Sorry for the hiatus but grad school and a hurricane have derailed me slightly. All’s well that ends well, right? Let’s get back to it. (And before you judge- we all have a little crazy in us!)
A Final Night
Nathan awoke with a start. At first, he thought the pounding was only in his head. Then he realized it was not only in his head but at the door as well. With a scowl, he eased out of bed and staggered to the door.
“This had better be good,” he mumbled to himself. The ship was leaving at dawn, and they’d spent most of the night drinking with Thalon. Right now, he just wanted sleep.
He opened the door and found Emerald staring back at him.
“I need to talk to you,” she said.
Nathan, a little confused, said, “Yeah, sure.”
“I have a bad feeling about this, Nathan,” she said. “Kane and his damned fool quest! This is not going to go well.”
“Who’s the bigger fool? The one with the idea or the people that follow him?”
A sob escaped her. “Is there a hope to live through it? I’ve found myself asking the same question a hundred times since the battle with the raiders. I do not like the feel of the air anymore, Nathan.”
“They say heroes come from the most unlikely people,” he replied. His words made him pause and told him he’d had too much to drink. Sentimentality wasn’t Nathan’s go-to move. “You and Kane are still having trouble?”
“No. He’s finally given in, but I’m not too sure. There is something odd going on here.” Emerald looked around the room.
Nathan reached out and gently held her by the shoulders. “This is a strange world for me. I know I’ve only been here a couple of months, and known you less than that, but I can see how deeply he cares for you. Trust your heart, my mother used to say.”
“I come to you for help, and you take his side?” Emerald asked in disbelief.
“I’m not taking anyone’s side. A year ago, I couldn’t have cared less. But if doing this one good thing earns me the right to go home, then I guess that’s what I have to do.”
He wanted to tell her how he really felt but knew it would only create friction in an already touchy area. He tried ignoring his feelings. Her laugh, her smiles. Emerald was everything he was looking for in a woman, and there was no way for him to say that he was falling in love with her. He was going home, provided they survived, and where would that leave them? She would be left to the cruel deserts, and he would be back home with nothing but the memory.
She was trembling and weak from her exhausted emotions. Nathan could see the tears welling up. Emotionally naked, he could see into her soul. She was letting him in, wondering if he had the same feelings, and more importantly, she was wondering if Kane was right.
“We’re all weak from time to time. I think it’s our lot in life, but you’re one of the strongest people I know. I couldn’t have lived the way you have. But for the last bit, you’ve seemed happy to me, and it warms my heart to see you smile. Be proud of yourself, Emerald. You have a good life with much to look forward to.”
His voice was calm and soothing.
“I wish I could believe that. My whole life has been spent searching. I have no idea what I’m looking for or even what to do when I find it. What is peace? Happiness? I have never known these things. Never known love. My life has been torn apart by the Ense and Berserkers and every other murderer who thinks he’s the big time. I don’t know which way is up anymore. The purpose has left me.”
His heart was crying out to her, but he couldn’t. She deserved better.
“You do have a reason for being here, Emerald,” he confided. “You just need to find it again.”
“That might take an eternity,” she sobbed. “You spoke of your mother a moment ago. I…I haven’t had parents for a very long time.”
“What happened?” he asked before he could stop himself.
“My father disappeared after a raid in the Northlands,” she said. “My mother…”
He understood. Bad things had the tendency of happening to good people. Himself the victim of more shit than he cared to remember, Nathan rubbed her shoulder. “It’s all right. You don’t have to say it.”
She caught him off guard when she placed her head upon his shoulder. It felt natural to them both yet strangely taboo. Nathan’s mind brought him visions of them living together here on Helscape. Of taking her across the river to the green valleys of Draken to start a new life and give her those precious moments she was lacking. Temptations were seducing him, and his will weakened.
“Nathan?” she asked with an uncharacteristically timid voice.
He moved so he could see her face and found himself staring down into eyes of the deepest green. The words she wanted to say didn’t come out. Untamed emotions swept through them as Nathan bent down to kiss her soft lips.
