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Hero's Song - Chapter Twenty-Six

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"To the gates!" I shouted, hustling men in front and behind me. I was weary and covered with blood, sweat, and soot from the fireballs that had blasted the wooden structures, but the towers had finally come down; only to have the gates bashed open by the undead, throwing themselves relentlessly against it. I was swearing in a constant stream of elven, my voice harsh and authoritative even in my own ears. I flew down the stairs that led from the battlements down to the main courtyard, the Sword in my right hand, one of my scimitars in my left; and nearly bowled over one of the blockades that my soldiers had already set up.

"Kana!" I barked. "Shut those damn gates!"

"Captain!" She cried, relief evident in her voice. She turned, shouting, "Soldiers, shut the gates! The Captain has arrived with the remaining forces!" I sprinted to her side, and she smiled at me wearily. "The sun is rising, Captain...the undead will soon be burning under the sun's rays. Even with his remaining undead, Black Garius will be hard-pressed to breach the inner walls." She nodded firmly. "And without their towers, they'll be defenseless against our attacks from above."

"Yes," echoed a cold, bitter voice. "Defenseless."

The sound of that voice...ah, if I could only describe it. A thousand arrows could not have pierced me so well. I turned, and saw him, tall, almost elegant in the way that he stalked down the stairs like some wild cat, his eyes on me. The archers that had been on the walls with him trailed behind, confusion on their faces. I felt an alarm go off in my head as the first cries from the gate reached my ears..."Captain! The gates aren't working...!"

I felt the blood draining from my face. His lip curled. "Stay on the walls, 'Captain' - you might live through this." Though his face was near merciless in expression, his voice was laced with regret, rough and harsh, and it dropped into a near murmer when he spoke. "For what it's worth, you almost made me stick around, lindo...but that's why I have to do this."

No, no, no, no, no, no...My mind reeled that this couldn't be possible."Bishop," I croaked, my voice strangled into barely a whisper, "What have you done?"

He lifted his chin, striding to where the soldiers struggled with the gate. "Let me show you." I watched as he brushed them all aside, fingering the lever disdainfully. "This gate of yours isn't coming down...which means this precious Keep of yours won't be standing long." He turned to meet all of our gazes, his head held high. "Don't bother trying to repair the gate mechanism - I took a look at it earlier, and it was much easier to destroy than I thought."

My heart was crying out like a dying thing, and the Sword in my hand seemed to echo the sound, keening in my ears. There, in the light of the rising sun, he had the audacity to meet my eyes squarely with his own. His expression was one of resolution, and his voice, when it came, was quiet. "You'll see the wisdom of this in time. The road to the winning side is always open, Harper."

And with that, he turned, and ran, through the gate and into the surrounding forests, dissappearing like smoke on the wind.

A lookout's voice broke through the resulting silence. "The undead are advancing!"

Kana's worried voice broke through the haze in my mind. "Captain...your orders?" She sounded near frantic.

Zhjaeve was at my side. "Kalach-cha," she whispered. "Though I cannot heal what wounds you so, you must focus your will on the task, or we are all lost."

"Kana," I said; my voice was even, colder than steel. "Tell the men to be strong, and we shall yet win this day." I nodded, mostly to myself. "The sun has come to our aid."

She sharply began barking out orders. "Form a line within the blockade - let the enemy come to us in the center, where they may taste the steel of our arrows." My companions had all poured into the courtyard, and I gripped my blades tightly as the soldiers that came with them spread out behind me. Khelgar ran up to my side, hefting his axe; he was covered from head to toe in blood. "Aye, this is turning out to be quite the fight!" He grin froze on his face as he looked at me. "What's the matter with you? Someone die?"

Elanee's eyes widened in dawning realization. "Where's Bishop?"

"Gone," I said steadily, my eyes fixed straight ahead.

"Kana!" The lookout was sprinting along the top of the wall towards us, his face panicked. "The undead! They don't fear the light!"

"What?!" she said incredulously.

"The vampires, the shadows...all of them!! They're still coming!"

I looked with sickening despair to where the sun was rising, full above the horizon, bathing the courtyard and valley beyond with golden light. Sure enough, the undead were closing on our gates, their steps as resolute as before.

A crackle of lightening and a spectacular exlposion caused me to throw my arm in front of my eyes, painfully blinded. When the light died, a Reaver stood at our gates, striding forward confidentally. "You think dawn favors you, soldiers of Neverwinter?"

Garius. I recognized that voice.

"By my Lord's grace, I can make even creatures of darkness unafraid of your precious "light" with but a few thoughts," he laughed. As if to punctuate his words, a score of undead filled the gate behind him, eyeing us hungrily.

His eyeless sockets aimed themselves at me. "And now, Captain," he said coldly. "You will return my Keep to me."

"I'll see you dead yet again before this Keep falls," I spat. A terribly fury was riding in my blood, and I knew I was at my breaking point. "You should have stayed outside the walls, where it's safe."

His voice was thick with contempt. "My Lord still waits at the threshold of this tiny world...but his avatar is more than enough to end you and your army." He raised his arms, and with a swirling of shadows and a terrible wailing that pierced the air around us, a creature appeared; the blackness that formed it was absolute, and it's eyes trained on me instantly, like a bird of prey. It screamed again, and I saw some of the soldiers cover their ears, wincing as the noise shook the very foundations.

My head high, I stepped forward to meet it as is came rumbling towards me. "This time, the Sword won't break."

And then there was nothing to be heard except that horrible wailing as the Nightwalker fell upon me.

o o o o o o

"I'll have to admit, lass," rumbled Khelgar, "You've got panache. I woulda just cursed the beast and lopped it's head off."

