I stared stunned at Ari. His behaviour in Euphoria made more sense. Valerie grinned, "I'm sure you're familiar with the lore. The young arrogant king who thought he could change the world. He should've never tried to side step us. His foolishness could've cost us dearly."
"I AM NOT FOOLISH." Ari boomed, his eyes dropping to his shoes. Valerie tapped her fingers, "The Carnivore King thing is peculiar. Pruning back memories always mixes the person up horribly." Valerie remarked.
I clenched my fists stepping forward. "What did you do to him!" She smirked, "Now calm down Wanderer. Darius should've known better than to get involved with us."
"That's no excuse-"
"King's should know better than to mess with things they don't understand. Messing with things you don't understand gets you killed." Valerie smirked, pacing.
"Phyn." Luca said resting his hand on my shoulder, his eyes showing caution. Valerie poked her head around, "What are you afraid of, son of Merle? I am well aware of how important she is." Valerie tossed her hair.
"I'm not afraid." He spat.
"No...you're terrified. I can smell it on you." She snorted, she leaned her head back. "Ah yes, could it be you’re afraid of your own destiny?"
I turned, watching his eyes darken. He stepped away. I watched the raw look in his eyes. "Luca what is she talking about?" I studied him desperately.
"It's inconsequential really." She laughed, "It sucks being in love with someone who's meant for sheol." What did that mean?
"I don't understand!" I hissed back. "You don't need to Wanderer. You don't need to understand any of this. How someone as pathetically ordinary as you became what you are, I don't know." She shook her head with a snarl. I frowned, fighting my rising anger.
"Do you know why we're here." Broc interrupted my rage. Valerie sighed, "Am I supposed to?"
"Merle's coming to kill the king." Diggery huffed, deepening a scowl. Valerie straightened her posture, "I see. What do you think you're going to do about it?" She pointed to us mockingly.
Diggery's snarl grew. "Not stand around like idiots." He hissed.
"Hmmm, really cause that's all you've done so far." She stepped back to check on the dazed king.
"Don't you want him to fail!" I yelled back. She looked up from the king, "I'm not partial to what Merle does." She said dryly. I frowned, " I doubt Augustine wants him to succeed." She snorted, "You don't know what Augustine wants." She stated.
Diggery wormed his way forward, "If you won't help us then get out of the way." He asserted. Valerie laughed, "Very intimidating. I'm frightened, really." She spat sarcastically.
She let out a strange whistle, a smile returning to her lips,"Believe it or not but we all want Merle down this path, at least to a certain point."
Ari let out a low growl. Something in his eyes changed. I froze in horror, shivers running down my spine. Oh no.
I didn't have time to think Ari turned, pulling Broc's sword from his sheath he stabbed it through his chest. My world spun in chaotic disaster. No! Diggery went to grab him. Ari turned, swinging a punch. He hit his cheek, knocking him against the wall.
I tried to rush over, Luca holding me back. Broc stepped back, the sword still sticking out of his chest. A steady fury burning in his eyes.
"Is that all you got, big guy?" He roared. Ari didn't react, his face almost blank. Valerie skirted to the back corner, rather elegantly, almost dance-like. Tightening my fists, I was ready to tear her apart.
Ari turned to me and Luca, cracking his fingers. I gulped, looking back at Broc in despair. I didn't know what to do.
Broc stumbled in pain picking up a rod on the floor. In a breath he swung it square on the back of Ari's head. The metal rang out, the blow enough to leave blood. Ari stopped, his eyes widening. He turned back, swinging his fists at Broc. Broc dodged his attacks effortlessly, backing himself up into the corner. No no no. I knew how that was going to end. I had watched too many people die.
I broke free of Luca's grasp running after them, escaping Luca's attempts to catch me. I couldn't think it through. I refused to think it through. I wouldn't watch him die.
Broc reached the wall, Ari turned the blade, pulling it from his chest. I was too late. My heart stopped at that moment. Broc's eyes wide but resolved. I screamed, my voice hoarse and broken. It didn't feel like mine.
Ari turned back with the bloody sword. Emotionless his eyes locked on mine, he looked at the blade and then back at me. Broc slid down the wall resting on the floor. A streak of red across the wall. He didn't have much time.
