He awoke violently; the air was thick and wet and sound echoed in his ears. Was he able to move, or was he bound? He tried to run, to flee, too fight, but noise broke above him. What it was, he did not know. He tried to turn over, but he was facing downward, he thought, when rough hands took him, and forced him into something. All went black for a moment, distant sounds crashing into each other and breaking his senses as smatterings of light dashed across his milky vision.
Again came the voices, booming and echoing in the vast distance. Muffled slurs and the sharp pain of profanity against the unmistakable shout of the order to kill.
The lean figure of a man swam before him as a dark silhouette; grasping him by what must be his neck.
He felt cold hands clench and something else drip slowly down his side; was it blood? Where was he, what was this? Had everything always been this way? For a moment, he saw someone smile, and a crooked yellow grin turned into white teeth and pink lips speckled in blood.
You have to-
‘Help me.’ Said a women’s voice, but not there. No, it was somewhere else, lost in some distant memory that held captive the sweetest sound he had ever heard.
‘Please,’ she said. ‘Please, don’t-’
Thunder rolled, and he gasped the words as best he could.
Then he saw the door splinter in his minds eye, and the men came rushing in with cold steel. He was forced down in that golden room, as iron polished to a mirrors shine slid into her thin belly.
Her pink lips flecked with blood.
You have to-
‘No! Syina Nooooooooo!’
The words came loud, clear, and filled with terrible purpose. Rain was pounding down all around him. Noises were no longer muffled, and only the distant whinny of a horse pierced the patter of thick, wet drops pelting trees and mud and man alike. He lay on his back, the dark grey sky swimming above him, and soft erda melting bellow.
‘Please,’ he said. ‘Please, don’t…’
He swallowed hard, confused but clear somehow. He didn’t know how he knew it, but there was no danger around him, he was safe; he just knew he was safe. How long? How long had he…
Her name. What was her name?
He sat up, his back aching with ripe bruises, and his head lolling. There was a cut above his left eye, but it wasn’t deep. Looking down, he saw new sandals laced high on his long legs. He was wrapped in some kind of cloth cloak, but bellow he felt light leather and cotton, and the small weight of a sword on his back.
Golden locks the color of the setting sun fell into his eyes, not mattered with dirt and blood.
He had gloves on at one point, he thought by the scaring on his hands, but they were gone now.
Around him, the lush, empty valley of some unknown place drank the sky in natural silence. No wind moved the trees, and the rain fell straight to the soft ground as small mountain walls rose all around him.
Far and away he saw the shimmering waters of the sea, barely visible through the downpour.
To his left he spied a paved road, and to his right less than half a league off the bright fire of a forge burned hotly next to a small manse with glowing round windows on the courtyard walls.
But what he saw first was the body.
The bloated corps of a rough and tumble southerner lay festering not an arms length from where he sat.
The man was garbed in fine cotton clothes and supple leather boots. His sword was short, but it had been broken; the shattered end up thrust into his fat neck still oozing putrid blood as the rain refused to let the would congeal.
To his left two more Maran men lay dead, and to his right four.
They were not soldiers, but the quality of their garments bespoke quality of their coin. Aside from the fat one, they were lean, they were scarred and they were tall; mercenaries, or something more sinister.
He tried to stand, and while it hurt, he found he could do it easily.
He let the cotton shroud drape him in the wet evening, and quickly searched the still bodies. Five grunts, plus the fat man, and one who wore a rich purple robe that was shackled to his form with a dozen buckles and ropes. A leather collar that rose nearly to his broken nose was filled with blood that tricked down to the wet grass.
In his hands was a small talisman with a thin metal chain. Opening the dead finders, he glimpsed it whole; an iron cross set inside a silver sphere, all highlighted with silver inlay and a golden heart. Around the chain there was a ring, simple and woven of a dozen silver hairs; expert metal craft. It was a fine ring sitting atop the Star of Finra, the symbol of-
What was the name he had said?
He knew it, he had known it, but memory was leaking from his rattled brain like sap from the branch.
