I led the way into the sickroom. Seeing my approach, Shevre rose from a stool he had set up beside the bed where a covered figure lay. “Is he….” Liandros murmurs, almost shoving me towards the bed.
Shevre ignores him, instead moving to clasp me on my shoulder. “He lives. He will wake up soon—that is, if I got the measurements right. If I didn’t….” The elf shrugs, his smile grim.
At that moment, the bed sheets shift in a rush, as the occupant of the bed fights to escape the entanglement of blankets, soft cries of shock and struggle sounding on our ears.
I beat the healer and the human both to the bed, and tear the blankets with my hands as I free my brother’s face from the blankets.
I stop, and I feel my knees go weak as recognition floods my soul as I stare into my brother’s eyes. His pine-green eyes widen, as do mine, as his thin onyx eyebrows raising to accommodate the widening of his eyes.
After a moment of silence, we whisper together, “Brother?”
Laughing softly, our melodic voices reply like a gentle bird cooing to its young in perfect synchronicity: “Yes.”
“Are you the one who found me?” he asks, softly. “All I remember is the crash and receiving a knock to the head courtesy of the wheel, except for a single moment of consciousness when I felt someone pulling me in.”
“I am, and so did Liandros over here,” I told him, gesturing to Liandros who stood beside me, watching as we talked.
“I, for one, would like to know just who I saved.” Liandros stated, his voice challenging. He clearly was not willing to trust my brother, and I found that I couldn’t, either.
“My name is Ari, Archer of the Eastern Woods, Defender of the Dragon,” Ari replied calmly, naming himself as one of the most brilliant elven fighters in existence.
“I am Kelree, Pirate Hunter.”
Ari and I eye each other, weighing each other carefully, looking for signs of weakness, judging the other warily.
Deciding he didn’t feel like being left out of things, Liandros threw his hat in the ring as well: “And I am Liandros, nothing at all to be said but that.”
The tension dissolved, Ari and I looked each other in the eyes and laughed.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
For the next few days, as Ari’s strength grew due to Orpodah’s remedies (and, of course, the remedies to those remedies supplied by Shevre) the crew adjusted to having a new member. The Captain grew rather fond of the young elf, in fact, telling him of the kind of life his brother had been living. I told him as much as I could, but during those days of healing not only Ari gained strength: So did Akalioa.
Occurrences happened more and more frequently—once, Larind was thrown into the sea from the cliffs when she and him had crossed paths, her guards too busy with Ari to watch her very closely.
Ari likely knew of her, but he had not yet asked. Maybe he was afraid to.
But, all too quickly, the day comes when Ari is fully healed, and impatient to see the island for himself.
On that day, Liandros and I guide him outside, watching the smile grow on his face on seeing and feeling the light of day again.
“You haven’t asked me yet,” Ari remarks as we are resting on the cliffs, overlooking where we had found him. “About why I left the forest, and my people, behind. Nor have you asked about my parents—your parents.”
“I felt it best to give you time to think it over for yourself.”
“I’m full to bursting of tales you need to hear,” Ari says, and from the tone of his voice I know what his next words will be, “Tales my brother, and my brother alone, need to hear.”
Liandros’ eyes flash, but he gives a nod and a smile, departing with grace to return to his cabin where he will yell and scream at being left out.
“He really loves you, doesn’t he.” Ari murmurs, watching Liandros’ departing back.
“What do you mean?” I ask, dread flooding my voice. If he knew he was gay, then who else knew?
“Relax, Kelree, I won’t tell anyone. I knew from the way he looked at me when we first met that he was gay, and that he loves you so much he views anyone else as competition, and that I have a better chance at winning.
“Shall I begin?”
I nodded, my heart in my throat again.
“I was born on the same day you were, to the same parents: Liorannet and Jalarkai. Akalioa was born two years later. That was a time of war, however, as we elves abandoned our homes in the valleys and plains among the humans and returned home. Many of the humans demanded that we stay, some even imprisoning us and hoping that we would fight in their wars for them. Many of the elves were not able to bring their children with them—our parents had to leave you and Akalioa behind with friends, and they had to promise to tell you nothing of your parents so you would not feel that you had been abandoned.
