Author's Note: I apologize for my long absence. Real life has a way of turning things upside-down, doesn't it?
The dragon's tail caught Valygar squarely in the chest, knocking the air from his lungs and tossing him into the air as easily as if he had been a rag doll. His cry of surprise caught hoarsely in his throat and his katanas flew from his hands, falling to the ground and leaving his sight before the feeling of their grips left his hands.
He heard Liana scream his name, her voice ragged with fear. For an instant, and then it was gone, lost in the low shriek of air rushing past his ears, the harsh clang of metal on stone, the shouts of other, less familiar voices, the endless, rumbling roar of the dragon's nameless anger. Liana had been fighting at his side. Now he could not see her. She had been swallowed by the same shadows that had taken his weapons.
In desperation, Valygar flung his arms into the darkness. His grasping hands met only air. There was no second effort. There was no time. He slammed against a wall of solid rock and fell, tumbling end over end until at last he crumpled to the floor of the cavern, struggling for breath.
Each gasp burned more than the last, and the white-hot lance of fire in his side told him that at least one rib was broken. He clenched his teeth against the pain and staggered to his feet, putting a hand to his injured side
He turned his head toward the sound of battle. Through the dust and darkness, he thought could see the faint glimmer of magical weapons, the faded brilliance of lightning through smoke. Another scream, a shout of warning, the roar of dragon fire.
He looked around for his weapons. One katana lay on the floor a few feet away. He could not see the other. He stumbled toward the weapon, groaning at the pain in his side as he bent to pick it up. He heard running footsteps, and looked up to see Jaheira sprinting toward him through the smoke, her hands held before her and the words to a healing spell already on her lips.
The spell reached him before she did. He felt the familiar warmth wash over him, softening the pain of broken bones and rushing air to his burning lungs. He took a breath. Another. Then he stood, shifting the grip of the katana easily in his hand. Jaheira had already disappeared back into the smoke, and he ran after her, his mind racing.
Sarevok and Anomen stood only a few feet from the dragon. Imoen's shadowy form was some feet behind, sending fiery arrows streaking through the smoky air toward the dragon's head. Jaheira was running toward her, already pulling the sling from her belt. Valygar could not see Liana. Her voice rose from behind the creature's enormous bulk, shouting an order he could not make out.
With a cry, Anomen rushed forward, brandishing his huge flail. Liana appeared behind him, facing the dragon. Her slender body was taut with anticipation, her twin swords drawn and ready. Jaheira threw a healing spell at Sarevok. Sarevok stepped back and thrust his huge sword into its sheath, pulled a smaller one out of his belt, then turned and started running toward Valygar. The warrior's golden eyes met Valygar's, and Sarevok motioned violently toward the dragon's back.
"From behind, ranger! Follow me!"
Valygar's boots skidded on the dusty floor as he quickly changed course and made for the dragon's flank. He heard Imoen shouting, ancient words that made the hair at the back of his neck stand on end. A mere second later, a flash of light surrounded the dragon. When the light faded, the shimmering black scales had dulled to the color of charcoal. The dragon's resistance had been lowered.
It was time to attack.
Sarevok reached the dragon an instant before Valygar did, and with a shout, Sarevok launched himself at the creature, weapon outstretched. The short sword sank into the armored hide of the dragon to the hilt. With a roar of pain, the dragon tried to pull away, but the weapon remained fast, Sarevok's hand firmly on the grip. The movement lifted Sarevok cleanly off his feet. He hung on with grim determination, cursing loudly as the dragon's head swung head around on its thick neck.
"This would be a good time for a distraction, little sister!"
Valygar slid to a stop several paces from the dragon's side and looked toward the others. Jaheira had rushed forward, her glowing quarterstaff in her hands. Liana had sheathed her swords, and was backing quickly away from the front line. Her hands were held in front of her, holding a yellowed scroll that glowed faintly in the smoky haze. He could hear her intoning the ancient words, her voice little more than a murmur against the dragon's roar. Sarevok bellowed angrily as the dragon's jaw snapped a foot from his arm,
There was a burst of light, the scroll vanished, and a fireball streaked from Liana's hands toward the dragon's hideous bulk. Valygar turned and threw himself behind the dragon's massive flank, out of the path of the spell. The fireball's roar echoed through the cavern. The smoke around him glowed red as the missile hit its intended target and erupted into a cloud of flame. The dragon would have felt the impact as no more than a bite from a flea, but the spell had its desired effect, and the dragon whipped its head away from Sarevok and snarled at Liana, taking a thundering step forward.
