Help

“They were losing. He was desperate, and desperate times call for desperate measures. That is what he told himself when he went to her for help.” A fantasy short story inspired by the song “Help” by Hurts on their album Exile.

It was long and hot. It was far too long and miserably hot. If someone asked Von how to describe the war that is what he would say. The summer had hit with a vengeance at the start of the war, and both had lasted for longer than Von could stand. Water was being rationed even for the Queen and her family. Everyone’s throats were dry and scratched especially those who participated in the Queen’s military meetings. Von was leaving one of the infamous meetings and he wondered if he had ever felt more disheartened in his life.
His mind was whirling and his stomach rolling. He couldn’t recall if had ever attended a meeting where he left feeling hopeful about their prospects. There was never any good news; it was only lost lives. It seemed like the war would never end until he and his people were all killed. Their enemies had taken city after city. They had won battle after battle. They had killed thousands of people, his brother, and enslaved others. No one could think of a way to stop them and their magic. To be specific no one could think of a way to stop their strongest mage, Diablo. That held true up until that moment. Von had an idea, and he wasted no time.
Von made his way through the military camp until he found who he was looking for. He called out to a group of guards, “Excuse me, but do any of you know who guards Obsidian?”
The group fell silent, and they looked at each other. At last, the strongest looking man of the group spoke, “Your Highness, I guard Obsidian. What do you need of me?”
Von straightened his shoulders. “I need you to take me to her.”
The other guards paled at his words and dispersed. The burly guard squared his shoulders and said, “Of course, Your Highness.”
The guard started to lead the way to the tower the army had been using as a prison. As they walked through the dusty camp, Von asked, “What can you tell me about Obsidian? What do I need to know before I speak with her?”
“You remember her capture, I assume,” the guard said as his posture went rigid.
“No, I was on a diplomatic mission at the time. The most I heard was that she was captured.” Von said. The guard raised his eyebrows and glanced at Von as they reached the tower.
The guard dropped his head and sighed, “It was at a raid in Silvin Forest. Obsidian held most of our mages off singlehandedly. She created a distraction in order to let her forces escape.”
He unlocked the door to the tower. The guard paused and shook his head. “It was awful. She was surrounded, trapped before she could stop them. She was screaming and thrashing about like a crazed animal. She was rabid, shouting spells like no tomorrow. We had to gag her. She was no better than an animal.”
They entered the dusty tower and the guard grabbed a torch. He started to lead the way down a flight of stairs. Von tried to imagine what that kind of creature would look like. He could piece together nothing physical other than that her eyes would be alive.
As they descended, a thought occurred to Von. He asked, “How has she been while restrained here? What should I expect?”
“When we first got her, we kept her on a tight leash, chained to the ground, gagged as well, despite the enchantment on the manacles. Later on, we removed the gag, but at first it was necessary. That was when she would scream until her voice went hoarse and her wrists would bleed from her constant pulling and tearing at the cuffs.”
Von frowned. He knew it was doubtful his endeavor would have worked from the beginning, but the more he heard about her the more his stomach sank. Oblivious to Von’s inner thoughts, the guard continued in a whisper, “That was before though. Her carrying on started to slow down the more time she spent in the cell. Her fits would shorten each day, until one night there was…”
“Was what?” Von asked. He stopped and could hear his voice echo. His brow was furrowed as he frowned.
The guard paused as well and looked away. “It was late, I had had a long day, but what I heard sounded unearthly. It wasn’t loud, just painful. If that sound was real, well, I wouldn’t wish that kind of pain on anyone, not even Obsidian.”
Von had no idea how to respond, so they stood in silence for a moment. The guard looked up and cleared his throat. “Umm…Your Highness, it should only be just a little further.”
Von nodded gratefully and continued on. It wasn’t long until they reached a heavy iron door. One of the two guards at the door raised an eyebrow when he saw the prince, but the other kept staring straight ahead. Despite the abnormality of the situation, the guards opened the door without hesitation. Von and his guard quickly walked down the hallway, ignoring the prisoners they passed. They didn’t stop until they reached the last cell. The light from the torch illuminated half of the cell. A figure was crouched in the corner. A rough, cracked voice said, “You’re early.”
The guard barked, “Get up, you have a visitor. You’d be wise to show him respect.”
“I don’t get visitors.”
Von took a deep breath. “Obsidian!”
