Light Eternal

Light Eternal chapter 3

Chapter 3

“Where do souls go when they die?” Muriel asked out of the blue; her eyes were focused on her plate in front of her, as she used a fork to pick apart a waffle soaked in maple syrup. They were in the dining room of the hotel, with employees bustling around them to clean up the uneaten leftovers from the buffet table, as the other patrons slowly trickled out. Aion looked at her and carefully gauged the question in his mind, but, before he could answer, she commented instead, “Continental breakfasts always sound more exciting than they actually are.”

“Eating them usually helps make them more exciting,” Aion replied, the empty dishes from his own meal still sitting in front of him – he hadn’t wasted any time in satiating his hunger, then had settled back into waiting for Muriel to finish playing with her food. He was the most patient man that she had ever met, because he didn’t look or sound the slightest bit annoyed; just amused.

“Why don’t you have a home?” Muriel asked, in one last effort to avoid eating, but the way Aion’s face never changed felt unbearably persuasive; it made her feel that they would be there until the end of time, waiting for her to consume something. A patient man, she decided, was not necessarily a good thing. Because Muriel wasn’t too keen on sitting there all day, she finally took her first bite.

“Because I’m not human, and didn’t possess this form until last night,” Aion spoke after Muriel had swallowed and taken another bite. She had waited too long; now, the waffle was soggy and cold. Next time, she would eat right away, since she was sure that her will wasn’t stronger than Aion’s – his face never changed, no matter what she did.

His words make her choke slightly, but, after she recovered, she rolled her eyes at him and sighed in exasperation, then said, in her brattiest know-it-all voice, “Then how do you have money?” For some reason she felt loopy, and wasn’t sure why she was acting that way, but Aion was at ease. Besides, she had the feeling that he couldn’t abandon her, and he was unlikely to react poorly, anyway.

“Law of Attraction.”

“What? That doesn’t even make sense,” Muriel scoffed.

Reaching into his pocket, Aion pulled out his wallet and opened it, flashing her with a large number of bills that all sported big numbers. “Makes perfect sense to me.”

Gasping slightly, Muriel’s eyes opened wide. “You’re kidding me! I thought that the Law of Attraction was silly New Age gobbledygook. It really works? Just like that?”

Shaking his head with a slight smile, Aion pocketed his wallet. “I tell you that I’m a non-human creature of Light, and the part that you don’t believe is the wad of cash that I’m carrying around.”

Scowling, Muriel huffed, “If you put it that way …” before stuffing a large bite of waffle into her mouth. Secretly she was glad that he was showing off, because it made him seem slightly more approachable. It was hard to know how to talk to someone who seemed to have mastered stoicism so completely.

“What’s my name?” he asked suddenly.

She looked at him blankly, then laughed softly to cover up the anxiety that had formed a lump in her throat. “I don’t remember.” She tried to sound casual, to make it seem normal that she didn’t know his name, even though that frightened her even more.

“What’s your name?” he asked instead.

“Muriel Gardner.” She leaned back and folded her arms, losing her appetite entirely. Her voice had an edge to it that she hadn’t fully intended, but she didn’t want him to keep asking her questions.

The man, however, was satisfied. “As long as you can remember who you are, then we’re okay.” That caught her even more off guard than the original question had. Even though she was trying to pretend that it was normal to not remember his name, she didn’t want him to go along with her. She wanted him to give her a reason to be defensive, to lose her self-control and sob over how broken her mind seemed to be. She wanted to cry. But instead, he was calmly watching her with unwavering eyes. Something in her face must have tipped him off on her thoughts though, because he slowly and carefully continued, “Do you know what happened last night?”

“It was cold.” Muriel shivered reflexively, remembering the moonlight on the frost and the darkness that enveloped her, so she rushed to finish, “Then I met you and we got a hotel room together.”

Somehow she knew that she had said the wrong thing. Even though his expression remind blank, the man stood up and said, “Come. We’re going to buy a notebook, and you’re going to write in it every day.”

“What for?” Muriel slowly followed him, trembling slightly. She was sure that she had done something wrong, and this was somehow going to be her punishment. Maybe he didn’t actually like her, and maybe he was only there because he had unsavory intentions for her. But he smiled, and Muriel found her heart calming down. She was being unreasonable, she decided, and she shouldn’t entertain such dark thoughts.

“For starters, you can put my name in it to help you remember,” Aion teased as he opened the door and waited for Muriel to walk through. His tone sounded friendly and a bit flirtatious, so Muriel stuck her tongue out at him as they walked down the hallway.

“And what else would I write?” she asked.

“Just journal. We need to know if you experience further soul loss … or worse.”

“What could be worse?”

“You’re susceptible now, and I swore that I would protect you.” Now he was being evasive, so Muriel stopped with a slight stomp of her foot.

“Give me a straight answer,” she demanded.

“Not until you’re capable of remembering it,” he replied.

“I do remember. My soul was taken,” Muriel whispered and looked down, her bottom lip quivering. “After …”

Aion was quick to press a finger against her trembling lips, stopping her from speaking. “That’s good enough. You’re returning to lucidity.”

“What is a Grim, and why did one attack me?” Muriel asked. She suddenly felt small and vulnerable, so she grabbed onto Aion’s arm for fear that a gust of wind would blow her away. She wasn’t sure if she existed anymore or if she lived in Aion’s imagination, and the only way to reassure herself was to feel his solid muscles in her hands. Remembering was too much for her to endure, and she wanted to forget again. She wanted to forget everything, even her own name, but at that moment it was too well established in her mind.

“They are hell-hounds – omens of death. They come from the underworld. I can’t tell you why one attacked you.”

“It wasn’t because …” A tear spilled from her eye and onto her cheek.

“No.” Aion put his hand over Muriel’s. “That made the damage worse, but the Grim being there had nothing to do with it.”

“Do you know everything about me?” Muriel rested her head against Aion’s arm. He felt good to touch, and she wanted to snuggle against him even more.

“Probably,” he replied.

“Are you my guardian angel?”

“I am now.” He wrapped both arms around her and patted her hair, and electric tingles shot through Muriel’s body. As long as he was there, she knew that she was safe.

“I know nothing about you,” she whispered into his chest.

“Do you remember my name?”

Muriel paused. “Aion.” She felt pleased with herself for remembering, and started to grin.

“That’s something that you know about me.” He smiled with her, then took her hand as they began walking back to their room again.

“What sort of name is it?” she asked.

“A big one,” he replied.

“It’s two syllables.”

“I know.”

“What does it mean?”

“We could look it up online.”

“You’re frustrating me!” Muriel hit him lightly on the shoulder and giggled slightly.

Aion winked as he said, “That was the idea.”

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Light Eternal

Light Eternal Chapter 2

Chapter 2

The motel room that Muriel walked into wasn’t noteworthy in any way – it was neither expensive, nor cheap, but still reminiscent of vacationing on a budget – with a slight musty smell and worn carpet – but it was clean and well-maintained. Muriel slowly pulled off her coat, revealing a pink sweater worn over a baggy white blouse, and hung it up on the coat stand near the door. She shivered slightly, hugged herself, and rubbed her arms, then turned up the thermostat on the heater underneath the front window before sitting down on one of the two queen-sized beds, where she opened her backpack. She sifted through it and pulled out a photograph of her parents and stared at it.

She had almost forgotten.

How could she forget?

Burning tears stung her eyes as she crumpled up the picture and threw it away in the small garbage can by the bed; she didn’t know why she had packed it in the first place. Trying very hard to hide any signs of crying, she hurriedly grabbed the bag and ran to the bathroom, locking the door behind her.

