Zakrivea tried to hurry while preparing the warm bedchambers for the queen. The queen loathed the cold, so she had to make sure the little coal stove works well and the bedsheets are warmed. The cold chamber was the only thing that could cause the queen to reprimend the girl, as she was cherished by her for her hard work she always did. Altough the queen knew nothing about all vicious threads in Raithea’s plan, she suspected something vile can happen soon and her nerves were shattered by the unknown. Maybe she thought as well, that treating Zakrivea in fine manner, may stop Raithea’s hand, when his plans come to fruition. Though the elven maid knew well, that once Raithea smells his prey, he never releases it, unless he chooses to abandon it in favor of some more promising pursuit. To be honest, Zakrivea partially hoped, that he will release the queen from his sharp grasp.
Zakrivea hoped for many things. She didn’t have to work for Lord Advisor, she came from another land, where elves were free and human fist didn’t put them into submission. She could always return home, to her family. If she ever wished, she could leave this dreary place, and the misery of thousand of elves it held inside its walls. She long ago realized that she can’t single-handed help the situation of elvin children in this land, but there was one elf, who was a hope for them, a solitary and dark figure, who would do everything to stop humans and free his kind. One elf, who’s position was higher than most of human invaders, yet he still fought for others, sometimes using very morbid means.
Raithea was wounded inside, even if he never would admit it. He woven so many layers of deception, that even himself started to believe in them. His lies were so complete, that she doubted he sees through them, yes, even as master of them all. He deceived them all, humans, elves, royalty, even his own pupil, who worked with him, not even knowing his real plans. But not her. She has seen thorough all of this and her heart suffered.
There were times that she thought that her love for him blinded her and Raithea is beyond saving, but there, suddenly, was a kind word, a fleeting smile, even an almost-apology and her doubt was changing imediately, her eyes were seeing clear again – seeing that his goal is virtous, even if his means are deadly.
Usually, her work was enough to keep her away from thinking about cursed Lord Advisor. But now, while Raithea haven’t visited her for so long and she didn’t know what happens with him, she felt out and worried about him. So many things could go wrong, so many spells could backfire. She was aware that the king wants him close, but that wasn’t making her fear lesser.
This time apart was a torture for her. Raithea looked like an innocent young boy, at least until one looked in his eyes, there could be seen more than a lifetime’s worth of anger and pain. Raithea may have been trapped in the body of a child, but his eyes were those of a man old beyond his years, nearly broken from a lifetime of struggle against unknowable forces. Zakrivea didn’t know if her love for him is a love for a man he really was, or a motherly care for a child he looked like…
A familiar voice. She sprung imediatelly.
“Raithea” she smiled, stopping her work. “What are you doing here!”
No one had right to enter queen’s bedchambers, not even the king. If Raithea was found here, his life would be in danger. If he ever could be in any danger.
He smiled sadly.
“I needed a break from my studies. And I knew you will be here.”
“And you had to risk coming here” she almost lectured him.
“Why not” he sat on the bed, making a small destruction over her work she did so far. His feet dangled over the floor, he looked so fragile now. “I go where I wish to.”
“If the guards have seen you…”
“It’s impossible, I have ways to stay undetected” he laughed. “Not to mention that I helped setting all magical traps in this castle.”
She sat nect to him and his arms tensed for a small second, to relief while after. But she noticed it. How could she not?
“And you came straight here” she mused, really wanting to know the aim of this dangerous endeavour.
That word has such final tone to it, that she didn’t know how to respond. She almost suspected, that he wanted to prove something, that he can go everywhere, without any consequence. With Raithea consequences were what happened to other people, most often people who displeased him. Not even king was safe, when he sensed weakness. And now he came to boast before her.
“What have you been doing lately?” she dared to speak, when silence was prolonging.
“I can’t tell you” his youtful futures shone. “But as always, I worked on my plans.”
“Are you joking with me?” she narrowed her brows. “Why then you came here?”
“My plans are never jokes,” Raithea looked at her with a mildly irritated expression before abruptly changing the subject, “Have you been avoiding me lately?”
The question caught her off guard. It had to be a trick, one of his knacks. He knew how to put someone in deep consternation.
“Well, have you?” he leaned in close, expression undeciphered.
“No, Raithea” she fell in defence mode. “Never. I had been busy with queen’s orders. She keeps me very close. I think she fears something.”
“Do you maybe know who?” Raithea gently coaxed as though he was a teacher and she a particularly slow student. Zakrivea hated it, but it was so him, that she thought that it may not even be under his control.”
“She is scared of you?” it was the obvious answer.
“Her lies being uncovered?”
