From where he stood on top of a sand dune, he stared out across the glistening sand. His brown eyes took in all the dead bodies; demon and human alike. All the blood soaking into the sand. All the dismembered body parts. There were less bodies littered across the ground than he had expected.
Sadness came to him as he stared at them. He looked to each of their faces, some were mutilated beyond recognition. Horrific images flashed through his mind as he remembered the battle. He knew it could have gone much worse.
He felt for the families who had lost someone here today. Sorrow encompassed his eyes as he stared at the few remaining bodies of demons. At one point, they, too, were human.
The battle was over, except for a few fights. Unfortunately, Arem knew the war wasn’t. There was still much to do. Mercea knew it and had already started making plans. If not for him, she’d still not know what was happening. He hated how he had to deceive her to get her to see what King Barend was doing.
She would have ended up in Carthoda on her own, but it would have ended in disaster. She would have never escaped and King Barend would have her. Arem didn’t know the kings plans. He didn’t imagine they were beneficial to anyone but the king.
Even if she didn’t admit it, she had needed him. He hated the fact he had to manipulate her and put her in danger, but the Servant hated wytches and hadn’t wanted to listen to him. Things could have gone so much easier if she’d just listened to him.
His eyes landed on Urian’s shifting body. He watched Ogden crawl out from under it, unscathed. The moment he saw the man, Arem understood what had happened. From the look of awe on the others’ face, they did as well. He wondered if the man knew what he’d gotten himself into by accepting Servanthood. Ogden’s life had changed forever. He could no longer do what he thought was right. He had to do Their bidding.
Arem turned his gaze to Mercea. She would go after King Barend in a futile attempt to reverse the damage the man had caused. There wasn’t a way. He had researched and researched and had tried and tried. He had even managed to capture a few demons in an attempt to turn them back. It was only then he had killed his sister when there was no hope left for her.
During his research of trying to reverse what was done to his sister and countless others, it was how he had discovered information about the Servants of the Old Gods. It was how he had discovered who Mercea was, though he hadn’t discovered why Barend wanted her.
It was pure chance he was in the throne room when King Barend had given the order to capture Mercea. De’Nae had assured them the Servant wouldn’t be a problem. After reading about her, Arem had known otherwise and knew he had to act. He knew he couldn’t allow King Barend and Queen De’Nae to gain access to her. He could only imagine what they wanted of her. As he had listened to their orders, it was then Arem had started forming a plan to counter the king.
At the time, all he had wanted to do was run a dagger through the man’s heart for everything he’d done. He hadn’t acted, knowing he couldn’t get close enough. There were too many guarding the king. Too many creatures ready to kill him at a moment’s notice.
From where he stood on the sand dune, he looked down to Trester. The man was killing demons who hadn’t disappeared. The Seeress appeared behind him from nowhere. When Arem realized what the woman was planning, it was too late.
Her dagger sunk into Trester’s chest. She said something to him wearing a twisted smile before showing herself as the Queen of Carthoda. And then, she vanished.
Arem raced down the sandy hill, sliding in places to reach the man faster. He knelt beside him. Trester’s pulse was weak and his breathing so shallow he appeared dead. Blood was pooling under the man, soaking into the sand.
Placing his hands over Trester’s wounds, Arem closed his eyes to concentrate. A pale light erupted from his hands. Trester’s skin stitched back together. Trester gasped, breathing life into his lungs again. He attempted to sit up. Arem steadied him.
“Easy friend, you’re weak. Don’t overdo it. You’ve lost a lot of blood.”
“Rosha,” Trester whispered.
“Yes, I know. I saw what happened. I’ll tell the others. Stay still.”
“You’ll tell us what?” Mercea asked in her cold tone. He looked up at her and sighed. “What did you do to him?”
“Nothing,” Arem answered through clenched teeth. “Why would you think it was me? Why would I even do this? There was no reason to.”
“It was Rosha,” Trester whispered. He tried to rise, but Arem forced him to stay. “Janessa!” Trester shoved him away. “I have to get to her.”
“Why? What did Rosha say?” Arem asked.
“She said she couldn’t let any of the Stone’s live.” Tears streamed down his cheeks. “Don’t tell me she’s dead. Please, don’t tell me she’s dead.”
Mercea turned her fierce, golden eyes, specked with green, on him, as he hurried toward the palace. Arem faltered. He knew she hated him. She viewed him as a coward. She thought him a man who’d run when things became difficult. He had never imagined she’d think him a murderer though.
“Where were you hiding?” Mercea asked. “You just seemed to have disappeared. Again.”
“He helped save your life quite a few times, Mercea,” Ogden said, coming to his defense. “He saved my life, too.”
“Let him explain.”
Arem stared at her in silence. After Ogden had rushed up Urian’s side, he had raced up the sand dune to protect him and Mercea. He couldn’t continue from where he was. Demons were swarming him. Fighting his way to the top of the sand dune was difficult but he had made it. From there, he could see everything. He could see where his magic was needed.
“Rosha isn’t Rosha,” he answered, refusing to argue with her.
“Is she who you thought she was?”
“Yes. She stabbed Trester, changed her appearance, and disappeared. It seemed she wanted Trester to know who killed him before she left.” Arem fell silent for a moment. He met her eyes. “She was never so powerful before. It worries me how she obtained that power.”
“Did you try to stop her? Or was that part of your plan as well?”
Arem growled at her. “There was no time to! How was I supposed to stop her! I was up there, protecting you,” he said, pointing to one of the tallest sand dunes.” He turned away from her. “Forget it. It’s not worth my time. The point is, she possess power she shouldn’t.”
Mercea frowned. “It doesn’t make sense. Why would his wife pose as a Seeress who he’d then kidnap? Why would she go through all that trouble? If I was her target, why didn’t she just kill you and attempt to take me back at the lake?”
“You’re right. It doesn’t make any sense, but I know what I saw.”
“I think she was planning to come back to you, Mercea, when we found her in the Spindle Mountains,” Trester said. “She didn’t know we were there. She didn’t know King Barend sent us as back up. He doesn’t trust his wife. I don’t blame him. When we found her, she was circling back. Maybe she was returning to you to capture you.”
“Why wouldn’t she try to escape though? If she is as powerful as she seems, it would have been easy,” Ogden said, frowning. “Why allow herself to be captured, and let it continue for so long?”
“I think it was because of me,” Trester answered. “She was most curious about me. I thought it was because she saw an opportunity for freedom with me. I’m uncertain what her real plans were or why she didn’t try to kill me sooner.”
The moment they entered the courtyard of the North Gardens Palace, silence hit them. Arem looked about. His eyes landed on King Maik. He was holding the limp form of a woman’s broken body against him. He wept silent tears. Galtrand sat there, staring at them. Emotionless. Unable to move.
Trester’s face paled as he hurried to his sister. He didn’t touch her. He stood there, staring at her lifeless face. His clenched jaw accompanied the fists at his side. A dark look came to his brilliant blue eyes, turning them several shades darker.
Mercea stared at the woman, grim-faced. A look of defeat and great sorrow sat in her eyes. Arem studied her for several moments, wondering what it meant.
“Heal her, like you did me,” Trester said. Arem looked to him in surprise. “Heal her, damn it! Save her!”
“I can’t bring back the dead, Trester. There’s nothing I can do. I’m sorry.”