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...The Hero was out of options, out of time. He was exhausted, worn out, and left with only a tiny bit of strength left. He faced down the villain, his arch-enemy with a gaze that could match the sun in ferocity, throwing his final punch, screaming out at the top of his lungs the promise he made long ago...
Cerys stared up at the dark wood ceiling, her pale yellow eyes unfocused with sleep. She placed her arm over her forehead and took in a deep breath, the smell of wood and linen mixing in her nose. It seemed that no matter where she went, all inns smelled the same. As she lay there, a new smell wafted into the room, catching her attention and overpowering everything else. It was the smell of food from somewhere on the ground floor, finding its way to her and making Cerys acutely aware of her hunger.
With a soft sigh, she sat up, the thick cotton blanket falling from her lithe frame, pooling around her waist. The floor was cold where her bare feet touched the wood and the early morning chill nipped at her pale skin, the blanket no longer protecting her naked form from the cold. She glanced over at the empty fireplace, tempted to get a fire going to heat herself up, but the promise of food was too great. A nice warm meal would heat her up from the inside.
Walking over to the oak desk across from her bed, Cerys touched the pile of clothes laying on top, a lightweight set of brown leather armour, designed to provide moderate protection while still allowing the wearer to move around without being weighed down and constricted. The armour hugged her curves without being skin-tight, the sleeves loose fitting and ending just above her elbows, leaving her forearms bare. Belt buckles clasped the two halves of the armour together like a corset, going down from under her bust down to her waist, where the bottom half of the armour started, fitting to her shapely legs ending at her ankles. Cerys preferred going barefoot, hating the feeling of her feet being bound together.
Cerys tied her hair — a pale blonde to the point where it was almost colourless — up into a tight bun, exposing the slight point of her ears, before reaching over and grabbing a travelling cloak that had probably once been white, but reduced to a dull grey from sun and exposure to the elements, and threw it over her ensemble, raising the hood to cover her face. There was only one thing missing.
Cerys turned back to her bed and reached behind the headboard, an intricate design of vines and flowers carved into the wood, her thin fingers curling around something hard and metal. Slowly, she pulled the rapier out, the ornate, intricately woven metal guard curling around her hand where she gripped the hilt. The blade was silver, the early morning light of the sun bouncing off of it, causing the two jewels embedded at the base to gleam; a cold sapphire on one side, and a deep green emerald on the other. She allowed herself to smile softly before sliding the sword into the loop at her waist, her cloak leaving it nearly invisible.
Cerys exited her room, not bothering to lock the door behind her. There was nothing worth stealing in there anyway. She was nearly soundless in her descent down the staircase that connected the Inn’s room and the bar that acted as the bottom floor. The first floor was empty, as to be expected considering the early hour, all except for a single figure behind the bar. It was the Innkeeper, his head bent over the paper that sat on the bar, his eyes scanning over what she supposed was the latest information for the citizens of Mafrey. Cerys remembered those same eyes staring at her the previous night, a deep brown that was almost black, swallowing her up in suspicion. She couldn’t blame him for being reluctant to sell a room to her, with her being a complete stranger who had refused to remove her hood. She was thankful that he had relented in the end, and had agreed to sell her the room.
He didn’t look up from his paper, even when Cerys was standing right in front of him with only the bar separating them. She stood there silently for a few moments, examining the old innkeeper now that she had the chance. While his hair was dark and tousled, she could easily pick out the specks of grey that peppered the mop top of hair. Her gaze left his head and wandered down to his hands. His nails had been bitten down to the quick, his fingers tapping against the wood in a rigid manner.
Before Cerys could make her presence known, the old innkeeper looked up from his paper and jumped, swearing loudly. “It’s not good to sneak up on an old man like that you know. You could have given me a heart attack,” he said, his hand on his chest. He gave her the same irritated look as the previous night, like her mere presence was an inconvenience. It wouldn’t be the first time.
“Sorry,” she said softly, taking a seat in front of him. She folded her hands on the counter and stared down at them, avoiding eye contact.
