They met in a literature class, sitting in a circle discussing modern novels with everyone else. The first thing he noticed about her was her big, doe-like eyes, so big. And he remembers she was prettily dressed, a pink blouse tucked into a long, brown maxi skirt, a floppy sunhat over her brown hair. She smiled at him and asked him what he thought about Cheever.
They became good friends, sometimes eating out for lunch, sometimes writing essays in the library, sometimes calling the other for notes that they forgot to take. But they were just good friends, nothing else. She bounced about with many others and so did he; they only met when they really had to.
Every time he saw her, she’d be wearing something pretty.
She showed him her work; he dutifully read and critiqued her pieces like a good friend would. He never showed her his, because he never felt they were good enough, and she never asked. But that was all right by him, because he just liked reading the things she’d write, and listening to the things she’d think. They were always so soft, so thoughtful, like a sunhat lying forgotten in a wheat field on a summer’s day.
Over time the things he read got more personal; he saw more into her life and like a good friend he’d offer insight and advice. She took it all, smiling at him over her lightly toasted whole-wheat sandwiches. “If you ever need anything too,” she said, “I’m here for you. I’m your friend.”
But she would never call, never write, never message him. He always was the first one to take the step, because he should; he was a good friend. Unless he spoke up to her first, she never seemed to remember he was there. She had said she was his friend, so why did she always seem just a bit condescending, a bit guarded, and a bit reluctant around him?
Over time he got irritated by this. Why did he always have to be the one that spoke first? She wouldn’t eat lunch with him unless he asked, she wouldn’t tell him about her life unless he asked, she wouldn’t even ask how his day was unless…he asked her first. He was tired of asking.
So one day while walking alongside her, he decided to ask. “Why are you always so close, yet so distant?” he said. As he stared at her, he couldn’t help but wonder that she could feel as chilly as the breeze blowing through her hair.
She stared at him with those big, doe-like eyes. “Oh, honey… it’s because of exactly this.”
"Exactly what?" he repeated, confused. Her clothes were awfully pretty today, he thought, golden and smooth.
"You’re caring about me." She said softly, her big eyes sad. "And I try to keep away from you because I don’t want you to. It’s for your own good."
He looked down at her brown laced-up booties, feeling more confused by the second. “But I’m your friend, I’m supposed to care about you! What is wrong with that?”
"Because it never is that simple," she insisted, and the wheat in the field seemed to sway under her, "that’s what they always say, and yet it always changes. And I can never love them back."
"You think I love you?" he asked, aghast.
"Perhaps not yet," she said, smiling sadly at him. Her head looked strangely bare without a sunhat. "But you will. They always do."
Gardens and Lawn Chairs
Later that evening, Rory tagged slowly along behind his mother as she marched primly up to the front doorstep of the newly arrived neighbors, cake and overly-happy greetings all prepared. She had forced him out his ruined shirt just minutes earlier when the cherry stains were at last spotted, and after jerking a comb through his hair and rubbing his face down with a towel, she shook her head in exasperation and quickly ushered him out of the house. The sky was beginning to grow dimmer as evening drew near, and the moving vans and the burly men who drove them had all disappeared. All that was left now was the random stickers and packaging tape that was strewn all over the driveway and front yard. The house also seemed calmer, since the state of frenzy it had been in had slowed down, and as his mother pressed the doorbell and stood back to wait, Rory found himself nervously fighting a desire to run back to the safety of his own house.
There was a shout that came from inside: “Ameliaaaaa! Can you please go get the door!” And then the sound of things tumbling over the floor, somebody apologizing, and a series of rushed footsteps toward the door. Mrs. Williams barely had a chance to turn around and raise an eyebrow at her son when the door clicked open and the little red-headed girl stood there in the doorway, blinking up at them with her eyes wide and clear. “Hello,” she said, “can I help you?”
Mrs. Williams gave the little girl a huge smile. “Well hello there!” she said, bending over, “we’re your neighbors! I’m Mrs. Williams and this is Rory.” She attempted to push Rory out from where he was hiding behind her skirt. “And who might you be?”
"Amelia Pond," the girl replied matter-of-factly. She looked away from the beaming woman, who was obviously patronizing her, to the little boy peeping out at her from behind his mother. He had a head of long and messy mousy-colored hair, and from all she could see of his half-hidden face, his eyes were huge and not unlike those of a nervous mouse’s, too. "I’ll get my mum. Muuuuuuum!" she hollered, "people here to see you!"
"Shush, Amelia, stop yelling," said another woman, appearing from the hallway and opening the door wider. She turned to smile at Mrs. Williams. "Hello. Sorry about that, Amelia just loves the sound of her own voice. Please, come inside." She stepped aside to let them in, and quietly Rory followed his mother in, surreptitiously trying to remain unnoticed. The woman holding the door had a head of dark hair, severely tied back in a knot, but a genuine and kind smile. "I’m her Aunt Sharon. You must be our neighbors!"
Mrs. Williams laughed cheerily. “Yes, we live a few houses down the street. We just came over to bring you a little gift –”she produced the cake – “as well as to welcome you to Leadsworth! We don’t get many new neighbors all the time, and it’s always a merry event. Here’s a fair warning – be prepared to have a lot more visitors.”
"Oh, is that so?" laughed Aunt Sharon, and as the women began merrily exchanging banter, another woman, tall and ginger-haired, walked out, accompanied by a portly man. Rory began tuning out the conversation automatically in disinterest, for it was quickly becoming nothing but typical grown-up talk, and only barely heard the new couple introduce themselves as Amelia’s parents. "Call me Augustus!" The stout man was saying with a booming laugh.
Rory turned around to take in the house. It was strangely laid out, with a staircase only a few steps away leading up to another narrow floor, and dark blue walls everywhere bordered with yellow crown molding. There were also boxes of things and furniture lying around everywhere. “…Sorry about the mess,” Aunt Sharon was saying, “but do come in and stay for some tea with us. Amelia, why don’t you show Rory around?” The adults began to drift off down a hallway towards the kitchen, still busy talking, and before Rory fully understood what was going on, he found himself left alone in the corridor with the red-haired girl. She was pursing her lips at him, an unimpressed look on her face. “Well, come on then,” she said, “I suppose I’m supposed to show you around. Want to see our garden?” Without waiting for a reply, she spun around and dashed off towards the back, and Rory quickly hurried after her.
