THE EVENING TIDE
I pushed open the doors to my private chambers, and pacing inside, was my lady Elwyn. She stopped and looked at me, shocked, and I noticed her tremble, that she was stricken with worry.
“My Son!” she cried. “What is happening? Please, I must leave, I —”
I ignored her, my feet carrying me to the end of the room, my shaky hands throwing down the containers, the scrolls that had been placed neatly on top of the cabinet.
“Where is it?” I cried, heart thumping. “Where is it?!”
I was looking for the afara jar that the Father of the Sun had made to contain the waters of the Eternal Pool when suddenly, I was brought around by Elwyn. She hadn’t seen what I had seen downstairs, but by facing me now and seeing how colorless my face had become, she began to understand that we, mostly I, were irrevocably doomed.
“What is happening?” she asked, her voice shaky.
I opened my mouth, on the verge of answering her when just then, the door to my private chambers was flung open once more. When I saw Asharal and his brother, my stomach contracted. My lady Elwyn swirled at the intrusion, gasping.
Asharal’s brow was covered in sweat, and the look on him was intent and fierce. When he saw the elvess, I noticed doubt in his eyes, then a hardness twisting his refined and compelling features. The look he gave the elvess rattled me.
Asharal advanced against my lady - his steps precise, the great gleaming blade in his grasp wet with blood.
“You betrayed me!”
Asharal flicked his blade-hand up towards the ceiling, the tip of the blade cutting into the elvess’s throat. She made a gurgling sound, and blood was sprayed all over the walls. Her body landed hard on the floor.
“Elwyn!” I cried horrified.
Asharal sneered down at her body, revealing a kind of fury that I couldn’t quite understand. And when that fury turned on me, shivers of dread spiraled down my spine, and I knew that unless some miracle saved me, some chance intervention, I was about to die.
I backed away from my enemy.
Asharal did not stop, his resolve to end my life implacably clear in those pale and terrifying eyes of his. And so, I was forced to find my courage. I straightened and applied all my years of practice in the arts of magic. Even if I were armed with a blade, my efforts would prove useless against Asharal, who, by reputation, remained the finest warrior on the island. I would stand no chance against him, mainly while he carried a blade as fine as the one in his hand, a blade still slick with Elwyn’s blood.
I began maneuvering my hands around each other, as if I were knitting, uttering the words which would ignite the spark that would enact the spell. I could feel an electric force zapping at my fingers, and when Asharal drew too close, I cried out in anger and shot out my hands towards him. I sent a great wave of blue light from my forearms, projecting it over my hands and then beyond until it hit a red and purple force that suddenly surrounded Asharal, and which rendered him impervious to my spell of obliteration.
I glanced at Asharal’s brother at the end of the room. His arms were stretched out as mine had been, and suddenly it became clear how Asharal had come this far on his path of destruction.
“Your father unleashed a similar spell,” Asharal mocked.
He began readying his blade-hand, so I scrambled to the side, desperate to create distance between us, again attempting the spell that I had just now used.
But again, my spell hit the red and purple force that surrounded Asharal. I glanced at his brother anew and faced the reality that while Sharal stood untouched, Asharal could not and would not be harmed.
I quickly turned to face Sharal, and after motioning in the manner which I had done twice before, I shot out my most powerful spell. But with a quick raise of both hands, Asharal’s energy shield shot up around Sharal from the floor, just in time to have my spell explode upon it, dealing zero damage to its intended target.
“Your father was not as perceptive as you, my Son,” commented Asharal, adding, “he spent countless attempts aiming his blue spell at me and only after I had thrust Sunrise through his putrid heart, did it occur to him that all the while my brother was the key to my defeat.”
“Asharal, please!” I begged, scrambling away from him once more as he tried to reach me.
Asharal followed me like one whose victory was already secure, and it was in his overconfidence in himself that I relied upon for my survival.
Though I kept my eyes on Asharal, I edged closer towards Sharal, hoping to get close enough to catch him off guard. I clambered over Elwyn’s lifeless body, and when I had Asharal’s brother in my vision, I was dismayed to see that he had backed away in accordance with how close I had tried to get to him. I began to despair, for I was dealing with calculated minds, each action I took foreseen and immediately countered by these cursed brothers.
