The Things We Remember
Disclaimer: Any place or character of Lufia 2 belongs to the creators of the Lufia series. Any other place, character or idea belongs to me.
Title -> The Things We Remember
Ch -> 1 -> A peaceful beginning
He looked within the maze that was the Forest of Eserikto. It's beauty paled to no other, it's trees reaching higher than any other woodland. It was the place that both mirrored and absorbed what peace was left of the world of Lufia. The elf found his way to a cliff, blanketed with soft grass and ageless moss, drooping over the side of the overhang to the still pond below. High above were the trees, looking down to their little world beneath their vast trunks, covered in the faint light of green. Whatever sunlight could be allowed to escape through the leaves found its way to patches upon the emerald ground. He found the small gazebo, which he had been searching for, sitting on the edge of the cliff. Moss and vines wrapped themselves around the pillars of it, showing with each crack the age of the structure. He watched the world from within the marble of the columns, the newly disturbed foliage leaving ripples upon the surface of the pond below.
The elf he sat down upon the split stone of the gazebo without making a single sound, no noise to ward off animals looming nearby. "Such a beautiful place to watch the world from." He laid back, his arms resting behind a head of a long purple-blue hair. From the ruins of holes in the gazebo's roof, he could watch as the birds of the forests raced by; the leaves of the trees whirled around the flying animals with the whisper of the soft breeze.
Artea came here quite often, when he and his group of warriors were not busy practicing with weapons or magic. He often left his bow and quiver behind, for even in the eyes of a warrior, there was no need to bring weapons to such a serene, lovely place. You could easily lose yourself within the walls of the enchanted woodland, for even the ones who have lived in such a place their whole lives would find themselves amazed at how its pattern could shift, seeming entirely new with each time you dared to enter. Only the elves could truly find their way through without being lost in its beauty. Many a human must stop to admire this every time they passed, which led to their misfortune.
His long, pointed ears twitched slightly as the light footsteps of another elf could be heard behind him. But he did not rise in alarm; he knew who it was. Her movement was of a person of one.
"Milka, if you are to sneak up behind me, you should make sure I'm away from the edge. Unless you wish me to fall?" Artea laughed lightly, now rising from his spot to meet her, face to face.
The half-sized elf child peeked her blond, pigtailed head out from a nearby pillar and smiled broadly. "Fall? I do not wish for you to fall, Artea. If I wanted that, I would simply do this--" The child playfully shoved Artea backwards a few inches. Being an elf, her strength was much for a child, but it was no comparison to the taller elf that was Artea.
Milka began to back away as Artea inched forward. “Care to go for a swim? The water is very cool this time of year, you know.” He gently scooped her up from off the forest floor, clutching her in his strong arms.
"Don't you dare!" Milka squirmed in his grip.
Artea's grin only widened as he played his arms to be weak. "I wouldn't do that if I were you, unless you wish me to drop you in the lake." Since the sacrifice of Karyn, Milka's mother and close friend of Artea, the child had been under the close care of the older elf. He taught her not only in the art of magic, both combat and healing, but in archery as well. Over the years, Milka's "big brother" had been quite the instructor.
Milka's smile turning mischievous, she grabbed his arm as if to say 'if you throw me in, you will soon follow'. "I dare you."
With much ease, Artea tossed the smaller elf towards the pond, but as he did so, a strong gust of wind burst from below the child, causing her to levitate above the pond.
“Hmm...” Artea hummed to himself, watching the girl with sharp, blue eyes, a tad impressed by her growing magic abilities. “You finally learned how to levitate...but...” With a swift motion of his hand, Milka no longer found herself above the silvery surface of the water, but falling towards it instead, “with the slightest hint of opposing magic, you can't seem to hold it.” Artea peered over the edge of the cliff and down to a wet, disgruntled Milka. “And when you are in battle, that is what counts most.”
“I can hold it! If you weren't to knock me off!” Her voice, with a touch of humor, answered back. It was obvious she was no longer angry with him. Milka found to be a difficult challenge to stay mad with Artea. After all, he was simply doing this in order for her to better herself.
“If you cannot keep your power with me, how do you expect to fight in combat? The enemy will not be holding back as I am, Milka.” He gave that look, that gaze filled with his own childish innocence and the wisdom of lifetimes both come and gone. Then he smiled again, a line of white teeth showing through the green tint around them. “Need a hand, little one?”
“I am not little!” The child called upward, folding her arms before her chest, and rapidly kicking her feet to stay afloat. “And I don't need your help. I can do it myself.”
“Fine.” Artea, taking back his teacher role, sat down upon the floor of the gazebo and watched below with amusement as Milka attempted to get herself free. Though he knew well she would figure out how to levitate again, he still took it upon himself to be her guardian and watch over her until he could no longer do so. And he would not let her sit and brood there all day, he was simply trying to teach her to do things for herself, for there would be a day where he would no longer be there to watch over her.
After the war of Doom Island, Artea and Guy, the only surviving warriors of this battle, had returned to their towns as heroes. Though Guy had enjoyed most of this praise, Artea did not like many--humans and nonhumans alike--fussing over him. He would rather have had it the way it once was; sharing the honor with the other two who had originally earned more of this. But that was a fantasy never to come to pass. And as if that scar was not bad enough, Artea had to carry around a more physical wound. He had damaged his left eye in that long forgotten war. He hadn't been able to see very well from it, but as long as he had one good eye, Artea was still the best archer throughout the Land of Lufia.
“Mumera ze nala!” Milka cried out in her own native tongue. “Float!” With a slight grunt, Milka drifted up from out the water and came, with much strain, before Artea, who pulled her back to the safety of solid ground. On all fours now, she said between pants, “see? I told you...I could...do it...” She looked up at him through stands of golden hair.
“Very good work, little one.“ Artea reached a hand out to her. Milka took it, then fell into his arms, drained from her magic after struggling with the spell. “Sleep well.” He picked the resting child up, carrying her back to Eserikto.
Swollen looked the orange setting sun as it hung lazily among the streams of yellow, red and pink in the sky. Ginger tinted the world below as the glow of fireflies told of twilight. Milka had been resting since noon and stayed so even now as the sky grew dark. Artea remained by the window, his muscular, lean body poised and on edge, as if ready to fight the first thing to come into view. Elves were scattered about the town, mostly children playing with the fireflies and their mothers chasing after them, rushing them into their homes. At this time of the night Artea would usually take out his hunting party to patrol the area around Eserikto, but tonight Artea found himself lost in thoughts, watching now as the sun faded away to the milky light of the full moon.
“She continues to sleep.” Vetiliel, Milka's caretaker when Artea was away, came out from behind Artea, showing herself to him. Vetiliel had that way of coming and going with the winds and shadows of the new fallen night. She was one of the eight Elders among the elves, being one of the oldest.
“I hope I haven't pushed her too hard. She has much in the way of magic talent.” Artea still didn't dare tear his gaze away from the window, part of his soul yearning to be out in the fields and forests, fighting untold battles in the starlight.
Vetiliel's hand fell to Artea's shoulder. “She knows this. Do not fret over her. She understands more than you think.”
Artea turned now to regard Vetiliel's profile in the glow of the moon. She was tall and slender like any elf, though her height did not reach quite to Artea's. Her hair was white; perhaps it had turned that way from the countless crusades she had encountered and lived to tell. Her eyes were hollow, two pale blue circles, piercing the spirits of all she happened to look upon. But as Artea's lips moved to form words, the sound of distant booming could be heard.
Vetiliel's hand slid away from Artea's shoulder, as if she knew what he was about to do. He headed towards the door as two more crashes split the tranquility of the night. Not bothering to turn to her, Artea headed towards the door and grabbed for his quiver and bow, along with a long elvish sword. “Watch over Milka. I should be back before dawn's break.”
Elves came from out their homes to inspect the noise that had woken most of them from their slumber. Artea pushed through the gathering crowd, trying to reach the edge of town. But as he began to leave the village, another flash of light tore through the heavens, leaving in the charcoal sky streaks of blood red.
Ch -> 2 -> The Light In the Sky
Tia's world had been shattered by these past three years, then as soon as the slash in her fate came, it gradually returned to what she deemed to be indeed normal, only a few things now being altered. She continued her work in the tiny armor and weapon shop of her hometown in Elcid. But everyday was no longer brightened by the smiling, handsome face of a warrior now long forgotten to time. Fighters still passed by, sparing casual glances towards the pretty blue-haired girl and her inventory, both sitting quietly behind the desk.
Tia's life now consisted of only a few mere things; not much, only what was there to keep her busy as well as sane. She worked and what little money she received was used for the rent, food, and, if any was left over, a dress. She both knew and talked to the same people almost every day. Tia's world was now back to the way it once began.
Yet something inside her stirred. Perhaps it was the life she yearned for: to be free from her small cage, to be out within different towns, kingdoms and forests, once again battling powerful enemies to save the world. Tia in the past had been a fighter in training, doing her best to be both powerful in combat as well as combat magic, but now as the years moved on, Tia forced herself to work nonstop in order to forget that painful past, which often moved her to watery eyes.
Ilene, the woman who had once taken over Tia's shop for her when Tia had been on leave, now worked as a partner with the girl. She was a tall woman two years older than Tia, with a simple green dress, white apron and long blond hair, often braided back to keep from getting into her brown eyes. She was pretty in appearance and, similar to Tia, longed for adventure that would never come. But unlike the girl, Ilene did not work to forget, she worked for enjoyment.
“Tia, you have been working five hours straight. Would you please consider a break today?” Ilene peered over her friend's shoulder, watching the peaceful face of the girl, who now seemed to be in a dreamlike stare.
“A break...?” Tia scoffed, hopping from off the desk's stool and looking down upon the wooden floor beneath her white leather-clad feet. “A break from what? Life?” She gave a slight smile as not to worry Ilene and made her way back to the miniature house behind the shop, which now contained two beds: one for her and her friend. Tia never minded Ilene staying with her, for lately, she dreaded being alone. That and Ilene was a childhood friend, so her company was welcomed.
Ilene followed, not bothering to regard the two customers who had just wandered in. Tia sat down upon the edge of her bed, sinking slowly into cream colored sheets and cherry pillows. “Go outside on your breaks. Go...practice your warrior skills,” Ilene said, sitting down next to her. “You used to be quite the little fighter, remember?”
Tia laughed ruefully at both what she said and the sudden flow of distant memories that those words brought back with them. “Yes, I remember that. But I gave that all up, along time ago.”
“But it is such a waste, Tia. I can watch the shop while you practice. Besides, I could use the work. You have such talent, especially in magic. Don't let it all go to waste.”
Tia's sigh was all that answered her friend's queries. She fell back to the soft rose coverlet and closed her eyes, as if in deep thought. “Ilene, what is there to fight for? I have nothing left, not anymore. Where would I practice? Or more importantly, why would I practice?”
“This town no longer has a guardian. Perhaps they are what you should be fighting for.”
Tia now sat upright, searching Ilene's warm brown eyes for answers unknown. Ilene rested a sisterly hand upon Tia's soft cheek, smiling tenderly. “You can find someone to teach you again. Just because he's dead doesn't mean you should forever give up what you once loved most.”
Loved? Did I once love him as well? I thought I did... Tia nodded solemnly, patting her friend's hand, still on her face. “I'm going to take a small walk to clear my clouded head.” Tia once again left the tiny room, passed the customers, and opened the shop's doors to the peaceful night sky.
“A walk now? This late at night?” Ilene's worried voice came from behind her. “I meant to take a walk when it's daylight.”
Tia smiled slightly, now making her way from the doorframe. “I'll stay within the town, okay?”
Ilene leaned her head to the side, resting it upon the wooden frame. She said nothing, and Tia knew that Ilene would forever be concerned about her. The girl did not enjoy many people fretting over her, for she had enough of that when she returned to Elcid. But Ilene's worries were something Tia enjoyed, for she at least knew that someone watched over her with affection.
“Be back before dawn!” Ilene's now distant voice called out to Tia. She pushed herself off the door ledge and walked slowly back to her awaiting customers, still glancing wearily back over her shoulder to where Tia once was.
The fresh smell of the crisp night air flew about Tia, brushing her long hair in spirals off her slender shoulders. The moon's light gave the town below the tint of faint blue. Such a beautiful night... Such a lovely place... So do I feel so alone? There were a few villagers scattered about the town, chatting amongst each other or tending to their businesses, still open this late for travelers lost in the starlight. A few people waved to Tia from a distance, others regarded her with a friendly smile or a kind word. She made her way to the edge of her town, to where the wooden sign dwelled, among the blades of jade grass. But the beauty of the flora surrounding Elcid was not what called her attention. It was the brilliance of the fiery sprays in the sky.
“Fireworks?” A few townspeople questioned from behind Tia. A few children laughed with delight as they pressed their faces against their bedroom windows, watching the lights play in the heavens. Others watched, but more terrified in remembrance of a war long ago.
“Fireworks...this late at night?” Tia found herself walking, almost involuntarily, out of town to the forest that covered Lufia's surface. “Those aren't fireworks... It's...”
“Magic!” Ilene's voice could be clearly heard above the ponderings of the people. The woman had left her shop and found her way to Tia. “Tia!”
“Magic...” The girl repeated Ilene's words, mostly to herself than to any other. “But what does that mean?”
“Oh, they're so lovely!” Ilene had been apparently doing dishes after she waited on those customers, for a white dishtowel was thrown lazily over her shoulder as she clasped her hands together. “How clever! Magic used as fireworks!”
“No, that can't be it. Who would be so careless as to use magic like that?” Tia brushed back a few loose strands of soft hair that fell into her face from the cool spring's breeze.
“Over here!” The innkeeper was calling to the girls, but only Tia responded by glancing towards him and the small group of people now over by the other side of town. Tia tugged on Ilene's sleeve, forcing the woman to accompany her to the cluster of people, whether she really wished to or not. But Ilene didn't object, she was one for mysteries and to her this seemed one.
“What is it?” Ilene, out of breath from the lengthy run, pushed her way through the people. With Tia behind her, they made way to the innkeeper, who was kneeling besides a wounded person. The man's hands were covered in blood, apparently from the wounded person's shoulder, which had been penetrated by an arrow much like the ones in the quiver over his shoulder.
“Artea?” A woman questioned. “Wasn't he one of the four from the war with Doom Island?”
“Wow...that's amazing!” A second person shoved the woman out of his view.
“But why is he here?” This from an another.
“Out of the way!” Ilene thrust the two aside with ease, kneeling down besides the elf and the innkeeper. “He's wounded bad.” She began to reach to the elf's face to brush his hair from out his eyes, when he moaned slightly, causing her hand to recoil. Instead she used the towel over her shoulder to press upon the wound. “Shit, is he always this pale or is it from the loss of blood?” She looked towards Tia, as if she was to know.
“I never met him before now. I only heard of him.” Then she swallowed hard. “Maxim knew him, not me...”
Ilene motioned for the innkeeper and another man to come to her aid. “Help him up. We can take him to Tia's shop." Typical of Ilene to offer her home to a complete stranger. It was both her weakness and her best quality.
It was early morning when the crowd of questioning people died down and went back to their homes to discuss the newly found elf amongst each other. The sky remained dark, stained by the red of the fire that had previously scorched it. Ilene had the innkeeper and one of the townspeople laid Artea upon her own bed, then told them to tend to the group of curious citizens outside their shop.
Tia sat by Artea, on the edge of the bed, watching him with intent, hazel eyes. She brushed his purple hair gently from his face so as to get a better look at him, especially now in the pale light of a newly lit lamp. “He's so...”
“Beautiful.” Ilene's grin broadened as Tia smiled somewhat. She placed fists on her hips and nodded towards him. “Well, he is.” The candle's flames played over all three of their faces, giving the room an orange and yellow hue. Ilene rested a hand on Tia's shoulder, bringing her attention to the woman once more. “You stay with him. I'm going to get some hot water.” Then, with a chuckle as she turned back around to the sink, “you shouldn't stare at him so hard, you might burn a hole through his face.”
Tia blushed slightly and averted her gaze for a brief moment. “I can't help it. I have never seen an elf before. Particularly this close.” Her thoughts drifted for an instant as she began to twirl Artea's hair with her index finger, watching as he slept peacefully. “He can't be too badly hurt. His breathing is not labored.”
Ilene came back to the bedside, a tin bowl full of steaming liquid within her hands. “Here.” She handed Tia a towel, partially wet from the water. Tia gave a slight confused look, as if she did not know what to do with the towel, but Artea's crimson soaked shoulder gave her an idea.
“I think I need my dagger.” Before Ilene could ask why Tia had taken one from out the end table's drawer, she began to cut Artea's outfit until his shoulder was bare. Ilene grimaced. She hated seeing any outfit, especially such a beautiful elven garb, being given holes where they were not supposed to be. “I hope he doesn't mind...” Tia mused, breaking one end of the arrow in order to pull it from out his shoulder. After doing so, Ilene gave her something to bandage his wound.
“We can have a doctor in here first thing in the morning.” Ilene took the bloody towel and the tin basin back to the sink again. “Do you want me to watch over him until dawn?”
Tia simply shook her head. “You can sleep in my bed tonight, Ilene. I'm not tired now. Besides, I'm curious to why he's here. Why did he come to Elcid?" Ilene made ready to sleep as Tia continued talking, watching over him, dreaming of all that he must have seen and all that he must have done over the decades. “I want to be the first to ask him when he wakes...” She whispered before she blew out the dancing light of the candle.
Ch -> 3 -> The Quest Begins
“Tulka. Ze nala.”
Tia's eyelids fluttered upon hearing the soft whispering of another language, foreign to her. Was it in her head did these words call out to her? For a reason she did not know, part of her feared to open her eyes. But after a moment's hesitation, she did so, searching the sunlit room with drowsy eyes. Artea... Tia lifted her head from Artea's chest. Had she slept through the whole night? So much for watching over him...
Though he was still sleeping, Tia felt stupid for having told her friend she would stay awake throughout the whole night. With a little sigh, she rose from her half-sitting, half-leaning position, stretching out her weary limbs to the warmth of the sun. It seemed early in the morning, for neither Ilene, the first riser of the two, nor their elf companion had awakened yet. Taking one more glance to the elf--one more little take in of Artea's features--Tia made way to the small bathroom on the right-hand side. Soaking in a nice hot bath would take away her worries of the world for a short period of time. Even if it was to last ten minutes or so, that's all she would need to feel new for the day.
When Tia had shut the bathroom's door, Ilene opened one curious eye, followed by the next. “Late to bed early to rise? That's new!” Ilene's cheerful voice called out to her friend through the wooden door. Even this early in the morning that woman was jovial. “You didn't happen to fall asleep last night did you?”
No answer from Tia. Ilene laughed. “Then I suppose you didn't hear him talking in his sleep?”
Now that got her attention. Tia poked a wet head out from the opening in the doorway, a few strands of hair matted to her face. “He did? What did he say?”
“It was in his language. I don't know elvish.”
Tia made a disgruntled face, shutting the door once more. Ilene rose upright in Tia's bed, her sun colored hair in one vast knot. With a small grunt, Ilene stretched her feet to the cold wooden floor. She walked to the end table in order to retrieve a brush to fix her curls, placing it in her usual style of one braid. Afterwards, she started her regular routine of making breakfast, this time for three, just incase their company wanted any. “Company...” Ilene mused out loud.
By the time Tia was out of the bathroom, breakfast was nearly completed. She sat down at the kitchen table, trying best to keep her watchful eyes away from the elf. But Ilene was the first to inquire about him. “Should we wake him? He has been sleeping for some time.”
Tia smiled suddenly, something that seemed lost to her over the past few years. Such a gesture caused Ilene to do so as well, though it was fairly common for her. Tia leaned her head to the side, watching Ilene cook. “Do you think he will wake soon?”
“Perhaps we can pure water down his pants. That would wake anyone up.”
“Ilene, I think it's throwing water on peoples' faces that wakes them up.”
“Hey, believe me, that's just as good.” Ilene chuckled, turning back to her scrambled eggs.
Tia shook her head with a grin and came by the elf's side once more. She touched him gently, trying best not to startle him, though doing so would most likely happen. When she received no response, she gave a distressed glance towards Ilene.
“Call out his name, Tia.”
“Artea? Are you awake?”
The elf moaned slightly but didn't bother to open his eyes. Was he awake? She moved more purple hair away from his face in order to tell. He didn't react. If he was awake, Tia was sure he would not allow a complete stranger to touch him, yet alone on his face. She had heard about elves and their particular ways. They were not ones to be friendly towards humans.
Her sudden interest in the handsome elf was not only because of his race, but also the fact that he was one of the last to see Maxim alive. She had thought many a time of traveling to Tanbel to speak with Guy, but after these years, she no longer felt comfortable with traveling to the places the late warrior had once been. “Will he ever wake? Perhaps he will sleep forever.” Tia sighed, blowing her own long hair from out her own face.
“A little exasperated are we?” Ilene rested two plates full of eggs and toast upon the kitchen table. Taking off her apron and grabbing her bag, Ilene headed towards Tia and the elf. “The breakfast's on the table. Keep mine covered. I'm not much for cold eggs.”
Noticing her friend's movements towards the exit in the other room, Tia suddenly rose up from her kneeling position and followed Ilene to the door. “Where are you going?”
Ilene smiled as she grabbed her cloak from the hanger on the back of the front door. “The doctor, remember? I'm going to see if he's awake so I can bring him over here. Just stay with Artea until I return.”
“You want me to stay alone with him?”
“Don't worry. I never heard anything about elves biting.” Ilene's voice left with her as she headed down the path.
Tia frowned, and as she closed their door, leaned on its wooden frame so she could see the sleeping elf in the back room. Why am I such an idiot about these things? He won't hurt me. He helped Maxim out after all, so he must trust humans... She began to move towards the kitchen table when Artea shifted in bed, forcing Tia to halt in her progress. His left eye opened, but didn't move, as if he knew exactly where he was at that moment. And before she knew it, Tia found herself being pinned against her room's door by one strong elf body.
He was awkwardly close to her and for the first time since seeing him, she realized just how piecing his blue eyes were. Not only that, but his left eye was hollow with no pupil. One pale, silver scar ran down his eye and the line contected with the other half when he blinked. Once realizing who he had just pinned quite forcefully against the door, Artea immediately jumped back from her, a look of bewilderment and confusion plainly showing upon his face.
He raised once dark brow towards her and then began to glance about the sunbathed room. “Where am I?”
Tia, now pressing herself against the door as if she was frightened he would try something again, desperately struggled to find her own voice. But it soon became obvious he had scared her half to death. She slid quietly down the wooden frame till she sat on the floor before the doorway. Artea shook his head slightly, his hair flying in different directions, and an odd look crossed his face for a brief moment. He outstretched a hand to the maiden.
“Forgive me, Lady, but you scared me.”
Tia absentmindedly placed her small hand in his own, allowing him to pull her upright. “I scared you?” Tia began laughing, both with embarrassment and relief. The elf smiled as well, but faintly. “I thought you were going to kill me, Artea.”
“I did not recognize you. But you apparently do so with me. Have we met before?” Artea sat down upon the end table, clearly still very much drained.
“No. I know your name the way most humans do: reputation. Your battle on Doom Island gave you quite the legacy you know.” Then, casting her gaze unto the floor beneath their bare feet, “Maxim was my childhood friend.”
Artea's expression did not changed, but Tia could easily see the burden of regret he carried in his eyes. He blamed himself, and seeing this made her feel guilty for having brought the topic back to mind again. “Oh, no. I did not mean to--”
“No, it is something I must deal with. It is not your fault to inquire. He was your comrade as well.” Artea proceeded to move his left arm behind his back to support his sitting body, but an abrupt throbbing flare within his shoulder blade refrained him from doing so.
“You were hurt when you came here. You were found unconscious inside this town's walls with an arrow piercing your upper arm. I took it out while you were lying there. I don't know how infected it is, but my friend just left not too long ago to get you a doctor.” Tia did not bother to hide her uneasiness, for it showed through quite well as she played with the ribbons on her dress. She did not have her vest on, so she had no sleeves; her slender shoulders staying bare.
“No, I do not need a doctor. I can heal myself. But thank you anyway.” Artea clutched his shoulder with his right hand, leaning his cheek against it like a wounded animal. For a fleeting moment, he appeared so vulnerable, so human. But the reality came back to her once more. He was not human and that was what she feared the most. Artea looked up at her, his eyes seeming unbearably icy, causing her to avert her own gaze in a mix of emotions she did not care to feel at that instant.
“You are scared of me.” Artea said this both with wonderment and amusement. “Why? I will not harm you. What is your name?” He came down from sitting on the small table and began inching towards her.
“I'm Tia. And to answer your next question, you are in the town of Elcid.” Tia did not want to appear rude, but as the elf came closer, she began to back away again almost instinctively.
“You do not come across many elves do you, Tia?” Artea's smirk widened as he continued to near her.
Tia moved herself against the door of her room, his own grin causing her to smile as well. “Is it that obvious?”
“I do not bite.”
“So I have been told...”
“Then please do not look to me like you would an enemy that has just trapped you in your home.” Artea stopped moving towards her, waiting for her to do so instead.
Tia kept her hands clutched together and staying downward before her white and rose colored dress, making entirely sure she did not lock gazes with him. “I'm sorry. But having an elf pin me against the door after I had just woken up isn't really something I usually begin my day with.” She stood before him, still keeping her gaze to the floor, and noticing both their lack of shoes.
He raised her chin with his finger, peering into her eyes as if he could see her past in them. Perhaps he could, for what he said next caused her to believe so. “What he wanted the most to see one more time was his son. But he did speak of you once when we had stopped by an inn to rest. He was very fond of you.”
Tia flinched away from his gentle touch; it seemed to bring tears to her eyes as his skin brushed against hers. “But not as fond as I wished him to be.”
“I do not mean to bring unwanted emotions back to you again, but you seemed to have wanted to know what he last thought of. I'm quite well with reading those kinds of things.” He no longer smiled, fearing he had prevented the girl from ever wanting to go near him again.
“Do you mind if I asked you what happened?” After speaking those words, Tia finally met with his smoldering gaze. “You looked as if you had been in a vicious battle.”
“I do not know myself exactly what happened or how I got myself here from such a distance. I left my village to search for the streaks of fire I had seen in the sky last night...then...” The elf trailed off as his hand searched behind his body for the bed near him. Finding it, he sat upon it, feeling himself being engulfed by the weariness of much needed rest.
“I saw that light too. Do you think that maybe you warped yourself here?”
“Perhaps.” He pushed himself up from the bed, but Tia's hand unexpectedly fell to his shoulder, causing him to sit back down. “No...” He said, grabbing her hand, quietly taking it from off his upper arm. “I cannot rest now. I must get back to Eserikto. I do not know what that magic was used for, but for all I know, it has done something to my people.”
Artea grabbed his boots, upon the floor near the end of the bed, and began putting them on. As much as he would have enjoyed answering her queries about Maxim, his people's safety was in question and he could not rest knowing this--knowing that perhaps something could have happened to Milka. Throwing his bow and quiver over his broad shoulder, he headed towards the door of the next room.
“Wait!” Tia, throwing on her boots as well, jumped in front of him and the wooden exit, and before she had the time to rethink her actions, she was speaking. “Let me come with you then.”
“What?” Artea was once again finding himself amazed by her. But before he could question her words as well as actions, she was strapping around her waist her two small daggers attached to a leather belt.
“You are wounded, whether you can heal yourself or not. I can use magic as well and I was once trained by a great warrior of Lufia.” She finished attaching the second blade to the leather strap and stood before him once more with arms crossed before her chest. “I can help you just incase something is wrong in your village.” Please, my only chance for freedom lies with you...
“You are very brave as well as stubborn, my Lady. But I cannot put you in harm's way. And what about you friend? Will she not worry over you?”
Tia grabbed for a pen and paper and scribbled down upon it, crunching it in her fist as she thrust it into his face. “I will leave her a note.”
Ch -> 4 -> Breathless
Tia never knew if Ilene had received the note she had tacked onto the door before she so foolishly followed that blasted elf. But her love of the forest that covered this world and her heart of adventure outweighed her rational mind. The woodland was simply lovely; it's trees above allowing the sunlight to drift in shafts along the leaf carpeted earth. The forest held within it the warm of the east as well as the shadows of imps scattered about. But even with the shade of much needed cold, the air still remained warm, perhaps from the fire that had scorched the heavens the night before.
Artea lingered ahead, quietly surveying the area. Every now and then he would glance back towards the girl, as if he had taken it upon himself to protect her. With that thought in mind, Tia called out in front of her to the elf, “I can take care of myself you know!”
Artea's unmistakable laughter filled the hot air around them. “Of course you can, Tia; I was simply making sure you wouldn't have to bother with it.” He waited until she smiled back before he continued on. It didn't take him long--for both.
Tia had never laughed as much or smiled as often in the past three years as she did now. Artea stopped walking once more, resting his bow and quiver along side a riverbank. Even though he didn't mention it, he had stopped for her to rest, for they had been traveling for quite some time. Though elves were much more capable when it came to this sort of thing, Artea didn't mind the break, as well as the company. He didn't look to Tia as a burden, for she could indeed take care of herself and had proved so with little things along the way.
Tia knelt down beside the fresh rippling liquid of the pond, dipping her hands into the water and pouring it down her face as well as neck and arms. The small beads of silver descended along her face, instantly cooling off her hot skin. As Tia looked up, she caught Artea's gaze with her own and blushed slightly.
“What's the matter?” She quickly asked, neither angered nor annoyed, simply trying to change the subject before it became anymore awkward. Tia combed her lengthy blue hair with her own long fingers, pulling it back into a messy ponytail within her hands, then letting it go once more to tumble to bare shoulders.
Artea's lips quirked into a grin, lighting up his already beautiful face. “You are simply...fascinating.” Tia would have answered that with another witty remark if it wwas not for the elf, who was beginning to take off his shirt.
Tia gaped dumbfounded for a moment, her jaw dropping slightly. “Artea, what are you doing?”
“Well, incase you haven't noticed, it's fairly warm.” Artea said, as he balanced on the balls of his heels. Flashing a quick smile, he dropped backwards into pond. Tia scrambled over to where he had just went under and watched as his head poked back up from the water's glassy surface.
“Care to join me?”
When Tia could finally tare her gaze away from the wet elf, she hastily looked to the ground. “No, I will not join you.” She smirked slightly and rose to her feet, walking to the other end of the river.
Artea swam over to her, a look of question in his sapphire eyes. “Why are humans so shy?”
“It's called modesty... Do you elves not have it?” She walked along the riverbank as Artea swam beside her. Finally seeming as if she found her certain spot, she sat down, taking off her boots and dipping her feet into the water.
“Yes, I suppose. I guess elves are just more open than you humans in some aspects.” He smiled up at her, the water silently slapping against him as he floated from the shoulders up in cool liquid.
“Not when it comes to emotions from what I hear.” Tia splashed water onto him with her feet.
He splashed back, more forcefully. “It depends on how you look at it.”
“Why do you never answer me forthright?” She did not expect a reply from him, and she did not receive one either. He simply shrugged and emerged under the water's surface once more, soon appearing back where he first had entered.