I’ve done two chapters already! ohmigosh. Hope it’s good. :)
I’ll Be Waiting For You
Chapter 1: A Flash of Orange
Prologue - (A.D. 102)
“Will she be safer if I stay?” Rory was walking over to the Doctor now, his voice rising with his agitation. His face was right in front of the Time Lord’s, wide-eyed and serious. “Look me in the eye and tell me she wouldn’t be safer.”
The Doctor sighed as he shook his head, wanting to stop Rory from being…so human. For crying out loud, sometimes they were just so wonderful and yet impossibly difficult at the same time to deal with. “Rory…”
"ANSWER ME!" Rory shouted, strangely daunting in his Roman garb. There was an intense desperation in his eyes; no doubt left over still from the guilt of what he had done.
The Doctor closed his eyes.”Yes. Obviously.”
“Then how could I leave her?” Rory turned back to gaze at the box that held Amy, his Amy, barely alive. “This box needs a guard. I killed the last one. And she’ll be all alone.”
He’d made up his mind. He wasn’t going to leave with the Doctor; he wasn’t going to take a shortcut and jump to the future while Amy sat alone in a prison for centuries on end. It was all his fault, after all. There was just no way.
The Doctor was sighing and shaking his head again; no doubt at what he viewed as a terribly impossible plan. As he turned up the Time Manipulator, he began talking fast once more, trying to squeeze in as much information as he possibly could in a short amount of time. “Listen to me. This is the last piece of advice you’re going to get in a very long time. You can’t heal or repair yourself. Any damage is permanent…I have no idea how long you’ll last.”
Rory put on his helmet as he tried to listen, but as always, some of the Doctor’s rambles got lost on him. And all too soon, the Doctor was gone with a strange sizzle and a flash of blue, bowtie and tweed jacket all gone. As Rory turned to look around the ashen tomb he was standing in, realization of what he had just chosen to do hit him full force. The blank and grey faces of all the petrified aliens around him gazed back at him coldly; the dusty cobwebs dangled above his head without any sign of life. Even the head of the Cyberman he had killed seemed to peer at him with hollow eyes, and feeling uncomfortable, he kicked it over to the side. Now he was standing in the middle of nothing but a black, dim, silent world, and he would be waiting forever with just this cold metal box. A tiny shiver began to creep up his spine.
But no, he wasn’t alone, that was right – because right behind these dark and impenetrable walls sat Amy. Amy Pond, with her beautiful locks of fiery red hair, her smile and her zealous energy, and she was worth protecting. Yes, she was worth doing anything for. He would never forget that.
"Plus, it’s my fault you’re here in the first place, isn’t it?" Rory said with a half-hearted chuckle to the chilly emptiness. He drew his sword and sat down, feeling the icy cold from the Pandorica immediately seep through his cloak. "I can’t forgive myself for shooting you, and I don’t expect you to, either. So now I’m going to do anything I can to make it up to you. I will protect you. I’ll always protect you. I promise."
Walking home today I saw those dandelion seedpuffs floating lazily by. The big, round, light, white ones that tumble by like feathers. Fairies, we used to call them. Catch a fairy and make a wish, quick!
I used to do that all the time. I’d go crazy for a fairy if I saw one, chasing and grabbing after it as it looped over and over on the wind. I would have to catch it, even if I crushed it, and then I’d whisper sorry I crushed you but could you please please please grant me my wish? And then I’d make a wish and let it go, blow at it hard to make it flutter away.
Of course, I had enough common sense to know that these were technically seeds, and nothing could really happen from wishing on them… that they didn’t really have any power and they weren’t really fairies. But a part of me didn’t want to stop believing. A part of me didn’t want to give up on the idea of the mystical.
I suppose that’s why I’d whisper sorry to the seed, when I saw I had flattened its puffiness in my clumsy hands. The part of me that still believed thought it was a real fairy, perhaps, just perhaps, disguising itself cleverly as a seed. And now I had crushed it and was expecting it to still grant me a wish! I would imagine it must have hurt, how I must have crippled its wings, how it must be mad. So I’d say I’m really, really, sorry…I didn’t mean to hurt you! I just want to make a wish.
And then I believed that if I apologized and wished nicely enough, then maybe, just maybe, it would come true. So I’d do that and then wish for all the things a little girl could wish for. Fairy, I said, I wish I had that gel pen everyone has. I want one too! Or, Fairy, could you please make him like me? You know, the one who sits in front of me and asks for a pencil everyday. Could you please make him like me the way I like him? Or, fairy, could you please help me get perfect grades this year? I want my parents to be happy, I don’t want them to be mad anymore.
Then I’d watch the fairy disappear, no longer soaring as elegantly as before, struggling to get back into glide. Poor thing; it would be bearing the weight of my wishes now, and have damaged wings too. But onwards it would push, and then it would disappear, and that was all I needed to believe that my wish had been heard.
Even when my wishes were never granted, I still believed. Even when the boy I liked never thought of me as more than just his pencil supplier, and even if I didn’t end up with a scholarship for the next year of private school, I still believed that fairies worked, because that’s what everyone said. Catch a fairy and your dream will come true. Maybe all my fairies were just mad because I had mangled them first, and therefore refused to grant me my wishes.
I tried it so many times. I would catch fairies whenever I saw them, stepping on them with my feet or clutching after them wildly like a crazy cat. I’d run a block just to chase one down. Please wait for me, fairy, please! I’d think. I need to tell you my wish!
And oh, how happy I always was when I’d catch one gently, without damaging it. This one will work, I’d tell myself. I didn’t hurt it this time.
It’s been years now since I’ve done such things. By high school I would see fairies drift by and think of the promise of a wish, but I would never chase after them. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was a silly child, after all.
And then I stopped thinking about them altogether. I don’t know when I lost my belief. It just disappeared and I never even noticed, much like my fairies when I blew them away. They would fly off but no one ever knew where to, nor cared. They would carry all of the wishes I had given them into the ground.
Perhaps it was when I finally understood life - that you couldn’t make wishes and hope to have them happen; you could only work and try to make them happen yourself. The only way you could ever get good grades and make your parents proud was if you worked for it and focused. The only way that boy could ever love you was if you tried to get his love on your own. You’d have to change yourself, you’d have to do things you don’t want to sometimes just to achieve things that you need. And sometimes even when you work for it, all you end up with is a broken heart.