“Still wearing that hood I see. Does that mean you’re heading out?” The anger from his voice was gone, replaced by a mild curiosity. She could hear him walk away from her as he spoke. She heard his footsteps turn back towards her, and a plate of food appeared in front of her, the very thing that had brought her down in the first place.
The plate was crammed full with ridiculous amounts of food; fluffy yellow eggs that could have been made of clouds, bacon that seemed cooked to perfection, steaming potatoes cut into cubes, and to finish it all off, two slices of toast smothered in what appeared to be jam. Cerys could only stare at the food in astonishment. When she had come downstairs, this feast was the last thing she had been expecting. She couldn’t even remember the last time she had seen this much food.
“Well, eat up,” the innkeeper said, causing Cerys to look up from the heavenly gift from above before her, and look at him from under her hood. “I may not trust you, but you’re a customer, and Robert Lionsmith always takes care of his customers, no matter how shady they are. As long as they can pay up,” he stated, straightening his back and folding his arms over his chest, letting out a hoarse chuckle. Cerys could see the grey and black stubble growing along his jaw. It gave him a gruff, almost scruffy look.
“I don’t know when I will be leaving, truth be told,” she said softly, answering his earlier question. “As I told you last night, I have my reasons for wearing this hood. But...thank you for your hospitality.” Cerys reached out to grab a slice of toast, taking a large bite. The jam was sweet with a tart aftertaste, giving it a uniquely fresh flavour. She couldn’t exactly tell what kind of berries had been used to make it, but there seemed to be hints of a variety in the flavor the jam presented. “Is this homemade?” She asked curiously, licking away a bit of runaway jam from the edge of her mouth.
“Old family recipe!” Robert the innkeeper confirmed, giving her a wide grin. “Just like this inn, that jam recipe has been passed down and refined from my Father to me, and from my Father’s Father to him. What do you think?”
Cerys answered by taking another large bite, leaving only half of the toast left. Words could not describe what she thought. After having been on the road for almost a month since the last town she had visited, the taste of warm food made with such care was a far cry from surviving on berries and fowl. Once she was finished with the first piece of toast, she immediately began to attack the second, this time-consuming half of the toast in a single bite. Robert studied her as she ate, leaning on one of his elbows. “Say, girl. What’s your name?”
Cerys stopped eating, his question hanging in the air. She lowered the piece of bacon she had been about to shove into her mouth. “Laura,” she lied as she kept her head down, unable to meet his gaze.
“Laura,” he repeated, as if he didn’t quite believe her. “You don’t seem all that old Laura. No more than seventeen, right? Are you a runaway?”
Cerys remained silent for a long moment, cursing herself for letting her guard down enough to let herself get caught in this situation. He had flat old told her he didn’t trust her. It made sense he would begin to question her, and he was smart to do it while she was eating, when she would be focused on the food and not on him.
“No,” she said softly. “I have some business to take care of in this town is all.” She felt a lump in her throat as she lied, praying he believed her.
He seemed to consider her answer for a moment, as if deciding on whether he believed her or not. “Laura,” he said finally, “Do you know what town you’re in currently?”
If Cerys could afford to curse right now, she would have let a long stream of every curse she knew loose in that instant. She hadn’t taken the time to find a sign or anything else that stated the town’s name when she had first entered the town, instead opting to find the first inn she could.
When Cerys failed to answer his question, Robert let out a long, exasperated sigh. “Well, it’s fine I suppose. Just don’t go bringing me any trouble, you hear?”
Suddenly losing her appetite, Cerys pushed her plate away and stood up. “Thank you for the meal.” She headed towards the entrance of the inn in silence, her bare feet making no noise. As she reached for the doorknob, the sound of Robert’s throat being cleared made her turn around.
“Welcome to Lindenburg Laura. Enjoy your stay.”
Lindenburg was alive with activity, even in the early morning. Everywhere Cerys looked, she could see townsfolk moving to and fro, chatting with each other about things such as the weather or current events. As she walked past two men standing by a shop, she overheard them talking about a bandit that had recently been captured near the border by the King’s Knights. Apparently, he had been wounded grievously and was ranting like a madman. Not that Cerys was interested in bandits. No, as she skulked around, she made sure to keep an ear out for something far more dangerous than mere bandits.
