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Rated: E · Chapter · Action/Adventure · #2190575
Trampoline
CHAPTER TEN

Trampoline


“There's a destiny in those two, but let’s test the extent of their fortune.”

WARD
Divider (2)

Stepping into the cavern, there was nothing but blackness at first, but then the hard rock beneath Jace's boots softened as the stifling air grew cool. A familiar sizzling sound followed, his hands felt the bite of autumn, and Jace knew where he was even before the light restored to reveal the Ezru Plains.

He was standing on those plains, staring at the the edge of Westwood Forest, amidst the enemy camp he had seen so clearly that night.

The Overshadows were formed in séance circles all across the field, their gemstone necklaces sparkling with the work of summoning comets to attack Fairlawn City. All around them, enslaved minotaurs lurked, brooding behind their carts of the reagents that fueled the hellish fire.

There was no sign of golems.

As of yet, anyway.

As if he had no conscious choice in the matter, Jace found himself walking up to one of the Overshadows, close enough to hear the quiet chanting emanating from within its dark cowl. He reached out and touched the being's black robe, recoiling his hand when it disrupted in waves like a reflection in water.

"Wondering how they hide those barbed-wire staffs?" Artemus asked from off to the side, watching as the Overshadow rematerialized.

"No," Jace said, looking up into the sky. "I was just wondering which one of those seven hells I'm in." He turned back to Artemus. "You know, for drinking the Orinel Lin?"

"Yes, I got it. Good one."

"But now that you mention it ..."

"Their weapons are summoned as they need them," Artemus explained, and he pointed to one as it left its circle and started off into the woods. "It's why that one you stabbed in Mirror Lake was unarmed after you killed it. Same as that one, after you threw one of your short swords into its face."

"I can kill them because I'm still a member of the Adamant Gaze."

"Hm?"

Jace gave Artemus a very brief sidelong glance.

"I'm a member of the Adamant Gaze."

Artemus sighed, then nodded.

"Actually, you're still its rightful leader, Lord of His Majesty's assassins. Except, that particular Majesty is dead now, so ..."

"My father," Jace said.

"Oh. Yeah. Sorry about that. But if it's any consolation, he was just as big of a tyrant as you remember."

Jace shrugged.

"Barely knew him."

"And also the Adamant Gaze has been disbanded by your brother, and any who refuse that decree are considered enemies of the Crown. Many have actually joined the Blades in Sandia, which no doubt contributed to your success in fending off Valith."

Jace shrugged again, but this time, said nothing. He watched the Overshadow until it disappeared into Westwood Forest, simply deciding not to think. He was actually grateful when Artemus started speaking again.

"Everything you're seeing here, everything you experienced that night, was just a diversion," he said. "An elaborate—"

"—form of bait?" Jace asked.

Artemus smiled, apparently understanding the reference, but shook his head.

"No. A scheme to keep Veil'driel from rendering aid to Sindell. To keep the republic out of the war." The roaring crackle of another comet spiraled into the sky. It startled Jace by its close proximity, but even as he turned to watch it arc over Westwood, he never stopped listening to Artemus. "Relic asked the right questions tonight. He has a knack for doing that. He's also the reason the metaphysical side of Westwood didn't shred your minds, but that's neither here nor there. Ravens, Not-Relics, mystic wagons and the like ... another story one might say."

"Then let's get back to this one," Jace said. "What questions?"

"Why would Artemus lie about armies occupying Veil'driel? What would he have to gain? But he didn't have enough of the big picture to follow through.”

"Then why?"

"He reported them to Jaden because she had to believe Veil'driel was under siege and cut off from her, in effect, keeping her completely isolated."

Jace sighed and ran his hand back through his hair, trying his best to understand.

"No," he said defiantly. "Veil'driel only believed the Tri-State ... provinces were occupied because Relic and I reported an enemy at our doorstep. So parliament and First Consul Leverette had their information from the Outrider Order, not by some lie told by Artemus Ward."