Perhaps it was when the fairies let me down too many times, or when I found myself with no one to lean on. Perhaps it was when I experienced true pride, true sorrow, true problems, or when I saw how cruel or selfish people could be. Perhaps it was when I myself tried on that shallow veneer, when I started calculating and expecting everything and demanding returns. Perhaps it was when the things that weighed on my mind were no longer how that girl’s Barbie watch sparkled and how I was jealous, but where I was going in life, what I was doing with it. Perhaps it was when I truly began to learn, and see, what the world really is. No more rose-colored glasses, no more protective veils of shelter. Time came by and said, you’re old enough to find out what you’re dealing with for the rest of your life.
We never really know when we grow up. It just happens, and when we finally realize we’ve grown we also realize we miss the times before and mourn that loss. It’s when we understand that there is no fairy there to help you out, to cut you a break; that life goes on, whether you can keep up or not, that we miss who we were the most. It’s when we see dandelion puffs not as fairies, but the seeds of weeds that nobody wants.
Those dandelion puffs were swirling all around me today as I walked home. There were so many; the path was clotted with them. Perhaps somebody’s yard really needed some de-weeding, and soon some gardener would be killing them without a second thought. Not that I cared, either, of course. I just let them swirl on, not even feeling the faintest desire to catch one.
Then a single puff drifted past my face, tickled my nose. I glanced down at it briefly. They’re pretty, I’ll give them that, I thought. But still just pesky seeds.
I thought of how the child I once was would have had a field day at this sight. I would have run about, laughing, yelping, trying to catch every single one of them in my greedy hands. So many, many fairies! Oh, but I could have so many wishes!
And then I felt sad, because as foolish as the thought of a fairy might have been, there was magic in it too. There was the magic of innocence, of belief; there was the childish hope of miracles that I could no longer feel. Ironically, one thing I never wanted to do was to lose that child in me; never forget the simplicity of that life. So in a split second decision, I turned my face around, trying to find that cloud of fairies again. I’ll catch just one, I thought.
But it was too late. They had already moved on from me, oblivious and happy and free, and I could only watch them swirl away out of reach into the air.
He fell from the sky.
He fell from the sky like a twinkling star, ablaze with wonder and light. He fell into her hands as she stood outstretched towards the night, and she held him and saw his eyes were the deepest, loveliest periwinkle twinkle she had ever seen. He dazzled her and filled her with wonder and she knew she was in love. He was bright like a star, he burned like fire, he glowed like fireflies and he took her hands and danced about her room like the moon circles the sun. He smiled at her and that night her bedroom was the brightest it had ever been in all her twenty years. “Hello, my kind-hearted one,” he said, “child of water and air.”
She fell in love with him and never forgot him.
He showed her what it was like in the stars. He taught her their names and taught her to trace their shapes against his skin. He brought her to see more than she had ever dreamed she could know and he filled her with wonder, with rapt, with such delight until she thought she could take no more. He took her hand and showed her what it was like to live, to really live, to love and to see and to know. He took her across the stars and let her travel to her heart’s content, and she knew she was special. “I love you, my sweet-voiced one,” he said.
Never, ever, would she forget him.
Even when he left she knew she wouldn’t forget him. “I’ll be back, my sad-eyed one,” he said softly, and flew out her window. He flew far away and the curtains whispered and tossed in his wake, lonely and white and silken. The night sky grew dim, quiet; the sparkling stars were muted in its heavy indigo weave. She ran to the windows and she was looking out, out, as the cool night air blew her hair forth and the last little twinkles from him spiraled off into the sky. She could wait for him, she could, as long as it took; she sat down on her bench and gazed outwards, away, into that velvet night sky they had danced across.
(Random short story that came out of an impulsive inspiration….even I’m not quite sure how it’ll end. I’ll have to think about it. :P)
The slender bamboo house was completely empty.
Adriel and Idil stumbled towards the yellow gate. Adriel’s fingers fumbled clumsily with the latch; after a minute of working at it, the gate finally swung free. Idil seemed barely conscious; Adriel slung his arm around her shoulders and staggered forward to bring them both in. Thankfully nothing was locked in the house, as Alvenas had promised, and as Adriel shoved aside a screen door, she could see that everything was well-furnished too. The design of the rooms was done up in that strange, sparse way of the Eastern Lihai men, simple and serene. Adriel half-dragged Idil, who seemed to be completely passed out by now, towards a wooden cot in one of the rooms and draped his body onto the bed as best she could. Her head was swimming and she sank down onto the foot of the bed as well, relishing the feel of the cool silk sheets around her. She knew that if she fell asleep, they would be completely vulnerable to attack again, but the sheets were so soothing and her head was so dizzy and Alvenas had promised, promised that this place was safe…
Her eyes slowly closed.
She had no idea how long she had slept when she awoke again, only knew that the sun outside was still shining as brightly as it had when she fell asleep. Adriel turned her head; Idil hadn’t woken up either, and was still lying limply the way she had left him. Gingerly she eased herself up, wincing as pain and soreness came flooding back into her – she felt like she had beaten rammed into by a wild boar. There was a fishy, rusty smell in the air; with a flush of disgust, she realized it was all the blood on their clothes running foul. A quick glance at Idil also told her that his wounds needed to be immediately dressed – the congealed gash on his arm was glistening black. They had definitely been out for a day or two at least, and Adriel felt a sudden urgency flooding into her as she hobbled out of the room to find what the house had to offer.
After some time she had finally scrubbed herself clean, and changed into a simple pale blue robe she found in one of the bedrooms. Knotting her long hair back into a bun, she began to unravel the long white bandages she found stocked by the water tap. It was as if Alvenas had thought of everything already for them; all the ointments and medicine that Adriel could ever ask for were lying in a basket, already mixed and ready for her to apply. And when she had hurried past the kitchen, she noticed there were plates of Lihai delicacies arranged artfully, complete with a pitcher of Elven honey wine. She wondered briefly if Alvenas himself had stopped by to visit them while they were asleep, but then shook the idea out of her mind. He would have woken them up if he did; more than likely it was one of those wordless servants that could be conjured from thin air at night and then disappear again before the dawn broke. It would be ridiculous if his fancy house didn’t use that bit of Dark power, in fact – Mumons were one of Chambraley’s most prized creations.
