Chapter 65: Reunion
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I desperately wanted to see the sun shining through the clouds when I woke up, but I had no such luck. The heavy gray pall still churned slowly across the sky. Everything was wet, but it hadn’t yet rained today.

Seyari and I had spent a sodden, miserable night under the lee side of a rocky hill. My partner was still asleep, the slow sound of her breathing giving better comfort than anything else I could imagine right now.

Yesterday had been a waking nightmare. Today I hoped for better.

When I had woken up, I’d stripped out of my destroyed clothes. Seyari had thankfully been carrying a pair of my clothes, just in case I lost my pack. I’d done the same for her, the contents of which were now lost somewhere down the mountain.

Feeling the weight of the grime and dirt I was covered in, I washed myself in a nearby creek, careful to keep Seyari in my sight. The freezing water did a good job of clearing my mind. It gave me a chance to think, but all I could really manage was to hold myself together. I dried myself with my magic, feeling better for feeling clean.

I didn’t put my last set of traveling clothes on when I was done. Well, I put the smallclothes on, but not the rest. Instead, I slipped into my dress. I knew I’d stain my memories with the garment that had been with me across half a continent by wearing it today. But I needed the positivity it brought. That I wouldn’t have to worry about it getting destroyed was another major bonus. The enchanted fabric would repair itself as long as most of it was still left.

The dark purple dress melted into the morning shadows around me, stark against my crimson skin. I traced along one of the ice-blue embroidered roses and thought about the future.

What now?

Mordwell will know we’re coming. If we move fast enough, could we still get something done?

We needed to get to Lockmoth soon. Aretan had said he and Nelys would be there waiting for us until the next solstice, but I didn’t want to test that. I also wanted to see them again as soon as possible.

On top of all of this, my heart burned more than ever to get back to my former home in Linthel, to see what became of my old life. I wanted to visit my parents’ graves. I had a guess where they’d be buried, and I had a lot to tell them. And then there was Tania, my sister.

I was certain she was alive, and I would do anything to find her.

Seyari stirred beside me. I glanced at her, then turned back to watching the forest around us. It was quiet and peaceful. My demonic presence had silenced the bird calls and squirrel chatter that late autumn hadn’t.

“Hey.” Seyari stood and moved to sit beside me.

“Hey,” I replied, not quite meeting her gaze.

My partner didn’t say anything else. Instead, she wrapped an arm around me and pulled me close. I put two arms around her.

“I should’ve been more sensitive,” I admitted. I wasn’t sure what I could have done differently.

“No.” Seyari shook her head. “I needed to get Mordwell out of my mind. I regretted what I said as soon as I ran off, but I didn’t feel like I could go back to try and find you.”

“So, you went on ahead to kill Mordwell?” I looked down at Seyari and met her gaze.

“Yeah.” She met mine. “I thought I’d driven you away.”

“But you didn’t.”

“But I didn’t.” Seyari smiled. “Thanks.” She leaned upward toward my face.

“You’re welcome,” I replied and leaned toward her.

We kissed, holding each other for a long moment.

“I’m glad you found your spine,” Seyari breathed when we broke away.

“I am too,” I replied honestly.

“Thanks for not making the obvious joke.” Seyari smiled.

“It would’ve ruined the moment.” I nodded in agreement.

“So, Renna, what’s the plan now?” Seyari asked.

“Why are you asking me, Sey?”

Seyari stared at me in place of a reply.

I continued, “Well, if I had to come up with a plan, I’d say we try to case the place and see what kind of force he has on display. Maybe we could even learn something about what he’s planning if we can get closer. Then, we move far, far away from here.”

“How do you think we could get close without being found?”

“Don’t know. Maybe we can talk to people from outside the estate and get some kind of lead?”

“Maybe.” Seyari glanced down in thought. “I think I need to go and at least look.”

