The Eternal Day : Tales of Arcadia - Chapter 8
Author’s Notes : Final “Titanhunter” chapter! Let’s see what Doux and the others are up to, yea? Hope you all enjoy.
Titanhunters (Part 3)
They stepped out of the shadows, arriving at a village bordered by rainbow hills and valleys. Strokes of green and purple, blue and beige, pink and ochre painted the great mountainsides, vibrant and breathtaking even under a host of dark clouds. Like a flying beacon the white Heartstone shone, casting its glow over the harlequin landscape.
“You okay, Douxie?” Jim asked.
Douxie nodded. His head wasn’t feeling fantastic, but after fumbling through a few more healing spells it was at least bearable.
“Hurts a little but I’ll be alright, thanks,” he said, giving Jim a soft smile. He then gazed around and admired the beauty of the land while he had the chance. “I’d seen so many photos of these mountains.”
Archie pondered, “Yes, what were they called again…”
“Quebrada de Humahuaca,” Claire said. “My parents told me we had distant relatives from around here. Great, great, great, aunties and uncles.”
“Your dad’s mom’s great, great grandmother’s fourth cousin’s son’s…” Jim scratched his head. “....Daughter?”
Claire snickered. “Something like that.”
“That’s cool,” Zoe said.
But as cool and marvelous as it was, the empty village and ongoing storm put a damper on appreciating the scenery. The group walked quiet and somber down vacant roads and past abandoned shops until they reached the giant crater left by the Heartstone. Peering far down, the iridescence of multicolored crystals lined the rubbled pathways of another troll metropolis.
“Arch,” Douxie said, sharing a nod. Archie leapt from his shoulder, wings spread, and dove. He did a quick sweep of the area, checking under and around slabs of earth and toppled stone shelters.
“Hello! Is anyone there?” Archie called. He flew in place, waiting. Moments later his ears flickered in the direction of movement. From crevices hidden among clusters of white crystals appeared the faces of unsure trolls. Archie perked. “It’s alright. Don’t be afraid.” He released two streaks of fire upward, a signal to the others that it was safe. The trolls whispered and shrank back when more strangers arrived through a portal of darkness.
“H-humans!!” one troll exclaimed.
“What do they want with us?” another said.
“I’m scared!” a youngling cried.
Douxie held up his hands and smiled softly. “Easy there. We’re friends, not foes.” He took a small step. “My name is Hisirdoux Casperan, successor to Master Merlin Ambrosius.” Gasps rippled about when he conjured his staff.
Archie returned to Douxie’s shoulder, puffing his chest and grinning proud. “Master Hisirdoux’s Familiar, Archibald at your service.”
“I’m Zoe.” She hooked an arm around Claire’s shoulders. “This is Claire. We’re witches.” Claire returned Zoe’s smirk.
Jim stepped next to Douxie. “Jim Lake Jr. Nice to meet you all.”
Recognition sparked among the trolls as they gazed upon his suit of armor.
“Hold on now…Is that…?”
“Can it be?”
“The Armor of Daylight!”
“Looks a bit different, doesn’t it?”
“So it’s true!” A stout, rotund troll in cream colored garb trimmed with gold wiggled out between the others. His chipped tusks and horns were ivory like his skin. Ornate patterns were carved into his walking stick, crowned with a brilliant heartstone speartip. His two silver eyes were wide with wonder on Jim and he adjusted his large glasses. “The Trollhunter is a human boy… Yes, a human boy. You defeated Gumnar the Black and quelled the Eternal Night.”
The cavern buzzed with murmuring.
Jim tried a smile. “Well I wasn’t…quite human when I did that. Um…b-but either way, I wasn’t on my own. I couldn’t have done it without my friends. I…I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them.”
The ivory troll ruminated. “Mm, yes, yes. Very good. Curious, indeed, but good. And you?” He turned to Douxie. “Merlin’s successor, you said? Has he…”
Douxie blinked a few times. Looked down for a second.
“Yeah,” he said quietly. Archie pressed against his cheek. Zoe’s hand went to his back. Claire took Jim’s hand.
“Mm, I see, I see,” the troll said, a glow of sadness in his eyes. “A good wizard he was. Very good.”