Valygar ducked quickly as the dragon's tail thrashed over his head, turned and ducked again as it passed mere inches from his face. He followed its flight with his eyes. The sharp spines on the tail glinted evilly in the doom, and Valygar suddenly had an idea.
Acting quickly, he ran toward the hind end of the dragon, skidding, running, skidding again as he tried to avoid being hit by the thrashing tail. He sheathed his katana and pulled off his gauntlets as he ran, praying silently to whatever god was listening that this would work, and wishing suddenly that he were twenty years younger. He pulled a slender rope from its place on his belt, sliding it through his hands until he felt the tight knot near one end and the cool metal of the enchanted grappling hook beyond.
He turned and backed quickly away from the dragon's body. He ducked again, feeling the air move above his face as the end of the dragon's tail passed over his head again with inches to spare. A few feet more, and he was ready. He let out some slack on the rope and carefully swung the heavy hook at the end. His dark eyes were already gauging the distance. A swing, another, and with a grunt, he threw the hook toward one of sharp spines on the dragon's back, letting the rope slip through his fingers as it flew.
It was a true flight. The hook landed a foot or two above one of the spear-like projections and slid along the dragon's scales with a metallic hiss. The charm on the hook worked just as it should. The hook fell to one side of the spike, the rope to the other. The hook swung around, and one of its curved talons caught the rope and pulled it fast, tightening it like a noose around an obsidian neck.
Valygar pulled sharply against the rope. The hook held. The dragon started moving forward again, quickly. Valygar started running, gathering the rope in his hands. He could hear Anomen shouting again, could hear Imoen's sharp cry. Sarevok shouted. There was a rumble, as of thunder.
Valygar pushed himself harder, faster, until he was within a few paces of the dragon's hind legs. Then with a muttered curse, he launched himself off of his feet and pulled urgently at the rope, lifting his feet completely off the ground. He threw them forward, letting the momentum carry him.
His feet hit the dragon's flank with a bone-jarring impact. The fire in his Valygar's ribs flared again, but he gritted his teeth and started pulling himself up the dragon's side. His boots slid against the smooth, armored surface. The rope bit into his unprotected palms, but he kept pulling, hand over hand, until the ridge of spines on the dragon's back was within arm's reach. He gave one last heave and hoisted himself up, catching one of the spines with his hand and scrambling up until he could stand on the back of the dragon. Quickly, he unhooked the grapple and gathered as much rope as he could, then started to move forward.
The dragon moved beneath his feet, and he stumbled, catching another one of the bony spines. He moved forward, caught another. And another. As he developed a rhythm, he moved more quickly along the monster's back, until he heard Sarevok's voice below him.
Valygar looked down. Sarevok had forced another dagger into the dragon's hide, and had managed to climb nearly to the dragon's spine, leaving a trail of dagger wounds and black blood behind him. His golden eyes glowed ferociously in the smoky gloom and he extended a huge arm.
"Give me a hand up!"
Another explosion from below stained the air a blood red. The dragon lurched back. Valygar nearly lost his footing. He gripped the dragon's spiny back more tightly, looking toward the creature's head. He could see nothing through the rank cloud surrounding the dragon's mouth.
Valygar looked back down at Sarevok. He shifted his stance, then crouched as low as he could manage, keeping one arm wrapped around one of the sharp spines. He stretched out his other arm, his hand open wide.
Sarevok growled and threw his arm forward, his massive hand catching Valygar's and nearly pulling the ranger off of his feet. Valygar clenched his teeth and pulled as hard as he could against the warrior's weight. His anchor arm was burning, his feet slipping against the dragon's steely scales. After what seemed an eternity, Sarevok clambered the rest of the way up the side of the dragon and got to his feet, breathing heavily. He looked at Valygar and narrowed his molten eyes.
"I don't say 'please.'"
With that, Sarevok turned and started quickly making his way up the dragon's back much the same way that Valygar and done, and Valygar followed, stumbling as the dragon suddenly shuddered under his feet. The dragon's roar nearly deafened him. Its neck snapped to the side, then back. It jerked forward again, then reared up onto its hind legs.
Sarevok bellowed a curse as his footing fell away. He hung from one of the dragon's bony spines, an easy target. The dragon snaked its head around in Sarevok's direction, giving a roar that made Valygar's ears ring and surrounded both Sarevok and Valygar in a cloud of putrid smoke.
