Nights and the Sun

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Chapter 14

Cassidy stands broad shouldered and tall as a full knight at twenty one. His icy hair falls over his ears in gentle snow drifts. His armor shines in what little light permeates the clouds hanging over head. He looks over his shoulder, at the other four knights that make up the scouting team. All are around the same age as the prince. Having been elevated into knighthood just recently. The group has been ordered by the King to explore the large marsh of the north. Besides the rumor of a giant serpent living there, little is known about the marshlands. Neither the First King nor the current King have bothered to send anyone out to explore it. Until now.

The group is gathered haphazardly, staring at the expanse of plant life growing up from never ending pools and streams. Bugs, large and small and in a plethora of vibrant colors, buzz around uninhibited. The marshlands are large. Seemingly endless in their expansion to the north and ending in the east and west by the mountains and ocean respectively. Its inhabitants are ruthless in their mannerisms. Bugs and lizards fight for food amongst each other, often taking the other as their next meals. The carnivorous plants tower over them. Laying in wait much like the giant spiders of the south plain. Their thick, needle decorated stalks keeping most of the marsh's other inhabitants from doing them harm and eating them. With the few visitors the marsh gets, no one knows of these plants and the hidden danger they represent.

Cassidy takes a deep breath and squares his shoulders. He looks back at the group and nods, once sharply. They give him sharp, if somewhat shaky, nods back. The knighted prince flicks his head forward again. He gestures with his left hand to move. His right firmly grasping the hilt of his sword. The group moves forward at once. As one massive entity. Their metal shoes sink into the muddy ground. Bugs fly around them, angry at being disturbed. Lizards scurry across their path. Large green ones and smaller brown ones. They all pause and stare at the band. Reptilian eyes narrowed in suspicion. They slither off, hissing and chattering.

The group walk slowly and carefully. Their eyes dart around nervously at every sound, real or otherwise. As they walk on Cassidy finds himself wishing Sparks was with them, or even Aquanious despite the water elemental's mild hostility towards him at the given moment. Sparks had opted to stay behind. Silently showing his faith in his former charge. As well as keeping himself from the dampness that infests the marsh like a rash. A low growl sounds from the west and the prince turns in time to catch a large lizard on his chest. The lizard is large than the others they had seen and an angry mishmash yellow and turquoise. Its red eyes stare into Cassidy while its black claws, dotted with green yellow flecks, scramble at his armor. The other knights scurry around, drawing their weapons and pointing it at the creature attacking their prince. It opens its mouth and bares sharp teeth dripping with saliva. Its tongue flicks out and swipes across Cassidy's face. Tasting him. It pulls back with an enraged sound. Its black striped tail lashes against the swamp ground wildly. Cassidy pushes against the beast. Using all his strength to shove the lizard from his chest. The lizard falls to the ground and with an irritated shriek it rights itself. It glares at Cassidy as the prince stands and draws his blade. The two stare at each other. Neither moving. The other knights stand back and watch the tension roll off the competitors.

The lizard is the first to continue the battle. It slashes at Cassidy's legs. Its claws scratch the metal protecting them. The sound that comes from it rings through the swamp, a harsh sound akin to the spider's dying cries into the night. The knights behind the prince cringe at the sound. Their faces scrunching up to show their discomfort. Cassidy doesn't react to the sound, he has heard it often enough. The lizard hisses again at the lack of a negative response from its foe. Cassidy sends his sword flying in a downward arc. The blunt end of the blade catches the lizard in the jaw. The creature gets sent back, sliding against the mud despite the grip its claws have on the malleable surface. The lizard lowers its head. Appraising the man standing in front of it. It growls. Revealing sharp teeth dripping with strands of saliva. It backs up, conceding defeat. Cassidy watches as the beast disappears into the grass towering over them.

Cassidy can hear the whispers of the group of knights behind him. He smiles slightly at their awe. Their praise. He continues walking. He barks an order back to the knights. He can hear the mud squishing beneath their feet as the move to follow him. They pass through the marsh unhindered. Exploring through the day and well into the night. Where they can no longer see what is in front of them. A few of the knights pull out the torches they thought to bring and light them. The flames illuminate little of the surrounding flora, let alone the path they walked.

"We're not getting back are we?" The youngest of the knights, only a year or two younger than Cassidy, asks. The others begin to shift nervously. Cassidy stops them with look but does not say anything to the contrary.

