VI - The Flames of War
He swept through his hometown of Gerrun Edun, like a bird soaring over the thatched roofs and brown farmland. He saw the docklands and fishing huts where his father spent most of his days. He thought of his time in Gerrun Edun before Liana Keamy moved there with her father, and of the times when he would see her around the town, and of the few times they had spoken. Jerrim still found it hard to believe that he had left their hometown with someone who was little more than a neighbour.
Being partially aware of the dreams he was having, he urged himself to change the scenery. While he attempted to picture the fabled Treasure of the Mare they had set out for, the image of a green field lined with pointed trees came into view. Dozens of birds chirped all around, and the croaking insects gave the field a musical voice of its own. When he noticed spark bugs flittering over the field, the scene reminded him of a forgotten picture he had seen as a child. As he considered the old holy picture, it appeared to come to life before him. A blinding light grew in the air ahead of him.
When the light subsided, the form of a pale-skinned woman looked upon him. Her curly green hair wavered in an unseen wind, as did her flowing robes, which faded away below her waist, leaving a glowing light where her legs should have been.
Jerrim’s breath caught, overwhelmed with the sight. Before him was the goddess Xylophia. His goddess... if he were a more religious person. He hadn’t prayed to or worshipped her since he was a child and religion had been thrust onto him by his parents.
A smile formed on her heart shaped face, and her large brown eyes were warm and soothing. Somehow, they reminded him of his mother’s eyes. He didn’t wait for her to speak, for he knew that Xylophia only spoke through the sounds of nature.
The birds and insects continued their chirping, and the leaves and grass rustled audibly, although Jerrim could not determine any words from them.
Xylophia’s smile turned into a frown, and her eyes narrowed. The look froze Jerrim.
At first he didn’t notice the sky darken, but then he saw the rumbling clouds that formed over the field. They swept over Xylophia, dulling her light and then hiding her, until there was nothing but a dark mist that filled the world.
Tall towers formed within the mist, as did dozens of dark shapes that dotted the land that could now be seen. Explosions erupted across the scene, and Jerrim realised he was seeing a war. He knew the images, somehow, as if someone were explaining them to him. He was witnessing the Shadow Wars. The devastating wars that almost destroyed the world around thirty years ago, when armies of Umbrai Incola left their underground homes and attempted to gain control of Eclauria.
Through the mist he saw one soldier, long hair flowing as he flew through the air throwing balls of light and swinging a great sword. Jerrim felt drawn to this particular soldier, somehow knowing that he was the key to stopping the war and putting an end to the invading forces, known as the Army of Nox. Jerrim had heard the man’s name before, for he was a famous war hero, although he could not remember it at that moment. The mist became swept up in the soldier’s spinning attacks, and gave way to a growing darkness that built up and surrounded him.
Within the endless darkness came a dull thud.
Then a louder thud.
The front door splintered and crashed to the ground, bringing Jerrim to life.
In the dim darkness of the hut, his blurry eyes fixed on a large shadowy figure by the front door, sharp points and bulbous armour giving the intruder a monstrous silhouette.
Two more figures squeezed through the entrance behind the first, revealing the large rifles they carried.
Jerrim cried out before he realised he had done so. It was a cry of alarm and of warning to Liana, who was jerking awake in her bedroom crevice.
Booted feet stomped towards him, but the other two figures moved to Liana.
Ignoring the sharp pain in his bandaged side and the throbbing headache from having suddenly awoken, Jerrim shot to his feet and raced to Liana. Before he could take a second step the first intruder was on him, a gauntleted hand grabbing his arm. Thick fingers squeezed his arm and threw him to the ground. The ground knocked the wind from Jerrim when he fell, but he tried desperately to raise his head and look to Liana, who was screaming now.
The towering intruder lifted his rifle to Jerrim’s head, forcing him to stop all his movements.
In the dull light, he saw that the person wore a ridged helmet that covered his entire face, three rows of slits over his eye area and a long vertical slit down the centre of the metal helmet. Large rounded shoulder pads were studded with spikes, as were his large gauntlets. The rifle was a thick cylinder of mechanical parts, and looked heavier than anything Jerrim could pick up. The image was somewhat familiar to him, but he couldn’t think where he would have seen or heard of such people.
One armoured man raced to the kitchen and surveyed the surrounding area in wide strides, while the other brought Liana to her feet, despite her struggles and protests. Jerrim almost smiled at the fire in her, even in their dire situation.
The first intruder said something to the others in an unrecognisable language. Before Jerrim knew what was happening, a flame erupted from the hand of one of Liana’s captors. The glint of a metal ball could be seen in the flames as it flew from a gauntleted hand and ignited the boxes and trinkets around it. Sweltering heat enveloped the small hut, and Jerrim began to sweat, from the heat and from fear.
He was pulled to his feet and his helmeted captor brought him close. His eye slits only showed darkness.
A gruff, thickly accented voice said, “Where is Ellaison?”
Jerrim blinked back his surprise, not knowing what to say. Images of his fever dream came back to him–Xylophia’s worried expression and the images of war he had been shown–but his head was a hot mess of fear and confusion to make sense of anything.
A shiny object flew across the room and struck the intruder furthest from them. Sparks of electricity shot out and wrapped around him, causing him to convulse and drop to the ground, his body shaking even after the energy had dissipated.
When a new figure appeared, Jerrim knew straight away it was Elias.
The cloaked newcomer darted towards Liana’s captor, his fists flying in rapid succession. His blows knocked the armoured man back, whose strikes missed the spinning old man. Their flickering shadows danced over the room as the flames grew around them.