Travelling merchants called out for passerby’s to take a look at their wares. Some sold food and sweets, the specialties of other towns, while others sold weapons. One vendor was an old woman that wore a shawl over her head, her wrinkled skin covered in liver spots. Her eyes looked out, glazed over and unseeing. Unlike the other vendors, she did not call out to those who passed by, a toothless smile on her face. As Cerys passed by her stand, she reached out with a hand, her fingers like a spider’s legs, long and spindly, her knuckles pronounced. “You there! Girl!” she called, causing Cerys to stop in her tracks, shocked. She turned towards the old vendor and pointed to herself. “M-me?” she asked, and the old woman nodded, beckoning for her to come closer to the stand.
Cerys felt her body move on its own, despite her mind not having yet decided if she wanted to go or not. This woman appeared blind, yet not only had she reached out at the exact moment Cerys had passed, but she had called her girl, despite it being hard for most people to notice at first glance she was female while her hood was up. As Cerys made her way forward, she could see the items that the old woman was selling. It was jewellery mostly, a variety of rings, necklaces, and earrings, all made from a variety of material. Gold, silver, and bronze flashed in the sunlight, the accessories often topped with semi-precious jewels. Cerys' eyes only glanced over these items, before turning to the vendor. She never had a real interest in jewellery, a trait she had shared with her Mother, who had never worn anything that was meant to attract attention. In fact, she had always warned her daughter against it.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not really interested in purchasing anything,” Cerys said, trying to avoid staring into the milky blank eyes of the old woman. Despite being unable to see her, Cerys felt as if the woman was seeing past her, through her. Into the very core of her being. It was unsettling, almost like she was being violated.
The old woman laughed. It was hollow and raspy like she had trouble drawing in breath as she did. “I’m not interested in selling you anything my dear,” she crooned, leaning in closer. “I wish to give you something. A gift...” The old woman reached into her clothes, her gaze never leaving Cerys as she pulled out a dark strip of cloth the black material gripped between her bony fingers.
“This choker is a good luck charm. I’m sure you’ll find it useful on your journey,” she said, handing the choker out to Cerys, who eyed it with suspicion. After a moment's hesitation, Cerys took the choker and stared at it, before placing it in her pocket.
“Thank you,” she said, not sure what to make of the encounter. There was no way she was putting the choker on, that was for sure. She had no way of knowing whether it had a spell placed on it, or something devious like that. As she turned to walk away, the woman spoke again.
“They will find you, dearie. When they do...you will have to decide what you will do. Will you continue to flee...or will you fight?”
Cerys stopped dead in her tracks, her heart stopping. “What did you say?” she asked, turning back to the woman. She was gone, her stall completely empty, as if she had never been there in the first place. Cerys swallowed hard, reaching into the pocket she had placed the choker. The soft material sent a jolt through her body as she felt it, proof that she hadn’t been imagining the encounter. Somehow...that unsettled her more than the entire exchange having been a figment of her imagination.
She hurried away from the empty stall, the woman’s voice clear in her head.
They will find you.
As Cerys walked further down the street, she couldn’t help but look over her shoulder, searching for any sign. A flash of yellow, pointed ears...she felt her heart racing in her chest as she began to pick up the pace, almost knocking into other pedestrians as she did so. Her breath began to come out in short gasps, puffing up in front of her like mist...
“Has it suddenly gotten colder?” a woman asked her husband as Cerys rushed passed them. She could feel it, the air cooling down when it should have been warming up as morning passed. She could feel the nip of it through her cloak, through her armour, and she immediately knew she had to get inside, had to calm down. Cerys pushed her way into the first shop she could, pressing her body against the door.
Her heart was beating so hard in her chest it was painful, the constant throbbing knocking against her rib cage. It was hard to breathe, and as she drew in deep breaths, she felt her legs give in, causing her to slide down to her knees.
