hough she could not see nor feel the warmth of the Injèrá through the murkiness of her sunless realm, she knew it was there. She was relieved she could not see it; it unsettled too much, to know what she had lost and could never gain back.
Countless times, when the shadows inside her mind grew thick and choking, she would ascend to the highest tower of her ruined castle, the ragged hem of her skirt dragging through the dirt and brushing past dried corpses of rats. Once there, she stayed for days and nights on the very top, staring up at the seemingly endless cloud of marsh fog that obscured the Injèrá until her eyes wept with blood.
Sometimes she had company with her - her exquisite shattered fortress was full of pale shades that chattered incessantly to her, sang to her in the skeletal whispers of the dead.
Sometimes a silent, as the ghosts never were, figure would be near her. Who just stood, looking at her as she never looked at him while he was there. Quarón who loved her with a constancy that made her sad and furious with a bewildered wonderment during those erratic moments when she fleetingly recognized him for who he was. Ephemeral moments that made her almost want to kill him, rend him apart with her teeth so he would stop looking at her like that.
Nonetheless, she never did.
Other times, she was alone and remembered. How she used to be unbroken and her face, whole and beautiful. When the stars did not scream her guilt down upon her whilst night fell and the taste of steel and tears were alien to her tongue.
When Fá'áv'dárím still existed outside of faded reminiscences and old tales, glittering green and gold like a great bauble, and not destroyed wholly by the blind foolishness of one Styrás.
At the remembrance of Kásh'áv'taylá, the eons-old hate in her would always rise and choke her throat and make everything painted black as a dead crow’s wing. She would scream hopelessly, and sob, and tear gouges into her flesh but these wounds always heal eventually, unlike the scars on her face, so she paid them no heed. Pain was something she was familiar with.
Sometimes, Quarón might come and dress her self-inflicted injuries. Though he never said a word, she knew it hurt him to see her so but she does not care. Her heart was a dried, shrivelled thing that had been dug out a long time ago and fed to someone she could not recall.
Then, she would sit down and again stare up sightlessly at the hidden sun and yearned for a place that was no more.
“Avásh'aelía! My Lady! Where are you?”
She sighs. Apparently, it would seem that she is found. She did not care to be found, she would rather had remain lost. Being found meant a recall to duty, responsibilities and proper decorous behaviour expected from an elf and one of the Axhái no less.
“Eaythe, I am here,” she calls out reluctantly to her seeker.
Seconds pass and a human woman walks into the clearing. She looks around the empty garden, past the gurgling marble fountain and the great tree in the middle, with some exasperation.
“I cannot see you.”
Avásh'aelía giggles. She can not help it. Poor, dear Eaythe really did look annoyed and annoyance did not suit that sweet countenance, making the expression appear comical instead.
“Up here,” she says blithely, waving her hand.
Eaythe looks up and the annoyance changes to one of alarm and consternation.
“Get down this minute!” Eaythe scolds the elf-maid, who is high up in the tree, her pale legs very obviously swinging underneath skirts of deep blue. “It is dangerous!” The human wrings her hands together with real distress.
Not wishing to cause her companion any worries for she is truly fond of Eaythe, Avásh'aelía swings herself off the branch she has been sitting on. Ignoring Eaythe’s stifled shriek, she jumps and despite the considerable height, lands on her feet as gracefully as any cat worth its stripes.
Eaythe clasps a hand to her cheek, her face noticeably paler.
“Do not frighten me like that! I thought you would break your neck and a pretty sight that would have been,” she chides as if the elf maiden is a mere stripling child and not a being who has already felt the chill of hundreds of winters since her birth into the world.
“I am sorry, Eaythe.” Avásh'aelía smiles and briefly she embraces the other woman who thaws visibly under the sweetly affectionate gesture and apology.
“You need not worry so for me. I have lived longer than you can imagine and am more than capable of taking care of myself,” she reminds her friend.
“You do not behave like it then,” Eaythe retorts. “What were you doing up there in that tree?”
Avásh'aelía’s smile grows wider, “Looking.”
“Looking? Whatever for?”
“To see with my eye, how pleasing and wondrous Fá'áv'dárím is. How it shines so when the Injèrá strikes its light upon it. How it reminds me of Avá’s grace and Her love. How humbling it is that She could possibly have dreamt of something so utterly perfect.”
Eaythe stares at the Styrás for a moment before shaking her head with bewilderment. “Are all elves like you?”
“Oh no, I do not think so. Most of them are far too conscious of their dignity and impressiveness of temperament than to climb mere trees like me.” Avásh'aelía laughs, a sound like glass-bright windchimes as she brushes grass stains off from her gown.
