Fandom: Heralds of Valdemar
Genre: Fantasy, Tradgedy
Characters: Herald Nori Arcott & Companion Zivanka, Herald Trick Fallon & Companion Cavan
Disclaimer: Valdemar and concepts belong to Mercedes Lackey; lyrics are to "Breathe No More" by Evanescence; this fic and original characters belong to their author.
Summary: When he was young Nori used to dream of a battlefield, blood and mud and death. Now he's a Herald, fighting for Valdemar alongside his Companion, and he's seen everything that's happening around him many times before.
I've been looking in the mirror for so long.
That I've come to believe my soul's on the other side.
Oh the little pieces falling—shatter.
Shards of me...
You and I weren't happy, but then, no one around us was, either. A current of electric tension kept everyone on edge, and looking out across the fields of mud and dangerous sinkholes, at the opposing Karsite forces, it was easy to tell why, but that didn't make the frightened—nervous—anxious feeling any easier to deal with.
On one side of us, Herald Trick was seated firmly on Cavan's back, hands clenched tightly around his rein and steely eyes pinned grimly on the oncoming troops, and Cavan himself was just as focused. To the other side, the Monarch's Own Herald Yitro looked afraid. It was hard to tell what the Grove Born was feeling—but certainly, he knew what was to come.
:Are you ready? Nori?: Your Voice quivered in a way.
My response did, too. :Not even close.:
:Neither am I.:
To sharp to put back together,
To small to matter,
But big enough to cut me into so many little pieces
If I try to touch you.
I almost felt as if we were in another universe—but somehow, the world we were in was unlike any of the dreamscapes I has seen in my life. There was a gritty, harsh feeling there that was never a part of the vagueness of my dreams, though it was still... familiar. Terribly, horribly familiar.
We had been staring down the Karsite forces for three days—since the last attack, when nearly half of our collective forces had been lost. Karse had lost nearly as many, but there more Valdemarians gone than I could every hope to count. Friends, comrades, countrymen and fellow Heralds had fallen around us, but somehow we had managed to survive.
Herald Kristi had been cut down before our very eyes, and you and I had been unable to do anything. One moment she and Qimat were there beside us, fighting with all their hearts, and the next there was blood—screaming—pain and they had joined the growing number of corpses that littered the muck-slicked battlefield.
They were still out there, somewhere, sunk into the mire and rotting, but there was nothing you, or I, or anyone else could do about it. That would be their grave for now, along with thousands of others.
That had been the biggest battle thus far, but I was sure more would come. I knew more would come. Still, there was a temporary lull in the fighting, for both armies to regroup and plan. We all stood on a knife's edge during that time, and I relied on your strength—physical, mental and emotional—to get me through.
What would I have done without you?
And I bleed,
And I breathe,
I breathe no more.
My voice was soft, and your ears swiveled back to catch the words, though your eyes stayed fixed on the army before us. The Commander of Valdemar's troops had begun calling out orders, loudly and firmly—I could see him gesturing to direct both our cavalry, which you and I were a part of, and our foot soldiers.
"I love you."
You took a deep breath, and I felt a rush of bravery and hope pulse along our Bond as you tilted your eyes toward me. :I love you, too, Chosen.:
Trick touched my shoulder.
I was loathe to move my attention from the comforting crystal of your gaze, but I turned toward him with a questioning look—and paused in surprise. I knew Trick's slate-grey eyes as well as I did my own, or yours, but there was something in their stormy depths that hadn't been there before. Something that made me want to want to turn tail and run back to Haven right then—something that made me want to hold him—something that made me shiver, because it was exactly what I, myself, was trying desperately not to bend to.
He was afraid.
Gods, so was I.
Take a breath and I try to draw from my spirit's well,
Yet again you refuse to drink like a stubborn child.
"Stay close to me."
I nodded silently. Given the choice, you and I wouldn't stray from Trick and Cavan's side. Losing him was the last thing my heart wanted, joined in the depths of my soul with the fear of losing you, though I suppose I could have lived on if Trick had been killed. You, though... if I'd lost you...
"Don't think like that." He seemed to hear my thoughts, and smiled a bit in reassurance; "we're all going to pull through this, and next thing you know we'll be back in Haven packing for a well deserved vacation time. We'll head out to my father's farm and just lounge around in the sun all day long."
It sounded like a wonderful idea, but in all honesty I was doubtful that we would live that long. You seemed to sense the depth of my own fear, though, and I could feel—again—hope traveling from you to me.
I wanted so badly to believe—to believe that we would make it.
To believe that we would all be alright.
Lie to me,
Convince me that I've been sick forever.
And all of this,
Will make sense when I get better.
The commander of our forces continued calling out, voice ringing out over the silence of our disheartened ranks. Next to us, Trick's hands tightened once again around Cavan's rein, and on our other side the Grove Born stamped, sapphire eyes hard and disturbingly cold as he watched the Karsite army begin to stir.
The sounds of war, I knew, would ring through my memories until the end of time. Gasping breath, gurgling from blood-soaked lungs; the sucking-pulling noise of hooves and boots as Companions, horses, and people struggled through knee-high muck; the screams, and the crash of steel against steel—
Even if we survived, I would hear them—I would hear them forever.