He took the thing, and placed it gently around his neck, only to find a cut at the base of his skull, and the chain broken. It had been ripped away at some point.
It was his, whomever he was. He looked around, confident that he was utterly alone, and with one last glance, he regarded the dead and then left the bodies where they lay.
He walked a bit, getting used to the idea. The rain felt good, and he soon found a small stream where he could drink in a thicket of trees that ran the waters edge to the south. He wanted to bathe, but something stopped him, and he hugged his wet cloak closer.
Where to go.
Where was he? Who was he? Who had those men been, and had he killed them? All seven, even a Magi? No, it wasn’t possible. Was it?
His mind felt empty, a jug of air that was old and cracked. He knew the sun, the trees and direction. He knew the blade on his back was a Eldar blade of special make, and he knew how to tie his sandals.
But he did not know his name, his age or who he was. He had no memory save calling a name that faded like a dream when he awoke.
He stood in the deluge for a long while, a stone in that low place, breathing deep and closing his eyes. He told himself to be calm, but he found no problem there. Quite the opposite, he felt absolute control over his emotions. His heart beat slowly, and his instincts seemed as a well-kept fire; low and hot, ready for the time when needed.
A fox moved somewhere behind him. How he sensed it, he could not say. Above, he spied an ebony hawk circling. Again, far far away, a horse whinnied and faded.
The grey sky grew darker, and somewhere behind the shimmering sea the sun left the world of the living, and the moon lurked above unseen, as warm breezes passed silently through the tropical rains.
When he opened his eyes, he felt weary, weary to the bone. He knew he should stay out of sight, though he had no idea why. The road was the best bet, or maybe the stream, although it was too small to lead to any major settlements.
In the wilds, he would need a bow to hunt, or at least a dagger. He freed the short sword to inspect it, and found it the way he knew he might; a single point faint from a finger width base to a single, sharp peak.
The polished iron grip was wrapped in soft, new leather. The guard carved with silver inlay and in the pommel sunk a dark stone the color of blood.
‘Martus. Martus syk Kronos.’ He said. The Gods of war and of death. He knew the Gods, they would not let him forget, it seemed. They were two of many, but the speed at which he arrive to the conclusion told him this was a long held opinion; Martus was war, but all he did was in service to Kronos.
Kronos was the master.
He put the sword back in its leather sheath and made a choice that would forever change him. He was tired, he was wounded, and he was starving; the sun had set and dark night would be on him soon. It was a fool’s errand to tromp off into the night so weakened. That was Kronos call, but Martus, as he was before; he would fight.
He walked, limping and slow across the open ground. The rain fell still and the blazing light of the forge grew and grew. Soon, erda was black as obsidian, and only the lights of the manse and forge bounced off the thick smoke that rose from the stack.
By the time he came to the door, he was nearly spent. He stumbled and fell at the doorstep, but still, before he saw him, he felt a stranger approach.
From the smithy, a burley man with huge arms and a smooth face came towards him, a heavy leaden hammer in his hands.
He was cautious, but when he saw him wounded and breathing hard, he knelt beside him.
‘Calm there, calm there boy; you take it easy now. SARA!’ he sounded. ‘Come now women he have a man needs help here.’
When the door opened, light and sweet smelling palm smoke stung his eyes. He was going limp, unable to speak and his eyes closed involuntarily. He could feel the heavy weight of exhaustion falling through him; deep down he knew he had been awake for days, maybe weeks, if that was possible.
He was aware of a homely looking women knelling next to him. She had dark colored hair and soft skin and her teeth were white and her smile radiant. In here mud colored eyes she held sorrow.
‘God’s preserve him, what happened?’
‘Couldn’t say, help me get him inside.’
The whole world was spinning now, and darkness crept into his vision as he passed under a gate and into a large courtyard. He saw the house beyond a well-tended garden of citrus and grape; it was built on a stone foundation and thin curtains gently swayed in the still night, cooling the open aired rooms.
Time seemed to alter, and he was laid down on a hard table, the sound of the rain pounding the metal roof.
‘Who are you, son? What’s your name?’
