NOTE: Serial prequel (distant past) to The Unknown Sun which is now published. This work of fiction is not professionally edited and is for entertainment purposes only and I retain full copyrights of the following original material.
P.S….if you haven’t read the prior chapters here you go!
The stench of charred flesh seared Ivo’s nostrils.
He opened his eyes and blinked up at the inky darkness. For a long moment he didn’t move. Slowly he shifted his legs, arms, and torso to test for injuries. His entire body ached viciously, but seemed able, even if reluctant, to move.
He grimaced as he sat up and jerked his helm free. He dropped it to his left where it clattered to the sandstone ground loudly in the eerily silent night.
“Jaeger!” he turned and reached out his hand, but felt nothing nearby in the night. He clambered to his feet and dragged a hand through his dark hair as fear settled low in his chest. “Jadeth! Emaranthe!”
“Ivo,” Jadeth’s voice echoed faintly on the wind. Ivo spun around, tilting his head to better locate her voice.
“Where are you?” He yelled into the night. A sudden grunt of pain just to his left startled him. He recognized that usually snide sound and moved toward it cautiously. His boot collided with another iron boot, and Jaeger’s familiar voice hissed sarcastically.
“So you’re trying to kill me too?”
Ivo ignored the sarcasm and dropped to one knee at his brother’s side. “Brother, you are alive, thank The Four.” he gripped Jaeger’s arm and heaved him upright. Though unable to see in the darkness, Ivo was certain he was being glared at.
“What the hell happened?” Jaeger grunted as he tugged off his left gauntlet. Even without seeing his hand he knew that it was cut up and bruised badly. “I remember trying to get the skeletons off the women—women! Where are they…are they okay?”
“I don’t know. I thought I heard Jadeth, but she sounded far away. I haven’t found Emaranthe.” Ivo squinted into the darkness but saw nothing.
“Jadeth! Emaranthe!” Jaeger bellowed into the night. Somewhere distant they both heard Jadeth’s voice in the wind. “Where in the hell—“
A neon green glow lit up the night sky.
Squinting, both men stared at the source in mute alarm. High above them, Jadeth crouched on a ledge, holding her hammer high.
“How in the—“Jaeger frowned at the Elf clinging to the cliff face. Jadeth was staring down at them with wide, terrifiedeyes and laid back ears. Her scarlet braids were undone, but other than that she seemed okay.
“I can’t get down!” her voice drifted to them in the sharp wind.
Ivo didn’t hear her; he was staring at the unmoving bundle of fabric at the base of the cliff directly below her. Jaeger felt his brother tense and dropped his gaze too.
“Aw, shit.” Jaeger dragged his helm free, wincing as it glanced over multiple cuts and scrapes and let it fall to the ground. “I’ll get Jadeth, you get her.”
Jaeger cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled up to Jadeth, “I’m coming up, hold on!”
He backed up several yards, gauging the distance to the ledge. With a blur of speed he broke into a short run and launched himself into the air. He soared across the narrow gorge and upwards to the ledge, landing hard next to Jadeth with a clatter of armor and slight grunt of pain.
“Thank you…thank you,” Jadeth gasped and clutched both arms around him in evident fear, still holding the unwieldy hammer in a death grip. She was shaking violently. “I am so sorry. I am so sorry.”
Frowning, Jaeger gripped her upper arms and gave her a small shake, forcing her gaze up to his. Horrified blue eyes, vacant with memories long gone, stared at him as if they didn’t recognize him.
“Jadeth! Snap out of it!”
“So many dead. So many. Mother tried to help them. B..b..bodies everywhere…blood,” Jadeth stammered and gasped as she trembled. Jaeger saw in her vacant stare that she was reliving something very very horrible.
“Jadeth, that happened long ago. It’s over now.” Jaeger didn’t dare pull her down from the ledge without calming her down.
