The Forgotten Hero

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X - The New World

Liana shook with an uncontrollable sorrow. She held Jerrim’s lifeless body to her, crying furiously in the rain.

Pulling him closer, she willed his arms to hold her, for his head to come up and look at her with his cheeky smile. To tell her he was fine. That he felt the same way as her. That they could go home now, together.

“Auren Ellaison,” came a booming voice that rattled Liana’s ears.

Her temple throbbed and specks of blood dripped onto Jerrim, washing over his shirt in the falling rain. Wiping her nose with a palm, she saw smears of blood on her hand. Turning, she finally saw the scene before her.

Elias’s coat whipped around him as he stood facing the giant shadow figure, which hovered within a golden light that lit the jungle. Dozens of mutilated bodies lay around them.

“Nuneus,” Elias called over the rain and the wind. “How is this so?”

“Our mutual friend, Hooky,” began the thundering voice. “He proved a viable vessel for me to accompany you in your reclusive life. I thank you for finally revealing my Chaeolite.” Nuneus raised a hand, and the glowing Chaeolite gem flew from the burning satchel into his waiting palm.

“That is what you wanted?” Elias asked, shaking his head in confusion. “Why you took possession of a woodland creature?”

“One of the reasons,” Nuneus told him. “One of many.”

Each of his words pulsated through Liana, and she trembled at the overpowering presence.

“I did enjoy watching you,” the god continued. “The Saviour of Eclauria. The great hero, Auren Ellaison. A creature more pathetic than the one I possessed. War is prevalent, whether you choose to ignore it or not, saviour. And I intend on witnessing the first battles of the next great war. My war.”

“So you will kill me.”

“No. That is not your fate.” Nuneus’s featureless head turned towards Liana, and she felt a great wave of power crash over her. “You were good to me. To that creature, Hooky. You both were. I will enjoy watching good people like you suffer.”

The wind gathered strength and trees wavered with the hazy energy that gathered around the god.

“I will see you both again,” Nuneus declared, before he was swept up within the glowing mist and vanished, leaving wisps of vapour in the air.

The rain stopped almost immediately, leaving a few remaining drops from the leaves above.

Liana could make no sense of any of it. Her mind was numb, exhaustion overpowering her. She still held Jerrim, his torso resting on her knees. Tears fell again as she looked upon his lifeless face.

Leaves crunched behind her. Elias was by her side. He stood in silence, though Liana did not care for him. Nothing mattered anymore.

Oh, Jerrim. The words left her mouth in a pained moan. Or maybe she thought them. She played with his hair and ran a hand along his muddied face, not knowing what to do, just wanting to touch him.

“I am sorry,” Elias whispered.

Liana wiped her eyes and looked up at him.

Elias shook his head. His eyes were red. “I did not want any of this to happen.”

Liana wept again, returning to Jerrim.

After a moment, Elias spoke again. “We have to go, Liana.”

“I’m not leaving him,” she said, her voice shaking with defiance.

“He belongs to Xylophia now. He is not for us any longer. I will bury him, and leave him for nature.”

Liana tried to focus and understand his words. Stifling her sobs, she said, “I’ll bury him.”

It didn’t take them long to find a suitable patch of earth by an ancient-looking tree. They both dug the grave in silence. Liana’s hands were numb and bloodied by the end of it, and she saw that Elias showed signs of fatigue also; the first time she had viewed him as a frail, old man. The battle with the soldiers must have taken a great toll on him.

When she asked him what had happened with the soldiers and that giant being in the air, Elias told her it was not important, and that he would explain another time.

Standing over the empty grave–trying not to look at Jerrim’s lifeless body beside it–Liana stretched her aching back, and noticed the first signs of the approaching dawn through the trees. It had been a very long night.

Sometime later, she and Elias stood over the burial mound of her closest friend. She had stopped crying up to this point, having found anger and a determination take over her, but now, looking at the bulging earth, she wept uncontrollably. Elias laid an arm over her shoulder, and she buried her head in his chest.

A succession of bird calls brought her back to the jungle, and their situation returned to her.

“He loved you very much,” Elias told her in a soothing voice.

Looking up at him, Liana wiped her eyes and rubbed her nose, attempting to compose herself. “He never said anything. We hardly even knew each other.”

“But it was clear. I saw from the start. You must have known. The way he looked at you. His thoughts and hopes behind his eyes. His jokes.”

“I...” Liana shook her head. “I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about it until... until recently. Until it was too late.” She stifled a whimper.

“You both knew how you felt about the other. Whether it was spoken with words or with your hearts.”

Liana nodded, holding back more tears. She rested her head against his chest again, exhaustion overpowering her.

