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The Healer's Secret

"Nightmares force a healer to deal with a past she hoped was over"
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Prologue - The Fall

Artanna stood quietly on a hill and watched the great tower of Tan Kolar fall. Around the collapsing structure, smoke and flames rose from the Night Lord’s palace. A battle raged outside the high walls of black stone as the tattered remnants of the Army of Night fought the forces of the Great Alliance. She knew that the Night Lord’s army, a horde of corpses and suits of empty armour animated by dark spirits, was doomed without its lord’s sorcerous power behind it.

Weary and with a long journey ahead of her, Artanna descended. Her arms still ached from the effort of driving a spear through the heart of the Night Lord, then severing his head with his own blade. Her clothing and hair were singed from releasing the fire elemental he had used to power his machinery and magic. That elemental had burst forth in a rage when Artanna broke the seals of its prison, burning everything in its path as it blazed through the halls and passages of the palace.

A grey stallion waited at the bottom of the hill. Artanna mounted the horse with a sigh, almost dragging herself into the saddle. After one last look back at Tan Kolar, Artanna spurred her horse into a gallop.

Behind her, the battle was dying down. Already, she knew, the Alliance’s bards would be composing songs about the fall of the Night Lord. Her name would not be mentioned. No one knew of her or her part in the fall of Tan Kolar.

Artanna did not mind. It was best for her if the world did not know that the Night Lord had died by the hand of the daughter that only he knew existed.

Years pass...

The Healer

Mirena sat up in bed. Her heart was pounding and she barely stifled a scream. Her mind was filled with images from a dream; images of a horde of reeking, howling corpses pursuing her through the nearby forest. That dream had ended with Mirena prone on the ground as the horde’s leader, a woman she knew as her town’s healer, raised a sword over her.

“Oben,” she cried out, then realized that her husband was gone.

Mirena got up and pulled a robe over her wool nightgown. She walked to the other room of their tiny home. Oben was standing by the stove with a pot of water boiling.

“You’re up early,” he commented.

“So are you.”

“I had a terrible dream. Something from the war.”

“So did I. Except I can’t blame the war.”

Oben looked at his wife in surprise. He was a veteran of the war against the Night Lord. Mirena, on the other hand, had lived far enough from the Army of Night’s depredations that the war was just rumours and stories to her.

“Strange. Was the army led by a woman?”

“She looked like Tana, Oben. I think … I think she was going to kill me. That’s when I woke up.”

“Narla had the same dream,” Oben said, “I heard from Astan.”

“I know. She told me Astan believes there is an ill wind blowing; that something dark is coming.”

“Your brother-in-law is always a bit of a downer,” Oben remarked with a chuckle, “But it is strange that so many of us are having these dreams.”

“A healer can understand dreams. I was going to go see Tana today but then last night…”

“I think you should still see her. I don’t believe Tana is really going to lead the Army of Night into the valley. It must mean something, though.”

Mirena nodded. It took more than an hour to walk to the healer’s home in the woods, but she would go.

The healer’s house was a two-room shack similar to Mirena’s. There was also an outbuilding for livestock and storage. A large garden of crops and herbs filled the space around the buildings. Chickens wandered around, pecking at the ground from time to time.

“Tana,” Mirena called after knocking a couple times failed to get a response.

“Over here.”

Mirena turned to see Tana coming from the direction of the river. She wore a simple dress belted at the waist. Her long, auburn hair was tied back loosely. A yoke on Tana’s shoulders held two buckets of water.

The healer put down the buckets and stretched.

“I really should get a donkey or something to do this,” she said, “But it keeps me strong.”

“Move into town and then you could use the town well.”

“I prefer to be out here on my own, though. It is hard work but it leaves me lots of time to study and practice.”

“I suppose,” Mirena said, “I hope that I am not bothering you. I have a problem to discuss.”

“Come on in. I’ll make us tea. Tantrip okay with you?”


Inside, Tana put the kettle on and carefully measured some dried leaves into a battered teapot.

“What brings you here, Mirena?”

