Ivo runs through the streets, saying a casual hello to those he passes. The sun beat down, making sweat form on the boy’s tanned skin, yet he’s glad he lives in a place like Mahorela instead of a colder climate like Glittering Grotto. The two countries are polar opposites; where Mahorela would stay in constant summers, Glittering Grotto was constant winters.
The Zefaiyan went to two places in his life besides Mahorela. His home country, Zefaiye, a place he’s heard is a balance when it comes to weather and people keep magic cobras as pets. He moved when he was a young boy, so memory of Zefaiye was poor at best. Ivo’s heard stories of his mother’s cobra, a majestic black and gold creature which went by the name Kina. Its magic was far beyond what other cobras possessed and did complex spells with ease.
Those were stories. Ivo’s not sure if they’re reality or not. Elizabeth never speaks of her time in Zefaiye, so he doesn’t ask.
The second was Hamelin. He and Elizabeth visited the country to see one of his mother’s oldest friends four years ago. He remembers people wore noble attire and kept a cog-like creature which looks like a bird for communication. Ivo likes the country. He hopes Elizabeth takes him there once more one day. He wouldn’t mind getting one of the creatures for a pet; the communication aspect would be a bonus, but birds were beautiful creatures that Ivo can’t help to admire.
“Good afternoon, son,” a voice says, grovely and deep, making Ivo blink out of his thoughts and turn his head towards the one addressing him. “In the clouds again, are you, boy? You have to get that little head o’ yers outta there sometime.”
“Hi, Dy,” Ivo offers conversationally, pushing his bangs out of his eyes and blinking when the right side of his vision goes fuzzy. “How are you today?”
“I’m doin’ fine. Where are you goin’ that yer in such a rush?” Dy questions, raising an eyebrow at the young man curiously. “You look like you got a chicken up yer pantaloons.”
Ivo laughs and scratches the back of his head. “My mother’s birthday is today,” he answers, eyes gazing towards his destination. “I’m doing my chores. I have one left and I’m done for the day.”
“Well shucks, you should have said somethin’. I won’t hold you up, boy. Tell Elizabeth ol’ Dy says hello.”
“I will!” Ivo bolts off once more, waving behind him as his feet kick up dirt. He stops in front of Xavier’s farm and takes a bottle of water out of the bag on his back, taking a few gulps before he enters the building. “Xavier? Are you here?”
“Hello there, Ivo!” Xavier says cheerfully, waving from his spot behind a cow. “Come in, my boy.”
Ivo smiles and moves towards the farmer. He’s a well set man, with flecks of brown hair against dark skin and welcoming black eyes. Ivo’s known the man since he was nine and Xavier always made him feel welcome, no matter the circumstance or situation. “How’s the cows today?” he asks, crouching next to Yulia and giving her flank a firm pat. He notices the farmer’s troubled expression and blinks in confusion. “What’s up?”
“They’re actin’ strange. They always do when we’re about to get a storm or somethin’ bad’s about to happen,” Xavier clarifies, getting off his chair and watching Ivo as he gets up from his crouch. “The poles are normal so I know we ain’t gettin’ any storms.”
“Maybe they’re just edgy because the weather is warmer than usual,” Ivo offers helpfully. “I know my mother is more cranky when it’s like this.”
“How’s Elizabeth, anyhow?” Xavier asks, walking around the barn and giving his cows a once over. He nods and writes information down on a clipboard, turning black eyes on Ivo once he’s finished his rounds. “The last time I seen her was when Glittering Grotto’s wind came through a few moons ago.”
“She’s doing well. Her birthday is today, so I’m gonna spend the rest of the day with her once I finish up my chores.” Ivo smiles. His mother was turning 42, but she didn’t look a day above thirty. “I made her a custom longsword with Charlotte’s help,” he says once Xavier gives him a questioning glance. “She used to be a master swordswoman back in the day.”
“Is that right? Elizabeth is such a charmin’ woman; you’d never guess she knew what it meant to be violent.”
