@destinyluck: Poor Dameon. He has a lot to feel remorseful about!
@aislingyngaio: I'm never sure how best not to answer questions like that...
@all: This chapter continues Rhen's thread, which was last seen in Chapter 32. Thanks for reading!
Rhen crawls onto the rocky shore and collapses. She feels as though she has been swimming for days. The baby strapped to her back begins to protest feebly at the change in her movements. She forces herself up so she can release the ties and examine the baby. She is shivering so badly that she can barely work her fingers. A particularly sharp blast of icy winds cuts through the meager protection of her light clothes. She whispers a brief prayer of thanks that whatever she had been swimming through, it apparently was not water. If her clothes were wet now, she knows that she would have already frozen to death.
The baby is barely breathing and it’s skin has taken on a ghastly shade of blue. She fights back tears – no time now – she must find shelter for herself and the baby. Alicia will never forgive her if she dies now, before she even manages to make her way back to the world of the living. She snuggles the baby inside her shirt. It feels as though she has nestled a block of ice against her chest. The howl of the wind grows louder, and icy particles of snow drive like daggers into her skin. Neither she nor her child will survive long if she cannot find shelter.
It is hard to see far. It is hard to see at all. She can barely open her eyes against the wicked cold of the wind and blowing snow obscures all but the immediate area. She cannot tell for certain, but it seems that she sees a slight darkening off to one side at the limits of her vision. Hoping against hope that the vague shape promises shelter, she stumbles toward it.
The shape takes on form more rapidly than she expects. It is closer than she had thought, and much much smaller than she had hoped; no larger than a man. So this is it, she thinks, this is where it ends. “I am sorry, baby,” she murmurs against its head. “You deserved a better chance than I could give you.” She realizes that she is crying only when the tears freeze against her cheek. Still, she struggles over the rocks, fighting her way through the wind and towards the dark shape. She has nowhere else to go.
The wind ceases without warning and she stumbles badly, twisting an ankle painfully as she catches herself from falling. The dark shape she sees now is just a man, a man dressed in strange, bluish spiky armor staring out to sea. There is no shelter, save that the air here is still and warm enough that she can feel the cold rising from her bones. So racked by shivers is she that she can do no more than to pant through chattering teeth as the man turns to face her, and Rhen realizes that she has just made her last mistake.
“My dear Sword Singer,” says Agas sketching a courtly bow. “What an unexpected pleasure it is to see you.”
Rhen shivers helplessly.
“You don’t seem happy to see me, Sword Singer,” the demon says with a mock pout.
Rhen looks away.
Agas watches her intently for several minutes before turning back to regard the sea, absently fingering a thick gold band that encircles his neck. Finally, he nods slightly to himself. “Darius will be most pleased to see you. Most pleased.”
“Dar-Dar-ius?” Rhen manages to push out between shivers. “D-Dameon’s father, Darius?” Her voice is starting to come back under her control.
“Yes, Dameon’s father Darius,” says Agas sharply. “He has taken Ahriman’s place.”
“I will not go,” Rhen says firmly. “I would rather die.”
Agas laughs. “I’m afraid it is too late for that, Chosen One.” He looks around with obvious distaste. “Your soul wanders the Demon Realm now, and here it will stay forever more.”
Rhen roars in anger, drawing her sword and slicing in a single motion. The sword cuts through the demon’s neck, an inch above his shoulders, just as she had intended. And yet his head does not fall. He stands watching her, amusement written clear on his face.
“You are not paying attention, Sword Singer,” he says. “This is my realm.” He waves his hand negligently, and Rhen feels the air solidfy around her. “I am afraid that there is no hope for you, Chosen One. He very much wishes to see you, and what he wants he always gets, one way or the other.”
“No. No. No no no no…” Rhen is surprised to find that she is speaking. Agas waves his hand irritably, and the sound cuts off, though in her mind it continues, an unending river of denial.
“You are lost, Chosen One,” he hisses. “Darius will have your soul now. Likely he will put you up on a throne next to him. There is nothing, I am sure, that he would like better than to make the Chosen One,” and his voice drips with sarcasm, “the Queen of All Demons. No, there is nothing I can do about it, even if I so desired to cross him.”