Calm down. She thought desperately, her breath audible even to her. You need to calm down. If you don’t...
Something caused Cerys to look up at that moment, though she couldn’t be sure what. Maybe it was the silence of the shop, the fact that no one had come rushing to see if she were alright. Or maybe it was the familiar smell that had hit her. The smell of paper and leather, the smell of dust and musk. It was a smell that Cerys had grown up with when she had been young. And as the girl’s eyes fell on the rows of books before her, Cerys immediately felt herself calm down.
She shakily got to her feet, and walked towards the closest row of books, running her slender fingers over the spines of each volume, her eyes taking in their titles. There were many titles unfamiliar to her, but some that were, causing her smile softly as she recognized them. She went from bookcase to bookcase, suddenly transported to the library of her childhood home. She was seven once more, a little girl who loved nothing more than to read. While she loved reading by herself, curled up in front of one of the massive bay windows of the library in her house, she loved nothing more than to sit on one of her parent’s laps and listen to them read to her. She remembered the way her Mother’s hair tickled her cheek as she bent over to read the words or the way her Father’s cologne smelled. It made her feel safe...secure.
It made her feel loved.
Cerys was so engrossed in her memories that she didn’t even notice the person coming up behind her, their gaze locked on her.
“Um, excuse me. May I help you?”
Cerys jumped, letting out a small yelp as she whirled around, suddenly back in the present. Before her stood a young man with a shock of red hair. He looked at her from behind a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, his brown eyes glancing at her curiously.
“Sorry, is this your shop?” she asked, feeling herself calm down. “I didn’t see anyone when I entered and just started browsing.”
The man chuckled, waving her concern away. “It’s OK. I’m sorry I wasn’t here to greet you right away, I was in the back...reading,” he said, clearly embarrassed. “Anyway miss...were you looking for something in particular?”
Cerys turned to look back at the books, memories flashing in her eyes. She could hear her mother’s voice, as soft as a whisper, reading to her. Cerys had always loved books about brave Knights going on long quests filled with adventure. Her Father had once been a Knight of Mafrey, so perhaps the call of adventure was in her blood. Her favourite book, however, was not a book about a Knight, but a book about a Hero. A Hero who lived life following a single promise he had made to the person that had meant the most in the world to him. A Hero who would never allow himself to give up, all because of that one promise...
“Do you have The Hero’s Promise?”
The bookstore owner tilted his head, mildly surprised. “That’s a children’s book. I’m surprised you’d be interested in such a thing,” he stated as he beckoned for her to follow him deeper into the store. Cerys decided to ignore the comment and instead decided to glance at the variety of titles the store had.
“You offer a surprisingly large selection for a small town bookstore,” she said, smiling wistfully.
The store owner chuckled, glancing back towards her. “It’s years of collecting. This shop has been in my family for generations.”
Cerys couldn’t help but giggle. “Funny...the owner of the inn I’m staying at said the same thing.”
“It’s a common thing in Lindenburg. The town itself is relatively young, compared to the rest of Mafrey. Most people here are direct descendants of the original settlers, and the various shops are direct gifts. Their living legacy if you will.”
They had stopped in a smaller section of the store, a single bookcase dedicated to various children books, sorted in no particular order. For a moment, even the owner looked lost, but Cerys’ eyes immediately found the title. Letting out a soft gasp, she reached out and gently took the book, staring at it from under her hood as if she were seeing an old friend for the first time in years. The cover of the book was worn with age, but the bold lettering still stood out, the once brilliant gold dulled. It stood stark against the illustration of a deep crimson sunset with a single figure looking onward, all detail cast in shadow. Cerys ran her hand over the cover, unable to contain the smile on her face.
“How much?” she asked, looking up from the book, clutching it to her chest tightly. She could not contain the excitement in her voice as she stepped towards the owner.
In the end, the book would cost Cerys 10 gold coins, a bargain considering this book was Cerys’ entire childhood. She rushed back to the inn, ignoring the curious stares of the drinking patrons, rushing up to her room, and locking the door. She threw her travelling cloak off and fell onto her bed, immediately curling up and cracking the book open.
