Aphelion Issue 231, Volume 22
August 2018
 
Editorial    
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Poetry
Features
Series
Archives
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Forum
Flash Writing Challenge
Forum
Dan's Promo Page
   

An Unlikely Friend

by Damien Wells




I


Kar'Moken, the peaceful Elven city, was shrouded in a cold night; the very air seemed to reek of malevolence, under the miasma. Not a single soul, aside from a few guards, was present in the city's streets, for it was the kind of night that bore one thing: danger.

But there was one who dared to depart from the safety of her home, Aselia Setimil. She left her house at this hour to retrieve an herb, which would soothe her mother's affliction. She leapt through the night as silent and fast as a cat, her silver hair and emerald eyes sparkling through the darkness. Aselia wasn’t foolish enough to go unarmed; she expected to face some manner of trouble out in the dead of night. To protect herself from the predators that dwelled in the forest she wore a light, but protective, leather garb, and a sheathed sword dangled by her waistline.

The herb, Vor'Seeil, was named after an elven healer who possessed the power to cure any illness. The herb itself, however, does not; it’s gift was an easing of the symptoms, rendering the ill on a fast track to recovery. Nonetheless, its reputation of a miracle cure impacted its rarity; it wasn’t widely available. And the elves of Kar’Moken, oddly enough, kept the existence of the herb a secret to all outside the city.

Desherel Setimil, Aselia’s mother, had been ill for quite some time. Her family had taken her to the village apothecary earlier that day, but the news wasn't encouraging. The alchemist said that her mother's condition had worsened and that she'll need the herb. However, he said that though this herb wouldn't entirely relieve her of her illness, it would turn her severe affliction into a miserable but manageable flu. And, although Vor'Seeil grew in the eastern forest, the alchemist confessed that he couldn't retrieve it until the next week. Aselia, however, is an impatient one — a trait from her mother — and she wouldn't wait for the alchemist to make his little expedition. She left the house without telling her mother, while her brother and father tended her in their upstairs bedroom.

Aselia ventured down into the dark forest, her hand resting firmly on the hilt of her weapon. She was ready to slay any beast that would mistake her for its next meal. Or she might face a Vara’tul — a woodland spirit — who doesn’t take kindly to people treading upon forest grounds, especially during the night.

Aye, the forest is fraught with many perils, but it was nothing Aselia couldn’t handle unlike her father, Vertul Setimil, and her brother, Asran. Both of them knew where Aselia had gone off to, yet they said not a word to Desherel. Vertul, at first, objected to his only daughter going outside the house at this hour, but he knew well that Desherel might not make it through the night; she needed that herb as soon as possible. He would've gone for it himself, but he was the governor of the city, not a warrior. Asran was studying to be a politician, the same path his father had taken when he was his age. Neither of them had ever held a sword, not even the hilt of one. Aselia was the only one left in her family that knew how to wield a blade.

"I don't like it, Aselia," Vertul told her before she left. "You shouldn't be out this late."

"We can't wait ‘til the morrow, father; mother might not make it. Besides, I can take care of myself."

He offered her a father’s proud smile. "He taught you well." Vertul hoped it was enough. "But you're to come right back after you’ve found it," he said sternly. "Is that clear?"

That’s when she’d nodded and ran from the house.

Her uncle, Certhil Setimil, was the warrior in the family, and he was the one who taught her the art of blade. But her training abruptly ended when Certhil had to fight the necromancer threat in the west, in the Arsh'tur conflict. Many elves, men, and orcs died on those battlefields, and those who lived were never able to forget the horrors they had witnessed. Some of the soldiers who came back eventually spoke of having to kill their slain friends, who arose as a new part of the Necromancer's undead army.

