The beginning of the end

The beginning of the end

The night was clear, beautiful and cold. Stars shone brightly alongside the two moons, the largest of now partially obscured by its small sister. Beneath this natural canopy, sitting side by side next to a roaring fire, Ansai Adelouhn and her daughter Sorasiehn shared a moment of grassy respite, well-deserved after yet another Human village saved from the clutches of their greedy kinsman.

Despite centuries spent traveling the Human lands and watching these weak creatures try and build a better future for themselves, Adelouhn could still be baffled by the depth of Humans’ cruelty towards one another. The downtrodden turned towards crime, fatigued husbands beat submissive wives and even innocent children; decent warriors turned rogue and demanded retribution for their unasked services. Wherever she’d gone, something had been going on. Deciding one’s fate was the only aspect of justice Adelouhn had always struggled with, be she wearing her armour or not.

Time had taken its toll on Adelouhn’s body. Though wearing her trusted metal armour had boosted her innate magic and thus provided greater insight and finer senses, she perceived, whenever she did take it off, that her magic never quite regained its initial flow. Her magic was wounded; as a Syrilae’s body essentially consisted of magic, wounded magic translated to physical harm. Eventually she had decided to never remove her armour, pretexting the presence of constant danger. Sorasiehn had never doubted her.

Adelouhn’s gaze slowly turned towards her daughter, who was staring at the stars as though seeking a home amongst them. These kinds of quiet, sparkling nights always reminded Sorasiehn, and Adelouhn as well, of their distant home: their village, lodged deep in one of the greater forests of the country of Bormen, where darkness was perpetual and nature’s glow constant. She briefly thought of the Aberviohn, the village’s tree-like guardians, glowing softly at the outer edges of their village and protecting their fellow Syrilae from any and all harm.

She could barely hear them anymore. As Ansai, the living link between the Aberviohn and the Syrilae, she ought to always sense their presence with clarity, and not as a distant, fragmented static. Perhaps she ought to take off her armour and bear through the headaches and nausea… But in these hazardous lands, did it make sense for a warrior to surrender her defenses?

Adelouhn closed her eyes and sighed. When she looked down again, her daughter’s bright, worried blue eyes stared back.

Sorasiehn addressed her mother, “Malia, are you alright? You seem… tired.”

Adelouhn smiled. “I’m fine, Sora. Ameni,” she thanked her, then she looked up towards the stars. “It will be a good night. What would you like to do?”

Days and nights were oft as one to the long-lived Syrilae, who could go days without needing any sort of rest. Tonight was such a restless night, one that allowed for preciously quiet time to be shared between mother and daughter.

Malia… Why are you so kind towards the Youman?”

Adelouhn frowned at her daughter. “Where is this coming from, this time?”

Sorasiehn paused, and stared over at the flames warming them both. “You’ve always said that it’s your duty as Ansai, but that’s not true, is it. Your duty as Ansai is to us – to our kind. Not to some short-lived, fragile simpletons who won’t even try and help themselves.”

Judging from Sorasiehn’s resentful tone, these thoughts had haunted her mind for quite some time. Truly, living among Humans had influenced her daughter’s vision of the world, in a way Adelouhn had hoped never to see. Sorasiehn’s contempt was palpable.

Adelouhn weighed her words before speaking them. “Do you resent me for my choices, Sora?”

Sorasiehn frowned but did not look up at her mother. It was answer enough to Adelouhn, whose brow slowly crinkled. It hurt her motherly heart to think that her daughter may hate her – she, and the rest of the world. As a warrior however, with metallic dissonance strengthening her abilities and  her resolve, Adelouhn could only feel disappointment.

“I hope that one day you’ll understand me, my daughter. When I’m gone, it will be your responsibility to uphold the Ansai legacy. You need to try and understand the stranger in order to accept your kin.”

Sorasiehn frowned at her. “What does that even mean?”

“You’re still young, my Sora. We Syrilae may be viewed in some places as saviours and epitomes of goodness, but not all of us are so. Just as certain ‘Humans’ may be nothing more than threats to be disposed of. But that, my girl, is a decision you should never have to make.”

Adelouhn did notice her daughter flinching when she made the effort to correctly pronounce the word ‘Humans’. How deeply, she wondered, did Sorasiehn’s contempt run? Should she ask? And what if, she thought, frowning, something had happened to her? What if…?

“Sora.” Her tone dripped concern. “Did something happen?”