Aion stood straight and tall in the doorway as a frozen breeze blew past him and into the room, taking a moment to look at the garbage can, his face hard and unreadable. In his mind he was weighing something, considering it carefully, until another thought came to him and broke him out of his brooding. Then he reached into his pocket, pulled out the key-cards for their room, and put one down on the nearby table, before quietly leaving.

The hot steamy shower reminded Muriel of how cold she had been, and the contrast hurt almost too much to bear. She had to acclimate herself slowly, starting at lukewarm and gradually adjusting the temperature up, wondering when the prickling goosebumps that covered her skin would subside. There was something inside that was untouched by the water and heat, a sort of emptiness that kept her feeling chilled in the center of her bones. She couldn’t remember if it had always been there, but her skin was turning bright red from the heat, so she slowly turned the water off and stepped out of the tub.

After she wrapped herself up a towel, Muriel stared at herself in the mirror, water dripping from her sopping hair. Her face looked strange and unfamiliar, and she felt sure that it belonged to someone else. She didn’t like her hair, which seemed too dark and too short, even though it hung slightly past her shoulders. Somehow, that didn’t seem like her; it didn’t seem like how she would keep her hair. Her eyes were a pretty shade of hazel, but they had a haunted look that frightened her. She couldn’t think of why her eyes would look like that. She quickly turned from the mirror and rummaged through her backpack looking for clothes, but, again, it felt like she was intruding on someone else’s life. The jeans were too big around the waist, and she had to belt them to make them stay up. The blouses were all baggy, bland, and unappealing. She pulled on something pink, because it seemed like the most vibrant thing she could find, and she didn’t want to feel faded.

Exiting the bathroom, Muriel was surprised to see a burger bag sitting on the table next to the mini fridge. She didn’t realize that she had been in the bathroom long enough for the man to leave and come back, but she appreciated that he had thought to bring her food – he must have gone to one of those all-right places, because the clock next to the bed read midnight. Muriel reached into the bag and was shocked to realize that the food was cold; she slowly sank down into a chair, baffled at how that was possible. It had felt like she had been in the bathroom for only a few minutes.

How long had it been? She hadn’t checked the time when they arrived; now, she wished she had. She felt fuzzy and awful; a strange buzzing began in her head, carrying her focus away for a moment.

The door opened and Aion stepped in, pausing to take off his coat, but Muriel stared blankly ahead of her, not responding to his appearance. She looked listless, but he wasn’t surprised. He walked over to her and very carefully took one of her hands, watching to make sure that she didn’t flinch or look frightened.

“Do you remember me?” he whispered.

Her eyes focused on his face and she frowned, trying hard to grasp something that wouldn’t come to her. She knew that she knew him, but the answer of who he was wouldn’t come to her. “I don’t … know,” she murmured.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

She paused, alarmed that she didn’t immediately know. Then, with some relief, she found herself replying, “Muriel,” and didn’t give any indication that it felt like someone else had answered for her.

“Where are we?” the man asked.

That one seemed easy. “In a hotel room.”

“Where?”

It wasn’t an easy question after all, and she lowered her head, biting her lip for a moment to repress the urge to cry before muttering, “… I don’t remember.”

Aion gently stroked the top of her head, his fingers sending tingles through Muriel’s scalp and down her neck, seemingly satisfied, despite her inability to remember such simple things. “Go ahead and eat, and don’t worry,” he said gently. “You’re experiencing a fugue state, but it’s nothing to be alarmed about. You’ll grow used to them in time.”

She wanted to cry again, because his gentleness hurt in a way that didn’t make sense. To cover it up, she quickly asked, “How long have we been here?”

“About two hours.”

Muriel nodded and pulled out the burger, peeling off the wrapper before she slowly took a bite and swallowed. Cold hamburgers were not as good as fresh ones; she clung to that thought because it was inane and meaningless – anything to keep herself away from the frozen pain that was trapped inside her chest, hiding just under her ribcage. “What was your name again?” she asked after a moment.

“Aion.”

“Aion,” she repeated softly. “Am I going to be okay?”

“I promise that you will be.”

Muriel leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Aion’s chest, resting her head against him. The warmth from his body felt good, and reminded Muriel that she was still alive. She could hear his heart beating, and it eased tension out of her muscles that she hadn’t realized was there. Her cheeks were wet with the tears that she could no longer hold back, but it seemed safe to cry while hidden in Aion’s shirt. In turn, Aion wrapped his arms around her and whispered, “I’m going to make my failure right.”

Time stopped, and the bond between them was reawakened. Muriel remember that she had known Aion from somewhere, but the truth still eluded her. Her mind felt blocked from her by a black wall that couldn’t be penetrated, keeping her locked in the moment without a past or a future. But her heart still remembered, and she wanted to stay with him forever. She closed her eyes and drifted off into a deep sleep.

After laying her down in bed, and tucking the blanket around her, Aion stood looking out the window, thinking.

His failure.

He had allowed himself to be too trusting, and weak, and that had ultimately prevented him from protecting Muriel like he had promised he would – and she had paid the price. He wouldn’t allow that to happen again.

But he wasn’t the only one who failed on that night. He retrieved the picture from the waste bin, brought it over to the light, and studied it for a moment, before it burst into flames and floated away as ash. They had broken their contract, and they would not escape the consequences.

Light Eternal

Light Eternal – Chapter 1

This is my latest novel. I spent some time wondering what, exactly, I wanted to do with it now that it was completed, and decided on publishing it online for free reading. After all, I’m one of those rebellious, individualistic, creative types, so it seemed fitting.

Enjoy.


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Chapter One

Frost covered the dead leaves that lay scattered along the edges of the sidewalk, catching the light from the full moon so that it sparkled and glowed with a blue tint; it was the same shade as Muriel’s frozen breath that hung heavily in the air around her, stinging her lips with every breath.

Muriel wore a gray polyester coat with a pink wool scarf, that only partially protected her from the weather, and faded blue jeans with torn and muddy hems that dragged on the sidewalk and hooked underneath the thick heels of her cheap black boots. She couldn’t remember when her feet had gone numb, and she didn’t know how long it had been since she left home – she had left her cellphone behind to prevent herself from being found. On her head she wore a cabled beanie that she had knitted herself out of chunky gray wool, covering her soft wavy brown hair, and her cheeks were flushed beneath red, teary eyes. Muriel’s hands were bare, and almost purple from the cold, but she clutched the straps of her gray backpack with grim determination to never let go. Everything she owned in the world was inside that bag.

It was going to start snowing soon; she could feel it in the air. Somehow, it seemed, that was the only thing that she could feel.

She had to keep going. She didn’t know where she would stop, but that didn’t matter as much as getting as far away as she could. If she stopped, Muriel felt sure that would be the end of her, and the ache in her chest wanted to keep throbbing for as long as it could. As she crossed the street, she could feel how slowly her numb and tired legs were carrying her, and she wanted to start crying again, but she had to keep going.

An unexpected sound, guttural and unearthly, caught her footsteps and forced her to a halt. She was standing directly underneath a streetlight, and couldn’t make out anything in the darkness beyond the circle of light surrounding her, but the sound sent a different sort of cold piercing through her, hurting her throat and her heart, choking and silencing her. It terrified her more than the possibility of freezing to death out there alone. She couldn’t see the source of the sound, but she knew it was there, watching her. Waiting.

