(To catch up, read Part One and Part Two)
From the moment I met her, I loved her. How could I not? She was beautiful and strong. She was everything I never knew I needed. But always, there was her twin, Marcel. The two of them shared an Empathic bond closer than any I’d ever heard of before. There was no getting through that.
I am Andreú. I am a Beast Empath, with bird-sight. I saw this war coming days before anyone else knew the Jut’ma were anything more than legend.
When the battle with the Jut’ma began, I tried to stay close to Jana. She had attached herself to Marcel, of course. The battle was even more brutal than we’d been told to expect. I fought back against the mental onslaught of the enemy Empaths, pushing back their attacks even as I launched my own.
I don’t know how I’d managed to get separated from Jana and Marcel, but suddenly I was surrounded by Jut’ma invaders. The wall of soldiers around Jana was being cut down. Jana fought as fiercely as I’d ever seen her fight. Only two more soldiers remained fighting at her side. She and Marcel would be cut down next. I had to get back to them.
I shoved my thoughts against the Jut’ma surrounding me, feeling the bond with their own Empath snap with the ferocity of my attack. Two fell to their knees, their hands clasped to their heads, faces contorted in agony. Another dropped his weapons and fled heedless back into the battle. Only one remained standing, weapons raised against me.
As I fought my way back toward Jana and Marcel, I saw her go down, an enemy sword thrust into her side. I tried to call out to her, but there was too much noise.
By the time I reached her side, Marcel had stepped around her toward the battle. I felt the earth tremble beneath me, but my focus was only on Jana. Blood stained her leather jerkin. She coughed foamy red spittle as I lifted her into my arms. Her pain filled gaze met mine.
“Shh,” I said, cradling her close, my hand seeking the wound in order to stop the bleeding. “Don’t speak. I’m here, love.”
She coughed again. I could feel the warm, wetness of her blood on my hand, on my legs. I wanted to beg her to be still.
“I’m sorry,” she said again once the coughing subsided. “I didn’t… want… hurt you.”
I leaned in closer to catch her words, my face almost touching hers. My tears ran openly, dripping onto her cheek, creating red-tinged rivulets.
“Marcel… Andreú, please.” Her hand came up to my face, her touch as light as butterfly wings. “Take care… of him. He… needs… help.”
“Jana, I can’t take your place.”
“I love you, Andreú.”
Her hand fell limply back to her side. I watched the light fade from her eyes. I felt her last breath like a final kiss goodbye on my cheek.
I had thought it painful before when she’d refused me for the second time. But this, my heart had been ripped from my chest, still beating, and crushed by the cruelties of fate. I held her to my chest, completely heedless of the war still raging around me. For the moment, even her last request could not rise above my grief. There was only this raw, bitter pain.
It wasn’t the noise or the shaking that brought me back to myself. It was more the absence of those things. Jana’s eyes stared sightlessly beyond me, and I gently brushed my fingers over them to close them forever.
When I finally turned my attention to Marcel, I was shocked at what I saw. The earth had been rearranged while I was lost in my grief. Marcel stood a bit above me on an outcropping. We were on what could only be described as a pillar of stone. Other than the slightly raised area where Marcel stood with his arms over his head, the top was sort of flat, like a table. The place where Jana’s body rested in my arms was slightly indented, as if the earth cradled her form.
I gently laid Jana’s body down in the little hollow. It appeared to have been made for just that purpose. With her last words running through my head over and over, I scrambled over the still trembling ground to where Marcel stood.
I thought about what I needed to do. Jana had shared a bond with Marcel. She told me once, they’d always been bonded. Now, with her death, he would be lost, adrift. Perhaps more so than most Empaths. His uniqueness already set him apart. As badly as I was hurting right now, I had no idea what he must be going through.
Still, I couldn’t bring myself to make the bond without his knowing what I was doing. I had to make him see me. To do that, I had to move around in front of him. I clambered around beside him so that I stood on the edge of on the tiny raised platform. Almost immediately, I was beset with vertigo. The stone outcropping looked down into a deep gash in the earth. Far below I could just make out what appeared to be water. There was no river here this morning. What had Marcel done?
