“Out there, in the wilderness, we discovered the bones of a god.”
“Enyi, when can we stop for a snack?” Reya fluttered around Avante’s shoulders, poking at him with her tiny fairy fingers. Avante waved his hand, missing her purposely, but forcing her to shy away slightly. She frowned, “Enyi, you need to eat something. You’ve walked for three stretches without resting.”
Avante slowed to a stop and let out a heavy sigh. He adjusted the strap pulling against his shoulder. Saiph was a heavy burden to bear, but he proudly carried her without complaint. His relationship with the blade had been determined before his first kick in his mother’s womb. Wielding Saiph in the name of Her Grace was his destiny. He barely registered the silent objections from his weary body after all these years.
Glancing at Reya, Avante rewarded her with a warm smile, “Fine, we can stop for a little while. Go ahead, choose your favor.” he motioned towards the forest. Reya let out a squeal of delight and flitted away from the path, disappearing behind the grand trunks and low hanging branches of the ancient trees.
Avante unbuckled Saiph and leaned the sword carefully against a nearby tree. He absentmindedly rubbed his shoulder where the strap had dug against his worn shirt. Squatting down, he allowed himself a moment of respite as he admired his surroundings. He’d never been to this part of the forest, not many had. The girth of the trunks alone bespoke their age, but a primal air hung heavy, leaves seemed to fall slower than normal in the diffused sunlight.
“Enyi!” Reya’s excited voice preceded her minute form. She burst from the dim foliage, shoving a leaf nearly her own size out of her flight path, the slain enemy drifted slowly back and forth towards the ground behind her.
Avante raised his head to look at his small companion, “Yes? What have you found this time, Reya?” he arched an eyebrow as she came to rest on his knee.
Her small wings stilled as she landed, but her legs pranced in place as she looked up at him expectantly, “Enyi, I found a present for you! And you’ll never guess what it is.”
Her wide grin was contagious, Avante adopted one for himself. He admired how Reya was quick to embrace a distraction and allow her emotions to come freely. Avante’s gruff exterior helped to keep his behavior closely guarded. He often tired at the front he displayed for Reya, although he would never openly admit it to her; but this time his grin was genuine. Perhaps there truly was magic left in this secluded thicket.
Reya motioned towards the forest, “Come with me, Enyi.” She jumped into the air and beat her wings to hover in place. “Let me show you what I’ve found.”
Avante nodded then reached to collect Saiph as he rose to a standing position. “Alright, lead the way.” Strapping the blade back across his shoulders, he took a deep breath and followed the eager fairy into the cover of the trees.
As they made their way deeper into the forest, Avante couldn’t help but notice that he felt different. He knew he was moving at a moderate pace, yet it felt as though he was slogging through thick sand. When he glanced down, the forest floor beneath him was firm, covered in needles and leaves. His limbs felt heavy, his senses were dimmed. As he turned his head from one side to another, edges seemed to blur together and leave streaks in his vision. He felt alert, but his senses were at the end of a long tunnel, waiting for telling signs that would surely be realized too late.
We were innocent, until we learned of regret.
Avante halted, turning to look behind him for the source of the whispered voice. He felt uneasy and began to yearn for the clear path he’d left behind. His eyes darted around, refusing to neglect the branches above or the burrows below the roots, there was no telling what sort of creature could haunt this wood.
“Enyi, it’s not mu—“
“Hush!” Avante sliced through the air with his hand, motioning for Reya to still. She fluttered to the nearest branch and sat, dangling her legs beneath her as she watched Avante with little concern.
We were peaceful, until we were forced to defend.
Avante spun around, whipping his head from side to side. He could sense no one, but he knew the forest was muddling his mind, “Show yourself!”
Reya clapped her hands excitedly and laughed from her perch. Avante shot her a cold, serious look. She nearly toppled backward out of the tree, but beat her small wings to regain her balance. She glowered at Avante, “Who are you talking to? I thought you were playing a game for once.”