“What is it then,” she blurted out, almost annoyed.
Raithea grinned and his hand landed for a brief, briefest second on her shoulder, only to fast retread, when he realized what he is doing.
“Find out, Zakrivea. It may be vital to my plans.”
He looked like he wants to say something more, but soon shook his head, and not even looking at her, he stood up.
He paused for a moment, like he wanted to say something, something important. But it was a fleeting thing, just as his hand on her shoulder. He left, leaving her in consternation and even more anxiety in her heart.
Tiyo didn’t remember much of the great war between people and the kilyans of the fae. As if a fog had covered his senses, dangerous and blinding, but at the same time sensual and inviting. At least he imagined it like that, he wanted it. He wanted to disappear when the fae were killing his friends, his brothers. He didn’t want to watch as the ones he grew up with fall under blows of the cruel shee. He tried to use his sword, but he was too young to do it properly. He shouldn’t even be here, no one should be. He was another boy used as cannon fodder, another insignificant young life, a thread cut too early. The kilyan mages didn’t even have to enter the battlefield to sweep their enemies from the face of the earth with spells that his people could not even dream of. Tiyo could only try to not be brutally killed.
The battle he took part in was particulary vicious. The King of kilyans threw huge khritars at the humans, an enormous carnivorous monsters with crystal teeth. The beasts tore apart their victims with bony claws, bloodstained double jaws, and with teeth that resembled diamonds. Fae made sure they were eternally hungry for human flesh. It caused more fear and kilyans loved when humans feared them.
Tiyo was twelve at the time, but his face was covered with blood and tears flowed from his eyes. Fear or regret, anger or despair, did it matter? Where were the saru of the fae who protected them from their demonic brothers? Where are the good beings who promised them peace and kept the Dark Folk on a leash?
Sobbing from fear, he threw his useless sword on the ground and reached up to smear tears with his hands. The fae passed him by, aiming at the adult men whose screams pierced the thick air. Tiyo wondered why he didn’t attack him too.
A tall fae warrior covered in fog passed by, pausing only to look at Tiyo with an amused scorn. This made Tiyo angry. Why they don’t attack him? It was as if he was so easy to remove that removal was not necessary. The birds of prey above in the sky already circled the air and their eyes were following not only the dead men on the battlefield but also the boy.
“FIGHT, COWARD!!” he heard a yell at his right. A human soldier, covered in the blue blood of the fae held a sword dripping with the fluid that once ran through kilyan veins. Tiyo wanted to spark a hatred in himself, for everything the shee represented, but what was happening here was just sad. Humans had no chance to win and even burning hatred for kilyan kind couldn’t changed the facts that they all were lost before the war has started.
Tiyo tried to pick up his sword and fight as the stranger urged him. Don’t be a failure. Do something. But his hands suddenly went numb, the strange fog intensified and hit him with a waft of scenty air, the boy almost fell on his knees, but then he felt it.
A spell in his side. There was no blood, just a feeling of drilling and pain. He looked slowly, helplessly, ahead, spotting the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Faint, almost transparent eyes looked at him coldly. It’s long white hair moved in the wind, and his long face, characteristic to kilyans, didn’t express the rage that usually accompanied the battle between sworn enemies. It was an idle face, indifferent, with no resentment to it, but showing so much contempt in its eyes that Tiyo shivered. The penetrating spell continued to roll into his body, a moan escaped his throat, silent, insipid, despite the unbearable pain. Fae approached Tiyo slowly, and a spear appeared in his hand with slender fingers. Tiyo thought it was more beautiful than the shee who held it.
Kilyan, silent, beautiful and indifferent, stood in the middle of the battlefield, unconcerned, as if he was invincible. He slowly lifted the spear. Tiyo eventually fell to the blood-soaked earth. It smelled of iron, but also the strange scent of grass that the fae’s blood gave. There was not even grass here, he thought suddenly, feeling that he was going to pass out soon, numb with pain.The kritharas trampled the ground, the soil stained with blood of the fighting armies, there was no life here.
He waited for the blow. Kilyan elicited some sounds in his delicate tongue that sounded like liquid sleep. Tiyo didn’t want to fight anymore. He had enough, enough of his father, who told him to fight; of the fae, of King Robhar, who thought he could fight magic. Kill me and take this pain away. The boy curled up in a fetal position, wishing everything around him would end.
Then he felt a terrifying cold. Death. Kilyan hit me, and I’m so bemused that I didn’t even notice. But after a few seconds, Tiyo realized that he isn’t dying, he still breaths. The white-haired fae began to speak to someone, quickly, in a fuss. In response, he obtained a murmur that might well belong to a man or a raging storm. There was a primordial power in it that scared the boy more than the fight, more than the blood around him.
