Beautiful Dawn, Baleful Dusk
Shaylyn sat at her window in the house she had occupied for the last two decades of her long life. She watched as Victor, the boy she now considered her son, played outside. Once again, she found herself recalling the events that had transpired nearly seven years ago. She knew her duty was to teach Victor everything she could. She also understood that his childhood would be short and that he would have to grow up quickly. Ever since she had been told about the boy, she’d known what her role would be in raising him. What she didn't know was what would happen to take Victor from her, what event would set him on the path that others had decided for him long ago. Another thing that she could not have known or expected was that she would fall in love with the boy. She loved him as much as she had her own children and grandchildren long ago.
“Why does this have to happen?” she asked the window as she stared through it into the street. “What will happen to him?” A shiver ran down her spine as she realized it was the first time she had uttered the question aloud. Instinctively, she knew that time was growing short. She stood from her seat to make Victor lunch, silently wishing she could do more.
Anyone looking towards the window would see the same thing they always saw: a broken down home with a boarded window. It fit in well with all of the other buildings around it, but it was an illusion. Shaylyn was a Mystic, a rare breed of caster. This meant that she was not only a Shaper—what most would refer to as a Mage—but also a devout follower of a god who had granted her the ability to use a small portion of their power. Using that power granted to her by the god of her people, she had cast a glamor over her home twenty years earlier so that no one would see when she made changes to the house.
Had anyone outside been able to see the beautiful woman at the window, they would have stood transfixed by her image. Her long, silvery hair flowed down around her, framing her face in such a way that a person’s gaze would be directed straight into eyes the color of a calm sea. The half-elven features she had adopted stood out in her face and body. When she moved, she seemed to glide instead of walk. She missed her red hair, but it had turned silver not too long after she had met Victor. She wore the grey proudly, though, as the mantle of a life well lived.
“Hey, you!” Victor was wearing his new clothes that Shaylyn had bought him for the school he would be starting on the second Fifthday of New Year. Having left his hat behind, his golden blonde hair blew in the slight, winter sea breeze that flowed through the alley.
“Whaddaya want?” the largest of the street kids asked. They were playing a game that was not uncommon in this part of town. Thievery, it was called. They were currently looking over their newest winnings.
“That's not yours. I saw you take it. You should give it back to the person it belongs to.” He motioned to the bag the young thief was carrying.
“You gotta lot of nerve for a kid,” the boy shot back even though he couldn't have been older than twelve, himself. He looked quite annoyed with this new nuisance presenting itself in the form of a six-year-old. His clothing and that of the kids around him were covered in patches and worn down where time had left its mark. Their faces were grim and unwashed, and their hair looked to be about the same color as their bodies: dirty.
“I just know you're not supposed to steal from anyone.” Growing more confident in his position, he took a few steps towards the group of kids. There were six of them and one of him, but he knew he was in the right; therefore, he assumed that they would not be able to stop him. Besides, they couldn't be much worse than orcs.
“That's easy for you to say. I bet you've never had to starve before, have ya?” The lad pointed at Victor and looked over at his companions. “Look at them clothes. There ain't a hole in 'em anywhere there’s not supposed to be one. That's all I need, some rich merchant's son tellin' me that stealin' is wrong!” The other boys nodded, glowering at the younger boy.
“Why would you starve? Doesn't your father work? Doesn't the city give food to those who need it?” The grey-eyed boy rattled off the questions without a thought. Shaylyn had always told him to voice his questions when he had them, so he asked without hesitation. When he finished voicing them this time, however, he received the business end of an angry twelve-year-old and was sent sprawling to the ground surprisingly hard.
This would be just one of many lessons that he would learn early in life. From this encounter, he learned something that he would share with others later on: be careful what you say to something larger than you. If you aren't, be ready to duck.
“You think you're special just ‘cause ya haven't the need for nuthin'?” Moisture was beginning to well up in the boy’s eyes. Then he surprised Victor for a second time by turning his back and walking quickly past his companions, muttering, “Let’s go…” Victor guessed that he was trying to hide the tears from his friends. “But…that's all you're gonna…?” a kid who looked about eight began to ask before he got a cold look from the older boy and decided to shut up.