“But you are an Axhái! One of the First Elves!”
“That is only a name and mere words strung together, it does not define who I am. And furthermore, the Thaelon where I was first birthed, there are many trees, so tall they reach the skies and I have climbed almost every one of them.”
“I thought you were born here in the city.”
“No, I travelled here with he who is my Father, a long time ago, and remained while he left. I could not leave for I had fallen in love with Fá'áv'dárím though I care for my woodland birthplace still. Here, more strongly than any other place, can I feel the High Goddess’s presence.”
The elf maid looks around her garden sanctuary, her eyes soft with the light of tenderness, which darkened subtly when she spies the nearby alabaster spires of the palace where the Empress of Fá'áv'cál'âr resides.
“I fear her,” Eaythe confesses softly, as she looks to where Avásh'aelía is staring and understands immediately, her concern. “She frightens me, the Empress, though she is fair of face and manners. I do not know why.“
“You are wise to fear her. I fear her. Not of what she is but what she brings. Kásh'áv'taylá’s blind devotion to Avá as an isolated icon is an ill preaching but much of the Styrá listens to her and forgets that the High Goddess’s spirit dwells in all things, not just within a beautifully carved statue.”
“I do not understand.”
For the second time, Avásh'aelía sighs and a strange sadness crosses her exquisite features. Though Eaythe had lived among the elves of the city since young, and the ageless elf maid loved the mortal girl as a beloved sister, there are still barriers, unseen and flimsy but irrevocably there, between the two races that could not be so easily breached.
“No matter. Come, we have to get back now or it will be late and we will miss the evening dances. You know how I love to dance!”
“You look like a dream when you do. All the lords, human, elves and even dwarves alike, are quite smitten with you,” Eaythe says, grinning.
“And I care for none of them,” Avásh'aelía replies, tossing her shimmering dark hair back.
“Not even Lord Ur'á'gór? He who is newly arrived to the city?” The human girl smirks slyly. “He is very handsome, more so than the others.”
“Not even him!” The elf maid shakes her head in laughing denial and it is a small lie. She lies because she still did not know what it is she feels. When his stare lingers upon her, it makes her feel serene and troubled at the same time. She did not like to feel so but it thrills her extraordinarily too.
“Come, we shall be late!” Grabbing her mortal sister’s hand, she starts to run and tries very hard not to think of Kásh'áv'taylá, and tries even harder, of Ur'á'gór.
She danced upon broken splinters of glass until the floor was stained with the bright crimson of her spilt blood. Slivers of jagged glass that came from mirrors she had shattered with bare fists for she cannot bear the sight of demons peering back at her from beyond the reflected other world.
These demons, one in particular, terribly scarred and horrible, would sneer and deride her ceaselessly until the spiders came back and she would huddle in a corner, chewing the skin off her fingers to stop the agony inside.
Sometimes she danced with long-dead partners who had lavishly praised her beauty when she had been new and compared her to a winter rose in bloom which she did not like for she was dark-haired and dark-eyed.
When she was tired, she would lie down next to an opened window and close her eyes and sometimes dreams would come, of fire and of flesh, and sometimes not and she slept in a dark, airless void.
She would always wake up in a bed of fresh linens, in a different room each time, with Quarón keeping watch over her as he always did.
The sun never shone in the Water Marshes. It was always night or a misty grey. The Injèrá knew what she had done and had turned its back on her, unwilling to sully its brilliant white-goldenness with her darkness.
There were days when she reviled everything with a wild, stained intensity and the desire to wound another was so fierce it overwhelmed her. To stop its breathing and peer into its heart to see inside, whether it would beat outside of its caged prison. Mortal hearts were so fragile, they never lasted very long when she took them out and held the hot, wet warmth in her hands, savouring the leaching life since she had none.
Avá turned Her back upon her and so shall she, by destroying those She dreamt.
It eased the pain a little when she hurt others. But the ache always inevitably returned and she would then start to move slowly to a ghostly, forgotten song upon broken glass.
“Help us! Will you do nothing while your people die by the thousands?” Avásh'aelía shouts, her face contorts with anguish as tears stream down her cheeks.
The silver-haired elf, so beautiful and so cold as remote starlight, answers, and her voice is the whisperings of the trees, “It is beyond my power to stop the Gods.”
“You are the High Avá'ránn! The First of us. You cannot stand by and watch while Foiros and Baveras rain fire and water upon Fá'áv'dárím!”
She has travelled so far to the Thaelon, to seek deliverance from the High Avá'ránn, hoping with each step of the way that she is not too late while the dying screams of the elves of Fá'áv'dárím echoes within her mind, driving her forth.
