200 years ago
There is a soft splashing of waves that fills my dark mind; it’s chilling and yet pleasant, a giant leap from the repetitive lapping of angry water against wood. This slow coming and going is melodic in such a way I’ve almost forgotten about the last few months and for a second I thought I was back home in bed listening to my mother humming one of our peoples tunes. If it weren’t for the growing aches, pains and burns of my body I would have fallen back to sleep.
The world has never returned to me in such a slow tip toey way as it is right now but as my mind returns from the dream lands to reality I notice my body is not pressed against the hard splintery wood of the tiny row boat but that of cool, damp sand. The surface shapes to my thin frame, sending shivers along my starving and dehydrated body while making a perfect cast form of it below.
I can’t remember how long we have been out at sea? Maybe days... it could have been weeks.
Long enough though, for the sacks of food and water to run empty, our throats to dry, stomachs to wrinkle, our skin to redden and peel with absolutely no time to heal except at night when we spent hours with our eyes closed with no reprieve of sleep. Below us the row boat would rock, reminding us of how raw the sun made us feel and how the longer the days were becoming.
But for the first time in days, while I watched the ocean life below the surface, I fell asleep with the sun beating on my back and a hand as fish food in the water. I was sure that it was my last moment. I knew I should have died.
And maybe I have, and this is heaven. The soothing waves at my numb toes promising land and giving me security that the war was won, and it’s all over now.
Only that.... one single thing is throwing off this possibility of freedom, the softest pattering of someone’s heart at my side. This is no mind games, I know this for sure, because there is no better sense on or in my body and I know it could never lie to me; it’s an elf’s most precious gift given upon them when we are born next to our natural magic: our sense of hearing. It is the only thing I can truly rely on when all the hallucinations become too vivid to be distinguished as real or fake.
So good are my ears that I can tell by the beat of the heart and how it sounds against the rib bones what race, gender and if I focus hard enough, what blood type the person is.
Each thump of the heart is long, pauses for a brief second before the next beat follows suit. This song is familiar to me and I can tell now with the cloudiness of my exhaustion leaving me that it is my mother. Her heart is normally slow, never taking speed since our long lives don’t require such frequency, but hers is fast, jittering in an almost panic dance. Something must have alerted her.
This brings me back to the light; heaven is not here, and this is reality. The water at my toes turns icy and the breeze sends chills down my spine, I’m filled with a burst of energy I hadn’t felt in weeks. My eyes spring open and I half expect to find myself still on the dainty row boat with the sun beaming down on us with the gulls cawing above and water rushing into our boat from some hole.
But I find what I least expected.
My molded shape on the sand is just a small part of a large white beach. We’ve made it to land.
My arms struggle below me, rattling pathetically as I lift my top half off the ground and glance around at my new surroundings. Ahead of us are luscious colors, bright oranges, reds, browns, greens and yellows blanket the forest line that looks as if it expands for miles. Between us and the forest the white sand is powdery under my fingers and oddly glistens brilliantly underneath the sky full of sparkling stars that spread apart from around the full white moon and behind us, I hear the sea and how it subtle rocks the tail end of our tiny row boat that’s only partly pulled to shore.
When I look over at our captor, its bone dry where the water doesn’t reach, and it leaves me wondering how long have I been sleeping here for.
“Shh, my precious,” she whispers.
I raise a brow when I look over to her, just now noticing how close to my side she is. Her forearms could practically touch mine if she wasn’t stiff. She sits with both her hands and feet burried in the cold sand below, her back straight and head pointed ahead of us. Her skin faintly glows, finally looking normal now that she has healed under the cover of darkness. Even with her skin more pink than olive pale, she is still beautiful.
Long streams of thick wavy blonde locks frame her form and then make a half halo around her on the sand. Her normally plump lips are dry and cracked but are parted. She is thin and frail but her body still fills out her white dress in the perfect hourglass shape I used to hear the men in my village mention. They weren’t the only ones that watched her with admiration and want; all of our people referred to her as the goddess of beauty, and I, her child touched by darkness.
Unlike her angelic features, mine take on a different form. My skin is more on the olive tan side, my onyx hair falls straight to my hips with no crinkle of a wave or curl, and my eyes are a shade of emerald green that my mother would call her precious gems.
I heave the rest of myself until I am on my knees, which wobble below me. Releasing a relieved sigh, I finally follow my mother’s line of sight to the forest line. From my peripherals I can see her ears twitching away, skewering the forest for whatever is unseen.
