Crimson Kiss

Crimson Kiss is the first installment of a young adult fantasy trilogy telling the story of Light Mage Evalyn's struggle to survive not only the war between Humans, Orcs and Dark Mages, but also the power struggle between the Light and Dark Races residing in the territories of Arogath.

Not only this, Evalyn struggles to deal with her internal turmoils - the acceptance of her magical heritage alongside her growing feelings for companion Felix whilst the world around her is pulled apart bit by bit, war after war.

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1. Chapter One

 

The lingering light of day soon disappeared beyond the trees as darkness blanketed the sky. Other than the sound of fluttering leaves in the slight night breeze, the forest was silent. An array of stars materialized, embellishing the darkness. The moon cascaded its splendid light across the nearby lake; the faint wind rippled the water, distorting the reflection of the forest. Blades of grass collapsed under my feet as I padded my way towards the tree line.

With my map in one hand and a compass in the other, I forged a path through the trees, ignoring the briars and brambles that caught at my jeans and bare arms. My legs burned, urging me to stop and rest, but I was running out of time. I continued to run through the trees, knowing the Elites were tracking me and wouldn’t be far behind.

The Elites were a large army of orcs who killed and tortured people in order to gain power. They instilled fear into many towns and burned those who refused to bow to them and submit to the power of the Dark Races.

Within half an hour of hastily weaving my way through tangled branches and clustered trees, the temperature had dropped significantly, causing goose bumps to surface across my skin. Soon, my teeth started to chatter and every bone began to ache. My body was exhausted and I could feel my shoes tearing blisters into the soles of my feet. My socks were wet, but I couldn’t tell if it was from blood or the many puddles I’d accidently stumbled into.

I pressed on regardless, knowing there was less than a mile left to travel. The Eyrie had been built from sturdy stone just outside the forest and had stood for centuries, surviving countless invasions and assassination attempts. King Atticus – the Defender of Peace and Order throughout the realm – resided within the walls with his Queen Regent Mary and their two children. They were the remaining members of my family and I hoped they would welcome me warmly. It had been many moons.

A small sigh of relief escaped my lips as I emerged from the forest, with the Eyrie ahead. Time seemed to stand still as I ran towards the intrinsically crafted iron gates of the Eyrie. Great candlelight illuminated the large stained glass windows and I felt the warmth of home.

A guard beyond the gate stood forward, with a sword made from the strongest and finest Arogathean steel in his right hand. His armour glistened subtly under the moonlight.

“I am here to see the King,” I said, tucking the compass and map inside my leather satchel. Clasping my hands in front of me, I offered a stern look. “Tell him his niece Evalyn is here with urgent matters.”

The guard nodded at once and turned the handle to open the large iron gate standing between us. It groaned as the guard pulled it open, welcoming me in with a nod of his head.

“I apologize, Your Grace…” he muttered, staring at the patches of mud on my face, matted hair and tattered clothing. “Forgive me, but I did not recognize you.”

He led me through the courtyard filled with neatly tended shrubs and plants. I remembered the Eyrie grounds as if I’d spent all my days there. The guard opened the Eyrie doors and headed down a large open corridor with spectacular paintings gracing its walls.

“I must warn you, Your Grace,” he started, with his hand clasped around a door. “The King is rather distressed this evening.”

Before I could ask for an explanation, he opened the door.

The King paced across the marble flooring with his fingers pressed to his forehead. Noticeably enough, he looked strained and restless.

“I have been notified that an army in the East is growing stronger and are preparing for another damned war and I have the constant annoyance of the Elites to deal with. Tell me, my dear advisors, what am I to do?”

His advisors stood silently, their heads turned to look at me standing in the doorway. King Atticus paced for a few more seconds before realizing my presence.

His shoulders relaxed and his frown disappeared. A smile graced his face as he opened his arms to me.

“Ah my dear girl, you are home!”

I stepped back to avoid his embrace, it would not do well to damage his golden robes.

“I am awfully dirty, Your Majesty,” I said with a little giggle. “My most humble uncle.”

He called in his servants at once and ordered for my chambers to be prepared. The Queen entered with a few of her maids trailing behind her. She told them to pour a hot bath for me and lay out fresh clothes.

“I was informed you have important matters to share with me. Tell me at once,” King Atticus said, holding a goblet of red wine in his hand. A servant offered one to the Queen who pressed it to her lips, taking a mouthful of its sweet contents.

