with the exertion. Her hair was such a light blonde that it was almost white and her slender body was clad in a black robe. Dorcha's eyes were wide and it seemed almost as if an inky black void were swirling around inside them like smoke. 
"Rthryldra zsha gmrld... Rthryldra zsha kyrdlnm..." she whispered, repeating herself a few times before taking a deep breath, closing her eyes, and clenching her hands into fists. 
After a few seconds of silence she hissed, "Wot do ya want, Cayden?" 
"Wot are ya doin’ here? This is the tomb of our ancestors, why are ya disturbin’ their peace?” Cayden wanted to know and crouched down in front of her. 
“’Cause the energies are better here. At some point durin’ the night, I lost contact with this woman. Since then, I've been trying everythin’ to restore it. However, these attempts have no’ yet been crowned with success and the longer ya bother me the more difficult it becomes,” she replied dismissively. 
"Wot does this mean? How can that be?” Cayden asked startled. 
Dorcha shrugged. "Perhaps a containment circle. I need to find out which one they used then I can bypass it with the correct formulas. But it will take time and the sooner I start the sooner I can give ya more information.” 
"We have enough time. I know where they are, and I've already gained a lot with that. If they move on, I'll find out," he said getting up again. "So, ya can go upstairs and rest. Eat sumthin’, too, the maid made breakfast.“ 
"Cayden." Dorcha looked up at him with an icy expression. "They already know wot's going on with Meyja and would hardly draw a spell, if it weren' for the purpose of preventin’ me from enterin’ the mind of this woman. Amelia also seems to be a Shepherd of Souls; at leas’ she has a book ‘bout it. It was she who drew the circle.” 
Cayden was growing cold even in the twilight you could tell he had turned pale as the bones of his ancestors. 
"But they can’t break the spell, can they?" he asked dumbfounded. 
"No, they can’t. Unless they had a Shepherd even more powerful than I am. And if there were sumone who wus like that, we would know ‘bout it. But I beg ya, strengthen the guards around the estate. If they find me, things will look very bad for yer plans. And I don' attach any importance to seein’ the side behind life earlier than necessary," whispered Dorcha urgently. 
"A’ight." Cayden nodded. "I'll reinforce the guards. And ya make sure that ya find the connection to Meyja again." 
Dorcha smiled devilishly. "I will. Count on it..." 
Although Amelia had achieved an unexpected effect with the help of the barrier, none of the three rebels knew that they had severed the connection between Meyja and the Shepherdess because the young woman continued to sleep without stirring. 
So, Lyam gave her another potion for the fever before he went to the fireplace and began to make some soup. The leader was already sitting at the table again, mulling over the place where her teacher grew up, and from which she hoped to get the possibly saving documents. 
Meanwhile Logan continued to sit on the edge of the bed and absentmindedly dabbed the sweat from Meyja's forehead. After a few minutes, he got up and took a pair of light linen pants from her pocket which he returned to the bed with and pulled back the covers. He had to untie her ankles before he could take off her boots and leather trousers so he could put the canvas ones on her and then he remembered the chest strap which she probably still wore and which she didn't usually sleep with. Since her shirt was also soaked with sweat, he decided to wash her and then put fresh outerwear on her. He knew she would have done the same for him, if he were lying there in her place. After re-tying her ankles, he retrieved a clean shirt and carefully untied the handcuffs before lifting her torso into a sitting position and resting her head on his shoulder. He was able to pull the wet linen off her easily but his groping fingers couldn't undo the clasp of the strap at her back, so he carefully laid her back and undid a clasp at the front that lay at the southern end of her sternum, two more were just below their collarbones. Eventually, the leather slipped easily out from under her body and he simply hung it over the bedpost when there was a knock on the door. 
Drystan didn't wait for an answer just walked in with a basket in hand. “I have your herbs, Lyam. But unfortunately, there were no stingin’ nettles that had no’ died from the snow.” 
Logan hastily covered Meyja's bare upper body before Drystan could have caught a glimpse of her. 
Lyam walked over from the fireplace and motioned impatiently for Drystan not to step on the barrier before replying, "Ya just have to know where to look. There is a sheltered clearin’ with a hot sprin’ no’ far from here where ya can find stingin’ nettles even in winter. But I'd better go myself. I'll get by with that one for a few days.” He pointed to the basket which Drystan handed him and Lyam thanked him with a nod before turning and walking back to his soup. 
"How is she?" Drystan asked with a sideways glance at Meyja. 
"I don' know," Logan murmured tonelessly. 
His gaze rested on his motionless mate and he wondered where her spirit was at the moment. Was she dreaming or was she completely absent in the end? 
He did not know. 
And it was better that way. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 30 - Fever

Meyja woke up in a bed she knew and which was in a room she was also familiar with but as soon as her mind had processed this information panic spread through her gut. It was the bedroom in her husband's mansion.
Her heart pounding with fear she looked around for him but he wasn't here, so she scrambled out of bed and feel the skirt of her wedding dress getting in the way.
'Why am I wearing this...?' she thought.
The entire room looked like it did on their wedding night, the skins lay on the floor in front of the smouldering fireplace, and a bouquet of ice roses in a vase stood on the sideboard. But if this was their wedding night then where was Ethan? Sheer fear of him brought tears to her eyes which ran down her cheeks with an almost searing heat, but she couldn't think about that right now because she had to get out of here at all cost, if she wanted to prevent all this from repeating what he had done to her before. She hastily gathered up the fabric of the dress so far that she could stand up and turned to the door to the dressing room which fortunately was not locked and behind which she disappeared.
She closed the passage as quietly as her trembling hands would allow and sank to her knees crying. How could this be? She had killed him and still remembered the emotion she felt as she looked down at his dead, lifeless body. Besides, the house she was in was long since deserted even if all the dust and dirt couldn't be seen anymore it looked almost like it did more than eleven years ago. She had grown up and could fight back even without weapons. In addition, she was no longer Eadda Walsh, but Meyja Blake who had taken the lives of numerous men, women, and children without batting an eyelid. She was an assassin, a Deathshade, and the Indomitable who had risen against the wrongs done to her.
"Derun, help me," she whispered.
The god of the ninth month was not only the ruler of the realm of the dead but also the tutelary god of her guild and she had prayed to him before killing. She had always taken it as Derun's good will that she had escaped with her life each time. And since the stars were still in his favour, his support would help her again, she was sure of it. But when she got to her feet and looked into the mirror which was still on the vanity, she felt cold.
She looked into the face of her younger self. And she looked exactly the same as on her wedding day, her hair pinned up with rose-studded pins, the matching necklace around her neck. Only the black-rimmed eyes were blurred by the tears drawing dark shadows under her eyes.
Suddenly she was Eadda again, young and innocent. No Deathshade, no
Indomitable, but also no blood on her hands which she held in front of her face and looked at. Had her skin really been that soft and flawless once? And even though it was her own body it felt so alien, she had long forgotten how thin and weak she had been back then.
But all that meant was that she had to escape Ethan before he could hurt her again and for that she had to get rid of that damn dress first. The lacing at her back she untied easily by tugging then peeled off the heavy fabric and carelessly tossed it into a corner but the greater obstacle was still the corset around her waist. Her bag was on the floor by the vanity and she was rummaging through it, trying desperately to find her dagger but it wasn't there. Even when she fell to her knees and searched under the furniture where she had hidden it, she could not find anything that resembled her weapon only old dusty cobwebs were there. She had counted on having at least her dagger with her but realising that she had even less to hold against her husband than she thought she lay on her back and cried silent tears again.
But after half a minute she realised that laying there and crying like a little girl wasn't helping her and she got up. If she didn't have a weapon, she still had to escape wearing the silk underwear and corset she so hated. The clothes her mother had made for her weren't here either, nor were any shoes or one of her fur coats only the nightgown was in her pocket, so she pulled it on hastily and then turned to the window.
It was pitching black outside and at first, she couldn't see anything in the black of the night, nor could the window be opened and when she almost wanted to turn away again, she noticed a movement in front of the house. She narrowed her eyes and recognised her family staring up at her with blank faces.
Eadda began banging on the glass with the palms of her hands as she cried for help. "Please... Ya know exactly wot he's goin’ to do to me... Help me... I just want to go home..."
Her mother's lips were moving and Eadda could hear her voice in her head. “Yer home is now with yer husband. Rub yerself with the oil I put in yer bag so ya smell nice when ya lie down with him.”
"He's goin’ to hurt me, I know it, mother. I'm begging ya, please help me..." She looked at Yary and begged, "Yary, ya also know what he's goin’ to do to me. Get me out of here…"
"No, Eadda. I gave ya the potion that will save ya from conceivin’ a child. Share the bed with him voluntarily otherwise he will force ya to do so. And yah'd better spare yerself that.” Yary's expression was as blank as the others' and she could hear the coldness and indifference in his words. "After six years I will help ya but ‘til then we will no’ see each other again. Farewell.”
Eadda watched in disbelief as her two brothers and their parents simultaneously turned and walked away down the path.
"No! Ya can’t just leave me here! Yary! Sean! Father! Mother! Come back!” she yelled and pounded on the window pane but it was useless.
The only people who could have helped her had left and left her to her fate.
Eadda's knees buckled and she fell to the ground. Her family's betrayal sapping any strength she needed to stand in her husband's way or even to stand at all.
'This is a nightmare... It's no’ real...', she thought.
She pinched her arm hard and although she felt the pain she didn't wake up. But were there dreams in which one could feel pain? Or were this death and she had to suffer for all the murders she had committed? In addition, she had given her family – except for Yardleyu – to the ancestors by burning their bodies and Ethan must also be dead, after all she had killed him herself. The jumble of her confused repetitive thoughts was interrupted by the creaking of the door slowly opening. 
Ethan stepped into the room and looked down at her. "Eadda, where are ya lingerin’? The maid has already served dinner and I've been waitin’ for ya for half an eternity. Won' ya join me for a little while? Ain' ya hungry?" 
She could hardly believe her ears. There had never been a maid here, Eadda had always had to cook herself when Ethan had not eaten out which he usually preferred for her skills at the stove had been limited to scorching or oversalting food to the point of inedibility. 
"The... maid?" she repeated softly. 
He stepped towards her and crouched a step in front of her, looking at her worriedly. "Are ya a’ight? Why ya cryin’? And why is yer weddin’ dress layin’ here on the floor?” 
Ethan held out his hands to help her up and after a few seconds of hesitation she grabbed them and allowed herself to be pulled to her feet. Then he took the washcloth from the water-filled bowl next to him and gently wiped her face until the dark marks under her eyes were no longer visible. 
He smiled then. "It's better that way," he murmured kissing her forehead gently. 
Eadda no longer understood the world. Why was Ethan so different from what she knew? She had known him as a violent person, unpredictable, and merciless but now he seemed almost caring and loving. Nevertheless, she remained reserved, she didn't trust him and didn't look at him. 
He took her hand and led her over to the comfortably warm bedroom where he sat down on the bed and she sat down next to him extremely reluctantly. 
"Please talk to me, love. If yah're so taciturn, I'm worried,” he pleaded softly. 
"Wot am I to ya, Ethan?" she asked in a whisper. 
He chuckled softly. "I love ya, Eadda. Ya are my wife and ya have brightened my life for almost two years now. And I know that ya love me as well, otherwise ya would no’ have married me against the wishes of yer family.” 
"My family didn' want that?" She did look at him now obviously shocked. 
He shook his head. "They have cast ya out and ya don' speak to each other anymore. Yer father thought I wus a good-for-nothin’ and didn' deserve to marry a Blake." 
"And my brother? Yary?” she asked further. 
"Yary? I niver heard ya call him that. Yardleyu wus the worst of ‘em all. Don' ya remember that he hit ya when I showed up at yer family's home and we told ‘em ‘bout our planned weddin’?” Ethan now seemed more than confused. 
"I'm afraid I've forgotten all that..." She was feeling the heavy loss of her beloved brother in her stomach. 
Ethan nodded briefly. "Well, the circumstances of our marriage were difficult. Very difficult. Ya had many suitors who asked for yer hand but ya chose me. And like I said... When we told yer family, Yardleyu wus so upset that he slapped ya in the face knockin’ ya to the ground. After that he growled that ya died for him, turned, and disappeared up the stairs. Yer parents finally relented in givin’ their consent as ya had adamantly refused to marry anyone else and they feared that, if ya had to, ya would run away to be with me. But ya haven' heard from them since the weddin’ either." 
It took Eadda a moment to process what her husband had just told her, her jaw beginning to tremble uncontrollably. 
"Darlin’, don' grieve," Ethan whispered putting his arms around her comfortingly. 
"It's lon’ gone and we're both very happy." 
His touch did her strangely well and she believed every word he said as she was snuggling into him and fighting back the tears that had welled up in her eyes whilst he stroked her back. Then he put a hand on her neck, kissing her deeply, and Eadda could feel hot desire slide up her stomach into her abdomen. 
She pushed him gently back onto the bed, sat on him, and pulled the nightgown over her head which had previously blocked his view of her underwear. 
"Is… Is wot yah're wearin’ wot I think it is?" he asked. 
She just nodded and pulled one pin after another out of her hairdo until her hair lay forward in red curls over her shoulders. 
"Ya are so beautiful, Eadda." He sat up and untied the knot in the corset's lacing. 
She pulled his shirt off and tossed it carelessly out of bed, he did the same with the bodice before rolling over her and removing his pants. Something deep inside her started screaming in panic and although she didn't want to at that moment, she wanted his body more than anything. Forgotten were the torments he had put her through in another world, forgotten were all the beatings and humiliations. And forgotten was the knife with which he had disfigured her back almost beyond recognition. Eadda had simply suppressed her fear of him, after all there was no reason to fear him and the screams inside her had finally stopped. 
He stripped off her underwear with pleasure and a moment later he was already inside her. 
Drystan was still standing next to the bed and Logan didn't dare pull the covers off Meyja's body. He didn't want any strangers to see her when she was in such a helpless situation. 
"Wot ya mean ya don' know how she's doin’?" Drystan was frowning. 
Logan exhaled audibly. "That means she has a fever. But she just won' wake up, so it's hard for me to tell how she's really doin’. It would be nice of ya to leave us alone though, Drystan.” 
"Sure, right away. But I have sumthin’ here for ya in addition to the potions.” Drystan opened his bag and pulled out a flat metal can which he handed to Logan then nodded to him and walked out. 
As soon as the door slammed, Lyam appeared next to Logan and took the container from his friend's hand before opening it and sniffing the contents. 
"Wot's that?" Logan wanted to know. 
Lyam gaped at the exit for a moment before replying, "It's a kind of ointment that works very well against fever. The process of makin’ it is laborious and takes a lon’ time which is why I've niver made any myself. I tried it once and... Well... I failed. 
That's a very valuable gift, Logan." 
"And how do ya use that stuff?" Logan continued while taking the can from Lyam and smelling it himself. 
"Ya rub it on the back. But before that ya have to wash Meyja ‘cause the skin has to be free of sweat and all dirt. Still, I'm no’ sure if she's ready yet." He put a hand on Meyja's forehead. "Her current condition seems stable to me and the fever is no’ life threateningly high." 
"But I don' intend to sit here and wait until her life is in danger. I have to do sumthin’, Lyam. She gets weaker every day that she doesn' wake up and eat. Who knows how lon’ it will be before Yardleyu gets here and we have a plan. If she's ‘bout to die of starvation an ointment won' help her anymore." 
"Nivertheless, she hasn' been in this state for very lon’ and ya once said that she didn' eat very regularly anyway. While she's very slim and doesn' have a lot of fat reserves to draw on in an emergency, I still think it's too early. She is used to it and would go a week longer without food than other humans. If ya trust my advice wait a few more days. We won' let her die, Logan. No’ like this." 
Logan considered Lyam's words and looked down at the jar in his fingers where the gelatinous nearly translucent ointment glistened in the dim light. Then he screwed the lid on and nodded before handing the jar to the shaman. "A’ight. We'll wait a little longer." 
Lyam smiled encouragingly and put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Would ya like me to help ya wash and dress her?" 
After another thoughtful moment Logan nodded again. "I don' think she would mind. I have already fetched clean clothes.” 
"A’ight, then I'll get fresh water from the well. And when we're done with that yah're goin’ to eat some soup and then go to sleep. Ya look anythin’ but rested.” Lyam grabbed the washtub and walked out. 
He was right because Logan felt really tired and powerless and since Meyja had fried scrambled eggs for both of them he hadn't eaten much. But his appetite was limited anyway after what had happened he probably wouldn't have been able to eat a bite. 
Amelia was still sitting at the table staring straight ahead, so Logan asked quietly, 
"Wot are ya thinkin’ ‘bout right now?" 
The blonde jumped. "Wot? Are ya gabbin’ to me?" 
"Yes, sorry. I didn' mean to disturb ya. Ya just looked so thoughtful and it made me wonder wot you were thinkin’ ‘bout," he explained. 
She lowered her feet from the chair next to her. "I'm tryin’ to remember where my master lived before Voynar fell. He once spoke about important documents that he hid in the library and which I would like to read because I suspect that there is information amon’ ‘em that could be helpful to Meyja.“ 
"I'm afraid I'm of no help to you. But maybe ya remember the time he spoke ‘bout it. When I forget sumthin’ I always try to think back to where I wus when I heard it. 
That usually helps my memory alon’,” he replied. 
"Well... He was talkin’ ‘bout himself at the estate in Waldskorn. And he said his family lived in an even grander mansion which also had its own library where he hid his most important notes under a loose floorboard. His sister was often too curious and sumtimes read the documents he wrote. Apparently, he loved her very much 
‘cause he didn' want to put her in danger, if she ever got the silly idea of tryin’ any of these,” Amelia mused. "And he also said that his father was a senior army officer and served as a military adviser to Kavanagh. That's why the property is in Voynar's military district... But I don't remember which street he said." 
"Wot happened to his sister?" Logan wanted to know; he had never heard of Yardleyu's story. 
"I asked him that, too, but he didn' know. But he got very sad when he thought ‘bout her," Amelia continued. “The story of his transformation brought tears even to me for he had already seen it comin’, knew of the Virtheriā, and even tried to get an audience with Kavanagh to be heard, but they turned him away. One evening he wus sittin’ in the library porin’ over his books when his siblings rushed in. He knew immediately that they were bein’ attacked and wus tryin’ to magically seal the door when the two beasts broke through. They had already killed the parents in their bedroom then they killed his younger brother who wanted to protect their sister until Yary was finally able to drive them away. According to him nothin’ happened to her but he was bitten, so he sent her away before transformin’. The rest of his story coincides with ours wakin’ up to the giants. So, wot's going on? Why are you crying?" 
Logan looked tired and strangely happy at the same time while tears ran down his cheeks. "It's just... I know where his sister is." 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 31 - Knowledge

Yardleyu stiffly dismounted in front of the Waldskorn estate and stretched. "I don' think they're still here... Damn it." He looked around trying to spot any tracks in the snow. 
"And where could they have gone?" Eralion asked grabbing the reins Yardleyu handed him. 
"I’m no’ sure. Although the Ice Lands are large, there are very few villages and towns. In fact, only Waldskorn and Voynar are real cities. There is a village at Weatherpoint, then Kolvangen, Vorsted, and Talheym which I would also call villages. Here and there is a lonely farm where farmers used to live, but they certainly wouldn' have gone there." 
Eralion further asked, "Isn't Talheym where we started this morning?" 
"This is Talheym, yes. And so, it is eliminated. That leaves only Voynar and the 
Weatherpoint,” Yardleyu mused. "But Voynar and Kolvangen are just too close to 
Kavanagh's estate and it would be very dangerous to settle there." 
"That name... Kavanagh... It sounds familiar," Eralion murmured thoughtfully rubbing his forehead. 
Yary turned to him. "Maybe Eadda mentioned it to ya at some point. He is the rightful heir to the throne but unfortunately no’ much from Roarke’s cuttin’ lives on in his son Cayden. He's a coward.“ 
"Cayden… Cayden Kavanagh?" Eralion repeated. "I definitely know that name. And he was in Sharaya when Meyja was there. She once told me that she risked her life to save his.” 
"She has... wot?!" Yardleyu exclaimed aghast. 
Eralion calmed the horses which had begun to prance nervously at Yardleyu's exclamation before looking confused at the man who was still staring at him in disbelief. “This Cayden was believed to be a member of the Sharaya City Guard under a false identity and held a higher post because he secured Meyja's release after she was captured by two of the soldiers entering the city. One day they met again on the city wall between the old town and the workshop where Meyja used to sit and smoke. When evening came..." 
"Get to the point!" Yardleyu barked impatiently. 
"Aron was given the task of taking out this man but Meyja found out beforehand and foiled the plan by first warning Cayden and then killing another guy who looked like Cayden then put on his armour to make others think he was dead," summarized Eralion a little tighter together. "But I don't know exactly how much of it is true because she was very drunk when she told me." 
"But how could one assume it was Kavanagh, if she killed some guy?" 
Eralion bit his lower lip. "They looked alike and... Well... I asked her the same thing and she laughed and said that she had smashed the dead man’s face with her bare hands..." He was silent for a moment shuddered at the thought of it. "It didn't help, however, because Aron wasn't fooled and she had to reveal the whole story to him after he had already attached himself to Cayden's heels. The end of the matter was a discussion among the three and a terrible argument between Meyja and Aron which ended in them not speaking to each other for a long time. Cayden was not seen again in Sharaya after that.” 
"I see," Yardleyu breathed. 
He could hardly believe that his sister was capable of such a thing and why she had just saved Kavanagh's life he couldn't understand either. All of this changed the very circumstances of his search for her, for if Kavanagh had managed to convince her she was now fighting for Voynar on the wrong side and was presumably on the royal estate. 
"You really hate this guy, don't you?" Eralion asked cautiously. 
Yardleyu clenched his fists and ground his teeth trying to quell the anger the animal stirred up in him. “Cayden Kavanagh is a conceited upstart, a coward, and a busybody. He has gathered all the Voynarians who did not succumb to the curse and now calls us rebels. And that's exactly wot forced us to become rebels in the first place. To him we are no more than animals which he does no’ want in the kingdom he is tryin’ to rebuild. If he's stron’ enough he'll attack us and try to kill as many as he can even though it was probably his father Roarke who gave us the curse." 
"What curse?" Eralion demanded. 
"So, she didn't mention it? That's wot I thought... Even my sister seems ashamed of wot we've become. It wus in the year 65 after the Alliance of Destrothos that the night attacks on the Voynarians began and early in the followin’ year my family wus killed. Imagine a six-foot-tall wolf walking upright, claws longer than your fingers, and mouth full of bloody teeth – these are the Virtheriā. Two of ‘em killed my parents, my brother, and then turned to Eadda but I wus able to chase ‘em away before anything happened to her. However, I wus bitten and five minutes later the fire was already running through my veins. I managed to convince Eadda to leave me and then I also became a Virtherion, bloodthirsty and ruthless. Even my own sister wus threatened by me for I no longer had any control over my senses or my body. It wusn' until the Ares caught me and restored my self-control that I wus able to transform back into a human. And that's wot we live with every day now – with a beast inside us. Anger or other stron’ emotions can cause an involuntary change, so be careful wot ya say, if we meet any of the rebels.” 
"And… you can turn into a wolf at any time?" Eralion whispered. 
"Yes, I can do that. Yah'll only find purebreds amon’ Kavanagh's ranks, if that's wot ya want. If Eadda hasn' even joined ‘em now that she seems to be friends with that bastard Kavanagh,” Yary growled. 
"That's not what I meant, Yardleyu. But if you can turn into a wolf, wouldn't you be able to track your friends, too?" 
Yardleyu stared at him inscrutably for a long moment before nodding. "I could at least try. But I don' want ya to see me transform. It's a little disturbin’ and the horses would probably bolt. But since it is already afternoon and too late to go anywhere else, we will stay here tonight. Let's put the horses in the stable and find a place to sleep then I'll go out again later on my own." 
Eralion and Yary led the horses to the barn where horrible scenes had only recently been played out but Yardleyu's human nose could no more detect the faint remaining odour of Logan’s fear than his sister's scent. And so, unsuspectingly they went back out and over to the estate their scanty luggage in hand. 
Eadda looked flushed at Ethan who lay down next to her. 
"That wus wonderful, love," she whispered. 
Contrary to what she'd expected when she woke up, he hadn't been brutal in any way, just trying to make sure she had fun as well while he took her. And he seemed happy with that because he smiled widely and kissed her deeply. 
"I'm very glad to hear that," he replied. 
All of a sudden, she lost all doubts about him or about the circumstances she was in at his house, it became more a matter of course that they loved each other and lived together. But Eadda was by no means aware of the gain of her realisation, instead she had forgotten the reality far away from this dream and she snuggled up to Ethan as she would in truth never have snuggled up to him. 
After a few minutes of intimate silence she murmured, "Ethan?" 
"Why don' we have children?" 
He turned to her and looked at her in surprise. "We tried for a lon’ time to father children but unfortunately it wusn’ crowned with success. Would ya like to try again?” 
She smiled softly and whispered, "We just did that..." 
He chuckled and remarked, "Yah're right. But I meant it more generally. It would mean we're goin’ to be spendin’ a lot of time here in this bed.” 
Eadda was only fifteen and yet she wanted nothing more than to bear her twenty-seven-year-old husband offspring although she was very afraid of giving birth. Young women like her quite often died in childbirth and yet it was expected by society whose interests she no longer ignored. She wanted to make her husband proud and at the same time punish her family for not believing in her love. 
"Yes, let's try again. I am sure that this time it will finally succeed. If yah're okay with that..." she replied. 
He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her forehead. "How could I no’ agree? 
Of course, I want to try again. And I'm so glad ya feel the same way ‘bout it." 
"How no’? Ain’t that why people love each other? For ‘em to unite and procreate?” she said smiling. 
"That view is probably a little too romantic to be true, otherwise it wouldn' work if ya don' love each other. And it would eliminate the need for lust and whores entirely but I know for a fact that sum of my comrades in the army would rather see an easy girl than their wives,” Ethan replied with a grin. 
Eadda raised an eyebrow and looked at him with mock distrust. "I hope this only applies to yer comrades..." 
He rolled over her, leaning on his elbows by the sides of her head he looked at her, and whispered, "Yah’re the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, Eadda. And the only one I'll ever lay next to..." 
Amelia stared at Logan in disbelief after he explained to her that Meyja had told him the same story she had already heard from Yardleyu. 
"It must be a coincidence... It's almost impossible that the two are actually siblings," she dismissed his theory. 
Logan shook his head and replied, "Coincidences are everywhere yah're right. But why shouldn' it be possible? It's the same story, Amelia! The noble lineage, the estate in town, the dead parents and brother... Even the library where they were assaulted... All of that would be incredible if it happened twice like that.” 
"They're no’ alike at all... I just don' believe it, ya know?" she snapped again. 
"Wot's different ‘bout Yardleyu than Meyja? Please explain it to me I want to understand,” Logan replied seriously. 
“Yary only revealed very little ‘bout himself while Meyja kept sayin’ sumthin’, most of which later turned out to be a lie. On top of that she saved Kavanagh's life which Yary would niver do. He hates him to death and wouldn' even piss down his throat, if his stomach wus on fire. And they don't even look alike, Yardleyu is tall and stron’ while Meyja is shorter and slimmer than most other women. That might make her a good assassin but a runt like her must come from a family of generally short people..." Amelia thought for a moment and then grumbled, "All of this suddenly sounds so ridiculous when ya say it. I just don' believe in it but it's no’ rational it's more of a feeling. Ya and Chloe are different, too, ya can tell ya have sumthin’ in common even though she is a shaman and yah’re a trained soldier.” 
Logan nodded slowly. "I understand wot ya mean and I don' find it ridiculous that ya have any doubts ‘bout it. Still, I believe in it especially since they look quite alike when you imagine them side by side at least the faces. But there's only one way to find out, if the two are related anyway and that's goin’ to be a direct question to one of ‘em." 
Amelia got up and walked over to him, sat down next to him on the edge of the bed and said quietly, "Well... ya are probably also aware that Meyja's name sounds a bit fanciful or at least it cand be of Voynarian origin. Wot would ya think, if ya found out that her name ain’ Meyja?“ 
Before Logan could reply, the front door opened and Lyam stepped in, putting down the wash tub of fresh water before turning back to the door which the wind had nearly ripped out of his hands and which he had to force shut while more and more snowflakes were blown into the building. 
When he succeeded, he leaned against it breathlessly and remarked, "A storm is comin’." Then he bent down for the tub and carried it towards the bed where Amelia was sitting next to Logan who was obviously avoiding her gaze. "So, wot's goin’ on? 
Is sumthin’ wron’?” he wanted to know and looked back and forth between the two. 
"It's just a hypothesis, Logan, nothin’ more. Ya love her, wot's a name?” Amelia continued ignoring Lyam's question. 
"As if I didn' realise that, Amelia! I don' give a fuck wot her name is! That's no’ wot I'm ‘bout! I'm more concerned with how lon’ she's been in this state! Do I even know her?! Or… or wus it sumone else the whole time?” Logan had screamed at first, but towards the end his voice had broken into a low murmur and he looked helplessly at the two of them. 
Lyam still didn't fully understand what it was all about, so she kept his mouth shut while Amelia looked down at her fingers, now avoiding Logan’s eyes. 
"Bloody heck! I even slept with her! Or at least with her body! Can’t anyone tell me who I shared the bed with?! I don' understand it anymore!" Logan yelled outraged, tears running down his cheeks again. 
"Logan, please… calm down we'll find answers to yer questions I promise that. But it's incredibly late, we haven't slept any more than ya have and that's why our nerves are on edge now. Grab a bowl of soup and sit at the table with Amelia. After that you will go to sleep and rest, yeah? I'll wash and dress Meyja in the meantime and ya can keep an eye on me the whole time, a’ight?” Lyam appealed to his best friend's sanity after he finally got the hang of it. 
“No, at least let me help with Meyja. After that we eat together. Ya can’t easily wash her yerself it's better if I hold her,” Logan retorted. 
Lyam nodded briefly before removing his fur coat and tossing it onto the sofa. 
Amelia took one last look at Meyja before she got up and withdrew. At that moment she no longer dared to ask Logan if he knew which of the estates Meyja had lived in before. Lyam was right that they were all tired and unnerved and it was just too late at night to start another argument. 
After Lyam heated the water in a small kettle over the fire and poured it back into the washtub, Logan pulled the covers off Meyja's almost naked body. With a clean rag he first began wiping sweat from her front, running down her shoulders, chest and arms to her stomach, and ending at her ankles. He then carefully washed the piece of cloth and handed it to Lyam to continue with his back before gently lifting her and resting her upper body against him. 
Lyam saw Meyja's scars and had to swallow. 
"That wus her husband," Logan explained softly. 
"It looks awful," Lyam whispered in concern as he was gently wiping her skin. 
From the table Amelia also recognized the marks of violence that Meyja could not possibly have brought to herself and she felt pity for the woman she had never really been able to stand. Although she had claimed the opposite Meyja's manner had always annoyed her and she considered her a pathological liar. But if her fears were justified, she couldn't even blame her because then she would probably have forced by the alien soul to tell all those untruths. And yet the apprentice Shepherd of Souls could not bring herself to feel even a little sympathy for Meyja in addition to pity even though she might even be the sister of the man she had fallen in love with. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 32 - Love