For the next four days, Cerys would spend much of her time reading and re-reading the book. She had memorized every line years before, but holding a physical copy in her hand helped her feel connected to the happier times of when she was a child. She could almost hear the voices of her parents in her head as she read the words. She smiled more than she had in years.
When Cerys wasn’t reading the book, she was exploring Lindenburg, visiting the various stalls that always seemed to offer something different from the day before. She had yet to run into the strange, old woman, and she was thankful for that. She hated the fact that she had been able to get into her head so easily, but she couldn’t get her words out of her head.
They will find you.
Perhaps...it would be best to leave Lindenburg soon. You can’t get comfortable in one place for too long she reminded herself as she walked back towards the inn. She passed by a small group of men who were talking in excited whispers. Cerys couldn’t make out what they were saying as she passed, but one word made its way to her ears, a word she had hard-wired herself to be able to pick out instantly.
Cerys stopped dead in her tracks, her muscles freezing up. She forced herself to turn around and walk back towards the group. She prayed that she had heard wrong, that it was a misunderstanding...
“I’m sorry, but did you mention Elves?” she asked, interrupting the men. One of them, a gruff looking man with tanned skin stared down at her.
“Yeah,” he said, folding his arms over his broad chest. “Three of the pointy eared bastards were spotted near the town limits. They looked like Soldiers.” He frowned, letting out a disapproving snort. “They better not be planning on breaking the Silent Concord.”
“Not soldiers...” Cerys said, her voice cracking. “Not soldiers...Executioners.”
Before the man could question what Cerys met, she was gone, running hard back towards the inn. The bare soles of her feet screamed in agony as they slapped against the brick road, but she ignored the pain. She had to leave. Now.
She knew she should skip returning to the inn, knew it would only slow her down, but she couldn’t leave the book. Not after being reunited with it after so long. It was a decision immediately regretted as she threw the door of the inn open.
The inn was completely empty except for four figures standing in the middle of the floor; Robert, a disapproving look on his face, arms on his hips, facing two yellow-eyed figures.
Facing two Elves.
“We will ask once more,” one of the Elves said in a monotone voice. Both elves were wearing identical white uniforms consisting of button-up tailcoats, straight leg pants. Engraved on the back of their white kit gloves was a single black eye, a sword piercing through the iris. It was a sign that Cerys had come to know all too well, the insignia of the Executioners, the most powerful military force of the Elven race.
Both Elves shared certain similarities, such as their porcelain-like skin, pale yellow eyes, and elongated pointed ears, far more prominent than Cerys’. These similarities only made their differences more noticeable as one of them turned towards Cerys, finally taking note of her. He had violet coloured hair that was cut short and slicked back, his face all angles. He was the one who had spoken to Robert as she walked in. “And who would this be?” he asked while his partner, an elf with shoulder-length green hair stepped towards her. Cerys swallowed hard, unable to speak, unable to move. She could only stare at the pair, completely frozen.
“My niece, Laura,” Robert said without missing a beat. The words were enough to break Cerys free from her paralysis. She glanced towards the old innkeeper, her eyes wide. Why...was he lying for her?
“Is that so?” the green-haired elf asked, his face betraying no emotion. “If she is your niece, why does she hide her face?”
Robert walked towards the elf, his expression filled with anger. “Why do you ask so many questions? What right do you two have coming in MY inn and asking me all these questions? Why are you two in Mafrey anyway? The Silent Concord forbids you from laying a finger on humans within human kingdoms. You should know this.”
The two elves glanced at each other, their expressions unreadable. Cerys could feel bile rise to the back of her throat, and forced herself to swallow back the acidic liquid, unable to peel her eyes away from the scene before her.
“We are looking to eradicate an abomination,” the violet-haired elf stated after a moment of silence. “We have reason to believe she has passed through this town...and may possibly still be here.” His gaze shifted from Robert to Cerys, his gaze piercing. “She is a Half-breed, and we are willing to burn down this entire village to find her.”