“Please, Asharal! Have mercy! I know you were wronged. I know we took from you - I can give back. I can give back tenfold! Just tell me what it is you want.”
I knew what he wanted, however, besides apparent revenge. He wanted a sip from the Eternal Pool. He wanted immortality. Hadn’t the Father warned me? Hadn’t he told me that soon our power would be coveted by not just enemies living on the island, but abroad as well?
“They will all come soon, son,” the Father had said. “Everyone will want a taste of eternity. And we shall give it to them: at a price.”
When Asharal spoke, he did not mention immortality. Still, as I feared, revenge was undoubtedly one of the chief reasons that had motivated him to bring such calamity down on my family.
“I do not want much,” he said, without slowing his advance towards me. “All I require is your life.”
Desperate, I cried, “PLEASE! Asharal, have mercy on me! I beg you!”
“How pitiful you are,” he sneered. “Son of the Father. You fail in one attempt to save your life, and you already give up! Already you give me my victory! You do not deserve to preside over us, the Sun Elves.”
Asharal’s voice was riddled with disdain and disgust, and as always, when confronted by his disapproval, I immediately felt hot shame rise inside me. I wanted so desperately to show him that I could live up to his, and the rest of our people’s expectations. I wanted to show him - by killing him - that I was worthy of the Sunchair.
And so I began waving my hands together with a new resolve, and I attacked. But again, my spell hit the force protecting Asharal, so I aimed my hands at Sharal, saw that Asharal had noticed my determination and that his own grew in turn.
I tried a new spell, one that would buy me time as I focused on removing Sharal from the confrontation. I bent down, uttering new words with my palms facing the floor. Then I quickly began raising them up, and when my back was straight, a lean figure swathed in wind and dirt, stood before me, and it was filled with my desperation and my pride.
Without a word, my spell attacked Asharal as I turned my sights on his brother, who now looked grey with fatigue, telling me that Sharal was growing weary, that the magic he was exuding was finally taking its toll.
I proceeded again to execute my original spell, anticipating that Sharal wouldn’t be able to protect both himself and Asharal with his red and purple force-shield. I hoped that no matter who Sharal covered with his protective spell, the other would be vulnerable to either the spell I prepared at this very moment or the spell I had unleashed upon Asharal, the dirt and wind spell which I liked to call, Windy.
Sharal cocked back his head like one possessed, and with a frightful groan, he brought about a great sound like thunder, and when I shot my obliteration spell at him, it once more exploded upon his force-shield. I immediately turned, hoping to see a vulnerable Asharal, but instead, all I saw was Windy, looking lost and out of place. When I faced forward again, Asharal appeared behind his brother, his face twisted in sheer anger as he strode back inside the room with eyes set upon me. I backed up quickly, wanting Windy to remain between my intended killer and me. Barely did I manage this before Asharal’s blade whooshed near my face.
Asharal slashed at Windy. His blade went through its body and came out with zero profit. I initiated my original spell once more, whispering the needed words as quickly as I could, and when the spell was ready, I aimed my hands at the roof, wanting it to collapse on Sharal’s head. Parts of the ceiling crashed down, and Asharal jolted back as if sensing that his protection was gone. But he was wrong - Sharal kept his spell over Asharal, and when I heard Sharal’s voice call out, “Finish it, brother!” I realized that he lay beneath the rubble of the roof, was for the time being, out of the fight.
I began preparing my next attack, but then I saw Asharal come running. He charged Windy, gritting his teeth against its swirling profile, and I found myself backing away, recoiling towards the end of the wall, terrified.
“For my father!” I shouted, seconds away from unleashing the blast before Asharal could reach me. Something hit me - something hard and sharp, right through my chest, sending me shooting backward against the wall; it caused my hands to part from each other, disrupting my concentration.
Slammed against the wall, I looked down and saw the hilt of Asharal’s blade. I saw how it was fused with bare steel that now was submerged within my body, its tip thrust into the wall behind me, pinning me to it.
When I looked up, I noticed three things: the first was that Windy had vanished, clearly due to my disorientation at the impact of Asharal’s hurled weapon. The second was Sharal, who was struggling to get out from beneath the rubble of destruction I had caused to topple him. The last was Asharal.