Avante widened his stance and bent his knees, adopting his posture for fighting. His eyes continued to dart around the dark forest as he spoke to Reya, “Do you not hear the voice?”
Reya tilted her head and raised an eyebrow, replying, “The only voices in this forest belong to us. Unless you’re speaking of the humming of the stream or the whispers of the leaves, but I expect you are not, men are not well versed in these things.”
Out there, in the wilderness, we discovered the bones of a god.
Avante reflexly reached up and gripped the hilt of Saiph, but quickly snapped his hand back in surprise and let out a sharp hiss. Looking down at his fingers that had touched the hilt for a mere moment, his skin was discolored and ice cold. Confusion pushed through his foggy senses, prompting him to shrug Saiph off of his shoulder and lower it to the ground without further contact. The sword clanked unceremoniously against the terrain, Avante grimaced at the sound. He had never treated Saiph with such disrespect.
Reya sprung from the branch and swooped down to Avante’s shoulder, landing as he turned around to examine Saiph. The sword seemed to be glowing from within the sheath, but Avante wasn’t eager to draw the blade and find out.
“Enyi, what happened?” she sounded concerned.
Avante held his hand out in front of his chest, allowing Reya to see the marks Saiph had made. His normal skin color was already beginning to return, and the numbness was subsiding, but neither of these facts put him at ease. “I think Saiph froze my fingers. I heard a voice, but when I reached to draw her, this was the result.” He turned his hand to look at the back of it, but it appeared normal.
Reya clicked her tongue and chittered in his ear, “Oh Enyi, you innocent lamb. Saiph must have been speaking to you. Perhaps she grew annoyed at your lack of concentration.” She nodded, apparently in agreement with the sword.
Avante rolled his shoulder, forcing the fairy to squeak and flap her wings wildly to keep from falling. The action was deliberate, but his tone remained flat, as though nothing had happened, “What do you mean Saiph was speaking to me? I’ve never heard of such a thing.” He glanced sideways to make sure the fairy was listening. “I’ve had Saiph for 15 years and this has never happened before.”
Reya shrugged, she was obviously displeased with him, “All I know is that ancient objects do not follow rules of logic. Saiph had something to say, so she spoke.” She glanced at him, crossing her arms in annoyance, “What did she say anyway?”
Avante felt foolish. The masters had never mentioned anything about Saiph being able to speak, surely they had to know. He wondered if the other Seven had the ability as well. Had Avante known of Saiph’s potential, Reya wouldn’t have witnessed his silly display as he searched for an invisible fiend. He shrugged in response to Reya, “I couldn’t understand it, must have been another language,” he lied. Reya nodded, she didn’t question his answer so Avante left it at that.
“Well, my gift for you is just ahead, Enyi. Can I show it to you and then we can have our snack?”
Saiph had ceased glowing. Avante reached down and grabbed the strap to the sheath, sliding it back over his shoulder. He paused before letting out a lengthy sigh, then motioning to Reya, “Lead on then.”
Near a quarter of a stretch later, Reya flitted back from her position of leading to hover in front of Avante. She spoke quickly in a hushed tone, “It’s just ahead, in the middle of the lake.” She glanced over her shoulder towards the direction she indicated, “You must be quiet, because it sleeps.” Reya grinned and darted forward through the trees before Avante could gather any further information.
Avante pushed a branch aside to emerge into a small clearing. The sun ray’s reached further here, but a strange mist rose from the water. Reya’s lake was closer to a pond by Avante’s standards. The water was still and unmoving, giving Avante an uneasy feeling. A sizable mound of dirt and sparse grass rose from the center of the water, jutting into the thick fog. Atop the island were tangled branches bleached pale as bones, they reached towards the sky, clearing the haze. Avante’s eyes skimmed the rest of the meadow, noting nothing else of obvious interest.
Avante stepped carefully into the meadow, but froze at the sound of a loud crack. It echoed through the clearing, making it nearly impossible for him to gauge the initial direction. Just as the noise began to dissipate, crackles and pops filled the air once more. Avante’s gaze was drawn to the deformed bramble atop the island. The twigs were shifting and moving, raising up from the soft dirt. Avante sucked in a rapid breath, he was looking at an immense skeleton, not a deceased bough.