“So who are you?” Zoe asked. “I’m gonna assume you’re the leader around here.”
The troll nodded. “Indeed, indeed I am. Alabasteremswiss Chezekiel the Fourth is my name but please Alabast will do just fine.” Alabast opened his arms. “Welcome to Moonglow Hollow, welcome! Although our great Moonstone — er, Heartstone, our Heartstone, yes — is in the sky currently.”
“Right,” Douxie said. “And we know why.”
They walked through everything. Events from a year ago. The Arcane Order. Seven Heartstones from the start of everything. The Titans. Nari.
“She’ll be headed this way,” Douxie said. His chest tightened, as did his grip on his staff. “But we’ll bring her back to us.”
But Alabast was quivering where he stood, his trolls cowering with him.
“Oh d-dear Deya!” he exclaimed. “This is bad! V-very bad!”
“It’s gonna be alright,” Jim said earnestly.
“And if not? I-if your forest friend cannot be freed?” Alabast looked up at the Heartstone and whimpered. “Oh our precious Moonstone…What are we to do?”
“I understand you’re afraid,” Douxie said, sweeping his gaze over the trolls before settling on their leader. “But please trust us.” Even as he said it, coils of doubt wound in his gut. But he had to believe through it. He took a deep breath. “Whatever comes to pass, all will be well, I promise.”
“We’ll keep you safe,” Claire said to the fear-stricken trolls. “We’ll protect you.”
“Oooh dear, oh dear…” Alabast clung to his walking stick and paced, muttering loud to himself. “The humans have escaped but what of us? Such a great threat…Too great for even the Trollhunter! For Merlin’s champions! And us? Ooooh we’ll be reduced to pebbles! I’m perplexed, so perplexed!”
“Help us,” Zoe said, stepping forward. She uncrossed her arms, made her voice soft. “Fight alongside us.”
Alabast squealed. “F-f-fight? Oh no, oh no, I can’t…W-we cannot possibly…!” The trolls shrank back further, all shaking their heads and trembling. “W-w-we are peaceful here in Moonglow Hollow. P-peaceful!” A sob erupted from him.
“A-alright, alright!” Douxie said, palms up in a calming gesture. He shared a look with Zoe. “You’re okay, mate. We’ll just—”
A tremor seized the cavern, rocks and dust raining down. Aftershocks followed to the beat of heavy footsteps. Douxie looked to his friends, stomach sinking and he swallowed.
Cries of panic rose from the Moonglow Hollow trolls.
“It’s the end for us!”
“Deya help us!”
“R-r-run away!” Alabast yelped to his clan. “Run away quickly, n-now, now!!”
“Y-yeah, just get somewhere safe!” Jim hollered after them as they fled into deep tunnels.
“Claire!” Zoe said.
“On it!” Claire focused and conjured a portal, bringing the group back to the surface.
The Forest Titan emerged from the mountains and cantered into the village, the spring green glow of its being illuminating the bleakness of the storm. The ground quaked with every step as it gravitated toward the Heartstone, tangles of aggressive foliage overwhelming everything it passed. Douxie’s eyes went to the Titan’s tree antlers, where he knew Nari was.
“We’ll get her back,” he said.
Jim nodded. “Whatever it takes.”
He and Claire hopped into the shadows. Archie enlarged himself, Douxie and Zoe climbing aboard and they were off. They circled the Titan’s head and dove right in, landing among its strands of vines for hair, beneath the emerald shadow of the symbol and sphere rotating upon its blank face. Jim and Claire appeared soon after and they all gazed up between the trees. Nari hovered, looking straight ahead.
“Nari!!” Douxie shouted. His heart leapt, shocked but hopeful, when her head snapped down at him. His hope burgeoned when she descended, settling in front of them. They held their breaths, stances guarded, as Douxie stepped closer. Nari’s glazed over eyes watched him. “Nari…Nari, it’s me. It’s Doux—”
Vines snapped up and around him and the others, pinning their arms against their bodies. Multiple vines had snagged Archie’s large form, wrapping his ankles, trapping his wings, and muzzling him. He thrashed wildly, smoke billowing from his nostrils.
Zoe squirmed. “Ugh! Douxie!!”