I decided it best to wait until after dinner to tell the King and Queen the reason for my sudden return to the Eyrie. I gave an awkward kind of curtsey before leaving with the maids.

A maid finished pouring hot water into the steel bathtub before standing in the corner of the room, waiting for me to call upon her if need be.

I undressed, leaving my dirty clothes in a pile on the floor and lowered my aching body into the tub. Letting out a sigh of relief as the hot water kissed my skin, I rested against the wall of the tub. With a delicate cloth in hand, I rubbed away the mud from my face and arms; the cuts from the brambles stinging slightly. The maid waited a moment before plucking my dirty garments from the floor and left the room with them.

After ten minutes or so of soaking in the calming contents of the tub, I climbed out, noticing a lavender dress lying neatly on the large four poster bed against the far wall. It had been a long time since I had worn such a beautiful dress – the time I can recall was my fifteen birthday banquet almost five years ago – and I was nervous to wear such clothing again. I’d left the Eyrie a couple of years ago to seek out my own adventure that had started in the nearby town known as Ashford.

I stood in front of the mirror, observing the gold embroidery dancing across the soft fabric that clung to my clean body. Thick straps fell across my shoulders, displaying my collarbones. The maid had returned to my chamber and offered her assistance. She began pulling the laces of my corseted dress and tied it at the end.

“Beautiful, Your Grace,” she smiled, flattening a small crease in my dress with her hand.

“What is your name?” I asked, turning to face her.

“Sylvia,” she answered quietly, opening the door for me. She guided me down the hallway and a flight of steps until we arrived at a large banquet hall, lit by hundreds of candles. A petite woman sat by a large window with her fingers gracefully moving along the delicate strings of a harp.

A large wooden table that stretched across the width of the hall was adorned with delicious fruits, succulent meats and an array of cheeses, olives and breads. A large selection of desserts including tarts, sponges, cakes and pies lay in a colourful arrangement at the opposite end of the table.

King Atticus and his Queen Mary sat at either ends of the table; their children seated either side of the king. The hall was spacious, with a high ceiling and archways framing armoured knights with Arogathean blades. Several pieces of the kingdom’s finest blacksmithing hung on the wall above the main archway on the farthest wall. Like the rest of the Eyrie, beautiful paintings were strung up, including portraits of the Royal family. Near the entrance to the banquet hall, hung a painting of me and my father – the King’s brother. A warm feeling of comfort filled me. It felt so good, so natural to be home again. The Eyrie held many dear memories of my father and I.

“It’s a splendid portrait of Aneirin, isn’t it?” The King spoke, noticing my fixation with our portrait. “Sit. We must eat.”

A servant boy pulled out a chair opposite my cousins. After I sat, he picked up a bottle of red wine and filled my glass.

“That’s the finest wine in all of the kingdom, my girl,” Queen Mary said confidently, raising her glass. “Indulge.”

Of course, every aspect of my King and Queen’s life portrayed a strong sense of luxury and indulgence, but they were true and good rulers. Arrogance had not tarnished their characters.

I took a sip of my wine – the Queen was right – it was the most exquisite thing I’d ever tasted. It tasted like the stars and the sun and heaven all in one. But urgent matters had me feeling uncomfortable – there was no time to dine, no time to indulge, like the queen had ordered.

I nervously tapped my fingers against the polished wood of the table and bit my lip. The Elites would breach the walls of the Eyrie in less than a few hours. The matter could not wait.

“What bothers you, child?” the King questioned, offering a look of concern accompanied by a raised eyebrow that only added to his age. 

“The Elites,” I started, knowing too well the mention of them would enrage Atticus. “They’re tracking me. They’ve gathered strengths and they want us dead.”

Mary looked at Atticus, wondering what his response would be. Her husband threw his cutlery across the table, enraged that his banquet had been interrupted.

“We should have dealt with this sooner,” he huffed, rubbing the side of his head with his fingers. He held out his glass for the servant boy to refill. Atticus took a large mouthful of wine before continuing. “How much time do you have on them? More importantly…how have they multiplied in numbers so quickly?”

“I went into town, Atticus, to buy food,” I said, recalling the day’s events. “And I noticed one of them standing nearby, weaving through the shadows hoping I would not spot them. His black cloak concealed him well for the most part.”

“Get to the point, my dear,” Atticus interrupted bluntly, growing impatient.