Tia watched him as he pulled himself out from the pool of silver, beads of liquid rolling down the lean muscles of his arms and chest. Under the faint light, he seemed to glow divinely and her breath caught in her throat, nothing coming to mind incase he happened to glance over towards her. She would have nothing to say if his gaze locked with hers once more. And Artea dared not to look upon her himself, in fear that this might occur.
The warmth of morning soon gave way to the cool breeze of twilight, the fireflies again gracing the forest with their splendid glow. They danced around in the moon's faint light, looking like wandering stars among the fields of Lufia. Artea found the first thing closest to shelter for him. It was a large weeping willow with a wide trunk that provided a platform blanketed with soft moss, three people wide and four people long. The leaves of the tree hung downward, covering the little spot up top as if curtains had been drooped over it. Typical location for an elf to choose, but Tia was a bit shady about sleeping in a tree, though she knew it was perfectly safe, especially since it seemed roomy enough on top. That and Artea would be with her, and as this thought crossed her mind, it caused her to smile once more and she felt herself redden.
Noticing her bothered expression, he stretched a hand out to her, looking a tad weary himself. “Do not worry, Tia, it is entirely safe up here.”
“So I take it you sleep in trees frequently then?” Tia took his hand again, not needing a response, for the answer seemed obvious. They both climbed the tree, neither having trouble reaching the top, for Artea was an elf and probably had done this most of his life and Tia had been climbing trees with Maxim since they were children.
Artea parted the leaf curtains to reveal the site once they reached their desired location. The elf sat down rather fast, slouching against the back of the remainder of the trunk, which continued upward to other platforms, higher still through the emerald leaves. Tia tilted her head to the side, kneeling down besides him and placing a warm hand over his left shoulder, where his pervious wound lied.
“It's infected, isn't it?” He flinched as she placed her fingers over his skin. “You should have let someone look at it before you insisted on leaving so soon.”
“Having second thoughts?” He smiled weakly.
“Never. Not about coming if that's what you mean. About letting you leave without having someone heal you, yes I do.”
He laughed, shaking his head as he closed his eyes, his seemingly uneven hair thrashing his cheeks. “You're as bad as Milka.” He whispered, his voice barely audible.
“Who's that?” Without thinking, she began tracing different parts of his face. Instinctively, he placed a hand over hers, causing her to realize what she was actually doing. But for one reason or another, she liked the feel of his skin.
“She's a child I look after now after her mother died.”
“Tell me about where you come from. What is your village like? I know nothing other than what I hear second hand...” Tia brush a few strands of his hair out of his stunning eyes, now slightly open, peering at her. She knew he was ill owing to the infection, but would he allow himself to suffer under his own stubbornness just like his wounded eye? She moved closer to him, resting her head on his chest, hearing his heart beating slowly. “Are there many people in your town?”
Artea stroked the back of her head, his hand sweeping through her hair, a few strands of her midnight blue locks twirling around his fingers. “There's a good number, yes. It is very far from Elcid, so I don't expect we'd be arriving there anytime soon.” He said the last part with a slight, quiet chuckle.
Tia shifted so she was now facing him, her gaze locking with his, something she had been trying to avoid all night. “That's okay, I don't mind," she said, noting how far away his voice had sounded. Perhaps from the memories of a time long ago. And because of this, she dreaded for him to sleep, this time fearing he might not rise again. Tia placed a finger on his lips, which were slightly open, tracing them with her nail.
“Why's that?” He whispered, feeling her heart speed up within her chest, pressed against his own. Her breath caught again in her throat as he placed a hand gently on her cheek. You're so beautiful... It seemed unusual to him that any other would make his heart pound so fast, and before he could stop himself, he was pressing his lips against her own.
Tia fell into his strong grip, her mind swirling with her own diverse emotions. Not wanting him to for that instant, he broke the kiss, both slightly breathless. She receded from him then; however, he moved forward, kissing her for a second time until she let out a slight gasp. Tia placed her index finger to his lips, as if telling him to be quiet.
“Don't. It hurts too much coming from you.” Tears dampen her eyes. He knew well she meant emotionally not physically, but what he did not understand was how it could carry such pain coming from him.
Artea rested his forehead against hers, his fingers moving from the cool skin of her shoulders to her face, cupping it within his hands. Both their eyes remained closed as the wind streamed through their hair. When Tia opened her eyes again, he was watching her intensely with his those orbs of blue. His eyes no longer seemed detached at that moment, but more familiar and tender. It stung her heart that she felt something for someone she barely knew.
Artea deemed himself stupid for having his emotions take control of him for that time, something he never allowed. But around her, he felt so suddenly human. But I'm not human. A bewildered looked crossed Artea's face and he moved away from her, in spite of himself. Tia laid her folded hands in her lap amongst the white and rose fabric of her dress, bowing her head as if she was a child who had just committed a deadly sin without knowing the consequences. Seeing her in anguish pained him as well, though he did not know why.
“Tia...” He began, reaching out and holding up her hand with his own, palm to palm. Her hand looked small against his own. The elf couldn't find the words to complete what he desired to say, but the look within his eyes seemed to speak much more than his words could describe. With that, he felt her face once more, brushing away her now falling tears.
“You need rest.” She nodded as she sniffed, placing a hand over his heart. Tia rested her head in the arc of Artea's neck, and his arms wrapped around her. “I think we could both use some.” He did not bother to answer, feeling the weariness of his own body rush over him.
Ch -> 5 -> A New Ally
The morning's new light swept through the jade leaves where Tia and Artea slept. Some of the leaves still fell silently upon the winds soft whisper. Artea woke first, if it could have been called waking, for elves were not ones to sleep fully. Though some did, Artea did not care to make it something he did occasionally. The dawn was cooler than it was the day before, chilling even Artea in its cold breeze.
He smiled warmly as he watched Tia next to him, resting peacefully. Gazing upon her filled him with an odd sense of harmony that he found hard to hold onto, especially after the long forgotten battle of Doom Island. Brushing long strands of blue from her closed eyelids, he continued looking at her for some time, as if he wished to remember her face always incase they would ever part. But his fingers pulled back, clenching slowly. Artea laid back on the soft moss again, surveying the heavens through the leaves and branches of the forest. Though it was nearly impossible to see it through the emeralds of the woodland, the sky was a lovely shade of blue, touched by pink near the world's surface.
Artea moved Tia's head gently from off his shoulder, so as not to wake her, and left to scout the area. It had been only a day since their departure of Elcid, so Sundletan wouldn't even be a half a day's walk from this point on.
Climbing down from the tree's frame, and slinging his bow and quiver over his shoulder, the elf made his way to the pond nearby. He knelt down before the riverbank and cupped his hands in the clear liquid, trapping the water within his fingers. But before he could move to splash it upon his face, his ears twitched slightly to the sound of close footsteps. It was not Tia's movements; he knew that, for she wound not sneak up behind him with footsteps particularly made not to be heard. That and the footsteps were not female, in fact they weren't human.
Artea swung around, an arrow fitted to his bow faster than the eye could follow. But all he saw before him were the falling leaves of the trees, drifting gradually to the ground. His eyes narrowed. Someone's watching... He began wandering throughout the trees, making sure not to go off too far from where Tia slept, glancing over his shoulder every now and then.
But when the distinct snap of a twig seemingly echoed throughout the stillness of the woodland, Artea let his arrow go in the direction of the sound. The slender object streaked past the shrubs, gracefully missing the leaves with its precise movement, and hitting its target with a reassuring thwack. The elf parted the bushes to reveal the body of an orc. “An orc?” Artea pulled his arrow from the creature's body with very little effort, as well as blood loss, and looked the pointed instrument over in his grasp.
“Odd. What would an orc be doing out here?” But Artea's thoughts were disturbed by a dagger whisking by his head. The blade narrowly missed his cheek. It soared through the trees and imbedded itself into another orc, who had been hiding in the shadows before him; the body fell limp onto the newly dampened earth.
Artea raised a brow and turned back around to see who the owner of the weapon happened to be, though the elf had an idea to whom it belonged. His lips curved into a slight smile, his tense shoulders visibly relaxing as he lowered his bow. “Tia. Good aim.”
She smiled, walking past him to the fallen orc to collect her weapon. “No problem.” Then, with her grin fading, apparently just realizing the creature she had killed, “since when are there orcs near Sundletan?”
“I don't know, but I'd hate to be the one to have to connect it with those lights more than a day ago.” Artea gently grabbed Tia's arm, but hard enough to move her along, knowing well orcs traveled in groups. And if two had found their way here, the rest would soon follow.
“You truly believe that there is a connection between that thing and the lights the other day?” Tia moved her hand back when Artea let his grip go from her wrist. Her dagger was still in her right hand's grip, looking as if she was ready to plunge it into another orc.
He simply shrugged, dismissing his worried expression and placing back on his impassive mask. “Remember last time there were lights in the sky?”
A knot formed in Tia's stomach, though she dared not show it upon her face. She merely nodded and followed him as he walked along, attaching her dagger back onto her belt. “So much for fireworks...”
Their hasty movements got them to the town of Sundletan before the midday set in. The town had not changed much from the last time Tia had been there, not too long ago. She did come here quite often with Daisy to bring back the village's famous tea to Daisy's grandfather. Yet every time she came here, it only ached more than the day before. To hell with time heals all wounds...
“Interesting town.” Artea surveyed the little town with much curiosity, his eyes lighting up with each laugh of a child, with every little nod of the town's people, with every glance in his direction. People were beginning to realize who Tia had just stepped in with. “Why are they staring at me?”
She smiled, watching Artea observe the land with humble respect. “Perhaps it is because you are an elf.” Tia laughed, slipping her arm into Artea's and dragging him further into town. “Or perhaps it is because you are one of the people who have saved the world from certain destruction.”
“I see...” Artea moved out of the path of two children, running in-between the crowds of townspeople. “So, do all humans stare when they recognize someone?” He asked, still watching the children as they chased each other.
“No. Well, some do. But they do it mostly because they do not know you personally.”
“Hmm,” he simply hummed, allowing Tia to pull him along.
Artea did not bother to ask exactly where the young woman was taking him, for he did not have another escort. Some girls waved to Tia from a distance, keeping a gap between them for one good, pointy-eared reason. Others did come over, but Artea's annoyed glares moved them along hastily. He did not intentionally wish to frighten the townspeople; he simply did not desire to have them watch his every move.
“Here we are.” Tia pushed the elf through the pub doors of the town's tavern. And before he could protest, he was being shoved to the counter. “Stay here while I get a room at the inn.”
“Room? What for?” Artea asked, half conscious of what Tia was actually saying, for he was busying himself with watching the people watch him.
“Well, I don't know about you elf, but I would love to take a shower and get a little something to eat.” Tia reached into one of her pockets and handed the confused elf some gold. “Get us something while I'm gone, okay?” She smiled at his perplexed expression, “and don't worry, they don't bite.”
Artea raised a brow as she left. “I suppose you would never bother to ask if I would bite them?” From the exit, Tia stuck out her tongue, the pub doors swinging closed behind her. He smiled at her childish gesture, then, realizing she hadn't told him where the inn was, his grin faded and he sighed. Looking over the golden coins in his hands, he glanced to the bartender making conversation with two blond-haired girls by the end table.
“Human, what's edible here?”
The barkeep shot a look over at Artea, then realizing what he was, took a second glance. “Not from around here, eh?” He gave a crooked smile, leaving the two women and striding up to the elf. “Edible depends on your taste. What can I get you?”
“What do you have?”
The bartender looked confused suddenly. Many people that came here knew what they were ordering ahead of time, and for a brief moment, Artea thought the man had forgotten what he had in stock. “Uh, well, what is most popular here is green tea...”
“Green what? Oh, yes, I think I know what that is. Not that great tasting if you ask me.” Artea brushed his falling hair out from his face, looking at the man fully for the first time. The barkeep noticed the elf's left eye, looking as if the light of the gods had finally graced him when his face lit up with a smile.
“You're that elf from the Doom Island War, ain't you?” The barkeeper's smile widened, and he nodded as he cleaned his glasses used by customers already gone. “Then you know Maxim. He used to come here quite often.”
“Yes, I did.” Artea averted his gaze, allowing his hair to hide his eyes once more. “Why do you care, human?”
“Well, I know him myself, or is to say knew him. Not too well, but well enough to know what a good man he was. Good warrior too. Say, is Tia doing all right without 'im? I know it has been some time now since he's been gone, but I figured the girl's--hey! Where are ya goin'?”
The barkeep placed his glass down as Artea headed for the pub doors. But the elf did not bother to answer him, or regard him with a glance. He merely kept walking out onto the dirt path once more, searching the village for its inn. He felt uncomfortable speaking of his lost ally, especially to a man that had already started to annoy him before he had actually begun to talk.
Walking around slowly, Artea felt a small wrench in the pit of his stomach. Watching the people of this village made him think of his own, and what had become of it. He already knew the lights in the sky--the night prior to all this--had been alarmingly close to his home. His wanderings had absentmindedly brought him to the inn, causing Artea to stop abruptly. He had almost walked into the front door.
Making his way inside, and briskly passing a few people checking out from their rooms, Artea stopped before the front desk. “You didn't happen to see a pretty girl with long blue hair pass by here?” He asked the innkeeper, already moving down one of the hallways.
“Tia? Yes, she came here. Down the hall, last door to your right.” The man then tilted his head in the direction the elf had ventured, leaning over his desk. “Do you wish for a room, sir?”
“No, that's quite all right. Her's is fine.”
The innkeeper's brow raised at that last remark and he scratched the back of his head slowly. “Very...well...”
“Tia?“ Artea opened the door, knocking on his way in. He saw her seated in front of a bureau, to the far left of the room by the window, her hair pulled up in a messy bun and her skin glistened with the droplets of the shower she had just come from. He grinned slightly upon the sight of her, his boots echoing on the wooden floor as he walked over behind her.
She smiled up at him, watching him in the reflection of the mirror, his long hair falling onto her shoulders as he bent over her, kissing Tia on the top of her wet head. His hands slipped around her neck and he placed something cold around it. She looked down, fingering a silver chain with a lavender stone suspended from it. Awestruck by its beauty, she gazed back up at him. “Where did you get this?”
“Well, I couldn't wear it now could I?” He grinned, his hands sliding down her shoulders. “It's elvish. Something in my family, but I wouldn't be seen wearing it, for as you can see it is for a woman.”
“I can't take this from you.”
“Then think of it as a gift from a very bewitched elf.”
She closed her eyes, forcing herself to keep tears from gliding from her eyes. “And I see you have become bored at the bar already?” She laughed, blowing his hair out of her face.
“The bartender is an idiot. He talks too much.”
“They must talk, for that's part of their job.”
Artea fell upon a chair, near the dresser, sighing as he did so. “Yes, I suppose. I just didn't like the topic he chose to talk about.”
Tia undid the tie and allowed her hair to fall down around her face. “I know what you mean. Everywhere I go people are constantly asking me, and everyone who comes in with me, how I am doing after Maxim died. It's been three years now; do they think I can't live without him?” She picked up a soft bristled brush and began combing her hair from wet ringlets to straight locks, then she glanced over to Artea. He was sitting in the moving shadows the midday sun cast upon the room.
His head was leaning lightly on his fist, watching her with a smile on his lips, forcing her to smirk as well. After a moment, he closed his eyes, sounding so very distant to her. “I think you can live well without him, you are much stronger than people take you for.”
“See? Why can't more people be like you?” She laughed again, turning her gaze back to the mirror before her.
“That's because most people aren't elves.” He whispered, looking as if he had been hit with the spell of drowsiness. “In fact, you could probably do well even without me.” Artea opened his eyes again, watching as she caught his gaze with her own, staring at him as if he had just insulted her.
She lowered her brush, both frightened and surprised by his words. She smiled again, but faintly, thinking he had said this in some sort of elvish humor, but when he did not smile back Tia shook her head. “You sound as if you are planning on leaving me soon.”
“I would never leave you intentionally.” The noon sun played over his beautiful face, causing his eyes to shimmer once more with his intense stare. “For I think it is I who needs you the most and I am an idiot for it.”
“How so? Just because you rely on another? Just because you are a warrior does not mean you should distance yourself from both people and emotion.” Tia averted her gaze again from his. He has me again. “Or is it...just humans you wish to distance yourself from?”
“My people don't believe in being close to humans. And I think I have just found out why.”
“Then I suppose you never bothered to wonder if it is I who can do without you?” Tia had overlooked what he meant by that last statement, for she was afraid to consider what he truly intended by those words. She fingered the wooden brush, small intricate swirls of gold twisted throughout its handle, making it a lovely sight for anyone who bothered themselves with detail. “How is your wound?”
Artea placed a hand over his left shoulder. “I heal fast.”
“I thought it was infected.”
“I guess it was not then.” He closed his eyes once more, leaning his head upon the backing of the chair, pushed against the wall.
Tia rose from her little stool by the dresser, standing now before him. He opened his left eye to her, seeing her merely as a blur. “Let me heal it.”
He shook his head before answering. “I'm fine, Tia.”
“Yes, and I bet your left eye was also fine and you refused to let anyone or yourself heal it.” That caused him to open his right eye, smiling inwardly for her concern for him. Her eyes locked with his again, and he reached out a hand to her. Taking it, Artea pulled Tia towards him so she was now sitting on his lap.
“Will you forever worry over me?” He smiled down at her, stroking her face with his hand.
“As long as you draw breath,” she traced his jaw with cold fingers, “and long after.”
“Fine. Have it your way.” He rested his forehead against hers, his eyes still watching her now closed ones. But within an instant, he drew back, his eyes shifting to the door.
Tia's eyes opened with curiosity. “What's the matter?”
Artea gently placed her upon the wooden frame of the floor, rising up from his chair. “Someone's outside the door.” He slipped his bow off his shoulder, fitting an arrow to it and keeping it aimed downward. Tia drew her daggers from behind her, attached to the back of her belt. With a movement of Artea's hand, Tia moved off to the side, just incase whoever was out there happened to get the better of him, at least they wouldn't see Tia and she might be able to surprise attack them.
But when door handle jiggled forcefully and opened with one swift kick, both Artea and Tia were shocked at who lied on the other side. Tia squinted through the window's faint light. “Ilene?”
Silence. Unsettling silence.
The wind cried through the village, shrouded in the shelter of trees. But not even the enchanted forest could protect the village from the fate that had befallen it. The stillness plagued the city like the midday sun bathed the world in its rich glow. Yet it was not a peaceful stillness. The silence was unnerving, chilling. Would the thing that had done this great misdeed come back to finish his job? Or would the town remain like this, still with not a soul breathing within it?
Murmurs of an unnamed fear. Whispers... A voice full of mourning and sorrow.
The village that had stood as a constant reminder of a world that could only be reached in the dreams of human children was now gone, to become only that, a dream, a soft whisper of a tale that had once held truth. But no more. The skies wept, for not even the gods can help them now. This powerful being had came as fast as the strike of lightening, and had them fleeing. The statues of the Elders watched with their hollow, gray eyes the last city of the elves.
“Are you going to stand there all day looking at me as if I were an orc?” Ilene, her fists resting on frosty green clothed hips, smiled at her two companions. It had been a day and a half since Artea and Tia's departure from Elcid, and the thought of Tia's friend ever being at the door of their room was never to be a possibility. But her being there brought great joy to Tia and much discomfort to the elf.
“Ilene!” The girl ran to embrace her friend, Ilene's arms instinctively wrapping around Tia in the way a sister would to the sibling that had finally come home. “How did you find us?”
“It wasn't too hard. Some people in the town saw you leaving with him on foot. The only logical place for you to go would be in the direction of Sundletan.” Ilene pulled back from Tia, both hands resting softly on her bare shoulders, Ilene's warm eyes looking the girl over for any unmistakable marks that might have afflicted her skin. But finding nothing out of the ordinary, she said, “I see he has taken good care of you...” Ilene looked about the inn room, realizing, for the first time that the two must have been alone in the room for quite some time.
“Maybe too good...” Ilene's smile widened as she squeezed Tia's shoulder.
Tia blushed slightly. “It's not at all what you are thinking, Ilene.”
“If you are blushing then I must be somewhere near the truth.” The blond woman left Tia's side and circled the tall elf. “Well, my purple-haired friend, what were you thinking taking my friend all this way from home? Last I left you, you were barely alive. I guess this is what I get for leaving her alone with you.”
Artea searched Ilene's eyes, finding no signs of exasperation, only the soft soul of a woman concerned for not only Tia, but him as well. “Not to mean disrespect to you or Tia, but she was quite insistent that she come along.”
Ilene nodded. “Sounds like Tia to me.” Then she noticed the elf's left shoulder, wincing herself with the intensity of the wound that so clearly stood out. “I brought the doctor back with me, you know? He was quite confused when there was no patient in the bed for him to tend to.” She rested a hand over his gash. “I guess I can heal it then--”
“No, that is not necessary.” Artea receded until the back of his legs rubbed against the smooth supports of a small table. “I'm fine.”
“It's no use, Ilene. I already tried to heal him. He won't let anyone near him. Perhaps he likes pain.” Tia shrugged, knowing well now that Artea had shot a look in her direction. She smiled at Ilene, avoiding the elf's eyes. She did not wish to look to him at that moment. His gaze was too intense and would trap anyone who bothered to even glance his way. Tia began to guide her friend out into the hallway, away from Artea. “Ilene...”
The woman grinned, seeming to know much more then Artea and Tia could ever grasp. “You don't have to explain. You obviously care a lot about each other. I don't want to interrupt anything. I just wanted to see if he was taking care of you.”
“I never said I had any feelings for him...” Tia drifted off when she noticed her friend's cynical expression. “I hardly know him, Ilene. Perhaps it's just some stupid crush from a little girl.” She sighed, seating herself in one of the hallway's chairs, her head falling into weary hands.
Ilene knelt down to her level, taking Tia's hands both within her own and forcing Tia to look her fully in the face. “Tia, you are not a little girl. Nor would you have followed him this far if it was a simple crush. Besides, I think it's sweet how you melt when he looks at you.”
Tia's grin was back on her face, but it faded fast with the realization. “It can never be. You know that. Have you ever seen an elf with a human before? It would be a long road of heartache.”
“Tia, when we were children, you always wanted your prince to come and sweep you away. Well, he has come and swept you off your feet. Don't tell me you suddenly want him to let you go?”
Tia glanced up at her, her eyes soft. “Of course not. Every girl dreams of someone like Artea. But when you are a child, you fail to think of the consequences.” Her hands fell to her lap, the faint lights of the inn reflecting off her newly given necklace. So much so that Ilene was forced to reach out and finger it.
“Such a beautiful little trinket... Where did you ever get such a thing? I never saw anything like it.”
“Artea gave it to me.” Tia wrapped her fingers around the silver chain, smiling with that distant smile. What will come of us at the end of this journey? Or perhaps the journey will never end... I hope it will never end... “You can share the room with us if you wish. No sense in wasting money for another one.”
Ilene shook her head, strands of blond hair bordering a smiling face. “I think you two need to talk. And I have no desire to come between you two. I'll find a room. Besides, we best stay here for the rest of the day, for it is giving way to night rather fast.”
As Ilene left to the innkeeper, Tia rose to her bare feet. “Will you come with us on our journey?” Hope was laced in her voice, though she already knew her reply.
“Of course. Who else will watch over you two?” Her friend laughed as she left Tia to her thoughts, and soon the girl was back in her room with Artea, closing the door behind her.
Artea was by the window, his long, pointed ears peering out from behind his hair, which was being set adrift by the soft winds. His one hand was placed on the wall nearby the window, the other over its partially opened glass. His expression was one of longing, perhaps to be with his own kind and to see them in the safety that he now questioned. He spoke, his soft elvish voice quite distinct, “You don't trust me do you?”
Tia would have questioned what he meant, her heart screaming for her to say otherwise, but it was obvious that Artea had heard her conversation with Ilene. “Listening in?” She meant it lightly, but the air of the room was too serious for her to even attempt a smile. She was calm, yet his body was tense, as if he looked to jump out the window and run away with the merest touch.
“These ears aren't just for show. I can't help to overhear what people say, though I wish many times not to.” He looked at her now, the full moon's light covering them in a faint, blue tint. His lips opened, like he was to speak more, but nothing came out.
His gaze was so sharp, so painfully sharp that she wished to cry under his passionate stare. She walked a little ways towards him, until his watchful eyes petrified her and she could move no longer, suddenly fearing him. He looked an angel under the light's soft glow. But was it the angel of mercy or of end? Why do you do this to me? Do you enjoy watching me suffer?
Artea closed his eyes, knowing well he had frightened her. I do it because... I... Even in his mind he had no answer for her. The moon's imaged was vast and bright within Tia's eyes. He reached out to touch her face, but stopped himself suddenly. Would you burn me if I was to touch you?
It is me who is burned by you gazing at me. Don't you know your eyes betray you, Artea? For once, it was Tia's that pierced him, catching him off guard, and she placed her hand over his left shoulder. His muscles tightened under her touch and he could feel the warm energy of a healing spell beginning to work. When she removed her hand, there was nothing more left behind but the tear in his armored shirt. Her legs began to move against her wishing and she pressed soft lips against the bare skin that showed through the rip, kissing his shoulder. “Why didn't you let me heal you before? Perhaps it is you who does not trust me?” She looked up at him.
You know that is not true. Artea slid his hand down her back, pushing her closer to him. Do you trust me? He repeated again in his mind, his nose touching hers, their lips brushing against each other's.
Her breath caught again and she was left frozen. I always have... Artea's fingers were now playing with the buttons on the back of her dress, his lips gliding over her bare shoulders. His warm breath upon her neck created a calming sensation, too much though and she fell into his arms making a slight gasp, as if he had plunged one of her daggers into her back.
He noticed this and loosened his grip. “I'm not going to hurt you, Tia.” He leaned his forehead against hers, watching her as she felt hot tears roll down her face again.
“I know.” Was all she could utter.
He desperately searched her eyes, but all he could find at that moment was pain that had always been there, from the very first moment they had met. The pain of what they were entangling themselves with and that whisper of doubt that cried they could never be. Still, he would not listen to this voice and he pressed his lips to hers, pushing her even closer now to him.
Tia's tears wetted his own face.
Why is she crying? Does she fear me? Instead of stopping, he only deepened his kiss, causing both of them to lose balance. But there was the wall behind them to stop them from falling onto the floor. Artea swung Tia around, so he was now pressing her against the wall.
A noise like a small, wounded animal escaped her lips and she broke the kiss. “No, don't.” Tia gasped, his face inches from her own, his hair and fingers intertwined with hers.
Artea's body disobeyed her cries for him to stop, pushing on her further. But a thought crossed his mind at that moment, forcing him to discontinue. You are a warrior, Artea. You're emotions do not control you, nor do you show them. But when he was with her, he could not help but to show them. He cared for her far too much now to simply be another cold, distant warrior. He moved back from her, though his hands were still around her. He breathed out, one long, uneasy sigh. His hands caressed her face and she still leaned on him as if she could not walk.
His eyes no longer bore that cold, far-away appearance to her, but instead were now warm and soothing. She noticed how his eyes easily told her what he thought, whether he wished for her to know or not. "Artea..." She began, realizing at that moment that she had no way of finishing her sentence.
He lifted her up gently, carrying her over to the bed. He rested her down on her side, laying behind her, arms around her tighter and pressing his cheek against hers. The soft patter of rain was all that was heard inside the room, other than the breathing of two souls. And when rumbling of a far-away storm echoed within, Tia jumped slightly. But she was save, her angel was watching over her, and would all night as she slept.
Quiet... Too quiet...
Was it merely his imagination getting the better of him? No. Not this elvin warrior. A small smile edged his lips and his bow was drawn, as if he was hunting an unseen enemy. But of how he came here, within the open wilderness, was beyond him. Last time he was conscious of his surroundings, it was in an inn room. Even now no animals called to each other, no birds filled the skies with colorful wings and beautiful songs.
It's too quiet.
The elf continued walking, the smell of death around him, drowning out the sweetness of the forest flora. This woodland was familiar to him, but he could not place it for no forest with an appearance like this had ever crossed his path. No animals. No water. Nothing but a soft light covering a town whose sky could not be seen by the covering of tree leaves. Was it morning or night? He could not tell.
No people. Nothing. His bow fell unto the damp earth when he saw statues of people before him. Not statues one would normally see. The expressions of the stone people were one of horror, of utter fear. And it dawned on him, and he wished he never come to this damned town: the people were not humans, but elves. When he blinked, it was all gone, the town, the elves, everything; nothing around him now but the forest's haunting silence.
Artea's eyes opened slightly. Was it a dream? He sat upright, causing Tia to stir in her place, but she did not wake. The elf's heart felt as if a great weight had been pressed upon it. It was the mid of night and the moon shown over head, casting its round figure upon their bed. Laying back down, his eyes and ears alert to every little sound, every little shadow that moved across the room, Artea took in a long, unstable breath of air.
Tia moved over, so she was facing the elf, now opening her eyes to him. He was staring up to the window spread across the far wall, its glass reflecting the moon's image and causing its light to break into shafts upon them. Her fingers touching his chin, she kissed him softly and rested her head now in the arc of his neck. “What is it?”
Artea closed his eyes, leaning his head on top of hers. “The moon's so vast. So bright...” He squinted as he regarded the large moon above them. “It always troubles me to know that half of the stars we look at are long gone, but to us, are just new.”
“We can't always see what we have in front of us and at times it is too late, what we seek is no more. Sometimes...we must learn the hard way or we will never learn at all.” Tia moved back so she could look upon him. “Are you worried about your people?”
Artea glanced over at her as the more lightening played over their faces. “Every moment I worry about them. Dreams cause me worry more so.” He smiled, trying best to seem nonchalant. “But perhaps that is what they are: dreams.”
“But if we disregard our dreams, then what do we have left? At times, just a simple action is all that separates reality from dreams. If your people is what worries you, then you must go to them, or you may not have another chance if they truly are in trouble.”
“No, the trouble that has befallen my people has left. It is what has come and past that worries me now. But I will not leave you here to go after them. It's just as well we all go at once, now that we are together.” He sat upright, still watching the open window before them, bringing in the now scattered raindrops.
She did the same, gazing out at the stars above, smiling slightly. “I don't understand why your people must look down upon humans. If you can learn to get along with humans, then maybe they can too.”
He laughed, looking down at her. “You are very wise for someone so young.” He stroked her face tenderly, kissing her upon her forehead, his eyes reflecting not her image, but the image of a forest once alive with elves and a home too far gone to reach. “Perhaps there is still hope for them then, if I can hear them call from this distance...”
She wrapped her arms around his chest, sighing softly. “Maybe you are their hope.”
Ch -> 7 -> Within Its Walls
Midnight? No... Early morning. She opened her eyes, large with fear and wonder. Where am I? Around her, in pillars of white and stone of ivory, was what appeared to be a shrine. Its energy was familiar, as if she had been here before. Perhaps she had, she could not remember. It was peaceful here still. Quiet. Calm. No sounds of torture, no screams of endless pain. No more. She was no longer in her village. Where then? She knew if she began to think, even in order to find her bearings, her mind would ache, refusing her the memories she so desperately needed at this time.