My hands shook, "Ari stop!" I croaked, unable to make my voice work properly. His eyes flickered, but stayed. Swinging the blade down, I stumbled back. I fell to the floor, the blade lodged in the wood. He wretched free as I skirted back. Sheer panic fueling me, I rolled away from a second swing.
"Ari it’s me. It's Phyn!" I cried desperately, jumping back once more. Valerie laughed, as I fought to get away. I cursed her in my mind. From the corner of my eye I saw Luca beside Broc. He looked over, a torn panic in his eyes. He needed to stay where he was. I needed to be okay.
I crawled forward, to my feet, running under Ari's arm before he landed the next swing. I jumped up on the table, aiming my sights on Valerie. Ari turned bewildered, but I ignored him. I was after the witch.
I jumped off the table grabbing a hold of her. Throwing her down with my full weight. She gasped,as the momentum knocked her over. Scratching at me furiously, I locked on, refusing to let go. Ari was quickly approaching. "Stop him."
She laughed, "That's cute." She hissed, amidst her struggle.
"Stop him or I'll teleport you off the tower." I dropped my tone, jerking her arm back.
Her mouth open, gawking at my threat. "You wouldn't-"
"Try me. I've been preparing to kill someone all day." I didn’t let my gaze waver. My heartbeat pounding strong, I was ready if she wouldn't fold. She froze, locked in an expression of shock.
"I thought you'd be all for self preservation, guess I was wrong." I hissed, tightening my grip. Ari was close, she struggled more fiercely. I shut my eyes, thinking of the height of the tower. Before I fell into the pulse, she let out a low whistle.
Ari blinked, stopping. He stared at the blood on his hands, horror across his face. I let go of Valerie, finding a sense of relief.
I got up, pulling Diggery to his feet as I passed. My eyes were stuck on Broc, in a pool of his own blood.
Diggery rubbed his head, "Twice in one day-" He stopped catching sight of Broc. My body felt cold, I ran over, stopping as I stood over him. Diggery beside me wide eyed. Luca wiped the tears streaming down his cheeks, avoiding eyes.
"He's still alive but barely." Luca echoed softly. "Not Broc...." Diggery mumbled. My words caught in my throat. My mind drifting off, there had to be something we could do.
I lifted my head, "I know someone here! He knows magic. Maybe he can help." I rambled out desperately. Luca locked onto my eyes, "Actually? Do you think it will work?" He searched my eyes for hope.
"It's worth a shot." I didn't really know if Klevenger would be able to help. It was better than watching him die.
"Then let's-" Diggery stopped, a wicked laughter coming from behind us. Valerie. I had forgotten about her.
"Do you think you've won Wanderer? I'm just getting star-" her voice cut out, Ari's hands wrapped around her neck. "STAY OUT OF MY HEAD WITCH!" He cried, shoving her against the wall as she struggled to breathe. I stood up quick, to stop him.
Diggery caught my hand, "Don't, not for her." I pulled away from his grasp, moving quickly.
"Ari stop." My voice broke. His eyes in fury, he didn't seem to notice me. "Please Ari." I pleaded, pulling at his arm. "You don't want more blood on your hands."
Ari's expression faltered, his grip loosening, he met my eyes. He turned back at Valerie, rekindling his hatred.
"Darius." I used his real name. I glared at him, not giving up. Crumbling, he let go of Valerie. He turned away a mess of tears. His voice loud and roaring in mourningful sobs. It was rattling.
I watched Valerie gasp for air on the floor. Why did I spare her? I didn't know. Something inside me telling me it was right.
"C'mon let's go." I huffed, pulling Ari up, I walked to the others. Valerie was still struggling to breathe. I had to hope she would be too weak to challenge us again.
I grabbed Broc's hand, watching to make sure everyone was connected, and closed my eyes resting on my heart beat. Following it deeper, I thought of Klevenger, his little house, and the strange smell of his tea. I built up the feeling in my mind letting it direct me. I collapsed into it, opening my eyes, now standing in front of Kleevengers house.