Certhil was a great warrior, probably the best in all of Kar'Moken, but numbers can overwhelm the greatest, most powerful warriors. For the first two years, after the war was over, Aselia's uncle had not returned. During this time, she developed a fear which manifested as a re-occurring nightmare: she walks through a battlefield, the dead pilled in mounds that stretch over the horizon. Suddenly, Certhil's lifeless carcass emerges in front her from out of nowhere, nothing more than a hollow husk of what he once was. Aselia calls out to him, but there is no reply, he only looks at her. Then Certhil lunges towards her like a wild animal, his hand on his sword. That's when she wakes up, her pillow covered in her sweat. On the third year, she underwent the denial phase; one time, she even snapped at one of her closet friends who suggested the possibility that her uncle was dead. On the fourth year, she had finally accepted that Certhil wasn't coming back.

Before Certhil departed to the war which he would never come back from, he talked to Aselia. He told her that if he did not come back, then the responsibility of keeping the family safe would fall to her. It was on the first day, of the fifth year, when Aselia began practicing everything her uncle had taught her. It made her an adept warrior, facing any traveler or common thief who made the grave mistake of threatening her became a simple matter.

Swiftly she crossed the grassy plains outside the city walls, and, in mere minutes, entered the eastern forest. It was known to the peoples of Kar'Moken as Dashur, meaning nature, and was famed for its rapid change. When the sun lay high in the sky, the forest was a lush, beautiful place filled with both simple and magical creatures living together in perfect serenity. During the night, however, predators roamed about, looking for an easy kill, shadows running swiftly through the trees, death in the darkness.

Due to the size of the forest, it would've taken Aselia days — maybe even weeks — to find Vor'Seeil. Luckily, she had a map from the alchemist, who was not so lucky in persuading her out of this course of action. And with the map to guide her, finding Vor'Seeil took only a few minutes. Overflowing with joy, Aselia drew a small dagger from her belt, taking great care when severing the plant from its base. At that moment, an unearthly shriek pierced through the air as she severed the last root. The sense of danger had gotten much, much worse.

Jumping back like a lioness, Aselia withdrew her silver sword from her side. Soon she found out that her blade might not do so well in this fight, for her opponent was none other than a woodland spirit, a Vara'tul.

It stood upright like a man or elf, but that's where the similarity ceased. Having bark instead of fleshy-skin, coated in moss, a small mushroom growing on its shoulder. Its head looked like that of dried ox's skull, with antlers that would belong on the eldest buck. Its empty, cold, grassy eye-sockets stared Aselia down, a look that unsettled the poor elf to her very core.

Then, without warning, the spirit was on her with its razor-sharp, wooden fingers. It tried to claw her with a swift strike, but the nimble elf was able to dodge the blow.

At first, Aselia was growing afraid and confused, but she remembered her uncle's words: A Vara'tul is a hard being to fight, Aselia, but it can be defeated. Its armor is weak to fire. Ignite your sword, and you will be victorious.

Exhaling a calm breath, Aselia saw that the Vara'tul was coming in for another attack. With feline swiftness, Aselia dodged away from the woodland spirit, and with a swift, hard slash she cut through the nearest pine-tree, covering her blade in sap, and taking a sparking stone out of her pouch — a true warrior is always prepared for anything — engulfed her blade with fire.

The woodland spirit winced back in fright, Aselia could tell it was afraid, even though it had no eyes. It screamed another air-piercing shriek as it lunged towards her once again, but the young warrior dodged this blow as well. And this time, with her flaming sword, she slashed the Vara'tul across the chest; its chest was smoking as the embers burned into it. The spirit staggered back, and, when it was stunned, Aselia pushed her flaming blade into its chest, piercing its heart.

The spirit hummed; it grew louder and louder. Then its humming grew into a high pitched wail that seemed to pierce Aselia’s eardrums. And then, when its cry seemed to reach its max, the thing exploded in a force of pure energy, knocking Aselia off her feet, and extinguishing the flame on her sword.

A few moments passed until Aselia regained consciousness. She found that she still held her sword and that Vor'Seeil was still tucked, firmly, in her pouch. With a feeling a triumph, she sheathed her sword and headed out of the forest.

