Chapter One: Graylow
Strawberries, the sweet yet sour taste of the blood-red berry danced across his lips.
A soft and gentle dance, relaxing his body under the setting sun, the colours that painted the sky in a masterpiece of oranges, yellows and pinks reflected in his eyes as a warm gold set over the stretch of meadow around him.
The waves upon waves of grass he lay amongst swayed ever so slightly like a calm ocean occasionally brushing against him, tickles and tingles blossoming on the soles of his feet, the tips of his peaked ears that listened intently to the whispering winds, brushing his subtly rose cheeks and calloused fingers.
He was at peace, nothing but the sound of the surrounding trees graceful ballroom dancing could be heard not the sounds of animals he’d usually hear scampering and scavenging in the roots of the trees or under the foliage of the woodlands, no choruses from the various breeds of birds that made their homes in the canopies of the twisting boughs.
No distant chatter of the villagers he’d grown up knowing or noises from the farming tools that always produced a constant hum that hung in the air.
His lips mouthed the words of an old poem he memorised, the words floated away as they were read like he was reciting it for the heavens and any ears that were listening in.
Line after line, the stanzas read aloud each word with a meaning and memory despite them not being his own, he tried putting himself in the poet's shoes, tried to imagine the world he lived among behind his closed eyelids.
Was it a world much different from the one he currently resided in, maybe it wasn’t and was just simply another time, the poems and songs composed of experiences and lost love in far off lands that lay host to towns, villages and their cities of the new age.
He remembered the dusty smell of books and their thin pages, he could still feel the smooth texture of each and every page his fingers turned, it was ingrained into his memory much like where he lay it was a place of comfort.
Heavy silence weighing down the very air he breathed with sweet mixes of daisies, tulips and lavender riding the winds dowsing him in the deliciously sickening aroma drawing him further into a reverie surely lasting the night while he would watch the skies morph and darken and the nightlife awaken for their congregations.
His father would be soon approaching, they often watched the stars together although living apart it was their own way of spending time with each other without having to talk not that he didn’t enjoy their conversations but it was something they did every night ever since he could remember, it was special, it was home.
He listened out for crunching footsteps and the bristling of the barley, yet nothing came, maybe he was late he thought although there wasn’t a lot of times he would be maybe it was just one of the off times, caught up in work perhaps, he was the village leader after all and that came with a lot of responsibilities.
Minutes slipped by like the sands of time sweeping along the shores of Nirvariten against the crashing waves, he wished to one day see the ocean waves with his own eyes maybe he and his father could visit and take a break from farming life, then again it’s not like he could drop his leadership role for a weekend getaway.
The sun sank closer to the hills soft peaks drawing his mind to the fact his father was never this late, not ever, he had always made sure to save nights for them because family was important.
Something was wrong, he could feel it.
Distant rumbling sounds that pulled at the reality side of his euphoric mind which most definitely wasn’t normal for a rural village where everything is done by their own bare hands not needing the modern machines of man when they had centuries of tradition.
A loud bang erupted out of the hillsides, birds once hidden among the rustling leaves took flight in fear as distant screaming surged the air.
Sat bolt upright his relaxation at an abrupt end leaving his soft bed of flattened grass behind, his eyes scanned his surroundings looking for the origin of the thunderous chaos.
That’s when he saw it, the smoke rising just over the hillside drifting and dispersing over the silhouetted tree line up into the air on a backdrop of the setting sun.
The colours weren’t so at ease almost seeming angered by the destruction the smoke was causing not to mention the polluted airs creator, harsh streaks of red cut through the now paling pink blush.
The sky never lies or deceives, he was taught to trust it, he was told it would never lead you astray, the stars guided lone travellers as the moon watched on sullenly knowing his only use was to light up the night sky and yet he was unable to complete the seemingly simple task entirely every night, much like the moon he was an outcast and a lonely one at that.
His pointed ears twitched picking up on vibrations in the air, extending his hands to the ground letting his fingers slip beneath the grass, fingertips planted firmly in the earth as his eyes fell closed.
Vibrations, the drumming of countless feet, thuds of unknown heavy sources could be felt running through the very fibres of the earth, honing in on his other senses discouraged him more reducing any hope he had in the back of his mind of it just being a misunderstanding on his part.
