No Going Back
By: Stephanie Bardy

The Elders stood, cloaked in shadow, watching Celeste as she wept on the ground. Merrik had retreated to the cabin and they could feel the anger in him. They had planned this. Set all the wheels in motion, but the outcome was not what they had expected. Merrik had turned from Celeste, shut her out, and she had retreated into herself. The bond that was tenacious at best, was almost gone. It flickered faintly between them, The Elders could still see it, but it was dying. They exchanged a look and approached Celeste with caution. They had held her once, but she was stronger than any Divine Keeper before her and they knew they would not get the same opportunity again. She had even more hatred for them than before and that, tempered with the pain she felt, was a dangerous combination. The Elders existence was measured in centuries, but they were not immortal.

For the first time since she had encountered The Elders, she heard only one speak. A female voice broke through her tears, quieting her.

"Child?" she said. Celeste remained still, head down, but now instead of being lost in grief, she was guarded.

"Child?" she said again. Slowly Celeste turned her head towards The Elder. It was unusual to see them apart, and the one who stood behind her, spoke with a soft gentle voice. The kind you would use to placate an inconsolable child.

Head still down, eyes concealed, she uttered one word. "What." Flat, emotionless. She wouldn"t let them hear just how broken she was, they had seen enough already, for she knew they had watched the exchange between her and Merrik. They knew she had cried. They knew his anger at her deception.

"Child, you must make this right. You must fix this. He can not pull from you as he is. You must be bonded for this to work. Your magic must be connected, your energies combined."

Celeste rose slowly, keeping her eyes averted, but aware of where each one stood. She had been pushed far enough. Her rage knew no bounds now. They had taken everything from her, and then took even more. In a quiet voice she spoke.

"You tore my heart from me a long time ago. Shattered it and threw it to the winds. You gave me a task, which turned into a purpose, a drive, that kept me going. Then you ripped that from me. You throw this man at me, after destroying his whole world, after tearing his heart out as you did mine, force me to open to things I had long shut out, demand that I train him, and tell me there is only one way to complete this new task. To defeat Ren Daul. Then you destroy that as well and you tell [me] that I have to fix this?" her voice rose with each word until she was shouting them out. "You say it is up to me to make this right?"

She raised her arms, lightening flying between her hands. The Elder who had approached her joined the others faster than the eye could see, but Celeste was no longer using her sense of sight. She had opened that place within her that held her magic, the wildness, and let it fly. It struck the three and they stumbled back. "You no longer control me, or what I do. You no longer have dominion here within these gates!" she screamed as she let another bolt shoot them back even farther. Closing her hands into fists, she lifted the three and threw them to the other side of the cabin boundary. "I banish you from this land. You are no longer welcome, and no magic will bring you back in unless I will it."

Her arms, now over her head, hands still in fists, shimmered with magic. "Be gone!" she said as she opened her hands and the air around the wooden fence shimmered, shifted, and became a wall of mist. She watched The Elders push against it, try and shove their magic through it, each time, she watched them fall back. Each time rendered them weaker and weaker, until finally they stopped. They stood staring at her. Faintly she heard them speak.

"This is not over Celeste. You can not lock us out forever. Fix this or pay the consequences." Then they were gone.

The mist slowly faded, but the barrier remained. If you turned your head just right and the sun caught it you could see it shimmer. Every day, Celeste would go and stand at the gate, watching, testing it, making sure it was still holding. Every day she tried to speak to Merrik, and every day he was curt, polite, but nothing more.

They had been training for several hours and she could see he was beginning to tire.

"We are done for the day. We will begin again at the first light of dawn." She said and walked to the gate to do her nightly check of the barrier.

"Why are you keeping them out?" Merrik asked.

She stopped but didn"t turn. She didn"t want him to see the look on her face at the sound of his voice.

"Safety." she replied. She could feel him approach. His anger still bubbled just below the surface and it pricked at her skin like quills.

"From what?" He stood directly behind her now. The heat of his body, the smell of his sweat, surrounded her.

She took a breath, steadied herself, pushed those feelings back and closed her shields. Inside the barrier she didn"t need to feel him, feel his energy. She turned to face him, face and eyes blank.

"From The Elders. Nothing good can come from them, nothing ever has." She turned back to the barrier.

