Lorcan shivered, the revelation of the goddess’s identity making his spine tingle.
Lucan had spoken first, his face betraying fear, and more than a little incredulity. He turned to Lorcan, his brow furrowed, as if asking him how seriously he should be taking the situation. He drew close, whispering to Lorcan, “Are we…I mean, are we dealing with THE Morrigan? The one from the stories, with the…the…” he gestured helplessly at the goddess, “…this?”
Lorcan raised his eyebrows at his brother. “Yes, very helpful. It seems that we very well are dealing with THAT Morrigan.” He turned away from Lucan and stepped toward the Morrigan. That didn’t help him feel any stronger; it was only made more apparent by approaching her just how very tall and imposing she was. Still, he steeled his resolve and squared his jaw. “What do you mean by offering me forgiveness? I’ve told you that what happened to my friends had nothing to do with me, and certainly it had nothing to do with you, my lady.” He hurriedly added the last part to seem less accusatory. “I cannot recieve forgiveness for any of these things.”
The Morrigan smiled an indecipherable smile, her cold eyes betraying nothing. “True.” Her voice was an echoing hiss on the wind. “I had nothing to do with what happened here, and I care little for it. Mortals die. It’s the one thing at which you are more accomplished than the gods.” She waved her hand dismissively. “None of the warriors here were mine, nor were there any that offered me praise or sacrifice. But you…” She focused on Lorcan, her coal-black eyes boring into him. “We have plans concerning you, Raven-Son, plans that draw ever nearer to completion. You must pass through this crucible and purge yourself of your shame. Only then will you be strong enough to face what is ahead of you.”
Lorcan gritted his teeth, biting back a retort. What did she know of shame? Couldn’t she leave him be? Couldn’t she, the voices in his dreams, the spirits of his friends, could they not all let him simply live? But no, how could it be enough to hear the dying cries of your comrades, the laughter of their killers, to feel as powerless to stop their deaths in your dreams as you were years ago? He bored his eyes back into the Morrigan’s, his face set in defiance. “There is nothing you can offer me. You said it yourself, you care nothing for me of my friends. I don’t need your forgiveness.”
Morrigan laughed, her voice dripping with scorn. “MY forgiveness? No, not mine. Mortal, I do not forgive, nor do I ever forget when a wrong has been done to me. I will forgive you for nothing. It is you Lorcan MacBroin, who’s forgiveness you must earn.”
Lorcan took a step back. “What?”
The goddess laughed again. “Why should I care if a handful of Christian priests are killed. It is you alone who cares, you alone who remembers them, and you alone who carries their souls upon your shoulders. If you wish to be free of this burden, it is you who must lay it down. I have merely summoned you, but you hold on to the memories of the slain.”
Lorcan gritted his teeth and turned away. Sudden tears had traitorously begun forming in the corners of his eyes. Bitterness welled up in his heart, and he stalked away back toward Lucan. His brother laid a hand upon his shoulders, squeezing it encouragingly. Lorcan looked up at him, doing his best to blink quickly and dispel the tears before they gave him away. Lucan only gave him a sympathetic look, and nodded firmly. Lorcan took a deep breath, and turned around to face the Morrigan again. “How is this even possible?”
Thunder boomed again, and the goddess was suddenly right in front of him, casting her shadow over him. “What if I told you,” she began, her tone now inviting and soft, “that I could send you back to that fateful night? What if you could do it all over again, ensure your comrade’s safety, and punish those responsible for their deaths?”
Lorcan looked up into her eyes, distrust and suspicion plain. “Even if such a thing could be done, how could I save them? How could I fight so many? If I were to change the past-“
“A pitiful excuse!” snapped Morrigan. “It is of no surprise to me that those men died if you are even now so unwilling to fight for them! I offer you a chance to right the past, and yet you scoff the gift of the gods!” In her indignance, the Morrigan seemed to double in size, lightning flashing in the sky, the wind swirling about her and making her dress writhe and billow.
The weight of the goddess’s anger humbled Lorcan, and he averted his eyes. After a moment, he asked, “How would this be done, goddess?”
Morrigan seemed to calm somewhat at this. The wind’s fury lessened, and lightning ceased to flash. She spoke, her voice low, but stern. “I will send you back to that day, with your sword and your knowledge of magic, and you will endeavor to save as many lives as you may. The trial will continue until you succeed, or until you surrender. All those that live will be brought forward until this time, and thus, the tapestry of time will remain unmarred by changes.”
Lorcan turned to Lucan, whose eyes were wide. Lucan stepped forward and whispered again to Lorcan. “Brother, be cautious. This seems a generous offer, but we do not fully understand how this is to be done.”
