I woke up not in my vault, but in my room in Enki’s monastery. Mikala looked over her book at me, anger still in her eyes. I sat up and looked at her, “Say it.”
She set the book to the side and I listened to her rant and rave about how stupid I was being. She went from me being an idiotic sourpuss to a stubborn chit before she just stopped to look at me. She threw herself at me, wrapping her arms around me. She kept saying how worried she was and that she should have tried to stop me from being reckless.
I rubbed her back, trying to comfort her. “Mikala, what would you have done in my place?”
She sat back and answered with a plan where she would be on the outside of the wall and trapped them in with the inner wall.
“I had to buy time, though. If I would have trapped them without me in with them, they might have been able to break through the Ice walls. But more than that, I needed to be sure I could touch the water within the mine. I couldn’t take the chance of that happening. By trapping myself in with them, I gave them a target while the other escaped and it bought them the time they needed to escape safely. I also guaranteed my connection with the water to freeze it to create the fissures to bring the mines down. If I would have just killed them, then others could take their place.”
She nodded, realizing why I made my decision despite the risk. She made a fist and looked directly at my arm. I turned towards her, giving her what she wanted. She punched me hard for being an idiot then again for scaring her. She hugged me again, “I’m sorry for worrying you, Mikala. I’ll try to remember that I have two people who care about me enough to at least think my ideas through.”
She pulled back away from me with a confused look on her face.
“What do you mean more than two? There’s Enki and you.” She just gave me a look that told me to reevaluate my life, “The townspeople of Sparks?” She put her hands on her hips. “Who else? Ethon? Hahahaha!” I could not stop laughing until she punched me again. I rubbed the spot where her dead-on aim hit three times. “Mikala, he loves Era, not me. So, I doubt I could count him on that list. And Era hates my guts, so I can’t count her.” I looked over her shoulder and saw Enki standing in the doorway. I whispered to Mikala, “How mad is Enki at me?” She widened her hands until her arms were fully outstretched. I sighed, “That’s what I thought.” I looked up at Enki, “So how badly am I going to pay for this mistake?”
“Not as bad as I wish, but your new sparring partner will make up for that.” He walked into the room and sat on the other side of the bed. “You almost died in there, Eirlys.”
“Enki, I almost die a lot. Most times it’s because of an idea I get in the spur of the moment. I promise that once I kill the last person in my book, then I will stop trying to die.” I gave him my word.
“Well, you’ve been asleep for about three days now, so you should have all of your magic back.” My stomach grumbled, telling them the days more than accurate than Enki could hope to be.
He and Mikala helped me stand. I was a little bit wobbly, but was able to make it to the restroom on my own. When I exited it, I found Ethon sitting on the bed. I wanted to retreat back into the bathroom, but my stomach announced my presence. I took a few careful steps into the room, he watching my every step. “I’ve already been yelled at by Mikala, so unless your punches her more than hers do, I think I’ve reached my limit on getting yelled at for the day.”
“We need to talk.” He patted the spot next to him and helped me a little bit with the last few steps.
“Are you sure that Era is okay with you being in here?”
“That’s the first thing I want to talk to you about. Stop making jokes about her and me. Especially since nothing is going on between the Windy Bitch and I.”
I just looked at him, “So, if she’s a bitch and I’m sure that everyone can agree that I’m a bigger one…” I narrowed my eyes, “You better keep your hands off Mikala or I’ll freeze your anatomy. She has been through Hell with males trying to force themselves on her and I won’t stand by as another tries to.”
He looked like he was going to be sick, “Dear God no. Anyways, Enki has his eyes on her and hers are on him.” His eyes pierced through my soul, “The woman I’ve somehow fallen in love with is brave, smart, thinks she’s a badass, but doesn’t realize that there are people who care for her, she does completely idiotic things and is a stubborn chit sometimes.”
I laughed to myself, breaking his gaze by looking at the blanket. “Ya know, Mikala called me the same thing before she punched me.”
