Chapter the Ninth
"You're leaving?" A heart-stricken Linnatiel gasped in horror. The young boy named Derryn nodded his head sadly, looking down at his small shoes, not wanting to look in the elf girl's eyes.
"I have to go home, Linn," he said quietly, fearfully. Fearful of making her cry. He never liked seeing Linnatiel cry.
"But Derryn, we're best friends! You promised!" Linnatiel grabbed his shoulders and forced him to look into her large, emerald green eyes. "You can't leave!"
"I'm sorry, Linn! I'm sorry!" Derryn burst out, hugging the little elf tight, tears squeezing through his shut eyes. "I'll come back, Linn, I promise! Just don't cry! Please!"
"You...you don't want me to...cry?" Linnatiel asked uncertainly.
"You're my friend," Derryn whispered. "My best friend. I don't like seeing you sad, or hurt, or..." The little boy was silenced as Linnatiel kissed him hard on the cheek.
"Maybe you are more Elven than you think," she said, her face reddening slightly, compared to Derryn's. "Come back someday, Derryn Drakelight. I will be waiting for you."
"Damn dreams!" Derryn cursed, irritably snapping out of his nap. He sat at a table in the Flying Jug's common room, with his outstretched legs crossed, his arms folded across his chest. He blinked his eyes wearily: it must be the evening now, he pondered. For much of the day he ran across town, accompanied by Tareth, recruiting townspeople for Sonill's militia. Men young and old came out of their houses, some armed with pitchforks, some with spears, and one disturbed-looking man who hefted two butcher knives. All in all, Derryn found a hundred odd volunteers who were in dire need of basic training. It had better be worth it, the swordsman thought, yawning at the same time. Waste, I'm bloody exhausted.
"Derryn?" Linnatiel's voice asked meekly. Derryn craned his head upwards to look at her, and sighed to himself. The Princess still wore the gray, drab coloured dresses typical of travelers and commoners, but she always managed to take his breath away. "Derryn, the musicians are here. Do you want to dance?"
The swordsman looked around the common room. From his view from the corner table, all of the other tables were full, and people roared and laughed joyously. Bright lamps were lit all around the room, giving it a cozy feel. A harp player and a flute player were setting up at the far end of the room, tuning their instruments. Belial stood behind the bartender's counter with an extremely ecstatic look in his eyes. He was rubbing his hands gleefully, probably counting the gold in his head.
Derryn was wondering why Linnatiel speaking so meekly, when he realized he wore a scowl on his face, from his thoughts of those incompetent militiamen! Couldn't the spearmen at least perform a double rank line-crescent transfer formation manuever?! Derryn immediately sat up in his chair, scratched the back of his neck nervously and smiled at Linnatiel.
"Um...I was really beaten today from scurrying all over town," he explained. "I can't move my feet. Honest. I'm really sorry, Linn." He would wonder how long he would be incapacitated after one of the elf's dervish-like dance sessions. Linnatiel shook her head lightly, her golden locks swaying back and forth.
"It's all right, Derryn," she said. The elf took a nearby chair, pulled it next to his and sat in it, wriggling contentedly against his shoulder. "Can we just snuggle instead?"
"Uhh...snuggle?" Derryn's cheeks reddened. Here? In public?
"Mm-hmm," Linnatiel affirmed with a relaxing sigh. "You don't have a problem with that, do you?"
"Um...not at all, Linn," Derryn replied. He put an arm around the elf's shoulders. Maybe it wasn't so bad after all. A moment passed before he spoke again. "You waited a long time, didn't you."
"Hmm?" Linnatiel lifted her head and peered up at him. Her face became sullen.
"Linn, I made you wait...how long?"
"Ten years and two months," Linnatiel replied. "Did you learn something new from your dreams?"
"Something I should have remembered long ago," Derryn said, saddened by her stark recollection. "I remembered my last day on Vellucyn. I went and forgot about you, but you always remembered me. You even waited for me. I thought you had forgotten. Linn, I can't even begin to say how sorry I am."