"You're right. I ... he didn't tell them the lie directly. He told them through you. The illusion of an army here was not a failsafe as Cedwyn suggested in the Communion Vault. It wasn't meant to serve as a backup deterrent, or however he put it, in case scouts made it through. That night you made it here, to the Ezru Plains, to the edge of Westwood Forest," he motioned around. "This night. It was the final stage of the plan, Jace. Artemus knew minotaurs wouldn't be enough to stop Outriders, and he knew Fenlow Thean would eventually send them."

"Golems. There were golems, too, at one point. The second time."

"I mean, it was actually the twenty-third time, it just felt like the second to you.”

“Whatever.”

Artemus smiled.

“Were the golems the only change you remember?"

Jace shook his head.

"No. Treinen came out of nowhere, out of the shadows and onto the road. Tried to lure me back to Sindell."

Artemus just shrugged.

"Well, the first thing was the work of one of those two idiot brothers. Irenus used victims of the plague to animate those creations. Powerful. Unfortunately for him, as big, clumsy, and stupid as he was."

"Was?"

"That sharpshooter kid killed him. Same one who shot you off your horse while you were—"

"Yeah," Jace said. "I remember. Good for him."

"Anyway ... I don't even know if Artemus knew about the golems at the time, to be honest."

"Alright, wait a minute, wait a minute," Jace said, taking a couple steps closer to Artemus ... or more accurately, Not-Artemus. He was visibly angry. "We were sending scouts into Westwood for weeks before Relic and I were dispatched." His tone was bordering on accusation. "If what you're saying is true, and Artemus wanted the sight of his illusion army reported to General Creed, why not just let the original scouts pass through and report it themselves?"

Artemus nodded, appearing pleased that Jace was thinking logically.

"Tactics," he said simply. "Artemus was going up against Fenlow Thean, who might have, for reasons you will one day understand, suspected a trick like this. But he has a weakness."

"Does he? What's that?" Jace asked, almost threateningly.

"His deep-seated love for, and overwhelming confidence in, that which he treasures most."

There was an extended pause then, as if Artemus had purposely left the space open.

"The Outriders?" Jace asked at length, annoyed by the delay.

"You."

Jace's shoulders sagged immediately. He had been clinging to his anger, Artemus knew, as a last resort to maintain strength, and then in that moment it was stolen from him.

"Yeah, well," he said quietly. "The last mentor who loved me, I killed by poisoning his drink."

Artemus laughed a little, but never lost his train of thought.

"To sell it, he had to make General Creed, but especially Fenlow, work for it. When you came through, it was expected. There was nothing to doubt."

Jace said nothing, he just took an unsteady breath.

"But the plan was only a partial success," Artemus went on. "And what was meant to be a permanent solution became a temporary one."

At this, Jace looked up and found Artemus sitting on the edge of the massive reagent wagon from which the minotaurs loaded their carts.

"How?"

Artemus smiled and nodded up at the eastward ridge, and the illusory army camp.

"You didn't just report the army. You attacked the sky fire units, and when that happened, you broke the Overshadows' concentration. The consequences went well beyond losing their hold on the minotaurs. The maintained the illusion as well, and if you hadn't been so busy fighting for your life, you might have noticed that the enemy army disappeared as soon as you tossed that lighter in here," he said, patting the reagents he was seated on.

Jace looked back up to the ridge, to the army that still appeared to be there.

"So while I was recovering in Fairlawn," he said. "And the minotaurs and golems left Westwood Forest, it opened the door for more scouts to make it through. It would have appeared as if the army retreated."

"And the inevitable deployment of an Outrider Point Team to report all enemy activity in Veil'driel. In the provinces," Artemus added.

"And so while the powers that be wasted their time with strategies based on armies and scenarios that didn't exist, effectively keeping us out of the war a little longer, our reports started disproving the illusion." Jace turned slowly to the young Artemus Ward, seeking validation perhaps. "And then after we did what we did in Sandia, Jaden was able to arrive in Veil'driel."