Suddenly, it felt as if her body was being ripped apart, and she fell to her knees, unable to scream out in pain. Did she still know how to breathe? Darkness pulled at everything inside of her, taking her sight, her blood, her voice. Soon there would be nothing left of her.

Then light began flowing around her, lifting her up and encircling her, breathing for her, like a beautiful song, and her heart began to beat again.

Was this death?

It was sweeter than life.

The light receded and the cold crept back in, leaving her lying on her back on the concrete, staring up at the stars twinkling above her. The streetlight above her was dark ghost against the night sky.

“Muriel.”

She turned toward the voice that had sounded like velvet masculinity, and found herself looking into a man’s face that was foreign, yet familiar, with bright blue eyes that was surrounded by white-blonde hair. Slowly and shakily she pushed herself up then asked with a weak and broken voice, “What happened?”

“You were beset by a Grim,” the man replied. “It took a large portion of your soul.”

The words sounded strange and didn’t make much sense. Muriel didn’t know what a Grim was, or what losing her soul meant. “Is that death?” she asked.

“Losing all of your soul is,” he answered, looking into the darkness in front of them for a moment, before continuing, “but souls can fragment. It’s normal to lose a piece here and there from overwhelming events in life; usually not so much.”

“I lost a lot?”

“Yes.”

Muriel’s stomach churned and moved up into her throat. She didn’t know what that would mean for her, and it scared her. Was her life shortened? She felt dizzy, but, although she wanted to cry, she couldn’t find the ability to do so. A dull pain blocked her voice, preventing her from expressing anything.

The man pulled a small knife from his belt and nicked his finger, then drew something on Muriel’s forehead with his blood. “I pledge my life to Muriel Gardner, as her servant and protector, until her soul is returned to her,” he vowed.

What?!” Muriel gasped, disbelieving what she had just heard.

The man put his knife away and held out his hand to her. “Come, it’s not healthy to lounge around outside in this weather.”

When she didn’t move, he grabbed her arm, and hauled her to her feet, taking a moment to steady her before letting go.

“How did you know my name?” she asked. “Have we met before?”

“In a way, we have. I am from the Light.” He paused, then added, “Like an angel.”

“What’s your name?”

“Aion.”

Muriel shivered, and he gestured for her to follow him. He didn’t ask if she had anywhere to go, and she didn’t say that she was alone. Somehow Muriel knew that her fate rested in the hands of this stranger with the pretty blue eyes and oddly familiar face, so she went willingly and unquestioningly with him. It seemed as if she was watching herself walk with the man, clinging tightly onto his arm for warmth, from somewhere far above them. Behind them the streetlight flickered back on, as clouds began to fill the sky, and small flurries began to fall, and it looked like something out of a dream.

Fade to White

Fade to White – Chapter 26 – FINAL CHAPTER

Fade to White

Chapter Twenty Six

Slowly Jerek eased his sword out of Ramo’s stomach, gently laying the body on the floor before standing up and pointing his still dripping weapon at Nosaj. “He died because of you,” Jerek said with bitterness in his voice.

“I am not the one holding the bloody sword. Jerek, how could you? Ramo only cared for your well being.” Nosaj tightened his grip around Tryne, moving a hand to her neck as she grunted in protest. “Even after I spared the life of your girlfriend, and even after I let her keep her virtue, you still slaughter the one person who loved you more than anything else in this world, because he worked for me.”

“Shut up!” Jerek yelled, as tear drops coursed their way down his cheeks. “Just give Tryne to me, and we’ll leave.”

Nosaj yanked Tryne back. “It doesn’t work like that, Jerek,” he said. “I was thinking that I would keep her for myself, and if you protested then I would simply lock you up.”

“It will work the way I say it will.” Jerek began walking toward Nosaj, holding his sword ready. “Give her to me right now.”

“Or what?”

“I’ll kill you.”

Nosaj grinned wickedly, throwing Tryne against the wall and pulling out his own sword from its sheath. “Let’s find out if you can.”

Leaping through the air, Jerek connected his sword against Nosaj’s, pushing against the blades with all of his strength. “You’ve played your game for long enough,” he grunted.

“My game has just barely started.” Nosaj twisted his sword to the side and stepped back, causing Jerek’s weapon to slide off harmlessly. “Even after I’m dead, you’ll never be able to escape me. The only life you’ll be able to live is the one I’ve given you, and it is impossible for you to live any other way. Your hands are stained with the blood of innocent people. Your heart is callous toward others. If you think that you can create a new world for yourself with the girl you love, then you are mistaken. She is finally seeing how harsh you really are!”

Jerek hesitated, looking over at Tryne who was curled up against the wall and visibly shaking. She was frightened. Slowly Jerek started to lower his sword, his heart throbbing because Tryne’s eyes were open wide with fear as she stared at him, her muscles occasionally twitching as if she wanted to run away but couldn’t find the courage.

A sharp line of pain brought all of Jerek’s senses back to Nosaj, and he stumbled away, limping as Nosaj’s sword cut into his leg. “Why? Why did you do that?” Jerek asked. “Why didn’t you kill me?”

“Because you are my heir.” Swiftly turning around, Nosaj strode over to Tryne and yanked her up to her feet, swinging her so that her hair flew into her face. Pointing his sword at her, Nosaj said, “She is the only other person who will die today.”

“Let her go!”

Sneering, Nosaj moved his blade, poking it into Tryne’s side and causing her blood to slowly ooze out, coloring her shirt as she gritted her teeth and screamed, struggling to pull away from him.

Snapping with anger, Jerek swung his sword around and Nosaj barely had enough time to bring up his own sword to block, but Jerek hit Nosaj’s blade with such force that the metal of his weapon broke into two pieces, while the reverberations in Jerek’s own sword hurt his hands, causing him to drop the sword in pain.

“Finish it,” Nosaj said.

Looking up, Jerek growled, leaping forward to tackle Nosaj.

He didn’t resist as they fell to the ground, and he stayed limp as Jerek grabbed his hair, lifting his head up and slamming it down into the concrete. Jerek did it again and again, using all of his strength each time he bashed Nosaj’s head against the floor, and blood started to spray out as each thud was accompanied by a sickening squelch. Then Tryne screamed.

Jerek dropped Nosaj’s body, backing away as the cloud of anger cleared from his mind, leaving the image of Nosaj in front of him. Nosaj’s eyes were still open, bright red and glazed over, his skull oddly shaped, and the dark crimson liquid that was pooled up around him on the floor was also splattered across the wall. Moving his hand up to his face, Jerek saw that his skin was covered in blood, and a nauseating sickness overcame him.

Still hunched over, Jerek spoke, “He planned that, didn’t he.”

Nodding, Tryne answered, “Yes,” in a feeble voice.

“We need to . . . bury Ramo and him.”

Tryne nodded again, walking over to Jerek and putting her arms around him, burrowing her head against his chest as tears came from her eyes.

“That . . . bastard.” Jerek put his hands on Tryne’s back, lowering his head. “Why did he have to do that?”

Jerek’s eyes were lined with red, but they were dry as he watched the flames and smoke rise into the air, carrying the deep feeling of despair that had clogged Jerek’s mind right after the fight in the castle. He could finally breathe again. Holding onto his hand, Tryne stood beside him looking into the bonfire as well, her glassy eyes reflecting the orange light with moisture.

“What are you going to do?” she asked. “Are you going to accept Ken’s offer to become one of the leaders?”

Setting his mouth into a straight line, Jerek thought for a moment before answering, “I thought that maybe we could see the Ruby Village, then find out where the wind takes us from there.”

