The Shadows

We found the twins, and Tristan tossed Aaron a sword. He nodded and we began fighting the shadow army that had swirled.

I’d seen Dream reprsentations of the Black Guards, and Athena had told me about them but the fight felt endless, and relentless, time stopped and yet continued forever. And they just kept coming.

“Thena,” Tristan called out as she sliced two of them down with her spear, he nodded to the hill, where a knight was sitting. She stopped.

“He’s mine,” she said.

“Athena,” Thomas said riding up to her, “no.” She glared at him. “Not now.” She fumed and joined me. Then I looked over another hill and saw Marina on her way. What was she doing there? She shouldn’t be in a battle.

And then there was the light, blinding, and white and when it cleared, we were alone, the shadows were gone. I saw the light retreating towards Marina, and then she fell. I ran towards her.

“Tristan,” I heard Thomas shout, “get Davis.” I didn’t know what that meant. I assumed it was the commander. I didn’t have time for that. Tristan was frozen looking at Marina, limp and fallen.

I lifted her head as I got to her, she blinked at me.

“Annalise,” she whispered, I kissed her forehead and she lost consciousness again. Elodie was by my side then and Tristan, who quickly swooped her up, we ran, wordlessly to the medical tent.

“What was that?” Tristan asked. I looked at him. “It was magic, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said softly, “and powerful.” He nodded. “She’s powerful, Tristan, scary powerful, I knew it the moment I saw her.” I looked down as she slept peacefully. “What we just saw was only a small taste of what she can do.” He leaned down and smoothed her hair.

“Rina,” he whispered, “why didn’t you ever tell me?” He looked completely betrayed. It wasn’t yours to know, something in me roared. “At the palace, she used to lead prayers, after dinner, quietly murmuring words to the goddess, candles would flicker sometimes, water swirl in glasses.” I looked at him, but he was looking at Elodie, “will she be alright?”

“Yes,” Elodie said, “she fainted is all, when she comes too, she’ll be weak, probably, and confused,” she sighed and looked at both of us. “She shouldn’t be alone.”

“I’ll stay with her,” I said quietly. Tristan looked at me. I didn’t want him to be the one she saw when she woke up.

“Alright,” he said, “I’ll check on our new prisoner. You want to question him?” I frowned t him. “His name is Warren Davis, he was a spy for Brayton and now he commands shadows, I imagine,”

“I will,” I said, “when I know Marina is out of danger.” Elodie sighed loudly.

“Your highness, she isn’t in danger, and you’ll,” she started, but I glared at her. “I’ll bring a basin and cool water, that will help.”

“Fine then,” Tristan said, “Your highness?” I looked at him.

“You’re dismissed,” I whispered and he nodded and left. Elodie followed and I began wetting her forehead. “Marina,” I whispered, “what was it?” But I knew, I’d read and heard about Queen Anessa, my name sake’s use of battle magic to recognize it. But Marina isn’t a warrior.

“She needn’t be,” I gasped looking up. Standing across from me was a woman. She was dark skinned, and dressed all in blue. She was shining too.

“My lady,” I said softly and genuflected.

“My, you were raised by a courtier, weren’t you?” The Goddess laughed. “You may stand.” I did. “So, Annalise, you have seen what I can do for you. I could do more, you know, if you’ll free me.”

“I will,” I said softly. She nodded and walked to Marina’s bedside.

“I had hoped for a more formal introduction to you both,” she sighed, brushing her hand over Marina’s curls. “My chosen champions. My brother drags his feet choosing a new one, Thomas let him down so. And Amina,” she clicked her tongue. “Well, she could have done worse, but she always had a flare for the dramatic, and deeply resented the alliance between Cornan and I that made you.” I swallowed. “So there’s Brayton. I ought to have claimed him myself, frankly, but I never had much use for the sons of this land.”

“My Lady Rana,” I said softly, she looked at me. “Where are you?” She sighed.

“If I knew, I would give you the place,” she said, “but I know not.” I nodded. “Everything is out of balance, you surely sense it?”

“Yes,” I whispered, “that’s it then, that’s my mandate. Balance?” She nodded. “But how?”

“Oh now, where’s the fun in that?” She said with a laugh and then was gone. I lurched in the chair, it was as if nothing had changed, except Marina jolted awake. We talked then. Quietly, Uncle Les, Caleb and Olivia came in and told us we were chosen.

Marina was furious, I understood why, but I wasn’t, I’d spoken with the Goddess. I couldn’t be angry. I left the tent and went to question Warren Davis. He didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know. Brayton would come, he wouldn’t be moved. Blah, blah, blah.

That night, back in my tent, Tristan lay beside me. We didn’t make love. I couldn’t, I knew I had to tell him the truth soon. I had to find Rana, and he couldn’t be a part of it. But I couldn’t let him go either. Losing him would be losing Lisette, and I couldn’t lose her.

“Come back to me,” he whispered, realizing I was somewhere else. “Lisette,” he sighed, “where are you?”

“Dovetail,” I said softly, “we have to go, and soon.” He nodded. “I’ll tell Thomas in the morning, we’ll start marching.” He pressed his forehead against mine. “Did you see anything? In the light?”

“No,” he said, “but you obviously did.” I frowned. “You’re not talking like yourself, and you’re,” I kissed him. “I’m not a fool Lisete, I’ll go if you want me to.”

“I don’t,” I said, “you swore! You said you’d stay.” He nodded and he held me. I felt like a child, but I knew I needed him.

“Then I’ll stay,” he whispered, “as long as you wish, Princess. I swore it then, and I swear it again.”

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