Fathomless loss, oh young maiden of the Sun,
Covers your once auburn complexion.
Bone white yet, a glowing reflection
Stirs amid the teary lake that has finally won.
O’ Helen, Ophelia; Athena’s Wisdom falters
At these diverging paths reached. Hold
Out your hands and drink the question
Untold. It’ll serve the bold for no gold.
A soulful debt sold neither to kings nor altars.
You’ll set off towards uncharted waters
’til the olive branches become your halters.
To find us both here at the same end.
The ladder’s rungs give way and bend.
Can you even see? Perhaps the wanderlust lingers
Within your eyes like a sickness. Stay and defend;
Orders taken to the heart but in your hands splinters
Fester. Where could we ever find escape? Please, lend
Me a glance of empathy in all this. Coldest of all Winters.
Visibility close to zero. Blasts of cold nip my fingers
Raw and frozen. Chained by icy hearts and integers.
Two friends grasping at a primordial fire
In an attempt to better mankind. To tend
And to witness unless we give into our ire.
When this fateful storm finds its solemn end
We’ll drift away to somewhere we can mend.
Desolation. The scenery, a snowy tundra, begins blurring into an expansive desert. I begin to feel the change in temperature. I look around for any landmarks or signs of life. Nothing. The barren land is just that. Barren. I attempt taking a step forward but nothing. I try harder. A staggering headache stifles me.
Something burrows out of the sand. An old elf wearing sand covered rags climbs up with metal trinkets. He waves for me to come help him. Before I could even react I start rushing over towards the hole. Two patchwork bags rest at the bottom. I grab them and hurry to the elf.
“The ancient tower still holds many secrets. But I couldn’t get further. Its ancient guards are too much for anyone. I found these while they chased some other robbers. Those old constructs keep modifying themselves. Technology we can’t even imagine. At least with the scraps I grabbed we can trade for some rations. By the way, did you see any military caravans passing by?” He asks as if we knew each other.
“No. Only wind and more sand.” I answer without a thought. The experience gets weirder and weirder. Neither can I move nor can I speak. Something else controls me. Is this a memory? Or something else?
“I see. In that case we better go to the fence to trade in the scraps. These lands have become a lot more hostile than in decades past. I remember when I first came here. The military never came here, the Unbounded didn’t exist, and the other exiles weren’t so animalistic. It’s a scary place. And the tower had far less security measures.”
“I still have never seen the tower. Is it really that bad?”
“Let’s just say I hope you never do. Most people can’t survive even a few seconds down there. They, the guardians, run on some infinite source of energy from centuries past. And they continue the orders they were given. Excavate, learn, evolve, protect. They repeat those words endlessly. I wonder why such machines exist at all. Why is the tower so important?”
“Maybe the humans back discovered a way to tap into the world tree?”
“Well, if they did that explains why their civilization fell. That tree, although called holy by the rest of the elves, only brings the end. I was exiled for trying to burn the tree down. And why were you?”
“I saw something that the others were afraid of while I was a Priestess of Time.”
“huh? Something bad enough to make you join up with a terrorist like me? Interesting. I won’t ask you anymore until you’re ready.”
A breath of cold extinguishes my feet. The ashes the wind carries meet a silky layer of snow. I stand here between a gentle touch and a bitter gnawing, a borderline. My prideful words harden in my throat; a sign appears asking me where to. I clamp my teeth together as I step into the unknown icy realm.
The forest door of branches and vines wilts away revealing two intertwined trees. I walk around them. How? Is it a passage or something more? I touch the trees but I fall backwards. Stinging sorrow and ever consuming love overflows from them. I kneel down and try again. This time I focus on the emotions to bring the truth to the surface.
Frost cracks from the branches releasing two flurries. These flurries materialize into two elven children holding hands. The hands frostbitten and frozen together. They skip around in joy. Little laughs echo throughout the barren tundra. I look at them like they’re a happy photo beneath a broken frame. My heart aches at the sight creating a deep hole. A chasm, an innumerable amount of time between then and now.
I follow them with Daefyr wading in my shadow. Every step takes me closer into the despair that befell these two. I shiver from the cold but I couldn’t conjure up any fire. I hold myself with my own arms trying to stay warm. Freezing gusts of air and snow slice at me. No matter what I do the cold pierces me. I’m at its mercy.
The farther we go the thicker the snowfall gets. My eyes cannot see more than a few feet in front of me. Suddenly the elves stop dancing. I press my feet into the snow to gain enough traction to stop as well. They turn towards me then point forward and fade away with the wind. I slowly step forward until my toes reach the end of land. A steep cliff lays before me.
I sit down with my legs dangling over. My hands grip the ledge and trace the grooves of stone. Everything feels right except for two small holes. I begin shaking. What happened here? Those children died. But. . .why are they happy? Daefyr rubs his wet, cold nose against my chest. He pushes me into the snow. See the truth, young master.