“Oh, she was violent. She participated in Eyru’s tournaments when she was younger and won almost all of them.”
“Yep, she told me those stories. Hard to believe she used to be that kinda person.” Xavier stops at one of the newborn calves and kneels next to it. “This is the newest addition to my happy little family,” he says proudly, patting it and the mother cow gently. “Name’s Lillian. She’ll be a fine cow one day.”
“I’m sure she will be,” Ivo says with another smile. “What did you want me to do, Xavier?” he inquiries after a minute of comfortable silence.
“Could you milk Aliana and Lizzie? They seem to like you more than me,” the farmer says with a chuckle. “Everyone else is taken care of. You’re free to go after that, lad.”
“I’ll get right on it.” Ivo makes his way towards the cows, patting their heads once he reaches them. He reaches for the bucket, puts it under the cows, and milks them one at a time, grinning when they make sounds of content. After half an hour, he finishes, picks up the buckets, and gives them to Xavier. “Here ya go.”
“You’re a fine boy.” Xavier takes the buckets, puts them next to the others, and gives Ivo’s shoulder a firm pat. “Go on, lad. Go spend time with your mother.”
Ivo nods, says his thanks, and exits the farm. He takes his bag off his shoulders and looks through it, quiet horror running through his nerves when he realizes the sword wasn’t there. “Where is it? Dammit!”
“What are you cursing about?” a feminine voice asks. Ivo looks up and meets bright, curious blue eyes.
“I can’t find the sword!” he yells, throwing his bag in exasperation and clenching his teeth. “I could’ve sworn it was in there.”
“You mean the one for Elizabeth’s birthday?” At Ivo’s nod, the woman rolls her eyes. “You left it at Charlotte’s, you big idiot.” Kalisa flicks his forehead and grins when he reaches up to rub the sore spot. “Honestly, you jump to conclusions too fast. You have to consider all the options before taking a temper tantrum.”
“Temper tantrum?” Ivo huffs in annoyance. “It wasn’t a temper tantrum. It was irritation.”
“Whatever you say, you moron.”
“Insulting me isn’t nice.”
“I do it all the time. Don’t tell me you’re getting soft.”
Kalisa giggles. “You’re too easy to tease,” she says in a sing-song voice. “Anyway, you should go find Charlotte. I heard she was leaving tomorrow to Ding Dong Dell to do some training.” She turns to run, but before she does, she winks and flashes her childhood friend a peace sign. “Catch you later!”
Ivo watches Kalisa run off and rolls his eyes. She was so cheerful it was infectious. Sighing, he puts his things back in his bag and starts towards his mentor’s house. He wouldn’t say he was in bad shape, but the walk up the hill leading to Charlotte’s always took it out of him.
As he walks, he thinks about the stories he heard about Elizabeth in her prime. She was ruthless. She would attack whenever there was an opening and never give her opponents time to blink, let alone come up with a decent counterattack. When he was a young boy, he remembers his father, Issac, telling him his mother was as beautiful on the battlefield as she was when she wasn’t fighting.
Issac and Elizabeth met during a swordfighting tournament in Garusu, his father’s home country. Ivo heard stories about it. It was a desert modernized enough so people could live there, yet the heat was worse than it was in Mahorela. He’s seen pictures of Garusian stadium; it rests in the middle of the country and many flock there for the various events held in it. Ivo wonders if he’ll ever visit there someday.
Looking up, he notices Charlotte’s house is still a few feet away. Running calloused hands through his hair, Ivo resigns himself to the fact he’ll be panting up a storm when he finally gets up the hill.
He remembers the tension that often rested in their house once they moved to Mahorela. His mother was a traditionalist; she believed the texts angels wrote were the way to Zaniel, and she didn’t take it well that her husband thought demons weren’t as bad as the texts depicted. Issac would say the texts told of demons after the ancient war, but not before, and angels weren’t as good as they were written.
Ivo winces when he thinks about how badly Elizabeth reacted to that statement. She ignored Issac for days afterwards, snapping at the simplest of questions and more irritable than normal. It took a week before they were back to the way they used to be. Even then, she looked at him a different way.