“My name is Von, there’s something important I need to discuss with you,” Von said. Von straightened his back and put on his best commanding voice. He was aware how his voice shook slightly at the end. His elder brother had always been the most intimidating of the three of them. Von supposed it was because he was the heir. It wasn’t anything new. It was why Von was in the army while his elder brother stayed at home.
The figure in the cell moved at his voice. Von could begin to see her arms and legs as she moved. Her head lifted up. Her long matted hair covered her face in shadows, despite the orange light around her. She spoke again, “And what does the precious Prince Von want with me?”
Her voice was like chains scratching the floor. Von swallowed and took a deep breath. He muttered to the guard, “Some privacy.”
The guard nodded and passed Von the torch. He said, “I will not be far.”
Before he had gone, Von caught him by the arm. He kept his voice low. “The keys.”
The guard balked at first, but saw the look in Von’s eyes. He handed Von the keys and dropped his voice. “Of course Your Highness. But, and I say this with the utmost respect, Your Highness, it would not be wise to use them.”
Their exchange made the girl inch closer. Von waited until the footsteps had stopped before unlocking the door and stepping into the cell.
“What are you doing?” the girl asked. As she spoke more, her voice started to even out. She backed away from him so her face stayed out of the light.
Von knelt on the ground and said, “I’m asking for your help. We are losing. We don’t know what to do.”
“Why are you asking me?”
Von moved closer and set the torch against the wall. The torchlight caught her face. He saw her eyes. They were lifeless. He took a breath and hoped he could say the right things. He said, “Because we need you. You, Obsidian, are one of the strongest mages to ever live. You were Diablo’s protégé!”
She winced. Von continued, “You are the only one strong enough to make a difference. You’re our only chance at winning.”
She stared at the chains on the ground. Von stopped for a moment, waiting for her to look at him, for her to say something, or for her to do anything. Nothing happened. Von dropped his eyes and sighed. He forced himself to stand and pick up the torch as he started to leave. As he reached the door, there was a rush of metal scraping the floor. Von turned around to hear her ask. “What will happen?”
Von frowned and the girl cleared her voice. She looked up and asked, “What will happen, if you win?”
“Peace, hopefully, and for a long time. We’d rebuild and build new things. Our kingdom could be great again. We wouldn’t be enemies.” She was silent. Von took a step toward her and asked, “What about you? What would happen if your side won?”
She looked up and her eyes were cold as she spoke, “A new era. An era without you and your people. You would be destroyed.”
Von’s eyes widened. It was no secret the prejudice that had sparked the war, but Von had never fathomed they would be eradicated. He understood it was almost guaranteed he and his family would be executed, but everyone being killed was beyond his belief. He wanted to believe she was lying to scare him, but the detached look in her eyes only solidified her statement.
“How? How can you stand behind that? How can you possibly justify that? How can you sleep at night?” Von sputtered. He took a step away from her and shook his head.
She blinked, and her eyes were no longer cold, only sad. She pushed her hair out of her face and said, “I can’t. Not anymore.”
“You’ll help us?” Von breathed. He knelt down again. She nodded. Von paused before reaching for the keys. He said, “I’m taking a huge risk, how do I know you won’t betray me?”
She whispered, “Betrayal, I would not wish that pain on anyone.”
There was a moment of silence as she stared at the ground. She looked up and said, “However, to assure you, if I did betray you, I would be killed immediately and I have no wish to die, not now, not anymore.”
“So, I have to trust you,” Von said. He started to unlock her restraints.
“Yes, but you will not regret it,” she said. The cuffs hit the ground with a clang.
“I hope so Obsidian,” Von said. He helped her to feet.
“Etana, call me Etana.”
* * *
Shouting and movement reigned throughout the camp. Etana and Von rushed to their tents. They wove around the other soldiers rushing to their equipment. Once they reached their separate tents, the duo took only a few moments to put on their armor and equip their weapons. Von was in full armor while Etana wore only the essentials in order to be able to wield her staff and magic effectively.
As they hurried to the front lines, Von said, “Be sure to stay near, if you were to end up away—”
“From your side, there will be no hesitation in killing me. I know.” Etana finished. It was a part of the conditions of Etana’s freedom and service. She was to remain by Von’s side so he could ensure her loyalty or be killed for treachery.
“I’m sorry, I don’t believe you’d betray us,” Von said.
“The gesture is kind, but we both know it’s not true. You doubt, and you’d be a fool if you didn’t,” Etana said. They slowed down as they saw where Von’s troops had gathered.
