I will always be with you. It was the last thing I heard in a dream before I woke up. The dream was dark and confusing. Images of a reptilian creature haunted my sleep. An image of a man in shining armor stood between me and the gloom, pushing the shadow away. Part of me realized who the figure was, but I couldn’t remember the figure’s name. The large-winged creature seemed familiar, like I should have recalled who it was. It stared at me with absolute malice, its hatred driving the stygian toward me, threatening to engulf my soul. The armed figure pushed back the oppressive evil and protected me. I remember calling out, and then it spoke the words that continue to haunt me.
I recognized the voice, but it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. It brought back memories and threatened to drive me into bitterness and anger unless I suppressed them. Memories, like my dreams, were not good. They both stirred up things best left forgotten and lost to the recesses of my mind. Unfortunately, my memories refused to stay buried. For a long time I embraced the melancholy. It wanted to consume my soul, my life force. I let it eat at me, sucking away the goodness that threatened to rise and push away the shadow that followed me around. It was a dismal time for me. The evil I did was unforgivable in my eyes, and it took an elf maiden to crack the ice surrounding my heart.
I rubbed my eyes as I tried to wake up. The wakefulness brought me to a point of grogginess, the voice in my dream already becoming a forgotten memory. For this I was glad.
The voice might have become lost in consciousness, but my vision from yesterday was still fresh in my mind. I needed to know what caused it, but the fear of it happening again kept me from using my magic to find out. It wasn’t like me to be afraid, especially like this, but the paralysis came with the vision, and not having any control was too much for me to handle. I hated having no control. It made me powerless. I was impressed by a level of fear I never thought existed. How was it possible for fear to hold one paralyzed? I still wasn’t able to figure out if it was the vision holding me in its thrall, or the fear from the dragons in the vision.
There were so many dragons counting them was impossible. Their breaths were of fire, their scales of crimson, the color of blood. I had a comprehension of dragons from my studies in magic and from my childhood, but I’d never seen so many at once. Murals in the elven kingdom of Dusk never had so many. Was it possible for so many to exist? One dragon could easily destroy a city, but thousands of them could cause so much destruction on the world.
It wasn’t just their size or their fiery breath. Their scales deflected most weapons, and even the strongest magic stood a chance of failing against a dragon. Dragons were the first creatures born when the gods made the world. They were called the children of the gods, and possessed the gift of magic along with might. Their skills with magic were unmatched due to their direct link to it. They didn’t need incantations or rituals. Dragons only needed to think it into reality.
I had a similar ability. Within me was a direct link also, but I still needed the words and components needed to release a spell. I never needed to study as much as a normal wizard, but it still taxed my body. Magic was a powerful destructive force, and I didn’t have the body of a dragon to withstand unlimited magical power. Being a half-elf had its disadvantages in that aspect. I wondered how much destruction the dragons in my vision could cause if they used magic instead of their might. There were so many, and it seemed my sword was the only thing keeping me alive from the rain of fire coming from the reptiles’ mouth.
I found it odd. Not once in my life did I remember seeing the sword glow like it did in the vision. It responded to the dragons with a life of its own. Not like a kinship, but something else. It was alive in my hands, and I could detect the beating of a heart as I held the sword up high to defy the dragon, though my heart came close to stopping out of fear. It seemed so ominous a vision and so clear. I’d never had a divination with this much clarity. They were always hazy and symbolic and left me with more questions. This vision was clear as day, but still left me with questions, along with a lagging fear deep inside me. Unlike the surrounding sky, the clarity of the vision was the most frightening of all.
I heard thunder crack ominously in the sky. The sky presented itself with storm clouds, promising a dramatic change in weather. Storm clouds rolled across the horizon and got bigger as they headed toward me. Every time the thunder boomed I could sense the ground vibrating, followed quickly by streaks of blinding lightning. They danced through the clouds, lighting up the sky in the distance. I sat up and stared ahead. I rubbed at my temples as the voice I thought forgotten seemed to express itself in a way to let me know it wouldn’t go away easily. It echoed in the back of my mind, reminding me it was still there, giving me a headache and souring my mood. I stared at the sky in quiet contemplation as the lightning dancing in the heavens reflected itself in my eyes.