I nodded. “I understand. I wish we could do more.” I paused and tapped at one of my horns. “Well, more without making ourselves wanted. Actually, aren’t we already going to be wanted from what happened last night?”

Seyari shook her head. “Not openly. At least I don’t think so. Inquisition business was almost always secretive. We might even be lucky and this might just be personal.”

Might just be personal. I thought back to Lorelei’s death and Markus’ ruined corpse. Just personal.

“He needs to die,” I growled. “We’ll rip off his mask and end him.”

“We will, Renna.” Seyari squeezed one of my hands.

“Yeah.” I nodded with a scowl.

We spent the rest of the morning looking over what few supplies we had left. Seyari washed herself as well, and managed to heal the injuries she’d sustained from last night.

Seyari’s knowledge of Mordwell’s estate was outdated, so we had no idea what the grounds were like or if the entire place had been rebuilt. The grounds did, however, end at a steep hillside. The path we were on now would twist away from the hills ahead of us, winding down to pass close by the estate grounds.

If we crossed the river with the ravine Lorelei and I had fallen into, and looped around the long way, we should avoid any patrols and end up in the hills above the estate. The downside was exceedingly difficult terrain and dangerous falls. Not an issue for a powerful demon such as myself.

Against Seyari’s protestations, I kept my dress on and went boot-less in my demon form. I reasoned that anyone looking in that part of the forest would be there to look for us. My partner begrudgingly agreed. I didn’t doubt word of the ambushers encounter with me was sent out before Seyari arrived. Mordwell would be watching for us.

***

Seyari hadn’t exaggerated the terrain. Steep, dense forest broken up by rocks was all we encountered the entire day. We pushed on through into the evening. Seyari thought we’d arrive at night, which was honestly a boon.

Indeed, it was late evening when we first saw the soft light of the oil lamps dotted around the grounds of the estate.

“Are you sure this is the place?” I whispered to Seyari.

She took a long glance around the ridges and hills surrounding the grounds and took a deep breath. “I’m certain. I recognize the hills from flying in and out.”

I nodded.

“Don’t say you’re sorry for me.” Seyari spoke quietly.

“Wasn’t going to,” I replied with a forced smile.

“Good.”

The rest of our approach was quiet. I returned to my human appearance, still barefoot. We crept between the trees, quiet for all our disparate experience. Around us, the late evening sounds of the northern forest echoed loud against the solemnity of our passing.

Right now, I only wanted to see the estate and maybe get some information from a nearby town on our way out. I wanted to know what kind of resources we were up against, and what kind of force Mordwell would keep back on retainer.

My mind already wanted to dismiss the people who’d died trying to kill us, but I thought of Lorelei and held myself firm. Regret was okay. More than okay. I hadn’t met—or even seen—Mordwell, yet. I didn’t even know the person who wanted me dead.

We crept closer, until we could see the gardens inside of an impressive stone fence. Nothing either of us couldn’t climb, but clearly the barrier wasn’t designed to withstand a siege. The grounds were clean and partially lit.

I shifted my eyes and could see more detail about the buildings. There were several, and one was clearly a main house. The curtains were drawn, but even if they weren’t I doubted I’d see much inside at this distance. Hills surrounded the grounds on nearly three sides, and the whole place was perhaps twice the size of Malich’s, although much more was garden.

Several guards—small figures at this distance—walked the grounds. With the open area, tall walls, and copious oil lamps, I couldn’t tell if the design was for aesthetics or defense. I wouldn’t give Mordwell the benefit of the doubt.

I could just barely make out the tabards of the guards. The colors matched the Church of Dhias: red and gold. I couldn’t make out the smudge of a symbol on their tabards, but the shape seemed right. The large statue of Dhias in the courtyard and hedge sculptures told a similar story.

Mordwell’s estate or not, whoever lived here was invested with the Church. I had a reason to believe Seyari anyway. How many other estates like this could be near the site where we were ambushed?

