Chapter 96: Captive 4
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The oppressive nightmare lessened, ever so slightly, Reyas became aware that this nightmare was not real, the life she had been reliving was a lie. She took a deep breath. It felt like the first air she had taken under her own cognisance for quite some time.
‘Where am I,’ she wondered. ‘When am I?’ A haze over her mind was lifting. A battle. She was in a battle. She remembered the Vanguard, her companions, Benzhi. Her heart started to beat faster, ‘the battle of sandstone, the myrkalfar, ahhh she was awakening from the dread aura,’ her comprehension returned in a flood after she remembered Benzhi.
Reyas’ hands grasped her picks from the sand, and she stood. She looked around. There lay Anastasia in a pool of drying blood. She rushed over, but she was far too late. The wise, kind and loving last member of the Vanguard was dead. It looked as if her heart had been ripped from her body and it was cold.
A tear left Reyas’ eye, she wiped it away, mourning would have to come later. Anger was rising in her chest, and she started to search the dunes for Benzhi. Surely he would be here if victorious, or the divine forbid, defeated.
Even as powerful as the Dread Lord was, even with Anastasia dead, Reyas believed Benzhi would have found a way. She knew there must be a significant reason he was not here.
“Reyas,” Kyandre called, rushing over with Kris trailing silently behind her.
She turned to look at the whitecloak.
“He has been taken,” Kyandre said as she neared.
A thousand things ran through Reyas’ mind, but there was no time for questions, questions like what the fuck have you been doing.
“Where, which direction?” Reyas asked.
Kyandre pointed to the northeast.
Reyas let more questions go, like, why this direction and why did you not follow. She just ran to the northeast using all her qi body techniques and additional mobility skills Benzhi had taught her. She did not look back to see what Kyandre did, she simply ran.
After running for a short while, she spied heavy footmarks in the sand. The Dread Lord was also running, the amount of sand kicked up indicated she was carrying Benzhi and running hard.
Reyas began to follow the footmarks as best she could, they went in a straight line, so even if she lost them, due to a dust devil or just movement of the sand, she was able to pick them up within a few hundred paces.
Her grief was held at bay, all she could think about was her love, Benzhi. He was almost everything to her. She had her companions, her people and her land. But, they paled in comparison to her bond with her man. It was not a choice nor an exclusion, he also had the same bonds as she.
He had many flaws, but they were eclipsed by his strength and goodness. She would save him for once. Benzhi had saved her so many times it was embarrassing.
She concentrated on the positive, he was alive, why else would the Dread Lord carry him. Reyas did not strategise how she would save him, there was no strategy, she imagined an opening presenting itself, and she would be on hand to take advantage. Either that or die trying.
Life as a Myrfkalfar slave was not something she would wish upon anyone, except perhaps the Myrkalfar lords themselves.
After half a day of running the Dread Lord came into view. She had stopped, she seemed to be waiting for someone, Benzhi was still flopped over her shoulder, and she held his ebony sword and shield in her left hand.
Reyas hefted her picks, luck was with her just to find them, she would keep pressing it. As she approached within a hundred paces, she felt it all over again, the aura. ‘Fuck. The Aura. The bitch never drops it.” She screamed internally while leaping back before it overcame her.
Reyas paced just outside the range of the Aura. The Dread Lord either did not sense her, or she just ignored her. She racked her brain for inspiration, and all she could think of was throwing her pick, which was a terrible idea.
She continued to pace for an indefinite period of time, waiting for an opportunity to present itself.
“We cannot enter,” Kyandre said breathless, “it will collapse you before you get a dozen strides.”
Reyas glared at the women, she must have followed, albeit at her slower pace. Kris was nowhere to be seen, which was a pity because at least he was somewhat useful.
“Is there nothing you can do?” Reyas asked the woman, desperate.
Kyandre sank to her knees and not from the Aura. She began to cry, “no, I can do nothing.”
Reyas did not feel any compassion for the woman, “Get up and stop your snivelling, that will not help anyone.”
Kyandre wiped her red eyes and stood slowly. Reyas’ words had stung, but they had a positive effect.
“If a portal opens we should rush through behind her before it closes,” Reyas said.
Kyandre just stared at her open-mouthed. “And become slaves of the Myrkalfar as well?”