‘Us’slu man’ki sarra’l’, this time, a soft voice rang over his shaky body. Tiyo was afraid to look, fearing to see the owner of the voice. He felt that there was cold evil in the fae, petrified cruelty.
The boy didn’t understand what the shee said, but suddenly his body became warm, replacing the paralyzing cold. The boy dared to lift his eyes, but he saw only two hazy spots: bright, certainly belonging to the white-haired kilyan, dressed in white robes. The second one was completely black. The picture in front of his eyes began to jump, Tiyo seemed to see two black holes instead of eyes, gaping in emptiness, reminiscent of the infinite night and depth of the ocean that his father traversed on a freighter, a metal colossus that housed thousands of people. Fae didn’t use metal, only light and night. Even Kilyan’s spear was created from the pure rays of the sun.
Black eyes drilled into his soul. The black kilyan seemed to grow in his mind, reaching the height of a colossus, similar to the ship his father worked at, a soulless monument.
He closed his eyes as the black fae leaned over him. He smelled of flowers and the rain-washed ground after a storm.
‘Don’t… don’t kill me…’ Tiyo managed to say. But black fae laughed – it was not evil laughter at all, it held the promise of spring after cruel winter.
‘Human child,’ he said in his language of Sorgon. ‘You have been sent in too early.’ The tone of his voice lowered, passing into a whisper when the cold breath of the shee touched his neck. ‘But children are precious prey. You should not be here, but I will never let the oath pass before my eyes…’
Tiyo, dazed with the scent of flowers and kilyan’s soft voice, could not restrain his fatigue. They will kill him, they will kill him now…
The boy fainted, his last word was ‘please’.
‘You’re pleading?’ amusement rang in fae’s voice. “I am here to fulfill your plea.’
But Tiyo didn’t hear him anymore. The battle lasted, the fae eliminated people at a bone-chilling rate, but he laid still as if surrounded by a protective bubble. He slept like a child he was.
He slept without dreams, while the empire of the people was overcame by the shee forces.
Above the battlefield, now deserted, snow fell, thick and freezing. Snow, which has always prevailed in the land of kilyans. The fae kingdom took over the human’s and even the weather testified. Someone carried Tiyo, someone with eyes black as coal and black hair, like raven’s feathers.
Teatime was sitting alone. He was always sitting alone. There was no adept who would like to be friends with him, they didn’t even want to even approach him. The tight lampshade formed around him, a bubble, through which no student could pass. The more mature ones knew that this boy shouldn’t be in the Guild. Younger ones also knew it, but subconsciously. Nobody ever told them what was wrong with Teatime.
Teatime was standing over the cat. The cat was not in the best condition. It just burned. Soon the pedagogical body will appear and of course, it will cover it up. It wasn’t the first time, rather… eighth? The cats looked hilarious, burning. He was surprised that others didn’t find anything funny about it.
It was a normal day. The day when he lost his eye. He just attacked this boy, and the boy defended himself. He was like a fury, like an angry natural element. They knew that one shouldn’t approach him, but he wanted to have fun at his expense. Teatime started to bite. He was small and agile, smaller than other boys, but he knew WHERE to bite, in addition to his education in the Assassins’ Guild. He bit deeply until the boy bled. And with skill, as if he had done it before. And now Teatime didn’t have an eye. He won’t have it for quite long.
Time pours in an hourglass. Another spring. Another summer, lush, beautiful. Autumn. And winter, spirited, cold. Teatime is no longer a child. He’s devising plans. Relaxes, enjoying the future inhumations. He knows that he mastered his assassin’s skill. How can someone who loves what he does, not do it right?
This ball, the fake eye. The Unseen Academy student told him it wouldn’t do anything as long as he didn’t poke it too often. And, surely, if that other student didn’t come up with the idea that it could be magical, Teatime wouldn’t be interested in it. But now he sees. Clearly. The eyes of the adepts run away somewhere far away. Again.
The first serious order. Already after graduation. Dreaming about blood, dreaming about killing. Dreaming about the small letters that make up his name in the hall of the most famous assassins. Not Jonathan. Someone better, someone else. What about the sledges? It must be the Hogfather…
His body is lying on the floor. He can’t believe he is dead. And the tentacles of the unknown world, to which he goes, reach him, tries to mute, the world looks devastated and destroyed, the red sun grows bigger the longer he looks at it, the deserts look abandoned but the monsters are looking at him from under the huge monoliths. And he doesn’t like this world. He doesn’t like it at all.
