Authors: Jeremy Laszlo
Book Seven of The Blood and Brotherhood Saga
By Jeremy Laszlo
© 2014 by Jeremy Laszlo.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author.
All characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Books by Jeremy Laszlo
The Blood and Brotherhood Saga
(Young Adult Paranormal Fantasy, Ages 15+)
Orc Destiny Trilogy (A Blood and Brotherhood series)
(Dark Fantasy, Ages 13+ for gore and violence)
The Beyond Series
(Adults only due to extreme mature content)
Beyond The Soul (The Beyond Book Three)
Children of the After series
(post-apocalyptic, Ages 10+)
Squinting against the blinding rays reflecting off of the blanket of snow on the ground, Seth listened to the crunching beneath his feet that came with every step. He imagined that each crunch was another life he had ended without the right to do so, and with every step his heart grew heavier. The sun ahead, then, must certainly be the personal hell he deserved for all he had done, awaiting him just beyond the horizon. These, and darker thoughts, had plagued him for the entire seven days he led his small army westward, towards the kingdom once owned and abandoned by the now dead, King Robert Sigrant.
Blinking away the dryness of his eyes, he licked his chapped lips and squinted into the sun he followed.
Following would be better
, he thought. He had never wanted to be a leader. Never even wanted to be
an army, let alone lead one. Leaving Valdadore with the mutated men, women, and children he had created had been hard enough. But this… this was altogether unfathomable.
The very first night they began to come, those who sought to follow him into some unknown future. Hundreds at first had rushed to join his meager ranks, and then more. They called him everything from a hero to the savior of mankind, and each time it made the pit in his soul bigger. Without even looking back he could count them. Seven thousand, three hundred and nine. Most were too young to even be on their own, yet because of the disease he had brought to Valdadore, because of his desire to protect himself from the pain of loss, he had made orphans of them.
He had done this, and it was his duty to them -- to lead. Not that he wanted to, but he had to. For whatever twisted reason fate had seen fit to bestow upon him, they believed in him. They believed he was more than he was. They believed that he would lead them to some bright and glorious future where life would somehow again be good. But Seth couldn’t see it. Ahead, instead, he saw more fighting and more death.
It would come, Seth knew. War. Death. They both stalked him. He could feel their icy clutches upon his heart and taste their foulness in the air. He could not escape them. They were his fate. They were what had driven him from Valdadore, not Garret’s words. His brother’s pain, rage, and hatred had hurt Seth, but he had left to protect his brother and his home from himself. Shaking his head, he wondered how Garret fared. In their final moments together Seth had seen a change in his brother. For days, perhaps weeks, the king had approached a precipice, but with the death of Linaya he had tumbled down, and Seth could think of no way to save him. He couldn’t even save himself. His only option was to leave.
Telling himself for the millionth time that one day he would return, he lowered and shook his head. One day when he was stronger and when he could fix all he had done, he would return to his brother and repair that which he had broken. If, of course, love was something that could be repaired. Seth could only hope.
Feeling about him with his power, he again counted all those auras that now were so close to his bloated power that they were consumed within it. Seven thousand, three hundred and nine. Some were farmers, others had lived in the city. Two were red-robed mages, another was a healer, and more showed signs of godly blessings as well, though their talents remained a mystery. Unfortunately, Seth simply didn’t care enough at present to be intrigued by such a mystery, such was his self-loathing.
Further down the road behind them, another group rushed to catch up. Seventeen more. Scanning about them, he located no danger and simply let them come. There was no stopping them. No convincing them that it was folly to follow him. He’d tried several times, and never was he able to discourage a single soul.
“Do you plan to trudge on like this forever?” Sara broke the silence.
“Would you have me trudge on in another manner?” Seth asked, more out of habit than real interest.
“You’ve been either staring at the sun or your feet for hours. I get it, Seth, I do, but look at them. They have all come for you. They believe in you. I believe in you. I know it hurts, but this,” she said, gesturing to him with a flick of the wrist, “this doesn’t help anyone.”
“It isn’t supposed to help anyone. I have a lot to think about, and this is how I think.”
“No, this is how you attempt to punish yourself for things out of your control.”
“So it’s not my fault you are like this?” Seth snapped, gesturing at her the same as she had done to him.
“No, it is the fault of a goddess who gave you a power beyond your comprehension.”
“So I’m just too stupid to understand what I’m doing then, and that makes it okay to kill thousands?”
“That’s not what I said,” Sara defended.
“No, but it is the damn truth. Had I been smarter, had I looked deeper, had I studied harder and understood better that which I was getting myself into, maybe I could have prevented this!”