They stood in silence for a while.

“It is time,” Elias finally told her.

She nodded again, keeping her eyes on Jerrim’s grave. She tried to imagine her life going forward without him. Without his smile and his jokes, and him looking out for her. He worried about her so much. Her thoughts went to a dark place, and she snapped herself back to the present.

With an endless stream of thoughts and goodbyes in her head, she had no further words to speak out loud as they left the resting place of Jerrim Lightrun.

***

They traversed the jungle in silence, the dawn strengthening around them.

Liana tried not to delve into her head too much and told herself it was best to concentrate on leaving the island first.

Elias did not look at her, not once. She understood that he was giving her time to grieve.

Pushing their way through a thick bush of tall leaves, they came to the edge of a grassy cliff, and Liana saw the shores of the Jungle of Ari once again. The gleaming blue-green ocean of the Mare covered the world for as far as they could see, fading into a misty haze over the horizon.

The biting wind whipped at their clothes as they surveyed the area. A few hundred feet below, the trees and grass gave way to sharp rocks that stretched into the waters, with some patches of coarse sand and stones.

“To the north, along the beach, is a boat,” Elias said as he studied the horizon.

“What will we do now?” Liana asked, her voice hoarse after not speaking for some time.

“I must return to the world,” he told her. “It was a mistake for me to try to hide for so long. The remnants of the Army of Nox have revealed themselves, and the world is no longer safe. Nuneus, the God of War, is planning something, and I must discover what that is.”

“And... what will I do?”

Elias’s cold grey eyes met hers. His lined face glistened with sweat, trying to hide a pained grimace that Liana saw. “You are a part of this now. Nuneus has marked you as my companion. I’m sorry; you cannot return to your home. Not while this threat is over Eclauria.”

Liana remained silent, taking in his words. She knew he was right, and a part of her knew that she would not be going home. Maybe not ever. She eventually nodded to him, too weak to give any further words.

Making their way down a hill of patchy grass and thin trees, their steps sunk into the soft wet mud of the jungle floor. Raindrops still fell from the glistening leaves. A moist, sweet smell carried in the wind that reminded Liana of wet grass, and a park back in her homeland.

The jungle had come alive with the sounds of insects and birds singing their endless songs. Through a cluster of trees, Liana thought she saw a flash of blue and yellow. In another blink of an eye, a large bird hovered ahead of her. She instantly recognised it as the bird she had seen the other day, which she had mistaken for Iselda’s Spyra Fyre. The patch coloured bird fluttered its near-invisible wings, darting here and there in flashes. She had forgotten the name that Elias had given it before.

Another fluttering sound came from behind her, and over her shoulder flew a second bird. It cawed and chirped as it met the first bird, and they turned to face Liana, darting back and forth. She stopped and looked upon them both.

The moment overwhelmed Liana, and she almost cried again. She saw the great bird as Iselda’s favoured pet, rather than the simple jungle bird that Elias had said it was. And now there were two before her, regarding her. What did it mean? A part of her thought of Jerrim, and his family’s god, Xylophia. Seeing a symbol of Iselda, with the feeling of Xylophia, brought a smile to Liana, along with fresh tears. She knew that Jerrim was still with her. That he would always be a part of her. And the thought brought a smile to her sad face.

In an instant, the two birds flew into the sky and disappeared over the treetops.

Liana walked on, still smiling, though her eyes were sorrowful.

They soon came to the rocky beach, and Elias turned them along the shore to a group of tall rocks further away.

Liana closed her eyes a moment, embracing the warmth of the rising sun, attempting to gather strength from it.

Something large hit the ground ahead of them, sending out a storm of rocks and dirt in its wake.

When the dust cleared, the battered form of a soldier rose up and looked upon them. Liana recognised him as the leader of the group. Tokks, Elias had called him. His heavy armour was mostly missing, revealing tattered rags underneath, and what armour was left was dented and torn. His mangled and scarred skeletal head was bare in the morning light.

“I told you,” he rasped, looking to Elias. “We have unfinished business. Nox will not allow me stop until you are destroyed, Ellaison.”

“Then I will release you from his hold,” Elias said in a defiant voice, which shook with emotion.

Raging energy burst over his fists, giving him the appearance of wearing gauntlets made of light.

A smile rose up Tokks’s broken face before Elias charged at him.

They clashed with a detonation that pushed Liana back, sending shockwaves and sparks of unstable energy that burned where they landed.

Through the bursts of energy and debris that surrounded them, Liana saw them trading magical blows, blocking and countering in quick succession.