Sorasiehn’s casual response was for once relieving. “Nani, why? I just don’t like those Youman, malia. They hurt each other, and for what? Those little metal circles? So they can pay for their right to live? They disgust me.”

“Don’t talk like that. The Ansai – the Syrilae – have always viewed outsiders as life-deserving. We don’t judge—”

“Don’t you think we should?!” Something glinted in Sorasiehn’s eyes, a dark emotion that took Adelouhn by surprise. “We are superior to them in every way! Even you judge the Youman – even you ‘kill’ your beloved, worthless Youman!”

Of all the Human words to learn, Adelouhn thought as she watched her daughter’s rage turn to tears, why had she chosen the word ‘kill’? Iani, she acquiesced to herself, it was true that she’d had to ‘kill’ Humans in the past. Always, she reminded herself, out of necessity. Murderers, threatening liars, she had learned to see through their disguises and pleas and sense the true darkness within. Oftentimes it took but a specific intonation for her to know which judgement to pass.

But she had learned, over the course of many centuries and spilled tears, that taking a life was no casual feat. Adelouhn had never forgotten the face of the first man she’d killed – that expression of shocked horror, those bright eyes glazing over. Blood spilling from his chest where her sword had struck; blood, at the corner of his lips. Gurgled breaths, and a deadly silence. The reality of her actions had hit her like a warhammer to the gut later that night.

Looking at Sorasiehn now, Adelouhn saw but ignorance and blind contempt. She could not allow that darkness to fester within her daughter – within the coming Ansai. If Sorasiehn was to lead their people and speak to the Aberviohn, it could not be with hate.

Sorasiehn looked away, which spurred Adelouhn to speak.

Iani, my Sora, it is true. I have ‘kill’ the Humans you seem to despise. Not because I despise them – but because I care about the lives of their brethren.

“Were one of ours to prove themselves a threat to others, I would ‘kill’ them as well.”

Sorasiehn gasped and stared, dumbstruck, at her mother. Even though she visibly wanted – needed – to defy these words, she did not. Adelouhn knew she had heard their truth.

And Adelouhn’s bat-winged ears picked up on the nearby unnatural crackle of a branch.

She immediately reached for her sword and rose to stand between her daughter and the dark forest beyond. An arrow soon clinked off her armour at hip height. Adelouhn calculated that they had aimed at Sorasiehn’s head.

“Show your self, Human!”

The moonslight revealed not one, but several Humans clad in dark leather armours and hiding hoods stepped out from behind the trees. Two held bows in their hands; most held swords. Only one held nothing at all, which told Adelouhn that this person ought to be their leader. She addressed them immediately.

“Leave, or die!”

A raspy but feminine voice answered, “Couldn’t kill me before, Elf, think today’s the day?”

Adelouhn frowned and held her sword’s hilt tighter. This woman’s voice carried nothing but malignance and murderous intent. That they had targeted Sorasiehn first meant one of two things: either they’d wanted to ensure Adelouhn could receive no help or, the far more plausible explanation, they knew exactly who Sorasiehn was to her, and had come here with the intent of making her suffer before death. None would go through such meticulous planning without knowing who they were going up against.

“You are?”

The woman let out what sounded like an amused sigh. “I guess you kill too many of us to keep us straight, huh. You don’t remember me?”

Lowering her hood, the woman came to stand a little ways away, clearly visible in the moonslight. She bore the lines of age beneath a thick canopy of curled hair; a familiar look, somehow, but Adelouhn could not quite place her.

The woman continued, “I was still a young lass when you gave me these.”

She pulled her head to the right, her curtain of hair aside, and revealed long, hideous scars crossing her throat and her cheek, as though maimed by the claws of some large and feral animal. Adelouhn realized only luck had kept the wound from straying and damaging her eye.

This woman… Why did she look familiar?

“You still don’t remember me?” She glared with growing frustration, “Olden Heart? Crows’ headquarters? You knocked me aside with that glove of yours. You ruined my life!”

Immediately the two archers took aim at Adelouhn.

“Do you know how many people are willing to deal with someone like me? No one! You – You so-called ‘hand of justice’! I had no choice! You have no idea what you put me through! And you left me there! You left me to die! It’s your turn to die!”

Arrows flew towards Adelouhn, who deflected them with ease with the back of her gauntlet. Bat-winged ears spread wide open, she could clearly hear as well as see the arrows’ trajectory. The archers tried their luck a second time, but to no avail.

Behind her, Sorasiehn had gasped at each impact, reminding Adelouhn of her presence. She’d have but one word for her daughter, spoken as a whisper for her Syrilae ears only: “Run.”

