Let life be short: else shame will be too long. The words of Shakespeare’s Henry V swirl around in my head, pulling me back to the subject Belen has brought forth since we first talked of the gods. For five days we have traveled over the jagged mountains as Belen tells me the port we are looking for will be before us tonight. Life is short, a truth among mortals as we know this truth, seeing the decay of the human body before our eyes as time ages us and our organs slow down, or perhaps fate is cruel and plucks a young soul from its soil before it can even blossom. Sure, the quote can relate to the gods, how they have lived eons, never thinking much about death, but the second part of the quote I have yet to see come true. I have heard nothing of the shame the gods have, perhaps because mortals knowing of their shame would see less of the gods. Avyn, the god who went insane, he must have felt shame of scaling the mermaid like a fish, tainting his soul in her crimson blood as he saw his life changed by a simple curse. Avyn would be the first god I know of to have shame and for it to be known.
The farther north we travel, the more the powerful winds of Iduna become known. The snow falls hard, winds gusting as Belen places a spell upon his cloak to keep him warm. I simply rely on the dragon’s soul within me to keep me warm, the snow melting before it can even touch my skin as the wind only delays our journey. Over the days we have traveled, I have decided to try and get a story from Belen about his past, to try and figure out my companion better. Have I even gotten close to succeeding? One story I got out of him, one with missing pieces as he just gave me the summary. Growing up in a tribe, he learned the values of magic, mastered the making of potions, and became infatuated with spells from a darker source. He had a mother, a father, five sisters, and two brothers. As for what happened to his family and why he became astray from his tribe, I have yet to uncover. I know Belen is not only a skilled hunter by the meals he has been able to get us, but also a skilled warrior. Just yesterday he told me that he had fought in many battles with other tribes ranging from werewolves to witches, even the scar of canine teeth ripping through his flesh to prove that he survived a werewolf ambush. Just this morning he woke me early to help me learn some defense moves when I am unarmed. My father had tried to teach me these things only two weeks ago; however, our training sessions always ended in an argument.
For entertainment while traveling today, Belen and I have discussed the next task ahead, worrying us only more as he tells me that the temple we are looking for includes a dangerous journey across the Northern Sea. What worries me the most is not the fact I will become a stowaway, but the idea of monsters swimming below the ship that could make this a nightmare.
With Dregh’s journal in my hands, my fingers trace across the sketch of the dragon, the ink dark, bleeding through the pages as I wonder if Dregh drew this beast. Why would a dragon be drawn on the pages where a task has us go and find a cursed temple? Could there perhaps be the threat of a dragon within the temple walls that we may have to face? I doubt Belen or I have an idea how to even kill a dragon, much less know what to fully expect in that temple.
“Once we pass this side of the mountain we will see the port city,” Belen informs, looking back to me as he leads the way, his silver hair filled with snow and blown about as if in hurricane winds. “When we get there, just stay close to me, the beggars are skilled with their hands, able to swipe away anything on you without any trouble.” I have nothing valuable on me expect for Dregh’s journal which looks more worn and cheap than anything else. Flipping to the map of Iduna included in the journal, my eyes follow the trail Belen has led me on, the city we are headed to drawn with large buildings on the seaside, ships circling the city as my eyes wander up past the sea, drawings of creatures with contorted bodies in the water. Throat dry and palms sweaty, I close the book, keeping my head held high as we find ourselves past the side of the mountain and looking out at the city lights of Akkad, the stone buildings built into the sides of the mountains and even stretching over the frozen water as the view reminds me of Greece. With the water frozen, small ships are out, men cracking the ice with axes, allowing for larger ships to come through and dock.
“How many times have you been here?” I ask, my horse finding it hard to find traction as we head down the slope of the mountain.
Belen slows down for me, holding out his hand for me to pass him the journal. “About a dozen times, I used to help smuggle potions onto ships without tariffs being paid.” I am hesitant as the journal passes from my hands to his, his eyes glued to the journal as he flips through the pages, looking for a specific page as I worry what he may find. He has seen the journal before, but every time he finds something new, he allows himself to consume his thoughts with the contents of the page. The moment he found the pages filled with potions he was persistent to make them, telling me these potions had been lost in time. No, I do not worry that Belen will find something he can use against me, but that he will tell me the history of these things on each page, only helping me become paranoid. Paranoid because just yesterday he pointed out to me a spell Dregh had left in the book, crimson ink used to list the spell that allows one to decay the skin of any living thing, for it to burn and peel off in black pieces, foam to form at the mouth, and the victim to be prone to telling you whatever you want to hear. A truth serum that is something I would expect to see a villain use.