Douxie kicked his legs as he was lifted. “N-Now Nari, this is an awfully bad show of m-manners…!”
Nari flicked her wrist inward, and Douxie yelped when the vine tugged him closer. Her darkened eyes bore into his, dilated pupils ringed with flaring red and icy blue. His heart lurched and he met her there, searching for any hint of her.
“Nari…,” Douxie whispered. And there it was, the tiniest fleeting glimmer. For a split second her lip quivered. He wasn’t seeing things. That was her, he knew it, he could feel it. But before he could call out to her again, the magic circling her eyes glared and Douxie was sent sailing. “Fuzzbuckeeeets!!!”
“Doux!!” Jim shouted.
Archie morphed into a snake, slipping through the vine’s grasp, then back into a large dragon. He sprang off the Titan’s head and did an accelerated swoop, snagging Douxie’s hood between his teeth. They dangled for a moment, reorienting.
“Grabbed me by the scruff, did you?” Douxie huffed with a grimace. The dull ache in his head had sharpened from all the crazy movement. But nevertheless, Archie chuffed and gave him a shake. “Ow! Knock it off you little—er, big—Gah, you big little fiend!”
Back on the Titan, Claire cried out when the vine around her constricted, “Nari please! It’s us!”
“We’re—ngh—We’re your friends…!” Jim wheezed.
It fell on deaf ears. Nari, not even looking their way, willed her Titan to toss them over. Claire screamed while Jim tried reaching for her hand.
“Hang on!!” Zoe made an X with her arms, fists clenched. Magic flared and sparked around her. “Come on, come on…!” The concentrated magic in her arms traveled down the rest of her body, an even spread, her mind invoking security. With a shout Zoe threw her arms open, magic surging out.
“Oof!” She thudded against her manifesting safety tarp, the magic rippling upon impact. Jim and Claire crashed into it seconds later. Once the spell was fully formed they began to drift steadily downward. “You guys okay?”
Jim got to his hands and knees, nodding dizzily. “Y-yeah. Thanks to you, Zoe.”
“I’m guessing this is what an anti-gravity spell is supposed to be,” Claire said as she pushed herself up to sit.
Zoe sighed. “Douxie?”
The magic tarp lowered them onto the roof of a building. Douxie and Archie dropped beside them. As soon as they landed, Archie shrunk down to his regular size, noticeably faint. Douxie gathered him in his arms.
“You alright, Arch?” he asked, cradling Archie against his chest.
“Still getting used to the large form,” Archie said. He shook his head. “Just…Just a moment’s rest and I’ll be right as rain.” Claire ran her knuckles over his head and he purred.
“So what do we do now?” Zoe asked. The Forest Titan was drawing closer to the Heartstone without pause.
Douxie watched it intently. “We try again.”
“Doux…,” Zoe said.
“I know but she was there, Zo. When I said her name, she heard me. I know she did.” He worried his lip. “If…If I can reach her mind with my own…It just might undo Bellroc and Skrael’s spell.”
“How do you know?” Archie asked.
Douxie exhaled, breath shaking. “I don’t. But I have to try.”
Zoe gazed at him, then touched his arm. “Alright Douxie. But we need another plan. She’s just going to keep throwing us off.”
“We could try a more gradual approach instead of getting right in her face,” Jim said. “Uh, or right on the face?”
Moments later they were stepping out of a shadow portal and into the small wood that was the Titan’s deer back. Short trees with oddly shaped branches and teardrop leaves sprouted upon its earthy grass pelt, while two splendid ones towering above the rest flourished at the base of the Titan’s humanoid back. What had made the glowing mottled pattern of a doe turned out to be lighted flower beds of varying sizes, dazzling specks fluttering off curled buds and florets. Raindrops trickled through the leaves, shrouding the wood in a thin mist and enveloping the group with the fragrance of wet earth.
“Right then. Let’s have another go at this, shall we?” Douxie started towards the two grand trees, the others following cautiously.
“Guess I can say I’ve ridden a centaur now,” Claire said.
Archie in her arms hummed. “Actually, the proper term for this creature is a cervitaur. They’re quite rare compared to their half horse relatives.”
“Oooh. Did you know that, Teach?”