“I’m not going to punch you.” He lifted my chin to force me to meet his eyes. “The woman I love is sitting in front of me and is my exact opposite.” He leaned in and pressed his lips lightly to mine. I wanted to respond but my mind completely blanked out, so when he deepened the kiss, I followed his lead. He pushed me down onto the bed and looked down at me with the same fire in his eyes as when he stole my first kiss. His hand touched the hair around my face before he leaned in closer, “I told you that you look better with your hair down. If you want me to stop, just say so.”
I nodded, not trusting my voice. He kissed my forehead, my nose, my cheek, my chin before kissing down my neck. He licked a thin line from the base of my neck to the top, before he kissed me again. His tongue danced with mine, as his hand held my head. He playfully bit my bottom lip, before he pulled away slightly.
We heard the door open then slam shut. I could heard Mikala’s mind telling me that she was sorry. I looked up to Ethon and started to laugh at the anxious look on his face. He just grinned as he slightly pulled my hair, not enough to hurt but enough to get my attention. I focused back on him as I heard a soft growl escape his throat as he down the front of my neck and then where my neck and shoulder joined. I felt his breaths more than I heard him, “I love you, Eirlys. Even during your anger, stupid, you want to kill things and stubborn moments.”
I did not know how to answer him. When I did not answer, he let go of my hair and sat up a little bit to look at me. “How do you know if you love someone?”
He smiled, “Did you enjoy what we just did?” I blushed bright red, giving him his answer. “Do you think that you can always count on me?” I thought back to everything we have been through and realized that the answer was an easy one. I nodded. “Lastly, can you see spending the rest of your life with me? Wherever it takes us?” I thought about it and the adventures were could go on then I thought about them without him and it just seemed so… lonely thinking about him not being by my side. I nodded again. “Then say it.”
I grabbed him by the hair and pulled him towards me. I pressed my lips against his and tasted him as his tongue played with mine. I change the kiss to light and easy, before letting go of his hair. I licked his bottom lip before answering, “I love you, Ethon.”
“I know.” He gave me another quick kiss before he rolled off of me. “I think they are waiting for us.”
“Who is?” I asked as he helped me stand up. I ran my fingers through my hair, wishing he would let me braid it really quickly, but he grabbed my hand and opened the bedroom door. I saw the Shifter’s Guild standing there along with people from other nearby towns. Enki and Mikala were standing next to each other, arms wrapped around each other’s waists.
“We’ve eliminated the slave boss and his minions. We found this book in his possession.” Clove handed me a ledger and I opened it, before immediately closing it. I ignored everyone else and walked towards the Zen garden.
Enki and Mikala stopped everyone from following me, including Ethon. I stepped into the sand and took a deep breath. I opened it again and read, while I walked around the sand garden. It had every slave’s name, magic and where they were from, along with their prices followed by where they were sent. I read each and every name and their details. I flipped to the final page, where he had written an entry for me. It did not have a name listed nor my magic, but it showed that I was found in Sparks and earned Ethon 100 gold coins.
I turned back through the pages and did not see his name on any other entry, except as a receiver from when he lived in the Towers. He was sold elves to help tend the gardens of the Capitol, just as he told me. As I went through the pages, I saw another name I recognized. I thumbed through the pages and found the name multiple times. I dropped the ledger in the sand, not sure how to react to this.
Ethon, Enki and Era walked into the Zen garden and I turned to face them. “Era, you sold people into slavery?! How could you?!”
Enki and Ethon both stepped away from the Wind-Bearer. “Don’t judge me, you Ice Wench.” She looked to the two males as they stepped away from her, “You two cannot judge me either. I sent those people into slavery as spies! Enki, you’ve been up here on this mountain and Ethon, you’re the damned Dictator’s nephew! And Eirlys, I asked for your help and you not only told me no, you made it clear that I could not count on you. I had to rise through the ranks of the Rebellion in order to take my place where I belonged. Yes, I sent those people into slavery, but they knew the risks and were willing to do it for something greater than themselves.”
I picked up the ledger and threw it at her. “They’re dead!”
“Wha-what?” She caught the ledger and found a page with a name she recognized on it. “How? Why?”
“The Drivers were Mind-Rippers and found out the truth. Every single one of the people you sent in were killed!” I wanted to hurt her for sending people to their deaths.
