The Last War (Book #9 of the Sage Saga) (5 page)

BOOK: The Last War (Book #9 of the Sage Saga)
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Chapter 4 – Family

The grass upon which they walked began to brown and wither away. The sparse amount of trees that they encountered were dying, having given up on trying to produce the bright and verdant leaves that had once inhabited its branches. Grey and losing all of its color and luster, the trees acted as a sad signposts, signaling the end that was to come.

The air was sporadic. Sometimes it was cold and unforgiving. Other times it was warm and inviting. Occasionally it rained and drenched James and Catherine, and periodically, it would send a volley of hail onto the crowns of their heads.

It was as if the planet itself knew that it was dying, and unable to change that fact, it was throwing its final tantrum, hoping that someone would listen.

James and Catherine ignored it as best they could.

And the people as well.

The people of Paragon that had fled the cities and taken to the countryside for comfort were weary and sorrowful. Many were simply lying in the dead grass with their heads slumped onto their chests, wondering what they were living for. James wanted to give them hope at times, and tell them that there was sunshine and food back from where they came, but he knew that it was futile. Even those luscious lands would soon be consumed. The three worlds couldn’t go on this way.

“Look,” Catherine said, pointing in the distance and breaking his concentration. “It’s a house.”

“It is,” James said as they approached it. It was a small, makeshift thing. Someone had chopped down a few of Paragon’s trees and stacked them on top of each other for walls, but based on the way they were positioned, it was apparent that the architect was an amateur. The roof was flat, and only about seven feet from the floor, not to mention that it was an assembly of flat logs positioned next to each other. If it rained, there was no slope to run it off. The trees were as grey and dead as every other they had seen, and there were no windows.

James saw that there was no door in the front, making it look like a tent at the entrance. There were a couple chairs and several beds inside, and though it was a tight space with all of the furniture, he realized that the house itself had plenty of breathing room without it. If it was inhabited, they could easily remove the clutter.

Catherine walked into the house and bounced lightly on the wooden floor. It didn’t move, nor did it creak. It was just a little wet from the rain. She ran a finger across one of the chairs. The wood still held its shine.

“This place isn’t bad.” James said.

Catherine scoffed. “Thinking of moving in?”

“If no one lives here.”

“Someone does,” she said, pointing to the beds. “A lot, it appears.”

“They might have moved on. You saw all those people in the fields.”

“True,” she said, walking over to one of the few tables—no bigger than a square foot in size—and examining the wax that had once been brightly glowing candles.

“What do you think?” James asked as she walked around a little more.

“We can give it a shot,” she said. She was about to flash him a smile when she heard a thud from behind the house. She and James ran out and around to the back quickly, ready for action. But instead of an enemy, they found children. Four of them—all wearing tattered and soaking wet clothes that had once been from the finest cloths that Paragon had to offer.

James’ face softened. “Hey there,” he said, bending down onto one knee. The kids—all of different ages and sizes—scanned his face reluctantly.

“I’m Benny,” the littlest one said, biting his lip while he stared into James’ eyes with his bright blue ones. The eldest—probably thirteen—slapped his hand on Benny’s right shoulder and pulled him back into the huddle they had formed.

“Don’t talk to them,” the eldest said as James stood up tall.

“Why, Rupert? They’re nice.”

“You don’t know that,” Rupert replied, examining James’ belt.

James realized what he was looking for. “I don’t have any weapons on me,” he said. “And I wouldn’t hurt you even if I did. We were just looking for a place to stay. Is this your house?”

“IT IS!” shouted a little girl, her face covered by her long, wet black hair. “You can’t have it!”

“We wouldn’t take it without permission,” James said.

Catherine glared at him and then turned to the children. “Do you all live here? Where are your parents or guardians?”

“DEAD!” the black-haired girl screamed. Benny started to cry and Rupert scowled at her.

“What happened?” Catherine asked solemnly.

“There was a battle in the fields,” the other girl said. She had listless brown eyes and a hardened, angular face under her short, black hair. “We didn’t hear from them for days, and the cities were being evacuated because Cimmerian was coming. We found this place, and—”

“Don’t tell them that!” Rupert said. “They might take it if they know it’s not ours.”

“We’re not taking anything,” James said. “I just want to know what happened.”

“We look for them,” the girl continued. “But we don’t find anything. I don’t know where they are.”

“We could help you look,” Catherine said.

“Really?” the girl perked up, but Rupert cleared his throat.

“How would you help?” he asked.

“We know that there are a lot of dangers out there,” James replied. “And we would be able to defend you. We’re Sages.”

“Don’t you have plenty to do then?” Rupert asked.

“What do you mean?”

“The Sage Academy…it’s been destroyed. There’s nothing left of it.”

James looked over at Catherine and their eyes locked, but she didn’t say anything. She cast her gaze down to the grass.

James turned back to Rupert. “We were out on a mission,” he said, his voice cracking a little. “But…it doesn’t matter. We’re not fighting in this war. We just want to live in peace.”

“Fine,” Rupert huffed, “but if you try anything, I’m going to beat you up.”

“Agreed,” James laughed, throwing his hands up in the air. “And of course, you can still sleep in your beds. We’ll take the floor.”

“They can sleep in my bed,” Benny said, and Rupert rubbed his hand through the little kid’s hair. James and Catherine each took a step to the side, allowing the children to pass between them. James sighed and Catherine shook her head.

“The Sage Academy...I wonder what happened exactly.”

“It’s Harry and Lucy’s responsibility now,” he said. “But I would understand if you want us to go over there.”

“No, no,” she said, rubbing her forearm. “I think this is good for us. Getting involved will only bring us more heartache.”