“No, no. Mother tried to heal them, but there was too many. Too many.” she choked on a sob. “I watched the…the… demons tear them apart.”
Jaeger shot a quick down but he could see nothing from his position.
“Mother tried to fight them off…she wasn’t a fighter though, she was a healer! She…she…fell…next to the chest I was hiding in.” She gasped and shut her eyes as tears slid in filthy trails down her pale cheeks.
“Jadeth, you don’t have—“Jaeger whispered, but she cut him off.
“—I…I…grabbed her hammer and tried to fight too. They laughed and flew away.” Eyes still closed, she swayed. Jaeger tightened his grip on her arms.
“I followed them, searched for them…for years. My mother’s hammer was the only thing I had left from her.” she whispered into the wind as it dragged streamers of her hair, now unbraided and loose on her narrow shoulders, over her face. “I chased the creatures for decades—”
“Jadeth, that was long ago. Please, we need to get down to help the others.” Jaeger shook her again, gently. Her eyes opened, wide and sad, and she looked directly at him at last.
“I found every demon I could. I chased them all. I did everything I could to…die.” she sucked in an unsteady breath and blinked as the sharp wind whipped her hair wildly. Jaeger stayed silent… her agony was palpable.
“I died at last. I welcomed it. I felt them clawing at me. I felt their claws, their wings that stirred a foul wind…the wind… I wanted the wind to take me,” Jadeth sighed softly. “But I awoke again, in my body, with my mother’s hammer and bearing her gift of healing.”
“You had proven yourself then, Jadeth. The Four chose you because you are the best healer of all!” Jaeger hissed. “You alone healed us through that battle!”
“It wasn’t enough.” Jadeth whimpered. Even in the green glow she could see the myriad of cuts, slashes and bruises on his face and neck. His pale hair was tousled from either helm or wind…and slightly singed looking. “My mother would have been able to heal you all whole. I am a poor excuse—“
“Stop it! You saved us!” Jaeger growled. “Without your abilities, I would have died. Something I vowed to never do again!” he turned and stared far down into the vaguely green-lit blind canyon, but still no movement below. Unable to see directly beneath their position on the ledge, he could only figure Ivo and Emaranthe were still there.
“Come on. Let’s go see if Emaranthe is okay.” Jaeger glanced back at Jadeth and caught her look of utter horror.
“Emaranthe…” Jadeth gasped and switched her hammer into the other hand. “I forgot…”
“Do Elf-Kind still have Last Hope by any chance?” Jaeger watched stark fear tighten her features.
“Yes. I’ve never used it.” Jadeth whispered softly. “I could never make myself fly…like them.”
“Then will you do it for your friends?” Jaeger’s voice pierced through the buffeting wind and echoed in the gorge.
“Yes.” Jadeth closed her eyes and swallowed. Her grip on her hammer tightened as Jaeger tightened his on her waist. She inhaled firmly and the glow of her hammer seemed to intensify. “Now!”
They leaped off the cliff.
A golden aura glowed brightly, joining the eerie green, and giant ethereal wings, seemingly made of nothing but sunlight, erupted from Jadeth’s shoulders as they plunged downward.
The wings buffeted and caught the air, slowing their descent until they were gliding smoothly. The wings vanished into the wind as their feet grazed the hard packed dirt and stumbled into a slight run to halt their momentum.
Gasping, wide eyed Jadeth spun around and launched herself at Jaeger, giving him a victorious hug.
“I did it!” she laughed.
Jaeger stood stone still and didn’t react. His blue eyes had scanned the green hued shadows and fallen on the huddled shapes beside the cliff.
Ivo looked up and locked eyes with his brother. Blue eyes stared at the limp, unmoving bundle draped over Ivo’s lap.
“No. No…”Jadeth looked past Jaeger and cried out. She pushed away from him and darted forward, heaving her hammer high as it glowed even brighter.
