“It’s good you’re awake,” Trester said calmly somewhere beside him. His voice sounded distant. Arem blinked and looked toward him. His head ached. He could barely focus. “You have some answers I need.”
Arem blinked again, staring up at the tent covering. Everything seemed so vague, so confusing. And then, everything seemed to flood back toward him. “Where’s Mercea?” he asked.
“What? You mean you didn’t kill her!” He started to rise, but a woman forced him back onto the bed. His head pounded, threatening to make him black out. Closing his eyes for a moment, he took in a several deep breaths. When he focused on the woman’s blurred face, he could barely make it out. “We have to…”
“That’s right. She’s gone. Now, about those questions.”
“Wait. Wait,” Arem said, frowning, interrupting King Trester again. Nausea rose up in the back of his throat. He closed his eyes, fighting back the feeling. “What do you mean she’s gone? What did you do?” Trester didn’t answer, making Arem snort. Even that made pain erupt through his head. He took in several more deep breaths. “Why didn’t you listen to me when I told you to kill her? Couldn’t you see she was different? She has a demon inside of her. We have to kill her. We have no choice. She’ll be the ruin of Hartland.”
Trester stared past him, lost in thought. Arem wished he could shake the man just so he could get one word from him. Instead, he was forced to endure the silence. Lying motionless was the only way to make the throbbing more bearable. Besides, he didn’t think the woman would allow him to rise just yet. Arem looked over at Trester again, seeing the evident worry in the man’s face.
“There’s something you’re not telling me. What is it?” Arem asked, breaking the silence. The woman with short black hair nudged him in warning. Arem ignored her as he studied Trester. “What did you learn, Trester? Tell me.”
“That’s your Majesty,” Galtrand growled. “He is King of Cascade and deserves respect. Show it.”
“Respect is earned. Keeping me detained here is not the way to earn my respect or trust.” Arem looked to Trester again who still hadn’t said a word. He could see the worry in the man’s brilliant blue eyes and the lines which had formed around his frowning mouth. “Well, your Majesty, what did you learn? What’s troubling you?”
“I’m not entirely certain,” Trester answered in a gentle voice. He sat down and met Arem’s eyes. “Mercea, or whatever she is now, seemed to recognize me for something. I’m not sure what or who, but I know it frightened him, her, or whatever she is now.” He placed his hand over his mouth, squeezing his lips together, as he sat in deep thought. Arem continued to stare, waiting for the man to explain further. “It doesn’t make sense. I know it. It had thought De’Nae had killed me. I sensed it wanted, no, it needed me dead. I plan to discover what the reason is. It also said I was related to Mercea.” He fell silent once more, staring at the far wall of the tent. Arem guessed the man was replaying the conversation he’d had with the demon. “It said I had no idea what I am and why I’m so important. The creature wouldn’t give me an answer. It might have told me had you not told me to kill it. It was all just poor timing.”
Arem laying there, thinking back to the battle. He barely remembered anything after Mercea had choked him. No. Not Mercea. It was the demon. Part of him wondered if she hadn’t enjoyed it a little herself though.
“Tell me, you at least tried to kill it.”
“I did, but she vanished. Admittedly, I don’t know how to feel about it. I…” Trester took in a deep breath and sighed it out. “I want to save Mercea. She doesn’t deserve such a fate. I don’t understand how this happened to her.”
“I don’t either. The Servants are supposed to be protected against such things,” Arem stated, remembering everything he had learned about the Servants when this had begun. “De’Nae must have found a way around it. She had power I couldn’t possibly begin to describe.”
“As do you. I know no other wytch who can do the things you can.” The statement came out more as an accusation.
The tent fell into silence again as they remembered the battle outside of Dawn Stone. It had gone by in a blur as they tried to remain alive and see the war ended. Arem remembered entering the king’s chamber and finding the glass globe empty. He remembered the fear racing through him at what it had meant. He remembered seeing Mercea down on the steps to the palace with demons bowing to her as she slaughtered them.
“He said something to me as well.”
Trester looked to him, frowning. “How do you know it was a he?”
Arem studied the king. Somehow their future was intertwined. He just didn’t know how yet. “He said I must know the secret then. When I asked him what secret, he told me it didn’t matter. He could feel its presence inside of me.”
“How do you know it’s a he?” Trester repeated.
“I came across a few things while researching the Servants which led me to believe the demon inside the globe was Verite.”
Trester scrutinized him for several moments. “What presence in you?” he finally asked. “You aren’t one of them, are you? It’d explain your different abilities.”
Arem laughed. “No.” He sat up, surprised the woman had allowed him to. He looked between the three in the tent with him. His eyes widened. It was so obvious now. “Of course!” As he rose, two sword points met him, making him remain where he was. “Is that really necessary?” he asked them. “I’m a wytch. If I had wanted to harm King Trester, I could have done so from where I was.”
“Tell me what you know. It’s the only way you’re leaving here. I’m done playing games. We’re running out of time.”
Arem sighed heavily. He met Trester’s eyes and knew the man would use his magic on him.