“Maybe,” Sara admitted, “or maybe this was Ishanya’s plan all along. Maybe she wanted you to make these mistakes. Maybe that is why she didn’t show you how to use your power. Maybe, somehow, this is all a part of her plan. She has had eternity to decide upon every detail, and if she can control virtually anything, then who are you to blame yourself? There is no way you can compete with power like that. Not as a person. Not even as the most powerful mage on Thurr. Only a god can fight a god and that’s what got us into this damned mess to begin with.”
“I should have told her no.”
“Should have, could have, would have… Anyone of us can make perfect decisions looking backwards, but that’s not what this is all about. What is important is looking back on the decisions we’ve made and using our mistakes and our pain to make better decisions in the future. Maybe that’s why they are following you. Maybe that is what they see in you. Maybe they see their past behind them, and their guts tell them that you will lead them to a better tomorrow.”
“Why the hell would they think that?” Seth asked, nearly spitting the words.
“Because I do. Because Borrik does. Because Jonas does.”
“Borrik and Jonas don’t count. I’ve changed them. I changed the way they think and understand. They don’t have a choice in the matter.”
“That isn’t true and you know it. Maybe their wolf side makes it easier for them to follow you, but they are men too. In their hearts they follow you because you
their leader. They follow you because you can make the world better. If you want to hurt… Fine. If you want to mourn the past and those lost to it… Fine. But don’t you mope along like a helpless puppy that’s been whipped for shitting in your master’s house. They deserve better than that,” she said, looking back over her shoulder. “I deserve better.”
Seth knew she was right. He was using it all as an excuse. Yes, he felt torn by the loss of Garret’s love. Yes, he was afraid to venture outside of Valdadore, not because he thought he could be harmed, but because
could. Even Sara and Borrik were susceptible. At any given moment something could happen and more would die. Seth would do what he could to protect them, but he wasn’t perfect. And that was the real problem. He had failed them and knew for certain that he would fail them again. He couldn’t keep them alive. Not all of them. Some of them would die and there was nothing he could do about it. No matter how much he wanted to beat Ishanya at her game, he was on the losing end. They were mortals. They were destined to die. How, was the only question.
Staring ahead once more, Seth blinked as the sun slipped lower and lower towards the horizon. They did deserve better. Sara certainly deserved better. Borrik and his other troops did too.
For more than twenty minutes Seth continued to trudge on without much concern for where he was going. Mulling over Sara’s words, he realized that she had said more than she intended, likely more than she understood herself. He had to build an army of the likes the world had never seen. He was sworn to. But Ishanya never said
he had to build the army. Why fight, when he could subdue and convert? Could he not just as easily build an army another way? Could one build an army without conquering or defeating nations and kings to do so? Seth grinned towards the horizon growing red ahead. She truly was his angel.
* * * * *
Walking beside her husband, Sara couldn’t help but wonder if she had pressed him too hard. Seth above all others had sacrificed over the last months. He had lost everyone he loved minus her, and it was mostly his own doing. Not to say it was his fault, but he had been forced to make impossible decisions and had paid for them dearly.
With his father and brother both lost to him, Sara felt that there was a void inside Seth that might never be made whole again. She doubted that this wound would be like the hole in his chest that had been miraculously healed. No, this one would fester and bleed for eternity if not kept under a watchful eye. If nothing else, this was something she could do for him. Sara would help to guide him out from his inner darkness and away from the turmoil eating at him from within. If she could help him find his way again, that would be enough. He, like her, had never been stronger. With such strength and power there still had to be hope. Sara had to believe.
Turning her eyes to the sky she watched the speck in the distance dive and climb on the currents of the wind, wondering what it must be like to be able to fly like Borrik and Seth. Though she was not too fond of Seth’s relatively new appendages, she understood their necessity and usefulness. It wasn’t that it made him less human, as he was already so much more than the rest of them. No. It was simply because he no longer looked like the young man who had been the first person ever to stand up to John for her. His appearance would take some getting used to. Inside, however, she could still see the good through the darkness. Even with his struggles, the will to do better and create better thrived within him.
Lightly reaching out to touch Seth’s forearm, she reminded him yet again to slow his pace. Like her, with every ounce of power he gained, he began to live faster than their human kin. To Sara it wasn’t noticeable when talking to Seth, but the army at their backs had trouble keeping up even when she was nearly certain they were barely walking. People seemed so feeble like this. She couldn’t help but wonder how they had survived so long, being as vulnerable and slow as they were. She couldn’t even imagine herself that way anymore.
Looking skyward still, she watched as Borrik made a noticeable dip that was irregular and began to study the lay of the land ahead. Though the sun no longer caused her immense pain, her wounds healing as fast as they appeared, she squinted against the dryness in her eyes that seemed impossible to relieve. It was better than her eyes boiling out from their sockets, she admitted, but still annoying.