Cayden Kavanagh descended the stairs to the basement and trudged down the subterranean passage straight toward the family crypt, his face as chill as the wind of the storm that swept across the property.
"Dorcha, report," he ordered curtly and stopped in front of the pale woman in the black dress.
As on his last visit Dorcha sat in the centre of the summoning circle she had drawn on the floor of the tomb whispering dark words to herself incessantly. After Cayden spoke to her it was a few seconds before the black smoke cleared from her eyes and she looked up at him.
"There's nothin’ to report, Cayden. They are either incredibly clever or bunglers who are lucky enough to be outrageous. But wotever the case, they still successfully deny me access to this woman. Find a new toy because she's goin’ to die soon anyway."
He squatted in front of her and grabbed the back of her head by the hair to pull her face close to his. "There is no other toy. I need to know wot these animals are up to and the only way to find out without bein’ spotted is Meyja. So, find her!” 
Dorcha flinched as he yelled the last sentence in her ear, but she said nothing staring at him hatefully instead until he let go of her and got to his feet. 
"They are still in Aryancar. Yer men keep a watchful eye on all roads leadin’ from there and I can confirm without a doubt that they rode there after leavin’ 
Waldskorn. Ain’ that the information you need to take ‘em down?” she hissed. "Or is there more than ya told me?“ 
"Shut up, if ya don' even have the faintest idea wot I'm up to. To complete our plan, we must wipe out these rebels but for that I need my men. All. Each. But if these animals find out that it wus us who made Meyja their tool, they will appear here, and cut a path through our ranks – looking for ya. I can’t afford to lose men before we even start fightin’ for our homeland. That's why ya have to do yer job now, find Meyja again, and do sumthin’ to keep her silent. While I'd rather could have convinced her of our plan now, I don't care if ya kill her or just make her idiotic but she needs to shut up her pretty little mouth. From now until the end.” 
Dorcha exhaled audibly and nodded. "A’ight. As soon as I can get hold of her for even a moment, I will put her into an inner turmoil that will consume her until she doesn' wake up to tell anyone ya were the soul messenger." 
"Good," Cayden remarked reassured and turned to walk away. 
"Wait." She rose. 
"Wot is it?" he asked impatiently and went back to her. 
He noticed that the almost white irises of both her eyes were surrounded by a blood-red ring, but before he could ask her about it, she kissed him demandingly on the mouth. He tasted her desire, wrapped his arms around her slim body, and kissed back just as greedily but they didn't have time for each other, so he pulled away gently albeit reluctantly. 
"It's been too lon’..." Dorcha breathed longingly. 
Cayden nodded. "I feel the same way. But unfortunately, I have no time for ya and ya just as little for me. When all of this is over and we're out of harm's way we'll spend at least a whole day in bed together, I promise." 
She looked up at him with her large strangely coloured eyes. "Wot if it's niver over and one of us dies? I need to feel ya again, Cayden.“ 
"There's just too much at stake. With every additional minute, our chances diminish immensely. I'm pinin’ for ya, too, but now we have to behave like adults and endure this. Please understand…” he pleaded urgently. 
"I'll do wot I can. For ya, Cayden,” she whispered. 
He nodded again and murmured a soft thank you. "Wot happened to yer eyes anyway? Why this red border?” 
Dorcha looked away in embarrassment. "It's only because I spend so much time doin’ the incantations. Ya know how dangerous it is to handle the souls of the dead.” 
He kissed her briefly on the lips. "Yes, I know that. We'll see each other soon. Take care of yerself." 
She didn't reply but he could feel her gaze resting on him almost piercing until he was out of sight. If she failed to find access to Meyja's spirit, he would have to kill Dorcha himself for under no circumstances could he risk her failure thwarting his plans for Voynar. Cayden loved Dorcha with all his heart but his homeland was more important to him than her and even thousands of lives would not weigh it. As soon as there was any danger of the rebels moving toward the estate and his unready army, he would have Dorcha's head cut off and send it to the enemies as an offer of a truce. 
With Cayden finally gone Dorcha closed the crypt's doors behind her and stepped back into the summoning circle with a smirk on her lips. It amused her that he was trying to keep things under control and yet it was he who hadn't the faintest idea what she was planning. 
She had regained access to Meyja's thoughts the day those bunglers had pulled the ridiculously simple spell that wasn't even reinforced with appropriate spells. If she wanted to all she had to do was say a few words and she could wreak havoc on this woman’s mind into irrevocable deadly chaos but she had more important things to do that affected her own agenda. And until Cayden found out about her she was done not to cause further damage to Meyja out of sheer disinterest. 
"Rthryldra zsha krthum..." she whispered over and over until her vision blurred and the black mist returned, she tilted her head back and looked up. "Where were we?“ 
The scraping sound of stone rubbing against stone told her the spell had found its target and she sat down calmly on the floor. 
"Godwin Rakuven's corpse, if I'm not mistaken," replied a cutting voice that seemed to pierce through marrow and bone and sent a pleasant shiver down Dorcha's spine. 
She nodded slightly. "Yah’re by no means wrong. But ya know where I can find it?" 
"Of course, I know that. I'm just surprised that you don't know. Haven't the children of Voynar been taught anything?” the voice remarked and laughed terribly. 
She couldn't help but giggle softly before she replied, "Don' tease me. Ya should be aware it is commonly believed that Rakuven died from the plague, after all he let the rumour spread himself before dyin’. But that's a lie ‘cause I know he was killed by a man." 
"Oh, yes? And by whom?” the voice hissed. 
Dorcha took her time answering but finally breathed, "Roarke Kavanagh." 
Yardleyu stepped out into the night naked and shivered as the storm's freezing winds hit him, so he crouched in the snow and transformed to get the clues over with as quickly as possible. It had been many weeks since he had last released the animal within him and he felt a heavy weight lift from his shoulders as he took a deep breath and let out a long deep howl. At first, the Virtherion's keen senses overwhelmed him but he quickly got used to it and sensed a figure behind him. Growling he spun around and saw Eralion standing in the doorway who must have been a bit startled by the aggressive tone he had uttered and therefore backed away. 
"Wot ya want? It's stormin’, go in and lock the entrance or we'll freeze tonight,” Yary growled scratching the silver-grey fur behind his ear. 
"Can’t I come with you? Please?” Eralion closed the door behind him and pulled the cloak tighter around his body before taking a few hesitant steps toward the massive beast. 
Yardleyu let out a sigh. "A’ight… Let's go." 
With the unwelcome companion in tow the Virtherion turned right first and followed the road towards the barn where they kept their horses. Though he kept getting on all fours and digging his snout in the snow he found few scents that he recognised. 
It wasn't until they approached the place where Logan and Lyam had taken Meyja that Yary stopped and hesitated. With his paw he carefully pushed aside layer by layer of snow until he found the blood that had been hidden underneath. 
“There wus a fight here. But it's been too lon’ and I can’t smell whose blood that is," Yardleyu noted with concern. 
Eralion stepped up to him and said, "It doesn't seem like much is life threatening though." 
"No’ that but it's disturbin’ and suggests that sumthin’ must have happened that caused ‘em to relocate. Movin’ at this time of year is almost suicidal in this country, so there must have been a really serious issue that forced ‘em to make that decision,” Yary explained. 
"So serious that they might even have considered Voynar?" Eralion asked. 
"I don' know," Yary said softly. "If yah're no’ cold anymore but feel a deep tiredness let me know. A stranger like ya probably doesn' notice in time when he's startin’ to freeze to death." 
Eralion nodded silently and the Virtherion continued on his way, moving towards the buildings where it wasn't so windy that he couldn't smell anything at all. The scent of horses rose in his nostrils, the digested grass in the horse manure and the smell of the leather of the saddles but in between there was a nuance that caught his attention. He opened the barn door a crack and waved Eralion through before pushing himself through the entrance. It was pitch black in the stable building but that didn't bother Yardleyu, he could still see enough with the little light from outside. 
But the Virtherion was not concerned with what he saw but with what he smelled. 
It was the unmistakable aroma of fear that bit his sensitive nostrils. Logan’s fear. Right next to his sister's smell. 
"She wus here. I smell Eadda. And Logan. He wus scared,” Yary summed up and walked in circles sniffing the air. 
"Of Meyja?" Eralion wanted to know still standing at the gate unable to see anything. 
It took a few seconds before he got an answer. "I don' know. Lyam wus here, too, but there wus only a faint scent of fear comin’ from him..." 
Yardleyu had said a little about the rebels on the voyage to the Ice Lands – though he hated the term rebels – and Eralion remembered the names of the two men. The fact that they only had two women in their ranks didn't strike him as strange. But that one of them was spearheading this endeavour had made him very curious about the group. He could imagine conflicts between Meyja and the leader, if two such strong personalities disagreed. 
"What if there was a fight? Would that be a reason to move in winter?” Eralion asked. 
Yary's clumsy footsteps came to an abrupt halt. "A fight? Wot makes ya think that?" 
"Well… You talked about the leader and I imagine her as a strong woman who will always remain at the wheel. Meyja also doesn't shy away from arguments, if she thinks something is unfair. I think it's possible that the two of them might not have got along very well," Eralion explained somewhat hesitantly. 
"If they hadn't gotten alon’, Amelia would have thrown my sister out and chased her away. Then they would still be here ‘cause that would no’ have been a reason to risk such madness,” Yary retorted indignantly. 
"And Amelia doesn't know that Meyja might be your sister?" Eralion asked. 
Yary growled, "I didn' tell anyone ‘bout Eadda because I didn' even know if she wus alive. So no, she doesn' know. And nobody else either. I don' appreciate bein’ constantly asked questions ‘bout myself or my family.” 
Eralion just nodded and didn't say anything about the broad hint that Yardleyu must have given him out of his curiosity but he doubted his theory could be completely ruled out. During the time that Meyja had spent in Sharaya he had noticed again and again how much she changed and adapted to the circumstances in which she lived. Although there were certain traits that were very typical of her and also remained. In his opinion this included among other things the unshakable penchant for truth which was still incredibly important to her even when it hurt the person it affected. 
She had hurt him, too, when she had confessed what had happened between her and Raemur. At the same time, he could understand why she had given in to his wooing because her insatiable hunger for physical love never seemed to be satisfied whereas togetherness was more important to him and he had preferred to show his affection in the form of chaste caresses. 
The knowledge of the violence she had experienced in her marriage had always inhibited him and he had felt as if he would belittle her as soon as he was a little harsher on her although she had wished for it and had been annoyed, if he spared her too much. Six years of daily abuse had taken their toll on her and had dulled her sensibilities, so he'd sometimes had a couple of shots of booze before visiting her that he could at least shed his inhibitions for a while. But in the end, all his efforts had become worthless in a single evening exactly when Aron stood in the door. 
"Let's go back inside and sleep. It's late and we'll have to leave very early tomorrow," Yardleyu grunted pushing the gate open. "I don' yet know where our journey will take us but we'll find out.“ 
After Eadda finally climbed off her husband, they had laid side by side. While Ethan soon nodded off and was now sound asleep next to her, she stared thoughtfully at the ceiling. She held a finger of her left hand to the entrance of her sanctuary so that Ethan’s seed would remain inside and hopefully she would conceive a child. She wasn't tired and would have liked to get up, but she didn't dare yet for fear of ruining the chance of conceiving. When she thought of a possible impending childbirth her heart trembled with fear and yet at the same time her greatest wish was to be able to experience this miracle. She wanted to feel the changes in her body as her belly started to grow until she could no longer wear normal clothes and she wanted to know what it felt like when the unborn child started to move inside her. 
Ethan had been an adult for some time while she was almost a child herself and her body wasn't fully formed, so she wouldn't even consider herself a woman. This circumstance immensely increased the risk of her dying in childbirth and yet she wanted it more than anything else, she really longed to be able to hold her new born in her arms. So, she lay still patiently, holding the seed inside her, and thinking how wonderful it would be to have a family. 
Half an hour later she noticed that the liquid was starting to stick to her finger as it slowly dried up and she raised her hand to her face to look at the remains of the whitish-transparent pleasure juice. She was not unfamiliar with the sight of it but it amazed her that something so seemingly innocuous could actually create a new human being. 
"Avonia, grant me conception I beg ya," she whispered before closing her eyes and praying silently. 
She kept rubbing the semen between her fingertips until a few tiny globs of it fell onto her forehead and she blinked with a soft sigh. Ethan was still asleep and she looked at him, the long white-blonde hair shaved off one side of his head and the beard growing down his jawline. She was by no means aware that this face did not really belong to her husband, instead to Logan but she felt that she loved this face with all her heart. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 33 - Downfall

"You're smarter than you look, girl," the voice snarled amused. 
Dorcha frowned and hissed, "If ya want to tell me I seem stupid, it only takes a few words on my part to send yer soul back to the otherworld. I gave ya the dead body of a once powerful man, don' thank me with scorn and mockery but give me answers. I know who ya were while ya were alive, and if I don' get wot I want to know from ya, 
I'll just find a soul that's more docile and appreciates my service." 
She heard a sickening gnashing of teeth from the direction of the sarcophagus that held the corpse she had instilled with the spirit of Major Edward Orlo. 
Then the voice replied, "All right, I'll parry. But I don't know the exact answer to your question about Godwin Rakuven's bones. It is true that Roarke Kavanagh betrayed and killed him as he did kill me but we were somewhere in the open below Burnstone Keep when it happened. Just before I died, I saw a large tree by the wayside, this should be the most reliable clue as there are not many trees in Destrothos. Since I was only a minor servant of the king, they will have left my body there but what happened to Rakuven's remains I cannot say. They dragged him off his steed and threw him to the ground then Kavanagh came to him and cut his throat muttering words similar to those you use. I can’t say more than that because one of the Voynarian soldiers noticed that I was still alive and plunged his sword into my stomach. A few seconds later I was already dead.“ 
Dorcha smiled. "Yah've helped me more than you might think, and I than’ ya for that. But now sleep. I will call ya to yer final battle when the time comes.” 
"It's a signet ring with the Kavanagh family crest on my finger, isn't it? Who are you, girl?” Edward Orlo wanted to know sounding worried. 
Dorcha replied, "Ya will find out soon enough." 
She whispered, and the undead life drained from the corpse before standing and clearing her vision. She then made her way upstairs to speak with her familiar, whom she would send to Destrothos to find the presumably restless bones of Godwin Rakuven. 

The Ice Lands, Voy of the year 71 

Logan woke up at noon one of the following days to a knock on the door and got up from the sofa he had slept on with a groan. He didn't want to rest too far away from 
Meyja which is why he didn't prefer the bed and went upstairs to sleep. Apparently, Lyam and Amelia were still asleep because he was alone in the lower part of the house and dragged himself across the room to the front door which he unlocked and opened. The light reflected from the snow blinded him at first so he couldn't see who was standing in front of him but after a few blinks his eyes adjusted to the brightness and he realised that the one he had been waiting for had finally arrived. 
"Yardleyu, really nice to see ya. Come in." Logan stepped aside and called, "Amelia! 
Yardleyu is here!” 
"Thanks, Logan. It took quite a while to find ya guys, but I'm glad to be back, too”, 
Yary replied while entering and looking around briefly. "Oh... yes... This is Eralion Mason from Sharaya. A longer story..." 
Logan shook hands with the dark-haired man who was following the Shepherd. 
"Logan Hayes, pleased." 
Eralion returned the salute reluctantly. "Eralion Mason." 
There was a rumble as Amelia ran down the stairs and stood in front of her teacher in only her nightgown her cheeks flushed. 
"Yary... finally..." she breathed and hugged him effusively. "So much has happened since ya left and I needed your help more than ever. But that doesn't matter yah're here now.“ 
Yardleyu cleared his throat for Amelia to let him go and nodded to Lyam who joined them as well. "One at a time please. I owe ya an explanation for my visit to Sharaya. I had told Amelia that it was to clarify sumthin’ important to our cause and to Voynar, but I have to admit I was fibbing. In truth it only mattered to me because I was tryin’ to find my sister. But everythin’ indicates she has already returned here.” 
Logan gave Amelia and Lyam a quick embarrassed look before looking down at his feet. 
Yary noticed the look on his face and asked hopefully, "Wot's goin’ on? Have ya seen her? Is she here?" 
Amelia took a deep breath but the lump in her throat wouldn't let her speak, so she silently pointed toward the fireplace. 
Yardleyu went weak-kneed towards it and, heart pounding, stepped across the barrier to the side of the bed. Realising he had finally found his sister he sank to the ground and reached out to caress her cheek with his trembling fingers. Her entire head was burning with fever and on an unconscious impulse he lifted one of her eyelids before leaning forward to smell her breath. It took his mind just a split second to put all the information together. 
Everything suddenly felt dull and he didn't even realise he was crying when he looked at the others. "How?" he asked in a hoarse voice. 
"We don' know for sure although we have a few theories. Only one of ‘em makes sense though we can’t quite work out how it might have happened," Lyam murmured. 
Eralion who had been very reserved now also slowly walked over to the bed and took a quick look at Meyja before he hastily turned away and covered his mouth with one hand. 
Logan noticed his behaviour and was surprised that the stranger seemed to know her but the conversation distracted him from that. 
"Let's go outside and gab ‘bout everythin’. It's no’ safe to converse in front of her due to her condition but I don't have to tell ya that, Yary,” Amelia suggested calmly. 
The shepherd waved her off indignantly, wiped his eyes, and remarked, "Wot nonsense. Wax will suffice.” 
There were a few candles on the mantelpiece and he used his fingernails to break out two small chunks, kneading them until they were pliable. Then he sat down on the edge of the bed, carefully put the wax in Meyja's ears and prevented her from hearing what was being said. He stroked her cheek again before pointing to the table where everyone took a seat including Eralion with a stony expression. He noticed the suspicious look Logan gave him. 
"The theories please," Yary began. 
Logan interrupted him. "One moment. Can we really trust him?” He pointed a finger at the dark-haired man sitting across from him. 
"Ya think I would have brought him if we couldn', huh?" Yardleyu growled indignantly. "And now I want to know exactly when Eadda appeared with ya and wot the hauntin’ has been like so far. We have to find out who is responsible for this or she will die.” 
Logan mute at the Soul Shepherd's harsh response continued to ask, "Eadda? 
Is that her name?” 
"She wus born Eadda Abigail Blake, wus named Eadda Walsh after marryin’ that bastard, and I guess she calls herself Meyja Blake now. If ya have any questions, Logan, then keep them to yerself for a while ‘cause I finally want to know how my sister is doin’!” Yary snapped at him. 
Amelia began hurrying to report so the disagreement wouldn't escalate. "Well... I think it wus Yra when she wus sneakin’ around the estate in Waldskorn one evenin’ and after we spotted her and apprehended her, she pretended to be lookin’ for sumthin’ to eat and a place to stay. At first, I thought she was a Kavanagh spy but she protested her innocence and wanted to leave. It was too dangerous for us to just let her go so we kind of forced her to join us. Logan kept an eye on her at first as we had previously agreed but since she apparently wusn' seein’ anyone she soon enjoyed our trust. Even if we trusted her, she became increasingly suspicious of us, sought out arguments and wars of words.” 
“One evenin’, Kavanagh suddenly appeared in Waldskorn and it turned out that Meyja and he knew each other. But no’ only that – she had also saved his life while she wus in Sharaya. Shortly thereafter she suffered a kind of collapse, threw the liquor bottles against the wall in her house, and subsequently passed out. Logan brought Lyam and me in but we still assumed it wus due to trauma she had suffered from her marriage and the loss of her fiancé. A day or two later we decided to move here due to an incident involvin’ sum undead who had exposed our position in Waldskorn and were killed by Meyja. I had left with Adam but Lyam and Logan stayed behind with Meyja after there wus an incident in the barn that one of them had better tell ‘bout since I wusn' there." Amelia closed her speech looking at Logan. 
Logan nodded and continued, "Meyja thought we Virtheriā would travel in our inhuman form and she would have to ride alone with Adam to which she reacted unduly angry. She left me and stormed into the stable but I followed her and by the time I reached her, her eyes had rolled back until I could only see the whites of her eyeballs. Wot she accused me of then didn' seem to come from her, the choice of her words indicated that she hadn' chosen them herself and when I disagreed this thin’ expressed themselves in her for the first time. She said sumthin’ ‘bout Meyja bein’ theirs and I should keep my hands off her or they would make Meyja kill me in my sleep. When I asked who was speakin’, she started laughing and it sounded so horrible that just thinkin’ ‘bout it made my hair stand on end. Then she suddenly fell forward and landed sprawled on the ground, but I couldn' catch her because I was… like… petrified.” 
“I then disarmed her and turned her onto her back to look at her eyes which by this point were no longer blue but already black. She woke up and couldn't remember wot happened but she seemed worried for me and I had to yell at her to stay where she wus before I went to get Lyam. We decided to have a chat with her to find out wot wus wron’ with her but she acted very dismissive and stubborn, took her weapons, and announced that we would probably part ways at that point then followed suit outside. Lyam said exactly wot I thought that we had to stop her because she wus a danger to herself and others. I tried to be reasonable at first but to no avail as she rolled her eyes again and threatened me. When we tried to overpower her, she fought back fiercely and a fight ensued, stabbin’ Lyam and me with her daggers until we could put a sleeping potion in her. I'm still sure she would have killed both of us, too, if we'd given her the chance but we escaped with minor injuries and set out to follow Amelia and Adam.“ 
"Then there wus an incident with Kavanagh who suddenly showed up and demanded that we release Meyja but Logan and Lyam were clever enough to leave her in a hidden place before they caught up with us. Eventually, Kavanagh took off again but he threatened to get his hands on Meyja anyway," Amelia added. "Our theory is that he has sumthin’ to do with the hauntin’ although we don' have the faintest idea how he did it since he's not a Shepherd himself. I also don' think he really has an interest in her death but rather in her joinin’ him. After all, she's the only one in our ranks who wusn' affected by the curse. Except for Adam but he's no’ a Voynarian either." 
"No, Cayden Kavanagh is no’ and canno’ have been all of this but the first Soul Shepherds were from his family," Yary replied. 
"I know that. I have a book ‘bout hauntin’ that I read ‘bout this," Amelia noted. 
Yary scowled. "But based on yer report I know who is responsible." 
"And who?" Logan wanted to know. 
"Dorcha," Yardleyu murmured. 
He was well acquainted with the woman who was far more powerful than himself and whom fortunately he had met only once before. She frightened even him, exuding the blackness and oppressive emptiness of the otherworld made anyone in their right mind scramble to face the end as soon as Dorcha appeared. 
Amelia didn't understand. "Who is Dorcha?" 
Yary gave a mirthless laugh and replied, "The only one I can niver beat and niver really wanted to. She's the downfall, Amelia. It may sound unbelievable but as soon as ya see her, ya think yah’re goin’ to die. I realise that some people become uncomfortable in my presence but Dorcha's aura leads ya to believe that ya are faced with death personified. She is Cayden Kavanagh's younger sister.“ 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 34 - Friends