Sighing deeply, I looked at the beautiful elven woman who lay sleeping next to me. I ran my fingers through her long black hair. It felt like running my hand through silk. She was beautiful. Even though she slept, her almond-shaped blue eyes would look at me soon. I inhaled the honey and jasmine of her scent on my skin. It honestly made my heart race. Was it possible to love someone too much? Sometimes my heart hurt when I thought of her. My Arianna. My beloved. For all the evil I had done in the past, it would seem unlikely the Keeper, the God of Light, would deem me worthy to receive such love or to touch it.
Picking myself up, I walked over to an Aspen tree and leaned groggily against it, not fully awake, it seemed. I didn’t have my tunic on, and the tree’s bark was rough against my bare skin. I reveled in the moment. Neither of us had somewhere to be; we were not on some grand adventure or quest of discovery. We were just being us, discovering each other in ways only our hearts comprehended. Arianna taught me things about love I never thought were possible. Her touch brought erotic pleasure. It was so new. When we kissed, my heart raced with passion, and I found my body responding to hers in a way that would eventually bring us together in ecstasy and fervent lovemaking. My heart had found its equal. It found itself a partner. I had lain holding Arianna in my arms, our hearts beating together as one. Could this be heaven on earth? I didn’t know for sure but it seemed like it.
The wind picked up a little. Like a slight breeze, it wasn’t cold, but it blew through hair. It was gentle, though, like a lover’s touch. My ears picked out the sound of the leaves rustling in the breeze. It was a pleasant sound and made me think of home. Looking up, I saw the branches moving in a rhythmic dance. I was captivated by them. They entranced me, moved me in a way that reminded me of Arianna. The way she danced, the measure of her body, even her smile, was the epitome of beauty and grace.
I must be in love, because tree branches wouldn’t normally hold me captive or in awe. The elven part of my half-elven bloodline has weird ways of exerting itself. My bloodline caused much confusion in my life, and now I sensed the two races were constantly at war for my soul, like a constant torment, both sides threatening to tear me apart, neither one giving ground, both claiming my life as their own. It showed in my attitude and appearance. It also showed in how others treated me.
My attitude was typical for a half-elf. I was angry over who I was. Never truly belonging to any race, I was an outcast. There were some who treated me well, but those people realized I was different and not a complete person in their eyes. I partly blame my father for loving an elven woman and can easily laugh at the bitter irony as I look at my present state. Putting blame on my mother for loving a human is almost too much bitterness for me to handle. I wonder if they thought of the consequences, of what the world would be like for their child, for me. I can’t blame them, at least not as much as I want to. Can love ever be evil? I can believe it can be wrong, but never evil.
With a warring of two racial identities inside me, my attitude showed the best and worst of two races in one body. Angst would be an understatement. My kind is not treated well in this world. Both races believe in there being a racial purity—one does not taint the other. I know there are still those who find my kind exotic and acceptable, but finding love is hard. Finding a good friendship is hard. Providing I don’t die in combat somewhere, I will live longer than humans but will die much sooner than elves, one of the many joys of being half-elf. Appearance is always the first thing others notice. The way I walk is too graceful for a human, and my ears are not pointed enough for the elves. To them, I am too human, not fully a person. My green almond-shaped eyes are very much elven. At least my human side has granted me the ability to grow a beard. Arianna seems to love the stubble, as well as my salt-and-pepper hair. She has been the only person to accept me for who and what I am. When I hate myself, which is a lot, she is always there to show me how much I can be loved.
Appearance is always the first thing others notice. The way I walk is too graceful for a human, and my ears are not pointed enough for the elves. To them, I am too human, not fully a person. My green almond-shaped eyes are very much elven. At least my human side has granted me the ability to grow a beard. Arianna seems to love the stubble, as well as my salt-and-pepper hair. She has been the only person to accept me for who and what I am. When I hate myself, which is a lot, she is always there to show me how much I can be loved.
Arianna was the epitome of a beautiful elf maiden. She grew up in the elven kingdom of Dusk. I met her in a small village outside the elven border where she and a group of priestesses were on a pilgrimage through the land of Tallania. Her beauty mesmerized me right away. The first glance made my heart race and my temperature rise.