“Dreams, healer. My husband, myself, my sister and her husband, we are all having strange, terrible dreams. I think almost everyone in Olsham that I have talked to has had them.”

“Dreams about the Army of Night?” Tana asked.

Mirena cocked an eyebrow.

“You know? Are you having them, too?”

“I am.”

Mirena swallowed hard, but decided she had to tell the healer about her previous night’s dream.

“Tana, in mine … in mine, you led the army. You were going to kill me.”

The healer looked startled, then relaxed.

“I led the army in mine as well.”

“What is happening to us, Tana? Is some evil coming?”

“I don’t know. I lost my home in the war so I thought maybe my dreams were just those old terrors coming back. But you weren’t involved, were you?”

“No. Nor was my sister. Oben, my husband, was in the Army of the Alliance, though. Even fought at Tan Kolar.”

“Where is the army coming from in your dreams?”

“The West. In some, I am walking along the road near the Gates when they attack.”

The healer frowned. She was silent for a moment.

“Perhaps I should go West and investigate. If it was just me, I might leave it be. But if such dreams are haunting all of us here in Olsham, then it may well be a portent of some evil out that way.”

“My husband can come with you. He still has his sword.”

“I should go alone and not take him from you. I can look after myself.”

“He knows someone with horses. Maybe he can get a couple. That would speed your journey, would it not?”

“It would. But it would force us to keep to the road and we might need to go off it. It really is better for me to go alone.”

“Okay. Good luck. I hope you find what is haunting us.”

“Me, too.”

As Mirena left, Tana watched her go. Once known as Artanna, Princess of the Night, the healer thought that she had left her past behind when she made this new life for herself. Then came the dreams. With a sigh, Tana began packing for the journey.

The Soldier

The Army of Night marched up the valley. A stench of death hovered around them like a cloud. Raspy, screeching voices chanted an ancient war song.

At their head marched the Princess of Tan Kolar. Around her walked the army’s generals, undead kings known as liches. In her hand, Artanna held her father’s sword. Raising the blade, she urged her army onwards.

“This valley shall become a valley of death,” she roared, “Tan Kolar shall rise again!”

Ahead, the villagers of Olsham were gathered. The few veterans among them, including Oben, had swords or spears. A few others carried scythes or pruning hooks. All looked terrified.

“Let them die!” Artanna yelled, moving more quickly and making her sword ready.

Mirena fell first, her head neatly severed by Artanna’s stroke. Oben parried her second stroke. His sword shone brightly, more brightly than just moonlight on steel.

“You shall not pass, monster,” he rumbled, then thrust his blade into Artanna.

Tana awoke with a jerk, almost feeling the pain in her gut. She rose from her bed, the dream still in her head. After a large breakfast, the healer spent some time on final preparations before dressing for the journey in trousers and a wool tunic with a cloak over top.

Tana stepped out her door and closed it, unsure if she would ever be back. And if she returned, would she return as the healer Tana or as the Princess of Tan Kolar?

When she reached the road, Oben was waiting. His sword hung at his side and he had a full pack. Two saddled horses stood behind him with full saddlebags. 

“Mirena told me your plan. You cannot do this alone, healer,” he said, “A blade may be needed.”

He pulled his sword. It was bright and sharp. An eerie light seemed to come from the blade. Tana suddenly felt anxious, even afraid. She remembered this very sword tearing into her in the dream.

“Is it charmed?” she asked, realizing why the sword might cause such a reaction.

“Blessed by my division’s priestess. An acolyte of the Denith Lorn,” Oben confirmed.

So that explained it. The blessing would give the blade strength against creatures of the night. Tana’s parentage made her partially such a being.

“So you can defend us if we do encounter soldiers of the Night. Then it is probably good that you come with me.”

While reluctant to expose another to the danger she feared, Tana would also enjoy having company. After the fall of Tan Kolar, she had spent almost three years travelling alone in search of a new home and purpose. The loneliness had been almost painful at times. She still lived alone, but being Olsham’s healer at least gave her plenty of opportunities to enjoy human company.

