A short story by a mystery guest writer. Enjoy.
The leaf waterfall streamed down before Nasias thunderously filling the pond underneath. Cool like winter, fragrant like spring, the leaves amassed around the hunter and once they covered his waist, he caught first glimpse of it. From the skies, the tiny emerald bird descended lonely and precious, and stayed waving on the spot, its stare right upon him, its voice pure as a child‘s.
“Don‘t hurt me. I want to fly. High, like father could,” it pleaded. “Please, I want to fly.”
As it landed on the rising surface that was to encase the hunter in a few heartbeats of time her breath kissed him on the cheek. She was just there but he would not sight her.
“Dawn shines,” the words hammered and Nasias, waking up, felt the searing blade penetrating his bruised shoulder. Twelve summers of such mornings were enough for him to learn to take the pain without a sound and so he did. ”Time to prey.”
Standing up, the hunter glanced at the ten capped and hooded in black warriors each holding a rapier heated to whiteness at the tip. Motionless, he watched nine of them making cuts on his deltoids and then patiently offering the hundred gigantic gray wolves resting in close proximity, to smell the extracted blood drops. Within the creatures malice and severity raged, animals and sentinels equally vicious. The tenth, the leader, bandaged Nasias‘s wounds and let him free.
Diving hands in the priceless fabric of Iridescence, the hunter lifted it up and put it on; the thousands of feathers the mantle was made of, bearing almost all tints ever painted in the world-the cold resting at the top, the warm at the bottom, shone brilliantly, spraying magnificence and splendor everywhere nearby. Nasias raised his hand and there arrived Lighty, humble, friendly and golden. If it could, it would smile, greet and talk; he was certain.
“Move, the day runs out” the leader uttered with a gut-crushing harshness.
The hunter grasped his bow and arrow, commencing forward. Impatient, hungry, concentrated on the source of the scent they had tasted, the wolves followed. Ahead of them strode the guards unable to miss a single movement of Nasias‘s typical swift-paced lethal march. Giant living shadows and a figure of unearthly luminescence moved like ghosts through the desolate wild.
Nasias‘s glance jumped across the glade and existed for nothing else, dark like his clothing ripped across the arms from the elbow up because of the wolf-tracking ritual. There he walked, death in his hands, in his veins killing him and it mattered little. Far onward lingered something he wanted so much, he refused to blink, to speak, to breathe out loud, or rest.
A river’s distant growl soon breached the hunter’s senses. The newfound current took him straight to where the day’s journey would end.
Falling, the sun had enveloped the forest waterfall in bleak illumination. There was still time. He wished to stay and wait but that was not how it was written. Quiet like a predator, Nasias advanced. Lighty abandoned him as he entered the pond. Regret assailed. A silence later, the little treasure-like birdy arrived, facing its killer, so close, so bravely and kindly as if asking him to be friends. Suddenly it read the truth. In despair the small one fled for the clouds but before hope could leave, Nasias’s arrow struck home. Collapsing in the hunter’s hand, an inch above the pool, it started dying in the trembling fingers. He begged it to feel his pain. The courageous flier blinked and a sparkly drop shed upon the eye. The hunter gazed astounded, feeling nails in his stomach, before realizing he had nearly submerged the bird in the water. Was it the water, or was it him, it had no difference, Nasias thought.
“Good, hunter” the leader‘s praise stabbed him along with his sword, which carved another scar on the hunter‘s body, installing the daily cure. Inside he may have bled harder than his quarry.
Aimed at the King’s head, the arrow was ready. Dozens of others were pointed at Nasias, also deadly but unjust. Two sentries were pressing daggers against her throat.
“How do you imagine,” the lord began drunk with rage, “…your girl after firing? Do you at all?”
The hunter drew breath, his bones were burning; Aliya’s dread brought him physical torment.
“Because I promise you, right now, in front of her, yes, look at her: you will not see her again.”
“You can’t have her, my lord,” Nasias’s breath shook violently. “Not her.”
“Oh, no…” the King took a step across the throne chamber “She is already mine. You are mine-as is every little particle of dust in the kingdom. Do you think you are any different, better?”
The lovers’ looks met. Was it for the last time, Nasias couldn’t tell. Terror didn’t hide her love, gracious and strong, whispering goodbye. Her eyes were on his-she was staying with him.
“I wish…,” the hunter was speaking to her; in an instant it seemed she would smile, “…I never made you cry…,” listening, the girl stopped the tears yet to come, “It will be okay, it is okay.”
When the King laughed the hunter shifted his gaze to him: affection vanished, hatred replacing it, the notion of farewell multiplied to infinity and he fired.
A storm of speeding metal reigned between the foes along the song of the bow-strings. The arrows shot from the King’s bodyguard disintegrated in mid-air Nasias’s. With a stare rich in wrath, the ruler snapped his fingers and the hunter blacked out struck in the head.
He regained consciousness enchained. The dungeon gate creaked and his enemy entered. One hand holding a golden cup, the King planted the fist of the other deep in the prisoner’s stomach.
“You stupid boy,” he snarled the moon beaming above. “I have been trying to think of a reason not to kill you very hard. Now, luckily for you, at midnight, I finally found one.”
As Nasias opened his mouth forced to breathe in after the King’s blow, the lord raised the cup and poured a potion in his throat. The hunter choked while the poison took effect.
“It feels like falling asleep, does it? Truth is that at the next sunset you will grow numb, then at midnight, you will be blind, an hour later-deaf and in one more-dead. Yes, Nasias, my boy.”
Worries of Aliya rescued him from accepting the brutal truths of the King‘s revelation.
“Ah, she is so beautiful,” the King confessed profoundly. “I, a king, have never seen anyone so beautiful. Do you know how much I‘ve seen and felt?”
“Nothing…,” the hunter silently roared to the King, frosty and honest. “You weren‘t her friend when she was little. You didn‘t protect her as she grew up and everybody tried to take her like you, by force…Let me tell you what I know. I might haven‘t loved her every day of my life but I know I don‘t remember a moment before. I can write poems with the dreams I have of her and she would listen to me telling them until the sun sets and she falls asleep in my arms…Nothing.”
The King observed him like a mere corpse which somehow managed to mock him, to grant him envy. On his ruthless expression the doomed desire to learn more of her emerged.
“If I knife you she will suffer indefinitely…,” he concluded grimly and gripped Nasias’s throat. “But maybe you should suffer instead. Yes, I think you must,” His hold tightened. “If you want her safe, you will bring me a gift as divine as her. You will build me a mantle, a King’s mantle, a mantle of more colors there are in a rainbow, made of the fairest birds’ feathers. You will go off the edges of the map if you have to and you will,” he was mouthing his vengeance with a hiss. “I will send men and beasts to track your every move. If you run or stop, they will rip you apart. They will cause you pain. With your beloved bird every day you will send me a feather to prove that you are doing what you are told. If not she dies. Like you. Your death sentence is in place, is it?” the King tapped the hunter‘s chest. “The sentinels will heal you after every successful hunt and so on and on. My potion won’t stop.” He smiled. “Do write your dreams for the one you have tonight and every other and you’ll have many, will lead the way. The only way you got left.”
His punishment being pronounced, the lord withdrew. Before he left, his hands squeezed the metal of the door. Even he, in spite of what he has done, could look tired and troubled.
“No man deserves to keep such an angel for oneself alone.” he said and was gone.