Lorcan shook his head. “Even if this could work, what could I hope to change? What could I do to save them all?”
“Well…” Lucan shrugged. “You told me you trained as a warrior, and you have magic now, so I suppose you can fend for yourself better. Not to mention, you already know what will happen, and you can use that to your advantage. You couldn’t be better prepared than you are now.”
“I…I…” Lorcan didn’t know how to respond to Lucan’s encouragement. Doubts swirled about him like the cold wind the Morrigan seemed to emanate. But, could he possibly…? Surely not…but…was there a chance that he could undo this regret?
He had to try.
He turned to the goddess of war, staring into her abyssal eyes, steeling his will for what was to come. “I’ll do it.”
“So be it,” hissed Morrigan. She stepped backward a few paces, her dress giving her the appearance of gliding. She lifted her arms to the heavens, and the clouds above grew dark to the point of blackness. The wind began to roar again, tearing at the brothers’ clothing, and whipping a thick layer of dust into the air. The darkness was so profound and the wind so strong, that almost everything was obscured from Lorcan’s view. All that remained was the Morrigan, her arms outstretched, with what seemed to be enormous black wings sprouting from her back, beating the air with tremendous strength. The howling of the wind and thunder grew to a deafening volume-
And then, silence.
“Has anyone killed us yet?” said a friendly voice behind Lorcan.
Lorcan jumped. He opened his eyes, which the tempest from a moment ago had forced shut. He was here again, on the ramparts of the old fortress, looking out into the night. He turned around. William, goold old reliable Wil
liam, stood smiling genially at him. To Lorcan’s surprise, Lucan stood there as well, looking thoroughly confused and alarmed.
Seeing Lorcan’s dumbfounded look, William’s smile widened. “I suppose I spooked you more than I meant to. Sorry about that.” He clapped Lucan on the shoulder. “We’ve just come from the southern wall. Nothing to report.”
Both brothers looked confusedly at each other, then back at William. “You…know me?” asked Lucan, his brow furrowed again.
“Umm…yes?” William looked back, his smile turning to slight confusion. “You’re Lucan, Lorcan’s older brother?” He turned to Lorcan. “He is still you older brother, right?”
Lorcan attempted to clear away his alarm. How could they know Lucan? He had never even mentioned him before. Could the Morrigan make them think that they knew him? Apparently so. Lorcan forced a smile. “Very funny Lucan, but I’m afraid you aren’t quite so funny when you’re sleep-deprived.”
Fortunately, Lucan caught on. He cracked a tired smile. “Yeah,” he said sheepishly, “I guess I am a little too exhausted to be my usual charming self.”
William’s confusion melted back into a cheery grin. He squeezed Lucan’s shoulder, and gave him a small shove. “Ah, you fiend! You had me for a moment. I suppose we’re all a little worn out.” He looked back at Lorcan. “How long tdo you think we’ll have to wait until we’re safe?” He rubbed his eyes. Because don’t get me wrong, I love not sleeping, it’s just… I think Dominguez is getting sleepy, that’s all.” He nudged Lucan, lowering his voice. “Spaniards, you know. Very fragile, dainty little things.”
Dominguez, who had been leaning on a nearby parapet, head drooping, suddenly straightened up and looked around. “Eh?” His eyes narrowed at William. “You watch your tongue, or I’ll take it as a hunting trophy.”
William put his hand to his mouth, exaggerated horror on his face. “Brother Dominguez, we are men of peace! I expected better of you!”
Dominguez began muttering grumpily to himself, slumping back against the parapet. William grinned widely, and walked over to him.
Lucan moved in closely next to Lorcan and muttered, “So…are we…?” He raised his eyebrows meaningfully.
Lorcan nodded. “This is the night it all happened. Viking raiders will attack tonight, and everyone here will die, except me.”
Lucan looked back and forth between his brother, and the two priests looking over the wall. “So, why are we not doing anything?”
Lorcan jumped. He had been so preoccupied with what had happened, he’d entirely forgotten the purpose of coming back! He spun away from Lucan, lunging toward William and Dominguez. He grabbed them by their collars and pulled them away from the wall. Just as he did, two arrows whistled past them, right where the duo had been standing.
William and Dominguez stared at Lorcan, dumbfounded. “Lorcan, what…how did you-” Dominguez began.
“No time! Move!” Lorcan shouted. Together, the three of them ran for the stairs, Lucan already dashing ahead of them. As they descended, they nearly collided with Dorian and Baylor, who had been calmly walking up the stairs to greet them. Lorcan grabbed the front of Dorian’s robes as they passed, pulling him along.