"Well ... doing what you did in Sandia was more involved than you think, but yes. For the most part. At which point it was only a matter of time before we came to tonight's culmination. Rendering the plan ..." Artemus paused again, leaving the space open as he had earlier.

"Temporary," Jace said, nodding to himself.

Artemus looked to the trees.

"Yes, congratulations, I do believe you've got it now."

Jace turned away and took a few steps from the reagent wagon.

"That's what scares me."

A few moments passed, and as Artemus expected, an awkward figure in an Overshadow's robe, which was Jace in disguise, emerged from Westwood Forest. The present Jace, however, was lost in his thoughts.

"Hypothetically, my motives could be unknown," Jace said, recalling Artemus Ward's words in the Communion Vault. "Every agent of Arkhelan can read the Outrider code." He stuck his arms out at his sides and screamed into the air, an unbridled rage surging through him that he hadn't felt since the night he was now reliving. "It's so obvious now, and I made his case for him!" he yelled. "I sat there, like an idiot, and helped!"

"But not of your own volition," Artemus was quick to point out. "His eyes. They changed color, didn't they?" The look on Jace's face was all the answer Artemus needed. "You were being manipulated," he said. "You all were, but especially you. The way you suddenly felt a need to defend him. The way his explanation of events made so much sense ..."

Then, in an instant, Jace went from seething anger to stunned shock, his mind going blank with the bizarre perspective of watching himself approach the reagent wagon in disguise. For a moment or two, he remained transfixed. When he spoke again, it was like he was daydreaming.

"You said Artemus is the one who tried to kill me," he said, focusing.

"Yes."

Jace finally turned to face him and Artemus lept from the reagent wagon.

"Show me why," he said.

Not a single word was spoken; Artemus only spared a bare nod before the terrain under their feet sped by in a blur, as if the landscape were a rug pulling them closer to the ridge and the army.

An army that was gone when they got there.

Divider (2)

There were two golden riders mounted on steeds equipped with crystals casting unnatural light on their surroundings, while less than twenty yards behind them, an entire troop was poised for action. Both were adorned in crimson robes that flowed around them. The closest was Artemus Ward as he appeared in the present day, looking strong with his helmet on his lap.

Jace's Not-Artemus guide throughout this absurd experience was nowhere to be found.

"Well, that's one way to commit suicide, I guess," the other rider commented. Her helmet hid her face, but it was Hazel’s voice.

"Do not dishonor his courage," Artemus remarked in a tone as casual as his movement to reach for his spyglass.

Looking at Artemus, Hazel merely nodded before turning back to observe the developing action.

"How does this change things?" she asked.

Jace moved to face the plain as well. He was too far away to track the events of that night completely, but he could see fire coming from the wagon.

Artemus didn't answer.

"Shouldn't we advance?" she pressed.

"No, not yet. This is the twenty-second time I've watched this, but something is drastically different now. That one is always about to be killed by a minotaur before he resets things. Which means he must have had the Horn of Cambria."

"Alarick," Hazel whispered.

"So it would seem," Artemus said with traces of amusement, watching through the spyglass.

"Just so you know, most of that’s over my head."

Artemus smiled.

"I know. Don't worry about it." He held the spyglass steady, then turned it ever-so-slightly, as one might do with a kaleidoscope. "Outriders are deployed in pairs on missions like these. I have a feeling the other one could be watching from Westwood. Unless I miss my guess, which I hardly ever do, I’d say he’s done something to break that idiot Valith’s time loop."

"But ... it would take a Tear to do that, wouldn’t it?”

“Indeed.”

“Maybe the other one’s dead," she said.

The minotaurs had begun to stride more forcefully up the road.

"Well, he usually is by now, yes," Artemus said thoughtfully, almost curiously. "But I have a feeling ... The Times They Are A Changing."

What’s behind you?

Hazel shrugged.

"But maybe they’re not."

"Perhaps," Artemus admitted. "We'll know soon enough."

"Oh?"

He was still focused on all the activity, watching as one of the Overshadows landed a solid blow to Jace's shoulder with its barbed-wire staff.

