The trip had been rougher than any of them expected—even Gregory. Though the weather was calm enough the first few days, and had shown no signs of changing, the group was hit with a sudden blizzard and forced to take shelter. This, of course, piled kindling onto the fire that was Damien’s sour mood.
“I do not care for the way this weather fell upon us,” Damien stated. No sooner had they set down their packs and shaken off the snow, Damien was at the mouth of the cave scowling at the howling winds and reduced visibility.
“’Tis likely but a squall; they dinna last o’er long,” Gregory said, and pulled supplies from his pack. He went a touch deeper into the cave, and it was difficult for Damien to see him because of the snow having killed the light.
However, in a few seconds a light caught Damien’s eye after Gregory lit a torch. The weak light grew stronger as it consumed the oiled rags around the top of the thick branch. It wasn’t meant to be used for very long, since the fire would eventually eat the wood of the torch as well. Gregory handed the torch to Sotiris to hold while he rummaged in something at the back of the small cave. Damien’s eyes followed the fire.
“Damien?” Lady Charis asked, concerned.
Damien did a long blink. He’d been staring at the torch for some time. Lady Charis had offered him food and he hadn’t noticed.
He pointedly ignored her unspoken inquiry, took the food, and thanked her. While he’d been focused on the flames, Gregory had piled some wood in the middle of the cave.
Damien scowled. “Where did you get that from?”
Gregory raised an eyebrow at Damien’s suspicious tone, but did not rise to the other man’s cantankerous behavior. Damien was simply Damien, and it would be just as useful to get mad at water for being wet.
“The monks know people become lost on these mountains at times, so every so often they will supply various caves along the paths to their monastery,” Lady Charis answered for Gregory, who merely grunted and went about getting the fire lit.
Instead of helping to alleviate his wariness it deepened it.
“Is this well-known?” he asked.
“Yes…” Lady Charis said, slowly.
“Something devious is happening here,” Damien said, and scanned the cave. There was not much to scan, and his eyes turned back to the storm.
“Do you feel some kind of evil at work?” Lady Charis asked, and looked toward the mouth of the cave as well.
Though no one would have thought it possible, Damien’s scowl deepened. “Not as such,” he fairly spat.
“What of ye, daemon-born?” Gregory asked Sotiris, who looked down at the other man with a barely contained look of irritation.
“I do not feel anything per say. This kind of storm can be conjured at a distance, though to do so would require a tremendous amount of power, or the collaboration of a few demons. Being farther away would affect our abilities to sense the evil—or good,” Sotiris added.
Damien did not say so out loud, but he was somewhat pleased Sotiris had not risen to Gregory’s bait. It had taken Damien years to break him of the habit, as there was much cause over the years to do so. A demon joining the ranks of angels was not appreciated.
Gregory looked at Damien.
“Since we cannot sense anything, but are not sure, I would say we set up a lookout if we are here for the night. If it comes to that I will take first watch,” Damien volunteered.
Everyone nodded, and settled in for a rest. They had hoped Gregory’s prediction of a squall was correct, but as the afternoon wore on into evening with no signs of the storm stopping, they knew it would not be so.
Once everyone fell asleep, Damien sat with his back against the side of the cave not far from the mouth, but not too close, either. If someone watched the cave with some kind of enhanced eyesight, he would be an easy enough target against the light of the fire. Since he sat on the ground against the cave wall and not too close to the mouth, it made it more difficult to distinguish between him and the wall. Even someone with eyesight-based powers would have difficulty seeing through the storm.
As there was nothing he could do about seeing beyond the cave mouth and storm, and with the fire ruining any trace of night vision he might have, he stayed on guard for a surprise-based attack. Every so often, though, he’d catch himself staring into the fire. His hand traveled to the left side of his chest, as though he could feel the roughness of the scar tissue beneath his clothing and light armor.
The battlefield was muddy from a recent rain, and reddish-brown from the blood. It coated everyone from at least the waist down, and flecks of it dotted the group all the way to the tops of their heads. Damien took a ragged breath and drank some water. They’d been at this particular battle for days now, and it showed no signs of ending. The soldiers were tired and worn out, but Damien had to remain the standard by which the soldiers measured themselves.
Though he had not sat down for what seemed like ages, he made sure to walk among the soldiers and give them a reassuring word here, or smile there. They perked up as he went by, and some even got up to help where they could, even though they were dead tired.
It was a lull in the battle, as both sides had mutually decided to take a short rest. It did not happen often, but at times both sides would determine they needed to stop or they would have no one to fight each other with.
“Ah, Damien. Just who I was looking for,” a warm voice hailed him from behind. His smile widened before he turned, and then further when he caught a glimpse of his wife.
“You, dear lady, are a wondrous sight for aching eyes,” he said, and held out his hand to her.
