As I entered the small village of Immol, I couldn’t help but feel detached somehow. Looking around at the busy villagers, selling their wares, arguing with each other, drinking and laughing. The women doing their washing in the stream paused when I came up the road. I waved, trying to appear like a normal traveler. A mother’s arms were occupied with holding her baby, but she nodded and smiled. Some older children, a boy and a girl, waved as well. Such a strange feeling…It felt good, though. Like I wasn’t ostracized for, well…just existing.
Their life just seemed too quaint and…uneventful. I couldn’t even imagine my life being this simple. I would die of boredom, surely.
After all I’ve been through with Moe, Thurik and Thalia, everything else was just unimportant. I knew I couldn’t just stop and slow down. It’s been a long way since I left Mordentshire and I can’t look back now. I’ve seen too much. I’ve got too much more to do.
A pained expression crossed Sophia’s face as she recounted her journey.
“Remember me?” this question entered her mind and interrupted her thoughts. Sophia looked up and saw only the statue of some long unknown hero in the town’s square along with the normal people milling about. “Over here!” the masculine voice laughed again.
She turned her head and there he was. Stepping out of the shadow, taller than the other villagers by at least a head. Somehow he was more handsome than she remembered. His pale golden hair flowed past his shoulders, she could see his deep green eyes sparkle with a mischievous smirk, and she found herself smiling. “How could I forget you, Fabian?”
He answered her by smiling. Starting in a direction to her right, he walked with a confidence that bordered on arrogance. He was wearing a deep black velour cloak over a green and black tabard that matched his eyes.
“Right this way,” he said, bowing too gallantly as if I was royalty but still smiling. I began to follow him back towards the inn called the Bolting Stag. Upon entering, it seemed like every inn I’ve remembered, nothing standing out—only me. However, with Fabian standing next to me, I didn’t feel so ‘out of place’. Strange, but I almost felt at home. The dusty floorboards creaking under the strain of the people inside, the charred smoking fireplace and the noise of mugs clanking and sliding on tables. The inn-keeper, a rather plump chap with dark hair and ruddy cheeks nodded a greeting to Fabian, he nodded back. I watched the exchange curiously, but said nothing. I’ve learned not to be so quick in opening my mouth, or my mind for that matter. For some reason, I trusted him without question. He was an Elan and that meant more to me than I had realized.
Fabian led me back to the cellar downstairs. I quickly realized this was where we first met. Seemed like a lifetime ago – yet it had only been just a couple months. He opened the secret door that lead to the series of tunnels, dimly lit. He grabbed a torch from one of the walls to the left. I immediately thought of Thurik’s hammer. We never had to worry about a light source; I supposed it was something I just took for granted. Lost in her thoughts, Sophia stopped paying attention and tripped on the uneven cold stone floor—completely caught off guard, her face smacked right into Fabian’s back. He turned around too fast than humanly possible, catching her before she hit the ground. His strong arms were around her, making her blush and unable to express her gratitude. She looked up into his eyes, his laughing smile had disappeared. “Are you injured?” he asked with all seriousness.
Only my pride, I thought. Clearing my throat, I gathered myself. “No, I’m truly alright. It would take more than a clumsy trip to take me down”. I was trying not to be awkward, but he just made me lose all train of thought. “I’m actually quite capable of taking care of myself.”
He laughed merrily. “I’ve no doubt Sophia Shade.” Fabian backed away and turned about. We continued through this maze. I don’t think I could ever know how to get back, but that doesn’t worry me, after all, I am with my people, right?
“Fabian, do you know why I’m here?” I asked. Trying to fill the awkward silence and sound unaffected.
“Not really, though I suppose it has something to do with either your curiosity of your people or you must have really missed me,” he stated matter of factly. Even though I couldn’t see his face, I knew he must have been smiling. I just stared at the blackness of his cloak. It seemed to swallow the torch light. I’m glad he couldn’t see me blush.
I cleared my throat again, trying to gather my thoughts. “Exactly! Well…I mean, the first part of what you said…” I trailed off, losing all confidence. Bloody hell! What was my problem?!
“Haha! I missed you too!” he said, intentionally misinterpreting my meaning. “Many things have happened since you left. The north seems to constantly be at war with each other.”
“Yes, I had heard about that in Nova Vassi. Has the conflict reached this far south?”
We made a sharp turn to the right and the air seemed to warm.
