Nightblood

In a world of eternal darkness, the light is slowly seeping in. It’s up to one particular winged warrior to save the Night.

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16. Chapter 16

Chapter 16

 

So much has happened. So much has appeared to him in two Cycles. He couldn't let Estrie return to the Nightbloods. It would mean her death. 

They will turn on her, and she, exhausted from whatever journey brought her there, and still feeling the aftermath of the battle, will not be able to hold them off for long. He had to warn her, but he didn't know how. He couldn't figure out the right words to say.

He had to get to her. Had to tell her. Warn her of what will happen. But that would mean facing her, after he'd ran… he almost couldn't think about the humiliation it'd bring him. Would Estrie be furious with him? He could only imagine so. 

When he left, it ripped his heart from him. Even though she told him to, even though she begged him to. Would she feel a hint of betrayal for him actually fleeing? It's what he believed would happen, but a small part of him disagreed. 

The larger part is only ashamed at his cowardice, no matter what Estrie said. No matter her words, what she'd begged him. His heart ached from it, and he can't imagine Estrie feeling any different.

Staring at the stars, his mind wanders. He ignores the hard ground beneath him, the thin wool blanket that provides only just enough heat to protect him from hypothermia, but not enough for comfort. 

The visions were growing stronger. More frequent. And more detailed. They appeared with no rhyme or reason, simply were there and suddenly they were gone. Sometimes they were confusing, and he is unable to discern any meaning from them. And sometimes they were impeccably clear, revealing truths that make a shiver shoot down his spine. 

He could almost control them, though. He could call them up almost at will, but he couldn't do anything against the ones that just show. He's powerless to them.

Ress walks over, flopping down on the cot next to him. They sit in silence for a while, before Ryan works up the nerve to speak.

“Hey,” he says, unsure what else to say to his brother. 

“Hey,” Ress says back, and they drift into uneasy silence, neither certain of what to do.

“How's things with you?” Ryan asks quietly, just to fill the silence. 

“Good, I guess, well I met this girl…” he trails off, taking a breath and searching for the right words.

“You met a girl, as in an actual person of the female gender?” Ryan asks in fake ecstasy. 

“Yes,” he answers simply. “Her name is Ailoi… she's Sriss.” 

“Sriss? She's Sriss?” Ryan billows, eyes wide. Sriss are the enemy of the Strennan, more by the Sriss’ choice than the Strennan’s.

“Yes. That's what I said.” He answers, voice unnervingly steady. Ailoi. Ailoi of the Sriss. His brother had fallen for a Sriss, of all tribes. He forces himself to calm down, to not tear his brothers head off.

“Can I meet her?” He asks, voice quavering a bit as he does so. He does not want to meet her. But he has to, for his brother’s sake.

➿➿➿

I spend my time awaiting Ryan’s return. I know he'll find me, sometime, somehow. But would it be in hours, Cycles or months time? How long would I have to wait for him? I don't know if I can bear waiting any longer. 

He will come soon, I tell myself. But make a mental note of the fact that once the twin moons dip over the horizon I will have no choice but to return to the Nightbloods. 

But that would be a couple weeks from now, so I had the time. I could wait. Each Return would be dangerous, as asleep  my body is not working and building up heat. 

I sneak to the edge of the Nightblood camp, on a daring mission to retrieve a blanket and some thicker clothes. Enough so I wouldn't freeze to death, but not enough to keep my safe from winter’s harsh bite when the time comes. 

I manage to make it in and out without being seen, a ghost drifting through the confines of the clearing. I don't know wether to be hurt or relieved that no one notices me, as I stride to my tent at the edge of camp, rummage around through the mess a little bit and retreat carrying what I need.

I had what I wanted, so I took to the sky, flying to wherever the breeze takes me, drifting on the strong air currents. I descend back to the ground when my wings ache, and I can no longer push through the densely packed clouds, blotting out the faint stars. 

Spiralling down to earth, I drop like a stone onto a large patch of silvermoss, wrapping the blanket around me. I try to will myself into sleep, but I can't appear to find my way in. 

I lay there, listening to the wind, a raspy say through the trees. I imagine Ryan. Why had we grown so distant? All of my heart yearned for him, part to hold him close and part to slap him. Slap him for leaving, even though I'd asked him to. Not so much for leaving, but for not coming back. 

I miss him, it's a burning ache in my heart. In all this time with him, I think I've forgotten how to be alone. I'm still deciding how that makes me feel. 

I'm dependant on no one, I need no one. My heart is not built for Ryan to hold, but to pump my blood on the battlefield. I is not made to love, but to hate. 