Eadda removed her cloak and went upstairs to her sewing room where the maid had already laid down the fabric for the new dress she was thinking of making. Realising that she never seemed to get tired, she had found a job and decided to become a tailor, so she had spent the past few nights making the patterns and adapting them to her small stature. The property was larger than it was in reality with Ethan’s room having another one for her upstairs, a dressing room stuffed to the brim with her rich robes, and a washroom with a bathtub. In the basement in addition to the kitchen and the extraordinarily magnificent salon there was also a pantry, a room where the maid washed the dirty laundry and the room where the servant lived. In the basement there were barrels with wine and on the wall, there were shelves where perishable foodstuffs were stored.
Eadda's fingers stroked the dark green, soft fabric and a smile crossed her face. She hadn't expected to find anything at the market but now she couldn't wait to get down to the sewing machine and finish the robe to surprise Ethan in when he got home. He was on duty until evening and she now had time to attend to the dress, the maid she had asked to prepare supper for them to eat in the salon. Eagerly Eadda spread the fabric out on the table and cut out the individual pieces which she pinned together and skilfully sew them with the machine.
A few hours later, she was able to admire the robe on her tailor's dummy, and more than satisfied with her work she decided to take a bath before Ethan returned home. Since the maid was already busy with the supper, Eadda went to fetch water from the well herself and warmed it over the fireplace, but she gladly accepted the help of the servant who carried part of the buckets. She sent her immediately back to the kitchen so that nothing burned.
She lolled in the warm water for about half an hour before towelling off, combing her hair, and rubbing her body with a scented oil. Dressed only in her finest black silk underwear she finally went back into the sewing room and took the robe from the doll which she slipped on. The fabric felt very comfortable against her skin and when she looked into the large full-length mirror that stood in the corner, she realised that the dress fitted her body perfectly, and the cut even showed off her assets which made her quiet elicited joyful cheers. Then she went downstairs, checked on the supper which was already smelling wonderful, and then sat down on the sofa in the parlour where she waited with an embroidery work on her lap for her husband to finally arrive.
Not long after she heard loud voices outside and she rushed to the window watching Ethan and three other men approach the building.
'Damned…', she thought.
She hadn't expected him to bring visitors as it had never happened before but now it was polite to invite the guests to dinner as well. So, she told the maid that she had to prepare something else as soon as possible so that it would be enough for the three grown men who just came in the front door noisily and laughing. 
When she stepped out of the kitchen into the hallway to greet her husband and his comrades they stopped and stared at her in astonishment. 
"Good evenin’, gentlemen. I'm Eadda, Ethan’s wife,” she greeted, cheeks flushed with nervousness. "Welcome to our humble abode." 
"Ya didn' lie, Walsh. All respect,” one of the guys remarked slurring. 
Eadda realised that all four men and her husband were already heavily intoxicated and now she didn't know how to act. It was not proper to have drunk when visiting someone and thus the teacher who had socially prepared the young woman for marriage before had never mentioned what to do, if someone did not obey this rule. So, she secretly decided to just pretend the men were completely sober because she felt it was right not to offend her guests but to be a good hostess. 
Ethan gave a rapturous grin and replied, "Why should I have lied... Please go ahead to the drawing room, we'll be right behind ya." 
Just as he was about to push Eadda through the kitchen door, one of the guys remarked, "But don' forget ya promised us sumthin’ to drink, Walsh." 
"Niver. Just give me a few minutes,” Ethan replied whispering to his wife. "Hurry up, in there!" 
With a low exasperated groan, he followed her, closing the door behind him, and leaning against it before looking around the kitchen. 
She saw the guilty conscience in his eyes. "Yes, I wus plannin’ a nice evenin’ for both of us until you showed up here with a bunch of drunkards. But that's no’ too bad, we'll just make up for it. Just tell me they like to eat fried chicken and boiled potatoes.” 
"Eadda, yer greatest concern should no’ be that yah’re providin’ for these idiots as one would finance a noble guest. They are simple men, the sons of random peasants and blacksmiths, and they don' know the customs of our kind anyway. But that's exactly why we have to be careful because they are known to go over the top." 
"Why do ya brin’ sumone like that into our home? Are they yer friends?” she asked. 
"Friends?" Ethan repeated with a short laugh. “No, I certainly wouldn' call them my friends. I thought they might be when they invited me for a drink after work. But afterward, they wanted to move on and find sum easy girls which I politely declined. Then we sumhow got to talkin’ ‘bout ya and they demanded that I describe ya. I only said ya are so beautiful that I have no interest in any whores, so they wanted to see ya, and they wouldn’ stop followin’ me here. I'm so sorry, Eadda…“ 
She waved it off generously. "It's nothin’. They can stay for dinner, if they want and then I'll pretend to have a headache to make ‘em leave." 
"No, no food, that would take too lon’. I'll get a bottle of liquor from downstairs and when they finish, I'll throw ‘em out, I promise,” Ethan whispered urgently. 
After Eadda nodded, he turned, and disappeared behind the door to the basement while she informed the maid that the guests would not be staying for dinner and that she could stop working on it. As Ethan returned with a bottle of ghost wine, they walked over to the parlour together where the drink was greeted with a hoot. 
Eadda stood a little unsteadily next to the men who were seated on the sofa, feet up on the table in front of them, then she started to turn to get a chair from the dining table when one of the guys grabbed her arm laughing and pulled her onto his lap. 
"Where ya goin’, honey?" he whispered and she could smell the alcohol on his breath. 
"Let her go, Padraig. Here's your liquor," Ethan remarked and dropped into the empty chair, putting the bottle noisily on the table. 
Padraig laughed again but he let go of Eadda, albeit not before stroking her bum which she simply left uncommented since there would have been no point in scolding a drunk anyway. 
One of the other strangers, apparently not yet as dazed as Padraig, addressed Eadda. "Please forgive me, ma'am. We've already had a little drink and Paddy here doesn' take quite as much alcohol as Odhran, Ethan and I do. My name is Cathasaigh and I appreciate yer hospitality.” 
"Don' call me Paddy, ya idiot! And besides, I'm no’ the only one here who's already misbehaved.” Padraig retorted and all four men roared with laughter. 
Eadda looked a little startled at her husband and he confirmed still giggling, "He really did. But to his credit, the general ain’ a particularly nice person. His face as he stepped into his boots the next mornin’ wus priceless. He turned crimson and yelled through the entire barracks that he would cut off that person's head himself, if it wus found out who it wus.“ 
"He still didn' find out it wus me," Cathasaigh remarked with a grin. 
Odhran added, "Because none can stand him. So, ya can consider yer situation safe.” 
Still standing around Eadda went to get the chair as she had planned while Ethan placed glasses on the table and poured liquor into them. 
When she was finally able to sit down, she found one for herself and protested, 
"Please, gentlemen, don' be angry with me if I don' drink." 
"That's out of the question," Padraig grumbled and pushed the glass into her hand. 
"Okay, but only one think. I don' feel very well and I'll go to bed afterwards," she murmured resignedly and raised her drink. 
"On Heaney's pissed boots," Cathasaigh intoned laughing and they clinked glasses, Eadda now having to smile as well. 
"Yer wife seems to have a sense of humour I assume, Ethan," whispered Odhran grinning. 
"She's perfect like I said before," Ethan replied with a loving smile directed at her. 
Eadda winked at him and sipped at her glass before replying, "And yet I have to scold ya, love, ‘cause ya niver told me ‘bout the pissed boots." 
"It's no’ even the funniest story. General Heaney is the target of pranks all the time but he just doesn' seem to understand it has sumthin’ to do with the way he treats the soldiers," Padraig noted. 
"Are ya soldiers, too?" Eadda asked. 
"We're no’ soldiers, ma'am, we're officers. Even though Ethan and I are majors, and Odhran and Padraig are still lieutenants,” Cathasaigh explained. 
"It's only a matter of time," Ethan said. "Even though I know for a fact that Heaney wouldn' be spared should ya two get promoted." 
"Oh, one day we will be also generals and get pissed in our boots." Odhran waved him off indifferently and Padraig nodded giggling. 
Eadda smiled. "Then ya have to tell me sum of these funny stories please. Has 
Ethan already done sumthin’?” 
“Oh yes, he certainly has.” Cathasaigh drained his glass before reporting, “He put nails between the saddle and the blanket that Heaney's horse is saddled with before the regiment marches off, a little while ago. The squire who always does this didn' notice and led the horse to Heaney who wus already standin’ in front of four companies rantin’. When he climbed into the saddle and the nails went into the animal's back, he flew in a high arc into the mud. He tried it three times and kept getting’ thrown off while ‘bout a thousand soldiers stood in front of him strugglin’ no' to get wet laughin’.” 
"Ya did it? I walked around with wet pants the rest of the day,” Odhran admitted with a grin. 
The men spent two hours recounting various pranks to which General Heaney had fallen victim and Ethan fetched bottle after bottle of ghost wine from the cellar. Although Eadda only drank a glass of each, she soon felt very cocky and laughed boisterously at her guests' jokes but then Ethan gave her a very definite look and she stood up. 
"Well then, gentlemen. It wus a very fun evenin’ but yah'll have to excuse me ‘cause I'm tired and I'd like to go to bed," she opened. 
Cathasaigh protested drunkenly, "No ma'am. Stay a little longer. We really do enjoy yer company.” 
"Then maybe we'll have to repeat that at some point but I've had enough for today, forgive me," she smashed off his reply. 
She then wished everyone a pleasant evening and went upstairs to the bedroom where she stripped down to her underwear and put on her nightgown before laying on the bed and closing her eyes. 
She was almost asleep when her calm was shattered by a cry of pain that sounded like her husband's and she jumped out of bed in alarm, left the room, and ran down the stairs into the parlour where she stood breathless. 
Ethan was laying on the floor in front of the fireplace and staggered to his feet when he noticed his wife. "Eadda, please forgive me, if I woke ya up. I wus just kiddin’, I'm fine”, he apologised in a slur and stumbled towards her. 
His breath was now also acrid and she asked, "Ethan, it's really late, don' ya think so? Why don' ya come upstairs and let our guests head off so they can sleep off their intoxication, too, okay?” 
Cathasaigh got up and also walked towards her, his eyes on her skimpy nightgown. "I don' think it's very late, Eadda. The night is still youn’ and we've only just started to really have fun..." 
Ethan sensed the threat before Eadda felt a whiff of it, sobered up in an instant, and stood protectively in front of her. “Keep yer hands off her, Cathasaigh. I warn ya." 
"Wot's mine is yers, too. Remember that beautiful sayin’, Walsh?” Cathasaigh purred grinning. 
Ethan shook his head vigorously and replied, "That doesn' apply to wives. She's the most important thin’ I have and yah're no’ goin’ to hurt her, ya get that?" 
Cathasaigh's gaze locked on him for a moment then he quickly swung his fist back and punched Ethan so hard in the face that he fell to the ground and lay motionless. 
"The buffet is open..." he murmured, grabbing Eadda's wrist to pull her towards him while the other two also got up and came over. 
"Ethan, no! Wot have ya done?!” Eadda cried out in terror and tried to tear herself away to check on Ethan while not worrying about herself at the moment. 
Padraig remarked, "He will survive. Maybe… but now to ya, beauty. How ya like it?" 
Now she knew where this was going and she hissed, "No’ with ya but with my husband. Alone. In our double bed in the bedroom. Get out of here or ya will be held accountable.” 
"Okay, then in the marriage bed..." Odhran grinned and grabbed her feet while Cathasaigh grabbed her upper body and she was lifted. 
She struggled, kicking, and screaming, calling for Ethan, but he was still unconscious as the men dragged her out of the drawing room and up the stairs. 
Padraig opened the first door on the right and announced, "This ain’ a bedroom but I have an idea..." 
They carried her to Ethan’s room and Padraig pointed to a large hook attached to a beam in the ceiling. The moment the other two looked up as well Eadda wrestled her ankle out of Odhran’s hand with strength overcome by adrenaline and fear and kicked him sideways in the head. 
He immediately let go of her, groaned, and grabbed his temple before looking back at her and whispering with a menacing grin, "I love it when they’re so stubborn..." 
Then he stepped up to her and gave her a slap that would have sent her into the realm of dreams, if she wasn't already dreaming, but the force only gave her a ringing in her ears that she couldn't hear anything else. 
When Eadda came to her senses, she was completely naked, her hands bound and fixed in the hook, forcing her to stand on tiptoe on a stool in the centre of the room. The guys had a noose around her neck, the end of which was tied around the beam which would no doubt strangle her, if she got her hands free and jumped off the stool. Cathasaigh was the only one of the guys not in the room but Padraig and Odhran sat opposite her in two chairs, staring at her in quiet delight. 
She knew instinctively what they were going to do to her and swallowed a few times but her fear for her husband was far greater than she could ever have been for anything these guys might do to her. 
"Wot are ya goin’ to do? Where's Cathasaigh?” she asked quietly. 
A few seconds later, she heard the maid scream from downstairs but her scream stopped abruptly and Eadda began to cry. 
"Please... let Ethan live... He's your friend..." she begged. 
"He used to be but he just greeted his ancestors," Cathasaigh remarked flatly as he came back and closed the door behind him. 
"No... That's no’ true..." Eadda wailed desperately. 
Cathasaigh smirked and walked towards her and took her face in his bloody hands. "Is that enough for ya or do I have to go get his head, love?" 
"Ya swine... Ya filthy swine... Why are ya doin’ this? Ain’ all the easy girls in Voynar enough for ya? Why me? And why did Ethan have to die just ‘cause of that?” Eadda sobbed. 
"’Cause it's fun," Cathasaigh replied happily and his two accomplices nodded affirmatively. 
Padraig stood up leaving Cathasaigh in his seat before walking around Eadda a couple of times and stopping behind her. 
She could hear him fumbling with his clothes but didn't hear him pull out his belt. The next moment he slammed the leather across her ass and a searing pain ran through her body causing her to whimper in agony and the other two to grin. 
Padraig continued to torment the helpless woman with beatings for a while whilst Cathasaigh rolled cigarettes and began to smoke relaxedly with Odhran. 
"Come on, Paddy. I'll be soberin’ up already,” Cathasaigh muttered. 
"If ya don't like it, ya start," Padraig replied annoyed. 
Cathasaigh smirked. "Ya know exactly why it's my turn last. I'm going to get sum liquor. At least the Walsh couple won' be drinkin’ anymore.” He laughed and left the room. 
"Give me also a cigarette, Od," Padraig murmured sitting down in the armchair. 
"Then ya can continue for now. She's no’ beggin’ me enough..." 
"Ya fucking sadists can’t get a boner as long as the women don' scream like crazy," Odhran remarked with a laugh but he got up and slowly walked toward Eadda. 
He stubbed out his cigarette butt on her upper arm causing her to squirm and try to avoid him but it was useless so she kicked his crotch with a foot but he turned away quickly enough. 
"Did ya see that? The little bitch wanted my crown jewels,” he exclaimed in disbelief. "She can have that..." 
He undid his pants and slid them down over his bottom before grabbing Eadda's ankles again and placing her lower legs on his shoulders then he thrust into her viciously with his hard core and took the crying young woman until she screamed. 
Cathasaigh returned just as Odhran had discharged himself and remarked dryly, 
"That wus quick today." 
Odhran turned to face him, breathing heavily. "She's just damn tight." 
"I see... Holy shit, Od. Ya fucked her bloody,” Padraig remarked with a laugh and slapped his knee. 
Eadda hung limp in her handcuffs looking down at the floor she could also see the blood running down the inside of her thighs and at that moment she lost all courage to face life. They had already done horrible things to her and seemed far from finished with her, so she pulled herself together and did a little hop while unhooking her bonds and falling forward off the stool. The noose around her neck kept her from falling but it cut off all airflow at the same time and Eadda kicked her feet rattling only inches above the wooden floorboards. Only when it was already getting dark before her eyes did she feel strong arms that lifted her up and placed her back on the stool, her hands were clasped over her head again, and she looked coughing violently into the disgustingly grinning visage of Cathasaigh. 
"Ya may die if we allow ya, Eadda. But we still need ya here a little longer”, he whispered angrily and blew the stinking cigarette smoke in her face. Then he turned to Padraig and whispered, "Hurry up a little, she won' last much longer and I also want to have my fun with her." 
Padraig nodded and got up to allow Cathasaigh to sit in his chair before stepping around Eadda unzipping his pants and entering her. Moaning, as he thrust into her, he repeatedly slapped her head and butt hard making her cry and whimper insanely in pain. Cathasaigh, realising that her pain wasn't enough for his companion, got up and slapped Eadda repeatedly until the skin on her cheeks burned red and she cried out with each additional smack. When Padraig was almost done, he nodded to Cathasaigh and Cathasaigh removed the noose from around her neck before unhooking the bonds and letting the young woman fall to the ground. She hit the wooden floorboards painfully and curled up protectively on her side. 
"Then let's brin’ this to an end," Cathasaigh whispered bending down to whisper directly into her ear. "It was a great pleasure to have made yer acquaintance, Eadda. 
But yah'll soon know why they call me the guy who always attacks from behind." 
He pulled her onto all fours and Padraig knelt in front of her which instinctively made her jaw clench as hard as she could, wide-eyed as she looked up at her tormentor who was holding her neck with one hand so she couldn’t dodge him. Then he pinched her nose with two fingers and she realised he was trying to trigger the reflex that made her open her mouth and gasp. Tears ran down her bruised cheeks and he could read the fear in her eyes as her reserves were almost exhausted. Still, she persevered, already seeing lights dancing in front of her eyes when she heard Cathasaigh undo his pants the belt rattling tell-tale then she felt a finger at her back entrance shoving brutally into her gut and she just gave up. She opened her mouth had just taken a breath to scream when Padraig thrust down her throat making her choke again thinking she was going to choke miserably. He held her head and kept thrusting deeply until she suddenly vomited the contents of her stomach most of which spilled out of her nose due to the blockage in her gullet. But Padraig didn't even notice, instead nodding to Cathasaigh again and Cathasaigh then drilled his hard centre into her bottom, moaning at the choking spasms he could feel running through her body. 
A few seconds that felt like hours to Eadda in the unspeakable pain Cathasaigh was causing her, Padraig finally came as well and fell backwards panting heavily. Eadda was still gagging, vomiting between the screams that rose from her battered throat. The agony was worse than anything she had ever felt and she roared face pressed into her vomit until finally Cathasaigh finished with her as well and pulled out of her bleeding bottom. 
"Ya were right. The little one is tighter than everyone else so far,” Cathasaigh remarked with a groan and fell back in the chair. "It's a shame she has to die now. 
Hang her.” 
Padraig and Odhran grabbed Eadda's arms and placed her back on the stool where the former held her so Odhran could put the noose around her neck again then he kicked the small stool out from under her feet and she hung squirming like a fish. It was getting darker and darker around her, only the faces of her tormentors were in her field of vision and they watched as her body twitched weaker and weaker and her gaze finally broke. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 35 - Discord

A breathless Dorcha Kavanagh slid off her brother and lay down beside him. They knew that some would find it rudely wrong for the two of them to have sex as siblings but they didn't care because they genuinely loved each other—or so they thought.
"I needed that... It wus just way too lon’ ago," she breathed smiling happily.
Cayden nodded. "Yah're right. But I must admit that I could no’ have given myself to ya, if I had no’ known that ya took care of Meyja. But I'm proud of ya, Dorcha.
Yah’re more powerful than father ever wus.”
"Ya can’t judge that, Cayden," she remarked laughing. "Maybe yah're right with that statement, maybe no’. I think that remains to be seen.”
He couldn't gauge her subtle smile nor the true meaning of her words but he wasn't willing to ask and admit his ignorance. Whenever she got the chance, she made fun of him and he didn't want to be a target for her.
So, he asked, "Tell me what you did. To Meyja I mean..."
"Remember the three soldiers who raped me when I wus a girl? Padraig, Odhran and Cathasaigh?” Dorcha's face darkened visibly and the room became freezing despite the warm fireplace.
"Of course, I remember," Cayden murmured pulling the covers over his shivering body.
Dorcha continued, "She wus daydreamin’ ‘bout how her marriage would have been, if her husband hadn' been a pig and I could almost taste that stingin’ happiness on the tip of my tongue. I made sure that Ethan appeared and molested her once she was in the house they lived in, but this time he would have been her anchor. So, I had the three soldiers appear who killed her husband and then did to her wot they did to me back then. Only they hanged their victim in the end which should now finally eliminate Eadda. One does no’ easily recover from such a dream. Although it wus truly just a dream.”
"Understandable," Cayden breathed, exhaling a small cloud of steam.
He was almost a child himself when he entered the barn on the day that was to change everything and noticed the three men drunkenly laughing and goading each other. A soft crying alarmed him and he hid but he could clearly see that it was his sister who was being assaulted by his father's bodyguards. Dorcha had lain naked on the straw and sobbed until the guys ran off and left her behind which in retrospect had been an even bigger mistake than raping the king's daughter in the first place. Cayden then went to her, helped her up, and handed her the robe before swearing revenge on them. This revenge befell the three men in the weeks that followed when Dorcha – with her brother's help – snuck into their tents and slashed them open.
The tormentors had never known who their victim had been. That they had raped the princess of Voynar. But to this day her anger still aided Dorcha to do the horrible things she did with inhuman brutality and by them Cayden usually preferred to know as little as possible. But now it was about Meyja and since he felt sincere affection for her, he simply had to ask what his sister had done to her. That Dorcha could do this to another woman still shocked him. Especially since she herself had obviously never gotten over what had happened to her back then.
"Ya knew about it, didn' ya?" he whispered flatly.
Dorcha nodded with a meaningless smile. "Ya are mine, Cayden. Whenever a whore like her tries to get between the two of us, I'll kill her in the most merciless way I can think of. And I really enjoyed feelin’ her little heart break in my grip.”
Cayden just stayed silent saddened by the loss that was ultimately his own fault. Now he had probably tried once too often to turn to someone else and again it had been Dorcha who had killed her supposed rival. He would never find a woman he could truly love because his sister would always be there and would kill his chosen one.
Cayden wasn't aware that Meyja had never felt the way he did and Dorcha hadn't told him anything about Logan either, although she could very well have interpreted Meyja's feelings. And she could even understand it because Logan Hayes was a very attractive well-built man though a beast lurked inside him. Unlike her brother Dorcha did not despise the Virtheriā but harboured a certain fascination with those afflicted by the curse although she had never admitted it to Cayden for his hatred was directed toward each of them.
She even envied Meyja that Logan had already slept with her because she had almost been there, even if she had held back with all her might not to grab the body of the victim but only to watch. He would undoubtedly have noticed if his beloved had suddenly moved differently and would have become suspicious far too soon. So Dorcha had only observed, sitting in the crypt with one hand under the skirt of her dress, and Meyja's overwhelming feelings in her heart which had also made her afterwards to spare this woman for so long.
The Shepherd had no pity, not remotely, but something had kept her from harming Meyja for a long time even though Cayden's unrequited interest had turned to her. In addition, she could feel the inner strength of the other woman who had pushed her remarkably and who had the suspicion that Meyja would have played an important role but now it would probably be too late for her.
Amelia paled as she repeated Yardleyu's words. "Kavanagh's sister?"
"I didn' know he had any livin’ relatives," Lyam remarked shaken.
Yary nodded. “Hardly anyone knows ‘bout Dorcha. Or of her incredible power.”
"So, wot ya goin’ to do now?" Amelia wanted to know. "I mean... I'm very sorry that Meyja... or Eadda... is in such a situation but she poses a significant risk to us. After all, she has already tried to kill two of us. Aside from all the information she could have passed on to Kavanagh.”
"Believe me. If it really wus Dorcha who did this to her, they already know everythin’ that Eadda overheard. Dorcha Kavanagh ain’ just some bungler, so I'm absolutely certain she had access to my sister's mind at all times. After all, ya reported that she wus able to control her body then a secret eavesdroppin’ attack is no’ only plausible but even very probable. And my sister's chances are so slim that I... I..." Yardleyu covered his mouth with his fingers, and looked down, not wanting everyone to see that he had started crying again.
"Yah're no’ just goin’ to give her up, are ya? Or, Yardleyu?!” Logan snapped and rose from his chair.
He could hardly believe that the brother of the woman he loved could say something like that while they had been so worried about him getting there in time. Now fear filled his thoughts, fear that Yardleyu couldn't do anything and fear that he would finally lose Meyja and tears came involuntarily to him, too.
Logan and Yary looked at each other with wet eyes then the Shepherd of Souls shook his head gently and answered in a hoarse voice, "I would niver just give up on her. Even though I'm now wonderin’ why ya seem so interested in this.“
Logan placed his palms on the tabletop his jaw quivering as he replied, "Because I love yer sister... I will fight for her... And if it means I have to march into Kavanagh's estate and kill that Dorcha with my own hands..."
Yardleyu's face lit a tiny smile. "I'm glad to hear that, Logan. But nobody kills
Dorcha Kavanagh. No mortal could do that.”
"Why no’?" Lyam asked. "Ain’ she a mortal as well?"
"No’ in the traditional sense, no. At least I assume that she has now reached that state which lies sumwhere between life and undeath. Attackin’ her is borderin’ on insane and Logan would probably die before he could even raise his weapon against her. Dorcha must have built sum kind of shield around herself that shields her from simple attacks, I read about that at one point. The first really powerful Shepherds were able to do this by bindin’ the souls of the Dyphuom to themselves in a special way. It would therefore be obvious that Dorcha can do the same,” explained Yary.
“How come ya niver said anything ‘bout Kavanagh havin’ death on his side? If all of that is true, we don't stand a chance against him.” Amelia made a face in resignation. "’Cause Dorcha ain’t invincible, though. I had no idea she wus still alive. She could have been killed durin’ the Virtheriā invasion,” Yardleyu retorted. “An untamed Virtherion has an almost limitless magical potential that reduces even the power of a shepherd like us to a minimal level. Had she been attacked she would have had to fight just as I had to fight.”
"But couldn' she have just driven away the Virtheriā like ya did?" Logan remarked confused.
Yary looked even more sombre than before. "It was the fight of my life. Why ya think I couldn't save my brother? Why wus I bitten? Because even my might wusn' enough to simply kill the two beasts. If they had only been human, they would no’ have stood a chance against me. I was twenty-four at the time, knew every book on soulbindin’ and the otherworld that I know of today, and haven' gained very much more power since. So, ya can probably imagine wot it's like to have to use magic against a Virtherion ‘cause ya don' have any other weapons at your disposal. The only thin’ left for me wus to chase them away.”
Logan nodded in embarrassment and Amelia asked puzzled, "Why haven' ya gained more power since then? Why is that?”
Her tutor's face turned icy as he replied, "Because any further advancement would have brought me too close to where I believe Dorcha is. I'm no’ a bad man, Amelia, so I don’ plan to sacrifice my own soul for more power. But that turned out to be a mistake in hindsight otherwise I could easily save my sister's life now.“
"Nevertheless, this wusn' meant to be a lesson, Yardleyu," Lyam objected looking gravely at the Soul Shepherd. "Tell us wot ya intend to do now and we will help ya with it. If we're unsuccessful at least we haven' been sittin’ around wastin’ time.”
"It's no’ just ‘bout wot I'm up to. I want ya to know everythin’ ‘cause, if I try to save Eadda I could possibly get killed and then you have to know everythin’ I know in order no’ to fall victim to the Kavanaghs as well,” Yary replied sharply. Stunned faces stared at him and he looked around calmly hunched his shoulders and whispered, "Wot would ya do? She's my sister and I love her more than anyone else in this damn world. I would die for her without hesitation.”
Tears welled up in Logan’s eyes again and he mumbled a quiet apology before getting up with a quick look at Meyja and hurrying out of the building. It was dark when he stepped outside and they must have been talking all day without realising it. Scraps of conversation echoed repeatedly in his head and he decided to walk a little to calm himself.
Yardleyu had said that he would without a doubt give his life for his sister and Logan would do the same but unlike the Shepherd's death his own would be in vain because he could never save Meyja with it. And yet, it was she who had given his existence value in the first place and he was aware that he could no longer protect her, if he sacrificed himself for her. At the same time, however, he would also incur her anger, if her beloved brother died in her place and Logan hadn't stopped him.
The whole situation overwhelmed him more and more and on top of that he could hardly sleep let alone eat anything as long as Meyja was in this almost hopeless condition.
He rounded the corner of the barn and in a blind rage of desperation kicked the thick planks of wood that made up the building, one of which splintered and broke. Then he put his forearms against the floorboards his forehead between them and began to sob uncontrollably as he sank to his knees along the facade.
"Logan?" came a soft voice from the direction he had just been heading.
He jumped and stopped immediately but he couldn't stop the beast inside him anymore with a wild growl it wrenched itself from his control and broke free from his grasp. The next moment he saw Eralion's eyes widen in shock as he pinned the man against the wall of the barn, one paw at his throat.
'Crap…', he thought.
Logan barked, "Ya idiot! Wot ya think yah’re doin’?!” He immediately let go of the frightened guy and transformed back. 
Eralion was taken completely by surprise by the snow-white Virtherion's attack and only opened and closed his mouth a few times. 
"Don' ever scare me like that again, if ya value yer life. I almost ripped yer head off”, Logan remarked before he turned away and picked up the rags of his clothes from the floor. 
"That wasn't my intention, sorry," Eralion apologised sheepishly. 
"It's a’ight." Logan waved him off harshly. "When did ya even go outside?" 
"It's been quite a while. I don't think anyone noticed but I just couldn't take it in there anymore. It's probably the same for both of us," the assassin answered quietly. 
"By the way I'm sorry about your clothes, too." 
Logan now completely naked shook his head. "It happens every once in a while, especially when we're transformin’ like that without plannin’." 
He gave his counterpart a long look before he saw movement behind Eralion and a familiar wolf form appeared from between the trees. 
"Chloe..." Logan breathed and walked towards his sister who transformed behind a still very confused Eralion and came towards him. "Nice that yah're finally here." 
"Nice to see ya, too, Logan," Chloe replied hugging her little brother tightly. "I thought ya were in Waldskorn? Wot happened?" 
Eralion hastily looked away after seeing that the woman was also unclothed. 
“There wus an incident with the undead and with Kavanagh that made us come here. No’ to mention sum other even more unpleasant occurrences,” Logan replied quietly and stepped away from her. 
Chloe's ice blue eyes studied Eralion's back. "That's no’ Adam..." 
"No, that's another one from the south. From Sharaya. But I just forgot his name,” Logan replied. 
"Well, we'll definitely get to know each other. Where are the others?” Chloe wanted to know. 
"Over there, in the mansion," Logan replied and pointed to the building where Meyja was, too. "Drystan is also here. Just like Cyan, Brennan, and Nyall. But I don' know where the four of them are at the moment." 
"I'll find ‘em. Ya comin’ with me?” she asked further. 
"No, I think I still have sumthin’ to gab ‘bout here," Logan remarked quietly with a sideways glance at Eralion who then gave him a knowing look and nodded. 
"A’ight, don' take too much time, okay? After all, I want to know everythin’ that's goin’ on here," she called over her shoulder as she walked away. 
Logan didn't answer her as he just pushed open the barn door. "After ya.“ 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 36 - Peace

