Chapter 38: War
So now you'd better stop and rebuild all your ruins,
For peace and trust can win the day despite all of your losing.
Immigrant Song – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
The Road to Rule was filled with Darkness. It dripped from every fogged area, fell into the endless chasm below. It poured and oozed from opened and unopened chests, squelched beneath Naveena's pajama shoes as she walked. It dripped from above – a hellish sort of rain.
At the end, there was her Castle, distorted and blurry, like an oil painting left out in the rain to warp and distend. And at the foot of the stairs, surrounded by black ooze, was Theresa.
"I thought you abandoned me, Seer." Naveena said, shoulders squared like a warrior. Theresa shifted from foot-to-foot, hands pulling at her fingers in front of her. She looked – though she had the strangest of faces, a face like a mask slipped over to hold in her emotions – anxious. Like someone who'd been chased and stalked over and over. "I didn't quite live up to your expectations."
Theresa searched her face, with those blind eyes and, not for the first time, Naveena wondered how blind the 'Blind Seer' truly was.
"Yes." Theresa said, in the breathy tone of hers. "That is what I said, was it not, princess?"
Black dripped. A drop of it caught on the side of Naveena's cheek, and she swiped it away with some urgency. It reeked – and reek was the right word for it, indeed – of something tangy and more metallic. Something akin to – but not quite – blood.
"Fates change." Theresa continued. "They change, and meld, and move all around. Albion's fate has come out of the darkness. Slowly, carefully, eventually."
Naveena let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding in, "And me?"
"You have always been in the Darkness, princess." Said Theresa, with lack of care. "Your mother knew it, as did I."
"I…" Naveena paused, felt her tongue dry up and the words within die.
"The Darkness was always your fate." Theresa inclined her head forward, a nod. "You were born into it, you lived to face it."
"So, what?" Naveen found something within her to speak. "Everything that's happened – the people I've met, the relationships I've created – it doesn't matter? It's… never mattered?"
"It never does, princess."
The ooze crawled over the half-bared skin on her feet. She could feel it slime and slink its way over her, and Naveena nearly clawed at it.
"What was I, Theresa?" Naveena asked. "Was I just a tool for some greater good of yours?"
Theresa seemed to stare at her, with empty eyes. Naveena felt something sharp in her chest, a lancing pain that hurt deeply and straight to her heart. There was a long pause filled only by noise of black ooze as it slowly ate away and engulfed the Road to Rule.
"I have only ever served the purposes of Albion." Theresa said, finally. "Your mother knew this, and accepted it."
"What gives you the right to decide what our greater good is?" Naveena asked. "What my purpose is? What are you going to do to my son, when his time comes?"
"Your son is meant for great things, princess." Theresa paused again, whether to collect her thoughts or to edge out some dramatic overtone. "He is a Hero."
She could hear the capital in that word, and hated it. Because, to her, Hero seemed synonymous with so many other things like Alone, and Dead, and even Forgotten. Because that's how Sparrow ended up. And, it seemed, that was her own fate as well.
"No." Naveena said, angrily. "I don't want him to be a Hero."
"Then you bring the destruction of Albion all around."
Naveena shook her head, "But if it means he can be happy, then it's worth it."
"You're a selfish woman, princess." Theresa said.
"And that makes you a hypocrite." Naveena glared, eyes ferociously blue. "But we both know that, don't we?"
There was a long, pregnant silence. Something close to a smile pulled at Theresa's mouth, amusedly.
"The Darkness is here," Theresa said. "You've prepared yourself the best you could—"
"Which still wasn't enough." Interrupted Naveena, sourly.
"Now is not a time to dwell on such things, princess. " Theresa retorted, calmly. "The Darkness is upon us."
Naveena could feel the weight of the ooze as it crawled up her leg, trying to drag her down. The memory of what had happened in Shadelight pulled around her brain, dragging it to the surface. She could remember the helplessness she felt, the words of the Crawler as they echoed about the inside of her head.
Theresa only smiled – and that was it.
Naveena awoke in a cold sweat, and reached out from someone that wasn't there. That would never again be there, for as long as she lived.
And it was all her own fault.