Robert’s eyes widened as Cerys took a step back towards the door. “But...the Silent Concord! You can’t-”
“No one would know we broke the Concord if there are no survivors.”
“NO!” At first, Cerys didn’t know who had called out. Her first thought had been Robert, but the voice had been too light to be him, feminine. By the time she had realized it had been she herself who had cried no, both Elves were staring at her. She couldn’t...couldn’t let all these people die. Not because of her. If she led them away from the inn at least...led them away from the town...
Cerys turned and bolted out of the door. She could hear Robert call after her, but she ignored him as she ran. It occurred to Cerys as she exited the inn that there had only been two elves there when the group of men had clearly said three. As she ran into the street, a figure with colourless hair that reached down to his waist walked towards her, his yellow eyes sharp as they fell on her. Cerys recognized him immediately, and a fresh wave of terror flowed through her body. It was Andraste, leader of the Executioners, and brother to the Elven Queen. The man who had murdered her parents.
Cerys felt the air around her cool down, enough for her breath to be visible. The ground beneath her bare feet began to frost over, and before any of the elves could react, a pillar of ice erupted from the ground, launching Cerys into the sky. She could feel Andraste’s gaze on her, following her silently as she jumped from the pillar and onto the roof of a nearby building.
Cerys rolled across the shingled roof, gasping as the wind was knocked out of her. She tried to stand up, but the best she could manage was propping herself up on her hands and knees. Cerys heaved and was sick over the roof, gasping for air. Her skin was drenched in sweat, and her hair was plastered to her neck. Move...Move! She ordered her body, knowing that the Executioners would be right behind her. But her body refused to move. She was seven once more and could hear her Father’s voice yelling for her and her Mother to hide. But her Mother...her Mother who loved her Father so much, wouldn’t leave him.
Stay here, and whatever you do, don’t move! When they leave, run Cerys! Run, and never look back.
Cerys could remember the look in her Mother’s eyes, the soft yellow hue that had always looked at her with love and affection, now looking at her with panic and fear.
Promise me you will live, no matter the cost.
As the memory washed over Cerys, she felt the strength return to her limbs, and she was running again, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, heading for the edge of town. She drew her rapier as she ran, her hood flying away from her face as she glanced down at the street below. She couldn’t see the elves, but she knew they had to be following her. She could see a field at the edge of town in front of her, a giant oak tree acting as a beacon. She jumped down into the street, rolling as she landed and continued to run, pushing past surprised citizens without a word. She apologized to them in her head, knowing that there was no way for them to know the danger they were in. Elves were emotionless and viewed themselves above anything that felt the tug of emotions. They would care not for collateral damage.
As cold stone turned to soft earth and grass under her feet, she turned back towards the town. She was heaving, every breath she drew burning. She narrowed her eyes as she saw a single figure walking towards her as if they were taking a leisurely stroll. It was Andraste, and he was alone.
Cerys had to fight the urge to run. Her body tensed and every nerve in her muscles screamed for her to flee. But as Andraste made his way towards her, she remembered what the old stall owner had said her.
They will find you, dearie. When they do...you will have to decide what you will do. Will you continue to flee...or will you fight?
If she fled back towards the town now and left without them seeing, there was a chance that the Executioners would still destroy the town looking for her. No...she had to take a stand here and now.
As Andraste neared, Cerys drew her rapier, staring him down looking braver than she felt. She stopped feet away from her, his gaze travelling over her features.
“A gaze so full of emotion is not fitting one with our features,” he stated as he drew his blade. It was a long sword that glinted in the sunlight. Its reach was longer than her rapier and Cerys knew it gave him an advantage. She gripped the hilt of her own sword.
“I may have your features, but I am no elf,” she said, trying to keep her voice from shaking. “I could never be an evil piece of crap like you.”
The elf tilted his head as if he didn’t understand what she had just said. “Evil?” he asked. “You believe we are evil? We simply do what must be done. Your existence, container of Greed and Pride, that invites true evil into this world.”