“I promised you freedom, but all you did was exchange your chains in that cell for chains bound to me.” Von lowered his voice.
Etana stared at him and said, “I have all the freedom I need.”
With that the two joined Von’s troops. As they received orders and Von gave instructions, Etana silently followed him. It was so until the battle started.
Their enemies came at them from the sides. The queen had taken the west side, and Von and Etana ended up on the east. It was a long battle, but Von and Etana held their own. There seemed to be no end to the spells she cast, but she kept to Von’s side, and he found himself grateful for her power.
Etana swung her staff down on an enemy’s head before turning to locate Von. The prince was close by fending off a warrior much bigger than himself. She caught sight of a smaller man ducking past several larger men. Etana’s attention was diverted by an attacker at her left. She blocked a blow and shouted a spell that sent him on his back.
She glanced back to see Von had ended up out of her reach. The smaller man was coming up behind him with a small dagger in hand. Etana narrowed her eyes; it was poisoned most likely. She started to force her way towards him. The man was too close to Von. She was not close enough.
“Von!”
Her voice carried, causing him to spin and catch sight of the smaller man. It was then she was sent onto her side by another mage. She raised her staff to catch the mage’s weapon, an ax. It bounced off due to her enchantments. She was back on her feet a moment later, and cut down the other mage with a simple lightning spell.
She could not see Von. She spun around, trying to catch sight of him. She yelled out a few spells to clear her path as she searched, forgetting the battle around her.
“Retreat!”
A call went up. Etana’s eyes widened and she pushed harder. She could not tell whether it was her being called to retreat or their enemies. It didn’t matter. Only one thing mattered.
“Von?” Etana called out as warriors moved past her. After a few moments, she saw it was their enemy retreating. She whipped her head back and forth, “Von!”
“Etana,” a voice whispered from behind her. She turned to see Von clutching his arm. He stumbled and she caught him. He chuckled, “Despite your warning, he nicked my arm.”
“Sit down,” Etana commanded. She lowered him to the ground and kneeled in front of him. She set to work removing the armor on his arm and tearing off his sleeve so she could see the cut. She inspected the black veins pulsing from his wound. She wrapped her hands around it and shut her eyes. She never was a good healer. She focused all the energy she had left swirling in her and whispered the incantation.
Her grip tightened as time elapsed. Von’s breathing grew less labored as he felt the pain receding. His eyes opened to see Etana paling and her hands shaking. She let go with a gasp and her eyes flew open. She grabbed onto Von as he caught her arms. She winced when she saw her hands were covered in the poison and Von’s blood.
“Are you alright?” Von asked. She nodded as the color returned to her face. Von smiled and shook his head. “I never thought I’d say this, but thank you. You saved my life.”
Etana blinked. “You’re a prince; people dedicate their lives to saving yours.”
Von shrugged and swayed slightly as he said, “This is different.”
Etana steadied him and saw his arm was still bleeding. Without a moment of hesitation she tore part of her shirt to start to bandage his arm. She only looked up when she felt a tear drop on her hand. She looked up to see Von’s eyes shut.
“I’m sorry, I trust you. I’ll trust you until the day I die.”
Etana helped him to his feet, giving him her staff to support his shaking frame. He was light-headed and rambling from the blood loss. She would hold him to no such promise, but she would keep her own. She’d keep him safe.
* * *
The torches showered the tent in orange light. The queen was bent over her war table. Her hair was loosely piled on her head in a bun. Her generals had their sleeves rolled up as they scanned the map of the area. Von stood off to the side, attempting to follow the conversation going on. Etana was behind him; her eyes were focused on him and not on the war table.
“There’s simply too many of them,” one man burst out. Von shut his eyes.
The queen shook her head and said, “We do not have a choice. If we attempted to move elsewhere they would attack. This battle must be on our terms.”
“How can we ensure that? It is too open. We’re too exposed,” the first man said. Von rubbed his forehead.
“We’ve fought on plateaus before,” the queen said without lifting her eyes.
“We’ve lost on plateaus before,” a burly man spoke up.
“All we can do is our best, and I do not see any alternatives. What would you have us do?” someone else said. Von raised a hand to his head.
“I would not send us all to die,” the burly man shot back. Von staggered backwards. Etana steadied him the second he moved. Without saying a word, she guided him out of the tent and into the hot night air. Von clutched Etana’s wrist as she directed him towards an abandoned, smoldering fire. She sat him down and knelt in front of him.
