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Chapter 21: Surviving Quiet Days.
“Fight like it’s your last breath.
Love, like she is the last woman on Sangraal.
Drink like there is no tomorrow.
And when time comes,
enjoy the quiet, for it always brings the storm”.
– Rungnir’s Lament, Songs from the Battlefield, author unknown.
“Legends say that The First Mother, Riliadvael sang forth the creation and everything in it. She created the trees, the seas, the mountains and the skies. Before her was nothing, and after her, everything”, Faeve’s soft voice fell upon the sands like a soft sigh.
No! No! No! That’s just the connection making me like her voice! Don’t listen to him, Rigel!
I sighed. Back to talking to yourself again, eh, Rigel? I sighed again.
Faeve coughed softly.
Ugh. Can’t even think by myself without her knowing it. Fuck this—
A delicate silence spread between us as a soft chill spread through my stomach. Faeve’s porcelain nape had gone crimson as her ears trembled.
It’s not like she wants it…I mean I am eroding her mind, aren’t I?
Her quiet pain continued to swirl through me, raising a hundred pinpricks.
“I am sorry”. I breathed out.
She flinched and stared at me, shock spreading through her face. Faeve shifted her eyes as she noticed me staring back at her.
What is she looking at? Don’t tell me—
“I know”, she mumbled, “I should keep hating you”.
She touched her hair, playing at the edges. It was growing back from where I had cut it. “I should keep hating you, right?” She repeated.
I didn’t answer as I ran my fingers through my hair. You know we both have to. It’s the only way to fight the Tree.
The silence stretched between us. A silence of many words, a silence of even more words, unsaid. This fucking silence…it’s going to kill us.
She shuffled her feet as she came to the same realisation. Or did the connection inform her? Fuck…I don’t know what’s what anymore.
“Riliadvael lamented when she saw there were none except her to enjoy the world she had created. Therefore she impregnated herself with her own seed, for there were no men yet. She gave birth to herself, the Second Mother Nurielnonne”, Faeve paused as the wind picked up, eating at her words. “She birthed the Elves, once in the light of the day, second in the light of the moon and third in the shadows of the twilight. Thus came forth the three races of Elves, of the Sun, the Moon and the Twilight”.
“Did anyone tell you that you sound strange when you talk of your hometown?” I asked while I put up my palm to shade my eyes from the sun. The cliff now glimmered in places. Probably crystals? Top edges of the cliff were now more jagged, broken up badly in places. Trees and bushes now jutted out from the cliff faces, as if in defiance to unforgiving nature.
“I am just quoting our ancient texts”, she bristled, “I do not sound strange”.
“Alright, alright”, I urged her, “you said three races? I can somewhat understand the Moon Elves…” Probably something like those Dark elves you see in hentais. Dammit! Don’t think of hentais! That’s some imagery I don’t want Faeve to see!
She stiffened. Her brows furrowed. Di…did she see it? Shit, shit ,shit!
Faeve stared at me with her nose crinkling, “The Moon Elves are black skinned with hair the colour of silver moon. The other race are the…Twilight Elves. But they are confined mostly to the legends…none of the Moon Elves or the Sun Elves have seen a Twilight Elf in living memory”.
“I thought all the races lived over at uh…your city?” I asked while I spotted a long eel-like fish flopping on the beach. Its black fins glinted in the sunlight as it’s gills struggled hard to take in water that wasn’t there.
“No, Olyelnore Ur’van is the capital city of the Sun-Elves. The Moon Elves live halfway across the world in Aftalheir, the Moonlit Bastion. As for the Twilight Elves, as I said, no one knows where they actually live or if they still exist. Legends say that they live on a floating island where the day and night meet, the Elternhel”.
I jogged towards the eel-like fish before it could flop itself back into the sea. Unblinking, its black beady eyes stared at me. It is probably terrified or warning me. “Too bad, I don’t speak fish”, I declared while I grabbed onto its slick body.