I DON’T KNOW WHY IT’S NOT OBVIOUS, says Death, I THOUGHT YOU WILL KNOW IT FROM THE VERY BEGINNING.
Another spring. And summer, lush, beautiful. Autumn, all in yellow leaves. Finally, winter. But Teatime is gone. There is only a glass ball from a student of magic and emptiness in a place where once was someone. The small letters were written under a small trophy. But it isn’t the trophy he worked for.
The desert screams. The monsters hunt. The other world is empty. Death walks under the red sun and ponders. Why humans are so predictable?
Keeral respected Lord Rhuitaure, he truly did, but there were times he wondered about his mentor. It was not Raithea’s virtue, or the rightness of what he was doing that Keeral questioned, but he still dared not speak out about his concerns. Since Raithea had rescued not only him, but his family from a life of misery he trusted his goodness. The questions he had were more general ones, how he had risen to his position, what his goals were. He knew better than to ask, for the last thing he wished to do was to anger his mentor. It was not that he believed the terrible rumors spread by those envious of Lord Rhuitaure’s standing, it was simply that he knew how fragile a position he was in and he had no desire to take any chances.
Still, he wished that he could ask Raithea questions more openly for so much about him was a mystery. He made it clear that his appearance was due to a curse of some form or another. Raithea surely took a lot f time to try to break it. Especially considering how old Raithea was. Certainly in all the years he had been alive he would have found some way to break the curse. Yes, it did cause those foolish enough not to understand who they were dealing with to underestimate him, as his ten-years old appeareance was sweet and innocent as every Elvin child seemed to be, but in Keeral’s opinion the disadvantages far outweighed any benefits there might have been.
The reasons for his wanting to know more about the curse were dark, especially when he was worried about his family. That curse actually filled Keeral with a mixture of hope and frustration. He longed to find out the source of the curse and dreamed of somehow using it to his advantage, perhaps to trick the human invaders into bringing the wrath of something immensely powerful down upon themselves, or even harnessing that power for himself to turn it against the humans and free his people. For what young boy did not dream of being a hero, the sort who legends would be told of in the ages to come?
That was something he had learned much about during the time he spent reading, heroes and legends. His interest in the history of his people had extended to their mythology and the individuals those tales spoke of. It was fascinating to learn of the great sorceresses and magic workers from long ago and the deities and demons that populated the times of legend. raithea seemed to know a lot about these times, he lived then and then he was cursed but there was something holding him back, some plan that had yet to come to fruition. When he pressed Raithea about doing something, anything, to better their people he would be told to be patient or given a long lecture about the situation and the value of prudence, depending on the mood Raithea was in and how much time he had.
It was frustrating for Keeral to be told to wait, but he respected Raithea enough to do as told, especially since Raithea seemed to be speaking from experience when he told of how important a trait it was to be cautious. Still, it was difficult for Keeral to follow such advice, as wise as it may have been. So he read the history of his people to keep their culture alive and so that he could feel a part of something so much bigger than himself. The Elves had been there for so much longer than the humans, had such a rich culture, yet they had lost to the invaders. To understand this he turned to the human histories.
The most recent accounts appalled him, but Raithea encouraged Keeral to read them when he learned of his interests, telling him that it was good for him to understand the humans and to be angry at them for their lies and atrocities. Keeral preferred to stick to the human’s oldest accounts of their land and myths, for the humans in those stories were so strange and alien in their ways that they may as well been another race entirely, yet there were some things that never changed over the ages. From the start humans had been a savage, bellicose people. Their story of creation was one of war, where great powers fought until the world was made to the liking of the winners. Following the lead of their creators, the humans spread and conquered, their tales full of hero kings who rode at the head of invading armies, bringing empires to their knees at the point of a sword, and magic workers who used their powers to make horrible, destructive spells to raze cities and burn fields to ash.
The closest thing to any of this in Elvin history and legends were the long vanished demons and other, darker, unnamed powers. Though he had not yet brought it up with Raithea, Keeral secretly suspected that there was a connection between the monsters of legend and the humans. It was prudence that kept him silent on the matter since Raithea disapproved of any talk of demons and unspeakable powers. To Keeral this was proof of how upstanding Raithea was at heart, proof that the stories spread were lies. That was the reason he never approached his mentor about the rumors to prove that they were false, in his mind there was no need to. The truth of who Raithea was, as far as he was concerned, was irrefutable.