Screaming, he heard screaming, wails of mothers and children and the howling of men crying out tore through the night, even from where he knelt the pain and desperation in their voices was clear.
No silence was left, no soft glow of the sun or the delicate and easy feelings, the only light came from the distant embers of his village slowly being decimated.
His eyes snapped open, one a deep sky blue pooling with distress and panic, the other amber-gold seemingly glowing with the stars of the heavens ready for battle, ready to silence the screams and asphyxiate the burning embers.
His bare feet hit the earth tearing through razor blades of grass and over the rough dirt and rugged rocks, he could feel the rumble of the distant battle, smell the burning of wood and the metallic stench of blood mixed with the bitter earthy smell he was so familiar with, now tainted with death.
The sound of the screams never faltered, with every unsteady step he took towards the treeline the sounds of metal clanging and gunshots rang out through the air.
Even running through the trees, the clawed fingers on the branches grabbing and scratching at his clothes as if to stop him going any further and the deceiving roots tripping his already off-balanced body it was like they were either trying to stop him and make him watch or trying to save him, neither one was an option.
He could feel his heart pounding in his chest and taste the bitter dread erupting within him, the taste of strawberries long forgotten.
There hadn’t been a war for over twenty-one years not since the Trinity War that destroyed everything and changed it for the better and worse, it was the time when humans and their own kind had agreed to not coexists unless it was absolutely necessary and it had worked, yet he was stood on the hillside the brisk wind whipping at the golden curls that surrounded his head like a halo, looking down on his village where lay the proof of the broken accords signed by both sides after the bright light reset everything and the papers were signed.
Trucks scattered through his burning village some being loaded with steel cages holding people he knew, men and women fighting relentlessly with whatever they seemed to be able to get a hold of, farming tools being an easy option with which they desperately aimed at the enemy as their children whimpered and wept in corners hoping they’d be overlooked some too shocked to move from the cold corpses of relatives as their blood-soaked and stained the earth they had learned to respect and care for.
It was unbearable watching them all fight for their lives, he couldn’t just stand by as mothers and children were dragged from their homes and hiding spots to be crammed into cages and loaded onto trucks like wild animals.
He started running, ignoring the thumping of his heart he charged to battle not caring to think if he’d get out alive or fall with his own kind but at that point he didn’t care all he cared about was helping and fighting for his village who as far as he knew did nothing to deserve such tyranny.
One body fell as he struck him with a knife he grasped off the front desk of the butchers stand as he ran past.
Pulling out the sharp blade, blood already soaking his hands he charged for his next kill, yanking one man away by the brown strands of his hair he cast him down to the ground plunging the knife into his chest before using the red, gleaming blade to cut the rope which had been used to bound a mother and child, he ignored the mixed looks on their faces knowing exactly their feelings towards him.
Pushing forwards his feet bloody with a mix of his own, the fallen and his enemies aligned with the dampened mud the battle was taking place on, he saw out the corner of his eye the leader of their village Bregan, his own father fighting with pure rage.
Each swing of his sword was accurate, slicing through major arteries and vital organs, each slash wielded with his muscular arm rendered it’s victim either severely injured leaving them to writhe in pain on the floor adding to the screams stilling the night or simply killing them there and then, their bodies collapsing around him.
Breathlessly he fought not daring to stop for a second to catch his breath to slow the drumming of his heart, he continued to push on towards his father seeing him surrounded with no way out even with him cutting down the circle around him, more assailants seemed to take their places knowing he was the head of the village making him their main target
Eyes locked on to his victims he failed to remain vigilant to his surroundings and was soon tackled down to the ground from behind, all he could feel was the cold ground and the body above him holding him down.
From here he could see the fallen all staring blankly ahead, mouths open in screams that no longer could be heard, others calling out to loved ones their words now lost and left to memory.
“Well you are different aren’t you?” the man sneered from above him. He knew he was different; he’d known his whole life and it wasn’t just his eyes that showed it.
Too angry to reply he thrashed his body around in a desperate and enraged attempt to break free but the man only pushed his knee into his spine harder reducing his air intake more.