Eralion stepped into the barn and only glanced around for a moment before turning to Logan who had followed him and was now closing the gate. The horses kept in the stalls still looked a little nervous but they quickly calmed down when there was no immediate danger.
"Well, frankly, I still wonder why Yardleyu brought ya from the south. So far, he hasn' given us an explanation”, Logan began seriously.
He was still bare-chested, but he didn't seem ashamed of his exposed body either as he took a few steps towards Eralion and folded his arms.
“At the risk of repeating myself. My name is Eralion Mason and she probably just never mentioned it,” Eralion replied quietly.
“By she you mean Meyja… And no, she didn'. I have already heard from a certain Aron. And from Ethan...", Logan answered slowly but surely able to imagine who was standing in front of him.
'So, yah're one of the slackers...', he thought.
Eralion gritted his teeth. "Then I was probably insignificant enough to just exclude myself from all stories." Suddenly he seemed even sadder and more depressed than before. “She didn't even tell me about her homeland. I guess I was that unimportant the whole time.” 
"I didn' mean that. To this day, we didn' even know Yardleyu wus her brother, so in a way we all feel betrayed by her. But she can’t even tell us why she kept this or that secret”, Logan mumbled and dropped his arms. 
"Meyja has always been mysterious and secretive, at least in the past five years that I've known her. She kept her entire guild in the dark about her identity, we didn't even know for a long time that she was the most famous and feared assassin of Sharaya. I don't think there is anyone who knows her and doesn't feel duped by her,” Eralion replied chuckling softly. 
"Wus that her? I had no idea”, Logan replied and leaned against the wooden wall of the barn next to Eralion. 
Eralion nodded. "Yes, she was. And in a way, she's still a legend that people talk about every now and then. She called herself the Indomitable, that was her title. You have to know that in order to get a title you have to kill another assassin. Our guild was called Deathshade but all that fell apart after Aron's death and Meyja's disappearance." 
"So, yah're an assassin, too?" Logan asked. 
Another nod from the dark-haired man. "I was. But unlike Meyja and Aron I was nothing more than a bad joke. The two were absolutely deadly, had plenty of money, and loved each other in a way she could never have loved me after he suddenly came back." 
"Wot happened? I know she was engaged to Aron and that he wus killed but I don' know the details and background," Logan explained. 
Eralion shook his head gently before asking, "No, I have one more question first. You said you love her… But does she love you as well or are you just one of her many suitors who don’t enjoy her true affections?” 
"Ya mean like Kavanagh? No, I'm no’ a desperate lover, I'm her partner. She said she loves me and I saw the truth in her eyes,” Logan replied eyeing Eralion carefully so that he didn't miss Eralion's concerned reaction. 
"I see," Eralion murmured. 
The assassin’s heart tightened painfully and he had a deep need to talk but he didn't know if Logan was really the right person for this but one look at the blond man was enough to make him forget any doubts. 
"Well... After she showed up in Sharaya our boss Ed chose Aron as her teacher which got around very quickly among us Deathshade, after all Meyja was the first woman to be given this honour. I met her myself a while after that when we happened to meet at Ed's store. She was picking up some packages that she was delivering at the time while I was taking a new order and the boss then introduced us. Meyja was personable and exuded that dark secrecy that makes her more than attractive to any man in his right mind but I didn't count my chances and didn't try to get in touch with her again. A little later, she and Aron were a couple which I found out from one of the other men who also worked for Ed.” 
”This was a big deal because our boss didn't condone connections within the guild especially since Aron was responsible for taking down people who got uncomfortable. I don't know how the two managed to convince Ed to let them be but eventually he was almost a friend to their love for each other. If you know Ed you know what a concession that is and admittedly the rest of the Deathshade were more than astonished by this development. Meyja and I still bumped into each other in the shop from time to time but we didn't share more than a friendly smile and a greeting.” 
“She soon committed her first murder which earned her a title upon entry into the guild something none of the Deathshade had ever achieved. The celebration that was held in her honour became a legendary evening at which Aron also proposed to her. We also danced together that night, Meyja and I... And I fell head over heels in love with her even though I thought I would be one of the unlucky men who had to admire her from afar forever. But on the day of their planned wedding Aron disappeared without leaving a message as we thought. I helped with the search for him but he just couldn't be found and Meyja also disappeared from the scene shortly afterwards for all the other Deathshade. In hindsight I think she was waiting for the moments when none of the men were in the shop to collect her new orders or the rewards for the quests she had completed. I caught a glimpse of her once on the street and she seemed emaciated and so desperate that it gave me a pang.” 
“When Aron had been gone for about a year, I went to the bar one evening where I drank once or twice a week and there, she was sitting at a table all alone in a corner of the room. I had never been so amazed at anything as finding her there that day of all days and I sat down next to her. It was a beautiful evening and we laughed a lot, drank, and she almost seemed like she was having fun. We were so drunk I couldn't remember much afterwards but the next morning she was laying next to me in my bed and told me we did it that night. I still loved her and when she made moves to leave, I revealed my feelings to her before I lost sight of her again for years. She asked for time to think and disappeared.” 
“It went months without hearing or seeing anything from her when suddenly she came back to my door and told me that she wanted me by her side. I still don't understand this decision to this day even though I was happy about every minute I spent with her. In contrast to Meyja and Aron I was downright pathetic. She made ten times my gold, was the best of the Deathshade, and I could never hold a candle to her but she actually chose me as her partner. I knew about her husband and what he had done to her but we did it from time to time, although I always felt very uncomfortable doing it because I was afraid of hurting her. She didn't admit her love to me I don’t know why.” 
“The evening our relationship ended was the evening Aron suddenly appeared in the door of her flat. I saw him and knew immediately that it was over because I was sure that she never stopped loving him. And that's how it happened. She immediately packed her things and informed both of us that she was leaving town. Then she just turned and disappeared. Aron was beside himself. He hadn't seen her for two years and since he had a very turbulent personality, he followed her. She didn't exchange another word with me apart from her decision I never found out what was going on inside her. Except that she was glad about the miscarriage she suffered with my child... It ripped my heart out of my chest. I vacillated between loving her and hating someone who doesn't even honour innocent unborn life.” 
“They had been gone for almost another year, I had just gotten my miserable existence back on track and didn't dream of them coming back. That day I went to Ed's shop and through the glass of the door I saw Meyja. She saw me, too. And I don't know what got into me at that moment but I walked in and tried to kiss her while my heart had started bleeding again. But she avoided me and I was so hurt that I immediately went back out to the street and wanted to run away but she followed me and tried to stop me and said that it hurt her not being able to be there for me. I hugged her and kissed her until Aron ran out of the shop and pushed me away. Today I know what a mistake that was... The next moment Aron sagged and I caught him...” 
“Meyja killed the attacker but it was too late because Aron died laying on the snowy street without me being able to do anything. One must have heard her halfway across town screaming, screaming and crying so heartbreakingly..." Eralion took a deep breath and when he looked at Logan again, he saw tears of dismay in his eyes. 
Logan swallowed and asked huskily, "Wot happened after that?" 
"Three of us had to rip her off Aron's body and bring her to the store. I have never seen anyone brought to their knees by grief and the loss of a loved one like Meyja. You can’t imagine how just looking at her made six venerable men who had killed scores of people weep. But everyone stood around her crying and helpless while I sat with her on the floor and hugged her being unable to really help her. This swoon…” He was silent for a moment. "Then the others decided she had to leave Sharaya, cut her hair, packed her things, and took her to the city gate while I stayed in Ed's shop and broke down because she had been taken from me once more. Now I know where her path led her – here. She has been through so much that it would just be wrong for her to die from a fever at such a young age.“ 
"It's no’ just a fever, Eralion. She's possessed. Haunted by one of the darkest Shepherds this world has ever seen,” Logan mumbled flatly. 
"But what the heck does that mean? I didn't understand anything that was said in there.” Eralion pointed roughly in the direction of the building where the others still were probably waiting for them. "The only thing I realised is that she is close to death." 
“Haunts deal with the otherworld where the souls of the deceased reside used by those dark wizards, we call Shepherds of Souls to do primarily evil. Yardleyu and Amelia are also Shepherds of Souls but unlike Dorcha Kavanagh they still have honourable goals. And they will try to save Meyja... At least I hope so... Before there ain’t much more left of her than an empty shell and the memories in our heads..." Logan started to cry softly. 
"I'll do anything to help, Logan. Yardleyu took me to the Ice Lands so I could talk to Meyja and finally find my peace with everything that happened. If she should just die before I can, then... then..." Eralion replied. 
He also burst into tears at the helplessness that united the hearts of the two men at that moment. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 37 - Departure

Logan and Eralion didn't know how long they had sat in the barn deep in thought and searching for an answer but sometime in the middle of the night the gate was pushed open and Drystan came in. 
"By all gods... Wot's going on here?" the shaman asked confused. 
"Nothin’," Logan just growled, got up, and walked past him outside. 
Drystan shook hands with Eralion and helped him up as he introduced himself. 
"I'm Drystan." 
"Eralion, pleasant," the assassin replied hesitantly. 
"Wot did ya do to Logan?" Drystan wanted to know and left the barn. 
Eralion followed him. "Nothing, we just talked." 
The shaman grinned. "That wus just a joke, don' worry. The two ladies have just decided together with Yardleyu that we will leave very early tomorrow to try to rescue Meyja. Ya should get sum sleep, if ya want to come with us, ‘cause it will be a strenuous hike to the lake. There is one bed left in Adam, Nyall, and I's house for ya to sleep in. Nyall also made soup a few hours ago, if yah're hungry.” 
Eralion nodded still dejected and murmured, "Thank you, gladly. Where can I find the bed?” 
"I'll come with ya in a moment and go to bed as well." Drystan headed for the house and showed Eralion where to sleep. 
Logan grabbed a new set of clothes and got dressed before joining Yardleyu, Amelia, Chloe, and Lyam at the table. 
"Where have ya been for so lon’?" Amelia asked frowning. 
"I gabbed to Eralion," Logan replied glancing at the Soul Shepherd. "Even though I still wonder why ya brought him, Yardleyu." 
"Ya know I'm no’ a very social person, Logan, but I felt sorry for him and he has his reasons for wantin’ to gab to my sister. Besides, I didn' know ya had yer eye on her,” Yary replied. "No’ that I would mind. Yah're a decent guy and after the sadistic pig she had to marry I'm glad to have a sincere man like ya by her side. Ya won' harm her I'm sure of that and ya can protect her when it matters most." 
"I couldn' protect her from wot is now likely to cost her life either. Decent and sincere or no‘,” Logan replied uneasily. 
Chloe poured mead into a clean mug and pushed it towards her brother. "I heard how ya feel ‘bout her and I'm so sorry for ya both that ya have to go through this but we will save her. I promise,” she whispered. 
"Don' promise anythin’ ya can’t keep," Logan growled taking a sip of the drink. 
His sister sighed deeply. "Believe in it. She is incredibly strong, otherwise she would have died long ago. There is a power in her that I have no’ felt in anyone else before. Eadda is unlike any Voyneresses I know.” 
"Meyja," Logan remarked tonelessly. 
"Her name is Eadda," Yardleyu said through clenched teeth. 
“No, her name is Meyja now. After all, she didn' want to be Eadda anymore, doesn' that make you think?” Logan asked snidely. 
Lyam groaned loudly and put his face in his hands. "Please stop arguin’ ‘bout sumthin’ so trivial. That’s no’ worth it." 
"Okay, so Meyja," admitted Yary. "Anyway, we've decided to leave as soon as it gets light outside. We will seek out the Unseen Lake, one of the Are's sacred places, and I will attempt to harness its energy to exorcise that cursed soul from her body. However, we must be careful no’ getting’ caught there as the expulsion process could cause the lake to lose all energy which the Ares would no’ like.” 
"Besides, I just rubbed Meyja with the Rashka ointment Drystan gave you. Her fever has risen again despite Lyam's potions and she appeared restless, even cryin’ briefly," Chloe added softly. 
"She wus cryin’?" Logan repeated startled looking over his shoulder at his mate. 
Meyja was sweating profusely there were drops of sweat on her forehead while her face seemed to be getting paler and paler. 
"And she... she whispered yer name once, Logan. She then passed out and has no’ regained consciousness since. The fact that she is no longer asleep but in a comatose state shows us how little time we have left.” Chloe looked at her younger brother with tears in her eyes. 
"Why didn' ya get me?! After all, she seems to have asked for me!” Logan shouted angrily before he got up and sat down on the bed next to Meyja. 
"We immediately sent Drystan to get ya. We couldn' do much more," Lyam explained embarrassed. 
Logan didn't pay any more attention to him but wiped the sweat from Meyja's face and then gently stroked her skin whispering soft words that the others couldn't understand. The only thing they all heard was his declaration of love. Chloe’s cheeks rolled down silent sympathetic tears as she watched her brother caress his lover incessantly, eventually laying down beside her and moments later with one arm behind her neck snuggled up, he fell asleep. 
After Logan started to snore softly Chloe got up and carefully tucked him in. "Don' ya think ya promised him too much?" Amelia asked quietly. 
"He's my brother… wot else could I have told him? If I had told him, how her chances really were, he might have already given up. But she needs him and he needs her, too, after all… she's still alive. And as we all know hope dies last.” 
The next morning, the rebels ate a quick breakfast and saddled the horses while 
Logan wrapped Meyja warm in furs and blankets, blindfolded her, and carried her outside. Though not normally dependent on mounts due to their curse, there were eight horses, seven of which they had prepared for departure. The last belonged to 
Adam who would stay with the Daly brothers and Nyall at the village to make sure Kavanagh's people didn't follow them. 
Logan mounted Crispin's back and rode out into the woods with Meyja in his arms flanked by Yardleyu and Lyam. Chloe and Drystan led the pack while Eralion and 
Amelia brought up the rear. They moved on in silence, stopping only when someone needed to relieve themselves, and reached the edge of the forest in about five hours. 
Fog lay over the cliffs even though it was noon and they left the horses by the last trees, the Virtheriā among them also stripped off their clothes and transformed. Then they continued behind the waterfall which only Eralion didn't know yet and got a little scared when the masses of water rushed past him and into the depths. The shamans headed for a steep path that led higher into the mountains and soon became too impassable that Yardleyu had to carry Eralion on his back and carry him as he was unable to climb the path by himself. 
They spent several more hours climbing taking turns hauling the two humans up the trail. Along the way there were signs of the Ares everywhere, sticks that had been driven into the earth, and from which hung structures tied together with small branches, bones, and bundles of herbs. They dangled like morbid works of art swaying slightly in the freezing wind and Eralion shuddered at the sight of them. To their relief they didn't meet any of the giants on the climb and in the late afternoon they finally reached a plateau where the fog was so thick that you could only see a few meters ahead. 
"We're here," Yardleyu remarked softly after assuming human form. 
Eralion slid off Lyam's back and handed the Soul Shepherd the pouch he had been given to carry in the valley before he transformed. 
“It will take me ‘bout an hour to prepare everythin’. Keep vigil and warn me, if one of the Ares appears. If I'm caught practicin’ dark magic in one of their most sacred places, it could cost me my head before I can even begin the purification ritual,” Yary instructed the rest of the rebels and then dug into his pocket. 
Amelia didn't leave his side and, despite his displeasure, let her more than angry teacher explain everything he was doing while Chloe and Drystan watched for any unwanted visitors on the cliff of the mountain. Logan and Lyam settled onto the bare rock which felt oddly warm. 
Eralion was a little hesitant and feeling that his presence might be a thorn in 
Logan’s side he also walked a little towards the cliff and looked down at the Ice Lands. The view was more impressive than anything he had ever seen and despite the almost unbearably cold temperatures that had frozen his breath in his now long beard, he still found this area beautiful. He would have had so many questions, still understanding very little of what the Voynarians were talking about but he had enough empathy to wait before asking any of them straight questions. At the moment Meyja's survival was the most important thing, even if it had sounded to him as if the chance of rescue was infinitesimal. 
"Didn' Yardleyu gab ‘bout sum lake?" Logan wanted to know and looked around impatiently. 
Lyam nodded. “The Unseen Lake is named so because it is so clear ya can barely see the water. In addition, it is probably fed by a hot spring and therefore has this thick fog over it which also protects it from view.” 
Logan nodded silently and looked down at Meyja in his arms who was blindfolded in addition to the wax in her ears. Even if she were conscious, she could not have seen or heard anything to inform Dorcha of her plans but still, she did not move. Her forehead felt incredibly hot and he prayed inwardly to Derun that he didn't want to take her to the otherworld before they could make an attempt to save her life. 
The belief in the Abarglen cult of the dead said that the soul of a deceased could only enter the realm of the dead after the corpse had been cremated. After everything that could be done with those souls Logan was now more than unsure whether he even wanted Meyja's spirit to also pass into what the Shepherds of Souls called Dyphuom. On the other hand, he felt overwhelmed with this decision because, if she died, and didn't get a proper burial her soul would be doomed to stay in the world forever. No one was able to say how the former spirit of life was then, whether it was tied to the place of death or whether it was free to follow loved ones wherever they went. 
Nevertheless, Logan had the uneasy feeling that they were on the wrong track although they had no choice but to complete the plan otherwise the journey back to the nameless village would be Meyja's last journey before she died. 
"Wot ya think of Eralion?" Lyam asked quietly nodding towards the man on the cliff. 
Logan shrugged. "I don' know. He seems to love Meyja, otherwise he wouldn' have made the lon’ journey to the Ice Lands." 
"He loves her?" Lyam repeated worried. 
"He didn' say that but I could tell by lookin’ at him," Logan replied. "When he spoke 
‘bout her tonight I could hear how much the loss still hurts him." 
"Wot loss? Wot are ya gabbin’ ‘bout? Are ya sayin’ they were once a couple?” Lyam wanted to know. 
Logan nodded silently. 
"Ain’ ya afraid that he might get between the two of you?" Lyam pressed on. 
"Lyam, stop it. Of course, I'm afraid of it but ya can see how she's doin’. My biggest concern is her life right now. Even if she should choose him, I respect her enough to accept it,” Logan retorted indignantly. 
"Please excuse me. It wusn' my intention to offend ya. And of course, savin’ her life is more important than anythin’ right now," Lyam replied embarrassed. "Shall I check on her?" 
Logan nodded again and carefully laid Meyja on her back before he pushed back the blankets. 
"She's incredibly hot." Lyam removed his hand from her forehead and instead placed two fingers on her carotid artery causing him to blanch. “And one can hardly feel her pulse. She's dyin’... At this very moment…“ 
He swallowed as he looked at Logan again whose face was now also white and he was unable to reply. 
So, Lyam hastily got up and shouted to the two Shepherds, "Yardleyu! It's very serious! We hardly have time left!” 
Yary gave the apprentice shaman a startled look and nodded briefly before sticking his now trembling fingers back into the can he'd brought raven's blood in and hurriedly drawing another rune on the rock. 
Then he scurried on painting rune after rune and yelled, "Ya must undress her! 
Take off the blindfold and get the wax out of her ears! Immediately!" 
Lyam knelt again next to the unconscious woman and removed the cloth from her eyes while Logan just sat there staring down at her cheeks wet. 
"Logan, help me! Damn it, she needs ya now!” Lyam yelled at his best friend. 
Chloe and Drystan also came towards them followed by Eralion all of them as pale as the two men who were busy removing Meyja's clothes. 
After Yardleyu finished drawing the runes around the lake he held the can out to Amelia and commanded, "Paint Eadda Xi on the chest, where the heart is. Then you come back to me.” 
Eralion presented a bizarre sight as he took a few steps and looked around shuddering. The floor was smeared with bloody signs, Amelia was drawing an intricate pattern on Meyja's body and he was the only one present who was clothed. Yardleyu stood with his back to them mumbling words in a foreign language that made his hair stand on end. 
After Amelia was done and the Xi rune was emblazoned on Meyja's chest she hurriedly got up and ran towards her tutor while the bloody runes began to glow darkly and a thick black smoke rose from them. 
"Now draw Dy on my left shoulder, Ryn on my right shoulder, and on the chest above my heart you must also draw Xi. Make no mistake!” the shepherd instructed his student his voice trembling with nervousness and fear before he looked back. 
"Brin’ Eadda to me!" 
Logan carefully picked Meyja up and carried her over to her brother who was mumbling vacantly pouring the remaining blood into his palms and wiping it up his forearms before he drew some confused-looking lines on his face with smeared fingers and turned around. As he stretched out his arms, Logan put his lover inside and watched as Yardleyu slowly stepped into the lake and disappeared into the dense haze. 
Dorcha Kavanagh's face lit a smile as she faced her familiar. "Please tell me ya have succeeded and that Rakuven is in our care." 
Glyn O'Keefe nodded. "We found him and arrested him. He is undead verily, lady.” 
“That is very gratifying. Then I can soon finish wot my father started. We will leave together for Destrothos in a few days and ya will lead me to Rakuven. Be ready just in case Cayden causes trouble,” she instructed the man. 
"I will," O'Keefe promised giving a bow and then walking back outside. 
Satisfied Dorcha turned back to the tomb and murmured, awakening the spirit of Edward Orlo still bound to her grandfather's body. 
"Orlo, I promised ya answers which ya will now receive," she told the dead man. 
"About time, too, don't you think, girl?" Orlo sneered hostilely. 
She just smiled faintly at that the dark smoke in her eyes. "My name is Dorcha. I am the daughter of Roarke and Siobhan Kavanagh and therefore yer former enemy. As ya noted the crest of the ring on yer finger belongs to my family. The body ya moved into is that of my grandfather Kaden, after whom my brother Cayden was named. In a way at least.” A soft laugh escaped her throat. 
"What do you want from me?" Orlo asked sounding very worried despite his cutting voice. 
"Well, actually I just wanted to let ya know who disturbed yer peace. Yer pointers regardin’ Godwin Rakuven were very helpful ‘cause we found him and I can continue my father's plan. No’ that I gave ya a choice but ya felt a lot more comfortable no’ defyin’ me. But now that yah've served yer purpose I'll let ya sleep on for eternity,” she remarked indifferently. 
"Wait!" Orlo called. "Tell me what you are about to do!" 
Dorcha grinned diabolically as she replied, "We will bring the end, Orlo. For Jevarish, the undead in Destrothos, and all other lesser humans in this world... May all of Abarglen be ruled by Voynar..." 
"You're insane," he breathed aghast. "You will never succeed." 
"It has already begun, my dear Edward." 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 38 - Fog

When Yardleyu felt his sister's body in his arms, he turned and walked slowly towards the lake which’s warm water he soon felt on his feet. Through the veil that lay before his eyes he only saw the magic in the area, so he had added a spell to the runes drawn around the Unseen Lake so he would know where to go. 
Arriving in the middle of the water, he began to speak. "Rthryldra zsha vylrhum... 
Rthryldra zsha gryrhan... Rthryldra zsha vylrhum... Rthryldra zsha gryrhan..." 
He lowered Eadda's red-hot with heat body into the warm water, holding her back with one hand just below the surface, and resting the other hand on her forehead while his voice rose to a loud growl. 
Something stirred inside her, making her body tremble, and he tried to reach it recognising the dark magic emanating from the black glowing abyss that opened up. The certainty that it had been Dorcha who had haunted his sister found him in that moment and he fought the horrific spell with all his might. The haunt struggled fiercely and he could feel it clinging, tearing, and tugging at the mind of Eadda. 
While Yardleyu struggled with the alien soul for the life of his younger sister Amelia, Logan, Eralion, and the three shamans stood at the edge of the Unseen Lake, heard with horror the dark words that the Soul Shepherd roared, and involuntarily backed away. 
"It's wron’... The lake is sacred and this magic will corrupt it forever..." Chloe whispered aghast. 
"And yet it's the only chance Meyja has left," Amelia replied but they could all hear that she wasn't sure of her own words anymore. 
Rather everyone present felt their natural fear of the situation which everyone felt the same way and which seemed to increase immeasurably. 
Yardleyu, on the other hand, only felt in those minutes how powerful Dorcha must be by now and his own weakness as well as that he wasn't strong enough to take the evil out of his sister. However, he wasn't ready to give up and did everything he could to save her. If only he had returned sooner... Then Eadda would still have been conscious and could have helped him banish the darkness from her body. But she just hung trembling and twitching in his arms kept moaning softly and he noticed that she was getting weaker. Weaker and weaker until finally he had to feel in desperation that the thread by which her life had hung was snapping. 
A few seconds later the figure of the Shepherd emerged from the fog, Meyja was laying in his arms, her eyes were open but the gaze was empty. 
"She's dead," Yary whispered through sobs laying her lifeless body on the bank. 
"No!" Logan yelled running towards his lover and throwing himself down next to her. "Meyja, no! Ya can’t just leave! No’ so! No’ now! Wake up! Wake up, wake up, wake up!" 
He held her crying, rocking her back and forth, screaming, and begging her to wake up. 
Yary also sat in the midst of all the pain, sobbing, and knowing in his heart that he had killed his own sister. 
The others also began to cry at the desperation of the two men, only Eralion stood there dumbstruck and couldn't believe what had just happened. 
Eventually Logan stood up and yelled, "Kavanagh! If ya can hear me, know that I will avenge her! I'll tear ya apart with my own hands! And yer bloody sister, too!” 
His unbridled anger caused the Virtherion to erupt within him, transforming him with a loud angry growl. 
Chloe stepped in his way, raised her hands, and yelled, "Logan, no! Do ya think she would have wanted that?!” 
"I don' care! I want revenge! Now get out of my way!” he barked furiously. 
Eralion stepped next to Chloe he also was crying. "Stay here, Logan. And listen deep into yourself... Meyja would niver have wanted ya to run headlon’ to yer death. She must have loved you as much as you loved her. Calm down and I swear ya will get yer revenge ‘cause I will stand by yer side. But no’ now. No’ yet." 
"Listen to ‘em, Logan. I've known her my entire life and she really would have wanted it that way,” Yary murmured also still sobbing. 
The snow-white Virtherion paused for a moment then fell to the ground whimpering and the man behind the beast reappeared, crouched on the rock, and weeping. 
His sister knelt down next to him and hugged him rubbing his back while tears were still running down her cheeks. 
"I'm so sorry, Logan. So indescribable..." she whispered. 
He couldn't hear her, too much the pain that had given way to anger was numbing his senses and he couldn't stop thinking about her. At her laughter, at the tears, she had shed over some trifle, not knowing how precious their moments together had been and he hadn't had the slightest idea how soon she would be taken from him. 
Yardleyu kept staring into her face, her black eyes, and pale skin. If he had been asked before, it would never have occurred to him to say that she would no longer be beautiful once she died. But that's how it was. She wasn't beautiful anymore. Death did not suit her but made her face ugly. He recognized his own weakness in her face his inability reflected in her blank gaze. 
Lyam came to Meyja's corpse, knelt, and closed her lids with his fingertips before draping one of the blankets over her. 
Hours later, as dusk fell over the Ice Lands, Drystan rose from sitting on the warm rock near the Unseen Lake. 
"I'm really sorry to disturb yer grief but it's getting’ dark and we should get off this cursed mountain," he remarked cautiously. 
Chloe looked over her shoulder at him and nodded then got up and helped her brother to his feet who had stopped crying and just sat apathetically staring at nothing. 
The Virtheriā transformed one by one Yardleyu cradling his sister's body and Lyam letting Eralion climb back onto his back before slowly moving towards the edge of the plateau. But before they reached the cliff, the giant form of an Are blocked their way. 
Chloe recognized the eldest of the people, their chief shaman, and she hastily transformed back into a human, falling to her knees in front of Arnor. 
"I beg of ya... It wus no’ our intention to desecrate this holy place..." she begged, even though she knew he could not understand her. 
The Are angrily pointed his staff at her and directed her aside before stepping past the shaman and stopping directly in front of Yardleyu. 
"Meyja..." Arnor whispered. 
He took her lifeless body from her brother's arms and threw the covers aside before placing a hand on her cheek to feel what had happened to her. When he looked back at the Soul Shepherd, he could see that his pupils had dilated and he was looking at him in amazement from deep black empty-looking eye sockets. Then the giant went to the lake where he laid Meyja on the shore. 
Arnor stripped off his cloak and much of his clothing and lifted Meyja's naked body with ease holding her in his hands as he now stepped into the water of the Unseen Lake. Before he could be seen through the mist he turned and gestured for the people to lay down which they did without questioning him still too disturbed to think clearly. 
A few seconds later the giant had disappeared into the haze but they heard his voice, then soon Meyja coughing softly which made Logan and Yardleyu immediately start crying again. 
"Is she alive?" Eralion asked hopefully. 
Drystan nodded and replied quietly, "Sounds like it..." 
The Are's angry voice echoed across the rock plateau but they still couldn't see him laying on their stomachs staring across at the water. Yardleyu and Logan were holding each other while they feared for Meyja. 
When Arnor raised his voice again the wind picked up quickly building to a hurricane, sweeping the wisps of mist in a fierce current of air, spraying the waters. In the calm centre of the whirlwind stood the giant, holding Meyja only by the head with outstretched arms so that her body almost seemed to float in the still air and screaming similar words as Yardleyu had used before. 
The rebels pressed to the ground to avoid being swept away by the storm that swept over them with incredible force. When Meyja started screaming, as if she was in excruciating pain, Logan tried to get up to reach her but Chloe and Drystan did hold him so that he could not rush to her. 
The sky was growing darker and the Are's white skin and unnecessary runes shone brightly as stars amidst the twilight that seemed to emanate from Meyja soon becoming darker than the blackest night. Despite the darkness, they could still see exactly what was happening, even if they couldn't believe it. A matte black form resembling her own body rose from the young woman’s inside, crawled back, and was pulled out again, seeming to struggle against the force that was relentlessly tugging at it while Meyja still screamed. Although no one had had the slightest idea of what a soul could look like on the physical world when not appearing like a mist they all were aware at that moment of the relevance of this form, for it was the affliction itself that was Arnor was just trying to talk out of her. 
When Meyja and the soul were connected only at the hands and feet the giant let go of her head and clasped the rearing form of the soul in his hands which radiated tremendous heat and scorched his skin so that it stunk like burnt flesh, yet Arnor kept yelling his spells madly. Strangely enough, Meyja’s body didn’t fall either. 
The wind headed in the direction of the ritual whipping away across the prone humans towards Arnor before becoming utterly still for just a split second. But the next moment, the entire lake seemed to explode with a blinding flash of light that swept the air over the rebels with incredible force causing them to cling together in blindness and panic. 
A soft splash broke the silence that followed and yet no one could see what had happened. 
Cayden knelt and lowered his head until he felt the heaviness of the metal imposed upon him by the cleric of the royal family in the form of a crown. 
"Rise, Cayden Roarke Kavanagh, First of Names, Ruler of the Ice Lands and Lord of the Kingdoms of Voynar and Destrothos." The cleric stepped back bowing his head in humility. 
"Thank ya," Cayden remarked as he straightened then turned to the applauding force, he had gathered all around him on the day of his coronation. "My faithful companions, although I am yer king I am no’ a great speaker, so I will make it short. Ya are the true people of Voynar, the true people of Abarglen and together we will rule this world. A world free of Jevarish tutelage, free of Blackeyes, and free of the foul mutations.” 
A roar of cheers broke out but Kavanagh raised his hands and the crowd fell silent again. 
"We're goin’ to finish off every one of ‘em make them bleed the same way they made us bleed. That promise is sealed today with the death of a wolfman and the death of a southerner. Bring ‘em here!” 
Silence fell over the hill where the fanatics had gathered as four prisoners were dragged forward, spat on, and eyed with hatred by the Voynarian King's followers. 
The men were Adam Wright, Nyall Quinn, and brothers Brennan and Cyan Daly who Kavanagh's people had arrested at Aryancar while trying to defend the rebel bastion. The four already looked very battered had obviously been beaten and abused, Adam could hardly open his eyes which were blue and swollen. The three 
Virtheriā didn't look all that bad but they also had bruises on their faces and arms. 
To protect themselves from the beasts each of the three was held in the middle by long iron chains. 
Arriving in front of Kavanagh, Adam was brutally kicked behind his knees, and left sitting in the snow with his head bowed in fear. He had already known what awaited him and resigned himself to his fate whereas the Virtheriā had to restrain themselves lest they transform in front of the assembly and be killed instantly. 
Still, Brennan kept ranting and turned to Kavanagh when he faced the self-proclaimed ruler of Abarglen. "Yah're goin’ to pay for this, Kavanagh! I swear to all the gods!” 
Kavanagh laughed. "Oh! Hear, hear! The beast still believes in the gods! But let me tell ya, disgustin’ beast, that the gods have forsaken ya today. I have just chosen ya from amon’ yer ranks and yer punishment will be death.” 
"No!" yelled Cyan and looked over at his brother dumbfounded. 
As he tried to break away to reach Brennan, the chains around his neck were tightened, and he fell to the ground gasping. 
Amused by the prisoner's suffering Kavanagh spoke up again. "This specimen still calls itself Cyan Daly but it's no more than an animal that doesn' deserve a name." 
He looked at Cyan in disgust and spat in his face before stepping back in front of Adam and Brennan who were sitting resignedly in the snow pointing his finger at each one in turn. "This one ain’ an animal yet he's allied with ‘em. Adam Wright is a man of Jevarish and stands by our enemy Jemar Forsyth. The other one here is one of the beasts that slaughtered our families without mercy or honour. I hereby sentence these two traitors to death. This judgment will be carried out by my sister Dorcha 
Kavanagh. Come to me, my love.” 
A slender figure emerged from the crowd, leisurely stepped forward, and removed the hood of her floor-length snow-white fur coat as she walked. Dorcha's cheeks were sunken and her eyeballs were blood red while her pale irises were almost white. The Shepherd of Souls had shed what remained of her humanity and been rendered undead by the malevolent darkness within her. 
The murmuring of the crowd stopped instantly and like the prisoners, the Voynarians stared up at the horrid apparition of Dorcha who had halted beside her brother with a diabolical smirk. 
No one could see that Cayden felt a shiver of fear at the sight of his own sister because he didn't show it just gave her a nod of encouragement and then stepped aside. 
With the enforcer's appearance the prisoners fell silent, too, staring up in mortal terror at the horrific woman standing over them. 
"Who wants to die first?" she asked smugly, feasting on the fear of the men sitting in front of her. 
When she was met with only silence, she gave a short shrug, closed her eyes, and began to mumble. 
"Rthryldra zsha xhephcan..." 
It repeated over and over until she was in a kind of trance then she opened her lids to reveal the crimson haze swirling around in her eyeballs but in contrast to the black veil the red mist left her skull, pouring out, and slowly moved toward her two victims. As soon as the two doomed were touched by it, they began to scream in agony, writhed in pain, and rolled in the snow until they lay on their back’s mouths gaping. 
Dorcha bent down and placed a thumb on each rebel's forehead, causing their bodies to buck one last time before laying lifeless in the snow. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 39 - Reunion