Dorian stumbled nearly falling down the stairs as he rapidly attempted to change his footing. He shook off Lorcan’s hand, his expression bewildered. “What’s going on here?”
Lorcan whirled around to face him, his face wild and frantic. “Dorian, I’m glad to see you, but if you don’t come with me, you’re going to die. We’re under attack, and we need to move, now!”
Dorian clamped his mouth shut, feeling it wise not to question further. Together, the group fled through the corridors of the monastery. In the distance, they heard the muffled sounds of crashing and clanging. The raiders had made it through the front doors.
Baylor called out from behind Lorcan, “Shouldn’t we be warning people? If this is what we were preparing for, we should be warning the others!”
Lorcan called over his shoulder. “There isn’t a great deal we can do! We’ll gather those we come across, and we should shout and help people out, but we haven’t the time to find them individually!”
Baylor’s protests were lost in the sudden crash. Down a hallway they passed on their left, Vikings were pouring through the doorway, already bloody weapons glinting evilly in the dim light of mounted torches. The raiders roared in anticipation of their newest prey. They thundered forward, advancing frighteningly quickly on the small group of priests.
“This way!” a voice called to the right of the group. Lexaeus, who had been in charge of patrolling the main hall, was leaning out of a doorway, waving to them. Without hesitation, they all charged toward Lexaeus, who stepped out of the way to let them all through the door. As soon as Dorian, who was the furthest back, passed through, Lexaeus slammed and bolted the door. “We need to go,” he said urgently. “We’re overrun; Vikings have already flooded through most of the fortress, and they’re slaughtering everyone they find. The only way out now is through the side passage near the gardens.”
Lorcan grabbed his shoulder. “Lexaeus, you know best how to defend yourself. Keep them safe, and guide them out that passage.”
Lexaeus nodded, brandishing his shortsword, Requiem. Dorian however, looked fearfully at Lorcan. “Lorcan,” he asked, “what are you going to do?”
Lorcan unsheathed his rapier. “What I should have done last time.” The door keeping the Vikings at bay began to bend inward, with the sounds of impacts and shouting coming through it. Lorcan glared at his friends, his eyes burning with determined fury. “GO.”
Lucan grabbed Dorian by the shoulder’s and spun him around, urging him along with the others. Lexaeus charged forward, yelling, “Follow me!” The group ran after him, Lucan and Dorian turning back once to look worriedly at Lorcan, but soon turned a corner and fell out of sight. Lorcan turned back around to face the door, sword clutched firmly in his hand.
With a BANG, the bolted door flew open, allowing the raiders to pass into the hallway. Lorcan held his ground, his stance ready. Seeing they had only one foe, the raiders gleefully raised their weapons and rushed him. The nearest one swiped at Lorcan’s head with an axe, which Lorcan ducked under, swiping his sword up in a vertical slash up his opponent’s chest, felling him. The next raider swung at Lorcan’s feet with a shortsword. Lorcan dodged, sweeping his foot back and causing the sword to miss by a hair’s breadth. He lunged forward, driving his sword into the attacker’s breast. With a choked cry, that Viking fell as well. Several foes stepped forward to attack Lorcan, but each fell in turn, struck down by Lorcan’s swifter weapon and more refined movements. The Order of the Rose had trained him well, and while Lorcan was by no means an expert swordsman, he could most certainly hold his own. His strikes were fierce and precise, and several Vikings had fallen before him; however, the other raiders were relentless and bloodthirsty, and merely stepped over their fallen comrades in pursuit of their prey.
Lorcan, while still putting up a fight, was being pushed further and further down the corridor. There seemed to be no end to the crowd pushing toward him, shaking with bloodlust and the thrill of the fight. One raider, larger than the others, with grizzled red hair, and an enormous scar cutting across his face, stepped beyond the crowd, clutching an obscenely large warhammer. He swung it at Lorcan, which he narrowly dodged, sending the hammer crashing into the wall, spraying dust and shards of stone into the air. The force of the blow had smashed entirely through the wall, leaving a gaping hole into an empty bedroom beyond. Lorcan backstepped quickly. That was an absurd level of strength! A single blow, even a glancing one, could end his life. Lorcan lunged forward, angling his sword over the head of the hammer, and managed to score a cut on the brute’s arm, causing him to grunt in pain. The raider, dashed toward Lorcan, pushing at him with the hammer, and causing him to stumble back awkwardly. Then, he swung the hammer again, clipping Lorcan’s shoulder, and sending him sprawling to the floor.
