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, and his mind is relaxed. Running all around, he occasionally picks up a patch of grass, before throwing them in the air, showering himself with its fragrance. Suddenly, a gust of strong wind blows past his cheeks, and the blades of soft grass abruptly seems 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. Hopelessly, a tear falls from his eye. However, just then, the wind suddenly departs, and the warmth of the light once again envelops him, softening the grass below.
As he looks up, he sees a silhouette in the distance. It isn’t tall and seems to be a person. Yet there’s something menacing that he could feel from the silhouette, and instinctively, he takes a step back.
“Come,” the silhouette beckoned. 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, and he can see it more clearly.
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 (or the figure’s left), nearing where the figure’s heart should be.
“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 creep towards him despite it not even flinching.
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.
“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, and he chokes as he lands on the floor with a thud.
“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 are snapped in half. Splinters of wood lay everywhere in the room.
“Oh, I’m sorry. You ok?” 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.” 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.”
In disgust, Avalel spits the food in his mouth and pretends he’s choking. Seeing this, his father laughed 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 asked.
“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 (author’s note: again, different to the leather we know) 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, son of Faresoenn!” his father shouts in the distance, a grin on his face.
“You too, Faresoenn, father of Avalel!” Avalel cries back. Avalel did not know this, but someone is watching him.
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 is no matter. He is about to be late, and his strictness to self 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 chuckled. Just then, he seems to catch a glimpse of something reflecting light off to his right. But there’s no road there. Still, his curiosity got the better of him and he immediately turns, walking straight towards a tall bush.
As he struggles to walk past the overgrowth, he manages to hear some sounds, and the more he went, the louder it becomes. Soon, he could barely see a path of crushed grass and leaves, with bootprints etching themselves deeply into the mud.
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 she’s barefoot. Meanwhile, the men stand towering over her is wearing steel (at least Avalel thought it was steel) plates, painted grey, covering their entire body, and helmets that obscured their faces. Although he could not see their expression, Avalel could feel the men were stern and menacing.
“Come with us, little one. We won’t hurt you,” one of them speaks calmly. It carries a bit of warmth and Avalel can hear the friendliness coming from the tone of the voice.
“We’re not here to harm you. We just need you to follow us to a nice place for some food,” the other adds, but Avalel this time feels a coldness coming from his voice.
"Kapa!" the girl shouts, spitting on the ground. Avalel has no idea what the word means, but the harsh tone makes him shake for a moment.
“You hear that, Gaseren? The little girl has such a cute voice!” the first seems to be quite excited.
“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 fascination, but also horror. He has heard of child kidnappers from some of the elders and he suddenly realizes he may be witnessing one in front of his eyes. Desperate, he stands up, preparing to attack the two men (although they are only about the height of Avalel, they seem much stronger and are more muscular). Then, he sees a sword, sheathed in its scabbard.
In fright, Avalel stumbles and falls 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 shouts and turns their gaze 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 is annoyed and flings him on the ground. Avalel could not help but writhe in pain.
“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 mouthes. Although Manilrec is standing tall, blood is pouring from his neck, where a small gap between the helmet and the neck guard lay. A moment later, he falls forward, and a puddle of crimson red drowns his helmet in the color. Manilrec is dead. Standing behind him is the little girl, her round, slightly plump face menacing, frightening even 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 whispered, her words like ice. 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, and chokes. 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 horrifying realization, he thinks of one thing: blood.
Using all the strength he has, he barely opens his eyes and sees the girl standing on top, blood staining her clothing. To Avalel, she is no different from Death in his imagination.
As he loses consciousness, he asks, “Who are you?”