Ari paced tensely, his hands stuck in his hair. I left Broc with Luca and Diggery, running to the door. I beat my fists on the door, Broc didn't have time. It struck me that the king had little time as well. The thoughts in the back of my mind felt very acidic. I probably couldn't save both of them but I wasn't going to leave Broc.
I raised my hand to knock again, it swung open in response. Klevenger blinked, peering over my shoulder. "Please my friend's really hurt. If you can do anything for him." I pleaded, fighting back a sudden rush of tears.
Klevenger frowned for a second looking back in the house. "Quick bring him in here and I'll see what I can do child." He muttered, opening the door further. He stood back as Luca and Diggery struggled pulling Broc up and into the house, I hovered not knowing how to help. Getting him inside, I looked back watching Ari stand in the street. He collapsed, still a mess of sobs. He did not follow.
"Put him down here." Klevenger commanded, swiping his arm across the coffee table, knocking everything on it off. A mug rattled as it hit the floor. I winched, watching Diggery and Luca lay Broc across it. Broc looked deathly, his skin a greener shade than normal. Sweat across his forehead he was barely responsive. I bit my lip, he was in rough shape. His clothes were soaked in blood, a deep crimson.
"Wren stop hiding like a scared child and help me." Klevenger complained, pouring hot water from his kettle into a bowl. I turned my head, Wren slinking in. "Wren…" I muttered, meeting his eyes. "Hey Kid." He said, a guilty look in his eyes. Diggery glared at him as he walked in. Wren met his glare, looking uncomfortable.
"What do you need, Kleevy?"
"Iron, the fire poker should do. And that jar on the top shelf in my lab." Klevenger directed Wren, wringing a cloth in the water he poured. "This fellow's lost a lot of blood." He muttered, cutting off Broc's shirt exposing the wound.
Wren grabbed fire poker and he handed it to Luca. Pulling him to the fire he had him hold it over the flames.
Wren turned for the door. "You don't want to see this Phyn." He suggested. I frowned, trying to object. I wanted to be here. "You, blondey, take her outside." Klevenger pointed to Diggery. He stuttered nodding, walking out, making sure I followed. I turned my head looking back. I didn't want to leave. Wren was right though, I wasn't in a good head space.
"C'mon Phyn." Diggery said, pulling me down the hallway. My hands shaking, I didn't want to lose another friend. He was only here because of me.
Opening the door we sat on the steps. A muffled scream ripping out, making me wince. Diggery offered me an uneasy grin. They had to close the wound, but it didn't make listening easy.
Looking out into the little square, the grayish clouds drifted by. A quiet corner in a bustling city. Ari caught in the center of the street curled up in a ball. I turned my eyes back to my hands.
Diggery studied me, his green eyes searching for something. I blinked back the tears in my eyes, resting my head in my hands. I wanted this to be over. I didn't know what I'd do if he died.
"You love him...don't you." Diggery spoke quietly. I turned my head, "Who? Broc?" I frowned. What a weird thing to ask.
Diggery shook his head with a sour face."No, no, Luca."
I stopped, I went to open my mouth but couldn't. Did I love Luca? I certainly had feelings for him. I furrowed my brow, staring at the ground.
Diggery giving me a pained smirk, "I see." He said, wringing his hands.
"I don't know if I love him." I spat, my face turning red. Diggery raised his eyebrows, "But you like him more than me."
"No that's not what I said. You're my best friend Diggery." I replied. "Stop. Don't try to make this hurt less. You know what I mean Phyn." He returned my rage, meeting my eyes again.
"Admit that you love him." He pointed at me. His green eyes were locked in determination. I gawked at him, throwing my head back in my hands. What could I say?
"Okay, I love him." I echoed, finding it a strange thing to say out loud. Diggery nodded, blinking back tears.
"Good." He concluded, his face dropping. His bright green eyes lost some of their shine. "I'm sorry Diggery." I muttered. The guilt hit me as I watched the pain on his face.
"Don't be. It's better that I know." He said, I nodded, pulling my eyes back to my shoes, my legs outstretched on the steps. "I know but…" I let my voice trail off. There was nothing I could say. The air was painfully tense and I sniffed back a tear. The breeze, leaving me in shivers. Why was all this so complicated? I couldn't make this better. I didn't like how this felt.