Linnatiel shook her head. "No...it's nothing, Derryn. Don't worry about it."
"Linn, I hurt you and you know it. I broke my promise and never came back to see you. If it's still hurting you, I'll leave you alone."
The elf reached up and rapped her knuckles on the side of Derryn's head. "Derryn, listen to yourself! You say you're sorry because you left me for ten years, and now you claim to repent by leaving me alone?!"
"I...I'm sorry, Linn," the swordsman sighed dejectedly. "I'm just not good at apologizing. I'm not used to admitting a mistake." He looked pleadingly into her eyes. "If there's anything you want me to do for you, just say it and I will do it."
A small quirk of a smile flickered on Linnatiel's lips. "Kiss me, Derryn," she said. "Right here, right now. On the lips."
"Two seconds for every year you made me wait."
"With all these people around?!"
"Don't be shy, my casin'nath. I'm waiting." Derryn gaped at Linnatiel's suddenly forward nature. Slowly, carefully, so as not to make a mistake, the swordsman shifted in his chair and lowered his face to hers. Pushing back a lock of her blonde hair and tucking it behind her pointed ear, Derryn pressed his lips against Linnatiel's. He had forgotten how soft and full her lips were. His cheeks heated as he held one side of her face and stroked her cheek with a thumb. Waste! Bloody Waste, what am I doing? Linnatiel wound her arms around his neck and pressed her lips harder against his. I'm making out with the Elven Princess-Heir of Vellucyn in the corner table of a common room, that's what I'm doing! Waste! But Derryn couldn't deny that he liked it. In fact, he loved it. The exhilaration of their kiss drove straight into his skull. He found himself running his fingers through Linnatiel's long hair, and felt her fingers in his.
It was Linnatiel who broke the kiss first, and she did so reluctantly. The elf brushed her hair away from her face and looked down, abashed. An amused smile appeared on her face. "That was..." she sighed, taking a deep breath.
"That was what?" Derryn said, slightly annoyed. "I hope it was good enough for you, Princess."
"That was wonderful," Linnatiel whispered, and touched the swordsman's face. "It's taking quite a bit of my willpower not to kiss you again."
"Like an addiction," Derryn grinned, leaning closer. "You can't get enough of me." Linnatiel playfully pushed him away.
"That's enough from you, Derryn Drakelight!" She said annoyedly. "But...I've never been so forward before. She was right, though; it was worth it." Derryn's eyes bulged.
"What?! "She"? Who are you talking about?!" The swordsman turned to face the stairway. Shusa leaned casually against the railing, looking at the two with a curious smile on her face. Tareth stood behind her, almost howling with laughter. Derryn's cheeks reddened with embarrassment and anger. "That...wretch of a Northerner!" He growled. Linnatiel giggled lightly and touched his arm.
"Relax, Derryn," she laughed again. "Are you beginning to have second thoughts?" Derryn was startled in the way she looked at him now. The elf's eyes had softened, and those pools of green hinted at what could only be love and affection. Something felt like it pulled at Derryn's heart.
"No," he said softly, "of course not."
"Then I forgive you," Linnatiel said happily. She leaned against him again, closing her eyes. "Stay with me, Derryn."
"Forever, if I can," Derryn replied. The harp player at the far end of the room strummed a chord elegantly. His partner then began to play his flute, the light, airy notes flitting through the joyous common room.
The spearmen of the Sonill militia stood row upon row on the green, blowing fields with the sun on their faces. They all wore some attempt at full armour, usually the odd vest of ring mail or skull cap. Their faces were hard, or at least trying to be, and they clenched their weapons resolutely. Yet, they were more than a bit surprised when they saw Linnatiel facing them the same way as Derryn, their instructor.
The elf's sleeves were pushed up to her elbows, and she wore a white kerchief around her head. She opted to wear grey, divided skirts for the exercise, to give her more room to move. Linnatiel propped up her quarterstaff with one hand.
Derryn sat a little bit off in the distance, resting his hands on his knees and enjoying the spectacle. Shusa stood beside him, her arms crossed. Her looped earrings jingled lightly as she shook her head every so often.