“I swear, I didn’t know.”
“He knew who you were! After the third one, he knew that you were a Rebel, so the second you left, he slaughtered them!”
I watched her collapse to the ground, crying, the ledger falling to the side, “I wouldn’t have sent them if I knew that the covers had been blown.”
“You have to tell your people what happened.”
She looked up at me, “I can’t! If they find out about this, I’ll lose my position!”
“If you don’t tell them, then I will. If I tell them, they will do more to you and kick you out of a position. There are families that are waiting for their loved ones to come home. They deserve that closure.”
“They won’t believe you.” She tried to reach for the ledger, but Ethon picked it up.
“If they don’t believe her, I’m sure they will believe this. Leaders admit to their mistakes and grow from them. Be sincere and show you people this side of you.” He tossed the ledger back to me. He grabbed her hand to help her stand, “You are trying to Champion doing the right thing. Step up to the challenge and help your people see. Let us help you instead of you trying to go out on your own. Wind needs the guidance of Earth and it helps Fire grow. Water is the only element that stands alone because it is the basis for Life.” He looked at me, but spoke to Era, “You don’t carry that burden.” He looked back to her, “You are supposed to use help whenever you need it. It’s how you have stayed the Leader so long.”
She nodded to him, “Thank you.” She looked to Enki, “Can you help me face my people?” Enki nodded and led her from the Zen garden.
Ethon stepped closer to me, but I stopped him, “I know I carry the burden to be alone.” I smiled to him, “But we both know that I’ve carried it for this long and until this fight is over, I’ll continue to carry it.” He tried to take another step forward, but I put my hand up towards him. “Please leave me alone here. I need to memorize the names of the fallen.” I looked at the ledger and opened it to the first page. I watched him leave from over the top of the pages, but I had a job to do and in remembrance, their names will forever live on.
I looked to the boulders that created the pathways in the garden. I saw Mikala step out from behind one of the rocks, holding a chisel and hammer in her hands. “Those are perfect. How did you know?” She just smiled form behind her facemask, as she touched my shoulder before she walked out of the garden.
I went to the center rock and carved Myrtle’s name into the stone, followed by the Shifter’s Guild Leader. I carved in all of the names of those who have died from slavery or from battles that came about from the Dictator.
My arms hurt and could barely carry the hammer and chisel by the time I reached the final name. Enki walked into the Zen garden and looked at the boulders. “Era told her people what happened and how she didn’t know about the fates of their families until we learned it just now. She wants what is best for her people, just like the rest of us do.”
“Do you think they are in a better place?” I asked him the question that plagued me since I started carving. I dropped the hammer and chisel on the ground, their weight too heavy for my weakened arms.
“I believe they are at peace now. They don’t have to worry about finding food or clean water or if the Dictator is going to come after them. Speaking of which, Era is planning on attacking tomorrow.”
I looked over at him and the nonchalant way he said it. “Why so soon? Are they ready?”
“Her people’s burning rage for revenge is at its peak. They’ve been preparing for this day for a while now. They figure that if they don’t move now, then the Rebellion is all talk. They are being joined with others who have been wronged by the Dictator. He will have to face more than just this region. From what I heard, he will face all of those who can fight in the wastelands.”
“Guess I need to drown myself.”
Now he looked at me oddly, “You can’t drown.”
“I know, but if they get caught, I want then to say that I’m dead so that when I do go after the Dictator, it’s a surprise.”
“I’ll be going with the,. Era has asked for my help and I wonder if me hiding on this mountain has only made me tame.”
“You have a limp and how are you going to fight?” I looked at this man who had raised me.
“I’m going in a strategist role as one of her generals. Ethon has already agreed to go prepare the way for them.”
“He’s not going to like this drowning thing.”
“Do you believe that it needs to be done?”
“I need surprise in case things go wrong and the best surprise is the one that comes back from the dead. What are you going to do about Mikala?”
He coughed hard at her name. “She has decided that she is coming with me and if it gets too hairy out there, she is to find you. Do you really think that you can save things if this fails?”