Ari let out a more violent sob, breaking the silence. I shuffled my feet on the steps, trying to shift aside this feeling. Diggery kept his head down.
Unable to bear it, I stood up, walking to the crying Ari. I carefully knelt down beside him, trying to steady his trembling.
Diggrey stood up, "Phyn are you sure you should get close to him.” He called after me. I ignored his warning. Ari looked relieved to see me for a second for a second, his eyes suddenly switching to panic.
"STAY BACK WARRIOR GIRL! I DON'T WANT TO HURT YOU TOO." He shouted, flinging himself away from me. "You're not going to hurt me Ari." I chased him, not letting him run from me.
"NO! I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER THAT ANYMORE." He whimpered, grabbing his ears. "I DON'T HAve control of ME anymore." His voice collapsed to a lower volume.
"Darius." I said plainly. Ari's eyes shifted in recognition. His expression different from normal. He stared up, his eyes strained, "Your- name is Phyn- correct?" He asked, his voice strikingly different. I nodded, "...Yes."
Darius sat up, ordering his words carefully. "Sorry about my manners. Insanity hasn't allowed me much self control." He bit back a laugh, brushing off the dirt on his pants. It was like Ari was a different person.
"It's ok It's not your fault." I assured him, Diggery stood up, cautiously walking over.
Darius looked around confused, "What's going on?" He asked, a shadow of fear in his eyes. "We're trying to stop the catastrophe. Merle is trying to kill all the kings." I explained.
Darius nodded beneath a frown, he stiffened his posturse. "I see. Then time is short."
"Time is always short." I remarked dryly. The lost king smiled, "Yes I suppose so."
Diggery reached us, staring at Darius suspiciously.
"What do you know, Darius?" I asked.
He took a breath,"This alliance game they've played it before. It's about control. Merely a way to sink their talons deeper as they rework the world like a ball of clay. They did it to me." He scratched his head.
"I failed Euphoria." His voice dropped to despair. I bit my lip, “So your disappearance, the diplomats; that was them?”
“Yes, I think so.” His voice began to struggle, he winced. His eyes grew wide.
"Are you okay?" I asked quickly.
"I can't stay much longer." He blinked up through his struggle. "I...don't..know...if it helps but...the JACKAL." Darius coughed.
"I don't think he knows…This doesn't end with Tetrad. There's something worse. Something no one would tell me..." His voice interrupted by a cough. His cough, so violent he threw up. A weird dark purple, almost black, liquid mixed in. I frowned, pulling back. Darius's eyes grew wide, his body seizing. He shook uncontrollably, his mouth foaming. I froze, trying to figure out what to do. Diggery ran back towards the house.
I turned Darius onto his side, making sure he wouldn’t choke. My hands shook, overwhelmed. I didn't know what I was doing. I gagged at the smell of the puke, turning my head away.
Wren came running out frantically. He stopped at the scene, pushing me aside. I stood back, watching. "
Dangerous magic in your friend here." Wren complained. "Not much we can do till the episode stops." He kept focused on his state. I didn't know what he was watching for.
Darius slowly stopped shaking, his limbs falling limp. Wren let out a sigh, checking Dairus's eyes. "We should let Klevenger take a look at him, he maybe can undo some of this." He suggested lifting Ari up. I came over to help him, Ari blinking confused. We carried him between our shoulders, pulling him towards the doorway.
"How's Broc doing." I asked looking across at Wren. He tilted his head with a frown. "He's weak, still alive. Hard to say if he'll recover." He responded dully. I nodded, feeling the weight of it. It was my fault he was in that condition.
Dodging up the steps, we pivoted inside, letting him down in the hall. Shuffling I stepped back, looking up. It was dark, the only light coming from other rooms. I timidly turned to the door where Broc was. Wren walking into Klevenger's lab. It felt like my fault. Everything around me was always falling apart. I crossed my arms, trying to distract myself, I had plenty of tears that were ready to fall, but they wouldn't help. I looked up, catching Luca walking out, leaning against the doorway. His expression low, he stared at me not wavering for a second. How had things gone so wrong? Luca tilted his head, hesitating.
"You have really pretty eyes."
My mind went blank, I stared at him dumbfounded, my face turning red.