"From The Elders?" he asked incredulously. "They are they ones you are keeping us safe from? What about you? You purposely deceived me! I trusted you, I cared about you, and you betrayed that! You used the one thing you knew would destroy me. Just to get your own way. JUST to prove a point to The Elders. You used my CHILD! Yes, they took everything away from me, but in exchange, they brought me you. You taught me to fight, to find a purpose, to get past the pain and open up. You gave me hope, and even brought laughter. That time within the cabin boundaries helped to heal me. Then you tore that all away. The Elders did it for a higher purpose, you did it for revenge. Who is really the monster here?" Merrik stormed into The Garden and knelt down by the Soulweeds. He ran his hand over them. Ruffling the leaves. Celeste froze.

"What are you doing?" she whispered.

He sneered at her. "These are the only things that matter to you. These souls. They are everything to you. Aren"t they?" "Merrik please! What are you doing?" she started to move quickly towards the Garden. Panic e

tched the features of her face. Fear emanated from her. Merrik reached down to the base of one of the weeds, wrapping his fingers around it. Celeste had broken into a full run now, almost hysterical.

"You don"t know what your doing Merrik, please stop, please don"t touch those!" She reached the Garden just as he gave a firm yank and pulled the weed from the ground.

A loud crack vibrated through the air, sparks danced all around the them, then laughter. Harsh, deep laughter.

Where the Soulweed was, a man stood. He looked around and his eyes finally settled on Celeste.

"So we meet again Huntress. I told you we would." He started to move towards her.

"I stopped you once, I can do it again Chosen One." she replied. She took an attack stance. "I don"t need vials or spells this time."

The Chosen One laughed again. "You know how this works. Once released from the Garden, I can not be put back. Only The Elders can stop me now, and if I am not mistaken, I can feel a barrier spell around this place, which means, no one can stop me."

"There are no victims for you here. Only me."

All the laughter left his face. "You are all I want." He charged her, throwing magic as fast as he could. Celeste stumbled but kept her footing, fighting back.

Merrik stood in the Garden, realizing the full extent of what he had done. By releasing the soul attached to the weed, he had now brought the man back into the world, and he was trapped with the one who put him in the ground in the first place. He needed to find a way to help Celeste, to make right his arrogant mistake.

Summoning all the magic he had, he aimed it at The Chosen One and shoved it into him. The man stopped, turned, and with a flick of his finger, sent Merrik to the ground. A large gash appeared on his chest, and blood flowed freely from it.

Celeste saw Merrik fall, and something opened inside her. Electricity like she had never felt before coursed through her. Pain, anger, fear, mixed with love, all culminated into one thought, one idea. With a scream, she dropped the barrier that surrounded the cabin, summoned The Elders and then sent all she had at The Chosen One. Behind her The Elders did the same.

The Chosen One fell, writhing in pain, screams ripped from his throat, but Celeste saw none of it. All she saw was Merrik, gasping, bleeding. Dying.

She knew The Elders had things in hand, and raced to his side. She snapped her fingers and they were inside the cabin, Merrik laid out on his cot. She raced to her herbs and salves, fingers stumbling along the bottles and vials until she found the one tucked in the back. It was given to her when she first became The Huntress and she was told to use it sparingly. There was very little left. It was a special salve, one that could restore life, heal a mortal wound. She ran to Merrik"s side and smeared the salve over the wound. Within minutes the skin began to knit itself back together, his breathing calmed. She gently lay her head on the bed beside him, her forehead resting on his arm.

"We have dealt with the Soulweed." The Elders said behind her.

"We warned you of the consequences if you did not fix it. Now you have used the last of the Healing Salve, to save this man. The next mortal blow to you will end you, or it will end him. You have made your choice. Now you must work with the consequences. There is no going back from this. We can no longer protect you." With that they left.

She sat with him for a long time, watching his chest rise and fall, watching him sleep, before she herself drifted off.

When she awoke she was laying in her cot, and Merrik was sitting in the chair beside her.

A small smile creased his lips. "I am sorry."

She smiled back. "It was my fault. I never…" He raised his hand and stopped her.

"There will be plenty of time for that later. Thank you for saving my life. The Elders told me what you did. Explained to me what I did."

The smile left his face. "What do we do now?" he asked.

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