“It’s our only choice. He’s started poisoning people who live in the wastelands. There’s also rumor that he has unused Nuclear warheads that he is willing to use on those who rise against him. Soon, the entire world will live in his shadow.” I thought of the little girl, Jessie, who helped in the mines. “It’s our duty to the future to destroy this monster while we have the chance. Trust me, even if it kills me, I’ll take him done to the depths of Hell with me.”
Enki grabbed me and held onto me, “Promise me that you will try to not get killed. I would miss my daughter if I came back to carve her name in the stones.”
I hugged him back, “I’ll do my best, Enki. You come back safe, because I do not want to be the one who has to add your old withered bones to the stones.”
We released each other. “Ready to drown?”
I nodded and watched him walk out of the garden, “I’ll be there in a second.” I took another look at the boulders, as the sun started to set on them. I looked up to the sky, seeing the moon start to rise on the horizon, “Please don’t make me add any more, Lady Artemis. You’re the Goddess of Protection so please send your gift to my friends, family and the rest of the Rebellion. Protect the innocents and give them strength.”
I walked into monastery and then into the pool of water. I stepped into the water and slipped on the wet rocks. I slammed my head on the steps and was dazed as I went under the water. I took a deep breath of water, getting rid of all of the air from my lungs. I laid there until I heard screams and shouts. People came pouring into the pool, grabbing me from the water. I kept my eyes closed and waited until I heard Enki’s voice. He tried CPR, but after a few moments, the area around me was silent.
I heard a male scream in rage as Enki told them that I had drowned. I felt someone touch my arm and then the whooshing of teleportation. I coughed up the water as soon as her hit solid land again. I opened my eyes to see Mikala standing there. She patted my back to clear the rest of my lungs of water. “Enki tell you the plan?” She nodded. “It’s better this way, because then I have the element of surprise.” She pulled my bag out from behind a rock and I realized that I was where the Angel stood in the moonlight. I changed clothes and handed her the fire pendant. “That needs to go back to Ethon. He can track me with it, so I can’t hold onto it.” She nodded and took it from me. I checked my bag for my gauntlet and found a second one in the bag. “Hephaestus gave you the mate?” I asked her, surprised that I would ever see it. She smiled and nodded.
I gave her a hug, “This is where we part ways, my friend. Good luck and I wish I could help tomorrow, but something is telling me to wait.” I heard her sniffle and silently cry. “There’s one last thing I need you to do.” She pulled away from me and nodded. “I need you to promise me to do it, because it’s going to hurt you, Enki and myself, but it needs to be done. I know that you have Mind-Ripper powers.” I took a deep breath, “I need you to pull the memory he has about me not being able to drown. All will be lost if another Ripper is able to glean that from him. Can you do it for me?” She nodded and gave me a hug. “Mikala, you’re the only one who will know that I am still alive but I know that you can fend them off. After all, you taught me how to.” We pulled away from each other for a final time. “Be careful out there, little sister.” She gave me a two finger salute and before we both starting cry again, she vanished, saving her tears for the people she would see.
I looked up at the Angel and touched where the jewel had been and could reach it easily.
I wandered through town, trying to listen for news of anything. After parting ways with them all, I cut my hair to just at my shoulders and found a wig in a vault to help disguise it better. I changed my clothes and wore all black and I ditched my cloak for a jacket. I never went back to my vault, not wanting to accidentally run into someone. I found another vault to live in far away from the first and near a larger town. I still receive jobs now and again from various guilds I associated with as a Tracker.
I walked into a restaurant and found myself listening to a group of women chatter and gossip. “Have you heard any news?” One asked another in hushed voices.
“No, I haven’t heard anything about the Rebellion or how its fighters have been trying to enter the city. I also didn’t hear about how Era has been captured and how the Earth-Bearer is still trying to fight without her. Nor did I hear about the Fire-Bearer being found as a traitor by his uncle and punished for it.”
I felt my entire body go numb. Mikala was supposed to send word if they needed my help and the only way they could have been that bad off without my knowledge meant that she was captured as well.
“Well, I heard that the Rebels who have been captured have become willing slaves for the Supreme Leader.” Another woman remarked.