Valygar, being a bit lower on the dragon's neck, managed to keep his footing, but fought to do so. Quickly, he threw the grappling hook around the nearest spike and fastened it quickly, then threw part of the rope around his waist and tied it fast. He pulled his crossbow from his back and shouted a warning.
The dragon snapped viciously at Sarevok, its sword-like teeth only feet away from the warrior's face. Sarevok coiled himself quickly, then threw his armor-clad legs forward with a cry of rage. His solid feet connected sharply with the dragon's snout. The warrior gave a victorious cry, and the creature's head flew back, but only for a moment. The dragon shook his head sharply and roared again, coming in for another attack.
Leaning against the rope around his waist, Valygar cranked the crossbow into readiness. It had a bolt already in the chamber, and Valygar lifted it to his eye, taking careful aim. He fired.
The bolt shrieked through the air, leaving a crackling trail of electricity in its wake. It unerringly struck its mark, embedding itself swiftly and deeply into the soft tissue of the dragon's enormous eye. The bolt nearly exploded in a shower of energy. The dragon screamed with pain and rage and threw its head back, shaking it from side to side as it raised a giant hand to claw at its injured eye.
Sarevok cried out and fell, grasping desperately at the lower spines until he managed to catch one with a single enormous hand. He swung for a moment, then threw his other arm around the spike and shouted toward where Valygar leaned against the rope.
Valygar reached for another bolt. He fit it into the chamber, cranked the bolt into position, lifted the crossbow to his eye, and fired again. The bolt struck a little higher this time, but once again hit its mark, driving into the dragon's eye with another burst of electricity.
The dragon's roar rose into a shriek. From below, a burst of flame erupted under the dragon's jaw. Furious, the ancient monster turned its head toward the new threat, throwing blood and acid into the air. The dragon fell to its feet and pitched forward.
Sarevok shifted his position and began to climb quickly, hand over hand up the dragon's neck, until he reached the bony ridge at the back of the skull. He grabbed it with one enormous hand and pulled himself up, reaching back for his sword with the other hand.
Valygar reached for his katana. He pulled it from the sheath and cut through his anchor rope with a single fluid movment. Then he, too, began to climb, nearly running in his haste to reach the monster's head.
Imoen screamed again. Valygar looked quickly toward the dragon's head. It was thrashing around wildly. He could see a faint glint of metal, a glow of magic, the shape of a body clutched in the dragon's stinking maw. The leather armor was frighteningly familiar, and the long dark hair could belong to only one person. He heard someone shout Liana's name in a panic, not entirely realizing that the voice was his own.
Sarevok hung grimly onto one of the spines on the dragon's skull ridge, his giant sword held easily in one hand. The dragon's head gave a violent shake, and Liana's limp form flew from its mouth, disappearing into the shadows. The breath fled from Valygar's lungs. Her name fell from his lips again, this time little more than a whisper.
Sarevok dropped quickly to his knees turned, facing the dragon's back. He took his huge sword in both hands and raised it high above his head, its razor point inches from the unprotected skin under the dragon's skull ridge.
With a shout of triumph, Sarevok brought the sword down sharply, driving it deeply into the dragon's vulnerable flesh.
The dragon reared with a scream of pain. Sarevok clung ferociously to the sword's grip, slipping over the dragon's smooth scales, but not falling from his perch.
Valygar threw his arms around the nearly bone spike just in time. His footing slipped, and he hung in the air as the dragon thrashed its enormous head, trying to dislodge its unseen attacker. It was no use. The dragon dropped to its feet and its head fell, the anguish-filled scream fading into a rumble of dread.
Sarevok had regained his footing. He pulled the sword from the dragon's skull with a grunt, raised it, drove it down again.
The dragon roared weakly and tried to shake its head, but could not. Its enormous body started shuddering violently and it lurched forward. Valygar loosened his grip and hurried to the next foothold, then the next. The dragon fell to its knees. Once again, Sarevok drove his sword into the dragon's skull.
The dragon lifted its head weakly, gave a final, guttural roar, and fell.
Valygar threw himself from the dragon's back as the enormous carcass pitched to the side. He hit the ground rolling, then scrambled quickly to his feet and began to run. He sheathed his katana as he sprinted toward the dragon's head, shouting Liana's name in a voice he scarcely recognized as his own. Somewhere behind him, he heard Sarevok drop to the ground and call his name, but he paid no attention and kept running until he passed the dragon's lifeless head.
