The battle was over, and most all of the Moverts were dead. This year, the only Human losses were the fourteen who sacrificed themselves, and not one of the thirteen Kalastiel had fallen.
Under the Trees, in the Grove, the Humans gathered together, the couples who had Filled each other to get here finding each other and pairing off to seal their union in this world as well as their own.
The fourteen single girls, widows of the fallen, found Scott under Sononia, deep in conversation with Tiana. Tiana noticed them before he did, and gestured with her eyes.
Scott broke off mid sentence and turned to face them. He met the gaze of each in turn, noting friendly smiles for the most part. One girl was looking daggers at him, however, scowling, with her whole body posture aggressive.
“What's wrong with you?” he asked her directly.
“You killed my boyfriend!” she spat him. “You sent him out there to die, and did nothing to save him!”
“What was his name?” Scott asked her softly. “What's yours?”
“His name was Andrew Flint, and mine is Kassandra Stone!” she said. “Not that you care. You didn't care before he died; why should you care now?”
“Well, Kassandra Stone, I do care.” he told her, closing his eyes. “I cared before, too, but I didn't have time to do anything about it.”
“If it's any consolation, he died a hero.” Tiana offered. “He died so that we could all live.”
“He might not have died at all, if we were still at Almadreda!” Kassandra shot back. “This was our sixth year here, and he always did fine before! Always!”
“Almadreda was a deathtrap.” Tiana said. “This is my first time here, but even I can see that this place is a thousand times better than Almadreda's little hill. Aren't you glad we have a new Kingmage? Isn't this place better than that one?”
“The old place was just fine with Andrew in it! You had no right to take him away from me!!” she wailed, then ran out of the Grove.
It was a short dash to the cliff edge, and nobody was close enough to stop her. Three Moverts fought over her body at the bottom...
* * *
“Do any of the rest of you feel the same way?” he asked them, when everyone had re-assembled from the chaos and turmoil that Kassandra's suicide had caused. The Kalastiel had witnessed it, but shortly after, they began falling asleep and misting away. The last awake were the first to sleep. Scott and Tiana were going to be here most of the night, she surmised.
One girl of the thirteen left stepped forward after taking a glance around.
“I think you're brave for doing this.” she said, then glanced around again. “I can speak for all of us, I think. This is my third time here, and I love this place. This new place. These Trees, and the way everyone fought in the battle... I've never been so excited in my whole life, and I know Geoff doesn't mind sacrificing for all this...”
Another girl stepped forward, a diminutive brunette. She may have been Hispanic or Mediterranean from the look of her, and her thick accent confirmed it. She was Mexican, for sure.
“I loved Enrique, and he volunteered to go out there. He told me he loved me and to stay safe.” she said. “After we came here last year, and the Council explained everything, he told me in the day, in our world, that if he died here, I was to find another man. I think he knew... and he accepted it.” The girl lifted her head and met Scott's gaze directly. “I choose you. I choose you to be my new man. I will come find you in the day, in our world and give myself to you.”
“Ahem.” Tiana said. “You know he came here with me, right?”
“I also saw all the Trees here.” she retorted. “Those don't happen by accident, and each one has meaning. Each one is an opening between you and him, and I mean to Fill one of those spots. This man has power, and I will be near it. I have to be, after giving Enrique to it. I've earned it.”
“You have.” Tiana agreed, then lifted her head and looked at all of them. “All of you have. This is Scott Blaker, and I am Tiana Bruce. You can find the two of us us in Flagstaff. Come to the town, and you will be welcomed there. All of you will have a place with us.” she told them, speaking in a clear voice.
Scott walked over to the Kalastiel king, Onthamar, and held out his hand to shake. Onthamar had been watching the interactions between the Humans wordlessly, standing back out of the way.
“What is this?” Onthamar asked suspiciously. “What would you have me do?”
Tiana hurried over, and Gregoir and his bunch also sauntered a little closer.
“Uh, King Onthamar?” Tiana asked timidly. “This is the custom among our people. We shake hands to show goodwill and trust.”
“Indeed?” Onthamar said, raising his eyebrows. “Is it your wish to show me goodwill and trust?”
“It is.” Scott said, holding out his hand more firmly. “It would honor me if you would return it.”
“Indeed.” Onthamar agreed dryly. “But that one... there, is going to cut down Flindair. I can see it in his mind.” Onthamar pointed at one of the Humans standing nearby.
“What?” Scott gasped, turning to look at Gregoir.
Gregoir broke apart from the small group of men clustered around him and approached Scott and the women.
“Kingmage, I have news from the Council.” he said smoothly.
“Indeed?” Scott said abruptly. “Who are you?”
“I am Gregoir, Councilman Head.” he said haughtily.
