Shar has Danielle.
I don’t know where they are.
The thunder clouds are unleashing torrential rains on my head.
The rain is falling so hard I can barely see. How will I ever track them? I’ve never had to find Shar before, he’s always come to Danielle.
Or he’s come to me. It seems all but certain that I’m the way he’s always found Danielle. But how can he always find me? The panic presses in as the questions threaten to overwhelm me.
Shut it out, shut it out.
Go, find her. I have to go. Go where? Just go.
I’m running, the rain lashing my face. Where would Shar have the greatest advantage? The forest would shield us from the lightning so he won’t go there. The coast to the west and north gives him little real advantage over the open fields near the village. Maybe a few more stones and extra water.
The mountains. Yes, the Kalnis Mountains to the south! That has to be it. It gives him a place to hide, a perch to swoop down from. It also puts him closer to the source of the lightning and allows him to use the craggy peaks to magnify the wind into raging funnels of fury.
He has to be there. With Danielle. So that’s where I’m going.
It’s not long before the jagged face of the mountains is before me. I’m driven by desperation and pushed by the wind as the storm rolls in from the north. I’m here, but I’m staring at an unforgiving wall of rough stone. How am I going to find them?
And suddenly, that’s not a problem. I catch a glimpse of billowing black robes ducking behind a rock as the lightning flashes. They’re still near the base of the mountains. I caught up so easily? I must have been running faster than I thought.
Just as I make it around the rock, I see Shar again. This time he’s riding the wind up a nearly sheer cliff face and disappearing over the ledge. Not a problem. I can’t hitch a ride on the breeze like him, but I can climb almost as fast – even with the scarcity of footholds.
I’m at the top of the ledge. It’s windier here. And I can’t see Shar anywhere now. The world lights up for a brief moment, but there’s still nothing. No sign of them.
The wind shifts. And I can hear something. Someone.
“Why me? Why are you both so obsessed with me? I’m not some long lost princess.” Her voice is raised in anger, not the fear I’d expected.
“You aren’t? Oh dear, perhaps we’ve been wasting our time.”
A pause. “So you’re going to let me go?”
A sharp, cold laugh. “Of course not. This is who we are. I have to kill you. He has to protect you.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Does it have to?”
“No. It doesn’t.”
I can hear them, but I can’t tell where they’re coming from.
“It doesn’t have to make sense, because you’re not going to be alive long enough for it to matter. Yusha is outside even now. Any moment now, he’ll come rushing in to save you, eyes shining. I’ll make you watch as I beat him within an inch of his life. And then he’ll watch as you die in front of him.”
I still haven’t located the source of the sound. They can’t be far.
“Because killing you is the only way I can get my life back!” Shar’s voice is cracking with rage and… remorse?
The wind shifts again and the voices are coming from another direction. I spin towards them and the mountainside is illuminated again. In the instant of daylight afforded by the lightning I catch a glimpse of her golden hair. She’s inside a cave, just above me.
I’m going to finish this. I’m going to kill Shar. And save Danielle for good.
It’s only as I rush into the cave, intent on my purpose, that I realize I’m doing exactly what I heard Shar predict just moments earlier.
That can’t be good.
And what did he say about having his life back?
Danielle is near the mouth of the cave, Shar is concealed in the shadows within.
That was Danielle. Why was she saying—?
The white hot lightning slices into my back without me even seeing it. I can hear Danielle screaming now, but I can’t move. I have to move.
Suddenly, I am moving. Floating.
This is not good. Shar has lifted me using the wind. He laughs softly, the desperation I had heard from outside the cave gone.
“You are too predictable, Yusha. This ends today. I’m going to kill the girl, and then I’m going to kill you. For the last time. And then I will finally be free.”
A deafening crash of thunder shakes the cave and Shar moves with blinding speed. Before I have time to react, his fist slams into my torso, driving the air from my lungs. I’m gasping for breath as the wind releases me, but I can move again. Barely. Just enough to twist away from his next blow, aimed at my head.
The force of his punch carries him off balance and I take the opportunity to drive my elbow into his spine.
His grunt is one of surprise as much as pain. I never strike back.
Before Shar even rises, a bolt of electricity streaks into the cave, collides with my chest, and hurls me to the back of the cave. So much for my grand offensive.
The wind is howling now, whipping around the cave in a frenzy. Danielle is crouched down, hands over her head, hair flailing wildly in the gusts.
That same wind is pinning me to wall of the cave. I strain with all my might, but can’t move so much as a finger.
“Look at him!” Shar roars at Danielle, and then she’s trapped against the wall to my left, her eyes locked on mine. Her brilliant, ice-blue eyes, sparkling with tears.
“See how pathetic he is. He thinks he can save you, but he’s just going to die. Again. But not before you do.” The fury in Shar’s voice sends a shiver down my spine, but my attention is consumed by Danielle’s eyes, locked on mine.
“Again?” she manages to choke out.
“Yes, again. Danielle, I’ve died every day for a thousand years waiting for you. It’s all been for you, all the ones I kept safe, it was all so I could find you. I die to save you.” I swallow the lump in my throat. “To love you.”
Her brow furrows. She doesn’t really understand. But her eyes also soften and I know she’s moved by my words. I want to revel in the moment, to stay lost in her gaze forever, but I know Shar will kill her at any moment if I don’t do something.
“You’re the pathetic one, Shar,” I say with more boldness than I feel.
His eyes swivel to me. Filled with rage, yes, but also something more. Desperation? Fear? What is going on? Whatever it is, it offers an advantage I don’t intend to waste.
“All this trouble just to kill a woman? All your power poured out in pursuit of what? Killing someone who can’t even threaten you?”
“You know nothing, fool! You don’t know what they took from me! You’re nothing but a mindless pawn!”
What is he talking about? “And you’re the one in control, I suppose?”
The wind, already blowing at speeds I’ve never imagined, kicks up into a furious tempest, crushing my bones against the cave’s wall. An instant later, the cave explodes with impossibly brilliant light as a clap of thunder shatters my ears.
I feel the energy of the lightning pouring into me. Not just stabbing as before, but emptying its elemental fury into my body.
But all I see are Danielle’s eyes. Filled with tears. Filled with love.
I gasp out my love for her, desperate for her to hear the words.
But they never make it past my lips.
Light fades, life fades, and I’m left with the sight of Danielle’s eyes pouring love into mine and the sound of Shar screaming his rage into the wind.