“Let’s get going then,” she said.

They mounted and headed up the road. Even on horseback, it would take almost three days to reach the end of the valley.

The Village

Tana did not need her training or her father’s sorcery to read the crowd as they entered the village of Hyrford. The party that was approaching was only seven or eight people, but they were clearly not happy.

The healer and Oben had travelled nearly a full day, reaching the village not long before dusk. It was the only settlement on their route and they hoped to spend the first night there. At first the streets had been empty. As they dismounted and began leading their horses to a water trough, people had come out from a few places.

“It’s her,” a woman yelled, “The evil woman who leads the Army of Night.”

“Where’s her army, though?” someone else asked.

“Maybe they are still to come. Drive her off before she can unleash them on us,” proclaimed a third.

Hostility in their faces, the group approached the travelers. A couple had brought pitchforks as weapons. Oben sighed and stepped between Artanna and the villagers. His hand rested on the pommel of his sword, but he did not draw it.

“Stop,” he ordered.

“Who are you? Why are you with her?” someone yelled.

“I am Oben Nysler, a sergeant of the Alliance. I fought the Army of Night before the walls of Tan Kolar. This woman is Tana, Olsham’s healer. We are on a journey to find the source of the darkness that has been corrupting our dreams.”

“You have them, too? The dreams of the monster horde destroying the valley?” one of them asked.

“I do. As does the healer. She does not know why she figures so prominently in them. The answer seems to lie to the West, beyond the Gates of the Valley.”

They looked uncertain. A couple talked quietly. Then another man came to join. He was a big man, tall and heavyset. A thick brown beard decorated his jaw, matching the curly brown hair on his head.

“What’s going on here? We have guests and you greet them with pitchforks?” he roared.

Everyone turned to look at him. Tana guessed he was a leader of some form in the community. Then she noticed Oben smiling. Clearly he knew the man.

“But she is the one, Master Lond. She leads the dark army in our dreams. I saw her kill you in one of mine,” one of those bearing pitchforks pleaded.

Lond looked over Oben and Tana, then snorted.

“Oben here is a soldier from the war. Do you think such a man would accompany a woman coming to destroy us?”

“No, Master. I suppose not,” the young man said, head down.

Lond looked at the travellers again.

“Good to see you again, Oben. You say this woman is a healer?”

“She is, Lond. For nearly a decade Tana has lived in the woods near Olsham and aided our ill and injured.”

The man nodded and sighed.

“We lost our healer. We think the dreams drove her mad. No one has seen her in a few days.”

“Perhaps I can help you while I am here,” Tana immediately offered, “Are there ill people to be attended to?”

“A couple,” Lond replied, “Is there anything you can do to help with the dreams? Many of us are exhausted from lack of sleep.”

Oben and Tana looked at each other, then back at Lond.

“They are more severe here, then. More evidence that the source lies in this direction,” the soldier told him.

“If I can find the herbs I need, I can show you how to brew a tea that should help you sleep,” Tana said, “Can you take me to your healer’s home so I can see if she has them? It is getting late to go gathering in the woods.”

Lond nodded.

“I will take you. And I have a room in the back of my house where you can sleep. If sleep is possible.”

Tana worked late. Besides teaching some of the villagers how to brew the tea, she visited a sick child and an injured farmer. The healer finally reached the promised room well after the sun was down and the moon was high. Oben had already put out his bedroll on the floor, leaving the room’s small bed and its quilt for her. Tana sat on the bed with a sigh.

“Oben, I am sorry I tried to keep you from coming. You probably saved me today. Thank you.”

The old soldier smiled.

“It’s okay. I understand wanting to do it yourself. I can be that way sometimes, too.”

He snuffed out the small lamp Lond had given them to use, then lay down. Tana stretched out on the bed.

“Even awake, I feel strange, Oben. I fear what lies ahead.”

For a moment, Tana contemplated telling him the truth, but held back. The time would come but not yet.