“Tell me what it is, and I will help,” Etana said. Her voice didn’t waver or falter. It was clear and steady.
“We’re going to die. We’re all going to die, and our people will be massacred and—and…” Von spoke in a rush. He dropped his head into his hands.
“Von. And what?” Etana asked. Her voice pulled his head up.
He took and a deep breath and said, “And I don’t want to die.”
“You won’t die.”
Von’s breathing started to quicken and he moved away from Etana. He said, “Saying that doesn’t change anything! I would know! I said the same thing to my little brother, but he’s still six feet under. And tomorrow you and I are going to join him! How could this be any different? What could you possibly do to change that?”
Etana grabbed Von’s wrists and he looked at her. She said, “I don’t plan on dying, and you shouldn’t either. Back when we met I told you how I didn’t want to die, and that’s how you knew I wouldn’t betray you. And now, you’ve told me how you don’t want to die, and now you should know that I won’t let you die.”
Von shook his head and said, “Etana, you don’t have a choice. You can’t prevent our deaths simply by saying you won’t let me die because I don’t want to.”
“Watch me. I saved your life before and I’ll save it again if I have to, and I’ll keep saving it. I’ll always save your life because there’s no way I’m going to let you die, and there’s no one alive that can stop me. So believe me when I say you will not die tomorrow,” Etana said, staring at Von.
Von buried his head again as if he couldn’t bear to look at her. His shoulders shook and he made a weak attempt at stopping his sobs. He gave a half-laugh, half-sob. “I’m such a coward. I’ve never been so terrified before in my life. I’m so weak. I hate this weakness, this fear. I can’t stand it. I can’t do this. I can’t lead those men to their deaths.”
“Von. You are not leading them to their deaths. You’re not weak, and you’re not a coward. Those men follow you willingly. They are proud to be under you, we all are. If you were a coward, then I would not hear your men sing your praises to anyone who will listen.” Etana’s voice cut through him.
“But I’m still afraid,” Von said halfheartedly as he looked up.
“It is not a crime to be afraid. I am afraid too,” Etana whispered. Von’s eyes met hers.
“You?”
“Terrified,” Etana said while looking away.
“What could you be afraid of?” Von asked.
“Diablo. When he sees me again…I am terrified of that day.” Etana’s voice continued to drop.
Von moved over on the log and offered her a seat. As she took the seat, he said, “I know so little about you, please tell me something.”
“Tell you what?” Etana frowned.
“Anything,” Von said.
Etana closed her eyes and sighed. “Then I’ll tell you everything. My life, well there wasn’t much to it before I discovered my magic. I lived in a small village where magic was not common. It was not outright despised, but I was viewed with much suspicion. Things turned worse when I could no longer control my magic. It was destructive. It was when I destroyed a house that I was seized by the village. My father could not stop them, or maybe he chose not to. The village argued for weeks about what to do with me. Finally, a man came into town and was asking about me. He saw the wreckage of the house and immediately offered to take me.”
“The man, he was Diablo, yes?” Von asked.
Etana nodded and said, “Yes. He took me away, but he was kind. He accepted me. He wanted me. He taught me how to control my magic. He gave me a new name, Obsidian. When I was first learning, he had me practice on rocks. The first rock I was able to destroy, was black and smooth. He started to call me Obsidian thereafter. I believed in him and his cause. I believed in the stories of how your people had wronged us years ago. When the drums of war started, I was at Diablo’s side in an instant. I would have walked through fire if I thought he was on the other side.”
“That sounds like the girl who was captured, but something changed. What changed your mind about him?” Von asked as he moved closer.
Etana looked at the sky and took a deep breath. Her heart clenched. She said, “I spent a long time in that cell.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I was captured I expected Diablo would come for me. I fought and screamed, knowing I wouldn’t escape, but I also knew Diablo would kill me if he found out I didn’t cause trouble for you. But the longer I spent in the cell, the more I began to doubt he was coming for me. One night, I realized that if Diablo was going to save me, he would have done so already. He wasn’t going to come for me. I wasn’t important enough. I was disposable. I felt so betrayed. Everything was a lie. I wasn’t sure of anything. I no longer believed in Diablo, and then I no longer believed in his cause. I didn’t know what I believed in,” Etana said as she started at the fire. Her vision blurred.
