Rog’s Face

Arialin looked at the small bottle with a doubt. As much as he wanted to trust, Raithea wasn’t making it easier. Ordering, not asking, though he had to admit that everything he was saying so far, was turning into his favor. The shadow inside him raged, urging him to not drink the potion, and as much as Arialin wanted to listen to her, there was a lot of obvious truth in his host’s words.

Arialin couldn’t hide forever if he wanted to achieve anything, if he wanted to live long enough. More evenly, hide in Raithea’s bedchambers, as safe as they were. He doubted Raithea would allow him, to add to it. He was sure that he would not give him to humans, but as long as he would hang over his host’s head, danger was immense.

It will hurt, do not drink it.

As long as it gives me more freedom, I am willing to take risks.

Raithea’s gaze wasn’t necessarily encouraging, but there was so much assured confidence in it, that Arialin closed his eyes… and swallowed all of the mixture in one take.

Raithea’s eyes seemed to widen, like he waited for that and that caused a pang panic in Arialin’s mind, but it was quickly overwhelmed by… a feeling.

Not exactly painful. It felt like he was dissolving in a thick mist, his sight became blurry and unfocused, his limbs lost connection with his body. He didn’t want to scream, but he definitely wanted to speak, but he couldn’t utter a word. It felt like his tongue plastered to his throat and choked him… but without loss of breath.

And his shadow…

First time in his short life, Arialin could feel her stupefaction and disconnection.

Do not go, he wanted to tell her, sensing her departure. Yes, many times he wanted her to go, he hated her so often and was scared of her. But in the end, he didn’t want her to go. He wanted to understand her better, not remove her from his life. If she disappeared… he would feel more lost than in the lonely sea, during a storm.

But the shadow still was there, hushed, silent, but observant and alert, in the dark corner of his mind, looking at his change with a dark stubbornness.

First thing he felt, when he returned from the mist, was that he has worse eyesight. He blinked a few times, but his crystal clean, elvin sight didn’t return.

“Humans have much weaker eyes” said Raithea, and pointed at a glass of water Arialin forgot to drink at night. It was cold now, cold like snow. “Drink water, to ease the change. It will take time to adjust, but humans somehow use them to see. It can’t be that difficult.”

Arialin took the water and drank fast, also to remove a strange acidic taste in his mouth. It helped.

“How… what do I look like?”

His voice was alien to him, rough and harsh, without melodic touch all elves had. It was brutally human.

He was not sure if he wanted to see his new face. If his voice sounded like that, how different he looked, how he changed, maybe forever.

What if he will stay human for all his remaining years.

Raithea seemed amused, and Arialin turned to the mirror. He had to face himself, no matter if he looked like a brutal war monster. But to his asonishment, he didn’t see a human there. Only his own slightly ragged and tired person, with same eyes, with same fear in them, with same doubt and courage, he just was finding in himself.

“Your look didn’t change, in reality” said Raithea, amusement ranged also in his tone, “You didn’t change your skin, it’s impossible to do so, your bone structure can’t be changed, as well as your blood or muscles position. You didn’t become human. You just happen to use a very powerful spell of illusion. You can still see yourself, as you really look like. And so do I. But others, be they humans or elves, will see Rog, a very unfortunate soldier, who was designed for the least desired person.”

Arialin stared at his perfectly normal reflection in the mirror.

“But… my voice… how did it…”

“Voice can be changed so easily. Even without a strong spell.”

“So, I will sound like that forever?” Arialin’s tone took on a much harsher note. Having this rough, cruel voice was least he would like. “And what about my sight? If I didn’t change, why do I look like a human?”

“Because magic takes as much as it gives” Raithea’s voice also harshened and the shadow inside Arialin moved restlessly, he could feel her under his skin, protesting. “We all pay a toll, to get the prize.”

Arialin had so many questions, but he understood all too well that Lord Rhuitaure won’t answer them now. He knew this secretive kind of person, who played with too many puppets and held too many secrets. They never were answering directly.

And all who he ever heard of, were power hungry humans, who would better kill him than help.

But strangely, that trait in an elvin person, was making him assured that whatever job needs to be done, will be done well.

“Who is this Rog? Who will I be?” he couldn’t stop himself from asking at least that.

“A guard,” Raithea simply said. “You need armor, you will get a new one from your captain. I never used a private guard, so there will be questions, but not as much as would be, if you became a maid or cook. Most questions will probably arise, why I want Rog, especially, guarding my person. Do not talk, when we appear in the watchtower. Look spellbound. I will take this ungrateful task on myself.”

Or he will put a spell, so you look like one.

Arialin wanted to ignore the shadow but decided to nod internally. Raithea seemed a person, who would not shy out from ultimate resources. One more question, though, needed to be asked.

“Where is this guard? Won’t he protest when I appear looking at him?”

“I am sure he has much better things to do now” Raithea’s voice darkened and lowered and Arialin could almost see an adult version of him, speaking it. It had such finality to it, that he decided to not push further and resign from all the questions he ever had.

He made him suffer, he made him weep, he made him scream, he made him seethe.