The fish just slipped out of my fingers. I made a wild grab at it again. You little piece of—
Faeve’s voice interrupted my thoughts, “Eridan watch ou—”
“Fucking piece of shit!” I cried out as a sharp stab of pain drove up my palms. The asshole had sharp spikes along its body! The fish had raised those barbs to defend itself. Long thin spikes rose along its length like a porcupine. The fish bared its razor sharp teeth as me.
Faeve walked up behind me, “That is what I was saying. Only fools try to catch a Nogereli with their bare hands”.
Not like I know, you asshole. I carefully extracted my fingers from the spikes that had stuck to it. Dammit! These won’t break off!
I dropped the fish from my hands. Its spikes sunk into the wet sand, barely making a sound. It tried to flop away but the spikes anchored it to its place.
The magic bag from Icchvarrion’s came away from my belt with difficulty. I crouched near the struggling Nogereli and pinched it by its tail, the only place without spikes. With some difficulty, the fish came away from the sand, its writing weight threatened to break free from my awkward pinch.
Faeve raised her eyebrows at me, her hands crossed over her chest, “What are you…”
“Stop looking like a damn statue and open this bag wide”, I grumbled while the fish tried to slap into my hands.
She took the bag into her hands, her eyes widening as she pulled the drawstring open, “Gods! Why is there so much—”
I plopped the fish inside the bag. It disappeared without a trace, “I simply didn’t have the energy to clean the bag out. But, hey! We can have fresh fish for dinner”.
She just shook her head at me, “Something is definitely wrong with you, human”. A small smile had crept up the corner of her lips, “very wrong”.
My hand stung. I shook it, but the pinprick sensation quickly escalated to a steady burn. What the actual? My eyebrows started to sweat as the sensation overtook me.
“Oh, that was a poison Nogereli then?” Faeve stared at my hand, “You will be paralysed for a day”.
“Do something about it then!” I yelped. This elf is crazy! Why won’t she— images of what I had done that night flashed through my mind—that’s right, I almost raped her, didn’t I? Why would she help me after all that I…
“Your hand”, Faeve said with a strained voice, breaking my train of thought. “Give it to me”.
I extended my hands towards her. She took my palm in her hand, the contact making her shiver. Waaaaaaaaait a minute. Is she—Faeve took my wounded fingers into her mouth and sucked. Shit! Shit! Shit!
Her eyes closed as she sucked hard. AP left through the wounds in my fingers and snaking inside her mouth. Her neck arched as she grabbed on my hands tight. I noticed this before when she broke into my room at the whorehouse…why does she get excited every time she absorbs my AP? Even when I was carrying her during the fight in the water…
She let go with a flinch, her jaws hardening. I sighed. I can’t control my thoughts, can I?
Faeve’s nails dug down on my arm as she dipped her mouth again on a different finger. A soft numbness spread through my fingers as she sucked away more of my blood. Her face scrunched up as she spat out blood mixed with a sickly green fluid. The sand grew a muddy red with my blood.
The intolerable burn turned into a dull ache as she separated from my palm. Her cool breath played on my fingers like a soft sigh.
“Elves are one with the Voice of the World. When an Urvan’ere takes in the Voice of her Aivern, she is absorbing the very being of her Aivern, hence the elation”, she whispered while wiping her lips. Her hand holding my own released, letting it drop like unwanted baggage.
“Why do you call AP the Voice?” I asked while I wiped my hands on my clothes. Is the wound…gone? I brought my hands closer to my eyes. It really is gone! Faeve’s power of healing is getting more potent?
She shook her head as my thoughts reached her. “As the connection between Aivern and Urvan’ere broadens, so does her powers”, she tightened the makeshift rope holding her ragged tunic.“Besides, the last time I applied healing, you were far too damaged for it to take effect quickly. Your own power of…rot was inhibiting the healing to a large extent”.
So the ‘vitality’ the Elves speak of is something akin to regeneration of the body, huh?
She looked up at the sun, her eyes squinted, “We Elves believe that what you humans call AP is the song of Riliadvael and her children. When we take in the Voice, we attune it to our own self, releasing our own songs. For a brief moment, all the creatures are creating their own tunes, and when they die…” her eyes lowered to her own hand, “they return to the first tune, the tune of Riliadvael’s creation”.