The child? Milka... Where was she? The little elf girl had been with her before all this. She remembered... They were in Milka's house, the elfling gripping onto her robes, eyes wide with terror, questioning where Artea had gone off to. The mere thought of this filled the Elder's heart with discontent: what had happened to their elvin warrior? Artea wasn't there when he came through. The village had been bright with flames and filled with the cries of the innocent, still ringing within her long, pointed ears. So much so that her memories converted the thoughts to reality, and their yells and shouts were as if they were happening now, in the cold stone of the shrine.
“Milka...” Vetiliel pulled herself from off the floor, now on all fours, staring at the ground beneath her crimson covered hands.
Was Milka still in the village? No. That wouldn't make sense. He needed the elf for himself. Vetiliel reached out into the brightness around her, feeling the rough surface of a stone wall. Bringing herself to a trembling stand, the Elder of Eserikto managed to turn herself around and view her encasement. But it was no cage, no cell. Where she was brought more pain to her than shock.
The moon faded somewhat to the distant colors of early dawn, showing their beauty as their light parted through unwavering clouds of pale grays and fell upon the land of Lufia. The storm had started again some time in the night, now waking Tia with the rumble of thunder. No longer feeling the warmth of Artea's body, she rolled over, seeing that the elf had gone. Before any thought could cross the young girl's mind, she heard the sound of draining water from the bathroom. She rose from the bed, flinching as her feet fell upon the cold, wooden floor.
Tia walked over to the room's back window, hugging herself in the still dark of morning and its chilling winds. The curtains blew adrift along with her hair; the scent of lavender was amongst the fading stars of the heavens. But sudden chills were replaced by warm goose bumps. Turning to regard her newfound source of heat, she saw Artea standing behind her. She hadn't even heard him there.
The lightning glistened off his hair, face, and the lean muscles of his body, all dampened with the droplets of his late shower. Tia watched his face for a moment, his eyes shimmering against the pale light from the window. He looked so grave, so serious, not moving and hardly breathing. His long pointed ears twitched slightly, for the wind was much colder to someone who came from a shower. Time seemed to stop for her and at that moment she wanted nothing more than to feel his warm skin against hers and his strong arms around her, dispelling all fears. Her eyes searched his for the longest time, but his thoughts remained well hidden behind eyes sharp with ice. He was frightening her again.
She froze. Why? Even after these past few days he could send chills throughout her body, but where they chills that terrified her? She could not tell yet. Tia moved back, still holding herself. She now knew why humans could be paralyzed by the mere glance of an elf. The wind blew his hair into his eyes, making it impossible for her to see them. But nevertheless, they pierced her.
Artea tilted his head to the side in wonderment, questioning why, after all this, she still ran away from him. “Why do you look at me as if I'm going to hurt you?” She couldn't tell if he was still looking at her.
“Because you can,” Tia reached out to his face, touching his cold skin. She brushed his dark purple hair from out his eyes, which were peering into her own, “more than anyone else, Artea...”
He cupped her face with his hands and rested his forehead against hers. “Why?” His gaze locked with hers yet again, forcing her the look upon him. “Why can I hurt you more than anyone, Tia?” He knew the answer, but he wanted to hear it from her.
Gazing upon him, she swore her heart had stopped beating. His stare was too powerful. Tia ran her fingers along his pointed ears. She hadn't noticed before, but they felt much different from normal human ears, both hard and soft at the same time, twitching under her touch. “You're an elf. And humans and elves--”
He placed a finger over her soft lips, wishing for the first time in his life that he could be human, even if it was only for a one moment in time. Does it hurt you that much? He wanted to rid his memories of the past, for they wounded them both and the closer they became, the deeper the wound seeded itself. “I love you...” His voice was soft, barely audible, his elvish accent strong in his words.
Tia blinked, unsure of what had just escaped from his mouth. She was hardly breathing, her eyes bright with unshed tears. “What...?”
“I love you,” Artea repeated, his lips so close to hers that with each word she felt them move, “from the first moment I laid eyes upon you. But...I feared it is not enough.” He moved back from her, seeming uneasy and awkward, cursing silently in his head for having ever said that aloud. “I'm sorry, Lady. I shouldn't have frightened you like that.”
Tears were falling from her eyes again and as much as she wished them to stop, they kept falling. “There is a part of me that will forever be afraid of you.”
“Why? Why do you tell me this now?” His eyes suddenly went soft and he began wiping away the tears that fell from Tia's eyes. He was not angered, only saddened. “You told me before that it...hurts...too much coming from me.”
“Because I love you and I loved you then.” Loved? She had never actually loved anyone before. “You're emotion--elvin emotion--is different from humans. You said so yourself.”
“It doesn't mean I can't love you, Tia.” Artea watched her for a moment, but when she didn't respond, he closed his eyes and shook his head. “Then you shouldn't have fallen in love with me and I was an idiot to do so as well.”
“You don't choose who you fall in love with.”
“It would be a hell of a lot more simple if you could.” He took his hands away from her face but ended up wrapping them around her waist. Tears were still gliding down her cheeks and the thought that he may be responsible for this hurt him more so. He kissed her softly and pulled her closer, wishing he would learn to keep his damnable thoughts to himself. Artea broke the kiss, his nose against her own. “I am an idiot, aren't I?” He grinned faintly.
Tia smiled up at him, swallowing the lump in her throat as she traced his bottom lip with her finger. His skin dried within the cold breeze of early morning but his hair was still damp and it stuck to his face as well as hers. And when he ran his hands down her back, she looked up at him with an expression he could not place. Artea only kissed her again, harder this time, feeling her tears on his face now. He began unbuttoning the upper part of her dress and slipping it over her head with ease.
Artea brushed his lips against her bare shoulders and began running his fingers up and down her back, pushing her closer to him again, the touch of his chest warming her despite the cold winds of the window. Tia seemed too dumbfounded at the moment to move, yet alone breathe. What was she supposed to think? He was torturing her, for he was giving her something that could so easily be taken away. She did not wish to lose another person close to her. Still, despite her fear, Artea continued on, his lips moving slowly down her chest. But he suddenly stopped, rising back up to his full height.
“Tia...” His hair concealed his eyes once more. His gaze brought a certain peace as well as sadness over Tia. Artea wanted to finish his sentence, to say something to comfort her, but he could not find his voice. I never lost control before... Instead of stopping, he pressed his lips to hers once more. My emotions can't take control of me. Not now... His actions betrayed his thoughts and he swept Tia into his arms, lying her upon the bed. He moaned slightly as he kneeled on all fours over Tia, undoing the bottom half of her clothes.
Her eyes locked with his when he looked back upon them and his heart wrenched. I'm not going to hurt you... He reached out and touched her face. For a moment, as slight as Tia's panting, he thought he could see Karyn in her beautiful eyes. I...told her I would protect her always... He held her face, feeling her heart race within her chest.
Tia rested a hand against his cheek and he sighed softly. His skin against hers gave her a feeling of comfort and safety. But deep within the endless blue of his eyes scent chills down her spine that she never thought possible from anyone. She couldn't tell yet if it was for good or bad.
Artea laid down on top of her, the weight of his body pressing on her. Legs, hair, bed sheets, all intertwined with one another. Each moan, sigh, and gasp echoing with each heartbeat, pounding hard and fast. And as he pushed upon her even more, she cried aloud, but he did not stop, not this time. Damn his emotions. They had finally overpowered him, taking control of his every motion, his every action. Artea could taste now the salty liquid descending from Tia's eyes.
Don't cry... His left hand was behind her head, tangled within strands of midnight blue and dark purple, while his other hand slid down and then up the arch of her leg. Tia's hands where on his back, her fingers twirling around his hair. Her legs unconsciously wrapped around his and his arms embraced her small body.
Tia closed her eyes, but they darted open again, as hard as it was to keep them that way. As odd and as out of place as it sounded to her, she could feel the presence of a third person within the walls of the inn room. Her body tightened. Someone's watching...
Around her, Artea was finding it a more difficult burden to control his emotions and his actions. Perhaps that was what it was like to be human. He felt her sudden panic beneath him, but he only continued on, kissing her fears away. His body felt so heavy upon hers, desiring all her energy.
The elf pressed harder upon her, so hard that she actually cried out her last thought, “Stop!”
He did, a few moments after he realized that, in fact, she had said that aloud. Still, his body rested on hers, both completely devoid of any further words. For the longest time the two simply stared within each other's eyes, their foreheads touching.
When she finally found her voice, Tia shifted her eyes to the wall opposite of where the bed was. “Someone's here,” she said, her voice trembling with lack of breath.
Artea shook his head. “No...that's impossible. I would have heard them...” The floorboards creaked and his eyes widened slightly, meeting hers for a brief moment. Someone was in the room.
The Divine Shrine...
Vetiliel moved along the shrine's body with the aid of the wall, its rough surface scraping open the wounds upon her hands that had just scabbed over some time ago. Her heart fell as she watched the pure white room around her. Trying to make it to the building's rear door seemed a more difficult challenge then when first thought of. If indeed Milka was here, the only place she could be held was in that back room.
The Elder pushed herself off the stone wall and ventured over to the middle of the area. Beneath her in scarlet and gold was an aged rug, torn with different centuries of culture. Around her in ivory and marble were six statues of angels, their wings spread out to the heavens and their hands folded in prayer. And there, before the back door, was the last spot Karyn had stood, her energy still lingering even after these past three years, staying as a constant reminder of a battle won, but not without its casualties.
“We tried, Karyn...” Vetiliel kneeled before the sixth angel sculpture, and for a fleeting moment, the statue looked as if it was crying blood, the crimson seeping from the figure's soulless eyes, staining its white coating. But when the Elder blinked, the angel was back to its normal state, the same joyless expression upon its ashen face.
Ch -> 8 -> The Divine Shrine
Be still. Be quiet... Listen...
Whispers.... Voices calling out their lamentations for the dead. Vetiliel could hear them, their voices as lovely as angels, singing their mournful songs as the forest lay dying all around them. The elf managed to drag herself across the floor, a trail of fresh crimson behind her. She hadn't noticed, but her cuts reopened as she pulled herself along and now they leaked upon the floor in dark, scarlet paths. Weary and distressed, the Elder fell unto the stone ground once more, tears in her eyes. Artea... I tried to save her...
The door... What good would it do? Even if she did get that sudden bust of energy needed to reach the door, how would she defeat what lied behind it? He was smarter than the usual ones of his race. He had drained Vetiliel's energy just enough to leave her crippled upon the floor, but sill conscious, so that he could mock her without bothering himself to stand before her.
Vetiliel did not desire to see the same fate that befell Milka's mother come to pass upon the child. And yet, inside she knew not to worry, for someone watched over her and the elfling. Someone who she knew would not let any harm come to the child, the very one that could save them all... That mere thought renewed her hopes, and she continued on to the door, straining her hand upward in order to reach its old and peeling handle, in the shape of a sprite's head.
It took more of her energy than she had realized just to pull upon the knob and peer inside the small area behind it. The next room was indeed small compared to the lengthy space provided in the room she had came from. And just like the room before it, there stood angel statues, only there were three this time. Yet what differed from these statues was not just their air, but the image that they gave. They were not worn and chipped like the others. The sculptures somehow looked restored, as if someone spent a good deal of their time mending them.
Within the ring of three stood two images--one the elf child with her face darkened by the ashes of fire and stained with the streaks of tears; the other her captor, the cause of all this pain and needless bloodshed. Iarhel... His name skittered through Vetiliel's mind. Had he told them when he entered the village? No... He hardly spoke a word then. He must have mentioned it as he brought them to the Divine Shrine. The Elder guessed him to be an orc, for his grossly mismatched and hunched over body aided in her conclusion. But his skin was not the pinkish color that she had seen before on the smaller of his kind. His flesh was gray, as gray as the people he left for dead in her village.
Vetiliel assumed Iarhel's capturing of Milka was simply for power, like her mother before her. But why would an orc, a creature overlooked many a time by travelers, seek power when they were too stupid to even have an idea, yet alone act upon one? He was indeed a hideous sight to behold...as well as more clever than the others of his kind. And as she pulled herself up to her full height, his yellow eyes darted to her at the doorway, narrowing in petty spite and vengeance. It was true that many creatures that followed evil detested elves, for the elves were creatures of light and beauty. Anything that mirrored the malice within themselves was prone to hate things of magnificence.
“Child...” Iarhel hissed, his claw-like hands wrapped around Milka's throat. “Show me how.”
“I don't know how!” Milka squirmed from out his grip, causing only smirks of amusement from the orc. She ran to the back wall of the tiny space, pressing herself upon it as if she might fall through to safety.
Did...he even see me? Vetiliel entered the room, the door closing slowly behind her. It was then that she realized why he must have brought her along. He needed her as well. If not, surely he would have destroyed her. What does he want me to do?
Silence. The person, or thing, that had been lurking there before was gone, leaving only stillness upon both the room and the couple that dwelled within it. Artea and Tia laid there for the longest time, knowing that indeed it was only them inside the small room, but that another spirit, or rather, presence, had been there. The elf sat upright, Tia doing the same, leaning on his back with her hands around his waist.
“No one's...here?” She whispered into his long, pointed ear. “You heard that noise, didn't you?”
Artea nodded, glancing back partway over his shoulder to the girl behind him. “Whatever it was, it's gone now. Perhaps it was just the dying storm outside.” The elf grimaced slightly within himself. The wind? What a stupid excuse. That was no wind... He didn't know if he was lying simply to calm Tia or to convince himself nothing was amiss. Both were attempts made in vain, for he knew himself something was wrong, as well did Tia.
He turned back around to face her now, smiling warmly. He kissed her upon her forehead, his fingers curling slightly as they stroked her face. “Go to sleep. We have to start out again tomorrow. I'd hate to have to drag you along half awake.” His grin widened, knowing that would very well spark the small fire within Tia's beautiful eyes.
Tia scoffed and pushed upon his upper arm, catching him off guard and almost knocking him over. “I'll be up before you, elf.” She allowed herself to fall upon the soft sheets and pillows, closing her eyes slightly as Artea laid down next to her, wrapping his arms around her.
He brushed Tia's hair away from her face as he watched her fall quickly into sleep. You'll never know just how much you mean to me... And maybe I still have yet to learn myself. He smiled somewhat, resting his face on the top of her head, but not allowing himself to rest, for the presence in the room still stood as a constant within his troubled mind.
When the daylight came out from its refuge behind the mountains, the three companions were to meet back out on the road before the inn again. Like always, Ilene had been up before the dawn and was now conversing with the owner of the inn. The both of them were laughing and it became apparent, as Artea and Tia approached them, that Ilene could give her contentment to just about anyone she came in contact with.
Tia smiled and ran over to the jolly woman. “Flirting with the innkeeper are we? Please forgive my friend, sir, she tends to do things that she is not even aware of.”
“Ah, Tia, I trust you slept well?” Ilene kissed Tia upon the forehead, her normal sisterly gesture to the girl, and glanced back at the tall elf now behind her. “Your elvin friend doesn't look as awake as he should be.”
“I'm quite well, Ilene.” Artea scratched the back of his head as he addressed the woman, who had her hands upon her hips and that amused grin spread across her face. When he noticed her expression, his own faltered. “I'm fine.”
Ilene sighed, for she knew better than to argue with an elf, considering how persistent his kind could be. She nodded her head in civility towards the innkeeper as the small group of three left the building and came onto to the dirt path, bright with the sharp rays of morning. “Well, where to now? I never did ask where the two of you were headed, did I?”
Tia and the elf exchanged a quick glance with one another and the girl quickly responded, “We are headed to the elvish town of Eserikto, to the far east.”
“And far to the east it is. Does either of you know the distance from here to there?” The two before her merely looked to her with blank faces, which caused Ilene to laugh. “I suppose we should ask then. Both of you do know that to reach there, we will most likely need a boat?” When Artea and Tia failed to answer, Ilene began to walk down one the roads. “Thought not. Now aren't you two glad I decided to come with you? Where would you be without me?” Her voice faded as she walked off.
“Most likely still in bed sleeping...” Artea grinned and followed along after her with Tia.
Tia hadn't noticed before, but Ilene had with her two bags, thrown lazily over her right shoulder. Probably filled with just about everything from our house. That thought caused more laughter from the girl as they caught up with their well-prepared friend. “Ilene, where will we get a boat? I don't know of any port towns near here.”
“The Alunze Kingdom should have ships on its east coast. Many kingdoms now rely solely on trading with other countries. I'm sure someone there will be interested in taking us to an elvin village.” Ilene changed shoulders with her bags, but before she continued on out of the town, Artea stopped her.
“Would you like me to carry those things for you. You look to be having some trouble with them.” He smiled slightly. The woman did look to be having difficulty with her luggage.
Ilene's laughs filled the air once more. “I can see why you like him so much, Tia.” She took one of her bags from off her shoulder and held it out to the elf. “They are a bit heavy, but since you so kindly asked...” Artea took the bag outstretched to him and flung it over his own shoulder with ease.
The three headed down the dirt road that would lead to the forest once more, and the continuation of their journey. From the looks of the vast woodland around them, it would take at least two days to reach the Alunze Kingdom on foot, but Ilene, as observant as ever, spotted a horse and cart heading out of town. The man had pulled over from the road and was checking the cargo he held within his wooden cart. Ilene found this to be a great opportunity to hitch a ride.
“Excuse me, sir, but where would you be heading?” Ilene called as she ran towards him.
The man, obviously startled by the three newcomers, turned around without hesitation. When seeing that they were humans--well, two of them anyway--he visibly relaxed. “Sorry, milady, but you startled me. I have heard stories of merchants being attacked in these forests.”
“Well, I can assure you that we are not here to attack you.” Tia answered for her friends as she carefully looked over the cargo within his cart and the horse attached to it. There appeared to be enough room, if not more, for the three of them to ride in the back. “Where are you headed?”
That caused Tia's shoulders to tighten. She did not wish to stop by there and see familiar faces asking her if she was okay. At least here, out traveling the world on a mission with close friends, she felt truly free.
Ilene noted Tia's expression, but said nothing, knowing the girl would simply deny feeling anything from that town's mentioning. “Then I'm sure you wouldn't mind giving us a ride to Alunze?” Ilene asked.
“Well, no. I do plan to stop there for the night.” The man's voice answered with visible strain as he took one of the wooden boxes from off the ground and hoisted it into his cart.
As the man went for the second, Artea reached for it instead and placed it in the back with the many other containers. “Why are you afraid to travel during the night? These forests are as safe as any I have seen. The monsters have no interest in attacking, and even if they were to, they are too weak here to give damage to anyone, even you.” As Artea spoke, the man's horse gently nudged the elf, demanding his attention. Artea stroked the animal only twice before ignoring it.
“Yes, well, times are changing now. Orcs are around here and they are not weak in any way. I am not a warrior as you are,”--he noticed the weapons that they carried--“so I doubt I could survive an attack from one, yet alone a whole army of them.”
The orcs. Artea had almost forgotten about them. It was just two nights ago when he and Tia had been attacked by some. The elf stood silent after that, perhaps contemplating other things than orcs and horses. But Tia had found her way over to the animal and was giving it plenty of affection. The horse neighed softly as the girl kissed its long face, its black eyes reflecting her image in a pale, white light.
Artea watched with curiosity as the animal visibly calmed under her soft touch. He had never seen such care for animals from any human before, and how the horse showed no fear to this complete stranger caused the elf to smile. Tia had that way about her and she never ceased to rouse his interest. But his thoughts were interrupted by the man's laughing. The elf blinked, for he had forgotten that the man was indeed standing there. Artea was once again finding himself lost in Tia's beautiful face.
“I see that animals take a fancy to you, young lady.” The man climbed upon his cart, sitting down near the top and receiving the reins from Tia's hands. He tipped his hat in a gesture of gratitude to her. “Climb in the back and I'll have you there before sundown.”
“You refuse to show me, child?” Iarhel came towards Milka again, but was stopped by Vetiliel, as she cut in-between the two.
“She said she does not know!” The Elder's body shook slightly, but she held her ground. As much pain as she was in at that moment, protecting the child was all that plagued her mind. And even if it killed her to, she would stand before Milka and guard her the only way she could. “She was never told of the power she possesses. She does not know how to use it or call upon it. She is but a child.”
Iarhel smiled, a smile that froze Vetiliel to her very soul. “I do not care if this child does not know of what power she possesses. In times of great sorrow and pain, beings are known to let that power show by sheer emotion.” As he spoke, an idea grew within his nasty mind, and he turned away from the child and looked to Vetiliel. “In times of great sorrow...” His voiced hissed. Without bothering to gaze upon Milka, he addressed her. “Tell me child... Do you love this elf?” As he mentioned that name, he spat in his hatred for it.
Milka's brows crossed in confusion. Did she love her? Of course she did. What a stupid question to be asked... But as the girl processed the query within her mind, the horrible answer soon followed: he meant to torture Vetiliel until she indeed released her power. Before Milka knew what she was saying, her small voice came, “I will give you my power, but only if you let Vetiliel go.”
Iarhel laughed and as he did so, Milka found herself cowering before him, in spite of herself. “Stupid elf. I do not bargain with you!” With the back of his clawed hand, the orc smack Vetiliel from out his way. Instead of killing the Elder, he was willing to take his time with torturing her until the elfling yielded to his desire. He seemed to be growing smarter with each moment.
Despite her fears, the child ran to Vetiliel's side. “I am so sorry, Vetiliel.” She whispered between quiet sobs. “I did not wish for this upon us.”
The Elder's pale hand reached out to stroke Milka's face, leaving a streak of blood upon her soft cheek. “Do not...give in, child. No matter what he does, you will always have your mother's strength....” Vetiliel's hand fell into the strong grasp of Milka's. With each wavering breath, Milka could feel the Elder's strength leaving her. But the cold shadow of Iarhel was soon upon them.
Ch -> 9 -> Legends
The wind was cool upon them as the cart holding Artea, Tia and Ilene rattled along. The wheels of their ride were amazingly smooth over the worn path of the woodland. It was now midday as the man and his three passengers went forward, the town of Sundletan no longer visible to them. That meant good progress to the three in the back of the cart, but to the man in front, it meant easy prey for orcs. The man, who had given his name to the travelers as Farhin, now tightened his shoulders and pulled the collar to his jacket nearer his neck.
“I told him he has nothing to worry about.” Artea watched the man's reactions to the forest around them with curious eyes. “Does he not believe me?”
Ilene glanced over to Farhin as well. “I don't think that is quite it, Artea. Despite the most sincere promise of protection, people can still be skeptical. It's only natural.” She rose up in the wooden cart, holding onto its side for balance as she made way up past the man's cargo to where he was in the front.
“Where is she going?” Artea asked, after Ilene sat down near Farhin, apparently to make conversation with him.
“She thought he was lonely so she went to talk with him?” Tia smiled slightly at her friend's concern for a stranger. “Ilene wants to know everything about everyone I guess.” The girl, across from Artea, leaned her head upon the rail, gazing out at the trees as they passed. A far away look was in her eyes, but not one of sadness, only one of joy. She indeed seemed more content in the forest and because of that, Artea had to smile.
Watching Tia from his place opposite of her, Artea moved his body so he could now face her better. Even if he was not to speak, he would be content just looking upon her. After a while, Tia felt his gaze on her back and she turned around, her legs now dangling off the back of the cart.
“What's the matter?” Tia was unconsciously playing with the necklace around her neck, the one the elf had given her only a night ago.
Artea was silent for a time and his smile widened. “Nothing, Lady. I just wish to look upon you forever.” The scent of fireplaces burning a long way from them in towns far gone filled the air around the woodland. It gave Tia the sudden feeling of home and as she returned the elf's grin, she closed her eyes to him.
“It's so peaceful out here.” She breathed in deeply the scent of the world about them. “I can see why elves love forests.” Tia opened one eye, the other hidden by her hair. She shivered slightly in the cool air, thinking of things from dreams of nights before.
“Tia...” Artea began, many thoughts troubling his mind at that moment. He wished to speak with her about a number of things, one being last night. But as he spoke, Tia moved closer to him, resting her head upon his chest. He sighed with a little chuckle as he wrapped his arms around her, warming her in the forest's chilling shadows.
“How long have you three been traveling now?” Farhin looked back partway over his shoulder to the woman behind him, leaning both her arms upon the boxes of cargo and watching him at the same time.
“Three days. Well, the three of us just met up a day ago. Those two left without me at first, but I caught up with them.” Ilene smirked, nodding her head to the couple in the back, still in each other's arms.
“Ah, I got myself some lovebirds, eh?” Farhin laughed, bringing his attention back to his horse before him when the cart wobbled a bit. “You don't see something like that every day.”
Ilene raised a yellow brow at the man and snorted. “What, people in love? I see that a lot where I'm from. Then again, I guess it is just because I'm another hopeless romantic.”
“No, I mean an elf and a human together.” Farhin's smile faded slowly. “In fact, I don't think I've ever seen that before.” With his thumb, the reins still within both his hands, he tipped his hat back from out his gray eyes.
“Oh.” Ilene lowered her head so that her chin rested upon her folded arms. “I guess not.” She laughed slightly, looking up towards the man's back. “That girl back there is my only family. It took her some time to get over the death of someone close to her, and I'd hate to see her have to live through that again.” Ilene paused, perhaps thinking of the family she might have had. Then, with a small grin, “you have any family, Farhin?”
“A wife and three girls, ma'am.” A smile filled with the pride of a father spread across his face. “Four beautiful women in my life. I couldn't be more blessed.” When Ilene failed to respond, the man spared a glance back to her, seeming to know what was on her mind. “I wouldn't worry about that little lady back there. She looks strong enough to handle anything thrown her way.”
“I know she is...” Ilene smiled sadly, looking back towards Artea and Tia. “I just wish the world was fairer now and then, that's all.”
Farhin nodded in understanding of the woman and her companions. “I know it seems that fate can be cruel at times, but I believe once and a while, she gives you a chance to redeem yourself.” He chuckled again, pulling upon the horse's reins in order to slow the animal down. “At least that's what I tell my children.”
“Your kids are lucky to have you then.” Ilene smiled back at him, her voice shaking with the cart, and her head still upon her arms.
The man took off his hat, brushing dusty blond hair from out his eyes before returning it upon his head. “I know my kids would love to see an elf, especially my youngest. She loves them. Chatters nonstop about elves and fairies...” As Farhin talked on, Ilene closed her eyes, half listening, half resting to the man's words as they came in upon the breeze and filled her ears.
The forest seemed endless at that time, but none of the passengers cared. Artea and Tia were perfectly happy just being in each other's arms, pretending that--for just a moment--life was standing still. And everything, present and past, mattered not. Ilene was getting to know Farhin better, and the merchant was getting in his fill of questions as well. But Ilene was careful of how she answered them, knowing she did not wish to raise suspicion about Artea. To Farhin, he was just another elf, a creature told in tales of myth and pictured in the minds of children.
Is that how my race is thought of? A myth? Artea leaned his head upon the cart's rail in wonder, listening somewhat to Ilene's conversation with Farhin.
As if she knew what was upon the elf's mind, Tia glanced up at him, her face still upon his chest, watching him through blue strands of hair. “We are all myths in the end, Artea. Heroes, warriors, wizards...all become stories. But as long as those stories are told, we will never be forgotten, no matter how many years will come and pass.”
Artea smiled down at her. She was amazing him again. “You are so young, yet you have the wisdom of elves older than me.” He rested his chin upon her head. “But I guess age has nothing to with it. Some of the very old know nothing, and some of the very young may know centuries of things that were before their lifetimes.”
“Hmm...” Tia sighed, closing her eyes again. “And I am to think you are one of the wise ones.”
“Me?” He paused with a lopsided grin, lost for a time in his own thoughts. “I guess when you've seen many battles, you learn a few things along the way.”
Tia moved away from Artea, sitting upright in front him. “Is something troubling you?” His blue eyes were shimmering slightly under the faint light the trees allowed through. Such beautiful eyes, and as she looked upon them, she realized for the first time that they were not just blue, but a swarm of every color in-between merely tinted sapphire.
The elf laughed, placing his elbows on his arched legs. “I can't hide anything from you can I?”
“Ah, indeed you cannot. So you might as well tell me.”
A moment passed before he spoke again, his voice softer and more solemn than before. “I fear in time my people will not just be shielded by myths and fairytales...they will become those legends. Perhaps one day we will just fade away along with all the mythological beings, leaving only humans left upon the world.”
“I don't believe that. As long as one person believes in you, there is no way you can ever truly leave.” She leaned forward, kissing him slightly. “And you are very real to me.”
But Artea's brow furrowed, and seconds later Tia noticed the same noise the elf must have just heard: a faint thwack. So very faint, she could barely make it out, but Artea heard it quite well. And as he fitted an arrow to his bow, Tia unhooked her daggers from off her belt. Both looked at each other for a brief moment before skimming the forest around them for the hostile noise.
“Farhin!” Tia turned around upon hearing Ilene's cries. Ilene was hunched over the man, an arrow piercing his left shoulder.
“Tia, take the reins.” Artea didn't bother to glance back to Ilene or the merchant, for the expression upon the girl's face told enough.
Tia nodded wordlessly, placing one dagger back in its holder and the other between her teeth. She did her best to make way to the front of the now quavering cart, the wooden frame veering off the road. The girl, however, managed to take back control of their ride, calming the horse just enough to steady the cart so Ilene could pull Farhin back to where she was. In order to make room for him, she was forced to throw some of his cargo off the sides of the wagon.
Artea now stood up upon the cart, keeping his bow surprisingly firm in his grasp, despite the movement beneath him. And as he released an arrow, the body of an orc fell down after the cart's path. The elf lowered his weapon. “Damn... More orcs.” Another arrow skittered passed Artea's head and he caught it before it scraped his cheek, sending the slender object back in its owner's direction. Another orc fell down, turning the emerald ground scarlet.
Ilene took from out her boot a small knife and began cutting away at the arrow's middle, breaking it in two. But this wound was unlike the one Artea previously had, for the arrowhead did not come clean through Farhin's shoulder; it was lodged inside and dangerously close to the man's heart. Still, she tried her best to keep his arm in one place as she inspected the injury.
“How is he?” Tia asked, glancing back to the pair.
Ilene sighed heavily, blowing hair from out her eyes. And as she went to brush the few strands back, her hair was left with streaks of blood. “From the looks of it, I'd say very bad.” The woman grunted as she began to pull the arrow out, but cries from Farhin forced her to stop. “It's too far in.” With the edge of her knife, she pressed the metal tip within the wound, just scarcely making out the arrowhead inside. She looked up to her young friend with bright eyes. “Can you heal him?” Ilene knew only the basic healing spells. But what she needed now called for more power.
It was the first time Tia saw her friend cry. And she knew the answer she was to give would only bring with it more tears. “I'm sorry, Ilene. If the arrow is still in there, I will not be able to heal it fully.”
Artea sat down next to woman; most of the arrows in his quiver were gone and his face was a glow with victory. “I think I got all of them.” But his grin faded when he looked upon Ilene and the man within her arms, taking in short, labored breaths.