He tried to speak, but night took him and he fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
When he awoke next, rain was still falling. It was another night now, nearly morning. How he knew that, he could not guess.
He was naked, save for a thin linen sheet placed over him. He panicked for a moment, but then when he saw his blade and his tattered clothes sitting close to the doorway, he calmed.
It was small, the room he was in, and made mostly of fired mud and rock. Two walls were solid, and two were columned; the spaced between covered by drapes that hid the world outside.
Standing, he winced with pain in his side, and discovered a crudely sewn stitch in a deep wound there.
Moving gently off the soft bedding, he took note of his surroundings; it was mostly oil lamps and large boxes; a spare room not secure enough for food.
The air seemed to shift and he turned before the women came in.
‘Oh yo- ah!’ She looked away and he suddenly became aware of his nudity.
‘Oh, I, sorry’ he grabbed the sheet and cloaked himself in it.
She smiled warmly and opened her eyes again ‘No no it’s fine I shouldn’t have just come in. How are you feeling?’
‘Good. Better.’ She was thin and pretty, but her callused hands and slouched posture betrayed a laborer, not a fighter. Deep down, he felt something relax and calm, as imperceptible muscle movements shifted his body weight and opened joints.
They stood there in awkward silence for a time.
‘How, um. How long have I been asleep?’ he asked
‘Three days,’ she smiled ‘I have been feeding you honey water and mixed with ground corn. I thought maybe you had an internal wound but, I guess not. You seemed pretty out of it though.’
Her mouth tightened and she placed down a trey of bananas and lemons with spiced tea and a jug of some watered wine. ‘Here, have some real food but be careful not to eat too fast. I would offer you some corn cakes, but they aren’t ready yet.’
‘No, please it’s; this is fine, thank you.’ He sat on a box and started to eat, his appetite suddenly ravenous.
She stood by attentively after pouring him a cup of the wine. She would look at him, then away, fidgeting and clasping her hands.
‘You can say it.’ He said between bites.
He shrugged ‘Whatever it is you want to say.’
‘Oh, um right. I, er. Are you… are you an Eldar?’
He stopped chewing. ‘What?’
She moved quickly to sit with him ‘I mean, its okay I just; I heard that the elves were the most beautiful creatures in the world, and I mean, you are exceptionally beautiful.’ She was looking at him then with hungry eyes, but behind them lurked fear. He stood abruptly, knocking over the box he was sitting on.
Was he an elf? Maybe, that sounded right…
She was on her feet ‘Don’t worry, I didn’t tell my husband, and I kept your ears hidden from him; they don’t even look too far off human ears, haha’ her giggle was cute, but she wanted it to be. ‘I just don-’ but then she stopped talking, and was staring him straight in the eyes while her mouth hung open.
‘What? What is it?’
‘Your eyes.’ She said in a whisper. ‘My God’s, your eyes are-’
‘Unnatural’ said the burley man that had carried him in. He hadn’t noticed, but the Maran and several others had been lurking in the doorway. The women, Sara bowed her head and moved to one side, looking down.
He just stood there as the shorter, but decisively stronger man advanced into the room with his small cohort.
Four against one; that was his first thought. He knew, right away, he was going to be in a fight, and he was going to kill these people.
He knew it, and it felt good.
‘That beaten gold hair; too dark and too radiant at once for a human. Those curved ears this woman tired to hide from me. And those eyes; those wild, God’s damned eyes.’
He was right up to him now, and the others were circling him. The room didn’t afford much space between them, but they were surrounding him all the same.
‘Is it a crime to be an elf?’ He asked with genuine curiosity.
‘And elf? No.’ the man shook his head. ‘The Eldar know their place, even if those Sylvan bastards don’t. It aint even technically a crime to be what you are; a filthy half blood. Ill wager some sylvan whore spread her cuny for a Maran cock and now, seven citizens are dead.’
He remembered the men in the field, the rain slipping down pale, dead faces.
The women spoke. ‘What do you mean? Tym what are you-’ but he slapped her before she could finish.
His weight shifted, his muscled tightened some places and relaxed others.