Straining for breath, Asharal approached me. His long golden hair flowed down past his flushed face, strands of it stuck to his forehead; he looked angry, and if ever there was a glimmer of hope before that he might relent and show me mercy, that hope was now completely gone. When my fate was at last perceived in its entirety, tears began to build in my eyes until one finally fell and slithered down my cheek.
Asharal stood before me with clenched teeth. His refined, calm, imposing countenance, which had always intimidated me during previous encounters, had now slipped away, only to be replaced by a never-before-seen appearance that revealed in full, Asharal’s brutish and boundless capacity for violence.
“A good effort,” he conceded to me.
I tried to reply, but that turned out to be a struggle. The pain that came from his blade was crippling, as was the blatant truth I could no longer ignore; I was defeated.
“A new tide is coming, my Son.” Asharal put some weight against the hilt of his blade, pushing it farther into the wall, twisting it. He leaned in close and whispered, “The Evening tide.”
THE BROKEN ROSE
The mouth of the gorge opened wide, allowing two gentle rivers to spew out from its depth like the split tongue of a serpent. Stasanda was looking down at it from the edge of the cliff but soon turned around, focused on the regional capital of Asher Rise, the City of Evennal.
Pivoting skywards against the cliffs that encircled the shadowy valley, the City of Evennal ensnared everyone’s gaze, having high and silver walls that surrounded the city’s focal point - the seat of the Deacon of Asher Rise, Evennal’s palatial Greathouse.
The Greathouse was a tall and elegant tower that, near its peak, was thrust into the side of the cliff, making up the only entrance into the halls, chambers, and vaults that were burrowed deep into the rock. Admittedly, Stasanda had seen it all before, but since those around her remained enthralled, she found that their preoccupation had her engrossed too.
She went briskly ahead of her company so that she might escape the light rain that fell from the grey sky. When she saw the number of people lined up before the city gate, Stasanda narrowed her gaze, considered for the first time since hearing that the Karnaea would be held in the city, that perhaps she had underestimated the scale of extravagance in which the celebrations were bound to take. It was as if the entire country were now pouring into Evennal.
Stasanda found the back of the line and came to stand behind a very tall elvess. Behind her, a couple whispered to each other, the pair seemingly distressed and struggling to suppress their growing franticness.
“Did you pack the Salin?” the elvess asked in a low voice, referring to the Realm’s primary religious book, of which the Moon Elves of Alepion did stoutly believe was the very Word of the Whispering God, His actual recorded Voice.
The elvess’s nervous sounding united-one, a term reserved for one’s spouse of matrimony, replied hastily.
“Yes, I did!"
“If the sentinels suspect us of being members of the Old Way, they will not allow us into the city!”
Stasanda frowned, but when she angled her head around the tall elvess in front of her, she understood why the couple had started fretting. At Evennal’s gate, there were many sentinel guards, warriors who acted as the Realm’s law enforces; theirs was the responsibility of maintaining peace and order in the cities, the glades and the roads that were spread out far and wide across the country.
Even quieter now, almost as if a warning to her united-one, Stasanda heard the elvess vow, “I will not have these people around us think that we belong to that cult!”
The cult was the infamous Old Way, a league of devout worshippers of the old gods, or as they were more commonly known: the Dead Gods. The Old Way was dedicated to the reinstating of the old gods, pursued this by waging an eternal war against those who followed the Whispering God, Adonai.
Stasanda took a step forward when the line began to shorten, maintained a casualness in which the fretful couple behind her were failing to uphold. Her heart started racing as she studied the interactions convening at the city gate; she had nothing but her word to convince the sentinels that she was not a member of the Old Way.
“Do these sentinels not know that the city will soon have a blademaster?”
The deriding remark came from the elvess standing in front of Stasanda, the tall one who was just now shaking her head.
“Perhaps they think the Realm is still at war?” Stasanda suggested.
The tall elvess turned to regard her, smiled as awkwardly as one would upon new encounters. “Well, perhaps when you arrive at the front, you could promptly remind them that we aren’t?”
Stasanda smiled in turn, tried to think of a quick and witty retort.
“They need to believe that I am not part of the Old Way before I can even think to educate them,” feeling slightly unimpressed with her response.