When Ivo was nine, his father went to investigate the poles which were rumored to connect Merron Nien and Beherit, the demon realm. His mother waited for weeks, months, but when he never came back, she seemed to accept her husband was never returning. However, Ivo knows in his heart his mother never moved on from Issac’s disappearance.
He hears a howl, breaking him out of his thoughts. A wolf runs towards him, tackling him to the ground and licking his face. Accalia makes a happy noise and nuzzles her snout against Ivo’s cheek, making him laugh a little before gently shoving her off. “That’s enough, girl,” he chides, sitting up and ruffling her white fur. “Charlotte!” he calls, standing up and making his way to the house.
“Coming!” Charlotte calls back. She exits her kitchen, flashing a warm smile at her protege and giving him a brief hug. “How are you doing, dear?” she asks as she sits on the couch. Accalia sits next to her, resting her nose on Charlotte’s knee. “You came here to get the sword, didn’t you?”
“Kalisa told me I forgot it here,” Ivo answers, rolling his shoulders. “How she knew, I have no idea, but I don’t question how she knows things anymore.”
“Kalisa does seem to know many things,” Charlotte replies. “Sometimes I wonder if she has a vast book of knowledge she gets things from.”
Ivo nods before his eyes set on one of the sheaths hanging from Charlotte’s wall. While the redhead’s mastery was archery, sometimes she dabbled in swordplay for close combat situations. A worn, leather one catches his attention and he moves towards it, running his hands over the craftsmanship and picking it up. “Is this for my mother?”
“Yes. I thought the leather would bring her back to her youth,” Charlotte says in response, a faint smile curling her lips upwards. She returns to the couch and sits crossed legged, her sharp eyes gazing out the window. “It looks as if Islida’s rains will hit us soon, doesn’t it?”
“As long as it’s not Glittering Grotto’s winds.”
Ivo’s mentor smiles at him before letting out hearty laughter. “Ding Dong Dell occasionally has worser weather when it comes to cold.”
“Worse? How can anything be worse than what we had a few days ago?” Ivo questions, disbelief in his tone.
“When the poles shift, harsher weather is upon us. It was winter when I was last there, so the snows became denser and the winds more violent. It was a terrible time,” Charlotte answers, her tone seeming as if she was far away. She shakes herself and nods towards the door. “You should leave, sweetheart. Your mother may be wondering where you are.”
“Damn,” Ivo curses, running towards the door. He waves his goodbye, which Charlotte returns and Accalia howls her own, before exiting his mentor’s house and making his way towards his.
The down trek was considerably easier than going up. Ivo laughs as he runs down the hill and he swears he can hear Charlotte laughing at his childishness. Even though he was forced to grow up at a young age, there were moments his childish facade came through.
He looks up at the house. It was on the highest hill, as if it was guarding the Mahorela and its inhabitants. It was close; Charlotte told him once she picked the spot so she could spot any demons or evils entering the village. Accalia was good for it as well, as she seems to be able to tell who’s evil and who isn’t.
Ivo says his hellos to those he passes and he soon reaches the house he shares with his mother. It was a medium sized home, with two floors and flowers dancing in the warm winds. There’s many varieties and types, all of different colors and shapes, which makes it look lively and full of life.
He smiles as he opens the door, the smell of fresh bread invading his nose. “Mother?” Ivo calls, setting the sheath containing the sword on the living room dresser. He enters the kitchen, seeing Elizabeth fixing her hair in her hairnet. “I’m home.”
“Ivo, my dear boy!” his mother exclaims, reaching out and giving her son one of those hugs only a mother could produce. Ivo laughs and hugs her back, smiling in her hair as she squeezes him. “Have you done your chores for the day, darling?”
“Yes, mother,” Ivo says, a teasing edge to his voice. He breaths in the smell of homemade fries and gravy as well as bread, a small grin on his lips. He adores Elizabeth’s cooking. “Did anyone drop by for your birthday?”