Holding the bandages, basket and a clean robe, Adriel made her way back to where Idil lay, and was surprised to find him lying there with his eyes open, looking at her. When he didn’t say anything, she walked over and dropped the stuff from her arm at the foot of the bed. “I was just about to come in here to wake you up, sleepyhead,” she teased.
Idil did not return the smile. “How long was I out?”
Adriel frowned. “Not sure. I fell asleep too.” She bent over and started poking through the bottles of medicine. “Which is why we need to tend to your injuries now. How are you feeling?”
Idil closed his eyes. “Like hell.” His mouth twitched wryly and he rolled his head back into the white pillow. “How about you?”
Adriel shrugged. “I’ll be fine with some more rest. You’re the one that got hurt the most.” She dragged a chair over to the side of the bed and sat down, lifting his battered arm at the same time. Carefully she started to peel back the bloody fabric; it was so torn that it came off in tattered strips. “You were on such a rampage then,” she chuckled, keeping her voice light, “Half of this blood isn’t even yours. I guess that… scroll really worked.”
“You look bruised.” Idil responded, ignoring Adriel’s mention of the scroll. Adriel ducked her head, suddenly wishing that she could hide the bluish circles she knew had bloomed across her left cheek. One by one she tossed the strips of cloth into a heap on the floor, then reached over and started to unbuckle Idil’s vest. “I told you, it’s nothing that won’t heal with some rest.”
As her fingers slowly worked down the straps across his chest, she could feel Idil staring hard at her. The feeling of discomfort suddenly multiplied, and flashbacks of what had brought them here in the first place flashed warning signs in her mind. She quickly withdrew her hands again.
“Something wrong?” Idil asked, raising his eyebrow.
Adriel looked away. “Nothing. On second thought, take that off yourself, and I’ll be right back. I’m going to go fetch a bowl of water.” Adriel fought to keep her voice even, and then quickly left the room, her heart slapping inside her chest. How could she have almost forgotten? He had seemed so normal again when he was passed out and asleep.
Idil watched her run out of the room, then turned his head to the side and closed his eyes. He knew why she needed to run away. He had become a mess, it was true. His whole body was throbbing with flushed pain and he was sure he could feel the beginnings of a fever. But the real problem was what he had done. Underneath all the physical ache there was an even stronger pain; the feelings of regret and guilt and muted panic that buzzed at the back of his mind. He had finally learned the scroll - that much was obvious. But in doing so, what else had he done? He’d transformed himself into a monster.
He tried to remember everything that had happened, but all he could draw up now were blurred snatches, red-tinged memories of fury and horror and pain. The only clear memory he had was of Adriel staring at him in a mixture of shock and betrayal, blood splattered across her face, the sword slack in her hand… her face spelling disappointment at the fact that he had lied to her about all those hours practicing alone, and even a shade of fear at what he had become.
That was the only moment when his mind had been clearest. He knew she had watched him lose control, seen him transform into a murderous beast that had laughed with Aeren’s cruel voice, and then given him a look that only made his fury burn hotter. For the truth was, he couldn’t blame her. He would have gazed at himself the same way, disappointed that he had let go and and allowed himself to fall so far. He would have laughed at himself for thinking that he could ever withstand the dark tendrils inside the kementari, when he was so very, very wrong.
Quiet footsteps told him Adriel had returned, and then he felt her cool fingers place a damp washcloth against his forehead. He turned his head to look at her as she rolled up her sleeves. “I had no choice, you know.”
“I know.” Adriel replied, her voice back to normal. She cleaned off his arm, and then began dabbing a green paste over the wound. Idil winced as it shot sharp tingles through his body, but Adriel held onto his wrist firmly. “It’s just a numbing paste. You won’t feel anything in a second.”
“Right.” The washcloth continued to wipe away dried clots of blood, and Adriel fell silent. As she worked, Idil gazed up at her face, wondering what he should say next. She was pretty as ever despite the blueish bruises, but the expression on her face was also impassively cold. Perhaps to continue speaking the truth was the best choice for now. “Look, there was no other way. They had you trapped, they were going to kill you.” When she still did not reply, he added, “I was going to tell you, too.”
A flicker of something seemed to twitch across Adriel’s face for a moment, and she slopped the dirty washcloth back into the basin of water. “Oh, of course you were,” she said simply, reaching over for some dry leaves to crush into his wound. “I could have taken care of myself too, but thank you for your undying chivalry.”
Idil fought a sense of frustration. “Look, I know I should have told you from the start. Just…take my apology, all right?” He turned his face into his pillow again. “I can’t stand it when you’re mad and give me that look.”
Adriel stopped to look at him. “I’m not mad,” she replied. “But I am disappointed.” The wound was well-dressed now, and she started wrapping it up with bandages. “You see… it’s not about the fact that you didn’t tell me in time, or that you lost control. That was inevitable, in fact. What I’m upset about is that… the kementari was never for you to learn. You knew the consequences, and yet you still proceeded to take it from me and study it. And I trusted you.”
Idil mulled this over as she snipped the end of the bandages and let go of his arm. “Now, can you walk at all?” she asked, standing up and tossing the medicine back into the basket. “I think you’re going to need to wash off properly if I’m going to tend the rest of your wounds.”
Idil struggled to prop himself up, heaving his weight onto his uninjured arm. “Wait - Rin. You still don’t understand.”
"What could I possibly not understand?"
"I had no choice, because I couldn’t let you learn it. It’s exactly because I knew the consequences that I had to take it from you.” He swung his legs over the bed, feeling every muscle scream against the effort. “Did you honestly think I would let you read that kementari? Aeren needs a bearer, but it can’t be you. The rest of us are expendable but not you.” His voice broke slightly as he reached over to take her hand. “Adri… you have to trust me. I can control it in normal times. I haven’t changed. I’m still me.” There was a quiet desperation in his voice, as if he was almost trying to convince himself.
Adriel bit her lip at his use of her childhood nickname, and she could feel the tears prickling at the back of her eyes. ”That’s why you’re a fool, Idil,” she said, angrily blinking the tears away. ”I’m still Aeren’s bearer, no matter what. You did everything for nothing.” And with that, she wrenched her hand away and ran off, masking the sound of her tears by her receding footsteps.