He called out again. There was no answer. He spun in his tracks, frantically searching the rank haze that surrounded him. He saw something in the darkness to his right and ran toward it. He slowed, then skidded to a halt. The icy hand of fear gripped his heart.
There, in the shadows at the far end of the cavern, Liana lay on the ground, motionless. He could not see her face. Her body was twisted and broken, thrown over a small outcropping of rocks and debris. Blood spread over the torn leather armor. A torn cloak had been wrapped carefully around her stomach, another around her face. Both were stained scarlet.
Jaheira knelt near Liana's shoulder, her practiced hands moving gently over her friend's body. Anomen and Imoen were vague shadows nearby, but it was Liana's still form that held Valygar's eyes.
He took a deep breath and a heavy step forward. Jaheira looked up sharply, her eyes wide. Her hands stilled on Liana's shoulder. They were trembling. Her eyes darted quickly to the dragon's lifeless remains.
"Where is Sarevok?"
Valygar opened his mouth to answer, but there was no need.
"I am here, druid."
Sarevok appeared suddenly at Valygar's shoulder, a wide smile of triumph on his face. "A good battle, ranger, and a good hoard." He clapped an enthusiastic hand on Valygar's shoulder. "We will divide it, and live like kings for a year. Women, wine…."
"Do you have any healing potions?" Jaheira's voice was sharp. Sarevok looked at her in surprise.
"I used the last after the dragon fell. Why…?" Sarevok's voice trailed away and his hand tightened on Valygar's shoulder. When Sarevok spoke again, his voice was low, rough.
"What… has happened?"
Jaheira looked at Valygar, her voice softening slightly. "And you, Valygar? Do you have any healing potions left in your pack?"
Valygar started. He looked up and saw the fear in the druid's eyes. It matched his own
"I have none."
Jaheira sighed and lowered her head. She closed her eyes. "Silvanus help her."
Valygar could barely form the words. "Tell me that she is not dead…."
Jaheira opened her eyes and shook her head, then reached forward to smooth a lock of hair from Liana's forehead. When she brought her hand back, the fingertips were stained with blood. All color drained from the druid's face.
"Not yet. But her heartbeat is weak, and grows weaker still." Jaheira looked up. "Her body is broken, ranger. And I fear that there are injuries I cannot see. In fact, I am certain of it. Half an hour, perhaps." She continued, an unspoken apology in her eyes. "I fear she does not have long in this world, Valygar…."
Sarevok moved forward quickly. His eyes were blazing, his voice like thunder. "Why has she not been healed? You have spells, druid! Work your magic!"
Jaheira looked at the warrior, her eyes flashing fire. "I have none, Sarevok! Do you think I would not have tried, had I the power? I used my last spell during the battle, patching your useless hide so that you could…."
Sarevok turned his wrath on Anomen. "And you, priest? You profess to care for her. You would let her die?"
Anomen looked up sharply. His voice was harsh, his face ash-gray. "I have used all of my spells as well, Sarevok. I can do nothing."
"Are there no potions? No scrolls" Sarevok demanded. He glared at Anomen, then Jaheira. "Surely Liana had some in her pack."
Jaheira gestured to Liana's pouch. It lay at her feet. Sarevok walked over to it and lifted it quickly. He looked into it, then swore under his breath and threw it behind him. Broken potion bottles tumbled out, spilling their precious contents onto the dusty floor.
"They must have broken when she fell." Jaheira snapped. "And we have no scrolls. We have nothing."
Sarevok threw his head back and roared a curse that echoed through the cavern. Then he turned and stalked into the shadows.
Anomen stepped forward, looking at Jaheira. He spoke quickly. "We should rest. Among the spells on my priestly scroll, I have a spell that can raise the…" He swallowed thickly and went on. "Raise the dead. I can focus on the spell as I rest. It should take only a few hours. If… something were to happen, I should be able to bring her back."
Jaheira shook her head, saying nothing. Imoen spoke from her place in the shadows, her slim arms folded protectively over her chest.
Anomen looked at Imoen, speaking softly. "It is a powerful spell, Imoen. I think I…."
Imoen let out a hiccupping sob and took a step back, shaking her head. "No, you can't."
Anomen stepped toward her, holding out a large hand. "Imoen, please trust me. I can do this."
Jaheira's voice was little more than a whisper, but it cut through the darkness like a knife. "She speaks the truth, Anomen."