Taking a deep breath and swallowing back the pain that races through me when I do, I force my ears and eyes to focus on the forest in dire hope I can hear what she’s hearing. The sounds of soft waves and the breeze mixing in my ears makes it hard for me to concentrate on the pitter pattering of forest animals, bugs or birds and I’m so dehydrated it’s hard to see any other shapes besides the bright colors of the tree leaves and the shadows night has blanketed.
Even if I wasn’t this badly drained my senses aren’t as fine as my mother’s, hardly nine falls old - my body and senses have not matured to her level. So I hear nothing except for the calm nature and not at all anything that’d make me feel unsafe.
In a flash my mother is up on her feet and a split second later I feel her thin hand trap my thinner wrist before I am whipped from my knees and up to my weak feet. She tugs me close just in time for my legs to almost give out, both my hands collide with her waist, my fingers clenching and gripping to her torn white dress for support. My legs struggle beneath me, tired and sore, but that doesn’t stop her. With one sweeping movement she has me behind her, but my hands fight back, dragging her dress along with me. She doesn’t seem bothered by this. In fact, as I look up at her, her eyes narrow aggressively and a snarl deepens her lips.
“Show yourself.” She demands in a deep tune that screams dominance. It runs chills down my spine.
It gets quiet. All the night sounds, the skewering of animals, the buzzing of bees and even the sound of the breeze silences.
I lean onto my right leg just enough to peer around my mother’s waist. There, just beyond the forest line, I can see a blur of white. Its form is hard to shape, but whatever it is, it is tall and getting closer.
She stands still and strong like a defensive statue. A perfect guardian under the pale moonlight. As the form comes closer and closer, she lifts her frail left hand, palm facing the forest, “dare show us harm and I’ll have the Earth rip you limb from limb.”
The figure stops, there is a second of silence, before a deep voice thunders powerfully from the tree line. “I mean no harm, my lady.” Another second of silence. Both are still as the rooted trees. And then she gives in, slowly lowering her hand just a smidge.
The white figure takes a step out from the forest and with very long strides he comes closer, making it much easier for my eyes to adjust and see him. When he reaches the ten feet marker from us he stops and is now visible under the light of the moon.
He towers over us in both length and muscle, fitting for the voice he lets out. His eyes are an unusual amber I’ve never seen with slitted pupils, much like a cat; and like our ears, his are pointed but much closer to the size that of a human. A single purple streak marks each cheek of his tan visage. Even with his white thick long hair tied up in a high ponytail its length out sizes my mothers whose when stand, reaches pass her rear end.
The least unusual thing about this man has to be his outfit. Having just traveled through the large land of eastern Asia, I’ve seen plenty of outfits similar to the one he’s wearing, however, he has more of a regal-ness and elegance than I have seen throughout that land.
He wears a long-sleeved white robe with matching baggy pants that stay put underneath the black a silver breastplate and waist plate; the breastplate has a spiky rim that hooks up and around his shoulders and layers down his left arm. A matching pauldron dresses his right arm. Two fluffy white tail like materials drag from behind his back from where his shoulders are.
He looks ready for battle with the two swords tied at his hips.
I know my mother catches sight of them when she tugs me further behind her again; I can still make out this man from between her hip and her right arm.
In response, he lifts his hands in a surrendering gesture, but she refuses to relax. His amber eyes wander curiously down at our boat and then back at her before falling to me.
His eyes could pierce, but I dare not move or look away.
A small touch of a smile itches at the corner of his lips. “She must be your daughter.”
“Then you can understand why I am responding to your presence this way.” But I know it’s because of the war; because we’ve seen too many swords slung at us.
“I do, I have a son about her age.”
For a split second there is silence again. Only the wind dares to make even the slightest of a whistle. They eye one another, neither of them blinking, and from my point of view, it doesn’t look like either of them are even breathing.
And then I see her break; all the aggression she kept held up against this man finally washes out of her and a calm returns to her weakened form, smoothing out her beautiful face and lighting the tension in the air. She finally drops her hand in full and as she does, he follows by kneeling down onto one knee becoming almost eye level with me.
His eyes return to me and the softest smile crosses his lips, “What’s your name?”
I am unsure if I should respond. My mother may be calm now, but months of running from monsters and humans have left me wary to anyone. I glance up at my mother on the next move and she hesitantly nods with approval.
“What a pretty name—fit for a pretty girl,” his smile widens just enough to show his white teeth, his canines are prominent, a little longer than the average and have a pointed tip. “And what interesting eyes you have.”
Instinctively I reach for my eyes, touching the very tips of the almond shape they form and itching to rub them now that I realize they are dry.
“You’re no human and yet not a demon.” He continues observing, and though he’s looking at me as his tune changes, I can tell he was talking to my mother.
