The Ruins of Githal- year 464
Dust and brick. All around, destruction as far as the eye could see. Three weeks ago, Githal had been a kingdom that took up half of the western region. Now, it was laid to ruin. Brick buildings had been torn down. The leather coverings of tents had been reduced to piles of dust. Broken wood and other debris lied scattered about the land. The grass, once endless and green, now revealed the rocky dirt beneath it.
Ashlyn was walking in what seemed like a desert. A pestering wind kicked up the dust and sent it flying in violent swirls. She wrapped her shawl around her face to keep the sand out. She moved against the wind, her mage’s robes flailing and fluttering.
“Ashlyn, come back here!” The voice of her mentor called. “We need you to tend to the wounded!” Annael meant well, but from her place she could not see what Ashlyn was chasing. In the distance, there was a figure amidst a hot haze. It was too small to make out. Perhaps it was just a misplaced log, but the chances of that were hard to accept. If there were fallen logs, they would be closer to the ruins.
But this? This object was lying on its own, far away from the destruction site. Ashlyn had to investigate.
When she came to it, she found that the lone object was in fact a human. A young boy lying unconscious. His head was bald and his body seemed to have taken massive damage. There were black scars along his arms and legs. A few large bruises had disfigured his ribs. Upon first glance, the boy appeared to be dead, but the slight movement in his chest told Ashlyn that he was breathing. He was alive and in critical condition.
Panicking, Ashlyn knelt down beside the victim and immediately went to work. She retrieved her leather satchel full of potions and medicines. Pulling out one of the healing vials, she poured a few drops into the boy’s mouth. After waiting a few minutes, there was no response. Perhaps the medicine was helping, though she could not tell.
“Can you hear me?” she leaned into him. “Wake up, will you? We need to get you to a healing tent.”
But the boy did not wake at the sound of her voice. After waiting several more minutes, Ashlyn decided to report what she had found to her overseers. She ran back to her campsite, calling to Annael.
“I found someone,” Ashlyn said urgently. “We have to bring him here before he dies.”
“Who?” Annael asked. She was tending to another victim at the moment. Around her, the tent was full of injured Uthunil people. Men, women, children all tattered from the siege. Their campsite was made up of thirty healing tents.
“I found a boy,” Ashlyn explained. “I can’t carry him by myself.”
“Alright,” Annael nodded. She signaled three of her enlisted mages and gave the order. “We’ll find a place for him.”
Once the boy was placed on a recovery cot, Ashlyn watched as Annael and three other healers worked on him. Though there were other patients that needed tending to, Ashlyn felt compelled to stay by the boy’s side until he would wake. He was young, perhaps no older than twelve. In truth, finding him so far from the ruins had Ashlyn rather jarred. Many Uthunil children would never see their families again. Ashlyn, being twelve herself, could imagine what it would be like to lose everything in a day. If he was lucky, perhaps this strange boy would never wake up to face a life of emptiness. Perhaps he would pass away in his sleep, quietly and without pain.
Several uncertain hours later, Annael approached Ashlyn who had long since fallen asleep near the boy’s cot. It was evening now, and the stars were glittering in the sky above Githal– one for each lost soul. “Ashlyn,” Annael stirred her young apprentice. When Ashlyn opened her eyes, she saw a kind elven mage with dark hair and hazel eyes.
“What is it?” she asked.
“The boy is stable. He seemed to have taken a fatal amount of magic damage, and yet he is alive.” Annael came in closer, bending to Ashlyn’s level. “Tell me the truth now. Did you touch him?”
“No,” Ashlyn shook her head. “I gave him a potion.”
Annael straightened again. “You would do well to stay away from him until his body is back in alignment. I won’t have you toying around with the bazjur.”
“The– the what?”
Annael let out a deep sigh. “Ashlyn,” she said while sitting down, “I hoped you would learn of this when you were older. The magic I have taught you is pure and untainted. There is another magic that corrupts our world, we call it the bazjur. The dark elves know how to wield it. In fact, I am beginning to understand precisely how King Baldemar managed to destroy Githal.”
“He used the bazjur,” Ashlyn understood.
“I believe so. This boy you found…he is not in a viable condition. I suspect he might have been too close to the center of the attack. I feel the need to warn you: your efforts to help him are noble, but he may not survive for much longer. That much exposure to the bazjur is fatal for most any human.”