My smile felt tired; I sat against the wall, my back resting on the battlements, legs stretched out before me as Zhjaeve slowly but surely healed my wounds. They had been quite impressive; My Sword had made quick work of the Nightwalker, but those claws...I still shuddered at the memory of cold shadow ripping through me. My smile widened at the shock in Garius' voice when Ammon had read his True Name aloud, and then it seemed the forces of Crossroad Keep in their entirety fell on him, nearly finishing him off for good. My face darkened at the thought of him escaping...but with his exit, the undead had begun burning in the sun.

"Captain!" said Kana smartly, walking to where I sat. "The enemy flees!"

"Send the scouts to harry them, but do not engage...we already hold the field." My voice sounded worn and weary.

Nevalle appeared, his face a mask of grime, his fair hair sticky with blood and who-knows-what else. His normally poised and polished appearance was ruined so completely that I nearly laughed. He gazed down at me, pride in his eyes. "You're hell-bent on showing me up, Lady Harper," he said warmly. "We wouldn't have prevailed if it weren't for you."

"How is his Lordship?" I asked wearily.

"His wounds pain him still, but he is stable." He smiled ruefully. "We had to lock his door to keep him from joining you on the walls. He sends his thanks."

"Thank the soldiers," I said, managing a smile. "They're the ones who saved us this day, not I."

The soldiers cheered spectacularly, and the sound seemed to flip a switch inside of me. Suddenly, I couldn't bear the sunlight. "Help me inside," I said hollowly. There was a bustle of shuffling feet, and an arm slid under my shoulders, lifting me up. To my unending surprise, it was Daeghun who supported me. "You never did learn how to pace yourself in battle," he said, mock-scolding. A flash of a smile passed his face before he started walking, and with his help I passed into the Keep, the others following behind, it's stones blazing under the morning sun.

o o o o o o

She sat on the edge of her bed, fingering the violin bow in her hands. He watched her for a moment; the set of her jaw, the lift in her cheekbones, the straight, pert slope of her nose; in the light she looked exactly as Esmerelle had, in her younger days, and an old sorrow, long buried, struck through his heart once more. She was barefoot, in trews that barely passed her knees, and a worn tunic that was too large for her. She looked up after a moment, and the pain in her eyes was all too familiar, but her mouth smiled at him. "It was a fine sight seeing you, father. I didn't expect you to come back."

"I wasn't going to. I changed my mind." He entered her room, deflty pulling a chair over and sitting across from her. "Even I do that sometimes." He eyed to bow in her hand. "That is not from the instrument I made for you."

"No, it's not." Her fingers traced the wood delicately. "The one you made was destroyed, high in the Luskan mountains. The dwarf clubbed a githyanki over the head with it." Her voice softened. "But it saved my life." She met his eyes. "Bishop made this one for me."

"The ranger." His voice was flat, cold. "The one who left you at the gates?"

She sucked in a ragged breath, and he was mildly horrified at the tears that spilled out of her eyes. "Aye. That would be the one."

He had always regarded her childish tears as a mild irritation, in her youth. He had taught her what he had learned, the hard way; that one couldn't avoid emotion, but displaying them would bring nothing but weakness. But he watched her wipe her eyes furiously, ducking her head from his view, he merely felt immeasurable sadness.

"Aye, my daughter," he said gently. "It hurts, does it not?" He reached out and clasped her hand in his own. "I know of it, all too well." He sighed as her fingers intertwined with his, her eyes looking up into his face. "Loss is...not something I was ever well-equipped to deal with. I was taught to merely accept, and move on, for all things would balance out in the end. But Shayla..." he was surprised at how his voice broke, even now, at the sound of her name. "My life had been a long road of dangers and suffering. Of loss. My period of time with Shayla was a time of such peace, such...contentment. I could not accept that she had been taken from me. All that I had grown to learn of balance, of wrongs and rights, didn't make sense anymore. I had suffered too much; why had the one, bright thing I had been given been so brutally taken away?"

She was staring at him, spellbound, and he realized this was probably the most he'd spoken to her at any given time. "Do you blame me for her death?" she asked.

" not." His voice was firm, and he gripped her hand when he said it. "I could have, had I chose to. But I did not know who to blame, or if there was any one thing to blame at all, merely the fickle finger of luck that you so ardently worship." He sighed. "But I have...not been the father I could have, either. I hope in time, you will, if not forgive me, at least understand."

She smiled. "I'll see what I can do."

"And as for your...human," he said. "They have always been a fickle race, torn by loyalties that change as quickly as the tides." He watched the sadness rise in her eyes. "Love, however, is not fickle...your heart may heal in time, and it may not. But there is a power in such things, and however you choose to use it, know that simply having it will make you stronger." He released her hand, brushing her hair back lightly before turning to go. "Rest well, daughter; Na llie varna."

o o o o o o

Evening is falling; a page knocks on my door, just as I buckle on the last few peices of my armor. "Captain? Aldanon is ready for you."

My eyes, red-rimmed though they are, are dry as I nod to him. "I'll be there shortly."

My few personal belongings...the things that I feel truly are mine, and not "Captain Harper's," are tucked into the small pack I carry between my shoulder blades; inside a delicately carved violin rests with a similarly crafted bow. I scrawl a note out onto a piece of parchment; I have been writing most of the day, and the tome that I've created sits neatly on my desk. As a finishing touch, I bind the pages together with twine. The note, I fold neatly, scrawling "Daeghun" on the top flap, before setting it gently on the desk, resting on top of the tale I have spun with ink and quill.

The door shutting behind me rings with a note of finality as I leave, walking to where Aldanon awaits with my companions.

Hero's Song - Chapter 26 © Avariel

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