The next few days passed slowly, but it was a peaceful, quiet calm that both Adriel and Idil welcomed. Adriel could feel her energy returning; the Lihai food and Elven nectar seemed to hold restoring properties, and very soon the bruises were only faint blemishes on her skin. Idil could hobble around on his own; he was still heavily bandaged, but he agreed that spending time in this house seemed to restore him abnormally quick. The first time he could walk on his own he surprised Adriel while she was brewing some tea in a kettle, and asked her in sudden confusion whose house they were in, anyways. When he learned it was Alvenas’s, his face darkened visibly for a moment, but then he just quipped, “Leave it to him to have a house in Lihai and furnish it with these exotic fancies. I bet it’s one of the few remaining places of beauty there is.”
And Adriel had to agree. The bamboo house was wonderful on its own, but it was where it was located that was the most breathtaking of all. Before the front of the house, past the little yellow gate, was a field completely overgrown with yellow flowers that stood past her knees. A thick forest of bamboo trees, each as light green and crisp as a summer leaf, surrounded the back of the house. Adriel had tried walking through them, but either way she went, she could not seem to find the end of the forest or the field, even when she walked for hours. There was a shallow pool in the backyard, where orange goldfish wriggled about, and every day the sun shone with a soft golden light through the screened windows. The air was warm and soothing, the signature climate of the Lihai kingdom, and Adriel soon found that she liked nothing more than to curl up on a straw mat by one of the sliding doors that had a view of the pond, a cup of nectar tea in her hands, and listen to the soft trickling of the water. It was almost like being back at home in Lyemarien, sitting by the waters of Elasse, as long as she closed her eyes and let herself pretend. And based off the ruined and ravaged lands they had just escaped from, it did indeed feel like they were resting in one of the last remaining places that had not yet been poisoned by the Quenti. All other places had long ago burned and descended into black ash.
As the days wore on, Adriel and Idil’s recent quarrels seemed to also become just a smudge in some distant past within the serenity and safety of the bamboo house. Idil truly was still himself, Adriel knew, as long as he didn’t lose his temper and control again. He even was the one that found a harp, just like the one Adriel had used to play, in one of the various dressers and closets that were all over the house. They began to spend every day in companionable peace that way, with Adriel playing old songs on the golden instrument, and Idil sitting by her, listening. They took walks and practiced swordplay together when the heat of the afternoon had passed, and every time when they returned food would be prepared and waiting for them. At first Idil had been suspicious of the food, and wondered who was watching them in secrecy and constantly providing for them, but Adriel managed to dissuade his fears by telling him she figured it was simply Mumon spirits. Of course, that made Idil pull a face again, and he grumbled that the “no-good” Alvenas would of course stoop to using such creepy servants. “I don’t like the thought of them drifting around the house while we sleep, setting up everything for us every day,” he said as they sat down to dinner, “they’re just not natural.”
Adriel shrugged and took a bite out of what seemed to be roasted duck. “They don’t bother us, and they’re helping nurse you back to health. They keep out of our way, and I don’t mind.”
Idil twirled his knife idly around in his hands. “They just don’t seem like they can be trusted. Alvenas too.” He glanced up at Adriel. “Brother or not…he is still the Slayer. Let’s not forget that. Even if he claims to be working for us, now that he’s found you again…he’s simply too enmeshed with their lot to be trusted. And all the countless lives he’s taken too…he knows where we are, and it would be far too easy for him to just exploit us and reap the rewards.”
Adriel continued to eat, shaking her head. “I trust him. It’s Alvenas. You should too.” Her voice was firm as she continued, “You know he’s better than that.”
Idil sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Once, yes. Once I would have trusted him with my very life. But now…”
Adriel laid her fork down slowly, and looked up at him, a warm reassuring smile on her face. “She’s still the same boy he was before, Idil,” she said softly. “I trust him.” And they had continued eating.
Nevertheless, Adriel had to admit she did feel a certain discomfort towards the Mumon. Even if she had decided to trust Alvenas, it did not mean that she could trust anything else. A part of her was still deeply paranoid, for she knew that at any moment this tranquility and lull of safety she was enjoying could be shattered and they could be found again. There was something about having been on the run for so long now that seemed to have permanently shaken her, and she found herself feeling an irrational fear that the spirits would betray their location. She would wake up at random intervals in the night, her heart pounding in her chest, fingers wrapped around her sword on reflex, and only hearing Idil’s calm breathing from across the room would allow her to relax again and drift back off into sleep. There was really nothing to fear, as the creatures would vanish into mist by the time morning came around and could not speak, but still, once or twice when Adriel had awoken in the night she thought she could see them peering at her from behind the half-open screen door, and their pale translucent faces sent a cold chill down her spine.
There was another worry that also continued to assay Adriel. The kementari scroll that she had snatched up as they were running away now was stashed at the bottom of her satchel, and even though it was hidden from sight, it still seemed to be an unshakable presence that preyed on her mind. Idil thought they had lost it back in the dungeons, and Adriel decided to keep it that way, lest he be tempted to open it and practice it once more. But even as she refused to let him think of it again and made him feel guilty for having practiced in secret, she knew she was playing the hypocrite. She was no better than him; she was lying to him too and had already made up her mind to take the power back and make it her own.
Once a kementari is learned, it typically cannot be learned by another ever again – that is why they are so coveted. But Adriel knew there was a reason why Ivoreth had taught her so many grueling lessons in Eximency. He must have foreseen all along, the same way he foresaw other things, that Idil would attempt to protect her by taking the burden of the kementari’s fearsome powers onto himself. And Adriel also knew that what she had to do now was to take the curse back into her own hands, because she could not let Idil slowly lose himself to the monster Aeren had become, and also because she was, in the end, the only one who had a chance of ending all the damage Aeren had begun. She….and possibly Alvenas.
An entire month seemed to pass. Idil’s bandages came off one by one, until all that was left was the one bound across his waist, where he had been stabbed by a Quenti spear. Adriel continued to tend to him, all warmth and friendly smiles to which he responded to in kind, but what she never noticed was the look of longing and sadness on his face as he watched her leave the room again. They spent their days practicing and honing their skills again, passing the time with archery and swordplay. Adriel sharpened a new set of needles for herself, and began to mix up poisons from the few ingredients she had managed to salvage when she ran away. She began to also take walks into the bamboo forest in the morning with the kementari scroll, when Idil was still asleep, so that she could read it in secret. She knew that they couldn’t spend forever in this hidden paradise; that sooner or later they would have to find out just exactly how long the bamboo forest was and return back to being chased and hunted fugitives. But a sense of hazy laziness had also begun to settle over both of them, and Adriel kept telling herself she would leave only when Idil was fully healed, and when she had completed her reading of her scroll. If they could stay in this haven undisturbed, they might as well enjoy it for the time being, and leave only when they were fully ready.