Standing slowly, still a bit confused, Victor got up and spoke softly but loudly enough for the children walking away to hear. “I'm sorry, I didn't know. Forgive me…” if any of them heard him, they didn't show it. They continued to follow their leader down the street, swiftly disappearing around the corner.
After dusting himself off and checking to see if any of his new clothes had torn, Victor straightened them and stood silently for a moment. He let the taste envelop his mouth as the gash in his lip saturated it with blood, then slowly made his way back into the house, where he knew he would be able to get some aid for the cut and some help figuring out what had just happened.
Victor sat stoically in the chair as Shaylyn stood over him with a wet cloth. She had to look away from the gash on his lip and the mark that was starting to turn black and blue on his face.
Not one tear. He is only six years old, but he’s not shed a single tear, she thought. “Victor, why did that boy hit you?” she asked, trying not to sound too worried. But a slight tremble that she couldn't stifle was still in her voice. She held the cloth on his lip to soak up the blood on his face, applying a bit of pressure to help the bleeding stop.
“I deserved it. I was not being courteous of his feelings. I insulted his honor, and I have learned a lesson for it.” Victor looked up at her with grey eyes that were somehow older than they had been just minutes earlier. They had always betrayed intelligence beyond his years, but now they were sharper, a little more aware. “I know it was wrong of them to steal, but I didn't know they had it so bad. Is it wrong to steal if you don't have anything?”
“Well, Victor, that is a question that many people have asked. Society has laws against stealing, but in a place like this, it is the only way for some people to survive. Those who have the will to do more than just survive, though, will only steal until they can earn enough or are given the chance to leave the confines of their imprisonment.”
Confused, he asked, “So all the people who are stealing are in jail?”
She remembered then that she was talking to a six year old boy. Despite the fact that he was just as smart as most adults she had ever known, he still had the innocence and inexperience of a young child. “No, honey.” She smiled at him. “It is a manner of speech. It means that they are trapped in the life they are in and either need help or are too afraid to even try to get out of it.”
“Well, I'm glad I have you here to keep me off of the streets. I have learned more than one lesson today.” He rubbed the area that was now swollen. “What are they afraid of?”
“What? Who?” She looked at him inquisitively.
“The people who have to steal to survive. Why would they be afraid to get out of that kind of life? Wouldn't it be better for them if they did?”
“Some people are afraid of succeeding just to fall again, and some feel like they have found the family that they never had. They form these tight bands in which they feel like brothers and sisters.”
“Oh, I see. That's sad.” He looked at her with those eyes that could say a thousand words with nothing but a glance. She could clearly see the pain in him; then, a single tear rolled down his cheek.
In a whisper, she said, “It is good you learned your lesson. Just try not to learn another one too soon.” She proceeded to pull Victor into one of the tightest hugs she had ever given him. How could she not? He had been beaten and had come to her without so much as a whimper, but now he shed a tear. Not for his own pain: for theirs. If he continues this way, he will become the kind of man that we need him to be.
The last day of Year's End was upon them, and it was cold. The chill enveloped him in its frigid embrace. This was not the kind of cold that is created by external temperate stimuli, but the terrible cold felt when you somehow knew it was going to be a long, dreadful day. Eventually, he would learn to be wary of such a feeling; however, being too young to know any better, he shrugged it away.
Something was urging him to get up, compelling him to look around. He took his head out from under the heavy quilt that had been given to him to keep him safe and warm. The bright light of the morning sun hit his eyes like a thousand needles. Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, he was slowly able to focus on his surroundings. Everything appeared as it usually did except for that imposing sun. He was in his room, and he had awoken facing the window. Looking at the fully blossoming morning sun, it looked to his sleepy mind more like a painting that had been framed to look like a window than an actual window. If it had not been for the brightness piercing his eyes as that sun rose red over the horizon, he would have been sure that it was a work of art. It was a beautifully painful way to start out the day.