With the city gates before us, the white rock is covered in a heavy layer of snow, the lanterns offering the only warmth as the ice sickles melt around them. Two men stand at the entrance, their bodies cloaked in black fur, hats made of fur as they wrap around their heads, the tips of their beards heavy with ice. Holding swords close to their sides, they walk up to greet Belen and me, eyes scanning us over as they are huge men, almost twice Belen’s height as I rule them out as giants. From what I can remember of giants from anything I have ever read or watched, giants are much larger than these two men, making me question if they are giants or fairy tales exaggerate their height.
“Welcome to Akkad, travelers, do you have your papers?” My skin pales as I hear those words, worried about getting in as I have no papers.
Belen takes from his satchel his papers, the green leather journal holding wrinkled pages. With the journal open, I see stamps across Belen’s documentation, a seal on the front page, and behind the first few pages lay a small collection of three silver coins. “I am visiting my sister here, she resides at the western quadrant. My ward has no papers, but I hope you can look this fact over and allow us to pass for a generous amount,” Belen coaxes, his voice different, holding a slight accent as his silver tongue working as the guards look to me, taking Belen’s payment.
“The mayor asks for travelers to not make their stay too long, for a storm is coming over the horizon,” one of the guards informs, letting us pass as Belen thanks them for their time and understanding. Slipping past the guards and into the city ahead, the slope of the mountainside makes a steep journey down the street, the port branching out in a semicircle over the water.
Taking a sharp left, we head down a narrow street, flags strung across from house to house with dark green bird, its wings spread wide, and a golden boarder. “Where are we off to?” I ask, looking to the homes before us, multiple stories high as each one holds glass windows and the same white stone.
“My daughter lives here, a few houses down. She will help us get onto the ships tomorrow.”
“You never mentioned a daughter,” I comment, knowing that he said sister at the gates because it would make no sense to have a daughter and a ward.
“I do not mention many things,” Belen responds, ending our conversation. He is right, for he barely shares any of his personal life, but that makes me worry. If he has a family, why not spend time with them rather than what I have heard of him, being a rogue and smuggler? Since we stole from Duke Gravon I have wanted to understand his motives and why he has decided to come with me for something tells me that adventure is not his only reason to be beside me.
As we round the corner and approach a more decent-sized home, Belen instructs me to get of my horse. Following the sorcerer, a stable is beside the house, Belen unlocking the massive doors with a simple tap of his finger to the lock as he works a spell. Horses tied in the stable and the two of us making our way back to the front door, three knocks are placed upon the black door and we wait. I can hear a fast heartbeat from the other side of the door, his daughter’s breathing unsteady as she unlocks the door. With the door pulled open, a beautiful woman stands before us, in her late thirties, looking so much older than her father.
“Domitia, how have you been?” Belen asks his daughter, a striking resemblance of her father. With her silver hair in a single braid that is draped over her shoulder and falls to her waist, aged yet bright lavender eyes, a fair complexion many would envy, and a tall and toned build, she looks to her father, eyebrow raised as questions run through her head. No answer comes from the sorcerer’s daughter, her jaw clenched as she looks to me, trying to figure me out as I look past her and into the house. Lavender walls, dark wooden flooring, and white furniture. The closer I look, the imperfections of the house I see, how there are parts of the walls where it looks like swords have slasher through the walls, drops of blood upon the tables, the rug before the fireplace having frayed ends as it looks like someone grabbed it. Something is off with the house and as I look back to the lady of the house, I see her arms bruised, nails chipped, and a small gash located by her left ear, dripping blood. I can smell the blood too, the blood from her and another.
“Now is not the time, Belen,” she snaps, quickly trying to slam the door, only for my hand to fly out, catching the door as she cannot shut it against my force. “Leave,” she hisses to me, eyes darkening as I take in a deep breath. She makes a chant, her hands turning silver as the door does too, a stronger force applied to the door as Belen counters her spell with one of his own, the door flying open as I pull back my hand in fear.