This time, Arialin completely ignored the shadow.

Maybe because he felt she had a lot of rights.

Epiphany

Point of view… Raithea… but like this:

There’s a hole in the world like a great black pitAnd it’s filled with people who are filled with shitAnd the vermin of the world inhabit it.But not for long…They all deserve to die.Tell you why, Zakrivea, tell you why.Because in all of the whole human raceZakrivea, there are two kinds of men and only twoThere’s the one staying put in his proper placeAnd the one with his foot in the other one’s faceLook at me, Zakrivea, look at you.No, we all deserve to dieTell you why, Zakrivea, tell you why.Because the lives of the wicked should be made briefFor the rest of us death will be a reliefWe all deserve to die.And I’ll never see my sweet ailNo I’ll never hug my wife to me – finished!

Wreath

The overgrowth swallowed them, hungrily, embracing them as a willing lover.

He had to tame his loran, so the animal didn’t surrender to the call of nature and galloped through the leaves and branches, to an unknown destination, known only to him. Lorans were animals used as a transport, but only by most skilled elves. They easily were allowing their nature to take over their common sense.

They both were skilled enough. Lorans were kept on his fields, and he loved to just run on one of them, not caring for anything, his hair windswept and wild.

She looked at him, her eyes smiling.

“Well, my lord, it seems you again allowed yourself for your thoughts to drift off. What important things occupy that stubborn head of yours?”

Raithea shook his head. His features lighted by inner gleam. He stopped his loran, who wanted to prance, the summer overwhelmed him. He named him Gale. Very fitting name, as he was like a force of nature making the sky shake.

“I just thought how pleasant it would be to bathe our lorans in the stream. They surely would use a cool off.”

“I assume not only lorans need a cool bath,” she laughed lightly.

“As long as lorans bathe too, I can at least pretend that I don’t like the cold stream water” he replied and again tamed his animal. His hand slowly patted his head.

“We are getting married today, Lord Rhuitaure. How it would look if the ain scal appeared in the sacred grove with wet hair and tangled robes.”

“My robes always eventually get tangled one way or another. Especially when we spend time together” his expression indicated pure victory.

“You beautiful fool” she scoffed playfully. “If it depended on you, you would marry in a stream, with only a wreath on your head.”

“Tempting idea, but I doubt your mother would approve. She would throw her own robe on my back as soon as she would see me bare.”

“That is modesty, my pure lord. You should be born a loran. That way, you would not need to take care of any clothes and protocole. An only thing you would need to care about would be how fast to lose yourself in the wilderness.”

“Only if you were a loran too… who would scold me? Who would allow me to lay my head on her knees? Who would straighten up my misled pathaways?” he taunted.

These simple words, playful but honest, caught her heart in tangled vines and squeezed with delight. She felt almost touchable bond with her ain scal. Her spring bruthi, who kidnapped her into the kingdom of grass. She didn’t know how she deserved such happiness. Finding first love among everlasting elves was not an uncommon thing, but still clean and clear as a young sun.

“We are not made to be lorans” she only said, a light smile dancing in the corner of her lips.

“I wouldn’t be able to give you this, then” he retorted fast, pulling something he held close to his chest, all the time they rode. It was a wreath made of twisted birch roots, with silver leaves growing straight from its tangles. She looked at him with disbelief.

“But Raithea. It’s a symbol of your bruth-kin.”

“I want to offer you this,” he simply said and stopping his animal, he took the reins of her loran, who softly allowed it. He leaned over and put the wreath on her forehead. “You already won me thousands of times. Let others know, I am yours.”

She lost her breath. He was hers. Let the others know. But she was his, completely at his whim.

It was pure.

It was beautiful.

It was them. And no one should dare to break it.

*

Raithea looked at the wreath. He found it in the ruins of the place in which they kept her as a prisoner, broken like a solstice puppet and bloodstained like a sacrifice. She still was wearing it, when she went to the battle, still wore it when they captured her. Her feelings were so strong that she never parted with the symbol of their togetherness.

He found it next to her body, where she laid in her own blood, with gaze that held pure horror. And he hated himself for allowing this. For not being faster, more persistent. More cruel. He never thought he will resort to this kind of way, bloodthirsty way, but he also knew it was not enough. Desperately not enough. He was not enough cruel, coldblooded. And that’s why she died.

He won’t repeat that mistake again.

 

—-

ain scal – groom

bruth-kin – ruledom

Swallow

Lord Kesser was caught in the mid-drink.

That alone was a grave offense. The other one was a person of the messenger, who came clad in black to bring the darkest news.

The third was lack of time, in which he could plan or act. Soldiers who dragged him off his own manor, seemed content to humiliate him even more than it was necessary, and not allow him to change his morning robes. He wasn’t liked among people close to the throne, but this kind of malice was too much, even coming from them.

“I will make you hang, when I am free! You hear it? HANGED?” he screamed in the thin air, as citizens gathered; he caught a few ironic smiles.

But the look on the face of the Lord Adviser was stale and frozen, expression set in stone. Not even a slight sign of enjoyment, hatred, or scorn. Just pure indifference.

