Sir Lanclor, the Knight-Commander of the knights of Av’lor, lay upon the stone floor of his childhood home. Not far from his head, remnants of the blood and pus from last night’s healing dried upon the floor. He wrinkled his nose and grabbed the edge of the bed. As he pulled himself to his knees, they popped in protest. The empty bed held no answers.
The sheets, coated with soot and blood, reminded him of Lady Kathryn’s battle to stay alive. Her breastplate lay in the far corner; its once-white finish coated with grime and dried blood with gashes from her time on the Daemon home world. A muffled yell from the next room brought him to his feet and sent him running into the hall.
Master Vetera, the master healer for the knighthood, cradled the front of his head with his hand as he backed out of the other room into the hallway. His gray wings stood out straight behind him and gradually flattened as he backed against the wall.
"You’re safe now, Lady Kathryn. It’s me, Master Vetera, the healer. I won’t hurt you." Master Vetera made no move to re-enter the room. He noticed Lanclor and motioned for him to join his side. "Sir Lanclor, something’s wrong. I checked her dressing, and she hit me when she startled awake. I don’t think she recognizes me or knows where she is. She’s crouching in the corner, talking to herself. Maybe you can get through to her."
"I don’t know what she’s been through these last seven months, but I doubt she’s had much human contact. We healed her body but not her mind." Sir Lanclor grabbed Vetera’s arm and pulled him out of sight of the door. "Fall back to the other room and take care of that head wound. I’ll see what I can do."
Vetera nodded and retreated down the hall. Waves of confusion, fear and despair rolled out of the room, settling into Lanclor’s mind. His Joining with Kathryn allowed him to sense her whereabouts and emotions, as well as the state of her body. The ache of the wound stretching from her head around to her back would take weeks to fade. Master Vetera considered it safest to let it heal the rest of the way on its own. Lanclor wasn’t so sure about that.
He took a cautious step to the door and looked into the room. The light globe near the bed outshone the dancing light of the fire in the hearth. Vetera must have needed the light globe to change her dressing. It took him a few seconds to locate her in the shadowed corner of the room. She held her sword at the ready while flames danced along its blade.
"You’re a big bastard, aren’t ya? We’ll take care of you soon enough." Her clipped tone didn’t sound right.
He hadn’t seen magic integrated with a weapon before, although he’d read about it. Her use of "we" concerned him. If she Bore someone and he’d taken control of her body, Kathryn might never surface again, but the fact that she hadn’t killed Vetera meant she was still somewhat in control. Lanclor wouldn’t live for much longer unless he could show her he wasn’t a threat.
Lanclor lowered his wings and eased the clasps of his black armor. In slow movements, he removed his armor until he stood before her in his shirt and pants. After a slight hesitation, he removed his shirt so she could not mistake him for anything other than human.
"Lady Kathryn, it’s me, Matthis." He used his birth name to remind her of their history together. "You’re safe in my mother’s house. Master Vetera healed your wounds after I found you near a gate in the woods with a bunch of dead Daemons. I’m here to help you." He knelt upon the floor to make himself smaller and less intimidating.
"Synthakla, she knows this one." The flames along her sword dampened. "Jakob, are you sure?" The sword quivered in Kathryn’s hand, then fell to the floor. "Goddamnit! Get out of my fucking head!" She wrapped her hands around the back of her brown hair and curled up into a ball in the corner. The stubs of her severed wings rocked back and forth with her muffled sobs.
Lanclor crawled toward her upon his hands and knees, sliding her sword out of her reach before stopping an arm’s length away. "Lady Kathryn…Kate…it’s going to be all right. You’re back on Av’lor. Let me help you." He reached out and gently touched her shoulder.
As her anger overrode his senses, her arm knocked his hand away and he felt the bone of his wrist snap. Cradling his sword hand against his body, he managed to look at her just as her other hand made a pushing motion toward his chest. His body flew backward and the ends of his wings broke against the sides of the doorframe before his back hit the wall of the hallway.
As he slumped against the wall, pain coursed through him. He glanced up, watching Lady Kathryn’s approach. Her eyes, once a gentle gray, flared with madness. Now within striking distance, she stretched her sword arm back to lunge. Lanclor didn’t delude himself into thinking she wouldn’t follow through. He pushed himself to the side with all of his might.
Lanclor’s scream of agony overrode the screech of her sword as it drove into the stone wall through his wing. With his wing pinned to the wall, he knew he wouldn’t survive. Kate had enough magic to incinerate him without losing stride, and he could do nothing but wait for the inevitable.
"You know, Synthakla, he didn’t resist very much. I don’t think he’s a threat." Lady Kathryn gripped the hilt of the sword, seeming unsure if she wanted to pry it out of the wall. "Silence, Jakob! I will make that judgment." She looked his way, and he felt the power gathering around her.
"Synthakla! Jakob! Stop this immediately. Lady Kathryn is no longer in danger and your insistence upon using her body in its exhausted state will kill her." A commanding voice echoed down the hallway. A tall woman with a regal bearing stood with her hands upon her hips, glaring at Kate. Lanclor’s heart sank.