Before us lays a man, limp, a massive hole in his chest as I nearly vomit. His heart is gone, out of his body as it is placed on top of the fireplace, a slender sword next to it as the blood of the man pools around his body. “Someone has been taking too much time off from her work,” Belen comments, trying to add humor to the scene as Domitia scowls at her father.
“It was either me or him and I will not die because a vampire wanted to rob me,” Domitia defends herself, looking back to me. “Who is this creature so little yet so powerful?”
Looking to Belen, his eyes are glazed over as he looks to the vampire, the skin beginning to decay into ash. “I taught you well, shows you have not forgotten your bloodline’s skill.” Bloodline’s skill? She ripped the heart out of a vampire’s chest, what kind of bloodline has that as a skill? My bloodline does, for my father and his ancestors have hunted down the supernatural and taken their lives, but could Belen and his family also be hunters?
“You taught me how to defend myself.”
“I never taught you that spell you just preformed,” Belen refutes his daughter, almost smiling in pride as Domitia crosses her arms, leaning against the table as I wonder what she is capable of.
Belen’s daughter walks past the two of us, right for a wall where a set of stairs go up, a sword in the wall from the fight she just encountered. “You taught me many things that I have sworn to never use.”
Rather than wanting a family argument to burst out before me, I take the first step forward. “We need you help to get onto a ship,” I break the tension in the room, eyes on me as Domitia nods, ignoring her father as she walks up to me. “We need to get onto one headed north as soon as possible.”
“Why does my father’s adventure include you?”
My answer does not strike me as something Domitia would be a fan of hearing, how her father agreed to come with me as Dregh has control over this quest. “I am traveling North because my family is there, Belen offered his services for a safe journey.”
Domitia shakes her head, chuckling as she takes a seat. “A safe journey to you includes sneaking onto a ship? Do you not know what those sailors do to those they find stowing away?” Taking my silence as a definite answer, Domitia leans forward, eyes turning dark as she holds out her left hand, palm open as silver dust swirls around in a globe. “They tie you to a rod,” Domitia begins, the image of a ship forming from the dust she tells a story with, the sails of the ship pushed around in the wind. Figures can be made out, one of a man with his body tied up to a rod with a long rope. I watch the small show before me, the sailors pushing the man overboard and in the way of the ship. With a sick feeling in my stomach, I watch as the stowaway passes under the belly of the ship, wooden shards digging into the man’s back as he is stuck underwater at the mercy of the sailors. Once the man finishes his journey under the ship, his head resurfaces and the sailors pull him back up, the man dying on the ship as the silver dust falls into Domitia’s palm, the demonstration complete. “Either the water kills you or the injuries do. Is that your definition of safety?”
Stepping in, Belen scolds his daughter for showing me something so horrible, how it is such a slim chance that we could come across sailors and a captain that cruel. “You are headed North, Belen, and you know this to be true, that those who sail North have no good left in their hearts.” So there is a chance I could die by being dragged under the belly of a ship? No, I would not even resurface, for the winter weather means I would die in the chilly water before I could find shards of a ship impaling my flesh.
“Have you forgotten my skills as a smuggler, a sorcerer, a- “
Belen is cut off by his daughter, “And a man who has spent his life covering his tracks.” With her head held high, Domitia spares me a suspicious glance. “You strike me as someone not from these parts, especially someone traveling back home.” Looking me over, Domitia only allows her suspicions to increase. “A storm is coming over the horizons and here you are, dressed in a thin cloak barely able to protect you from the cold winds.”
Shaking my head, I defend myself before her doubts can wonder any farther. “I too can use magic, Domitia, for my family has practiced it for eons.”
Something I said only allows for the corner of her lips to tug upward and my heart skip a beat. With her spirits raised, so does she, taking to her feet as I stand firm with my chin raised. “The only races that has practiced magic for eons are elves, which you look nothing like, and my own family of sorcerers. You are neither of these.”
“Candice, we should be leaving if my daughter is unwilling to aid us,” Belen informs, worries now as I watch the gears begin to move in Domitia’s head.