“No, at least, not yet anyway. The noble families of Immol have their quarrels against each other, but for the most part they just follow the Count’s orders. The Thaani do as well and are happy to do so, so as not to draw any unwanted attention. However, my father and the rest of the Cassiells keep their true feelings about the Count, this realm, and our powers hidden from the Unenlightened. Our numbers are still too few.
“Someday, we Cassiells need to leave and find a place that’s not under such a ruler as Count von Zarovich. Somewhere we can study and live the way our people did before “the Silent Ones” overtook us. I, myself, relish at the thought of leaving here and obtaining vengeance for my people. We do not belong. It’s quite maddening, actually. There has been five generations of Cassiells in Immol, that’s four too many. I feel we have overstayed our welcome. Situations are coming to a head, and this conflict between the elves and the Count is not ours.” He turned around again to face me and grabbed my shoulders. “Sophia Shade, there is a higher purpose that brings you to us; I know it in my blood. The past several months my brother and I have grown more restless and less patient. I truly believe the fate of our people rests in our hands.” He paused, closing his eyes. “Apologies, I mean not to alarm you. Please, tell no one I’ve said this to you. Not yet.”
I nodded trying to find the right words. “I understand your need for discretion.” Fabian let go and turned abruptly, then continued on down the tunnel.
“By the way I can’t help but tell you, you smell like a field of the sweetest smelling flowers. It makes me want to just gather you up and breathe you in. When you fell back there, I almost did.” He spoke candidly and without fear.
I laughed nervously at the sudden, intimate comment. Quietly wishing he would have done so. “It’s not me, its Al-Andalus” I said.
“Al-Andalus? Is that some sort of perfume?” he stopped and turned towards me.
“No, it’s this!” reaching in my pack, I pulled out the orb. Grateful for the opportunity of the focus not being on me. It glowed with blue fire and swirled with power as if the sky was aflame and became trapped. I smiled at the pleasure just looking at it brought me.
“Unbelievable! Is that a magical orb? It is so strange, but why does it smell of flowers?” he asked.
“Some call it “The Desert Flower,” because of the fresh flowers it smells of. But, yes it is a magical orb. You wouldn’t believe how we found it if I told you nor the powers it not only unlocks within me but, I, within it as well.”
“It is strange, but I would believe anything you tell me, Sophia Shade. I can see you have been on quite the quest since I saw you last. Curious though, that you have returned alone and without your companions.”
My smile faded. My eyes turned downcast at the mention of Moe, Thurik and Thalia. Yes, even Thalia, in all her righteousness shall be sorely missed.
“The fact that you can wield something so great, tells me a clumsy trip couldn’t fall you at all.” He smiled trying to break my thoughts. Looking into his eyes took my breath away and made my pulse rise. “I should like to hear your tale, but first I must take you to my father, Rastlyn”, the brightness of Fabian’s voice seemed to diminish as he spoke of his father. "He is dying, I’m afraid. By the looks of him, he should have already been so, but he seems to be holding on to something, for a reason I cannot guess, until I saw you in the square… Come, we are very nearly there.”
The catacombs of their headquarters hadn’t changed overmuch. It consisted of one main hall that splintered off into other rooms, some doors were open, and others closed. The round, domed ceilings of gray bricks, faded tapestries depicting violent scenes I know nothing of, simple but functional furniture. It warmed my heart to be in a place free of ridicule. I closed my eyes and took a long deep breath of fresh flowers and exhaling very slowly. I could feel my mind relax which seemed to sharpen my focus, somehow. When I opened my eyes, Fabian was just standing there, staring at me. I blushed.
“You seem much less tense,” he smiled. "Perhaps you are in the right place at the right time. Fate brought you here, the purpose, perhaps my father will know. Come right this way.”
I followed his outstretched arm towards the back of the main hall to a double door as thick as Thurik. Fabian opened one of the doors and motioned for me to step through.
Though the room was dimly lit, it revealed an old graying man, reading a book through polished spectacles. Shelf after shelf behind him was filled with books, of all sorts: books of history, map books, and books of old folk lore among others. “Father, I have returned.” The man shakily lifted his head and smiled. He then looked to who Fabian had with him. He gave a reluctant smile, trying to conceal the worry he had for her.
“Come in, my child! It is good to see you in good health! You look as spirited as ever, yet there is a new wisdom in your eyes. That is a good thing! For last you were here, you seemed much too young”, he stated good-naturedly. His words were weak sounding similar to dried leaves blowing over stone in a light breeze.
“Thank you for welcoming me to your home,” I bowed and moved closer to hear his soft spoken words. “Apologies, Rastlyn, but what do you mean too young?”