Lady Kathryn whipped around, and Lanclor felt the power continue to gather.
"Did you hear what I said, you fools? You’re killing the person you’re trying to protect. Remember your oaths and release her body to sleep at once, or so help me, I will make sure nobody Bears you for centuries to come."
The power faded, and Kate braced herself against the wall. She turned his way, tears streaming from her eyes just before she collapsed to the floor.
"Matthis, by the Goddess, let me help get that sword out of your wing." His mother stepped around Kate and positioned herself in front of the sword. Gripping the hilt with both hands, she attempted to pull the sword from the wall without success. She glanced at Lanclor. "I don’t know how she got it in here. It shouldn’t be possible."
"I think she imbued magic into her sword." Lanclor rose to a crouch with as little movement to his wing as possible. "She’s the only one who can pull it out, and I can’t wait for her to recover from her exhaustion."
"What do you mean—?"
Lanclor screamed as he forced his wing down, severing the upper half. The woman scrambled to staunch the bleeding with the hem of her healer’s robe.
"Damnit, Matthis, you could have let me get some cloth ready rather than forcing me to use my best robe!"
Lanclor clenched his teeth, refusing to acknowledge her. He’d told Vetera to make sure she was out of the house. He should have known the stubborn woman wouldn’t leave. "You’re not supposed to be here," he growled under his breath.
She pressed harder against his wound, making him clench his teeth. "This is my home. I will not be told to leave, even by you. If it weren’t for me, you’d be dead now, so stop complaining."
"I don’t understand. How did you know what to say to her?"
"I’ve dealt with a Soulbearer through the delirium of a fever. You’ve almost killed me on occasion, although I doubt you’d remember." She avoided his gaze, staring at his partially severed wing.
"No, you wouldn’t remember. I pray that Lady Kathryn won’t remember either. If she knew she kicked her commanding officer’s ass, she might decide to take over the knighthood. I’m sure she’d do a great job, but then you’d have to move back in here, and I don’t have the resources to feed you anymore." Her voice softened. "They attacked you because you’re male, you know. They perceive any male as more powerful than Lady Kathryn in her current state. Now, hold still and let me get started on healing your wing. We’ll take care of the rest of you after that."
Kathryn Merlangton awoke to sunlight. Her eyes widened, and she reached for her sword, only to find herself unarmed and unarmored. The Daemons ruled the light, and she felt foolish to have fallen asleep so exposed. She shifted her weight, and the bed cushioned her movement. The smell of flowers and fresh bread only added to her confusion. After sleeping on the floor of a dark cave for seven months, the concept of clean sheets brought tears to her eyes.
She sat up and moved her legs over the side of the bed, setting her bare feet on the floor. The fire crackling in the hearth to her left did little to protect her feet from the cold stone. A table in front of a large window to her right held a vase of pink flowers, a stark contrast to the snowy scene beyond. Across the room, what was left of her blackened armor lay in pieces. There was no sign of her sword, and she knew her scabbard remained on the Daemon home world, buried among the remnants of the gates’ destruction.
"You’re finally awake." A tall woman in a white healer’s robe stood in the doorway. Her long black hair and striking eyes seemed familiar. "I told Vetera you would take longer than a week to recover, but the stubborn ass refused to listen." Her warm smile filled the room. "He owes me dinner now. I’m Master Healer Melina. You’re safe in my house on Av’lor, Lady Kathryn."
Av’lor. Her sigh of relief turned into quiet sobs. The unending light and heat, the constant battles with the Daemons and the sickening taste of their flesh as her only sustenance… It was finally over. She'd finally get to see her daughter, Rachel. The bed shifted, and the healer’s warm arms surrounded her. Kathryn leaned into the embrace and welcomed the human contact.
"It will take time to heal, my dear. Vetera healed everything he could, and I’ve gradually eased the pain of your physical body while you slept, but your mind will take much longer. I think a hot meal and a bath would help. What do you think?"
"The bath first, I think, and then food, but not meat. Anything but meat."
Healer Melina had to help Kathryn bathe herself in the large tub of hot water. Kathryn felt like an invalid, unable to wash her hair without having to rest. Melina’s cheerful humming gradually eased her discomfort, and Kathryn let her take over the task. The healer massaged her sore muscles, and Kathryn groaned with the ache.
"All right. Let’s get you out and dressed, then I’ll bring you some bread and fruit. It’s a little late for breakfast, but I think it’s best to start with something simple."
Kathryn rose from the tub and toweled off, eyeing the mirror across the room. She feared what she’d see. The tightness of her face, neck and back shattered any hope that Master Vetera had healed her without leaving a scar. As she took a step toward the mirror, Melina touched her shoulder.
"You’ve been through a lot. You’re a strong woman and a hero to Av’lor. I will return shortly with your meal." The healer left the room with quiet footsteps.
Kathryn finished towel drying her hair while walking to the mirror. She looked upon her reflected image and dropped the towel. Her long mousy hair couldn’t hide the scar running from beneath her right eye down her cheek, then down her neck to disappear over her shoulder. Turning her back to the mirror, she saw the scar extend down to the left side of her lower back. The scar aligned with her severed wings, the left one extending halfway down her back while the right was a white stump.