"Outriders may be trained to regard their reconnaissance above all else, even the lives of others," Artemus said, sounding distracted, as he lowered his spyglass for a broader perspective. "But they never abandon their own. He's good, that one, by the way. I can see why Fenlow loves him."

"He was born in Sindell. Treinen says he's the lost second prince and was in line to take over the Adamant Gaze when he disappeared. There were even rumors he killed Donovan Kerrick."

"Interesting."

"We sent Treinen to test his actual fidelity to Veil'driel. They met on the road, but he won't be turned."

"Mmhm. I know."

Hazel raised an eyebrow.

"How?"

"Because he's madly in love with your sister," Artemus said, scratching the side of his nose and yawning. "Anyway, the Veil is thin in Westwood tonight, so it's likely whatever he remembers of that past is a product of that more than actual memory. The Overshadows would have hunted him down in no time, by using his memories to track him, you see. The Adamant Gaze had ways to suppress such secrets, even from themselves. So it's likely whatever he remembers tonight, he won't if he survives and Luna Scarlet fades."

Hazel narrowed her eyes and sighed.

"You already knew who he was."

"Suspected," Artemus admitted. "This is the news I had been hoping for, however. I thought there was a chance Fenlow might not send him. Thought he might have chosen the one who saved you from Mirror Lake, but ..." he trailed off.

Hazel reached up and touched the jade necklace she was wearing, wrapping her hand around the charm as she looked back to her master.

"Maybe we should let him return, then," she said. "If he survives this, as you say, he will surely report the army he has seen. As you planned."

"No, that contingency is forfeit," he said, closing the spyglass and stowing it away in his saddlebag. "The illusion depended on them to maintain," he said, nodding down to where the Overshadows were in complete disarray. Some were pursuing the Outrider, others were being attacked and scattered by the minotaurs. "And it's safe to say they now have other things on their minds. The illusion of the army is gone. Now it's only a matter of time."

"What is?"

"These events will be impossible to conceal," Artemus said, turning to his protégée. "Your mother has more sources of information than us alone. She'll go to Sandia when she hears to meet with Gabriel. Then to Veil'driel, and they'll enter the war."

"But ..." Hazel's horse took several steps in place, anxious. "She'll know you were lying. She'll know there's no enemy host occupying the Veil'driel provinces. She'll see for herself!"

"Calm, girl," Artemus said gently, holding up a hand. "We were prepared for this."

"But, this means—"

"No plan survives the battlefield, love," he said, cutting her off. His smile was, as always, disarming, and commanded reassurance. "This only means a more ... aggressive approach must be taken." He sighed. "One I was hoping to avoid."

Some of the tension drained from Hazel's shoulders and she nodded, looking back down to the Ezru Plains to see Relican Avery exploding out of the Westwood Forest tree-line.

"There!" she yelled, pointing.

Artemus hardly reacted as he opened the saddlebag down to his left, withdrawing a small pouch of the herbal amphetamine known as feverlew and placing a pinch in the back of his mouth. Beside him, Hazel followed suit, removing her helmet just long enough to do the same. Artemus checked the contents of a separate leather bag dangling on the opposite side of his saddle, opening it to reveal the reagents inside.

"Prepare to advance."

"Yes, sir," Hazel acknowledged, and twisted in her saddle to convey a series of hand signals to the golden riders behind them.

"There's a destiny in those two, but let’s test the extent of their fortune. Imprison Thean's pet in Mirror Lake if you can. Kill them if you must." Artemus rolled his armored shoulders back and flexed his hands on the reins. "On me," he bellowed, and they were off, pounding the ground like rolling thunder, forming lines of three abreast; gliding with an uncanny gracefulness despite their armor— which must have been weightless.

Jace was left in their dust, motionless even as the last rider passed him, watching their frenzied, yet organized, departure down towards the plain. In the distance, the reagent wagon was utterly engulfed in intensifying flames that had taken on a deep purple hue.