I turned away from looking to glance at Seyari. She had a complicated expression on her face and was staring out over the grounds. I turned again and realized just how far away we were. I looked again and focused. My sight hadn’t been this good on the island. Or when we climbed the pass. I was certain of it.

Did I get part or more of the Harriston demon’s soul when they challenged me and failed?

Something to think about. Later.

“We should move closer,” Seyari whispered.

“Okay,” I replied. “But I can see a lot from back here.”

Seyari arched an eyebrow. Quiet as I could, I told her what I saw.

Seyari sighed. “I might be able to guess his bedroom. But even if he’s there, and even if…”

I rubbed her back lightly. She stiffened, then relaxed.

“He’ll hurt more people if we let him go.” My voice was barely a whisper.

“He will,” Seyari nodded. “But we can’t save everyone.”

“But we can try.” I was suddenly unsure. “Cut off the head…”

Seyari shook her head. “I’ve already done that once, Renna. Vinzent died that night. Mordwell was just a follower, but if we kill him and only him right now—”

“He’ll just be martyr for the others.” I finished her thought. “And a martyr for people who don’t know his true nature.”

“Yeah. You were right.” Seyari’s golden eyes burned. “We can at least make sure everyone knows his true nature.”

I nodded in agreement. “Are we done here?”

Seyari took one last look at the estate. “Yeah. Let’s go around and see if we can’t find anything in the nearby town.”

Quiet as we could, the two of us crept around the estate toward the direction of the town.

We’d only made it a few meters when we were attacked.

A spear of ice rocketed through the trees toward Seyari. She moved, but not fast enough, and the magic attack caught her in the shoulder, spearing through and shattering bone.

I didn’t hesitate this time. Shifting out of my human form, I sprinted toward the source of the attack, faster than I’d ever felt myself move. The source was out in the forest with us, rather than from the estate.

I tore through underbrush and turned on my aura sight. I saw a blue aura, pale and hard, and lunged toward it.

The last bush was ripped away and I saw the face of our attacker: A black-haired young woman with sharp features and hard blue eyes. Surprise started to spread across her features.

Just before I could reach her, the ground between us exploded into a red flare.

“STOP!” I heard a voice, distantly familiar, yell out in accented Ordian.

I almost didn’t listen. My clawed hands twitched, but I skidded to a stop, my face centimeters from the woman. Our eyes met and I saw no fear. I felt only anger, cold, hard, and old, hissing silently from this woman.

“No more death.” A figure stepped from the darkness and through the smoke of the flare. “You are on the same side.”

My eyes widened in recognition.

Salvador?

“What are you doing?” The woman snapped at the dark-haired Cavenish man. Her voice was sharp, but the accent was familiar. Edathan.

“I’m saving you from making a mistake.” Salvador switched to Cavenish. He turned to me and nodded. “Is Seyari okay?”

I thought about how she had healed her injuries. “She’ll be fine, I—”

From my side, a holy lance shot toward the dark-haired woman. Even with my demonic reflexes, I had a split-second to decide.

I chose to trust Salvador. I wouldn’t repeat the mistakes I made with Lorelei.

I dove in the way of Seyari’s holy lance as she burst from the bushes, sword drawn. I tried to shout for her to stop, but the lance hit me first.

It caught me in the side of my abdomen. I twisted in the air and tried to fall into a roll. The lance of magic pierced me through before dissipating and I fell in a heap instead.

Pain like I’d never felt before exploded from where I had been pierced. The only thing I could compare it to was my death as a human, but this sensation was so much more. Agony wracked my body and I spasmed on the ground.

“S-stop.” I choked out the word, fangs cutting through my own tongue. My harsh, boiling blood filled my mouth before my regeneration kicked in.

The holy lance wound was jagged and brutal, and my blood pooled out of me, hissing and burning on the ground below. I pushed myself up on all four of my arms. My dress was a mess.