The elvess chuckled, gestured towards the gate. “Well, you better prepare your argument soon. These sentinels are becoming ridiculous.”
Stasanda saw why the elvess thought so - there was already a protesting elf being dragged away from Evennal.
“No!” he screamed. “No! I am not of the Old Way! Adonai reigns! No! Get your hands off me!”
The elf continued to struggle, earning the vexation of his handlers, the sentinels showing little leniency when dropping him hard on the floor, one of them slamming a heavy knee down onto the elf’s chest.
When the elf raised his hands in capitulation, his handler got up, cast one last sneer upon him before he and his companion turned around.
Stasanda pitted the elf, who was now afflicted with suspicious implications which would cling to him if he did not get as far away from the city as quickly as possible. Such was all their fate should the sentinels presume to judge them as they had him.
“Might be he is part of the Old Way, might be he isn’t,” the tall elvess said now, clearly unimpressed by the scene, adding, “unless those sentinels had some way of knowing for sure, it was wrong what they did.”
“I agree,” came Stasanda.
“Once the Destroyer arrives in Evennal, any Dead God worshipper remaining will flee for the hills.” The tall elvess folded her arms. “Wait and see.”
The Destroyer, of whom the elvess had just now mentioned, was Senistar Underhill. He was Alepion’s newest and only blademaster, the anointed warrior of Adonai the Whispering God, their appointment perhaps a more exalted one than even the Elder.
They were the Third Sign of Adonai, which according to the Salin scriptures, meant the physical evidence of the Whispering God’s favor over the Moon Elf people. In addition, the Blademasters were regarded as the Realm’s most elite warrior.
“Do you think that elf was part of the Old Way?” the elvess asked Stasanda.
“There is no way to know,” coming face to face yet again with her own growing anxiety to stand before the sentinels.
An inquisitive elf standing in front of the tall elvess suddenly turned, looked at them both with speculative eyes.
“Would Adonai allow something like that to happen to one of his own?” the elf challenged, quite obnoxiously.
Neither Stasanda nor the elvess in front of her answered him. Instead, the tall elvess drew back, edged closer to Stasanda so bluntly that Stasanda couldn’t help the grin that formed over her mouth, caused by the elvess’s audacity. After the elf faced forward again, the tall elvess leaned in close, whispered,
“From the Nunes, I would wager.”
Stasanda sniggered, tried to conceal it by covering her mouth with her hand.
“Probably,” she managed to say.
“He must be from the Nunes,” the elvess decided. “Elves that side of the river are self-righteous fools. Would it not occur to him that those sentinels were acting out of assumption, or perhaps paranoia?”
She shook her head, irritated. “It’s been over a century since the War of the Dead Gods, but none alive in the Realm has yet to forget. Until the Destroyer arrives in the city, people inside will be fretting over how many elves are pouring in through the gate.”
Stasanda looked forward, appreciated the elvess's logic, but felt in the mood for a light-hearted interaction than a serious one.
“Or maybe the elf wasn’t an Old Way member after all? Maybe he was from the Nunes, and the sentinels just needed a reason to keep him from entering?”
The elvess turned her head around fast and chuckled. “And would you blame them?” she asked.
Once more, Stasanda tried concealing her laugh with her hand, and after recovering, she noticed that the elvess was looking at her in a new light.
“My name is Alardia,” she said.
Smiling, Stasanda told Alardia her name.
“Fair to meet you, Stasanda.”
“Fair to meet you too," feeling quite comfortable with the elvess already. It was her green eyes. They were full of mischief - which Stasanda realized appealed to her sense of adventure.
“Where are you coming from?”
“The Borderland Forests,” Stasanda told her. “I went traveling south."
“You’re traveling?” Alardia gasped, her eyes grown wide.
“I am,” she answered proudly.
Alardia grabbed Stasanda’s hands, jerked her forward. “I am traveling as well!” She revealed, a bit too loud they both reckoned, for they quickly hunched down again into a huddle to continue talking in whispers.
“I have always wanted to travel and see the Realm. But with the Red Death, it was impossible. As soon quarantine was over, I left immediately.”
“Where did you go first?”
Alardia scoffed at Stasanda. “Tannis Ban, of course! I am from the Trails, and up there, there is no better city to visit.”