The Ice Lands, Medelya of the year 72

Meyja woke up in a tent on a leather-covered bunk and covered with numerous skins, next to her lay Logan and slept soundly. She couldn't remember anything that had happened recently and didn't know that Logan had brought her here and laid her in this bed. However, he looked like he hadn't slept in a week and she decided not to wake him so he could get enough rest and recover. She carefully crawled off the bunk before getting up, getting dressed, and then went outside where the sun was just beginning to rise. 

The giants' village was much larger than she remembered, the number of tents had increased significantly, and she could see people she did not know who were presumably those who had been rescued from the Ares. She pulled her fur coat tighter around her body and walked up the hill through the snow to look around. 

Two female Ares were sitting in front of a tent preparing something to eat that was apparently intended for breakfast. 

"Good mornin’," Meyja greeted cautiously. 

The two women looked at each other in amazement for a moment before they happily returned the greeting and looked after Meyja who had already walked on. 

The people who met the young woman paid no further attention to her but went about their business and so she reached the cliff above the sea unmolested. She looked out at the Ice Lands still shrouded in the usual haze on this beautiful morning but saw only the towering Weather Point unveiled towering high in the sky. A snippet of memory flashed through her mind, three faces she couldn't place and yet filled her with an involuntary fear. 

She lowered herself onto a rock and took a deep breath, little clouds brushing her lips from the cold, and feeling drained from the short walk up the hill. How long had she slept that her body was so weak after so little exertion? What had happened? She was really dying for Logan to wake up and finally answer all the questions she had. 


The voice behind her pulled her out of her thoughts, she spun around in surprise, and couldn't believe who was standing in front of her. 

"Yary?" she breathed her eyes filling with tears. 

Yardleyu nodded and took a step towards her when she already threw herself into his arms and clung to him. 

"I thought ya weren' alive anymore..." she whispered through sobs. "Had I known 

‘bout ya I would have come back much sooner." 

He couldn't hold back his tears either, stroking her back while weeping. "It is okay…" 

They held each other for a while then she lifted her head and looked at him. "Ya look so grown up." 

"Ya too. Whenever I thought of ya I had the picture in my mind of ya when ya were just nineteen... But now yah're twenty-five. Time flies... But it's actually only been six years since we're finally seein’ each other again.” He smiled. 

"Twenty-five?" she repeated, amazed. 

He nodded. “Yes, it's already the end of Medelya. Ya slept for a very lon’ time.“ 

"It's almost two months! But that explains my powerlessness. Still... I'm fine. But tell me… how have ya been over the past few years?” she asked. 

"It took the Ares a lon’ time to find me. I was one of the last to whom they restored self-determination. Until three years ago I wus still completely wild and roamed around in the most remote forests then I fell into their trap. I woke up in a clearin’ surrounded by a handful of Ares," he said succinctly. "They brought me here to the village but I soon left and joined Amelia, Lyam, and the others." 

"Ya know her? But where were ya when I arrived here in the Ice Lands?” she wanted to know. 

His shimmering ice-blue eyes tore away from her for a moment. "On the way to 

Sharaya to look for ya." 

"Ya were in Sharaya?" she asked in complete amazement. 

Yary stroked her cheek, wiping away her tears, as he had so often done when they were children. 

"Yes. It's taken a very, very lon’ time to find any trace of ya. But I had yer letter in my pocket in which ya wrote me that Sharaya would be the destination of yer journey. I didn' give up just ‘cause of this letter but continued to search incessantly. Finally, I was rewarded at an inn when a certain Jared remembered ya and sent me to Ed's. But I wus late and ya weren' there," he said. 

"That... that's a bit straight sorry..." she murmured pulling his hand back to the stones where she sat down. 

He also settled down. "Sorry, I shouldn' overwhelm ya with all this." 

"Yes, I want to know everythin’! Also, why I laid on that damn cot for so lon’ and can’t remember wot happened.” She turned her dark blue eyes to him. 

It was obvious he was struggling but her gaze was as steady as ever and he knew he couldn't hide it from her. 

He whispered, "I'm so glad yah're well..." 

She knew her brother like no one else in the world and saw his mask crumble before he collapsed. 

Crying bitterly, he bowed his head, and she fell to her knees in front of him. 

"Wot ya mean, Yary? Wot wus goin’ on?"  Fear spread through her. Fear of what had happened in the time she seemed to have no memory of. 

He looked up at her. "Ya… Ya were possessed, Eadda. From a stranger's soul. And I wusn' able to free ya from it. I killed ya... for hours ya lay lifeless in front of me... yer eyes... yer blank stare..." 

Stunned she held her big brother tight unable to say anything until he had calmed down. 

"I want to know wot happened to me. Every detail,” she demanded earnestly. 

Yary nodded. "A’ight, ya deserve the truth. Let's just get warm.” He helped her back to her feet although his own knees were shaking, too. 

As they turned away from the cliff Meyja faced Logan who was standing a little way down the hill and eyeing her with emotion. 

"Yah're awake. Finally…” he remarked smiling as she walked towards him with Yary at her side. 

She let Logan hug her even though she couldn't feel any of the joy she clearly noticed – because of her concern. 

Logan gave Yardleyu a questioning look who only looked at his feet and nodded silently. 

"Ya told her?!" Logan exclaimed in horror. 

"No... no... No’ everythin’..." Yary answered quickly and waved him off. 

Meyja let go of Logan and looked back and forth between the two suspiciously. "Wot am I no’ allowed to know, eh? If yah're goin’ to hide anythin’ from me, forget it!” She struggled to keep her voice from screaming. 

"Honey, we're no’ goin’ to hide anythin’ from ya, calm down. There were only incidents that we... how should I put it... have to teach ya gently. But we should do that in the presence of the others no’ here where everyone can hear us.” Logan looked at her pleadingly and so she nodded resignedly. 

She walked back to the village between Logan and Yary still feeling uneasy because the two men remained silent until they reached a large tent next to the one where she had woken up. Her brother held aside the skin that was hanging in front of the entrance and she entered. 

Meyja looked around and realised that it seemed to be some kind of command post. Clumsy weapon racks were everywhere while the leather walls were covered with maps on which various circles and crosses marked troop movements. But before she could get a closer look, a bright bolt of lightning rushed toward her almost knocking her off her feet. 

"Yah're awake! Thank the gods!” yelled a bright voice that belonged to the blond woman who was just embracing Meyja. 

"Yeah… But who the heck are ya? Do we know each other?” Meyja replied confused. 

She was immediately released and the unknown backed away. "Excuse me. I'm Chloe, Logan’s sister. Unfortunately, we niver actually met at least not while ya were with ya.” 

When Meyja could see her face, she inevitably recognized the similarities Chloe shared with her brother. The Hayes siblings had almost the same facial features only Chloe's chin wasn't as pronounced as her brother's and she was shorter and noticeably slimmer than him but still towered over Meyja by half a head. Her hair was long and straight beginning to curl slightly in the lengths and her eyes were the same icy blue as Logan’s. She also had a snub nose which she wrinkled slightly when she spoke. 

"Oh… yah're the famous Chloe. I've already heard a lot Logan told me ‘bout ya,” Meyja replied a little ashamed. 

Chloe wrinkled her nose again. "I only hope for the best." 

Meyja nodded briefly while she looked at the man who was also unknown to her and who was just coming towards her. 

"This is Drystan, my apprentice. And… well… my partner.” Chloe blushed bright red. 

Logan exhaled audibly and looked at his sister with displeasure. "So, Lyam wusn' lying. It's nice to hear about it, too." 

Drystan simply ignored his statement and shook hands with Meyja. "Nice that we can meet. It was pretty close…” His words trailed off into an unintelligible murmur as he realised the other two men were giving him a warning look. 

After she had struck and returned the greeting Meyja dropped her hand again and turned to the two. "Now I'd really like to know wot happened. Would ya please finally enlighten me?" 

Logan nodded and pointed to the stools that were placed in a circle in the middle of the tent. "Let's sit down. And Drystan... Maybe yah'll be so kind as to go get the others.“ 

Drystan gave a jokingly mocking bow and then hurriedly went outside while Meyja went to one of the stools and sank down on it. 

"That wus unnecessary, Logan," Chloe pointed out sitting down like the two men. 

Logan stared at her and only let out a low wolfish sounding growl. He seemed angry. 

Meyja meanwhile made up her own mind about what she had noticed so far. The fact that Logan didn't dare look at her and hadn't kissed her when they hugged bothered her immensely. Her brother also avoided her gaze but unlike Logan he wasn't angry but seemed downright uneasy. 

"Wot is goin’ on here? Sumthin’ terrible must have happened otherwise ya wouldn' be actin’ so strangely.” She looked around suspiciously. 

"Shall I tell her?" Chloe asked quietly. 

Yary shook his head. "No, I'd better do that." 

Meyja's heart sank when her brother finally looked at her again and she saw the worry in his eyes. 

"Eadda... There were some political developments in the Ice Lands that we will explain to ya in more detail later but due to these developments we were forced to raise an army. This army consists of a few humans plus the Virtheriā who willingly joined to fight for their homeland. Few of our forces remain here at this time, most havin’ headed west and set up camp at the Bluffs to keep an eye on the situation there. The supreme commander of the troops should be well known to ya and please... I beg ya... please don' judge us. We had nothin’ to do with it. He was chosen by the soldiers. I didn' even know he wus alive and neither did Logan." 

Meyja's concern grew to panic when the fur was pushed aside and she saw who appeared in the passage. 

"No..." she breathed and stood up. 

Ethan Walsh walked briskly through the tent and stopped a few yards from her. 

"Eadda." He inclined his head in greeting. "Nice to see ya." 

She would have recognised him even after a whole century, even though he had gotten older and a full beard was growing on his face and he wore his hair down. 

As tears of disbelief welled in her eyes she whispered, "Don' come near me..." She knew she didn't have her daggers with her or she would have immediately pounced on him and made him pay for everything he did ever do to her but her gaze was already searching the weapon racks for a way to defend herself. 

"Don' do anythin’ rash I beg ya. We fight for the same cause,” Walsh pleaded quietly. 

"I killed ya. In yer house at Weather Point. I know exactly, even if I can only remember up to a certain point in time. I would always remember that. Ya desecrated me like all the years before”, she hissed angrily and backed away from him. 

Walsh just stood in front of her frowning. 

Yary got up and intervened. "It's probably better if ya give us a moment, Walsh. 

There is still a little clarification needed here.” 

Ethan nodded silently but she thought she saw in his eyes that he must have thought she was crazy as he turned and walked out again. After he was out of sight Lyam and Amelia entered but they stopped startled when Meyja forgot her good manners completely and began to yell. 

"Why?! Why him of all people?! And why is he still alive?! I killed him! Slit his throat! He raped me, Yary! Almost six years! Disfigured me! How could ya just?! I canno’ believe it! I... I..." She fell on her knees in front of her brother crying. 

Yardleyu put his arms around his sister and hugged her trembling body cried silent tears with her until she surprisingly pushed him away. 

"Wot kind of game is this? Ya said ya killed me and yet here I am… Who on earth brought him back to life?” she snapped. 

Taking a deep breath, he wiped his wet eyes. "Nobody had to brin’ him back. As already said an alien soul had taken possession of yer thoughts and yer body. There are various phenomena associated with such affliction. One of which is relivin’ bad life events. There's no denyin’ that he abused ya durin’ yer marriage but he's been here with the Ares ever since ya returned to the Ice Lands. He can’t have violated ya again and therefore no’ be dead, Eadda. I'm very sorry to tell ya this but it wus all in your head. It wus nothin’ but a vision sneakily implanted in ya by the Shepherd who also gave ya the possession.” 

She looked at him in disbelief couldn't believe what he was saying to her. "Ya lie…" "How could I ever lie to ya? Do ya really trust me to do that?” Yary asked urgently. 

Meyja looked around, her eyes caught on Logan who was sitting on his stool, and looking down at his knees melancholy. 

Finally, she stepped up and replied, “I don' know wot to believe anymore. Even if all of this is true ya still betrayed me by lettin’ him live and makin’ him the leader of our army. I don' know if I can ever forgive ya for that but for now I need sum distance. To everythin’ here. I will travel back to Sharaya to rest. Alone. I don' want anyone to accompany me and end up tryin’ to influence me." 

Logan got up, too. "Unfortunately, we can’t let ya go, ya would run to your certain death. Why ya think we had to raise an army? Because Cayden Kavanagh has made the Ice Lands his new kingdom. He fell on the men defending Aryancar, our encampment at the Bluffs. Two of our rebels were killed in freezing cold – Adam and Brennan are dead of his insanity. He only let Cyan and Nyall go so they could tell us wot had happened but Cyan wus driven insane by the sight of his brother's execution and wusn' able to formulate just one sentence. Nyall sent us a message from Kavanagh statin’ he has occupied all of the Ice Lands and would kill anyone who dared set foot beyond the falls. Only our army below keeps him from invadin’ the Ares here but we've already taken casualties. If ya think ya can even make it to Destrothos, I have to disappoint ya. A scout who went to get help wus also killed. They shot his head with a catapult straight into our camp. I can understand yer anger and it is justified in view of everythin’ that has happened to ya through yer husband. But let me also tell ya that he's the only one with the trainin’ and skills to lead an army. And we need every single man and woman to keep our homeland from Kavanagh. There will be war, if it hasn' already broken out lon’ ago." Logan had stepped towards her and looked at her pleadingly as he asked a little more quietly, "Please don' go... I love ya and I've already lost ya once. Don' do that to me again. 

That feelin’ of failure and loss is worse than anythin’ else.“ 

Meyja swallowed. "How lon’ has it been since our night in Waldskorn?" 

"Almost four months," Logan answered in a whisper. 

“Tell me wot happened in those four months. This is the last night I can remember,” she demanded sitting back on the stool. "Then I promise to stay." 

For the hour that followed those present took turns telling her about the departure from Waldskorn, the knowledge they had gained about the haunt, her fever, and the ritual that Arnor had performed at the Unseen Lake. 

"That wus almost two months ago. We heard yer body fall back into the water but no one could see wot had happened as we were all still blinded by the glare of the light. After the flickerin’ before our eyes had subsided, we spotted Arnor layin’ face down in the lake with ya also swimmin’ face down and nearly drownin’. Lyam managed to get ya out just in time but any help came too late for Arnor. He gave his life for ya, Meyja.” Logan looked at her while he was talking and she recognized the bitterness with which the sorrow had entered his heart. "We brought ya here, nursed ya, and fed ya soup ‘cause ya were unable to eat while ya slept. Chloe regularly exercised yer limbs and massaged yer saggin’ muscles. Drystan and Lyam brewed potions that kept yer body from givin’ up again. Every day I wus afraid of the moment when ya would wake up and I would have to face yer accusations. But I prayed to the gods every single night that this day would come ‘cause I missed ya so much.” 

When Logan’s tears rolled down his cheeks Meyja got up, went to him, and knelt on the floor in front of him. "I had no idea my allegations were unfounded. My words came out prematurely and I beg yer pardon. I… I love ya, too, Logan. Please forgive me." 

She cried as well when he replied, "There's nothin’ I have to forgive ya, sweetheart. 

For that there is all the more that I can be forgiven for." 

"And I forgive ya. Just like I forgive Yary. I now realise how great the burden must be that ya have carried with ya every day. Just please understand wot it means for me to face the man to whom I owe the worst years of my life," she replied. 

Logan pulled her into his arms and hugged her tightly. "I understand ya well. Once I realised who he actually is, the others had to stop me from killin’ him. Just like Yardleyu had to be dissuaded from takin’ him down.” 

She laid her head on his shoulder and nodded. "Just don' ever leave me alone while he's around. If he does sumthin’ that I consider provocative, I can’t guarantee nothin’.” 

Logan gently stroked her hair. "We have already vowed to watch over ya day and night and have done so for the past month since we found out who he is. Walsh has already been cross-examined by us and has said he wouldn' even consider harmin’ ya again. He knows that a penalty awaits him in due course and has also agreed to it. 

But we still need him too badly.” 

"I know. Ya don' have to guard me all the time but at least give me back my weapons so I can defend myself. I swear I won' harm him either as long as he keeps enough distance from me. But without my daggers… I feel quite… naked,” she replied. 

Logan met her eyes and nodded then he kissed her gently on the lips and she returned the gesture while snuggling into him. 

"And I thought that constant distrust wus one of the phenomena but she's really bloody suspicious," Amelia remarked dryly. 

Meyja looked over her shoulder at her and began to giggle softly. The other rebels joined in until the entire tent was filled with relieved laughter. 

After everyone had calmed down Meyja went to her brother and hugged him. "It's so good to have ya back. I've missed ya terribly, Yary." 

Yardleyu smiled blissfully and hugged her, too. "And I missed ya, Eadda. No’ only me but also everyone else here. I'm supposed to give ya warm regards from Ed by the way. He got all maudlin when yer name came up. And I met sumone else, too…” Yary cleared his throat in embarrassment. "He insisted on accompanyin’ me. I told him I don' know if ya want to see him again and that he might even have to leave without meetin’ ya but he wusn' persuaded to stay in Sharaya." 

"No’ Eralion?" Meyja looked at her brother uneasily. 

"Exactly. He could niver make peace with ya leavin’ him behind and says he just wants to gab to ya. I told him we love each other and he seems to be fine with that," Logan explained. 

"Ya want to see him again?" Yary asked terrified that he would cause her untold pain again. 

Meyja was amazed beyond measure by this news and nodded. "Very much. It seems I owe him an apology, if he has even come this far. As long as Logan is okay with that.” 

"Of course." Logan smiled softly. "I'll take ya to him tomorrow." 

She nodded again and replied, "A’ight. But now I would like to eat sumthin’.” Cheerful laughter rang out again through the tent and beyond, across the Are village while unimaginable disaster already brewed beyond the bluffs. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 40 - Ashes