“He's dying, Artea,” she said wearily. Was it some sort of plea to save him? No, it was a simple statement made in woe. “I cannot get the rest of the arrow out.”
Artea gently brushed Ilene to the side, kneeling over the man. Farhin's eyes were half opened, but still a smile crept upon his crimson covered lips. Perhaps knowing that he was right about worrying in the first place forced him to smile at the irony. Or maybe it was the fact that he had finally gotten to see an elf, face to face.
“Knowing...all I will leave behind...” Farhin whispered softly, “it doesn't seem worth it...”
“Where is your faith now, human?” Artea asked almost bitterly to the man. “Who says you are leaving at all?” The elf placed a strong hand over the man's shoulder. He knew Tia's words were truth; if the arrowhead still lied within his wound, not even an elf would be able to seal it. Still, beneath his gentle touch a dim light came, as if, beyond all reason, Artea thought he could mend him nevertheless. But when he drew his blood stained fingers away, the wound remained.
“Don't...waste your energy...”
“I hate to say it, Farhin, but you were right.” Artea laid his hand back over the man's shoulder in some vain attempt to slow the blood loss. “The forests are no longer peaceful as they once were.”
“Peace...can be found in the smallest...of things.” The man smiled, gazing up at the elf. “Even in...the most illogical and senseless. Remember that next time look into the havens...and question fate about her decisions.” Farhin smiled at Artea, or perhaps the elf only thought he did, before he laid his head down to join the rest of the souls of the departed world.
Ilene's head fell into her hands as she wept, for both Farhin and the family he left behind. Tia wanted nothing more than to run to her friend's side and comfort her, but she was busy controlling the cart.
“And they pass on, into legends...” Artea whispered as he reached out to close Farhin's eyes.
“Stay back!” Milka held Vetiliel closer to her, as if her tiny body would be able to protect them both. “You know nothing of the power of this shrine! What do you plan to do with it? Or have you not thought that far ahead?” The elf child spat scornfully.
For a moment, Iarhel paused. Did he not know what he was doing? A snide smile spread across the orc's face. “I do indeed know what I am to with it, elf.” The scratching sounds of his deformed feet scraped across the shrine's floor. “I will use it to make my kind stronger, so we then can destroy the last of the elves.”
“Then you have been misinformed. There is no more power left within this shrine, it has been taken already!” The girl pleaded with the monster before her. “So you have no need in keeping us here.”
“Lies... Disgusting elves...” Iarhel raised his claw to Milka, like he was to strike her down, but he stopped himself, obviously contemplating the child's words. “Is it truth you speak?”
Milka watched the orc before her, his breathing coming out in struggling pants. Perhaps this one was indeed too large for his own good. The girl pointed to the center of the small room. In the middle of the three angel statues, in-between the pillars alit with candles, on top a small, scarlet rug, lied a ring of gold. Once energy flowed abundant within the circle, but now all that was left was an empty hole, showing the carpet beneath.
“Is it the mystic stones* you seek?” Milka questioned, her thin finger still outstretched. “They are no more.”
“Where do they lie now?” The creature demanded. When the elf failed to respond, he threw his gnarled fist down in misguided rage. “Tell me!”
Milka sunk back in her place on the floor, her arms tightening around Vetiliel. “I told you, I do not know! After my mother died, they were taken. Someone already has used their power.” She did not mention that it had been Artea and the humans that came with him. They were the ones who found the mystics stones. They were the ones that now had a piece of its power within them.
With the thought that perhaps the elf child spoke the truth, that his whole journey had been in vain, Iarhel's eyes grew intense with anger. But as soon as it came, it disappeared, and his hideous smile was back upon his face. “You know who has them, don't you, child?”
Milka stood silent, for once not knowing what to say. He already had seen through her. In this place, where the energy of her fallen mother still lingered, it gave each one who entered it a little power of their own. Did he do a quick sweep of her mind? No...he couldn't have. No orc can do that. Somehow, though, he was able to see through Milka, knowing if what she spoke were lies or truth.
Iarhel grabbed hold of the child's arm, and she cried aloud under his monstrous grip. “Then you will take me to the one who has it.”
*Karyn spoke of the mystic stones right before she died in the Divine Shrine. She said something about them boosting the power of the mind. Now remember the Divine Room--the small room in the back, behind where Karyn dies? Remember the small ring you step upon and all of your characters' stats go up by a few points? That's the mystic stones Karyn was talking about. Just wanted to explain that to people who didn't know, to avoid emails where people ask me what the hell I'm talking about. These mystic stones are only in reference to the Divine Shrine and my story, it has nothing to do with Doom Island or the Sinistrals.
Ch -> 10 -> Into the Heavens
The sky told of the far-off colors of twilight as the sweet scent of the night blew around the cart that entered the Alunze Kingdom. The city was vast compared to the one of Sundletan and seemed more lively during the nighttime. But the night was colder somehow. Tia still held the reigns within her small hands while Artea carried Farhin's body in his arms. The people by now had gathered around them in a tight circle, sharing murmurings of a dead man and the two girls that had just entered their city with, none other than, an elf.
As soon as Tia stopped the cart--Artea had already jumped out with the man cradled in his grasp long before it came to its end--the girl went around back to Ilene, who was strangely quiet. Laying one arm around Ilene and the other hand gripping tightly to hers, Tia led her friend away from the cart. The woman had stopped crying, her blond hair now in strands before her face, which had only upon it a distant look far too familiar to Tia.
Artea placed the man upon the ground as more people finally got the courage to approach the elf and aid with their assistance. “His cargo was to go to Tanbel. I'm sure one of you will get whatever is left of it there.”
One of the men nearest Artea nodded. “Don't worry. We will get both him and his cargo back to Tanbel.”
“No, he's not from Tanbel. He's from...” Artea drifted off. He didn't know where he was from. He glanced back to the two girls.
Ilene answered in a small, hushed voice that could barely be heard. “He's from Sundletan. He told me earlier.”
I just thought he was passing through there... Artea left the crowd to Tia and her weary friend. He hadn't noticed how deep the conversations between Ilene and Farhin had gotten before. Hmm. I guess she isn't used to death... But then again, neither was Artea. The elf hadn't said much throughout the rest of the ride back, for he didn't know what to say to comfort Ilene. He didn't understand death. Elves did not die, at least not of old age, and it was hard to kill one in battle. In fact, the only death of an elf known to Artea was Karyn. And even then...
“Artea?” Tia's voiced, considerably lowered for the sake of Ilene, was ahead of him, and she was now looking back. Artea hadn't notice that he had stopped walking as he allowed his mind to wander. “Are you all right?”
He smiled a faint smile of reassurance and continued walking again. He didn't nod nor did he respond for he wasn't in truth all right. He was...confused. But he would not inquire about anything while Ilene was around, for fear of offending her. Humans were more fragile than elves in many ways. Artea had almost forgotten that.
When the elf looked up again, they were at the inn. But before Tia could wander to the front desk to get their room, Artea stopped her. “Only ask for one room. You can stay with Ilene tonight for I am not tired.”
Not tired? Tia searched his face. He did not look weary, and even if he was, there was no use arguing with someone like Artea. “Are you sure?” Even when she asked it, she knew the answer. Though she thought he would at least say a simple yes or nod in the agreement of his previous words, but he did neither. He just turned away and began walking to nowhere.
Tia wished to follow, but Ilene came first at the moment, for she was in no shape to be left alone. The girl would find Artea later and learn of what plagued his thoughts.
Tia found him over by the edge of town, sitting upon the short end of the stone fence, his body tense. The way he looked...it reminded her of the first time she saw him in the moonlight. And now she knew, he was neither an angel of death or life, but simply the fallen one, just like her. Quietly--though Artea's ears twitched and she was certain he heard her there--she sat down next to him. He didn't look over to regard her, nor did he speak, he only gazed out into the forest they had come from, pondering of things Tia had never seen.
Finally, she spoke, her voice soft, “She's finally asleep, if you can even call it that. She was no longer crying, but...I never saw her with that look upon her face before. It was not like her at all.”
He didn't answer and she didn't expect him to. He was listening and he did want to know if Ilene was all right or not, but he had no reply to give, none that would decipher the feeling within.
“You looked so confused, Artea.”
The elf glanced to her now, his expression like it always was, a mask and it disguised him well. “I am not as confused as I would have been if I hadn't lost someone before.” His one leg was arched up and supporting his arm, while the other dangled off the wall.
Tia was silent for a moment. She knew that elves did not die, she knew that it was rare if one of them indeed did. Perhaps now he would tell her more of his past, seeing as he knew of hers so well. “You never spoke of her before.”
“How do you know she was a she?” Artea looked away from her again. For some reason, he couldn't quite look Tia in the eyes this starlit night. Maybe they reminded him too much of her...
She didn't answer; instead, she asked another question. “What was her name?”
“Then I suppose that was Milka's mother...” Tia trailed off, trying to picture the elf maiden's face. She must have been beautiful, as most elves were. But another thought crossed Tia's mind, and she looked to the elf now in the realization. Artea loved Karyn. And he lost her. If anything, Tia knew of that bitter pain better than any other. Was that why Artea was so afraid to get close to me? Her own loss and pain was the reason why she herself kept her distance from the elf before. Tia merely thought it was because of their races, but now she had another thing to add to their list of never to be.
She felt Artea's fingers upon her face, moving it towards his. “Do not look so distressed, Tia.” He smiled sadly. “It is a part of life, even mine. Still, if it is not a big part, you must get used to it.”
Tia scoffed, shaking her head. “Life is constantly changing, hardly ever for good anymore.” Her eyes were bright now, and Artea could tell she was thinking of Maxim.
“Change is neither for good or for bad. It is simply...different. We must learn to make it good, if that is what we truly want. Humans find it so easy to label things good or evil, but many of them forget that good can easily be swayed to malice as evil can mend to good.”
While he spoke, his gentle tone calming to her, she leaned against his shoulder and listened to his voice. It was as if he knew everything at that moment, but even though he understood of what death was, his grasp on the feeling was very loose. “Artea, do you ever think that they are watching us from up there, guiding us along?”
He placed his arm around her and held her closer. “If that is true, I could really use their assistance right now...”
A sudden pause filled the air.
“I thought I loved him...” She whispered and Artea would have asked of who she so fondly spoke of, but it became obvious as she went on. “And I thought I had lost the world when I lost him the first time. But it was me who left him. And for the longest time, I thought I could have changed that, that if I loved him, he would come back to me. But then suddenly it was too late; I lost him a second time. And what hurts most is that I might not have loved him enough to save him.”
Artea kissed her slightly upon her forehead. Beneath his lips, her skin felt like ice in the wind's slight tremble. “His fate was sealed the moment he touched Duel Blade. Not you, or me, or anyone else could have saved him.” He closed his eyes to their cold surroundings, but Tia's voice forced them open again.
“Why does everyone but you and Ilene think that I will never get over him?”
Artea rested his head against hers, smiling at her words. He didn't understand either, for he could see the strength and determination in her that many overlooked. “It is not your fault that they cannot see how strong you are.”
She cast her gaze onto the grassy floor beneath both them and the stone wall. “I don't feel like I'm strong enough...”
“You? Not strong enough?” He laughed, and his voiced caused her heart to flutter. “My Lady, you are stronger than all the men in all of Lufia.”
Tia grinned, and she turned her head so that her nose touched his cheek. “Except you.”
“Even more than me.” He whispered, kissing her again.
There was silence once more, but not awkward silence, merely two souls in quiet peace, finally finding the balance they sought for in one another. Tia looked into his eyes, noticing that for the first time this night, he had finally looked into hers. She spoke again, more hesitant, “Do you still miss her?”
Artea blinked. Not in confusion, but in surprise. They both knew of who she spoke of. In his mind, he fumbled for words, trying to find an answer for the girl. But the only thing he found was what he always knew. “Less every day I'm with you.”
He did miss Karyn, but the joy and warmth he thought had been replaced with cold and seemingly endless voids, became less and less empty with the moments he spent with Tia. He had found himself again, and knowing this, he could never truly be overwhelmed with sadness.
She smiled with his response. “Thank you.”
“For what?” Artea tilted his head to the side, curious of what the girl meant.
“For being you.” Tia sighed softly as she continued, “you are the only person I've met that has been honest with me from the beginning.”
“Did you expect any less of me?” He laughed again. A laugh both filled with youth and experience of days long ago. Tia realized, as she watched his face, that she hadn't noticed just how young he looked in the moon's pale, milky glow. At times Artea's eyes shimmered with all the humor of a child, yet other times they were cold as ice, piercing and stunning to all his enemies, but other times...other times they were warm and serious, showing his thoughts and fears, reflecting her image with small sparkles of light. To her, he would seem eternally young, though the wisdom and almost sad truth was forever inside him.
A thought skittered in her mind. Where do we go from here? It was a lovely adventure, but what happens at the journey's end? Will they go their separate ways? No, they came too close to ever part now, especially when both had just learned to love another again. It was together foolish and clumsy and perfect. And everything she had wanted. Tia smiled slightly. We'll find a way... She snuggled closer to him as they both gazed into the heavens.
Nothing mattered anymore. Just as long as she could stay with him until she no longer drew breath.
It was a warmer morning. Much like the ones before, a couple days ago. Only a couple days... It was leading into the forth day. Only the fourth? It felt much longer. The elf carried the sleeping Tia back into Ilene's room some time in the night and now both girls came from out the inn's exit. Artea met them somewhere down the street's path. He had just come from the weapon's shop, refilling his quiver with more arrows. They were not elvish, but they would have to do for the time being. The emerald forest looked more inviting than yesterday and even Ilene looked better in the sun's sharp rays.
Her smiling face was back again, so obviously after Artea brought Tia back in the room last night, the girls must have began talking. Ilene was braiding her hair once more as they approached the elf, who looked rather pensive under the morning's new rays. Apparently what was upon his mind last night still lingered there.
“Feeling better?” Artea grinned slightly; his thoughts now pushed aside for another day of adventure.
Ilene nodded and smiled back at his consideration. “Much better, Artea. I should ask if you are feeling any better, but then of course you would say yes.”
“Of course I'm all right. Why wouldn't I be?”
“See?” Ilene looked back to Tia, who smirked along with her. She sighed, now standing in-between the elf and Tia, linking arms with them both as they walked along. “Well, where do we go from here?”
Tia glanced at her for a moment, her mind clearly remaining on others things. But it occurred to her that her blond-haired friend simply met the direction of the harbor. “Oh,” she whispered quietly, looking about the city, “well, I suppose it would be east of town. Then...”
“East to Barnan.” Ilene pondered, more to herself than to the couple standing on either side of her. The woman was for planning things out and she had, the course to Artea's town, the night before.
“Mountains surround Eserikto, it will be hard to reach it by boat, if not impossible. We will have to dock upon a shore somewhere and move on foot.” The elf allowed his eyes to stray and peer about the city, over people and humans, noting that most had stopped staring since last night, but others still couldn't keep their gazes from off him.
“Your village is well hidden then?”
Artea mused with a small smile on his face. “Yes, and it is also hard to find within the forest that surrounds it. Most of the village's shops are upon the ground, but the homes of my people are up within the redwoods and oaks, so you should be sure to miss them. They blend in well.”
“Ah, like lookout towers almost?”
“Something like that.”
“It must be beautiful to look upon.” Tia tilted her head back slightly, feeling the warmth of the sun upon her face. “I can't wait to see it.” The images and wonders of the hidden village skittered throughout the young girl's mind. She knew she could not even imagine anything close to what it must be like, but an elvin forest was known to be gorgeous with magic of its own.
Artea laughed. “Lady, I would be honored to show it to you.”
Content with his response, Tia said nothing more, and as she gazed to the heavens above her, she could not help but think of those nights before when the sky was stained with scarlet. It was magic...but what was it from? She could not dismiss those blood red streaks as simply nothing.
Artea rested his hand lightly upon Ilene's shoulder. “You go on ahead, I'll find you there.”
Ilene figured he actually meant we would find you there, but the woman did not protest, she only nodded with her usual bright face and ventured off ahead. When Tia was about to ask where she was going off to in such a fast paste, she saw Artea off to the side, watching her.
Tia stopped walking. “What's wrong?”
He smiled. “Why would you think something is wrong?”
“Hm, well, you have that look in your eyes again, Artea. In fact, I think it has something to do with what I have been thinking of.”
The elf did not appear to be shocked, for he had been wondering of who was the source of the magic. “The lights in the sky?”
Tia nodded wordlessly.
“It felt strangely familiar to me when I saw it that night...” He drifted off when he noticed Tia's expression. “No, I don't mean hostile... Almost as if it hadn't been given off by a living being.”
“A seal then? Perhaps a seal was broken?”
Artea looked to her with an odd sort of expression that the girl couldn't quite place. No...it can't be...
But her daughter was.
Milka... Artea snatched Tia's hand almost savagely, and began to walk faster, like he was to break into a run at any moment.
“What is it, Artea?”
For a long while the elf did not answer. Then, once they had finally reached the edge of the city, “If a seal indeed has been broken, then there is only one place that close to my village that it can possibly be.”
“The Divine Shrine.”
Yeah, yeah, not much, I know.
Maybe it is just me, but I can't see this story ending well. I don't wish to make it a depressing ending, so I'll try to get around the original one that I had planned. I'll also try to make it work into the whole Lufia thing. This is not intended to be AU people. This is getting hard to write as well and I know that this whole story seems dragged out, but I *am* getting to the end.
And do not fret my fellow elf lovers (or not...), more will be explained in further chapters, such as to what I mean by the seal over the Divine Shrine. Oh, by the way, Merry Christmas :)
Ch -> 11 -> The High Seas
The Divine Shrine.
Tia had heard of this forbidden place from stories told to her by Ilene and the people in her town. Once, the Elder had begun a story--to the children of her village--of how the shrine became such a profound figure in elvin history. Elves. Tia had never thought much about them back then, only that they were these untouchable beings brought to life through books and fairytales. Yet, she stayed to listen to the old man's tale, unable to break away. It was a simple story, after all, he was telling it to children, but the feeling the name sent down her spine was chilling nonetheless. She could tell, as the old man spoke, that this Divine Shrine was far beyond a simple tale. It held some sort of power, and it showed well in his words.
After the children had scattered to tell the story--jumbled no doubt--to other kids, the Elder came to speak with Tia, noticing that she had been listening. "A fine story, is it not?" He had asked.
Tia nodded, uncertain. Though the old man had raised her and she had spoken with him countless times, when his voice gave off that unmistakable, almost purring tone, she became suddenly uneasy around him. "Where is this shrine?"
"Ah, far away from here, my child. But its power is very much real." The old man spared a glance to the crowds of people bumbling around them. "Humans tend not to think much of stories of elvin folk and such. Fairytales to them. But they forget that even the problems of far off lands effect the whole world, and in turn us."
She did not quite understand back then what he meant. His voice was low, carrying with it the worries of a world unknown to them. Tia watched him with concerned eyes. "Do you mean that one day we will have to carry their burdens?"
"Perhaps..." The old man sat back down upon a tree stump, a little further out of the town, nearest the forest. "We all have our quests, Tia, our journeys to take. Maxim's will come to pass soon enough, as well as yours." The elder looked up towards the young maiden, his eyes serious. "Never forget that you are your own person, not just Maxim's friend. It may be that your path will stray from his... You may not be chosen to go with him, but that does not mean you will not find your way."
Not chosen? For what? What quest of Maxim's? It was easy enough to dismiss the old man's words as just ramblings, but somewhere within her, Tia knew then that she would, whether she wished to or not, find out what exactly he meant...
Tia snapped quickly out of her dreamlike daze when Artea called her name. Or at least she thought he did. The elf was still holding onto her arm, but walking slower than before. “Artea...” Tia started, watching the elf, “I was never told exactly what the Divine Shrine was, but the Elder of my town did tell stories of it.”
“The Divine Shrine was a place that held extreme power, for neither good or for bad. Since my people were aligned with the side of good, so then became the power. But it could just as easily be used for evil. Karyn was called upon by the Elders of my village to become its protector...” Artea paused for a moment, neither smiling nor frowning. “I always wondered why Vetiliel didn't choose me...” he noticed Tia's questioning expression, “Vetiliel is one of the Elders.”
Tia looked to the ground beneath their feet, the soft grass' dew now disturbed by their rushed movement. “Karyn died protecting it?”
The elf nodded. “Maxim, after finding my village, called upon me to show him the way into the shrine, for you cannot enter it without an elf to guide you...” He smiled, somewhat sadly, and he glanced to the girl. “That was the first time I met him.”
Tia smiled faintly as well, trying to recall what their first meeting must have been like. What if she was to be there with them? After seeing Artea, would she have still felt the same for Maxim? Besides all of the other questions inside her that ached to be answered, another one tugged more ruthlessly at the moment... “What happened to Karyn?” Tia knew it would most likely open up old wounds by him telling her, but her curiosity got the better of her.
“Amon wanted the power the Divine Shrine held. We couldn't get to her in time...” Artea turned back around, now gazing out to the forest around them. “After Karyn died, I, along with a team of warriors, cleared out what monsters were left inside. I then placed a seal upon the shrine so no other could enter again.”
“But someone has.”
“Yes, it seems that way. And whoever it is must have Milka with them. She is just a child now, but her powers have the ability of becoming as great as her mother's once were...and only she could have opened that seal without me being there.” Artea scoffed, shaking his head. “But needless it is to break the seal, for the power is gone. Maxim, his team and me were the ones who found the mystic stones. Once you touch them, their power becomes a part of you. The mystic stones are gone, so whoever it is, their journey has been one in vain.”
Tia glanced briefly over to the elf. A part of it is inside you? As it was inside Maxim and his team. Of course, the only surviving members were Guy, who now seemed another world away, and the elf, who she currently was walking with. Tia couldn't help but muse over what might have been said amongst them, perhaps at a late night visit to an inn. What did he talk about with Artea? Maybe one day, once her wound was healed somewhat more, she would be ready to ask those questions.
“I just hope he hasn't figured that out yet, for Milka's sake...” Artea trailed off again. Who could have wanted that power enough to--? “Wait a minute.” The elf stopped walking abruptly, causing Tia to do so as well.
“What's the matter?”
“The lights in the sky that night happened when I was in my village...” Artea looked over to the girl and their gazes locked for a moment. “Yes, the seal upon the Divine Shrine was broken, but I was in my house...so was Milka. She was sleeping. How could the seal have been broken then? If Milka had been taken, I would have known.”
“Then who broke it? You said yourself that only you and Milka could have done so.”
Artea began walking again, faster now. It looked as if it would take forever to reach the shore... And, now of all times, they didn't have forever. Ironic. Elves seemed to have all eternity for everything. “We're missing something, Tia. Indeed I did place a seal upon the door and if it was broken there would have been some indication. But those lights in the sky...maybe it wasn't the seal upon the door--” The elf's face visibly dropped and a sort of ill look crossed over him. Then his expression was covered by a dark, cold shadow.
“It was a diversion.” His tone almost frightened Tia. It was so bitter. “I should have known better than to leave them, but I wanted to see what it was... He must have came back for them when I left to search for the lights... Then, when I was coming back...something happened to me...”
She touched his shoulder slightly, almost cautiously, as if she was afraid his armor would burn her fingers. “Artea?”
The look left his face as fast as it had appeared. “I'm fine.”
Of course it was a lie, they both knew it, but neither spoke further for lack of anything to say. Artea now thought himself a failure to his people after being chosen as the protector of the village a long while ago. Probably, Tia assumed, around the same time Karyn was selected to be the bearer of the power the Divine Shrine held. Obviously, Artea and failure didn't mix well, and he didn't seem to be used to it.
Tia could just make out the top of sails from the ships upon the harbor and now as they finally left the little shaded path through the trees and neared the clearing that would take them to the docks, the couple saw Ilene there. She was making conversation with, what appeared to be, the captain of one of the ships. Tia smiled slightly. Again with the conversations.
“If you would just wait a little while longer for them--ah, there you are! What kept you?” Ilene turned from the captain to her friends, now besides her. “Do you have any idea how long I had to make this man wait?”--she shot a look back to the man, who visibly smirked--“and he isn't the well-mannered type.”
“Aye, nor is your lady friend here the patient type.” Then he saw Tia next to Ilene, and his face beamed with amusement, among other things. “Pretty little thing. Your sister perhaps?” The man was sturdy and tall, of course not as tall as Artea, who now caught the man's eye.
“An elf?” The captain backed away from Tia and Ilene. “And to what do I owe the pleasure?” It was said in sarcasm and with a small touch of scorn, which could be easily overlooked as simply a captain's mistrust of everyone.
“Not the elf loving type either...” Tia glanced over to Ilene.
“And very little pleasure you will be having if you don't keep your eyes off of my friends here.” The elf's eyes narrowed as he briefly skimmed over the man's own face, as well as body. “Not much the fighter type I presume?” The captain looked to object, but Artea cut him short, “it would suit you best not to anger me today then.”
The man's face dropped, then a smile spread across it, accompanied by coarse laughter. “I like your friend here! Not bad for an elf!” The captain would have patted Artea on the shoulder in some sort of friendlier manner, but the elf's expression refrained him from doing so. “Indeed. I think not to make you angry today, nor ever.”
The captain chuckled some more, before waving to a few of his sailors. “Aye, boys, we have two lovely ladies with us today, so mind your hands or their elf friend will cut them off!”
Ilene and Tia smiled towards each other; Artea actually grinned as well, but if faded fast as more thoughts of what to do now entered his mind. Sailing to...Barnan was it? He would ask Ilene later, since the woman had everything planned out. And as his thoughts wandered, he felt Tia slip her arm within his, dragging him along as they entered the ship over the gangplank. While the sailors upon the main deck carried bundles of cargo, hoisted upon their shoulders, below to the hold, the new passengers got of better view of their new source of transportation.
Their vessel was a good size, and obviously used not only to haul cargo, but people as well. From its deck stood three great masts, whereon the shrouds men scurried along to untie the sails. On the front of this ship, below the bowsprit and upon the prow, was a wooden face, whose resemblance seemed fairly close to that of Poseidon*, of who the ship was named after. Once Ilene paid the man for their ride and told him to where it was they wished to sail to, the captain showed interest.
“Barnan? Why ever would you want to go their, ma'am?”
Ilene made a face as she followed him through the hatch, down to the steerage below deck. “And what exactly is wrong with Barnan?”
The man shrugged, smiling sheepishly under Ilene's stern gaze. “Nothin' at all, ma'am. A question is all. Barnan isn't the most exciting of places. Just thought you would rather go to a more appealing place.”
“Well, nothin' to ya, but I would prefer Forfeit Island myself.”
Ilene sighed and smiled faintly. “I would think so. But I'm afraid we are not traveling for the purpose of pleasure.”
“On a quest then?” The man's face went pale, perhaps thinking of the Doom Island War. “I hope, ma'am, that you do not speak of more evil to be defeated.”
“I'm afraid so...”
The man suddenly felt more respect for the three travelers, as well as pride for himself, being the one to get them there...or at least halfway there. “Brave ones you are then. Not many look to face evil any more. I never did catch your names, did I?”
“I'm Ilene. Tia is my friend you saw earlier and Artea is the elf. What do I call you?”
“Captain will do, my Lady. For it is a name that suits me well, being the captain of the fine vessel Poseidon.” Captain placed his hands within the pockets of this blue, finely clad jacket, grinning broadly. “Your beautiful little friend is with the elf then?” He glanced back partway down the hall to where Artea and Tia stood talking amongst each other in hushed voices.
Ilene crossed her arms, her protective sister-like mode kicking in. “Yes, and you do best to keep your eyes and mind on other things than her.”
“Aye. I will, ma'am.” Captain laughed again. “Hard, though, with two beautiful women.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere, Captain.”
He smirked. “An interesting woman, no doubt. Yet I feel my flattery is not wasted on you.” He bowed slightly, “if you or your friends be needin' anything else, you have the privilege of calling upon me and I will personally see to it that your needs are met.” He walked up the wooden steps to the sailors above. Artea...why does that name sound familiar? Captain spared one more glance back, then he was upon the main deck again.
The night was cool once more, especially now that their night was, for the first time since their journey started, upon the sea. The moon was crescent, but still bright in the cloudless sky; endless with its diamonds and spirals of cerulean shimmers. Tia was now upon the main deck, over by the rails, her midnight blue hair blowing silently in ringlets over her shoulders. The breeze was perfect, as was the moment, silent and peaceful; only the soft splatter of the waves against the hull and the creaking of the Poseidon filled the air around her. Her elvish necklace shinned bright under the stars.
Artea watched her from afar, back where the mizzenmast was, leaning against it. The elf's long hair was tied together halfway down his back, but thin strands escaped and danced across his face, which was covered by the darkness of shadow. He sighed quietly. The boat ride was indeed peaceful and it would take some time before they reached Barnan. I guess we should make the best of it...
Artea looked to the left of him to see Ilene's smiling face greet him. He grinned slightly himself, he had to. Ilene had that way about her. “As troubled as any other, Ilene.”
“Tia?” The elf nodded and Ilene rested against the main mast, a little ways down from Artea. “Don't worry about her. She'll be fine in the end.”
“Strong, isn't she?”
Ilene cast her gaze to the moon. Its pearly light covered her face in a soft glow. “Strongest girl I know.” She glanced to Artea, his profile outlined in pale white. He looked so human now... “What happened to you?”
Artea scoffed. “I lost someone I loved.” He said simply.
“What was her name?”
“Karyn.” Artea was silent for a moment, then sighed in remembrance. “She was the protector of the Divine Shrine's power. When Maxim and his team found me, we traveled to the shrine, but when we got there it was too late to save her.”
“By time someone explained to me the whole story. Tia only told me you wanted to get back to your village to see if your people were all right.” Ilene fiddled with the ribbons around her waist, looking much younger than just twenty-three, in her sheepish way that was about her on this night. “I'm sorry it had to be Karyn.”
“We all lose someone, that can't be avoided I guess.” Artea went quiet, perhaps not sure of what to say. Then, finally seeming to find his words, “what's your story?”
Ilene laughed quietly, smiling towards the elf. “My story? If you must know...” She placed both her hands behind her, upon the mast. “I lived in Elcid and knew both Maxim and Tia since I was little. My mother died when I was twelve, but by then I had already been trained in running a shop, so I had no problem taking over the small magic store we owned. But, alas, I couldn't do it by myself, so I sold it to an elderly couple. When Tia left after Maxim, I took over her shop for her. I guess I found more interest in selling weapons...”
“Or perhaps it is because the magic shop held too many memories for you.”
The woman smiled sadly, shaking her head and allowing golden strands to fall before her eyes, which searched his cautiously. “Probably so.”
Artea's expression changed slightly under the faint light of the heavens, and even when he asked the question, he still looked unsure. “How long was Tia in love with Maxim?”
Ilene turned towards the elf in surprise; her light colored brows arched upwards. “Do you really want to hear this now? Does it matter what happened before you met her?“
“I'm just...curious. That's all.”
She nodded, closing her eyes. “She told me once when we were children that she was in love with Maxim, but she never said anything to him about it. I don't even think she knows now why she never did...”