Even when the horrible stories came from individuals he trusted on other matters Keeral was able to disbelieve. He understood where those rumors came from and it was the same reason that Raithea encouraged him to learn of the history of humans, because it would be the key to their undoing. Until humans arrived no Elf had ever made war, no king had set out on a mission of conquest, and no magic worker had plotted the deaths of thousands. These ways were unique to humans, which had resulted in the downfall of the Elvin Empire. Raithea clearly understood this, that to drive the humans away it was necessary to think like them, to use their violent nature against them so that they would tear themselves apart from within. The rumors were spread because other Elves were unable to understand that Raithea was not inherently horrible, he just emulated some of the negative traits of humans to use against them. Surely Raithea would never stoop to the mindless atrocities that humans were capable, no true Elf could.
“Stop woolgathering,” a deceptively soft voice spoke out behind him.
The gentle admonition caused Keeral to look up from the text he was supposed to have been transcribing.
“I’m sorry,” he started to apologize, only for Raithea to cut him off with a shake of his head.
“Don’t be sorry, be busy. The King wants copies of that manuscript in Low Common and I told him that you could do it,” it was a unique trick that Raithea had, the knack for combining a dire warning and a compliment into something that could be frigthening in some way, “He’d rather I not waste my valuable time with such matters and it’s best that he sees how useful you are as my assistant.”
“Of course Lord Rhuitaure,” Keeral said as he tried to find where he had left off in the text. The last bit he had transcribed had been about the currents of the stars and their effect on different sorts of magic, but that section went on for several pages.
“He knows I’ve taught you to read in Old Elvin, he doesn’t know that I’ve been teaching you magic as well, so he values your skill as a translator far beyond what he should,” Raithea gave another one of his mixed compliments, “It’s my hope that eventually he will decide to lend your services to some of his Wizards and Nobles. They’re all too lazy to learn what they think of as a slave tongue, fools that they are, and it will be valuable for you to go out and see what’s happening elsewhere.”
“But my family, Lord Rhuitaure, what will become of them if I were to leave?” Keeral knew that most of the assistance that his family received came directly from Raithea, but he still worried what could happen to them if they were gone for any length of time.
“I gave you my word that I’d keep them safe,” Raithea’s expression darkened, taking of a harshness that was out of place on his otherwise youthful features, “Do you doubt me?”
Then he laughed at Keeral’s stunned expression, letting him know that he was not as angry as he had seemed for a moment, or that he was willing to let the almost insult pass, “Don’t worry about them now, worry what will happen if things continue the way they are. You’ll do them more good out in the world gathering information and bringing it back to me. I may have eyes and ears through the palace, but they cannot be everywhere. I’m trusting you to work for me elsewhere, watching and listening, then bringing what you learn to me. There’s no tidbit too small to be of use, it would do you well to learn that.”
“Yes, of course,” Keeral finally found his place and went back to translating the text into the human’s writing system.
“Oh, and one more thing,” Raithea gave him a smile that was pure venom, “When you get to the part about ‘illequaa sei’taff’, ‘life water’, it would be an easy mistake for someone so early in his education to read it as ‘illequaa siet’affan’ and translate it to ‘silver water’.”
Keeral stared at his mentor wide eyed as the implications of the suggestion sank in, for that was what it was, a suggestion. He was to deliberately sabotage the treatise on alchemy he was translating and in a most horrifying way. In alchemical terms illequaa sei’taff was a harmless salt solution, noxious in taste if one were to drink it on its own, but a vital component in many healing potions. Illequaa siet’affan was strictly for use in the transmutation of substances into higher states of magical order and an insidious poison if consumed. The symptoms were indistinguishable from madness or possession and Raithea was suggesting that he deliberately mistranslate the text so that it was listed as being a necessary ingredient in potions meant to cure the any number of ailments.
Surely the human Wizards would know better if they were to begin mixing the ingredients, for they had to know what silver water was, yet at the same time the amount of confusion that would be created as to which was to be used in more exotic formulae would create no small amount of confusion. If they failed to catch the mistake though…
He looked at Raithea, hoping for some affirmation that he understood correctly.
“Their Wizards are hardly that wise, their alchemy primitive at best,” his mentor laughed, “Did you know that they’re only aware of four of the six states of magical order and that they still believe that we live so much longer than them due to magic?”
Ah, so that was why the human King was so interested in Elvin alchemic texts being translated into a language his magicians and scholars could easily read. It had never occurred to Keeral how little of Elvin learning that they had managed to absorb, nor had he given much thought to how much Raithea had taught him.
“I understand Lord Rhuitaure,” Keeral said silently, astonished by it, before he went back to work on the translation.
“Very good,” Raithea’s smile softened into an expression that was almost kind as left the room, leaving Keeral to ponder over the valuable lesson his mentor had given him that day.