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Hero's Song - Chapter Twenty-Four

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I had had just about enough of dragging Qara's injured carcass (and her incessant whining) as I kicked open the front door to the Keep; which was no mean feat, I might add. Those doors are thick, but I was too impatient to get the human girl's weight off of my back to wait for Zhjaeve to catch up with us and open it for me. Lousy, scum ambassador, I seethed. Sydney Natale had called us out to some backwoods meeting place to discuss a weakness she had discovered in the Shadow Reavers; and when I had (stupidly) arrived, with Qara and Zhjaeve in tow as she had requested, she had attacked us. But the whole episode wasn't without it pluses, was it?

Casavir hurried to us, and I gratefully handed over the limping young woman to be supported on his broad, muscled shoulder. "What happened?" he asked, aghast at our wounds.

Zhjaeve finally walked through the door behind us. "Know that the Luskan ambassador attempted to murder us, after gaining information from myself and the Kalach-Cha." She looked at me apologetically. "I am shamed that I gave her the answer she sought so readily. I did not know it was her intent to ambush us."

"It's not your fault," I said dismissively. "At least you kept us alive when she did." Casavir had already begun healing Qara, and he glanced at me as I produced an aging parchment. I smiled at him triumphantly. "And we finally have an answer to the Shadow Reavers. Natale was carrying a list of their True Names; it may be enough to weaken them."

His eyebrow shot up, and his voice was...if not overjoyed, at least warmer than usual. "The battle goes well for us, then." Qara pushed away from him slightly, able to stand on her own two feet once more. She glared at him.

"I almost died, and that's all you can say?" She snorted at us. "I, for one, am tired of walking into ambushes. If you'll excuse me..." She stalked off, the sound of her heeled boots clacking against the flagstones echoing down the hall.

"I'm sure that's princess speak for 'Thank you, Casavir,'" I said wryly, and the paladin chuckled.

"I do not take offense to it. And I do not perform such services looking for thanks." He gave me a rare smile, and I realized almost in shock at how rare it was getting these days, to see him smile.

"Well, you've scraped my hide off the floor more times than I could count, and I'm sure I've thanked you enough to make you sick of it," I said, my lips curling upwards in response. Ah, my spirits were high, I'll admit. Things were finally falling into place...

"Ah, yes, we're all thankful for the paladin's power of prayer," said a cutting voice from behind me, and Bishop was standing in the doorway, his expression irritated. "Especially you, dear girl...we all can't forget that golem's blade, can we?" He was speaking to me, but his eyes were fixed past me, trained on Casavir's face. His expression grew sly, and he said, off-handedly, "But I should thank you as well, paladin. That scar she has, it's healing nicely...I remind myself every time I look at it to mention what a fine job you did. And when I touch it, I can't even tell the difference between it and the rest of her skin..."

"Enough," I hissed fiercely. My face was flaming, and I couldn't look Casavir in the eye. "There's no need for that, Bishop."

Casavir's face was harder than stone, eyes narrowed until they were barely two blue slits. "I am merely glad that at least someone was able to save her from death, that day," he said evenly...his emphasis on "someone" was not lost on me. "And I pray that she not need my skills in healing again." He turned to leave, throwing over his shoulder, "I am sure you feel the same way, Bishop."

I turned to look at Bishop, hands up questioningly. "What was the point of that, please?"

"Pure entertainment," he said, arching a brow in my direction. "You look a little worse for wear. Sydney ambush you, did she?"

I eyed him warily, crossing my arms. "Aye, she did that. But it turned out better for us; we've got a way to fight the Reavers, now."

He tapped the side of his head before turning to leave. "Luskans. What did I tell you? I wonder how many more of them will come after you before they realize you're not easy game." He shook his head. "Ah well, more's the fun for us, yes?" He gave me one more appraising glance before walking back out the front door, headed towards the tavern.