Mary reached out her hand to comfort her husband. She lived with his temper daily and surely knew how to sooth him. A maid had taken their children to their chamber, noticing the unpleasantness of the conversation – surely not one for young to hear.

He took a deep breath and nodded for me to continue.

“I quickly purchased my bread and fruits and left through the crowds, hoping he’d lose sight of me. I turned to see if I’d lost him, but he was pushing his was through, and two more of them appeared. Then more. So I started to run. I must have lost them through the crowds because twenty minutes or so later, I could not spot them. The safest place for me to go was the Eyrie.”

The King was furious. He stood, shoving his chair backwards. Mary gulped her wine, waiting for the wrath to hit.

“They’ve had it all planned!” he raged, slamming his hands onto the table. “Staying in the shadows whilst killing, burning and mutilating people until they have enough men to attack the crown. Let’s not forget that the Dark Races are willingly supporting them. I should have dealt with them sooner. I’ll have them beheaded for treason!”

“What of the children, my love?” Mary asked with a worried look on her face.

The King thought for a moment, deepening the frown on his face. He called forth a guard, who stood firmly in front of him.

“Take the future King and princess to the countryside immediately with a dozen of your finest guards. Keep them alive. My Queen and I will stay here. Open the gates for any civilians who wish to take refuge here in the Eyrie. It seems the Elites will be here by dawn.”

The guard nodded and left immediately, heading for the children’s chamber.

“I suggest you pack some food and run. I am sure you already have a blade?” Mary asked, rising from her chair. She approached me in a few, long strides and clasped my hands in hers. “Go as far away as your legs can take you. Be careful not to be spotted or recognised. I’ll send a guard with you.”

I gave her my gratitude and hurried to my chamber. I changed from my dress and put on my previous clothes that had been washed and returned. Taking a last look at the beautiful dress I had worn for a brief moment, I found myself missing the exquisiteness of the life I’d had as a child. And the simplicity of being ignorant.

With my satchel on my shoulder, I made my way to the kitchen. I heard my cousins asking why they had to leave the Eyrie, what was happening, but no answers were given. The youngest, Isabella, cried for her mother. Her brother, Brendyn, told her to be strong.

I shoved several rolls into my bag with more fruits, cheese, nuts and seeds. It was not enough to last more than a few days but I couldn’t carry more.

In the courtyard, civilians were already making their way into the Eyrie. Guards swarmed the area, ready for a battle if it came to it. There was no underestimating the Elites.

“Evalyn,” Atticus called from behind. “I am sorry. I shouldn’t have ignored the Elites for so long. They have caused so much disruption and now they have brought it to my family. Felix, here, is one of my personal guards and I have instructed him to keep you as safe as possible in your search for refuge.”

I didn’t know how to respond to the king. It’d become clear to me that he’d spent much of his time ignoring the real problems in the realm whilst his Queen tried her best to help her people. Or perhaps I didn’t know her as well as I thought, either.

I looked at Felix, covered in armour, his helmet concealing his identity. He approached me and bowed.

I didn’t know who I could trust and I was frustrated with my uncle, who I’d always perceived as a stronger leader and protector. If he’d dealt with the Elites, like a King should, they would not be approaching the Eyrie, wanting royal blood.

I walked away without giving a response. Felix lifted the gates and we left, heading north, with the Eyrie and forest behind us.

                                                                                    *

A few hours had pasted since our hasty exit from the Eyrie and neither Felix or I spoke more than a few words. The basics were conversed: watch your step, Your Grace; we’ll head for Sanctum City; we must rest soon.

To all of which, I simply nodded, casting a glance at the thin blade I had wedged in my right boot. This man was a guard of the crown, but the fear of being assassinated prevailed. Images of the guard’s betrayal flickered in my mind – his sword entering my chest; murdered by strangulation…

Shaking my head to rid it of the obsurd thoughts, I offered him my map and compass. He refused them, declaring he knew the route as well as he knew the lores of the kingdom. Which was by heart, I assumed.

Now and again, he took a sip from the flask of water he’d pulled from his large bag and continued on. He offered me an odd look every so often, with a frown on his face. He was from the Eyrie after all - frowning seemed to come with the territory.

The night was bitterly cold and we’d surely been walking for at least three hours or so. I had no idea of the time, but the sky was black and our surroundings were hard to define.