“If that is what it takes, yes,” Reyas said. She wasn't logical, it was an emotional response to their dilemma.
Suddenly a shimmering appeared around the Dread Lord.
“Nooo,” Reyas screamed charging. There was no portal, somehow the Dread Lord was leaving without one.
The Dread Lord disappeared taking Benzhi with her.
Reyas screamed at the sky. She had charged all the way to the spot were the Dread Lord had stood, and other than two footprints in the sand there was no sign she had ever been.
Kyandre put a hand on her shoulder.
Reyas turned and decked the Whitecloak. It was all their fault.
The city of Sandstone was jubilant, they waited for their Paladin to wake from the Dread Lord’s venom, and they mourned that so many of their defenders had died.
But, in the end, they had been triumphant. No one was taken as a slave, no damage was done to the city by the Myrkalfar invaders. Not from the perspective of the people of Sandstone. To Reyas, there was one prisoner, and he was the one that mattered, not the entire fucking city.
It was a victory. A victory the city celebrated for the last six days.
At each gathering, they hung their heads and were silent in showing respect for those that gave their lives. Plans were made to erect a statue of Alejo and the defenders. Words were spoken of their bravery. None of it mattered to Reyas.
Reyas was alone.
Anastasia was dead. Gisael was in the care of healers and had been for almost a week. And the rest of their party had been portalled to safety by Benzhi. They were a week away, in the Alpine Forest, and they must have thought the city defeated as Benzhi did not show up a day later to retrieve them.
Reyas waited for Gisael to recover, there was nothing else to do. She had petitioned their allies to send a messenger to New Vaugend, and they had finally agreed. Which was fortunate for them, because if they hadn’t, she was not against killing one at a time until an agreement was reached.
There was no point in having allies who did not you assist when you were in need. Master Gilford, despite being an evil son of a bitch had come through, prevailing upon his hosts by offering to go himself if they would not send a messenger.
Anastasia was gone. Her body was cremated in a pyre along with all the other dead Defenders. Another celebration, a celebration of their sacrifice and ultimate victory and the only one Reyas had attended.
This was the worst week of her life. She wanted to go after Benzhi, but could not without Gisael, not to mention she had no means. The city celebrated around her, and all she wanted to do when she heard a happy citizen was to plant a fucking pick in their skull.
They did nothing and seemed to care little for the man who given them their freedom. To them, he was as dead as the other defenders.
If it weren't for him, there would be no celebration. Yet they sang the praises of Alejo. He did fucking nothing. Reyas would kill him herself if he did not right this travesty when he woke.
The only two people in the entire city who knew the real truth, who lived through it and recognised it, were Kris and Kyandre.
The Governor and others seemed to take no notice of their reports. Not that it mattered to Reyas, she did not want their help. Not unless they could open a portal to the Myrkalfar plane Benzhi was abducted to.
“Reyas,” a female voice called. It was Kyandre. She still visited Reyas daily and kept watch on Gisael, despite Reyas laying her flat three times in the last six days. The woman had one redeeming quality, she was stubborn. Reyas was starting to warm to her. She perhaps only needed to deck her once or twice more before allowing Kyandre to be a friend.
“Gisael is rousing,” she said joyfully, “come quickly.”
Reyas felt a sense of relief for the first time in a week. Gisael would know what to do. All she could do was get angry.
They rushed together, one in all white with dark skin, one in runic leathers with alabaster skin, both with raven hair and of similar height. Despite being polar opposite personalities, they looked like a contrasting pair.
There was one thing they had in common. They were both determined, although some would say stubborn.
Reyas bent over Gisael’s cot, the healer waved her back, “give her room, don’t crowd her.”
The healers had been doing their best to remove the venom, but it was Gisaels system that did most of the work. They were tending to Alejo in the same manner, and he was yet to make any sort of recovery.
Hearing the commotion, Gisael opened an eye and spied Reyas. She forced herself up onto an elbow, “what happened?” she asked.
Up until now, Reyas had not spilt a second tear since inspecting Anastasia’s corpse. She had been planning, struggling, refusing to give in. She had been either in shock or angry at the world and Sandstone in particular.
But to answer that question, and to Gisael of all people, it was too much. She flopped down onto her knees and placed her head on the sheet at Gisael’s side. She started to ball her eyes out.
