Magic's Promise v(lhm-2, page 34part #2 of Valdemar (02): Last Herald Mage Series
“Leren!” Jervis roared. "What in - "
And pain that blacked out everything else sent him bonelessly to the floor as Jervis let go of him.
Somewhere - in some other world beyond the pain - there was a sound of scuffling. All he knew was the pain, the agony that was the center of him, as he lay on his side and clutched his stomach, something hot and wet trickling between his fingers.
Heal - I have to Heal myself- He had just enough Healing-Gift to save himself. He reached, feebly, - no strength -
:Chosen!: Yfandes' mind-voice, faint and far-off - and a brief, unsteady surge of energy from her to him, all unlooked-for; energy that could Heal him.
But something else brushed his mind, a sense of dark and evil wings.
It was with Leren. A dark force that ruled Leren, and it was poised to strike at the armsmaster.
He had a choice; save himself - or save Jervis.
Which was not a choice at all.
Vanyel took that borrowed strength and hurled it at the unprotected, unsuspecting darkness like a spear of light.
But it did not kill. The darkness fled, wounded, but not conquered, as Vanyel began fading into a darkness of his own.
Gods – Leren - controlled.
Jervis' voice. "Bastard got distracted. Got him with a chair," the man said, from that other world. "He won't be going anywhere for a while. Boy - boy, did he mark you?"
It was becoming very hard to breathe; his frantic gasps after air just made the pain worse, and didn't seem to be bringing anything into his lungs.
Someone rolled him onto his back and he cried out.
"Lady's tits!" Jervis swore. "Bloody bastard!"
Vanyel opened his eyes, but he couldn't see anything but a tiny spot of brightness in a sea of black. The blackness called him -
Jervis slapped his face lightly, and the blackness receded for a moment. “Don't leave on me, boy," he said urgently, supporting Vanyel in his lap. "Stay with me!"
Vanyel did his best to obey, as Jervis bellowed somewhere over his head for a Healer, but he was cold, and getting colder, and there didn't seem to be any room for anything but agony.
He tried to open his eyes again, when he heard frantically running feet. There was a strange Herald in Whites on his left, and a swirl of green robes as a Healer dropped down beside him on his right.
"Gods!" he heard the latter swear, in an audible panic. There were hands pulling his away, and a wash of weakening that followed a gush of something, warmth that poured out of him, and over the hands that replaced his. "I - oh, gods, we're losing him!"
"Like hell!" ''I - "
Everything - voices, vision, even the pain - began to fade. Everything except the stranger kneeling at his left side. Though his face remained oddly shadowed, there was a soft, argent glow about him, like starlight, that brightened with each passing moment.
:Take my hand, Herald Vanyel.:
Vanyel blinked, struggled against his fading sight, tried to hold to consciousness.
:My hand.: The strange Herald held his right hand out to Vanyel, and there was entreaty in that mind-voice :Will you not take it?:
The urgency in the request pulled at him; this was important. Important that he fight past the pain to obey the stranger. Moved by some deep conviction that he didn't understand, he found a tiny crumb of strength; just enough to move the fingers of his left hand and place them, sticky and warm with his own blood, into the stranger's outstretched palm. The stranger's hand closed over his, and his lips curved in a smile of triumph.
He was standing. The pain was gone.
So was the wound. The strange Herald still held his hand, but about them was - nothing. Only a kind of peaceful, tranquil gray emptiness.
The stranger's face was still shadowed - except for the eyes, a blazing glory of sapphires and light, a light never seen in Vanyel's world.
Not in the mortal world that Vanyel knew. Not the natural world.
Therefore this was not the natural world - and this was no mere Herald.
Vanyel released the stranger's hand and sank slowly to one knee, unable to look away from those incandescent eyes. Then the stranger smiled, and the smile was as brilliant and overpowering as the gaze. That smile was no sight for mortal eyes, and Vanyel managed to drop his gaze before he was lost to it. He bowed his head over his knee in profound obeisance to the Power that had chosen to wear the guise of a human, and a Herald.
"Lord," he whispered, unable to muster enough coherent thought to say anything more.
"Vanyel, no," replied a voice of amber, silk, and steel.
He felt hands, gentle hands on his shoulders, hands that drew him up to his feet. He dared a glance at the Power's face, and was caught again, a moth in sapphirine flame.
"No, Vanyel," He said, shaking His head, denying Vanyel's assumption. "Not 'Lord.' Only a messenger, a servant. You mustn't kneel to me.''
The longer he looked into those eyes, the easier it became. "I'm - dead," he said steadily, feeling nothing at the words except a soul-deep relief, that it was finally over, that he could rest.
But the Other shook His head again. "No. Not yet, Vanyel." He hesitated a moment, and His eyes were shadowed with pity. "Vanyel, because of what you are, what you have become, and that you stand at the crossroads of many possibilities, it is given to you to choose."
"Choose?" he said, honestly bewildered. "Choose how?"
