Who Are You?
“Where am I?”
Suddenly, a bright burst of light. He squints, as the lights are piercing into his eyeballs, inflicting a burning sensation. He violently rubs his eyes, but that only makes the pain worse. What joke is this? I thought I was sleeping? Slowly and painfully, he opens his eyes, and before him, a field. As his eyes adjust, he notices that the field is quite large. In fact, it’s nothing like the little patches of flat ground that he finds occasionally on his adventures. It’s huge!
He darts across the field, rolling down the slopes of grass. A strange sense of excitement, he feels, is surging all over his body. As one who has never even left the forest, this flat expanse of land feels like paradise. The smell of the field is fresh, relaxing his mind and body. Running all around, he occasionally picks up a patch of grass, feeling the blades tickle his nose and cheeks before throwing them in the air, showering himself with its fragrance.
Suddenly, the environment itself seems to change as a gust of strong wind blows past his cheeks, and the blades of soft grass abruptly seem to become real knives, grazing against his skin. There had always been a breeze, or so he thought, but now the wind is harsh and freezing, even with the warmth of the light above him. He bends down and huddles, immediately shivering. His hands reach for the ground, but the grass is like ice. He searches for some shelter but soon realizes that this flat, empty field will give him nowhere to hide. Hopeless, he curls into a fetal position, protecting what little warmth he has left in himself. What once seemed like a paradise has become an endless plain of freezing ice.
As he looks up, he sees a silhouette in the distance. It isn’t tall and seems to be a person. Even in the strong winds it stands firm, unmoved like an anchor. There isn’t any hostility from it, yet there’s something... off that he could feel from the silhouette, and instinctively, he takes a step back.
“Come,” the silhouette beckons. It’s strangely comforting - as if it’s trying to call out to its child, assuming it even has one.
He resists, but his mind is ordering otherwise. Uncontrollably, he takes a step forward. Then another. Soon he is no more than a hundred steps from the silhouette, the void-like appearance of it clearing into something more tangible, more real.
The figure seems to resemble a male, wearing clothes he could not recognize, with elaborate patterns embroidered on the sleeves. A white cloak covers most of the figure, but he could see a splash of red on the right, nearing where the figure’s heart should be. He shudders, his hands twitching uncontrollably. He doesn’t know why, but it unsettles him, as if staring into some unknown, frightening being.
“You saw it, didn’t you?” the figure asks, in the same comforting tone that had lured him here earlier. Confused, he raises his pinky, a gesture of decline, and lowers his head.
“That was a lie, wasn’t it? You saw the blood. Your eyes betrayed your response.” The shadow from the figure seems to stretch towards him, reaching his feet. “It’s too early for you to see this.”
He begins to break into a cold sweat. A strong urge to flee overcomes his mind, but no part of his body can move. As the shadow climbs up his body, he feels his mind turning blank. What’s this feeling... It’s blissful. Strangely enough, as the shadow reaches for his throat, he feels no more fear, but peace.
“Wake up!” A shout roars across the landscape. Rudely awakened, he feels an invisible force tug at him, pulling him away from the figure. His vision begins to blacken from the speed, and he could feel his consciousness slipping away. The figure only stands afar, its shape shrinking until it disappears from his sight.
“Wake up!” the same shout echoes in his ears. Annoyed, he turns over, away from the sound, and curls up into a ball.
“I know you’re awake, Avalel. Now get up. Today’s a big day!”
A hand suddenly grabs the collar of his shirt, pulling him from his bed and throwing him on the floor with a thud. He coughs, choking on his own spit as he struggles to open his eyes.
“Come on, Dad. You say every day’s a big day,” he groans as he slowly stands up.
“What’s taking you so long? Are you still in your dreams?” his father laughs, “Do you need to fall on the floor a second time?”
Avalel smiles. “No thanks, Dad. I don’t need my back to be broken again. Or the floor, for that matter.” Where he fell, some planks have been snapped in half. Splinters of wood lay everywhere in the room. Wincing, Avalel plucks a small splinter from his leg, tossing it on the floor.
“Oh, I’m sorry. You alright?” his father asks worriedly.