“And them? Are they the Council?” Scott asked him, gesturing to a small group of white hairs standing together.
“Indeed they are, and they have chosen me, and my fathers before me, to Represent them between Kingmages, and we have decided to-”
“Decide all you want. I'm the Kingmage, and what I say goes.” Scott told him flatly. He took two steps forward and grabbed the lapels of Gregoir's robes, lifting him an inch off the ground. The man let out a yelp, and two of the Council stepped forward, but Jordan Miller and his crew stepped between and blocked. “Like I told you before, if I decide I want a Council, you won't be on it.”
Scott tossed the man backward and stood over him menacingly until the he could scramble away. Halfway back to his group, Gregoir stopped, turned, and shook his fist at Scott.
“You mark my words, young man, I'm not without power in our world! You will regret this, I promise! You and that race traitor bitch of yours! Those trees are DEAD!””
Scott took off running after Gregoir at this threat, and Gregoir stopped at his group, thinking the numbers would protect him. They did not. Scott caught the smaller man and wrapped both hands around his throat, and began strangling him.
The other six members of the Council were all old, well into their sixties or seventies and frail. One of them tried to pry Scott's arm away from his friend, but Scott was far too strong for him and barely noticed. Anatin, Gregoir's son, was simply frozen horror as he watched his father die, murdered by the new Kingmage right before his eyes only yards away.
When Gregoir was well and truly dead, Scott threw the man's body down and stared at the hundred or so so people who had just witnessed the murder. There was a stunned silence, an un-natural hush over the crowd standing in the circle of Trees.
“This man threatened to cut down these Trees.” Scott told them, gesturing at the body. “Who here would dispute that I did right? Who here would cut down these Trees?”
“Nobody!!” Jordan cried out. “All of us here would DIE for these Trees! Some of us already have!”
“That is true.” Scott said somberly. “Fifteen have died for this Grove, one for each Tree here. These Trees have been bought with blood! Human blood! We have taken much from the Moverts tonight, and almost all of them are dead! With this place as a stronghold, this war could be won in a few years!” Scott finished this last in a triumphant shout.
“And what of the Kalastiel?” said the oldest of the Council. He was the one who had tried physically to stop him, Scott noted to himself.
“Sir?” Scott asked. “What of them?”
“There are three sides in this War, young man.” he said. “I have heard that you are a wilder, is this true?”
“I really don't care for that name, but yes sir, it's true.” Scott admitted. “What of it?”
“You have no training.” came the reply. “You know nothing of the history of this place. You have no idea who it was you just killed or what you have done by bringing us here. I see a Queentree in the Grove, yes, but I see a Kingtree as well, and that has NEVER been done, never in all of history. The Kalastiel will be swarming this place next year, thousands, I predict, and then WE will be fighting THEM!”
“I have their word.” Scott said quietly. “I do not believe that Humans ever need fight the Kalastiel. We can live side by side in peace.”
The old man snorted derisively. “And you trust their words, do you, young man?” His voice dripped with sarcasm. “Only fools believe in peace.”
“More than I trust your words, sir.” Scott said. “Perhaps we Humans might be better off without you six corrupted old fools. You have been in power far too long, assholes. Peace is more than a fairy tale concept.”
“And you have never held power before. Don't you think you should benefit from our experience? We have never seen peace. That is why we don't believe it exists.”
“Hell no.” Scott said, but Tiana pulled his arm. He stepped aside and they conversed in hushed tones.
“Don't kill them.” Tiana said, seriously. “They are connected, like Mafia connected, you know? It's bad enough you killed Gregoir. If you kill the rest, we'll never be safe, not anywhere on the planet, Earth OR here. Connected.” Tiana shuddered, glancing at the old man over her shoulder. He grinned mercilessly at her, knowing what she was telling him.
Scott turned back to the six and faced them. “If what she just told me is true, I might be best served to kill all of you right now, in this world, where I can touch you.”
“If you do that, there will be no next year here for you. I can promise you that. We have agents worldwide.” said one of the other ones, sneering. “What you do here is known in the real world, no matter WHO you kill.”
“That's what Tiana just told me.” Scott said. “Truthfully, I'm not afraid of that. I woke at dawn here. I practically watched the sunrise. In fact, I missed most of it waking Tiana up so I could find out what's going on. Me AND her have been awake all day, and that is going to make us more powerful than anyone in history. Psychic powerful, and any assassin who comes within fifty miles of me will get turned to my side.”
“But that's not why I'm not going to kill you.” Scott said. “I'm not afraid your organization. However, you six have agents all over the world. I can use that. I'm going to need to use that if what I suspect comes to pass.” he told them.
“You killed Gregoir.” said the oldest. “You killed him right in front of his son! We'll never work for you! One way or another, you are going to be made to pay for that!”