It didn't take her long in approaching the city's walls and, when she passed them, Aselia's pace changed from a run to a jog and, eventually, to a walk. She fancied the thought that her mother, upon seeing the herb her hands, and hearing about Aselia's fight with a Vara'tul, would finally accept her daughter as the warrior she wanted to be. It wasn't that her mother disapproved of her being a warrior, she liked to see that her daughter was passionate about something, but it was that she didn't want Aselia, her only daughter, to die like Certhil. But, with this recent victory, however, Aselia hoped her mother's worrying would cease. Aselia had not understood that a parents will always worry about their child.

Aselia took the herb out of her pouch and clutched it firmly in her hand. It was a symbol of her victory and the warrior that she knew she was. It was the proof that she needed to show her mother that she was ready to take on the world.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH”, a dismayed scream broke through the night's silence; it was her mother's scream.

Out of pure instinct, Aselia broke into a run and with the strength of a stone golem, she broke through the door of her house. She traveled up the stairs with a feeling panic she had never experienced before, when she entered the bedroom, the fear and dread went away as quickly as it came, replaced by utter bafflement over what she saw. Vertul's body lay at the foot of the bed, blood pouring from the large opening in his chest. To the left of the bed was Asran's beheaded corpse, leaking thick, crimson fluid from his open neck, staining the wood beneath him red. And, still in bed, lay her mother Desherel, scarlet tears trickling down her face from the arrow between her eyes.

The herb fell to the floor.


II



The dark, ominous night had departed, and the sun reigned supreme in the sky. It shone over the lush meadows of Nieruotil. The deer that now wandered the fields no longer had any concerns for predators. All seemed peaceful, except to a lone, orc man, traveling on the dirt path on horseback. His skin was a dark-green. His eyes were the same shade of silver as the large, two-headed axe sheathed on his back. It would take two hands, for an average human, to wield such a weapon properly, but he was stronger than any mere human, and swung the blade with one. His ears were as pointy as any elves', and raven black hair was pulled into one single, long braid, stretching down to the center of his back. The name that he bore was Tarenthel.

Tarenthel was an orc of Boreshmorah, an infamous tribe of orcs that dwelled in the southern-most land of Morofel, Garosh'Mar. The newborn of the Boreshmorah tribe, not even a year old, had a knife placed into its hands. During their childhood and adolescence, all of the children's time went towards learning the warrior's code as well as knowing how to wield a blade.

Unfortunately, he did not have that experience; he didn't have access to the clan's War-master because there was no War-master. All he had left of his father was his axe, which had been passed down through the ages from father to son, from a time long ago. No one knew that it was the axe created by Karbadul, the founder of the Boreshmorah tribe.

On this morning, Tarenthel was in a very troubled mood. It began when a crimson sun, a foul omen to his people, appeared in the sky. Its presence means that one, or many, died in a dishonorable fashion. But despite his feelings, he continued down the path, slowly approaching the city. Eventually, Tarenthel rode through the gates of the city's tall, sandstone walls, and he found himself in the middle of a market. To his astonishment, the market was deserted. He deemed this quite unusual as most markets, in the early afternoon, were typically lively. Most if not all of the shops he came across sold timber and other such supplies, and food; there were no merchants of weapons, nor armor. He regarded this as a risky move, primarily due to the size of the city.

Suddenly, from out of the corner of his eye, Tarenthel noticed a young elf boy running behind a thatch hut. He followed in the boy's direction, and he found a large crowd of elves gathering around the busted door of one of the wooden houses. Each elf in the group was trying to look past the other, while a few talked to those next to them. And, at the distance he was, Tarenthel overheard what the cause of the confusion was. Apparently, three elves, one of them the governor of the city, had been found murdered in their house, during the night, by unknown interlopers. Tarenthel felt a little nervous, as he eavesdropped on the conversations. Learning from some of his past experiences, he knew newcomers typically fell prey to suspicions, if the perpetrators weren't discovered right away (especially an Orc with an axe strapped to his back).

Tarenthel began to move away from the crowd and down the way he came, when he heard the rattling, and clanking, of armor. He leaped into the cramped, narrow space between two houses. A moment later, he watched as a group of three guards walked past him. Then, he made his way back to his horse, cutting through the backyards of three houses. He found his horse was still next to the water trough in front of the inn, quickly mounting and galloping past the city walls.