Douxie sputtered. “W-what? Of course I knew that.”
Zoe turned around and whispered, “He totally didn’t know that.”
They came to the two trees and wondered at the strange branches and unique leafy patterns that reached all the way up to the Titan’s human shoulder blades, melding with its hued skin. Embellishing their trunks were stunning, intricate sleeves of muted rainbow bark. Douxie pressed his palm against them. Something like pins and needles, deep within his very soul, blossomed in his hand and raced up his arm. The abrupt sensation had him drawing back as if stung. He looked far up the expanse of the Titan’s back, at the magic he now noticed pulsing through the branches like veins. An enigmatic ancient magic he didn’t understand, that he doubted even Merlin ever grasped.
“That’s…a pretty big climb,” Jim said.
“Not to worry. I’ve got it sorted. Hold out your hands.” Douxie brushed his fingers over his friends’ palms, closing his eyes and channeling. The pain in his head flared up but he pushed through. “Adhaereo superfiu—”
Rustling startled them. All around them the leaves began to rattle. Branches dipped and twisted. Roots broke through the earth, wrapping around themselves. The group circled up, readying themselves as monsters were birthed from the wood. Ends of furling branches turned into gangly stick creatures, jagged leaves like razors protruding all over and their splintered arms needlelike. The tips of coiling roots opened to reveal flaps bearing rows upon rows of sharp teeth. The flower beds dimmed and morphed into lumps of writhing thorny vines, centers mutating into grotesque maws.
“Bloody mandrakes!” Douxie cried, bracelet lighting.
“Not mandrakes.” Archie turned big and growled. “These are carnifloras!”
“Ugh, you’re really going to correct me at a time like thi—” A thorny vine snaked around his ankle. “Oh fuzzbucKEEAHH!!” One sharp pull and Douxie hit the ground, head immediately pounding. Archie leapt and doused the plant in flames before Douxie was eaten alive. The carniflora shrieked and released him.
Zoe hurried to help him back up. “Are you okay?”
“Nooot really…,” Douxie groaned, cradling his forehead.
The carnifloras advanced, appendages flailing and jaws open. Jim pulled the broadsword they’d found off his back and charged. Claire chucked rounds of magic alongside Zoe. Archie coated his teeth in flames and tore into the neck of a root carniflora, claws scratching like mad.
Douxie held up his hand and tried to conjure an attack. But his headache only worsened. He dropped his arm, fist striking the floor in frustration.
“Douxie, don’t worry about us!” Jim shouted as he hacked and slashed. “Just get to Nari!”
“What? No, I can’t leave you all!”
“We’ll be fine!” A branch carniflora sliced Zoe’s arm. She hissed but countered with an electrified backhand. “Just go!!”
“Bring her back to us!” Archie roared. Another root carniflora bit into his flank and he yowled, rolling to dislodge it then retaliating with fire and claws.
Douxie looked on, the world starting to rotate. Breathing becoming heavier, more desperate. Heart thrashing and hands clamming up. He closed his eyes and took ten seconds. His friends were brilliant, more than capable. He had to use what strength he had wisely. Time was running out. If he could reach Nari, it would stop all of this. It would be alright.
When Douxie opened his eyes he was facing the two trees.
“Adhaereo superfium!” he chanted. A twinge of pain in his head, then magic coated the shapes of his hands and feet. Douxie jumped and latched onto one of the trees. No grip needed. He was sticking perfectly to it like a magnet. A proud laugh and he started climbing, taking big leaps, quick and easy without purchase or risk.
The energy exuding from the trees coursed through Douxie’s fingers and poured into his body, the sensation like dandelion seeds floating around his soul, mingling with his aura. For as long as he scaled the tree the pain in his head nearly disappeared and he felt as though he could climb a thousand more. But the moment he lifted himself off the last few branches, onto the curve of the Titan’s shoulder blade, his dull headache returned and his limbs began to tremble.
“Just a little further, Hisirdoux…!” Douxie stilled, took three deep breaths, then launched himself up with two great pulls. The third one brought him up onto the Titan’s shoulder and he dropped to his knees, chest heaving. “Buckets, that’s my exercise for the next century…” Then he peered up the back of the Titan’s head, at all the vines he still had to climb, and groaned.
