The rout of those specters and soldiers who served The Chained One went much more swiftly once the apparition was destroyed, and not all of the chain soldiers had to be slain. Those who seemed to have been the most fanatical devotees had run off once news of their master’s demise reached them, and those less bound by love to the creature simply surrendered. The specters, freed of the magical bindings that had enslaved them, mostly ran off as well, though some few tried to take advantage of their proximity to faeriekind.
Kathy and Byron sat with Daggeuro on the atoll, looking around at the bodies and destruction that had been wrought during the battle. Kathy had wept quietly for several minutes, both horrified by the sheer volume of death around them and her own hand in it, as well as the sheer exhaustion she was feeling. Byron had shed a few tears as well, but only for a minute, and he’d kept it mostly quiet. He felt burned up inside, as if his mind were a forest, and someone had set it ablaze.
The kennin High Knight used his rainbow-striped cloth to wipe clean Boon and Bane, slowly going through the motions of cleaning every inch of the legendary weapons. He looked up only briefly here and there as officers came to give him reports and make inquiries, the healers moving about among the wounded as fast as they could. Stahg finally made his way over to the trio, the fellin councilman giving them all an apologetic smile as he approached. “Seems impossible that all of this happened in less than two hours,” he commented, looking out at the village.
“For all the wisdom of man,” Kathy began, sniffing once, her face now dried off, eyes no longer leaking, “everything can be undone with one bit of blind arrogance. Spend a lifetime building something up, and watch it get demolished in less time than it takes for the sun to rise and set.” She shook her head, looking up into the councilman’s eyes.
“This battle had to be fought,” he offered weakly.
“Wouldn’t have, if things had been put to rights in the first place,” she replied coldly. Daggeuro hated to think it, but he was proud for a moment of her acceptance of this grim knowledge. Though he sincerely hoped that she wouldn’t be forced to confront anymore such hostility or conflict as she had on two of her excursions into Ether Plane, having the ability to harden herself somewhat to those circumstances may prove some day to be her salvation. It had taken longer for her than for others of the Awakened, but her loss of innocence pained him all the more for knowing how gentle a soul she really was.
Councilman Stahg wandered away from the trio, watched by Kathy closely. She still didn’t trust him, but then, she supposed she should let such things go for the time being. She had just helped save the kingdom from dealing with an even greater threat than the shade Luga, and it had been accomplished with less loss of life than that previous campaign had seen. Of course, she had been pushed much farther this time around in terms of the fine control of her powers, which left her feeling exhausted and a little testy.
Daggeuro took off a few dozen yards away, gathering his remaining officers around him. Kathy and Byron joined him, but both remained quiet, subdued from their efforts. A single look around the ring told Kathy that its ranks were diminished; the minotaur officer who had spoken on her and Byron’s behalf before was gone, felled in battle against the chain soldiers. She had seen him die, stepping directly in the path of a virulent green bulb of fire magic launched by The Chained One at a clutch of corporals and privates for whom this was only their second or third campaign, men and women under his command. He had perished protecting them, and as she thought about how he had fallen, she felt two more tears run their course down her cheeks.
It isn’t fair, she thought. It just isn’t.
Daggeuro stood in his dented, scorched, banged up armor, hands planted firmly on his hips, and looked around at the other officers standing around, men and women joined in spirit by having survived this most recent conflict. Two of the elven men were missing limbs, one his left leg, one his right arm. The best that could be done for them for the time being was to have their wounds cauterized and the severed limbs preserved in blocks of magical ice until such time as they could be reattached back in Celia. Even then, however, there was no guarantee that either man would be entirely whole again. Yet neither man seemed to be defined by what was missing from them at the moment.
“My friends,” Daggeuro said, looking pained as he took a deep breath, clutching his side. “Today we faced our own kinsmen, civilians and soldiers who once knelt to the rule of King Ovin. We faced specters enslaved by the very creature who subjugated our citizens, and that tyrant as well. He, it, is dead now, utterly destroyed by the efforts of the two humans joined with us in this circle. Everyone here owes them a debt of gratitude for their hand in defeating The Chained One.” There were silent nods of ascension and little more. He continued on, saying nothing much of any consequence or import, gathering final reports from each of these officers in turn before issuing an order to have all troops of the battalion make ready to return to Celia. Stahg’s support unit had joined their ranks in earnest now, and they would have the wee folk to protect them from wild specters all the way back.
He dismissed them to gather their men and make preparations. The battalion would travel in units, with the most grievously injured leaving first with the majority of healers and heaviest protection, tapering off as they went on. Having been battered around as they were, the trio would be going along somewhere in the middle of the overall pack. Kathy and Byron stood hand in hand, watching the first unit leave the village through the woods, heading directly northeast, aiming for the main trade road that would see them all the way to Celia eventually.
“We did good, didn’t we,” Byron asked after a few minutes spent standing silently together.
“We did,” Kathy replied. “We make a good team, you and I.” She squeezed his hand in hers, and they remained standing like that a while yet as the day passed by.