A moment later, it exploded, rocketing a pillar of smoke miles high and a rainbow-colored shockwave in his direction. It was both beautiful, and horrifying, just as the comet attacks had been.

Instinctively, Jace raised his arms to shield himself from the blast, but just as it reached the ridge and swept over him, all was crimsoned out again.

He found himself back in Bryce Valley.

Divider (2)

Jace had to squint against what was now, suddenly, bright sunshine.

Not-Artemus, once again, was standing before him.

"The Illumanar — or golden riders as you've been calling them — were once the protectors of the Luna Scarlet Monks who inhabited this valley. What Veil'driel historians would refer to as wizards or ... ancient druids ... because this continent remembers nothing by design. Has lost its soul, one might say. Artemus became their leader over thirty years ago now. At the end of the Looking Glass War."

Jace tried to speak, but he couldn't find his tongue, and Artemus went on.

"Veil'driel must be warned. With the Helix Legions gone, the republic will be all but defenseless against what's coming. But you ... you must get back to Sindell. Who you are, who you've now become will be a bridge between age-old enemies. Enemies only because it has been orchestrated so. Kerrick knew this. Thean knows this. You have been set on this path from the beginning. From that night in Mirror Lake."

"He knew. Kerrick knew what I would do."

Artemus nodded.

"He did, and he knew Fenlow would find you after you fled to Veil'driel. Cedwyn was diverted from his mission to spy on the Tri-State to try and intercept you, but he arrived a few nights too late as fate would have it. Sindell, Jace. As I said you much get back to Sindell. Reunite with your brother, and with Jaden, and things will grow clearer. You're ready now. The time has come to unlock your mind, and so we have; to stop keeping that secret from yourself. With that done, Jaden can now answer questions. Make you see in a way that even I cannot."

"Yeah, but ..." Jace hesitated, steadying himself and taking a deep breath. "How? Artemus has our horses in his stable. I mean, assuming we can even get to them ... is he just gonna, like ... let us leave?"

"No!" a voice yelled from behind Artemus, and when Jace looked past him he saw three other riders approaching, the sun flaring over their shoulders from behind, so that their faces were revealed only gradually as they grew closer.

"Constable Thean," Jace said, throwing up his arms slightly at his sides and just shaking his head. "Sure, why not?"

But it wasn't just Thean.

It was the original Outrider point team all in a row, legends all, young and strong. Beside them, a riderless horse.

"Hold it together, boy," Thean said, reprimanding him in the same way Jace was used to, despite his youthful appearance. "His servants, his staff. They are, or at one time were Illumanar. A small contingent set to stay behind and guard Lornda Manor."

"The rest are en route to Sindell," said Ailmar Duchenne, the father Aleister had never known.

Artemus moved over to the horse with the empty saddle, climbing up, and with that, Jace was facing the Original Outrider point team in its entirety.

"Artemus will be joining them by different means," he said.

A blinding flash of clover-green light consumed the surroundings, but when it faded, none of the others gave the impression they had seen it.

"Right. Okay. But ... what am I supposed to do? What do you need me to do? Jace asked, desperate.

"You will have to figure that out for yourself, son," Thean said. "There's no wise old man in this situation. Your fate lies with Jaden, and in reckoning with your past in Sindell. We cannot interfere beyond telling you that. Just as I could not interfere with your rediscovering your identity. You had to do that on your own."

Jace opened his mouth, closed it again, and then finally worked up the courage to ask:

"Do ... does Isabelle know ..."

"About your past?" Thean said more than asked. "Yes. They all know. It'll probably be a relief to them that you do again, not having to maintain that secret. Cedwyn and Isabelle always have. That's how they saved you from Mirror Lake after Hazel tried to imprison you there on your way back. Relic has known since Westwood."

"After the wagon?"

Thean nodded.

"Yes. In an experience that made what you're going through now seem like a pleasant daydream. He only survived because he's ... well ... Relic. And because of Jaden, much to Valith's stunned outrage."

"That's why he tried to capture her in Sandia. Why we were diverted there to—"

"Correct," Thean said.