Gisael waited patiently for the longest time. They were connected after all, even without Benzhi here they were still connected. The only difference with his connection was the fidelity.
Without knowing the intimate details, tears came unbidden to the stoic Gisael’s eyes. Through the link, she knew Anastasia was dead, and Benzhi was gone.
“Gone were?” she asked.
“To wherever the Myrkalfar bitch took him,” Reyas answered.
Kyandre was stunned. They had not said any words since the question, but, Gisael knew.
She was still ignorant of the link the Vanguard shared, and they did not inform even their allies of their full capabilities. You never know, tomorrow these whitecloaks could be their enemy.
Gisael struggled to get up. A well-meaning healer warned, “you need more rest, please stay in bed.”
“I have been in bed long enough,” Gisael stated. She got up shakily to her feet. She put an arm around the bent down Reyas for support.
“Where are her clothes?” Reyas asked.
The healer fetched the two tiny pieces of bamboo silk, the belts and straps that formed Gisaels outfit.
“I think I will wear the leathers from now on,” Gisael finally relented to Benzhi’s wish for her to be protected, by the stoneskin runed qi leather armour, like the rest of them.
The rest of them, minus Anastasia.
“You have been angry,” Gisael said, “I have felt you for days, your anger finally woke me. You didn’t actually put a pick through anyone’s skull I hope.”
Reyas shook her head smiling. Kyandre merely looked horrified at the revelation, both of them. These two had a telepathic link, she was sure of it. She rubbed her swollen cheek absentmindedly, perhaps being punched by Reyas was her way of saving a life.
They limped back to their building. The bottom floor warehouse was half full of purchases made by the Traders during the exodus. Some folk had come to collect asking to refund the amount paid. Reyas took great pleasure in chasing them off at spear point.
After settling in upstairs, no one chased Kyandre away, and she showed no intention of leaving.
They discussed the battle, what had happened since Gisael was rendered unconscious. Kyandre filling in details when Reyas did not know.
Gisael listened quietly to the entire recital. The two had played things over in their minds so often the details were spoken by rote.
When they were done, she hung her head.
Despite being far from recovered Gisael showed a rare flash of anger, she punched the wall beside her, putting a fist size hole through the wooden structure. Kyandre lept back at the display of strength.
“It is all my fault,” Gisael said.
“What?” Reyas protested, “there is no way this is your fault.”
“I stayed when I should have moved, I was stubborn and did not wear the leathers. When I was injured, I killed Anastasia, and without Anastasia, he was without you and me to break down her defence.”
She stood, although lamely, her anger at herself supported her. The usually calm, even in the face of rampaging monsters, Gisael was incensed.
“I was stupid. Me. I was the stupid one this time. Not him,” her eyes glistened with water, “and what makes things worse. I did not speak to him since the meeting with Kebo. I shunned him. I was so stupidly upset about him being a man before he came.” She stopped and looked at her companion, “Reyas! It is all my fault! You must hate me.”
Reyas grabbed her into a hug. Forcing her to touch. Fortunately, Gisael was in a weakened state and incapable of fighting her off. Reyas had balled earlier, but she would have bet her life that she would have never seen the day when Gisael did the same.
They consoled each other while Kyandre looked on. She felt like a third wheel, this was a family affair. She was not surprised at how close the Vanguard were after witnessing them fight as a team rather than individually. The revelation of the telepathic link explained everything. Kyandre had been thinking of nothing else since the battle, but it was here she vowed that she would help them.
She would disavow the whitecloaks, a drastic measure but it was the only way. She would follow these two women in their quest to save their leader and their love. It was not only the scene which moved her, it was not only the reading of Benzhi which influenced her. She had stood by and done nothing during the battle. She felt just as responsible as Gisael, if not more.
After the longest time, Gisael recovered herself. She made to brush herself off, it was an emotive gesture, not at all needed.
“We will hunt down that bitch, we will travel to Myrkalfar if needed and I know just where to start,” Gisael stated.
Reyas was overjoyed, she knew Gisael would come up with a plan where she could not. They had no way of contacting Glamour or Kebo, only Benzhi did. They had no way to create a portal to follow him. Reyas had no idea what could be done, but Gisael was far older and wiser, she knew a way.
“There are still two other groups of Dread Lords in the land,” she said.
Kyandre and Reyas turned to each other with a look that said, oh fuck.