And that alone made Kesser stop throwing threats and allow these cursed soldiers to take him to the cell. The king wanted to show him where his place was. Savras was harsh lord, but he still would cherish him higher than the slaves, yes? He didn’t want their interesting customs to die. They were ancient, rich and fitted for every party. Women looked beautiful in elvin robes and even his wife, who wasn’t young anymore, seemed to gain radiance when he called her his ail.

Whatever that meant.

He never truly needed to learn what all of this means. The clue was an aesthetic and pathos. The rest was unimportant.

Why then did he feel like the punishment had only started?

*

He hasn’t eaten for three days already. The other prisoners had their meal brought to them, but he was always being omitted. His stomach twisted in pain, as he was unused to more than a few hours between the dinner and supper. When he complained, he saw an elf, coming out from the shadows. He was just looking at him and Lord Kesser wondered why on Pit of Wallowing a slave is permitted here and why he has access to his cell. When the elf disappeared, Kesser didn’t try to call anymore. He was almost sure the elf, one or the other, will appear again and will do much more than just staring.

Fourth day passed and he still didn’t get food. Water was brought to him scarcely, but his hunger was immense and sometimes he was almost standing up to call for guards… only to retreat. He was seeing an elvin woman, this time, badly concealed by the shadows. Her eyes were cold, like shards of ice.

They are watching you. Making sure you won’t get supplies.

Probably these hellish elves were eating his rations. Filthy bastards were stealing, when they always were given good care in his chambers, he never was punishing them without good reason. In his home, slaves, especially women, were being treated with kindness. And care. After all, women in this funny elvin culture were put on a small pedestal.

The fourth day was coming to an end. A bright light of setting sun was pushing itself through the bars. He exposed his face on it, wondering how long Savras’ anger will last and how fast these cursed elves will be removed. He was tortured by them!

He had to fall asleep – for better or for worse – but a crack of the opening door woke him up, to the dim light of an oil lamp and the heavenly scent of something filling. At last the guards caught the thieving slaves and are bringing him meal, as they should do from the first day here!

His eyes slowly were adapting to the light. At first he couldn’t recognize the visitor, but his insides were caught by a cold hand of fear, when he realized who was with him in this small, claustrophobic cell.

Raithea stood there, a kind smile on his youthful face. He put the lamp on the chair, which stood next to the wall. In his second hand, he held a bow filled with stew.

As hungry as lord Kesser was, he would never willingly eat anything brought to him by this shadowed bastard.

Raithea crouched next to him and grinned even wider, an unnatural grin, in opposition to his eyes, which were cold and cruel as snowstorm on the highest mountain peak.

“I hope, Lord Kesser, that you enjoyed my hospitality. Only few really deserve my… special kind of care” he said, a cold amusement in his voice.

The nobleman didn’t reply, but spit on Raithea, aiming badly, the saliva landed just under elvin lord’s feet.

“You truly should not waste your water” Raithea shook his head, exaggeratedly. “What if I decided that you can live without it as well as you can live without food?”

“When the king will know, and he will know, you will pay worse than me” Lord Kesser decided for boldness. This was an elf. Self-confidence always works on the lower races.

“Oh” Raithae laughed lightly. “I doubt anyone here can pay worse than you.”

This sentence, worming its way into his mind, lighted a warning candle in his brain.

“You won’t dare to kill me” he grinned at him with pure scorn, painted with unwilling pang o fear. “All have seen you here. Will know that you killed me. The king is not a fool.”

“Killing you would be a waste of possibilities, and they are so many” said Raithea and pushed the bowl with stew towards the prisoner. “Besides, I am here in good will. You were hungry. So eat.”

Lord Kesser looked suspiciously at the meat. It smelled delicious and nothing indicated that its poisoned. It smelled of good pork and spices. But he would be a fool, to eat it now, after the threat and from these hands.

“Eat.”

Lord Kesser laughed. At least I still had a choice. This elf was too weak to force him to do anything. He was a child. Against a large grown-up man.

EAT.”

The voice hit him in the mid-laughter. It was aimed directly into his free will. Lord Kesser felt as his body became numb and his right hand, completely not controlled by him, reached for the bowl.

“What the—“

As the magic was pushing the nobleman to take the spoon, Raithea’s eyes narrowed.

“I could kill you, but you don’t deserve this mercy. You were humiliating and harming elvin families for years, separating mothers and children, ordering elvin women to amuse your guests at your parties, while they were always ending the same way. With pain and tears. And you were desecrating our history, beliefs and culture, dressing as bruthi and allowing humans to use elvin celebrations as an excuse for orgies.”

Lord Kesser was cursing, cursing so badly, but his own hand, already pushed the first spoon of the stew into his mouth.

“I could kill you, now. But that would be too little. You will die slowly. It will take weeks until you die. And I will always be far away. Far enough to not be connected with your demise.”

Lord Kesser was eating vigorously, his own body not listening to him.