“Perhaps it is your presence in the dreams that makes things more disturbing for you,” Oben mused, “I don’t really feel different here than I did at home. Uneasy, perhaps, but that’s likely just the villagers’ worry and hostility rubbing off on me.”

They fell silent. Tana soon heard Oben snoring. His presence made her feel better. Curling up, she covered herself with the quilt.

The Princess

Tana barely slept. Every time she dozed off, the healer dreamt of the Army of Night. The liches would come to her bearing her father’s sword. Sometimes her father was there, too. His pale, skeletal visage glared at her out of his helm.

“The world must burn, my Princess,” her father growled as he passed her the sword, “Make it burn for me.”

Taking the sword, Artanna called the charge and led the horde of corpse soldiers and other nightmarish warriors into the valley.

Oben clearly saw something in her face in the morning.

“You look haunted, Tana,” he said, “Perhaps you should have drunk some of your own tea. It seemed to help me.”

“I did,” Tana responded quietly, her mind still on the dreams.

They ate a simple breakfast with Lond. Tana then slipped out and visited the sick child she had attended to the previous night. Many people apologized for the previous day and thanked her for the tea.

“Best sleep I’ve had in days,” said one of those who had come with pitchforks.

Tana’s heart sank. She had been thinking that maybe they were right in the first place. The appearance of her father in her dreams had shaken the healer, raising new doubts about herself.

“Perhaps my death on the end of their pitchforks would have been for the better,” Tana thought as she returned to Oben and the horses.

Soon, the pair resumed their journey. It was a long day and they knew there would be no village, no bed, for the next night. As the sun began to set, they settled in a clearing by the river. Tana boiled some water to make a soup while Oben constructed a simple tent from a sheet of sturdy cloth he had brought.

“There’s room enough for both, but quarters will be a bit close,” he said when the tent was ready.

“For one night, it should be fine,” the healer replied, “I have a meal ready. It’s not fancy but should nourish us.”

They ate in silence, then headed into the tent. Tana felt a strange mix of comfort and nervousness as she realized they would inevitably be touching. Having Oben close gave the healer a sense of warmth and protection, but she wondered how Mirena would feel if she knew how close they were.

Oben awoke in the night to find himself alone. Frowning, he crawled out of the tent and stood. Tana stood in the moonlight, staring to the West.

“Healer? Are you okay?” he asked quietly.

“My army is calling to me,” she replied, her voice hushed and tense.

“It’s just a dream.”

“No. No, it is not. I wish it was.”

Oben shook his head, puzzled.

“I don’t understand.”

“You were at Tan Kolar. How did the Night Lord die?” Tana asked, her gaze still fixed on the West.

“No one really knows. The palace erupted into flames before we even got past the army. There are stories, of course, of some hero or other getting inside. None of them ever rang true to me. Others say the Night Lord brought it on himself, that some supernatural being he had enslaved or imprisoned broke free.”

Tana mused that he was not far off with that one.

“What if I told you the Night Lord was murdered. That the killer was his own daughter.”

The old soldier cocked an eyebrow.

“The Night Lord had no children we know of. Not even a consort to bear them.”

“He kept her well hidden. And then she hid herself. The daughter’s name was Artanna. Her mother was a captive, stolen from her people and abused horribly until she bore the child, then casually and brutally disposed of. The Night Lord meant for Artanna to command his army and, ultimately, rule Tan Kolar and carry on the war if something happened to him.”

Tana looked like she was about to cry. The veteran stared at the healer, skepticism in his eyes.

“Where did you learn all this? It is nowhere in the songs and stories of the war.”

Tana turned to look at Oben. Her eyes had a strange look in them even as tears began to flow.

“Oben, I am Artanna. After I killed my father, I fled Tan Kolar. I wanted nothing more to do with that place or that army or him.”

Oben stared in shock for a minute before he found words.

“But you are the healer Tana.”

“After wandering for a time, I studied the healing arts and assumed a new identity. I hoped that would let me escape my past. Maybe healing people would even undo some of the harm my father had inflicted.”

“But now?”

