“How many fear the dark only
to find there is little to fear”
-The Bird-Child Socrates
As the shadowy mist faded away, a foreboding man with charred brittle skin appeared. In the cracks, there glowed what appeared to be red-hot lava. His eyes were like embers as he glared at them. Ayana regained her bearings, Tarnink behind her, sword drawn. A small troop of twisted men circled them.
Ayana found herself faced with this monstrosity. His eyes glowed so hot that his stare burned into her. He was blind, yet Ayana felt he could sense her that he was looking at her.
The scar he had on his left eye glowed the brightest red and cut deeper than the other red cracks of his flesh. Strapped to his right side he carried a sword, and in his right hand a long spear. His long feathery black hair blended in with the darkness of the forest. He wore a battered Spartan styled armor without a helmet or a shield. His tattered maroon cape draped his shoulders. His body alone seemed like a stone as if the charred skin was protection enough.
Tarnink stepped from behind Ayana and stood next to her. Ayana’s heart raced as she stared into the dead man before her. She knew now that the atrocity she was gazing upon was Arajuan. He was no longer the mythical creature of her childhood. She tried hard to hide her fear. She swallowed and searched deep within for courage.
Arajuan stepped toward them. His soldiers stood still with blank twisted stares. The creatures of his army looked demented. Some appeared to be orcs and others zombies or skeletons. His march toward them was stiff and precise but Ayana sensed his focus was on her. She raised her bow as he stopped in front of her, her body stiffened. She tried to get her hands to shoot but she couldn’t. Her breath quickened, and her stomach turned. His scent was so familiar, it comforted her even.
“Step aside you filthy elves,” Arajuan snarled.
He broke the tip of her arrow off with his left hand; he held the broken arrow piece to his eye and grimaced.
“And put your puny weapons away I have no interest in you. While you are here though I demand you tell me where a certain dragon is.”
Ayana became enraged as she watched him pocket her arrow tip. She was not a puny elf, how could he, and Tarnink, well she knew he was the best and most trusted man of Lenagard’s Army. She would not help him either, no matter what the circumstances. How dare this man insult them! Arajuan or not he would hear it from her. She gained the courage she needed from her own indignation.
“You oafish mortal! I am no elf, I am a dragon!” she trembled.
A cold finger touched her lips, and her words froze on her tongue. She did not care for the smirk he gave her.
“Ayana, for a dragon, you aren’t very bright. I was never mortal, and you think I don’t already know who you are. Sometimes it is wisest to keep your mouth shut.”
Arajuan’s dark laugh bathed her in ice as he unsheathed his sword and placed it to her throat.
“I know everything about you, but now Gori knows what I already knew. He is all seeing, a pity, I must either kill you or make you bow to our Emperor.”
Ayana’s heart skipped a beat. He knew her name, he knew what she was all along. She turned to Tarnink; she could see his face firm and courageous. His voice was echoed the courage she needed
“Spare her, she is young Lord Arajuan, she knows no better,” Tarnink stepped forward, “I will even take her place, question me. Leave her alone.”
“How touching, your elf friend thinks I should let you live. He is so desperate for you to live that he offers himself. What do you think, you have permission to speak woman,” He snarled.
Was that curiosity in his eyes? No, she thought to herself, monsters are not intelligent enough for emotion. She felt her jaw loosen, and she did not hesitate to say what she thought of him either.
“Your Emperor is not my Emperor. You are vile; nothing you rule is yours. You are a simple marionette! I would never bow to you or anyone. You could never kill me.” Ayana retorted.
“You do not know who you speak to, you clever little brat! I am the prince of all Aldaria and heir to Gori’s domain. I am no mere puppet.”
He paused and motioned to his men with his sword. Ayana’s bravery melted as snow in summer. She was mesmerized by him. Two skeletons stepped forward, and he continued to speak.
“Furthermore, I see into you. You are confused. Frightened. You should be afraid, no dragon lives to tell of meeting with me, my dear,” He hissed at her “your emotions betray you. The smell of your blood betrays you. Still, fair enough then, I shall make you bow and then I shall kill you!”
Arajuan took his blade and pointed it back at Ayana’s neck; just as he was near enough, he surprised her. Before she could breathe she felt a slash at her hamstring tendons, all she could see was mist. The mist cleared, and Arajuan was behind her, in her fear time seemed to stop. He vanished and returned to look her in the eyes as she fell.
The skeletons separated Tarnink from her and the other men surrounded him. Arajuan had said nothing to his men. How was he communicating with them? She did not have long to ponder this as he had caught her on his arm forcing her to kneel. In a swift motion, he pointed his spear in her face.
Tarnink fought through the soldiers around him so he might help Ayana. Arajuan’s men countered him with their spears crossed which created a strange dark force field. Her heart pounded as she stumbled trying to pull herself up only to fall again. She gave up and just sat there on her bloodied knees defeated.
“If it is not us you want then why attack me? You knew I was a dragon; you must not be hunting us! Who do you want?” Ayana snarled.
Arajuan smirked as he leaned even closer to her, his face inches from her own. She could smell the stench of rotted flesh on his breath, “I want Mika Tsuki, Milady and you both know where to find her.”
“We do not know at all, Lord Arajuan,” replied Tarnink “she vanished when she brought Ayana’s sisters to us.”
“Silence elven scum this is between Ayana and me. Now tell me where the dragon is!”
“Never, I will not let you kill another dragon. You will not kill my mother!”
“Then I will leave you with something to think on, so you might reconsider, something you can die with,” Arajuan retorted.