When Elias knocked Tokks back a few steps, the mangled soldier threw an arm to the sky and brought down a column of lighting that channelled into him. Tendrils of electricity undulated over him. He threw his arm forward, and a beam of red and blue lightning shot towards Elias. The old man crossed his forearms over his chest, likely holding a defensive spell, but the magical lightning crashed into him and sent him soaring into the air, and landing on a high rock jutting out over the shore.

Liana froze when Tokks’s two-toned eyes locked onto her. A crooked grin spread on his hideous face.

She looked to Elias, although he showed no signs of movement.

Vines of red energy spun around Tokks’s hands as he stepped towards her.

“The master is gone,” he said in his strained and croaky voice. “Now for the apprentice.”

Liana cursed herself for not keeping hold of her spanner-blade, even if she knew that it would do little good against this foe.

She stepped back, her heart racing, as Tokks approached her.

Her foot caught on a rock and she fell back, but she continued moving, pushing back with her hands and feet. Tokks closed in on her.

The morning light shifted, as though the sun had flickered. Turning to the rising sun, Liana shielded her eyes and saw–or thought she saw–that it was growing.

The blinding orb’s rays strengthened and grew into a brilliant glow that whitewashed the world.

Somehow, it looked as though the sun was moving towards them. When Liana realised that wasn’t possible, she looked again and saw a dark smudge within the sphere that was shooting towards the beach.

It wasn’t the sun. It was Elias. Auren Ellaison. The Saviour of Eclauria.

Tokks planted his feet and channelled blazing tendrils of red energy around him, prepared to meet his foe.

Liana realised she was too close to him, and turned and ran down the beach as fast as her tired legs would let her.

The immense ball of light crashed onto the beach, sending out a powerful shockwave that threw Liana to the ground. She hugged the sandy rocks as the blast blew over her, like a hurricane passing by.

When the wind subsided, she remained frozen a moment, her muscles tense, before she rose up onto shaky legs.

In the distance, she saw Elias standing over the tattered remains of Tokks. The rocks around them were charred and still smoked from the devastation.

She approached them, seeing Elias’s shoulders were heaving with exhaustion. Relief washed over her when she focused on Tokks and saw that he showed no signs of breathing. Elias panted heavily, his eyes still on his fallen enemy.

Liana turned to Elias to say something.

Suddenly Tokks gasped and spluttered blood, his chest heaving and gasping for air. His blood-shot eyes bulged and darted all around, taking in the scene. When they fixed on Elias, he grinned, showing blood-stained teeth.

“Im–impressive...” he rasped, barely a whisper. “It means nothing, however. I will find you again, Ellaison.” He coughed and spluttered more blood, gasping for breath. “This is not... over.” His head fell back and his eyes rolled back.

His chest stopped moving, but that gave Liana little comfort. Surely he must be dead now, she thought. She hoped.

Elias stepped closer to her. “Are you hurt?”

Liana shook her head, wrapping her arms around her. “I’m fine. Is he...?”

“Sorcery holds him together, somehow,” Elias said gravely. “We have not seen the last of him.”

Liana shivered and held herself tighter. “Can we please get away from this place now?”

Elias nodded absently, still watching Tokks’s remains, deep in thought.

He snapped out of whatever trance held him, and looked to her. “Aye. Let us leave.”

The sun had fully risen and held the world in its warm embrace by the time they reached the boat Elias had spoken of.

The sturdy-looking wooden boat was partially hidden by a cluster of tall rocks, moored in the shallow waters by a thick rope. Elias pulled the bobbing craft closer to them, gesturing for Liana to embark.

She turned to survey the great Jungle of Ari one last time, and knew that she would remember the image for the rest of her life. She whispered a prayer for Jerrim, and then smiled to herself. She hadn’t said a prayer in years. This time, somehow, she knew that someone was listening.

She climbed into the boat, and Elias untethered it and pushed the craft further in the waters, before jumping in himself.

He brought up two wooden oars and placed them in their holds on the edges of the boat, and guided the craft into the vast ocean.

“Do you have a plan?” Liana asked. She sat behind Elias, hugging her knees and keeping her back to the jungle island, not wanting to look back.

“Not yet,” came his sombre voice over his shoulder. “But we have a long journey ahead to think of one.”

The soft roar of the wind over the ocean and the splashing of the oars were the only sounds that followed.

Liana laid her head against the back of the boat, looking up at the cloudy sky, and tried to imagine what her life would be like now. What was in store for her, and her companion, the Saviour of Eclauria.

The events of the last few days washed over her in a numb haze, forcing all thoughts to fade away.

She closed her eyes, and saw Jerrim.

The endless sea stretched out on all sides as the tiny brown speck crossed its serene waters.

**********

The End of The Forgotten Hero.

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