Reaver stood next to Kalin around the Map Table, with a bored look on his face. Which, of course, marked him as different among the group that stood around the Map for the rest of them had worried, terse looks. But Reaver, who had lived through various scenarios in which the people of Albion had thought their doom upon them, saw no real threat. In actuality, he could have cared less what happened to the people of Albion.
He was here simply because he was required – and wasn't that the truth? – to make an appearance. Caring was not required, of course, so he didn't subject himself to the niceties of such things. He lent a small part of his focus lazily onto Naveena, onto the bags beneath her eyes and the hollow look within them.
Page was the first to speak, to fill the tense silence with something other than silence, "A quarter of the population… by the Light—"
Naveena's eyes drew up, her lips tightened, "Lamenting it," She started. "Will not bring back the dead. We have to fight for the living now." She glanced at Walter and continued, "Is the army prepared—"
"Two million dead," Page breathed, looking taken aback. It nearly made Reaver roll his eyes. "And you're—"
This time, Ben interrupted, "Page. Don't… really."
But Naveena answered that, in a sharp, cutting sort of voice, "It is my fault. I am aware of that. If you think that I am not, for even one moment , thinking about the loss that Albion has suffered… then you're a greater idiot than I've taken you for!" She glared. "But I will not, for even a single minute, spend the remaining hours moping while countless others die!"
The room was quiet, painfully silent, and lightning seemed to crackle between the two women that stared one another down. Naveena broke off the glare, returning her gaze to the Map, fingers clenched hard around the raised edge, deep into the grain of the wood as if she'd been rooted there.
Kalin, from beside Reaver, spoke up: "The sentries have placed the Darkness just on the edges of the Millfields, Your Majesty."
Reaver spied the way Naveena's fingers dug even deeper, the way her back seemed to stiffen. She seemed to be holding her breath, like time had been freezing up for her.
She narrowed her eyes and said, "We need to keep a small force within the Castle." A light pause, like she were waiting on some sort of reaction. "For the Prince." Her voice had a thin, wheezy quality to it.
Naveena continued, after a brief moment, "We will have to go through the city on three sides. Not to attack this time," She smiled a little. "But to defend."
Walter spoke up, gruffly, "Right. We need to prepare the armies, Your Majesty. They'll be on Bowerstone in a matter of hours."
Naveena nodded, and sighed, "Of course. This council is dismissed. Everyone should be in their respective areas when the Darkness hits Bowerstone, for we fight, or we die."
"Dying's no option." Walter grunted.
A small smile quirked on Naveena's lips, "No. Of course not."
Everyone but Reaver slowly filed out, tension in every muscle, for the day they'd all feared had finally come. Not without cost, of course not, for war never came without cost.
Naveena noticed that he lingered and asked, "What?"
"My, such hostility." Reaver feigned a chill. "The temperature's even gone down a few degrees!"
Naveena glared at him from across the Map Table and hissed, "I don't have time for this. Either you've got something to say or you don't."
Reaver looked lazily at her, this woman that had twisted her way into his daily life somehow, this girl that was Sparrow's daughter and replied, "Surely you don't blame yourself for the – ah- unfortunate deaths of these… people?"
Naveena looked at him with widened eyes, "Why, Reaver. I wasn't aware you cared."
"As much as I'd like to see these people washed away by the torrent of war…" Reaver gave a little shrug. "Well, it wouldn't be very good for me, yes? One surely cannot make a profit from the deceased."
"Maybe you're just not using your imagination." Supplied Naveena, sarcastically.
He shot her one of those terribly cocky and amused smirks, and replied, "Oh, I can certainly use my imagination… but really, what use is there in a world without people?"
"Is this personal growth I see?" Naveena smiled only a little, in a cautious way. "Reaver, your heart is showing!"
Reaver's eyes flickered with something that seemed both dismayed and disgusted and said, "What heart? I've left that in Oakvale, Your Majesty, centuries ago."
"I'm more inclined to believe you never had one at all." Replied Naveena, and there was something insidious in her voice, poisonous in the way she spat out those words. "How do you feel, Reaver? Knowing the pain you've caused in my life, here? Knowing what you've done to me, to my husband-"
"From what I hear, he is your husband no longer." Reaver's smirk was stiff, and it cut like a blade into Naveena's heart.
"He will always be my husband." She said, softly. "For at least he loved me."