Squeezing Jerek’s hand, Tryne smiled. “I love you, Jerek,” she said.

Jerek smiled back at her, murmuring, “I love you too,” before returning his eyes to the blaze before him again. A thought crossed his mind, and with a smirk Jerek couldn’t help but say the words, “Long live Nosaj, the Commander and King of the Twelve Villages.”


Fin.

I’ll be taking the rest of the year off to focus on the holidays. See you in 2018!

Fade to White

Fade to White – Chapter 25

Fade to White

Chapter Twenty Five

Racing up the concrete castle steps, Jerek’s heart pounded fiercely inside his chest. He was afraid that he was already too late, and that spurred his feet on faster despite the growing weariness in his legs. Reaching the top, Jerek stopped in surprise, staring at Ramo leaning against the wall of the corridor leading to Nosaj’s personal chambers. In Ramo’s hand was a metal sword, the blade gleaming dimly from the light that entered through the windows lined along the outside wall.

“Answer me truthfully,” Ramo said, looking over at Jerek with hard eyes. “Why are you here?”

“I’m here to claim what is rightfully mine.”

“You’re here to save that girl!” Ramo yelled, stepping into the middle of the corridor and holding his sword ready. “Can’t you see that she is controlling you?”

“She is not controlling me!” Jerek replied. “I am finally choosing what I want to do for myself. I don’t have any time to waste here, so please step aside.”

“Stop this right now! Just turn around and we can forget that any of this ever happened. Please just forget about it,” Ramo pleaded.

“I can’t.”

“And why not?”

“Because I love her.”

Ramo took in a sharp breath at Jerek’s words, but Jerek continued speaking, “I love her, Ramo. She is the only person I want to be with, and I have to save her. I have to protect her from Nosaj.”

Tears filled Ramo’s eyes and flowed down his cheeks. “Are you throwing away our friendship just like that?” he whispered. “A girl you barely met means more to you than the years we’ve known each other? How can you be such a jerk?!”

“I’m not throwing away our friendship, you’re the one who is pushing it aside.”

“How dare you say that!” Ramo cried. “I have done so much for you! I am trying to protect you from making the biggest mistake of your life, because I care about you. You turned against me because of that girl!”

“I am not against you! Ramo, please,” Jerek softened his voice, “let me pass. After Nosaj is gone, we’ll still have the same friendship as we did before.”

“No! Because now I know that you don’t really care about me. There is only one person that Jerek wants to be with, and I missed the cut.”

“Ramo . . .”

“I’m through with this!” Swinging his sword and swaying slightly from the weight of it, Ramo flung himself at Jerek.

Reflexes brought up Jerek’s sword to block, but as soon as the two blades made contact Jerek reached out and caught hold of Ramo’s arm.

“Ramo, I’m not going to fight you!”

“Let go of me!” Ramo struggled to yank away.

“Don’t fight against me!”

“I am fighting on the side of the Commander, and you are the one who turned against him. You betrayed me!”

“But you don’t have to fight for him!”

Ramo broke away from Jerek’s grip, stumbling backwards. “Yes I do,” he whispered. “My entire family died for him, and I won’t do anything to betray him because of that.”

“Ramo . . .” Jerek stepped forward.

“Please Jerek, I’m begging you. Turn around right now and we can move on with our lives.”

“Tryne is my life.”

Ramo screamed, raising his sword above his head and leaping at Jerek. Taking a step back, Jerek’s shoelace was firmly wedged under the sole of his boot and he tottered, hitting the ground hard.

Watching in slow motion, Jerek’s eyes went wide in horror as he realized that he didn’t have enough time to move away. Gasping painfully, Ramo came to a sudden stop and let his arms fall, his sword clattering to the stone floor, then his hands slowly drifted down to his shirt. A whimper escaped his lips when he touched Jerek’s sword firmly planted in his stomach, and he quickly dropped his hands to his sides.

“Oh my God! Ramo!” Jerek let go of the handle, his hands hovering close to it for a second before he moved them away.

“It . . . it . . .” Ramo sunk to his knees, hunching over as a fit of coughing took him, spraying out blood and coating his chin in it.

Getting on the floor next to Ramo, Jerek wrapped his arms around him and pulled him into a tight embrace, pressing Ramo’s head against his chest. “I didn’t mean to . . .” he moaned. “I never meant to hurt you. You’re my best friend.”

Reaching up, Ramo gently touched the side of Jerek’s face. “It’s okay,” he whispered. “Jerek, I . . .”

“I know.” Tears trickled out of the corners of Jerek’s eyes as he hugged Ramo tighter. “Just hang on, okay?”

Ramo smiled weakly. “I’m so happy,” he said as the sparkle in his eyes began to fade.

“Ramo! No!” Jerek compulsively shook Ramo, but it didn’t stop Ramo’s head from lolling limply to the side, it didn’t bring the life back into him. Lifting his head up, Jerek howled in agonized sorrow.

A door in the corridor opened and Nosaj stepped out, holding Tryne in front of him. Silently he surveyed the scene of Jerek clutching Ramo’s body, then in a dark and angry tone he uttered, “What have you done?”

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Fade to White

Fade to White Chapter 24

Fade to White

Chapter Twenty Four

Every beat of her heart sent pain pulsing through her head, and Tryne groaned as her senses returned to her. Soft silk sheets rubbed against the skin of her arms, but the cords that bound her wrists together were hard and stiff.

“Good morning darling,” a male voice spoke, “or rather, I should say good evening.”

Opening her eyes, Tryne found that her vision was blurry and that she could see double of everything. The effect was nauseating and Tryne’s stomach churned, filling her mouth with bile. Closing her eyes again, she sunk back into the mattress, and after a moment, the feeling passed. Blinking and looking around, Tryne’s gaze settled on Nosaj sitting in an arm chair across the room polishing his sword, and her heart dropped.

Glancing at her, Nosaj chuckled. “Don’t worry my dear. I haven’t touched you at all.”

“What do you want with me?”

“In time you’ll know exactly what my intentions are.”

A lump rose up in Tryne’s throat and she forced it down with a swallow, then began wriggling her arms to get her hands free.

“I’m sorry I tied you up, but . . .” Nosaj tapped at the red lines on his face. “You’re a scratcher.”

“You deserve more than that for what you did to my mom!”

“Ah yes, that woman. What was her name again?”

“Alara, you swine.”

“I hope you realize that I did what I had to do. I felt so betrayed by her for deceiving me. All this time I thought she was running a business and helping out the economy, but then I find out that she was really a leader in a terrorist group. What’s more, she hid the fact that she had a beautiful daughter as well.”

“We are not a terrorist group! We are fighting against a corrupt dictator and working for the betterment of everyone’s lives.”

“Is that how you see it? Tell me, are my taxes too high? Is my justice system unfair?”

Tryne hesitated for a moment, before her answer came to her. “No one is allowed to speak what’s on their mind. Any person who speaks a word against you is thrown into jail for treason, and you have even gone so far as to destroy an entire village. Those are not the signs of a benevolent ruler!”

“Ooo, preachy.” Nosaj chuckled. “You must understand, my sweet, that there are actions a leader is sometimes forced to take in order to maintain peace among his subjects. Don’t you agree with me that there will always be people who are upset at the government, no matter what?”

Biting her lip, Tryne shook her head. “That does not justify what you have done.”