Tarenthel slowed down his horse a few paces away from the city.

"Halt!" a voice cried. Tarenthel opened his eyes and saw the figure of a young elf maiden, her sword stretching out at him. Aselia’s anger distorted her face. "Get off from your horse, Orc, and speak your name."

Tarenthel slowly got off his horse, keeping his hands at his sides. "My name is Tarenthel. I'm a fighter, wanderer, and a friend," he said, addressing her in a pleasant, civil manner.

However, Aselia knew to distrust everyone and her suspicions had fallen onto Tarenthel.

"Why are you leaving us so soon, Tarenthel?" she asked, speaking in a hateful fashion. "Are you afraid of something?”

"I left your city," Tarenthel admitted, "to escape a fate I would undoubtedly have: a wrongful accusation."

"A wrongful accusation!" she snarled, believing that Tarenthel was trying to insult her intelligence. "You're an Orc. A blood-thirsty, savage beast!"

Tarenthel smiled. "Not all of us," he said, attempting to persuade Aselia. "Many of us are good company; not all of us are warmongering savages…” Tarenthel paused, remembering all the orc-raided villages that happened over the past three winters. “Well, a lot of us are, yes, but that’s beside the point.”

She cried out in contempt as she bolted at him, the end of her sword speeding in his direction, something that Tarenthel wanted to happen. He swiftly moved to the left, his hand clutching the hilt of his axe.

"Do you plan on cutting me with that little knife, before you take me to the guards?" he taunted; his words sounded the same as he looked, calm even though in the heat of battle.

"No, Orc, I'm going to kill you where you stand!" Aselia bellowed, trying to bring her sword down upon his skull. Tarenthel pirouetted to the right and, as the blade cut through the air, he swung his axe in an arc, catching her sword in the crevice between one of the axeheads and the base. With her blade caught, Tarenthel sent it flying out of her hand and over the meadow; even he admired the great distance the sword flew, watching it disappear over the horizon with a pleased smile.

“So, you’ll be surrendering now, ye—”

Aselia sucker-punched Tarenthel right on the cheek, and then gave him another. While he was stunned, she raised her foot up and brought it down on his chest. Tarenthel hit the ground with a thud, when he opened his eyes, he saw that she had his axe close to his neck. She held it in an awkward way, it being too heavy for her to wield, despite using both hands. "Maybe, Orc, I'll behead you, like you did my brother." She raised the axe over her head.

"Assumption," Tarenthel said under his breath, "is the root of defeat." He brought his foot to Aselia's ankle, sending her hovering in the air until she plummeted towards the ground; the axe landed an inch away from her head. The victorious Orc calmly got to his feet and retrieved his axe.

"Go on, Orc!" Aselia grunted, closing her eyes tightly as she turned her head away from the looming presence of Tarenthel. "Kill me as you did my family!" A tear rolled down her cheek when she realized that Tarenthel wasn't going to do it. "Just kill me, please," she begged; the facade of the fierce warrior was gone, showing the broken girl that hid behind it.

Family is the most important thing in this world, Aselia, she thought to herself, the last words of her uncle echoing in her mind, piercing her like a knife. It is our duty, your duty, to protect them. It was her duty, and she had failed. The most important thing in the world to her was gone; she had nothing left.

"I didn't kill your family," he said softly. "And I'm not going to kill you." He strapped the axe onto his back.

"If you did not kill them, then prove it. Help me catch those who did." She looked at him with begging eyes.

For a moment, Tarenthel looked down at her with pity, realizing that she was like him, in more ways than one. He knew he wouldn't be the warrior he was if Gortush hadn’t been there. Gortush was the only one who took him in when his family had met a bloody end, just like Aselia's had. Where would he be if Gortush had turned his back on him? He would be dead, and he knew it. And he had the feeling that, if he rejected her, she would try the same with some other warrior, who would not be as understanding. "Okay," he agreed. "But, you're going to need something."

“What?”

"Another sword."