“And all caused by a herb, which you surely could add to your meal on one of your dinners. So used to adapting elvin customs to your own miserable life. But not keen enough to know enough about our medications. They heal us. But I learned that they work differently on humans, Lord Kesser.”

Raithea stood up and dusting off his robe, he looked at the empty bowl and furious nad scared gaze of the prisoner.

“You ate everything?” the elvin adviser grinned. “Such a good boy.”

Lord Kesser didn’t feel hunger.

He won’t feel it until his last minutes, when his insides will start to fall apart.

“Remember to scream, Lord Kesser” Raithea added, leaving. “Screaming eases the pain.” his eyes lit. “Consider it an advice of mercy.”

Interludium: New Day

Raithea woke up, his face flattened against the table. He was too tired to think up a better place to rest, and he found himself in his library more by instinct than true planning. Of course, he remembered to install protection. He would be a fool, if he exposed himself to the attack of Rog’s alikes. But that last spell drained him to the last drop and he fell asleep as he sat, surrounded by open books.

His mind started to work as soon as he was awake. The life he took at night still didn’t take revenge, but his left hand almost paralized and he was well aware that it’s only the beginning. Narrowing his dark brows, he looked at the limb.

It was red and veins were visible. But he still didn’t spot the marks. He should get used to them, his whole body knew the pain of markings, the blood’s punishment. He never got used to it, though. It was a side of magic he worked on, though, to eliminate it. He was at a dead end, but he was doing everything.

He didn’t intend to die as well, when the conclusion came.

With right, healthy hand, he pulled a small void capsule he held among his robes. It was filled with dust that was left after Rog disintegration. But it also held a very important element as well, not only his dried up and mashed up bones.

It held part of his consciousness. He knew that Rog’s soul went to whatever dimension humans believe in. In a dimension that Rog, personally, believed. Be the Amnott for forsaken, or a Pit of Wallowing so many humans were afraid of. All of this was a lie. They shaped their own afterlife, for gods’ amusement.

Dust particles were held together as an insignificant part of Rog’s soul, which helped him to create a new face for Arialin. He didn’t intend to tell his guest how he gained a new body for him. This was by all means unnecessary.

He took a small dose of self-made herbal pills and swallowed, not even taking a drink to ease the hard texture. They will help him to carry on through the day, after an eventful night.

He entered Keeral’s room without even knocking. His apprentice was sleeping soundly, his bed almost perfect, like he never laid in it – yet here he was, tucked in the warm bed sheets. Raithea hated the part of himself which was making him admire Keeral’s purity and dutifulness. Purity, which wasn’t stained by years in slavery. He possibly couldn’t even hate the invaders. It was enough that this good soul disliked them.

He felt the stark difference between them too, in such moments of peace. He could almost enter Keeral’s  mind and see unstained paper, on which he, Raithea, could write as much as he wanted. Keeral offered him his dreams and future. In return, he gave him lies and half-truths.

Raithea scoffed, angry at himself. When it’s all over, Keeral will have a much better life than this world could offer him. He was finding out, slowly, that he treats Keeral almost like a son he never had. That was helping him to actually do as he pleased, as long as his child is safe. This was a weakness he was accepting to have.

Raithea took the books which Keeral still had with himself and left the chamber, soundlessly, leaving his assistant sleeping.

*

Arialin slept restlessly. Nightmares were reaching into his mind with black tendrils. He dreamt of his clan. How its core was torn from their roots by the cruel fire sent by the vile humans. He never witnessed it, but he was seeing it in his dreams way too often. Darkness, screams, scent of burning flesh and wood. The forest was dying and his people were feeling its pain, as much as their own. Each tree, each leaf, was screaming, and they were screaming too, weeping, as the flame was devouring their skin and drank their blood. Melting, like a candle. Suffering, joining their ancestors in a burst of light.

When he opened his eyes, they were filled with tears and his shadow seemed to grow in his chest, pulling him to take revenge, even now.

I can’t. They will execute me. You have heard what he said.

They must pay, they must scream. Like broken puppets.

Only if I won’t be screaming too, when they capture me.

I feel the smoke. I feel the pain of the trees.

It’s only reminiscence. Try to trust him. He already has done enough.

I don’t trust anyone.

Arialin sighed, feeling though as the new energy fills his veins, given to him by his shadowed companion. He didn’t feel torn or pained anymore, but he was giving the rightful merit to the food he ate at night. Even his skin stopped looking like paper.

He almost believed Raithea cast a spell, but he didn’t have to. Night of sleep (even if filled with nightmares) and a filling meal, was enough to restore his strength, which was lost before.

I wonder how he plans to hide me in this castle full of enemies.

A sorcerer. A beast of night. He has many talents.

But you don’t like him, even if he helps.

He is unknown. He is darker than all I know. Connected with dark gods.

Arialin wrinkled his forehead. That was something new and that simple sentence made him feel crawling over his back. Dark gods. Demons. Anticreators and a mist between dimensions. The shadow told him about them. They were in every darkness, in every cruel deed. And they moved the cogs on the universal reality, alongside with creators.