Rastlyn smiled and looked at Fabian who seemed to be studying the cover of a book rather closely and all of a sudden.
“In due time, my dear. I would ask to what do we owe this honor of your presence, but I believe you are here to know more about your people.” I nodded. Rastlyn patted the quilt, motioning for me to sit. I did eagerly wanting to know more. "I know you would like to rest after your long journey, but Time is near and I know not how much she will give me.”
Fabian cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable. “Yes, Fabian, why don’t you go fetch your brother, Derrick?” said Rastlyn. Fabian turned on his heel and left the room. "I shall be brief child, but I want to tell you how we came to be here.”
“Two thousand years ago, too much time for anyone, including me, to comprehend, my father’s line became enslaved to the Silent Ones I’m sure you remember me telling you of them last time you were here. Thirty generations of Cassiells fell beneath the dark power and will of their reign of terror, in a bloody invasion unrivaled by any before or since.”
“The Silent Ones, had come from the east, too fast for my father’s armies to mobilize, too fast for the scouts to warn. They ripped two thousand years of peace in our world to shreds, and scattered those shreds among the bodies of my kin. They fought bravely, but still they were overtaken, and the Elan bloodline was all but destroyed. I was, and now my sons, are the only Elans left, all the others are buried in shallow graves, or left to the hellish creatures of Bluetspur.”
“And so, 82 years ago to the day with no choice, but to live enslaved or die escaping, I took up the challenge along with a fellow Cassiellian. He managed to obtain one of their scepters, it was made of a strange liquid that solidified through a magical process, I believe here they would call it ‘amber’, though its material is not of this realm. I rallied remaining Cassiells to me when I was little more than a child of twenty, and led us out of our lands with our lives. Only twelve of us made it out alive. The fellow Cassillian I mentioned was named Edgar Shade, who found his way to Mordent and hasn’t been heard from since.”
My eyes drowned in emotion at the mention of my father’s name. I felt guilt at not remembering his face, but I was just shy of three when he died. I did not know him. Now everything seemed to fall into place and become more confusing all at once. My hand instinctively moved to the orb under my robes. My father’s orb, I now realized, from the Silent One’s scepter. I pulled it out and held it with a new tenderness.
He smiled a knowing smile. "Sophia, I can feel the power and unrest in you. I know you to be an Elan as well and it is imperative to unlock that power within you. For now it’s your turn, along with my sons to bring our people vengeance and into the new age. The once ancient prophecy shall come to fruition:
‘Hair aflame, heart of might will hold the sky, thrust unwillingly
a Gifted child possessing the powers of the magical gods long past –
shall lead the revolution against the Silence into the heart of the epic struggle
that shall span a millennia, a conflict between the Dark and the Enlightened.
The child must find the Keepers of the ancient Prophecy – each of whom
holds a single piece of the key to saving the Enlightened from the Darkness.’
“Each of my sons hold a piece of the key around their neck, though they do not know its value. You will know when the time is right to lead your army of Keepers to Bluetspur and end their reign of slavery. For now you are not nearly ready. You must first learn what you are up against. You must kill one of the Silent Ones and live. Here is a map, my child, keep it safe. It will show you how to get to Bluetspur.” This last word made Rastlyn cough sharply. When he could cough no more, blood stained his lips as he took his hand away. “My child, your life shall never be easy, but it shall be great.” His breath came in raspy waves. One could hear the blood in his lungs choking out his life.
“Rastlyn! Rastlyn, you cannot leave yet!” I yelled at him, angry he was leaving me so soon.
Fabian and Derrick entered the room to find me sobbing and offering Rastlyn what comfort I could. Both brothers rushed over to help me up, Fabian stayed by his dying father while Derrick helped me to my room. Through my grief, I suddenly realized they were twins, though Derrick had a beard, though he kept it groomed and wore his hair shorter than Fabian. He offered me words of comfort, saying his father should have passed months ago, but still clung to life. My coming must have been the reason. Derrick was much more serious than Fabian, his clothes were that of a woodsman, dagger on his side, faded brown leather shoes. With the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen. He smiled making the crow’s feet stand out on his face.
My tears were that of grief over Rastlyn’s passing. Yet also, relief of knowing who my family is, of happiness of knowing and of gratitude for the knowledge of it all.
After the funeral, our journey had begun…
We made it to the Bluetspur; the map that Rastlyn gave to me showed us the way through the series of underground mazes and finally into a well-hidden portal.