“Something remains. His death did not break the Pact of Tan Kolar, the source of his power over the dark spirits, as I believed it would. They are coming for me, calling me to assume his place.”

Tana began to weep.

“I don’t want to hurt anyone, Oben. I don’t want to lead the Army of Night into war against you.”

“And that’s what lies ahead? The army is waiting for you to lead them, like in the dreams?”

“That’s what I fear. In my nightmares, the liches come to me and hand me my father’s sword. Last night, the Night Lord himself appeared.”

Oben moved closer and put a hand on Tana’s shoulder.

“What can I do?”

She thought, then took on a grim expression.

“Kill me,” she said in a half-whisper, “If I become what I fear, if I take up my father’s blade and the leadership of the Army of Night, you must kill me. It might be the only way to end the pact.”

“Is it even within my power?”

“Your blessed sword may have the power to do it. I hope it does.”

“I hope it is not necessary.”

“But if it is, you must do it, Oben. I don’t want to be a monster but I am not sure my father has left me a choice.”

“The fact that you can even talk like this, that the idea of leading that army makes you weep, suggests to me that you are not one. No matter what the Night Lord intended.”

Tana smiled at him and wiped away tears.

“Perhaps you are right. Perhaps I am not my father’s daughter as I fear.”

“Come to bed. We still have quite a ways to go tomorrow.”

Tana nodded and they crawled back into the tent. In the darkness, she could feel Oben close by and hear his soft breathing. After a while, the healer drifted off.

The Gates

Tana awoke early. She slipped quietly from the tent to get water.

As she filled a skin from the river, Tana’s mind went back to the dreams that had been haunting her. The liches seemed to play a prominent role in them. Were they somehow key to the Pact of Tan Kolar? And the sword had always been important. Perhaps that was another key.

Rising, the healer walked back towards their camp. Her mind was racing. She replayed the images from her dreams, hoping to find clues about how she could bring this to an end. Tana knew time was short. Her unease, her sense of the Army of Night calling out to her, was growing stronger.

“You slept well after we returned to bed?” Oben asked when she reached camp.

He was sitting in front of the tent, getting a fire going. 

“I slept better. Well would be a stretch. Having you close by comforted me, though. And finally sharing the truth with someone helped,” she replied.

Oben smiled.

“Good. I slept better, too.”

They ate, then broke camp and continued West. Tana could not shake the sense of something calling her, of a purpose awaiting her ahead.

“My army awaits,” she thought to herself, then shuddered at that thought.

They reached the Gates of the Valley after midday. The Gates was a pass where the Faron River flowed through a narrow opening and over a cliff to become the Great Falls. Tana had come this way once before, when she first came to live in the valley. Beyond the Gates, the sky was dark and ominous. It was like night had never ended there. Tana shuddered, knowing the probable source of that darkness.

“There’s a path down to the plain over by the falls,” she said, “But we will have to leave the horses. It is too narrow for them in places.”

Oben looked around.

“There’s plenty of grazing here. We can probably leave them tied to a tree.”

The path was even narrower than Tana remembered, but both were able to manage it. Progress was slow, but steady.

As they reached the ledge that was the midpoint, Tana’s nose filled with the stench of decay. She looked down at the plain below and sighed. The corpse warriors of the Army of the Night spread before them under the darkened sky.

“By Denith,” Oben cursed, “I thought we vanquished this lot at Tan Kolar.”

“The bodies were destroyed but the pact that bound the spirits animating them enabled them to rise again. Or, perhaps, some were held in reserve and never deployed in the battle.”

“So that is your army now? You will lead them against us?”

“I hope not. I hope I can break the pact and send them away.”

“But if you fail, if you take your father’s place and bring that army into the valley, I am to kill you.”

Tana looked at him, tears starting.

“Oben, perhaps you should just strike me down now. That might be the safest way to end the pact.”

Tana pulled her cloak open and pointed to a spot just below her left breast.

“Thrust your blade in here. Then sever my head from my body. That will ensure I am gone.”