In the distant a scream scrapes through the shivering cold. A voice more like rusty metal creaking in the wind. I squint to see further but only the scream becomes clearer. A cry for help that time now distorts. The pain is a singularity of emotion that nothing escapes from especially time. Suffering. I reach my hand out.
“How. . .no, why?” suddenly a thin tendril of ice flies pass me. Energy reverberates in the ice until it resonates a deafening tone. I cover my ears and roll away from it. The ice explodes into a cloud of shards.
“No. Nobody did. But that time is gone.”
“Because you choose to. You can move on now.”
“Only the living have that gift.”
“No. All things exist in cycles. That includes you. You’re lost. You don’t know where to go. Let me guide you.” I reach out my hand. The ghost grabs my hand but the bitterness and pain starts freezing my hand. I grit my teeth. When the ghost notices it tries to let go. I grab tighter.
The smoke spreads around like a thick fog. I watch the light haze over and listen to the trees creak. An ancient energy surges through every rock, tree, blade of grass, and creature in the forest. The branches reach downward opening a path lit by spheres of light. I look down the path and see visages in the smoke. They call and beckon as brambles chase away these wandering visitors.
I close my eyes. One, two, three; the way opens up before me. Take it. Before I even move Daefyr paws at my leg. A warmth overflows my core. Cool flames begin coming out from the back of my limbs. The flames appear on Daefyr as well. My feet tingle with anticipation and adrenaline. I make a quick dash but my speed trips me. I scrape my knees on the thorny brambles. Seeing me fail terribly Daefyr drags me to the base of a tree.
The scent of dew and honey fills my nose. I try to resist to no avail. The intense fragrance lulls me into a trance. I see shades of multiple bright colors join with the smoke. In my addled state I follow the colors. They merge and divide quite randomly. My mind keeps telling me to ignore them yet I can’t resist.
A sense of madness stirs within me. I fear it and still I embrace it too. The colors seep into my saturated heart. Crimson red drips into sky blue. My hands shake between sorrow and rage. Forever hiding the truth of my own weakness. I lean my back against a tree and close my eyes.
“I must stay on my path. That sweet and vibrant existence isn’t mine. I’d be too weak to protect it. Daefyr and I might be forbidden from our home but we can’t take yours, dear elves. Being honest. Our struggles create who we are and to trade them away seems wrong. Or to repress them. I’ll be off now.” I pat my thighs and stand back up.
My footsteps burn away ill brambles freeing the wanderers. the spheres of light rise towards the dew encrusted canopy. But I follow wherever these feet fall. I look around some. The Autumn leaves gingerly float down, wildlife frolics around in a blissful communion with nature, and I care for this Grand Garden.
I reach up into a spruce tree. A conifer branch‘s needles scratch at my hand. I carefully break off the end of a branch. The strong smell it secretes tinges the air. Using a blade of grass I tie the end and place the bundle on a flat rock. I look at the burning Sun then focus on the bundle. Thoughts of warmth and greed pollute my empty mind.
From the immaterial a form emerges. A burning sensation spreads through the individual cells in my arm. I wince from the pain. My cells start feeling as if the moisture starts boiling. I gasp for air. The feeling calms down a little and I begin focusing on the bundle again. The spruce needles move back and forth as if by the wind.
A spark sets the bundle ablaze. The smell of spruce fills the air even heavier now. I clear my throat and begin chanting a few words:
“The way is lost. We pay the cost of nature’s host for a toast. By the very circles and forlorn passages we come bearing the words of men. Must we be lost or can be found? The way remains lost. We ask the ghost of the forest to guide us. Hear us.”
A form materializes from the smoke. It beckons to me like a beautiful woman. My legs move without my consent and the smoke touches my cheek. I loosen my muscles up, the thick air shimmers around me, Daefyr watches from a few yards away, and daylight cascades through the treetops. The spirit dances for a few minutes.
“I hear thee. The lost. Seekers of the West caught between elven sorrow and human wrath. Will you cure the wound or infect it? The blood in you tastes sweet yet sour like berries. To prove yourself as not poison walk through these forlorn passages. Where brambles doth recede for soft feet to tread.” her mystic words choke the air and burn in my chest.
Fear. I listen to my heart pounding so hard it resonates in my ears. My thoughts scream “RUN!!!” and my body froze. Like a reoccurring nightmare I see the horror coming but haven’t the strength to escape. Something tugs at my pant leg. I look down at the dog and smile.
“You have me here.” the dog’s action appears to say.
I force my knees to pick up my legs. We walk backwards using the trees for cover. The giant snorts while rubbing its eyes. It turns in our direction forcing us to dive behind a large tree stump. I ready the book as the dog’s hackles rise. In our surprise loud rumbling sounds come from its direction.