Unexpectedly, her order had the opposite effect. Adelouhn heard her daughter stand up. “I can’t leave you, malia! They’re going to hurt you!”

“One of us must survive!”

Hesitation; Sorasiehn’s heart had skipped a beat, while her silence confirmed that she’d understood the stakes at hand. Adelouhn heard Sorasiehn turn round, but her daughter did not move.

Sorasiehn’s voice trembled. “There’s—There’s more of them… Malia, what do we do?!”

“How many?”

“I’m not sure. I—I can vaguely see weapons—”

“Keep the winds at your side, at all times. Listen; if you hear whistling, cast the winds in a wide arc. Do you understand?”

Sorasiehn paused. “… Ia. I understand.”

Now, Adelouhn could focus her attention again on the disfigured woman and that wicked grin stretching her lips. She did not want to listen, but did so nonetheless.

“You girls done planning your way out? You know there isn’t one, don’t you? A big bad warrior like you, you know when your time’s up. You know it, right? Tell me you understand, you fucking bitch!

Adelouhn sensed Sorasiehn’s magic flicker at those words, at that disrespectful tone. She spoke her daughter’s name, firmly, and sensed her calm. She then addressed the Human.

“I am sorry—”

“Don’t give me that shit, you disgusting piece of trash! You took away my life! I spit on your regret! Kill her!”

Arrows whistled through the air. As before, Adelouhn protected herself with her metal gloves and lightning reflexes. Behind her, friendly winds howled.

The disfigured woman screeched. “You’re not getting away! You’re never getting away! Kill her you idiots!”

This time, bowstrings remained loose. The Human woman screamed her rage at them.

“What do you think you’re all doing! Kill her!”

One of the archers stretched their bow and shot an arrow at the woman’s head. She collapsed to the ground, dead on impact.

The archer, who stepped forward and revealed himself to be a short-haired young man, briefly glanced at his kill before turning towards Adelouhn.

“Our vice-chief sends his regards, Syrilae. Your kind’s been a thorn in his side for years. So has that been.” He nodded his head towards the woman’s corpse. “Just some more fuel for the chief’s hatred of Elves.”

The man drew his bow and took aim at Adelouhn. “Any last words?”

From the corner of her eye, Adelouhn noticed the other archer preparing to fire. Certainly the enemies facing Sorasiehn were preparing to attack as well. Treachery aside, Adelouhn deemed their chances of survival high. Something told her the archer knew this as well.

“You can not win.”

The archer held his aim, just for a moment. Then he sighed and lowered his bow. “I reckon you’re right about that. Especially with little miss windpowers at your back. I guess we’ll just have to take her out first.”

He drew his bow again and shot at Sorasiehn’s right leg, his comrade shooting at her left flank just a couple of seconds later. Both arrows Adelouhn managed to deflect with relative ease, one with her shin’s armour, the other with her glove.

These attacks were too simple, too predictable; and what of the swordfighters still standing by, seemingly awaiting their turn? Would they attack once the archers’ quivers empty? Or were they simply a distraction?

Another arrow clinked off her shoulder pad, a second one off her chest plate. At her back, friendly winds kept more arrows at bay. Surely these adversaries knew they’d never be able to break through their defenses. Why, then, did they try nonetheless?

As the archers prepared yet another round of arrows, Adelouhn heard something click nearby, somewhere at her and Sorasiehn’s side. She recognized that sound at once.

“Down!”

Adelouhn turned round immediately, pulling her daughter down and sprawling across her. Four arrows and a crossbow bolt flew past.

Against all odds, the Humans did not fire again. What was more, the young archer started clapping his hands and laughing. “Well done, girl, well done! I’d heard you Syrilae have impossibly acute hearing, but I’m surprised all the same! Well done indeed!”

Adelouhn had but barely listened to the man speak – enough to have heard a switch in his tone, even in his language. He was no ordinary ruffian – likely no commoner. Crossbows were expensive machines available only to the wealthy. She did not want to think about the ramifications of having made enemies in high places.

“Sora? Are you alright?”

Beneath her, Sorasiehn squirmed. “Ia. Malia, wh—”

“Shh. Stand. Be prepared.”

Both women stood, each facing their adversaries as before. That they were allowed to rise without being attacked was, to Adelouhn, quite telling of their intentions.

She dropped her sword at her feet, and raised her hands. “Let my daughter leave.”