"Is something the matter, Shusa?" Derryn asked, peering up at the Hunter.
Shusa made a low growl in her throat. "This is not fit for the Princess-Heir, young Drakelight. As Elves, it has been no small task to spend so much time amongst humans. I have tolerated my fair share of them, but I fear for Linnatiel. She's becoming more and more human with every passing day." Derryn glanced into the distance. Linnatiel had just finished pummeling one of the spearmen who challenged her. There was always at least one person who thought girls didn't know how to fight. The ones who believed Elves didn't know how to fight had just shut their jaws tight. The militiamen now gazed in wonder upon this beautiful elf, who knew how to handle a weapon, as well as being intolerant of any nonsense.
"She doesn't seem to be any less Elven than about a month and a half ago," the swordsman commented. Shusa snorted.
"You are not Elven, Derryn Drakelight," the Hunter said. "Maybe when you were little. Now you're just...just..."
"Just what, Shusa?"
"Unkempt, Derryn. Unkempt." Derryn cocked an eyebrow at her.
"Does this mean you don't approve of me being with Linnatiel?"
"You assume too much sometimes, Derryn," Shusa said, sitting down next to him. "I just said you were unkempt; I never said I didn't like you."
"Thanks for clearing that up," Derryn replied sarcastically. It was Shusa's turn to raise an eyebrow.
"You are her casin'nath, Derryn," she said. "I don't know what got into Sinvrael's mind to make you swear the oaths, but there's little one can do to separate you from Linnatiel."
Derryn watched Linnatiel train the spearmen in close combat staff fighting. She turned to look at him, smiled, and went back to work. "I love her," he sighed. Shusa patted him on the shoulder.
"I know, Derryn. I know," she said. "No one could have been a better casin'nath. You are even on the verge of putting me out of work." Derryn stared at the Hunter. "Yet, Linnatiel will always be the dearest little child in my heart. I will get to spend more time with my Sinvrael. Araon's light, I miss him."
"We'll be finished with this soon, Shusa," Derryn comforted. "After this, we'll get to go back to Vellucyn." Shusa looked at him for a moment, then laughed and gave him a quick hug.
"I thank you for your sweet words, Derryn Drakelight," she said, smiling. "You bring relief to this old woman's heart."
"You don't look THAT old," Derryn smirked. "Maybe in your thirties—"
"I'm sixty-five, Derryn Drakelight."
Derryn sighed. "I should've expected that, coming from an elf." Shusa laughed, and they both turned to watch Linnatiel again.
The air around the Black Wolf-occupied keep was filled with battle cries and the clanging of soldiers beating their swords against their shields. The grey, looming fortress itself was at least three stories high, about as wide, and surrounded a high wall. It sat atop a high hill, where the militia of Greenfield Stretch, the Reavers and Derryn's company waited at the bottom. All together, they made up a force of about three hundred men strong. Valaan stood at the forefront, staring intently at the keep as his crimson cloak fluttered about him. Nadia stood next to him, looking equally determined.
Derryn and Lanis's regiments flanked the spellweavers. The swordsman gripped the hilt of his weapon anxiously. Glancing sideways, the Reaver made tsked. Linnatiel, Shusa and Tareth were close to Derryn, forming a formidable strike force.
"You know what befalls you!" Valaan shouted to the silent fortress, his voice echoing throughout the valley. "You have seen your grip loosen on the Greenfield Stretch! Surrender, or be flushed out!"
For a while there was silence, and then the gate of the keep walls was raised. A lone figure walked out, toward the small army.
It was a man, fully clad in battle armour. The metal plates were adorned with spikes and grotesque skull emblazonings. A mane of purple hair spilled out of the top of the man's visored helmet. A long sword was slung across his back. He did not look like a Black Wolf.
"You do not know who you are dealing with!" The warrior boomed, his voice even louder, more menacing. "You do not know the extent of your folly. To even THINK of raising a hand against us." The knight raised a gloved finger, and waved it admonishingly. "No, you do not know. Fools, you challenge the will of Lord Wynell himself!" At that horrendous name, the militia shuddered in fear, their weapons and armour rattling. Lord Wynell, the Lord of the Wastes, the Foul One, had a stranglehold on their home?