"What's that?" Another of the knights shouts, pointing into the distance. They all look, eyes straining in the darkness. A ball of yellow and orange bobs amongst the black ink. They watch is it moves closer to them. The ball glows brighter. Cassidy blinks rapidly before eventually looking away. The torches begin to burn brighter, even in the cold moist air.

"Is that..." The knight breaks off as Sparks walks into view. Hair and eyes burning. Face set in a scowl. He glowers at the knights and they shrink away from him. He looks them over carefully. Assessing to see if they are uninjured. He sighs.

"Alright let's go," he says. Sounding very much like an older brother sent to fetch his younger sibling and their friends. Cassidy jerks his head in his direction. He smiles at him briefly before looking away again. The knights look at him blankly. The fire elemental sighs again, this time exasperated. He waves a hand in the direction he had come from. Small bonfires light up. Creating a well marked path for the knights to walk on. The knights smile and thank Sparks before rushing past him along the new escape route. Sparks snorts. He turns to Cassidy, dimming his own flames to more tolerable levels for the prince.

"Thank you." Sparks nods.

"Colin wasn't going to serve dinner until you came back and I had nothing better to do," Sparks quips. Cassidy shoves his shoulder against the half elemental's playfully. Sparks chuckles. They walk on in silence for a while.

"And I was getting worried," Sparks adds after a time. Cassidy smiles down at his former guardian.

"Old habits die hard huh?" he asks. Sparks snorts again as they pass one of his bonfires. The flame goes out in a brief flash. At the same moment his hair shines a little brighter before returning to its previous level. The knight walks with his sun. Through the blackness of the marsh brought on by the clouds and onset of night.

Cassidy rejoins his group outside a tavern in the west fields' large town. The knights greet him warmly and ask him to join them for a drink before they return to the castle. Sparks pushes Cassidy forward encouragingly before starting on his way back to his home. With the news for Colin of Cassidy's return to civilization. The prince shouts at Sparks, an amused smile on his face. Sparks waves back at him without turning around. The prince laughs. The sound warm and inviting. Contagious, as a couple of the knights from his band join in. The remaining are smiling, though. It is hard to really hate the elemental when he is so obviously devoted to the prince. A man who the entire kingdom loved in some capacity.

"Come, prince! Let us celebrate our well being with a round," an older knight announces. The rest cheer and enter the building. The tavern is of medium size and made of deep red bricks. There are a few torches stationed in the corners of the main room. Candles are stationed at irregular intervals on tables and banisters and on the bar. A few men are seated at the bar on the wooden stools lining it. All either retired guards or farm workers. A woman stands behind the bar's counter. One elbow resting on the counter, her palm flat to hold up her head. She looks bored, her curly strawberry blonde hair tied in a loose knot and draped over one shoulder. Her shocking green eyes snap up towards to the group. A lazy smile spreads over her face in greeting. She stands and makes a sweeping motion with her arm. Encouraging the knights to sit where they like. They shout out their orders and compliments to her while they sit at a table near the door. The woman just rolls her eyes with a fond smile. It is the same every night. Not this group, necessarily, but one group of knights or guards or another after a particularly hard or successful shift.

In the marsh an ancient being awakens. Its reptilian eyes, closed for so long, open. They are swirling orbs of blue, hazel, gray, and amber. The colors altering position like a compass whenever it moves its head even the slightest. Blue always pointing north and amber always south. Gray to the west and hazel to the east. The beast raises its massive head into the night sky. It inhales deeply, nostrils flaring. It rumbles. A deep sound reverberating through the muddy ground. The ancient beast moves. Uncoiling from around itself and off of a pool the same size as its head. The pool's water pulsates with a gentle otherworldly light. One of the serpent's multicolored eyes swerves back to look at the pool before it slithers off through the swamp. Head close to the ground. Following a scent leading to the town in the western fields. It passes the smoldering remains of Sparks' bonfires. Its dark pink tongue flickers out. Passing over the ashes. Tasting them. It draws back, the serpentine equivalent of a dog sitting on its haunches. So perfectly floored. The serpent's pink tongue, forked at the end, darts in and out of its mouth. It tastes the air. Detecting minor differences in it. Differences the various other lizards that call the marshlands home can not sense. The serpent hisses in confusion and displeasure. It growls, another low rumble rolling through its scale covered body. It begins to move again. Redoubling its efforts to complete its quest with the new information given to it.