Her fear was replaced by a seething anger at his words. Cerys gritted her teeth at his words. She didn’t care what he thought about her, didn’t care what her existence invited. He had killed her parents, he had taken everything away from her. “My parents died because of what had to be done? That’s how you're justifying murder? That’s how you are justifying breaking the Silent Accords!?”
Andraste just stared at her, his eyes cold and empty. It was like looking into an empty void. Cerys had heard countless times from her Mother, had seen it first hand, but staring into his eyes made Cerys shiver with revulsion. Elves....truly did lack any emotion whatsoever.
“You’re Mother was an anomaly. Her existence brought about yours. She had to be eliminated just as much as you did, should another abomination be born.”
Cerys’ eyes widened, his words burning into her core. “You bastard...don’t you dare...talk about my Mother like that!” she screamed, waving her hand in front of her. Large pellets of ice formed around her and shot towards Andraste at an incredible speed. The elf had just enough time to raise his arms up to shield himself from the assault. She charged forward, pulling her arm back to stab him with her blade, aiming for his shoulder. But instead of meeting flesh, the sound of silver meeting steel filled the air as Andraste’s blade connected with her’s, blocking her strike.
“You thought an attack like that would leave me open?” he asked, his gaze meeting her’s. Cerys could feel her blood surging through her veins, the rush of battle filling her ears. She kicked back off the ground hard, leaping away from her opponent before immediately leaping to the left, striking once again at Andraste’s shoulder. Once again, her strike was blocked and she was forced to step back.
Cerys circled him, trying to find an opening she could use. She tensed her body and prepared to strike again when Andraste moved. He was fast; faster than she expected. Cerys felt his fist connect with her stomach, knocking the wind out of her as she rolled across the ground. The pain was immense, and Cerys felt as if she might puke.
“You had best not underestimate me, child. I wished to fight you alone, to gauge your strength. I know you are capable of more than this. You showed me that ten years ago.”
Cerys winced at his words, trying to push the memory back. Blood and ice flashed before her, and she shook her head and stood up. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she growled, and charged forward again. A mixture of fear and anger powered her as their blades crossed again and again, the sound of metal clashing filling the air, sparks flying. Cerys moved quickly, never standing still and constantly changing her position. She noticed that Andraste made very small movements with his feet, slight turns and steps backward and forward.
Despite the adrenaline rushing through her, Cerys was starting to feel the effects of her fighting style. She was tired with the constant moving and attacking, while it looked like Andraste had barely spent any energy. She had to finish this quickly. She charged once more, her blade gliding across his blade, blocking her strike. Her left arm moved downward and she jumped away, smiling as she did so.
“Smiling?” Andraste asked, tilting his head once more. “You are exhausted and running low on energy, yet you smile.” He tried to take a step forward, but jerked to a stop. He looked down and saw his feet encased in ice up to his ankles.
Cerys smirked, raising her rapier up. “You know what my Father always told me? You elves not only lack emotion. You lack creativity. You lack spirit.”
Andraste turned his gaze back up at her as she froze a path between him, sliding across the ice at an incredible speed. She aimed the tip of her blade towards his throat. Her heart pounded in his chest, her eyes wide. This was it...she would be able to avenge her parents' death...
Blood and ice flashed before Cerys’ eyes, the sound of wood and metal rending around her filling her eyes. The memory caused her to hesitate, just for a second. But that was all the time that was needed. Cerys’ blade stopped inches away from Andraste’s throat, stopped dead in its tracks. Cerys gasped, her yellow eyes staring at the giant roots that had wrapped around her blade and right arm, stopping her in place. “What the hell is this...”
“My magic.” Andraste said calmly, completely ignoring the blade at his throat. “I am able to manipulate plant matter within a distinct radius. Blades of grass, tree roots...anything.”
Cerys stared at him, shocked. If that was true...then the whole field was his weapon. Had he been...holding back?
“You hesitated,” he said. “Had you not, I may not have had the time to bring the roots up to stop your attack. Tell me...why? Up until this point, your strikes have all been non-fatal, and when you finally went for the kill, you were unable to follow through. Tell me, was it fear?”