“I’ve had enough of that,” he said, walking over to her and wrapping his arms around her. “And I need this time to heal.”

“I know,” she said, giving him a kiss on the cheek. “And I want to see you through every step of the way.”

 

*              *              *

 

“How’s the shoulder?” Daisy asked as Scarlet grunted in response. “That good, huh?”

“Shut up!” the Delilah guard whispered as he hit Daisy in the back of the head with his rifle. The blow caused her to stumble and immediately, two more guards came to her side and picked her up by the arms.

“How much further do we have to walk?” Marie groaned. The guard behind her raised his gun when one of his comrades came to his side and placed a hand on his shoulder, letting him know that she wasn’t to be harmed so harshly. She couldn’t heal like the others.

“We need quiet,” the leader of the pack ordered. “We’re going to be coming across an important sect of the Cimmerian army. You’re going to help us take them down. Don’t worry, you’ll still be watched closely, and any defiance will be met with resistance.”

“I can’t be there,” Marie said as she limped along. The bullet that had gone through her foot had been taken out, but her wound hadn’t been dressed up properly. By putting so much weight on it, she could see herself bleeding through the tightly woven bandages.

“We’ve heard that you’re a strategist,” the leader said, looking back at her for a second. “You will stay back with me and assess the battlefield.”

“If things go bad, I won’t be any help.”

“It’s not my concern. Perhaps your friends will do their job and keep you safe.”

Marie glared at the back of his head. “Whatever deal Tyuin made with you, it’s not worth it. You actually think he’ll honor it to the end? Just because you’re on top right now, it might not stay that way.”

“We’re ensuring that it will stay that way,” he said as he lifted his fist in the air. The guards behind him dropped to one knee after kicking their prisoners to the ground. Daisy ended up scraping her cheek up against a rock.

“If the information is correct, there should be fifty,” the leader said to his second-in-command. “We have twelve plus the Sages. We have to be careful. Unshackle them and send them out first. I want four of us in the treetops above them at all times with poison armament at the ready. If it looks like any of them are going to escape, then feel free to kill them. We don’t need any rogues in the bunch.”

“We’re all rogues,” Marie muttered.

“They won’t risk you harm,” he said as the guards took out their keys, and began working the locks on the steel stocks and gauntlets that kept their arms and legs most immobile. When they were freed, they began stretching. Talia counted the number of Delilah with them—only eight. The four who would be watching them closely had already left.

“What now?” she asked, rubbing her wrists.

“Kill them,” the leader replied through his large, tinted blue goggles. “I don’t care how you do it. But be careful. They are supposed to be a little more advanced than the average Cimmerian. They come from deep within their world—warriors that have been training for centuries. They are the equivalent of Paragon’s Ancient Knights.”

“And you think we have enough men here?”

“We have our weapons,” he said. “And you saw how easily it was able to subdue you. Now, quit talking. Get to work.”

“Hmph,” Talia said as she, Scarlet and Daisy walked toward the talking group. Side by side, they summoned their Sage robes and approached cautiously. It was still morning so they were still having breakfast, talking excitedly over what they would encounter. The Sages pressed their bodies up against a row of trees nearby and Talia stuck her head out. They seemed average, but they were obviously bonded to each other. They all had the same tattoo on the back of their neck—the outline of a crow with razor sharp wings.

“Let’s disorient them,” Talia said to Scarlet. “Fire it up.”

“Sure,” she said through tired eyes. She stretched out her hand and her halberd eidolon appeared. She twirled the staff in front of her and then ran to the right of Daisy and Talia. When she was several yards away, she slammed her halberd into the leaves beneath her feet and a wave of fire spiraled like a beam across the forest and straight toward the resting Cimmerians.

Before the fire hit, their conversation halted and Talia noticed that several of them jumped to attention, sensing danger in the air. The fire hit their campsite and they began spreading out to avoid being engulfed. Talia nodded to Daisy and they flanked them. Talia kept her sword hidden at her side while Daisy twirled her red hook swords.

They reached the first Cimmerian and took him down together, stabbing him through the chest and across the neck respectively. They took down the next without being noticed as well, but afterwards, the Cimmerians were beginning to catch on. A thin man in nothing more than a long t-shirt that reached his knees, ran at Talia with such speed that she raised her sword in defense.

His fist hit the surface of her blade and it vibrated from the shock. He wasn’t strong enough to break it, but it was enough power for her to be alarmed. She swung her blade in front of her, whipping it toward the thin man, but he dodged it with little leaps and pivots. She scowled as she slowly increased her speed, but he matched her in kind. Daisy went in to help but a big man grabbed her hair and yanked her back.

She quickly reached up and cut her hair, chopping off half of once was. She spun around and roundhouse kicked the big man in the chest, causing him to stumble, and then she took off his head. Three more Cimmerians ran forward to replace him and one was still on fire.

Overwhelmed, she swung wildly as they tackled her to the ground. The one on fire punched her across the face and Daisy screamed in fear more than pain. Talia ignored the thin man she was engaged in battle with and threw her sword at the man on fire. Talia’s sword impaled him and he went flying off of Daisy though the two other Cimmerians were still holding her limbs down and hitting her in the stomach and face.

Talia jumped in the mix and punched them away just as she received a punch to the back of the head from the thin man. She fell to her knees and Daisy reached up with her hook swords, wrapped it around the thin man’s neck and pulled until it was severed.

Talia climbed to her feet as more Cimmerians ran toward them. Daisy stumbled to her feet and just as five Cimmerians reached them, they were consumed by a wave of fire.

Talia sighed in relief and looked around to find Scarlet.

BOOK: The Last War (Book #9 of the Sage Saga)
9.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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