"Is that what you expected from me?" Asked Reaver, faux-gentle, moving in towards her. Honing in, a predator seeking out prey. "Love?"
Naveena paused, and the silence seemed to stretch on for a thousand years. And then she said, with all the dignity she could muster in her voice, "I'm not entirely sure what I expected. And I'm a fool for it."
And she turned, facing the open doors, facing the tension that had insinuated itself into every muscle, and left him. She left Reaver, who stayed in the War Room, who looked after her as she left.
Naveena leaned down, against the crib, to look at her son. Dark hair was growing at his scalp, thin and downy, and the way he looked up at her – with eyes that were her own – made everything fall into place. Like a puzzle with the outer frame, just waiting to have all the pieces filled in, to fall into place and create something complete. Something whole.
"I want you to know something too." She said, and the nameless boy of hers was wide-eyed and gurgling. "Before I go out there."
He played with his toes, pulling at them, throwing off his blanket. Naveena fixed it for him, and he gave a slight high-pitched whine in protest.
"I might not come back." She continued, touching the child's face. It was soft beneath her fingers. Everything about him was soft, innocent. She tried not to imagine what would happen in the years coming – if maybe her son would lose his innocence, much like she did. If maybe he would be pulled into something far greater than himself.
The child was startlingly silent, then. Like he'd understood.
"I'll try. I will try, as hard as I can, to come back. To win this." Naveena supplied. "But I can't promise it. I've already broken too many promises, and maybe that makes everything I'm saying… not worth two gold coins."
Naveena took in a deep, harsh breath, thin between her lips, "But I have to come back, for you."
She paused, feeling a knot balling up in the back of her throat, "You're my son. So what does it matter if Elliot is gone and maybe…" She paused, again, then wet her lips. "Maybe even Reaver is gone? In the end, does something like that really matter? You're my son. I never… I never needed Elliot, or even Reaver, in the first place. Without them, I'm still me. I can still fight."
There was a small, quiet moment, something with seemed nothing at all like a quiet moment. It was… reverent in nature. Nigh ceremonial, in fact.
"I'm still a Hero, right?" A small sort of smile pulled at her lips, quirking almost. Like she'd been afraid to smile at all. "Yes. Yes, that's right. All these things that have happened, all that's occurred… I must move past it, must become something greater than it. I have to bury these things."
Naveena leaned forward, chest pressed against the edge of the cradle and kissed the forehead of her child.
And then, when she left the rooms. There was Logan, waiting for her.
"The battle is about to begin, sister." He said, quietly. There was something unbearably tenuous about his voice, something that made her feel for him all the more, made her heart ache and pain with no real reasons as to why.
"Yes," Her response felt numb in her own mouth. "I know."
They stared at one another for a long while, and Logan then said, "You did the best you could, sister."
"My best?" Naveena looked at him, feeling older than her twenty-three years. "I think not. So many people—"
"Did you think you could save everyone? In your condition? With all the events that have happened over the past year?" Logan gave her a pointed look, something that felt physical, like an sword or a spear. "With the nightmares that have tagged at your heel?"
Naveena joked, "Would you like the throne back after all this, Logan? I have no idea how you managed to last five years on the damn thing."
"I'm not the sort of leader that Albion needs right now." Logan replied. "I never was."
"Yeah, you're right." Naveena closed her eyes, then opened them again. "I just want you to know, that no matter what happens, you were the best brother I could have ever asked for. You're stubborn, and impossible, and you treat me like I'm still a child, but I am so glad, so happy that I have you."
Logan looked uncomfortable, looking down, away from her, "Thank you."
"Don't thank me." Said Naveena. "Just get ready for what is going to come."
"I've been preparing myself for the past five years," Logan said, looking at her, sternly. She felt like a child again, under that gaze. "Don't you dare think I've not been preparing myself."
"Show," Was her retort. "Don't tell."
And the two siblings went to war.
"The light in your eyes offends us! Let it go out!"
Her hammer swung true, and it was pleasing to watch the way the shadow's head caved in, fluidly, like it were made of water. She could feel Logan beside her, close, and saw him out of the corner of her eye as he drew himself forward, stabbing his own enemy.
There were many of these foul creatures, but they were a team. Something that the Darkness could fear.