Jace took a deep breath.

"The Overshadow in Mirror Lake ... Treinen in Westwood ... they warned me that if anyone ever discovered my true identity—"

"Yeah, nobody cares," Thean cut him off a second time. "Those lies were meant to deter you from defecting to Veil'driel, and then in Treinen's case, to lure you back." Then, with a nonchalant shrug, he added: "Honestly, you're so popular in Veil'driel right now, you could probably run for First Consul and win."

"He's kidding," Ailmar Duchenne added quickly. "Don't do that."

The other three legends chuckled.

Jace huffed out his second sigh in as many minutes.

He glanced down, massaged the bridge of his nose, then looked up again.

"Where do I even start with all this?"

"The library is always a good place to start," Gabriel Foy spoke up for the first time. Tall and lanky, he was the only one with a coiled rope hanging from his saddle. "Twenty, four hundred two."

"Twenty, four hundre—"

"Again. Veil'driel will be undefended now," Ailmar cut him off, and being cut off was beginning to feel like a theme of this conversation. "You must make your own decisions. Trust your own instincts."

"We'll help as we can, but our purpose is served and our influence must fade," Thean added.

Just then, Jace found himself struck with a sudden revelation; a moment of clarity in the senseless madness that was this experience.

"You," he said, looking at his mentor. "It really was you I heard talking that night. I saw Kerrick, but I heard you."

"Well, at least they're not telepathic," he heard Thean's voice quote himself from that night, although his mouth didn't move. Then he nodded and spoke out loud: "Because if they were, you'd be dead by now."

Jace understood.

Roll with the punches.

"Follow your own instincts," Artemus said, reinforcing Ailmar's point. "As you did that night in Westwood."

"This night will parallel that one," Gabriel said.

The blinding green flash consumed the scene again.

You're no longer just an observer, boy ...

"It's your time now, and things can fall into place if you let them," Artemus said. "You can become what I failed to."

Remember what I told you to feel.

Jace looked around, noticing for the first time that hundreds of Luna Scarlet monks were staring down from the cliffs and down to the valley floor. He didn't have to see their eyes to know they were focused on him; he felt it, and he found himself wondering how long they had been there as the rumble of airship engines thundered overhead, growing closer.

The young incarnations of Fenlow Thean, Gabriel Foy, and even Artemus Ward looked up at the approaching commotion, but strangely, Ailmar Duchenne did not. He locked stares with Jace instead, and there in that moment, Jace thought he saw Cedwyn Knight in his eyes.

"Reach for the ankle," Ailmar said, but the sound of his voice was distorted, his movements having become sluggish with the rest of the valley around them. "He can't attack you if you're touching him."

There were explosions then, as the airship attacks rained into Bryce Valley, kicking up massive chunks of earth and leaving tremendous craters where they struck. All was slow motion, and the last thing Jace saw was the energy dispersed from above, shocking him with the realization that they were exactly the same as the comets fired by the Overshadows on Fairlawn City.

Then the vibrant concussion of pure crimson blinded him, enveloping him in a blanket of bleached vision and absolute silence. The red light made a gradual, smooth transition to white. When it waned, Jace found himself on the balcony attached to his room, the shimmering white that consumed his every sense merging with the lighthouse shining in his face.

The rain had stopped, and while he was shirtless, as he had been when the vision began, he was comfortable.

The sun was not yet above the horizon, but it was warm, unseasonably so for spring, even here on the edge of Veil'driel.

He jumped, startled by the feel of a soft hand on his chest.

"What are you doing out here?" Isabelle asked from behind him.

Jace didn't speak, but he reached up to touch her wrist.

"Hm?" she asked again, kissing his neck.

"How long have I been out here?"

If he had to guess, he would have said 88 minutes.

"A while," she said, moving her mouth down to his shoulder. "Why are you so far away?" Again, he did not respond. "Hey," she said, biting him gently but hard enough to snap his thoughts fully to her. "What are you thinking about?"