A fanged skull lifted to face Avante’s position, blue flames began flickering from the sockets. As the four legged skeleton raised to it’s full height, flames burned from within the ribcage, emanating out in a slow waves. The shoulder blades rose above the rest of the frame, the creature’s stance was wide, large claws dug into the ground beneath it. Avante thought the form seemed familiar, but could not place it without muscles and fur to cloth the bones. However, Avante knew this was the old god Saiph had spoke of before.
A chill ran down Avante’s spine, the skeleton opened it’s tooth-filled jaw and began to speak. The voice was deep and gravelly, but hushed and tranquil at the same time. Avante had never heard anything like it.
“So we meet again.”
Avante bowed at the waist, keeping his eyes on the creature as he did so, and replied, “I beg your favor, creature, I do not recall meeting you before. Will you be so kind to rekindle my memory?”
The bones managed a sound like a chuckle and then growled a response, “Foolish human, it is not to you I speak. I am addressing my friend from so long ago…my life quelcher, Saiph.”
Avante felt the chill once more, but this time realized it was Saiph causing the sensation. He straightened up from the bowing position. He spoke slowly, choosing his words carefully, “I had no knowledge of your meeting,” Avante knew that old gods could not resist the chance to spin their story, they had chances few and far between, “allow me to learn more of this tale.”
“Very well, fool.” The skeleton shifted its weight from side to side and then returned to the eerie, unmoving stance from before. “I shall tell you how Saiph stole my power for her own.”
Avante stood rigid, unwilling to convey his serious interest in what the creature was about to share. He motioned a sign of thanks by rolling his wrist and waving his hand slightly.
“I ruled my forest with strength and grace. For many years I prevented man from discovering my sanctuary, fearful of the poison that can be spread by just a single two-legged creature. But as man became adventurous, I could no longer hide the secrets of my forest. You men, foolish creatures; you are never content to wonder, you must always seek a solution. Because of the magics in these woods, your people were drawn deeper and deeper into my realm. It only took the eyes of one man to see me and spread the fear of my existence.”
Avante spotted Reya from the corner of his vision, she was perched on a low branch to his right, she was as still as he’d ever witnessed her, and her face relayed genuine fear. Avante continued to listen to the creature.
“Men came to my forest to slay the ‘giant, man-eating bear’. I ended them all, with little choice in the matter. I am not a creature to run from an advance. But these actions had consequences. For every man I killed, two more came in his place to claim vengeance and seek honor. I was forced to retreat to the deepest part of the forest, to this lonely pond in the meadow before you now. As I withdrew I killed more men than I care to count, hopeful that I would find peace once I came to this place.”
Saiph burned icy cold against Avante’s back, but he heard no voice other than those of the bones.
“She was waiting for me here. In this very spot I stand now. The red-headed vixen who painted her pale skin with blood, the only woman of legend that a creature such as myself would come to know; Saiph. As she thrust her blade through my heart, she said it was a kindness, that I would come to understand her actions in eternity.”
Reya’s sharp intake of breath startled Avante, he glanced in her direction to see her shove off of the branch and take flight, disappearing into the branches above. He directed his attention back to the bear skeleton.
“But here I have waited, and whether the years that have passed suffice as eternity, I have not come to understand Saiph’s actions. She did me no kindness.” The bear’s skull dipped down towards the ground and his front claws dug into the ground, as if clutching it, “Yet, I am granted an opportunity to meet her once more, perhaps this time she can grant me a true death, and free me of this binding. Lestna gnu rogna fontunali!”
The skeleton lurched forward, the still water churned with chaos. Blue flames licked out behind the bones, making the creature seem even larger than before. Avante reached back and drew Saiph, holding the blade out in front of him, he was surprised to see it was glowing a deep red shade.
Though it was a god, I had no choice but to bind it to my will. My thirst for power was immature.
Avante took a deep breath then widened his stance and braced for impact.