a/n: hello i'm yolo publishing this chapter..! i'm exhausted and this hasn't been thoroughly edited but here you go... i'm writing and hopefully publishing a paper for my (very stressful) summer internship so i haven't had much time or motivation to do any free writing... the research paper kind of saps all the creativity out of me... i'm sorry all, but i'm doing my best! please favorite or leave a review if you enjoyed, your reviews never fail to make me smile! thank you for supporting me~ :)
Elide and Lorcan repacked their bags with their newly bought supplies and met Meryllis outside the stable, where she was casually feeding carrots to a spotted mare.
"Ready?" Meryllis dusted off her hands and grinned at them. Elide wondered how the red-haired woman could maintain such a sunny disposition when her younger sister had been kidnapped. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Lorcan's slight frown; evidently, he was wondering the same.
Elide nodded, and the trio set out. Lorcan frequently checked behind them to make sure they weren't being followed. As soon as they were far enough away, he cast his dark magic out like a net around them so that they would be warned if anyone dangerous was nearby. Fellow travelers, bandits, or worse…
If Meryllis noticed his invisible magic, she didn't mention it.
As they made their way westward, the dusty plains slowly melded into rolling hills with billowing green grasses.
The powerful mare Elide was riding seemed eager to be traveling again. Elide was sad that they would have to leave their horses behind at the river. She had grown attached to Nala, her secret name for the mare, often patting Nala's neck comfortingly and murmuring words of encouragement in the her ear. Sometimes, Nala's ear would twitch, like she understood what Elide was saying.
Ahead of her, Lorcan was riding shirtless, as anyone might expect on a muggy summer day. Elide caught herself admiring the tanned, honed muscles of his back as he flexed over his horse, a mottled stallion. Sometimes, Elide wondered if she was going delirious with the heat because she caught herself staring at him more and more often. And sometimes, she even imagined herself underneath or on top of him…
Elide groaned internally. We could literally be riding to our deaths, Elide reminded herself, shaking her head.
Meryllis caught her gaze then and waggled her eyebrows suggestively. Elide flashed her a coy smile, but inside, she struggled to contain the irrational anger that flared towards the red-haired woman. After all, Meryllis didn't know that Lorcan and Elide weren't… really married.
It was… complicated between them, Elide decided. Her brows furrowed. Or maybe it wasn't. Lorcan seemed to be… pretty simple, underneath it all.
The humidity coupled with the heat were insufferable, but not once did Elide complain, not about the heat, or the aching in her back and legs, and certainly not about their mission. It had been her choice to go after all, and she knew she hadn't signed up for a vacation.
And… Lorcan had put his ass on the line, too. He was used to commanding armies and whatnot, yet he had essentially offered to babysit her for two weeks while training her into a fledgling assassin. Elide almost laughed aloud. It had only been a few months since her escape from Morath, and she could barely believe the events that had transpired since then.
Lorcan often glanced towards the sky, reading something in the atmosphere and clouds with his heightened senses that she couldn't. After riding for hours, they finally took a break to stretch their legs and give the horses water.
Elide massaged her ruined ankle as she leaned against a large rock. Meryllis squatted on the ground in the shade, with her water canteen lying on the ground beside her.
Lorcan simply remarked, "It's going to storm."
Elide scanned the skies as well, but she hadn't been able to sense whatever it was that warned Lorcan of an impending storm. Not yet, at least.
She knew the tell-tale signs of an imminent thunderstorm. Vanishing sunlight as the dark thunderheads rolled in, silence that spread for miles amongst the creatures of the earth, unseasonal gusts in the wind. But predicting a storm's path from this far away? Elide's senses weren't that quite honed.
"It might storm," Meryllis corrected, squinting up at the sky as well.
The look Lorcan gave her could wilt flowers. "There's a high likelihood it will storm. Is that better?"
Meryllis's mouth quirked up on one side. "Much." She didn't seem deterred by his fierce demeanor.
Elide cleared her throat and spoke hastily before Lorcan could bark back. "So, Meryllis… You're headed towards Morath right?" Lorcan shot her a warning look, but she ignored it.
Meryllis squinted up at her. "If that's where my sister is, that's where I'm headed."
Elide nodded. Meryllis would find out eventually that they were headed there as well, if she hadn't already. Elide had a feeling that this woman had good intuition.
"Not sure what to say?" Meryllis grinned wolfishly, a hand raised to block the sunlight. She definitely knew more than she was letting on. "Why don't you start with the truth?"
"Which lie first?" Elide grinned back, crossing her arms. Meryllis stood up and faced her, dusting her hands off.
"Hmm. How about your names, to start?"
"Our names?" She immediately plastered confusion onto her face and pressed a hand to her chest. "I'm Marion. Marion Lark."
"Maybe not yours," Meryllis allowed, "But his." She chucked her chin towards Lorcan. "He paused too long before giving me his name, before. And he didn't say it very convincingly." Lorcan's withering stare was back.
"My name is Lorcan Salvaterre, you bitch." Lorcan snarled. Elide glared at him reproachfully.