To think that his host could have any connection with them, almost made him lose his trust too.

But he preferred to trust. If he stopped, he would be already dead.

At least inside.

The Boy

Another poetry piece, dedicated to Raithea.

 


I wear the flesh of the silent gods
created from immortal stars
and tormented roots of the earth
washed over with silver blood
marked with the flame of their dying hearts

I wear the skin unwillingly
tearing it with my sins
staining the fingers with ink of death

until the light flays it off my soul
to leave breath and pulse
clothed in agony of cursed stars
and tangled roots of the forest I called home

Irony of Elements

“I heard that the queen almost doesn’t leave her chambers these days.”

“I am sure she is sick. Her skin is very pale.”

“And I think she is scared.”

“The queen?”

“Last time when I saw her, she followed that cursed child.”

Silence reigned among the guards. The time was very late but inner chamber guards were more dutiful than their mates on the battlements. Most probably because they were better paid, got better supplies and even wine from time to time. Guards led by Lord Sakis were, in fact, treated like rats, and their castle colleagues were constantly joking about the safety of the city that encircled the castle. Not without certain worry, as they lived inside this city too.

The king surrounded the city with a cordon of army, though, as every sensible ruler would do. Maybe that’s why the worry was slight. Many conquered lands didn’t agree with their rightful rulers. Army was guarding the outer terrains and was sent to keep these kingdoms in check. It wasn’t even needed to add that this army was powerful as a blast from the cannon. Nothing could stop them.

The queen was, though, another case.

She married Savras in the late age of thirty but she managed to bring three children – two boys and a girl. The oldest one, prince Dussen, was already a very insufferable teenager. She was always fragile and guards thought that sometimes stupid. But half a year ago, her behavior started to be strange. She didn’t want to take part in celebrations, didn’t want even to share her bedchambers with Savras, which was widely known, as the king wasn’t hiding his frustration.

Queen Rabra seemed a frightened couch puppy, witnessing her very first thunderstorm.

And there was someone who opened the window, to let the rain and lightning in.

“If you asked me, that elf is involved in everything bad that happens here.”

“But even he can’t endanger the queen. If he ever tried, Savras would tear his stomach up and order him to eat his own entrails.”

One of the guards, who till now didn’t take part in the conversation, laughed nastily.

“And you, what do you think about it, Rog?”

Rog scoffed, amused. His face, bearing a similar scar as the king, spread in an awful wide grin.

“I think we all dance to his music.” he just said. “If that depended on me, I would kill him. Not sending some stupid refined assassin, which he could easily take of with his cursed magic. We should go and stab him as he sleeps, overpowering him with our mass.”

“Hmmm…”

“Yes, Rog, that is most stupid plan you have ever came up with.”

“Better to have him on our side” said an older, white haired soldier. “Who knows what he plans. How all shifts.”

“Yeah, and soon, the pigs will start to fly and elves will rule Karmala. He is an easy target. He looks like a kid, for Anit’s sake! He is weak and small.”

The old soldier looked at him like he just found a very fat specimen of a cockroach on his pillow.

“Just shut up, Rog. This kind of speech won’t take you far.”

“Yes?” the guard in question gazed at him with anger. “You all are already lost to him. This is what he wants. Soon you will all wake up with a leash on your necks, with those filthy pointy-eared bastards holding its other end!”

Rog didn’t want to talk and the last hours passed with a stern atmosphere and hostility. The other guards never liked Rog, he was searching for conflict wherever he went. Searching for problems and putting others – purposefully – against each other.

When they were changed, the sun  still was hidden behind the horizon. Rog, annoyed, decided to cool his head outside, clear his mind. They were such fools! He suspected since elvin boy appeared in the castle, that he plans something against this kingdom. The way he coiled Savras around his finger, the way he used his privileges to help the slaves. He plotted, oh he plotted, for sure! If all were seeing it as clear as he, Rog. But they were too cautious. They should blow him up in an explosion of blue fire, the quicker, the better.

He took a slug and lighting it up, he inhaled  a big swig of the smoke.

He felt this, as soon as the herb reached his lungs.

It felt like he found himself in the water, he couldn’t take a breath, feelling how fluid fills him. His eyes opened wildly, in sheer panic, he tossed the cigarette and supported himself on the stone wall, trying all the time to catch a breath.

“It feels like you are burning. But you are, in fact, drowning. What an irony of elements” he heard an amused voice and at once, he knew who speaks. This… this…

“I would say that in every court, in every place led by aristocrats, keeping your mouth shut and minding your own business is profitable” said Raithea, approaching Rog slowly and patting him friendly on the bent back. “Court is a dangerous place and is built by… dangerous people.”

Water, bubbly, in his nose, his lungs… his cursed lungs!… he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t take air in!

“You… khhhh… you… bast—-“

Raithea just forced more of the magic into the guard’s throat. Rog’s eyes almost left their sockets, he tossed, until he fell on the ground, cut under his knees with a power of death. The water started to slowly trickle from his nose and mouth, sinking immediately into the ground.