Unfortunately, fate’s grace period was nearly used up.
The day started out like any other lazy, warm day. Idil was stretched across a mat with his eyes closed, listening to Adriel as she strummed her harp. There was a pair of happy ducks splashing and quacking loudly in the pool, and a fresh jasmine scent billowed in on the breeze. As the song Adriel was playing ended, Idil creaked one eye open and eyed her sitting beside him, lost in her music. “I’ve been thinking,” he said suddenly, rolling over, “I know the real reason why you didn’t want me to learn that kementari.”
Adriel barely glanced down at him as she started a new song. “Really now? And what is that?”
Idil sat up and slyly leaned over until his face was only an inch away from her ear. “Hmm.” He murmured playfully, his voice low. The notes from the harp seemed to skip a beat ever so slightly. “You realized that I can’t kiss you anymore if I learned the kementari, and that made you very mad.” There was a look of complete smugness on his face.
Adriel burst out laughing and rolled her eyes. “So that’s the brilliant conclusion Prince Idil comes up with, after all this time. I’m disappointed once more. I thought you were cleverer than that!” She chuckled at his look of indignation. “Who on earth would want to be kissed by you anyways?”
“Oh, is that so!” Idil pulled back, crossing his arms in mock anger. “Well then, let’s see just how long you can survive if I pay absolutely no attention to you, Miss Everin!”
Adriel was about to retort something back when the sound of an iron chain rattling onto the floor from outside caused them both to freeze. The last note from the harp seemed to hang suspended in the air for a moment too long, and a sudden chill stole over Adriel’s heart. “What was that?” she whispered under her breath.
Idil shook his head slowly. “Not sure. Probably…just something on the gate fell down. I’ll go look.” He stood up and began to walk silently towards the thin screen door that led to the kitchen.
But there wasn’t anything metallic on the fence, Adriel thought, except for the latch, and even if that fell down it wouldn’t have made such a distinct noise of chains. It was a sound she couldn’t fail to recognize now, having had to hear it every single minute that she was down in the dungeon. She leapt up after Idil. “Take your sword with you,” she whispered.
He nodded at her, then slipped quietly out the door and closed it again. Adriel leaned against the wall, feeling the adrenaline suddenly pounding through her veins, and realized almost belatedly that everything outside had grown quiet and still, even those raucous ducks. Something was wrong, very wrong; she could feel the change in the air as tangibly as if a chill had settled.
The seconds of silence stretched into minutes as Adriel leaned against the wall, her ears straining to pick up any sound at all. She had almost made up her mind to grab her sword and follow Idil out as well when a rough voice broke the silence. “You can come out now, because we know you’re in there. We’ve already heard you. You have one minute to show yourself, or we’re coming in.” And as if on cue, Adriel could hear dozens of swords being unsheathed.
“Whoa, now, there’s no need for that,” came Idil’s voice, sounding perfectly at ease. “I’m right here. What’s going on? Might I ask who you people are?” There were creaks from the wooden steps as Idil walked down from the patio into the back yard. Adriel cursed silently. What was he thinking, walking out there on his own?
“Where’s the girl?” The rough voice answered him.
“Girl?” Idil’s voice was innocent enough. “What girl? This is my house, and I live here alone. I’d like to know what you people are doing here by my backyard with…swords and all. Are you perhaps travelers looking for some food? Because I can give it to you, there’s no need to resort to violence… ”
“Do we look like travelers to you?” the other voice seethed. Adriel could almost picture Idil shrugging. “Stop pretending, boy, or your head will be on the block too. We know the girl is here, and we’re here to collect her and take her back to where she belongs.” A couple chuckles arose; Adriel quickly estimated that there were at least fifty men out there. “Now hand her over, or we will resort to violence.”
“Goodness,” said Idil, sounding perplexed, “I’ve really no idea what you are talking about. Who told you there was a girl here?”
The voice sneered. “We have our sources.”
Idil stayed clueless. “Well, maybe your sources are wrong, because the only person here is me. Now, if that’ll be all, I was just about to have lunch…”
“He’s lying! That witchy Adriel is here!” shrieked another voice, high-pitched and venomous. It was followed a the noisy beating of many wings, and Adriel felt her heart plummet by an inch. There was no mistaking that voice; it was Yrnesse. If she was here too….just exactly how many people were out there?
Idil’s voice had suddenly turned steely too. “Excuse me, but you look like a witch yourself. No need to call this Adriel, whoever she is, one.”
Yrnesse hissed. “A witch, you say? You don’t know the full of it.” She cackled softly, her voice drifting over closer. “But I know who you are!” Her voice was raspy with glee. “You’re that little runaway prince who’s been rumored to hang around Adriel, aren’t you? Prince of Telerin, or something silly like that.” She suddenly cackled. “Well, wouldn’t this be a double prize, then! We can turn them both in! Adriel, Adriel, you better come out wherever you are! Or your little prince here will get it!”
Adriel leapt up and ran for her sword and bow, her mind racing through possible options for escape. In the next instant she froze, however, for the door had slid open on its own, and the pale face of a Mumon was peering in to leer at her. A chill ran down her spine as Adriel realized that the bright sunlight streaming in was having no effect whatsoever on the creature. The Mumon gazed back at her, its blank eyes and crooked smile goading her to come closer. Could steel even pierce this thing?
Outside, Idil had lost all pretense. “Did that bastard Alvenas rat us out?” There was a barely suppressed fury in his voice.
Yrnesse chuckled raucously. “Oh, listen to him, isn’t he precious? Calling the Slayer by his name, as if he knows our Dark Captain!” A chorus of laughter rang through the woods. “No, he isn’t the one that told us, though I’m sure that he would love to know where you are.
“And yet… I have also heard of another rumor.” Yrnesse’s voice now dripped with malice, and the laughter died off as quickly as it had begun. “Of an act of betrayal on the Slayer’s part….something that has to do with the girl that’s hiding inside there. Speaking of which, where is little Adri? I want to gut her out like I did to your mother.”