Arajuan placed his weight on her shoulder bent over her. He frowned, his face slack with no hint of malice. Ayana’s breath stopped as he shoved his spear deep into her stomach. The stab was painless unlike the slash to the knees. There was a black energy flowing through his hand into the spear. He leaned further forward on the spear going all the way through her body.
She felt an odd sensation of wanting to touch this thing, Arajuan. She placed a hand on his cheek. When she touched, him he did not brush her away but gripped her shoulder harder, his clawed nails breaking her skin. Her eyes went wide feeling his brittle claws drip something into her blood.
Arajuan’s skin felt coarse and ice cold despite the hot red cracks. Ayana felt a pulse go through her when she touched him. Her body trembled as she ached to speak; The pain meant nothing now. It had to be the scent that made her feel this way. He leaned into his spear with one last shove his hand entered the wound and whispered into her ear.
“Your emotions will continue to betray you, Milady,” He hissed, “One day you will help me.”
Arajuan yanked out the spear letting her go, she thumped to the ground. The wound healed over, leaving a faint mark. He spat and stepped on her as he walked over to Tarnink. He bent into the ambassador’s face.
“Come,” Arajuan mocked, “these elf peasants mean nothing, we can find the dragon on our own. Let us march forward, we shall find the Mika Tsuki’s lair soon enough.”
Ayana turned to watch him her hands grasped the dirt beneath her. Arajuan licked her blood off the tip of his spear. She shuddered. His skeleton soldiers uncrossed their own spears and released Tarnink. Then Arajuan and the other soldiers merged back with the lines of grotesque warriors. They faded as they had appeared Arajuan and his army vanished into the darkness of the forest.
Ayana attempted to pull herself back up only to fall again. She screamed out in a rage, her fists pounded the forest floor. This was a fire in her chest, he did as he pleased, and she took it. The embarrassment at doing nothing angered her. She had been useless against him. How could she hope to build an army when she was injured like this?
None of this made sense, all her life sulfur meant safety, that her guardian was watching her, until now. Her guardian, the man who helped hatch her egg, smelled of sulfur and decay. It made little sense unless he was the one. She felt betrayed, that man smelled identical to him, she had never made a mistake in identifying someone by scent. She shook her head as Tarnink went over to her. He too tried to help her to her feet.
“Tarnink, I do not understand, that man, that vile creature, why did he let me live? Why did he pass over us?” Ayana asked.
Tarnink shook his head as he dressed her wounds. He wrapped her stomach with a bandage from his bag and wrapped her legs. He placed healing herbs in both bandages. Tarnink was not well trained in healing magic but skilled with minor potions. Ayana felt the pain of the wounds seep into the bandages.
Tarnink set up the rest of the camp area alone while Ayana watched him. She sat against a large tree, her eyes hovered his face. It was obvious he was thinking up an answer. She hated when adults took long to reply it meant they were about to lie. He turned to her, picked her up and laid her in her tent. Tarnink took out a small vial of what appeared to be water from his moss coloured jacket, then he un-wrapped her legs and poured the vial in the wounds. Her legs healed before her eyes.
Tarnink looked concerned as he focused a light blue magic on her stomach, which caused her to cringe more. Ayana knew her stomach was cursed with something as she had seen the magic enter her body. Maybe Arajuan planned a slow death.
“What was in that vial you poured on my legs?” Ayana asked.
“It is the water from The Lake of Crystal Tears,” Tarnink replied.
“Kristal Aansoo, the lake in front of Sorg’s Mount, what is so special about that water?” She asked.
“Well, it is a breeding ground for the phoenix and the lake is filled with phoenix tears,” answered Tarnink “As for your other question. Why he let us go? That, little one, I am not sure I can answer. Why he let us live? I do not know. What I can tell you might help you understand him better. Arajuan and I have known each other for some time; we were like brothers. A long time ago, he married my sister, the lovely Lady Elewyn. He had a son with her named Tydeus. He loved her more than he feared Gori so he left Gori’s army and vanished. When Tydeus had just turned two Gori burst into Arajuan’s home and destroyed his life. He bound Arajuan with a life-bind spell and forced him to watch as soldiers chained Lady Elewyn up.”
Tarnink paused for a moment to let her absorb it all. Ayana’s eyes widened, and she gasped. Arajuan once had his own life, one he controlled. This made him less a monster and more like her than she wanted. As she focused on his story the pain she felt was forgotten.
“After making sure Arajuan could not break out and stop him, Gori took Arajuan’s bronze sword from him. He used the sword to stab Lady Elewyn straight in the heart. He casted a death spell down it. She passed right before Arajuan’s eyes. Tydeus vanished and no one ever could find the child, not even his own father. Gori made Arajuan swear his loyalty and then threw him in prison. No one knows why Arajuan was let out of prison. Some say our half-sister traded places, turning herself in, taking Arajuan’s place along with his suffering.” Tarnink continued.
“I still don’t understand. It makes sense not to kill you, but what about me? Why should I get to live? I am a dragon.” Ayana asked.
“The only reason I can see is that maybe he hopes you will lead him to Mika Tsuki.” Tarnink lied, “Now get rest. Tomorrow we continue forward toward Stockholm.”
Tarnink exited her tent and went into his own. She slipped under her elafi-skin blanket with great pain. Her thoughts turned to Tarnink’s story. Arajuan once lived as any other man. He had a family, a wife and child. Do monsters have children? Ayana shook her head of these thoughts.
With hope for a better day she slipped into a fitful sleep. Her dreams were twisted with her worry of being a bother to Tarnink. Arajuan’s dark face just in her visions mocked her misery.