There was the slight aroma of damp firewood burning in the cooking stove, mixed with the more interesting smell of cooking bacon. After a moment of concentration, he could even hear the crackle of the bacon grease in the pan. After slowly climbing out of bed, he walked groggily to the door that separated his room from the main room, where he knew breakfast would soon be waiting. He reached for the doorknob and found that it was still chilly to the touch. The fire from the stove had not been lit long enough to warm the metal. Turning the knob slowly so as not to announce his presence, he began opening the door. He’d gotten it about halfway open when it gave his position away with a loud groan.
“Good morning, Victor,” came Shalyn’s familiarly melodic voice.
Having been found out, he gave the door a quick, angry glare before cheerily replying, “Good morning, Shaylyn.” He opened his betrayer all the way without so much as another creak from it and took a step into the main room.
Shaylyn turned around gracefully and flashed him that loving smile that she had ready for him every morning. He remembered telling her that if he ever met an angel, he was sure that it would look just like her. Even though she was not his real mother, he knew that she loved him as if she were. She had told him the basics of the story of his birth, as she knew of it, on his sixth birthday last year. He knew there was a lot expected of him even if he didn't know exactly what those expectations were, but he just wanted to be a kid. He did not yet fully appreciate the burden that had been placed upon his shoulders. He would, eventually. Of course, his idea of being a kid was a lot different than any other child’s concept of it.
He had started training as a Shaper at the age of three, right after he had learned how to read and write. Shaylyn had also taught him other languages—Elven and Draconic—to prepare him for his studies and life. When he had turned five, she’d started teaching him self-defense and the art of the blade. He was still rather clumsy at times, but she had wanted to get the basics ingrained in him. All of that training didn't leave a lot of room for actual playing around, but she always seemed to find a way to make the lessons fun so that he didn't seem to notice or care about the difference between training and playtime. Shaylyn often told him that she wished she could raise him like a normal child, but she knew his life would be nothing close to normal and that he would need the skills she was teaching him. He accepted it as fact.
“It's about time you got up. I was wondering if you had died in there. It wouldn't be good for you to have died on the morning before your birthday.”
The scrawny seven-year-old quickly assumed his best manly pose. He stated boldly, “I can't die. Who would be here to protect you?”
Her smile slipped a little. “And you think that I need protecting?”
He replied without missing a beat, “Of course. You're a girl!”
Now she was becoming a little exasperated with him. “Oh, and who told you that boys can protect girls better than girls can protect themselves?”
Looking up at her like he had never expected to have to argue the point, he said, “My teacher at school. She said that the role of the man is to protect life and provide for the family.”
“Oh, really? What else did she say, Victor?” She let him know that she was a bit agitated by her tone of voice and the look she shot him.
He didn’t want to continue, but when he realized that he wasn't going to get breakfast until they had finished the conversation, he went on. “She said that women are weaker than men and that it is our duty to protect them because they…” He hesitated. “Because they cannot protect themselves. Is that not right?” He said this all with the most innocent expression he could muster.
He could tell she was thinking; her entire posture reflected the fact that she was inwardly debating with herself. He thought that she might get angry, though she rarely even got upset with him.
Instead, she scooped him up off the ground and kissed him on the forehead. “You sweet, innocent child. What have I taught you over all of these years? Better yet, instead of telling me what your teacher said, why don’t you tell me what your opinion is on this before I start another long lecture.”
He looked at her with eyes that a soon-to-be seven-year-old should not possess and gave a slight smile. “That's what I thought.” That's all he said, but he looked at her and grinned like he thought he had done something right and should get a present.
After a few moments, she could bear the silence no longer. “What do you mean, that's what you thought?” He knew that she knew that he was waiting for the right moment to say whatever it was he was going to say, and he knew it annoyed her sometimes how well she had taught him to play a crowd. After a few seconds of silence, he started to explain himself.
“Well, I told the teacher that it really depended upon the person. I explained about a lot of the women you have told me stories about. The Tyradril Sisters, High commander Marisa Windsbane, and the evil priestesses of the god of pain. I told her there were a lot more examples, but I'm only six years old, so I can't be expected to know all of them. Then I told her that, by all accounts, those women I had mentioned could hold their own against or even best the hardiest of men.”
