Gathering my thoughts, I sat up to see that I was back in the camp with Cade and Zen. Tallis was nowhere to be seen, but all of the animals and Zandre were here. Greatly confused, I looked around at them before Zen threw her shoe out into the forest and tried to throw her other one at Zandre. Luckily, I was able to stop her before she was able to do so. However, that didn’t mean that she still didn’t manage to piss Zandre off. After looking for the missing shoe with Zen and finding it, I asked Zandre how long it had been and she said that it’d only been an hour. With that, Cade and Zen went back to sleep and I stared at Zandre for a while, my mind racing trying to put together what happened, before I went back to sleep as well.
The next morning, we continued towards the house we were told about and found ourselves standing in front of a door, just like the one we saw in our dreams but not connected to the house this time. Cade and Zen didn’t really want anything to do with it, so I approached it and heard a knocking on the door and a scroll lying before it. I picked it up and there was a necklace keeping it shut. It had a symbol of a windmill on it. I took it to Zandre and she’d seen the symbol before. I opened it and read, “Please you have to come help us. We are in Barovia.” Confused, I looked to the rest of my party and Cade was already opening the door.
A purple vortex of energy rested behind it and Cade kicked at it before we could stop him and was pulled in. A few moments later, Cade and an elven man stepped through the vortex. The stranger looked like he’d been to the hells and back. Zen instantly didn’t like him and tried to hit him, but she was unable to do so. Noting how Zen was acting, I decided to rub it in a little and asked him if he needed anything. He said he didn’t, but I went up to him and touched his arm and healed him the best I could. He looked a bit better and I asked him what his name was. He told us that we could call him Cross. With that, I offered him my hand and told him that it was nice to meet him. He took it and shook my hand suspiciously.
He looked like he wanted to leave, but we kept pestering him with questions. He said that the place the vortex lead to was the Shadowfell and that his party had been trapped down there while they were looking for the missing children that were being sacrificed. Cade had the audacity to tell him that we’d found the kids, but they were all dead. He told us that he really needed to get back to his Order, and we found out that it was near Rorken. Zandre, who had been glaring at him for a while, stated that he was a bloodhunter and that bloodhunters fight darkness in the world, wherever they may be, even going to places like the Hells and the Abyss.
It was a long shot, but knowing what he was, I asked him if he’d be willing to help me fight an evil entity that’s terrorizing a town. He considered it for a moment, and I thought his answer was going to be no, but he told me that I had him for a week.
With that, I asked Zandre the same question, stating that I’d hold true to the earlier promise about escorting her to Croak even if she said no, and she agreed to help as well. With that, we made our way back to Seacliff to buy some things and for me to send off some letters. There was only a few people who I know I could turn to, and one who just needed to know what was going on in his city. The letter to Jack was an easy one to write as I basically told him that we were meeting in Laketown to gather our forces before we made our way to Frostford, but if he knew he couldn’t make it to Laketown in time, he was more than welcome to stay at my house until we arrived. I did make sure to warn him about my mother.
The next letter was a bit more difficult, due to the fact that I knew that Baron Waicox wouldn’t have much of a say in any of this, but he needed to know what was going on in his city and that we were preparing to end the threat that Atlas Fletcher posed. The letter to my father was difficult for the fact that I wasn’t sure it was him I was writing to. I hoped it was as I asked him to come to Laketown, but I was honestly quite suspicious of him. I wanted to believe that I was writing to him, but I couldn’t know for sure, so I kept most of my plans quiet.
The letter to Kalona was by far the hardest to write. I was trying to be hopeful, but I knew that I was running out of time. I told him my ideas for the plans, because I did not want to take them all on at the same time, and at the end of it, I apologized for acting so reckless with him. I hoped that he didn’t think we were moving too fast because I wanted to move faster. I was tired of the standstill my life had become, the waiting game I forced myself to live. I was ready to move on from this terrible situation and live out the rest of my life with him. I wanted to be his wife. I wanted to be married to him. I hoped that he felt the same way.
With the letters sent, we started to make our way towards Laketown. I got a letter back from Kalona and was honestly a little frustrated with it, because all it asked is where I wanted him to go to meet us. I wrote back to him, saying that he should meet us in Laketown as I tried to ignore the fact that he didn’t mention anything about the rest of my letter.
We talked with Cross a little bit along the way and it seemed like he had a serious case of amnesia. He didn’t really know much about his past, nor the tattoo with the draconic-like script on his back. Honestly, he was kind of weird, but we were weird too, so it was okay.