Ilene opened her brown eyes, watching with very little interest the horizon, where the world met with the sky, separated with nothing more than a simple invisible line. “I know why she never told him. She never loved him, Artea, not like that. Tia loved who she thought Maxim was. But that wasn't him. Even back then Tia wanted to fight with the rest of the boys of the village. She wanted to learn magic and go on quests, but she never did, because she was waiting for Maxim.”
“Then you came along.” Ilene smiled as she studied Artea's impassive face. “She loves you now, Artea. You cannot change something like that, no matter who came before.”
“I don't want to change it. I'm just afraid I will lose it.”
“Artea, you will never lose the one you love, even if time or fate intervenes. They'll always be there. You needn't worry so much...” Ilene pushed herself off the mast and walked over towards the elf, placing a hand upon his shoulder. “Why don't you get some rest?” She nodded her head in the direction of the hatch.
Artea only averted his gaze from her to the wooden deck's floor, watching his distorted shadow. “You go on ahead, I doubt I'll get any sleep tonight.” He watched as Ilene left for the lower deck and to her room, but before she was fully embraced by the opening's own shadows, he asked, “Are you all right?”
“I will be, in time.” The small twinkle in her eyes showed much more pain felt then she let on, but Ilene's ability to heal promptly amazed even Artea. The last thing he saw of her was her blond head, moving downward.
Tia was still by the rail, looking out onto the ocean's surface; like glass it was, shimmering under everything that glowed within the sky. He came up slowly behind her, the tangy, salty air of the sea all around them. Tia didn't jump, nor was she shocked to see him, she only smiled. And he did the same, standing besides her.
Some of his hair came undone in the gentle breeze, which swept by them and kissed their faces with soft lips. “Have you ever watched the world watching you?”
A small laugh escaped the girl. “As often as I can.”
Artea nodded, content in her response. “Good. One should always be aware of what watches.” He looked down to her still face, taking in her long hair, tumbling off bare shoulders; large, hazel eyes reflecting the sea; her peaceful face seemingly examining the ongoing, tranquil waves. His nose brushed against her cheek.
“What captivates you so in that ocean?”
“It's so vast, Artea.” The Poseidon rocked smoothly beneath, almost relaxing.
The elf looked out onto the ocean's surface, immediately feeling a profound clutch around him unlike anything before felt. The sea was a Siren's call, beckoning him to come closer. But he was not wary, for many of Lufia's natural beauties were often gazed upon in awe and respect by his people, for such things as old as the world itself deserved a certain amount of quiet dignity.
“So beautiful...” Tia's voiced was hushed, and she turned to the elf. “How long do you think it will take before we arrive at Barnan?”
“I'm not sure. I don't usually take boats... Of course with the exception of the Excerion, but that was much faster.” He mused, lighthearted humor in his voice at Tia's expense. She stared at him in confusion. Artea's smile widened. “Not too long a voyage I hope.” He wrapped his arms around her waist and gazed into her eyes.
She sighed quietly as his chin rested upon her head, now against his chest. “I hope it is a long one...” Tia whispered. She had fell in love with the sea and its crystal blue waves, shinning under the thousands of lights in the heavens.
Ilene was heading down the small, almost claustrophobic-like corridor when she noticed the soft glow of a nearby lantern, lingering somewhere before her, reflecting upon the walls and floor around. She half expected it to be some sailor checking out the cabins, but when she saw who it truly was, it was no shock. She wandered up to the middle-aged man, who stood beneath the little archway of which connected the steerage to the captain's cabin.
“Captain?” She asked. Ilene covered her eyes with her hand as the man raised his lantern to see, with more clarity, who approached him. The beams of the candle lit within its case of glass peered between the splits in Ilene's fingers and danced across her face.
“Ah, it be only you, ma'am.” Captain lowered his lamp to where his waist lied, beneath onyx pants and belt. “Why are you creepin' about in the dead of night?”
Ilene smiled brashly, crossing her arms before her chest. “I should be wise enough to ask the same of you.”
Captain chuckled and his lantern shook along with his body. “I do no creepin', ma'am. I only do what I do every night. Call me paranoid, but I only feel safe when I've checked it to be so. Pirates don't only attack during the day you know.”
“Have you seen any?” Ilene asked, not bothering to hide the bit of excitement in her voice. As a child, she heard many stories from travelers and their journeys at sea.
“Aye, I see them all the time when I close my eyes.”
Ilene stared at him for a moment, not exactly expecting the answer she had just received. “I don't mean in that head of yours, Captain. I meant this night.”
He laughed again. “Lady, pirates come at times you would least expect or when you feel most safe. It's as if they know--sixth sense perhaps.”
Captain swung his lantern around with himself and he pushed upon his door with all his might to open it. For a moment, Ilene thought the wood would break in two by the amount of pressure he placed upon it. But the way his knees and hands seemed to fall to pattern as they leaned against the door in such a manner, it was obvious to see that he must do this every night. “After all these years, you think I would get a new door.” He smiled quietly as he turned back to Ilene, who was already at her room's entrance.
“Maybe one day you can tell me about some of your adventures at sea. I would enjoy listening to them.” Ilene leaned against what was to be the door to her room.
Captain nodded slightly. “Would love to ma'am,” was all he said, but the twinkle in his dark eyes showed pride and excitement, for he loved to share his journeys of the high seas to anyone who dared to listen. Before the man or Ilene had the chance to depart to their rooms fully, Artea and Tia were running down the wooden steps from the hatchet.
“Captain,” Tia began, panting slightly, “there are ships lined up upon the horizon.”
“What?” The man emerged from his halfway stance between his room and the hallway, gaping. No ships but the Poseidon were leavin' Alunze's port tonight... “What do they look like?” Before either the elf or Tia could answer, the man was running up the steps--two at a time--to the main deck.
“What is it?” Ilene asked, coming to stand next to him.
Captain's knuckles grew white as he gripped the chocolate colored rail. The man squinted out into the night's sky, only lit by the heavenly display of stars. “Pirates.”
*Poseidon - Greek god of the sea. Thought it was a befitting name for the ship.
Hm. I don't really know what era Lufia 2 is in. I would have thought perhaps medieval or somewhere around, but then they have ovens and sinks...so... It be a mix of cultures and eras then. I'm not certain about that, but where there are sailors and ships, there will be pirates, so look out! I also gave some background to certain subjects, and that is basically *my* opinion stuck in there, so crunch on that for some time :)
Thanks to The Jack of Spades [Kitt] for information on the pirates and their ships! Check out her Lufia 2 fic “Opus of the Unsung Heroine”. It be about Tia. Yes, I'm plugging her fiction.
Ch -> 12 -> Captain's farewell
“All hands on deck!”
Captain's voice rang out over the already deafening commotion his crewmen were making. The ones beneath the deck, just recently awakened by Captain's loud thumping upon the hatchet, came above groggy with sleep clearly still within their eyes. Not a good thing to be tired upon an attack--especially with pirates, of all people.
Half of the crewmen were upon the shrouds, hurriedly widening the sails; the other half were below, knives and daggers ready for the other ship and its band of outlaws. Captain seized his sword from below deck, in his cabin, and now unsheathed it, ready to slash the first thing that crossed paths with him.
“Uh, Captain...” Ilene stood next to him, taking from out her boot her small knife. “Who's at the wheel?”
Captain shot her a glance, as if to say, "I know what I'm doing!". But after a moment's brief pause, his own eyes widened slightly. “Aye, that is a good question, milady!” Captain grabbed Ilene's hand and pulled her along with him to the forecastle deck.
A thin line of pink crowned the ocean's surface as it met with the sky; orange and red splashed across the heavens, brimming the wisps of clouds. Artea stood with Tia next to them, their weapons ready, both of them so eerily calm that some of the men had to stop and make sure they were still awake. Indeed they were. Both of them had seen many battles and this was only another one. After all, they were just humans...not orcs.
Artea's posture stiffened when the opposite ship's 'captain' could be seen even by human eyes. For a moment, the elf mused over the fact that the thought of killing these other humans hadn't bothered him. I never had to kill a human before. Well, I suppose if they come upon us with swords unsheathed, it would be hard not to kill them... He couldn't help but wonder what Tia would say to him if he voiced this thought.
But the girl's face next to him seemed just as blank as his, her thoughts just as unreadable. Tia twirled one of her daggers in her right hand every now and then. Whether it was just her way of warming up before a fight or the fact that she was anxious could not be told. Then she glanced around at the crewmen--now settling into their own fighting stances upon the decks--and to Captain and Ilene, and finally to Artea--tall and quiet, his eyes chilling to stare into. The only movement upon the Poseidon was the ship's own rocking, which was seemingly gentle before, but now almost violent.
"There's a storm comin'..." Tia heard one of the older crewmen, somewhere in the back, whisper to someone else just as unseen to her.
"Just what we need, a storm," Artea said quietly, despite other men's growing excitement and hushed voices amongst each other, he stayed calm. Just beyond the pirate ships, the sky that had once been lit by the coming of the sun, grew darker, as if the day was being pushed back by the night.
Tia's gaze still stood fixed upon the vessels, growing closer by every minute past. "Do you think it will blow us off course?" She could feel the elf's uneasy shifting at the thought of having to delay their journey, even if it would by just one or two days.
"That depends on how good a captain we have." The edge of Artea's lips lifted slightly at the thought of Captain complaining to Ilene about the storm and the pirates. Ilene must have the better patience out of all of us. The elf glanced down to Tia, then back to the sky. "Are you all right?"
"Of course I am," she said sharply. "I've been in battles before..." Tia trailed off when Artea grinned. "I'm just wondering how many more things will delay us."
Without answering the girl, Artea matched an arrow to his bow, pulling back the string silently. Neither a creak nor a groan escaped the bow's slender frame as it bended to Artea's skilled fingers. Aiming it casually, as if hitting the other men matter little, the elf narrowed his eyes. "If I take out their captain now, I wonder if the rest of them will scattered..."
Tia didn't answer him, which was just as well, for he didn't expect her to. Letting the arrow free from his hand, it tore through the air with no resistance, and as it was to hit the pirate captain between his shoulders, the man swung around and the arrow pierced instead the blade of his sword. Before it dropped upon the deck, the man caught it within his slender fingers. Examining it carefully, he scowled slightly.
Opposite from him upon the Poseidon, Artea did the very same, but not in disappointment of his arrow missing. "I wish the arrow I let go would have been elvish. That way he would know who it was from, rather than thinking me just another human."
Tia smiled up towards the elf. "If you are just another human, what does that make me, Artea?"
"My beautiful and deadly companion." He fitted another arrow to his bow, but this time did not let it fly. "He is skilled. Perhaps he will be more worthy for us than first thought?" Lowering his weapon, he watched the men upon the pirate ships stand perfectly still, waiting for the currents to take them to their target. It seemed an eternity; the ships just watched each other float along.
"We're outnumbered!" One of the younger crewmen nearest Artea ran next to the elf, gripping the rail and staring out to sea. The boy looked as if he had just woken up, for his brown hair was a mess upon his head. "Look at all of them! Captain's insane if he thinks we'll stand against them."
"Captain is indeed insane, but if his men are half as good as he claims to be, we should make this fight an interesting one." Artea grabbed the youth's arm, and yanked him away from the rail. "What's your name?"
"What does is matter? I'll probably be dead before we reach land."
Artea sighed, then loosened his grasp on the younger man's upper arm, once he was further back from the edge of the ship. "Tell me your name and I'll make sure you're body reaches land."
Looking at Artea in wonderment, the humor of the elf lost upon him, the boy said in a small voice, "Daryen. My name's Daryen."
"Well, Daryen, I would stay away from the rail if I were you. You are fidgeting so much, I'd hate to think you would fall overboard before the battle even started."
Looking almost ashamed, Daryen rubbed the spot on his arm where Artea had held him. "I've seen battles before, but in my little amount of time on this ship, I've seen no pirates. But Captain told me stories of them, and I care not to meet any." His voice quivered with his last words, and when speaking again, he became even more anxious. "Do you know what they will do to us when they capture us?" Daryen glanced to Tia and in a lower voice said, "do you know what they will do with our women?"
Tia scoffed, folding her arms before her chest. "Do you know which part of their body I will chop off if they try anything?"
Artea laughed lightly, in spite of the atmosphere. "You needn't worry about her; she fights as well as any man on this ship." Glancing down to the youth's belt, he asked, "why is your weapon sheathed?"
Daryen fumbled for his sword, round his waist, and practically cut himself while doing so. "I--I forgot to take it out."
"How old are you, Daryen?"
"Twenty-two years, sir."
"Only a year older than me? I wouldn't have guessed it. You look so young." Tia now reached for her other dagger in her left hand. Looking at his own sword in his shaking grasp, the girl reached out to steady his weapon. She smiled slightly in remembrance of when she was little and first held a sword. It had been almost as big as her. "Calm down."
"You do know how to use that, don't you?" Artea watched as Daryen lowered his sword, then held it flat within both hands, as if examining it to find some sort of secret meaning only he could see.
"Yes, I do."
"Ah, my friend, then use it well." Artea leapt up to the rounded rail of the deck, crouched down and placed his bow back around his shoulder to unsheathe his own blade from a holder, next to his quiver. The sword wasn't much bigger than the one that Daryen owned, but upon its silvery blade were carved symbols that neither human next to Artea could decipher. It looked paper thin, but it was indeed deadlier than any weapon owned by men.
Faster than first though, the head pirate ship was upon them, while the others stood what seemed miles away. And before it occurred to anyone else, Captain whispered next to Ilene, "The other ones are leavin'..."
Ilene brushed the now pattering rain from off her brow as if it were sweat. "Why would they do that?"
"Simple. The storm, Lady. They fear it will do more damage than they have planned for us. Looks like the storm is the sailor's ally this time..." Captain watched as the man opposite of them shouted orders to his crew. The two other ships that had accompanied him were now sailing back to wherever it was that they came from. But the first one remained. "Though I fear it's not enough to help us."
"Why so negative, captain?" Ilene's gaze locked with the man's own, her smile matching his now growing one. "I'm sure you've had worse. And even if you haven't, you have us with you." The young woman nodded to Artea and Tia upon the main deck. "Trust me, those two are enough."
"Milady, worse I have had. But only a few men from this crew have had it worse with the Poseidon and me. Many of them are new to pirates." Captain sighed, which then caught in his throat when he turned from Ilene and realized that the pirate ship was practically touching the Poseidon. "Shit! My men are not ready for this." Captain flung around and turned the wheel of his ship sharply.
But it did little good.
The pirate ship slammed into the Poseidon and, in turn with the now raging winds and rain, sent a few of his men upon the shrouds into the crashing waves below. Ilene was sure Captain had yelled something, but it could not be heard above the wind and the cry of the other men now swarming upon his ship. The pirates seemed like starved vultures flocking around a dead corpse.
And amidst it all, Artea stood with Tia, smiling slightly to her and thrashing his sword around almost like a lasso, slicing off men's limbs and slashing throats. Tia could not share the elf's enthusiasm, for Daryen's words rang through her head: they were indeed outnumbered.
Though Tia's weapons were significantly smaller, they did just as much damage. As many men as she could, she slashed at them, plunged her daggers in them, kicked them, anything that could insure harm. The crewmen of the Poseidon fought their best, but it was only the older men of the ship that did the most damage. The younger ones fell like flies.
Daryen stood close to Artea and Tia as he swung his weapon around a little crudely, but with a surprising amount of aptitude. He indeed did know how to use a sword. "There's too many of them!" He cried out to no one in particular. Taking a stab in the shoulder, Daryen fell backwards into Artea.
The elf swung around ready to strike, but stopped himself when realizing it was Daryen. Wordlessly, Artea sent his sword into the neck of the boy's attacker and flung Daryen to the other side of him. "You're right." He said, backing away with him. "There are too many of them..." The elf glanced around for Tia, then upon seeing her fighting somewhere to the left of him, he lavished his attention on the pirates nearly pouring from the other ship. But their captain was still upon his own vessel.
Artea pulled Daryen to his feet quite forcefully and jabbed a finger at Tia. "Stand with Tia." Before the boy could answer he was shoved in her direction and through the mass of allies and enemies and rain. The elf jumped Poseidon's rail and the rail of the other ship, touching one another so closely it was as if both ships were fused together. It seemed odd that the captain of the pirates did not board the Poseidon with his own men. Perhaps he was waiting for the clearing of Captain's crew.
As his feet touched the deck of the enemy's ship, a voice called out to him. "Artea!" The elf recognized it as Captain's voice, but Artea had little time to answer, for as he turned around, the pirate's captain was standing behind him.
"An elf?" The man sounded bemused as his voice rose over the loud booming of thunder. The pirate was Artea's height, thin, with a week's growth of beard around the bottom of his face and slender, slightly curled lips. His dark hair was pulled back by a boldly colored bandana. The man's now rain-drenched features matched his clothes: scruffy and tattered. Messy, but surprisingly not that unattractive. Within his hands was Artea's arrow. "I suppose this be belongin' to you?"
Artea rose up from his squatting position and tightened his grip upon the hilt of his sword. "It was meant to kill you, not amuse you."
The man half shrugged, half sighed. "A pity, elf. It would have been grand for you to have taken me out before my men boarded Captain's ship."
The elf's brow arched. "You know Captain?"
"Aye." The pirate walked a few inches closer to Artea, then began moving back and forth before him, for keeping still in the storm around them proved to be a difficult burden. "Old friends, we are." He purred, beating the arrow up and down on his palm, making some sort of rhythm that belonged to a long forgotten melody. "I've met him many a time in battle. Sometimes I won, sometimes he won. But neither of us died." The man stopped pacing. "There is a bounty on his head, you know?"
Artea crossed his arms before his chest, still holding on tightly to his sword, which was now positioned downward, the harsh pounding of rain sounding like bells across its surface. "Since when is a pirate a mercenary?"
"If there's a good amount of money in it, then I'll be doin' it." The pirate captain hooked the arrow onto his belt, like it was a memento of their meeting. "Something our kind has in common, eh?" He chuckled dryly.
Artea smiled as well, but it was harsh and bitter. "Our kind? We have nothing in common."
"Come now. I heard of all those stories of elves. I know how they are. You know how they are. Cold, calculatin', would sooner kill a human than trust one... Tell me, why are you on me dear Captain's ship? Have you come to collect the bounty on his head?"
Artea scoffed, causing the other man's forehead to crease in bewilderment. "You know nothing of elves. We don't collect bounties. And we kill if there is reason behind it, not for pleasure, nor for money." The rain was pouring down his face as if it was a waterfall.
"I see you are not one for negotiations then..." As he talked, the pirate was reaching for his own sword, but Artea's reflexes were quicker, so the man ended up with a blade to his throat and the elf with a dagger's tip pointed at his chest.
"Tell me, elf," the pirate said between clenched teeth, his own grip tightening round his weapon, "is there reason behind killin' me?"
The tip of the rain glistening blade pressed to the man's throat moved not an inch through the wind curling around them and Artea's harsh breathing. It stood steady as it was pushed deeper into the man's flesh to answer his question. "I can stand like this all day. Can you, human?"
The pirate laughed, then stopped, for with every movement he made, the blade drew more blood. "Don't be stupid, elf. The minute you push your sword into me, I be plungin' my own blade into you." The man's dagger penetrated Artea's armored shirt and he could feel the cold metal against his skin.
The cries of Captain's crew and the pirate's men sounded distant and far-off, despite their obvious closeness. All that could be heard through the rain were the harsh, scraping sounds of sword against sword and the shouts of men as their limbs and flesh were sliced by the enemy's weapon. Soon, even the sounds of battle were drowned out by deafening thunder. The men's faces were illuminated by lightening, streaking across the heavens and causing the sweat and blood of everyone below to glisten.
Artea thought better to act fast and now, before another chance at wounding him would be given to the pirate and his dagger. The man seemed distracted by the fight behind him, even though it seemed only a brief second, and as his eyes returned to Artea, the elf proceeded to slice the man's throat with a single sweep of his thin-bladed sword. But the pirate snapped his head back, as fast an action as possible for him; the sword blade sliced his skin, but not deep enough. Impulsively, he brought up his dagger to Artea's heart, but the elf moved to the right, causing the dagger to be plunged into his side rather than his chest.
The pirate cried out something that could not be heard, even by Artea, in the winds about them. He clutched his throat and staggered to the side for a brief moment. And it was indeed brief for the pirate raised his dagger again, taking advantage of the elf's momentary daze. But before the man could thrust his weapon into Artea, and before Artea had the chance to move, the familiar thwack of an arrow echoed in the elf's ears. Blinking hard in an attempt to clear the rain from out his eyes, Artea could plainly see an arrow sticking out from the back of the pirate's head through his forehead. Behind the slumped body stood Captain, smiling brashly, standing proudly on the Poseidon.
Artea hadn't noticed, but when he leapt to the other ship, his quiver and bow had fallen off. With a nod from the captain of the Poseidon, he was gone again into the embrace of the battle. Artea glanced back to the pirate; the man's dark eyes remained wide open, staring at the sky above as it if in silent prayer.
Artea breathed out, then inhaled quickly, almost as if in shock, for with every breath taken it felt like fire within his chest. When he had moved away from the pirate's blade, it sliced the skin across his upper body. Artea pushed the need for rest and healing aside, and looked back over to the Poseidon, it's once beautiful decks now splattered in the blood of its crew and its enemy's. With a slight groan, he walked back towards the rail of both ships and climbed over them carefully, as if he had all the time in the world to do so.
Upon his arrival to the other ship, Tia and Ilene found him; both girls were splattered in their own blood as well as the blood of others. Tia's lips parted to speak, but were covered with Artea's own, and he kissed her despite the rain and blood mixing in their mouths.
Ilene punched Artea's shoulder. "Where have you been? You worried the hell out of me, you know that?" The woman brushed her wet hair from out her eyes and looked over to the pirate's ship and the man's dead body. "Oh..."
Tia broke the kiss, and between gasps and pants, said, "we're losing, Artea."
He held her face for a moment, then scanned the Poseidon's decks for Captain. The rain was washing away most of the blood and bodies from its frame. For the first time since the storm had started, Artea could feel the violent rocking of the ship. "Where's--"
"What are you standin' there looking pretty for?" Captain yelled through the crowd, pushing his own men aside and swinging his sword at whatever pirate he could see through the blinding rain, praying that he hit them and not his own men. Finally making it through to them, Captain embraced both the girls and even Artea all that once. "Use the pirate ship and get the hell out of here." He whispered in the elf's ear, shoving his bow and quiver into his arms.
He pulled back, his worn and sweat soaked face creasing in a smile. "It's been fun, girls." He bowed slightly towards Ilene and Tia. "But I'm afraid this is where we must part for now."
"What do you mean? Aren't you coming with us?" Tia knew it sounded stupid the moment she said it. Since when does the captain abandon his ship? But truth be told, she and her companions had grown attached to him.
Captain smiled at the girl, and the twinkle in his eyes made him look years younger. "I would kiss you now, but I fear what Artea will do." He laughed and rested his hand upon her cheek, then turning his head to Artea, said, "watch out for her, she's a spirited one."
"Captain, you're coming with us!" Ilene shouted above the cries of the fallen men around her.
"Sorry, ma'am, the captain stays with his ship 'til her bitter and unsightly end. Think of it as my philosophy." He smiled warmly at Ilene, despite her frown.
"Damn your philosophy." With the rain upon her face, it was hard to tell if it was her own tears or simply the tears of the heavens falling down her cheeks.
Captain laid his crimson stained hand upon Ilene's face and kissed her before she had the chance to object. "That's until the next time we meet, milady." Ilene would have slapped him or at least have a retort for him, but instead she simply stared with her mixed emotions as her own tears and the rain mixed together.
"Artea," Captain glanced back to the battle, then rested his hands on Artea's shoulders, as if he would fall over without the support of the elf's body. "Thank you."
"Any time, Captain." Artea grabbed the man's own shoulder and squeezed it.
Captain held up a finger and turned back around to the crowd, like he was searching for someone. "One more thing..." Upon finding him, Captain pulled aside a blood covered Daryen and shoved him towards the three travelers. "Take him with you."
"But, sir--" Daryen began to protest, but Captain's glare silenced him.
"No protestin' this time, son. The rest of us might not make it, but I promised your mother you would, so get your ass on that ship and get the hell out of here!" Captain pointed a finger towards the opposite ship. Daryen, wide-eyed and gaping, obeyed his captain and climbed awkwardly over the rails.
Nodding slightly to Captain, Artea sheathed his sword and followed the girls upon the pirate ship. It didn't prove that difficult to maneuver this vessel--equal size to that of the Poseidon--away from Captain's, for the roaring waves beneath it pushed it along more so. The last that could be seen of Captain was his sword flying like air back and forth before he disappeared into the crowd.
Ch -> 13 -> Daryen's Tale
After hours of sailing, the sky unfolded before them; clear, bright, all signs of the drenching rain and streaks of light within last night's sky now gone to morning's new dawn. Apart from a few remaining wisps upon the horizon, the sky was cloudless and blue. The storm had ended, to the travelers' delight. Daryen figured out where they were by the nearby islands and continents in the distance.
Somewhere near Barnan... It wouldn't be long now.
Much to Artea's surprise, the storm hadn't blown their newly stolen ship much off course. Only Captain's Poseidon now drifted somewhere out there, helpless in the tides and foam that the man had fell in love with. Artea was upon the forecastle deck, holding the wheel within scarlet stained hands. Tia made him promise to heal himself once his energy returned, or she would hold him down and do it herself. With a wide smile from Artea, the elf agreed with no complaints.
It would take some time for all of their energy to return, so the rest of the ship's crew--all three of them--lingered upon the rails of the forecastle deck, watching the sea below. Tia and Ilene had managed to get most of the blood off of them, but Artea and Daryen didn't seem to notice the crimson that practically covered their bodies.
"The Wanderer." Daryen said quietly, coming to stand next to the elf.
Artea spared a quick glance to him, "The ship's name?"
Daryen nodded slightly and flattened his palms upon the rail of the ship, feeling the smooth surface beneath his touch, and noticing for the first time that his hands were indeed coated in dried blood. "Poseidon and The Wanderer. Anyone who knew anything about the sea knew of Captain and Juan. They were great enemies. Captain told me some of the stories when I was a child."
Ilene turned away her head from her companions to the sea once more before she spoke. "So I gather you have known him for quite some time?" She asked, her eyes still bright as she watched the rising sun.
"Aye." Daryen laughed ruefully. Even the simplest of words reminded him of his captain. "Captain was the dearest and oldest friend of my father. When I was a small child, my father left my mother and me." Daryen looked up at Artea, though the elf did not return his watchful gaze. "I guess Captain felt responsible for it. He stood with me and my mother, helped to raise me...
"He is my father, though not by blood--the only father I have ever known. He taught me swordplay, the difference between the forecastle deck and the quarterdeck... He showed me how to tell if a man lies to you or not." Daryen's voice quivered slightly in the cold, sea air. "He taught me everything."
Ilene did not wish to impose on the boy's story, but she had a question burning inside her, which she desired to ask. "Were he and your mother--"
Daryen shook his head, tasseled, brown hair now covering his eyes. "No. But I do think he loved her. He left for his voyages upon the sea, but he always came back to me and my mother." Daryen looked over to Tia and Ilene, neither smiling nor frowning. "My mother died a year ago come this autumn."
"Forgive me, I did not mean to pry--"
"No apology needed, ma'am." Daryen smiled slightly and did not bother to brush aside his hair, for it covered his eyes, now full of stinging tears.
Tia rested her hand on his shoulder and whispered softly, "we all lost someone we cared about. I lost my parents when I was very young as well. The Elder of my village watched after me from then on."
Artea looked to her quickly, then back to the sky before she could feel his eyes upon her. The elf frowned, some thoughts never forgotten now swirling about in his mind, where he did not wish them to be. Doubt was back again, every time he heard Tia speak of her friends, or family, or village...her human home. He knew then, with every word, she could never truly be happy with him.
The boy wiped his face from the few tears that streaked down it. "Thank you, milady."
"Call me Tia." She nodded back to her blond-haired friend, "she is Ilene. And you have already met Artea."
Artea kept his eyes on the widespread sea, which split in two before The Wanderer and sent droplets of water upon the four companions above. "What of the bounty on Captain's head?"
Daryen blinked a couple of times, then averted his gaze from the elf. "Captain never told me. I guess he got in trouble--but Captain always did, whether he wished to or not." He laughed, then stopped abruptly, as if laughing made him feel guilty now that he was safe out here and Captain was somewhere else.
Daryen looked out to the ocean. It looked so calm, so peaceful... But to many an inexperienced sailor, it could be a deathtrap waiting to swallow you whole. Funny how fickle the sea could be. The boy glanced back to Artea. He's so... He couldn't find a word to describe the elf, no matter how he tried. Any word used would be false. Artea was both cold and warm, frightening yet gentle, filled with sorrow, but where sorrow lied, so did happiness.
He's a warrior. Daryen nodded to himself, watching the elf as he steered the ship. Kinda reminds me of Captain. He looks so...troubled.
It was midday when Artea actually came down from the forecastle deck and to the cabins below. Daryen took over the wheel of The Wanderer and Ilene stayed with him to keep the boy company. Ilene had had the course to Barnan planed out perfectly before they switched ships, so she and the Daryen now tried to get back on the original course which the Poseidon would have taken.
In the steerage, Artea and Tia chose one of the cabins they thought best suited to begin to heal the elf's wounds in. Once sitting upon the edge of the bed, Tia began undoing Artea's armored shit--which was torn and ripped to where a simple tug could pull it off--and she winced slightly as the assorted scrapes and deep slashes could plainly be seen. The one on his left side particularly caught the girl's attention.
Tia crouched down before him, pressing her pointer and middle finger slightly upon the partially healed skin of the largest gash. Artea did heal faster than any human would, but being only half a day from whence the battle first took place, his injuries hadn't much time to mend properly. Under her gentle touch, the elf flinched.
"Sorry..." Tia murmured, recoiling her hand. "You take more beatings than anyone I have ever met, Artea." The elf remained strangely quiet and only gazed upon her in response. Tia quickly looked away, setting her attention back on his chest. Something troubling about that stare...
She reached out to place her hand flat upon his skin in order to summon a healing spell, but Artea's own hand stopped her. "I can heal myself. You should be tending to your own injuries, not mine."
The girl smiled, but did not withdraw her hand. "I, unlike you, elf, have already healed myself." But Artea did not let go his grasp upon her slender wrist and it only tightened. Tia frowned slightly. "You cannot stop me from healing you."
"Ah, but I can, Lady." Artea placed her hand down upon her lap. "I will heal myself when I'm ready...or when my energy returns, whichever comes first." He stood up before Tia, who did the same as he.
"Stubborn elf..." Tia brushed by him--purposely banging into him as well--and headed towards the cabin door. She did so not only in anger, but also of the growing awkwardness between the two. "You think by now you would trust me--"
Artea grabbed her wrist again and spun her around to face him. Her hair then twirled around her waist with her movement, like midnight blue fingers made entirely out of silk. "It's not that I don't trust you--" Artea pulled her closer to him and brushed his lips against hers, "which I do wholeheartedly, by the way--it's that I do not wish you to waste your energy on me."