III



Seeing that her old sword was probably lost, which was mostly his doing, Tarenthel was able to purchase another from the armorer, which he found with the help of Aselia. Once they were outside of the shop, Aselia had formally introduced herself to him. The two didn't meet under the best of circumstances, but they found each other to be good company. And as they walked down the streets of Kar'Moken, Aselia had filled Tarenthel in on everything that the crowds did not know. He learned that the only possible point of entry, in the governor’s house, was the top window next to the terrace, which was in the backyard of the house. To him, it meant that the infiltrators were light-footed and adept climbers. But then, there was the most peculiar fact: the jewelry wasn’t touched. He deduced that, if they weren't there to steal anything, they were there to kill, which made them assassins.

“Assassins!” said Aselia, confounded by Tarenthel’s theory. She didn’t think—didn’t want to think—that people purposefully entered her home to end her family’s lives. “Why would assassins want to kill my family?”

"I don't think they planned to kill all of them, just one: your father. Although, an assassin doesn't merely want to kill anyone," he corrected. Tarenthel, at this point, had taken the role of Aselia's mentor, just like Gortush had all those years ago; something he had once and was better off because of it. "Why does an assassin kill, Aselia?"

She was silent for a moment, deep in her thoughts. “Because someone paid them to.”

Tarenthel nodded in agreement, a smile formed on his lips. “What we need to find out is who would have your father murdered.” He stroked his chin while he walked. “Did anyone have an issue with your father before he died? Did he have any enemies?”

“Of course he did,” she answered as if it was obvious, but she remembered that he was the outsider who knew nothing of the workings of Kar’Moken. “He was the governor of the city for three years. You don’t go through three years as governor, and not have a list of enemies.”

“Anything recent?”

“Well, there was a bandit attack that the guards repelled. The leader sent him a death threat the day after.”

“Where is this bandit clan?” Tarenthel asked, thinking that this was a lead he should follow. He didn’t know how to explain it, but he felt that the answers to this mystery lay with that bandit clan.

"I wouldn't know." Aselia looked to the ground. Then her eyes widened, acting as if a fire had gone off in her mind. "Father's second in command would know. They were planning a final attack on the clan before he died."

“Then let’s away!” Tarenthel exclaimed, and the two ran to the governor’s building.

The governor's building was booming like a business that had everything on sale. A lone elf woman ran from one desk to the other, collecting papers off each one, adding to the growing stack in her hands. Tarenthel and Aselia didn't know what the documents were nor had they the desire to find out. They weren't politicians — they didn't want to be — they were warriors and warriors didn't trouble themselves with matters of politics. The only thing they concerned themselves with was justice. Trying to walk past the elf, however, proved to be more difficult than he’d formerly presumed. The way she moved about made her next direction unpredictable, and they had a few close encounters with her.

Once past the first floor of offices, they traveled up to the second and final floor. The room contained five rows of desks, each one occupied. A door was at the far end of the office, a door which Aselia said was the governor's office—her father's office. The two walked passed this group of elves as well, but they weren't bothered in the slightest. They entered the governor's office, with no objections.

The governor's desk, the two saw, was occupied by an elf man with raven hair. He was seated, gazing at the ledgers and the stacks upon stacks of letters that filled the entire desk. The elf looked up, peering at them with piercing blue eyes as Tarenthel shut the door. His skin was the same pale, creamy color that most elves possessed. "Lady Setimil!" he said, bolting out of his seat upon noticing her. "My lady, I'm so sorry for your loss." He knelt down in front of Aselia, taking her hand and placing a firm kiss on it. Tarenthel was surprised to see that the people treated her family like royalty, but thought it best not to bring it up; it was something that Aselia had failed to mention.

“Thank you, Telthel,” she said, somewhat embarrassed by the entire thing. “You can get up now.”

Telthel got up and bowed to her before he looked back at Tarenthel. “What is this, my lady,” he sneered at him. Elves didn’t have much love for orcs.

“This is Tarenthel,” she gestured to her companion. “He’s helping me find the people who killed my father.”

“Is that so?” He looked at Tarenthel for a moment, and there was the slightest bit of tension, which he shrugged off when he turned back to Aselia. “Why are you here, my lady?”