“Looks like I’m getting paid double, maybe triple if the boss wants wings as a decoration”
With a deep breath, he pushed himself up the man falling backwards landing with a thud, in one quick clean motion the knife that he had retrieved from the ground was driven through his chest straight into the heart, no regret or remorse showing just pure and utter anger.
His eye now a bright gold piercing the dark and his blue eye stormy and aggressive, he jumped forward towards Bregan.
He took down three of the four assailants forming the circle, his oak pigmented wings that illuminated with the surrounding fires, colliding with two as his body took down the third, he wasted no time in taking care of ending the intruders’ lives swiftly and efficiently.
“Kaydence, god boy what are you doing here? You shouldn’t have come, you should have stayed away!” Bregan yelled breathlessly over the battle cries, his voice deep and commanding.
Blood and mud matted his rugged, black beard and matching black locks spilling madly around his face until his blood-soaked hand brushed it back away from his eyes.
“What do you mean what am I doing here? You should have known I’d come. I wasn’t just going to stand by and watch this happen! Look at what’s going on!” he retaliated while glancing from side to side.
“You’re more of a target here Kaydence, they’ll go for you now it’s not safe for you here” Bregan’s grip on the hilt of his gleaming silver sword tightened, the blood smudging.
“I don’t care, you’re all targets too, especially you being the leader I’m not leaving!” he turned just in time to grab onto hands that had been outstretched to grab him, thrusting his knife forward he stabbed the unknown man and follows by pushing him to the ground.
“Kaydence they’re taking them, you need to go, get to the city and the council, tell them what happened here. We got attacked by the humans, they took some of us and murdered the others” he says, taking hold of both of Kaydences shoulders, his broad hands and strong grip making him focus his attention on the man.
“I’m not leaving, I am staying to fight. I’ll go with you when this is over, we’ll go together but I am staying to fight here and now. They attacked us I’m not running” Kaydence says finishing the conversation.
Looking around he notices a circle had grown around them, seeing a handful of women and children had managed to flee over the hills allowing a small sapling of relief to sprout in his chest, tightening his hold on his knife he gazed at the men around them.
Knowing Bregan and himself were cornered there would only be one way out.
With a quick look back and a nod to Bregan which he returned, his lips pressed into a firm line and his eyes showing no mercy, he looked back to his targets and took one step forward changing the position of his knife.
With a fresh intake of ash and smoke-filled air he jumped to the left, wings outstretched allowing him to sore forward.
Bregan had charged to the right, both now in their own small battles knife and sword being strategically swung from left to right, slashing at flesh and leaving bodies to drop.
As he twisted around to take down a man creeping up on him from behind he lets his knife sink into the man’s neck clearly hitting an artery proven by the spurt of blood that followed his body to the sodden ground.
Kaydence glimpsed at his father just as he took down two men approaching with one swing of his sword, a small smile made its way to Kaydences lips at the memories of Bregan teaching him how to fight and protect himself, he remembered all the sleepless and tiring nights he’d stay awake training by himself upon the hilltops in the dull glow of the pale moon that watched over him.
This is what it all came to, what all the preparation and training was for and he couldn’t have learnt from anyone better.
Returning to their own battles he took down a few more before taking some steps back to create a bit of distance allowing himself to draw in some breaths and tune his body to the adrenaline coursing through his veins.
He looked over the approaching men, four left to go, all clad in mundane protective clothing most likely for protection from their own weapons like the ones some of the men were carrying and not for this specific attack.
Even having watched people of their own kind killed, the smirks and snarls they were showing never faltered like they were tattooed onto their faces, that scared Kaydence more than the fact he had to fight them because it was clear they were lacking remorse or emotions altogether.
Kaydence was about to lunge for another attack when a thud from behind caught his attention, he whipped his head around to see Bregan had been pushed into a wall and was now cornered by three men.
Kaydence could tell he was exhausted and wouldn’t hold up much longer even with the adrenaline in his system, with not even a second thought he turned and ran at them jumping onto the back of one of the assailants and forced the knife down over his head straight into his chest until he crumbled beneath him into a heap on the floor.
Expertly landing on his feet over the body he looked to either side of himself, his bird-like wings having knocked the two other attackers to the ground.