“Oh yes, honey, your mother… the Queen of your lousy kingdom. Yes yes, she was very fun to kill, you know!” Yrnesse broke out into a loud cackle.
In the next few seconds that followed a couple things seemed to all happen at once. Adriel heard a chorus of shouts from outside as Yrnesse shrieked in surprise; Idil must have pulled out his sword and stabbed her, catching her off guard. At the same time, the Mumon in the doorway disappeared into mist, and Adriel dashed out the door towards what had quickly become a fray. Idil was shouting his head off, whirling his sword about and slicing madly as Yrnesse’s freakish feathered minions attacked him. Yrnesse was on the ground by the gate, screaming abuse while her black talons clutched at her tangled, dirty hair, her side dripping with black blood. But she was not alone; as Adriel ran towards the patio she could see the view of the entire forest, and as far as she could tell, they were completely surrounded. There were groups of all kinds of creatures and men gathered; one was a group of angry-looking Lihai men, clad in mustard yellow armor; another was a group of lesser Quenti, their ugly, trollish faces looking on at the screaming Yrnesse with dumb interest. But the strangest group of all was the one that had gathered to the right of the house; a large crowd of men, all blindfolded and dressed in black, bound together one after another by thick iron chains. Adriel figured this must be the sound of iron she had heard earlier.
“Stop!” She screamed, running out into the open while notching three arrows to her bow. “Stop, or she dies!” She aimed the arrows at Yrnesse, who still lay on the floor, and instantly the guttural shouts of her minions stopped as they backed away from Idil.
“You wanted me,” Adriel shouted, “so here I am! But neither of us are going anywhere.” Her eyes narrowed as she looked down at the huge crowd. “Try to take us, and you’ll just end up like her!”
A man that seemed to be the leader of the Lihai warriors stepped forward. “We greatly outnumber you, young lady. Have you not noticed?” His was the voice she had first heard.
“It doesn’t matter,” she retorted, “because I have something that will destroy all of you, should you attempt to come near.” And she held up the kementari scroll.
A collective gasp arose; Yrnesse even stopped hissing on the ground to look up in shock. Idil looked just as bewildered. “You…you had the scroll all along?”
Adriel turned to give him a quick apologetic smile. “Sorry I didn’t tell you about it.”
Idil continued to stare for a moment longer, and then his face returned the grin. “I suppose it just makes us even.” He climbed back up onto the patio to stand by her side, and together they both held out their swords against the crowd. “Now let’s do something about these unwelcome guests, shall we?”
Adriel nodded and turned her gaze back to the crowd. “I’m sure you all know what this can do, or at the very least have heard of it. So if you know what’s best for you, leave now.”
There was a moment of silence as everyone seemed to be unable to look away from the ancient scroll. Then Yrnesse sneered.
“Nice bluff darling. You may have the scroll, but you have not learned it. Do you think you could really fool me? You do not emanate the aura of darkness that comes with learning such power! Now what are you all still doing?” She turned around to screech at the rest of the crowd. “Fools! Attack her already!!”
Adriel’s heart fell as Yrnesse’s words seemed to awaken everyone else, and her minions came squawking up in a flurry of claws and feathers first. But of course she had not really expected her bluff to hold; it was a weak one and she knew it too, and yet it had been their only hope… On cue, she loosed her arrows into the oncoming flurry and immediately drew more, reflex and training kicking in as she aimed swiftly and shot down whatever she could.
Beside her she could hear Idil swinging his blade around, engaged in rapid combat with the Lihai warriors. They all seemed to be mostly unskilled, however, and as Adriel continued to fire into the crowd, she felt another small flurry of hope. Perhaps they could still walk away from this alive due to the fact that their opponents were simply weak.
She ran out of arrows soon and immediately switched over to her twin blades, pulling them out from behind her and running straight into the crowd, twirling and slashing and turning the space around into a tornado of deadly metal. She no longer had any reserve; man and monster alike met a bloody end at the end of her blades, and when she got a chance, she would pull out the poison darts she kept hidden inside the outer flap of her robes and hurl them into a group of attackers. It hit a group of soldiers straight in the eyes and they reeled away, screaming in agony and clutching at their faces. Behind her, she could still hear swords clanging as Idil deflected and stabbed, lost in his own whirlwind of adrenaline.
We might have a chance, she thought fervently as she dodged an oncoming spear that hit an attacker behind her instead. She twisted around to draw a spurt of blood from the neck of the Quenti that had thrown the spear, and stabbed another in the stomach with her other hand. We’ve fought pretty big groups before.
Then, with a start, she felt the kementari scroll being lifted out of the rope that was binding it to her back. She spun around; it was one of Yrnesse’s birdlike monsters, clutching the scroll in its beak and flapping away. Wildly she slashed at it, but it was already out of reach and in her moment of distraction she felt the sharp slice of metal draw a gash across her arm. A cry of anger and pain escaped from her, and furiously she dug the points of both her blades into the unfortunate Lihai warrior that had injured her. With a sickening sound she kicked his body off, then dashed off after the creature that had dared to steal her scroll. It was flying towards Yrnesse, who stood there cackling despite her injuries, and as Adriel continued to parry aside weapons being thrust in her path, she saw Yrnesse close her fingers around it and flash her a triumphant smile.
“This day keeps getting better and better! Oh, His Lordship will be so pleased. The little girl and her prince and now the scroll itself!” She was unraveling the scroll, relishing the moment as Adriel desperately fought her way over.
“Give it back!” Adriel screamed, and somewhere off to her right she could hear Idil call out, “Adri?”
“Come and get it from me then.” Yrnesse sneered, her eyes narrowing into slits. She began to make a show of tucking the scroll into her robes.
“You foul – ugly – freak,” Adriel cursed between slashes, “you have no right to be touching our family heirloom with your rotten hands!” Whipping out nearly a dozen darts and throwing it into the midst of the attackers around her, Adriel seized the gap in their attacks to rush up to Yrnesse, who stumbled back in surprise. “GIVE IT BACK!”
She pulled out another dart and aimed it at the wild-looking woman, who only leered and disappeared in a puff of purple smoke, reappearing a few feet off into the forest. The dart sailed uselessly into a bamboo tree, and Adriel was about to break off into a run when Idil sprinted past her. “You stay here. I’ll go get it back from her,” he shouted.