“I was hoping you could give me the location of the bandit clan that planned the attack on our city. I know you and my father had plans to return the favor.”

“But, my lady,” Telthel protested, “I fear it would be too dangerous for you.”

"Don't worry about me, Telthel. Both of us can more than handle ourselves." She glanced at her companion, and she smiled.

"They're down in Berjel'Mort."

Aselia winced, her skin going pale and her hairs stood up on end. Tarenthel determined that the place wasn't known for being kind and friendly. In fact, Berjel'Mort was a vast cavernous dungeon. It was the center of a long war, two centuries ago, where elves and men fought the vile, undead scourge. "That cavern was abandoned long ago."

She wouldn't have admitted it, but she was scared; it was not the place that frightened her, it's what happened there. Berjel'Mort was a graveyard of men and elves, and even some of the townsfolk had started rumors that the dead still wandered in the caverns. Someone turning into a lifeless, undead animal was a touchy subject for her; she never fully recovered from that nightmare.

“Yes, well, it seems that it is no longer.”

“Thank you, Telthel.” Though her words were polite, her expression told that she didn’t like hearing this news, despite that it was the location of her lead. Nevertheless, her desire for vengeance surpassed her fears.

"I'm glad to be of service, my lady." Telthel bowed to her, casting a disapproving glance at Tarenthel as he did so. Elves did not approve of their kind traveling with orcs. And even though it wasn't something that had been new to elven communities, it was still a rare occurrence.

Without another word, the two left Telthel to the business that seemed to be piling, not showing any sign of stopping. Heading for the cavern of Berjel'Mort — a title that seemed to terrify Aselia, and Tarenthel had the feeling that he would soon learn why.


IV



Much to Tarenthel's surprise, he discovered the entrance to Berjel'Mort, was not what he expected it to look like: a blood-stained, rotting door embedded in a hill comprised of dead soil, the surrounding area engulfed by a graveyard of bones. What he got instead, was a vast, green forest with a countless number of maple trees, their thick bunches of leaves allowing only a few, thin rays of light to pass through. In front of them was a mound that looked, almost, like a small hill, except for a rotting, shabby door embedded in the middle.

They stepped in front of the door to the cavern. Aselia outstretched her hand to it, her fingers barely touching the handle. Tarenthel understood what her problem was; he knew she was afraid of this place. He thought it was probably one of those old-wives’ tales—told to scare children and keep them away—and this one was ingrained in her memory and shocked her to her very core. He took her hand gently and put it on the door's handle, and let go as Aselia opened the door herself. She drew her sword out of its leather sheath; Tarenthel took his axe into his hands before he stepped into the dark vastness alongside Aselia.

There wasn't any torchlight in the long, twisting cavern, but there didn't seem to be a need for it at all. When the door closed, the path illuminated with a blue light, emitting from the fungi that grew through the moist, rocky walls that surrounded them. There were bones on the ground, but the skulls were placed on the fungi, casting unnerving shadows on the walls.

As they ventured further through the long, twisting path, things had changed. The light from the fungi was dwindling when, ahead of them, they saw what seemed to be a flicker of a flame. Tarenthel tightened his grip on the axe and stepped forward to the light. The narrow path they were following gave way to a seemingly vast cave. It looked, almost, like another world underneath the one they had always known—an underworld (literally). But, bandits and other undesirable characters were the only ones who occupied the vast, open spaces. For Aselia, it was a place of horror, a place where demons and unimaginable creatures roamed the depths, and Tarenthel didn't doubt that possibility.

Within the seemingly infinite space, there was something that caught the duo's eyes: a flicker of several torches off in the distance. They didn't need to say anything to each other before they headed off in the direction of the flames, their weapons not making a single glimmer as they ran in complete darkness. They took cover behind a support beam of stone, which held up the weight of the surface, once they were a few yards away from the torchlight. Peering from behind cover, Tarenthel and Aselia detected a group of five rough-looking men. They wore leather garbs studded with steel bolts, their weapons dangled by their waistlines. This particular group of bandits was staring down a group of four figures who looked completely different from them. Their bodies were concealed by identical black garments.

