So, here it is, the last part of the story. I hope you have enjoyed this. It’s been a bit of an experiment so if you have enjoyed it please let me know.
If you missed previous instalments, you can read Part One Here, Part Two Here, Part Three Here, Part Four Here.
Old Friends: a Tale of the Holtlands
The light burst into a million fragments, whirling about them like a nest of fireflies struck in two. Reese gasped for breath, as if doused in water. The shock from the breaking of his spell, and horror to see how close he had come to succumbing covered his face. He stumbled back, clinging to Elysse.
The Enchassa screamed a curse. Her body swirled to smoke and shadows and, an instant later, she reformed right beside the lovers. She lashed out towards Elysse and the twisted claws she bore for nails sliced into the girl’s throat. Reese tried to turn, to defend his betrothed but too late. His mouth distended in a silent scream. The Enchassa turned on him, ready to finish the slaughter. But before she could, the power Tyria had always sensed in him detonated.
Light burst from every pore of his body. Tyria heard the hiss of the blood evaporating as Reese’s body absorbed the power it contained. He threw his head back with a howl of pain, clinging to Elysse’s body. With the blood coating him consumed, he turned to the other source, the lake. Light exploded from him again, filling the cavern. The shockwave nearly knocked Tyria off her feet. Light washed over her, swept through her, bright and beautiful. When it touched the Fell, it incinerated them, consigning them to smoke, ashes and oblivion. Tyria dropped to her knees, helpless before this kind of raw and unadulterated power. Reese’s light swept through her body, for that moment alone, driving away all the shadows which clung to her heart, cleansing her.
One shadow remained, darker than the rest. It stepped between them. The Enchassa called on the forces of night, of all the shadowed places and the void, pulling the antithesis of all light together to form a shield. Once she had forged it, she transformed it to a weapon and turned it on the blinding figure of the young Lord.
For a moment it seemed that Reese would hold, but the shadows coiled around him like a serpent and started to squeeze. The light faltered.
Reese’s legs sagged and Elysse almost slipped from his arms. He gave a sob, tried to gather her against him and dropped to his knees. He fixed his eyes on Tyria, pleading with her.
Tyria wilted forward in despair, knowing she could not reach him in time. The Enchassa bore down on him. As Tyria tried to force herself to her feet, her hand touched metal on the ground, abandoned before her. Her sword. She snatched it up and without a second thought, hurled it at the Enchassa with all the might remaining within her. Reese lifted his hand. The last glimmers of the globe spell caught in the steel of the blade, encircled and infused it with the remains of his power. Metal and magic combined and tore into the Enchassa’s body.
The shadow spells fell to tatters. The Enchassa unravelled to strands of nothingness, her curses falling into whispers and echoes, until, like her, they were gone.
Tyria scrambled to Reese’s side. He cradled Elysse against him. Tears ran down his face like diamonds, each one glittering with raw enchantment. His eyes were all the greens and browns of nature, more alive than ever before and at the same time, dead and devoid of joy.
“She’s gone,” he whispered. “I can’t bring her back.”
“No one can,” she said. “But the moment they took her, she was beyond hope. I’m sorry, Reese.” She reached out and closed Elysse’s eyes.
“Then why come with me?” he asked.
“To help you.” She tried to smile, wishing he would smile back. But Reese just bent his head over Elysse and wept. “Let me go, Tyria. Unlock that last barrier on my power.” And she did, without hesitation, though it broke her heart to do it. The magic that engulfed him roared free, unfettered, unstoppable. The glow in his tears grew brighter, blinding her, enclosing him and Elysse in a larger ball of light.
Tyria closed her eyes as it passed over her and continue to grow. It didn’t hurt. Nothing Reese did could hurt her anymore. Though Reese had never meant to, he had caused her all the pain he could now. The light pushed out, dissolving the remains of the foul lake he had not yet absorbed, and the cavern roof, and half the mountain above it, until only the natural stream remained and the night’s sky opened out overhead littered with stars. Rain fell on Tyria’s upturned face. Rain like tears.