The black void of a sky loomed over us like some shadow of doubt with its edges constantly aflame, yet never burning further than the horizon. The horizon made me think of the torture of the souls that have been tormented over centuries of slavery and mutilation. We had been walking for days Fabian, Derrick, I and now Trevor and Saira (whom were once slaves until they came away with us) following what we had hoped to be the way back. In truth no one had any idea. The starless night shone high upon our backs. We had managed to kill a Silent One. Barely making it out with our lives, and permanently scarred for life. My mind was still weak from their months of torture.
We were all captured – all of us. For almost 8 months we starved and labored until I began to lose all hope. My only saving grace of sanity was that Derrick and Fabian managed to stay by my side. I cannot go into detail of what The Silent Ones made me do, I cannot bare it.
I closed my eyes and my mind brought me back about three months ago. Fabian doing ‘penance’ for standing up for me. They had his body laid out and a rope tied to each arm and leg. Fearsome creatures pulled in opposite directions in tandem from some unknown silent command. Stretching and his breaking bones. One of the worst things about penance for anyone here was we all were made immobile and forced to watch, even partake in the torture. In this case, I was made to tie the ropes. Tears started down my cheeks as this memory unfolded. I could hear the snapping of his wrists. I shuddered.
When it was over, I was at his side trying my best to heal him, though words were all I had. His head was on my lap as I stroked his pale golden hair. ‘Why do you keep doing this to yourself, Fabian? I am strong and can take my own punishment.’ We had this conversation every time this happened.
“So you remain indebted to me’ he smiled. ’When we get out of this, I fear you must pay what you owe.” I had no idea what he meant.
Breaking my thoughts, I looked up and I saw Fabian, motion for the rest of the group to rest.
I sat on a rock I looked about my surroundings. There was vast rocky wasteland everywhere with a sky that never changed. The land was alien, unlike any I had every seen. What I would have given for a glimpse of a single blade of grass. This must be the living hell for all beings, perhaps where Thalia’s soul could have gone, if the holy symbol was not returned. I had listened as the others talked about the maddening effect the silence had on our minds. I had seen it myself, the Madness. Some said that those who went mad were being taken to another world where there was green as far as the eye could see. Others said the Madness was a punishment, sent to purge the race of all sinners.
Trevor was glaring at Saira. “What are you staring at?” he said. "We have been following Fabian for days now. Who made him leader? I sit back and watch us look to him. “Why?!” Trevor could feel something stir inside him. As he looked up and saw the confused look on Saira’s face he became enraged, the anger and hurt overwhelming him. He turned to Saira and lunged at her, a rock in his hand. All of us were too weak and couldn’t move to pull them apart for some reason. All we could do was watch.
The two of them struggled for a while, but slowly Trevor got Saira on the ground, a rock held high above his head. Fabian quickly came to his senses, but before he could utter a word Trevor brought the rock crashing down on her face. Saira almost cried in the few moments before her death. Now Saira lay crushed on the cool rocky ground, yet another victim of the Madness. Trevor wept, for he had just crushed his wife to death with a rock, such was the curse of this Madness of silence. We wept, for we could do nothing to stop this and were forced to watch it happen. Trevor would not be moved from her body. We had to leave him behind—his fate sealed.
We crested the last outcropping and suddenly the surroundings started to seem familiar… Energized by this revelation, I forged ahead. “We found it! We found it at last!” tears were streaming down my face. Jumping down from the boulder, I turned inward and saw the cave we came through about 9 months ago. The three of us remaining went through the entrance of the cave, opened the portal, and found ourselves on the cold stone floor of the tunnels underneath Immol.
We wept. We wept with joy.
Then the most unexpected thing happened to Sophia the following day. Fabian came to her room, “It is time for you to pay up, Sophia. You owe me and you know you do” he said. His cheeks still gaunt from lack of food and months of torment.
Angry at his sudden outburst, and impossible request, “I have no idea how you want me to pay you back for those months of torture! It would take a lifetime to repay that debt!” I exclaimed.
“Exactly!” he said covering the distance from the doorway to her side. “Sophia, will you marry me? I would fight by your side for the rest of time and spend my life saving you from any and all punishment. Till my last breath, Sophia, I will love you.”
Sophia looked into his eyes, there was no hidden smirk, they just radiated his sincere feelings. A single tear rolled down her cheek, her heart breaking at the sudden emotion, “I would be honored” she breathed.
He embraced her wholly and without abandon. The fierce protectiveness they felt for each other was palpable…