I motioned with my hands for her to start walking. She arched her eyebrows up and then turned away from me, trudging on the white sands.
I followed closely behind her, wringing my hands to bring sensation to my numbed fingers, “I thought the Tree of Life was central to the Elves, so why do the Moon Elves don’t live in the Mountain of Trees?”
Her lithe figure walked the sands effortless while her fingers traced the dagger on her left thigh, “They were cast out millennia ago when they rose up against the Tree of Life. By the law of the Tree, they should have been killed but a lot of the Moon Elves were deemed innocent of the rebellion. I believe the humans call the incident ‘The Betrayal’. So they—”
“Wait, wait. I thought ‘The Betrayal’ was an incident incited by the humans?”
She looked at me, her eyes furrowed, “You know surprisingly little for a servant of god, or for that matter a denizen of this world”.
Oh shit! She finally is suspicious of where I come from!
However, she didn’t press on the matter. A deep sigh escaped Faeve’s lips, “Almost every mortal and a few immortal species rose up against the gods during ‘The Betrayal’. However, it was not as if every faction of each species did it. The Sun Elves stood with their gods while the Moon Elves…sought to bring down the tyrannical regime of the Old Gods. Just like humans, the Elves were divided among themselves in their ideals”.
“So what happened to the Dark—I mean Moon Elves?” I wiped at my temples. It’s fucking hot today. I don’t even have a bloody towel.
“After the rebellion ended, their leaders were executed and the rest of them were cast out from the Mountain of Trees. They now live in forested mountains of Aftalheir, around the Tree of Death”.
“The Tree of Death? Is it something like an antithesis to the Tree of Life?”
Her breathing caught for just a moment. Her voice carried a bit of mirth, “Looks like you are not so stupid after all, humankin. The Elves were created in accordance with the different aspects of a day. Sun Elves are the embodiment of daylit life, the time of beginnings and the Moon Elves portray the Moonlit death, the time of endings”.
“Legends are good and all, but what does it actually mean?” I rasped. Fuck, some sand went into my throat. I coughed loudly. “Also, what are the Twilight Elves then?”
She ran her hands through her hair, “Twilight Elves symbolise the time between life and death. The dreaded void, where no magicks reach. As such, they were hated from the dawn of time”.
I spat out a wad of spit on the sand. Oh? My feet now found more purchase on the sand. Soil? I slammed the tip of my leather shoes on the sand a few times. A soft spongy sensation different from the porous sand travelled up my feet. Yeah, definitely soil.
“What it actually means is that though all the Elves swear their allegiance to the Tree of Life, the Moon Elves have another god, the Mistress of Death and Moonlight. When they were exiled from the belief of Tree of Life, they sought refuge with their patron goddess and brought her Earthbound form back into the Realm of the Living as the Tree of Death”.
“I am guessing that the Earthbound form means a tangible body like…a tree? And the Realm of the Living means Sangraal”.
“Your intelligence keeps shocking me”, her half-turned face quirked up in a smile.
“Ha, ha. The Elf babe knows sarcasm”, I flashed my teeth at her and then I added in a laugh like a donkey’s bray for added effect.
“Has anyone told you that you laugh like a Ghuril?” She put her hands on her waist, “never grew up, did you?” She sighed again and turned her head towards our destination, “Right on both counts, however. Though Realm of the Living means the whole Universe where living things exist. Gods exist in a different realm than us, the Roshivaeganr, what you humans call the Immortal Plane”.
“So let me get this straight, each Elf race has their own patron gods in addition to the Tree of Life?”
“Aye. The Tree of Life is the ruler of the other two. Each Elf race but the Sun Elves have two main gods. For we, have taken the Tree of Life itself as our patron god”. Her form stiffened for a bit, “That despicable tree”.
“Blasphemous today, are we?” I could feel my mouth curl up in a smile this time.
“Like you have any right to accuse me of blasphemy”, her tensed shoulders relaxed, “don’t stray from the conversation”.