"I have enough for all of us, Artea." Tia retorted. Her fingers unconsciously wrapped around her necklace again, and she pulled on it as she spoke.
"What is this really about?" She watched him, her eyes fixed upon his own, searching and wondering, so full of fire suddenly that it made Artea gape. Tia felt as if his own gaze upon her would make her eyes burn, so she looked away. "What has been going through that mind of yours lately?"
His face stayed placid. "I don't know what you mean." Inwardly, Artea kicked himself for speaking those words.
"Don't lie to me." She jerked her wrist away from him and her other hand instinctively went down, but as she did this, she snapped the chain of her necklace.
"Haven't you thought at all about us?" He asked bitterly. As soon as those words left his lips, Artea grimaced at his own tone. He had said what she didn't wish to hear. He was doubting them. Him, of all people.
Tia swallowed the lump within her throat and studied his face in some vain attempt to understand. Nodding slightly and biting down upon her lip in an endeavor not to choke, she said, "you loved me once." It was a harsh statement and it was one that left little room for reassurance.
"Yes, I did." Artea blinked. Did? I will always love you... But this thought he did not speak. Perhaps he believed that if he didn't care, he couldn't hurt her. But the problem was that he did care, too much than he ever should have.
Tia scoffed, but her tone was not bitter, only soft as it always had been. No tears brimmed her eyes. And she looked so beautiful, her face sad and determined, her gaze fiery and intense. "You are giving up then? That is not you, Artea."
"Not me? Child, you know nothing of what is me." His voice lowered considerably to an almost harsh, dry tone. "If you ever knew me, you would not love me. No, nor would you wish to be around me."
"I see. Elves and humans do not belong together." That stung them both hard the moment she said it. He had never seen her angry before, and now he sorely regretted opening his mouth to begin with.
Artea reached for her arm forcefully, but she pulled away again. "I don't wish to hurt you." He said quietly.
"You just did." Tia whispered, turning away from him, ready to walk away, but she did not move. Where would she walk away to? She just stood motionless, as if waiting for something to happen to ease the discomfort within the room. Tia felt his hands upon her bare shoulders and she tried to slip away from him once more, but he held onto her forcefully.
"I'm not human. I can never be one." As he spoke, she shivered under his touch, which now so quickly became cold and foreign. Within his voice, there was a hint of regret for not being human enough; not being what she could spend the rest of her mortal life with. Artea bowed his head until his forehead pressed against the back of her head and his soft breath tickled her neck. "I cannot love you like another human can."
It always came back to this, didn't it? Tia clutched in her hand the pale, lavender colored stone of her necklace tighter. "If you could be human, would you?" It seemed so pointless to ask that, but she needed to know.
"In a heartbeat." Artea said, without faltering, as if he had read her very thoughts. His words were hushed and came besides her ear, almost echoing within it.
"Then leave it at that, elf. Do not speak another word, for if you do, I fear you will get your wish. And you would never be happy as a mortal man."
Artea's hands crept down her sides and his arms wrapped around her waist as hard as he could manage without hurting her, for he knew she would try to leave. Tia struggled to squirm from out his grasp, but he was too powerful and she ended up only getting her own arms free.
"You're hurting me." She whispered. She wanted to leave before tears came and streaked down her face, and now as they did, she bit her lip again in order to stop herself from crying out. In fact, she bit down so hard, she was certain she drew blood.
"No I'm not." Artea didn't let go, he only held her tighter.
Tia again tried to break free and this time he let go for a moment. But as she moved for the door, Artea grabbed her nearly fervently and pulled her back to him again. Tia raised her hand to smack him away, but he caught it before she landed the blow. She then did the same with her left hand, but Artea caught that one as well. Holding both her hands, he pinned them to her sides.
"Artea, if you do not let go of me--"
He threw her to the wall of the cabin lightly and held her arms upon the wooden frame. He would not answer her and it frightened Tia the way he was throwing her around as if he could do whatever he pleased to her. Artea ignored her fidgeting and pressed his body against hers in order to still her movement. Before Tia had the chance to react even in thought, he began kissing her feverishly upon her forehead, chin, lips, anywhere upon her face.
Tia pushed him off her slightly, but he only pushed back until she was to the wall again. Artea seemed almost heated towards her and his mind swarmed with a defiant voice that screamed at him to stop. What are you doing to her? He seemed confused for a moment, but that moment lasted only briefly for he pressed his mouth to hers once more, kissing her more avidly.
Tia didn't move her body, though she couldn't even if she desired to, and tried instead to free her arms. Unable to do that, she halted altogether and merely whispered between his lips and her own, "what are you doing?"
"I don't know..." Artea backed away from her and she only stared wide-eyed at him. "I don't know." He murmured and kissed her again. Tia pulled back, but not in anger, only in an attempt to speak, though it was futile for he pressed his finger to her lips. "Shh..." He covered her mouth with his own, but softer this time.
Every time he touched her, this gentle tingling sensation overwhelmed her, sparking something buried deep within her. Tia felt her knees grow weak beneath her, and she feared they would no longer support her body. Though now there was no point in worrying over that for Artea was lifting her up slightly and holding her securely. But even the elf stumbled. The world around them spun as they fell upon the bed, whether intentionally or not, Tia did not know.
Tia shifted her head to the side, breaking their kiss. She turned her face back towards his and his nose touched her own. "Why do you say those things? You say you are not human--"
"I'm not human," he mumbled between partially opened lips, kissing now her neck. When she moved suddenly under him, Artea gasped, for then he actually realized the wounds upon his skin.
"Then why do act it?" She asked, noticing that her necklace no longer was held firm in her hand, but now laid somewhere else upon the bed.
Taking advantage of his sudden daze, Tia pressed her one hand upon the gash deep within his side and the other hand hard upon the skin of his back. Many of the small cuts upon his flesh mended well and disappeared, but the horrible looking slash only healed partly.
Artea grabbed for her hands again. "I told you not to heal me."
"And I told you that you could not stop me from doing so."
He watched her for the longest time, but anger was no longer swirling within her eyes. Artea brushed his lips over her mouth and said quietly, "you are a fool for loving me."
"Perhaps..." She smiled faintly and intertwined her fingers in his hair. "But you are one for allowing me to."
"I didn't force you to follow me, Tia." Artea rested his forehead against hers. "Actually, if my memory holds true, you are the one who desired to come."
Tia's smile faded as she watched his face. "Why must you doubt us? After all this, why do you push me away? It seems an endless circle with you."
A little taken back, the elf closed his eyes and sighed. "It is a curse in the back of my mind. Would you lie and say it is not the same with you?"
"I wish I could." She said honestly, her fingers sliding along his pointed ear. Artea laughed, mainly because it tickled, and because she seemed like a child then, in wonderment with his long ears.
The elf's grin left his face and he frowned as he spoke, "What will you do when this is over? Where will you go?" He sat upright now before her and Tia soon did the same.
She raised her hands up and closed her eyes, an amused, playful expression upon her face. "Wherever the wind takes me, Artea."
"How elvin of you." Artea held her hands again and placed them on her lap. "Will you stay with me then?"
Tia seemed a bit shocked by his question, but her smile still remained upon her face. "How dare you ask me such a thing! Of course I will stay with you." She leaned closer to him and kissed his bewildered face.
"But I thought--"
"What? That I can't live without humans? Artea, I can go back to Elcid anytime. I have the world to explore now."
Artea did not answer, for his ears picked up on movement from down the hallway outside. Daryen knocked on the door and opened it quietly. Upon seeing them, he seemed to blush slightly and an idiotic smile spread across the bottom of his face. "Uh... I... Barnan--"
"We have arrived?" Tia leaned her head to the side, looking past Artea's head to the boy.
"Yes..." Daryen placed his folded hands behind his back and rocked from side to side a bit, like a small child waiting for his parent to come and get him. "Well, we're not there yet. But we will be arriving shortly. Ilene wanted you above deck for something."
"Ah. I see." Tia's hand reached for her necklace, resting upon one of the pillows, and she then slid from off the edge of the bed and slowly walked over to him. Nodding to Daryen, she left the room to him and the elf, who scratched the back of his head of disordered hair.
"I didn't..." Daryen shifted awkwardly, searching for the right words, "...interrupt something, did I?" The boy's smile spread from ear to ear now, though something sheepish and boyish remained in this gesture.
Artea only stared at him blankly for a moment, before laughing uneasily and falling back onto the bed. He closed his eyes and nodded his head towards him. "Don't look so stiff. I could knock you over like a board."
Daryen's shoulders relaxed more as he entered the room fully, slowly moving his head around to see the small area. "Where are you traveling to anyway?"
"Traveling to?" The elf opened his eyes, than sat upright, laying his hands upon his arched legs. "Eserikto. My home."
"Are they in trouble?"
Artea sighed quietly, so quietly that Daryen never heard it nor the worry intertwined within it. "I don't know...
"Not long." Ilene brushed more blond hair from out her eyes. Tia, standing besides the woman, turned her head to meet with her gaze. Ilene smiled as she watched the world before them now. "What happened?"
Tia's eyes widened slightly. "What do you mean?"
Ilene glanced to the necklace trapped within Tia's fist, the chain flowing out from in-between her fingers like silver water. "Your necklace."
"Oh." The girl laughed nervously. Her voice sounded relieved, too much so that Ilene raised an eyebrow and was about to ask why when Tia cut her off. "The chain snapped, that's all."
Ilene held her hand out. "Let me see that." Tia gave the silver chain to her friend hesitantly, not wanting to let it go, as if the world around them would cave in if she did so. Ilene fiddled with one of the small links, attaching it to another one as it previously had been. "There you go, just like new."
Ilene only smiled in response, motioning for Tia to turn around so she could place it back round her neck. "Chains are easy to mend, Tia." Once Tia turned back around again, Ilene rested her hands on her small shoulders. "I don't suppose you are going back to Elcid then?"
Tia didn't look surprised, for Ilene always knew what she was thinking. Ilene knew just about what everyone was thinking. The girl merely shifted her gaze from her companion to the sea and the afternoon's light played across her face, which was pale now, strangely so. "You are going back?" Her voice was quiet and almost had a childlike ring to it.
Ilene shook her head, her beautiful smile planted upon her face once more. "No. I came with you, Tia, I will stay with you."
"But what about the shop?"
"I don't know..." Ilene's hands slid from off Tia's shoulders, leaving them bare and cold again. "I do love that little store." There was a small chuckle in her voice. "But some things are more important, Tia."
"No. Ilene, Elcid is your home. I don't want you leaving it for me."
"Well, I suppose we would have to go back. After all, I did ask Daisy to watch the store for us. I gather she won't be too happy if we leave and never return to it."
"I don't know if I will ever return to it."
Ilene's face didn't alter, as if she hadn't heard a word Tia had said. "It is our home. Not just mine."
Tia moved away from Ilene and as she gripped the railing of the forecastle deck, she whispered, "what about Artea? Where does he belong now?"
The blond woman lowered her eyes until she was watching her own boots, as white as the ivory painted figurehead upon The Wanderer's prow. "Yes. I have forgotten about that." She looked up again, to meet Tia's eyes. "And sometimes I find myself forgetting he is an elf."
"Me too." Tia grinned faintly. "But then something so quickly reminds me that he is one, and nothing any of us can do will change that truth."
Ilene squeezed the girl's shoulder lightly. "Tia, it will work out, you'll see. These things do."
Tia did not answer for she could hear Daryen coming up through the hatch, and presumed that Artea was with him. Daryen was practically running to the girls with a smile as wide as the sea itself, as if he hadn't seen land in months. Artea soon followed, slower though and stood next to Tia quietly.
"Where is it?" Daryen's smile faded upon seeing only water. "I thought we would at least see the outline of land by now..."
The elf pointed out before them, past the rolling waves and past the lingering mist leftover from morning, to the land that housed Barnan. "There."
"Where?" Tia squinted, trying to see with human eyes what the elf so clearly found. She raised a hand to her brow, shielding her eyes from the sharp sun.
"There!" Ilene laughed with victory, for all those nights plotting their route were not in vain. "I see it!" She and Daryen were nearly jumping up and down and hugging each other with joy. But their delight was short-lived for soon Ilene whispered solemnly, "I wish Captain could have been here..."
Tia embraced her friend and leaned against Ilene's head, brushing her blond hair out of her sunbathed face. "He will, soon enough."
"People like Captain won't go down very easily..." Artea mused, mostly to himself. He was right in a way, for their fond, thickheaded captain could have swam them across the sea upon his back if he wished it so--as hard and awkward as that would have been.
Tia, her arms still around her friend in an attempt to comfort her, glanced right to Artea. He looked the way a pale, silver spring did, his hair moving slightly by the unseen breeze, as if at any moment he would fade away and become one with the heavens around them.
Silently, she smiled at him. Despite what she felt inside, despite what confusion and heartache ruled their lives, she smiled, and he did the very same. Tia thought she had finally understood that night back at Alunze. Now she knew she could never truly understand where she and Artea stood, for they did not stand at all. They merely floated in nothingness, forever trapped and forever free in their own little world, never to be understood by any human nor any elf.
Bittersweet described them perfectly.
I felt like making them have a fight. There you have it, I am a perv.
Artea: for shame, Doc, for shame.
Oh...kiss my grits.
Busy, busy, busy... Enjoy, for this may be the latest chapter for a while. Anyway, this is coming along well. Of course, Artea and Tia's relationship does seem to go in a never-ending circle, but you must put up with it for now. Hm...one more chapter, two at the most--depends on how long I feel like making the next chapter. I now actually have an ending. Yay! You may not like it, you may love it. Eh.
Ch -> 14 -> Old Friends
Barnan, which had once been a thin line upon the horizon, was now taking full shape before the passengers' eyes. And with its ports, harbors and civilization, came the whispers of a journey near to its end. The wind became cooler upon the ports as Daryen docked the ship. The three humans and the elf crossed the gangplank and, for the first time in what seemed like years, touched solid ground.
Daryen was practically kissing the wooden docks, and laughed on all fours when he felt the earth himself beneath his own hands. From the way he was smiling, it was as if he hadn't seen land in months as apposed to days. "It's been a while, ground."
The people of Barnan were gathering around The Wanderer and its crew, for the ship they arrived in belonged to that of a pirate, and a well-known one. Artea first glanced around for the armory before bothering to notice the flocking crowds--flocking for many reasons other than their appearance and their ship.
"They think we are pirates." Artea said, amused, next to Tia.
"That's what we get for using that ship." Daryen muttered, casting a disdainful glance to The Wanderer. Then he looked back upon the crowd of wondering people. "We're not pirates!" He yelled, a touch insulted. All that answered him were the hushed mummers of the townspeople amongst each other.
"Forget it, Daryen, they won't listen to you." Artea brushed his hair from out his eyes in the sudden wind and walked along the dock to a sailor, who was hauling cargo to his captain's ship. The sailor noticed him--ears and all--along with The Wanderer in the docks, but still said nothing as Artea approached him.
Artea watched the man for a few moments before he spoke. "Has a ship called Poseidon been through here?"
The sailor glanced at him, but did not lock gazes. "Are you one of Juan's men?"
"No, we are friends of Captain."
Now the sailor finally looked the elf full in the face, his own brown eyes reflecting Artea's blue ones. "Then why did you arrive in The Wanderer?" He obviously did not wish to jeopardize Captain's safety, and Artea could not blame the man for that, but still his words annoyed the elf.
"Does it matter?" Artea sighed, glancing back to Daryen. "Has Captain been through here or not?"
The sailor searched the elf's impassive face quickly, but still the man's expression remained a skeptical one, as if it had been imprinted eternally upon his face. And it showed more so when he frowned and shook his head. Tia could clearly see that Artea was loosing his patience with the man, so she decided on stepping in quickly.
"Do we look like pirates to you?" She asked, not threateningly, but forcefully. "We just want to know if Captain is all right. That's all. You don't have to tell us where he is if you don't believe us."
The sailor switched his gaze from Artea to Tia, then back to the elf, cocking his head to the side--almost as if he was admiring Artea's long ears--and said, "I haven't seen Captain. But he was to depart from Alunze's east coast a day or so ago."
Tia looked out toward the sea from where they came from, shielding her eyes from the great sun and its light. "Where to now?" She asked, her voice soft and low.
Ilene's face creased suddenly with an expression Tia could not place. But as quickly as it came, Ilene nodded and moved away from her friends. "Let's get cleaned up." She turned around, apparently looking for an inn. "And I wouldn't mind something to eat..."
"We might need to buy more weapons." Artea began walking in no particular direction.
Moving fast to keep up with Artea's long legs, Tia asked, "Do you think we will need more?" The thought hadn't occurred to her until he brought it up. Will what they have to fight in Eserikto bring the need for more weapons, more strength? It couldn't possibly be that powerful...
"I don't know. But whatever it is, it had the power to bring down my village and warp me from it to Elcid."
"Then you think your village is destroyed." She whispered, and it was not spoken as a question, only in a final realization. Artea did not answer; he only glanced towards her for a moment with a sort of strange, longing expression on his face.
Ilene followed slowly behind them, but stopped once she noticed that the boy was no longer with them. "Daryen?" Ilene reached back and gently grabbed hold of his hand, tugging upon it. "Come on." She tried to pull his arm as well, but he did not move, not even a little. Finally, she stopped altogether and stood besides him, trying to see what he saw out there upon the ocean's sunbathed surface. "What is it?"
"Do you think he's dead?" Daryen's hushed voice came.
Ilene could hear her own heart pause its beatings for a brief second. Then she smiled slightly, despite the solemnity of the question. "No, not him." Was all she said, and Ilene once again slipped her arm around his. For a time she and Daryen simply stood there, the ocean shimmering and the warm breeze twirling around them and grabbing hold of their feet, seemingly wanting to pull them towards the water.
Finally, Ilene said, "let's go find Artea and Tia. I don't think it's wise to leave them alone." She chuckled, though it was more rueful than anything else.
"I'll be there in a minute. I just want to stay here for a little while longer."
Ilene nodded and left Daryen after a moment's hesitation. Before his shadowy figure could disappear entirely from her sight and the crowds that wandered before her, she could see Daryen standing upon the harbor, watching other ships as they came and went.
It was dusk when the four of them met up again in the armory. They had their clothes and armor repaired at the small shop and then moved onto the weapon's store. Again, Artea refilled his quiver with new arrows and bought another long sword, not as nimble and as finely made as his own elvish one, but good enough at the moment. Tia bought two more daggers--their blades larger in size than her previous ones--and Ilene helped herself to a short sword. Daryen kept the short sword he had and purchased a crossbow, which strapped nicely to the back of his belt.
Along with getting what little armor they had repaired, Artea bought a long, coal colored cloak. When they finally left the stores, the elf pulled the hood of his cloak over his head. Tia wondered if he had finally tired of people staring at his ears. And the cloak did indeed hide them well and most of his body, save the bottom half of his face.
The crowds seemed to thin and die down at this time of evening, but many still lingered about, mainly people coming in from docked ships upon the harbor. Ilene noted that Daryen was trying best to keep himself from staring towards the endless sea. Perhaps he thought that if he indeed looked upon it, he would begin to think of his captain once again. Daryen only kept his eyes downward and Ilene wondered if he would forever walk around that way--and for his sake, she hoped he wouldn't.
Artea and Tia were walking side by side in silence; only their boots making a rhythmical thumping sound, which soon fell into step together, made any noise between the two. But their silence was not the effect of a fight or simple unease, Ilene soon noticed. The blond woman's face lit up with a wide smile. So, they finally found each other... Ilene noticed lately how the two seemed to move and think as one, rather than before, when they had to struggle to try to understand each other. She placed her hands upon her hips, to add to the broad grin, just as Tia glanced back to her and Daryen.
"What's so funny?" Tia smiled slightly herself and quickly looked to Artea to see if he caught hold of what made Ilene grin before she did. Apparently he didn't, for he never bothered to turn around to regard any of them. Again, the elf was lost in his thoughts.
"You two." Ilene hooked arms with Tia and began pulling her away from the elf. "You two seem...different than before. Almost like you've both changed." When she noticed Tia's expression, she added with a laugh, "for better I mean."
"Artea, I told you, you look foreboding in that cloak." Tia giggled with Ilene. Artea turned his head to them for a moment, but with the shadow of the hood covering his eyes, neither of the girls could tell from his face if he took that comment lightly. "I think he was going for that."
Ilene simply shrugged off Artea's glance as he turned around again. "Guess so."
None of them voiced the question of where they were headed, for it was obvious it was toward the harbors. Tia didn't say anything, but she would have liked at least a day to rest. And she was certain so would Daryen and Ilene, but Artea sometimes forgot that humans tire out easier than elves. Artea was off ahead with Tia once more, while Ilene lingered behind them and the early night's crowd with Daryen. As the shuffling mobs of Barnan's inhabitants past them, the distant cries and cheers of more voices became clear to the small group.
"What's that?" Ilene asked, coming up from behind Tia. "Sounds like...cheering?"
Artea blinked a few times. Damn, why didn't I hear that before? The elf cursed himself for allowing his mind to wander and jerked his head around towards the commotion. "Hm. Indeed you are right, Ilene..."
Daryen stood besides the elf and groaned. "And here I was hoping for a peaceful night."
"Wait..." Artea looked up towards the darkening sky. The heavens were illuminated with the intense flames of orange and yellow. It soon became evident, though, that they were completely different from the red streaks that descended from the heavens those nights ago. For one thing, they were coming from the city, not falling upon it. He relaxed somewhat. Apparently Tia was thinking the same, for her shoulders shrunk down as well.
"It looks like a fire." Ilene began pushing her way through the crowds of oblivious people and curious bystanders. "Why would they cheer a fire--"
"It's The Wanderer! It's on fire!" Daryen pointed past people's heads once they were closer to the ocean.
The sails of The Wanderer could be seen and now as they neared it more, the rest of the ship was in full view--the rest, that is, that was still standing. Through the thick flames, Artea could see that while they had been gone The Wanderer's decks had been trashed. Along with that, one of the masts was broken off and hanging from the main deck towards the calm waters below. Of course none of that matter now, for the whole ship was lit in the vast color of ginger. The sea mirrored the ship and with a quick glance, it was as if two vessels were burning at once.
Daryen stood gaping at The Wanderer. "They--they--"
"Burned our ship." Artea folded his arms before his chest. "Not pirate loving people."
"How are we going to get to...Esek--Esriko--"
"How are we going to get there now!?" Daryen jabbed an index finger towards the ship as if he was the only one who noticed its withering remains. The boy slapped the palm of his hand to his head and moaned softly, which was hard to hear through the ship's wreckage falling into the once calm ocean and the yells of the townspeople.
Artea sighed and glanced towards Tia, who only stared with Ilene speechless at the once proud ship. "I can't think of many people willing to take us east towards the Mountain of No Return."
Tia finally broke her gaze with the vast fire and rubbed her eyes to rid them of the stinging image. "Is it as bad as it sounds?"
"The mountain? No, it's actually a very peaceful place compared to most. It's the legends behind it that keep people away. In fact, many of the stories were fabricated by elves in order to ward off curious people from our village." Artea bowed his head, suddenly regretting what his people thought was a good idea at the time. Noticing Tia's discouraged face, the elf pulled her closer to him and leaned his chin upon her head. "We'll find a way there..."
"You!" A voice interrupted the two and it sounded as displeased as they felt at the moment.
Artea and Tia immediately separated from each other and drew their weapons. Ilene arched a brow that asked "what are you doing?", but when the blond woman swung around to the small mob before them, she reached for her short sword as well. The people of Barnan didn't seem too pleased with the newcomers, and their weapons and torches only added to that fact.
"We don't cater to pirates!" A middle-aged man yelled, still a good distance from Artea and his companions. "Get out of our city!"
"Well, that's not very reasonable. You burned our ship, so how do you suppose we get to where it is we wish to go?" Artea, with his hood over his head and the bright light of the fire reflecting off the bottom of his face, looked nearly evil. He held his own sword and newly bought one in both his hands and when he flashed a quick smile, many of the younger men backed away.
"We are not surrounded completely by water. Leave our city by land!" The dark-haired man began again. "We want no trouble!"
"No trouble?" Tia laughed cynically and pointed towards them with her dagger. "Then why did you burn our ship?"
The man's voice grew darker and his face creased with his scowl. "I told you, pirates are not welcomed."
"We are not pirates!" Daryen gritted his teeth and held up his crossbow. "If one more person calls me a pirate--"
Artea's hand fell swiftly to the boy's weapon and positioned it downward. "I have no interest in killing any more humans." The elf's face stood impassive and it was hard for Daryen to tell what was swirling through that mind of his. "But if they threaten our lives, I will have to." He turned away from the boy and purposely avoided Tia's gaze. "I don't want any of you to have to."
Tia looked out towards the crowd of people. "I'm standing by you whether you wish me to or not, Artea. I don't want to kill humans either, but if they come towards us, I will not back down. I'm as much a fighter as you are."
Artea allowed the girl a small grin. "That's quite evident, Lady."
"I'm by your side too, Artea." Ilene kept her short sword downward, the tip of the blade digging into the cobblestone beneath their feet.
Daryen nodded and held up his crossbow again. "You know my answer."
Artea laughed and cocked his head to the side, strands of his long hair falling into his face. "Why do I bother with you humans? And you say my race is stubborn..."
The older women fled from the harbor with many of the young children and others who were not so intent on fighting what they deemed to be pirates. But the rest of the people were too blinded by pride and honor and love for their city, attacked one too many times by pirates, to back down. In fact, they only drew closer.
Artea sighed heavily and with his shoulders tossed his cloak back from them, leaving more space to freely move his arms around. The dark-haired man handed his torched to a young boy besides him and Artea winced slightly when he noticed that a number of the men in the crowd were not men at all, but boys. And it was painfully obvious a few would do battle, for the few held swords and daggers that looked rather clumsy in their small hands--Artea made a quick mental note to only stun them, not harm them.
The dark-haired man raised an axe and repeated for what he thought would be the last time, "Leave our city, or we will rid you of our harbors and throw what is left of you into the waters."
"Back down, human. I can assure you that a handful of what you say will 'rid us' are too young to even wield a sword and the ones that are left are not warriors at all, only the small number of people you could gather that were not afraid to fight what you think are pirates." Artea said through a clenched jaw, his patience wearing thin.
"Human?" The hushed word was repeated a good number of times within the crowd before the man waved his hand to silence them.
"What does that make you then?" The middle-aged man wrinkled his nose, as if in disgust, and positioned his axe towards Artea, who merely smiled.
"He's a demon!" A woman cried in the back.
More people began shouting things, some inaudible to Tia, Ilene and Daryen, but quite clear to the elf.
"Show him what we think of demons, Gerald!"
"Burn him with his pirate ship!"
"Gerald is it?" Artea no longer smiled and the crackle of the still abundant flames made it nearly impossible for the people in the back of the mob to hear him. "Is that your son?" With the blade of his sword, Artea pointed to the boy, who now held the torch. The child's eyes grew wide, then narrowed, like he wished to prove that he did not fear the 'demon' before him.
Gerald clutched his son with his free hand and frowned. "And what if he is?"
"I'm sure you wouldn't want to leave him fatherless."
"What do you care, demon?"
Artea laughed bitterly and twirled both swords quickly within his hands, dangerously close to the people around him. "I do not care at all if he was orphaned. But I would have thought you did. Aren't humans protective of their children? Or are all of them as careless as you are?"
Gerald growled and lunged towards Artea, but the elf only knocked the pommel of his sword into the man's head, as lightly as he could manage. Gerald fell to the cobblestone ground along with his axe and yelled out something muffled. For a moment and from the way the boy glared, Artea thought Gerald's son would try something foolish, but it was not he who charged for him next; it was two other men. Daryen got the first of the two men in the thigh with his crossbow and Artea knocked the second man out with the handle of his sword. Just when it seemed more men would step forward, Gerald rose to his feet and proceeded to tackle Artea from behind. But the elf swung around, cleaving through the man's arm before his axe ever touched Artea.
There was a startled gasp from the crowd, as if they did not think Artea would defend himself. Gerald vainly clutched where his arm used to be. His son dropped his torched, which died out upon the cold, stone ground, and ran to his father's side. Artea swung around--receiving a fairly nasty glare from Gerald's son--and pointed his bloodied sword at the man once more. The blood dribbled down the blade and onto the man's other hand.
"Tell your people to back down. I have no desire to kill humans."
Gerald's sweat soaked face wrinkled visibly as he gritted his teeth. After a short, painful breath of air, it looked as if the man would comply with Artea, but another voice cried out: "Kill the demon!"
"Not again..." Ilene groaned and backed away with Tia and Daryen from the large number of townspeople now gathering together.
And just as another man was ready to charge, a new voice called out, and seemed to reach above the noise of the burning ship and the sticky air, made hotter by the people's torches: "Do you dare to fight the crew of the Poseidon?"
Surprised by the newcomer, the crowd, including Artea and his companions, looked about for the person the voiced belonged to. Artea turned away from Gerald and his son and watched past the heads of the people as Ilene dropped her sword and went running into the crowd. She was going towards one of the docks, illuminated by the fire.
"Captain!" Tia ran after Ilene, followed by Daryen.
"You bastard!" Ilene skittered to a halt before the man. "I thought... You made us believe..." Ilene, trying best not to let her tears fall down her face, smacked Captain, a sound that echoed in the sudden silence that followed. "That's for before."
Captain felt his own cheek for a moment, then laughed. "Is that what I get for goin' through hell for ya, ma'am?" In the light of the fire and torches, it was easy to see the new assortment of scars and scrapes he had upon his face, and his outfit was torn and bloodstained beyond recognition. Behind the proud captain was his mighty vessel Poseidon, which was damaged terribly and missing over half her crew.
Tia hugged the man, despite his offensive appearance from his long, hard battle, and took a step back to see him better. "What happened to you?"
"Ah, my girl. 'Tis a long story and a long story for another day I do believe." Captain placed an arm around Daryen, next to Tia, and smiled slightly. "Has that dogged elf been treatin' you good, boy?" It took Daryen a moment to realize that his captain was not keeping his arm around him simply to express his affection.
"Captain, you're hurt..." Daryen quickly strapped his crossbow to his belt and tried his best to keep his captain on his feet.
"No kiddin', boy. Now where's that blasted elf? And what in hell is goin' on here? I thought this damnable city was friendly..." Captain's words became slurred with coughing and laughter and he limped over to Artea with Daryen's help.
"Still alive, Captain?" Artea sheaved his swords and reached out to take hold of Captain's free hand. "Your 'friendly' city thinks we are pirates."
"Pirates?" Captain snorted and glanced over to where The Wanderer once stood in its harbor, now charred and gnarled, the ocean's waves not enough to douse the flames. His face suddenly became solemn, as if he didn't want to believe Artea. "You're serious... Looks like you have a story to tell me as well."
"All in good time, my friend. Right now you need the skilled hands of our healer."
Artea and Daryen half dragged, half walked Captain to Barnan's inn. Seeing the infamous Captain at his inn, the innkeeper had no objections in letting the small group stay for free. Captain took off his brightly colored jacket and white shirt and flopped down upon the edge of the bed. Tia went quickly to work at healing the man, while Ilene left with Daryen to buy clothes for him, along with some new weapons.