‘You keep your mouth shut; I’ll have no women of mine wetting her small clothes for a half-elf monster.’ He turned back to him. ‘Was you, wasn’t it?’ He pulled the round necklace and fine ring from his apron; the two dangling before him. ‘The blood on this elf bobble here; that’s Maran blood, aint it?’
‘They robbed me, I had to defend myself.’
‘Ha! Robbed him he says.’ The smile faded. ‘More like you was their prisoner, and then you saw a chance. Well I tell you what, Opiter strike me dead the day a dirty blood monster can kill seven citizens and walk free of it. Me and my mates here, we wanted you to rest up so’s we have ourselves a little justice.’ He was fast, strong, and although he knew the punch was coming, he had no plan; so he took it.
It landed hard on his diaphragm, and forced the air out of his lungs. He went down, more for show, but the hit had been well placed, and he was still weak.
Sara pleaded, but one of the men grabbed her.
‘Mark, take my wife outside.’ Tym pulled a leaden hammer from his belt, ‘while I take care of her new pet.’
They were dead, all of them, and blood that was not his trickled down his face. The women stood in horror, in shock and shaking violently. The room was rotten with gore. It had happened so fast.
The hammer came down to smash the back of his head, but he wasn’t there to receive it. One palm went out left, crashing into a kneecap with incredible force. The man cried out.
Still low, he circled his leg and swept right, catching two others unawares and tripping them. Tym was bringing the hammer to bear again, but as he arced it above himself to bring it down with his brute strength, the half-elf stood and slammed open palmed fists into his chest thee times in rapid succession. Air raced from the smiths’ lungs and the sinewy muscle tore beneath the blows. Tym dropped the hammer as he fell backwards and the half-elf caught it, spun and sent the heavy tip crashing into the jaw of one of the men he tripped. Bone fractured and blood exploded from the wound as he swung the hammer in a figure eight and smashed the temple of the other man staggering to his feat. It landed with a wet thock and a lifeless body fell to the ground with a slick trail of crimson following.
The half elf regarded the man whose kneecap he had broken, and found him fighting back the urge to scream.
Tym was on his back, gasping for breath, staring at the ceiling with fear stained eyes.
The man with the shattered knee said ‘Look just forget about us; leave, leave now!’
‘You give me leave now? A kind gesture; but it is you whose leave I must consent to. What is it you see in my eyes?’ the feyblood knelt beside the downed Maran.
His own eyes widened as he stared into those of his enemies.
‘Half elves take eyes from the Eldar. From the stars, they say. Yours are crystal clear blue with flecks of gold that burn. Burn in the light. Like your hair; sunset gold or worn copper. You’re no man. You’re no man at all.’ He spat right into the half-elfs face, and with a single thrust, the warrior send the blade of his hand slicing to his throat, breaking the bone and the man died choking on his own blood.
Standing, he saw Sarah quake.
It was over.
‘Please,’ she begged ‘just go, please don’t kill me, please don’t kill my husband!’
Looking down he saw the light fading from the dying mans eyes. His chest was a purple flower of rotton blood and pulverized muscle. His ribs were broken in a dozen places, and likely they had pierced his heart or lungs.
‘He would need magic to save him now.’
The women just trembled. ‘Please. Akarius, please.’
‘What did you call me?’ his eyes narrowed and a wild fire seemed to spark the flecks of orange gold.
She fell to her knees ‘Please! I didn’t know what to call you, and your arm-’
‘What about my arm?’ he knelt in front of her, and reached out to grasp her shoulders when he saw it; etched into his forearm with razor thin strokes were a series of cuts that formed a word, a name; his name.
The women calmed but her lip still quivered and shook. ‘You- you really don’t remember?’
He broke the trance then and grasped her. ‘What else do you know, did I say anything; what did I say?’
‘Nothing please I mean you spoke the name Syina but that can’t mean anything!’
‘Why not, why isn’t that important who is she? Where is she?’ He was losing his patience; his dark eyes now only inches from her and his grip tightening on her slim shoulders.