“For years, as memory of you faded, I began to search for you less and less, my forays into civilization growing rarer and rarer as time goes on. And now I wish that they had not.
“I finally joined the Defenders of the Dragon and defended the forest from the onset of the orcs seeking new land to the north, east, and even some traveling across the seas to the west and south. I became one of the very best, and I myself killed the general of one of the armies.
“But I soon realized I was not meant to be a soldier. For years I hated myself, remembering all the people that I had killed, and then when the day came that I killed a youth no more than ten years of age when I stormed a camp of orcs alone—they had had prisoners to ensure that their supply of food didn’t run out any time soon.
“And so I left the forest, tired of watching my people degenerate from lovers of the wild to nothing better than humans.
“I took to the sea, hoping to find some freedom there. I was out in a small canoe alone, fishing far off in the sea, looking for signs of friends of mine who had not yet returned home.
“I found them, unfortunately, in the hold of a pirate ship. When the Water Patrol sank it—as it usually does, when it isn’t making deals with the pirates—I was one of the ten people who survived. Over the next eight hours, however, I became the only one. Sharks are fun swimming companions.” My brother lapsed into silence, and we watched the birds sing overhead.
Finally, turning to face me, he asked, “Where’s Akalioa?”
Before I could stop myself, I had replied: “Dead. Sort of, at least.”
Ari stiffened, his eyes narrowing. “What do you mean?”
Surprised by his reaction, I take a brief moment to reply. “She isn’t normal anymore.”
Ari covered his face with his hands, groaning in exhaustion.
It was then that I noticed what he wore upon his right wrist: A bracelet made of pure, bright gold and diamonds scattered around, whenever the braids join. It was an exact duplicate of the one my sister wore upon her wrist.
I looked at my brother in shock, and he raised his head, before following my eyes to the bracelet.
His eyes darkened, as did his face. “Your eyes have recognition in them,” he states flatly. “I have seen no signs of the Source on you—but you have mentioned that there is a change in our sister. I take it she bears a bracelet much like this one, does she not?”
“Why does it matter? I’ve had enough talk of bracelets and the end of the world and death—first Larind, now my own long-lost brother I never knew existed! I….”
My brother cuts me off, his voice frantic with shock, “Larind? Larind the Archer? Are you sure that’s his name?”
“Yes, I’m sure! I’ve known him for two years now!”
“Two years? That leaves about thirty to forty days—limping, badly wounded, elven which ensures that he is denied any other modes of transport—that should mean that he gets there in time. He is talented and resourceful—maybe boats could have meant faster travel, for forty days is the average amount of time people need to get from the forest to Stavaks, which is where he must have gone to get on board a ship of any importance,” Ari remarked, tapping his fingers out on his leg. “What day did he arrive, exactly?”
“It was the Month of Sacrifice—pretty late in, because I remember the Festival soon after his arrival.”
“Hmmm. The time works. Which leg is injured?”
“His right leg. Why does this matter?”
“Because he’s the one I took the Source from. If he survived all this time, then he’s stronger than all of us thought. Most people last only a month after they lose the Source—either they take their own lives in grief at losing so much, or they collapse from exhaustion from the loss of energy after using so much of the Source and relying on its power for as long as Larind has.”
I look at him for a while, shaking my head. “He told me he knew the day I would die, along with the day the world ended.”
Ari nodded. “I do, too. I know the day I die as well, and it’s a few months before you do. That is, if everything goes the way it should. If it goes wrong, I die four centuries from now, of old age.”
I looked at him. “Are you sure you didn’t get those two mixed up?”
“Yes, I’m certain. I have known since the instant I put on the Source my lifespan, and the kind of life I would have to live. I do this all willingly—my death has been predetermined, and if I fight it I send the very world off course.”
Now, I was only a bit over my head by this point, dearest Liana. Okay, okay, I was way over my head by this point. So far I have received nothing that wasn’t cryptic and vague and made no sense at all, but yet I had the feeling I would know a lot more by the time this was over.
And I wanted to know it now.
“So, can you tell me what the Source is before we head off to find Larind?”
“Certainly. If you would just place a finger upon my bracelet for a second, it will show you on its own.”
Swallowing, I held out my hand, and touched my brother’s wrist.