“Why would they do that? They hate him!” Another responded sharply. She was quickly hushed by her companions.
“From what I’ve heard, they just laid down their weapons and surrendered. Maybe they thought that slavery was better than dying for a losing cause.”
One last woman spoke, “Some say that the Fire-Bearer has joined back with his uncle. Has anyone heard about the Water-Bearer?”
“From what I heard coming from the Capitol, she drowned the day before they went to fight the Leader. She slipped on some steps and died in the arms of that silent pet the Leader keeps.”
“Silent pet?” Another asked.
“Oh yes, she is beautiful despite that her tongue was cut out long ago. He keeps her for entertainment because she is a Mind-Ripper. For some reason, she won’t use her powers on the Wind-Bearer and I guess that she won’t use them on the Earth-Bearer when he gets captured.”
I stood up and paid for my meal, unable to listen to their gossip any longer. It has been months since I ‘died’ and if that was the first I heard of how the Rebellion is going then I knew that my time was coming.
I left the town and was stopped by a Courier for a job. It was a black envelope, telling me someone needed to die. I opened it and saw the name written at the top. “So the rumors are true?”
“Which ones, Tracker?” He responded politely.
“He abandoned the Rebellion and rejoined with his uncle?” I asked. The name I read on the top of the page was a Death Warrant for Ethon.
“That rumor is correct.”
“Do we know what happened? Why did he change?”
The Courier shrugged, “We don’t know and he changed upon entering the Towers that belong to the Dictator.”
“Thank you for telling me. I’ll take care of this and tell the client that I’ll throw in the Dictator for an extra thousand gold.”
The Courier’s eyes widened. “Please, standby.” He gave a single finger salute, telling me he would be right back. He vanished and I read the rest of the Death Warrant. It came from someone in the Rebellion who was sent to spread the message. Ethon had switched sides as soon as he crossed the threshold of the Towers. There was a small note that Rebels had laid down their arms in about the same area. The Courier reappeared with another black envelope. He handed it to me and inside, the paper was hastily scrawled with the word “Dictator,” with the number “1,000” written next to it with a scribbled signature that matched the other Death Warrant.
“Do we know his magic?”
He shook his head, “No. No one knows his magic, because no one has seen it.”
I gave him the two finger salute and sent him on his way to let his client know that I had accepted the Death Warrants. I put the two envelopes in my bag walked back to my new vault. After a couple hours walk I reached the new vault and opened it. It was different than my normal vault, but I tried not to think of the treasures I left in the older one. This one had a single chair, the bed, the bathroom, a small kitchen area and a single table. I had a bunch of candles lying around the area along with bunches of lighters that I used and depleted the fuel in them.
I grabbed a silver zippo and shook it. I lit a candle with it and used that one to walk around the small vault. I set it on the table as I grabbed the whip that I usually carried with me. I used Ice to harden it into a glaive, Ice creating the blade at the tip and practiced using it in the small space. I cracked the Ice and broke it into three pieces, held together by the defrosted hand holds. I practiced with this weapon, using the two ends as long nunchaku and the center piece as a bo staff. I then defrosted the whip entirely, using it as it was intended to be used.
In the time since last seeing those I loved, I practiced completely using my Ice magic until it was depleted, then regaining it. I discovered that each time I did this, my well of magic became deeper. Every three days, I completely drained myself and then recovered, cycling through magic and overall strength. I continued the workout that Enki had tried to kill me with and now could the rounds seven times before I felt even a little bit tired. It took until thirteen until I felt like I would not be able to move anymore. Instead of inverted pull-ups, I could now raise myself over the bar with ease.
I set the whip on the table and stepped out of the vault. I shot snow into the air, depleting my magic one last time before I would go to war and complete the two Death Warrants. I watched as the snow clouds expanded and extended until I could not see their edges any more. I expanded them higher and farther out until I felt the last drop of power leave me. I watched as the snowflakes fell towards the ground, some collected by the gauges I set out in the area.
I walked back into my vault and locked it. I walked into the bedroom and stripped from my clothes, pulling the wig off. I blew out the candle and felt my way to my bed. I crawled under the covers and slept until my magic returned to me.