Across the canyon a mountain range had been thrust up from the depths. What had once been low hills receding into the northern wastes was now tall peaks that should have been covered in snow. Scattered across the slopes I could just make out the bodies of the armies, both the Jut’ma and the Bangorans.
I turned my attention to Marcel, turning away from the mass destruction all around us. He and I could have been the only two people left alive in the whole world. He stood rigid, his hands fisted above his head, a snarl locked on his face. He didn’t turn when I touched his arm. He made no indication at all that he recognized my presence.
I spoke his name softly, afraid of startling him and sending both of us tumbling to our deaths. He still didn’t acknowledge my presence.
There wasn’t much room where we stood, but I maneuvered myself so that I stood directly in front of him. Wind blew through the new canyon, ripping at my clothes and carrying the scent of death. I felt I would be torn from this peak at any moment. Or shoved off by Marcel. One misstep, and I would fall.
He had to see me. I took hold of his face, forced him to look in my direction. At last he looked at me. What I saw in his eyes frightened me far more than anything I’d already seen. In his gaze I saw a deep pit, full of darkness and chaos. I had to put an end to this. For Jana. I had to help him.
I knew Marcel didn’t like me very much. Though we were once friends, the feeling was mutual. But now was not the time for old disputes. For Jana’s sake, I needed to set that aside.
“Marcel,” I said again, with more force this time. “Do you see me?”
I needed for him to know what I was about to do. I couldn’t bring myself to force his mind like so many unscrupulous Empaths had done to others, destroying innocent minds.
“Marcel. You are going to have to trust me.”
I grasped his head firmly in my hands, and gave it the tiniest shake. His arms came down suddenly and he grasped the front of my tunic. My foot slipped, nearly sending me over the edge. I held steady, meeting his mad gaze.
“For Jana,” I hissed through my teeth. “Let me help you.”
His hands tightened on my clothes. His gaze held mine. The dark madness didn’t change.
“Jana,” he said at last.
“Yes, Marcel. For Jana.”
As I watched, a saw just a flicker of lucidity. There was the tiniest sense of a plea so desperate, I took it for the answer I sought. I opened my mind to his.
Reeling through time and space. Reality had no meaning. My mind shattered into a thousand shards of brilliant, white light. It was an agony like I’d never known. I was lost, swallowed by the madness. I could hear voices everywhere. The voice of the earth beneath my feet, of the river far below, of the wind all around me. I was sure I could hear even the voices of the dead crying out in accusation.
But maybe it was only my own voice. In that swirling darkness I could no longer be sure of anything.
I may have fallen to my knees. I may have taken hold of Marcel and driven him backwards. I only knew pain for a very long time. An eternity of madness.
“Stop!” I screamed at the voices. “Look at what you’ve done!”
“No!” The voice screamed back at me. “I did not kill her.”
“She is dead!” I cried. “Dead.”
“They killed her! They killed her!”
I reached for the tiniest scrap of memory left to me. A face. A beautiful face. Even in the madness, her face remained true.
“They killed her!” The other voice sobbed again.
This agony I recognized. This pain matched my own. The pain of losing that beautiful face forever. I held to that familiar pain, and slowly pulled myself back together.
I had no way of knowing how long I struggled against the madness. It might have been only an hour, or it could have been days. I wrestled it with all my strength, clinging to my memory of Jana as to a lifeline.
In the end, I think it was Marcel himself who brought us back. Using me as his guide he gradually began to pull away from the wild voices.
Afterward we lay there on the stone weeping. Marcel had moved away just enough that we were no longer locked in our bitter embrace. No longer physically connected, perhaps, but our minds were now as one.
I felt the enormity of his earthspeak gift. I could hear the voices of the wind, the water, the earth. I was aware of other voices as well.
Marcel moved to sit beside Jana. He lifted his sister into his arms and cradled her against his chest, his body rocking gently as he held her. I remember what she had told me before, could it have really only been a few days ago? How she had tried to explain to me what it was like to be bonded to her brother, to carry the burden of his gift.
I hadn’t understood then, though she’d tried to make me see. I recognized it now. How every moment for Marcel was a battle to remain intact, a desperate, constant struggle not to shatter into a million pieces.
I could feel his grief, his rage, like they were my own. Indeed, they were my own. I could feel his madness tugging at my mind toward the darkness.
(c) 2018 T. A. Hampton