“Guhyon turkah rulas. . .” the giant’s forlorn language echoes. Each word intertwines with the natural world as if they were a gale of wind or the ebb of a river. I step out from behind the tree with my hands open and out. The giant stares at me for a bit then breathes in deeply. We stand there in complete silence.
“Hello. Do you speak Gahlian?”
“Gahlian. English. Human. They are all the same. A different season, the same year. I guess you don’t understand Her language. It’s not written. It’s felt.”
“A breeze and a river. Isn’t there flooding from the rain in the valleys?”
“Ah, you can feel it. Yes. Something unknown threatens Her grounds by bringing rain through Elven tears. I sense their sorrow. These rains bring much more than flooding. It wounds Her, the All Mother.” The giant rubs its watery eyes. “I came here in search of anything. These lowlands speak with idle tongues. A sign of Her benevolence.”
I repeat its words in my head. The longing and anguish in its words pierce my heart with a blade oiled with poison. A breathlessness overtakes me. I hold myself up with a tree. We stand there in silence again. The giant sees physical pain showing on my face. I clear my throat.
“I can feel your pain. I carry my burdens too. We have been exiled from my home. All we can do is move forward. We’re heading west in search of tomorrow.”
“You’ll never cross the river.”
“I’ll figure it out.” I show him the grimoire.
“A maji and a black dog? My people have tales about such a pact. The effigy child and the beast of the night. Ostracized. Exiled. Not forgotten. I truly wish you luck on your journey. Curha moru daelum. May the storm pass.” almost as quickly as the giant appears it disappears.
The black dog rubs up against my leg. We look towards the mountain ahead. I reach down and pet him. His cold ethereal form from earlier feels like a distant memory. A warmness radiates from its chest. I smile. If we have a pact I guess you want something. I want purpose. You want a friend. Maybe? There must be more.
I kneel down by the dog and hold him. The warmness grows further. Time freezes around us. I open my heart up feeling his darkness seep in. He tries getting away but I tighten my grip. Droplets of darkness stain my heart as tears fall from the dry crevices of my eyes. I know he’s made from pain and hate. And still I can never break this bond we share.
“I think you need a name. Daefyr? You can be the fire of the day even with you being created by shadows. Nobody can deny anyone that.”
I shake my head and rub my eyes. A bitter taste in my mouth. I ignore it the best that I can but there’s no denying these memories. They follow me even in my sleep. The stranger leaving behind the book that leads me to saving a beast. The more I think about it the beast is an elemental of darkness. He’s never far from the light, he trails behind objects, and he appears in the night.
I reach my hand to feel the silky black fur. A light nearly ghostly feeling flows against my hand. The circumstance of our friendship. He feels my presence yet never senses a threat unlike the villagers. They exiled us. I still don’t understand why or how I could use mist alchemy without ever practicing it. A strong desire burns to rescue a misunderstood creature. In that desire the fires from within found their way. My fingers fusing with the beast’ s wispy, cold coat. The past few days seem to fade away.
After a few more minutes we stand up and look towards the sun. We walked and walked for the first two days leaving familiar territory far behind. The further we go the more hostile creatures become. Goblins, trolls, skeletons, and other creatures I only heard about in books. They stalk the low lands at the base of the Gorundin Mountains. Every time I nearly walk into a threat the black dog steers me away. I rely on him as much as he relies on me. That much is evident.
“We should start up the mountain today. I’m not really sure where else to go. The oceans are never forgiving and the villagers block us from heading east or south. And the lands to the north are far too frigid for us. So we headed out west. Our culture says those who break any law must atone by following the sun’s path to the Crystal Cathedral. I’ve never seen it with my own eyes but heard the elders speak about it.
The village oldest elder left for it a few months ago. Nobody has heard from him since. Maybe I’ll figure something out by the time we reach the Cathedral. He’s probably just relaxing up there never wanting to return to the village. I wouldn’t blame him. Our elders excluding him seek to further isolate us from the other provinces. A great hatred stems from our inaction in both politics and trade. Oh well they’ll hold to those ideals until the end of time. Me? I’ll figure it out but first there’s a mountain to climb.”
I begin walking up the elevating terrain and keeping my pace with the black dog. We listen for anything that might warn us of danger. Nothing. Until today a steady wind brought the chill of the mountains to the lowlands. This silence makes me uneasy. The black dog picks up on my feeling and perks up his ears. Something’ s coming. But what?
Suddenly the ground begins to shake. I stumble around getting my footing back. The dog begins backing up and whimpering slightly. I see it. A large object rising from the forest floor hidden behind a large tree. It yawns so loud that the birds fly out of every tree for miles around. I realize that the creature is a giant. They typically live in the valleys between the great mountains except during times of flooding. I stand there shivering, hoping he leaves in the other direction.