Night was drawing on, bring a close to another story in the life of the world. The Mad Hosking was on the rooftop watching the vague transformations. Another lifetime ago, he had known the simple pleasures of nature. That was long ago down roads darkened by black memories. A twinkling star shined light upon him, casting him in a heavenly gaze. Hosking was suddenly taken back to the fondness of childhood where life was simple and kind. There were no wars back then, just sweet simplicity. The Mad Hosking suddenly found himself longing for brighter days.
We have no time for emotions. The mission must come first.
“But I was like that once,” he told the voice of desire.
Once, but long ago. Those days are behind us now. You must focus on the task.
“I didn’t ask for this life.”
Yet have it you do. Accept us, and the fame and wealth of the greatest warriors shall be heaped upon your name.
“What shall I do with them? I have no need of wealth or fame.”
Tell us what you desire.
“To be alive again.”
A stifling breeze brushed through his hair.
This is the most alive you will ever be. Feel the energy, the pure power of what you have become. It’s like a drug, isn’t it? The killing. All of it. Think what you could do if you were a king. And lo! Why stop there? You can become a god!”
“And resign myself to eternal damnation?”
Not so long as we breathe life.
“Why do you care so much? Who are you, and how did you come to torment me so?”
I am you. Born from the fires of battle and forged by the blood of your foes. There can be only one of us. One will survive. Are you strong enough in mortal form to be the One? The enemy still lives. Thriving behind every shadow. We must destroy them. You and I. Join me.
“Yes,” Hosking finally agreed. “We must destroy the demons of the night. Together.”
It is the only way.
“Of course. I see that now.”
Hosking threw his arms to the heavens and laughed. Thunder and lightning roared across the face of the world.
“It is the only way!” he bellowed at the Old Gods asleep in their realm.
Shifting mists and confusion wrapped around him thinned before washing away altogether. The rejuvenation of his soul strengthened with resolve. He was whole again. Born from his own insanity and fortified with the knowledge of the coming doom, Hosking was become unstoppable. The storms picked up their pace, raging both inside his mind and through the ash-laden heavens. Sleep beckoned him, causing him to finally give in to their desire and urge. The Mad Hosking crept back to his room to reflect on his future.
“What holds you so deep in thought?” the pirate Argoslan asked, tipping his mug to catch the last precious drops ale.
Thalon snapped to. “The woman.”
“What about her?”
He shook his head and offered his feline companion a light for his pipe. “I don’t know. Didn’t she seem familiar to you?”
“I wish,” he laughed. “A woman like that could satisfy my urges for a goodly time.”
“You’ve been on that boat too long, my friend,” Thalon warned. “I’m serious. There was something familiar about her. What did she say her name was?”
“Emerald something or other.”
Emerald. He couldn’t place where he’d heard the name before. It was haunting him, tearing through his past. He knew her. And then a thought occurred.
“When was the last time you went to the Northlands?”
Argoslan replied, “I was but a lad then. Didn’t know any better, I suppose, and I’ll be damned if I ever go back. Dangerous place with the Ense and the men of the Northlands.”
Thalon closed his eyes and remembered. “I spent several years there, most of them during the wars. A lot of good men lost their lives to the snow and bitter cold. The Ense were often the least of our concerns.”
“It is an evil land, but why speak of it now? There are better things to discuss over a stout of good ale.”
“We went there once with the captain and his daughter. I remember getting attacked by Ense late one night. That’s where I lost my leg,” he added with a gentle pat. “They killed most of us, but some of us managed to escape for revenge. There was a little girl hidden on the shoring boat the second time we went back. It sounds crazy, but I think Emerald was that little girl, the captain’s daughter.”
Argoslan looked at his friend with concern. “I think you’ve had a bit much to drink. Let’s call it a night and head back to the ship. If this wizard wants them so badly, I don’t think I can afford having a curse upon my head for dallying.”
All the way back to the Misfortune, Thalon couldn’t help but think of Emerald.
Available for preorder now! https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07H8QVRTB?