“Didn’t I say, we have all the time in our hands—”
Her eyes went wide she heard my words.
“—till we cross this wasteland”, I finished my sentence. We don’t really have much time before she gets consumed, though.
Faeve turned away from me again as she walked. I followed her with heavy steps. Her voice drifted back after a while, “The Tree of Death is anathema to the Tree of Life. Each tries to assert its dominance over the other in a never ending battle. For each life the Death takes, Life brings forth one anew”.
I tracked her footsteps wordlessly. Her light footprints on the sand were marred by my own lumbering ones. Like how my mind seeks to mar hers, isn’t it?
“But, every five years, the Moon Elves make a pilgrimage to the Tree of Life to pay respects to the graves of their fallen kin. At least, that is the official reason. In truth, that time is used by the Elders of the Sun Elves to remind the Moon Elves of their defeat and subjugation. A regular subversion to keep their species in check, if you will”.
“More like under their thumb”, I said in an impassioned voice. Things are same every-fucking-where. People shitting on people. Cunts.
She nodded lightly. Just like I thought.
“I wish I was born a Moon Elf”, Faeve’s voice cracked a little, “then again, they subjugate their men as much as Sun Elves subjugate their females”.
“Matriarchal society?” I strained my voice to speak above the roar of the sea. No wonder she hates her people. The Tree uses its daughters as a honey trap after all.
“Aye”. She splayed her hand, “antithesis of the extreme Patriarchal society of the Solaraul Elfarin”.
“What’s that?” I asked, my mind wandering. I think I forgot what I actually asked…what did I—
“That means they value their men much above—”
“I know what patriarchal means!” What was it that I forgot? Dammit “I just used the word ‘matriarchal’”.
“Oh”, her voice drifted easily, as if dancing over the roar of the ocean, “Solaraul Elfarin is what Sun Elves call themselves in Elvish. Moon Elves call themselves Lutveria Elffaez”.
Just how far is the break in the cliff? I craned my neck to scan the expanse of the White Cliff. The Sun had climbed to its zenith, its oppressive heat made us sweat. Well, atleast I am sweating. I stared at Faeve’s nape. Her skin was flushed. Dammit. Doesn’t this chick sweat in this heat? She shivered when she realised I was staring at her. I never noticed how much her skin flushed at daytime…
“Stop looking at me like a hungry Kivala”, her hands crossed over her chest, “honestly it’s things like this that make me think you are a beastman in heat—”
I rubbed my neck. That’s it! Well not exactly since her comment has nothing to do with it…but!
“Why does the Tree need to bind people to it?” I said in a hurry before I forgot.
“War”, her stride faltered for a moment. “And the succession of Vaegar”.
“Aren’t normal Elves enough to pillage and loot? Why would they need to bind people to it?” I asked scratching my beard. Ugh. I am turning Robinson Crusoe is this shipwreck. I need a fucking shave.
“Pillage and loot?” she turned her body towards me, turning backwards while walking.
How the fuck is she walking backwards? “Yeah, I read how the Elves came invaded the Human territories, razing everything in their way. They raped, pillaged and looted till they reached the heart of the Human Empire hundreds of years back—”
Her eyes went wide as her jaws hung open, “Is that how the humans write about us? Sacrilege! The Elves merely tried to reclaim the forests the humans had defiled! They invaded our lands and took our people! Enslaved them like animals!”
Faeve’s fists shook with silent anger. Her eyes hardened, “You humans always paint our species—”
“Faeve”? I interrupted her tirade, “where was all this written?”
She spat out the words, “All Elf children are made to study the historical texts—” She froze, her eyes even wider than before, “oh”.
“Yeah”, I nodded at her. “History is a bitch, manipulated from all sides”. I held her gaze, “Why are you defending the Sun Elves so…vehemently? you hate them with passion”. A cold chill ran down my spine, It can’t be…
She cocked her head, her hands on her chest, “It is not like all the Elves are despicable…oh gods!”
Shit! Just like I thought, didn’t I?