“We did as you commanded,” one of the suspected assassins hissed, his voice piercing the air as easily as a knife piercing through linen. “Release us.”

A bandit, whom Tarenthel suspected to be the leader, smiled. "I don't know," he said in a rough, gravelly voice; his lips almost invisible through his thick, bushy beard. "You proved to be reliable in a tricky situation."

“You gave us your word!” the assassin hissed angrily.

"Words can be broken."

The assassin readied himself for combat, his palm on the hilt of the silver dagger. The brigand, however, proved quicker; with his sword in hand, he leaped toward the hooded figure. But assassin dodged the brigand's attack and knocked him off his feet. Before he could regain them, the killer had a dagger to his throat. "Your weapons cannot harm us, filth!"

The bandit looked at the glimmering blade at his throat through his terror-filled eyes. “ALL RIGHT! ALL RIGHT! I release you from your service!” the bandit screamed, seeing no other choice but to comply with the spirit.

The killer in black stepped away from the bandit and rejoined his group, and they vanished into nothingness. "Gods!" Aselia cursed in a mutter, leaning against the thick, stone pillar. However, she put her weight on a loose part of the post, and a piece of the foundation broke away; it made several noises as it hit the ground and rolled into the darkness.

The bandit group turned to their direction. “It looks like we have some company, lads!” the leader cried, and all of them took their weapons in their hands.

And, as if on cue, Aselia and Tarenthel stepped away from the cover, their weapons in their hands. The small group of outlaws charged towards them; Tarenthel stood his ground. Aselia looked uncertain, but she followed his example. One of the bandits was a foot away from Tarenthel when he dodged the rushing man, his axe removing one of the raider's legs from his body as he leaped to the side. The man screamed as he flew up in the air, but this too stopped when Tarenthel beheaded him in mid-flight.

On Aselia's side, a highwayman raised his sword over his head and tried to bring it down on her. She blocked the blow with her blade before it could reach its mark. Almost like an instinct, she brought her foot down on the man's kneecap in a furious kick, stunning him. The outlaw's sword faltered and Aselia, with tremendous force, drove past the blade and brought her sword down on the bandit's neck, blood spewing from his mouth; his scream came out as a muffled gargle, which ceased when she wrenched the blade out.

Tarenthel encountered another bandit who tried to strike him with a swift, slanted slash. But the mighty orc dodged the attack, swung his axe into the man's chest; the brigand bent, sharply forward when the blade crashed into his ribcage. Tarenthel wrenched the axe out and, twirling his weapon over his head, swinging a horizontal slash that hit the raider square in the back. The bandit lay on the ground bleeding from both sides. And when he looked over to Aselia, he saw her finish off the last of the oncoming bandits.

The fight wasn't over, however, as the bandit leader, seeing that the fight wasn't going the way he wanted, fled from the field like the coward he was, but Aselia wouldn’t let him go. She took a small throwing dagger, hidden under her cloak, and hurled it at the bandit; the blade sailed through the air like a bolt of lightning until it reached its mark. The leader tumbled to the ground, howling in pain as he curled up on the damp dirt.

Aselia approached the leader, and, with much fury, kicked him until he was flat on his back; her sword pressed against his neck, fear in his eyes. "Why did you kill my family!" she bellowed, tears streaming down her cheeks.

"I… I…" the bandit stuttered in fear. "I was contracted."

"Who?" she cried, her contempt growing with every word the brigand spoke.

"By an elf… Telthel! His name was Telthel."

Aselia stood dumbfounded, shocked to her very being that someone she considered a friend would be responsible for the tragedy. "Well, then he'll die. So will you!" she screamed, sword raised her head, but Tarenthel held her arm back before the sword reached its target.

"Don't," he said, calmly. "Never kill in anger."

Vengeance, as Tarenthel knew, was a slippery slope that is best not to travel down. When he finished his training, Gortush had taken him to the exiled tribe that killed his father and mother. But, when Gortush's desire affected the women and children — innocents — Tarenthel had taken action. He had killed his mentor. That was a day he would never forget.