“I actually showed you a lot of mercy,” he said to the dead body, still focusing on keeping a magical bubble around them both, aware that if someone saw them, his plans would have to change… drastically. He knew that the spell inside Rog’s body would utilize his corpse in an hour or more. He decided to stay, safely concealed and watch as the guard’s body changed into dust.

Now he had a face that he could use for weaving Arialin’s mask. Not a perfect face, as he will have to hire a human guard, so Arialin was always close.

Possibly that will be more problematic than giving him the face of a human washerwoman. But easier and connected with much less of a loss.

And he was sure that Arialin would have better things to do, than washing dirty underwear for spoiled nobles.

Much better.

He felt though that usage of magic drained him, his already tired body almost collapsed when a certain dose of elation evaporated.. This was an especially powerful spell and taking a life never was coming without consequences.

Magic takes and gives. Now he took, swallowed it, just as Rog. What he will have to give, will reveal itself in the morning.

He felt an itching in his left hand. And he guessed, even if that knowledge couldn’t stop it from happening.

Blood

Keeral sat in Raithea’s private library and as he ordered him to, started to search for more information about elvin tribes. His Master supposed that this… Arialin, may belong to some lost society, that strange his emanation was. Keeral was leafing through one of the books – a certain volume written after human conquest – but his mind was occupied with the guest.

Keeral was not exactly keen in magic, but as any elf, he could feel the darkness. That’s why he never truly believed in wrong gossip about Raithea – about spells and means that never belonged to elvin kind. He simply never felt darkness in his Master.

Of course, Raithea was a strict teacher and sharp as a dagger, but he wasn’t evil. This, he could easily put among impossibilities.

But Arialin was enveloped by dark magic, and even if Keeral couldn’t place if it was external or coming from his heart, he was worried that the newcomer may outbalance the already fragile situation of elves in this castle.

Raithea’s. And his own.

I am not afraid, he murmured to himself, while seeking information, this is common sense.

This darkness, though was something that was twisting him inside. What if humans find him out, and here of all places? The king has seen it as heresy to human order, to be bound with night. His magicians were seeking actively elves who were trying to dip their fingers in forbidden practices, to make their own lifes a bit better. He was aware that helping the darkness was performing it, in human law.

He knew that the king is afraid of any magical act against him, not unlike his ancestors, who also were very eager to remove dark magic from the human ruled cities and villages.

This elf could be their end… or the opposite. He couldn’t really place his own feelings, wanting only to trust Raithea and his knowledge.

He really tried to do his job better, but no book or manuscript ever spoke about amassing shadows in a person’s body. Yes, there were shadows, wraiths, but they were independent beings and never truly wanted to latch to humans or elves. That was happening extremely rarely and not in this age.

So… what other options did he have? Raithea should be here already. His master closed himself in his bedchambers, with Arialin, and he didn’t even know if this shadow didn’t attack him, and he needs help now. He knew though, that Raithea would be very displeased if he started to knock on his door, to make sure.

Few more books later and an hour more, Keeral dozed off, with his head on a volumine, cheek pressed tightly to a figure showing a genealogical tree of Samera family.

A voice woke him up.

“You need sleep,” Raithea said, not even looking at him, placing himself near a large desk next to his assistant’s. His hands at once started to rummage through books on it. “You are free until tomorrow.”

Keeral realized that his hair is ruffled and his face is red from pressing to a page. He felt deeply ashamed.

“I don’t want to go, Master,” he said, with a doubt. “This… elf… he is dangerous. I feel it under my skin.”

Raithea stopped going through the books and looked at him, his expression undeciphered. He shook his head then and smiled. It was a genuine, amused smile, that Keeral didn’t see often.

“Yes, he is,” he agreed. “But not to us. Not to me. And not to you, Keeral.”

“I didn’t mean…”

“You surely are worried that he may endanger elves in this place. But all he can endanger is a feeling of safety of those who feel already too safe.” Raithea patted one of the books. “I should regret ordering you to read through all of  it. He told me who he is. All we need to do is to focus on how to use it.”

Keeral rubbed his red cheek, which slowly started to gain more natural, pale colors.

“Master… please forgive me… but how do you… know if he won’t harm any of us?”

He knew he spoke foolish thing in the moment when these words left his mouth. But Raithea, ignoring it and spreading his hand, summoned a small void bulb, in which a not less small drop of blood floated, a tiny crimson tear.

“I taught you a lot of things,” Raithea said with a focused expression. “Taught you about languages, history, even gods. Taught you about talents, magic and soul. Tell me now, Keeral, what makes it all go run? What is a perpetuum mobile that makes life… live?”

Keeral exhaled heavily.

“Blood?”

Raithea pointed at the void sphere, nodding slowly, like he already was weighting possibilities.

“We are built from blood and even gods must listen to it. Legends are born from blood, which flows through invisible arteries, binding each living form. Magic is created in those small cells, which can command it and shape it, like a sculptor.”

Keeral was confused, but nodded. He knew about blood since his first lessons with Raithea, when he handed him spoken rules of magic.