Dragonfire blazed through the wood below. Archie opened his jaws and spun, wings flapping and fueling the blazing tornado. Carnifloras screeched as they were incinerated to nothing. However the once flower beds wouldn’t catch no matter what Archie did. In fact their thorny vines only seemed to multiply and grow angrier. The vines’ ends split into more mouths, and like savage broods of snakes they struck out all at once.
Jim dropped and rolled on his back, swinging his broadsword with the momentum and severing heads before spinning to his feet and charging. He slashed his way closer to the snapping jaws at the center of the writhing mass, sidestepping clear of attacks. With a shout Jim leapt, flipping his blade downward, both hands gripping the handle. He thrust his sword straight into the vital mouth. The carniflora screeched, shuddered violently, and wilted, its many vines going still.
“Nice, Jim!” Zoe said with lightning shooting from her fingertips.
He was about to pull out his sword when the carniflora twitched. “What—”
In a second the creature revitalized, vines throwing themselves around Jim so brutally he thought his armor cracked. His broadsword slipped from his grasp and disappeared down the carniflora’s gullet. Its mouth sealed shut and it swallowed.
“No!!” Jim said, devastated and horrified. A blast of black and purple barreled into his malicious restraints. The vines hissed and retreated, throwing Jim on the ground.
“Jim!” Claire ran to him. “Are you okay?”
“Apparently these plants aren’t just carnivores,” Jim muttered. “I-I gotta find another sword I guess…” His attempt at lighthearted jests was soon shadowed by distress.
A guttural wail tore through the air. Archie smashed into the ground five yards away, littered with scrapes and cuts. He dug his claws into the earth, grit his teeth, and slowly rose back up. Vines broke through Zoe’s defenses and she stumbled next to him. Archie breathed deep, unleashing one more scorching stream of dragonfire before he could take no more. The flames dispersed and he lost his form, turning small and spent. But the ravenous vines kept slithering towards their kills. Once again the fire had done nothing against the flower bed carnifloras except agitate them further.
“Would’ve much preferred mandrakes!” Archie stated, shrinking back.
Douxie finally made it to the top. He slowed his movements to a crawl at the sight of Nari facing away from him. Murmured a quick concealing spell, a basic one. Tried not to lose focus at the Heartstone now alarmingly close, the Titan’s crown washed white. Douxie held his breath and painstakingly crept forward, bracelet flickering on his outstretched arm. Pain swelled in his skull as his magic churned in preparation for the spell, readied upon his lips. Douxie didn’t stop. He could never, not when Nari was just within reach….
His fingers were a hair’s breadth from her back when vines ensnared him.
“Agh!” Douxie looked right into her eyes as she turned and cried, “Blast it, Nari, I know you can hear me! Come to your senses! Please…!”
Nari’s eyes remained blank. The red and blue rings encasing her pupils glinted, cursed shackles imprisoning her will. Douxie jerked against his constraints. Every sudden movement sent pain rolling through his skull but he kept on. He gasped when a vine wrapped around his throat. It didn’t fully constrict but Douxie was panicking all the same.
“N-Nari…Nari, please, I…”
The vine tightened just a smidge. Nari willed for Douxie to be brought closer. For several seconds her eyes bore into his as if he were a specimen to be studied. Her body went taut. Her jaw clenched. Her lips thinned. Her gaze turned glossy. There it was. She could see him. But the longer Nari looked, the angrier the rings around her eyes glared. Now the vines were behaving erratically, squeezing one second then easing up the next but never letting go. The Forest Titan had gone still.
“What’s going on?” Claire asked. The vine carnifloras suddenly seemed lost, snapping misdirected or just wiggling in place.
Zoe looked up. “Douxie…”
Before Bellroc and Skrael’s magic could regain full control, before his hopes were dashed, Douxie called out to Nari again with all his heart.
“It’s me, Nari. Hisirdoux, your friend. Your friends are here to bring you back. To…To bring you home.” Nari went still as a carving. Douxie took a breath. “I-If you can hear me, Nari, please…give me a sign.” The vines loosened a hair. Douxie’s heart hammered. “Good! That’s it! I knew you could hear me. It’s alright, Nari. I promise you, it’s alright…” The vines didn’t release, although the one around his neck all but slipped off. His bracelet’s runes brightened. “I’m so sorry, Nari. I’m sorry…if this HURTS—!”