Kásh'áv'taylá is dead, by the hand of the Goddess of Death, and inside her heart, she is glad for it was the Empress’s imprudent words that brought the combined fury of the Gods on them. She had laughed and laughed when the silver glint of Queprur’s scythe came bearing down and Kásh'áv'taylá’s head separated from her body, mouth still gaping opened in a shriek that none would hear now.
“Fá'áv'dárím’s time upon this world has ended. It will be destroyed and so shall Fá'áv'cál'âr fall when that happens.”
Fear grips her heart as she hears the High Avá'ránn’s soft words. The First of the Styreians has the gift of true seeing and what she sees, inexorably, comes to pass.
“No… it cannot be…” she murmurs wretchedly and covers her face with trembling hands.
She feels the gentle embrace of the High Avá'ránn around her, the gossamer thin material of the other elf’s gown caressing her cheek, soaking her tears, but she draws no comfort from it and her mouth fills with ashes.
Stumbling back, she pleads again,“Save Fá'áv'cál'âr then. Do that much at least. The orcs are amassing an army and we are hard-pressed to drive them back. And the other races too will soon rebuild their own armies in revenge for their defeat. A word from you will do much to soothe the surviving Styreians as their hearts are filled with much terror and confusion now that their Empress is dead. We have no possibility of victory against the orcs if we are disunited in our common dread!”
“Know this, Avásh'aelía, I have seen it. Nothing we do can stop this time of blood and madness. It has to be. Can you not understand?”
At this, the grief leaves and only a killing rage surges in to fill up the emptiness.
“No, I cannot and I will never understand.”
The High Avá'ránn lifts a hand as if to touch and she strikes the arm away with a sudden, shocking violence with her own palm.
As she did so, a shadow withdraws by the unlit darkness of a tree and another silver-haired elf, likened in features to the High Avá'ránn, is suddenly standing between her and the latter.
“Father, will you not help me either?” she whispers despairingly.
And she sees that Melór’s eyes hold only pitiless grief for her and she knows then, that she is truly alone.
“Avá is weeping for us all as does the High Avá'ránn,” he says.
“What is the use of tears? Will it stop the orcs from murdering Styreians until not one remains? What will the Dreamer do when Her firstborns are all lying, rotting, in graves? Will She weep more worthless tears then?” she cries out with towering, unbridled bitterness.
“If you will not offer help, then so be it. I will return to Fá'áv'dárím and I will stand and defend it against its enemies to my last breath.”
“Stay in the Thaelon and heal, for darkness has seeped into your spirit. Heed me well. Return to that doomed city and you will lose yourself,” Melór tells her.
“I already have.” The last remnants of regret fades and she slowly walks away, as an old mortal woman would, from the two who loved her more than anyone ever had, and did not look back.
She kept pets that die eventually, no matter what she did. Sometimes she could not recall how they died. Awareness returned, and their corpses, icy and mutilated, would be close, her hands stained with blood and she did not know how they became this way.
Her last pet had been a little bard with hair like spun gold and whose voice was as pure and clear as a morning dawn. She liked listening to him sing. The untainted timbre of his voice drove the spiders away, for a while.
He feared her though, the horror of her presence leaked out from his body in sour sweat, when she bid him near. She preferred their fear to adoration. She had no use for love in any of its forms anymore. Love made one so absolutely helpless and weak, to both the giver and receiver.
Terror was much simpler to rule.
She cannot remember unerringly but she rather thought she had broken that little bard one day. Sometimes she does not know her own strength and the extent of her madness. And he could not sing anymore, not with his tongue torn out, leaving a flap of meat inside his gaping mouth when he tried to scream. His attempts to scream irritated her, so finally, she put his head on a stick and he could not scream again and she was content, for a while.
Once she stumbled upon a woman, lost while wandering in the marshes, who reminded her of Eaythe. Pretty, thoughtful Eaythe who died under an orc’s sword after she had been brutally raped by the beast, her virtue and life taken away so carelessly as if she had been just another human.
But she had not been just another human. Eaythe had been her sister in spirit, who still loved her though the rest did not.
She had hunted that particular orc down with an unremitting relentlessness when she heard of her sister’s death and she found the foul thing cavorting with its battalion. With her own elven rangers, she killed every orc, and she left the one that murdered Eaythe to skin it alive with its own sword. The weapon it used to drive into Eaythe’s body after it sated its lust upon her.
It had been a good day.
She brought the human who reminded her of Eaythe back to her palace but the woman had flung herself out of a window after a few days and her head smashed against a rock when she stopped flying.