The knights stagger from the bar. Leaning on one another and laughing. Even Cassidy, who usually does not partake in such activities, is unsteady on his feet and giggling like one of the castle's maids. They paid well for their drinks, Cassidy tipping the strawberry haired woman well for her service and as consolation for their rowdiness. Even if they were more well behaved than most of the field guards. They feel a faint tremor beneath their feet. They can hear the sound of scales sliding against cobblestone. Their alcohol addled brains register screams from a few of the prostitutes trying their luck tonight. They turn in the direction all this stimulation is coming from. They blink haze filled eyes. Not believing the sight of a giant serpent towering over them. The serpent's tongue flickers out. It tastes them. It turns is hard to stare at them, its compass like eyes moving to coordinate with the polar directions. Cassidy shakily pulls out his sword, shouting orders to the other knights to do the same. They obey. The sliding of metal on metal pierces the screams. Ripping through them. The serpent hisses. Faster than their alcohol influenced brains can process the serpent sweeps them into the tavern's wall with its tail. The cry out. The impact of their bodies against the wall and each other sends shock waves of pain though them. The rush of adrenaline that hits them all at once sobers them faster than anything else could. They fall to the ground in a heap. Their swords laying mere feet in front of them but none able to move to retrieve their weapons. Cassidy watches in horror as the serpent raises its tail again. Preparing to strike them. And most likely finish them off. He screws his eyes shut. The blow never comes. He opens his eyes. He hears the knights around him whispering in confusion. The prince looks up at the serpent. Its head is turned, away from them, staring at the direction of the castle. Cassidy slowly turns his head to follow the beast's gaze.

Sparks had known something was wrong. He had felt it, somewhere, deep inside of him. Aquanious had once said to never doubt his fire. That it is the sole thing keeping him alive. Right now it is screaming. Raging against its prison of human flesh and cloth. His hair is burning brighter than ever before as the half elemental runs. His feet strike the cobblestones. His namesake flies from his boots and begin to follow him. Pulled forward by an unnatural pull. Sparks sees the serpent slam its tail into the party of unprepared knights. He sees Cassidy hit the wall first, followed by the other knights. All piling against him. Sparks' eyes alight. The fire spreads before he can even think. It engulfs his body, moving with him. Every scrap of his corporeal human form turns to ash. Sparks flies through the night's crisp air. The fire grows. Its form shifts. Face elongating into something vaguely canine. Back stretching to accommodate four legs. A thick, whip like tail made of the following sparks trails behind the fire elemental's new form. Sparks opens his mouth, his teeth almost dripping with lava. He roars. The sound of fire whooshing through a thin tunnel only to emerge into the open air. He stands nearly as tall as the serpent now. A mutated flame bodied wolf.

The two beasts move at once. No time spent analyzing each other. Only actions to be taken now. Sparks swipes at the serpent with fiery claws. Dragging them across the beast's scales. White streaks mark the serpent. The serpent roars in response. Its eyes swirl wildly, blue overtaking the other three colors. The serpent opens its mouth and a blast of water gushes from it. Sparks moves swiftly away, leaping into the air and back a few paces. Enough for the water to barely miss him. Steam rises from the ground. The cobblestones are cracked. Nearly shattered beneath the force. Sparks growls. He can feel his strength weakening already. It takes more energy than he has to maintain this fire. He looks around frantically for a food source. Anything large enough to sustain him. He leaps away from another blast of water from his opponent. He feels warmth pulsating gently beside his left hind foot. He grins, fiery lips curl back into a snarl.

The towns inhabitants have since escaped from their homes and stand on the outskirts of the small settlement to watch the conflict. They have grabbed whatever belongings they could. Saving their dearest possessions from any possible damage. Fear courses through every body as fire courses through Sparks'. They stay huddled close together even as they ready themselves to run. Into the fields, to the castle. Anywhere that isn't near the two clashing monsters. Everyone watches as Sparks steps forward. His foot envelopes the building nearest it. The blacksmith's.