I know the difference,
Between myself and my reflection.
I just can't help but to wonder,
Which of us do you love.
"Ready—!" Our commander, mounted on a bay colored horse whose legs were slick with mud, passed before you and I, his sword unsheathed and raised and his voice echoing across the uneasy silence in which we waited.
Your head bowed down a bit, and your ears slowly swiveled back toward me, and then forward again.
My heart was in my throat and my lungs hurt as I breathed. This was it. This was the end. Deep down, somehow, I knew that this would be the last fight—the last battle—the last attack—this was what would determine the outcome of the war we had been fighting.
I bent low across your neck, so close that I could smell the sweat, the dirt and debris that clung to your hide from days of fighting and slogging through the battlefield—so close that your mane tickled my nose and got in my eyes when you bunched your hind legs and leapt forward, determination in your every movement.
The grip I had on you was as tight, as desperate as the one I had on my sword.
You and it were the only things keeping me alive through all the horrors of war.
So I bleed,
And I breathe,
I breathe now.
The first wave of Karsite soldiers were what was left of their cavalry, their numbers far less they had been at the beginning of everything but strong nonetheless. They hit us hard, horses colliding with other horses, Companions and soldiers.
Equine shrieks filled the air, bright and ear-piercing, painful to listen to, echoing along with multitudes of human screams.
To one side of us, I could hear when Trick and Cavan crashed hard into a horse, and glanced that way in time to see the Karsite soldier that was riding it slip and fall backward into the mire. The horse, now riderless, was shoved out of the way by Cavan, even as the Companion brought his hooves down on the floundering Karsite before them.
At the same time, you whinnied shrilly, teeth bared, and reared up on your hind legs, kicking out with sharp hooves. The enemy soldier nearest to us caught the blow in his chest—and he went down without a sound, his ribs crushed inward, his heart and lungs shredded by bits of broken bone.
Another death on our hands.
Another body to sink into the muck and mire.
The next thing I knew we were surrounded, crowded on all sides by Karsite forces.
I had sworn to stay by Trick's side through everything, but I couldn't even see him anymore—he and Cavan had vanished into the chaos around us. I could only hope he was still alive and in a better position than we were.
You were thrashing and striking out, bucking and kicking—I had never seen you like that before. A demon in white and silver, furious and wild like a feral dog or an unbroken stallion, crystal eyes full of fire and hatred—and desperation. It was the desperation that struck me the hardest. It was the desperation that echoed along the Bond between us, making my heart flutter and ache.
It was the desperation that swelled a moment later when a hand clamped onto my upper arm and yanked, dragging me forcefully from your back, despite my frantic attempts to keep hold of the saddle.
Somewhere in the mass of people and bodies I lost my grip on my sword. It fell amid the discord and I floundered after it, even as you spun, still kicking and biting, to try to reach me again. Somehow I managed to fumble my way to finding my weapon. My fingers closed around it almost convulsively, tightly, determined not to let it slip away again. There was no way I could survive this unarmed, and I knew it.
Sword in hand, I spun, scrambling around—just in time to see you rear again—
And a crossbow bolt abruptly thudded hard into the base of your neck.
And I breathe,
You had been standing tall on your hind legs, but the force of the arrow tipped you backwards, and you fell, flailing, onto your back, another shriek dying in your throat, cut off when blood began to overtake your airway. What came out instead was a low gurgling sound—and even amid the screams and cries of the battle, that noise was the loudest. I could hear it clearly, ringing in my ears from several feet away.
And somewhere deep within my heart, I felt it when you gasped in your last breath—and, a moment later, when you died.
I tried to make my way to you, through the sucking mud and blood, through the discarded weapons and bodies, but even as I struggled forward, I knew you weren't there anymore.
I was clawing my way toward nothingness, and perfectly aware of that fact.
—and then, just as I was about to reach you, someone grabbed hold of the collar of my shirt and dragged me upward.
"Nori! She's gone, Nori, she's gone! We've got to get out of here!" Trick's voice was high-pitched and frantic as he half-flung me over Cavan's back, even as the Companion was spinning to run.
From there, as we fled, I watched your body vanish, sinking into the muck and taking with it all that I had ever lived for.
Eventually, the tide was turned. Valdemar defeated the Karsites, and the war was ended. But many people died for their cause, on either side. Hundreds—thousands. They say the lucky ones survived, just a small number walking away from the battle—so few compared to those who had rallied on either side to begin with.
I don't feel lucky. I don't feel elated. I don't feel anything but hurt and loss and misery. I am empty, lost and alone without you.
And those same people who think we're lucky also say that time heals all wounds. I wish I could say I hope that it's true—but I already know that it's not. I will never stop hurting. The hole in me where you used to be will never heal over. I will never stop living in agony, as long as I'm forced to exist without you.
It's getting quiet now.
Most of the Collegium is dark, asleep in the night.
And all you have to do is wait for me for a little while longer.
I'll be with you soon.
I breathe no more.