"Wynell can go to the grave!" Derryn yelled. "If I have to stab him myself!" Linnatiel remembered an echo of the words, long ago. A promise.
"If that be so, then the Waste take you all!" The knight roared, and he raised his hand. A thunderstorm of earthshaking proportions fell from the sky, and upon the army below. Several were struck dead by searing lightning before Valaan raised his invisible shield that surrounded the army.
"Forward!" Lanis cried. "For the Stretch!" Men around him took up the cry, charging forward with fear-stricken courage. "For Sonill!" "Death to the Wolves!" "Death to Wynell!" The army moved like a slow wave, climbing up the hill. At the same time, Black Wolves by the score rushed out of the gates to meet them, brandishing their wickedly curved scimitars. Among the flood of dark warriors, Derryn noticed warriors of another kind: Nightcloaks. They moved silently and swiftly, gleaming knives in their fists. Nightcloaks were the scourge of the Blackened Wastes.
Suddenly, a wind made of pure lightning sheared through the ranks of the dark-clothed warriors, sending a dozen of them flying through the air, and hideously charring a score more. It was then, that Derryn and his militiamen crashed into the ranks of the Black Wolves. "For Vellucyn!" He cried.
"There are many of them," Valaan grunted as he struggled to combat the combined might of the Black Wolf mages that hid behind the keep walls. Nadia stood beside him, weaving her own destructive spells that aided their offensive. "They all hide inside the walls, where we cannot reach them."
"We will prevail, brother," Nadia replied, and threw out her hand. Flame erupted in the sky, and showered down on the keep. "We will prevail."
The battle raged on for half an hour, with the lesser numbers of the newly discovered Wynell's troops slowly pushing back toward the keep. However, the Greenfield's offensive was not without a heavy price. At least half of the militia were killed or wounded by the superior skill of the Nightcloaks. Whenever the spearmen or swordsmen were about to break and run from the silent killers, the Reavers were always there to dispatch several times their number, and press the townsmen forward. Smoke billowed from several places on the battlefield in thick, swirling columns. Mangled bodies were strewn about the green grass, yet the battle went on.
Just as the forces of the Reavers and militia reached the gates of the keep, the purple-maned knight stepped out to meet them. He walked in almost a swaggering fashion, his armour smelling of burnt ash. In a spiked gauntleted hand, he held a wicked two handed sword, the blade gleaming with the colour of dried blood. With almost a casual laugh, he moved with the speed of a demon and killed three Reavers in one fell strike, sending the young fighters to the ground, clutching their bleeding necks or chests. The dark knight radiated with the evil that was the Blackened Waste, a human who had made a blood pact in return for unholy strength.
Derryn stared up the hill at where the knight slowly approached from. He clenched his Templar blade with both hands, gasping for breath, his skin shivering with fear. "I must do this," he repeated over and over, in ragged pants. "There must not be a massacre from this one."
"Derryn?" Linnatiel said uncertainly, glancing sideways at the anxious swordsman. Shusa was a step behind them, on her full guard. Her Elven blades were slick with Nightcloak blood. The Princess's eyes widened in realization. "Derryn, no!"
"Go back where you came from!" Derryn shrieked madly, charging up the hill, charging headlong into the knight. The eyes behind the cruel visor gleamed with malice. The two warriors clashed blades halfway up the hill to the keep, the clanging of steel resounding throughout the valley. Derryn grit his teeth in determination as his feet were set further apart to keep his balance. He snarled at Wynell's knight.
"You ask for a death wish from the Foul One himself!" The knight roared, sweeping his ruddy blade out in a wide arc. Derryn slid back down the hill, twisted his feet and stopped himself. His side faced his opponent: his sword was clenched in one hand, his other hand was outstretched toward the knight. His feet were set a shoulder's width apart in a ready stance. A stance ready to charge. A wild look was in Derryn's eyes.