Lorcan fell, dazed with pain, trying to scramble away from his attacker. The Viking stepped forward confidently, hefting his hammer carefully, waiting to strike the final blow. Lorcan tried to raise his sword to swipe at him, but the brute quickly brought down his hammer, crushing the blade beneath it, causing the steel to snap. Panicked, Lorcan crawled quickly away on his back, but the brute easily outpaced him. He lifted the hammer overhead, and brought it down. Lorcan rolled out of the way just in time, the hammer crashing down inches from his head, pulverizing the cobblestone next to him. Whirling quickly, Lorcan brought out the jagged remains of his sword, now the size of a small dagger, and plunged it into the chest of the hammer wielding Viking. With a groan, the man fell to his knees, clutching at his chest. He fell, but as he did, Lorcan caught a malicious, knowing smile on his lips.
With the death of that man, finally the others seemed to take pause, hesitating in their charge forward. Lorcan, taking advantage of this, stumbled to his feet and ran, clutching his shoulder, which throbbed with pain. He ducked into a hallway on his right, and dashed down it, following where he believed the others had gone. He turned down one hallway, then another, but found no one. The sounds of charging men and cries of the dying seemed to echo whichever way he went, making it impossible to tell where he was, or where anyone else was. As he turned down one corridor, he found himself at a dead end. Lorcan let out a cry of frustration. He did not have time for this!
A call echoed from far behind Lorcan, just audible above the din of the rampaging Vikings. It was Lucan’s voice, and he sounded frantic. “LORCAN! HEELP!”
Dread seized Lorcan’s heart, making him freeze in place. “No, no, no please,” he whispered. He turned and dashed down the hall, ignoring his aching legs and his labored breathing, and put all of his strength into running after the sounds of Lucan’s shouting.
“LOORCAN! HEEELP!” The shouts continued. Lorcan was getting closer, pounding down hallways, oblivious to everything going on around him, driven by terror and rage toward the sounds of his brother, and his friends. He wouldn’t let them die. Not again. Not-
Lorcan rounded a corner, coming to a grisly, horrible scene. Four burly raiders stood in the corridor, their faces lit by pale moonlight streaming in through the open windows. Their faces, notwithstanding the calm light, seemed to be twisted into jeering masks. Three stood, swords in hand, holding their weapons to the throats of Lucan, Dorian, and William. On the ground before them, lay Baylor, Dominguez, and Lexaeus, lying still in growing pools of blood.
Lorcan froze in place. He’d failed, again. He’d been given another chance. He had training now, he was learning magic, he knew what was going to happen. He’d failed.
The fourth Viking, who had been looking down at the three on the ground, turned to look at Lorcan. It was the brute, the one with the jagged scar on his face. He sneered triumphantly at Lorcan.
Lorcan, horror gripping him, couldn’t find himself able to move. What was wrong with him? Why couldn’t he move? Move, you imbecile, move! He stared at the red-haired raider, shock making his mind reel. He’d killed him. He’d stabbed him in the chest, he’d…he had to be dead.
The brute raised his hand, and the three others readied their swords, holding them tight against their captives’ throats. He stared into Lorcan’s eyes, daring him to do anything, but Lorcan could only watch. He’d heard of this before, when a soldier goes to battle, they can sometimes be overwhelmed, and they freeze in place, usually resulting in their deaths, or those of their comrades. This had never been a problem for him before. What was going on?
Lucan stared pleadingly at his brother, tears forming in his eyes. “L-Lorcan?” He said, weakly.
The brute tightened his hand into a fist, and brought it down. The raiders drew their swords to the side, their prisoners dropping quietly to the ground.
Lorcan howled in grief, the spell which had held him still seeming to break. He dropped to his knees, staring at the bodies before him, dead, because of him. The brute barked laughter, hefting his warhammer.
Lorcan looked up at the brute, tears of hate streaming from his eyes. He reached into the recesses of his mind, searching for the barrier that held back his magic. He felt it, sensed it’s resilience, he pushed all his rage against it, and felt it shatter, pouring power into his bones, his muscles, granting a razor-like clarity to his mind. He wanted to hurt these men, these animals, he wanted to punish them, and he suddenly knew how. The power surging through him was primal, raw, and untamed. This power had forged the world eons ago, and it was his. Images flashed through Lorcan’s mind, of men, dirty and unkempt, wearing animal skins, hiding in caves around a fire. Visions of giants and spears and beasts that no longer walked the earth. He felt a portion of the power, the fear, the rage that they had, pushing him to what had made humans step out of their caves. The will to fight, hunt, and survive.