When they needed a guard to help them on their pilgrimage, I answered the call. I was good with the sword and skilled in magic, so they hired me. The other elven priestesses were kind in their own cold sort of way. Arianna was quick to befriend me, and we started falling for each other. When it came time to part ways, Arianna left the pilgrimage to come with me. At this point we were in love.
Looking at the sky, I saw the storm concentrated on the horizon. The cloud cover from the storm prevented me from seeing the many moons of my world of Aria. The moons kept the world in perpetual twilight, but the clouds threatened to push back the sky. Lightning flashed there as if the angels in the heavens and the demons of the lower hells were waging a war.
Some wars are fought in the heart and soul. I need only close my eyes to see the war going on inside me, a war seeming to last my whole life. I was making peace between my human and elven sides, but it was difficult. Elves have a strong patience built from centuries of life compared to the short-lived humans, who move too fast in things and are quick to be impatient. The burden of the two was heavy, but my shoulders were strong. I would find peace. Arianna was helping more than she realized. I exhaled. The storm would be here soon.
Elves have a strong patience built from centuries of life compared to the short-lived humans, who move too fast in things and are quick to be impatient. The burden of the two was heavy, but my shoulders were strong. I would find peace. Arianna was helping more than she realized. I exhaled. The storm would be here soon.
A soft kiss on my upper back and a gentle hug from Arianna broke me from my reverie of self-loathing. She has always pulled me from the storm. She leaned into me, her warmth added to mine. I didn’t have a shirt on, so her body pressed against mine increased my desire.
I noticed the swell of her breasts through her thin priestess gown. Exhaling, I tried to restrain the heat rising in my pants as the thought of pressing my lips against her body became stronger. She fueled me with so much passion I wanted to take her in my arms and make love to her, my hands on her body, my lips on her perfect breasts, and sliding inside her as she gasped with pleasure. The sensation was almost too strong to fight.
She sighed and snuggled up against my back. The sigh brought me back to reality because I was still not used to her tender touch.
The hint of jasmine reached my nose. Arianna always smelled of jasmine and reminded me of home as a child. My mother would grow jasmine flowers outside the cottage. She told me it would keep the wild animals away, but I knew she grew them because they reminded her of her home with the elves.
“It seems the heavens will rage today, Wynter, my love. Perhaps we will see the war in heaven here on our plane,” said Arianna.
“Maybe. Does the Keeper tell you nothing, or is he being silent to your prayers?” I asked with bitterness. My thoughts went to my dream. “I’d rather not see any kind of war in our plane.”
What I asked was wrong and bitter, but trying to believe in a deity who allowed such misery was too much for me. The Keeper was real, but I couldn’t believe in him. Arianna tensed at my words. I knew they hurt her; she was after all a priestess of the Keeper. Apologizing was something I didn’t rush to do, and it was something I needed to work on. My words cut like a blade but did more damage. It was a talent I had never been able to repress.
“He answers prayers of everyone who believes. He will answer yours if you believe,” she replied with an unwavering gentleness.
“Your God of Light has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear toward me for too long to consider praying to him. I am filled with too much bitterness and hate,” I replied, condemning myself.
“You are not full of bitterness and hate. Do you hate me, Wynter?” questioned Arianna.
“No, I can never hate you, Arianna. You showed me there is more to life than this loathing,” I replied. “So much more.”
I turned and held her close. Inhaling, I took in her scent. Having her close was enough to calm the storm inside me. She revealed so much more in me than the bitterness I dwelled in. It was hard to break away from the prison I had built over many years. After my mother died from plague and my father died in battle fighting a dragon, it became easy for me as a kid to build the walls of my prison. It was easier to lock my own wrists and legs in shackles of hate and desperation. When Arianna entered my life, walls crumbled away. The shackles grew rusty anthe links in the chains weakened. I was liberated, and I was regaining my freedom, one heartbeat at a time.
I leaned in and kissed her with passion, holding her tight and close as she relaxed in my arms. Her mouth opened, allowing my tongue to meet hers. Her arms reached around the back of my neck and pulled me closer into a deeper kiss and passion. The heat rose again as our bodies became pressed against each other. I could touch the softness of the skin on her back. Our lips parted, and we stood in an embrace, neither one wanting to let go. She rested her head on my chest and I could feel her breathe.