Anomen stopped, his hand dropping slowly. He looked at Jaheira. His face had grown paler still. "What do you mean?"
Jaheira looked up. A single tear slipped down her cheek. "You know that Liana is a Child of Bhaal, Anomen." He nodded, and she went on. "When a Bhaalspawn dies…." Her voice trailed off, and she looked over Valygar's shoulder.
Sarevok stepped around Valygar. He walked to Liana's body, and stood looking down at his sister for what seemed an eternity. When at last he spoke, his voice was a low rumble. "When a Bhaalspawn dies, they fade. They dissolve into their essence. It is the curse of our kind." A grim smile touched his lips. "One of many."
Sarevok looked at Anomen. "If she dies, she will fade. Her body will disappear. And her essence will return to our father." He clenched a large fist and looked back at Liana. "I have experienced a Bhaalspawn's death, priest. It is not a fate I wish her to suffer."
Jaheira stood slowly, her hand still stained with Liana's blood. "She will not. We will find a way to save her." She looked at Valygar, a thoughtful expression in her eyes. After a moment, she looked away, wiping the blood on her pants. "I have already lost one that I love. I will not lose another."
Valygar looked past the druid to where Liana lay. His stomach twisted painfully at the sight of her broken body, the blood on the rocks.
Jaheira looked at Imoen. Her voice was gentle "We will find a way, child."
Imoen glanced up, angrily wiping the tears from her cheeks. "What are we gonna do, Jaheira? We don't have any spells left! We don't have any potions, or… or any scrolls…."
Jaheira nodded, pressing her lips into a thin line. "You speak the truth, child. Anomen and I have no spells."
Jaheira looked again at Valygar. The meaning in her eyes was unmistakable, but she said nothing more.
Valygar clenched his teeth, but said nothing. The words to a healing spell were already drifting at the edge of his thoughts, but he pushed them away angrily. He would not speak them. Healing magic was divine, but it was magic. And he would not use it.
He looked back at Liana. The hand of fear clutched more tightly at his heart.
"There must be way," Jaheira said quietly. "It is not meant to end like this."
Jaheira paused, then turned to Sarevok. "Go to the dragon's hoard, Sarevok. You have seen it. Search for something, anything with the power to heal. Potions, scrolls, even a rod or wand can have such a purpose."
Jaheira looked at Imoen. "Go with him, Imoen."
Imoen began to protest, but Jaheira held up a hand. "He will need your help, child. If Sarevok finds something of use, you may be the only one among us with the knowledge to tell us what it is. And if you cannot, you can read the scrolls that can."
Imoen nodded hesitantly, then moved toward Sarevok. As she passed Valygar, she stopped and looked up at him with tear-stained eyes.
Valygar tore his eyes from Liana and looked down at Imoen. He could say nothing. Imoen said nothing, either, but put a small hand on his arm. She left it there for a moment. Valygar forced himself to relax slightly. Imoen managed a weak smile and pulled her hand away, following Sarevok into the darkness of the cave.
Jaheira nodded and focused her attention on Anomen. "Anomen, search the bodies at the entrance of the cave. There are many. There may be a potion on one of them, a scroll of healing."
Anomen nodded weakly, staring at Liana.
"Anomen!" Jaheira snapped. "We have little time. I will search the dragon's corpse and the bodies here. Go!"
Anomen looked up. "Shouldn't someone stay with Liana? Just in case…?"
Jaheira walked over to Anomen and gave him a rough shove toward the cave's entrance. "Valygar will stay with Liana, priest! Go!"
Anomen frowned in disbelief. "Valygar? But I…."
Valygar clenched his teeth against the anger rising in his chest. He took a step forward, but Jaheira shot him a warning look and continued quickly.
"Valygar will stay with Liana!" She pushed Anomen again, harder. "There is nothing more that you can do, Anomen! Valygar has had some experience with non-magical ways of healing. He may be able to help in ways that we cannot."
Jaheira growled and all but threw Anomen towards the cave's entrance. "Go, Anomen! Now!"
Anomen took a few stumbling steps. Then he straightened, saying coldly, "Very well." He threw another incredulous look at Valygar, then turned and stalked off into the gloom without another word.
Valygar watched Anomen disappear into the darkness. He turned and looked at Jaheira. "Jaheira…."
Jaheira stepped forward until she was only a few inches from where Valygar stood. She was tall for a half-elf, and she met his eyes easily. Hers were filled with worry, and sympathy, and hope. She spoke quietly.