After a few moments, when most of his scrapes, wounds and even some old scars were healed, Captain fell down flat on his back. From the expression on his face, it obviously had been a while since he felt the comfort of a nice, soft bed. "Ah, my girl, you have very magical fingers..."
Tia glanced at her fingers and grinned. "Same old Captain, eh?"
The man laughed and pulled his arms behind his head. "How's Daryen been holdin' up for you?"
"He's been a great help to us." Artea answered, finally pulling down the hood of his cloak, his long hair falling back to cover his pupilless left eye and the faint scar, which completed it's jagged line once he closed his eyes.
Tia shook her head and stifled a laugh. "Ilene's been fine too." Captain and Artea looked at her with bewildered expressions. "Oh, like you didn't want to know, Captain." The girl gathered his ripped and bloodied shirt and placed it on a chair nearby his bed
The man smirked, sighing as he closed his eyes. "Has she been worrin' 'bout me?"
"She doesn't want to show it, but she has."
Captain scoffed, his smiling face merely a facade of his truly concerned one. "Wastin' her worries on me she is..." He mumbled, opening his eyes again, slightly teary.
By the time Ilene and Daryen came back to the building, it was early next morning. The inn's rooms were all occupied by whatever little number of Captain's crew was left, leaving it impossible for newcomers and weary travelers from other lands to get a warm place to stay. Daryen had left again to check on the rest of his mates once Captain convinced the boy that he was fine. Tia and Artea, not wanting to waste a room that could be used for the injured crew, slept together on one of the couches in Captain's room. Ilene stayed awake though, and now she sat upon the edge of the captain's bed and watched him sleep.
"You know, you clean up nice." She mused to herself, watching the man as his chest rose and fell with his quiet breathing.
His face was clean-shaven, just recently shaved, and he had on his new clothes: a simple pair of black slacks and a modest white, button up shirt, not unlike his previous one. His famous bright blue jacket, which followed him through many a legend and tale, was cleaned and folded nicely on a chair next to his bed. Ilene had argued with him to get rid of the jacket, but Captain refused, for it was one of the few things of his that he prized, seeing as he lost his sword in the fight with the pirates.
"You look--dare I say it?--almost handsome." Ilene smiled slightly and moved his longish, brown hair from out his closed eyes.
"And you, my lady friend, are as lovely as ever." Captain opened an eye to her now disgruntled face.
Ilene stood up from the bed quickly and her fists bolted to her hips. "How long have you been awake?"
"What? Me?" Captain smiled innocently and raised his eyebrows in feigned shock. "Long enough to hear how handsome I am." He pulled himself upright and winced slightly when doing so. His arms and legs still ached terribly from the long battle he was in, but he brushed it off and tried to act nonchalant.
"I said almost handsome." Ilene sat back on the edge of the bed, further away from Captain this time. "So... Aren't you going to tell me what happened to you?"
Captain rolled his neck to get out a kink from it, then grinned again. "Well, you probably have already been guessin'... After you took The Wanderer, me and my fine crew continued fightin' the pirates. Went on longer than we surmised." The man cringed as he moved his arms around behind him to support his body, which felt like a tone of cinderblocks. It was hard enough to lift one arm without the other's help, yet alone to move his whole body. "We drifted off course, helpless in that storm's wake. Without Daryen and his keen sense of direction, I could only guess the way you all went. Guessed right though. After all, you did want to go to Barnan, but I wasn't sure if you made it there..."
Ilene nodded silently, folding her arms before her chest. "You lost a lot of your crew."
Captain sighed solemnly. "Aye. Many of which were good friends of mine." He laid his back against the pillow and the bed frame. "Fine men they were. Ah, well. It's been done. No point in thinkin' of what could've been when it's already come and gone." He closed his eyes again, only to rest for a moment, but that moment slipped away and he fell powerless to his body's demand for rest. Before long, he was sleeping again.
Ilene shook her head and laughed softly. "I never did ask for your real name, did I?" She shrugged and undid her braided hair, getting up to find a chair in the rear of the room. Bringing it over next to Captain's bed, she sat down and fell to sleep as well.
Ch -> 15 -> I'm Still Here
The morning was cooler than last night had been and from what sky could be seen through the clumps of puffy, white clouds was a bright cerulean. The sea air was thick in the outside world and its salty, tangy smell was enough to make anyone's eyes water. Once outside again, Artea pulled his hood over his head. Besides him, Captain breathed in a long breath of salty ocean air. Ilene, Tia and Daryen soon emerged from the inn, ready and anticipating their battle ahead.
The Poseidon was fixed to the best of the workers' ability in the short amount of time they had between last night and dawn. Of course, it looked nothing like it once did and Captain made note of that, saying that the first thing he would do after this journey would be to have a complete overhaul of his beautiful ship, making her as good as new. Captain still limped slightly from the wounds of those nights ago, but he hid it well when he walked. In fact, the only time his limping showed was when his mind was occupied with something else, and he forgot to straighten his posture.
Artea and Tia lingered behind the group as they padded along, walking side by side with their fingers intertwined with each other's. Her head was leaning on his shoulder and he was whispering something to her that only she could hear. Tia smiled slightly, though she tried her best to hide it from the passersby, who glanced casually at them as all made way to where the Poseidon was docked.
"Why is everyone eyeing us, Captain?" Daryen spun around in a semicircle as he walked besides the man, watching the people watching him and his friends. "I thought you set them straight last night."
"Aye, and I did, lad. But you must remember that people can be idiots. Even when they are told the truth and shown the truth, they still don't wanna believe ya." Captain chuckled as he saluted one of the men, who stared at him and his four companions. The man nodded to Captain, out of respect of the legend and his ship.
Poseidon rocked calmly in its harbor and creaked in response to Captain placing a hand upon its scratched side, as if to say hello. "That'a girl." He patted the hull and smiled slightly, pleased with the ship's quick repairs overnight. Turning to one of the workers, still keeping his hand upon the Poseidon, Captain tilted his head to the side. "How much do I owe ya?"
The worker was visibly shocked and shook his head. "Nothing, Captain. You saved our city enough times. This is the least we could do."
"Now, that's a good lad right there." Captain nudged Ilene. Daryen rolled his eyes and boarded the ship with the rest of the few crewmembers left. After Ilene, Tia and Artea crossed the gangplank, Captain nodded to the worker. "What's your name?"
The man squared his shoulders and straightened his posture, which looked strange accompanied with his sheepish grin. "Mel."
"I'll remember that, Mel." Captain left the worker, who was beaming with delight, and took his time when walking over the wooden board to his ship. He stopped at the edge of the gangplank and took in the ship around him; its decks no longer splattered with the blood of pirates and his deceased comrades, who gave their lives so willingly for him and his ship; its masts and sails repaired and the head of Poseidon once again sitting proudly upon the prow. Captain stepped slowly onto the deck of his ship, his smile widening. "Ah, it's good to be back."
The ride east towards the shore of the continent Eserikto was housed on took only a half a day and Artea was surprised at how close the coast was to Barnan's. It was much harder docking the Poseidon near the shoreline, for the currents seemed stronger here than elsewhere. But Captain and his crew managed, getting the ship as close to land as possible, then throwing the anchor over the rail to secure it.
Captain was barking orders to his men, telling them how he was to split them up on shore, but Artea's hand fell to the man's shoulder mid sentence. "No, Captain, we've asked enough of you and your crew already. You don't have to accompany us to Eserikto."
Captain's face dropped; obviously he was offended by that statement. "That's a damnable thing to say to me, elf." But a moment later, his broad face creased in a smile. "I came with you this far. I'll see it through with you to the bitter end. You have my word on that." His voice was lighthearted, but his eyes told of his determination and loyalty.
Artea threw his head back and grinned, his white teeth showing bright against the morning sky. "Why, Captain! I thought you only wanted to come with us halfway."
The man shrugged Artea away sheepishly and mumbled, "Well, I fell in love with you, you dogged elf." He waved for some of his men to follow him and his companions onto shore. The group of now eight sloshed through the knee-deep water until it thinned out to the sandy land.
Artea unsheathed his elvish sword and led the group away from the clearing and the sea towards the thick forest that thrived throughout most of this continent. "We are southwest of the Mountain of No Return." Artea turned around slowly and sniffed the air--an unmistakable scent was being blown around by the wind: burning wood. "We need to head south until we come to my village. Then from there, we head west to the Divine Shrine."
It took the rest of the day to reach Eserikto. The splash of different colors in the sky and the warm air of afternoon soon departed to the mysterious shadows, shimmering stars and chill of the nighttime. The hushed voices of the three crewmen and Daryen were heard behind Artea as he walked along. Apparently their murmurings where in part to the large redwoods that surrounded them. They found themselves in a narrow path that widened with each step, leading to larger trees, their rich emerald leaves and thick branches reaching endlessly into the sky. Upon these branches were small, wooden structures.
"Are they homes?" Tia asked, keeping her voice low mainly because of the magical feel of the woodland. Artea had mentioned to them about the pull of the forest, but the sensation could not be described by mere words. They had to feel it for themselves to actually understand it. Along with the rest of their traveling party, Tia craned her neck upward to see the constructions.
"Some, yes." Artea pointed to a few as they passed. "The ones you saw near the beginning of the trail were lookout towers. These are indeed homes. The shops and the shrine are upon the ground."
Despite his unyielding urge to reach his village, Artea took his time. Perhaps out of apprehension of what lied ahead. When he parted the curtain of leaves and passed the stone markers of his home, would what lay behind it be splattered in blood? Would the magnificent and elegant structures of his town be found in ruins--crumbled and scattered about as if no being had lived there for centuries? Some hushed whispers and awed stares from his companions came along with the elvin pillars and statues.
"The eight Elders of my village." Artea pointed to the statues that fenced the path they were on, four of them on each side of the trail. Even though they were merely stone carvings of the real souls and were in no way alive, the magical aura around them made it seem as if each pair of their gray eyes were watching them as they padded along. It was haunting and beautiful. Moss inched up the stone and vines wrapped themselves around the statues, like they were trying to help contain the magic within the stone.
Ilene shrunk back into the center of the path, away from the statues, and whispered, "Eerie..."
Tia, on the other hand, wanted to reach out and feel the stone of the eight elvish Elders, wanted to see for herself if their stony skin crawled with warmth by a touch of her fingers. But she didn't, out of respect for their culture. Still, though, her curiosity stayed persistent in the back of her mind.
Strange... Artea thought. No birds, no animals, no...anything. It's too quiet... The elf breathed out hesitantly, as if he feared that a single breath would cause his world to collapse in on itself. His mind swirled with the forgotten dream he had those nights ago in Sundletan's inn. Were they trying to tell me...? The smell of burnt wood and flesh whirled around him once more.
Something was terribly wrong.
"There!" One of the men cried out, shattering the silence of the woodland. Ilene jumped slightly and grabbed hold of Captain, who smiled widely.
That was it. With that simple word, Artea went running. And within a blink of their human eyes, he was nowhere in sight. The group of seven began running as well, mainly because they did not wish to be left alone in such an enchanted place. Artea stopped once he reached his home, which was a short distance away.
But what he found before him was something that was quite unexpected.
There was no blood, no bodies, no crushed homes. In fact, there was no sign of a battle. Nothing, that is, save the smell of fire and ash. Artea's face was again as impassive as ever, but Tia could plainly see the relief in his eyes. Then that pair of blue orbs hardened and he moved his legs, seemingly as stone as the Elder statues, and took a step forward.
No one's here...
He did not have to call out names or searched homes and stores. He could feel it. There was no one here. Not anymore. And he stood there in the middle of his village, for he presumed that his stone legs carried him there, and he could have very well been gaping, but he did not realize. Tia came up behind him and he did not notice as her arm slipped around his. She leaned on his shoulder, but stayed as silent as he. Artea shook his head, as if to rid his mind of that terrible dream, and his hood fell down to reveal his beautiful face.
"Where is everyone?" Daryen came up besides the elf with Captain, Ilene on the other side, next to Tia. Once he spoke those words he received a light jab in his side curtsey of Captain's elbow.
"Watch what you say, lad." The man scratched the bottom of his face, new stubble beginning to grow. "Artea? Are you all right?"
The elf stood silent for a few more minutes, which passed like hours to the eyes of his mind. This...is not like the dream I had... There were other statues here... Artea blinked, as if doing so would make those particular stone structures appear. But the only statues that stood there were the ones that always would: the eight Elder figures, a few crumbled walls of long ago, some more statues that told the legends of the elves with carvings and paintings... But nothing else.
Artea brushed his foot across the ground and leaned down to scoop up the ash that was strewn about. His hand slowly drew back into a fist, but it was loose and the ash streamed through between his fingers. Artea's sharp eyes picked through the soot upon the earthen floor. Between the gray colored dust he could see bits of finely made jewelry and some clothing that was charred and stained with red.
They were burned alive.
Artea's fist tightened, trapping what little ash that remained within his hand. "They are all around us, Daryen."
Upon hearing his name, the boy snapped out of his dream-like daze and looked to the elf with bewilderment. "Who's--"
"You asked where my people were." Artea simply said.
"What? What do you mean...?" Ilene asked, before Daryen had the chance to put his confusion to words. Then she stopped suddenly before she spoke more, finally realizing what he meant. Ilene followed his gaze to the forest's ash blanketed floor. "Your...people..."
"Were burned alive." Artea finished for her. He could hear Tia's quiet gasp and the mummers of exchanged words between Captain's crewmen.
Tia knelt down next to him with wide eyes watching the ashy ground. "All of them? Maybe...some got away." She slipped her arm through his again, almost afraid to speak his name aloud. "Artea?" It came as a whisper, which could only be heard by his long, pointed ears.
"They were trying to tell me, Tia." He turned his head to meet with her face, which seemed to be the only thing that kept him from leaving in a fury and running towards whoever did this, wherever they were. "That dream I had..."
She leaned closer to him, her soft cheek brushing against his own. "Elves are strong, Artea. It couldn't have been all of them. It couldn't have been..."
"Milka..." Artea closed his eyes for a moment, searching for something, anything to tell him she was still here. No, she can't be gone. I promised Karyn... I... His eyes snapped open almost as fast as they were closed. "She's here. So is Vetiliel. I can feel them." He rose up with Tia still on his arm, the ash of the ground tumbling down from off their legs. "I can't feel anyone else..."
It was evening by the time Captain and his men setup camp in the middle of the town, not wanting to use the inn out of respect for the departed, and in fear that they would disturb what seemed so perfectly preserved. Two of the three men that came with Captain were sent out to patrol the area round the village of Eserikto, though the two were more than hesitant. A small fire was made within a ring of stones for those who stood behind. Tia lit it with her magic, not wanting to waste time they could use to plan for their battle on finding firewood.
She knelt before the ring, each stone mirroring the flames upon their glossy surface. Tia hummed as she worked and the men all around her were as hypnotized by her casting of magic as she seemed by summoning the spell. Around Tia was the faint glitter of red, much like the flames she intended on creating. She pointed an index finger in the center of the man-made circle and a small spark came; modest at first the fire was, but it grew with intensity as the minutes passed by.
"Amazing..." One of the men whispered in awe. Captain simply whistled.
Artea was off to the left side of Eserikto, outside of Karyn and Milka's house. My house... He placed his hand over the cold glass of the window, but could not bring it upon himself to enter his home. His long ears picked up the soft footfall of Tia behind him. Artea smiled slightly before he spoke. "She was so worried about me that day..."
The girl came to stand next to him. "Karyn?"
"Milka." He glanced to her, then back to his house, keeping his eyes on it and it only. Artea's face stayed neutral. Always neutral. Always have to be impassive, nothing else. It would have been so easy that day, if I just would have... Artea shook his head, his smile gone. "She knew I had to leave with Maxim, she said she wanted me to, wanted me to avenge Karyn. But her eyes said different."
Her eyes, so much like her mother's.
"If you still feel her, if she is still alive, then we can get her back."
"She's just a child, Tia, but she has so much power in her. She can be better than them, better than me, than Karyn. She doesn't want to believe it, she doesn't want to become more powerful than her mother. She's afraid that her end will be the same... I'm afraid her end will be the same." Finally, Artea locked gazes with Tia and the girl still felt that prickling down her back from his icy stare. "I can't lose her too."
Tia cocked her head to the side, her long hair tumbling down her bare shoulders and being brushed aside by the slight breeze. "Then we will just have to make sure you don't." She held his face within her hands and she wanted to smile to make him feel better, even if that smile would be false, but she could not bring her lips up to form one. Still, her eyes told him that there was hope.
Artea grinned faintly as he watched her beautiful face. "I suppose we learn from our mistakes..."
If that is true... Tia brushed her nose against his. "I thought it was that we were haunted by them."
He kissed her softly and for the longest time, they did nothing else.
Ilene was sitting with Captain and Daryen and one of Captain's men around the fire, the light causing the four to be covered in a haunting, pale glow. Daryen still seemed amazed that the fire was started without the aid of wood or a flint. And he would have tried to touch the flames, to see if they were indeed real, if Captain was not there to keep him from doing just that.
When Captain noticed Ilene shivering slightly, he took off his jacket and placed it over her shoulders.
Ilene smiled and held both ends of it in order to wrap the jacket tighter around herself, but still it appeared clumsy and bulky on her. Even the jacket's bright color seemed dull in the dancing light of the campfire. "Thanks." Ilene whispered, still not able to keep her eyes off the ground and its ash. She felt guilty for having to step upon it just to walk.
Captain followed her gaze with solemn eyes. "Didn't think... Didn't know it was this serious. I should've... Maybe if I would've moved faster before all this been happenin'..." He went silent again, his eyes falling upon Daryen and the other man who didn't go scouting, then on Ilene, then finally coming to rest on the flickering flames before them.
"You couldn't have changed it, Captain." Ilene leaned over to feel the soft ash. It felt like ice to her fingers and she flinched away. "This was done before you met up with us."
"Strange though. Not a bloody thing charred or burnt... The houses--"
"The fire was magic. Had to have been. It was meant for Artea's people only." Ilene sighed and rubbed her tired eyes. None of them had proper rest in some days. "Artea said we are going to the Divine Shrine when dawn breaks... I hope his friends are all right."
"Ah, well, if there is anyone who can get them back, I'm sure that man...elf, is Artea." Then he added with a brash smile, "with our help of course." He felt Ilene's head on his shoulder and when he turned to regard her, she was fast asleep. "I'm not that boring, am I?" He grinned slightly and shifted her head to his lap, so she would be more comfortable. "Get as much sleep as you can, Lady." He whispered, bending over to kiss her upon the forehead.
"It's almost...ironic. The gods must be mocking us. I never thought my people were in this kind of danger. Even when Maxim came with news of the Sinistrals...I never imagined it ending this way. I always thought my people's way of life was preserved here, what little was left." Artea's hand slipped away from the cold stone of a nearby wall. It was early morning and the colors of dawn would be showing at any moment.
"Are there more of your people...? In other lands, I mean." Tia stood next to him, wishing she understood elvish so she could better appreciate what was written upon the stone wall. "It couldn't have been all of them."
Artea pulled his hood back over his head, hastily brushing aside a few strands of hair that blew across his face and teased his skin. "Yes, there are other lands... I'm certain there are elves there. We can't all be gone."
Ilene was over still by the campfire, which had been reduced to ringlets of gray smoke some time in the night. Captain told her to keep the jacket because in the forest the chill of last night still remained. Of course she argued with him to take it back, but for once, Ilene gave in and kept it.
Captain was no longer smiling from remembering the jacket incident. Now, his brow was furrowed and he was talking to both Daryen and the other of his men, who had just ran up to him but a few moments ago. Ilene made a move to step closer to see what made Captain's face drop, but there was no need to when she looked around. The two men who had gone scouting last night never came back.
"Probably ran back to the ship, they did. Damnable cowards..." Captain looked less like a captain without his jacket and more like a regular man. Still, his air of confidence and his mannerisms showed that he indeed was a captain, not just a merchant like his clothes so stated. "Wish I had my old clothes back... I be lookin' like a common man in these." He mumbled, prodding his shirt.
"Those clothes are practically the same." Ilene nudged him from behind and his face immediately widened in a smile.
"Aye. If you say so, Lady."
"Yes, I do. In fact, you look more handsome than before." She said, nodding and crossing her arms before her chest, straightening her shoulders so the blue jacket would not fall from off them.
"Especially in the daylight." Captain rubbed his chin and his dark eyes sparkled.
Daryen sighed and left his beaming captain's side to the other end of the campfire. "Shouldn't we be leaving now? Where's Artea and Tia?" He questioned to no one in particular. He looked up casually to search the homes for them, but he didn't need to look very far. Artea and Tia were coming up side by side towards him. Daryen made note not to glance at the ground, for any reason. "Are you ready to go?"
Artea raised his head and tilted it to the side, as if to question Daryen about something. "We're two short."
Daryen looked around quickly and his gaze rested on Captain, Ilene and the last of Captain's men. "Yeah, 'bout that..." For a quick moment, the boy mused over whether or not to worry the two. Clearing his dry throat, he lowered his head slightly, like he was ashamed. "Two of the men apparently fled here and went back to the ship." As Daryen spoke this, the voice of the third and still remaining man popped back into this head from last night: "They wouldn't have run away like that, Daryen. Must have been sumthin' great to spook those two..." The man had said. Daryen shuddered in the cool breeze.
Artea said nothing, he merely left the boy and walked over to where Captain and Ilene were. Tia stayed behind with Daryen and smiled slightly. "Don't look so disappointed, Daryen. Even the bravest of men are afraid of something."
"Yeah, I guess so. But..." Daryen raised his gaze to Tia's eyes, watching her two orbs of hazel for a moment, uncertainty upon his face. "Maybe it was something else."
Tia looked as if she was about to ask what he meant, but the two were interrupted by Artea's voice, calling them along. Daryen and Tia walked back to where their small group was, near the edge of the other end of town. Tia took one last glance at the elvish village behind them now; she wished she would have gotten the chance to see Eserikto when it was populated by hundreds of elves.
But there was no time for thoughts of what could have been, for the Divine Shrine was ahead of them on the last part of their journey. Reaching it took most of the day, trudging through thick shrubs, low hanging trees and various imps and other little, annoying creatures. It was mid-afternoon when the Divine Shrine came into Artea's view.
Not the same anymore. It's not what it once was...
It looked nearly forsaken and malevolent to him, when before it seemed sacred and revered. But that had been when Karyn was still here, when Milka was playing around it when she shouldn't have been, when his village was still inhabited by his people. Now the Divine Shrine was nothing more than an empty building, which once withheld power unimaginable. It stayed as a constant reminder to Artea that even though he had won against evil, he never truly won anything. Evil always remained.
Tia shuddered slightly from the essence the shrine had. "It's a never-ending battle, isn't it?" She whispered.
"Yes, and it's a battle I will keep fighting, for as long as I can." He placed a hand on her small shoulder, reminding her instantly that one could not enter without an elf present. Artea went to the ivory door first; different symbols from lifetimes gone were carved upon it, some impossible to read due to the wear of centuries. With an effortless push, the door opened, no creak accompanying it.
Artea stepped inside the shrine, and once he did, its profound grasp that had always been upon him tightened. He hadn't looked to this shrine, nor had he stepped within its walls for three years. But its image was forever there, in the back of his mind, plaguing his thoughts, as it always would be. Actually being here again... The waves of memories and feelings flooded back. And within the shrine, a cold, dense wind curled around the group of six, beckoning them to come to places unseen. Artea closed his eyes...
She was there again. Even after all these years, he could feel Karyn...and the day that he so resented played out all over again...
"Artea..." Karyn began. Her beautiful face was stained with tears, still falling from crystal blue eyes. Her lovely eyes...straining to stay open, to stay fixed upon him.
He was over her, his arms cradling her damaged body, once full of power and strength. "Karyn, why did you do this?" His words were so bitter, so angry. How could she do that to her village, to her people...to him? "You knew this would happen.” His eyes went soft, no longer cold and unreadable.
Karyn's hand reached out to him and rested upon his face. Artea still watched her every move, her every word that left her tired lips. She...smiled? It was a peaceful smile, filled with knowledge and understanding. "Even my own life is not enough. Amon still lives."
Artea placed his hand over her own, letting go of the anger swelling within him once he felt her gentle touch. He would have told her not to speak, to try and save her strength. He wanted, more than anything, to assure her that all would be fine.
Karyn's lips moved and at first nothing came. Trying again, more successful this time, her voice fell to a soft whisper. "You...you are the only..." Her gaze was fixed upon him, her eyes shimmering under the faded light of the shrine. They showed her love and her loss. They spoke to him, telling him that it would be all right in the end. "You are our hope, Artea. Don't you ever forget that..."
"I know, Karyn..." was all that he could utter now, watching as the elf within his strong arms began to fade. All her energy had been drained and there was nothing left inside her to keep her physical form together. In some vain attempt to hold onto her, even if it would only be for a little while longer, he tightened his grasp upon her, his forehead resting on her own.
"Artea... I love you." Karyn's hand slipped away from his face, yet she still smiled. And for that moment she looked as if she was truly happy, as if she was now at peace, no longer burdened by a power that lay between good and evil. She could rest now. "Promise me..." Karyn blinked back tears, trying her best to keep her voice audible for Artea's ears. "Take care of Milka..."
"I promise, Karyn." He whispered so low, he wasn't sure if she ever heard him make that promise. Her still smiling image faded before him, never to be seen again except for perhaps in a dream or a long forgotten memory. His hands fell through to where Karyn once laid. This was to be her end? It felt needless and cruel... Artea stared at his hands for the longest time, no longer caring who was behind him or who was waiting for him.
"Artea?" The voice sounded familiar, soft, almost...sympathetic. It was Maxim. That strange, odd human that had risked so much to get where Artea stood. His red hair, which had always seemed neatly combed, was falling in strands over his furrowed brow. At any other time, the elf might have found that amusing. "Are...you all right?"
Artea didn't answer. What a damnable thing to ask him. What a stupid question... Why did that human care? He didn't know him. The elf only stared at him, stared into the deep blue eyes of the man that would later save the world. He saw something. Artea couldn't quite figure it out that day, but it was something he hadn't seen in many other humans.
Maxim walked towards him, shifting awkwardly as he went. Finally sheathing his own sword, he stood before the elf, placing a hand firmly upon his shoulder. "I'm sorry." Those words seemed so simple to Artea's ears, so overused by humans that it was almost pointless to say. But something in Maxim's voice, something earnest and gentle, made Artea believe that perhaps there was more to humans than most elves believed.
Maxim's hand slipped away from the elf's shoulder and bowing his head, he said, "She paid a terrible price. But that was her price to pay... It wasn't fair, but no war is." The red-haired man turned his back to Artea. "Avenge her. Fight with us..."
So much time seemed to pass as Maxim and his two friends awaited a response.
But Maxim didn't begin walking. He was waiting for Artea...
"Artea..." Maxim? No... It was Tia.
Artea blinked hard and he was no longer in the past. Was that the price she had to pay...just to save our home? He couldn't understand it, not even now. Why did Vetiliel choose Karyn instead of me?
He remembered how angry he had been that day, all those years ago, when the eight Elders had made their decision that Karyn would be guardian of the Divine Shrine's power, while Artea would be protector of the village. In the end, it had been Vetiliel's final choice that caused Karyn to be selected over Artea. He didn't want to seem ungrateful and indeed had been honored to be the protector of Eserikto, and at the ceremony he had conducted himself with great dignity, despite how angered he had been. He didn't want Karyn's fate to be one in vain. But it wasn't his choice. It never had been. That choice was Vetiliel's and it was something she now had to carry.
"I never knew why she did that..." He whispered. Artea decided that if he and his companions lived through this, that would be the first question he had for Vetiliel. After all these years, he still harbored resentment toward the elvin Elder, despite his loyalties to her. After all, Vetiliel had been a good friend to him and Milka, even if her choice had been a foolish one in Artea's eyes.
Tia came to stand besides the elf, who was too lost in his thoughts to notice her there. “Artea?”
The elf shook his head and smiled once he saw her. "Sorry. In the past again." He reached out to stroke her face. Shrugging out of his cloak, Artea placed it around Tia's small frame. "Hold on to this for me, will you?" Not waiting for her reply, he turned back around to face the others.
"Whenever you're ready, Artea." Captain said, his voice echoing off the white marble and stone of the walls. As beautiful as it looked, the feeling of dread was more overpowering. "Don't like this place much. I'd rather be on water. Don't trust my footin' on land." He fiddled with his new sword, round his waist. In the back of each of his leather boots were daggers and the braces on his arms withheld the same. No doubt there were more small blades in leather straps under his shirt.
"It is beautiful, though." Ilene reached out and placed her palm flat upon the cool stone surface. There were designs upon some of the stones that Ilene was sure was elvish and more upon the sides of the doorways. Scarlet colored rugs were beneath their feet, their golden trims and tassels worn with age.
"Come on, Ilene. We don't want to fall behind." Daryen called.
Ilene blew some blond strands from out her face and turned towards the entrance of the next room, where Daryen stood. "Maybe one day we can come back here. I would love the chance to explore this place fully." She padded her way to Daryen and noticed his worried expression. "Oh, don't worry," she said, pulling him along as she hurried after the group. "Artea said he cleared out anything hostile before he sealed the shrine off."
"Yeah, but the seal was broken. Who knows what got in here since then?" Daryen hugged himself, trotting behind Ilene.
Artea was leading the group with Tia and Captain close behind. Ilene was off to the other side of Captain, exploring with her eyes each crevice she could see in the faint light. Daryen and the last of Captain's men brought up the rear. Every so often the crewman would look behind him and Daryen to make sure nothing was following, which would then make Daryen nervous and he would do the same. The Divine Shrine's rooms usually possessed torches with strange blue fires to light their way, so Daryen and the man had no problem seeing, but even the rooms with no torches withheld a strange, pale light.
Where does the light come from? Tia wondered. She thought for a moment if it came from Artea. After all, it was he who said you couldn't enter the Divine Shrine without an elf to guide you. Maybe this was the shrine's way of confirming that they indeed had an elf? That seemed to hold some truth, for behind them in the rooms they had just been in, everything was as dark as night.
All their seemingly endless walking brought the group to the foremost room of the shrine. Six pale-faced statues watched them and for a brief moment no one, not even the elf, could find their voice.
There was blood everywhere, splattered across the white walls, the marble statues, the stone floor. It stood out well against the bright interior of the room. It almost hurt one's eyes to look upon it.
Karyn... No, not her blood... Artea closed his eyes. He could still feel Karyn's presence in the room; the years had only caused her essence to weaken, but it still lingered on. It was most likely what drew the creature to this spot, since the mystic stones where gone. Well, some of their power is within me. He wondered then if that thing in the other room would sense him here. Could Milka? Could Vetiliel? He prayed they were alive...
"What...?" Daryen's voice broke the elf's thoughts. The lost two men of Captain were off to the side, sprawled out on the stone floor. Those men weren't supposed to be there. They were supposed to have ran back to the ship...
"By my breath..." The crewman said; his breathing sounded labored. "I told ya they wouldn't run! Didn't I tell ya, Daryen?" The man almost walked into Daryen. "Captain?"
