Ciara Ballintyne was born in 1981 in Sydney, Australia, where she lives with her husband, two daughters, one masochistic cat, and one cat with a god complex. She holds degrees in law and accounting, and has been a practising financial services lawyer since 2004. She is both an idealist and a cynic. She started reading epic fantasy at the age of nine, when she kidnapped Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings from her father. Another two years passed before she began her first attempts at the craft of writing. Confronting the Demon is her debut book. She enjoys horse-riding, and speculation about taking over the world. If she could choose to be anything it would be a dragon, but instead she shares more in common with Dr. Gregory House of House. M.D. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/CiaraBallintyne Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CiaraBallintyne Website: http://www.ciaraballintyne.com Flight of the Dragon is a for lovers of fantasy fiction, with an emphasis on high/epic fantasy.
Confronting the Demon
Welcome back to the third and final installment of Love Enough. If you missed Protestations: Love Enough (Part 1) or Sentenced to Death: Love Enough (Part 2) make sure you check them out first!
* * *
‘I am sorry.’ Annael proffered the dagger she’d retrieved from the darkness. A tear trailed its way down her perfect cheek. ‘I do this for you and our son.’
‘But you ask me to wield the knife.’
‘The blade must strike true. No spark of life can remain for them to fan into flame, or you both will die.’
He curled his thick-knuckled hands into helpless fists. ‘I can’t. No matter the reason, I can’t.’
‘You must.’ Annael’s voice lowered, insistent. The lyrical notes tugged at Dagon, luring, seducing, and persuading. Annael had never turned the power of her voice against him, but she did now.
The gentle persuasion sank into his bones. What she said was right, he must, it was imperative…
‘Don’t!’ He yanked himself free of the soft, seductive glamour.
‘I just –.’
‘I know.’ Reaching out, Dagon stroked his son’s dark hair. Quiet, the baby watched him with huge, sleepy green eyes. Annael’s eyes. Must he spend a lifetime haunted by her ghost?
‘Would you be more at peace if I did?’
‘Yes… no.’ Reluctant, his hand reached for the knife. ‘If I do this thing, I’d rather do it of my own free will.’
High above the stone circle, something moved - a mere hint of shadows on shadows. Only his demon eyes discerned even that much. Annael would sense them inside her head, coming for her.
‘What… what will they do to you?’
‘Imprisonment, trial, punishment. Execution. They won’t allow me to die until they track down our son. Then they will kill him, out of hand, like the mongrel they believe him to be.’ Her hands tightened on the baby. His green eyes drowsed closed.
Dagon’s breath caught in his throat. ‘Punishment?’
‘Torture, if you will.’ Her shoulders hitched gracefully, as if she were indifferent to hate, but her chest rose and fell in quick, shallow breaths.
Torture. He couldn’t do what she asked to save himself. He couldn’t even do it to save their son. The passion engendered by the ardesco wouldn’t allow it.
But he could do it for her, to save her the suffering.
‘I’ll do it.’
‘You will?’ Her eyes shone liquid in the light of the dying torch, betraying mixed surprise, fear and relief. ‘Quickly. We have little time.’
Annael arranged herself beneath an arch, leaning against one massive pillar. The baby lay asleep in her lap, for lack of an alternative except the muddy ground of a rainy night.
Dagon placed the knife point at her breast and hesitated. ‘Will I see you on the other side of the Curtained Gate?’
Annael leaned forward, heedless of the blade pricking her chest, and kissed him, soft and slow. Her lips tasted sweet against his, and the saltwater tang of her tears brushed his tongue. He savored the taste, let it linger, bittersweet, aware this was the last time he would know the touch of her in this life. A tear slid down his cheek, and another, until they streamed down his face, mingling with the rain. She caught one on her finger, and clutched it to her breast as she lay back against the pillar. The other hand brushed the downy hair of the sleeping child before drawing a blanket gently over the boy’s eyes.
The rustle of wings impervious to rain drifted down out of the dark. A voice echoed in the distance.
‘Hurry.’ Annael’s hand covered his on the hilt of his dagger. Perfect teeth dragged at her bottom lip and she blinked, too quickly. ‘I will see you on the other side, though I pray many years pass before you cross that threshold. Tell our son I loved him... I loved him enough to sacrifice everything.’
Dagon nodded once, jerkily, tears falling so fast her flawless face blurred. He drew a deep, shuddering breath. Was he really about to do this? The image of her broken body and disfigured face flashed through his mind, the tiny infant dead at her feet. He couldn’t.
He shoved the blade home. Blood spilled over his hand, hot and sticky. Her last breath sighed from her lips. In the depths of his chest, his heart broke with a profound silence. As though a dam burst within, guilt, despair, and agony flooded him.
The night exploded in screams and voices calling; Ishafal experiencing the sudden passing of Annael, and crying out in anger and grief and triumph, an emotion for every voice.
Dagon stumbled, and fell backwards in the mud. The tears wouldn’t stop. Deep, shaking sobs threatened to tear his frame apart.
The first Ishafal thumped to the ground bare yards away. Dagon skidded to his feet, slipping on muddied grass. Steadying himself, he grabbed the sleeping baby. The child woke, screaming the strident call of a frightened newborn. Another Ishafal landed heavily to the right. Steel gleamed in the flickering torchlight.
With the baby clutched to his chest, adrift in the sea of his own agony, in the tears threatening to drown him, Dagon stumbled blindly towards the torch. The two Ishafal closed on him. His hand seized the rough wood of the torch, and he yanked the brand from the earth, the flame scribing a line of fire through the rainy darkness as he spun.
The Ishafal behind him shrieked, and jerked back. Dagon felt the impact of the torch vibrate up his arm. Flames erupted in tinder-dry feathers. An explosion of light assaulted his eyes.
Dagon spun again, waving the brand and squinting into the brilliance. The flaming Ishafal screamed, the beauty of his voice lost in desperation. Dropping to the ground, he rolled in the mud and the wet grass. Flames engulfed his clothing and the screams escalated to terror. The other Ishafal stared, shocked. More winged people spiraled out of the darkness, racing towards the pyre the Ishafal had become. A few voices lifted in shaky song, a fragmented attempt to douse the flames with the magic of their voices.
Dagon hurled the torch at the back of a singing Ishafal. The song faltered at the second explosion of flame and light, and he spun and fled into the dark. The screams of the burning Ishafal drowned out the distressed cries of the baby. Dagon whispered soothing words, and the wails eased to whimpers.
He ducked under a branch, and ran into the cover of the forest, trying to outrun the Ishafal, the pain, and the blood smearing his hands.
They were distracted by the Ishafal he’d set alight, delayed in order to save them. If he ran fast enough, and far enough, in the dark and the rain, they’d never find him this night.
And then, when he was sure the pursuit was lost, only then would he stop; to grieve, to shed the tears, and to cradle close to him the only thing remaining of the woman he loved.
* * *
**AUTHOR'S NOTE: This fiction piece is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge and has not been to an editor.**
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