Sparks relishes in the surge of heat that floods his system as he absorbs the forge's fire. He can feel the wood and stone and metal yield to him. Burn and melt beneath his intense heat. He begins to focus the new energy. He takes the metal and stone, uses it to harden the lava of his teeth and claws. The weapons now stand black against a mass of moving oranges and yellows and whites. The oldest and sharpest material used by fire elementals to fight with. Obsidian, created by their hands and their hands alone under the most extreme heats with materials stolen from the earth. The serpent draws its head back, blue swirling eyes as wide as they can stretch in their scaly enclosures. Sparks leaps forward. Teeth bared and claws outstretched. The serpent coils tightly around itself. Morphing itself into a spring. It launches itself as Sparks is almost upon it. The two clash. Obsidian rips against the hard scales, seeking and finding purchase. Flames lick the bleeding wounds. Burrowing deep within them and drawing out the pain as long as they can. Serpent and dog collapse. Blood pours from the serpentine beast's gouges. The obsidian shatters. The flames retreat. Sparks lays on the glowing cobblestones. Breathing heavily. Staring at the stars dotting the deep blue of the sky. He feels the serpent's blood flowing over him. Across his shoulders. Down his back and legs. He feels his hair grow sticky with the boiling substance. It is warmer than he had thought serpent blood to be. It would burn anyone else if they were to touch it. To Sparks, it is a like a warm bath. He faintly hears Cassidy calling his name from the direction of the tavern. He struggles to sit up, eventually succeeding. He runs a hand through the sweet smelling liquid pooling around him. He lets out a giggle. Half exhaustion, half excitement. Back in his corporeal form Sparks can feel the adrenaline pumping though him like blood.

"Sparks are you okay?" Cassidy asks. His violet eyes are wide with fear. Sparks can see pain in them. He notices that his former charge is standing away from him. Just outside the radius of the blood. Sparks finds this funny, somehow. He moves his gaze from the prince and to the serpent's dead body. Laying behind him in the street. He reaches out and runs a blood covered hand over the beasts scales. He is struck with a sudden sadness for the beast's death. He whispers a word of apology to the dead serpent. This doesn't appease the feeling. Sparks is struck with another, stronger, feeling to tell Aquanious about what had just happened. He tries to stand and collapses. World going completely black.

Aquanious feels it. The sudden sense of vulnerability crashing over him like the largest of waves. He draws his water closer to him. Searching for the comfort and safety he always feels when submerged in his element. A gust of wind brushes over the surface of his lake. It is calling for him. Asking him to appear. Aquanious hesitates. The wind passes over again. A hand reaches out this time, the misty gray appendage delving into the water. Aquanious reaches up for it. His frostbitten hand clasps the misty one. He feels the hand start before its grip tightens. Aquanious rises from the water, coming face to manifestation with the air elemental.

"I thought I was banished," Aquanious snarks. He feels the air elemental sigh. The wind passing over his face. Cooling his already cool skin. The corporeal hand squeezes his own.

"You felt it though," the disembodies voice says. Aquanious nods.

"The guardian is dead. We do not know what to do. Some are consulting the first ones. You may be banished but you have the right to know," the air elemental continues. Aquanious grips the air elemental's hand tighter. He sees a ripple of movement. The air elemental bowing its head.

"You should tell the half fire. He deserves to know as well." Aquanious stares at the air elemental. He feels his hand being released. The wind passes by him. Brushing back a few strands of his hair and carrying them until it disappears into nothingness. Aquanious looks back at the castle. He will tell Sparks the next time he visits. Aquanious hopes that is soon.

The fire is burning hotly in Sparks' room. Cassidy had arranged for the fire elemental to be given his own room beside the prince's. It is small compared to most of the other rooms in the castle. Converted from a storage room, Sparks' room is sparse and warm. Only four things are in the room at one time, including Sparks. A black metal, wood burning stove, a chest of drawers, and a bed barely big enough for the elemental. Scorch marks adorn various stones that make up the walls. The fire elemental runs a hand over one of these scorch marks. It is darker than the others, situated just above Sparks' bed on the wall he shares with the prince. Sparks waves a hand at the black iron stove. The fire slowly dims until fades entirely. The fire elemental slips from his bed, casting one last look at the wall before leaving his room. He walks through the bustling castle. No one pays attention to him as he walks past them. The dinning hall is full of nobles talking loudly about the serpent that had been found in the nearest town. Sparks winces. A pang of sorrow shoots through him. He ducks into the kitchen ignoring a serving maid's startled exclamation. Colin turns away from the cooking food to stare at Sparks as he passes. Sparks steals a sliver of the meat, burning it before popping it into his mouth with a teasing grin. Colin laughs and turns back to his food before the fire elemental can take anymore.