"Life," replied the Power, His eyes dimmed, as if with unshed tears, "Life, or -" He touched His hand to His own heart. "- or myself."
Then he understood what stood with him in this timeless nothingness, what gazed at him with eyes of sorrow; beautiful, perfect, and serene.
"Ask me what you will," Death said, eyes radiant, and voice soft with compassion. "You must choose in full knowledge of what your choice will mean."
"What do I go to," Vanyel asked, marveling at his own steadiness, as he ached for the peace those eyes promised him, "if I choose to live?"
"Pain," Death replied, bowing His own head so that Vanyel could no longer see those eyes. "Loss. You will see good friends die, one by one, until you are alone. You will find yourself growing apart from others, day by day, until there seems to be nothing but loneliness and your duties. You will receive hurts and will not die of them, though you may long to. And the end - will be only more pain."
"And - the alternative."
"For you - peace. And an end to pain and loneliness and grieving."
Vanyel felt all the burdens of his existence heavy upon him; felt taxed beyond his strength. But he had not missed that subtle phrasing, and he asked a further question, though he knew in his heart that he would hate the answer.
"And what of those I leave behind?"
Death looked up again, and held his gaze with those brilliant, depthless eyes - and was it his imagination, or did a sad, proud smile touch those sculptured lips for a moment?
"They will come to me," Death said quietly. "And sooner, and in greater numbers, than if you choose to live. The Valdemar you knew will be no more; her people will struggle to maintain their freedom in a shrunken land, bereft of allies and hemmed about by enemies. You are not the only hope, Vanyel, but you are Valdemar's best hope."
Vanyel closed his eyes in a spasm of despair, struggling to maintain his composure. He was so tired - so very tired. So tired of pain, of loneliness, of a life that seemed harder to endure each day. But what he had told Jervis was no less than the truth. He could no more leave his duties unfulfilled than he could repudiate Yfandes. Especially not now - not knowing, by the word of a Power that would not tell him false, that there was no one else to do what he could do.
But he was so tired.
"What is magic's promise, Vanyel?" asked the vibrant voice. "You thought you knew the answer once. Is it still the answer you would give now?"
He rose out of his own soul-deep weariness, and realized that-no, the prom
"It isn't a promise made to me," he replied, slowly opening his eyes and meeting Death's unblinking, steadfast gaze. "It's a promise made to those who depend on me, on my strength; it's a promise I haven't fulfilled, not yet, not completely." He closed his eyes again, and bowed his head, feeling tears of weariness slipping from beneath his lashes and not wanting the Other to see them and his weakness. "It's a promise that gives me no choice. I - have to go back. No matter how - tired - I am -"
There was a whisper of sound, and a feather-light touch on his jaw. He opened his eyes, and Death's hand lifted his chin so that his gaze again met those beautiful eyes. There were tears in Death's eyes, tears that matched his own, and a tender, sorrowful smile on Death's lips.
"I have never been so grieved - and so glad - to lose," he said, and touched his lips to Vanyel's. Their tears mingled on his lips as Vanyel closed his eyes; he tasted them in the kiss, his own salt, bitter tears - and Death's sweet -
Strong arms closed about him, supporting him, holding him against a comforting shoulder, as Death held him with all the sensitivity of the lover that He could be.
Vanyel yielded to the greater strength, and crumpled in his arms, his shoulders shaking with silent sobs. Gentle hands caressed his hair, and gentle words came to his ears.
"Not yet, beloved," Death murmured, breath moving against his ear, lightly stirring his hair. “There is no time here, while I will it so. You need not take up your burden until you feel ready to meet your life again."
So he wept out his weariness, his longing for respite. He wept, and then he rested on Death's shoulder.
"Vanyel, is it only duty that calls you back?"
"No." He found another tiny crumb of strength and slowly straightened in the Power's arms. "No - it's more than that. Moondance said it a long time ago. I lost my own hearth-fire, but that's no reason why I can't warm myself at the hearths of my friends, not when they've offered that warmth." He blinked, and realized that he was smiling. "Not so many friends," he said, half to himself, "But all of them - good friends."
"Worth returning for, Vanyel?"
"Yes," he replied simply.
Death actually laughed softly. "So long to learn what Moondance meant?"
"Sometimes I'm a bit dense." He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “For some reason I never had any trouble figuring out what death was all about; but life - that's taken me until now."
The Power held him for a moment longer, then let him go. He met the compassionate, luminous blue eyes for one final time, and saw them flare with a strange mixture of pride, grief, and joy. "Vanyel," Death whispered. "One thing more - there is one who would make his farewell to you."
Vanyel felt someone behind him, a lesser presence than the Shadow-lover, and turned.
"Hello, Vanyel," said Jaysen, holding out his hand. "Or - I guess it's good-bye."
"Jays?" Vanyel took the hand, momentarily stunned. "Oh, Jays, no - I didn't -"
"No, you didn't. Don't go all guilty on me." Jaysen actually smiled, ruefully. "It was my own stupid fault for being so distracted by the fact that you went and fathered our little pet that I gave those things of Vedric's a chance to get at me."