“No, I didn’t mean you.” His father then crouches down and begins sweeping the splinters. “Oh, I’m so sorry, Floor,” he wails in a strangely high-pitched voice, then breaks into laughter. “I fooled you there, didn’t I?”
“You need to be more serious, Dad.” Although Avalel tries to be stern, he can’t help but chuckle at his father’s prank.
His father stands up. “You’re such a tall and strong boy now, Lel,” he sighs, then reaches to pat Avalel’s shoulder, “Soon you’ll be taller than even me.” He motions to the table. “There’s food on the table. Eat up before you go to school.”
“Of course, Dad.” The breakfast doesn’t seem to be anything special, just a bland mix of whatever is inside. Still, as he gobbles the mush in the bowl, he mumbles, “This is good food.”
“Oh, it’s nothing. I merely squeezed the juicy blood of a few bugs in the forest, mashed up yesterday’s dinner, and added some herbal seasoning. I never thought you’d say this would be good.”
Avalel spits the food in his mouth, pretending to gag in disgust. Seeing this, his father laughs again. Nauseous, Avalel could only utter the word “What?”
His father laughed even harder. “I’m joking, Lel. I just mashed some graya and asked the neighbors for some of their herbal seasoning.”
Embarrassed, Avalel immediately stands up. “I’m going now, Dad.”
“Have you changed yet?” Just as Avalel steps outside, his father asks.
“Oh, no!” Avalel hurries back into his room and locks the door. A few moments later, the door creaks open. Standing there is Avalel, his hair no longer flying, but neatly combed to one side. A loose beige tunic covers his body to the knees, with a belt tightened around his waist. A mock leather arm guard decorates his left forearm. His dark green trousers, crumpled but with the fragrance of the trees, are rolled up to the calves. His boots are brown, dyed from the muddy paths he walks. Finally, he grabs a small grey bag, slung it over his shoulders, and runs out.
“See you later, Avalel nai Faresoenn!” his father shouts in the distance, a grin on his face.
“You too, Faresoenn bai Avalel!” Avalel cries back, disappearing into the forest.
The day is quite beautiful. Although the Elyfesta shines bright, the wind makes its heat bearable, and the rustling of leaves is like a conversation between chatty children. Sweat pours from Avalel as he runs toward his school, his bag bouncing up and down his shoulders, and his combed hair is ruffled by the wind. But that doesn’t matter. He is about to be late, and his strictness to himself would not allow such a thing.
School is over. Although he has still not adapted to the increased hours, Avalel still feels himself brimming with energy. As he walks back on his usual path home, he thinks about the new “technology” (although he has no idea what that means) the school acquired recently. There are special pens that could change colors with the click of a button, the tables can have many pictures changed in an instant by some magic the teacher did, there’s a small disk-shaped object that could create an untouchable replica of anyone while copying their every movement (his teachers called it a “hologram”). Also, strangely, drawing on the tables is allowed now as the drawings can be erased, again, by some magic from the teacher.
How strange indeed, Avalel thinks, quoting his father, and chuckles. Just then, he seems to catch a glimpse of some reflection of light off to his right. But there’s no road there. Still, his curiosity gets the better of him and he immediately turns, walking straight towards a tall bush.
As he struggles to walk past the overgrowth, the branches pricking, scratching against him, he manages to hear some sounds, and the more he goes, the louder it becomes. Soon, he could barely see a path of crushed grass and leaves, with boot prints etching themselves deeply into the mud. He realizes he is already quite far from the nearest road, and as much as he refuses to admit, he is somewhat lost. Slightly regretting his impulse earlier, he continues onward, following the strange tracks.
He finally arrives at a clearing in the forest. There, where the light of the Elyfesta pierces the trees, sits a small girl and two adult men that Avalel could not recognize. He quickly hides behind a bush and looks at the group with detail. The girl has black hair, but where the light comes into contact, it seems to shine a glimmering silver. Unlike most of the people Avalel knows, who usually wears loose tunics, the girl is wearing a form-fitting tunic and is barefoot. Meanwhile, the men standing, towering over her are wearing metal plates, painted grey, covering their entire body, and helmets that obscured their faces. There is an emblem of sorts on their left shoulder, assumed to be some kind of identification. To Avalel, they are intimidating, and he feels a sense of unease.