After Meyja had only received a disappointingly meagre breakfast the next morning, Logan led her to Eralion accompanied by Yardleyu and Lyam. Chloe had explained to her that overeating could be dangerous as she hadn't eaten a bite of solid food for far too long. And so Meyja was satisfied with a tiny bowl of porridge. 
Lyam, too, was overjoyed that the combined care of the shamans had been so successful and that Meyja was in such a stable condition that she could already call for her weapons again and cause trouble. Less pleasing was the fact that she kept looking around, almost frantically looking for her husband. 
"Honey, I told ya he's no’ here right now. Calm down ya are surrounded by people who will protect ya. Nobody protects him”, Logan whispered putting an arm around her shoulders. 
  "I just don' want to be surprised. He's still a threat,” she growled. 
She'd checked out the command post the day before for a decent blade but she seemed to be the only one fighting with daggers for there had only been swords in the racks. The simple knives weren't suitable for her purposes but in the evening, she finally got her own weapons back from Logan. 
"Yah'll find Eralion behind it." Yary pointed to a tent a few meters in front of them. 
Meyja stopped. "Yah're no’ comin’?" 
"No, it's probably better if the two of ya gab to each other in private first. Besides 
I'm sure ya have a lot to gab ‘bout that shouldn' be meant for our ears,” Yary replied. 
Logan nodded in agreement but you could see that he didn't like being left behind. 
"Have him take ya back to the command tent when ya two are done." 
"A’ight." She kissed him again before approaching the tent with one last nervous look over her shoulder. 
The grinding sound of metal on stone echoed across her and she could feel her hands shaking. Her last reunion with Eralion had ended fatally for Aron and she had to blink at the thought of her deceased fiancé. She had never forgotten him never stopped loving him, although she loved Logan almost as much now. However, she was unsure of her feelings for Eralion who was sharpening a sword with his back to her. The only thing that was certain in this respect was that he had travelled more than halfway across the world to see her and for that reason alone she owed him this meeting. 
Knees weak and palms sweaty she stopped a few paces behind him, eyes fixed on the back of his head, wondering what to say but before a word left her lips, he turned to her. In his eyes she saw surprise and joy as she herself stood there with her mouth half open and just stared at him in horror. 
Eralion hadn't changed much in appearance other than a horrible scar running across his face, starting on his forehead, the mark parted his right brow, continued below his eye, and ended at his jawbone. From the colour she could tell that he must not have been injured long before and scabs still covered a small part of the cut. 
"You finally woke up." He was putting down the sword and walking towards her. 
She returned his hug and replied, "Yes, I am. But how are ya? Wot happened to yer face?” 
"Oh... that... never mind, that happened at the battle of the Bluffs. One of Kavanagh's warriors caught me with his sword. It's only thanks to Chloe and Lyam that it healed so quick, they took care of me almost as devotedly as they did you. And not for nothing it seems to me.” He smiled as he released her. "But now tell me... How is your health?" 
"Good, thanks. I can’t complain at least no’ in terms of my physical condition," she replied. "When were ya wounded?" 
“About a month ago after that I stayed here in the village and have been taking care of our fighters' weapons ever since. That means I grind swords, axes, and the like half the day. I had to make myself useful somehow.” Eralion spoke quickly letting his words sound casual in order to get quickly to his question. "Don't you want to come in? It's cold out here when you don't move.” 
She nodded silently and followed him into his tent in the centre of which stood a fire basket in which lively flames crackled and it was so warm that she pushed the pelt off her shoulders. 
"You Voynarians apparently just doesn't feel cold," he remarked with a grin but he also took off his coat and pointed to a stool. "Can I offer you something? I don't have much but there's still some salt meat. I could also make tea.” 
"I'm no’ allowed to eat much yet. Chloe says it could be dangerous since I slept so lon’. But a cup of tea is certainly no’ wron’,” she replied. 
He closed his eyes briefly and shook his head. "Please forgive me for not thinking of it." 
"It's okay nothin’ happened," she murmured while watching him fill a small pot with snow and put it in the fire basket. 
Then he sat down on his bunk and examined her more closely. He had only seen her with ginger hair on the black day that Aron had died and had wondered about it because he had been mistaken in believing that she was dark-haired. But now she was sitting in his tent, ginger-haired, blue-eyed, and beautiful just as he remembered even if she was almost as thin as when Aron had left her. Unlike at the time, however, she didn't appear skinny because she wasn't feeling well but looked healthy and he suspected the weight loss was probably due to lost muscle. 
"You look great. Healthy,” he remarked clearing his throat. Then he looked embarrassed at his hand and removed some dirt from under his fingernail but she immediately noticed the reddened cheeks and Meyja blushed, too. 
"Why thank ya," she replied. "Ya seem a little battered but I'm probably no’ tellin’ anythin’ new. Apart from the injury ya also look good. I don' mean that ya don' look good with the injury but it's an injury after all. Wot am I gabbin’ ‘bout, actin’ like an idiot..." She closed her eyes and tilted her head back shaking it gently. 
"I know what you mean and thank you very much." Eralion made a noise too soft to place. 
When she opened her eyes and looked at him again, she found it was an amused chuckle he was trying to suppress. "Stop laughin’ at me right now... I'm warnin’ ya..." she hissed with mock seriousness. 
He couldn't hold on any longer and burst out laughing which she joined a few seconds later because the situation was just too funny. 
It took them several minutes to regain their composure and both had tears in their eyes from laughing. 
“It's still the same as in Sharaya. Glad you're still the same," he said. 
Meyja had to admit, "It's similar but no’ the same anymore. Much has happened since then and I've changed. I don' think for the worse but I'm no’ quite my old self anymore. Ya also are no longer exactly like in Sharaya, ya, too, have experienced things..." 
He nodded a little more seriously but by no means gloomily. "I did, you're right. It's beautiful up here in the north, even if it's very cold, I would get used to that. But what I can’t get used to is Kavanagh, his people, and the views they hold. Do you know he wants to take Jevarish? Right after he killed us all here along with the giants?” He wasn't one to get angry but now he did.  
She had never seen him like that but now she could clearly feel that the anger had gripped him. "Yes, I know and I wus stupid enough to save his life in Sharaya. Far too often I believe in the good in people but most are just plain mean. I hate myself for savin’ him. If I could make this decision again I wouldn' stop Aron from doin’ it..." She hastily pressed a hand to her mouth when tears suddenly welled up in her eyes. 
"We buried him appropriately though admittedly the ceremony was terrible." Eralion took a deep breath and blinked. "It rained that day and it was like the gods weeping for a great warrior." 
"Were his ashes buried?" Meyja asked crying. 
He nodded. "Yes, I put them in the jar you always kept the Philos herb in. Then I carried them out of town and buried them on your tree. Your mark can still be seen in the trunk. Just below now lies Aron Gray, the Unseen, in eternal repose..." 
"Thank ya, Eralion. Though I wish I wus there...” She covered her face with her hands and sobbed as all the memories of Aron came back. 
She heard Eralion stand up then felt his arms wrap around her in comfort. "It must be awful to lose a loved one and not be able to say a proper goodbye. At first, I thought about scattering his ashes but then there would have been no place for you to go back to mourn.” 
"It's really an awful feelin’. But it seems just as awful to leave sumone behind and walk away without speakin’ to them again.” Her eyes were swollen when she looked at him again. "That's why yah're here, ain’ it? ‘Cause I didn' say goodbye properly?" 
Eralion knelt beside her and looked back for a long moment his cheeks wet before nodding. "Yes, that's why I'm here. I just had to see you and talk to you. About everything that happened. Try as I might I just couldn't forget you. You were everything to me, Meyja Blake. A part of me will always love you because you were my one true love and the only true love I will have in this life. I could never tell you all that because you didn't give me a chance. And when you left because Aron came back, I could handle the disappointment because it was because of another man that you really loved. But that one day when you had to leave again it was like having my heart ripped out of my chest.”  
“I couldn't leave the guild alone but at the same time I thought every second about where you are and how you are doing. I couldn't get over this loss and that was the really terrible thing about it. To have lost you again. But now that I've met you and seen that you're doing okay under the circumstances I can finally make my peace with everything. But please answer me one question... Have you ever loved me?“ 
She looked back and felt an unspeakable pity in her chest. "Ya always were important to me, Eralion, and still are now. But after Aron disappeared and I just didn' know if he wus alive or dead I just couldn' feel anythin’ anymore. There wus this emptiness in me that suppressed everythin’ else even the pain of losin’ our child. If ya had asked for my hand, I would have married ya without hesitation, so I guess I loved ya in a way, yes. But I still couldn't feel it... No’ like when I look at Logan..." 
He nodded and cried big tears that rolled down his cheeks as he continued to look at her. "Thank you, Meyja. Thank you for these frank words. I know you can’t force feelings, so maybe we just shouldn't be happy. But I really hope for you that you can find happiness with Logan. He is a good man, always nice, kind, and concerned about you.” 
"I'm so sorry, really..." she whispered with her jaw trembling. 
"No please. It's okay believe me, exactly as it is now. You took an immense burden off my shoulders by being honest and telling me that everything I've done for you wasn't in vain.” He started to smile and hugged her again squeezing her tightly and stroked her back. "Together we will bring down Kavanagh, I swear to the gods. I will not rest until we free Voynar and Jevarish from this man’s scourge. Side by side and in friendship.” 
"Eralion?" A female voice suddenly sounded from the entrance of the tent. 
He let go of Meyja and wiped his eyes. "One moment, please!" he called. 
"Who is that?" Meyja asked softly and dabbed her cheeks with her sleeve. 
"Niamh. She's always chasing after me but she's just too young..." he whispered. 
"Damn, I forgot about your tea now all the water has boiled away." 
"It doesn't matter I'd better be on my way now so that ya won't be disturbed," she replied and waved him off. 
"Please stay here. I don't want to be alone with her. I'm sure she'll leave as soon as she finds out I have visitors.” He looked at her pleadingly. 
Meyja laughed out loud and nodded. 
"You can come in, Niamh!" Eralion called before lowering his voice again and whispering a soft thank you to Meyja. 
As Niamh slipped into the tent she stood in astonishment and regarded Meyja with undisguised suspicion in her ice-blue eyes. The young woman was extremely pretty, with half-length light blonde hair which like Logan she wore shaved on one side of her head which gave her a daring look. 
"Who is that, Eralion?", she wanted to know and looked back and forth between the two. 
"I'm Meyja Blake, nice meetin’ ya," Meyja replied getting up and holding out her hand to the younger woman. 
Niamh lashed out nearly knocking Meyja over as she bumped her shoulder into her opponent's. "Niamh MacNamara." 
She really had strength and wore a sword on her belt, suggesting she was trained through combat practice and was most likely a warrior. 
Meyja turned to Eralion and said, "I would like to go now but Logan asked me to tell ya that ya want to take me back to the command tent. If ya don' mind, I would be grateful, if we could just accommodate this request. It won' take lon’ either I promise." 
"Of course. I'll be right back, Niamh, then let's see your sword, shall we?” He smiled at Niamh and winked. 
The blonde just nodded silently as Meyja and Eralion made it out. 
"Make yourself some tea until I get back!" he called over his shoulder then he grabbed Meyja's arm and pulled her with him as he quickened his pace. 
Only when they were out of sight did he slow down again and exhale audibly which made Meyja smile. 
"She's cute," she remarked. 
He gave her a blank look. "That may be so and I like her, too, but she's only twenty-one." 
"Twenty-one? She is a grown woman, Eralion, no longer a child. If she does show interest in ya, it is sincere interest, and no’ naïve reverie.” 
"I'll be thirty-two this year so she's eleven years younger than me," he whispered. 
Meyja threw her hands in the air. "So, wot? Ya may no’ even be the first man she's interested in. And I'm only twenty-five ya didn' have a problem with my age either. If ya like her, and she wants ya take her before sumone else who ain’ as good-hearted as you is." 
"You think so?" He still wasn't entirely convinced. 
"Wot's in it for me to lie to you?" she retorted raising an eyebrow. 
He thought about it for a moment then he smiled. "I'm sure you can do the last five meters on your own, right? I still have something important to do, if you understand..." 
"Have fun." She winked at him before he turned and ran back the way while Meyja watched after him with amusement and felt a deep sense of relief because he had probably just buried the ashes of her former love. Then she turned and entered the command tent where Logan was already waiting for her. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 41 - Past

Eralion rushed back into his tent and Niamh spun around wide-eyed holding a mug of steaming tea. 
"Are ya okay?" she asked worried. 
He nodded. "For me it is. And with you?" 
Niamh also nodded. "Course, wot should be wron’?" 
"Nothing, nothing… I just thought you had a reason for being here." He shrugged embarrassed. 
"My sword but there's no hurry." She seemed a little shy, too. 
"But you stayed and waited for me, why?" he asked. 
Niamh's cheeks reddened visibly. "Erm... Well... I just like bein’ here... Near ya..." 
She hadn't even the slightest suspicion that he knew she was interested in him and wanted to hear it from her just to be sure. "I noticed that but I don't quite understand why you chose me," he replied. 
"I don' think it's really a choice…" She set her tea aside and approached him. 
"Rather it's a decision made without any scrutiny." 
He looked into her ice blue eyes which had focused on his lips and his heart began beating faster involuntarily. 
"Wait..." he whispered nervously. "Before you do what you seem about to do I have to tell you something. The woman who was just here… Meyja. We used to be a couple years ago and we're still friends." 
"Why ya tellin’ me this?" She raised an eyebrow. 
"Because I don't want us both to fall in love and you to find out someday. Instead, you should know in advance what is going on and that there is no danger from Meyja's side," he explained. 
"I fell in love with you lon’ ago, Eralion. Wot would happen if she suddenly came and wanted ya back?” Niamh looked at him inquiringly. 
"Then I would turn her down. There was a long time I wished for just that but that time ended today. The things she said denied her any step back,” he countered. "Plus, she encouraged me to give in to you and I'd love to do that now." 
"Then do it," she whispered. "Kiss me…" 
His hands were shaking as he took her in his arms and gently pulled her to him. 
Their lips connected in a breath-taking way, suddenly existing only for this purpose and the kisses seemed to him more and more intense. Eralion's hands wandered down Niamh's back caressing it until he realised with a start that he had just touched her bottom. 
He hurriedly pulled away from her. "Excuse me please." 
She looked at him lustfully, grabbed his arms, and placed his palms back on her buttocks. "Don' hold back, there's no reason to." 
"Are... are you still untouched?" he asked softly while gently squeezing her bottom. 
Niamh nodded breathlessly. "Yes, but I want it. I want it to be ya who takes my innocence away. And before ya ask. Yes. I'm serious." 
He smiled. "Well then I'll take your virginity but I won't sleep with you." 
"But?" She seemed confused. 
"Just wait." 
With fingers trembling with excitement, he undid the belt on which the sword hung and put both aside before pulling his own shirt over his head. Niamh's knitted top followed his and as he removed her undershirt, he was already gently pushing her backwards toward his bunk. She sat down on the edge and looked up at him, as he unbuttoned his trousers and kicked off his boots then knelt in front of her and removed her shoes, too. 
As he reached for the buttons of her trousers, she asked softly, "Wot are ya goin’ to do, if ya don' want to sleep with me?" 
"There are other ways to give each other pleasure," he replied calmly slipping off her leather trousers. "If you don't like something please let me know." 
She nodded before scooting backwards into the middle of the bunk and kissing him back on his lips. 
Eralion lay down next to her on the sleeping pad devotedly caressing her powerful body while she pressed against him and returned his every caress. Both wearing nothing but their underpants she could feel the bulge in his middle, but he controlled himself and gently cupped her hand when he felt her fingers grope for it. "Don't…" he whispered hastily. "I would probably explode in an instant." 
"Wot would be so bad ‘bout that?" she asked with a smile. 
"To be honest, I don't know," he replied with a low hoarse laugh. 
"Then let me touch you," she pleaded looking deep into his brown eyes. 
He hesitated a few more seconds, then let go of her hand, and continued stroking her, as she stroked the cloth-covered bump with trembling fingertips. He let out sounds of lust over and over again, and realising he was near the threshold of no return he quickly rolled Niamh onto her back and braced himself over her. She giggled softly and he shook his head with a grin then he kissed her again and cupped her breast so that she closed her eyes with a gasp before he lowered his head and sucked gently on her nipples. 
Niamh groaned, gripping his long hair as his mouth slowly lowered, and he licked her skin with the tip of his tongue. 
When he reached the waistband of her underwear he stopped and lifted his head. 
"Still sure?" 
She didn't know exactly what he was up to but she nodded hastily. 
As he pulled down the linen fabric the sweet scent of her arousal wafted out at him and he began to caress her tenderly until she came with a soft sigh. 
He laid down next to her again and stroked her stomach until she opened her eyes and blinked at him. 
Then she rolled onto him and kissed him profusely on the lips. "That wus beautiful, thank ya very much," she whispered eyes shining. 
"You don't have to thank me for that," he replied hugging her. 
Suddenly he felt mean for giving in to temptation and getting into bed with such a young woman. 
Niamh noticed his melancholy. "Sumthin’ wron’?" 
He briefly curled up the corners of his mouth. "It's just... you're so young and so beautiful. We're eleven years apart and I have this ugly scar on my face. I just don't know if I'm the right man for you, Niamh.“ 
"But I know." She looked at him steadily. "Yah’re no’ ugly but a warrior, just like I am. I realise yah're quite a bit older than me but all the guys my age are idiots and dumb jerks. None of ‘em thinks beyond the next day, the next battle, or the next girl they want to stick their dicks in, only to dump her the next mornin’. But I want to love a man, no’ an immature boy but someone to whom I can give my heart and who doesn' just break it but treats it with respect. Ya don' want to break my heart, do ya?" 
"No, I don't want that, never," he whispered. 
"Ya know why I wear my hair this way?" she asked grimly but gave him the answer immediately. "Because I want to look dangerous. And ya already seem dangerous and fearless ‘cause of that scar so there's no need to make ya look visibly more dangerous. But I am a woman and I am no’ taken seriously otherwise.” 
"I take you seriously and I know that you are a fearless warrior. But I'm not a warrior, Niamh, I'm an assassin who usually kills my enemies from behind and disappears before I'm spotted. There is nothing honourable about it, no fame, and no glory. And I'm not even a good assassin." Eralion gave her an unamused look. 
"Who's good at killing anyway?" she asked rhetorically and laughed. 
“Meyja is good at it, incredibly good, if not the best. And she has experience in one-on-one combat, unlike me. I owe this scar to my lack of martial arts alone. That's why I'm just something like the armorer now, I use what little my father taught me and make myself useful," he explained. "But this mark on my face just reminds me that I failed." 
She slid off him and turned her back on him. "I have a scar, too, see? But it's no’ a sign of failure, it's a sign to train even harder." 
He looked at the fine mark stretching from side to side on the lower part of her muscular back. "How did that happen?" 
“That wus my father, he trained me in combat when I was little. Durin’ practice I turned my back on him for just one second and wus punished for it. All he said, wus that if I didn't want more scars, I had to get better and to stop crying.” Niamh grinned. "I got better and didn't get another single scar." 
"That's remarkable," he murmured impressed. 
She shook her head. “No, this is the result of hard work. We can practice together if ya want.” 
"I'd love to, but first I have a question for you." He smiled in embarrassment. 
"Of course, ask," she replied and turned back to him. 
He studied her body traced the contours of her breast with his fingertips and whispered, "You are so incredibly beautiful... May I draw you?" 
She raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Draw? Me?" 
"Of course," he replied. "You would only have to sit still for a few minutes." 
Her cheeks flushed with obvious embarrassment but then she nodded with a tiny smile. "Agreed." 
"It's my honour, my lady." He kissed her on the lips before standing up. "Just give me a second, I need to find my paper and pen." 
She lay on her stomach and watched him frantically go through his belongings, but he didn't have much and found what he was looking for quickly. He sat down on the stool, leafed through the pages of the stapled paper, and she could see the motifs upside down on the back, next to trees, bays, and mountains she recognized a woman. 
"Wait... who's that?" she asked leaning forward. 
Eralion blushed. "That... that's Meyja, I had already completely forgotten that I had drawn her at some point as well." 
Niamh took the pad from him and looked more closely at the picture, it showed Meyja laying on her side on a bed not a piece of cloth on her body. 
"She's really beautiful, I noticed that earlier. And it seems to me she wusn' always this scrawny," she remarked. 
He nodded. "If you turn the page, you can see another drawing of her." 
She turned the page and studied the other painting, which was a portrait. "Yah're really, really good at drawing. But why does she look so sad?“ 
"I caught the look in her eyes last and she was kind of lost in her thoughts which I guess weren't very pleasant. I don't know what she was thinking about, though,” he replied also thoughtful. "Maybe of Aron..." 
"Who is Aron?", she asked and turned the page again before he could stop her. 
"Nah, no! That's..." he started, but she had already seen it and looked at the motive in shock. 
"Are those scars?" she blurted out. 
"It's actually not meant for your eyes and you've never seen it, understand?" He felt guilty and took the pad from her hands. 
"A’ight..." she still shocked stammered. 
Meyja had known that he had drawn her at least with the first two motifs she had agreed after some hesitation but the third picture had been taken without her knowledge. One morning while she was still asleep, he'd fetched his paper and captured the moment the sight of her laying peacefully asleep on her stomach, her back showing all the horrors of her childhood and early adolescence. It was the deepest and most detailed motif he had ever drawn and was actually his favourite. 
Realising that he was kneeling on the floor and staring absently at the drawing, he hurriedly got up and turned the page again until a blank page followed, but then he dropped his arms and sighed. 
"I'm afraid I just lost the desire to draw, please forgive me," he murmured and sat down next to her on the bunk tossing the paper on the floor. 
Niamh snuggled up behind him and whispered, "It's fine. It still seems to take a toll on ya sumhow. Ya want to gab ‘bout it?" 
"It wouldn't be fair after all she doesn't even know this picture exists and would never have let me draw her back. It's probably her biggest and darkest secret which I don't want to spill especially since you guys don't even know each other," he replied sullenly. "I should just burn it." 
"But yer friends why don' ya just give her the drawings?" she suggested. 
He stood again and carefully tore the page from the stapled pile then tossed it into the flames that roared in the fire basket and were hungrily devouring the paper. "Because she's been through enough lately. It just doesn't have to be to upset her anymore." 
"To be honest ya both looked like ya were cryin’," she murmured. 
"Yes, we had. We had some things to talk about and we hadn't seen each other for quite a while.” He sat down next to her again. 
Niamh looked at him seriously and remarked, "She's also the reason for yer journey north, ain’ she? Wot happened between ya two that ya are taking such a lon’ way?” 
Eralion sighed and draped one of the large pelts around both of their shoulders. 
Then he started telling her about his past with Meyja. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 42 - Joy

The next morning Meyja woke up before Logan again and stole outside. She suspected that she slept so badly and briefly because she had stayed in bed involuntarily for so long. She was also tormented by constant hunger and the knowledge that her husband was still alive which was also not very conducive to sound sleep. To be on the safe side she drew one of her daggers and kept it concealed blade up to be able to defend herself in an emergency. Her plan was to visit the Ares to finally thank them and offer her condolences for Arnor's passing which she felt responsible for. She had been shocked to learn of the elder's death although Arnor had been terrifying in his own way, he had shown kindness to her and for that she was more than grateful. 
She headed for the tent where Askil had taken her years before, but holding the fur aside she saw that it was empty. Thoughtfully she walked on trying to remember where she had slept that time. 
An Are crossed their path and headed straight for her. 
"Glad to see you, Whisperer," he greeted her kindly. 
She stopped and looked at him but didn't recognise him until he stopped in front of her, got on his knees, and looked into her face. "It's Askil." 
She looked at him in astonishment then a big smile crept onto her face and she hugged her old friend effusively. 
"I'm sorry I almost didn' recognise ya. It's been so lon’..." she whispered. 
"That's it. And I’m pleased to seeing you again unharmed. You're safe, aren't you?” He let go of her and eyed her with concern as his eyes locked on her face again. 
"Yes, I am. By and large, at least,” she said. 
"You're in turmoil, I can feel it." He looked at her worried. 
She waved him off. "It's fine just a few minor events over the past few days have kept me awake. But tell me please how things have been for ya in the last few years.” 
Askil showed his snow-white teeth with a smile. "I am doing great. I have a wife and have become a father. Let me introduce you to them both.” 
He got up and took her tiny hand and led her back down the hill to the tent which Meyja now recognised after all because she had spent a night here before she was brought from the Ice Lands. 
"Have you eaten anything yet?" he asked. "Aaltje cooks excellently." 
"No’ yet, no." Meyja was a bit embarrassed by Askil's undisguised joy. 
“You already know my tent.” He held the skin aside in front of the tent entrance and called out, “Aaltje! We have visitors!" 
The Whisperer entered hesitantly and looked around. "It seems they are no’ at home, Askil." 
"Oh, then she must have just gone somewhere and took Aie with her," he remarked. "Please sit down I'm sure they'll be right back." 
Meyja climbed onto a stool and Askil sat down opposite her while she looked around again. "It's a little cramped in here, ain’ it?" 
"The entire village has become cramped since the humans have been here but I don't want to complain. It's just fine for us,” he said but she could see he didn't mean it. 
"Please tell me the truth, Askil." 
Her blue eyes met his gaze until he sighed softly and bowed his head. “The humans cause a lot of trouble, to be honest. We actually assumed that after we freed them, they would return to their own homes but they stayed. Even those who are obviously unfamiliar with shamanism are still here although we don't understand why. We always hoped that there would be some way for us to communicate with the other people to find out what was going on. But you're still the only one able to talk to us, Meyja." 
"This is Kavanagh's fault. He threatened anyone beyond the cliffs. So, it would be good if we plan a meeting for everyone so that we can clear up these misunderstandings as quickly as possible,” Meyja replied. “And there were other developments in the human realm that yer people should also know ‘bout. Beside… 
I have something else to say…” 
When she hesitated Askil asked, "What? Just say it you don't have to fear me." 
"I'm aware of that. It's ‘bout Arnor… I feel bad ‘cause he gave his life for mine,” she murmured. 
Askil placed two fingers on her cheek. "Meyja... Little Meyja... Don't grieve for Arnor. He was by far the wisest of us and knew what he was doing. I have already said that you will have an important part to play in the history of Abarglen, if not the most important at all. Your life is more valuable than any Are’s could ever be and Arnor knew it. His suicide has strengthened you and a part of Arnor will live on in you. A sliver of his soul so to speak. You will soon emerge as the most powerful mortal this world has ever known. Honour his memory and honour his gift to you with devotion.” 
She looked at Askil, her jaw trembling. "I wish I could thank him for that." 
He put his hand on her chest. "He's a part of you and feels your gratitude every second." 
"Thank ya, too, Askil." She smiled. 
He returned the smile. "I know what you're getting at... I would never have left you at the Bluffs or done anything to you, let alone any other Are would have done. You are incredibly strong and special, each of us can feel that.” 
"Meyja!" A call echoed through the village. 
"This is Logan," she remarked and left the tent, Askil following her. "Logan!" 
He had already hurried further up the mountain and turned hastily when he heard her then ran towards her and hugged her breathing heavily. "Wot are ya doin’? Why didn' ya wake me up again?” he demanded and gave her a quick look to see if she was okay. 
"I'm fine." She waved him off. "I'm no’ sleepin’ very well right now and I just didn' want to wake you up." 
Logan’s gaze found Askil. "Who is that?" 
"This is Askil, he rescued me at the Bluffs before I had to flee Voynar. We happened to run into each other and he wanted to introduce me to his family who seem to be on their way.” She turned to the Are. "Askil, this is Logan Hayes, my partner.“ 
"I'm very pleased, Logan. You have a remarkable woman by your side,” Askil remarked. 
When Meyja turned back to Logan he whispered, "Why is he so angry? Wot did ya say?" 
"Far from bein’ angry he gave you a friendly greetin’ and said that ya have a remarkable woman by yer side." She raised an eyebrow in astonishment. "Wot makes ya think he's angry?" 
"His tone sounded like it and he looked terribly angry but come to think of it ya also sounded pretty angry." Logan looked back and forth between the two obviously confused. 
Meyja nodded and said in Askil's direction, "It seems to me that no’ only yer language is incomprehensible for the humans but also the tone of voice and the expression. Logan was just askin’ me why ya were so angry." 
“That seems to be due to decades of alienation. In the past people could at least do something with our gestures and faces. And it explains why so many people seem afraid of us.” Askil was visibly saddened. "Please tell him I'm not angry at all, I'm happy for you both." 
"Askil believes that this false assumption comes from the fact that humans and Ares have stayed apart for so long. Ya don't have to be afraid of ‘em and he emphasises that he's no’ angry but happy for both of us.” She smiled and thanked the Are. 
"It's nothin’. I'm no’ afraid but sum of the others have expressed concerns ‘bout this. We need to call a meetin’ and gab about all this. There were certainly more misunderstandings we can clear up,” Logan suggested and nodded to Askil. "If ya feel up to it, of course." 
“I have already suggested that ‘cause the Ares also have reservations ‘bout the humans who still live here and have no’ returned to their villages and towns. They didn' know ‘bout Kavanagh and his threats.” She looked at him steadily. "So, there were really big misunderstandings that we need to clear up no matter how I feel. I am and will probably remain the only whisperer for a while.” 
"Fine, if you want it." Logan sighed. 
She turned back to Askil and asked, "Could ya invite yer people for a meetin’ tonight? Then I will take care of my people and call everyone together.” 
Askil nodded directly. "Of course. We'll meet on the cliff, there should be enough space for everyone there.” 
"Agreed. I'm really very sorry that I won' be able to get to know yer family but I will come back again, I promise. Only now I'd rather go with Logan otherwise he'll be afraid that I'll overdo it.” She winked mischievously. 
He grinned, too. "See you tonight. I was very lucky, Logan.” The Are nodded to the man and then disappeared back into his tent. 
"Well then we also have a lot to do until tonight." She looked at her companion and on the way to the command tent told him everything Askil had said. 
Even before dusk fell both the giants and the humans had gathered at the cliff. Meyja and Airikr who would lead the discussion together with her stood a little higher and looked contentedly at the gathering of their two peoples. 
"We are gathered here to clear up all the misunderstandings that have existed between the Ares and the humans in the past. Many of those present are probably no’ even aware there really were misunderstandings,” Meyja began nervously. “Let me start by sayin’ that the inner rage that the Ares have been imputed to have been no’ actually displayed by ‘em. It has been decades – if not longer – since our peoples met and accordingly a devastating alienation took place which has now culminated in the fact that we humans can no longer even correctly interpret the facial expressions and gestures of the Ares.” She wasn't used to speaking in front of so many people and generally was better to get too little than too much attention. 
"But how do we know that? Is that just a guess or is there solid evidence?” one of the humans asked. 
Meyja looked down at her feet for a moment before explaining, "There is evidence ‘cause I can speak to the Ares. I'm a Whisperer." 
A murmur of astonishment went through the rows of people and once again Meyja was given the awed looks she hated so much. 
Undeterred she continued, "Now that that's settled, I'll continue... Aside from that some Ares are mistaken for angry..." 
"Who are ya actually? We've never seen ya here before!” a woman called out. 
"Would ya please let me speak? Afterward, I'll be available for any questions but first I'd like to tell ya why we're here and then hand over the floor to Airikr.” Meyja shot the two troublemakers a sharp look. 
She had always been aware that the Voynarians were not a particularly polite people. But now the cheeky nature of her fellow citizens bothered her all the more since it did not only affect her. 
She took a deep breath before continuing, "Fine, thank ya. In addition to this view the Ares wonder, amon’ other things, why there are sum people who since they regained their self-determination years ago are still here and have no’ returned to the villages and towns in which they actually live. In the meantime, unfortunately the step towards a homecomin’ has become impossible ‘cause Kavanagh has surrounded us up here. But the Ares would like to know why all of ya have never taken back what is yers.” 
As she had already feared nobody answered anymore instead many heads turned away and nobody seemed to feel addressed. 
Airikr scowled and said nothing. 
Meyja stepped forward and stopped in front of the woman who had spoken last. 
"Why are ya still here?" 
"I... I don' know... my husband is here, too, he's fightin’ for Mister Walsh." 
"And ya?" Meyja turned to the man who had asked her about the evidence. 
"Is that any of yer business?" he snapped back. 
"Ya all have no idea, am I right? Ya don' even know the Ares were driven out of the Voynarian lands lon’ ago by the Kavanagh family and live a meagre nomadic life here in the mountains. All yer wealth is based on nothin’ but lies,” Meyja replied. 
"We haven' been rich, niver! Our life wus that of simple farmers!” the man flared up. 
She retorted, "And yet ya were rich. Rich in the freedoms inherent in every citizen of Voynar. In contrast to all of ya the Ares had lost all rights although they always wanted wot was best for the people.“ 
Another guy stood up. "Yah're Faegan Blake's daughter, ain’ ya? Ain’t yer name Eadda? Yes, I recognise ya. Ya come from wot wus once the wealthiest aristocratic family in the entire kingdom and yer father wus involved with Roarke Kavanagh, if I remember correctly. So, who ya think ya are to stand up in front of us and rebuke us in such an arrogant manner? When yer father could have had just as much of a part in wot happened? Ya always had food, a roof over yer head, and a warm bed, so wot ya know of a farmer like him?" 
"I recognise ya, too. Ya are Eamon Coughlan, son of the aristocrat Seamus Coughlan, and lived only a few houses away. My father got ya a respectable rank in the army, didn' he? Even though ya refused to ask for my hand. I don' hold yer grudges for that but know that I only had wot yah're blamin’ me for until my thirteenth birthday. In addition to almost daily beatings ‘cause I resisted wot my parents planned for me. As far as I know yah've niver had a sister either so you have no idea wot it wus like for high-born daughters like me to be born into these circumstances. After said thirteenth birthday I had nothin’ anymore. My husband forbade me from seein’ my brother, imprisoned me, and nearly starved me. I wus a prisoner." 
Yary appeared to her left. "Don' let such an upstart provoke ya." 
Eamon hadn't heard him and pressed on. "I'm very sorry for ya but that's why ya still don' know wot it means to have to work to make a livin’ yerself." 
Now Eralion got up and also stepped next to Meyja. "She knows that very well. She worked hard to make money and I've never met anyone like her. We met in Sharaya and were both members of a guild of assassins. And none of the men who were also in the guild were so deadly. The road she has travelled has been long and arduous but she never gave up and is still a living legend spoken of with reverence in Sharaya. She has travelled Abarglen from southernmost to northernmost and is wiser than all of us put together. No doubt she could do anything you can’t even dream of." 
“Dorcha Kavanagh haunted her mind and body tormentin’ her to death. But the eldest of the Ares resurrected her and gave his life for hers in freein’ her from the hauntin’. The shamans sensed lon’ before anyone else that there is a power in her that hardly anyone can grasp. She's no’ just any human, she's the strongest woman this world has ever seen. Her words to ya weren' arrogant in any way, Coughlan, so ya better watch wot ya say or yah'll have to deal with me.” Logan was standing next to her now and growled at the cheeky guy. "Ya all just stayed here ‘cause it was convenient, didn' ya? Ain’ that so?!" 
Eamon sheepishly lowered his head and sat down again, silence fell over the cliff and Meyja gently placed a hand on Logan’s chest to calm him down. 
"Please don' get upset he's no’ worth it. But thank ya and ya, too, Eralion,” she whispered. 
When she went back to Airikr and stood next to him. Yary, Logan, Eralion, Niamh, Chloe, Drystan, Amelia and Nyall had followed her and stood next to her. 
"This ain’t ‘bout shamin’ anyone or twistin’ facts. I just want each of ya to realise that bein’ able to spend all these years here is no’ sumthin’ that should be taken for granted. But now we are on the brink of war against Kavanagh and I expect each and every one of ya to do yer utmost – if only by gatherin’ firewood. We have to stick together, now more than ever," she appealed to her compatriots. 
The woman from before stood up. "I'm good at weavin’ and sewin’ baskets, if that's goin’ to help anyone." 
Meyja nodded and turned to Airikr. "She wants to get involved by sewin’ baskets. 
She can weave, too.” 
The Are chief looked a little surprised at first but then he nodded and helped to put the people who were now offering their services in many different areas in contact with the Ares who were pursuing the same or a similar occupation. Some offered to help with the hunt, others were skilled at fishing, and still others volunteered to make clothing out of leather or cloth. There were even a few people who knew how to tend wounds who agreed to go to the front and help where it was most needed. Chloe said she would work with them and could at least give them some more suggestions and guidance. 
Airikr explained that they had a way of going without firewood and that over the coming day some shamans would go through the village to ignite a magical heat source for anyone who wished. 
Since Meyja was getting tired she thankfully gave up the drinking session that followed and wanted to go back to her tent with Logan. 
A woman hurried after her. "Wait!" 
Meyja stopped and turned to her. Before she knew it the stranger had put an infant in her arms. 
The woman said breathlessly, "Would ya please bless my son? It would be an honour to me…" 
"I... I'm sorry but I'm no’...", Meyja murmured but then she stopped and returned the child's gaze. 
She held out a finger to the little one which they immediately grabbed and began to babble happily. A smile stole onto Meyja's features and all of a sudden it almost felt as if there was suddenly only her and the baby in her arms. The world stood still, everything seemed to have slowed down, and she happily rocked the little bundle whose tiny fingers were still closing around hers. 
Logan watched her with emotion although he was very surprised at the same time because she had told him that she didn't want any children but now he suspected that she hadn't been completely honest with him. 
After a few minutes Meyja noticed the situation, she was in and she gave the infant’s mother a quick examining look, but she still seemed satisfied and smiled. Carefully she released her finger from the baby's grip and put her hand on his cheek instead. "Wot's their name?" she asked quietly. 
“My brother's name was also Sean. I wish him the best that this Sean may grow up big and strong and no’ suffer an early death.” Meyja handed the boy back to his mother who hastily thanked her, curtsied and then hurried away. 
Logan walked silently next to her at first but when she didn't say anything either, he remarked, "Ya liked it, didn' ya?" 
"Wot ya mean?" she asked back. 
“Don' pretend to be more stupid than ya are. Of course, I mean to hold the child. I could tell ya were happy ‘bout it,” he replied. "There would be no shame in just admittin’ it." 
"I'm no’ admittin’ anythin’," she replied then pushed past the fur into their shared tent. 
Logan just smiled in amusement and took a deep breath before following her. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 43 - Demons