Oben shook his head.

“No. Surely there is another way. What if killing you doesn’t break the pact?”

The healer nodded.

“That is my fear as well. I am not sure if I have the power to end it even alive. I will try, but if I fail, or if I give in and assume my father’s power, my death will be our last hope.”

“Then I shall do as I promised last night, Tana,” Oben said. He sounded unsure.

Tana began to walk forward, then turned again.

“This is your last chance, Oben. If you would turn back, now is your chance. Once we reach the bottom, you may not be able to retreat.”

“If I am to be your slayer, then I must come with you.”

Tana laughed a nervous laugh.

“True. Onwards, then.”

The Army

At the bottom, Tana asked Oben to wait. Slowly, she walked towards the army. Even as the smell made her wrinkle her nose, Tana felt strangely elated by the sense of power around her. An army, possibly the greatest in all the world’s ages, would be hers to command. Could she really resist taking up that power and assuming her rightful place as Princess of Tan Kolar?

Three liches, clad in ornate armour and dark grey cloaks, awaited her. Tana knew that a lich had more power and autonomy than the rest of the spirits, but was still bound by the pact. Slowly, she approached her army’s commanders. Oben held back, his hand on the hilt of his sword.

All three made a stately bow as Tana reached them. Their faces were shrivelled and skeletal. They looked like they were painted on the bone rather than being made of withered, mummified flesh.

“We greet you, Princess of Tan Kolar. Your army stands ready,” the middle lich said through thin, grey lips.

His companion on the right was carrying something. They stepped forward and opened their bundle. A longsword lay within. It was surprisingly simple, just a long steel blade with some runes inscribed on it mounted to a plain black hilt. Tana shuddered at the sight of her father’s sword, remembering how she had last used it.

“Your blade, my lady, passed down from your father,” the lich carrying it said.

Tana seized the weapon and held it. Her eyes looked it over, remembering it dark with her father’s blood as she beheaded him. For a moment, the healer wondered who had found and cleaned it. Perhaps she should have taken it when she fled.

Then the runes caught her eye. Tana studied them for a moment. Slowly, a realization came to her. The Pact of Tan Kolar was inscribed on the sword. The blade itself was the token of her father’s power over the spirits. And the liches who bore it, the most powerful of the spirits, must be the very demons with whom he had made the pact. That’s why they bore the sword both now and in her dreams.

“We await your orders, Princess,” said the first lich.

“Lead us, Princess. Let us lay waste to the lands as we did for your father,” added the one who had brought the sword.

“And build the Kingdom of the Night that he promised,” concluded the third.

The lich’s voice sounded gleeful at the prospect.

Images from the nightmares came into Tana’s mind. Her eyes blazed as she thought of how it would feel to be Princess Artanna of Tan Kolar leading this dark army into the valley; how it would feel to bring death and devastation to the world as had her father. Slowly, Tana raised the sword. A feeling of grim exhilaration took hold of her.

Behind her, Oben drew his own sword. It shone bright as if its charm sensed the darkness around him. The thought of killing a woman he had always known as a peaceful, caring presence in his community horrified the soldier. He could now see why he must, though. He would do it out of love for the Tana he cared about.

“Are you ready, my army?” Tana, or was it Artanna now, howled, “Are you ready to follow your Princess?”

A rumble of strange voices came from the nightmarish horde gathered in front of her. The runes on the sword seemed to glow with a faint, eerie light.

“We are with you, Princess.”

Tana shuddered, unsure if she did so from horror or excitement. She took a step towards the nearest lich, the one who had given her the sword.

“Then do this for your Princess,” she called out.

Oben raised his sword and began to walk forward. His hand was shaking as it never had before a battle before. Would Tana die knowing it was him? Would she remember the promise and forgive him before her army took revenge for his deed?

“Die. Die and leave this world,” the healer cried.

Her blade swept down, striking the lich. The monster’s head fell to the ground. Its armour and cloak collapsed into a heap, seemingly empty.