As we reached Laketown, a dense fog surrounded the street and I tensed as I knocked an arrow, watching for any changes within it. My mind started racing to the worst possible scenario as the panic started to set in. I wasn’t ready to face them here. Zen went over to the fog and was stuck down and I went over and healed her, pulling her away from it a little bit, before going back to the group, still focusing. Three daggers flew towards us from the fog, but they missed, as my heart skipped a beat. It was him. It had to be. With all of my courage, I shouted, “Atlas!” as I readied my bow. It was then when the fight began.
Honestly, I felt like a sitting duck as I watched daggers fly out of the fog, waiting for Slither to show his face. At least it didn’t seem like Atlas was there. It seemed like it was only Slither. Angry, I shot a couple of arrows into the fog, not even knowing if they hit or not. My heart pounded against my chest as my mind raced. Fear gripped me as well as anger, as I considered my options. I didn’t know where Kalona was, or my father, and Jack was three days away. The people I wanted to be fighting by my side the most were nowhere to be seen. At least there was five of us and only one of him.
After some time, Zen managed to dispel the fog and Cade, Cross, and her went after Slither. I held my ground, knowing that if I kept myself out in the open, he might appear. After a few good hits by them and no sign of him, I raced around the corner where they were to see that Slither had escaped. Anger gripping me, I shouted, “Slither, you’re Altas’ bitch!” as the silver dragon wyrmling landed on my shoulder. I will admit that I was terrified in that moment and even though I was trying to remain composed, I was shaken.
I jumped on Beacon and we raced across the street and I rushed into Mabel’s bakery, wild-eyed and disheveled. I don’t even remember what I said at first, but I stayed quiet after that until the customer she was helping was gone. I asked her if she’s seen my father and she said that she hadn’t. The last time she saw him was when we were here. I told her what happened just moments before and said that I needed to see if the others I sent for had arrived before leaving the bakery.
I tried to focus, but I really couldn’t. I was terrified that I was going to be attacked, I was horrified that Atlas wasn’t too far behind, and I was mortified that Slither was here. Did he know I was coming? Did I accidently tell him in those letters? Was my initial fears about my father after getting that letter in Seacliff correct? I didn’t know, and I felt myself breaking once more.
I went to the Lakeside Inn to see the young Mr. Emerson instantly groan as I entered the establishment. I went up to him and asked if there had been anyone new in the town and he said that there was two. I asked where they were and he said that they went to go get a drink at the Siren. I gave him five gold, thanking him and telling him I’m still sorry about his bar. Hoping that one of them was Kalona, I quickly made my way to the Siren.
Now, I never been there, but from what Cade and Zen had told me, it was a brothel, so I instantly clutched my coin purse a little tighter, not wanting my money to be stolen like that one time in Chipenden. With a sigh to try to calm my nerves, which didn’t helped, I walked in and scanned the room. Luckily, they were pretty easy to spot and I walked up to the table the two of them were sitting at.
Without a word or a look towards Falana, even though my jealousy still flared in my chest, I sat down next to Kalona, knowing that I still probably looked terrified. The only reason I knew that is that I noticed my hands were shaking. “Klara?” he asked and I looked at him. His face as stoic as usual, but his eyes told a different story. I could see the fear in them. “Slither,” I whispered. “Here?” he breathed and I nodded. “Just now. He attacked us but we lost him.” He considered my words for a moment and I caught him glance down at his hands for brief second. “If he was here that means my father’s not far behind,” he stated as I nodded once more. He looked over at Falana as I just sat there for a moment, staring at the table in front of me. I knew I was safe by his side, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t considering the possibilities and the outcomes. It could have been so much worse.
About that time, Cade came and sat down at the table next to Falana and she proceeded to greet him. I glared at her before I leaned on Kalona, closing my eyes. He put his arms around me and I finally felt some of the tension leave my body as my eyes started to burn with tears. I was about to cry when Cade told us to get a room. Glaring at him from across the table, seeing that Falana and him were feeling each other up, I retorted that they were the ones that needed to get a room and Kalona held me tighter, whispering to me to ignore them. I did so and lost myself in my thoughts once more.