Douxie smacked his forehead against hers and screamed, “SENSUS TACTIO!!!”
White hot agony. Mystic fire igniting his mind and soul, scorching down the back of his neck to the rest of his body. He’d never felt such pain in his whole life. Not when he’d been the Order’s prisoner. Not even when he’d lost Merlin. Memories, thoughts, and feelings that weren’t his flooded through him. It was an ocean, and Douxie feared he would soon drown. He didn’t feel himself freed from the vines. He didn’t hear Nari shriek. His being was elsewhere. In darkness, light, Heartstones, trees, stars, fire, ice, a pair of indescribable eyes, a fatherly embrace, Titans. Centuries and centuries, millenniums, maybe eons.
Love, happiness, comfort, peaceful days. Songs and tales by firelight. Steadfast flames always lighting the darkness, filling it with warmth and love. Snowflakes twirling upon rushing winds. Beautiful, endless fields of sparkling white. A forest of ice crystals fashioned into trees for fun.
But then came evil. And so came annihilation. But within it there was mercy for a few. And so there was salvation for the world.
Humanity spared. Bellroc and Skrael’s benevolence replaced with hatred. Never open the Seals again. Nari’s father, the Great Eternity, disappearing into sunlit clouds.
Fear, despair, denial, violence. Civilizations turned to ash or frozen graves. Men, women, and children dying. So much death. Pain and only pain. Was this balance? Was this good? What would Father say? Where was Father? They were together. They were together. But Father’s eyes were different now.
This relentless, unforgiving river eventually swept Douxie to a vaguely familiar place. Hellfire and bitter cold, desperately fleeing from them. Loneliness. Such deep distress. Nearly fainting from longing.
Then Douxie saw himself and Archie. Nari’s affection sprouted. He saw all of their friends. Nari’s passionate love blossomed. Her wounded thoughts resounded. She didn’t deserve them, such radiant hearts and brilliant souls. She had to protect them. She loved them dearly. It had to be done. What would Father do? She was scared. If any could face the coming wrath, her friends could. She believed. She loved Douxie. Bellroc promised. Bellroc promised, surely, surely he would keep his promise of course he would because—
Douxie was here, alive.
Wrenching guilt and shame.
I am sorry.
I will only hurt you.
Douxie was on his hands and knees when he came back to himself. Only seconds had passed. His eyes were sore from scalding tears. His spirit was raw. His head was splitting but his heart hurt infinitely more.
Nari was squeezing her head between her hands and screeching to the heavens. There was a woman with blue eyes humming. A village up in flames on a cold winter night. Archie. Nightmares. Sleeping. Forgetting. Lad of Fortune. Merlin Ambrosius. Zoanna Ashildr. Her hair was brown and long and she was loveliest maiden he’d ever laid eyes on. Melodies and adventures and heartache across nine centuries.
Then he found a family once again. Then Nari herself. Douxie, his heart ever good and kind, already adored her. He would protect her. He would care for her no matter what. He loved to see her smile. He wondered what flavors were her favorite, what sights she would love most, what songs he would share with her next. He hoped she could stay in his life forever. She was dear to him. It was the fondness of a brother. Love unfailing. Persisting.
The Order’s magic went to war.
Nari’s arm shot out against her will, her whole body shuddering and twitching. The Forest Titan reared up on its hind legs and shook its head about. Douxie was flung sideways but managed to grab hold.
“Whoa!!” Jim cried as the ground beneath them tilted. They clung to whatever threads of non-threatening vegetation they could and dangled. “Can’t tell if this is good or bad!”
Their faces met the dirt when the field righted itself back. The carnifloras were still confused. There was a booming crackle, like a mountain breaking.
“Oh no…,” Zoe whispered.
“We need to get up there!” Claire said, spinning a ball of shadow in her palm.