“We’re from the west,” she begins, still a little hesitant, she continues after she clears her throat. “Our people are known as Elves. A species, I am afraid, might have just become extinct.”
By her very words I can see a flash of memories in my mind of screaming, fire, rain and lightning, battering the forest we once called home and devouring the lives that lived within it. We only escaped on a whim, my mother has special abilities that allowed her to control the earth and wind just enough to prevent the flames from kissing us and throw the soldiers who were chasing us. I know if it weren’t for me, she would have stayed with her people, fought as hard as she could and died along with the other victims of war.
“Elves?” He questions with a rising brow.
“A race as old as time—born to magic- our souls are connected to nature in ways humans don’t understand. Unfortunately, that frightens them.” She glances down at me and tries to smile to lighten the mood, but I can’t bare to smile back.
The man stands up, brushing the sand from his white pants and nodding to my mother. “Good thing I am not human,” he lets out a small laugh at some unseen joke. He suddenly stops and his face turns serious, not a smile or laugh. “You said your species might be extinct, you being here means its not true. You escaped.”
My mother’s right hand touches mine, I can feel her shaking again; this time I can’t tell if it’s because she’s weak and tired or from the memories that are even replaying for me. But the longer she remains silent, staring off into the distance with a placid expression, I can tell what is racing through her mind.
“There was a battle.” I state, earning a smile from the tall man.
“Did you protect your mother the entire way here?”
“No. I’m not strong enough yet.” I respond.
He glances back up at my mother, the smile falling again back into the same serious expression he had shown seconds before. “You’ve washed up on my land, in my territory. I can promise you a home, food and protection if you’re willing to accept an offer.”
Her lips part and her forehead crease as it does when she’s thinking, “What is the offer?”
There is a warmth behind the smile he raises now, “As I have mentioned before, I have a son of her age,” he waves his left hand down at me but his eyes don’t follow. “He’ll grow up to take over my territory, becoming a strong demon lord as I am. Your daughter, I’m sure, will grow up as beautiful as you with just as much compassion and fight to protect her loved ones. My offer is to have them betrothed so that in the future they be married. She’ll have a powerful protector who can also unsure the existence of your race with stronger genes and my son will have a beautiful, smart and natural survivor as your daughter—one suitable to rule my land as he would.”
Her eyes narrow and a scowl turns her lips, “What if she doesn’t want too, what if she doesn’t love him? I want her happy, not tied down because I’ve run out of options.”
I try to picture what his son must look like, how tall he must be, if he has the same white hair and amber eyes? Does he have two fluffy tails on his back too? And if he’ll be powerful, why doesn’t he already have someone lined up for him? Could I really be with someone I don’t know?
I watch my mother as her scowl deepens and deepens. She’s starting to look skeleton-like, and it worries me. We can’t go much longer like this. We can’t keep running—the world has an edge and going through these foreign lands without knowing what is to come… I know we won’t make it much longer. We won’t survive and then our race will die on us running from our past.
As if reading my mind, the man continues, “I’ll tell you what, if they do not become compatible and if she doesn’t love him as they grow. I’ll give you a place to live regardless, but not with my protection. There are many demons in this land, all that want some sort of power, lust, envy or are just plain evil—all I know will look at your daughter and you as dinner or something… else. Perhaps by the time she’s old enough to decide if she loves him, you might know enough about demons to fend both of yourselves off.”
… Or… something else? What else is there but to be killed and eaten? Whatever it is, my mother knows. Her face cringes and instead of a scowl, a sickening frown falls and creases her entire face. She pales more so than before, and her grip on my hand tightens. She even takes a step back, bumping me back myself and almost causing me to stumble and fall.
If I at least agree… we can have a place to live for now. A home, food, safety and my mother won’t look so frail and I won’t have to wake up wondering if she’s dead at my side. I am so tired of fighting. I might be almost nine falls, but my mother… she’s lived centuries. She deserves peace. I know right now I can’t protect and even if she was up to it, one shot of her abilities or powers would leave her unconscious.
Gathering all the strength I have, I let go of my mother’s dress, tug from her reluctant hand and limp out from around her. “I’l do it.”
They both look startled down at me, I hear my mother at my side whisper my name but I ignore it.
“Mom.” I pronounce. “We need help. We can’t keep fighting. We can’t keep running.”
I stare up at the man with dedicated pumping through me, giving me the only energy I have at the moment. He stares at my mother with the same startled expression he’d shown when I agreed and I can feel my mother staring down at me, but with what emotion I have no intent to find out. I’ve decided this. This is my way in protecting my mother.
“All right.” He says, “What is your name, my lady?”
“Linka… Queen of the forest elves, and you?”
He smiles. “Inutaisho.”
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