"I know your secret, ranger. A few of them, in fact."
Valygar started to speak, but Jaheira cut him off with an impatient gesture. "I have traveled with many rangers, Valygar. I know that you have divine magic at your disposal. Not as much as I have, perhaps, and not as much as our friend Anomen."
Valygar ground his teeth, but said nothing.
Jaheira raised an eyebrow. "Anomen, then. But you have enough."
Valygar remained silent. He returned his gaze to Liana. She seemed so small in the darkness, so very still. Her dark curls had come free from their band, and spilled over the rocks. One small hand lay in the dust, her slender fingers curled gracefully.
Jaheira sighed. "I meant what I said, ranger. Liana has little time, and the chances of finding something in this cave that can help her is remote, at best. But I did not want the others here. I know you fear using any kind of magic, Valygar, and given your past, I cannot blame you for that. But I know also that you love her."
Valygar looked up sharply. Jaheira was smiling, her eyes full of understanding.
"I know the feeling in your eyes, Valygar. I have seen it before, and have even felt it myself, if you can believe it. But you have hidden it well. I do not think that Sarevok suspects, and Anomen… Well, he can see nothing beyond his own childish infatuation. I think Imoen, on the other hand, has known of your feelings for some time. And approves, or you would have heard."
Valygar shifted his weight and cleared his throat uncomfortably. "And Liana?"
Jaheira's smile softened. "She hopes, I believe, but does not know."
Valygar looked at Liana and took a deep breath. Jaheira laid a gentle hand on his arm.
"When this is over, ranger, and we are far from this place, perhaps you should speak to her yourself. Do not let your fear turn to regret. Life is short, and you and I have less time than some to so indulge."
Valygar looked up again. Jaheira smiled, gave his arm a gentle squeeze, and walked away.
Valygar turned to face Liana. After a moment, he walked to where she lay and dropped to his knees beside her. He whispered softly, "Liana?"
There was no response. He had expected none. He reached for her hand.
"Liana, if you can hear me…."
With his other hand, he gently turned her face to his. The bile rose in his throat. One half of her face was covered in blood. An angry gash split her cheek from ear to chin. Her lip was torn, her nose bruised and bleeding.
He felt a tear slip from his eye. This should not have happened to her. He should have been at her side.
He curled his fingers around hers and lay a gentle hand on her forehead. "Liana, don't leave me. Please…." he pleaded, his voice hoarse. He moved his thumb softly over her hand. If he could speak a healing spell, perhaps she would live. But the curse…. He searched her face, one fear warring with another.
He could not let her die.
He began the spell slowly. The words were unfamiliar, ancient words whose meaning he did not understand. It did not matter now. It was not a terribly powerful spell, but it should be enough to stop the bleeding and give her more time.
He began to speak faster as he felt a strange warmth enter him. Faster still. He watched in amazement as a golden light gathered around his hand and began to pass into Liana. It grew until it covered her completely. It lasted only a moment, then faded until they sat again in darkness.
He waited for what seemed an eternity. There was no change. Liana lay motionless, her tiny hand in his. His heart sank. Her hand felt cool. Too cool.
He had failed.
He lowered his head and closed his eyes. His whisper was so soft it was all but lost in the shadows. "I'm sorry, Liana. I'm so sorry. If I had not been so afraid, I could have been in time to save you. If I had not been so afraid, I could have told you…."
He could not continue. His hands were trembling, and another tear slipped down his cheek. Then another. His hands were shaking so badly now that he did not feel the first movement of her fingers. He barely heard her voice.
Valygar's eyes flew open. He lifted his head. Liana was awake, looking at him through swollen eyes.
He breathed her name, and she smiled.
"Did we win?"
Valygar chuckled softly, disbelieving. Relief swelled in his chest until he feared that he would come apart, and the knot in his throat would not let any words free. Slowly, he reached up to brush a curl from Liana's forehead. As he pulled his hand back, he traced a dark finger along her uninjured cheek and over her jaw. Her skin was impossibly soft. She sighed softly and closed her eyes, turning into his touch.
"We won," he whispered at last.
Her smile widened, but did not open her eyes.
Valygar smiled, too, and lifted her hand to his lips. It was warm, and soft. He let his lips linger for a moment on her skin. Then he lowered his head and touched his forehead to her fingers, closing his eyes. Her fingers curled tenderly around his, and he breathed out a contented sigh.
He was no longer afraid.