She turned back to face the mirror and fell to her knees. Her emaciated body and sunken eyes hid behind the scar on her face. Kathryn had never considered herself a vain woman. Back on Earth, she had rarely worn makeup and hadn’t bothered doing more than putting her hair into a ponytail before heading out the door. Her average looks served her just fine, and she never felt the need to draw attention to herself. Now, her scar screamed for attention and no amount of makeup would hide it.
Scars are like badges of honor on Av’lor. Quit sulking and be thankful you’re not missing any limbs.
"Jakob?" she whispered to the empty room.
You have some other guy in your head? Well, maybe that’s not the best choice of words. Pretty sure Synthakla’s not a guy though, so it works.
Kathryn frowned at his words. Jakob had made his presence known after a few weeks on the Daemon home world. She’d thought he’d faded from her mind after her first year in the Knighthood, but the stress of the situation must have brought him to the forefront of her brain. His advice saved her many times, but he had nothing to do with saving her after the Daemons took her wings.
"I am missing limbs." No armor. No wings. She wasn’t a knight anymore. Just a broken…
Oh, give me a break with the self-pity. Suck it up and deal with what the Goddess gave you. No more ‘I’m a broken husk with nothing to contribute’ bullshit. You just survived seven months of hell and are back on Av’lor in one piece. Well, most of you anyway.
As Jacob’s voiced echoed in her head, she stood and walked to the low bench, then pulled on the scratchy underclothes. The thick wool shirt and pants felt heavy in her hands, but she welcomed their warmth as she put them on as well. Since her feet still felt wet, she carried her socks and left the washroom to sit on the bed. She held her feet toward the fire as Jakob’s presence in her mind withdrew just as Healer Melina reentered the room.
"Here’s your breakfast. The bread came out of the oven a short while ago." Healer Melina set the tray on the desk with the flowers and pulled out the chair. "Put some socks on and eat while it’s still warm. I have a few things to do and will be back shortly." She smiled and kept the door open as she left the room.
Her feet clad against the cold, Kathryn sat in the chair and sliced the small loaf of bread. She spread the butter along several slices and devoured two before diving into the bowl of orange and purple berries. They reminded her of grapes with a hint of raspberry. She wanted to eat more bread, but after so many months of scarce meals, her stomach protested having so much. A soft knock at the door drew her attention.
A man well over six feet tall filled the doorway. His muscular frame pushed against his black shirt and pants. A short beard lined his strong jaw and his black hair no longer hung in his face. She had to admit she liked his new close-cropped haircut as he stepped through the doorway and unfolded his black wings. Sir Lanclor, Knight-Commander of the Knights of Av’lor, was the type of man whose presence stopped all conversations in a crowded room.
"Lady Kathryn. I’m glad to see you’re awake." He smiled and remained where he was.
She hesitated and then rose from her chair. Her hand went to her face, shielding her scar. A badge of honor. She straightened, lowered her hand, and then rushed toward him. Wrapping her arms around him, she buried her face against his chest. He surrounded her with his arms and wings, pressing her against him. The sound of his heartbeat and the comforting smell of pine and cinnamon made her squeeze him tighter. This was home.
They stood embracing for a quite a while before a polite cough interrupted their reunion. Healer Melina stood just outside the door with a smirk upon her face. Kathryn looked up at Sir Lanclor and saw him blush. Sir Lanclor blushing? What the hell? She looked back at Melina and wondered at their relationship.
Sir Lanclor cleared his throat. "Um, Lady Kathryn. This is Master Healer Melina."
"She already knows that, Matthis. Were you planning to share this little bit of information with me? If so, I’m sure you already would have."
"I was going to tell—"
"I don’t want excuses. It’s about damn time. Your father would have rolled over in his grave if he knew how long you’d neglected to pass on the family name. You better get started on making babies before I get too old to hold them." Melina turned to Kathryn with a smile. "You, my dear, are in good hands. Not many in Av’lor would dare cross him. My son is a force to be reckoned with, but I know you’ll keep him in line. Now, what’s the plan?"
"Plan?" Kathryn looked at Lanclor in confusion.
"I haven’t told anyone else you’re back. Av’lor’s a lot different than it was when you left. There’s a rebellion going on between the Council and the peasantry, with the Knighthood trying to maintain neutrality. The streets are no longer safe. I could have brought you to the castle, but I was afraid someone would attack you before you’d fully recovered."
"Why would anyone want to attack me?"
"I’m not sure, but after the attempts on your life before you left, I wasn’t going to take any chances. Maybe we should have you stay here for another month so you can build your strength."
"Yes, dear, you’re welcome to stay as long as you need." Master Healer Melina smiled and touched her shoulder. "It will take time and many hot meals to put some weight back on you."
"No. We don’t have a month. I need to speak with Lord Alextor," Kathryn protested.
"What do you mean?" Lanclor asked.
"I’ve failed." Kathryn shook her head in defeat. "The Daemons are on Earth."
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