I was glad that he was here. Out of everything that had happened and the time that had passed since we were last together in Aspienne, it felt right to be in his arms once more. I knew in that moment that I didn’t want to have to be away from him that long ever again, or away from him for that long without knowing the next time we’d be together again. With everything that happened over the past couple months, I knew it would’ve been much easier to handle with him by my side. Even though he wasn’t able to be, and he had things to do on his own, I was glad he was finally here now.
Once I had calmed down a little bit, Kalona asked what I wanted to do. I told him that we needed to gather everyone somewhere private and discuss our plan further. We decided that the best place to do this would be Mabel’s house, and we gathered everyone we could in that small house for this talk. In total, there was eight of us, two dire wolves, three dragon wyrmlings, and a leopard squeezing into the front room of that house. I briefly ran down the situation for Mabel and everyone who might have forgotten what had been discussed earlier and said that we needed to make a stand against Atlas. Kalona asked where I’d like this fight to be, and I told him and them all that we need to go to Frostford, because Jack will be there to help us. In honestly, I wanted to end it where the conflict started for my family. Everything had to come to a close there. With everyone in agreement, people started to leave to go gather their things and I went up to Cross. It’d been five, almost six days, and I told him that it’d be three days to get to Frostford. I asked him if there was any way he could stay for a few more days, and with a sigh, he said that he would, but he’d be leaving after that.
As people readied themselves, I pulled Kalona off to the side and asked him if he had any ideas about how to go about this and he said that he didn’t at the moment, because it looked like we’d have to face them all at once. I told him that I really didn’t want to do that, and he replied that there probably wasn’t a way we could avoid it. I looked down for a moment, knowing that I needed to tell him my plan in case things got bad. I told him that I was going to run if I was close to death, that if I fled I’d have a chance at getting somewhere safe for a while, and he pulled me into a hug. He told me that if things got that bad, he’d get me out of there and somewhere safe. I just needed to stay close to him. I knew he didn’t like me talking like this, I could feel it, but it was something that needed to be said.
After some time, I backed away from him a bit and took his hands, looking up into his eyes with a small smile on my lips and said, “I hope you know I wasn’t kidding in that last part of my letter. I really do mean it.” He returned my smile and said, “I know,” before saying that we needed to talk about it some more. I kissed him on the cheek and walked out the door with him as we started on our way to Frostford.
The trip there was thankfully uneventful and Kalona and I did get to spend some time together, discussing our future plans. I told him that after this is all over with, I promised to escort Zandre to Croak, but after that, I wanted to come home for a while and start getting things straightened out. The house and the old shop was mine and I’d like to get them both cleaned up a little. What I did with them past that would be determined by if my father was still alive. He said that he’d like to spend some time with his mother, and then he’d like to spend some time with me. Just the two of us. I told him I’d like that.
He asked me if I heard anything from my father again and I told him about the letter I’d received and that I did send one to him, telling him to go to Laketown, but he wasn’t there when we arrived. I told him about the concerns I had, and he told me to dismiss them. He did insist that I needed to write to him again so he wouldn’t be waiting for us in Laketown. I told him that I would once we got to Frostford.
One night, while I was laying in his arms as he gently ran his fingers through my hair, he asked me if I wanted him to join my party. I listened for a moment, trying to hear if anyone was outside our tent, and when I couldn’t, I told him that I wasn’t going to be staying with them. There was a hint of confusion in his eyes and I told him that I didn’t want to be with them anymore, not after what happened in Aspienne. I didn’t trust them, not after they tortured that old man to death, and after his father was no longer a threat to us, I was going to leave Absit Invidia. It was time for me to stop dwelling in the past. It was time for me to move on and start living my life.
The night before we got to Frostford, Kalona and I were on watch while the rest of the group was asleep. We sat together by the fire as I asked him if he was alright. He said that he was, but that he had a lot on his mind at the moment. I told him that I did too. I looked up at the trees, thinking back to when we were younger and we could only find solitude with each other in the forest, if only for an hour at most. It was strange to see just how far we’d come. I felt Kalona’s gaze on me as he asked, “What are you thinking about?” I smiled, finally shifting my attention back to him, and told him, “I was thinking back to when we had to hide in the forest to be alone together.” He smirked, saying that our parents and the rest of the town would’ve known about us if we went anywhere else. His mom was always at the beach, his father was either around town or at the shop, my parents went everywhere around Frostford, and the people at the taverns would’ve ratted us out if they saw us together there. I told him that it was always a miracle we actually got to spend time together. He laughed at that.
