Catch up on Briar’s Story: The Bloodied Briar – Part 1 • The Bloodied Briar – Part 2 • The Bloodied Briar – Part 3 • The Bloodied Briar – Part 4 • The Bloodied Briar – Part 5 • The Bloodied Briar – Part 6
Where there is Hope
The metal rod was dull but the Rook thrust forward with such strength that the rough metal end split through Imelda’s skin easily. The Rook had found the weak spot in Imelda’s leathers. When her arms rose, a small gap was created just above Imelda’s hip on each side. That was where he aimed as Imelda swung her flaming sword high to bring a killing blow down on the last of his friends.
She cleft that Rook’s head apart but stumbled sideways as she was impaled, her hands nearly sliding from her sword hilt. She kept it in her hands as she fell hard to the ground. Her thigh impacted with an exposed tree root but Imelda barely registered the additional pain.
“Leave her. We must chase our quarry. Sniff them out,” the Warlock commanded coming up behind the Rook.
Imelda looked up and for a moment they locked eyes. She knew the face of her enemy now but she was powerless to strike him down.
The Warlock smirked and turned away from her, unconcerned that she had seen his face. He created a cloud of smoke and they were gone from Imelda’s sight.
Imelda’s sword slid from her hands and clattered on the hard dirt. She screamed as she tried to twist her body to reach for the rod that speared her side. The Rook had pushed it in as deep as he could.
She had to get it out, there was no way that the magic of Ang’El could heal her while it remained inside her. Removing it was going to be no easy task, every time Imelda tried to turn and reach for it the pain was almost blinding.
Imelda gritted her teeth together to try and focus through the pain so she could wrap a hand around the metal. She reached down and the pain made her vision go dark again. Imelda stopped and panted for breath trying not to pass out. If she fell unconscious her body would shut down as she bled to death and she would die.
Imelda did not know which organs had been ripped apart but she could sense the fatal damage. She was dying. She needed to stay alive and awake and get that rod out. The twins were still in danger and she had sworn to protect them. No matter the pain she had to remove the rod, heal and get to them.
Imelda screamed again as she tried to twist. This time she kept herself moving refusing to show weakness, even to herself. Her vision darkened but she simply pressed her eyes closed and kept going. She sobbed in pain but she wrapped her hand around the rod. The moment she touched it the pain flared horrifically and Imelda hovered on the edge of unconsciousness. With a determined and pain filled scream, Imelda ripped it out and fell flat on her back. She drifted in and out of consciousness as her body convulsed. Her fingers dug into the ground below her and her screams echoed in her ears as they grew loud and then fell away again.
Her body arched up, her weight on feet and shoulders, as the magic began to knit her body back together. It hurt as much as the injury. An Ang’El could take the pain away from an innocent but an Ang’El had to endure it themselves.
It was agony.
Lorelei sensed Briar’s distress before it began to manifest. The mind was a powerful thing and this magic was even stronger. If Briar died in this dream, then she died. If the trauma was great enough it would manifest in her physical body.
Briar was clearly enduring great trauma.
Alistair and Henry were the next to sense that Briar was in trouble. Perhaps they smelt the blood in those moments before it began to drip down on the bed beside her.
Alistair nearly stepped into the circle before his brother grabbed him and stopped him. Chris held him back with one hand wrapped around his arm, the other pressed against his chest.
“Alistair, stop,” Chris said as Alistair tried to push against him.
“We knew there would be risk and consequence,” Lorelei spoke knowing her words provided no comfort.”
“What is happening to her?” Alistair’s eyes flashed with the gold of his wolf as he glared at Lorelei. He lunged forward toward her and Briar, Henry stepped up in front of Alistair beside Chris and grabbed his other arm. The two men managed to push Alistair a few steps back from the circle. Fear made Alistair continue to strain against their hold.
“I cannot say. She is in hands that I trust explicitly, but this must all play out.” Lorelei fought to keep her voice steady as she tried to reassure Alistair. It was a difficult task as she saw the wound that had magically appeared on Briar’s body. Her side was a gaping hole that blood was gushing out of. No magic that Lorelei possessed would heal it.