The sun is shining brightly. The blades of grass stretch farther to reach as much of the life giving rays they can. Sparks walks slowly. His heart grows heavier the closer he gets to Aquanious' lake. He frowns and looks up at the sun. His patron shines down on him. Wrapping him in a protective embrace that chases away the cold seeping into his heart. He picks up speed again. Suddenly eager to see his friend. He runs over the growing grass. Feet pounding against the nutrient infused dirt. He skids to a stop in front of the water elemental's lake. Dirt and flames flying. Aquanious rises from the water before Sparks rights himself.

"Good, you are here. I must speak with you," Aquanious states. His tone grave. Sparks blinks up at him with wide amber eyes. Aquanious gestures for him to sit. The fire elemental obeys without question. He slips his feet into the water. Aquanious settles in front of him.

"Do you remember what I told you about the Well?" At Sparks' nod he continues. "What I did not tell you is that the Well is here. In the Kingdom." He looks to the north. Where the marshlands lies. He tangles a leg with one of Sparks'. He feels it tense. He looks back at Sparks. The fire elemental looks away. Eyes following the faint ripples of the water.

"There was a guardian that protected it from humans. Attacking all who wandered too close. A large serpent made of one of each element." He pauses at Sparks' sharp intake of breath. The others eyes have grown wide. Tears forming in them. Aquanious brushes a thumb beneath his right eye.

"Sparks?" he asks softy. He can feel the fire element heat, fueled by distress, radiating off him.

"I have seen it," Sparks whispers. Aquanious tilts his head to the side.

"When?" he asks curiously. Very few elementals actually see the guardian, or the Well for that matter. It is of little concern to most. Unless, of course, there is reason for a wide spread concern.

"Yesterday. Last night." Aquanious frowns. He is about to speak again when Sparks interrupts him.

"I killed it." Aquanious pulls back sharply. Sapphire eyes wide. His hair swirls in confusion, colors changing rapidly. Sparks reaches out for him. Wrapping his hand tightly around the water elemental's arm. He looks up at Aquanious. His amber eyes pleading with the other, asking him to stay and listen. The water elemental settles. He motions for Sparks to speak. The fire elemental takes a deep breath.

"The King had sent a group of knights into the marshlands. To explore, I think. Cass was amongst them. When they hadn't returned by nightfall I went to look for them. They must have wandered to close to the Well because after I led them back to town something felt, different. I didn't think about it and just went back to the castle. Maybe about an hour later I got the feeling that something was wrong. That Cass was in danger. I didn't question this feeling and just ran to him. The serpent, the guardian. It attacked Cass. It had hurt him. It was going to kill him! I couldn't let it. I attacked it. We fought. I killed it. I felt sad after I killed it, though. Then I passed out." Story finished Sparks grows silent. He keeps his eyes lock with Aquanious'. Begging his friend to forgive him. Aquanious wraps his arms tightly around the fire elemental.

"You did not know. You were protecting your princeling. I understand," he assures. Sparks chokes out a sob and tangles his hands into the ever shifting hair. Aquanious smiles softly. After a while they pull away. Aquanious with his brows furrowed. Sparks hums questioningly.

"It is possible the guardian was following you, and not your knights. It would not follow a group of humans all the way to town. Had it truly wished to kill them it would have in its home," the water elemental muses. "Being half elemental and half human your scent most likely confused it and it was going to investigate. If it attacked your princeling and the other knights it is because it saw them as a threat at the time. A minor one but still a threat." Sparks moves closer and rests his head on the water elemental's shoulder.

"I'm sorry. So very sorry," he breathes against the others skin. Aquanious strokes a hand through his fiery hair.

"It is alright. Even without the serpent the Well is well guarded. No human has ever found it and the marshlands hold enough creatures to fend off even the most persistent of explorers." He continues to coo soothing words to the younger elemental. Sparks' breathing evens out as the stress wins out over his body. He falls asleep in the comfort and safety of his opposing element. The wind picks up. Aquanious focuses sapphire eyes on a spot just over Sparks' shoulder. The air elemental hovers there. A vague ever shifting outline against the stillness of the landscape. Aquanious wraps his other arm around the fire elemental protectively.

"I will not breath a word of this to anyone," the air elemental says before anything. "I just came to tell you that a new guardian is going to be created but it will take some time." It gestures to Sparks sleeping against the water elemental.

"Keep him safe. Others are bound to find out what happened. And they will not be as inclined as me to uphold peace," the air elemental adds. Aquanious nods. The air elemental disappears into its element. Another gust of wind and Aquanious knows it has returned to the magic plane.

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