As the smile returned to Shaylyn's face, she embraced Victor in one of her famous hugs that he secretly loved so much.
Struggling out of her grasp and regaining his breath, he took the cue to continue. “So, she gave me the look of death. And said that just because there are some women in the world with extraordinary abilities, it doesn't mean that you can treat a woman like you would a man. I looked at her and said that if a woman charges at me with a sword, I am not going to stop her, have a polite conversation, and casually ask her if she knows how to use it before I defend myself.” After a moment of thought, he added, “I still wish they had put me in a higher class.”
“Victor, you are already studying with children three or four years your senior. You cannot expect an institute to advance you further without even testing you. Remember, if you were on the mainland, the children you are studying with would also be considered exceptional. You are in as high of a class as you should be, and I am not going to force you along any faster than I already have. The institute can teach you common things that I would never think to teach you.”
He had surprised her yet again. She had known since before his birth that he was not going to be anywhere near to the average man, assuming the men and women of Terroval could even be considered average in any sense of the word. She also knew that he was destined for great things, depending on the direction that life and fate took him. She had originally planned to wait until he was fourteen to teach him how to shape the world around him. Who could have guessed that the boy's talent would first show itself at the age of three? She would have been more surprised if she had not still been getting over the shock of seeing how much control over his movement and speech he’d developed by age two. With his abilities came a wisdom that was unnaturally beyond his years. She knew he had been marked, and that could be part of the reason he was so advanced for his age. This frightened her a little. Though it was surmised that he would influence a great number of events and do many great things, it was uncertain what sort of great things he would do.
For what is a great thing? She knew that the idea of a great thing varied from society to society. What the people of Terroval called a great deed was often unheard of in the rest of Terrazil, and a deed that someone from Tellerose considered great may be considered simply a duty in Terroval. She wished that it were as simple as that. However, the definition of greatness changed not only from society to society, but also from person to person, depending upon each individual’s moral fiber. Over the years, a great many people had joined the ranks of the rest of the creatures exiled to this continent, and it was known that they had created their own cities, their own civilizations. What she was afraid of was what those men would call greatness. What if that was the type of greatness that Victor would one day rise to attain? She knew that those who rise to great heights of power are much more likely to fall, and if Victor was going to be anything, it would be powerful. She also knew that the other side would have their chance with the boy.
Her main goal was to instill in him the value of life, whether it be human, elven, or other. She had taught him that his own life was paramount, but not to get so wrapped up in saving it that he allowed others to die needlessly. Since he was to foremost consider his own survival, she had also instructed him to kill without hesitation anyone or anything threatening to take his life. One of the hardest lessons to explain had been that he need not feel remorseful for killing something that was trying to kill him. Rather, he should simply regret the necessity of taking a life.
She was not only amazed by his initial mastery of Shaping but also by his love for combat. When he had turned five, she had gotten him a wooden sword and dagger, which they practiced with whenever they could. He had quickly learned all that she could teach him about melee combat, and he now even outstripped her in close combat because of the things he had taught himself through his reading. Eventually, she knew she would have to find someone better than herself to continue his training. She already knew that he would eventually have a great teacher, maybe several, for these things. He was also shaping up to be a good cook. His knife skills were already superior to those of most of the cooks she had met in her life. She knew he would only improve as he grew into his body.
She looked at the boy who would become a great man in the eyes of all good people as long as he stayed on the right path. She was—and always would be—in awe of him. Some of the subjects that it had taken her fifty years to even form opinions on had taken him less than seven years to nearly master. She wondered what power Victor would hold if he managed to grow as old as she was, or even as old as Elyas. Such a thought scared her in a way that she didn’t want to admit, and she quickly forced her mind back to the present to find him staring back at her, looking like he had a million questions.
“What's wrong? Was I wrong in what I said?” Victor asked curiously.
She kissed him on the head. “No, dear. What you said is just about perfect.”
“Then why are you crying?” Sadness darkened his features, compassion lighting his eyes.
