The Lost One – Part Two
Kelgen sat with his legs crossed on the edge of the dead forest where he found Jethus. Branches like twisted arms wrestled in a constant breeze sweeping from the east. Under his breath, he recited a prayer to the Four Gods, the words tapping into a language that could only be understood when embracing magic.
Soon, a scattered light burst through the naked trees. A figure walked out of the forest. At first Kelgen could see naught but a shadowed body, then as it moved closer, he noted that they were nude. Ebony skin shined silver like moonlight on a clear night. Long dark hair draped over their shoulders emitting that same glow. Their face was angular, sharp, and a red paint smeared above and beneath grey eyes.
Kelgen shifted from his position and pressed his face to the ground. “Navira, I humbly beseech you–”
“I recognize you, Kelgen of Una En. Rise, my child. Let me see you fully.”
Kelgen did as he was told. He could feel his heart thrum in his ears. Navira pressed closer, until their breasts brushed against his chest. They stared into his eyes.
“We three – your gods – have need of you, Kelgen.” They placed their hands on both his cheeks. A gentle warmth flowed from the palms.
Kelgen’s breath shuddered. “How might I serve thee?”
“One of us has fallen, and in his exile, he has recruited one of your own.”
“Ilenia of Keloh Rah.”
A gasp escaped his lips before he could stop himself, and he pedaled back a couple steps.
“I understand that she is like a daughter to you.”
Kelgen blinked. His chest tightened, threatening to pull him down like an anchor. “She killed… she killed Jethus?”
Navira nodded. “But her task is not yet complete.”
“Pallian… and myself.”
“Then you want me to stop her?” The pulling in his chest became more incessant.
“We want you to save her. Before it’s too late. There’s still time enough for her to be dissuaded from the path that she is on.”
“I will try.”
Navira smiled, revealing rows of luminescent white teeth. Some sharp as canines. They wrapped their arms around Kelgen then bit gently near the pulse on the side of his throat. They sucked, making gulping noises. They moaned.
Before Kelgen could sway into sleep, lulled like a babe, Navira detached. His blood dripped from their lips.
“I have given you some of my power. Use it well, Kelgen of Una En.”
A surge of pleasure flowed through his veins, and he cried out. He closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he discovered himself lying on his back half-buried in the sand among a cloister of dunes.
Pallian knew these fields. Endless rows of amber sparkling as the pale sun’s light touched these grasses, hills like earthen waves traveling as far as the eye could perceive and beyond. Though life teemed upon the landscape, he could not help but feel death closing in, the hummocks and lawns browning with winter’s march. Summer will yet breathe its last.
He tugged his fur coat tighter around him. While both suns burned, still the cold prodded against his skin, prickling like the nick of a blade. A road worn thin by time and trampled by many travelers struck through these lands as a river strikes through the stone of a mountain, weaving and turning.
He inhaled the scent of a recent rain. Adjusting the pack strapped to his shoulder, he set forward, down a gradual decline until the path wrought even footing.
A memory surfaced in his mind. and he swam in its waters, hoping to drown his pain and sorrow in happier times…
A small boy, slender to the bone, wandered down the road. He brandished a stick in his hand and swung it about like he was practicing sword choreography. Another boy, a head or two taller with more meat framing his skeleton, watched with a smile wrinkling his tanned face.
“Pallian,” he called out. “Not too far now. Father wants us home before the suns fall.”
“I’ll be a great warrior, Jethus! The greatest!” exclaimed the boy, pirouetting then stumbling to his knees upon the gravel. Jethus jogged to Pallian only to see that he was laughing.
Jethus extended a helping hand, which Pallian took, and pulled his brother to his feet. The smaller sibling grinned in spite of the cuts now bleeding across his kneecaps. Both hands grasping Pallian’s shoulders, Jethus looked him in the eyes.
“A warrior knows when and how to pick their battles, Pally. Sometimes…” He took a breath. “Sometimes it’s best to not fight at all.”
“How can ye be a warrior if you don’t fight?”
“Some fights are won without your fists or a sword. They’re won with your words.”
“My words?” Pallian’s face scrunched in confusion. “Words don’t stab, Jeth.”
His brother smirked. “They can, Pally. They can.”
A moment where the conversation stilled. Pallian spoke. “So how do I fight usin’ words?”
Jethus did not have an immediate reply. He mulled it over as they walked down a steep hill, the pale sun drifting low in the west in a slow departure. Before night fell upon them and the stars could splay across the black above, Jethus found his answer.
“Just be honest. It’s the most powerful tool you have.”
“Besides my sword you mean.”
He laughed. “Yes, aside from your sword.”
“Words,” he muttered, savoring the enunciation. “I have none for Ilenia.”
He did not stop again, even when the road met its end and the grasses gave in to rock formations. The inclines grew steeper.
“I knew you would find me. Somehow. You always do,” said Ilenia, sitting on her knees before a grey bole. Wind passed over and whispered in the rustling of leaves. The forest began to lose its shelter, and as the sky darkened, the stars and their light descended with such power, such clarity, that as she looked up, for a moment, she was captivated.
That moment did not stay for long.
She stood and turned to face Kelgen. His gaunt features were tanned by his trek through the desert. His lips chapped, cracked, bled. Some of his white hair clung to his forehead. A thin dusting of sand caked his uniform. Something changed the color of his eyes. Normally green, stark as emeralds, but now tinged with grey. Or blue.
He breathed deeply then spoke. “What are you doing, Ilenia?”
“I prayed. Though it seems the gods are giving me the cold shoulder.”
“That’s not what I meant.” The look in his eyes hardened like iron.
She frowned and nodded. “I arranged an agreement with a man named Tarthul. He claims he can drag Helaia back from the Ever Door.”
“I know how much you loved her…”
“Don’t.” Her voice trembled. “Please don’t. You haven’t the faintest idea of what it’s like to lose… to lose…” Tears dripped from her eyes. “I need her, Kelgen. Like a drought yearns for rain.”
His face softened. “I know. But…” He swallowed. “Is it worth this?”
She tapped the handle of the blade at her hip. Sobs racked her body. Emotions warred across her features. Anguish and hope and guilt and anger, all vying for control, all losing, all winning.
“I don’t know what to do,” she said, the words garbled and tremulous. “Help me. Please, Kelgen. Help.”
He stepped toward her, slow and methodical, watching for every twitch in her hands. “I’m here, Ilenia. I always will be.” Another foot closer. “Look at me, child.”
She did, and he saw the pain deep-seated in her eyes, the flurry of conflicting decisions. Her mouth suddenly opened. Blood dribbled from the corner of her lips. Behind her stood Pallian, tearful and breathing heavy.
“For my brother,” he whispered as Ilenia collapsed onto her stomach. Chilling laughter filled the air, rasped and rattled.