When Jerrim’s captor raised his rifle, Elias’s cloaked form flew across the room. In a blur, Elias broke the rifle in two and knocked the intruder to the ground with a spinning kick.
Without pause he darted back to Liana’s captor, spinning and striking several blows, before throwing both palms out and knocking the final intruder through the wall.
He turned to them both. Under his great hood, his face was flushed in the glow of the room.
“Come with me. Now.” With that he stepped to the empty door frame.
Jerrim ignored the old man and rushed over to Liana, wanting to be sure she was unhurt. He laid a hand on her shoulder, though he could tell from her furrow-browed expression that she did not want his comfort at that moment.
“Come on,” she breathed, little more than a whisper.
She curled an arm around his waist and put his arm over her shoulder. He told himself it was an emotionless act, just to get them both out of the hut before it burnt down.
The night air was cold and alive with insects when they left the heat of the hut. Both of them were barefoot, and they stumbled through the harsh undergrowth, trying to keep up with Elias.
Rapid gunshots burst through the night air, popping on the ground by their feet and throwing up dirt and mud. Jerrim pushed Liana down as he ducked, putting himself between her and where he thought the shots had come from.
Further ahead, Elias ran to them and swung an arm out. A ball of white energy shot out over their heads. Turning back, Jerrim saw the glowing ball light up the surrounding trees as it soared to the roof of the hut. It struck a shadow he had not seen, momentarily lighting the armoured guard on the roof, who fell into a thick bush.
Elias tilted his head behind him, before racing off into the dark jungle.
“Let’s go,” Liana said to Jerrim, still with an arm around his side.
He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he heard more boot steps carrying on the wind.
They traversed the thick jungle as best they could, trying to stick to the cold muddy paths and away from the harsh jungle floor. Along with Liana, Jerrim’s feet were scratched and bloodied, and each step shot a new pain through him.
His heavy breaths brought stabbing pains to his side, but he would not say so to Liana and dare slow them down even more.
When he looked back, he could see the bright glow of the burning hut against the blackness of trees in the far distance.
Twice they thought they had lost the shadow of Elias, and Jerrim wondered why their protector was so far away from them.
When they finally met up with him he had come out from the side of the jungle between two large trees. His sudden presence startled them both.
Without a word, Elias waved a hand towards him, and stepped back into the undergrowth.
Following him further into the darkness, they came to the rocky surface of a ditch wall. Moving several large leaves and sheets of wood, Elias revealed a hole in the rock wall, around four feet in diameter.
“In,” he barked, waving his arm to the hole.
Liana approached and stepped ahead of Jerrim, but he held her back as gently as he could. He preferred to be the first to enter an unknown and possibly dangerous place, he told himself, despite what Liana might think of his actions.
Crawling on his hands and knees through a short declining tunnel, the ground soon gave way to a wider space. Jerrim found himself in a room with a domed rock ceiling. Candles were spread along shelves on the walls and table tops, casting the room in a dim, wavering glow. For an underground cave, if that’s what this was, the room was surprisingly homely. Red carpets lined most of the ground, picture frames of several sizes hung on one of the walls, and a large maroon sofa lay next to a bundle of sheets and blankets in the corner.
As Liana appeared from the entrance hole, it occurred to Jerrim that this was where Elias had been staying the past few nights.
Wiping the dirt from her shorts, Liana looked around beside him.
“What is this place?” she asked aloud.
“A safe place,” came Elias’s voice behind them.
He rose to his feet and threw back his large hood, finally revealing his stern gaze and deep frown.
“We will be safe here for a while,” he added as he approached a shelf lined with bottles and vials. “Are either of you hurt?”
Liana shook her head, and Jerrim managed a weak “No”. He had a hand on his bandaged side, though he saw that his companions did not notice.
“Sit. Rest,” Elias said, gesturing to the large sofa and the wooden chairs nearby. He poured three glasses of a dark drink. Jerrim chose a wooden chair beside the sofa that Liana sat on, which could have fit them both. His feet burned as he flexed his toes, finally able to rest.
Elias placed the glasses on a table between them and looked them over. His eyes paused on their muddy and bloodied feet. Jerrim realised they had dirtied the carpets with clumps and smears of mud, and felt bad for ruining what looked like such a well-kept place.
“Who are those people?” Liana asked in a strained voice.
Elias studied them with narrowed eyes, the candle light casting shadows on his lined face. “They are very dangerous soldiers,” he told them.
“You know who they are?” Jerrim asked, surprised that Elias would know the intruders.
Elias sighed and looked away, pausing a moment before answering. “They are Umbrai Incola.”
A tense silence fell over the room, before Jerrim managed to speak. “Umbrai Incola soldiers. As in, the Umbrai Incola army from the Shadow Wars? The Army of Nox?” He couldn’t believe he was asking those questions. Images of his fever dream came back to him, and he struggled to remember as much of it as he could.
Elias watched him closely, his eyes glinting in the darkness under his heavy brows.
“They may be remnants of the Army of Nox, from what I could tell of their armour. They are very dangerous men.”
“You know the Army of Nox’s armour?” Jerrim asked.
“How do you know them?” Liana quickly asked beside him.
After another thoughtful pause, Elias muttered to himself, “The flames of war still flicker.” He looked away with a solemn expression. “I fear I have put us all in danger.”
“Who are you?” Jerrim asked. He knew this was the right question to ask, and somehow felt as though he already knew the answer.
Elias’s cold grey eyes pierced them across the candle light. “I once went by a different name. In a different life. A long time ago, I was called Auren Ellaison.”
Jerrim looked upon the old man with a new found awe, a numbing shiver running through him. He finally remembered the name.
He was looking at the hero of the Shadow Wars.
They were in the presence of the legendary Saviour of Eclauria.