“I'm just so proud of you,” she stated as she realized that she was, indeed, crying. She hoisted him up in the air so that she could look at him better.
“Good. Then can I cook breakfast?” he said with a smirk and then a bunched up nose.
“What do you mean? I was cooking breakfast. Is my food not good enough for you?” she said.
He grinned. “Oh no, you cook great…but I wouldn't tell that to the bacon just now.”
She turned her head around to see the strips of what used to be bacon now in more of a charcoal form. She set Victor down and went to the stove to remove the pan from the heat. When she turned around, he was standing in a pose that somehow reminded her of her grandfather. Then he said something in a tone that she had not heard since she was with her grandfather. “This just won't do, Shaylyn…won't do at all.” She couldn't help but pull him into another embrace.
“You're going to be seven tonight, Victor. Do you feel any different?”
Once again, he managed to escape her grasp and backed up a bit to get out of hug range. “No, I don't feel any different than I did yesterday. Maybe a little hungrier. But that's only because I have no bacon in my belly, and you know how much I love bacon.” He sent her a disarming smile that would charm the skin off a snake.
“You're going to be trouble with the ladies, Victor Deus. Mark my words.” She thought it was bad enough when he had mastered Shaping and martial arts so quickly, but his sheer will and personality were what would really make him dangerous in the future. “I got you a present, but you're going to have to promise me that you won't use it until you need it.”
At that, his ears perked up and his eyes went wide. “Oh, really? What is it?”
“It's something that was given to me a long time ago when I was a little older than you, but you are much further along in your training and understanding than I was when I received it.” She cleaned out the pan so she could make a new batch of bacon. “It is very special to me. I would hate to think that you would misuse something special to me.”
“I would never do that, Shaylyn. I know better than that. What is it?”
“It's in the chest over there. She motioned with her head since her hands were full, a smile taking hold of her face.
With the speed and grace of a small fawn, Victor sprang over furniture and dodged this way and that to get to the chest on the other side of the room. He was not supposed to go into this chest, so this was a real treat. When he got there, he had to put all of his energy into stopping, managing to slow his momentum enough with the help of a chair to come to a halt about half a foot in front of his destination. He looked back at Shaylyn to make sure that he had her permission to open it. When she nodded ever so slightly to him, he just about jumped out of his pants with excitement. He had always wanted to look in the chest, but it was one of a very short list of limitations that she had placed on him; therefore, he had respected her wishes.
The chest was locked by what he considered to be a rather simple lock that only a Shaper could open. He had been able to open locks like it since he was four and a half. He knew that she knew that he could open it, so he had always figured it was a kind of test to see if he would go into the chest without her permission. Never one to fail a test, Victor had steered clear. But now, finally, he’d get to open it! Victor concentrated on the chest, feeling where the bond had been created. Using his will, he pushed the molecules apart before moving his hands to the lid of the chest.
Reverently, he opened the top, peering inside. On top of everything else, there was a sheath. In that sheath was a neatly adorned handle—one Victor had seen many times before on his outings with Shaylyn. He reached down and pulled the dagger free. It had a curved blade, and he could feel the Shaping that had gone into its creation. “Thank you soooo much!” He resheathed the dagger and began to put it on.
“Everything in the chest is yours, Victor. It would take a mighty will for anyone except you or me to open it.” She was pretty sure that he heard her, but he looked so engrossed in attaching the sheath to his belt that she couldn't be entirely sure. She continued anyway. “The great thing about the chest is that it can seemingly disappear, and wherever you are, you can call it out at will.”
He looked up at her, amazed. “You are the greatest!” He gave only a quick glance at the innards of the chest, which was bigger than he was. He didn't want to spoil any of the surprises in it until he was used to the idea of having a dagger. “Can I go outside?”
She smiled, knowing that she only needed to cook enough bacon for herself. She wouldn't see him until later in the afternoon or evening. “Sure, honey. Just stay out of trouble.”
He ran over and gave her waist a hug. “I will. I love you. See you later.” He turned and ran towards the door.