Her knees buckled. Faeve dropped down on the white sand. Little tremors shook the body as her hands clutched her own hair.
“Why, why, why!” she wailed into the sand, keeling over, “I just want to remain who I am!”.
The sand under her head grew muddy with her tears. The beach soaked up the water like a desert hungry for rains.
Her hands took a fistful of the sand as her body curled up on the ground. Sobs wracked her tiny body her golden hair covered her expressions.
That fucking Tree is manipulating her emotions to grow protective of her people! Bastard is chipping away at her mind, altering her personality.
A gnawing pain assaulted my heart. It’s not like I am any better, I am breaking her mind too, aren’t I? A deep sigh escaped my lips as I kneeled in front of her. No, I am not any better.
She looked up at me, tears streaking down her face, “Just…just why is this happening? I know I have killed, taken from others but…but”. She wailed even louder, “Eridan…I don’t…I don’t want to lose myself! No!”.
I have killed too, Faeve and now I pay the price…every night.
She stiffened when my thoughts entered her, Her green irises swam in red as tears streamed down her cheeks. Faeve held my gaze, “I…I had to kill, I don’t…I don’t—”
I held her arms with my own. I didn’t remove my eyes from hers. Kneeling, I held her at an arm’s length, “Faeve. You are an assassin. You kill people”.
Her breath caught as she heard me speak.
I am sorry. I too feel like a dick saying this right now…
My voice gained a cruel tone, “Remember. I cut your hair. I bound you to me. Remember how much you hate me”.
Her body shook again as her eyes lost their manic look. Her chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm, unlike her erratic breathing just before.
I…I am sorry, I don’t know what else to do….
“Yes, hold on to that hate. Wrap your mind in that emotion and come back to me”. The sweltering heat sent sweat running down my eyebrows, stinging my eyes. I blinked, breaking our eye contact.
She took a sharp breath as I looked away. “Yes”, she said like a lament, “yes, I hate you”.
I stood up, using my hands to brush off the sand clinging to my pants. I stretched my hands towards her. She looked up at me, her breathing quickened. She caught my hand and pulled herself up.
“Don’t worry, it’ll be alright”, I assured her. I hope so.
She opened her fist. Most of the sand had sifted through her fingers already. The scant remains of it scattered into the wind from her open palm.
“I hope so too, Eridan”, she said in a quiet voice. She squeezed my arm. “And thank you”. As if she realised what she was doing and snatched her hands away from me, “For the hatred”.
Hatred huh? Well, that’s the only thing we have for each other.
She wiped her tears with her sleeves as she turned her stern eyes at me, “The Contract is acting up again”.
I nodded. Well, that explains why she flung off her hands.
I pointed at a line of greenery that ran down the sides of the White Cliff like a deep gash. “Is that it?”
“Aye”, she nodded while she brushed the sand out of her clothes, “trees and shrubs growing in the small break in the cliffs”.
Still a few miles away. “Okay, Faeve, now back to my question”.
Her mouth quirked up with a tiny smile.
That’s the only way I know, Faeve. Rather than keep poisonous silence, I chose to fill it with words. Words that would hide the frayed weave and the pain that stretch between us.
“Let’s walk while I sun lasts”, she motioned for me to walk in front of her. I cracked my neck once and started trudging the sand. Strangely, this time, Faeve walked beside me, a few feet apart.
The two of us walked side by side on that beach of white sand. Our footsteps didn’t mar the other’s anymore, it ran along each other. In a few hours, the footsteps would be gone, engulfed by the tide.
Just like us, mortals trapped in the game of gods.
Err, I have been getting some messages asking me a question. This surprised me, but I realised the wording was kinda iffy, so it isn’t really a stretch to see how people might get confused.
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Author’s Note: So, another slow-ish chapter. The story had to take a break from the relentless action without losing much of the tension and impending doom. And the reader who said the previous chapter felt like Chapter 20 part one called it correctly lol. That 8.8K chapter was broken up into two parts for better flow and since it was too much info in one chapter. While this is not a slice-of life, the story does need some quiet days.
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