The Forest Titan had slammed its front knees against the Heartstone, its dainty hands gripping on. Its hair whipped wildly and snapped around the white crystals. Sobs bursted through Nari’s screams. She couldn’t stop. Dueling magic strobed from her eyes and mouth. She couldn’t breathe. Veins of her markings lit upon her skin as she burned from the inside out. The turmoil would soon tear her spirit asunder.
I do not deserve you.
Look what I have done.
It’s okay. I love you. We all love you.
Kill him. Kill him. KILL HIM.
Reap what you’ve sown.
Please stop it.
FINISH WHAT YOU BEGAN.
The Heartstone’s light faded, and arms wrapped around her.
The Titan backed away. The Heartstone crashed and broke apart. Douxie held on tighter, as tight as he could. He smothered Nari’s face against his chest, buried his nose into her hair, and just held her. Nari fought, her claws slicing him through his clothes. It stung like mad. Douxie didn’t let go. Zoe, Archie, Jim, and Claire watched from under the twin trees, all teary-eyed and unsure.
For a long while nothing was said. The rain pattered and thunder rumbled. The wind whooshed by, rustling the leaves of the Titan’s antlers. Nari seethed against him, scratching and kicking.
Eventually with less vigor.
Douxie closed his eyes and sobbed quietly. “I’m not leaving you. Not ever.” He didn’t know if she could hear him. “I’m right here. I’ll always be right here with you.” He kissed her head and wept. “I know…I know. It’s alright, Nari. Please…”
A branch of lightning flashed and the gray clouds rang low. The rain started hitting harder, and soon the world was cloaked in a torrential downpour, the mist tinted the bright green glow of the Forest Titan’s symbol. They were all cold and drenched but still no one moved. Douxie lost track of everything. He didn’t notice the heavy rainfall becoming a calm drizzle all of a sudden or the pain in his head receding. He just wanted Nari back.
So when her arms lifted and her hands clutched his sides, Douxie gasped. When Nari’s soft weeping reached his ears, he looked down.
“Nari?” he said, shaking.
Nari looked up at him and bawled, tears flowing from her clear ringless eyes. “Douxie!”
Douxie heaved a sob. He cupped Nari’s cheek and managed, “There you are...!” Then they both came undone, falling back into each other’s arms and holding tight. Within seconds the others rushed to join the embrace, all laughing and crying and soaking wet.
“I am s-s-so sorry!!!” Nari wailed. “I am sorry, I am so sorry!! I h-hurt you….I hurt you…!”
“Oh darling, no you didn’t,” Douxie said, his palm brushing hair off her face. He looked her over. Another swell of joy filled his chest when he saw all the scars from Bellroc and Skrael had vanished. “You didn’t hurt me at all. It wasn’t your fault.”
“Why…After all I have done…Why did you want me back?”
“Because we love you, Nari,” Claire sniveled. Jim put an arm around Nari’s shoulders. Zoe took her hand and squeezed, failing to blink back her own tears. Archie snuggled into Nari’s lap and licked her face. Nari rewarded them all with a delicate smile and a small giggle.
“Thank you,” Nari said with glistening eyes.
Douxie hugged her. “Always.”
The group huddled together in the moment. Nari mended wounds from carnifloras and fully healed Douxie’s head injury. When all the hugs were given and all the tears finally subsided, Jim stood.
“So…what now?” he said.
Nari rose, a slight frown on her face. With a wave of her hands the Forest Titan lifted an arm and placed its thin pointed fingers on its head. Nari hopped on with ease, calling for her nervous friends to join. So they all hitched a ride down to the remains of Moonglow Hollow’s Heartstone. The Titan kneeled and utilized its head of vines to drop them safely into the Hollow, where terrified trolls made their presence known with squeals. Douxie and Jim stood on either side of a trembling Alabast as Nari approached him.
“W-Why have you brought her here, why?!” Alabast yelped. He blubbered, “Our Moonstone…Our wonderful Moonstone is g-g-gone! W-Will you kill us next? Will you?”
Sorrow clouded Nari’s gaze. “I am so sorry. I will not harm you. My friends have freed me and the Titan I command.”
Alabast peeked between his fingers. “Eh…y-you are a forest friend once again?”
“She is,” Douxie said.
Zoe patted Nari’s head. “Nothing to be afraid of. But um…sorry about your Heartstone.”