Cerys couldn’t respond to him. How could she? She tried to pull away from her binds, but the roots only seemed to tighten their grip around his arm, causing her to wince at the pressure.
“You cannot possibly be scared to kill me, can you? Not when you’ve spilled blood before?” He seemed to consider his own words for a second as Cerys went still, his words striking her like a physical blow. “Ah, so that is it. You are scared to kill again.” He closed his eyes, and Cerys was sure if he were capable of laughing at her, he would have. “Your emotions make you weak. You are unable to do what needs to be done. Just like your Mother.”
Andraste raised his sword above her, his yellow eyes burrowing into her. This was it...she was going to die. These 10 years had been wasted...
Time seemed to slow down as his blade was raised into the air. Cerys' mind seemed to go blank, before her Mother’s voice flooded it, at first frantic and pained, before becoming soft and gentle.
Promise me you will live, no matter the cost.
Cerys could feel her skin grow cold as frost trailed along her arms. Andraste stared at the frozen roots that held her, now brittle and chipping away. Cerys’ left arm froze over, completely encased in ice. She drew her arm back and stared right into his eyes.
The Hero was out of options, out of time. He was exhausted, worn out and left with only a tiny bit of strength left. He faced down the villain, his arch-enemy with a gaze that could match the sun in ferocity, throwing his final punch, screaming out at the top of his lungs the promise he made long ago...
“I WILL LIVE!” she cried out, her frozen arm connecting with Andraste’s face, hard enough that the ice shattered on impact. A loud crunching sound resonated through the air as the elf was sent reeling backward, his body hitting a wall of ice hard. Cerys moved her hand, and another wall of ice rose before him, trapping the elf up to his neck. His head lolled to the side, blood pouring down the side of his face from his nose. His eyes were closed.
Cerys’ left hand shook as she slowly walked towards him. Her body felt so cold, and she couldn’t stop shaking. She raised her blade and stared at him. It would be so easy...so so easy to end it now. She could kill him, she could avenge her parents.
“No...” she whispered, lowering her blade and looking away.
“Still being controlled by your emotions?”
Cerys snapped her head back up. Andraste was staring at her, his left eye closed over by the blood running freely down his face. “You have defeated me in combat, and yet you still cannot kill me? How weak you are. If you let me live, I will just come after you again. And next time I will not hold back.”
Cerys bared her teeth, stepping towards him. “No,” she spat, not breaking eye contact. “I’m not killing you because I know that’s not what she would want. You...you were her brother, and you killed her...you killed her so easily. Why? Because she wasn’t emotionless like you? Because she fell in love with a human!? WHY!?”
Cerys didn’t even wait for an answer as she turned away. “You can come after me as many times as you want. But I made a promise...one that I will not break, no matter what. You can’t comprehend love, but that is what drives this promise. You can tell the Queen I won’t be dying anytime soon.”
About to walk away, Cerys turned back towards him. “I’m leaving this village. You have no reason to burn it to ground, no reason to hurt anyone here, right?”
Andraste seemed to study her for a long time. She noticed that his eye was slightly unfocused. “Indeed,” he said finally. “If you are not here...we have no reason to stay.”
“I’m sorry for any trouble I’ve caused you,” Cerys said as she looked at Robert from under her hood. She clutched her precious book in her hand, holding it close. The Elves had left after she had departed, and it seemed that Andraste had told them to stand by. It seemed he really had wanted to fight her by himself. She was exhausted and knew she needed to rest after the fight, but she knew her ice prison wouldn’t hold Andraste for long. She needed to leave as soon as she could.
Robert looked at her with concern, his face wrinkled as it scrunched up. “Are you going to be OK? You have a dangerous group after you, you know. Where are you going to go now?”
Cerys walked towards the front door of the inn, smiling as she reached out for the door. She remembered her Father telling her stories about his time as a knight, serving the King in the capital of Mafrey. He had always called the capital the safest place in Mafrey, a place where anyone could make a home out of. She turned back towards Robert, her gaze soft and far away.
“The place where my Father grew up...Lavence.”