Captain watched as Artea knelt over his men, checking for a pause. Even before the elf turned back around and shook his head Captain knew his men weren't alive. He scratched the stubble on his chin and sighed heavily. "Two fine men they were." The captain bowed his head to honor his departed crewmen. "I didn't know them as well as me other men, but I be supposin' they were fine gentlemen. And indeed they were--"
"Captain..." Daryen shifted awkwardly. "Shouldn't we...bury them?"
He nodded solemnly. "At sea, my boy. That would be proper. You two can bring 'em back to the Poseidon." Captain jabbed a finger in the direction of Daryen and the crewman.
The crewman had no objections and was obviously relieved to be leaving the shrine. He began gathering one of his fellow man's arms, throwing it over his shoulder and dragging the corpse towards the way out.
Daryen didn't seem as eager to depart. "Captain, I'm not leaving. You need my help just as much as anyone else!" Even before he spoke those words, he was losing the argument. "This is my battle to fight as well!"
"They'll be plenty of battles for you, boy. But I'm not about to let you fight a creature that could very well like the flesh of humans." Captain rested his hands on his belted waist. "Besides, he can't carry both of those bodies." He turned his head to the crewman, who was waiting by the doorway for Daryen.
Ilene frowned upon hearing that and whispered to Tia, "Do you think it eats humans?"
Daryen's face deepened in a scowl. "But--"
"That's an order, boy!"
Daryen grudgingly went to the corpse, threw its arm over his shoulder and stalked off towards the other man waiting in the doorway, all the while mumbling incoherent things. He cast one last glare in the direction of his captain before he and the crewman left.
"Was it wise to do that?" Ilene asked, watching the boy leave.
"I'd rather him be angry with me than dead." Captain glanced to Ilene. "He's too young, Ilene. I couldn't risk it. If none of us leave here today, at least I'll know my ship and crew is in good hands." He turned his head away from Ilene, smiling slightly. "I don't suppose I could talk you and Tia into--"
"Don't even say it, Captain." Ilene brushed passed him to where Artea and Tia stood, a little ways from another doorway. "We're staying."
Captain grinned wryly. Thought so... Despite Ilene's tough front, he could tell she was worried by that look in her pretty eyes. But it wasn't for herself; it was for Artea and Tia. Don't worry Lady, I'll make sure we all come back. Even that blasted elf... He padded his way to Ilene and reached out to touch her face. "I wish you wouldn't, though."
Ilene blushed slightly and grabbed hold of his hand, as if to guide it away from her face, but instead she left it there and smiled softly. "I have to make sure they come back with us. I can't leave. I may not be the most expert fighter or magic user, but I know how to help. I know how to use healing magic. After this fight, we may need it." She wanted her tone to sound sure and lighthearted, but her throat tightened, her voice faltering. She wasn't so sure anymore.
Captain wrapped his arms around her, no longer smiling. He looked strange with that serious, somber expression that now seemed fixed upon his face. "All right then. We'll watch out for them." He whispered. Then, a bit louder, "I can even teach you how to use a sword better when this is all over."
Tia watched them from her place next to Artea. She hadn't asked Artea what his plans were after all this, if indeed he had any. "Where are you going when this is over?"
Artea turned his head towards her, her face smiling slightly, her eyes set upon Captain and her friend. He smiled too, but only for a moment; it faded soon after and his expressionless face was back. "Westland. There are many other elves there. Care to join me?"
"Hmm." Tia closed her eyes. "Did you even have to ask?"
The elf slipped his quiver and bow from off his shoulders, handing them to Tia. When her small hands closed around the items in a sort of dazed confusion, he caught her off guard and pulled her close to him. "I gather you'll be using magic? Then take these. I'll be fighting whatever it is sword to sword. I doubt I'll get the chance to use my bow. Captain will most likely be fighting alongside with me. You might want to protect Ilene. As strong-willed as she is, she's not much of a fighter with a blade and her magic is more for healing." He was trying to form a battle plan as well as he could in this last minute, but it seemed more like a jumbled suggestion.
"Hey, I heard that!" Ilene walked over to him, holding Captain's hand and pulling him along towards the elf.
"My girl's strong!" Captain laughed, allowing himself to be moved quite forcibly by Ilene.
Artea finally allowed a small grin to play across his face. "Well, forgive me, Ilene, but it is true." He bit his lower lip and dared to continue, laughing somewhat. "I don't know why you bought that sword."
Ilene glanced to her short sword in a sheathe about her waist. She couldn't help but smile. She wasn't good with a sword. Ilene learned how to hold one from Tia, but that was as far as she could go. "Well, I'll learn how from Captain later. At least I can heal you with my magic, that would allow Tia to save her own for attack only." Her grip on Captain's hand tightened. "You guys just promise to let me know when you need to be healed, all right?" She knew that none of them could forfeit in the middle of the battle just to come to her for healing, but saying so made her feel a bit better.
Tia squeezed Ilene's free hand. "We'll be fine."
Ilene nodded, strands of blond falling over her eyes, and whispered, "I know."
"How much further is it, Artea?" Captain watched the door behind the elf with curious eyes. He knew it was most likely nearby. Why else would Artea just randomly begin an attack plan? I wonder what exactly we'll be fightin'...
"It's the next room. That's where he is at least."
The three looked at Artea with surprised faces. Most of them were half expecting the rooms and corridors to go on endlessly, as it had been for some time now. Tia wordlessly threw the quiver over her shoulder. It felt heavy and clumsy there, but she didn't complain. She had used a bow before, but she preferred daggers and whips to any other kind of weaponry. Ilene unsheathed her sword, despite the fact that she didn't really know how to use it. But how hard could it be? She watched Artea do it enough times.
"Anything comes near me, I'll just swing like hell..." She mumbled.
Captain's sword had been in his left hand's grip for some time and now he finally let go of Ilene's hand and held his balde within his right, his fingers tightening over the pommel. "Do you think it knows we're here?"
Artea nodded. "I can feel him. And since it is evident that the creature knows magic, he most likely can sense us as well." The elf quickly unlatched his two long blades and glanced towards Tia. "We'll fight in here, for the next room is much too small for a battle. I'll draw him out." Finally, he looked away from her. "If you get an open shot, shoot him."
"And Milka?" Tia asked.
"Once I get him out, you and Ilene go in for her."
Tia and Ilene backed away from the door and stood nearest the wall on the left side. Captain stood close to the center of the room, more off to the right. For a time, nobody spoke. They simply watched Artea.
He's waiting for me...
It felt familiar, yet so surprisingly strange and alien. It wasn't an elf, Artea knew as much. It wasn't human. But it felt so agonizingly familiar... Artea took one final breath and laid his hand upon the door. The metal of his blade clinked against the stone, the sound echoing for moments after. The elf almost anticipated a seal to be over the entrance.
His hand touching the knob slightly, he whispered in a voice so soft that only the ghosts of the shrine could hear him, "I'm still here..." Artea wasn't sure who was talking to. Karyn? His people? He pushed open the door.
The creature wasn't there.
But another was. Milka. The little elf child was within the ring where once the mystic stones lied. Another was on the floor, head on the child's lap. It was Vetiliel. Blood was around Milka in a small pool, her blond hair in strands over her eyes, which flooded with tears. The silver beads ran down her crimson streaked cheeks. The room was well lit by blue flames upon two separate pedestals. Milka looked up when the door opened and at once her eyes, a moment ago full of such despair, brightened. It was as if her fondest wish had just been granted.
One word poured from her lips and ripped from her throat. "Artea!"
He felt his heart crush inside his chest. But much familiar anger soon rose within himself to conquer that. Artea walked into the room, not bothering to look around, not bothering to question where the creature was, not bothering to ask himself if it was a trap. He knelt before the little elf. "Are you all right?"
She was so relieved to hear his voice that she threw her arms around his neck and for the longest time simply cried.
Artea pulled away from Milka and placed his hands upon her shoulders. "You're an elf, Milka. You're strong, like your mother. Don't let despair and grief overpower you." His lips may have said those words, but his eyes cried out how relieved he was to see her before him once more, in his arms. Artea reached out to her small face and wiped away what little tears now rolled from her eyes. "Is she alive?"
Milka looked down to the elf woman in her lap and as much as she tried to stay as strong as Artea said she was, she began to cry again. "I don't know. I tried to wake her up. She wouldn't wake up--"
"Shh..." Artea soothed, placing a hand upon the forehead of Vetiliel. Vetiliel, where are you?
Vetiliel's lips parted slowly and her eyes opened, those light, pupilless eyes. A small smile creased her face. "Are you a dream?"
Artea shook his head, his own seemingly uneven hair thrashing his face. "I'm here now." He helped the elf to sit upright, off Milka's lap. "What happened, Vetiliel? Where are our people?"
Vetiliel still smiled, as if her face was forever stuck that way. "Some...got away. They went to Elfrea. Many...didn't make it. I'm sorry." Whether she intended on to or not she began to lean forward almost helplessly, her voice but a whisper. "It was a diversion... The lights in the sky...were a..."
Behind Artea in the doorway, Tia, Ilene and Captain stood. Tia made a move to enter the room, but Captain placed a hand on her shoulder to stop her.
"When you left...he came to the village. He was so powerful...it shouldn't have been...so powerful..." Vetiliel's small smile faded and her eyes became very distant. "We didn't expect him. Most of our fighters had left to find where the lights came from... What little were left...tried to fight...but..." She closed her eyes and struggled for a breath to finish her thoughts. "The ones left had no chance. He took Milka and I. He wanted the mystic stones. I told him...they were no more. He didn't listen..." She fell forward into his arms, mumbling something softly.
"He?" Artea echoed her, trying to make sense of her jumbled words. "He who?"
"Iarhel." She whispered. For a moment, in the eyes of Artea, she reminded him of Karyn--the same soft voice, the sad smile, the way she was so sincerely accepting her fate. "This is all my fault. If Karyn was still here... You two could have destroyed him together."
Why did you have to say that? Why did you have to... Artea thought for so long that he was angry with Vetiliel, he thought he blamed her for Karyn's death. Now he finally knew that he didn't. He wasn't angry with her, he never was. It would have happened no matter who was the guardian of the Divine Shrine. Karyn still would have given her life so freely to save her daughter, her town...and him. Artea bowed his head until his forehead touched Vetiliel's.
"No..." He said softly. "It wasn't your fault. It wasn't anyone's fault. It was Karyn's choice to make, not ours. We couldn't have stopped her, Vetiliel, no one ever could..." He grinned slightly with that last statement.
"Thank you." Vetiliel smiled that faraway smile, her eyes falling to the people in the doorway behind him, particularly on the pretty blue-haired girl, whose eyes looked so much like Karyn's. She could see so plainly that Tia loved Artea without even knowing the girl's name. "Those people care about you. That girl loves you..." she allowed herself to fall limp in Artea's arms and whispered in a voice full of admiration, "don't let them down, Artea." The Elder of Eserikto looked at him one final time before she closed her eyes, her head tilting slightly to the side.
"Vetiliel!" Milka grabbed hold of the elf's arm and tugged on it feebly. "Vetiliel..."
Artea scooped Vetiliel up in his arms and carried her out of the room, Milka following slowly behind, her hands folded together before her blood splattered dress. Captain took Vetiliel from Artea's hands without being asked to. Artea merely nodded his thanks to the man.
"I could heal her..." Ilene began as she approached Captain. The man sadly shook his head and then she realized that the elf woman in his arms was beyond healing. Ilene glanced at Artea.
"I'm sorry." Tia whispered.
"It's all right. Milka is fine." Artea stroked Tia's face with his fingers, leaving a streak of blood across her cheek, before turning around to face Milka. "Milka, this is Tia. I want you to stay with her and her friend, Ilene."
Milka looked up at him wide-eyed, her hand automatically clutching Artea's leg. Stay with them? What about you? "Where are you going?"
"Not far, child..." Hissed a voice behind them. It came like leaves upon a soft breeze from the small room they had just left. Iarhel stepped out from the shadows of that very space, and as if he had been there all along, hiding his large, deformed self in the shadows of the pillars, he lumbered out of the room.
Milka practically backed into Tia and grabbed onto her legs, murmuring, "Artea will kill him," over and over again, like the words of a powerful magic spell. Tia placed a hand gently on the girl's soft hair and walked backwards towards Captain and Ilene. "Ilene..." Tia whispered as low as she could managed, "Ilene, get her out of here..."
Ilene did not argue to stay and help, for now was not the time. That creature most likely did not notice Ilene yet and, since Artea was here, was probably no longer interested in Milka. Ilene took hold of the elf girl's small hand and said in a calm voice so as to comfort her worries, "You'll be fine, honey. I'm just going to take you outside so Artea can concentrate on the bad guy, okay?" Milka did not answer, nor did she argue with the tall woman. She only watched sadly as she departed from the room and her guardians.
Captain laid the lifeless body of Vetiliel upon the floor nearest the exit of the room. He soon rose after folding the elf's hands and placing them upon her chest. "Artea..."
"What is that?" Tia whispered breathlessly.
"That is an orc." Artea's eyes stayed steadily upon the deformed thing, its shoulders and muscle knotted arms casting a shadow over the elf. It was huge. It was unlike any orc he had ever seen. "How did you get this way?" He said in a hushed voice, mainly to himself than to Iarhel.
"They call me Iarhel, elf." Iarhel, moving closer to Artea, caused the ground below to shudder with the strain of his weight; that thing didn't carry himself well. "Now, you have my mystic stones?"
So, the thing can speak... Artea thought grimly. At first he had thought his ears had deceived him.
Iarhel's whole being brimmed with the essence of magic. Artea's question answered itself. Magic made him that way. The thing must have stumbled upon a magic source. There were plenty of things throughout Lufia that withheld magic: weapons, books, little trinkets. Of course none as powerful as the mystic stones and that would have been just fine, except the mystic stones' power didn't go entirely to Artea. It had been split four ways. Whatever magic it was that Iarhel possessed, it made him grow stronger and smarter. A regular orc would be little challenge to slain. This one, however, was much different.
And for all Artea knew, the magical essence still within this shrine could have been amplifying the thing's powers. But...wouldn't it do so with mine as well? Artea curled his fingers into a fist. He sure as hell didn't feel anymore powerful. He then noticed the blood still on his hands from the Elder of his town. "Why did you go after my people?" Artea unsheathed his swords.
"Orc land. This is orc land, elf. Not your land. It was ours first. You people took it from us. I study long time to get stronger. I am stronger." Iarhel pounded his chest a few times with his fist, as if to prove his point. "I destroy elves, I get back land for my people." That remark sounded so simple. It was so simple. And the fact that many of his people had died just for this simple reason made Artea even more furious.
Tia matched an arrow to Artea's bow. It felt strange in her grasp and made her arms hurt somewhat, but still she held onto it as if her very life depended on the splendidly crafted weapon. "Tell me when..." She whispered.
Captain began to inch around the orc, wanting to surprise him from the back.
Artea noticed his action and decided that distracting Iarhel would give Captain a better chance. "What? You want the mystic stones to make you even stronger? Why? My people are gone. Why didn't you just leave when you still had the chance?"
Iarhel's ugly eyes narrowed. "For many years orcs been killed by hands of elves. You kill us. You kill my people." He smacked his chest again, "you want kill me. I kill you instead. Elf child tell me that mystic stones are in someone else. You." Iarhel pointed one thick finger at Artea.
It was of no use denying it. The damnable thing probably sensed the stone right now. Artea smiled brashly. Not too swift... "I have one, yes. But not the way you probably think. The stone is in me; it is a part of me now." Artea pointed his sword at the orc. "It is impossible to get any of them back now."
"No!" Iarhel's muscular arm swung back and Artea realized that he had spotted Captain, but the elf had no time to give warning.
Captain back stepped, but he wasn't fast enough and the orc smashed him into the wall. But not before Captain had the fortune of drawing some blood. His sword stayed lodged in Iarhel left arm.
"Tia!" Artea called to her.
Tia let her arrow fly, but where she had aimed the arrow it did not strike. Instead of hitting the creature's heart, it merely hit his shoulder. To Iarhel, her arrow was a mere prick of a pin. Tia dropped Artea's bow and closed her eyes. Kneeling down upon the cold stone, she placed her hands palm flat upon the ground. As quickly as she could, she summoned a lightening spell to travel along the blood of the ground. Artea jumped away just as Iarhel tried to swing his arm at him--the elf was much too quick for the large, deformed creature. The orc was quite surprised when his arm was met with lightening rather than Artea's body.
Iarhel allowed an ear-piercing cry to leave his lips and smashed his fists into the ground, causing Artea to nearly lose his balance and Tia to lose concentration with her spell. The orc swung around again to Artea, but once more the elf dodged him, coming to land in a crouching position with his swords still in his hands.
Something sharp burrowed into Iarhel's other arm, breaking through his tough, gray skin. Iarhel ripped out a dagger, which clearly belonged to Tia, and Captain's sword at the same time. He broke Captain's sword in two and sent Tia's dagger flying back at her. The throw was rather weak and instead of dodging her own weapon, Tia merely caught it and threw it back at Iarhel, this time striking his thigh.
Artea took that small moment of distraction on Iarhel's part to run him through with his sword. But instead of simply slumping over and dying, Iarhel sunk his claws deep into Artea's shoulder, dangerously close to his heart, causing him to drop his second sword. The elf, who seemed slightly dazed, snapped his head back to avoid Iarhel's other hand and tried to separate his body from the orc's claws. Finally getting free, Artea's fingers glided to where the arrow protruded in Iarhel's shoulder and pushed it in deeper.
Iarhel cried out again and lashed out towards the elf. Artea jumped back, but minutes too late and while he did manage to evade the brunt of Iarhel's attack, he got away with more deep claw wounds across his chest, breaking the armored plates upon it.
Two more arrows sped past Artea's head and struck the already badly wounded Iarhel upon his chest. The deformed orc cried out another bone chilling scream and thrashed forward. Artea grabbed for his sword and swung at Iarhel's right arm, meeting with the bone and shattering it.
Meanwhile, Captain was staggering to his feet and grabbing his bleeding head. "Damnable thing..." He ducked down just as one of Artea's sword went flying towards his head. "Hey, watch it, elf!" Captain dislodged the sword from the wall and ran to where Tia was. "You all right?" He asked the girl.
Tia merely nodded and sent another arrow into the direction of Iarhel. "Fairing much better than you or Artea." Tia lowered her bow when her arrow struck the orc and then placed a hand on Captain's head, summoning a healing spell for him.
Iarhel took that moment to his advantage. Smacking Artea down and briefly dazing him, the orc grabbed for Tia's dagger, pulled it from out his thigh, and threw it with full force back at Tia. The weapon made a chilling noise that sounded nearly akin to a scream as it cut fast through the dense, sticky air and met with Tia's shoulder.
The girl cried out and her healing spell with Captain was broken so fast that sparks of disrupted magic shot out.
"Tia!" Captain reached out to grab for her before she hit the stone ground, but his hand didn't make it in time.
Artea gritted his teeth as he forced himself to his feet. His loss of blood was almost dizzying and there was not one part of his body that didn't either throb with blistering pain or seep with deep crimson. He risked a glance towards Captain and Tia. "Is she all right?"
Captain barely heard the elf. He picked Tia up within his arms and turned around to Artea, blood covering his hands from the gash on Tia's head.
Something twisted in the pit of Artea's stomach when his eyes fell upon the girl. He felt upon the cracked and crimson covered ground for his sword and yelled, "Get her out of here!"
Captain cringed with Artea's tone. He grabbed for a torch upon the wall, praying it would still stay lit when he left the room. Captain turned around and ran out of the Shrine, leaving Artea and Iarhel far behind him.
Artea kicked Iarhel as hard as he could manage in his stomach. Iarhel doubled over and made a noise that sounded almost like hissing. He shot back up, knocking Artea backwards. The orc smiled snidely at Artea and fell to his hands and knees, his fingers borrowing into the already crackled and split ground. For a moment there was nothing but unsettling silence, then the ground began to shake.
Iarhel looked up and there was something almost human in his eyes: resentment. "I die. But so do you."
Artea flung his sword towards Iarhel. The orc noticed this action too late, though, and could only cry out as the sword split his head in two. Iarhel slumped over, dead. Artea fell to knees, the walls around him no longer shaking, although there was a part of him that wanted this shrine to collapse in on itself. Shaking his head in an attempt to ward off his exhaustion, Artea shuddered as he stood on his feet. The Divine Shrine was nothing more to him now than an empty building that once withheld something incredible. But like most things, that power was easily corruptible.
Artea took one last breath of the stale air, picked up his sword, his bow and his quiver and scooped up Vetiliel by the doorway. As he left, the lights flickered off and the rooms behind returned to their eternal darkness.
Ilene was next to her friend, healing her head wound and then her arm. When she removed her hand, all that was left of Tia's arm injury was a tender red spot that would soon fade to nothing. Ilene then moved on to Captain's head, which had already been healed somewhat before by Tia. She kissed the captain and then punched his upper arm. "Never worry me again."
Captain folded his arms before his chest. "If you plan on stayin' with me, we'll be worrin' every day, ma'am." When Ilene turned away, he winced and rubbed his arm.
Tia knelt before Milka and began wiping away some of the blood from the elf girl's face.
"You have pretty eyes." Milka whispered quietly. "They remind me of my mother's." She looked away from Tia towards the shrine, its white frame covered in the shadows of the tall trees surrounding it.
Tia brushed some of the elf girl's soft hair away from her face in order to get a better look at her. "My eyes aren't nearly as pretty as yours. I bet you look exactly like your mother."
Milka smiled at that. It was the first time Tia actually saw the girl's smile and she was certain then that she was looking at Karyn. After cleaning off most of the dirt and blood from Milka, Tia stood up and turned to the ominous building behind them. She didn't notice at first, but Milka slipped her hand into Tia's and squeezed it slightly.
"Where is he?" Tia's other hand went straight to her necklace, half-conscious that it was even there, and stared intently at the entrance of the Divine Shrine. I never want to look upon this shrine again for as long as I live... When she noticed someone emerging from the opening, she and Milka ran over to the shadow. It bent down and laid something upon the ground.
"You look awful." Tia wrapped her arms around the elf. When she backed away, she was covered in blood as well. Milka was too small to reach Artea's waist, so her little arms held onto his leg. Artea picked the elf girl up into his arms.
Tia glanced back at the shrine and Vetiliel upon the ground. "You want to bury her here?"
The elf nodded.
"Dead." Artea smiled. It was his first real smile in a long time, and whether it was because of his wounds or the fact that he indeed hadn't smiled in a while, his face hurt terribly. Part of him almost pitied Iarhel. All the orc wanted was his distorted idea of justice. But whatever little piece of him that offered Iarhel pity soon faded when he saw Tia's smile.
Artea bent down and kissed Tia. The sunlight that peered through the trees above shone on Tia's necklace, causing its stone to reflect on Artea's face. "You are sure about coming with me?"
Tia rested her head upon the elf's chest and she could feel Milka's movement when the elf girl buried her face in Artea's neck and whispered, "Where are we going, Artea?"
"Westland. Vetiliel said something about Elfrea. We'll go there." Artea placed Milka on the ground and turned back to the body of Vetiliel. He picked her up one last time and walked a little ways from the Divine Shrine, under the shade of a tree. Captain followed to help.
"Elfrea..." Ilene rolled the word over in her mind. Strange name. "Another journey?" She asked, half smiling. "Can we at least rest first?"
"We?" That word spilled eagerly from Tia's lips. "You're coming with us?"
Ilene nodded. "I told you before, didn't I? I will go where you go. I will miss Elcid, but if I stayed there, I would miss you much more." She hugged her friend and sighed, blowing some of Tia's hair out of her face. "Besides, who else is going to look after you and Artea?"
Tia laughed. It felt good to finally do that again.
Captain and Artea returned some time later, their pants and hands covered in dirt.
"I wish I could have done better to honor her." Artea looked back beneath the tree where Vetiliel now laid. At least you can rest now... He bowed his head slightly, whispering something in elvish and then turned around to his rather tired and worn looking group. "We should be going before sundown."
"Captain!" Daryen, deserting his "captain" demeanor as soon as the real one returned, ran into the arms of the dirt and blood coated man. "I thought it would take the whole day and night."
Captain grinned slightly, especially since Daryen was no longer angry with him, but as soon as he saw what little was left of his crew smiling brightly at him and the boy, he pushed Daryen off to the side and shouted, "Is this how you address your captain?" At once his whole crew stood at attention, their smiling lips replaced by expressionless ones. "Better." He grinned wryly.
"Artea? You look like hell." Daryen had wandered away from Captain, who was now barking more commands to his crew and in no time the ship was leaving shore.
"I'm fine..." Artea still had Milka, now asleep, in his arms.
As soon as Daryen noticed the little elf child, he held his hands out. "I'll take her down to the cabins. I had some beds made for all of you..." Artea handed the elf over hesitantly. Daryen struggled a little with her at first for the girl moved in her sleep, but soon Milka was quiet again and Daryen walked her to the hatch. Before he went down, he turned around. "I thought you were looking for two of your friends--"
Ilene immediately shook her head, her blond hair going every which way; Daryen quickly got the mute implication. "Sorry... I'm glad you're all okay, though." Hoisting Milka up higher in his arms, he took her down to the lower deck.
"Me too." Tia tilted her head to the side, the sea air blowing her hair off her shoulders, leaving them bare and cold. She had Artea's cloak folded over her left arm and thought about putting it on again, but the elf's arms were around her before she had the chance.
From behind her, Artea called out to Captain, who was a little ways to their left and talking to some of his crewmen about the how his two dead men were to be buried, "Captain? Will you do us the honor and sail us to Westland?"
"What a damnable thing to ask!" Captain feigned insult and threw back his head. "I'll do better than that. You said you were traveling to Elfrea, didn't you? I'll go with you then. First we have to get supplies, then I have to see if Daryen destroyed anything while we were gone... When we get to Westland, we'll find the closest port town where I can fix my Poseidon and get me so more crew..." Captain prattled on as he began walking back to the forecastle deck. No one bothered to interrupt him because he didn't give them a chance to in-between all of his words.
Ilene flashed a quick smile to Tia and Artea and followed after Captain asking, "I take it you like elves now?"
Captain folded his hands behind his back and clicked the heels of his boots together. "Well, I be supposin'. Though I don't have much of a choice, Lady. Where we are going, I'll be surrounded by the whole lot of 'em!" He laughed, turning around to the wheel of the ship and waving away one of his men, who had been previously directing the vessel.
Ilene crossed her arms before her chest and stepped backwards a few spaces. "Something is missing..." She looked the confused man up and down before snapping her fingers and taking off the bright blue jacket she had on. "Allow me the honor, captain?"
"Why, of course, ma'am!" Captain let go his firm grasp of the wheel--which caused some of his crewmen, gathered round the foremast, to stare at him wide-eyed--and he outstretched his arms.
After Ilene slipped the jacket on him, she smiled widely. "Ah, much better, Captain."
Captain raised an eyebrow at the woman, then bowed slightly, taking hold of her hand. "I'd preferred it if you called me Kaden."
"Kaden?" Ilene moved closer to Captain, her grin still plainly upon her face. "All right...Kaden." She blushed slightly when he pulled her hand up to his lips to kiss it. But shortly after, a crewman's cry interrupted the two:
"Captain, who's steering the ship?!"
While Captain was busy scolding his crewman for interrupting him and Ilene, Tia and Artea wandered off to the back of the Poseidon, watching the sky's orange, yellow and red canvas above. Every now and then, between the thin, purple clouds, they could see a few stars.
"I can't believe it's almost night again..." Tia whispered, looking back at the continent from the quarterdeck she and Artea stood on. The forest and the shore were a thin line on the horizon before she spoke again. "Are you going to miss it?"
"It doesn't matter anymore." Artea pressed his nose against her cheek and whispered. "I'm with you now."
Tia smiled, but said nothing. The setting sun behind them made their backs, her necklace, the ship and everyone upon it glow an eerie shade of ginger. The breeze was cool again, blowing from the east and setting their hair adrift like flags. From what little land still remained floating aimlessly on the burning sea, fireflies danced. And as those yellow dots waltzed upon the waves of gold, they bided farewell to the day and welcomed the coming night.
Hope you liked the ending. As you can see, I couldn't bring it upon myself to kill off any of my main characters. This story has been revamped throughout the time I wrote this, so some things may be different in earlier chapters. No worries though, it is for the better. Yes... Captain's name is Kaden.... (pause to laugh). Anyway, I made the ending so as to explain why Artea went to Elfrea in the first Lufia. Most of the things on the Elves of Eserikto and the Divine Shrine were fabricated by me (mainly because the Lufia games never went into Artea's village and people much) and there's no factual bases to it. And yes, Iarhel was incredibly clichéd. But I didn't write him to be a great bad guy, I wrote him to fill in the plot holes.
Well, here are some comments and questions that I feel needed answers:
Empress Dragon - My first reviewer! You have my endless gratitude ^___^ As for Milka, she did curse before: "------!" I think that represents cursing. Of course I could be wrong, but if I'm right, she did indeed used vulgarity in the game.
Nikkicub - I answered this before somewhere, but I'll do it again. About Artea's blindness: Yes, his one eye was wounded at the end of Lufia 2, and he indeed was blind later on when you meet him in Lufia 1. But on how fast or slow his blindness progressed between the end of Lufia 2 and when you meet him in Lufia 1 (99 years later was it?) is up to the author to decide. Translation: I didn't feel like making a blind elf -_-;; And in Lufia 3, no one bothered to mention that he was blind when they said he went on some journey... Thanks for pointing that out though :) Oh yeah, Dekar wasn't in it as you can tell, sorry. *squeezes Dekar plushie* I should write a story about him, ne?
... (Droplet_of_Darkness@hotmail.com) - Yes, in the video game he does have blue hair, but in the instruction booklet he has purple... I made his hair purple-blue. Don't know why I did though XD
Deth Star Apocolypse - My response to your "asinine" questions, as you called them, is from what I wrote to you in the beginning of chapter nine before: no one said elves can't have facial hair. Tolkien's elves didn't, however, nothing was said like that about the elves in Lufia (to my knowledge). Second, yes, Lufia 2's world is known as “Lufia”. I know that in the first one it is not referred to as Lufia, but that's the creators fault and a whole other topic. Banter? It was hardly banter, just you picking out what you thought needed to be corrected. But nitpicking will get you nowhere, sweetie.
Anyway, someone once emailed me about this a long time ago and at the risk of sounding repetitive, I shall repeat my answer: Tolkien DID NOT invent elves. He simply wrote a story that had elves in it. An elf can be any size, shape and color. They can be squat, fat and really hairy, anything you want. Because Tolkien said HIS elves were a certain way doesn't mean that every elf written is like that. He's not a god, people. That said, I'm not really a fan of Tolkien, so please don't start a debate with me about him. Only one kid did that though -_-'
To all who reviewed, and especially to the ones that came back to read more of it, thanks a lot :) Reviewers are cool. Me like reviews... *zombie groan* Anymore questions not answered here, email me, otherwise I most likely won't answer them!
...A sequel? Ask me that in about a year...