"Lorcan, be nice," she ordered. He ignored her, continuing to bare his teeth slightly at the woman. Elide recognized the warning look in his eyes. Honestly, was he territorial with women too…?
Elide sighed and returned her attention to the red-haired woman standing in front of her. How much could she reveal? She had to reveal that they were going to Morath. Meryllis was headed in the same direction, so even if they pretended to split off after reaching the river, Oakwald Forest was a treacherous place to traverse alone. And Elide wouldn't abandon Meryllis there; it would make more sense to end her now and grant her a quick, merciful death instead of the death she would face in Oakwald Forest or Morath.
Plus, Elide felt responsible for what happened to Beryl – Lord Vernon Lochan must have given the order to search for witches and magic users in Terrasen. Hatred coursed through her as the memory of her uncle's cruel, smiling face rose up in her mind.
Meryllis was watching her expectantly.
Elide chose her words carefully. "I can't tell you all the details, but I can see that you've seen through some of our lies. So truthfully, we're headed for Morath as well. There's… something I must do." She omitted the plan to assassinate her uncle, and instead let Meryllis's imagination wander, let her come to her own conclusions.
Meryllis straightened and looked Elide over again with her hazel eyes, as if reassessing her.
Elide continued, turning to fully face the woman. "We'll take you to Morath. But only if you won't be a hindrance. And no more questions, about who we are. After we near the fortress, we part ways. You find your sister, and I do what I need to do." Her tone left no room for argument, and she crossed her arms over her chest. Elide was glad to see that Lorcan looked mildly impressed by her assertiveness.
Meryllis's hazel eyes narrowed, and she looked at Lorcan and then back at Elide. She crossed her arms as well, and merely replied, "Fine."
A snarl ripped from Lorcan's throat then, and he immediately positioned himself in front of Elide, shielding her with his body. Meryllis had skipped backwards a few steps, her hands up.
"Magic user," he growled, never taking his eyes off the hazel-eyed woman. Magic? Did his net catch it? Elide felt a little lost. Did magic run in their lines up in the mountains? Had the villages been unregulated?
Meryllis held her hands up innocently. "Woah, woah. No need to get angry. I was just curious."
"Curious about what?" Elide asked firmly. Was she dangerous?
"About whether I'd be able to escape if you guys decided to kill me and dump my body in the river instead." She smiled wryly and looked pointedly at Lorcan, who indeed had a murderous expression on his face.
"She can use magic," Lorcan hissed. Elide rolled her eyes, even though she knew he couldn't see.
"So can we," she reminded him, "And you used your magic to protect us, back then. She probably noticed. Not everyone's an idiot, you know. She doesn't want to die, either." Elide stepped out from behind his shoulder and glared at him to back down.
Lorcan glanced at her for a fraction of a second, before relaxing his stance and smoothing out his expression. "Tell us about your magic, then."
Meryllis shrugged her shoulders and inspected her cuticles. "It's more entertaining if you guess." It was clear that while she acknowledged his power, he hadn't quite earned her respect yet.
Lorcan snapped back, "How about I torture it out of you instead."
"Lorcan!" Elide exclaimed, tugging on his shirt sleeve. She was mortified by his aggressive behavior and glanced at Meryllis apologetically, who just smirked smugly. If Meryllis was intimidated, she did a good job hiding it. In fact, Elide had to admit, Lorcan's behavior was very telling that they were not who they said they were.
"It's really not worth that much effort," Meryllis drawled. Lorcan snorted.
Elide quickly jumped in. "So… your magic, it's not… truth-telling? Or, truth… discerning?" Her brow furrowed as she struggled to think of the proper term.
Meryllis smiled. "No, it's not – although, that's a good guess. If we weren't allies, I might have told you it was." She winked. "The truth-telling… well, I grew up stalking and hunting animals, and when you spend so much time around them, you kinda learn to become one yourself. I'm sure your husband there can tell you the same."
If Lorcan was surprised that she compared him to a wild beast–or that she still referred to him as Elide's husband–he didn't show it. Instead, he approximated a shrug and inclined his head in agreement. Meryllis's smile widened. Her canines were sharp, like a wolf's.
"So, it's not in the nature of animals to lie and that's how I learned. Animals don't lie 'cause they're not smart enough, but humans are. But it's unnatural for us. And most humans act unnatural when they lie." Meryllis's smile widened, and Elide nodded. She supposed that made sense.
"Anyway, my magical power… Well, I should really keep it a secret, but Lorcan's shown me a taste of his magic with that invisible net he made, so I better show you mine so he doesn't murder me in my sleep."
Lorcan merely blinked at her.
Meryllis put her left arm out to the side, palm facing up, and put her other hand on her hip. "It's true, magic still runs in some of our bloodlines up in the North, although there are much fewer of us now than there were before." Elide started to wonder why, but then she noticed a rock behind Meryllis lifting from the ground on its own and moving to hover around waist height.
"I can move objects," she said cheerfully as she zipped the rock into her hand. Her hazel eyes never moved from their faces as she tossed the rock up into the air. And at the highest point of its arc, the jagged rock hung there, suspended. Elide's eyebrow raised as she stared at the rock. "Can't move people, though."