Kathy thrust a small white kerchief into Byron’s hand and half-grunted, “Wipe”, fiddling with his bow tie one more time. He dabbed his forehead with the cloth and tried to stick it in one of his tuxedo pockets before she expertly batted his hand aside. “What are you, high? You don’t stick a sweat-laden kerchief in a tuxedo pocket, Byron, especially when the tuxedo is a rental!” She snorted, finishing off his bow tie and stomping across the tent to where stood councilman Stahg, one feline eyebrow raised at her as he finished adjusting his cumberbund. “And where exactly is your lovely better half, councilman,” she asked pointedly.
“Already out there getting herself into position,” he replied airily. “I must say, the months since the battle have done wonders for your hair, Lady Potts. Does it curl that way naturally?”
“Yes it does, now quit with the nice talk and get the hell out there,” she snapped, and away the fellin went, avoiding her further wrath. Since returning to Celia and recovering from their wounds, the Awakened couple had been on non-stop wedding preparation duty, and she was beginning to think she might prefer another combat-oriented campaign on the road as opposed to dealing with all of the nonsense required of the ceremonies they would be participating in that day. She stood before a floor-length mirror in the oversized tent being used for final wardrobe adjustments, pulling her dress up a little so that her breasts wouldn’t be as exposed as they were at the moment. She pouted her lips, grinned at herself.
“You’re beautiful, you know that, right,” Byron asked, coming up next to her and giving her a peck on the cheek.
“Thank you, dear. You look pretty great too. You ready?” Together they exited the tent, walking hand in hand along the aisle that had been constructed with chairs and carefully laid out flowers by sprites, fairies and pixies issued special instructions by King Ovin himself. The royal family was arranged in the front row of seats on the groom’s side, the diminutive monarch floating up and bowing to Lady Potts and Lord Torg as they passed, splitting apart to take their places with the groomsmen and bridesmaids. Byron nodded to the tall black man standing in the position of best man, a fellow dressed in a loud yellow dinner jacket and trousers with no shirt or shoes, burlap medicine bags tied to a rope about his waist.
“Baron Dimanche,” he said to the voodoo spirit, who grinned wickedly at him.
“To t’ink, dis fool is going to commit himself to a lifetime of monogamy,” the Baron said under his breath. “Who would do dis to demselves?”
“A man in love, my friend,” Byron replied. Soon the groom came walking up the aisle, his brothers reaching out and punching at his leg as he passed. Daggeuro was dressed in a fine white commander’s jacket, replete with all manner of buttons, buckles, and adorned with approximately a quarter of the various medals he’d been awarded over the years for his service to the kingdom. A fine gold-linked chain hung from his shoulder down and around to the third button of his jacket, trousers of robin’s egg blue covered his legs, and boots shined to a high polish upon his feet. He was beaming at everyone, smiling like a fool even at Selena’s mother and stepfather, himself a King from Amermidst’s neighboring monarchy to the west.
Kathy felt a new tear well up and drop down her cheek, brushing it aside with one finger. The band began playing ‘Here Comes the Bride’, and as she looked down the aisle, she saw Selena enter the scene, looking positively radiant in her flowing green dress, golden thread woven into intricate elven script and sigils from the waist down. Her hair was flared out and laced with tiny flowers, a silver circlet placed upon her head. She smiled beatifically at the crowd as she walked down the aisle to the ongoing music, until at last she stood before the altar facing Daggeuro, holding his hands in hers.
Standing before them was a divar in severe black robes, the turtle-faerie holding an aged leather bound tome to his chest. He lifted his scaled head and blinked slowly at them, cleared his throat, and began the recitation. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today, to join these two souls, in the blessed union of holy matrimony.” If asked later, Kathy wouldn’t be able to recite what exactly had been said by the divar, nor the vows given by either Selena or Daggeuro. But she would be able to recall with complete alacrity how wonderful the whole day felt, how filled with a sense of wonder and hope she was as the hours proceeded, from ceremony to reception to passing out gloriously happy and drunk with Byron in the happy couple’s guest room.
When she passed through the rift with Byron the following day back into her apartment in downtown Minneapolis, she turned back and waved good-bye to them one more time, promising to visit in a few months, when their honeymoon phase was closer to finishing up. The rift closed, leaving her and Byron standing together in her living room, smiling at one another. Byron cleared his throat and said, “Well, I’ve, ah, got some things to straighten out with my accounts, gotta figure out where I’m going to set myself up, you know?” He rubbed the back of his head awkwardly, until she took his wrist and put it around herself, along with his other arm. She gave him a peck on the lips and smiled at him, leaned her head to one side.
“Or, you could, I don’t know, try hanging around here for a little while,” she said. Byron grinned, returned the kiss, and held it for a while, both of them ignoring Tigger as he made faux-gagging sounds nearby. They stayed locked in one another’s arms, shuffling back toward the bedroom, kicking the door shut on the turtleshell cat as he giggled at them.
“Well, another happy ending,” Tigger said, sauntering away toward the living room and settling in on the couch. “For now.”