Just as Belen grabs me and begins to take me to the front door, a silver curtain of magic covers the front door, magic locking us in as the room darkens. Looking over my shoulder, I see Domitia with a sword in her hand, not looking confident like before, but worried more than anything, her face pale as she is scared. “There is a friend of mine, one of high status, who talked of a woman named Candice not from this realm.” Duke Gravon? Could he have placed a bounty on my head and Domitia be willing to collect that? “A woman who has the soul of an ancient monster living within her.”
Belen pushes me behind him, as if to shield me from some surprise attack. His actions surprise me as a man who seems to be selfish is willing to keep me from harm. “She is not going to do you any harm, Domitia, if that is what passing through your head,” Belen defends, drawing his own sword from his bag as I wonder if there is any way we could get out of here without going through any harm.
A white light blinds me for seconds, a ringing in my ear causing my brain to pulse in my skull, and with my eyes shutting tightly, I can hear muffled voices, screaming as I can barely hear the words spoken. What was that? With my hearing coming back to me, my eyes open hesitantly, finding it hard to adjust as the walls are the first difference I spot, how the once lavender wallpaper has turned to ash. The floor looks like a fire was just extinguished, and smoke rising from the floor as the furniture is no longer present. My first response is to check my body for any harm, my hands feeling my torso, my chest, and my head for any damage as I stand beside the door. Finding no blood, relief washes over me, only to disappear as I spot Belen slumped on the floor, a blanket of gray mist covering him as I can see he must have placed a spell over himself when Domitia placed her spell. As to where his daughter went, I am shocked to find her body draped over the table, ends of her hair crisp, her left arm severely burned, and a small pool of blood under her feet. Why am I the only one still standing?
Immediately I rush to Belen, shaking the sorcerer as I know that I cannot afford to lose my guide and only companion. “Belen, Belen, wake up, come on,” I firmly state with panic in my voice. The sheet of magic around him fades away, the sorcerer still limp as I check his pulse. Still alive. Rolling him over, I do what I can knowing that if Domitia wakes up, she will come for us right away. With Belen’s arms in my hands, I pull him towards the front door, praying that he wakes up.
As we make it to the door, the sorcerer stirs, groaning in pain as I drop his arms right away. His eyes opening wide, his skin pales as he pulls away, backing from me as I see burn marks have been left on his arms where my hands were. Frozen. My feet do not move as I find myself looking down to my hands, the gloves I once wore are gone, as if burned off, and dark blue scales cover my hands, smoke rising from them as I cannot believe what just happened, what I just did. “I-I am so sorry,” I whisper, my voice cracking as I look to his daughter. Her check rising and falls softly, letting me know I did not kill her as a little bit of relief falls over me. “I am so sorry, Belen, I have no idea how it happened.” A rogue tear rolls down the side of my face, falling onto my hands as it sizzles, gone as I find myself hyperventilating.
Rising to his feet, Belen tries to calm me down, realizing I have no idea what I just did, pitying me more than anything as he tells me we should get out of here soon, that Domitia will try and summon whoever she was talking about before.
Out of the house and grabbing our horses, Belen informs me we have an hour before our ship sails away and that we will have to find a way onto a ship without his daughter’s help. He tells me his daughter knew the smuggler for the ship we were to take, that he could have helped us get upon that ship and hide for the entire journey. Once we make it to the port, we leave our horses in a stable, Belen’s words just muffled as I can only think about the damage I caused without knowing it. I never meant to do that and Belen knows this to be true, but that only means he is scared of me now, of what I could cause without meaning to. Belen had placed me behind him to protect me, but it turns out I did more harm than Domitia planned to do to me.
The second the smell of sea hits my nose, my puffy eyes look to the sea ahead, the frozen sea as the gray clouds only tell me something bad is to occur. Taking in a deep breath, I pick up another strong scent, one that both excites my soul and makes me want to get out of here as soon as possible. Looking behind us, my eyes scan the front gates of the city, my breath hitching as I see the flags that men on white horses carry. I tug on Belen’s cloak, pulling his attention to where I look as he too becomes afraid of what could happen. Belen places his arm around my shoulder, leading me forward as we know we have limited time to get on that ship safely. Cloaking us in magic, shivers run down my back as those eyes flash through my mind, the entire galaxy held within them as I remember them the last time I saw him four months ago, no spark left in them as he let me go.
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