The mortal who looked like Eaythe died as grey things oozed out of the wound in her head. They always die.
She needed a new pet then. Something to help her forget, for a while.
Of what she was and what she had become.
The scars, still fresh and only half-healed, pain her greatly but she bears them as patiently as she can, for to others, they are scars of a victorious triumph that is needed sorely in these dark times.
Us’gar Loc’um’rak is dead. She has killed the Orc who has betrayed Saban. Though Saban had been a follower of Coór and a traitor to the elves by consorting with the other races, he had been a great leader despite his beliefs and Us’gar had foully murdered him.
For that, Us’gar has to die and she is the one who did the deed that no one could; engaged the orcish general to a ferociously vicious fight that has cost her, the strength and the price of her beauty that so many had once thought comparable to the High Avá'ránn.
Now she is comparable to nothing.
As the blistering gush of her own blood poured down her face, she had mustered all her remaining strength and swung her sword to cleave the orc’s neck as it had done to Saban, separating its head from the massive shoulders.
Her rangers found her, more dead than alive, and brought her back to heal but her wounds were too deep and grievous. They would not heal completely, leaving scars across her face and arms.
Come nights, she weeps forlornly, when no one can hear her unhappiness that is as deep as the oceans. Mourning her loveliness that has been ruined irretrievably under the blunt edge of Us’gar axe.
She moans restlessly as those who fell under her sword clusters around her and their eyes stare at her with recrimination and reproach though they had, all of them, deserved to die.
“Leave me be!” she howls futilely at the dead.
It is Ur'á'gór, now Emperor of whatever remains of Fá'áv'cál'âr, and the ghosts retreat for the moment as she gladly turns towards her beloved who has bound his heart to her.
With arms outstretch, she goes towards him but slows her steps when she sees the repulsion in his eyes and her heart shudders.
“Why? Why do you look at me thus?” she asks fearfully. “Do you not love me still? What I did, I did for Fá'áv'cál'âr, our people, and you.”
He averts his face from hers and this small gesture wounds her more than her scars.
“They say… they say you are a berserker. That the bloodlust is strong in you. That you have killed those who are helpless and unable to defend themselves.”
“They lie! I kill only orcs and the rebel humans and dwarves! Do you not trust me?” she says with distress. Eaythe is dead and she has severed ties with her kin in the Thaelon and if Ur'á'gór has no love for her anymore, then she will wither away to naught.
“There are rumours… there was a village, a human settlement, in the east that harboured rebels. Most were women and babes and you slaughtered every single one, sparing none mercy.” Ur'á'gór spits his accusation out with venom and resentment. “They say too you have fashioned an armour of their bones.”
“A lie.” She shakes her head vehemently. “To discredit me in your eyes.”
“It is not a lie. Avásh'aelía, you have butchered innocents. Not even I can condone this act. My subjects are demanding that I exile you, along with Saban Blackcloak’s son, Sohlim.”
The ghosts are returning with every word that falls from his lips, coming closer and ever more closer until she could not breathe. And it is now that she finally notices the inordinate amounts of mortal women, holding squealing babies in their arms, their faces bloodied and limbs spilt, among them.
No, she thinks with growing dread. My vengeance is only against those who destroyed Fá'áv'cál'âr. Not women or children. I have not killed indiscriminately!
A reedy wail of a child jolts her and unbidden, flashes of memories come with livid swiftness.
…a woman’s white face, begging
…a child, hardly taller than a sapling tree, who cries incessantly before he is silenced
…another woman, lamenting as she cradles a dead child while blood runs down her face
Stricken, she stares at Ur'á'gór who stares back at her with repulsion and loathing for what she has become. He used to gaze at her with love and longing in those same blue eyes.
Then, she starts screaming.
Sometimes, she thought she had not stopped screaming since. Somewhere, inside her, some part, still shrieked endlessly, in hopeless desolation.
Mostly, as the nights passed into days that were, in actuality, timeless nights in the dreary, marshland empire that belonged to her and was her punishment to care for, she endured.
She endured the Ages that came and went with no pity for her. She endured the utter madness that consumed her mind. She endured the dark rage that allowed the spiders to enter within. She endured the persistent guilt and the absolute loneliness that arose from it.
She endured and waited for the day that will end it all. When Avá would, at long last, extend forgiveness and open Her eyes to look upon her once again.
Sometimes when she could not endure, she would ascend to the highest tower of her palace and stare up at the indifferent sky where the Injèrá shone, hidden, behind dim clouds.
And yearned for a tree to climb.
Story written by Dalá'Valannía