I felt my magic go toward the wound, burning against Seyari’s holy magic as it tried to eat away at me. Struggling to my feet, I held two hands over the wound at my side, hissing in pain. I spat my blood out on the ground and wiped my chin with the back of a third hand, turning to stare at the three others.

Seyari and the other woman were glaring at each other. The other woman was dressed chain armor with a tabard emblazoned with Dhias’ symbol and colors. Seyari’s shoulder had been healed, mostly. Salvador looked nervously between the two and then at me.

““Why did you—“” Both Seyari and the armored woman shouted at me at the same time. They stopped and turned to each other.

Before anything else could be said, I spoke up. “Salvador said we’re on the same side. I—hissss—I chose to believe him.”

“She’s a demon!” The woman pointed at me and looked at Salvador accusingly.

“She’s Mordwell’s lackey!” Seyari pointed at the woman and also glared at the Cavenish man.

“Why are you helping me?” I also turned to Salvador, but my question wasn’t so harsh.

He looked to us and then the estate. I turned and followed his gaze. People had noticed our fight. Several more armored figures were rushing this way. We had moments.

Salvador spoke quickly in Cavenish. “Everyone here wants to see Mordwell brought to justice. I’ve been working with Miss Miller here, and I have reason to believe Renna there—” He pointed to me. “—is not the evil demon she’s made out to be.”

Wait. Miss Miller? No—couldn’t be. It’s a common last name, especially in Edath.

Even so, I looked closer at the raven-haired woman in armor. My eyes stuck to her face. No way. I’d almost—

The woman looked to me, and then the estate. “We don’t have time for this. I will see High Inquisitor Mordwell hanged for his crimes, but I don’t have all the evidence I need yet.” She turned to Seyari and me. “If you’re really on my side, leave, but injure me first. Badly enough so my story will be believed.”

“I want to help you!” I blurted.

The woman who was maybe my sister looked at me with eyes full of cold fire. “If you want to help me, Demon, you’ll listen and leave. We don’t have time to argue. Shatter my dominant arm and break my legs. With healing, I’ll live and that will be enough for my story.”

I could hear shouting getting closer. Shit. How could she suggest something like that so casually? What had she been through? Just how much did she trust Salvador? She looked certain. I wasn’t going to hesitate and lose this moment.

This is insane.

“Okay,” I answered. My own magic had only just won out against the holy magic. I felt weak from losing so much blood, but I knew I had enough magic to recover. I met the woman’s gaze. “What’s your name?”

“I’m not giving that to you, Demon.” The woman sounded hesitant.

I tried to form a response.

“If you don’t want to break her legs, I’ll do it.” Seyari volunteered with far too much enthusiasm.

“I don’t care who does what, but do it now!” The woman hissed. For the first time, I felt her anger spike. Then, in a controlled manner, the emotion moved neatly back to a circling pattern of cold rage.

I looked to Seyari and back to the woman who I was almost certain was my sister. My partner and I nodded.

I moved quickly and grabbed her arm. “I’m sorry, Tania,” I whispered.

Her eyes went wide with shock and for a moment, her cold mask slipped. Then I snapped her arm and she screamed in agony. Seyari shattered her legs with disturbingly practiced precision.

My heart fell with her as she flopped into the ground, teeth gritted from crippling pain. The shouting was even closer now.

My heavily-injured sister turned to look up at me with conflicted eyes, and spoke with a solid voice despite her grievous injuries. “How could you know?”

“Zarenna, we have to go!” Seyari kept her voice just below a shout.

The guards would be on us in moments. From the corner of my eye, I could see her and Salvador had already started to leave.

I looked down at Tania and felt the tears start to come. “Because I’m your sister.”

Her eyes went wide. “No. That’s not—you can’t be.”

I heard crashing of bushes hardly twenty meters down the slope. “I—"

“Zarenna!” Seyari said as loud as she dared.

I blinked the tears and turned to leave.

“Meet me at our old spot.” Tania’s pain-filled whisper punched a hole into my heart. “Next summer solstice.”