My eyes focused on him for a long while and when he met my gaze, I knew he understood what I was thinking. I knew it was a dangerous idea, but I at least wanted to be with him one more time. I didn’t know what was going to happen the next day and we hadn’t had a chance to be alone together before then.
I didn’t want to assume, but I think he felt it too. The weight of it all. The gravity of what we were attempting to do. However, I think he was handling better than I was. He was ready for the fight, he was ready to lay it all down on the line, because I think he was confident that, no matter what, he’d live to see the end of it. I, on the other hand, knew that this fight was most likely going to be the death of me, but I hoped that I’d be able to bring Atlas down with me. If not, I hoped that my death would be a catalyst for Atlas’.
It’s the reason I was moving so quickly with Kalona. Each passing minute brought me closer to my last and I wanted to make the most of this life while I was still breathing. I wanted to live a lifetime with him, but I knew that I was only guaranteed a handful of hours. My hourglass was running out of sand while his was seemingly endless.
“Kalona,” I whispered, my voice low and pleading. He scooted closer to me, raising his hand so his fingertips could gently rest on the cheek as his eyes studied my face. There was a small smirk pulling at the corner of his mouth as his fingertips gently traced my jaw. He smiled as I felt my heart begin to beat a little quicker. “We won’t have much time,” he breathed as his eyes gazed into mine, his other hand on my thigh. “I don’t care,” I stated as I got up on my knees, watching him as he repositioned himself before both of his hands were on my hips. I sat down in his lap and my mouth met his in a tender kiss.
The next morning, we arrived in Frostford and soon found ourselves standing in front of the Grayson Estate. I told everyone that they should spend some time preparing their things and that I needed to do something in the house for some time. As they did so, I went over to Kalona and told him that it was time to do something that I should’ve done years ago. He smiled as I took his hand and lead him into the house, closing the doors behind us. As I turned and walked closer to the central fireplace, I called out for my mother and I heard the door lock. There she was, in her spectral form, with one hand on the door handle, glaring at Kalona.
With a nervous smile, I told her that I wanted her introduce her to my boyfriend, causing her glare to intensify on him. I could feel him tense up at that so I put my hand on his forearm and gave him a small smile for reassurance before looking back at my mother. I asked her if we could all get along for a while and get to know each other in a different light, because he’s not the person she thought him to be. At that, she stated that he’s nothing like his father since he was still standing there. I told her that she was right. He is nothing like his father. He’s much better than that. This caused Kalona to smile at me and my mom to move closer to the two of us.
Taking a deep breath, I took his hand, and explained to her that he’s always been there for me, even when I didn’t appreciate him being around, and that I was sorry that I hadn’t told her about him before. With a smirk, she stated that she knew about him years ago, but she wondered when I would actually tell her about him. I had to explain to her that I didn’t want to tell her about him because I feared that she would be angry at me. Then, she said something that surprised me.
She said that she wasn’t angry with either one of us. She was angry at Atlas and disappointed that I felt that I couldn’t tell her about him until now. The tension I was feeling left at that moment and I knew that I was going to be easier to talk with her now. I told her that I was sorry that I hadn’t told her until now because I was afraid of the consequences, especially with how our family felt about his in general. I was certain that she was going to be angry with me if I had told her and with that, she smiled, running one of her hands over my head before cupping my cheek. “I could never be angry with you,” she breathed. I smiled, closing my eyes as I put my hand over hers, apologizing once more.
She then proceeded to tell that that I deserved happiness in my life, after everything that’s happened. I thanked her for that and said that he had said the same thing when we met each other again in Aspienne. Kalona put his hand on my shoulder and said that it’s true, and that I deserve all the happiness in the world. I blushed slightly at his comment and told him that he deserves it too. As I told them that I loved them, they both put their arms around me and we held each other in the hug for a few moments. My heart was so full in that moment and I was glad that I finally did this.
About that time, Jack moved past us, saying hello to me briefly as the door unlocked for him and he stepped out, before my mom locked the door once more behind him. As we regrouped, I explained to her that there was a few things we needed to discuss, stating that there was a reason that we were here in Frostford today. She said that, based off of my friend that stayed in the house yesterday, it’s time to end the conflict. I nodded and said that it was because Slither had ambushed us when we arrived in Laketown a few days ago, but he had escaped. I saw the fear enter her eyes as she began to check me for wounds, asking if everyone was okay. I said we were, that Zen was knocked out in the fight but is now fine. However, I told her that I didn’t know about father, explaining to her that I had received a letter from him while in Seacliff, but I haven’t heard from him since. I asked him to meet up with us in Laketown, but he wasn’t there when we arrived.