“We have much work to do” Raithea eventually said to his lost assistant. “You really can go. Tired, you will be of no use. Tomorrow, we will start putting those microscopical elements together.”

Keeral slowly started to gather his own notes, a bit disappointed that he couldn’t be more useful in searching about the darkness that by force entered their lives.

When he was leaving the chamber, he saw Raithea, bent over a very old manuscript, his eyes dark and his face focused, lost in letters and ideas.

He bowed to him, even if his Master could not see it and left. He knew he wouldn’t fall asleep. But he had to try.

Tomorrow he has to be at use, or he will hate himself for not being part of it.

Growing Up Among the Shadows

Arialin felt the calm, collected and cold gaze of his host looking into him, like trying to make sure everything he speaks is true. It didn’t make him uncomfortable, more like it poured a certain confidence in him – that Raithea will listen and try to understand. He was telling this story for the first time in his life, but the silent elf in front of him didn’t press, only waited. And that soothed Arialin.

“My parents were descendants of the elves who survived the collapse of house Undun, in the northern forests… the person who you ordered to paint so viciously, destroyed my home. I belong to the tribe of Deathweavers. Raised on black soil of the woods, they were able to communicate with those who died. They didn’t have powers that humans were sure they possessed. They didn’t make bloody offerings, they never harmed any thinking creatures and even their hunts were seldom performed in a sacred way during winter and summer solstice… They never summoned demons, nor did they send a sickness on the invaders’ king, who after becoming ill, ordered to wipe my tribe from the face of the earth.

I was only a small child, when my parents, maddened by constant danger, decided to do what humans expected from them, even after all these countless years and decades of hunting on remaining Deathweavers. During one of darkest rites, which existed only to help elvinkind in grave danger, they casted a curse. It was them who inflicted all of this on me. They poured all grief they had into my soul and created a shadow. They thought I would be able to take revenge on the human king when the shadow grew. And then, when all was done, they took  their own lives.”

He laughed bitterly.

“That’s what a human family in which I grew up told me, at least. They were good people. They gave my parents home when they wandered through the burnt woods, which even now, after long years, still didn’t gain even one green leaf. They tried to stop my mother, but her rage was too strong. They closed the humans in the room, to safely perform the rite. When they freed themselves, chopping the door with a hatchet, it was all over.”

Arialin looked at Raithea, if he still looks and listens. He did, a stoic expression on his face, when he nodded at him to continue.

“I lived with a hope to avenge my family, and all elves who died, burned, in Undun, ages ago. But quickly, I realized that my shadow is far from making me invincible. It never harmed my body, but soon, after I reached tvelve, it was obvious that it’s my mind which is in danger. She… she spoke to me at night. Demanding, pleading. She wanted to be my friend and enemy, my salvation and my end. I even started to think that she is mad, like my parents. To ease my tormented mind, I was reading old legends about elvin kind” he smiled sadly. “I learnt a lot about Raithea Rhuitaure and his ail wife. Sometimes I wanted to use my shadow to be like you, a hero leading army to battle and find myself among folk tales. Other times, I wanted to be dead, also like you. Arasot, Kidran, Soothiel. Elvin heroes, who were inspiring me, even if they all died and were long gone. When the shadow was entering deeper into my mind, whispering things I never wanted to hear, I wondered if you and elves in the age of light also had shadow companions, delirium was making me dream that they fought it and came victorious. And my shadow… she didn’t like it.

Soon, I learned to talk with her. It was always in the corner of my eye, never truly seen, but always there. Waiting. I sensed darkness in her, but also curiosity. Will to understand. So I decided that I want to understand her too. Small steps, one after another and I learned to oppose her. She never truly understood my feelings for my human family. She felt my rage on humankind and one night, I woke up with blood of my adoptive parents on my hands. Delirious and almost mad, the shadow took me away for the first time.

She carried my feet to the worst district of the nearby town. Thieves and other ruffians left me alone, laying in rain in a trash that infested the street and which was tossed from the suspicious tavern’s window. I was crazy from worry, guilt and self loathing. But she told me she did that to hide me, among criminals and malefactors. I really felt like one of them, and I agreed to stay hidden. So she carried me through the land, taking my memory and senses, tossing me into the worst places, and I started to be sure she wants to lead me somewhere. And now I understood that she led me…”

“Here” Raithea nodded, his fingers forming a small pyramid, while she observed an array of emotion on his guest’s face.

“Yes, I think she led me here” Arialin sighed with resignation but also budding hope.

“For sure, she wants you to commit another crime. Do what your blood orders her to do” Raithea’s eyes became almost black when a candle flickered.

“That is…”

“To kill the king, obviously.”

Silence. The wight of this sentence fell on them like an hard stone.

“But… but… how could I even?” Arialin spoke. “I am alone, and the king is well guarded. I also heard that he is a strong, big man, who could break my neck like a stick!”

Raithea slowly stood up and approached Arialin. Then, he took his hand in his smaller one and within a second, he pulled a small dagger, Arialin instinctively backed off, but Raithea shook his hand.

“Your blood is the key. I need a sample, for magical tests.”