“Our Moonstone!” Alabast wailed to the ceiling.
“I am sorry,” Nari said, hands folding to her chest. “Please forgive me. Now that I am no longer in the Arcane Order’s control I will only help you. I will do everything I can to help, to stop them.” A white flower bloomed in Nari’s hand and she offered it. Alabast slowly unfurled, skittishly taking it from her. He considered it for a moment, glancing between its brilliant petals and Nari. Then he shoved it into his mouth and swallowed. Nari’s friends gaped as he smacked his lips in thought.
“W-Well…I suppose it’s alright then,” Alabast said. “You were not yourself, not yourself at all, yes.”
Nari drooped. “But I am very, very, very sorry.”
“It’s alright, I said! Those Arcane scoundrels are to blame, no? Yes, they’re at fault for our Moonstone…” Alabast choked. “F-For our M-M-Moonstone…ugh…”
“We’ll make things right,” Jim said, hand on Alabast’s shoulder.
“And with Nari of The Eternal Forest on our side, it’s the Order who should be afraid!” Archie said with wings open.
“That’s right. We have a whole Titan!” Claire said.
“She is also very sorry,” Nari said, looking down.
Jim’s phone buzzed. A text from his mom. In the three seconds he took to read it, his face turned ghostly pale. He looked up.
“We need to get back to Camelot. Now.”
Claire immediately passed out after the largest shadow portal she’d ever made closed. Jim and Douxie caught her as the Forest Titan’s hooves smashed into the ground, kicking up a massive cloud of dust that blew through the entire wood. Its towering form brought them level with a window into the castle and they hurried in. When they made it to the servants’ quarters, they rushed into the only open door. A grim scene struck them.
Steve paced and bit his nails while Barbara treated a severe burn on Eli’s arm. On the neighboring bed was Varvatos with a hideous, fragmented lesion through his chest, charcoal black and seeping redness. Varvatos was unresponsive, still as a corpse. Luug whimpered and pressed into his side. Aja and Krel wept over him. When they saw Nari they could think of nothing else.
“Nari! Oh thank Seklos!” Aja cried.
“His…His core has been damaged,” Krel said, face streaked with tears. “Please, can you help him?”
“I will try!” Nari sprang over with magic flowing, covering Varvatos’ wound with her hands. “I have never healed creatures such as yourselves. But I will do what I can.”
“Thank you,” Aja said. She and Krel planted themselves on both sides of the bed, clutching Varvatos’ hands with all four of theirs.
“What happened?” Zoe asked.
Aja shook her head, face twisted in anguish. She bent forward as if weighed down and cried. Krel said nothing, but the pure grief in his eyes spoke volumes.
Douxie took Claire into his arms from Jim and laid her down on an empty bed. He placed one hand on her forehead and took her hand in his other. The one shard of teal heartstone was stationed with Varvatos, so Douxie worked to restore Claire’s strength with his own aura.
Down the way Blinky, Aaarrrgghh, and Toby were gathered around one bed with Walter sitting on the mattress. The Blanks stood against the walls, their faces mournful.
“Tobes!” Jim said. They all looked up, except Walter, and he staggered at the woe in all their eyes. Toby couldn’t keep it together. He ran over into Jim’s arms and crumbled into spasmodic sobs. Jim hugged him back. “Tobes...Hey, what is it? What happened? What’s wrong?” And then he noticed. “Wait…Where’s Nomura?”
Blinky shut his eyes, tears trickling from all six. Walter was mum, motionless with his head hanging. Aaarrrgghh turned around weeping.
In his arms where two sunset scimitars.
Author’s Notes : Emotiooooooons asdflsdskjhdjghaf;kdj X____X But the Green Bean Queen has come home :3 I finished this chapter on Tuesday and wanted to go ahead and post it here. The Forest Titan drawing will be posted tomorrow and then the chapter will be up on Ao3 ^^
As always, thank you all so much for reading and for your encouraging comments. It means so much! God bless you all.
Side Note : I watched “Come From Away” today (the pro-shot on my friend’s Apple TV) and EVERYONE NEEDS TO GO LOOK IT UP AND WATCH IT AND/OR LISTEN TO IT RIGHT NOOOOOOOW—