“I beg you to forgive me for changing the topic, but this is simply driving me crazy with curiosity. How did you manage to seduce Jerek? All his life he has never once shown any interest or desire in the amorous aspects of life, and now suddenly he’s supposedly in love.”

“I didn’t seduce him.”

“Oh, surely you did! You have accomplished in a week what our beloved Ramo had been trying to do for a couple years now. How did you do it?”

“I didn’t do anything! It just happened!”

“Tsk tsk, my dear. You aren’t going to give me a real answer? I’m disappointed.”

“Go burn in Hell. It isn’t even any of your business.”

Chuckling, Nosaj got up and crossed the room, grabbing Tryne’s chin with his hand and tilting her head to look into her eyes. “I think I understand a little now. It’s not that Jerek didn’t have in interest in sex at all, but instead his turn ons were different from the average man’s. I should have realized that sooner, since after all Jerek is far from being average.”

Glaring at Nosaj, Tryne recoiled away from him as he sat down on the bed next to her.

“Would you like me to tell you a story?” he said. “Well, even if you don’t I still want to tell it anyway. It’s my favorite story, after all. Twenty years ago I heard rumor about a young boy who had been born with hair as white as a cloud on a sunny day, and eyes that couldn’t decide which color to be so they were every color at once. I was intrigued. Did such a boy really exist? I wondered.

“I decided to personally investigate as an idea formed in my mind. If I could indeed find this boy, then he would make an excellent heir to rule over the Twelve Villages. He would be fearsome and mysterious, an enigma to all of his subjects and perfect in his unusual appearance as a ruler. I became enamored with the idea. I had to find that boy. Then finally, in the Garnet Village, I did. I regret to say that his parents wouldn’t give him up to me and I was forced to burn down their house with them inside, but I finally had my boy and I could start watching as my dream unfolded. Everything I have done with Jerek, my dear, has led up to this moment.”

“What do you mean?”

“Where would all the romance of the story be if I didn’t die? In order to pass on to becoming the perfect ruler, Jerek must slay me first. Only then will my vision be complete.”

“You’re insane!”

“Yes, quite so.” Nosaj chuckled.

“And what did you want with me?”

Sweeping a lock of Tryne’s hair behind her ear, Nosaj patted her cheek. “I was going to rape you of course, but instead you got me story telling.”

Tryne jumped back away from Nosaj, falling onto the floor and scrambling to get to her knees. “Don’t you dare! I swear to God I will hurt you if you try!” she exclaimed as she began straining her hands at the ropes again.

Laughing, Nosaj stepped down and reached toward Tryne, but she snapped her teeth at his hand and he pulled away. “You have nothing to worry about, my dear. In light of once again vividly remembering my ambition, it seems that violating the girl Jerek loves would only corrupt the perfect story. Instead, we will wait here for him to arrive, and you will witness the events that take place, knowing that this was how I longed for it to be.”

“But what if after you die, Jerek decides he doesn’t want to be Commander and King?”

“Yes, I have considered that possibility, and at first it greatly perturbed me. But then I remembered the little rebel terrorist group that you belong to. He’d have two choices, either fight them or join them. Fighting them he’d be forced to take up my former position, and joining them they would regard him as a sort of savior and elect him to be their leader.”

“We already have leaders, that’s not going to happen.”

“Leaders like you?”

Tryne paused, pressing her lips together before replying, “Yes.”

Her answer made Nosaj laugh. “Just like your mother was?”

“I took over her old position.”

“Your mother was a pseudo leader.”

Blinking in surprise, Tryne mouthed to word “How.”

“She wasn’t in the loop, so to speak. She could barely answer my questions, and there were times she was blatantly lying. There’s a reason why I’m the Commander and King.”

“There’s a reason why our resistance group has existed for so long too.”

“I know. I have the nerve to collect taxes for the sole purpose of keeping the kingdom running. Bad me!”

“You destroy your own villages.”

“And this is where we come full circle.” Nosaj walked over and sat down in the chair, picking up his sword and starting to polish it again. “We don’t know how long it will be before Jerek comes, so if you feel inclined to take a nap go ahead and do so.”

Tryne glared at Nosaj as she leveraged herself to her feet then sat down on the edge of the bed. She felt confused. Nosaj didn’t seem to be the pure evil man she had always believed he was.

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Fade to White chapter 23

Fade to White

Chapter Twenty Three

“Jerek, wake up.”

Slowly Jerek opened his eyes. His head hurt with a deep throbbing pain that nearly blinded him, and he had to blink his eyes a few times before he could get them to focus. “Uhhn,” he moaned, sitting up and putting his hand to his head.

“What happened?” Ken asked, grabbing hold of Jerek’s shoulders.

“Nosaj . . . was here.” Jerek gritted his teeth, then suddenly pushed himself up to his feet. “He took Tryne!”

“Sit down, don’t strain yourself.” Ken pushed Jerek back onto the ground, then sat cross-legged on the grass facing Jerek. “We don’t even know if she’s still alive, Nosaj could have killed her already.”

“No, she has to still be alive. Nosaj carried her himself . . . he won’t touch a dead body that much,” Jerek muttered. “We have to go get Tryne back. I need you to help me get her.”

“I’d like to.” Ken looked down sadly. “But I can’t. I can’t help you at all.”

“What?” Jerek looked surprised, creasing his brow in a frown.

“I can’t do anything for her now.”

“Why not? Don’t you care about her at all?”

“It’s not that!” Ken shouted, shaking his head and squeezing his eyes shut. “I’ve cared for her for longer and deeper than you know. There’s nothing I would like more than to rush to Nosaj’s castle and bring her back, but I can’t do that. Like Tryne, my life is tied to the resistance group.”

“Like Tryne?”

“This is Tryne’s whole purpose in the resistance group.”

“I thought she was the leader,” Jerek said, confused.

“No, that’s just what we call the position to throw people off. Tryne wasn’t a leader at all, but instead probably the least informed member of the entire group.” Ken jumped up to his feet, turning and taking a few steps away. “She was our scapegoat,” he whispered.

“What?!”

“Her mother was too, that’s why when the soldiers started harassing me and threatening to kill me in the village that day, she jumped forward and claimed to be the leader of the resistance group. That’s why I had to let them take her and kill her. Don’t you understand? I didn’t want Tryne to take this position, but she did anyway! I can’t save her because it could endanger the organization!”

“I can’t believe this,” Jerek murmured, getting up on his feet and wobbling slightly. “No wonder your group has been around for so long, you put the survival of the organization over the lives of its individual members.”

“I’m sorry, but it was established that way a long time ago. Please, save Tryne, make sure that she’s safe.”

“Don’t think you can gain glory through me by telling me to save her,” Jerek grumbled, then turning around in a circle, he scanned the area around him. “Where’s my horse?”

“They must’ve taken it with them.”

“Damn,” Jerek cursed, then walked to Ken’s horse and mounted up into the saddle. “I’m taking yours.”

“Where do you think you’re running off to so quickly?” Ken chuckled slightly. Frowning, Jerek looked at him but paused to listen. “You don’t even have a weapon.”

“I can find one when I get there.”

“Wouldn’t it be much easier to take one with you?” Stepping to the cottage, Ken pushed the door open. “Come inside.”

“Tryne doesn’t have any weapons. Do you expect me to hit people with a broken spoon or something?”

Kneeling down on the floor, Ken reached under Tryne’s bed and first pulled out a bag, then Jerek’s sword. “I expect you to use this.”

“What the . . .” Jerek picked up his sword, drawing his fingers along the scabbard. “I left this at the castle.”