Jace glanced down and to the side so that she was in his peripheral vision.

"My grandfather," he said. "My mom's dad. And the summers I spent with him before I was recruited by Kerrick into the Adamant Gaze."

Isabelle stiffened behind him, and Jace could tell by this reaction that she had been shocked. Not only by this sudden revelation that he, at last, remembered the truth of who he was, his past; but by the nonchalant calmness by which he acknowledged it.

But what her body betrayed, her tone and words did not. A silent understanding passed between them, and while this exchange happened to be profound, the phenomenon was common, and for now that was enough.

"Tell me about it," she said, resting her head on his shoulder with something like relief.

"His house was old," Jace began, breathing deep of the saltwater air. "In the night, I swore it was haunted. I'd wake up at the howl of some faraway animal or creak in the floorboards, sweating and hiding under the covers." By the subtle fluctuation of Isabelle's chest against his back, Jace could feel her amusement. "I never called out for him, though. Not once. But it didn't matter; he always came to my room. I don't know how he knew I was awake, but he was always there. Like clockwork."

"What would he do?" Isabelle asked.

Jace shrugged.

"Not much, usually. Most of the time he would just sit there, puffing his pipe in the shadows of the corner, reciting the details of some monotonous aspect of farm life from a rickety chair he made." He paused, laughing a little at the thought. "You couldn't have paid me enough to sit in that thing. It was literally the worst craftsmanship you could imagine. I mean, it almost collapsed every time he sat down, but he loved it." A deep sigh came up from Jace's chest, hard enough to fluctuate his shoulders and remind him that Isabelle's chin was still resting on his right one. He sobered a bit. "He loved that damn chair."

"He sounds sweet," Isabelle whispered, but she sensed him growing distant again.

"He would talk until I fell asleep, always from that corner," he went on, giving no indication he had even heard Isabelle. "Except this one night. This one night he sat on the edge of my bed. I remember he seemed so serious. I knew there was something different about him, but I couldn't bring myself to ask. I could only listen. He hadn't brought his pipe with him, and he set the lantern near my bed on low. Then he waited for me to look into his eyes before speaking."

Jace hesitated again, closing his eyes and listening to the tide. This time, Isabelle could only wait for him to continue. What she sensed in him was frightening. Something foreign she couldn't define, and it stole away her speech.

"He told me never to be ashamed of my fear. That fear was our defense against those who waged war from the shadows. To deny concern ... or foreboding ... was to accept disaster. He said deception is the fire that forges the armor of demons. That they guard themselves behind shields of betrayal, wielding weapons of deceit." Now he opened his eyes as the first ships broke over the horizon. "He said when demons wage war on the angels, they can't win on strength of arms. They come sideways to achieve their means. They lull them to sleep with their lies."

"Jace, you're scaring me."

Jace turned around, taking her in; the intervals of light highlighted the sheet she was holding around herself, making her look like a ghost. He put his hands on the sides of her face, pulling her lips to his, kissing her before pulling her into an embrace.

He waited for her to look at the Hezlin Sea over his shoulder.

Waited for her to see what was coming.

It was only a second before her entire body tensed. Her hand on his back grabbed him so hard that her nails broke the skin.

"That's ...," she trailed off, pulling him closer. "That's impossible."

Jace closed his eyes again, wondering how many times that phrase had been used — or thought — since they had arrived at Lornda Manor. He inhaled the scent of rose oil on her, keeping it in his lungs as long as he could.

"Who are they?" she whispered, as if the armada on the horizon might hear if she spoke any louder.

"The demons," Jace said, letting her go. He backed away and moved to the rain-filled bottle of Orinel Lin. Then, without so much as a glance to the sea, poured it out over the side. Isabelle wasn't looking at the ships anymore, either. She was staring at Jace as if she didn't know him. "You know, the first time I saw you, you were standing on a stage," he said. "It was right after I arrived in Veil'driel. I had met Relic a few days earlier and he was there with me. Thean sent him to find me, and I hadn't even met him yet. It was right after you made Forerunner, do you remember?"

