CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

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The city still smouldered. Ashes rose and fluttered from its burning walls and merchant stand's. What was left of the first raised Soulless and their victims now lay 100 yards beyond the city, in a deep hole in the ground. In a way, Avos was relieved. He had faced the Soulless and survived, though he had done little to stop them. Yet he had helped Elise somehow, that must count for something. He didn't quite understand it. Wasn't he the one who was supposed to borrow her magic? He was the protector of the Water element, so how did she make fire with his essence? It was confusing to him. He wanted to ask Marcus. Just thinking of him now made him cringe. Avos hoped he was alive and not in pain.

He suddenly had the urge to slam his hand down against the table where he sat. Elise had left him in the courtyard while she hurriedly went off to fetch some supplies. Supplies! She was still certain that they could make it to The Scourge in time to save Marcus. He knew it was hopeless. They were leagues away and he didn't even know the way. Even with a map and saddled horses it would still take weeks to reach that far North. Still, she had told him to trust her. She ran off muttering something about being there but not really being there. He could only assume she had some sort of magical spell up her sleeve. He wasn't sure if he should be thankful for that or terrified.

"Avos!!" Someone cried from just behind him. By the time he turned to see who it was he was already being tackled into a bear hug by his Aunt Chloe. She squeezed him so tight he had to stop breathing. And just as suddenly as he'd been hugged, she let go of him and whacked him upside the head. As he was about to ask her what that was for, he could see the regret in her face which slowly turned into a sigh of relief. She took him again in her arms and he hugged her back.

"So much for last nights dinner," she said solemnly.

"Marcus is gone."

"I know, dear boy, I know. I just ran into Elise, she told me where to find you and what happened. Light, from the care-house it sounded like the gods themselves had descended upon us. It took me all night to get everyone calm and under control. Thank the Light you are safe. If only for now, if only to see you this one last time before..." she hesitated. Did she know? "Well, no matter. There is something you should know. Something I had confided in Marcus just yesterday, but when I had heard he was taken I knew that I must tell you something important, something Elise may not have told you about yet."

That was a surprise. He knew he didn't know Elise all that well, but he didn't think she was the type of person to keep secrets, especially important ones. If Marcus had known as well, what did that mean? He felt his stomach turn.

"She met an elf, Avos. Here, in Bolster!"

"An elf?" Avos was even more confused. "An elf?" He laughed only because he did not know what other reaction he was supposed to give to this information. "An elf? Ok, why is that important?"

"Not just any old elf, though if elves were running amok on Valterra I could understand your complacency. He was the Warden of Humankind! He sought her out! A bloody spy for the elves! He told her things that would happen between the two of you, he told her that she was to help you save the bloody world!" Aunt Chloe was obviously worked up. Sometimes you just can't sit on certain news, it had to be spread.

Avos was still not certain what to do with this information. He knew nothing about elves. Actually he had never really thought of them as real until now. He knew this should be a shock but in all honesty, who was kidding who? Almost two weeks ago he was simply a boy coming of age, ready to take on more farm work for his father, not travel across Valterra with an ancient uncle, meet a witch who turns out to be a fairy, then fall for that fairy. He stopped short. He had fallen for her, hadn't he? Could you fall in love with someone you just met? How was he supposed to know. "Ok look, I'm sure there is a good reason why this elf came to her."

"He needed her help with a wound."

"You see! There, it's settled. Not a big deal. We know Elise is magical, sensational, utterly unforgettable, so it's no wonder he needed her help."

"Oh, Avos, you are smitten with her." He could feel the blush rising to his cheeks. He saw Chloe then motion to someone to hurry up. He looked over his shoulder again and there was a young girl carrying a tray of bread, fruit and what smelled like cinnamon tea. She placed the tray in front of Avos and curtsied. Chloe gave her a look and she scurried off.

"Thank you!" Avos called to the young girl. "Thank you, Aunt Chloe. I may very well have forgotten to eat this morning without you." He was thankful for the distraction. He did not want to talk romance with his Aunt, especially when it involved his own feelings, and new feelings at that. He grabbed a peach and sunk his teeth into it.

"Oh, Avos. Listen, about Elise. You know that elf..." Avos sighed but looked up and continued to listen with faked interest. "Well, she had him hidden in her quarters for over a week! He had an effect on her. She looked flustered when she told me about him, like you got just now speaking of her."

Avos raised one eyebrow when he realized what his Aunt was trying to imply. Had Elise been romantic with this elf? The Warden? She couldn't have. Could she? No, he would not let himself carry on with that train of thought.

"I only tell you this because we are family. I don't want to see you get hurt."

"I'm fine Aunt Chloe, don't worry. Elise and I have something special. Something that no elf would be able to give her. Trust me, it's ok. I'll talk to her. You'll see."

"No! Don't say a word about it. I am betraying her confidence for the second time by telling you. If you must know, try to find out some other way. Please don't mention that I said anything."

"Of course, of course. Don't worry about anything Aunt Chloe; about me, Elise, or Marcus. Elise says we'll get to him today. That we'll save him." He tried to believe his own words but his faith hung on a thread held up only by Elise. The only hope he could muster, he found within her.

"I hope you're right, dear boy. I really do." His aunt kissed him on the top of the head and rested her hands on his shoulders while he tried to stomach his meal. Though he was hungry, his appetite was scarce. He felt grateful for Aunt Chloe, she stayed as close to him as possible, almost as if she dreaded him leaving and becoming someone else, something else. Avos knew it was only a matter of time before he was changed forever, or dead.

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