He regards her silently for a time, his face a mask betraying no hint of his thoughts. “You were a worthy enemy, once,” he says finally. “I might be able to do you a favor.” He pauses again, and Rhen is humiliated to feel hope surging unbidden through her chest.
After a moment, he shrugs slightly and begins to speak again. “You see,” he says, tugging again at the band around his neck, “Darius wishes the Chosen One to… understand… his perspective in all of this.” He gestures vaguely all around. “It would be more than my life is worth to cross him in such an important detail. He has not, however, said a solitary word about the Chosen One’s child.” Agas turns again towards her, and pulls back the neck of Rhen’s shirt to stare intently at the child nestled there. Rhen would pull away, if she could, but she is held tight by the air. He watches the child intently for what seems like an eternity. Rhen cannot even begin to follow the slurry of emotions that cross his face. “I would hazard a guess that he does not even know the Chosen One carries a child.” He glances at her questioningly, but Rhen does not even know what he is asking.
“What… what are you suggesting?” she says hoarsely.
“It is up to you, of course, Chosen One. I can bring your child’s soul as easily as yours to Darius. He will be most appreciative, I am sure. For such an unexpected prize, I might well be able to restore my standing..." he trails off, staring again out to sea. He draws a deep breath. "Or, I could -- at great personal risk to myself -- with no possible thought of reward from Darius -- have your child’s soul taken out of this cursed realm, and raised in the world of men.”
“How?” breathes Rhen, hope and wonder creeping into her voice despite her intentions.
Agas smiles, and Rhen feels her heart drop at the cold gleam in his eyes. “I have a friend – a very good friend – who would be... overjoyed... to raise a child such as this."
Rhen's eyes narrow suspcisiously. "Why? Why would you do this? Why should I let you?"
Agas turns back to his study of the water. "As I said, Sword Singer, you were a worthy enemy once. As, perhaps, was I. The world has changed around us, the old ways fading. Who among the living has shared as much with me as you? It is, as I also have already said, a favor. Do not make me repeat myself again."
"What would you gain from this, demon?"
Agas returns his attention to her, to her baby, and she would cower away from the anger she sees in his eyes, but she is still held fast by the air. "Do not waste my time, Sword Singer. You are running out of choices. Let me make myself perfectly clear. I will take your wretched soul to Darius, where he will do with you what he will. If you choose to keep your child's soul with you, than your child will also enjoy Darius' eternal... hospitality. You are lost, Chosen One. Only I can give your child a chance."
“No.” The word is out of Rhen’s mouth before she can even think it. “No. No.” Rhen bangs her knees sharply on the rocks and cries out in surprise. The cursed demon had released her from his spell, and she had not even had the strength to remain standing.
Agas shrugs. “Very well. Shall we be on our way?” He raises his arms and Rhen can feel the power crackling in the air.
“Wait!” she calls out, desperately, before she loses her nerve. “Wait. I will...”
Agas watches her shrewdly, but says nothing nor makes any move.
Rhen casts her eyes down at the ground, her voice sounds dead to her ears as she forces the words out. "Please, Daeva. Please save my child."
Agas smiles with delight. “Your word is my command, my lady. I shall return shortly.” He raises his arm and calls out in a tongue that Rhen does not recognize. In a few moments, a wyvern is landing beside him. He climbs easily onto its back and disappears into the blowing snow.
Rhen is caught in a rip-tide of forboding and despair. She wants to scream into sky, to wail and to rage, to call down lightning to strike her dead on the spot. Instead she gathers her baby close to her chest and tries to walk away. She does not get far. Within a few footsteps she is outside of the protective shield that had surrounded Agas. The cold bites into her with renewed ferocity. Already her baby is turning blue. There is no shelter. None, save the warm calm air that remained after Agas left.
Agas had been right. She is running out of choices. If she tries to flee Agas, her baby will die... or be trapped forever in the Demon Realm. And doubtless Agas would find her anyway. With wyveryns at his command, where could she possibly hide?
She returns to the spot where she had found Agas. This way, at least her child may have a chance. Her child and Dameon's. She cries softly against the baby's head while she settles down to wait.