“It’s too late.” Ivo climbed to his feet, still holding the tiny body. As he walked from the shadows of the cliff, the wind stung his face. It was the wind, he told himself, that made his eyes tear up.
Singed blond streamers drifted in the screaming wind and a small, charred, gloved hand swung freely as he walked heavily past Jaeger and Jadeth into the night.
Jadeth rushed after Ivo. Jaeger followed, pausing to grab both of their helms. They followed Ivo into the night, knowing without asking what he was looking for.
Jadeth lifted her hammer and a dim green light lit up the narrow path before them. Three pairs of eyes frantically searched the shadows between pillars of stone, rock outcroppings, and bushes that leaned into the screaming wind. The path wound steeply, carving through sheer cliffs and rock outcroppings, leaving little space available for what they looked for.
“There must be one here.”Jadeth muttered and glanced up the path—but the light from her hammer only lit up a few yards at best. They did not dare to do anything else or risk attracting the attention of more minions that they knew were out there.
Jaeger worriedly watched his brother walk ahead, his stride stiff with single minded determination. He could see Emaranthe’s arm swinging loosely and a pale ribbon of her hair drifted in the wind over Ivo’s arm. They had to find a Solarium soon. Without the pedestal, a miniature temple to The Four, there would be no concentrated energy to heal Emaranthe…and there would be no coming back for their tiny mage. If they were attacked now…
“Here! Here!” Jadeth’s shriek broke Jaeger’s thoughts and both he and Ivo stumbled and turned.
To their left in a jagged indentation of the cliff, a huge bush jerked and shook as Jadeth grabbed the spiny stems and leaves and yanked. A handful of thorns and small leaves ripped free. She pulled again and several spindly stems gave out. Thorns bit into her fingers and palms but she reached for another handful. Beyond the bush Jaeger and Ivo could just see the small half arched stone and iron pillars that marked it as a Solarium. They were lucky. So many had been destroyed by their enemy over the eons.
Jaeger slid his axe free and pushed Jadeth away. She danced aside just as the blade arced through the air, glinting silver and green in the glow of the hammer, and buried itself in the bush with a brittle crack. Bits of leaves, long willowy stems and thorns spun away on the wind. A second whack. A third.
Jaeger swung the axe a fourth time, sending the rest of the brittle bush stems scattering. Thunder rumbled further ahead of them, shaking the ground. The pedestal was mostly uncovered now, but for a few remnants of spindly, dead cactus that towered over the far side.
Jaeger glanced at Ivo, but looked away as he caught his brother’s tight, pained look. He backed away and shouldered the axe, moving to stand beside Jadeth.
Grim and silent, Ivo moved forward and carefully placed the tiny figure upon the circular, knee high stone pedestal. Emaranthe’s cloak and robes, already overly large for her fragile frame, covered her easily as a death shroud…
“I am so sorry Emaranthe.” Ivo’s whisper vanished on the wind as he backed away. Guilt sat heavy in his chest, tight and painful. A delicate sniff to his left reminded him that he wasn’t the only one there and he walked with pained slowness to stand beside his other two best, and only friends.
“Please work. Please work. Please work.” Jadeth was alternately sniffing and whispering, her jewel bright eyes unashamedly wet. The wind screamed and moaned through the narrow path, dragging her vivid red hair into her face.
Jaeger felt her hair drag across his shoulder guards and snag on the sharp edges. Atypically, he ignored this, but instead his gaze traveled fitfully between the still shape on the pedestal and his brother’s stony face. Without realizing it, his hand had fisted tensely as they waited.
Out of the green hued shadows, symbols and shapes glowed white hot on the stone pedestal. Jadeth’s hammer fell from her startled fingers and the green glow vanished, replaced now by the light of the intricate runes covering the stone. Even the wind buffeted and stilled.
The white runes glowed brighter as Emaranthe’s petite body began to fade.