“According to Tryne, some guy brought it here along with your clothes while you were asleep.”

“But why would she hide it from me?”

“Maybe because she really wanted to see you wear black?” Ken smiled, shaking his head. “I think she was jealous of the guy who brought it here, since she got weird vibes from him.”

“It had to have been Ramo,” Jerek muttered, reaching into the bag and pulling out one of his shirts then looking down at his black sleeve. He decided against changing shirts, opting for letting the symbolism of his new clothes show through. “Don’t tell Tryne,” he said out loud, “but she has practically every reason to be jealous of Ramo.”

“Too much information, bud.”

Narrowing his eyes at Ken, Jerek slowly said, “Are there any other secrets you want to reveal to me before I leave?”

“No, that was it. Good luck.”

“Are you sure you can’t provide any back up for me?”

“I wish I could.”

“You’re making this hard for me on purpose,” Jerek grunted, strapping his sword onto his belt, then going outside to remount the horse. “I’ll be back,” he yelled, galloping into the forest toward Nosaj’s castle.

Fade to White

Fade to White chapter 22

Fade to White

Chapter Twenty Two

The time had come. Nosaj commented casually on the fact over breakfast, then extended an invitation to Ramo to come along, although he knew that Ramo would decline. It had been two days from the time that Jerek had left the castle and Ramo’s report that Jerek had fallen for a girl. There was an electricity in the air, more acute than the normal buzz before a raid, and it excited Nosaj to a level that he hadn’t felt in a long time. He almost wanted to describe the feeling as magical and nostalgic.

In celebration of the event, Nosaj had dressed himself up more than usual. He was wearing his long black cape with white fur on the collar, over his baggy white shirt tucked into his slim fitting black pants. Around his neck he wore numerous gold chains, some of which hung all the way down to his stomach, and large rings on his fingers with brightly colored stones that caught and reflected the sunlight. He felt like a King, and he was sure that he gave the formidable appearance of one.

Mounting his white stallion, Nosaj looked down at the men on foot with satisfaction. There were five of his most loyal soldiers, enough to show his strength and dominion without overdoing it. “Men,” he began, “this is a great day. This will be the day we teach a lesson to our beloved Jerek, and from this day on he will no longer try to fight against us. After this day, he will become as you are, faithful and loyal to your Commander and King. Move out!”

It was Nosaj’s first time going to the cottage, despite the fact that he had known about it for so long, and it surprised him that the cottage was closer to the castle than any of his villages. Reaching the clearing and looking down at the building, Nosaj nodded to his men who silently stalked around the land and up to the door.

Jerek sprang up from his chair as the door was bashed open and he quickly grabbed the large wooden spoon from the pot sitting on the middle of the table, turning to face the soldiers that came in. Tryne didn’t react quickly enough to stand, but as the first soldier reached over to grab her, Jerek intercepted and brought the spoon down on the man’s arm.

But there was another man right behind him, and as the first soldier drew back in pain, he took his place. Tryne swung at and scratched this new soldier with her hand, but he kept a steady tight grip on her as he pulled her away from Jerek, while the first soldier blocked Jerek’s spoon.

There wasn’t even a snap when the spoon broke. Jerek brought his arm up, noticing the difference in weight and realizing that half of it was missing, then his arm moved back down on its own, striking the narrow stick of wood on the soldier and causing it to break again, this time hurting Jerek’s hand.

Tryne screamed, and Jerek whipped around just in time to see as she was dragged outside into the sunlight. He hesitated, the urge to rush after her rising up inside him. It was in that moment that both of the remaining soldiers grabbed hold of Jerek, overpowering him and forcing him through the door as well. Blinking at the bright outside, Jerek’s eyes found Nosaj sitting on his horse and he rushed forward to get at him. Nosaj’s grip tightened around his reigns, then relaxed as Jerek was tackled to the ground and held pinned down.

Dismounting, Nosaj walked to Jerek and stood silently staring down at him for a moment, before turning to Tryne who was breathing heavily with her arms twisted back by the man who held her captive. “She is pretty,” Nosaj murmured, touching the side of Tryne’s face. Glaring, Tryne spat at Nosaj, hitting his arm as he stepped back. Pulling back his upper lip, Nosaj wiped the spit off on one of his soldiers, then slapped Tryne across the face.

“Don’t touch her!” Jerek yelled, heaving against the men who held him down.

Stepping over to Jerek, Nosaj put his foot in between Jerek’s shoulder blades and pushed him into the grass, moving all of his weight onto that foot. “You have turned against me, Jerek.”

“I follow myself now. Let me up and fight me like a man!”

“Oh, of course not.” Nosaj grinned. “But do let him sit up or something, I want him to be able to see.”

“You bastard! What are you doing?” Jerek strained to break away.

“Just watch,” Nosaj answered, and with a big smirk took Tryne’s chin in his hand, digging his fingernails into her skin. Pulling her head closer to him, Nosaj put out his tongue and touched her cheek with it, drawing a wet path up along the side of her face. Jerek made another strong pull toward Nosaj, but he was yanked back and held in place, while Tryne tried to move away, kicking out her legs and landing a blow on Nosaj’s shin. Cussing, Nosaj changed his grip to around Tryne’s neck, slapping her face then grabbing a fistful of her hair, he yanked her head back. “Stupid girl. Don’t you realize that I’ve come to kill you?” Tightening his grip around her neck, Nosaj shook her, jarring her head and causing her eyes to lose focus as she choked.

Screaming, Jerek thrust himself forward, managing to free himself and take a couple steps before he was dragged back.

“Hold him down,” Nosaj said, letting go of Tryne who sagged and almost slipped down to her knees. “You’re lucky that I’m not going to kill you, Jerek.”

“Why won’t you?” Jerek asked bitterly, his eyes flashing red as he looked up at Nosaj.

“Because I’ve invested too much into you. I had to burn your house just to get my hands on you, then there was all the time I had to spend building up the story that it was the terrorists who killed your parents. Spending twenty years raising you to be my heir was no easy task, and I won’t let this whore prevent you from filling your single purpose for existence. You will rule after me when I’m gone.”

“I’ll kill you!” Jerek growled.

“Good luck with that. By the time I get through with you, you won’t be able to stand for weeks.”

“Jerek!” Tryne shrieked, suddenly jerking free of the guard that held her and she flung herself at Nosaj, managing to scratch him across the face before she was thrown down. Leering, Nosaj touched the red marks on his cheek, then kicked Tryne in the side.

“Damn girl,” he spat, kicking her again.

“Stop it!” Jerek yelled.

Stooping down, Nosaj grabbed Tryne around the neck again, and forced her head at an angle so she could see over to where Jerek was held down. “I want you to look at him,” Nosaj whispered, his hot breath tickling her ear. “I want you to make eye contact when you die.” Then he squeezed his hand tightly, causing Tryne to choke and gurgle as her air supply was cut off. She brought her hands up and tried to pry Nosaj’s hand open, but soon they fell limply to the ground as her eyes slowly drooped shut. Letting go, Nosaj let Tryne’s body fall to the ground and looked coldly over at Jerek who had grown still. Tears squeezed their way out of Jerek’s tightly closed eyes, his teeth clenched together, and his hands balled into fists.

The sound started as soft sobbing, but it grew louder and more furious with each second that passed. When Jerek opened his eyes, they had turned completely red, glowing with an intense hatred and he pulled so fiercely against the men who held him back that their feet slid a couple inches with every lunge he made. Calmly, Nosaj pulled out his sword and pointed it at Jerek.