Adriel spun around to face the enemies that were following him. A couple Quenti tried to run past in pursuit of Idil - “Oh no, you don’t,” Adriel muttered, letting loose the last set of her darts after them and sending the entire group onto their knees. She thought furiously; she still remembered the contents of the scroll, so as long as she could take the power from Idil, perhaps it wouldn’t matter as much if Yrnesse ran off it… Just then a blade came swinging over at her and she barely bent backwards in time to avoid it: her eyes watched its dirty silver surface swipe the air cleanly above her as she pulled a knife out from inside her boots and threw it into the attacker’s face.
As time wore on and the flurry of swords never stopped, Adriel came to suddenly realize one other thing – none of her attackers were the strange blindfolded men in black. In fact, they seemed to have disappeared entirely; her eyes roamed rapidly over the swarm attacking her, but there wasn’t even one of them in sight. And then off into the forest she heard Idil shouting in surprise as her eyes simultaneously caught a single iron chain snaking around in a loop about the bamboo trees to her right. She barely had time to look closer as another blade ripped into her flesh and a burst of pain erupted from her side. Grimacing, she turned around, but to her surprise most of the attacking crowd had begun to back away. “What–”
The slapping of an iron chain around her upraised arm answered her, yanking and twisting her arm back so hard that she dropped the sword she was holding in surprise. Another chain lashed out and wrapped around her right leg, pulling it abruptly from under her so that she would have fallen over if there hadn’t been one holding onto her arm. And then suddenly there were chains flying out everywhere, wrapping around her legs and entwining about her torso; and before Adriel had a chance to react or fully understand what was happening, she was already well-immobilized as the chains forced her into submission. Three of them wrapped themselves around her other hand, attempting to force her to drop her other blade; she began trying to hack away at them with the limited amount of movement she now possessed, but it was useless – the chains were far too thick and she couldn’t apply enough force to even push them down. And as if in cruel jest, another chain lashed itself around her neck, pulling her head back roughly and nearly causing her to choke.
And then the blindfolded men appeared, stepping out from behind the shadows in the forest, all of them chained together and moving forward in a well-practiced, synchronized walk. Each of them held a sword in their hands, and they approached Adriel with a deadly, slow deliberation, seeing her despite their covered eyes. Adriel realized their chains were their eyes – they were all moving forward to the source of the most tension in their bonds, which was her now, and Adriel felt the flush of panic as she realized she was entirely trapped. Futilely she struggled, but the chains were so taut now that she could barely twist her wrists anymore.
“Do you remember us?” It was the leader, stepping up to where she hung suspended an inch off the ground. “You should.”
And then Adriel knew, knew that these men were the ones back from Siree when Ivoreth had taught her the tricks to his poison powders. She had thrown handfuls of the poison into the eyes of the men who were pursuing them and then fled, and these…these must be those men…
“You attacked us in Siree.” She whispered.
“And we’ve come back to finish the job,” he answered, circling around her purposefully. “See what you have done to us? Do you know how long we have festered with hate for you, little princess?” His voice rang with hate through the forest, and leaning over, he drew the tip of his knife against Adriel’s cheek. Instantly she could feel the sharp pain, the warm trickle of blood as it began to ooze down her face. “We have done nothing but train since that day! Sworn nothing but to have revenge for what you took from us, for this chance to let you have a taste of what it is like to never see again!” And with that, he raised his knife again, and Adriel closed her eyes and braced herself for the worst.
But there was a ping and the knife was knocked out of the man’s hands; a black cloaked figure was flying in from across the treetops. The blind men looked up with the same shock Adriel felt as the tall figure landed down in the clearing, a heavy black hood drawn across his face, a giant scythe held imposingly at his side. “The girl is mine,” the man’s voice called out coldly, deep and heavy. “Leave, now.”
“Alvenas,” gasped Adriel.
The blind men began to circle around uncertainly now, their swords pointed at this new intruder. Alvenas swung his scythe around; Adriel felt the grips around her arms and legs slacken immediately as he sliced through the chains, and she collapsed onto the ground.
“Leave.” Alvenas repeated.
“We’ve been ordered to bring her in,” spoke the leader, forced deference in his voice. The knuckles of his clenched fists were turning white. “I am sure that is an order even the Captain cannot ignore.”
“Indeed,” replied Alvenas, his voice equally cool. “But I am sure that as Captain, I am perfectly capable of handling the matter myself.”
Adriel rolled over on the ground, a few chains still tying her up uncomfortably. Her dropped blade lay only a few feet away; she began to wriggle as noiselessly as she could towards it. If she could just…reach a little bit further and get it…
The leader was still speaking. “If that is the case, there was no need to free her from her bonds. Let us assist you in bringing her in, my Lord.” He swept forward in a low bow.
The demonic etchings across Alvenas’s scythe had begun to glow red. “I will not ask you again, you fools,” he said quietly. “Leave now, or know what it is like to disobey me.”
The men remained motionless as a whisper of “Traitor,” rippled through the crowd.Alvenas pushed his hood down, glaring out across at the men, his dark red eyes narrowed. “Is that dissent I hear?”
After a moment, the leader slowly spoke. “Aye. Forgive me for my insolence, Captain….but we have come too far to let her slip away again, and some of us feel that you can no longer be…trusted.”
Adriel felt her fingers wrap around the hilt of her blade just as Alvenas swung his scythe forward with a blaze of red light, slicing through chains and man alike. The rest of the monsters that had hung back to watch in the woods poured forth in a general outcry of rage, which quickly turned into cries of unearthly agony as Alvenas’s undiscerning weapon carved through all of them. The demonic scythe itself hissed with bloodlust as the blind men began to run dizzyingly fast in strange weaving patterns, attempting to rally up once more and repair their broken links and ensnare Alvenas the same way they had ensnared her. Adriel hacked away at the last few chains around her, momentarily forgotten in the havoc Alvenas was wreaking; she glanced quickly at his handsome face, which was contorted with anger and darkness as he earned his namesake upon his own creatures of evil. His scythe sang as it drove through hordes of them; she noticed that his usually neat dark hair had come loose, and that he looked like he had been out travelling rough and hard for days. She wondered briefly how he had come to find them just in the nick of time, and then a new thought sprang into her mind. Where was Idil now? Turning away from her brother, she sped off into the forest in the direction Idil had gone. “Idil!” she cried.