Holding her close, I continued to stare as the lightning streaked across the sky. It flashed, causing me to blink to keep focus on the silhouettes I saw running toward us in the distance. My half-elven eyes are keen, more so with my magic. I concentrated and let my magic enchant my eyes to see farther. I didn’t need words for a spell for this simple trick. My master Ikaris-El-Thar had showed me how to do it early in my tutelage. Arianna tensed as she watched me use my magic.
“What are you doing, Wynter?” asked Arianna as I reached for the magic living deep inside me.
“Hold still,” I said. “I’m casting a clairvoyance spell. I need to see farther just in case they are closer than they look.”
“Wynter, what is it? Who are they?” Arianna asked with the slight sound of fear in her voice.
“I am not sure yet. My spell hasn’t reached its full effect,” I replied. “Something is coming. Some things, to be exact.”
The look she revealed showed how frightened she was. I couldn’t console her because I couldn’t lose focus on my magic. I knew she understood, but that didn’t make it easier. As my eyes focused on the horizon, the silhouettes became bulky lumber-some creatures. The creatures were running toward us with unnatural speed.
Concentrating, I pushed my spell further out and with more focus. Then everything became clear and time seemed to have stopped. Ogres. A small patrol of them were running toward Arianna and me. Their weapons were not yet drawn, but I could see they were large and deadly. An ogre is never without a weapon—or with a bath, either.
“Ogres!” I broke from Arianna’s embraces. “Damn the gods!”
“What? There can’t be. We are too far north for them,” replied Arianna, in shock.
“It seems not.” I donned the chain-mail shirt serving as my only armor and grabbed my sword. “They’re still some distance away from us. We’ve got time. Not much, but some.”
Pulling the sword from the sheath, I could not help but look at its mirrored blade. I could see the lightning reflect in its finish. It was a beautiful blade—forged by dwarves, enchanted by elves, and my inheritance from my dead father. The wind picked up as the ogres got closer. My spell was still in effect. Their bodies were covered in dirt and looked like they were suffering from boils and seemed to be covered in scars. The ogres were the ugliest race on Aria. How a beautiful world like Aria, created by the Keeper, could allow ogres to exist was beyond me. Ogres of legend were beautiful once, but their service to the Taker, the God of Darkness did more than just taint their souls. Their bodies showed the evil of their sins.
Thunder hammered around us with its deafening sound. The dwarves of the mountain kingdom of Karas Tor could probably hear it if they listened. Arianna stood next to me in her robes holding her mace, her face fearful but resolute with the knowledge we both would have to fight. As an elf, Arianna had her own unique racial abilities. I also had the same as a half-elf—being able to see in the dark, heightened senses, and perfect aim with a longbow. Mine was the power of magic; hers was fueled by her deep faith in the gods. I could wreak havoc with my magic, she could heal disease and calm the soul. It was possible by faith alone she could raise the dead. I had read stories of priests with such supreme power but I had never seen it. Arianna had an aura of divine power around her. There was no mistaking her abilities to wield the might of her patron deity. I witnessed her curing a man dying of a wasting disease in an instant with a small prayer and the touch of her hands. A power like hers was beyond my abilities. Magic was strong, but it couldn’t replicate a god’s power.
Lightning flashed again and reflected off my blade into my tortured eyes. I can’t let her fight. As a priestess, she wore no armor. It was forbidden for elven priestesses. They might have been able to wield the power of the gods, but armor was off limits, as it was considered a lack of faith to wear any protection. The gods were fickle. I tried to get her to change her mind, but she still refused. Now she must run. Looking at me, she saw the look on my face.
“No! Must you do this? There are too many,” she pleaded. “Even at this distance I can tell. The silhouettes on the horizon told me.”
“Arianna, you must run. I can fight them off,” I said without hesitation.
Damn those elven eyes. Her sight must be better than I thought, possibly superior to mine. Perhaps the gods heightened her already precise vision. I could fight the ogres off—at the least, give Arianna some time to find safety. Losing her was not a choice. My heart would break.
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