I'm suddenly restless, itching for a fight. Little do I know I'm about to get one. 

It's a rustle in the brush that alerts me to the Greyskin’s approach, the sound so soft if my ears were not heightened with Nightblood senses, I would have thought it just the wind. 

But it is followed by a snarl, and I know that it is a Greyskin that is approaching. It growls as it bursts into the small patch of moss, shadowed by a large oak, spotting me. I barely have time to get to my feet before it is upon my. 

I punch it, sending its shrivelled form reeling. It's skin is wrinkled and cracked, so dark it appears almost black. An old one, it is. If Greyskin’s have a culture, this one would be an elder. 

I hear a snap as I slam my foot into its shoulder, satisfied at its ear-splitting yelp of pain. I snarl, the sound not bearing any semblance to a human noise. Which is fine, as I'm not human.

I launch forward, twisting my head and ramming my horns side-on into its stomach, watching as blood wells up. Black blood dark and vile. It leaps for me once again, and I can't recoil in time. It sinks it chipped and rotten teeth into the soft flesh of my arm, and I swallow a billow of pain. 

But it doesn't have time to progress farther, for I slip a dagger from its death, it's blade glinting in the faint starlight, and slam it into the back of the Greyskin’s neck. 

Oily black blood spurts out, a terrifying sight to perceive were you not used to it. I watch it convulse, more shimmering blood flowing out. With steady hands I pry its jaws from my arm, watching it stagger backwards. 

With a well aimed kick to its abdomen, I send it slamming into a tree. It drops to the ground, still trying to claw its way back up. 

I lift into the air slightly, hurtling to it. With a powerful slice of my dagger, I severe the monsters head, having to look away as it rolls, a cascade of black spilling from it. 

I am covered in spatters of blood, sticky and reeking of rot and something else vile, unplaceable. It fills my nose, making my eyes water as I stand, panting, unsure of what to do other than try to steady my ragged breathing. 

I'm not out of breath from exertion, but my breath is uneven from the adrenaline coursing through me, from the hollowness inside me left over after the battle.

When my breath has finally stilled, I gather up my stuff and take off, flying on tired wings to the nearest stream, to rinse up and find somewhere to spend the night.

It just so happens the nearest stream is the glowing one, it's blue light casting the land in a ultramarine sheen. I plop down the wool blanket and couple of changes of clothes, and plunge into the stream, ringing the blood from my skin. 

I strip of my clothes and wash those to, laying them out on the rock to dry, suddenly exhausted I flop down on the slightly frosted ground, not bothering to redress, wrapping the wool blanket tight around my form, sheltering myself with my wings. 

There is less wind, the cold less prudent, and  I find myself lulling off to sleep in a matter of seconds, descending into my subconscious without a second thought.

My dreams are troubled, nightmares. Of my being chased by an army of Greyskins, their crooked teeth ripping at my flesh. But suddenly I'm back on the battlefield, and I save Carson. But the happiness is short lived, as moments later the light barrels in, washing the Night in blistering fire and heat, killing everything in its wake. 

And with a certainty that burns and hurts more than the fire of my dreams, I realize that would have been the price for saving Carson. For once, my dreams ring true. It is exactly what would of happened if I had chosen to save Carson. If I'd somehow been there to rescue him. 

It gives my turbulent mind some rest, as I sink into a blissful sleep, lacking in both dreams and nightmares.

➿➿➿

Carson drifts, a twisting cloud of mist, from Night to Day. The boundary means nothing to him, as he's little more than a bit of fog, shaped into a humanoid form. 

He finds himself on the Day side, watching his friends chat and frolic without a hint of grief or mourning. Next he sees his parents chatting easily, nothing but happiness shining in their eyes, joy creating their faces in the form of smiles. He should be happy that they're happy. But for some reason, he can't bring himself to smile. 

He curses theme for not mourning him. For not shedding a tear. For not showing grief. He figures he's little to them, even if he can only rip his thoughts from them for seconds at a time. He loves them, even if they have forgotten him. It appears everyone has forgotten him. 

He forces himself away, the pain it brings to watch them to much to bear. He returns to the Stars and shadows of the Night, drifting between the trees. He is lost, and he believes he will never be found.

➿➿➿

I awake to a ghost of warmth, a faint heat that touches me. It is always cold, but when winter comes… it's as if shadow melds into frost, the magic on the breeze becoming nothing but cold fury. 