Von had no idea what to say. He had no idea what to do. He felt helpless.
Etana drew in a shaky breath and wiped at her eyes. Her tears were gone and there was a small smile on her face as she said, “Then you came to me. You offered me a chance. You gave me something to believe in. All I want to do is repay you for it.”
Von smiled and shook his head. He said, “You have more than proven yourself worthy of it. You owe me no debts.”
There was a pause where Etana stared at Von. She stood up and said, “We should rest.”
“Yes, we’ll need it,” Von agreed. He didn’t understand what she had been staring for, but he wasn’t going to press her on it. He stood up and they started to walk in a comfortable silence. It did not take them long to reach their separate, but neighboring tents.
They said their goodnight. Von was about to go inside when Etana’s voice stopped him. “I must thank you anyway for giving me a chance. And I ask you to know that anything I do is not out of an obligation to you.”
With her last piece said, she was gone, leaving Von to stare at where she had been.
* * *
Etana’s staff bent under the weight of an axe. The blade was few inches from her face. She kicked at her opponent’s legs and he went down. She called out a spell that shook the ground and sent two men falling on top of each other.
Etana glanced around to see where Von was. She saw him fighting from atop his horse. He was safe for the moment, and she was not too far from him. Her glance lingered. She knew he was alright, but something wasn’t right. It wasn’t about Von, but she was uneasy.
She turned and brought her staff down, pushing back the men around her with a spell causing a ring of fire. She looked up and the feeling was stronger. It was darker. It felt like magic. She focused; it was a mage’s aura.
Someone shouted and it seemed like what had been said traveled through the throngs of men like fire.
Her eyes widened.
“Etana!” Von shouted.
She turned and sprinted towards him. She knocked people out of the way with her staff. She knew that aura. It sent chills down her spine. Von had called for her. She was terrified.
She reached him as he dismounted his horse. He glanced at her and asked, “Are you alright?”
“Are you?” Etana asked while she looked him over.
“Prince Von!”
Etana grabbed Von’s arm and shut her eyes. When she opened them, the men around her had moved away. The two armies had cleared a space. A tall man on a horse was in the middle of the clearing.
The queen was on the other side, leaning on one of her generals. She was clutching her side. Her mouth was moving and Etana knew it was a prayer.
Etana also knew prayers could not help them now.
“Prince Von, I challenge you to a duel to the death!” the man roared. A gauntlet was thrown down and the man dismounted. Von’s face paled and Etana’s grip tightened.
“Diablo,” she whispered. She felt Von take a step forward. Before he could take another step, Etana flung him back and sprinted forward.
“Etana, no!” Von gasped as he stumbled to his feet.
Etana stopped halfway between Diablo and Von. She took a deep breath as everyone started to whisper. She saw Von being held back by one of his men. She ran the rest of the way. She could feel his aura increasing with each step she took. It was sickening. She skidded to a stop and picked up the gauntlet. “I—I accept in Prince Von’s place.”
She forced herself to look at Diablo despite her racing heart. He was grinning as he said, “I admit, I heard the rumors, but I’m still surprised.”
She pressed her lips together and tightened her grip on her staff. She took a deep breath as his disgusting aura assaulted her.
“I’m a little betrayed honestly. I put all that time and effort into you and this is how you repay me? My little Obsidian,” Diablo chuckled. He shook his head and reached to push her hair back.
Etana jerked back and said, “My name is Etana, and I will duel you, Diablo.”
She raised her staff and for a moment she thought she could hear someone whispering “no” over and over again. She forced herself to focus on Diablo.
“In Prince Von’s place?” Diablo asked with a smirk. Etana nodded, ignoring his implication. Her expression did not change.
“To the death?” Diablo asked. His smirk turned into a wide grin.
“If that is what it takes, but let it be on your own head,” Etana said as she straightened her spine.
“Perfect, I assume the staff will be our weapon, considering it’s the only one you have,” Diablo said. He eyed her simple wooden staff. He reached behind him and withdrew an elegant black staff with a red gem enclosed by four prongs at one end. Etana winced as his aura became stronger.
“We can also skip the other formalities and get started.” Diablo sent his horse away. He took a step back while Etana tossed the gauntlet aside. She backed away and gripped her staff with both hands. Her heart thundered in her chest. Before she could blink, Diablo had brandished his staff and a bolt of lightning came straight towards her. She threw herself out of the way and it struck the ground where she had been. She let out a sigh and her heartbeat started to drown out everything else.