Worry entered her eyes as I felt my eyes beginning to burn as I fought back my tears. I looked down, stating that I’ve been trying not to think about the worst possible situation at the moment, but I can’t. I’m terrified that he’s already gone. She put her arms around me and pulled me into another hug as I felt my heart sink. “I have a plan to keep you alive and safe,” Kalona stated, a hint of sadness there in his voice. “Would you care to enlighten me about the details of your plan? It might make me feel a little better,” I pleaded softly, fighting back the tears that wanted to fall.
He told me that he was going to keep me safe from his mother during the fight, and if everything turns to shit, he was going to get me out of there at all costs. I stepped back from my mother and looked at him, nodding. I promised that during the fight, I was going after Atlas, even if we were going to have to fight all three of them at once. He took my hand and squeezed it, his eyes full of determination. He promised that he’d follow me no matter what, until the end. I begged him to stay close to me and stated that if he had the chance to get the killing blow against his father, he needed to take it if he wanted it. At that point, I didn’t care who struck Atlas done as long as it happened and Kalona deserved to do it after what his father put him through. That comment caused him to smirk, saying that it would be justice. I promised that I’d have his back if he’d wished to do.
I looked at my mother and told her that I was sorry that father couldn’t be here today, and she told me that he’s here in spirit. I felt a tear roll down my cheek at her words and I admitted that I hoped I’d be able to see him one more time. Her voice had a touch of sorrow in it as she said that we just had to hope that he was safe wherever he was. I wiped my eyes, knowing that she was right and that there was no use in crying about it now.
Because I wasn’t sure if I did so last time I was with her or not, I asked her if I told her that I thought that Nikolas’ wife was pregnant. At that, a huge smile lit up her face for a moment as she said that I didn’t tell her that he was having a baby. Her voice trailed off as she said the words and I was sure that she remembered the situation our family was in. Her eyes then met mine, her gaze was dead-serious, as she told me that this had to end before the child is born so it doesn’t have to go through the same hell that I did. I agreed with her and added that if things didn’t go well in the fight, my goal was to go get Nikolas and his family and get them to safety until we can defeat the threat once and for all. She nodded, but stated that I needed to stay safe as well, and I explained to her that it was the reason I brought so many along with me today.
A thought then crossed my mind and I went up to Kalona, whispering to him a question. I asked if we should tell her that we were maybe getting married soon. He nodded with a light smile, whispering that it would be a good idea to tell her while I still could. I gave him a smile and touched the side of his face before turning to face my mother, taking my place by his side. “We have something we’d like to tell you,” I stated as I felt the smile on my lips growing a bit wider. Her eyes were expectant as she waited for us to say something. I took Kalona’s hand and said that we were getting married soon. We didn’t have any plans, we didn’t know when or where, but we hope to someday. A smile lit her face once more and she congratulated us. I told her that we wanted to let her know, but I couldn’t help the sadness that filled my heart as I looked at her.
“I- I love you, Mom, and I hope I’ve made you proud,” I said, my voice breaking as tears welled up in my eyes once more. “I won’t let this threat continue on and I’ll make sure that your death was not in vain.” Her smile was full of love as she thanked me, saying that she was proud of me before asking me once more to stay safe. I promised that I’d try my best, but I didn’t know what to expect. Atlas, Orla, and Slither are powerful, and this fight is going to be dangerous. She agreed, and added that it would be good to go spend some time with my friends and comrades while I still could as she unlocked the door.
I went up and hugged her one more time, thanking her for everything. I asked her if she would be able to stay around for a little while after Atlas was defeated and she said that she’d try. I told her that I loved her and that I hoped to be able to see her again someday if she wasn’t able to stay before looking over at Kalona, hoping that he’d say something.
He came over and took my hand, saying, “Thank you, Mrs. Grayson, for this.” I smiled, blushing hard, and I kissed his cheek. As I pulled away from him slightly, his hands cupped my face and he pulled me into a soft kiss. I stiffened in surprise, shocked that he’d do something like this in front of my mother, but I soon relaxed into it. As his lips parted from mine, I grinned as I gazed into his silver-blue eyes. His eyes had a fire in them, full of determination, as he said on a light breath, “I promise I’ll keep her safe.”