Lorelei grabbed a towel and pressed it to Briar’s side to stop the blood flow or at least soak up the blood before it spilled to the ground and potentially ruined the painted circle. Blood was a powerful catalyst in magic and Lorelei could not say what the result would be if Briar’s blood mingled with the spell.
Alistair struggled harder, urgent to be at Briar’s side. He had to see the wound. He had to help her. Logically, he knew that if he stepped into the circle he could kill his fiancé, but fear overrode his logic.
“Keep him restrained or get him out,” Lorelei said, not looking up from Briar’s face.
For all their strength, Henry and Chris were losing this battle. Alistair’s love and fear, and his recently acquired werewolf nature made him strong. Each time they pushed him back he pushed them forward. They were struggling as Ari got up and stepped in front of him. Alistair stopped struggling and stared Ari down as she stood with her husband and his best friend on each side of her.
“Alistair, stop! You need to breathe, you need to think.” Ari’s voice was soft and yet commanding. This was not the first beast that she had stared down, though, it was usually less literal. “Alistair, look at Briar. Watch her chest as it rises and falls. If you step into that circle it will stop. Do you want to kill her?”
“No!” Alistair growled. He surged forward at Ari but she stood her ground as the men pulled him back.
“What was that, Alistair?”
“I said no.” Again, Alistair spoke with a growl and tried to push forward. The wolf inside him was turning feral in its fear.
“Alistair. Do. You. Want. To. Kill. Her. Or. Will. You. Calm. Down?” Ari spelt out Alistair’s options in no uncertain terms.
Alistair howled and looked over Ari’s shoulder to Briar.
Ari reached up and placed a flat palm against his cheek. His eyes darted back to her and for a moment it seemed like he might turn and bite her hand. Everyone held their breath, except Ari and Alistair. Ari simply stared at Alistair. She breathed deeply, one breath after the other and slowly Alistair’s breathing began to match hers.
He began to calm down.
Lorelei looked away from the confrontation and pulled the towel back. Briar’s racing heart had begun to slow. The question was, did it slow because the danger had passed or because the danger had been too much. Lorelei hesitated eyes on the ceiling for a moment and then looked down at the wound. As she watched, Briar’s skin came back together, weaving itself back together until there was only flawless blood smeared skin left. It was as if she had never been hurt.
“You may all relax; her body is healed. The danger has passed.” Lorelei looked up at the others. After a moment, Ari stepped away from Alistair and the two men let go of him. Henry returned to Katie leaning against the wall. Chris and Ari sat back down with Alistair between them. Ari held one of his hands, Chris held the other.
Looking across Alistair, Chris smiled at his wife. “Thank you,” he mouthed.
Ari smiled back. She hardly needed thanks, Alistair was like a brother to her.
Imelda was crouched on all fours when she finished healing. Her back was rounded, and her nails were dug deep into the ground. The pain had finally stopped.
Imelda was exhausted but she knew that she could not rest yet. Reyna and Rico were still in danger. She did not know how the Warlock and the Rook travelled but she knew she had the advantage. She knew where the twins would be, and she could travel as only the Ang’El could.
Imelda got her wits about her and figured out that many hours had passed since she had sent Mati away with Reyna and Rico. They would be on the train now. Imelda trusted that Mati would have gotten them there on time.
Imelda spread her wings and leapt into the air. Three flaps of her wings and she was now far from her original destination flying over the top of the moving train. Imelda dropped down alongside it, searching each window to try and find the twins.
A young child staring out the window saw her. A girl of no more than eight years. She stared. Imelda kept pace with the train and smiled at the girl. She blew her a kiss and then flew onward down the train. No one might believe the girl but Imelda knew the wonder and magic in that moment would stay with the girl.
In the third carriage, Imelda found the twins and Mati sitting together. There was no sign of the Warlock or the Rook and Imelda could not sense their evil closing in. They would arrive though, a Rook always found its prey.