“This seems like a good place to rest for the night,” Felix muttered, his voice muffled through his helmet. He pointed to a small cave located in the valley that had led us northwards.  “There is a small hole in the roof of the cave which means we can light a fire. I’m going to collect some branches; I won’t be long.”

“Uh…sure,” I said, feeling relieved to know we’d sleep moderately warm and dry. The cave was well hidden by vines that had grown up its walls. Standing in front of it, I looked up at the Eyrie that stood as proud as ever on the cliff, soon to be under attack. But the stars of the night sky shone anyway.

Twenty minutes later, I Felix returned with his arms around a large stash of small logs, sticks and twigs. He dumped them on the dusty floor of the cave, propping the logs up against each other with the stick and twigs in the centre formed as a nest. I handed him the flint from his bag and watched as he lit the fire. A small flame appeared in the centre of the construction, flickering a fierce orange.

Felix added a few more sticks to the centre, encouraging the flame to grow larger. Soon, it consumed the entire construction, transforming into a radiant, dancing ensemble of red and orange. He sat opposite me with the fire between us. The fire illuminated a few scratches on his helmet and a small dent on the left side.

Felix sat still for a few, almost hesitant, moments before lifting his helmet from his head. Handfuls of dark brown hair fell around his face in a tussled mess. He flattened it with the palms of his hands. His hazel eyes glimmered in the light. I noticed a thin scar that ran down the left side of his face as he dumped his helmet on the ground. He prodded the fire with a large stick he’d kept to his side and looked at me.

His scar vanished under the stubble that covered his jawline, although it stood prominently against his high cheekbones.

“What?” he asked, resting his large stick aside.

“Nothing,” I answered immediately, although I was certain he’d noticed me staring at him for about five minutes. “My name’s Evalyn, by the way.”

“I know.”

Well of course he knew; he was a royal guard. And I was an idiot.

No other words were exchanged whilst we ate our bread and seeds, savouring as much as possible for the following day. I couldn’t help but feel dreadfully awkward in the unbearable silence between us and wondered how in the kingdom I’d stop myself from going insane.

There was something about Felix that made me feel subordinate. Of course, he was a knight with great strength, but he seemed so mysteriously cold and vacant. I had royal blood coursing through my being, and yet, I felt much smaller.

“You should get some rest,” he prompted before taking another bite of bread. He offered me a quick look that meant it wasn’t a suggestion, but an order.

The last few days, I had been fleeing alone, abandoning my home with nobody at my side. In fact, ever since I left the Eyrie after my father died, I’d grown used to being on my own. Thus, I didn’t like the thought of having to abide by his rules. I’d learned not to trust so easily. I knew, however, that if I carried out my search for Sanctum City alone, my chances of survival would be next to none.

I finally nodded, taking off my jacket and bunching it up to form a pillow. Collapsing against the hard floor of the cave, the exhaustion of the day hit me once more. Shortly afterwards, I heard Felix take off his armour that clanked against the stone walls. The dim, flickering light of the fire illuminated the deeply etched scars across his chest, presumably gained from battles. Standing in his Long Johns, he noticed my gaze upon his chest, and said nothing.

He turned away quickly to locate a blanket buried in his bag. Felix pulled it out and spread it across us. It was thin and tattered, but a blanket combined with our entwining body heat would be enough to get us through the chilly night. I closed my eyes, hearing only Felix’s slowing breaths as he fell into sleep next to me.

I awoke the following morning to the songs of birds in the nearby trees. Felix had already left to dress in his armour. I pulled my jacket made of hide onto my aching arms. Before leaving the cave, I grabbed the blanket, folding it neatly into Felix’s bag.

The sun shone splendidly in the cloudless sky above; a soft breeze carried embers from last night’s fire through the air. A strong smell of singed wood filled my nose.

To my surprise, Felix offered me a warm smile as I handed him his bag.

 “Did you sleep well?” he asked after taking a swig of water from his flask that he soon offered me.

“As well as anyone can in a cave,” I laughed. I held the flask to my lips, allowing the cold water to spill into my mouth. It tasted splendid, but soon we’d need to find a spring and refill. “How many days do you think it will take us to get to Sanctum City?”

“Another three, possibly, if we’re lucky,” Felix answered as he rifled through his bad for the remaining pouch of seeds. He tossed me the last of the bread as she shovelled a handful of seeds into his mouth.