The Ice Lands, Fulgyr of the year 72

A week later Meyja entered the command tent early in the morning and approached the assembly unnoticed. Logan, Yardleyu, Amelia, Lyam, Chloe, Drystan, a man she didn't know, and Walsh sat in a circle on the stools. At the sight of the latter, she immediately felt hot hatred boil up again along with the fear she had already felt. 
Logan was angry. "It's just insane that Walsh is here, he should hurry back to our troops instead of loiterin’ around. If Meyja sees him, she will freak out again. No wonder he's like a red rag to her for everythin’ he's done. He's lucky he's still breathin’. If you hadn' held me and Yardleyu back, then... then...” He let out an exasperated growl. "I don' know but I probably would have torn him to pieces! And he deserved that! When all this is over, then..." 
Except for Logan and Yardleyu those present kept their heads down and listened to his words in silence but Chloe looked up surprisingly and discovered Meyja behind her brother. 
"Shut up, she's here," she interrupted him. 
He spun around and stood up. "Honey, yah're already awake. I wusn' expecting ya please forgive me. Let's just go, shall we?" 
Meyja shook her head. "No, go on. I want to hear wot yah're plannin’ to do with him, too.” She couldn't tear her eyes away from her husband, their eyes were connected as he also looked back at her. 
Embarrassed looks were exchanged and she felt the anger in her stomach only a second before it could boil over. Instead of freaking out – as Logan had called it – she remained deliberately calm and just waited. 
Logan grabbed her upper arm and looked at her intently. "Please let us..." 
Walsh cut him off. "Eadda, listen to me. Or Meyja, if you prefer that name. I am aware of the terror I must have left in yer heart and how deep the scars are in it. 
Nothin’ is further from my mind than reopenin’ yer old wounds. Please believe me. I'm incredibly sorry for wot I've done to ya but I ask for yer forgiveness which ya can probably never give me. There is simply nothin’ that can undo such deeds I know that. Nevertheless, I ask ya for yer personal mercy ‘cause we now have to pull together to save our homeland. Unfortunately, it is absolutely essential that I attend these meetings, otherwise I would have returned to the front lon’ ago. Ya don’ need to fear me no more for I have sworn never to lay hands on ya or any other woman unless she specifically wishes me to do so. I hereby renew this oath once more in yer presence. I swear to the gods no’ to harm anyone. But I humbly ask that yah’re here to advise on how we should proceed.” 
He looked at her pleadingly and she saw the regret in his tear-stained eyes but that only fuelled her hate even more. When she thought she was about to burst from the boiling heat inside – nothing happened. Suddenly all the negative feelings towards him were gone, instead she just didn't care about him. 
The mental liberation seemed to be obvious to her because Logan and Yardleyu stared at her in amazement while a barely visible smile crept onto her features. 
"I forgive ya." She paused meaningfully during which none of those present made a sound before continuing, "Do wot ya must do but beware... If I hear anythin’, I will hunt ya down and kill ya. Very slowly. And I promise ya don' want to experience that.“ 
"I... I don' know wot to say..." Walsh stammered in disbelief. 
Logan growled, "How ‘bout a thank ya, jerk?" 
Walsh nodded hastily. "Of course, sorry. Thank ya, Eadda.” He bowed his head humbly. 
"Meyja," she replied casually. 
"Meyja. Sorry again.” Walsh had visibly lost his composure. 
Yardleyu was still too shocked to say anything, but Amelia wanted to join in the fun and said, "Didn' ya have sumthin’ to do, Ethan?" 
He completely ignored her mischievous grin but hastily nodded and left the tent. 
"Wot's that, Amelia? We still had urgent matters to discuss!” Drystan exclaimed. 
She gave him an amused look, "He'll figure that out on his way to nowhere and come back. But first I want to find out wot happened in Meyja.” 
"I would be interested in that as well." Logan looked at his lover inquiringly. "It truly came out of nowhere." 
Meyja groaned and took a seat on one of the stools, Logan right next to her. "I don' know myself anymore. I almost lost myself completely again but then from one second to the next there was nothin’ but this inner peace, this wonderful calm and all hatred was suddenly gone. It's so relaxin’ to hate one less human, bad enough Cayden is still out there killin’ our people with impunity. But since Walsh has the same thin’ in mind as we do and wants to work with us, I have to think of all of us and not just have my personal revenge on my mind.” 
"Yer words speak of wisdom and true inner greatness, Meyja." Chloe looked at her in awe. 
Meyja shook her head. “No, they rather testify to the unconditional desire for peace. I'm tired of constantly fightin’ the demons of my past. All the hate has eaten me up inside over the years as has the fear of him. Ya can only make peace with an enemy and since Kavanagh won' be willin’ to do so, I'll be allyin’ myself with the most terrible guy I know." 
“Worse than Kavanagh and his sister? I don' think so..." Amelia replied doubtfully. "After all, Dorcha is evil incarnate. At her brother's command she brings death to anyone who stands in her way.” 
"That may be so. But given the power that Kavanagh holds Walsh surpasses him many times over. Ethan Walsh is a sadist, Amelia. He also used his power over me mercilessly and feastin’ on my screams ‘cause it aroused him. Without me makin’ a sound of my sufferin’ known he could not even lose himself when he used me. And I still wus a child..." Meyja replied gloomily. 
"And that's why I can' believe ya forgave him for all of that…" Yardleyu whispered. "He nearly destroyed ya. None of those present here saw you the day I freed you. No one had to see your sunken cheeks under the bulgin’ bleary eyes or yer emaciated body beyond recognition – except me. That wus the day I almost didn' recognize my own sister. This image will haunt me for the rest of my life.” 
No one's opinion was more important to Meyja than her brother's and she stared at him in silence while wondering if she had made a serious mistake. 
Then Logan intervened and took her side. "Then why didn' ya get her out of there before this endless lon’ time was up? How did ya knowingly allow this horror to happen to her? Yah're no fool, Yardleyu, and I'm sure ya knew everythin’ that went on in that house but ya left her there and I feel that ya are partly to blame for wot happened.” 
"Ya have no idea, Hayes! I didn' even get to see her from the day of her weddin’ to the day of her liberation. The only contact we had wus through a crack in the kitchen window through which I couldn' peer. And even if I had freed her, she would have been dragged right back to him. She wus his property. He could do whatever he wanted without facin’ punishment,” Yary growled. "I would have given my life to free her from this sufferin’ but it just wusn' possible." 
"Please stop arguin’," Meyja asked tonelessly. "I can't bear it that ya are so hostile because of me. The real enemy is and always will be Kavanagh. It is also his family who killed countless girls like me. They paved the way for those laws and traditions and no’ only that... They allowed clerics all over Voynar to make vast sums of crowns from potions and tea that rendered these girls sterile. I became a victim in that regard, too. But I didn' become the Indomitable for nothin’ ‘cause I will fight until all this ends. I have just put the first of my demons to flight with sheer magnanimity. 
Leave me the dignity with which I forgave Walsh.” 
"I… I'm terribly sorry, Eadda. But as far as that goes ya didn' become their victim ya became mine. I knew ‘bout the side effects of the potion but I ignored the warnings in my books.” Yary's voice shook as he fought back tears. 
"Ya? It wus ya?” she asked in dismay. "But why?" 
"Because ya told me specifically that ya didn' want to bear him any offsprin’ and that ya would rather die than give him a son. Ya were in an almost hopeless situation and I had to do sumthin’. Also, I wus afraid that if ya gave him a child and it wus old enough to survive without ya, he would kill ya. I had a choice between two evils and so did ya. If I had asked ya ‘bout yer choice, yer burden would only have increased and I wanted to avoid that at all costs. I made this decision over yer head and prayed that ya would no’ suffer the consequences. Unfortunately, in vain,” he answered softly crying. 
In those seconds she saw all the moments when she regretted not being able to have children flash past in her mind and realised that the burden couldn't have been less. But how credible would she be if she declared Kavanagh an enemy over something she could so easily forgive her brother for? And in the end even in the presence of Logan who probably wanted a family despite everything? 
"Are there any secrets left? Does anyone else have sumthin’ to confess?” She looked around. 
Logan nodded sadly. "I wus watchin’ ya on Amelia's behalf. For quite a while right after ya showed up in Waldskorn. I heard ya gabbin’... We both know who ya were gabbin’ to. But I had no idea when I told Amelia about this and I'm sorry." 
"Besides, everyone here saw ya naked at the Unseen Lake ritual... Well, except for Nyall. Eralion was present for that,” Amelia explained in a casual tone. 
Drystan bowed his head and rubbed his temples with his fingertips while the others stared down at the Shepherd until she murmured a hesitant apology. 
Meyja remained seated for a few seconds with an expressionless face then she got up and left the tent without a word. 
The betrayal of the two most important people in her life nearly knocked her to the ground and she couldn't stop the tears streaming down her cheeks as she headed blindly for the cliff. At the highest point just above the cliffs she finally fell to her knees, weeping silently as the wind caressed her cheeks and swept through her hair. As she saw the outline of Weather Point through the veil before her eyes, she suddenly remembered the fever dream and all the feelings she had felt in it came crashing down on her at the same time. Once again that day she felt an immense pressure inside her which now almost made her heart burst. With all her strength she tried to cling to her consciousness but the darkness irresistibly pushed further into her field of vision and she fell sideways into the snow. The last thing she saw before passing out was a blurred face, lips moving. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 44 - Ostracism

After Meyja left, the rebels stayed behind in a depressed mood each with their own thoughts about what had just happened. 
Yardleyu was still crying silently and blaming himself because Meyja had had to find out his long-kept secret in this way. Logan on the other hand felt mean for burdening her with her own secret even though he'd found out about it long before his confession. 
Only Amelia and Chloe had started a heated argument about whether it was right or wrong to confront the Indomitable with these truths right now since she had only recently woken up from a weeks long sleep and Chloe didn't think she had sufficiently recovered. 
"She wanted to know just as I always want to know everythin’. If ya ask, ya have to live with the answer it's that simple.” Amelia blew out a surly breath to get rid of a strand of hair that had slipped out of her topknot. "And I know she hates bein’ treated like a child." 
"Ya are cruel, Amelia. Her condition is unstable and we don' know how much she can take before collapsin’. A little more consideration – also from yer side – would have been quite appropriate,” Chloe replied and turned to her brother and Yary. "I find it appallin’ that ya two don' know any better. I find it fundamentally wron’ and downright reprehensible to burden her with the presence of Eralion on the next day of her awakenin’. She cried while she was with him, ya could tell that clearly. Such an emotional burden would cause great problems even for a stable person.” 
"Amelia is right about one thin’... Meyja is no longer a child but a little more sensitivity would certainly no’ have hurt, I have to agree with Chloe," Logan explained quietly. "It's best if we go after her before she gets the idea to do sumthin’ stupid." 
"I'll go with ya. After all, we drove her off together." Yary impatiently wiped the tears from his eyes before getting up. 
Meyja woke up with fluttering eyelids from her faint that lasted only a few seconds which had felt like a deep dreamless sleep. 
"Ya just passed out. Stay calm, I'll bring ya back to the others”, she heard a voice. 
It was a moment before her vision sharpened enough to make out the man lifting her up and holding her. 
"No!" she yelled and started kicking, so Walsh let go of her and she fell into the snow. 
Panicked she rolled onto her back, drew a dagger, and stared up at him. 
"Be sensible, please. Yah're obviously no’ feeling well, Meyja.” He stretched out his hand to her fingers spread and crouched down next to her. 
"Don' ever touch me again, I warn ya..." she hissed hostilely, stretching out the blade toward him. 
He lowered his hand and replied, "It seems yah’re on yer own again, that's kind of reassurin’..." 
She just continued to look at him suspiciously not afraid that he would kill her but rather that he would attack her in a sexual manner. 
When he got up, she could tell from his movements that he must have been wounded as had Eralion as he grimaced in pain but she said nothing. She had had to spend a long time in her life with this man but her hatred for him was really gone, instead she realised that she didn't even really know him. 
Walsh took another deep breath then sighed. "I'll call the command tent for sumone to come and check on ya. I'll see ya for sure." 
After he took two steps she asked, "Why didn' ya come?" 
He paused, turned, and frowned at her. "Wot are ya gabbin’ ‘bout?" 
Meyja stood up, shoved the dagger back into her belt, and brushed the snow off her clothes. "Back then, after my brother took me home. Ya never came to Voynar and reclaimed me. Why no’?" 
"Why are ya askin’ me that?" he asked in amazement. 
She kept looking away, just couldn't look at him for more than a moment. "It's the one thin’ I've never understood." 
"Of all the questions ya could have for me ya are askin’ me this one?" Now he was completely confused. 
Pulling her pelt tighter around her body, she perched on one of the rocks just a step away from her. "Wot else could I ask?" 
"Well… If wot I did to ya had happened to me, I'd have a whole bunch of other questions before I get to this one. For example, why it had to happen to me and why the perpetrator seemed to enjoy it so much. Why I wusn' allowed to eat, why he wouldn' let me out of the house, why there were no servants even though he came from a wealthy family, and why I had to marry him of all people. Admittedly, I find your question rather strange but I still want to answer it." He slumped his shoulders and looked at the floor. "Because I was ashamed." 
"Ya were ashamed?" she repeated in disbelief. 
"Course, I wus. Ya think I wanted anyone to know about this?" he asked. 
She shook her head. "No, definitely no’. But I don' know, if shame wus appropriate in yer case. If I were ya I would have felt more afraid of my family.” 
"I had that, too, but mostly it was shame. Even now I'm ashamed ‘cause I'm sure yah'll want to know why I let it come to this. I feel disgustin’ and I would like to explain to ya why ya had to suffer so much,” he whispered. 
Meyja crossed her arms in front of her chest and looked at him askance. "Wus there a reason for this and wusn' just arbitrary?" 
Walsh nodded pointing to one of the rocks. "May I sit down?" 
After she nodded as well and he sat down on one of the boulders he looked thoughtfully over the edge of the cliff. 
"So?" she asked impatiently, curious about the excuse he was going to present her with. 
"The same thin’ happened to me in my childhood as I did to ya. I wus violated and abused. From my own father. Later, he also forced me to do things which’s perversion none of halfway sane mind could imagine. He wus insane and a drunkard. His addiction ruined my family, so I had to marry ya of all people. Yah’re the daughter of wot wus once the wealthiest family in Voynar, everyone knew that. Because ya were considered so stubborn and cheeky, my parents were able to fetch a large sum of gold for me to take ya to be my wife. But I also wus forced into this marriage, I did no’ consent to it voluntarily. The manor on Weather Point had belonged to the Walshs for decades but it would have been worth nothin’ to sell it. So, my mother took the opportunity to get me out of my father's reach. As I'm sure ya know Voynarian parents can rule over their children until they die – even after they grow up – and so my father would always steal a large part of my pay to drink in sum dive bar. That is why there was no maid in our house. I simply couldn' have rewarded ‘em. Ya also have him to thank for yer persistent hunger. If I had gold, I would have fed ya, too, but I couldn'.” 
“When ya defied me on our weddin’ night, I forgot myself. My hatred of ya wus unfounded I always knew that. There wus nothin’ ya could do ‘bout no’ conceivin’ a child, after all, but yer innocence didn' stop me from lettin’ ya feel how I felt. I wus powerless, dominated by this man who was everythin’ to me but niver a father. I locked ya in so ya couldn' escape but now I know that ya didn' escape because ya were too scared. When I got home and saw the open door, I looked for ya in every corner of the house but when I couldn' find ya I fell into a deep hole. Ya must know that despite everythin’ I've done to ya I always adored ya. I just niver got to show.” Walsh hadn't looked at her as he spoke but sat slumped on the rock, tears streaming down his cheeks. 
"And I'm supposed to believe that, yes?" she asked sceptically. 
He shrugged and gave a mirthless laugh before their eyes met. "To be honest, I don' care wot ya think. It is the truth and therefore the only answer to yer questions. We have all failed terribly at some point, includin’ ya. I've already told ya how sorry I am for ya. There is no excuse for that – neither my story. Knowin’ the burden of one who is at the mercy of another I should have shown ya my mercy, no’ my vengeance.” 
She realised he hadn't lied and felt sorry for him – not much but she felt it nonetheless. "I feel sorry for ya, Ethan." 
"Ethan? Ya call me by my first name?” he asked in surprise. 
She shrugged. "So do ya. Although I changed my name." 
“I would have found anything else disrespectful. There's also another Blake and it would be confusing, if I called ya that as well,” he explained. 
Meyja bowed her head and murmured, "Besides, Meyja Blake is just an alias. 
Actually, since that ominous day twelve years ago my name is still Eadda Walsh.” 
“Twelve years… Then ya are as old today as I wus then. But to be honest I don' think our marriage is still valid. After all, there is no more kingdom of Voynar despite wot Kavanagh says otherwise,” he remarked grimly. 
“Ya niver know if someone will find old documents at some point and declare us a married couple should we still be alive by then. I want ya to disown me, Ethan, just to be sure. In all those years I've never given ya offsprin’ that should be enough reason.” She looked at him seriously. 
He nodded and struggled to his feet. "Doesn' it have to be possible to witness an official ostracism?" 
"Yah're right," she murmured standing up as well. "And I believe two men are already approachin’ who would be only too happy to witness it." 
Yardleyu and Logan were just climbing up the slope towards them and Meyja went to meet them but Logan simply stormed past her towards Walsh. 
"Wot have ya done to her?" he growled menacingly grabbing the older man roughly by the collar. 
Meyja hastened after him. "He didn' do anythin’, let him go!" 
"Then wot did he want from ya?" Logan retorted pushing Walsh away. 
"She stumbled towards the cliff cryin’, fell to her knees, and passed out moments later. I just wanted to help her, I swear,” Ethan replied. 
Logan gave his partner a sharp look. "Is that correct?" 
"Yes, that's right. I hadn' seen him and when I woke up, he was ‘bout to take me to ya.” She nodded. "We've talked and there's no more reason to hold grudges against him, Logan, because I have forgiven him. Just before you came here, he agreed to an ostracism. He will cast me out and thereby break our vows of marriage. Ya two just have to witness it.” 
"He should have done that a year after ya were married," Yary remarked coldly arms crossed over his chest. 
"And now I'm doing it eleven years late but I'm goin’ to do it ‘cause she asked me to," Ethan said softly. 
Logan and Yary turned their nasty looks on him and said nothing. 
"Don' forget that each of ya have already betrayed me," whispered Meyja hurt. "Ya owe it to me." 
Logan turned to her and looked into her eyes. "Let's talk ‘bout this again tomorrow, okay? But I agree and will be one of the witnesses.” Meyja nodded gratefully and looked at her brother. "Yary?" 
"Of course, no question. Whenever yah're ready,” he replied. 
She breathed a sigh of relief and turned to Ethan. "Ya know wot ya must do?" 
Ethan shrugged in embarrassment. “To be honest, no… No’ exactly at least. I only know the approximate wordin’,” he admitted. 
Yary walked up to Logan and explained, "Ya have to kneel in front of him, Meyja, and bow your head. Then Walsh pronounces his ostracism and states the reason. Finally, Meyja raises her head again and Walsh places a coin on her forehead as symbolic support for the new beginnin’.” 
Logan took his leather purse out of his pocket and pulled out a crown. "Here's a coin," he remarked, tossing it to Ethan. 
"Thanks," Ethan murmured. "Well then… Please kneel, Eadda Walsh." 
She slowly walked towards him and sank to her knees, bowing her head as her brother had said. 
Ethan cleared his throat softly before beginning, "I, Ethan Walsh, hereby ostracise ya, Eadda Walsh, and banish you from my table, from my house, and from my side. Our marriage took place twelve years ago at the foot of Weather Point in the Ice Lands and until now ya have failed to fulfil all yer duties. Amon’ other things ya had sworn to give birth to a boy who would become heir to the venerable Walsh family. Failure to do so entitles me to cast ya out in search of another wife who will fulfil yer honourable duties. Raise yer face to the sky.” 
Meyja lifted her head and looked at him as he put the coin on her forehead. 
"I'll contribute this little bit to ensure that ya survive the journey back to yer family safely and unharmed. Our marriage vows are hereby revoked before the gods.” Ethan nodded at her to indicate that she could get up. 
"Thank ya from the bottom of my heart, Ethan," she said softly removing the coin from her forehead and standing up. The tears which surprisingly suddenly poured out of her eyes like a torrent surprised her and she walked towards Logan and her brother. "I'm finally free... I'm Eadda Blake again..." she kept whispering. 
Yary held his stunned, overjoyed sister in his arms while the emotion brought tears to his eyes, too. "Ya always were Eadda Blake to me... always..." 
Logan gave Ethan a short nod before he walked away from the three of them. He wouldn't have thought it possible that someone like Walsh could bring himself to make a gesture that would take such a burden off his companion's shoulders. 
She broke away from her brother and threw her arms around Logan holding onto him and stammering, "I'm not Meyja anymore... my name is Eadda, Logan..." 
"I know that... my beloved Eadda," he whispered and hugged her. 
They lay in each other's arms for a long time and when she began to shiver from the cold, he picked her up on his hip like a child and carried her back to the village whilst she continued to cling to him. 
Arriving in front of their tent she still hadn't calmed down and Yardleyu shook hands with Logan.  
"Thank ya for takin’ care of her. If there's anythin’ don' hesitate to seek me out,” he said quietly. 
Logan replied, "No worries but I think we'll be fine. If so, yah'll be the first to know, don't worry. See ya tomorrow, good night's sleep." 
"Thank ya, too. And I know yah'd let me know first…” Yary glanced at his sister before turning and walking away. 
A deep sense of relief filled his heart, not only because Walsh had finally given Eadda’s identity back to her but also because in a man like Logan, she finally had someone honourable by her side. He himself had had no mate and never had one, not even in his youth. His love was for the ancient writings of his books and while it hadn't escaped his notice how much Amelia actually seemed to like him, he'd never considered giving in to her more or less subtle advances. Her cynical and sometimes even sarcastic manner turned him off rather than attracting him in the slightest. Still today was a day of truth and he decided to seek out his student and find out why she was always so brash. 