"We have to find the Crawler!" She yelled out to Logan, pulling out her gun. It took a few shots for one of the shadows to dissipate. "If we kill—" She swung her hammer forth with a hiss between her teeth. "The leader, we kill the army!"
She could hear the yells of her people, everywhere. Screams and bangs and pops. Several of the guard surged past her, toting rifles and fierce expressions. And, with all of this, the world around seemed to slowly lose something – something that gave a glow to the surroundings. Life, maybe.
Logan's head drew back, and there was something wild in his eyes, terrible and dark, "Yes." He said. Blood welled from a wound on the side of his head.
Naveena nearly moved to him, but paused, taking notice of her surroundings now. Logan seemed to see what she saw, for his eyes widened and his whole body tensed, like a bowstring being pulled gripped the handle of his sword even tighter, white-knuckled.
"They're on the move." Naveena noted, her voice feeling very thin.
Logan looked at her, pinning her with his gaze, "Sister—"
But she ran, bolting, pushing past him with a hammer on her back. Logan cried out something she couldn't hear – muffled as it was by yells and screams and the sound of people throwing water on fires – because she saw, she saw the direction that the Darkness moved in, the way the Crawler saw fit to ruin her.
In the distance, Bowerstone Castle loomed like something out of a nightmare, near black in the shadows. The streets of Bowerstone Market were deserted, save the occasional civilian pushing themselves deeper into shadows as she passed. As if that would make them disappear at all.
"Run, run little Hero!" The Crawler's voice felt like it came from within, arching through her skull like electricity. There was something sickening about that voice, something that made her want to vomit. "We know what lies in that selfish shell of yours! We know all the darkness that lies within you, all that you try to hide!"
Naveena ran, and ran, and ran towards the Castle. Logan pursued her, and from behind Walter cried out a curse as they broke from the formation. At the sloping hill which led into the Castle District, Logan caught up, snatching Naveena by the wrist, holding her there. She whipped around to face him, looking wild and untamed in her terror - an animal backed into a corner.
"It knows," She hissed. "It knows my son is in here. It's bringing them here—"
"To bring you here!" Growled Logan, gripping her arm harder.
"I can't just let the Crawler move here," Naveena whispered, her voice strenuous. "Not without… you've seen it Logan, you know what it's like. You can't just think I'll…" She stopped, her throat drying up, closing in on itself.
Logan said, in a voice that was dry and expressionless and just cold, "People die. You, me, our mother, the people of Albion…" He leaned forward and whispered, half-gentle, "Your son."
She pulled her arm out his grasp, wrenched it, "No!"
She disappeared into the Castle District, breaking free of Logan's grasp. And he bolted after her again, chasing her down, his heart beating wildly in his chest as he did. He could hear, amidst the sounds of war, footsteps from behind and he was surprised to see Reaver, running after him.
He vocalized his surprise, "Reaver!"
Reaver ran past him, and Logan was surprised at how quickly the man could move, and he yelled, "No time to chat, dear Logan! We've a Queen to catch, lest she does something incredibly stupid!"
And the two ran after her, hot on her heels.
Alright, I lied. This actually isn't the penultimate chapter. However, before any of you yell at me, I AM SO DAMN SORRY THAT SORRY ISN'T ENOUGH.
I am going through what is, quite possibly, the longest bout of writer's block that has ever occurred. And for this, I AM SORRY SORRY SORRY.
I was, actually, going to write the whole penultimate chapter. However, I thought the terrible span of four months was terrible, and so I've cut Chapter 38 into two parts, just so I can remind you all that yes, I am alive and no, I haven't abandoned Avarice.
Sorry is honestly not enough, so I've an olive branch to give you all.
I'd like each and every one of you to drop a Fable fic prompt in my Private Messages. I'll print these out, cut them out and hand pick ONE IDEA from a little hat and write it. It can be WHATEVER THE HELL YOU'D LIKE. Smut, crack, whatever.
Keep in mind that if it IS smut, it will be posted at my tumblr account, sploringis2spooky and at my AO3 account. NOT ON FF NET, thanks to the tight rule changes that have been initiated since last I was here.
Feedback is, as always, appreciated and I can promise the next wait will not be as long.