"Impressive. What's the limit?" Lorcan asked, his eyes darting between Meryllis's face and the rock. Elide knew he was assessing how much of a threat she was, especially since she didn't seem to need to see the object to move it.
She raised her eyebrows, both hands on her hips. The rock floated behind her, and then clattered to the ground. "Oh, come on, you're going to make me divulge all my secrets? At least buy me dinner first." She winked at Elide, who swore she had imagined it.
"Tell me enough so that you'll live through this moment," Lorcan said through gritted teeth, gripping the hilt of one of his hunting knives. He hadn't missed the wink.
Meryllis huffed a sigh, but acquiesced. "We don't really get much magic training up north, so most everything I've learned is self-learned, self-taught. From what I know, the limits are physical. The heavier something is, the harder it is to move. If I try to move too much or too quickly, it gives me a massive headache, like a huge pressure in my skull. But I'm pretty strong so usually I don't have much of a problem. I just do enough to cause a distraction and escape." She shrugged and continued, "Like I said before, that's why we won't need a cover story. I'm good at distractions."
"Hmm." Lorcan stared at Meryllis for a moment, his face carefully composed, but then he turned his attention to Elide. "We should get going, Marion." He stalked off towards his horse.
She tried not to wince at the sound of her mother's name coming from his mouth once again.
As Meryllis passed beside her, she muttered in Elide's ear. "Really, he's an awful liar. Tell him he's much more useful if he keeps his mouth shut. Just claim he lost his tongue in the war or something, because he refused to give the enemy the information they wanted." Meryllis widened her eyes at Elide, who couldn't help but bark out a dark laugh.
Lorcan's Fae ears twitched.
They set out again, and Elide noticed Lorcan's posture stiffen as they advanced closer and closer to the forest. A harsh expression seemed permanently etched into his demeanor, and she could tell that every one of his senses was constantly on high alert, to protect them. To protect her.
To stave away the sheer boredom as they galloped across the rolling plains, Elide tried to practice her magic even as they traveled.
On the first night, she had explained to Meryllis that she could manipulate light and that her magical powers hadn't manifested until the ban on magic had been lifted.
"Were your villages affected by the ban?" Elide had asked. Meryllis shook her head.
"No. The King's ban didn't stretch that far. He didn't think that the Northern villages would be a threat. Our numbers aren't large, after all. And we mostly keep to ourselves," Meryllis replied. Elide noticed how her eyes tightened slightly when she mentioned the king.
"Lorcan helped me find my magic… after the ban lifted. I didn't even know…" Elide inhaled through her nose, thinking of all the times she thought she was crazy for having conversations with the Goddess Anneith. "I didn't even know I was magical, didn't know that I had powers."
Lifting her dominant hand in the air, she formed a spark of light to demonstrate. The spark slowly floated upwards and lazily drifted around.
Meryllis's hazel eyes followed it, and she remarked, "It's a good sign that you have light magic. Means you'll be able to keep the darkness at bay."
Elide hoped desperately that what Meryllis said would be true. But she needed to be confident with her magic… She needed to expertly manipulate the beams of light she could create, the spheres of light that tingled at her fingertips, the threads of light she could weave… Elide would not falter. She would not yield.
After all, how difficult could it be to wipe one, single human off the face of the earth? And such a terrible one, at that. Shaking her head in frustration, she returned her attention to her magical energy, ignoring the fears that threatened to overtake her.
Elide tried to mimic the invisible net Lorcan had cast. She nudged her horse forward so that they were riding side by side, and she shouted over the wind, "Show me the net, so I can learn."
Lorcan understood and made the net between them visible; thin strands of dark, mist-like magic were coiled and crisscrossed so that the threads would snag if another being was near or if it caught someone else's magic.
Elide's brow furrowed as she concentrated and spread a net above them. But her magical threads of light were not discrete, not invisible like Lorcan's wispy. The cords of her net were visible strands of light woven together.
Elide frowned at her net as her horse thundered on across the plains. Sweat beaded along her forehead as she concentrated on pulling the strands thinner and thinner, stripping away the cords until the width of the threads was like spidersilk. The threads glinted into the sunlight, but at least the net didn't glow so obviously anymore. She smiled, satisfied. Even Lorcan nodded approvingly, a shadow of a smile on his lips.
The three of them rode on, westward towards the Acanthus River. Like Lorcan had estimated, it took three days to ride across the endless plains of Adarlan and two nights of camping out inconspicuously and eating dried rations, since a fire would draw notice.
Finally, the river was in sight. Finally, Elide could nearly smell and hear the roar of the Acanthus. They were much closer to Morath than when they had emerged from the forest all those weeks ago, since she had traipsed north towards Terrasen for weeks before she ran into Lorcan.
But now, she was here of her own free will. They would find a bridge to cross the river and then the towering oaks would claim them. She felt the magic slumbering deep within her stir, felt the drops of blue blood coursing through her veins…
Elide flexed her fingers and smiled grimly. Once she reached Morath, she would make sure Vernon and his ilk saw nothing but eternal darkness.
- Part 2: END -
a/n: moving into the last and final arc of the story :) i hope inspiration strikes me like lightning~ thank you for reading!