“You will come back to the castle now.”

“I would rather die!”

“Then so be it.” Taking his sword, Nosaj knocked Jerek in the head with the hilt so hard that blood ran down his forehead. Jerek fell down as blackness took over the edges of his vision. As his eyes slowly closed, he saw Nosaj pick up Tryne’s body and mount the white stallion with it, then the darkness completely took over.

 

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Fade to White

Fade to White chapter 21

Fade to White

Chapter Twenty One

Tryne was already up and fixing breakfast when Jerek was awakened by the sun sneaking in through the window and shining on his face. It was still too early for his liking. Sitting up, Jerek could instantly feel the stiffness in his muscles and the soreness in his back. Rotating both of his shoulders then pulling his arms forward across his chest, he asked, “What are you making?”

“Pancakes and scrambled eggs. Don’t eat too much though, Ken’s going to be back here soon and I want there to be enough for him,” Tryne replied.

“Ken’s coming back?” Jerek scowled.

“I thought the two of you got along quite well last night. Why wouldn’t you be happy to see him now?” Tryne curiously looked over her shoulder at Jerek, bringing up the spoon she was using to stir the pancake batter with and unconsciously pointing it at her face.

“We have a common goal, that’s all. That doesn’t mean I have to like him.” Jerek stood up. “I’m going outside.”

“Don’t wander off too far. I’m almost finished with breakfast.” Tryne turned her head back to the stove, but hit her cheek with the spoon, smearing batter across her face. Squeezing her eyes shut, she wiped a gob off of her face then transferred it to her apron. “Smooth,” she muttered, wiping her face again.

“Graceful too,” Jerek added, turning Tryne’s head toward him and using his finger to swipe a spot of batter, then stuck it in his mouth.

“Don’t try and get all kinky with me, it won’t work.” With false indignation Tryne turned back to the stove and pushed the spoon back into the batter.

“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Jerek waved his hand, turning around and walking out the door.

The morning air felt cool against his shoulders and the skin of his back that wasn’t covered by bandages, and in the distant trees he could hear the birds chirping happily as the wind moved through the leaves in gentle pulses. Stretching his arm above his head, Jerek set out on a leisurely stroll. He loved this lifestyle, quite a lot. He enjoyed the freedom to walk around outside as he pleased, and he liked listening to the soothing sounds of nature. It was hard for him to imagine that he had lived so long in the darkness of the castle, only venturing outside when he was on a mission or stealing time to ride his horse for a couple hours. This was how life was supposed to be.

“Hello there!” a voice called clearly across the breeze, and Jerek turned to see Ken riding on his horse.

“You’re early.”

“Don’t act so happy to see me. Is Tryne inside?” Ken dismounted, readjusting the bag he had slung over his back.

“Yes.”

“Breakfast!” Tryne yelled, stepping outside of the cottage. “Oh Ken, you’re here! Come inside, you’re just in time to eat.”

“Delightful!” Ken answered back, pushing past Jerek and handing off his horse’s reigns to him as well, before stepping inside.

Jerek looked at the painted mare, whose glossy eyes stared back at him. “You don’t like him either, huh?” Jerek whispered to it, stroking its nose before leading it to the post near the cottage and tying it up next to his own horse. “Be nice,” Jerek directed at his horse, “we have a common enemy.”

Stepping inside, he saw Ken already seated on the edge of his bed with a plate piled high with pancakes and eggs. Jerek picked up his own place, and put a couple pancakes on it.

“I think you’ll be happy to see that I have brought a few things back from town with me,” Ken said, putting his concentration to getting a piece of egg to stick on his fork.

“What? I didn’t need anything from town.”

“You’re only walking around shirtless exposing your tattoo for all the world to see,” Tryne interjected, sitting down with her own breakfast.

“Does it offend you?” Jerek asked, watching her.

“No, it’s just . . . It’s a little strange to see it on you, that’s all.” Tryne avoided meeting his eyes.

“So she asked me to bring back some clothes for you, and out of the kindness of my heart, I did. They’re in the bag.” Ken tilted his head in the direction to where he had set the bag down. Jerek went over to it and opened it up, pulling out a dark red shirt, then a black one.

“I told you, I only wear white.”

“I want to see you in those colors. Come on, just live with it. I’m sure you’ll get used to them.”

“You’ll get used to it all right. Tryne has a way of getting everyone to do everything she wants.” Ken laughed.

“I’ve noticed,” Jerek growled. Dropping the black one to the floor, he pulled the red shirt over his head and looked down at it, unsure of what to make of it.

“You look good,” Tryne commented, smiling.

Shrugging his shoulders, Jerek sat down and began eating again. “So what are the plans?” he asked.

“I was kind of hoping that you could tell me what they were,” Ken replied. “How is your standing with Nosaj?”

“Shaky.”

“Can you still get close to him without suspicion?”

“Probably.”

“Then we’ll go for an assassination. All you would have to do is go into the castle, walk right up to Nosaj, and stab him.”

“How would I get back out of the castle? What would you do if the government didn’t collapse with his death, and someone else took over?”

“You could . . . I don’t really know. We’re still in the planning stages, so it doesn’t need to be solid yet.”

“I can see why your resistance group hasn’t overthrown Nosaj yet.” Jerek shook his head, smirking to himself. “All you know how to do is survive, but you don’t have a clue when it comes to accomplishing your goal. That’s the difference between us.”

“Then teach me, how do we accomplish this?”

“We attack. All the resistance and boycotts your group has been pulling hasn’t achieved a thing. You can’t continue with those tactics. What you need to do is directly attack Nosaj’s castle. Storm inside, kill everyone there.”

“That’s dangerous.”

“Everything worth having is worth fighting for. Do you want to be free of Nosaj?”

“Yes.”

“Then you’ll fight. You need to round up everyone you can who is willing to, and that means women as well as the men.”

“This sounds more like an act of desperation.”

“Maybe it is, but it’s the only thing that will have any sort of effect. Nosaj’s castle isn’t as guarded as you may think. Most of his soldiers are currently in Amber and Opal. At the very least, you’ll send him the message that you mean business.”

Ken nodded. “When should I round people up?”

“A couple days from now. But first I really need to rest up, then I’ll head back to the castle so Nosaj doesn’t suspect I’m up to something. To throw him off even further, I’ll confess to him that I’ve fallen for a girl and that’s where I’ve been disappearing to. He won’t be suspicious.”

“You’re going to tell him the truth?” Tryne inquired.

“Isn’t that the best way to deceive someone?” Jerek chuckled.

“All right, tonight I’ll send word out for every single rebel group member to meet here and prepare for battle. In a couple days we’ll finally overthrow Nosaj.” Ken raised his fist, glory burning in his eyes. “This is what we’ve all been waiting for!”

“Waiting never accomplishes anything.” Jerek stood up, putting his empty plate down on the stove. “I’m going to continue my walk, and think about the best tactics for storming the castle. You stay here,” he pointed to Tryne, then over at Ken, “and you, remember that she’s mine. I don’t trust you around her anymore.”

Ken seemed surprised. “Did she tell you that we were . . . ?”

“No, I haven’t,” Tryne interrupted. “It slipped my mind. It’s so unimportant.”

Frowning, Jerek looked suspiciously at them but didn’t ask any questions, silently going out the door.

“Don’t want him to know, huh?” Ken rested his chin in his hand.

“No, it just doesn’t seem necessary to tell him. It would just raise questions and result in awkward explanations, and you don’t want to hear me proclaiming that I never wanted to go through with it. It’s just easier this way, right?”