Ashlyn bent her chin forward. “I understand.” It was not the news she had hoped to hear, but she could not bring herself to write the boy off. Laying on his cot, he was so vulnerable and alone. Ashlyn knew what it was like to be alone.
Tauros- year 464
The boy woke up in a white recovery bed. Above him was a ceiling made of sanded stone adorned with gold. From the side, light was streaming in through a glass window. “Ah,” he shielded his eyes from it. He was not used to being in such well-lit surroundings. It hurt his ribs to sit up, but he needed proof that he was alive. He needed proof that this was not a dream.
He did not see the girl sitting beside him. When she spoke, her voice made him jump. “It’s alright,” she said, reaching out to comfort him. This made him startle all the more.
“Don’t touch me!” he whimpered. “What have I done?”
“Nothing,” the girl assured him. “I’m not here to hurt you.”
“What am I doing here?”
“We found you outside the ruins. We brought you to Tauros so you could recieve more proper care. Will you not even look at me?”
The boy hesitated. His eyes were still adjusting to the light. Still, he was curious to know who was speaking to him. When he let down his guard, he took in the sight of a girl with silky brown hair clamped into a bun. Her eyes were a piercing golden brown, and her face held a universe of inspiring beauty. Not only was she lovely, she was also well-dressed– probably high-born. There were questions flowing through the boy’s mind, and the one he settled for was, “who are you?”
“I’m Ashlyn,” she answered, leaning in closer to get a better look. This was the first time she had seen him with his eyes open. What fascinating eyes they were indeed. They were beady pools of blackish-brown, like obsidian. He was scrawny and fair-skinned, perhaps severely under-fed. Though, twelve days ago, he had been in much worse condition. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“Damien.” He paused, his breath catching. “Are you going to take me back?”
“Back to Githal? No. There is nothing to go back to.” She adjusted in her seat. “Did you get separated from your family in the attack? Do you know if your parents survived?”
“Parents,” he scoffed. “No. My parents did not survive.” Damien was expecting that any minute now, his captor, Baldemar, would appear from around the corner. “You said you found me in Githal?” Damien asked after a long spell.
“Mhm,” Ashlyn nodded.
“What was I even doing there?”
“You– you don’t remember?”
He shook his head, glancing at his strange surroundings. It was clear to him now that he was in an infirmary. The area was lined with beds on each side of the aisle. The place was beaming with natural light. It was nothing of the home that Damien knew.
“The last thing I remember is–” he cut off, too afraid to open up to this stranger.
“It’s alright,” she tried to comfort him. “You are safe here.”
“Am I?” He winced, his dark eyes swimming with fear. “Why should I trust you?”
“If I was going to let you die, I would have left you right where I found you. You’re still alive, aren’t you?”
“You’re certain this isn’t some illusion that he’s pulled over my eyes? Maybe he wants me to feel safe.”
“Who wants you to feel safe?”
Ashlyn froze. “Baldemar?”
Damien nodded. “Maybe he’s come up with new tricks to torment me. You are very pretty.”
“This is no trick, I assure you. You almost died. Right now you are in Tauros, far away from Eolnir. Baldemar cannot touch you, not if I have something to say about it.”
Her words seemed to have the effect she wanted. Damien relaxed against the headboard of his bed. His hands rested on his belly. Along his arms there were still markings where the bazjur had touched him.
“Does it hurt?” Ashlyn asked while staring at them.
“What?” Damien looked down at the blackening on his arms. “Oh. No, I’m used to it.”
“Help me understand,” she said. “Why does Baldemar torment you?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugged.
“Is it because you can withstand the bazjur?”
“Sorry. Dark magic. You can withstand dark magic?”
“Oh,” he dipped his head. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“That’s why you survived the attack. My fellow mages would say that you are lucky.”
“I would say that I’m not.”
“Damien,” Ashlyn reached out, “you don’t have any family to go back to, do you?”
“Alright, then.” She straightened in her chair. “I’ll let them know.”
“The mages. Annael and the others have been staying here for the time being.”
“You’re a mage?”
Ashlyn giggled. “What, are you scared of mages?”
“Only the ones that try to hurt me.”
“I told you, I’m not here to hurt you.” She offered him a smile. “Wait here.”
She stood up and exited the infirmary. When she had gone, Damien stared at the doorway for longer than he deemed necessary. For whatever reason, he wished that she would come back. For whatever reason, he was obliged to wait.