"I have been waiting twenty years for this!" The swordsman screamed, and launched himself at the knight. The sheer impact of Derryn's charge caused the dark warrior's towering form to stumble back, but quickly regained his balance and engaged in a furious duel with the human swordsman. The battlefield was suddenly silent, as the two fighters lashed out against each other with staggering force. By all accounts, Derryn should have lost in the first clash. He was smaller and weaker than the fully armoured knight, who moved just as fast as the lightly-clad swordsman. But somehow, Derryn matched the knight stroke for stroke, dancing with the demonic swordsman with unimaginable speed. It was as if something had awakened in the teenager.
Linnatiel could do nothing but watch the duel, her eyes wide with fear. "What...what's happening to Derryn?" She asked under her breath. "That's not Derryn. That's not my Derryn!"
" ‘Fialain ynala telthanen enshai lanail’," was Shusa's reply. "He must be. There is no other way." Linnatiel suddenly remembered her words in the Northern Sanctuary, the prophecy she told him:
"You have no one to fight, Derryn Drakelight," she said. "You will search the world for evil until you find it. You have no choice; it’s in your veins. It has been an obscure elven prophecy, but it comes with good and bad omens. The bad omen is that there is evil coming. The good news is that we already have our hero to fight it."
"He has never been touched by an evil like this before," the elf said to herself, clutching her quarterstaff tighter and tighter. "Who is he now? What happened to the Derryn I know?!"
"As much as it pains me," Tareth snarled from the bottom of his throat, "I cannot help Der-ryn. This is his fight. Every bone in my body aches to rip that...abomination limb from limb. It is the wanderlust. I have found what I have been looking for, but I cannot touch it. I cannot touch it!" The Northerner's fingers cracked as they strangled the hilt of his weapon.
Derryn's scream ripped everyone out of their thoughts. He had stumbled away from the knight, bleeding from a dozen sword wounds, the crimson fluid flowing freely across his body. He clutched his Templar broadsword in one limp arm, and held it protectively with the other. The dark knight's armour was notched with a score of sword cuts, and a black fluid stained the armour under one arm.
Panting with exhaustion, Derryn fell to one knee, glaring at the knight. That was the difference: the knight still stood. With a chuckle that sounded like grating metal, the dark warrior strode toward Derryn, his crimson blade gripped with both hands.
"I am what you fear most," the swordsman uttered as he struggled to keep himself upright. "You know it." His voice seemed deeper, and more aged by experience.
The dark knight's visor shook slightly as he raised the sword in execution fashion. "You are a boy who has outlived his stay on Ryth."
"I am Anthan Drakelight!" Derryn roared, standing upright as if his clothes and body weren't covered in sweat and blood. The dark warrior immediately took a step back at hearing the ancient name. "You are a fool!" The knight spat through his visor, and he raised his bloody sword. "This will put you out of your feverish delusions!" With an enraged cry, he swung his sword down upon Derryn.
"The prophecies did not speak of this," Shusa whispered.
Linnatiel watched Derryn raise his hand, and everything simply...stopped. The smoke in the sky stopped drifting, the fires froze in midblaze. The knight was trapped in the middle of his death strike. The militiamen around the elf gaped collectively in astonishment, their faces unmoving. But somehow, everyone on the battlefield knew what had happened. No one could move, nor speak, but witnessed everything that passed.
"I am Anthan Drakelight," Derryn repeated slowly, in that strange voice. "And I abhor this evil that stinks around me. I will cleanse you all!" The swordsman raised his hands, his face a mask of fearful ecstasy. A white light, a pure light, emanated from his hands, and grew brighter and brighter.
Derryn, NO! Linnatiel shrieked in her mind. You can't do this! Bring back the Derryn I love! Derryn laughed out loud across a silent, frozen battlefield. That laugh chilled Linnatiel to the bone. The white light enveloped her vision. What madness is this? Araon's light, Derryn, I love you, were Linnatiel's last thoughts before she fell into unconsciousness, and white sank to black.
-Thursday, March 14, 2002