“I guess so. What about the other thing? Are you ever going to tell him about that?”

“I don’t know, not right now.”

“It’s unusual for you to act like this.”

“I know, it’s just that there was something about that guy that made me feel horribly insecure about my relationship with Jerek. It’s weird, but I feel that way.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t ever say a thing.” Ken pulled his fingers across his lips. “It’s sealed shut.”

“Thank you.”

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Fade to White

Fade to White Chapter 20

Fade to White

Chapter Twenty

Opening his eyes, Jerek stared up at the ceiling above him. He could hear voices talking outside, but he didn’t have the desire to get up to investigate. Instead, he wanted to lie there forever and ignore the pain that racked his body. Punishment, he decided, was the worst thing that could happen to a person.

The door opened, letting the red sunset splash onto the floor as Tryne poked her head in. “Hey, Jerek, are you awake?”

Growling, Jerek turned to face the wall. “Unfortunately.”

Pushing her way into the room completely, Tryne walked up to the bed and leaned over Jerek, trying to catch his gaze. “I’m supposed to get you up and moving around.”

“What? Why?” Jerek frowned, pretending to feel betrayed.

“Because in Ken’s expert opinion that would be the best thing to do to keep your muscles from getting stiff.”

“Ken’s here?”

“Yeah, he showed up about an hour ago. Sorry, we were talking about you.”

“Doesn’t he hate me?”

“I do,” Ken answered, standing silhouetted in the door way. “But I’m here to make a proposal to you.”

“For what?” Jerek finally sat up, squinting to look at Ken.

“I want you to help us take Nosaj out of power.”

“What’s in it for me?”

“If you do it, then I’ll calmly hand Tryne over to you and let you marry her. No objections.”

“You never told me about that, Ken.” Tryne frowned, sticking her tongue out at him. “I’ll do what I want.”

“What if I don’t do it?” Jerek asked, grinning.

“I’ll tie you up and force you to watch Tryne and I get married, then I’ll kill you.”

“Ken!” Tryne objected.

“What if I say I’ll do it, then betray you?” Jerek questioned again, starting to smile widely now.

“Then I’ll hunt you down and kill you, then marry Tryne over your grave.”

“That’s enough Ken! Honestly, you act like I’m some sort of object to pass around!” Tryne loudly protested, glaring at Ken.

“All right, I’ll do it. But only because the prettiest girl in the world is at stake. Unless, of course, I decide to kill you right now and marry Tryne over your grave,” Jerek coyly answered, tilting his head to one side.

“Not you too!” Tryne threw her hands up and walked to the door where Ken moved to the side to let her through.

Ken strode further into the cottage, closing the door behind him and filling the room with darkness. “I figured you were with Nosaj right from the start. The only reason I never said anything was because Tryne had taken a liking to you.”

“Shouldn’t that have been a reason for you to sing out against me? You’re a smart one.” Jerek shrugged. “Is that what we’re going to talk about now?”

“No.” Ken shook his head. “Tell me honestly, why have you decided to join me?”

“For Tryne.”

“Besides that.”

Jerek looked at Ken with a penetrating gaze before answering, “For revenge.”

Ken seemed satisfied with that answer, thoughtfully pursing his lips together. “Then I have nothing to fear from you, for now. Tryne said that you had left Nosaj, but I couldn’t be completely sure until I found out your reasons for myself.”

“How old are you?” Jerek suddenly inquired.

“What? Why does it matter?”

“Because it seems as if you’ve been leading this resistance group for a long time. Long enough to not trust anyone at all.”

“Let’s just say that I’ve had a lot of experience during the time I’ve been involved in our resistance. I’d dare say I’m younger than you, though.”

“Impossible. You act older.”

“How old are you?” Ken asked, throwing the question back at Jerek.

“Twenty-five. Now it’s your turn.”

“I’m twenty-three. I knew I was younger than you.”

“Then how long has this resistance group been around?”

Ken shrugged. “I don’t know, for longer than I’ve been alive. My parents were part of it, and I think my grandparents too.”

“Nosaj has been in power for thirty years and the terrorists haven’t ever been able to kick him out, or even prevent him from doing anything? What makes you think that is going to change now?”

“Because we’ve grown.” Ken’s eyes started shining as he passionately explained, “There are a lot more of us now than there have ever been before. Young adults who are more willing to fight because they have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Do you understand? More and more people are recognizing that Nosaj’s dictatorship isn’t a good form of government at all, and they are also willing to risk anarchy to get rid of him. Of course, that’s not going to happen.” Ken puffed out his chest, drawing his shoulders back and raising his head up. “Once he’s gone, we’ll be establishing a democracy under my care and guidance.”

“And you’re going to be elected as the leader,” Jerek interjected.

“Yes.” Ken chuckled. “You’re very perceptive. That’s what I’m hoping will happen.”

“You know, if I stay with Nosaj, or if I kill both you and him, I’ll be the next leader,” Jerek said casually.

“But you don’t want to be the next leader. Tryne told me that you wanted to run away with her.”

“Tryne talks to you too much,” Jerek muttered.

“Besides, the ambition to become a ruler in and of itself isn’t a bad thing at all. I don’t want to abuse my power, but rather use it to ensure that the people’s lives will be better.”

“How strange, I swear I’ve heard Nosaj give the exact same speech.”

Ken drew back defensively, glaring at Jerek. “My people will be saying that, not me.”

“It’s just a matter of perspective, I guess.” Jerek shrugged his shoulders in a disarming manner. “Just make sure you don’t raise taxes too much, or soon you’ll find yourself being usurped.”

“There will be a ruling council as well. I won’t be the only one in charge.”

“Is there any food?” Jerek stood up, stretching his arms above his head then pulling them back down with a wince.

“Ask Tryne. She’s probably been listening into our conversation.”

“Not the entire thing!” a muffled voice came through the door, then it opened and Tryne came inside. “I’ve prepared a picnic basket for us. We can go down by the stream to eat.”

“I’m too famished to walk.”

“If you want to eat, you’ll have to walk.” Taking hold of Jerek’s hand, Tryne pulled him outside. “I want to hear you say it to me again.”

“Say what?”

“What you said to me before you fell asleep, of course.”

“Oh.” Jerek looked over at Ken.

“Don’t be embarrassed on my part,” Ken said teasingly. “I already know all about it.”

“Oh.”

“Come on Jerek, I love you.” Tryne stopped, moving closer to him to whisper in his ear. “I love you with all my heart.”

“I love you too, Tryne,” he mumbled, slightly turning pink.

“It was a lot more dramatic the first time you said it, and I think I liked that one better. It really took me by surprise, but I could have died of happiness while you were venting about how much you loved me.”

“What are you getting at?”

“This is just payback for bargaining with me like that.” Tryne smiled, wrinkling the bridge of her nose.

“Ken started it. Do something to torture him.” Jerek scowled over at Ken, who was silently laughing to himself.

“It’s more fun bugging you.”

“Tch, maybe I ought to let him marry you instead.”

Tryne moved her arm up to hit Jerek, but he scuttled away and uttered, “Wounded,” before she actually landed any blows. Lowering her hand, she grabbed onto Jerek’s arm and hugged it, briefly saying that she was sorry.

Jerek laughed, feeling as something wonderful filled up the inside of his chest. It seemed that once he took care of Nosaj, his life would become much happier and peaceful, and he wanted that. Destroying Nosaj would be the gateway into that life.

FadetoWhite