Imelda moved to the end of the car and landed on the gangway between the two carriages. She hid her wings away and entered through the door. Reyna was the first to see her. She sprinted down the path between the seats and nearly knocked Imelda off her feet as she hugged her.
“You are alive.”
‘In a manner of speaking.”
Imelda smiled at the sweet elder twin and guided her back to their seats. Mati and Rico sat on the forward-facing seats, a table separating them from the rear facing seats that Reyna had been sitting on when she spotted Imelda.
Mati looked at Imelda and her eyes immediately dropped to look her side. As usual, Mati knew more than she should. Mati lifted her eyes back to Imelda’s before she spoke. “You killed them all?”
“The Warlock and a single Rook survived and escaped. It is why I am here.” Imelda knew that if she had killed them all she would not be standing on the train right now. Reyna and Rico did not need to know that, however.
Imelda looked at Rico who had yet to speak. He smiled at her and shifted to the other seat and let Reyna sit next to Mati. He patted the empty seat beside him. Imelda felt a sudden shyness. She knew she was potentially being watched but what did it matter now? They had already made their decision to take her from the twins and punish her.
Imelda sat down beside him. Under the table, out of sight, Rico took her hand. He still had not spoken and Imelda knew that sometimes words were not needed.
“They will find us,” Mati said as Imelda took her seat. “How far away are they?”
“I do not know. Not close for I cannot sense them. But I did not see where they went when they left, I was delayed.”
“Delayed?” Reyna asked.
“She was badly wounded,” Mati replied before Imelda could change the subject. “She has healed already.”
Reyna looked horrified. Rico squeezed Imelda’s hand tighter.
“I am fine. I am healed but I am tired.”
“We have a sleeper room, you should rest.”
Imelda looked out the window, contemplating Reyna’s offer. She desperately wanted to sleep but was unsure if she could risk doing so.
“We will all go to the room while you rest on one of the bunks. We will wake you if danger comes.” Mati pushed Reyna out of her seat as she talked. The old woman had made up her mind and no one else got a say now.
The scene swirled into a fog of movement as Briar watched. She opened her mouth to complain but Nathaniel laid a finger against his lips. He waited for Briar to nod before he lowered it.
“We do not have time for insignificant events. There are two moments that remain for you to see, both happen more than a fortnight later.”
Briar nodded again, she wanted to know more but she was more curious about the two moments she needed to see and why they were important. She turned from Nathaniel and the first scene began to play out.
The sixteen-day voyage was nearly complete. Imelda knew their enemies were closing in on them and they would most likely arrive before the train stopped again. She could feel the evil intention as it approached.
She knew this also meant that her time with Rico was limited. During their time on the train, something more had grown between them. So, for the last two days, Imelda had been avoiding being alone with Rico. If they were not alone then neither of them could move their relationship to a level that would break their hearts when she was taken away.
Imelda now sat in their room on one of the bunks while the other three had breakfast. She looked up as the door opened. Rico entered the small space and closed the door behind him.
“I have angered you?”
Imelda smiled at the question. Long ago at the beginning of her relationship with the man she would marry, he had asked her the same thing in just the same way.
“You have not angered me. The enemy is closing in on us and I must be ready for them. I must be focused so I can keep you all safe.”
Rico frowned. “I did not think that Ang’El were supposed to lie.”
“I do not lie, Rico. It is the truth, I must not be distracted and you are my distraction. I do not wish to let my feelings for you cloud my judgement and lead me to fail you.” Imelda sighed. “I am not meant to love those I protect. This, all that I feel. It cannot be and it must not distract me.”
Rico moved swiftly to the bunk. He reached out with his hand and slid it into Imelda’s hair behind her head. It was easy for him to draw her close and Imelda did not resist the kiss. She should have resisted but she wanted it. It was as simple as that.
Rico barely broke the kiss as he murmured against her lips, “I love you, too.”
Briar had nervous butterflies in her stomach. She let out an excited squeal as Rico and Imelda kissed. Briar knew the nervousness, the excitement, and the desire that she felt were Imelda’s. She also knew those feelings were ones she had for Alistair.