The light faded and she knew she was alone. Reese and Elysse had gone. In their place, on the banks of the pool, two slender trees grew intertwined, sacred silverbarks.
Tyria knelt in the middle of a bowl-like valley, where a pure, clear spring tumbled from the stones and a stream meandered through grass dotted with river jasmine and night flowering violets.
The gashes, bruises and other wounds had healed. Her body felt newer than ever before. She reached out to touch the nearest of the guardian trees and heard Elysse’s laugh, caught the sense of her smile in the mind’s eye. Her childhood friend, the wave of love seemed to say, the one who was always trusted, and who had always trusted in return.
Her hand shook as she withdrew it and she hesitated before resting it against the bark of the other tree. It was so intimate a touch, so all-enveloping. She had loved him. All her life. Though she had never been able to articulate it. And Elysse had always been the only woman Reese could see as more than a friend.
And yet, he was her friend as well, had been as dear to her as Elysse from childhood.
She touched the second tree.
Reese’s love encompassed her whole mind, and reached out, marrying with Elysse’s to encircle the valley, the mountainside and the whole forest beyond. It entwined with the manor, the town and the roads stretching towards their respective homes.
It’s all right, Tyria. I will make it all right here, from this day on. The Fell will never have a foothold in my valley. But the rest of the lands…
She saw the shadows spread, from Great Holt to the Cuinwoods, from Styrfell Bay in the north to Klathport in the south, saw the Fell rampage across the land.
It’s up to you. Can you do it?
“If I… If I must. If I can…” There was so much, horror after horror. But she had made the Fell her responsibility long ago. To stop them, whatever the cost.
She felt his smile, the warmth of it, the comfort.
“You will. You have never let me down yet.”
“But there are so many, Reese.”
“One step at a time Tyria. You’ll do just fine. I have always had faith in you. I always will.”
“I’ll be alone.”
“No. Never alone. We’re with you. And there is someone for you, someone who will love you far better than I ever could. I promise. Look into the pool.”
She hesitated. The pool would show her soul mate, wasn’t that what he had said? But a soul mate wasn’t in her future. Couldn’t be. And to know that there was such a person out there, waiting… well, that didn’t bear thinking about.
But she couldn’t resist, not a second time. She looked, gazing into the mirror-like water of the pool and instead of her reflection another face looked back.
“It is only a matter of time, Tyria. And when you find each other…” He sighed, the sound reverberated through her mind, bringing the image before her into sharper focus. “Nothing will part you. Not even your own fears. You will be everything to each other, as it should be.”
“Who is he?” She studied the face, not handsome in the way Reese was handsome, but not unpleasant. Strong and determined. No… stubborn. She considered that, her mouth twisting as she examined him. Green eyes with a solemn inner glow, blonde hair braided like the Fair Ones. But he was clearly human. Such a curious combination. A mystery.
With a shift in the breeze, he was gone, rippling away from her. Her own face looked back instead, strained, pale, haunted. Who could love such a face?
“Are you sure?” she asked Reese.
“With all my heart, Tyria. I couldn’t stand to see you with anyone less than your perfect match, the one who will finally make you happy. And he will. I know that. You understand, don’t you?”
Because Reese would never have been able to do that. Not really. And he had known that long before her.
Yes. She understood now.
The sun dappled through the leaves, fingertips of warmth which brushed her face. She opened her eyes to the dawn and gazed at the two Silverbarks, listened to the breeze moving through their branches. Like lovers, whispering to one another.
She was still sitting there when she heard the horse approaching. Dancer’s head butted into her shoulder and then nuzzled at her cheek, her snout as soft as the finest chamois.
Tyria reached out and stroked the horse’s head, holding her for a moment until Dancer snorted and pulled away. She wandered off to graze on the sweet, newly grown grass.
“Yes, sure,” the warrior muttered. “Well, your breath smells, so how do you like that?” She struggled to her feet, her limbs aching again. “We’ve a long road ahead of us, Dancer. One step at a time.”
And at the end of it lay a man, one who would finally make her happy. She had to trust Reese on that. He had never lied to her. Not even for her own good. Not once.
© R. F. Long, 2009