Sitting up, I realize I am clothed in nothing more than the scratchy wool blanket. Red staining my cheeks, I pull on some clothes. Thicker, and solid black. 

I pick up the blanket and the other change of clothes, as well as the ones I had hung out to dry. 

Fully clothed, I decide to not bother flying somewhere else. I make a sort of camp by the stream, deciding to wait for Ryan to return here before I move. So I could see him, and let him know where I'd be staying for the winter. 

I lay out the blanket, and in a split second decision toss down the rest of my stuff and gather up twigs. 

They scratch and tear up my palms, but I manage to drag them to the clearing with only minimal damage. To the sticks at least, by the time it's done my hands and most of my arms are a bloody mess. 

The scratches sting, but I can manage. I've dealt with worse, so I grit my teeth against the mild sting and keep hauling the sticks, their bark rough in my tender palms.

I begin to stack and arrange them, forming a rough hut against the side of the rock. I step back and observe, before I tear it down and start over from scratch. Rebuild everything.

I jam so many into the ground, forming a “L” shape out from the rock. I choose to use the flatter ones to form a roof, watching as the roll off when a breath of wind push past them. As an easy solution, I fly to the edge of the Strennan camp, and steal some rope. 

I tie the roof on, securing it against the wind. I gather up small twigs and dump them on the ground. I debate building a fire, but when the frosty breath of winter ruffles past me, making the decision comes easily. I grab rocks, and drop on my hands and knees, digging a shallow pit in the hard ground. 

My skin is rubbed raw from all the collecting I've been doing, and getting dirt in the many cuts slashing across my palms will only end in infection. 

Once the pit is dug to my standards, I line it with rocks and dump the twigs in it. I'll light it later, using my magic. Put in the mean time I must tend to the hunger gnawing deep in my stomach. 

Taking to the skies, I scan the terrain below for any signs of prey. Sure enough, a Mithileen bird appears, and with only a moment of hesitation I swoop down, killing it cleanly and as painlessly as I can. 

I stare at its beautiful, shimmery feathers, and feel a minuscule twinge of remorse for the poor bird. It didn't stand a chance. 

But the hunger roars up again, and I sprint as swiftly as my weary wings will take me back to the small encampment I made, any sympathy vanishing, exiled by the ferocious hunger, which stomps out most other feeling that try to claw their way up.

I start the fire, summoning up enough magic to get it to burn. After the flare up with Ryan it's been nearly dormant, I can only sense it when I reach in for it, a mere whisper compared to its once steady roar. 

I begin to prepare the Mithileen bird. It's a gruesome process, but I finish it in record time, driven by hunger and hunger alone. I set it to cook over the fire, watching the white flames dance. 

As the smell soon becomes to much to ignore, I rip the bird from the fire and dig in, gnawing in it in a way that would have sent men and women alike fleeing in disgust. 

Whatever. I am alone beneath the stars and the shadows of the towering trees, I do not need to worry about etiquette. 

When I finish the meal, saving some for later days, I rinse myself off at the stream. I lean down and gulp down a few mouthfuls, trying not to think to hard on the algae that makes it glow, or how it will affect my health. 

Suddenly filled with energy, either from the meal or the water, I decide to train. Brandishing my daggers, I begin slashing at air, fighting an invisible enemy.

The first battle may be over, but even with the two sides divided, I feel there is more to come. Would the governor find me, and demand I explain the most recent battle? We were supposed to be at peace, living in tentative alliance with the Day side, at least according to some scrap of paper that the Night’s governor and Day’s monarch had signed. 

But that didn't mean we were. The Nightbloods and Daybloods are out of the control of any single being, we are untameable, and the Day are stubborn. Very stubborn, when they attack against the very interests of their monarchs. I suppose it is the interest of their monarchy, as Daybloods had been breaking the treaty for centuries.

Would the governor blame the fight, which would have been a war not for my efforts with my Heartmagic, and demand punishment for breaking the law of peace? 

A foolish law, because we would never truly be at peace. We never truly attain peace, not so the Day or with ourselves. Because wherever you go, whoever you are, there will still be troubles. And troubles bring conflict. Needless conflict, in most cases.

At least now with the barrier separating the sides, there wouldn't be any more attacks. At least not from the Daybloods.

The Crossover is suddenly wasted, but completely untried I sit upon the rock, watching the glowing  cerulean water cascade over the rocky stream bed, a glittering flow of sapphire stained liquid.

My ears are greeted by the sound of footsteps, and I whirl to see Ryan. He's here. He came. He's just as surprised to see me, as I tumble off the rock and into his arms. 

 

 

 

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