The scene swirled and changed. Dread filled Briar as the final scene began to play out.
The Warlock and the Rook were dead. Mati was breathing heavily. She was wounded but she had destroyed the Warlock and ripped his magic from him before he died.
Reyna and Rico were unharmed but ashen from the fear.
Imelda stood over the body of the Rook, her flaming sword dripping with the monster’s blood.
She was terrified.
Not for any danger to Reyna and Rico, for the moment they were safe.
She was not afraid for Mati. Her wounds were many but none of them was life threatening.
Imelda was terrified of what came next. The twins were safe, there was no reason for the Harchs to let her remain here. They would call her back now, force her back, and Imelda would never set eyes on Reyna or Rico again.
At best, Imelda would be taken back and punished before being assigned new innocents to protect. That was unlikely.
The second option was that she was reset back to her first moments as a full Ang’El. Imelda would forget Reyna. She would forget Rico. She would forget having loved him. And she would be a good and loyal Ang’El again.
The third option was perhaps the most likely. It was also the worst option. Imelda would have her mind completely wiped and she would be cast down as one of the fallen.
Imelda did not want to live that way.
There was only one other option and that was one only she could do.
Imelda reached back over her shoulders. She reached back to find the centre two feathers of her wings.
“Imelda, no!” Mati sprung forward, despite her injuries, and grabbed Imelda’s arms trying to pull them back down. “You cannot. It has not been long enough; the wounds will return if you do that. You will die.”
“I would rather die fallen, knowing love and friendship, than live with nothing of myself left,” Imelda said. She started to cry but she would not be swayed from this.
Rico and Reyna exchanged a confused look. Rico opened his mouth to speak but it was too late.
Imelda had plucked the feathers. She held them in front of her, with Mati’s hands still on her elbows. The feathers turned silver in her hands. Her knees buckled and Mati tried to catch her. The old woman was not strong enough.
But Rico had her. He gently lowered Imelda to the ground. He cradled her gently in his arms. The wound had reappeared and opened, the magic was undone and she was bleeding.
There was no pain, just peace and a feeling of love.
“You died in my arms,” Imelda murmured looking up at Rico with a soft smile on her face. His face was wet with tears that fell down on to Imelda. Imelda did not have the strength to reach up and dry his eyes. But she had strength enough to say what she needed to say. “I am sorry that I leave you with that pain. I am blessed to know your love again and I know now. We will find each other again. My heart is bound to yours.”
Rico let out a broken sounding sob and Imelda went completely still. “No. No. You should have lived. You should have lived.”
He rocked back and forth as he held her body. Reyna fell to her knees and wailed. Mati stood weeping for her friend and for the pain of the twins. Powerful though she was, she could not restore life. It was hopeless.
Mati should have known better. Where there is love, there is hope.
A brilliant light filled the train carriage. None of the three knew who the man was when he appeared, but the Harch Dafet knew them. He had been watching. He had been waiting.
“Exceptions are made for love. Rules are broken for love. For this would all be for nothing without love. I give her life if you will give her love.” Dafet spoke to all three of them as he pressed a hand against Imelda’s chest.
They did not need to reply for Dafet to know they would all bring love to Imelda’s life. As Imelda opened her eyes, Dafet gave her a knowing smile and then he was gone.
Briar had tears running down her cheeks as the scene stopped. She did not need Nathaniel to speak and explain. The lesson was obvious. Love was hope. Love was strength. And love triumphed against all odds. Love was powerful, the love that Briar had in her life was powerful. With Alistair, she had a blessed love, a destined love. Her heart was bound to his. But it was not the only love she was blessed with, not the only love she was stronger for.
Briar turned to Nathaniel, smiling despite her tears. “Thank you.”
“You have learned the greatest lesson, Briar. You will need to remember it as you come to face your greatest tests. Come, there is more to do before you wake. It will not be as easy or as happy, I fear.”
“I am ready,” Briar said. She took Nathaniel’s offered hand. She was ready to do this and to return to those she loved.