“Bye. Have fun…and stay safe.” She watched him run out, waving back at her. She then used her will to force the chest back into stasis and thought about her long life.
Victor had been out playing all morning and most of the afternoon. He was just about halfway through the Docks District when he got the feeling that he really should be returning home. Sighing aloud, he started on his way back. Most of the day had been spent watching day-to-day life go by in the Docks District. It was a busy place. He loved watching the ships and the tide come in and out. There were not as many boats now because it was Midwinter, and it was too cold to sit and watch the ocean for too long, anyway. The rest of his time had been spent in alleyways, testing the sharpness of his new blade. He would slash at broken barrels, broken shipping crates, and whatever else he could find that someone had thrown out.
Wandering back towards the Civilian Sector at a steady pace, he could smell wood burning. This was not the familiar smell of firewood, though, because there was also the odor of burning cloth and other things mixed with it. He had smelled this before, a few years earlier when he had witnessed a house burning down. Victor looked around to see where the smoke was coming from; he wanted to see the fire before he went home. It was coming from the same direction in which he was heading, so he quickened his pace.
It took about three blocks for him to realize that the smoke was coming from his home.
Oh, no…Shaylyn! It was the only thought going through his mind as he broke into a sprint. When he made it to the door, flames were billowing out from the attic, but that didn't stop him from running in. Neither did the people who tried to grab him before he darted into the building; none of them was fast enough to stop him. Inside, almost everything in sight was bathed in flames, but it also looked as if there had been a fight. Chairs had been knocked over, the stove was lying in a few different pieces, and there was paper everywhere. A lot of residual energy hung in the air, and he could sense that something was terribly, terribly wrong. He heard a noise coming from his room and ran towards it. Grabbing the handle, which was surprisingly still cool, he swung the door open.
He had just enough time to see the man standing in his room before the figure disappeared in a blinding flash. Victor felt like he would never in his life forget the man's features or the clothes he wore. He had a hawkish face and an impish grin. His head was bald, and his robes were the color of fresh blood.
After the flash, Victor was starting to head deeper into the room to make sure Shaylyn was not lying wounded somewhere when he noticed that the smoke was making it hard for him to breathe. He felt so stupid. It was a simple matter for a Shaper to change the smoke going into his lungs into clean air, but as his world began to go black, he realized he had waited too long. The last thing he felt before blackness enveloped him completely were two strong arms wrapping around his body.
Victor awoke with a jolt.
“You alright, kid?” a large man with smoke blonde hair asked. His face was covered in soot, and his shirt was black and gold.
“What happened? Where's Shaylyn?” His eyes darted this way and that, looking through the crowd for his teacher, his mother.
“Sorry, kid, you were the only one in there. I checked as fast as I could, but you were the only one I saw,” his rescuer stated with sad eyes.
“No! Shaylyn!” Victor stood and took his bearings. He was only about forty feet away from where his house used to be, from where a burned out husk now stood in its place. Amazingly, it was the only home that had burned down. No scorch marks were visible on any of the other buildings as far as he could tell. Something in his mind began to sound out an alarm as it sank in that the other buildings were only inches away from the inferno, yet they unscathed. Without conscious thought, Victor listened to the voice inside his head that told him to run.
“Kid, where ya' goin'?!” The man started after Victor but soon realized that he was no match for the child's size and speed in such densely packed streets. “Kid…stop!”
Victor ran through the streets and alleys. He ran until he couldn't run anymore, and then he ran some more. He didn't know where his feet were taking him; he just knew he had to run. He ran straight into the back of a familiar, twelve-year-old boy.
The boy turned around to see who had dared slam into him and saw an annoyingly familiar face. “You! Whaddaya want now? You wanna make fun of me some more?” he cooed before noticing that the child in front of him was crying. “What happened to you?” he said.
It had not been that long since the older boy had lost his own parents, so he listened to the younger one's story with knowing nods. The evening sun was just reaching the peaks of the far hilltops. Dusk had come, and it was going to be a long night.
Did you enjoy my ongoing story so far? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Brent MarkeeWrite a Review