Kaydence continued towards Bregan, his hand outstretched to which the grey-eyed man gladly accepted and let himself be pulled back to his feet, his body resting against the wall behind him, his chest heaving desperately to draw in the nightly air.
“Thank you Kaydence” he muttered regaining his composure.
“No problem old man” he chuckled airily, knowing it would strike a nerve like the other times he’d use it in training to rile him up so he wouldn’t take it so easy on him.
“You know, I’m not that old Kaydence. Besides, this old man can still teach you a thing or two in battle” he replied
“Well maybe after this fight, when I’m not busy, we can find out.” a smile worked its way onto his face.
Both couldn’t help but let out a chorus of breathy laughs, even in this situation Bregan failed to lose his light-hearted nature.
Kaydence watched the remaining six humanoid demons approach, both giving each other a sure nod and a pat on the back before Kaydence leapt once again into the air, his wings outstretched to their full length.
At that moment he looked like an angel, wings held high, his arm raised gripping the blood-stained knife as he soared down, his eyes were bright and sure, those of a true warrior.
With the bodies of his enemies closing in he braced himself, but not as much as he should have.
In the last couple of seconds, before he made impact a deafening explosion erupted through the night, he hadn’t a clue what it was until a searing pain racked his body and was sent off course crashing to the ground.
He could hear the shouts from Bregan ringing in his ears, it was all morphed, his vision and hearing blurring as if he was underwater, he could see his wings uncurl from around himself that had acted as a protective shield as he fell, but the pain shot through him again causing his voice to involuntarily let out a blood- curdling scream that stilled the air.
Kaydence felt hands and pressure applied to his body that was now pressed and held to the ground, he watched with blurry eyes as Bregan fought with the little strength he had left, his father's sword sailed through the air in his direction resulting in a little pressure bring relieve from his back knowing it had struck its mark in one of the assailant's chests that had previously been holding him down giving him less to fight against.
Despite the small amount of leverage he’d been granted he was forced by both his exhausted body and evil forces to watch as his father was grabbed and pushed to his knees, hands restrained firmly behind his back, like the true fighter he was Bregan tried shaking them off and standing but was forced back to the dirt being utterly outnumbered.
Kaydence tried to fight, he tried to pry the remaining restraining hands off himself to save the only family he had.
But it was all in vain all he could do was watch in heart-break as a man approached Bregan, the grim reapers back to Kaydence but with the arm movements he could see, he knew what was coming.
He tried with every fibre of his body to at least get his hands free so he could do something. Anything.
Kaydence looked in his parent's direction not able to see him from behind the legs of the murderer, tears threatening to spill over as he heard the last words call out to him:
“Kaydence Go!” then the deafening shot rang out in the silence.
Bregan’s body hit the floor and lay still, his body relaxed as his last breath was released into the night sky to join the heavens above.
All his anger, adrenaline, mourning and guilt all built up until his body became a conduit of his own mind, all thoughts or attempts at self-restraint were eliminated.
In a mere second, he was on his bare, sore and dirtied feet not even asking himself the question of how.
His eyes were bright holding both the rage of the golden stars above and the deepest and suppressed waves that would capsize a ship on-demand with ease.
Yanking Acuere- Bregan’s sword- which he himself had the honour of naming, from the chest of the corpse next to him, his hand held the hilt firmly as his brain was thrown into auto-pilot his body wielding it as if he’d used it for years.
Kaydence wielded it with such precision almost matching Bregan’s skill and style which made sense after learning everything he knew from the man.
It wasn’t until another shot of pain racked his body, as another scream left his lips he turned to face the one responsible.
There, holding up a gun, the make and model all unknown to Kaydence, was a man, the same man who had ended Bregan’s life and with it Kaydences life.
All he saw was red and not because of the anger but because of the blood that was now visible in the place the man once stood.
With Bregan’s last words echoing in his mind along with the throbbing of his wing that was now broken and crippled, he ran.
He ran back through the village, over the hillside, through the treeline, the trees once again grabbing at his now torn and blood-soaked clothes making him wonder who’s side they were on.
And he ran back through the field past his now lonely cottage where he once had lain staring at the sunset with the taste of strawberries on his lips.
His name was Kaydence Banshaw, one of the few known survivors of Graylow village.