Oben froze, startled by Tana’s action. He held his sword ready, but was unsure of what was happening or how to respond.

Tana turned to the next lich, her eyes wild. For a moment, her gaze locked with that of the undead monster. The healer grinned, then another head fell, another body crumbled.

Before the last could react, the healer turned warrior whirled on it. The monster managed to step back one pace, then the sword struck.

A sound like a kind of sigh went out from the dark horde beyond Tana and the fallen liches. For a moment, a wind bearing a sickly charnel odour blew across the plain. When it passed, the army was gone, leaving the plain covered in armour, weapons, and dust.

Tana stared, hardly believing what she had just done. Then her eyes turned to her father’s sword. It was now reddish-brown with rust, crumbling at the edges like some ancient artifact just unearthed. The runes were gone.

The healer looked around and located a large stone. Walking to it, Tana raised her father’s rusting sword and brought it down hard. There was a flash and a sound like a scream. The blade shattered, sending rusted metal fragments spraying around the rock. Tana raised the hilt and smiled. Her body was quivering, her insides heaving.

Forcing herself to keep going, Tana staggered over to the pool at the base of the waterfall. She screamed as she hurled the hilt into the water. After it hit with a splash and vanished, Tana sank to her knees.

Her body shaking, the healer vomited repeatedly on the ground until she felt empty inside. Then Tana rose and walked slowly towards Oben, tears running down her cheeks.

When she reached her companion, Tana collapsed and lay prone at his feet. Her body was shivering as if possessed by a fever and sobs escaped her. Oben dropped his sword and joined her on the ground, holding Tana close and stroking her face.

“Are you dying?” he asked, worried.

“No. I don’t think so. The healer is healing, I think.”

She was quiet again. The shaking stopped and her stomach settled. After uncounted minutes, Tana sat up and looked at Oben. To his surprise, she started laughing, then rose to her feet and did a pirouette.

“I feel so alive now, Oben. Perhaps breaking the pact has freed my spirit, too.”

Then Tana staggered a little and fell to her knees in front of him.

“Are you okay?” Oben asked, worried.

“I am. I am weak, but okay.”

She might have been laughing or crying. Oben was not sure.

“You probably need some food. If your stomach can handle it. I did bring some down in case we had to camp out here.”

Tana nodded.

“I am hungry for sure. But we need to get away from this mouldering heap of death.”

“We can move over by the falls. That’s where the trail starts anyhow.”

Oben helped Tana over to the base of the trail. He opened his pack and pulled out some of the dried meat the villagers had provided along with some hardtack. As Tana ate, Oben gathered branches and got a small fire going. It was clear they would not be ascending until morning.

After she ate, Tana settled on her bedroll. Night, real night, was falling and the moon was out. Oben covered the healer, then lay down beside her.

“Is it really over?” he asked.

“We’ll see when we dream tonight.”

Epilogue - The Morning After

Tana sat on a lip of rock by the top of the Great Falls, resting after the ascent from the plain. Her gaze swept over the plain below, taking in the vast, dark heap of rotting armour and weapons. She had been surprised to see them crumbling as had her father’s sword. Apparently, even the weapons borne by the Army of Night had been enchanted under the Pact of Tan Kolar.

A snort from behind startled Tana. The healer turned to see Oben approaching with the horses. Smiling, she got up and walked towards her companion.

“Found them, healer. Just got loose and wandered a bit. Are you ready to go?”

Tana sighed and glanced over her shoulder.

“I think I am, yes.”

“You don’t sound so sure.”

“A decade ago, when I watched Tan Kolar burn, I thought the pact was ended. This time I am not so confident.”

The old soldier walked up beside her and gazed out.

“They are all gone, Tana. What else could there be?”

“I don’t know. But I never expected the events of the past days so I just don’t feel certain any more,” Tana answered in a quiet voice, “Let’s go, Oben. I want to get to Hyrford as soon as possible to make sure all is well there.”

Oben grunted and climbed into his saddle. Tana mounted her own horse and looked back one last time. Then she turned away and spurred her horse into motion.


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