“I also have the deaths of Kassandra and the Fourteen to atone for.” Scott agreed with him. “But I won't be answering to you. Not to any of you. I am the Kingmage, and you will do well not to forget it!!”
“I won't forget it.” Jordan declared. He knelt on one knee before him. “My life before yours, Sire.” he said. The rest of his crew, the ones he had defended the line with, all of them as one, stooped to one knee and bent their heads.
“That won't be necessary.” Scott said. “I intend to live a long full life, but not longer than anyone else's!”
“In this place, we are at war.” Jordan told him, still kneeling. “In this place, my life before yours, Sire.”
“Really.” Scott said dryly. “And why should that be...”.
“I am Brandon McAlter, sire.” said another man, speaking up. “My mother taught me this when I was just a lad, but I have no more talent for it then any other man. I just have some training.” He was standing next to one of the thirteen, and he put his hands on it and began singing. In the first few notes, a misty form appeared, reaching out to him, but as her fingers reached his face, she wafted into dissipating smoke and was gone. The man turned to Scott. “Now you try it. Kingmage. None here can make any of the Kalastiel appear any better than that. I could only get that much because I know one of the Songs.”
Scott walked over, put his hands on the Tree, just as the Brandon had, and began singing the same song. This time, the misty woman became solid and stayed flesh as the Song ended, and she knelt at Scott's feet.
“You truly are the Kingmage.” Jordan whispered, staring raptly at the Kalastiel woman amongst them. “You did that with no training at all. You don't even sing that well.”
“Go to her.” Scott told him, chuckling. “Sing with her. There is room here for a second male, and I choose you. Sing with her, and grow a Tree, Jordan.”
“Sire?” Jordan whispered, but Scott just smiled and waved him on.
“Get used to seeing everyone bow before you like this.” Scott grinned, indicating everyone around. Even Tiana was on one knee. “Don't get to liking it, though. We don't need resentment. We're gonna have enough problems with the Council.”
“You have no idea.” Jordan said under his breath as he stole a glance at them over his shoulder. He turned to the Kalastiel woman's hand and got her to stand. She still wouldn't look up, however. She was not a Lady among her people; she was a servant, but all their lives were interconnected to Trees here, the same way Kalastiel could Sing human forms from the Trees sometimes.
“What is your name?” he asked her. She finally looked into his face, summoning all her courage.
Without moving her mouth, she said into his mind... without words...
“Shalastra.” he said aloud, forcing his mouth to make the sounds his mind had heard. “Shaaaa...llllaaaassss...trrrraaaa...”he sang, taking her other hand.
“Torrr-” she started to sing, but shook her head. “Dlllorrr-” She shook her head again, but was still moving with him, dancing to the sound of her name as he Sang it.
“Djorrr—dannn!!” she sang, having trouble making the “J” sound.
“Miller.” Jordan thought, giving her his other name, easier for her to say.
“Milll...errrr!” Kalastra sang joyfully. She twirled them both to a place under Sononia and Flindair, the two of them Singing each others name and revolving around one another. When the music ended, Kalastra had one leg thrown over his hip, and she leaned back, letting him hold her with one arm as she wantonly relaxed in his grip, letting him have his way with her.
Finally, he let her go, spent, and she lay on the ground between the two Trees, giving birth to the same sort of nut that had produced Sononia and Flindair.
Scott looked around the Grove, and saw many of the people were laying down to sleep, misting away to the waking world, Filled with the power of this place. Jordan sat down, watching the Tree he had sired grow waist high before his eyes closed.
It made Scott wonder how much stronger he was going to be than everyone else. He had been awake all day and it was fully dark now. Only a few people were still awake, Tiana being one of them, but even she was yawning sleepily. Even as Scott watched, a lot of people were misting away.
His thirteen girls were still awake though, Kassandra's group. The women who had survived the fourteen martyrs. His thirteen who were going to come to him in the waking world. Thirteen beautiful girls, all under the age of twenty, he surmised.
“This is what I get for dreaming about sex slaves.” he thought wryly.
“Look, ladies, I know what you're thinking, but honestly, look around us. Each one of these trees represent a, uh... a coupling.” he stammered. “I couldn't possibly...”
The dark little Mexican girl spoke up first. “This is Dreamland. You can do anything while you're awake here. Plus, you're the Kingmage. Enrique died for you.” She gestured to the rest of the girls around her. “All of us lost the man who took our virginity. Please? Don't leave us with nothing. If you Fill us here, we will share your strength and be guaranteed to be with child when we wake.”
“And so you know?” she continued. “All thirteen of us are sleeping next to a dead body right now. It will help to know that life is inside me when I wake to that. Poor Enrique...”