I rubbed a hand across my eyes, leaning against the wall. Zhjaeve stepped forward, and placed her hand on my head, casting a small healing spell. I nearly jumped when I felt her touch; I had forgotten she was there. Her luminous eyes watched me as my superficial wounds closed beneath the onslaught of her magic. "You are troubled," she said.

I smiled at her wearily. "The times we live in have all of us troubled, I think."

"No," she said gently. "You are troubled because your mind is telling you something. And your heart is telling you another thing. And you, the true you, your center of being, is caught in the middle of it, not knowing which one to believe."

I stared at her in something akin to awe. "How are you getting this?"

"The shard you carry lies close to your heart, Kalach-Cha," she said. "It's energy resonates, and I hear it's voice. It carries the secrets of your heart in it's song, and I listen to it, because I seek to know you." She brought her hand down as the healing spell ended, but those eyes still watched me. "Your mind tells you that the dark one, the hunter of the forest, weakens your will. And your heart tells you that you love him."

I inhaled sharply, my voice panicked. "I never said...!"

"Not in words, Kalach-Cha. But it is there for those who will see it." She glanced down at the tip of my scar, visible above the collar of my armor. "Your will must be steadfast in the times ahead, and you must decide which part you will listen to." When she met my eyes again, the expression in them was one of resolution. "The time is fast approaching, kalach-cha. These shards you carry represent the division in your thoughts and purpose. Are you ready to make them whole?"

I swallowed hard, pressing a hand against my chest. I could feelt it even through my armor; a warmth, pulsating softly in rythym with my heartbeat. Now or never, I thought, and nodded at her. "I'm ready."

"Then rest, and prepare. Soon, the pieces you carry will be forged anew."

o o o o o o

"Is there a reason why we keep ambling back into our enemy's stronghold like cows without a cow-herd?" said Qara irritably.

"Oh yes. It's because every time we come here, you still manage to survive it," said Bishop sardonically. "But don't of these times, we'll get it right."

I know I should have told them both to stuff it, but...well, in a sick, half-hearted way, I was agreeing with him; I remembered too well the insults and pathetic whining that had barraged my ear a few days earlier when I had helped the sorceress limp back home. So, gleefully, my mouth stayed shut.

"Know that we are close to the place where the blade was once shattered," said Zhjaeve soberly. "There should be a scar, a deep mark in the ground."

I frowned thoughtfully, a memory surfacing in my head. "I think I might know of a place."

Ammon nodded, his voice grim. "Yes, I remember vaguely where it might have been, as well. Lead on, Kross...I will let you know if anything looks familiar."

Khelgar stood close to me, hefting his axe. "And do it quick; I'm not likin' the feel of this place. The shadows are thick, here."

"For once, I agree with you. There's...things, moving out in the woods. The sooner we get out of here, the better." Neeska's voice was high and uneasy, and I drew my blades as I set off, peering every now and then at the thick forests surrounding the remains of West Harbor.

I almost didn't recognize it, anymore. A hazy darkness had descended on the Mere, as if the sky was forever blanketed by thick clouds, and it cast a gray light on everything around us. Skeletons of burnt buildings stood rickety and empty in the dense fog, and I shivered slightly as we crossed the center of town...wait a minute. I stopped, horror dawning on me as I gazed around at the empty square.

The bodies were gone.

No sooner had the thought crossed my head than shadows slithered across our path, solidifying. I stared into the face of Georg Redfell, who smiled at me in a twisted parody of his normal self. "Ah, Harper, you've returned." He took a step towards us, an unholy light in his eyes. "Come on, give us a song."

"We've missed your music," said a voice behind us, and we all turned; Retta Starling was walking towards us, as well. "And your stories. Are you staying this time, Harper?"

"Aye, I can tell you she is," Ward Mossfield appeared around Georg, smiling at me. "She's home, now. She'll stay with us for as long as she likes."

"An illusion...merely ghosts to taunt you," whispered Casavir fiercely, in my ear. "I do not know what foul magic is at play, but tread carefully."

"No shite," snorted Bishop from behind me.