“Is that the quickest route?” I asked around a mouthful of bread. It was slightly stale and dry, but I could imagine it tasting beautiful straight out of the ovens at the Eyrie.

 The alarming thought of the Elites quickly returned. If they’d managed to break through the Eyrie’s defences, they would have tried their damned hardest to assassinate the King and Queen. If so, they’d be in pursuit of Brendyn and Isabella, and finally myself. We all had to die to ensure our line of succession was extinguished.

“Don’t worry, Your Grace,” Felix said softly, noticing my look of worry. “I’ll get you safely to Sanctum City and once you’re there, we can find a way to contact your cousins.”

It didn’t feel right: fleeing like a coward to ensure my own safety whilst my young cousins remained somewhere in the countryside with a few maids and guards with no family to comfort them. Every moral fibre within me was urging me to turn back southwards, to protect my scared cousins.

 “Let’s get a move on,” he said and started walking. I hurried to catch up with him. “We don’t have time to sit around and think.”

“Is there nothing we can do to aid my cousins? Now?” I questioned anxiously, feeling tired and grouchy from the uncomfortable night’s sleep on the cold floor of the cave. I stepped in front of him, stopping him. “Or are you not bothered by the fact the future King’s life is in danger?”

“That’s not the case,” he answered, clearly irritated. “But have you forgotten that the Elites are tracking you too? We need to keep moving, as much as it displeases you. There’s nothing you can do to help your cousins, now. So if you don’t mind, Your Grace, step out of the way.”

As much as it irritated me, he was right. There was nothing I could do until I reached the safe territory of Sanctum City. And then everything would be fine.

We walked in silence for a long time. I knew I could run if I wanted to. I’d managed this far with only a small blade and it didn’t seem like he was offering much protection thus far.

 “You know, I can order you to do what I say,” I said callously as we followed a trail down a hill. It was framed by small yellow flowers that reminded me of the small gardens at the back of the Eyrie. I used to play in them as a child and my carers were always displeased to find my dresses ruined.

“See where it gets you,” Felix huffed, stamping his way down the trail ahead of me. “I’m your best bet for survival and you know it.”

The sun soon reached its highest point and we were exposed to its radiating heat. Sweat formed on my hair line, threatening to fall over the contours of my face. I pulled off my jacket and tied it around the handle of my bag. I thought of Felix melting inside his suit of armour, making me laugh.

Hearing a small snicker leave my mouth, Felix glared at me before continuing on. He stopped however, when we reached a fault in our path. He pulled off his helmet, staring at the drop in front of us with a confused look on his face.

“I could have sworn this was the place,” he mumbled, with his fingers perched on the side of his helmet where his temple would be. He shook his head in disbelief.  “There’s supposed to be a bridge here.”

I walked a few feet to the left, towards two wooden beams about a meter apart from each other. The bridge had been destroyed, leaving us with no easy route to the other side.

“Look,” I said with my hands on one of the wooden beams. “The bridge must’ve been here. Maybe it was damaged…in a storm...”

Felix wandered over to examine the beams. He grabbed the rope that was tied around one of them. I knew that my suggestion was incorrect, but I was begging it to be anything but the result of the Elites’ disruption. The realm had endured drought for as long as I could remember. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen rain, let alone a storm.

“No,” Felix replied, frowning. “Look here, the rope is frayed. It was purposely cut. I’m betting it was the Elites. The clever bastards probably knew this was the route we’d take which means they know we’re headed to Sanctum City. We need a new plan.”

“Where else is there to go?” I asked, feeling disheartened. We had no place, no idea of where to find refuge and safety away from the Elites. All I could picture was us starving out in the middle of nowhere or being attacked by some wild beast. I didn’t even know if the King and Queen were still alive. Even if they were, it’d be too dangerous to go back.

Felix considered a few possibilities before finally declaring a suggestion.

“Lake Delendil,” he said assertively. “Yes. That will do.”

For a moment, I could not remember the significance of the location he’d offered.

I raised an eyebrow, “You want to go to the High Elves?”

“They serve only lightness and purity; they will offer us protection. The Elites wouldn’t even dream of setting foot on such sacred grounds. The Lake forsakes all darkness and would ultimately weaken their strengths.”

I considered it. It seemed like a good idea, not that there was much of a choice. It was either that or starve or be killed out in the open.

Felix settled his helmet back onto his head and we set off west.  

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