Isabelle's hands were trembling slightly, and her breath was a little shaky when she answered.

"The Harvest Festival. Sort of." She shrugged. "I don't know, vaguely, I guess."

Jace nodded.

"You were the center of attention. The first female Outrider prospect in a century, but that's not what I remember about it. About you."

Her hands steadied a little.

She sighed.

"No?"

Jace shook his head.

"No. I remember the way you nervously smiled before being introduced, and the way you glanced down and touched your braid with both hands. I remember you pursing your lips for a second and the way you bounced a little in place. I remember ... and I know this sounds stupid ... but I remember feeling like something deeply significant had just happened in my life. Just by seeing you the first time. Like ... you were a bridge or something I had just crossed over and from that moment on it was burning behind me. After that night ... until this one ... I could never remember who I was before that. Until what I just went through. Until I experienced a sort of ... strange, nightmarish version of it again. Where Westwood Forest was right on top of the city, and the Luna Scarlet monks were there, but this time they ... and there was this little girl that Relic rescued. And ..." He suddenly stopped, nervously passing the orange bottle from hand to hand. "I'm sorry, am I freaking you out?"

"Not really."

"Did you feel that way the first time you saw me?"

"No."

"Oh."

Isabelle shifted to hold the sheet with both hands, and while Jace didn't touch her, she craned her head up to stare at him.

"I remember Cedwyn assigning you to me as my prospect the day you were sworn in. I remember him telling me who you really were, what your history was, how you wouldn't remember any of it, and how I would have to keep it a secret. I remember thinking that was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard, and that having to actually do that was going to be a serious pain in the ass." She let that hang in the air a few seconds, enjoying the expression on his face. Then she rose a little on her toes so she could whisper in his ear. "Then after one conversation with you, I was worried you were gonna ruin my life."

"Why?" Jace whispered back.

"Because you make me feel like I'm on fire. If being on fire felt good. Because the first time I heard you say my name, I swear it sounded different." She lowered herself back down to the balls of her feet. "And you can stand there and pretend you're not as afraid as I am, but I know you are. You should listen to what your grandfather said."

"I'm not ashamed," Jace said, his tone serious and insistent. "I'm just not who you think I am. The things I did when I was a kid ... the things I ..."

"I don't care."

"Yeah, but you would. You would care if you knew and that's my point. My mother was a con artist gypsy who used to scam travelers out of their gold by pretending to read their fortune, or create love potions or whatever the hell. My father was the king of Sindell. I'm illegitimate, I'm a bastard, with two names, two pasts, two countries ... I remember everything now and it's like I'm more lost than ever. I mean ... I'm trying to ... I don't even know who ... or what I really am!" he finally blurted in frustration.

"I love you," Isabelle said, without thought. "You don't have to be afraid."

A part of her wanted to kiss him again, before a different part caused her to stop.

"How can you say that?" he asked.

"Because your eyes are open," she answered without hesitation. "Because you can finally see through the shadows."

When Jace raised his head again, the look in his eyes was as intense as she could ever remember. There was a fire there she didn't know how to interpret, and a terrified excitement swept over her like a warm breeze in winter. She wondered if this was how he appeared that night in Westwood Forest. If she was seeing that side of him he had never, until now, dared to show her.

"You wanna know what you are, Dabriel?" she asked. "You're mine, start with that." She turned on her heels and started back into the bedroom, leaving the balcony, and him, behind. "Now get yourself together, and get your stuff. It's time to go to work."

Jace's lips parted slightly as he made to respond, but it wasn't his words that came out. For in that instant, an eerie warbling note echoed over the sea, vibrating the air with its rumble long after it died away. It was answered a few seconds later by another terrible chord; massive horns heralding triumph.

Coasting low to the surface of the deep, the armada could still scarcely be seen, glimpsed only by the light of the handful of stars.

The lookouts had caught sight of land.

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STATIC
Chapter Eleven  (E)
Guts Over Fear
#2190577 by Dan Hiestand
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