“Oh! Yes, yes.” His mother moves to stir the gravy, humming a song Ivo recognizes from his childhood. If his memory is right, it’s a Garusian tune, telling of the great warrior Shilia who defeated a hundred demons and saved the city from total destruction. “Amalie gave me this wonderful perfume and Yun made his famous cherry pie for us.”
Ivo smiles as he watches Elizabeth tutter around their home. “I haven’t had Yun’s cherry pie in what feels like years,” he says, excitement evident in his tone. “Are we going to have it after dinner?”
“Of course, darling!”
The young man laughs freely; however, he claps his hands together a few moments later, causing Elizabeth to look at him with an arched brow. “I have something for you. Wait here.”
“Where else would I be, silly?!” his mother’s voice calls from the kitchen, and a small chuckle erupts from Ivo’s throat. He takes the sword out of his bag and walks in the kitchen, watching Elizabeth’s eyes widen at the look of the sheath. “If the sheath is this beautiful, I can only imagine what the sword looks like,” she murmurs in wonderment.
Ivo hands it to her and stares as Elizabeth takes it out of its protective holder. Her eyes light up as if she’s a child receiving a gift on Juna and she gives it a few experimental swings. “This is incredible, sweetie. Thank you.”
His mother gives him a tight hug and emits a cooing noise, causing Ivo to cough in embarrassment. “You’re embarrassing me, mother.”
Just as Elizabeth’s about to reply, the ground shakes, causing mother and son to look at each other with startled gazes. “What was that?!” Elizabeth exclaims.
“Stay here!” Ivo hollers, grabbing his recurve bow. He ignores his mother’s scream for him to come back and runs as fast as his legs will carry him. Once he reaches the main plaza, a feeling of sickness and rage enters and sits in his nerves.
Bodies litter the streets and blood soaks the ground. There’s moans and howls of things Ivo knows aren’t human and people walk amongst the carnage. Ivo knows they’re not human by the immense beauty they possess. He knows the rumors; demons are far more beautiful than mortals can hope to comprehend and they look as if they’re etched from the world’s finest stones.
Fear builds in the pit of his stomach, but despite it, Ivo nocks an arrow and lets it fly. It lands in the torso of one of the demons, but instead of having the desired reaction, it pulls it out and stares at it for a few seconds. A look of irritation passes on its flawless face as it snaps the arrow and looks around, trying to figure out where the annoyance came from.
As its eyes settle on Ivo, a smirk spreads across its face and it moves towards him, faster than anything the man’s seen in his life. However, before it reaches him, a blur comes and grabs Ivo, making him let out a surprised yelp as the thing puts him on a roof.
“What the hell?” Ivo wonders aloud, looking at his surroundings. Fire licks at buildings, painting the skies gold and orange against a blood red sunset. He rubs at his temples before flicking his gaze at whatever saved him.
The words Ivo was going to say die on his tongue. The man, or rather, demon, is the most beautiful thing the Zefaiyan’s ever seen. Long, midnight hair, eyes the color of pure silver, and skin as white as fresh snow. He wore a loose green vest, which exposed some of the demon’s chest and muscular arms, and pants as loose as his top. His feet were bare, but the nails were as pointed as his claws.
He turns to give Ivo a bored stare and his head tips to the side, as if he’s seen something he can’t quite understand. “Humans are foolish creatures,” he says after a few moments of awkward silence pass, and Ivo sucks in a breath. Even his voice is beautiful. “I told the leader of this realm my people wouldn’t attack hers again, but she announced war against us.” The demon scoffs and rolls his eyes. “I suppose mortals forgot of the Great War and how they were slaughtered.”
“Who are you?” Ivo asks, cursing inwardly at the wonderment in his tone. This man is a demon; nothing’s stopping him from putting a clawed hand through his abdomen and ending his already short lifespan. “Why did you save me?”