‘She – because she…’
‘What tell me now or God’s help me I will-’
‘She’s dead!’ she screamed.
He let her go, and falling back he leaned against the table, sitting on the stone ground.
Tym made a groaning noise and Sara went to his side.
Akarius simply stared into nothing, into a past or a future he couldn’t see as the husband and wife whispered sad goodbyes next to him.
Tym was still breathing heavy when she said ‘If she was ever alive, she’s dead, Akarius. She is a myth, a fairy tail. An elven princess who traveled to Mara more than a thousand years ago. They still write her stories and children play Syina and Varus; the Consol she was to marry.’
‘An elf,’ he said ‘who married a mortal man?’
‘Was to, Akarius. Was to. They never met; Syina died before she reached the shores of Crimson Bay.’
She shook her head, and squeezed her husband’s hand. ‘No one knows. Some say her ship sank, others that she left to some secret land with another lover. Varus thought the Eldar had taken her back, and he amassed a great troupe to scour all the earth for her.’ She shrugged. ‘At least, so the stories say.’
‘Varus, what happened to him?’
Sadness came over her, and she looked at her husband, his breath growing weaker.
‘He died.’ She said softly.
Akarius stood, his long, lean body rising from the cold floor with the grace of an elf and the purpose of a driven man. He strapped his blade to his back and put on his loose fitting trousers over his laced sandals.
‘What will do you with me now?’
‘Nothing.’ He said. ‘Your husband tried to kill me, as did his friends. I-’ he faltered, looking down on the dying man. ‘I am sorry for your loss.’
As he strode from the manse, the rain stopped and pale fingers of sunlight reached out across the grassy plain.
He broke out at a run; the wind throwing back his dark, golden locks and his eyes pierced the dim light to see the ocean before him.
Down he ran into the mouth of the sea, and then far, far beyond.
The sun was setting fast across the shimmering bay. Light burned atop the copper waters as night crept in from the dark places of the world and consumed the day.
Sara was sitting on a small bench her husband had made, and letting the waves splash along her feet. Her son, Varus played in the water with his sister, and their dog ran from the waves, only to chase it back again when it fled the shore.
Back home, her husband would be preparing to leave in the morning, to sail south and bring textiles and trade goods to the southern reach.
This time, Varus would go with him.
‘He’s old enough now, Sara. God’s he’s almost 12; a man has to learn a craft sometime.’
She had pleaded with him to give her one more year, but Sal had been insistent.
‘Nothing will happen to him, to us. I promise.’
As the stars dotted heaven, Sara sighed and called the children to her.
She was older than she had been when the bench had been built, and she was growing tired. Good health and a safe life aside, Kronos was lurking somewhere not far away, and she would be on his mind as the summer of her life closed to make way for the autumn, winter and then the house of the God’s. She gathered a small basked of fruit and her walking stick and made ready to go.
The children had not listened to her, and she made to call again when she saw a tall, lean man kneeling next to her son.
Fear gripped her; the same fear that lived in her belly since the day her fist husband had died.
‘Varus, Varus come here.’ She was running now, and her boy was still laying down with the tall man over him.
What would she do? She could not stop a man of his build. Lean but tone; why was he after her boy?
She was close, her hands grasping the walking stick for a desperate try when.
She stopped just short of them, the taller man pulling a sharp barb with a long string from her son’s leg.
‘There you go,’ he said ‘just a jelly fish, boy. No harm done.’
Wanting to be brave, her son fought back tears and stood, coming to her to give a quick kiss, but she hugged him tight.
‘Oh God’s I was worried. Thank you,’ she said, eyeing his soldiers bracers with the symbol of the republic etched on their cuff, ‘um, citizen. Thank you.’
The man raised his head, and her heart stopped.
His hair was the same, and in the sunset could have blended with the flaming sea. His features were unmarked by time it seemed. She knew that half-elves did not share the long life of their wise sires and took their mortality from the blood of humanity.