Behind her, Sorasiehn cried out, “Malia, what are you doing!”, but Adelouhn paid her no heed.

She only repeated, “Stand. Be prepared.” And she added, “No prisoners.”

Sorasiehn gasped and did not reply. Adelouhn trusted that she’d understood this typical Human expression, even be it brought through the peaceful words of the Syrilae. All they could do now, was wait – briefly.

The young archer suddenly started laughing. “Do you really think you’re in any position to bargain with us?”

Adelouhn cut his laughter short. “Yes.”

Sounds came to her, of bowstrings stretched, of dissenting breaths. The Humans had not appreciated her blatant defiance. Adelouhn smiled.

Until, after a moment’s quiet shock, the archer smiled in return. “I see. You’re quite the smart one, for an Elf.”

He pulled up his bow and aimed at Adelouhn. “Your kind seems to rely more on magic than battle strategies. Tell me, Syrilae: do you play mind games out of superiority, or out of necessity?”

Adelouhn knew, right that instant, that he’d seen straight through her tactic: enticing the Humans’ anger so they’d make mistakes. She did not know how to respond.

The archer grinned. “That’s what I thought.”

Arrows flew, one after the other. Adelouhn, having quickly calculated their trajectories from their sound, prepared herself to protect her face with the back of her gloves. All around her, winds picked up and howled and pushed the arrows back, as Sorasiehn stepped about her mother and cast her powers in all directions. Adelouhn heard the crossbow’s click too late.

Sorasiehn screamed and fell when the bolt pierced through her shoulder.

“Sora!” Forsaking her own safety, Adelouhn immediately knelt by her daughter’s side to pull out the bolt. She was still kneeling when arrow lodged itself in her forehead.

*

Sorasiehn’s eyes sprang wide open. The first arrow had not yet drawn blood that a second one flew past and pierced her mother’s throat through and through.

She could but watch as, dead on her feet, her mother Adelouhn’s body became translucent and exploded into a myriad of blue dust particles. Her hollow armour clanked to the ground.

Sorasiehn’s sight blurred.

And then it began.

Pain – pain like nothing she’d ever endured. Sorasiehn screamed as she felt her mind torn apart, her body boiling over with a force greater, oh so greater than herself. In her blind suffering she yanked out the arrow from her shoulder and tossed it aside, screaming all of her agony.

Between her tears, between the image of her mother’s demise and the white haze crackling throughout her body, Sorasiehn felt as though a warm, wonderfully pleasant liquid was poured into her veins.

And, suddenly, her fists closed onto newfound power.

Magic erupted from her hands as never before; winds screeched and howled at her command, blasting through nearby trees, slicing through leather and flesh. She did not quite see yet but she sensed – oh, how she sensed – the lives of the Humans end by her will.

Winds raged, fueled by her hatred; they howled her pain and her loss. Here, in this darkness without name, Sorasiehn’s innocence cracked and dissolved.

She wanted the Humans to suffer and die.

Why are you so kind towards the Youman

They hurt each other, and what for

even you ‘kill’ your beloved, worthless Youman

Sorasiehn screamed; the memories of her own words plagued the sense of justice that her mother had tried to impart upon her, during all of these years. Be kind towards the Humans – Don’t judge the Humans – All lives are worthy of existing – “LIES!!!”

Finally, Sorasiehn collapsed. On hands and knees, Sorasiehn panted, the blind haze covering her eyes at long last fading. She started seeing grass – a blur of thin, dark shapes gently rustling beneath her trembling form. All she could hear was the wind and the silence beyond.

And the Humans’ choking gasps.

Standing was still difficult for Sorasiehn, more so when she decided to pick up her mother’s heavy sword; but hatred, and a now distorted sense of justice, led her feet towards the few survivors of her attack. Each one she killed as her mother had died: the blade firmly plunged through their disgusting skulls.

Only when she reached the young archer, who had escaped death but lost most of his left leg, did Sorasiehn pause. He gurgled to her, Human words Sorasiehn comprehended – words that sickened her to the core.

“Please… Please help me… I’ll give y—I’ll give you anything. Anything. Plea—”

The words still spilled from his mouth when Sorasiehn plunged her dagger into his throat – again, and again, and again, and even when the young archer was long dead Sorasiehn kept on killing him. She straddled the archer and stabbed him until rage and hatred turned to tears and she screamed – howled like her winds – and all she could see anymore was her mother’s last breath, her untimely death, and her blue dust shimmering in the moonslight.

Sorasiehn screamed.