She pushed herself to her feet and directed her staff back towards him. She muttered an incantation and wind started to spin in circles around Diablo. He threw his head back and laughed. Etana frowned and tried to increase the wind’s speed. She let out a grunt when the wind dissolved abruptly. Diablo shook his head at her. He twirled his staff and said, “This isn’t practice, Obsidian. There’s no going easy. There’s no holding back. Unless you want to die. You and your prince.”
He spun his staff and said an incantation. He slammed his staff down and the ground bent under Etana. She looked down to see herself sinking. She dug her staff into the nearby solid ground. Diablo laughed and slammed his staff down again. She sank faster. She gripped her staff and started to pull herself forward. She panted and struggled while Diablo’s laugh rang in the background. As she was pulling herself up, she caught a glimpse of Von He was still being held by one of his men, but it didn’t look like he was still fighting. His mouth was moving and she knew he was praying. She shut her eyes and pulled herself the rest of the way.
She turned and summoned water. She hurled the jet of water towards Diablo. He stepped out of the way and hurled the water back at her. The water hit her straight in the chest and sent her flying back. It was boiling hot and Etana could feel her skin blister. She looked up to see Diablo striding towards her. He shook his head and said, “You’re really making me look bad. This is pathetic; you put up more of a fight as a scrawny stupid child. This is embarrassing for both of us.”
She was hauled to her feet by her collar and forced to look at Diablo. He asked, “What are you so afraid of? We both know it’s not me. You’re afraid of the effect I have on you.”
His aura engulfed Etana. She gasped for air. It was choking her.
“But that’s not quite right. I don’t do anything to you. It’s all you. It’s always been you. That house you destroyed, the lives you ruined. I had no hand in that. Everything your magic has done is all because of you.”
He shoved the tip of his staff into her stomach. He sighed. “It’s a shame really. The things you did were beautiful. I hate for your talent to go to waste, but you’ve left me with no choice.”
He said an incantation. Shadows flung her away and onto her back. They engulfed her and swirled around her. They went inside her mind, whispering words that would drive anyone mad. She convulsed and tried to move but she couldn’t. She tried to fight but she couldn’t. She couldn’t see. She couldn’t breathe. She was dying.
“Etana!”
One word, but it held no equal in the effect it had on her. She took hold of her magic energy and let it flow through her like water released from a dam. She didn’t need an incantation. Her magic was raw and pure and incredible.
The shadows around her broke and she pushed herself to her feet. She leaned on her staff to steady herself. She glanced behind herself to see Von’s eyes watering. She smiled slightly before turning back to Diablo. She regained her balance as he started to run towards her. She took off towards him. She could feel her magic pulse through her.
He swung at her and she was quick to block it. She said no incantation but let the force of her magic knock him back. She slammed her staff on the ground and a wave of pure magic flowed through the air and finished the fight.
She lifted her head to see everyone staring in dead silence. She wasn’t sure how long everyone waited for Diablo, but slowly a cheer started to go up. It was small at first but then all at once. There crowd was yelling and clapping.
Etana let out a shaky breath. Her hands started to tremble. He legs started to shake. It was then that a blur threw its arms around her and buried its head in her shoulder. Etana breathed. “Von.”
“Etana,” Von whispered. He pulled away and she saw his eyes were red as if he’d been crying. He held her by the shoulders and asked, “What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking, if you died, well I was thinking you couldn’t die. I wouldn’t let you,” Etana said.
“Well, I’m not alright with watching you die for me,” Von said. Before Etana could respond, he continued, “I’m not alright with standing on the sidelines watching you risk your life while I’m helpless.”
“You were not helpless. Without you, I wouldn’t have won,” Etana reasoned. She put her hand on his shoulder, only for him to brush it off.
“Without me, you never would have been in the fight in the first place,” Von didn’t look her in the eye.
“Without you, I never would have gotten out of that cell, and we’d both be dead,” Etana said.
Von opened his mouth to continue, but stopped with a sigh. “I suppose you’re right. I just didn’t want you to have to do it on your own. Because you’re not alone. Not anymore. I wanted to help you.”
“I wasn’t alone; I haven’t been for a long time. And Von, you did help. Don’t ever think you didn’t.” Etana smiled. Before she could say anything else, Von pulled her in for another hug. She sighed, but the truth was she wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.

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