But his eyes, they were changed. Still the blues of clear summer seas and hot gold as if from the furnace; but they were narrow now. No more did fear or doubt lurk behind them, but cold certainty. His smile was warm, and as he rubbed her sons hair and laughed, congratulating him on his first wound, he moved with a friendliness and warmth that took her off guard. But she saw his eyes, and glimpsed the pain behind them, and fear burned in her soul.
‘Children, into the house. Go help for father get ready. I will be along shortly.’
They hugged her again and waving goodbye to the stranger, playing chase back to the manse.
‘Fine children, I am happy you found someone else; I hope he is a good man, Sara.’
‘The same.’ He grinned an arrogant, knowing smile. ‘How are you?’
‘What are you doing here?’
‘Checking in on you. It has been a longtime and I-’
‘We are done; you killed my husband, Akarius; my husband! Please,’ she fell to her knees before him as she had done all those years ago. ‘Please, not again.’
He glanced back at the Manse and then, pulling her to her feet said ‘please, women stand up; why on Opiters erda would I come kill your new husband?’
‘I, I don’t know you-’
‘I came, because I was passing through, and I wanted to see you. Also, I came to educate you, if I could.’
She narrowed her eyes. ‘Educate? How? And why in the God’s names do you look so young?’
‘Half-elves always look young, then one day you die. So it goes. And for your education, I came to complete your story.’
Behind her, her children were arriving home, and her husband was packing the cart for the journey the next day.
‘Akarius, I don’t know what story you’re talking about, but I have to go my husband and son are leaving for four months tomorrow. Please, just- just leave me be.’
She turned and made her way up the stone path towards her gleaming white house when he stopped her with a word.
She halted, and turned towards him. He was dressed lightly in a long robe that exposed his chest, adorned with his elven bobble, and a lengthy skirt tied around his waist, standing there in the dying light smiling like a child.
‘Your princess. You… you found her?’
He took a few long, slow strides forward. ‘Haha, I did, in fact. We are as close as two people could be. But that’s not what I wanted to tell you. What I wanted to tell you was that your story about Varus and Syina was incomplete. You see, In the elven lands across the sea, they have the same story. Only in their story she isn’t a princess, she is Severna, the Eldar Godess of war. Your Varus, a Maran prince, tames her, and luers her down to the erda where he seduces her. There, she has a child, half Eldar and half human; the son of a war god and a Maran prince.’
He was smiling still, and only inches from her. ‘But they were betrayed. The jealous Maran king, Minius, rallied the people against the duo, and made them believe Varus was cuckold to a foreign God. They could not bear it, and so Minius stormed the palace and killed Severna, throwing her child from the cliffs above the blue bay, thereafter named crimson.’
‘The child died?’ she asked, her voice a whisper against the crashing waves behind Akarius.
‘He did. But you were right about the war. It is said in the elven lands that Varus was so mad stricken with grief, he set fire to Mara, and sold his soul to the demons who wandered the plain. There, they raised a black army, and set forth to destroy Opiter and the realm of man. When Varus had burned his way across the civilized world, he found the entrance to Partus’ Keep, the Fortress of the Dead.’
Akarius brushed her hair from here eyes and looked deep, deep within her, but he spoke no more.
‘So, what happened?’
Suddenly, the spell was broken. ‘No one knows. Some say he dashed his army to pieces against the black rock. Others, that he nearly killed Partus and ensured the destruction of the demon hosts the roamed the land. Still some say he entered the keep alone, and as his army died in the fields of Beyon, he found his infant son, and his pretty wife, and he took them far away where they could be together, always.’ He shrugged. ‘Still, just a story, there you go.’
Smiling again, he reached into the basket she held and pulled an apple. His speed was still blinding, his arm as quick as a serpent. Munching on the sweet fruit, he strolled away down the beach.
Before he was out of earshot she said ‘Wait, I thought you said you found her? You’re Syina?’
Turning back her yelled ‘Oh right; I did. I did find her, and we are as close as two people can be.’
‘But who is she? Where is she?’
‘She is the Sylvan Goddess War, spawned from Severna of the Eldar. And she is here,’ he said, tapping his breast where his heart would be.
‘She is right here.’