Arialin swallowed a ball in his throat and nodded. Do not do anything, he wants to help, he said inside himself.

He is dark. Darker that me.

And that’s why he is able to help.

To destroy me. To leave you weak and bleeding.

Arialin closed his eyes and only then, Raithea’s dagger stabbed him lightly in the middle finger. Small drop of blood appeared on the top. Raithea drew a void space with his finger and with another directed the blood into it, to later carry it to his laboratorium.

“I never saw such magic before” Arialin observed a small bubble with his blood floating over Raithea’s hand.

“Most didn’t see” Raithae chuckled darkly.

“So… you will test it now?” Arialin was curious.

“Now, I will go to my workroom to write down some orders connected with you. And you,” his eyes gleamed with slight amusement, for the first time since Arialin met him. “You will sleep. And that is a command, from someone who knows much more than you.”

 

Hand of the Clock

The king’s face wasn’t a pleasant sight. The face, marked with many wrinkles, seemed old beyond his human years.  But the worst wasn’t age or even the sharp jagged scar coming from his left ear to his lips. The worst was the light in his eyes, dark, almost soulless. A gaze of someone who long ago passed the border and now, every sin falls on the shoulders of others.

Raithea’s being one of them.

Now the king, playing with one of his iron rings, looked into emptiness. They were alone in the chamber, as the king didn’t trust anyone aside of his elvin adviser. Of course, spells working and right strings pulled, but to the court, it seemed that Savras was manipulated [ which all knew was impossible due to his untrusty personality ]. Nothing explained why Raithea has such a strong voice in the court and why on gods Savras genuinely trusts him.

He was an elf. Enemy which was put on his knees. Most of the court members were aware that Raithea uses the king’s grace widely and in a way that was at least frightening.

Adding to it his looks – allegedly a curse put on him by some vague – and now dead – opponent – no, people close to the throne had all reasons to suspect that Lord Rhuitaure isn’t even an elf, but some demonic being that plays with their ruler and with them.

The power shifted, the nobles fought for attention. And this cursed boy stood still, like a statue, which can’t be moved.

“He did it, even if you ordered him not to, your grace” said nonchalantly Raithea. “My kind may be broken, but such a mock can move even a mountain, if the shovel is big enough.”

The king still looked before himself, like digesting what Raithea said. His gaze slowly laid on the adviser, like it wanted to look through him, leaving debris.

“I am not intending to tolerate disobedience. But you are far from right, Rhuitaure. Your kind isn’t broken. If the shovel in the form of Lord Kesser can move them to revolution. This moron can’t even make his wife listen to him.”

Raithea rolled his eyes… in his mind. Typical human understanding of things. In elvin culture, women and men were equal. Humanity had a strange way of honoring the givers of life and an aspect of divine balance.

Seemingly, also persons which in most cases kept them under a delicate yet persistent boot, as far as he remembered from his spies’ relations. Nothing was information too small to fill his soul, mind and heart with.

“Your grace,” Raithea summoned his most charming smile. “If Lord Kesser was able to order anything to his wife, it would be time for godly descent.”

Savras looked for a moment at him, intensely, and then, laughed loudly, gutturally.

“He is  a fool, ha!” he swatted his knee with his palm. “Giving excuses for elves to raise their heads is foolish enough. His other mistake is his lack of taste.”

“Lord Kesser looks indeed amusing in elvin wedding robe, your grace” a little crooked smile.

“I wouldn’t call it amusing, Rhuitaure” , still with a wild expression on his bear-like face, Savras rolled his ring over his finger, once, twice, like he was breaking the neck. “Good. You can even announce it to him yourself. I would like that to happen! A prison sentence brought to him by my small elvin adviser!” he choked a bit from repressed laughter.

“I am sure that his face would be worthy of a portrait, to your private collection, your grace” Raithea grinned delicately. “If you lean to my other humble advice, though, his family also took part in the celebration. If they were due to offer a nice amount of gold to the treasury…”

“Good way of thinking!” laughed the king again. Raithea didn’t see him that amused in a long time. “A nice offering to the gods of gold. Coin never stinks.”

Raithea bowed slightly, with an undeciphered expression on his face. The human lord in question was openly mocking elvin slaves and to add to their suffering, was allowing human guests to wear sacred elvin robes, eat elvin food and feast on elvin celebrations. Raithea didn’t know if he is cruel or just stupid.

Probably both.

Not that Raithea’s tight grip wasn’t already gauging the metaphorical eyes of lord Kesser. He had so many occasions to blackmail him, push into submission or just kill – but he waited. Waited until a day comes, when he will be able do it with cold blood and when it will be justice, not a revenge.

Lord Kesser running through his easily visible garden after giggling human ail, belly fat and not completely concealed by his rich robes, was already dead, not even knowing about it.

“Of course execution would be pulling it too far. Let’s show elvin people that we are good lords, but without exaggeration. This fool is still more worthy that whole cave filled with slaves.”

Raithea swallowed the words with immaculate calmth.

But a small hand of his inner clock moved slightly, restlessly, into its destined direction…