I felt something more than I heard it, but a voice spoke to me nonetheless. We are the Source. We are power. We are infinite.
And we will see the world destroyed.
Euphoria at the thought of complete and total nothingness flooded my veins, and I snatched my hand away.
Ari met my eyes, and nodded. “The Source is, at its heart, evil. It desires nothing but the end of the world itself, but it is power can be controlled. It tempts its bearer every moment, with dreams of ultimate control over life and death. It shows me images even now of a greater world, a better world, that I could create if I let go and let it control me. The instant you put on the Source, you are trained to control it, trained to use it, trained to keep it at bay. If one of us Sourcerors lost control of it for just a heartbeat of time, the entire world would fall.
“But its power cannot be overrated. With a single bracelet, you can unite an army to smash your enemies to pulp, you can save millions of lives, but with every usage of power your resistance becomes weaker, the Source’s pull on your soul stronger.
“But there is a failsafe. If a Sourceror is to fall, his last great act will be to take his own life in a single burst of power from the Source, annihilating his every trace.”
I was more confused than ever.
Ari sighed, grasped me by my shoulder, and led me away from the cliffs.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Larind almost fell of his chair when Ari and I entered Larind’s cabin. He had not gone to visit Ari because of his leg, and he had not been told he even was here.
His gold eyes looked Ari up and down, his mouth hanging open, his hand rubbing his bad leg. “Get out of here.”
Ari gave him a quiet, courteous nod, his lips clenched tight. “Good to see you again too, old friend.”
Larind exploded, snatching his rapier from its sheath and rising to his feet with as much grace as he could muster. “’Old friend’? The last time I saw you, you snapped my leg in two with a tree! And you tried to kill me! How dare you come near me again.” Deciding a sword might be too easy, he shoves his cloak aside, strings his bow and sets an arrow to it in a single motion, takes aim in a heartbeat, and fires.
The arrow halts mid-flight, an inch from Ari’s chest. A dark look overcomes his face, his eyes narrowing in concentration.
Slowly, the arrow turns in the air, until it points right back at Larind’s throat. With a mere twitch of a single finger on Ari’s raised left hand, the arrow streaks through the air, halting so that it just kisses Larind’s neck, drawing a single drop of blood.
“I come here in peace and apology, Archer. Not to kill you, nor to draw blood.” Ari declares, watching the arrow as it slowly twirls in the wound, Larind flinching reflexively at the pain.
“So why are you doing this?” Larind asks, his hand resting still on the hilt of his rapier, his bow still in his right hand.
“Because I hate it when old friends of mine don’t hug me after they haven’t seen me in years.”
Slowly, Larind smiles, and the arrow falls to the ground, the wound sealing. Larind opens his arms, and Ari hugs him, as if searching for a part of himself in the comfort of a friend’s arms.
“I am sorry, my friend. The Source….”
“It wants me dead, I know. I was its greatest weapon, but I was also the most rebellious. I gave it to you, and because of that it wants me dead, its sole user that escaped from it alive. I don’t blame you for doing what you did; I remember all too well the power of the Source, the temptations it gave.”
Ari pulled back to arm’s length and searched his friend’s eyes, Larind searching them in return.
“There are other reasons why I held an arrow to your neck, remember?”
Larind pulled away, settling back in his chair and covering his face with his hands, his elbows resting on the table. “I’d hoped you’d forgotten.”
“The King demands that every elf still walking the plains return all escaped traitors if they are found, and my first and foremost duty is to my King and the betterment of the world.” Ari, looking at him grimly, pulls a sword from the sheath at his hip.
“Those two desires contradict, don’t they?” Larind asks, seizing upon an advantage.
Ari opens his mouth to reply, but then a frown creases his forehead and he pauses, regarding the elf.
“Look within the Shadow, Ari. Look within the Shadow and find the Thread, and follow its path to where the world belongs. Am I in it?”
The sword slides back into its sheath. “But not for much longer, my friend. Not for much longer.”
“Is that not true about all of us?”
Ari nods, and smiles.
“I feel very loved,” I comment dryly, feeling more confused than ever. “And well-informed.”
They just laugh, and wave to the Captain as he walked in to see what all the fuss was about.