"I'm sorry, that was a clumsy attempt to cheer you up." He crossed his arms, "Broc is strong. If anyone will survive this it's him."
I nodded, "I know I just-" my voice broke and I stopped. I didn't want to cry. I took a breath, looking back up. "You have really pretty eyes too." I said, through a grin.
Luca's smile widened, "Ya you think? It's nice to know I have at least one irresistible quality."
Wren gagged walking back in, "Ya, ya,very irresistible, mind if I go throw up now?" He raised his eyebrows with mild disgust, walking between us into the tea room. My face growing bright red.
Luca held his hand out to me, "You should see Broc." He beckoned. I looked down at Ari. "I've got him." Klevenger said, stepping out. I hesitated before walking over.
Stepping through the doorway, I walked into the tearoom. Broc was laying on the table, now bandaged up. He still looked sickly but his breathing was steady. Diggery was looking out the small window, turning as I entered.
I walked up to Broc, his eyes opening in a slit. "Hey Phyn." He croaked, with a grin. "Hey." I muttered back. I didn't know what to say.
"I don't look that awful do I?" He coughed. I shook my head, "No, no, no, not at all." I answered quickly. He chuckled."Ya sure. Liar." He muttered.
He dropped his grin, looking up at me seriously, "Why are you still here Phyn? You're going to miss Merle."
I frowned, "You're more important." I stated, decidedly. Broc shook his head. "No I'm not. You can't afford to wait for me." I shook my head.
"No Phyn I knew what I signed up for." He opened his eyes wider, wincing to sit up.
"Go save the world."
My heart dropped, but his resolve didn't waver.
"...Just don't lose yourself in the process." He locked onto my gaze, almost desperately.
"What are you talking about Broc?" I asked, steadying myself.
He took a breath, "Trust your gut Phyn, not the prophecy." He grabbed my wrist, his expression serious.
"I will." I promised, my voice shaking. He took a sigh leaning back "Good." He muttered, putting his head back on Klevenger's throw pillow. I didn't know exactly what he meant by saying that.
I stepped back, looking around at the others. Luca just in front of the doorway. Wren leaned against the wall. Klevenger hummed, walking back in. He set down a cup he was carrying.
"Get going Phyn." Broc grumbled. My heart fell, I looked back at him. I felt so weak. I didn't want to go.
"Who's coming with me?" I asked, in a shaky voice. I scanned the room for responses. Luca stepped forward first, "I'm always ready for more trouble." He smirked, a subtle weight beneath his eyes. Diggery avoided my eyes, keeping them to the window.
Broc raised his hand, "I would love to but I don't think I'll be going anywhere." He laughed, almost coughing.
"I'm too old for adventures." Klevenger complained, picking up his cup and taking a sip. "Besides I need to look after our injured friend here and the bearded one in the hall." He raised his eyebrows.
"Is there anything that you can do for him?" I asked, hopeful. Klevenger shrugged, "Live magic is tough. The circle is literally in his veins, disrupting it almost always ends in death. I may be able to dull the effects." He shrugged. I frowned, wishing it was a more optimistic diagnosis.
"I'm staying here." Diggery muttered, stopping my thoughts. What? He gave me a guilty look, "I'm really not much help Phyn. I'll just get in the way." He muttered looking back at the window. My heart falling to my stomach. "Ok." My voice rang out vulnerable. I turned my gaze back to Luca. I guess it was only us then.
A low growl roared out from Wren. He pushed off the wall, "I'm going to be kicking myself later but it looks like you could use the help." Wren said, moving in, "Count me in kid."
"Thank you." I was surprised by his change of heart. He shook his head, "Wait till there's actually something worth thanking me for." He huffed, slipping his hands in his pockets.
I took another look around the room at my friends, my eyes resting on Diggery. I hoped things would be okay with time. I didn't like the look in his eyes.
"Let's get going then." I instructed Luca and Wren. We were already well behind. They took my hands and I shut my eyes. Finding my heartbeat I followed the 'thud' to the deeper pulse. I reluctantly found the feeling I felt in the room with Valerie. I didn't know if the king of Mirth was still alive but it was worth finding out. Diving into the pulse, we left Klevenger's house. Once again on the path of destiny.