Ivo swallowed thickly but forced himself to watch as she slowly drifted into nothingness, the bright runes more and more visible through her body as she vanished. At last there was nothing left on the pedestal but the glowing shapes and symbols carved by The Four long ago. The glow gradually intensified.
Shielding her eyes now, Jadeth squinted into the light. A quick glance to her left told her Jaeger was doing likewise. Ivo still stared fully into the white hot light, his mouth tight, his eyes searching
A small, dark shape walked out of the light.
Burning gold eyes glittered in the white light and a small gloved hand curled around a staff. Blond braids trailed in the buffeting wind, dragging the worn hood from her head.
She inhaled heavily and smiled widely at Ivo, Jadeth and Jaeger, as the runes faded behind her, the light flickering and moving oddly— like fire.
“Emaranthe!” Jadeth launched herself at her friend, forgetting for the moment that she towered over the tiny woman, and tackled her to the ground.
Laughing and crying both women hugged while in the background, Ivo and Jaeger traded exasperated looks. Women.
Emaranthe pulled free from Jadeth and stood. Jadeth retrieved her fallen hammer and the green glow once again banished the darkness. Ivo and Jaeger stood uncertainly in the shadows of the cliff.
Gold eyes flicked between the brothers. Ivo’s face was dark with self loathing, his eyes watchful in the dark, as if awaiting reproach. Jaeger, too, looked worried and pained…something he would never admit to in any lifetime.
She halted before Ivo and stared far up at him.
“Thank you.” Emaranthe’s staff clattered to the rocky ground as she wound thin arms around his waist. Ivo froze, startled. He had expected blame and anger, not this.
“You thank me for letting you die?” Ivo rasped. “I should be begging your forgiveness and thanking you for saving us.”
“I didn’t die in vain if it saved you all.” Emaranthe whispered. Ivo closed his eyes as guilt battled with relief of her return. He knew like anyone else, that sometimes there is no return if your soul is too wounded. Their immortality, gifts from desperate gods, was fickle at best. You were counted lucky if you kept your original body for more than a handful of reincarnations, because with each new body all your previous memories were lost.
Ivo wondered if that would be a blessing…and wondered how many bodies, lives, he’d lived unremembered so far. That thought was nothing compared to the thought of losing the friends who had been at his side, loyal and brave, for many years.
Ivo’s iron and chainmail clad arms gingerly returned the hug, even more mindful now just how small and fragile she really was.
Jaeger watched with a tiny, twisted smile, noting how uncomfortable his brother was, as if Ivo wanted her to yell and blame. It wasn’t Ivo’s fault…
Emaranthe let go of Ivo and shot Jaeger a wide, sad smile.
“Oh, no.” Jaeger held up both hands to ward her off. “Uh, no mushy stuff.”
“Hehe. All right.” Emaranthe sighed and bent to retrieve her staff. She caught his eye then and gold studied blue. She nodded her head and smiled. No mushy stuff. Jaeger grinned and returned the acknowledgement.
No mushy stuff indeed.
The purple night was graying slightly to the East. The fitful wind dragged around them, then eased as daylight, though still hidden behind thick inky clouds, broke.
Jadeth and Emaranthe huddled in the hollow behind the pedestal and dead cactus, a tiny hovering fire between them, trying to rest. The barely lightened sky was icy and misty with the wind gone and everything was damp.
Ivo and Jaeger stood standing guard side by side, arms crossed—towering sentinels. Both had ganged up to make the women rest, and had earned glares and raised eyebrows from both females. In the end even Jadeth had to acknowledge that Emaranthe needed rest more than anyone and had acquiesced too.
Wide, sad gold eyes watched from the shadowed depths of her hood. They fixed from time to time on each of her friends, a pang of despair twisting in her chest. The thought of losing them had been too much.
They were all she had left.
Somewhere thunder rumbled. Emaranthe closed her eyes as the ground beneath her trembled. The thunder drifted off and she realized that she was what was trembling, not the earth…