Lorcan stood up straight, his body surging with newfound power. His muscles, stretched, grew, and swelled. His hair grew into a mane, his fingers producing talons, and a powerful roar pulsing through his blood. This was Beast-Strength, an ancient, primal form of Soul magic channeling the raw power of human instinct and savagery. With this, he wasn’t a swordfighter, he was a predator.
Lorcan threw the remains of his sword aside. He leaped over the head of the brute that led the raiders, landing squarely on the Viking that had killed Lucan. He tackled him to the ground, and punched him once, twice, three times, and the raider lay still. He turned, snarling, to the other two close by. They cried their alarm, lifting their weapons in self-defence. Lorcan charged the next one, who swung his sword wildly at him, yelling prayers and curses alike in his guttural tongue. Lorcan, fueled by the spell, easily sidestepped his swings, headbutting the Viking with all his might, sending him to the ground where he lay twitching. The third Viking lifted a greataxe, aiming to bring it down on Lorcan’s head. Lorcan’s clawed hands gripped the arms of the attacker, holding him still. Lorcan wrenched the axe from his grip, letting it fall to the ground. With a twist of his arm, he flung the raider screaming down the hall, crashing through a wooden door at the end of the corridor. Slowly, growling, Lorcan turned to face the brute.
The scarred Viking watched the fate of his comrades with only a hint of fear. Contempt and anger were plain in his face. This was a warrior hardened from many, many years of bloodshed. He didn’t care who was slain around him, or even if he was killed. He fought because he wanted to kill; nothing else mattered. He lifted his warhammer, holding a firm, defensive stance.
So he would not run. Good.
Lorcan charged at him on all fours, like a lion leaping at its prey. He leapt into the air, his claws aiming for the brute’s throat-
CRACK! The brute swung upward at exactly the right moment, dealing a blow of colossal force with the hammer into Lorcan’s chest. Lorcan immediately felt every single rib break, and was sent sprawling into the wall. Pain overwhelmed him, making his ears ring deafeningly, and his vision go black. If it weren’t for the spell, he would have been killed instantly, and he felt the magic quickly leaving him. As his vision tunnelled, Lorcan looked up at the brute, who stared defiantly down at him, a triumphant smile stretching his scar to even greater proportions.
Not even magic could save him. Couldn’t save his friends, his brother. Lorcan weakly looked over at Lucan, whose face was turned to him, still, his teary eyes glazed over. Lorcan began to cry lightly, small sobs making his chest flare with pain. “I’m sorry for bringing you into this Lucan. I’m so sorry…”
He looked out the window, past the brute. The moon was shining beautifully, serene, unknowing of the pain on the earth below. Cold, but not uncaring. Lorcan slowly, tentatively, reached for the magic barrier in his mind. He put a mental hand against it, carefully pushing it. A small hole opened in the barrier, lending Lorcan a small reserve of energy. “Please,” he whispered, “one last spell.”
He had never been able to do this correctly before, despite how many hours of practice he’d given it. But maybe, just maybe, it could work now. With a trembling finger, Lorcan drew a figure in the air, a small line moving up and to the right, and a long line straight down. As he finished it, the figure burst into blue light, Isa, the Nordic rune of Ice.
YES! Lorcan stared up into the brute’s face, now his own expression one of triumph. The rune before him shattered, forming ice crystals in the air. A cold wind blew down the hallway, howling and swirling around them. The ice crystlas flew toward the Viking, embedding themselves in his clothing and flesh. The ice began spreading from the points of contact, forming a coccoon of ice around the raider, covering him entirely in ice. A strangled cry escaped the lips of the man, before ice covered it, leaving him a silent statue, glistening under the night sky.
Lorcan collapsed, spent. The howling wind faded, leaving only Lorcan and the sound of his labored breathing. An odd sense of calm washed over him, wiping away his fear and sadness, making him feel serene amidst the scene of carnage. Lorcan realized, this must be what dying feels like. “Well,” he muttered, “this isn’t so bad, I suppose.”
Lorcan pushed himself up into a sitting position, his ribs no longer seeming to be registering their broken state. He stared out the window into the night. As his vision started fading, Lorcan thought of Woodland, with the bustling town, the beautiful green trees, and the Order of the Rose, who had taken him in, and been the truest of friends to him.
Lorcan whispered, “For the Rose.” With that, he sank into darkness.
He floated, unknowing, unseeing, completely at peace in the void. Then, a voice, powerful and reverberating, called to him.
“Son of the Raven, I am not quite done with you yet.”