"He had my family killed!" she roared. Aselia looked over to the bodies of those they killed and pointed to them with her free hand. "I slew as many as you! How is that any different?"

"Because you protected yourself," he explained, trying to convince her of what he could not convince to Gortush. "You stood your ground and defended your life. What a warrior does.”

"Are you suggesting that I let him live?" Aselia growled, her sword shaking violently.

"No." Tarenthel looked down at the bandit. "He deserves death." He looked back at Aselia. "But justice through anger breeds suffering. You asked me to help you. So, allow me to."

She looked at him and back to the bandit, tears still streaming down her cheeks. She removed her sword and turned away from the raider. "Then do it."

Tarenthel stepped closer to the leader, axe in his hands.

The raider raised his arm up. "Please," he begged in a whimper. "Don't."

The orc looked down at the man with disgust. "Die with some honor, cur," he growled before he removed the man's head. He put up his weapon and walked next to Aselia. "Now, let's visit your friend."

She snorted. “No, not my friend,” she growled. “My enemy.”


V



Nightfall descended once more upon the elven city. Inside his office, Telthel, now governor of Kar'Moken, laughed as he danced around in secret celebration. He had convinced himself that Aselia and her orc companion had come to a gruesome end, by the hands of the human marauders. Something that was proven wrong when he saw them outside of the open, office door.

"My lady!" he shrieked in fear. "You're alive… I mean, you won against those vile perpetrators?"

"Yes, Telthel," she said plainly, but no one could deny the fury that blazed behind her eyes. "And they told me some interesting things.”

He flinched.

"They told me you had my father killed.”

Telthel tried to mask his fear, but he wasn't doing a good job of it. "Lady Setimil, would you trust the words of filth like that?" he questioned. "What reason would I have for getting your father killed?"

"Power," Tarenthel answered, his words further shattering the mask that was already falling apart on Telthel's face. "It is the only reason.”

"And what would an orc know of such matters?" he sneered, desperate for something.

“This orc has done more for me than most elves have in my entire life," she said, standing by her companion. "He has no reason to lie to me. But you have all the reasons in the world."

Telthel's lips parted in a scowl. "Your father would've been the ruin of this city. He would have our guards deal with those outlaws when he didn't have the numbers. But you don't care about that, do you?" he sneered, but he didn't want an answer. "You here to murder me?"

"No," Aselia said calmly. "I'm here for justice. But I'm not going to kill you; a true warrior never kills in anger." She nodded to Tarenthel before she walked out of the office, although it was clear that a part of her wanted to remain.

The wise orc took his axe in his hands, approaching Telthel like the Reaper incarnate. The late governor screamed like a coward before the steel made a bloody gash in his forehead.

When he emerged from the building, he and Aselia got on their horses and galloped out of the city.

They continued to ride in silence even though they were far from the city. Neither of them felt like talking.

But without warning, Aselia abruptly stopped her horse in the middle of the road. A sudden realization had finally sunk in, and she looked, gloomily, at the ground. "I can't believe they're gone," Aselia quivered, tears beginning to form in her eyes. Before she was too driven by vengeance to find time to mourn their deaths, and now she had it, all the feelings hit her like a tidal wave.

Tarenthel trotted closer to her horse. "During our lives," he offered, "there comes a time when those we love—our friends and family—depart from us, or we from them. But then, we are given a choice: to stand around, wanting things to go back to as they were, letting our lives pass us by; or, we keep going."

"Where?" Aselia asked.

"On." Tarenthel looked at her with kind eyes, a friendly smile forming on his lips. "Would you like to come with me?”

Aselia smiled back. "I think I would like that very much."


THE END


2017 Damien Wells

Bio: Damien L. Wells, a full-time student, writes science-fiction, horror, and fantasy tales in the spare time he has. His interests include playing guitar, listening to Primus (but he doesn't know why), and wearing a black-leather trench-coat and fedora that makes him look a cliche version of a private detective.

E-mail: Damien Wells

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.