Stasanda sighed. “I have always wanted to visit Tannis Ban,” she confessed, wistfully.
“You have to see it! It is beautiful!”
A cheeky smile now wrought the expression of Stasanda.
“I hear the elves and elvesses are beautiful?"
Alardia nodded. “Indeed. I felt like a creature living among them. All are so tanned.” The elvess frowned. “Like you,” as if only at that moment noticing Stasanda’s darker complexion. “You didn’t grow up in a forest, I see?”
“No. But keep going. Tell me of the Tannis-elves.”
Alardia was happy to oblige. “The elves are all built as if they were trained to be blademasters. The elvesses are elegant yet care-free, most having golden hair. Very friendly. But it gets better; there are ships that you can go on and for days and days - you sail far out to sea.
Every night there is feasting and music, and during the day: cage-diving!”
Alardia’s eyes went wide. “Yes! You get inside a cage that is fastened with a thick rope to a ship.
There is what they call a snorkel, which is a long pipe that allows you to breathe underwater. You are also given eye-cloaks that allow you to see the different fish.”
“Did you do it?” Stasanda asked her, completely amazed.
“Of course! It was the most fun I have had in my entire life! After the Karnaea, you and I should head back to the Trails and enter Tannis Ban so that I can show you what all the fuss is about!”
The length of the line gradually grew shorter, but so fascinating was their discussions that it didn’t feel long at all until the gate of the city loomed over Stasanda and Alardia's head, her and Alardia's talk abruptly coming to an end as they both took in the height of the silver-bricked walls and the sodden Alepion banners hanging limp at the pinnacles.
“Where will you be staying?” Alardia asked Stasanda.
But Stasanda’s reply was not immediate, her attention locked on the sentinels searching the bags of those in front of her.
Stasanda looked at her new friend and feigned a smile. “Apologies,” she said. “Um, I do not know where I'll be staying.”
“That is fair news, and so I will tell you; the Landa Inn. You and I can book together. I hear it is the most affordable in the city, which is saying a lot, for you can bet your moons that because of the Karnaea, prices have flown up to the sky.”
Stasanda was struggling to stay engaged, was distracted by the sentinels. They had their silver helms shadowing their faces, and so it was hard not to feel intimidated by their inscrutable expressions and how orderly was their conduct towards those they questioned.
When Alardia came before the sentinels, she turned to Stasanda and smiled without fear.
“See you on the other side.”
Stasanda smiled back but did not say a word, was unable to; such was her sense of foreboding. But after seeing how easily Alardia was permitted into the city, all by stating once that she was a believer in the Whispering God, Stasanda decided that her fears were unwarranted and stepped forward boldly, handing her bag to one of the sentinels, while another addressed her.
“Fair day, my lady,” the sentinel greeted.
“Fair day, sentinel."
Stasanda nodded. “I am.”
“Will you be pleased to see the Elder once he arrives in the city?”
“Very much so, sentinel."
“And do you profess Adonai the Whispering God as the one and only God of the elves and all the world?”
“I do, sentinel.”
The sentinel didn’t reply. He just waited, almost as if he were expecting one of them to speak. When eventually he nodded, Stasanda’s bag was handed back to her, and she was permitted to enter Evennal. But not a moment later, Stasanda was stopped by the command of someone nearby.
When Stasanda turned, she saw a noble-looking elf appear from the side, watched him approach. He had long grey hair that parted around his face, and in his hard gaze, Stasanda saw something that made her shudder.
“Not her,” the elf said.
Stasanda’s heart lurched, and she felt as if the entire world had just shaken beneath her feet. “What?” she managed before one of the sentinels grabbed her arm. “No!” she said, unable to fully fathom what was happening, while at the same time, had become all too aware of the elves still in the line behind her.
“Get her away from here."
“No, please, I do not follow the Dead Gods. Adonai is ——
“The one true God, yes I know,” the grey-hair elf said, coming right up to Stasanda and looking at her with a searching gaze. “But you, my lady, will not enter. Get far away from here. Do it, and it will go well for you.”