“About a month ago, I discovered demon’s blood increased my power. I was using it throughout the fight to augment my abilities to ensure the men who traveled with me and I survived until we had accomplished our goal.” He fell silent, realizing he didn’t know what had befallen Relyck or the other man. “They survived, right? Verite didn’t kill them, did he?”
“They’re outside, waiting for me to release you. They were going to try to stop me from taking you, but something changed their mind.” Trester shook his head, smirking. “They said I had no right. I suppose they were right, but here you are and you still owe me answers.”
“I’m surprised.” Arem had never expected such loyalty from them. Trester looked to him for an explanation. Arem knew he didn’t owe the king anything, but something compelled him to explain. “When I first learned about this… this ability, it had been in an accident during a skirmish with some demons at the Desert border. I killed some of the soldiers. I couldn’t control the power and it made me crazy. The first time it happened, I remember very little of it. It took nights of me experimenting with it to learn control.” When he saw the woman and Trester glance at each other, he was curious. “Anyway, they hadn’t trusted me. I didn’t blame them. All it would really take is an accident and I could kill them all. So, that they’re outside, waiting for me, is a bit of a surprise.”
Trester met the woman’s eyes again who stared at him accusingly. Trester turned back to Arem with a grim face. “I had a similar accident out on the battlefield. When the blood first touched an open wound, I sent out ice crystals in every direction, killing several demons, and unfortunately, some of our own men. It was an accident and I wasn’t sure what it had meant. However, I believe it’s worth exploring. After the initial surprise of the increase to my power, it was easy to control. It seems the demon inside of Mercea sees something to fear of it, even if I find the idea disgusting.”
“You were able to control it just like that?” Arem felt a twinge of jealousy. Trester stared at him for several moments. Arem sighed again. “I’d like to know what the demon meant by secret. I don’t expect you to know it, but is this the secret? Also, why would demon blood augment a wytches’ power? I’ve been asking myself this for a while now.” Trester turned from him and nodded toward Galtrand. Arem watched the guard approach him. “Trester, please. What do you know? What aren’t you telling me?”
The King of Cascade met his gaze. A deep worry had settled into his brilliant blue eyes. He gave a single nod to Galtrand before looking toward Arem again. “I must swear you to secrecy on the matter before I can tell you anything. The world isn’t ready for such information, especially after everything that has happened. Even if you swear it, I’m not certain I can trust you. Mercea never could. You must have given her reason for that.”
“I swear my silence,” Arem stated. Trester stared at him long and hard, making him sigh. “I will swear an oath of blood if I must.”
Trester didn’t respond immediately, still studying him. Arem met his stare. “No. I don’t think it’ll be necessary.” The king looked toward the others in the room before meeting his eyes again. “Somewhere in our past, our ancestors mated with demons to form wytches. It’s why being a wytch runs in bloodlines.”
Arem had no idea what to say. It sounded impossible. What human could possibly want to breed with a demon? Had it been by choice? Did the demons make it happen in an effort to control humans? There were too many questions racing through his thoughts to properly form. He looked to Trester, hoping the man had an explanation.
“Why would they do that, your Majesty?” he asked when silence ensued. “I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t see myself being… uh…. intimate with one of those monsters.”
Trester gave him a half-smile. “From what I understand and from what the book I read told me, wytches were created to help the Servants fight evil. It might not have been a choice for some people.” Trester shook his head. A distant look came to him before he sighed. “It doesn’t matter. The Servants couldn’t trust the wytches because of our heritage, so we were cast aside. Because of the power running through our veins, the rest feared us. They still do. If they were to discover this information, I’m afraid the fear would only grow.”
Arem met Trester’s serious eyes. “Am I free to go?” he asked. Trester nodded. As he took a step forward, he stumbled. The woman caught and held him upright. Arem blinked back the pain.
“I have a Mender coming to the tent to look over you. I suggest you stay and allow him to see to your wounds.” Arem sat back down on the bed, thinking it a good idea. “All I ask is you stay near. We’ve discovered something remarkable and I think we’re going to need each other before the end.”
So, Trester had felt it, too. When Arem met the king’s eyes, he saw determination in them. “Are you planning to go after Mercea?”
“Yes. If she is in fact my ancestor, the only remaining family I have left, I owe it to her.” Trester fell silent for a moment, playing with the hilt of a dagger at his belt. “Besides, she’s a Servant. If we can somehow save her, wouldn’t it be worth it? How often has Mercea saved Hartland? How often has she risked everything to make certain we’re safe? We owe it to her. If I have to, I’ll make the others see it as such.”
Arem hesitated in answering. He’d been through a lot with Mercea. She had never trusted him. She had made certain he knew it. Now, he knew why. Mercea was one of the oldest Servants still alive. She probably understood more about wytches than a wytch did. She certainly knew about their ancestry. He also wondered who in Mercea’s family had mated with a demon. It could explain her distaste for wytches.
A small smile twitched at the corners of his mouth as he imagined the look on her face if he was the one who discovered a way to save her. He imagined it would be much the same look when she saw him standing there, behind her, planning to kill her.
“You have my word, I’m not leaving.”