I should have known all along that the peace wouldn’t last. I should have known the days of sparring and training and the nights of drinking and story-telling would come to a sudden and unexpected halt. I should have known that the world I had come to live in, a world where when I wept a friend would come to my side and hold me, and when I laughed they would laugh with me.
I should have known.
Maybe then the world wouldn’t have ended the way it did….
One day Nalika comes to see me.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ The day begins like any other. I wake, strap on my practice weapons, and go out and spar for an hour or more with Ari, and then train with Larind at archery. Taurion oversees my physical training, running with me and climbing, teaching me about the world around me.
It’s when Taurion and I return to the manor after training that day that all hell breaks loose.
Nalika is there, waiting at the entrance, her hair pulled back in a braid, her body scented with perfume, a loose-flowing tunic playing all around her in the idle breeze. My heart halts, and I just look at her, amazed. “Nalika….” I whisper, unable to speak.
“Kelree,” she replies, laughing at the look of shock on my face, “Hello again, darling boy.”
I blush furiously, and Taurion eyes me, and mutters into my ear, “Care to introduce me to your friend?”
I blush harder.
Nalika laughs, and introduces herself, “I’m Nalika Toth, but you may call me Lotus. Quite a few do.”
Taurion extends a hand, introducing himself as he does so. She shakes it, and raises her eyebrows at the strength of his grip. She tightens her hold on his hand and Taurion winces, his eyes widening. He lets go fast, and slips back to my side, muttering, “I don’t like her.”
I’m almost unable to reply, but I do, however, manage to angle a glare in his direction. Taurion shrugs, and Nalika laughs softly, slipping her arm into mine.
Together, Nalika and I walk to the stable, claim our horses, and ride without a single word spoken between us, not a single look shared.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
We stop when it gets dark, and our horses are panting, their sides drenched with sweat. We were far out on the plains, miles away from anything. She turns to me, her eyes dark, her smile grim. “You haven’t yet approached me with the question I see in your eyes, friend.”
“What question would that be?” I ask her, feeling a bit wary. What was this…?
“You haven’t asked me to help you dig up Liandros.”
“I….I wasn’t planning on….” I stammer, my eyes not meeting hers.
She laughs, cutting me off. “Oh, Kelree! So innocent….So naïve! I know the thoughts that go on in your mind, my friend.”
I blush, and look away. Then did she know about the other thoughts…?
She laughs, and gently turns my chin so I face her. She smiles softly, and then leans casually forward, and kisses me.
I kiss her back, and slip my hands around her shoulders, pulling her closer.
The world ends.
There’s a scream, a cry. A shout.
I whirl, and who do I see…?
Who do I see but Ari, with a golden-haired young man held lightly in his arms?
Ari falls to his knees, gasping for breath. He must have run for a long time.
I don’t move.
Nalika leaps forward, falls to her knees beside Ari, and lifts the prone form in her slim arms, and flies past me deeper into the woods, without looking at me.
Ari approaches me on his knees, gasping for breath. “Brother…..” he gasps out.
I fall to my knees beside him, the only thing I can do. I touch his hand, and he looks into my eyes, but I can see the light in them fading.
I take his hand in mine and hold it tightly, and slowly direct the course of my eyes down my back so that they settle upon the single arrow in his back. He smiles at me with the last of his strength, before his head falls to the earth, his final breath gasped out into the mud.
Just as I am about to leave him there, something in me reaches down, slips the bracelet off his cooling wrist, and slips it onto my own.
I turn, and follow Nalika into the abyss, fleeing the sounds of pursuit just as they reach my cursed elven ears.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It rests in my arms, murmuring words I cannot comprehend. It twists and writhes in my grasp, never fully conscious. It calls out in a tongue I do not know, for something I pray isn’t coming. It shifts and moans, as if caught in some hateful dream.
I just hold It in my weak grasp as my legs force out another foot, another inch. As my lungs force out another breath. As my heart beats, so very weary, so very weak….
I just run alongside Nalika, stagger around trees, wrench myself beside her through brush and clutching weeds, clamber over rocks.
I just gasp out another breath, and glance down at my burden, feeling agony.
Nalika takes hold of me again, and in a wrenching shriek, lifts us high into the air and hurls us away from here. We fly through the air, propelled by her power that is not her own, her control over the uncontrollable Source. We crash into hard earth, roll down the steep hill, fall down fast. We roll down into the darkness, into the blackness, into the abyss.
My grasp on It fails, and Liandros is lost in the darkness and the night.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The next morning I wake.
The next morning I roll to my feet, gasping for breath, bleeding from dozens of small and scattered wounds, as well as a large number of a few larger ones. I look around—Nalika is standing a few feet away, her back to me, her naked form kneeling at the edge of a small pond, cupping water in her hand as she cleans the wounds of dirt.
I turn my eyes away.
I walk in the other direction, following the sound of rushing water. I come upon the source of the pond, and there I wash my wounds myself, cleaning them as best I can.
And I am not surprised in the least when Nalika’s soft voice murmurs, “Your wounds are not the only things that need cleaning and stitching, my friend. Your clothes need tending to as well—and that is difficult if you’re wearing them.”
I turn and look at her coldly. “Nalika, I do not want you.”
She leans against a tree, her lotus-petal skin bright in the dim dawn light. Her arms cross beneath her breasts, and she looks at me just as coldly. “You need me. You may not want me, but you need me.”
“I need to stay free until I can find some way to get to Taurion. Or to someone else. To do that, I may or may not need you.”
“Why are you doing this, Kelree? Why are you refusing me? Are you just another bender, just like Liandros? Another worthless faggot?”
I don’t think I’ve ever been angrier.
My right hand raises my hand tilts back, and a single beam of pure red light shoots from the bracelet, straight towards her heart.
She shudders and spasms when it disappears into her skin, and then she is still.
Beautiful Nalika slips slowly to the ground, dead.
I go to find Liandros.
My best friend in the world.