“Come with us, little one. We won’t hurt you,” one of them speaks calmly. It carries a bit of fake friendliness, almost to the point of discomfort.
“We’re not here to harm you. We just need you to follow us to a nice place for some food,” the other adds, his tone much more cold and direct.
"Kapa!" the girl shouts, spitting on the ground. However, to her dismay, the men merely take a light step back.
“You hear that, Gaseren? The little girl has such a cute voice!” the first exclaims in excitement.
“Manilrec, we’re not here to make that girl your wife. I know you have your weird fetish for children, but our mission comes first,” the second, called Gaseren, replies. Avalel looks on with horror. Somehow, they are like kidnappers or hunters, cornering their prey before they strike. He looks at the girl, so small and fragile compared to the men, almost indefensible. There must be something I can do.
Desperate, he stands up, preparing to attack the two men. Despite being far weaker, he figures his height may be able to at least take them by surprise, giving the girl some time to escape. However, just before he leaps out, he sees two swords, sheathed and tied to the men’s waists. In fright, he trips, stumbling into the bush he was hiding behind, which causes a great many leaves to fly up in the air and a loud thud on the ground. Oh, no…
“What was that?” both shout and turn their gazes away from the girl. They quickly follow the noise, and although Avalel tries to escape, his neck is grabbed by one of the men and his bag falls on the ground.
“Who’s this?” the man called Manilrec asks, “He’s got a fair face, but ugly boots.”
“Probably one of the locals. You know, those people,” the man holding Avalel, called Gaseren, replies. Avalel tries to free himself, but Gaseren’s hand is firmly gripped around his slim neck. Finally, after many moments of struggle, Gaseren flings him on the ground, annoyed by his resistance. Avalel writhes in pain, groaning as his back is stepped on, firmly holding him down.
“What a pathetic bag of bones. I thought you people were better fighters than this,” Gaseren mutters in disgust. “Manilrec, we should get going...”
A gasp escapes both Gaseren and Avalel’s mouths. Although Manilrec is standing tall, blood pours from his neck, where a small gap between the helmet and the neck guard lay. He falls forward, crashing onto the ground, and a puddle of crimson red drowns his helmet in the color. Manilrec is dead. Standing behind him is the little girl, her round face menacing, frightening as her hair flows to the direction of the wind. In her right hand is a dagger, dripping with the blood of Manilrec.
For Avalel, it is his first taste of death.
“I said kapa,” the girl whispers, her eyes staring at the corpse in disgust. She places her dagger in the bleeding throat of Manilrec, and in one swift motion, the head detaches from the body and rolls to Gaseren’s feet. Looking at her bloodied hands, the girl laughs. It’s like she’s enjoying it.
“How...” the word barely escapes as a rasp from Gaseren. He reaches for his sword, but Avalel could notice his hands shaking. As the girl leaps up, the sword unsheathes from its scabbard, and for a moment, Avalel could see the gleaming, clean blade of Gaseren, reflecting the light into a shower of beams. Just for a moment, Avalel forgets his pain, and as time seems to slow for him, he thinks, how beautiful.
A blinding flash, and then, darkness. In shock, Avalel falls. He feels something splash onto his face, and although he tries to open his eyes, they seem to be frozen and would not respond. He struggles to get up, but something heavy has fallen on his chest, knocking the air out of him. He feels something flowing down his mouth and throat, trickling into his esophagus. Scrambling for something to grab with his hands, he finds the top of the object that has crushed him. Running his fingers across, he feels a narrow hole and reaches inside. A squelching noise as a viscous liquid wraps itself around him. In a horrifying realization, he thinks of one thing: blood.
Using all the strength he has, he barely opens his eyes. The girl, standing atop of Gaseren, stares back, her pupils constricted, her chest puffing in rapid breaths. She wipes the blood away from her face, stunned by what she has done. Slowly, a smile creeps across her face, her quivering hands dropping the dagger, landing next to Avalel’s neck.
As Avalel loses consciousness, he asks, “Who are you?”