“My name?” The demon arches an eyebrow and once more looks like he’s staring at a complex problem. “I suppose names are important to humans. I am Cresil and I saved you because… Well, let us worry about that later.” Cresil eyes the carnage and waves a hand towards it. “This is what demons will do to all of Merron Nien if I do not stand with mortals and try to put an end to it. Humans are such fragile creatures with pathetically short term memory it seems.”
Ivo bites his tongue to keep from saying something along the lines of “and your kind are nothing but murderers”. “Why would you stand against your kind? Surely we don’t have much to offer you.”
“True, you do not,” Cresil murmurs, placing a hand on his hip. “However, humans did me a great service when I was young, so I feel a need to repay them for their services.” He gazes at Ivo. “And you, hm, let us say you sparked my curiosity.”
“Curiosity?” Ivo’s eyebrow twitches. “I’m not something you can examine and stick in a cage for your own amusement.”
“Oh, I know. I wouldn’t be interested in you if you were the same as every other mortal being in the known universe,” Cresil deadpans, a humorless chuckle passing through his lips. “We must leave. I cannot protect you against every demon walking through your precious village.”
Ivo closes his eyes in pain. His whole life, up in smoke from a demon attack… and here he is being saved by one. Fate works in funny ways. “Wait,” he says. “I have to see if Charlotte is okay. Her house is on the highest hills, so maybe demons never got there yet--”
Cresil sighs, but nonetheless grabs Ivo’s wrist and picks him up, carrying him bridal style as he runs through the once bustling Mahorela. Ivo can’t make anything out as the demon runs; it’s all a huge blur, and they stop in front of Charlotte’s house in no time at all. Yet, despite Ivo’s hopes his mentor would be safe, her home is up in smoke as well and blood coats the once green grass.
Ivo hears a howl and before he can blink, Accalia runs towards him and lets out a whine. Cresil’s eyes widen a little at the wolf, and for a moment Ivo thinks he might have some kind of fear after all. However, the demon walks towards her and sets a hand on her head, scratching behind her ears, and Accalia lets out a happy bark sound.
“This mortal must have been something special,” Cresil says, a hint of surprise in his voice. Ivo raises an eyebrow in confusion and the demon clarifies his statement with, “This wolf of yours is a demon familiar. She must have bested her in battle, and thus, she pledged her loyalty and took a form humans could accept.”
“Accalia is… a demon?”
“A lesser demon, but yes,” Cresil says, sounding slightly annoyed. “She has something in her mouth.” He takes the parchment out of the wolf’s mouth and hands it to Ivo.
Ivo tilts his head, but nonetheless opens it, scanning the words written in his mentor’s calligraphy.
You’ve been like a son to me for all the years that I was honored to know you. Your exceptional skills are ones that I never thought any would possess since my daughter left Mahorela all those years ago. I never imagined that demons would invade our town and destroy our livelihood, but I have to believe that you survived to get this note. Take my bow. Please use it to protect those who can’t defend themselves and make sure another Mahorela doesn’t happen.
Take Accalia with you. She knows a safe way to leave the village.
Be strong and prosper, my son.
Ivo feels tears burn his eyes as he enters Charlotte’s home. He coughs through the smoke, but something glows throughout it, and he picks it up. It’s a bow, but its string glitters a faint purple.
Ivo runs out, shaking his head to get residual smoke out of his face. Cresil stands there with Accalia, but the demons are growling slightly at some unforeseeable enemy. “Do not move,” Cresil snarls as Ivo moves to take a step, and the mortal freezes in his tracks. Cresil disappears in seconds, and returns in the same amount of time, not a scratch or mark on him. “We leave, now.”
“What? Why, what happened?” Ivo questions, yet he’s grabbed once more and carried as Cresil runs, Accalia close to his heels. “Cresil! Answer me, damn you!”
“We were discovered,” Cresil answers, gazing downwards at Ivo for a brief moment before looking ahead again.
Ivo grips the demon’s vest, a million thoughts running through his mind. The one that settles is this: Goodbye, Mahorela. I promise to return someday, once this whole mess is over with.