Chapter 45 - Kiss

After a short walk Yardleyu reached Amelia's tent and drew attention to himself with a low call. 
"Come on in!" Amelia's voice answered from inside. 
He took another deep breath and then entered her dwelling where he looked around for a moment. The layout of the tent roughly matched his own, there was a cot against the right leather wall, a fire basket in the middle, and a poorly made table with a stool in front of it on his left. Amelia was getting up from the stool, a book laying open on the table top which she must have been reading until he surprised her. 
"Take a seat. Can I get ya something to drink?” Amelia asked pointing to the bed and looking at him with a soft, almost pleading look from her icy blue eyes. 
"Um... well... I wouldn' mind a cup of tea," he murmured somewhat reluctantly sitting down on a corner of the bunk. 
He would have preferred the stool but now he could only hope that she would sit there and stay away from him. He had rarely been in such a private situation with her, instead they were mostly out and about somewhere in the open and so he had no idea what to expect from her now. 
Amelia hung her small pot which she had filled with snow in the fire basket and sat down again on the stool. "Wot do I get the honour of yer visit?" 
"Nothin’ special. I wus just thinkin’ of stoppin’ by your place and chattin’ a little. Like how yer doin’.” Yary was feeling increasingly uncomfortable because he hadn't worked out a plan for asking her about what he really wanted to know. 
She seemed a bit puzzled about his request and was already thinking about her own thoughts which – in contrast to his – were of a very romantic nature. "I'm fine, thanks for askin’. And how ‘bout ya?” she asked back. 
"Also good, thanks. Walsh dumped my sister about an hour ago which I'm very relieved ‘bout. She also decided to call herself Eadda Blake again from now on,” he mentioned in a casual tone. 
With a harsh exhale Amelia blew a loose strand of hair out of her face. "That's good to hear. And wot have I got to do with it?” 
Yardleyu sat on the bunk and looked up at her as she got up to pour the already hot water into two mugs for the tea. "Why are ya always like that? Sumtimes, ya notice in a way that is completely incomprehensible to me that the rest of the world is passing you by the most valuable thin’. I just don' get it, Amelia. I also thought ya liked me and 
Eadda is my sister, after all, so why would ya hate her?” 
"It's no’ ‘bout that at all. I know she's yer sister and I'm no’ jealous, if that's wot yah're implying. And yes, I like ya very much, Yardleyu, but only ya and no’ yer sister. I niver belonged to the Eadda or Meyja party like Logan and Lyam. The two of ‘em always protected her whereas I would have liked to arrest her after she wus gabbin’ to herself with random characters who weren' there. Already these incidents let the alarm bells rin’ in me and rightly so as it turned out afterwards, right?” she replied and handed him the brewed tea. 
"So that's it? Yah're playin’ the badass leader and have no sympathy for those who pose a perceived threat to yer rebellion?” Yary drawled. 
"It's no’ just my rebellion, Yary, it's the rebellion of an entire people. Thanks to yer sister to put it in a nutshell. If she hadn' gotten involved with the enemy, none of this would have gotten to this point. She wouldn' have shown up with us but would have joined Kavanagh and we would all have been spared her strange seemin’ behaviour and overall obsession. Dorcha would have removed the curse from her and she would have stayed alive. Everythin’ would be fine. But now we're stuck here in the village of the giants. We're no’ allowed to use any dark magic ‘cause otherwise we could be processed into minced meat in the next moment, couldn' we?” Her voice became cutting towards the end of her speech. 
Yardleyu clutched his mug in shock. "I know this is ‘bout our common rebellion, thanks for the reminder. But yer lack of sympathy scares me to be honest, Amelia. Imagine how bad our situation would be, if my sister had actually joined Kavanagh. I don' know if I can and really want to continue teachin’ ya ‘cause I have the impression that ya are no’ comin’ to terms with the effects of dark magic on yer mind." 
"Of course, I can handle it! It's just everythin’ else! I love a man who doesn' even remotely return my affection the way I want it! And his sister is everyone's favourite niver criticised or questioned while I am all the time! Everyone throws stones in my way! Now ya, too!” 
He slowly shook his head. "No, Amelia. I don' love ya. Yah’re nothin’ more than a student to me. But even that's a big concession ‘cause as ya know I niver wanted to drag a single soul into the darkness with me. I now realise that forgettin’ my honourable intentions wus a bad idea. I should niver have involved ya in any of this. I'm sorry but I have to go now.” He hastily stood up and placed the mug on the table behind her. 
She quickly grabbed his arm and cupped his wrist. “Ya can't just push me off ya, Yardleyu. Ya took on a responsibility by takin’ me as yer student and I knew of the danger but now I'm in a situation I can't get out of on my own. That's why I need yer help. Also, I don' care if I ever become an undead like Dorcha ‘cause the power I would then have to defend my homeland would be incredible. I would give my soul for Voynar, for a peaceful Voynar where all beings can live together. Free from Kavanagh and the racist ideas he has for our homeland.” 
"But it doesn' say that ya could ever attain such power and that yer way of thinkin’ wouldn' completely change. Maybe bein’ a Soul Shepherd corrupts ya and ya forget who ya used to be. I don' want to experience that, Amelia." 
"Ya won't experience that either ‘cause I know who I am and could niver know wot happened to me in life," she replied seriously. 
"Let's gab ‘bout yer education another time. Now I'm goin’ to let all that sink in and think about it. See ya at the command post these days I suppose.“ He tore his wrist out of her grasp. 
As he started to get out of the uncomfortable situation, she grabbed him again, and gently pulled him towards her. Her soft lips met his and he twitched in surprise. Amelia didn't let go of him, planting a passionate kiss on his mouth before loosening her grip and finally releasing him. 
"Yes, see ya," she whispered. 
He nodded again hastily and then rushed out into the open where, despite everything, the cold of the night couldn't cool his glowing head. Disoriented he wandered between the tents until he eventually reached the small grove on the cliff and sat down under a tree. 
He could still feel the kiss on his lips, the feeling ingrained and not letting go no matter how hard he licked and bit into it. Just as he was about to run his fingers over his mouth a figure stepped toward him. 
"Yardleyu, that's ya. Apparently, I wusn' wrong after all. Wot are ya doin’ here?” Nyall asked, sitting down next to him. 
"I... nothin’... Actually, I'm just tryin’ to keep a cool head but I can't stop the chaos in my thoughts," the Shepherd replied and waved his hand. "It's no’ important. But wot are ya still doin’ here? It's already late." 
"I can't sleep at this time, so I often go for a short walk, like tonight. All I noticed wus that ya seemed disturbed, so I wanted to check on ya. Is everythin’ really a’ight?” Nyall asked. 
Yary looked thoughtfully at his counterpart debating whether to confide in the younger man who was looking at him with an innocent look. Nyall had short white blond hair that hung wildly from his head and a neatly trimmed beard on his cheeks that contrasted sharply with his head of hair. His forehead was high and his jaw narrow as was his nose which was almost like a hawk's beak in an equally narrow face. Nyall was still a handsome young man who happened to be the same age as Yary's sister. And he certainly knew what a kiss like Amelia's meant. 
"Well… I don' know how to gab ‘bout this without offendin’ sumone but I just got kissed for the first time. And I mean kissed properly no’ a kiss from sumone like mother or sister,” Yardleyu admitted sheepishly. 
Nyall raised an eyebrow in surprise. "By whom?" Then he lowered his head and shook it violently. "Sorry, please forget the question that wus disrespectful of me." 
"No, no, it's okay. And it was Amelia who kissed me,” Yary replied quietly. 
"Yer student?" Nyall asked in astonishment. 
Yardleyu nodded. "Yes, my student. And now I'm confused even though I knew she liked me. I knew that for a while but I never thought ‘bout giving in to her. She just made more of everythin’ that ever existed between the two of us with that kiss.” 
"Did ya enjoy it?" Nyall asked. 
Now the Shepherd shook his head. "No, ya can't exactly say that." 
"But... ya... ya like women, don' ya?" Nyall, like Yary, felt pretty stupid in this situation and having to pry any information out of his counterpart didn't make things any better. 
"I… to be honest I don' know. I've niver been in love with one at least no’ in the way other men describe it. There… niver wus this urges to protect sumone or to have a family of my own. Instead, there is... just nothin’. Just deep perplexity.” Yary rubbed his face with the flat of his hand. 
Nyall laughed hoarsely. "Then maybe yer like me." 
The shepherd looked at him sideways but the young fellow avoided his gaze. "Wot ya mean by that?" 
After a moment's hesitation Nyall looked back at him, uncertainty reflected in his eyes. "Now I have to be honest. After all, ya also were. But I beg ya no’ to tell anyone wot I am ‘bout to tell ya.” Yary held up his fingers in an oath and Nyall nodded just before revealing himself. “I have nothin’ against women, quite the opposite. Sum of them – includin’ yer sister – impress me just by the strength they display when their bodies are so much weaker than ours. It's more like wot ya just described. I've niver been in love with a woman nor have I felt the need to get close to one. That's probably because I clearly prefer men." 
Yary nodded, too, but more thoughtfully, constantly wondering if he felt like Nyall or if he just didn't need any human contact. 
"Did I shock ya very much?" Nyall's voice was low he still seemed more than unsure. 
"No, why?" Yary asked back. "Do ya think I can' stand ya anymore ‘cause yah're interested in men?" 
“Sum people have avoided me for this reason. No’ one of the rebels, after all, they don' know anythin’ ‘bout it. But friends used to turn their backs on me ‘cause they were afraid I would attack them.” Nyall's shoulders slumped visibly. 
Yardleyu had missed the opportunity to think about himself and decided to offer some comfort to Nyall first before returning to his confused thoughts. So, he put his arm around the young man. "No, Nyall. That's no reason for me. I have no prejudices." 
"Good to hear. Thank ya.” Nyall turned up the corners of his mouth. 
"No problem. We're rebels and we have to stick together, don' we?” The Shepherd's voice was soft as he answered. 
 “We definitely have to.” Nyall nodded. “But wot ‘bout ya now? How do ya find other men? Logan would be a bad example ‘cause he's yer sister's mate... But wot do ya think of Drystan?" 
"Drystan? He's an idiot even though he's admittedly good-looking. Don' ya have another example?” Yary asked back. 
"Lyam?" Nyall tried again. 
Nodding thoughtfully Yary thought for a moment but then shook his head. "No, Lyam ain’t my cup of tea at least no’ visually. He's also a shaman and hates what I do.” 
"Ya wouldn' have to kiss that person right away, marry him, or anythin’ like that. But do ya see wot I'm getting at? Wot are yer tendencies? More towards the men or the women?” Nyall probed. 
"I like women, too, I also respect them for everythin’ they do. But I still don' know, if I could love any woman apart from my sister. Sorry. Maybe I just don' need anyone. I've always gotten along well with that.” Yary shrugged helplessly. 
Nyall waved him off. "Ya don' have to be sorry and yes, that wouldn' be unusual either." 
"Nivertheless, thank ya for yer efforts." With a guarded smile Yary noticed that his arm was still around Nyall and had slid down to his waist causing him to blush instantly. 
Luckily it was too dark for Nyall to see anything so he just nodded silently. He, too, had noticed the other man's arm on his hip and felt very comfortable with the gesture, even if it lasted an unusually long time. 
Yardleyu struggled with an inner conflict because on one hand it felt good to touch Nyall but on the other hand he didn't want to cause him any distress so he just decided to stand still without denying the other man a chance to break free from him should it get uncomfortable. 
They just sat in silence for several minutes then Nyall whispered, "And wot ya think of me?" 
A strange, violent dizziness overcame Yary and he opened and closed his mouth a few times before stammering softly, "’Bout ya? I… well… I think yah're an attractive young man…” He felt his cheeks begin to glow again. 
"I'm sorry, I didn' mean to embarrass you." Nyall reached up to Yary's face and stroked his cheek. "I find ya attractive, too, Yardleyu." 
"Wot are ya up to?" Yary asked startled, his voice shaking. 
"Nothin’ it's okay," Nyall whispered whilst hastily lowering his arm. 
Yary also took his hand off Nyall's waist before standing up. "It's getting’ really late and I'm going back to the village now to lay down and think ‘bout all this a little longer. I wish ya a good night's sleep, Nyall." 
"Thank ya, likewise." Nyall didn't seem the least bit disappointed. He'd been in situations like this before and didn't blame Yary for being insecure and needing time to ponder. 
Yardleyu turned and walked down the hill through the snow, heading straight for the tents, his brain already working hard. A wild jumble of thoughts and scraps of memory swept through his head, as if a storm was raging inside. He saw himself at the age of fourteen, playing with the girls on his street. Although at that time all boys his own age had hardly been involved with girls. Later one of them had offered herself to him and made it quite clear what she was after. That was the first time he'd seen a naked woman and it hadn't happened again until the curse was defeated but he'd fled, fleeing like a coward. 
Then he remembered that he'd been in love, feeling in his now-mature eyes like a childish crush he'd felt for an older man at the academy. He didn't even realise he'd stopped as his memory unearthed more and more clues to his tendencies when it came to men and women. 
Nyall had looked after the Shepherd somewhat sadly but when he saw that he had stopped, he also got up, and walked slowly towards him. 
Before he could reach him, Yary turned to him surprisingly. "Can we talk a little more? I think that would help me now.” Yardleyu's ice blue eyes looked at him pleadingly. 
With a nod Nyall agreed albeit somewhat puzzled by the fact that it had taken Yardleyu so little time before he was faced with questions he couldn't seem to answer on his own. 
The two men walked silently side by side through the seemingly deserted village when Yary surprisingly felt Nyall's fingers reaching for his. He blushed again but didn't back away from the gesture, just squeezed the stranger's hand gently. After a short walk they had already reached Nyall's tent and Yary entered unasked while Nyall followed him. 
The magical fire in the central basket shone in a strong light blue as the Shepherd approached the younger man. "Nyall, I would like to ask ya sumthin’." 
Nyall just gave Yary a nod of anticipation. 
"I know I wus gabbin’ ‘bout just wanting to talk but I'd much rather just try before I forget the feeling of that last kiss." Yary didn't know how those words had tumbled so easily from his lips and he looked nervously at Nyall. 
Nyall replied, "Okay, of course." He stepped towards the older man gently wrapped his arms around him and closed his eyes as he leaned forward slightly. 
Gathering all his courage, Yary wrapped his arms around Nyall's neck, and planted an awkward kiss on his lips. 
Blinking Nyall opened his eyes and found the uncertain gaze of his counterpart. 
"Let me try again..." 
He pulled Yary's entire body into his and returned the gesture skilfully even sensing that the meeting of their mouths seemed to have been resonated for 
Yardleyu's lips answered his. Actually, he had secretly resolved not to unsettle the Shepherd too much but unconsciously he simply threw that resolution overboard and slowly pushed his tongue into Yary's mouth. 
Yary felt excitement in his loins as Nyall's tongue met his and he began to play with it carefully. A noticeable bulge also grew in the neighbouring pants. 
Suddenly Nyall broke the kiss and whispered in a dark voice, "I guess I don' have to ask how ya felt ‘cause I can feel it." 
Yary whispered back, "And I know it's mutual..." 
When Yardleyu woke up the next morning he was laying in a strange tent but he immediately remembered what had happened the night before. The memory of Nyall laying between his legs covered with a sheet and making him feel like he had never felt before brought a smile to his lips. He'd even retaliated later by doing the same for Nyall even though Nyall had seemed a bit sceptical at first. Feeling Yardleyu's tongue on his glans had immediately removed any doubts because with a groan he lay back on the bunk and let it happen. 
With a blissful expression on his face, he snuggled into Nyall's arms which he had wrapped around him and felt with great relief that Nyall’s fingers began to caress him while he was half asleep. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 46 - Faces

When Eadda woke up the next day Logan was sitting next to her on the cot with his back to her. 
"Good mornin’," she whispered. 
He turned his head to look at her. "Good mornin’ to ya. Did ya have a good rest?" His eyes looked dull as if he had been crying and she sat up as well. 
"So, wot's goin’ on? Ain' ya feelin’ well?” she asked worried. 
His smile didn't reach his eyes only the corners of his mouth turned up a little. "Yes, actually I'm fine. Yesterday wus just a turbulent day and the events robbed me of my sleep.” He reached up and stroked her cheek. "Ya truly are remarkable, sweetheart. It wus peaceful here in the village most of the time but as soon as ya woke up the world turned upside down.” 
“Yes, sumtimes my influence in this direction scares me, too. If you can even call it an influence…” She slumped her shoulders. 
He nodded slightly. "Ya do have influence. Yer judgment on Walsh has given him sum respect again. I just don' know if it really wus a good, justified judgement. 
Actually, my trust in yer judgment is boundless but I don' know, if I really know ya. When we first met a part of Dorcha Kavanagh wus already within ya and influencin’ yer behaviour. But none of us understand how this could have happened. Have ya ever met her or kissed anyone associated with her?” 
"No... I didn't..." she replied but then she became suspicious. "Wait! One mornin’ just as I arrived at my family's home in Voynar, Cayden wus sittin’ next to me. We talked and before he said goodbye, he kissed me. I had almost forgotten ‘bout that 
‘cause it was so trivial. It was so impersonal and insignificant.” 
"On the mouth? Did he kiss ya on the mouth?” Logan asked startled. 
She nodded. "But why is that so important?" she wanted to know. 
"’Cause that means yer brother was right. Yardleyu theorised that bystanders can act as carriers for a soul. This means that at that very moment Kavanagh planted in ya the soul that would later have these devastating effects on ya. A kiss on the cheek would have been inconsequential but the mouth is the gateway to yer ego. And… well… the sex organs, too, at least in women. He just kissed ya, didn' he? And no’… ya… with his mouth…?” he asked softly. 
Her cheeks turned bright red and she replied indignantly, "Logan, no! I haven' done anythin’ that private with him nor even thought ‘bout it. It was just that one kiss.” 
"Sorry, I didn' mean to offend ya… I just thought... To be honest I don' know wot I wus thinkin’." He rubbed the back of his head. 
She replied softly, "It's okay." 
"So, ya two never got intimate. That's good… And it calms me down,” he remarked in a whisper. 
"Even the kiss only came from him, it didn't even feel good it wus just annoyin’." She sighed softly. 
The two were silent for a few minutes, each enjoying the silence and each other's presence. 
Then Logan asked, "Wot are ya thinkin’ ‘bout right now?“ 
"I thought ‘bout wot ya confessed to me yesterday and decided to forgive ya. It hurt me a lot to hear ‘bout it ‘cause I had struggled with the burden for a lon’ time and would have loved to tell you ‘bout Aron but for some reason I couldn'. But now that I've learned to forgive, I'll forgive you the same way I forgave Ethan. And..." She looked at him before continuing, "And I will also forgive my brother for makin’ a difficult decision and no’ tellin’ me ‘bout it. Now it is wot it is and we all can't go back to undo our mistakes. I blamed Kavanagh for this ‘cause I thought he was the one responsible for what his family did wron’. It was probably only in my case that the blame lies with my own family although Kavanagh's family has been responsible for countless other fates like mine. Neither of us will ever be able to start a family of our own. If that's reason enough for you to find another mate I won' blame ya or stop ya." 
"Actually, I assumed that ya never wanted to have children..." he whispered. "Now it almost sounds like yah've changed yer mind on that." 
She laughed mirthlessly and replied cynically, "Ain' it the case that ya always want wot ya can't have?" 
"I don' know." Logan looked thoughtful. "I've never thought ‘bout that but I appreciate the lack of seriousness in yer statement. Still, I wonder where this apparent change of heart really comes from. It's unlikely that ya want to start a family just because ya can't do it anymore." 
The images of the dream she had remembered only the night before came back to her mind, involuntarily tears ran down her cheeks. 
"Honey, I didn't mean to put it so harshly. Sorry. Please…" Logan moved towards her and took her in his arms. "I am so sorry." 
"No, it's no’ that... It's more like sumthin’ unreal..." she interrupted him. "When I wusn' with me I had a dream about the two of us. A very strange dream..." 
"Do ya want to tell me ‘bout it?" he asked cautiously. 
She wiped her eyes and nodded. "It wusn' real, I realise that now although in my sleep I assumed that everythin’ I see, hear, and feel wus real. But in the end two feelings remained. The first is the deep desire to have a child, the other I don' want to gab ‘bout right now because it's dark and depressin’." 
"That's okay," Logan replied. 
"I woke up in the house I shared with Ethan, even if it looked a little different. I panicked as I realised where I wus and that I wus wearin’ my weddin’ dress. After lookin’ in the mirror, I realised that I was only fifteen years old. My family wus outside the building but strangely I could hear ‘em right in my head. I begged ‘em for help but they left and disappeared leavin’ me huddled in a corner cryin’. Before I could calm down the door opened and Ethan walked in. I didn't even realise he had yer face I only realised that later after rememberin’ all that. Unlike the real thing, though he was kind and concerned ‘bout me just like ya are.” 
She looked up at him briefly and he had a tiny smile on his lips so she continued, "As the dream progressed, I felt a deep love for ya – or Ethan as ya were called – and an almost overwhelmin’ desire to give ya offsprin’ although at the same time I wus afraid of it. We gabbed ‘bout it and it turned out that we had been married for two years and had already tried unsuccessfully to conceive a child. Yet by mutual consent we tried two more times during this dream. This wish which is now very real is probably due to the fact that we had wished for it so much in this dream.“ 
He kept stroking her hair and asked, "Were we successful?" 
"I don' know. We were both murdered,” she answered softly and burst into tears a second later. 
"Oh, sweetheart... It wus only a dream..." he whispered and hugged her tightly. 
"But it... it seemed so real... They just killed ya... ‘cause ya wanted to protect me..." she sobbed. 
Actually, she hadn't wanted to tell it but now the truth came erupting from her lips. 
"Who killed me?" he asked worried. 
"I remember the three guys' faces clearly but I had niver seen them before. I usually only dream of people with faces I've seen sumwhere before. Sumtimes, they were targets that I killed on Ed's orders, sum other times they had the faces of familiar people, even if these people had different names and had a different connection to me," she replied before raising her head and looking at him. "Knowin’ ya were dead made me want to die, too." 
"Who were these guys? Can ya remember their names?” he demanded. 
"Is that important?" she asked back. 
"I don' know. But I don' think there's any harm in knowin’ their names, if it wus more than a dream after all.” He swallowed sadly. 
"I'm pretty sure their names were Cathasaigh, Padraig, and Odhran. Do these names mean anythin’ to ya? Do you know ‘em?”, she also worried wanted to know. 
He looked at her dumbfounded and whispered, "Of course, I know ‘em. We were in basic army trainin’ together. I niver had much contact with ‘em ‘cause they were unbeatable at getting into trouble.” 
"Wot happened then? Where have they gone?” she whispered. 
He shrugged his shoulders. “After basic trainin’ they were transferred to a different unit than me. I don' know where to but there are a lot of ex-soldiers here in the village so I'll ask around if anyone has heard of it." 
"And wot if they're still alive? Wot if they're here?” There was a note of panic in her voice. 
He cupped his hands on her cheeks and whispered, "I don' believe that. It's been years since we got our will back and if they had been here then I would undoubtedly have recognised the three of ‘em. Now I've been back here in the village for months and haven' seen any of ‘em." 
"Then how do I know their faces? I had niver met ‘em.” Eadda couldn't stop thinking about it. 
Logan considered this but then shrugged again. "It might have sumthin’ to do with Kavanagh's sister. If the three are or were known to her, she might even knowingly have sent ya these dreams. Yardleyu wus hintin’ sumthin’ alon’ those lines and it makes sense since ya were also adamant that Walsh caught ya in that house which wusn' the case.“ 
"That, too, seemed so incredibly real to me that it still scares me..." she whispered. 
"Ya don' have to be afraid anymore. I am with ya and I will always be with ya, even if we don't have children. I love ya, Eadda Blake. So much,” he breathed. 
She felt her eyes watering again and blinked before replying, "And I love ya, Logan. 
Ya can't imagine how much." 
He pulled her to him again and kissed her gently on the lips. 
Eadda returned the caresses, felt her desire slide through her stomach to her abdomen, and impulsively pressed her lap against him. 
"Even if it doesn' promise much success, we can just do it like in yer dream and at least try to conceive a child," he whispered in a dark voice and pushed his hands into her linen pants where he clasped her bottom. 
"It can't hurt... Just for fun... Outrageous fun..." she whispered back. 
Logan lifted her onto his lap before his fingers slid over her buttocks and he gently touched her crotch. 
With a groan Eadda tilted her head back and surrendered to his caresses. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 47 - Storm

Chapter 47 – Storm 

In the morning two weeks later Eadda and Logan walked hand in hand into the command tent where the rebels had arranged to meet but stopped in surprise to realise that no one was there. 
He frowned. "Where is everyone? I thought we were running late.” 
"I thought the same thin’," she replied looking around the tent. 
On a stool lay a scrap of parchment on which a few words had been scrawled, the writing looked as if the author had been in a hurry. 
Eadda read aloud: 
We headed to the cliff. Sumone has made a disturbin’ discovery. Follow me, if you read this. 
"That doesn' sound good. Let's leave immediately”, Logan said seriously. 
She just nodded and followed him back outside already wondering what kind of observation it could be, if the rebels had fled the tent in such a hurry. The entire village suddenly seemed deserted none was to be seen anywhere. 
"It's so quiet it's almost frightenin’," she murmured. 
"Yah're right," Logan replied looking around uneasily. 
It was only as they neared the cliff that they could see humans and Virtheriā. Everyone seemingly gathered there as they had been on the day the conference with the Ares had been convened. 
Logan whispered, "If the entire village is up here, sumthin’ really bad seems to have happened." 
He quickened his pace and ran up the short rise. Eadda easily keeping pace with him and together they made their way through the crowd. 
"There ya are at last," Amelia greeted ashen in the face. 
Logan ignored her statement and asked nervously, "Wot's goin’ on?" 
"It's Dorcha. Over there at the cliff,” Yary remarked while handing Logan the binoculars he had just been looking through. 
Anxiously Logan took the item and looked through it himself, after a short search he had spotted the figure and eyed the enemy Soul Shepherd standing all alone on the headland below Weather Point. "Crap. She really does look like death incarnate,” he murmured. "But wot is she doin’ there?" 
"I assume she's preparin’ sumthin’ right now. It would probably be the wisest thin’ to get out of here and as soon as possible. I don' want to find out wot she's up to but there's no doubt that we're the target, otherwise she wouldn' be standin’ right there.” Yardleyu also looked beyond frightened. 
"Then wot are we still doin’ here?" Eadda was turning to the people standing behind them. "Pack yer things but only the most important things! We have to get out of here and as soon as possible! Make yer way to our army camp! Hurry up!" 
"I think yah’re right. Let's get out of here.” Logan nodded. 
"In the meantime, I will warn the Ares. Ya get our things”, she asked and kissed him once more on the lips. 
"Take care," he whispered urgently. 
She just nodded wordlessly then turned and ran after the people who had already fled. As she hurried through the village, she subconsciously noticed that it was getting darker and dark. Clouds were gathering in the sky but in her haste she paid no attention to it. 
Eamon Coughlan crossed her path and exclaimed, "Wot's happenin’, Eadda?!" 
"I don' know but make sure ya stay safe! Dorcha is up to sumthin’ and we have to hurry!” she called back and ran on. 
Many of the Ares stood in front of their tents and looked up shouting a warning to each of them until she reached Askil's abode. 
"Askil!" she yelled tearing the fur aside. 
Askil's wife whom she had already met was standing in the tent and was just packing her things. "What's happening out there?" 
"Aaltje, where is Askil?! Ya have to hurry, sumthin’ bad is happenin’! Head towards Aryancar where our army is! And hurry!” Eadda was breathing heavily and turned away before the startled Aaltje could answer her question. 
Screaming and disoriented Eadda ran through the village bumping into fleeing people and keeping a constant lookout for anyone she knew but she didn't see a familiar face. 
Suddenly she was grabbed and lifted up. "You come with me. Everyone has been warned, now it's about your own safety.” Askil carried her towards the forest at a run. 
"Askil, no! I still have to find Logan and Yary! Let go of me!” she screamed, struggling against him. 
He shook his head ruthlessly. "You are more important." 
She began to cry, screaming in panic for her mate and brother but not even her feeble kicking helped against the Are’s strong hands. 
"Stop it, Meyja, I won't let you go, even if you hurt me," he growled. 
She paused, stared at him, and replied, "Why should I hurt ya? I'm asking ya to put me down or at least wait for one of them to come by. Please, Askil!” 
"That will not do. I'm terribly sorry but my orders are to get you to safety. Airikr specifically ordered it,” he replied. 
"I beg ya! Please, Askil!” she cried desperately and kicked again. 
"Meyja, when the storm hits, I can't protect you anymore do you understand?" He gave her a grim look. 
"Wot storm?" she asked dumbfounded. 
“Look at the cloud above us. If it was a natural storm, it wouldn't be totally calm. Asbjarn, Arnor's successor, said that it looks like this human witch is trying to direct the storm right at our village." 
Eadda stared up at the single cloud looming high above the village, silent tears streaming down her cheeks. 
Higher and higher the dark haze reared up and they had just reached the edge of the forest when she finally heard a familiar voice. 
"Logan!" she yelled back seeing the snow-white Virtherion rush towards her. 
"Are ya a’ight?" he asked in a hoarse voice. 
"Yes, but ya have to come with me! Dorcha is tryin’ to unleash a storm over the village!” she shouted. 
He hurried alongside the Are looked up at his mate and replied, "I won' leave yer side I promise." 
"Where's Yary?" she wanted to know. 
He replied, "I don' know where the others are but calm down. He will surely have gone ahead.” 
Anxiously she looked back over Askil's shoulder only just recognized the edge of the village when the cloud in the sky suddenly collapsed. 
Askil was knocked off his feet by the eerie force of the incoming wind mass and she felt herself flying through the air before she bumped into something hard and darkness engulfed her. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Sequel follows...