I nodded, then turned and ran. My side burned furiously, and I could feel my magic straining to knit my torn insides back together.

“If you’re really her…” Tania’s whispered voice floated after me. I couldn’t be certain of her words, but my heart knew the answer.

In moments, I’d caught up with Seyari and Salvador. Not waiting for permission, I picked up both of them, two arms around each, and slung them over my shoulders. Salvador grunted in surprise and Seyari protested halfheartedly.

I ignored the stars that swam across my vision and the pain that made me stumble, only saved from falling by the counterweight of my tail. My ruined side throbbed with agony, but it felt like I’d mostly stopped bleeding. Already, I could feel my regeneration healing me.

The pain from my wound was nothing compared to the conflict in my heart.

I’d found Tania in a place I never expected I would. What has she gone through? Will I lose her again?

Tania had grown so much since I’d seen her last. She was no longer a child, but the hardness in her eyes was more than anyone her age should hold. The nearly nine years since my death must have been tough. I died in AL 1349, was reborn around AL 1355, and now, I’d have to wait until the summer solstice of AL 1359 to get my sister back. The thought pained me, but I took comfort in having a date.

I looked to Salvador and despite our awkward position, I met his eyes. The man didn’t have a shred of fear in his gaze.

“Thank you,” I replied, surprised to find my voice shaking.

Salvador simply nodded.

Maybe. Maybe, just this once, everything would work out.

My thoughts roiled in my head while my clawed feet carried the three of us away into the night.

*** *** ***

I ran as fast as my legs would carry me. Footsteps of the man who killed Zach and Abby thundered behind me, getting closer and closer.

I ran and weaved and ducked through burning buildings. Fire bloomed around me, turning the broken homes red. Shattered windows glared at me with jagged, twisted smiles. The walls leaned in and the flames closed in and the footsteps finally reached me and—

I woke up with a start.

My heart raced in my chest and my pulse thundered in my ears. I unclenched my hands which I’d unconsciously balled into fists under the sheets. I hadn’t had that nightmare since my days in the academy. Most days, my nightmares were from the Ordian Civil War.

The ceiling I stared up at was unfamiliar and I could feel my limbs had mostly been healed, but I was sore to the point of pain all over. I could ignore that. I started to think about the demon who claimed to be my sister. My sister. No one living would make that claim.

“Good. You’re awake,” a deep voice I recognized said from my bedside.

“High Inquisitor Mordwell.” I turned to face the old bastard and kept my face neutral. “I didn’t think you the type to sit by someone’s bedside.” I shoved the thoughts of last night down and away.

“I’m not, Paladin Miller.” Mordwell allowed himself a small smile.

Fake. I knew his smile was fake. I had to stay strong, and keep up this charade just a little longer. Just a little longer and years of work would pay off. Finley may have gotten away from me when he ‘escaped’ the Church’s death conviction. I wouldn’t let the net around Mordwell stay nearly so loose.

“Shall I give you my report?” My thoughts clicked in place like a well-built clock. In the span of a second, I’d regained my composure.

“You shall,” Mordwell answered, staring hard into my eyes. He’d find nothing that way.

“Very well.” I nodded. “Shall I begin when you notified us of Yothariel’s proximity?”

Mordwell nodded back, his eyes not leaving mine. “That would be prudent, Paladin Miller.”

“Understood, High Inquisitor.” I nodded again, unable to bow in my current position.

From the top and with practiced ease, I began my false report.

 

END OF VOLUME 1

What a tweest! I did see a couple comments guessing at it earlier, so congrats if you did! This chapter was super fun to write and something I'd been looking forward to writing since I'd started SoW. And with it, volume one is finished, but we're rolling right on into volume two after a side story post on Wednesday.

If you want to read more, my Patreon has up to 18 advance chapters right now! There are also side stories (canon & non-canon), some of which will stay Patreon exclusive.

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