Tears burned his eyes. "But -"
“Stop that. I knew you'd take it that way, that's why I asked - Her - Lady Death - to let me see you. It's not your fault. Now listen to me, neither of us have much more time."
"The Web - you're the Northern Guardian -"
"Exactly. You'll have to take my place. More than that, remember what you were thinking earlier? About making all the Heralds the power source? Do that, Van. Figure out how." Jaysen squeezed his hand urgently. "It's important. Figure out how to change the Web-spell so that it doesn't need Guardians anymore, just the Heralds themselves. You're the only one of us that can do that. I'm charging you with that, Van."
He nodded, and met Jaysen's eyes evenly. "I promise."
"I -" Jaysen's eyes softened for a moment. "There's something else. She told me I could tell you. Maybe it'll help. She said you won't be alone."
He released Vanyel's hand, and stepped backward, already beginning to fade.
"She promised, Van. And I promise."
Then he was falling, falling -
For a confused moment after he opened his eyes, he thought that the slumped form in Whites in the chair beside his bed was the Messenger -
But his hiss of pain as he tried to move woke the other, and he saw that it was a mortal and a friend, after all.
"Tran?" he whispered. "Tantras? What are you -"
Tantras' face was lined with exhaustion, and his eyes were red with weeping.
"Van, I have to tell you -"
"We lost Jays," he whispered, remembering, feeling the emptiness.
Oh, gods - He was not aware that he was weeping until a sob shook him and made him gasp with pain.
Tantras just handed him a square of linen, and, moving to sit gingerly on the side of the bed, held him until exhaustion left him no more tears to weep.
"We thought you ought to hear it from a friend," Tantras told him, helping him to lie back. "I should have known you already knew."
"How?" Vanyel whispered. "He didn't tell me how."
"He couldn't keep the Swarm off - so he and his Companion - you know better than me how that works."
"Final strike," Vanyel answered numbly. "Take your last target with you. Oh, gods - if I'd just been there."
"What good would you have done?" Tantras chided. "No one can be two places at once, Van. Not even you. Lady Bright, we came within a hair of losing you, and that's something I'd rather not think about. Lissa's Healer still doesn't know how he pulled it off. He swears he had divine help at the last moment."
Vanyel just stared at him, rinding it hard to imagine a world without Jaysen in it.
A gentle tap broke the silence between them, and a maid hurried in, face blank -
"Milord Herald-Mage?" she faltered, holding a pitcher.
Not “Vanyel, “or even “milord Van, “ he thought, with a catch in his throat. Now I terrify even the ones who grew up with me around. I'm a stranger even to my own.
"Yes, Sondri?" he said, as gently as he could.
"I brought ye summat t' drink."
She left the pitcher and glass beside the bed, and hurried out.
Fear. Vanyel felt another wrench inside. And there was only one way to deal with the pain of it.
Tantras had enough Empathy to feel something of his withdrawal. "Van - " He touched Vanyel's shoulder. "Van, what are you doing?"
Van looked at him bleakly. "You saw her," he whispered. "It's just like you told me. I frighten people. And now even more than before. I wiped out the entire Mavelan family, or at least all of the ones in the meld. I had divine aid in being Healed, or at least that's what they're telling each other out there. I frightened them before, now I terrify them. It hurts, Tran. It hurts to feel that fear.''
"So you're withdrawing behind walls again." Tantras shook his head. "Van, that's not the answer."
Tantras only shook his head dumbly.
"At least my walls give me a little peace. And I won't wall my friends out, I promise." He tried to smile, at least a little.
"But you won't look for new friends either. Or love. Van, you're making a serious mistake."
"It's mine to make."
"I can't stay," Tantras said, after a long silence. "I have to courier messages back. I only waited to tell you."
Vanyel nodded, grief too profound to be purged with one spate of weeping rising to block his words. "Duty; we all have it. That's what kept me, Tran, that, and finally figuring out what I'm doing here. And that's what Jays died for - duty, and protecting the ones we all love." He stared at a spot on the opposite
Tantras eased off the bed, and squeezed his hand. "Rest. When there's more to tell, we'll get the word to you."
"Thank you," he murmured, closing his eyes. He heard soft footsteps crossing the floor; heard the door open and close. Then knew nothing more for a very long time.
The Healer had done his best, but the wound Father Leren's knife had left was only half healed, and still very sore. Vanyel had just discovered that getting from his bed to the chair beside his table was a sweating and pain-filled ordeal. The Healer had sternly warned him about the consequences of tearing open half-healed tissues, and Vanyel was inclined to take him very seriously, given the way he was hurting. He didn't want to make a bigger mess of his midsection than it already was. As it was, he'd have an L-shaped scar for the rest of his life. Gut wounds were definitely not on his list of favored ways to earn a little rest.
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