She laughed and shook her head, but took it with her own. Gloves covered both of their hands, but he could still feel the warmth radiating from her and her personality.
She had taken her helmet off, and though sweat, mud, and blood seemed to cover her from head to toe, he could still see the light brown of her hair. It was the color of newly browned leaves in the fall that had sat in the sun for a time, and matched the darker chestnut brown of her eyes nicely. Those eyes now held amusement, exhaustion, and love.
“I am a sight for a long bath, is what I am.” She laughed as they made their way to their shared tent.
Damien still smiled and nodded in greeting at the soldiers as they went by, but his thoughts were purely for his wife.
“The enemy fought well these past few days,” Damien commented, as they wended their way through the encampment.
“You almost sound contented about that,” she teasingly accused.
Damien laughed and shrugged. “They are the enemy, but I still respect them as my opponents; they are misguided and must be shown a better path. Think of what a blow it would be to their side if we convinced them to join us,” he said, thoughtfully.
She shook her head, but quirked a smile. “That is my dreamer talking, again.” Then her expression sobered. “Be careful you are not so respectful that one of them knifes you in the back while you are trying to be of help to them, and their salvation,” she cautioned.
He did not laugh at her concern, but kissed the top of her head. “I promise,” he said, just loud enough for her to hear.
She looked up into his eyes, and satisfied with his answer, nodded. Though they had a noticeable difference height, she was not one to let her shorter legs slow her down. Though Damien slowed his stride a touch, it was not as much as others might expect. The pair made it to their tent quickly enough, and found that their servants had already drawn baths for them both.
They cleaned up quickly, as they likely had a single night of rest ahead of them and nothing more, and made their way to bed. Rest was more important at that moment in time, but the two lingered half-awake and embraced as they slowly fell asleep.
It was in the middle of the night that the demon-spawn attacked the camp. Both sides held people adept at wielding magical fire, but the enemy’s fire burned with an unholy intensity and light; with highlights of sickly green amidst the crimson, bright yellow, and persimmon orange.
Though the calamity in general had woken him, it was the sound of his wife screaming that snapped his mind to attention. She wasn’t in bed, and he looked around the tent, as the flames threw shadows and light against the canvas. He rushed out, only half dressed, to see her not ten feet from him.
In a crystal clear moment that would haunt him forever, he saw his wife’s visage among the flames that consumed her body.
“Arella!” he shouted, and reached for her. She did not reach for him, and the moment passed as she fell face-forward to the ground.
Her body still in flames, he ran over to her and collapsed half on top of her, and tried to roll her body through the mud to put out the flames. He paid no heed to the fire as it licked his skin and burned through his clothing. He was too focused on helping her.
Arella’s eyes were closed, and he was too panicked to tell if she was still breathing. He picked her up and ran as though Abaddon’s hounds were at his heels. He did not acknowledge anyone, and everything was a blur as he made his way to the clerics’ tents.
It did not take them long to tell him his worst fears were true: his beloved wife was dead. Dead at the hands of the accursed demon-spawn.
“Sir?” One of the clerics asked, concern in his voice.
Damien said nothing and left the tent. He grabbed the weapon closest to him—a spear—and made his way to where the enemy were pillaging the camp.
They never knew what hit them. Damien himself barely remembers that night, as he fought for what seemed like an eternity, with everything blurred the way it was when he’d run for the clerics’ tents. Each time his eyes caught the face of a dead soldier he saw only her face, her beautiful face, surrounded by flames.
It was that night the Orpheus Society first started to fear the one they later dubbed the Paladin of the Spear. No one but the clerics ever saw the burned flesh and the extensive scarring on his chest and over his left shoulder. The scars he’d gained while trying to save his wife. As the years went by only a few remembered how Damien’s legend was created, and they remained silent out of respect for him, and for Arella.
The Disciples of Light had won that night, and everyone cheered Damien as a hero, but after said night no one saw him smile again. He had no kind or uplifting words to offer, even to those he’d once called friend, and no mercy to spare for the ones who killed his heart.
“Who is Arella?” Sotiris whispered not far from where Damien sat.
He hadn’t known he’d spoken her name aloud, and it might have only been a whisper but the acoustics of the cave made it louder.
Damien ignored the question, and with the fire as close to him as the memories of his wife, Damien did not turn his face to Sotiris; he did not know what the younger man would see if he did.
“Do not fall asleep,” Damien said, scathingly, and stood along the wall to keep his small bit of cover.
Sotiris did not sigh or lash out. Yet more improvement shown over the years. Damien passed him and went to a place in the cave the others had not gone, because the warmth of the fire would barely reach it. Sotiris took Damien’s place and began his watch.
Damien lay down on the smooth floor of the cave and did his best to fall asleep. It was a long time coming, but he eventually drifted off, all without realizing he hadn’t referred to Sotiris as a demon-spawn within his thoughts.