I lifted my chin, my blades held ready. "You aren't the people I once knew; whatever trick this is, I'm not some half-witted vagabond to come running into your arms." I nearly snarled. "Shadows, all of you; I hope you're ready to face oblivion."

It worked; they dissolved into hissing, screeching black figures, and they threw themselves at us without a moment's hesitation. The fight was quick, but intense; almost everywhere I turned, malevolent eyes were in my face, and shadowed claws were grasping for me; and once again, I thanked Deneir that I had friends with me, or else I'd have joined their ranks in record time. Bishop had forgone his longbow in favor of two wickedly gleaming swords, arrows not being much use against shadow, and he fought with his back to mine; I could hear him cursing at the things throughout it all, and strangely enough, it hardened my resolve. He fights beside you, my heart whispered. What more do you need?

And in a clarifying moment, the shard in my chest resonated once, deeply, with a momentarily heavy heartbeat, and my vision seemed to clear dramatically; and in a flash of blades, the last of the shadows fell, dissipating into nothingness in the trail that my scimitars left in the air.

I caught Zhjaeve's eye. She gave me a quick, near-imperceptible nod.

As we caught our breath, I noticed a deep, blackened mark on the ground, not far from my old home. I gestured to my companions, heading towards it, and they followed, a rustle of armor and leather and weaponry in the sudden silence that followed our quick battle.

When I reached the edge of it, Zhjaeve touched my shoulder, bringing me to a stop. "Know that this is the place." She caught her breath momentarily. "The scar runs deep."

"She has the right of it," said Ammon Jerro quietly. "This is where I struck at the King of Shadows... and the blade, it shattered."

Zhjaeve nodded at me firmly. "It is here that we must mend the blade anew and close the wound."

We spread the shards out over the large, blasted area of ground, the hilt at one end. Zhjaeve and I sat on opposite sides, while everyone else stood back, watching. "Listen to my voice, grasp the hilt – and close your eyes." Her voice took on a deep, echoing undertone. "In this place, broken upon shadow, carved deep in earth; what once was sundered, from two peoples born; make all that was scattered whole again – by the heart that guides the will."

The hilt in my hand was growing warmer, and there was a painful pressure in my chest...

"By the will that guides the hand..."

I could sense a growing light through my closed eyelids, but I kept them tightly shut...

"And the hand... that guides the blade..."

There was a sound, like shattered glass, and I opened my eyes; rising from the hilt of my sword were all the shards, swirling in the air. I watched as they slowly descended, melding together like the pieces of a puzzle, and settled against the hilt; as the last peice fell into place, I felt a sharp tug in my chest, and a brilliant flash of light burst from the blade.

And when it faded, I held the Sword in my hand.

"It worked," I said, my voice sounding almost strangled. "You did it..."

"It was your will that reformed the blade. I merely walked with you." Zhjaeve's voice sounded tired, haggard; but proud. Her eyes shone as she looked at me, and I could senes a smile underneath the veil she wore. "Only for you will the sword live. No longer do you carry the Heart of the Sword. Truly, now, you are its Heart."

I was awash with sensation, energy crackling through my veins like a conduit. "The power from this's incredible." I had never owned such a weapon. Or been owned by such a weapon...

"That is not the power from the blade you feel. It is your own strength focused in the blade itself."

"As impressed as I am that you managed to reforge such a powerful weapon, I feel we would be safer discussing it somewhere else," said Ammon from where he stood with the others. "We are still in the Claimed Lands, and we are in danger here, sword or no."

Almost as if on cue, a low, gravelly voice cut through our conversation. "I could not agree with you more." We all turned, and my stomach dropped. A Shadow Reaver approached us, his bare skull grinning at me. "How does it feel to be back home, Shard-Bearer?"

I stood, still clutching the Sword of Gith tightly. His voice was disdainful. "Is that the famed blade? It looks so fragile... and little use without you to hold it together."