The elf gave a peremptory gesture to the sentinel, who started pulling Stasanda away from the city. Through her tears, Stasanda noticed those in the line; their faces were blurred, but their shock was undeniable, as was their judgment, their pity, and like it had been for the unfortunate elf before her, their stares followed Stasanda until she was dropped onto the wet floor.
“Please!” she pleaded, stretching out her hand to the sentinel. But he ignored her, as did everyone else.
In the thriving residential glades of Olian, when the night was still, quiet and unsuspecting, two Moon Elves of Alepion entered a dark, double-story house. One of them held a bundle of life beneath his cloak and disappeared into the basement where an impermissible ceremony had been prepared—the other elf headed upstairs.
Within a moment’s pause, that Moon Elf stood before a door and stared down at the shimmering light leaking forth from the crack that stretched between the door and the floor. Here, the Moon Elf considered the type of elf he was soon to meet and he pictured an old, hard-looking person who was tall, sophisticated, an elf who would belong to a horde of wealth acquired through some astute position in the Realm.
This assumption derived from the fact that the elf had been entrusted with the risky operation that the Moon Elf and his associate downstairs had, just over an hour ago, completed, suggesting a shrewd individual, and a well-connected one at that, at least enough to ensure the operation would come out a success.
Indeed, the operation had been risky; the procedures as ingenious in the originality of its execution as it was unnerving in its unorthodoxy. But, as if to justify that, the Moon Elf promptly reminded himself that besides all else, it had been the High Council that approved it, cleared it for initiation. And so he decided that the Dead Gods themselves must have approved the operation too, for surely the High Council knew Their will?
If so, why the gnawing feeling of guilt that assailed me? Why the deep hollowness?
The Moon Elf stepped forward, slowly pushed the door open, and cleared his throat after a moment’s hesitation.
“Fair evening,” he said to a seemingly empty room, his eyes drawn to the fireplace where a master-chair had been planted.
“Come in,” said a voice, low and husky.
The Moon Elf did so, closed the door behind him, remaining by it, not knowing whether to proceed further or not.
“Is it done?” said the voice.
“It is, Master,” the Moon Elf replied, catching a quick scoff from the fireplace.
“Master,” the voice echoed, the intonations of it sounding almost ironic. Unsure of how to respond, the Moon Elf remained quiet.
“Did she struggle?”
The Moon Elf frowned. The question was irrelevant, no matter which direction his answer took. “No, she didn’t. For now, the baby remains asleep… content.”
“Good. I want her to be so until the end.”
An uncomfortable silence began to stretch between them, becoming increasingly palpable, so much so that the elf who had remained standing began to doubt the integrity of the operation once more. He glanced around at his surroundings – a house designated by the High Council, and which had acted as the headquarters.
If the elf seated behind that large chair was the brains behind this, why did he sound as if he had doubts about the result? Why did he seem regretful?
“Master, I —,” the Moon Elf began but was immediately cut off.
“Do you think we did the right thing?”
Hearing the question that had been screaming in his heart spoken out loud took the Moon Elf aback, made him realize that whoever was seated before the fire, he was, indeed, afflicted by doubt and perhaps guilt.
If this was the case, thought the Moon Elf, then surely they hadn’t done the right thing? Surely they had gone too far this time – crossed a vital line in their struggle against the Whispers of the Whispering God.
Becoming uncomfortable by his self-doubt, the Moon Elf began to offer some feeble response but was unable to complete it, was once more cut off by the elf seated in the chair.
“Never mind. As you say—it is done. Whether wrong or right, the wheels of this cart have been set in motion, and nothing now will be able to halt the spin of it.”
The Moon Elf heard the chair by the fire creak as if the one seated in it had leaned forward. “Where is the baby now?”
“Downstairs,” the Moon Elf answered, unsettled by the weight that that statement held, carrying a sense of finality that offered him a growing sense of disquiet. The Moon Elf swallowed, and in a flat tone, added, “she is waiting for you.”
At that, the other elf stood up, and what the Moon Elf saw was an elf cloaked and hooded in long layers of black. But what he saw next, when the elf slowly turned, left the Moon Elf unable to counter the instinctual reaction that manifested itself into a slight but clear recoil. This, the hooded elf took note of, and to his guest’s astonishment, he smiled and said pleasingly,
“Surprising, I know. But it is I.”