Zhjaeve stood, as well, tall at my side. "I think you will find its edge more than a match for shadow and mere words. Will you test it, thrall of shadows?"

"My Master does not fear a poorly forged blade." Those eyeless sockets raked me with their blind stare. "Or a poorly forged hero."

"Oh, poorly forged, is it? Let's see how you fare, then." And, without really thinking, I leapt at him, my newly made sword flashing like liquid quicksilver. A stupid move...but I realized with growing panic that this heroism bit was growing on me...

"Stall the reaver while I recite its True Name!" shouted Ammon, and as if they were the magic words, everyone rushed forward, and the fight began anew. I immediately was sent flying, skidding across the grass like trebuchet fodder. Well, that was nicely done, I thought to myself acidly as I scrambled to my feet, now yards away from where my friends harried the reaver. My sword was glowing rather brightly; the pieces seemed to float apart for a second before fastening together again, and I suddenly had an idea...

o o o o o o

"Damn it, dwarf, move yourself!" he shouted in frustration, dodging another spell thrown in his direction. "Else I'll start using you as a shield!"

Khelgar grunted as his axe made another swing at the reaver, grazing it; it was impossible. Every time the thing looked to be merely dead, it merely lifted it's arms and shadows came running, circling around it's body even as the wounds it carried were healed. And they'd have to start all over again, an endless dance of regeneration.

He thought about running. If he just turned, and kept on moving, they'd be too busy with the reaver to stop him. He could track his way out of here; maybe. He'd have a better chance of living through that than trying to kill this beast, no doubt about it. And as, once again, the thing began to heal itself, Bishop nearly dropped his weapons, half-turning...

The sight of Harper stopped him. She was glowing slightly with the Sword held high, the blade pointing at the reaver, her face a mask of concentration; even as he watched, the pieces flew apart, sailing towards the reaver and slicing through him with a sickening series of thuds...he watched as they flew into the air, circled around, and slammed through it's body again, knocking the thing to the ground, before flying around and coming at it again...

"Quick, press the attack! Jerro is nearly finished with the recitation!" Casavir's voice was appropriately holy sounding, and he flew past Bishop, his longsword slicing down towards the fallen Reaver. The others joined him, and he cursed to himself before lending his own efforts to the battle.

In a blast of brimstone, Ammon finished reading the Name, and the reaver shrieked in agony as a handful of weapons imbedded themselves in it's body. This time, no shadows came to heal him; he crumbled into dust before their eyes, scattering into nothingness.

"Yes!" whooped Neeshka in exultation; her tail was swinging back and forth wildly. "We did it!"

"Harper did it," muttered Ammon, a grudging respect in his voice. "Well done, lass."

She had stopped glowing, the sword neatly back together in her hand. She looked deathly pale, her cheeks ashen. "Gods...that takes a bit out of you..." She took a few unsteady steps towards them, and then he watched in dismay as her eyes rolled back in her head, and she hit the ground like a sack of wet flour.

"Gods-be-damned woman," he cursed, sheathing his blades. Casavir made a move towards her, but Bishop shoved past him, muttering scathingly "I've got it, paladin," and in a few steps he knelt at her side. He pressed two fingers against her neck, his heart hammering; but no, there was a pulse there, beating evenly, if not strong.

"She is merely exhausted," said Zhjaeve softly. "She has channeled more energy than she is used to, and it has taken much from her. With time, she'll be able to handle it."

"We certaintly hope so," Bishop snapped. He tucked her weapons into her belt, and wedged an arm under her body, carefully shifting her onto his shoulder before rising again; though she was rather tall for an elf, he handled her weight easily. "Anyone else up for getting out of here?"

"I've been saying that since we got here," muttered Qara.

Ammon arched a brow at him, which he ignored. "Gather round," said the warlock. "I can get us out of this place, at least to the edge of the Mere." As the others crowded around him, he lifted his hands; in a flash, they were gone, the sudden silence falling on West Harbor as if none had been there to begin with.

Hero's Song - Chapter 24 © Avariel

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