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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2. Chapter Two

The searing heat of the sun beat down on us as we walked through long grass that camouflaged our feet. Flowers with white petals circling a purple center sprouted sporadically across the meadow. The majority of the realm was covered in grasslands and mountains with the odd city or town here and there, never within a day’s travel of each other.

Each city tended to house a particular race, and if I had my bearings right, we were headed towards Westwilde: home to one of the Elementals – Gnomes. Felix knew many of the main routes towards Lake Delendil and passing through Westwilde was one of them. I hoped there would be a spare room for Felix and I to sleep in for the night. Whilst the Gnomes were indeed one of our allied races, they could turn us away if they had no other choice.

Felix and I followed a little stream that led us through small woods and large expanses of grass until twilight began to fall across the sky. A cool evening wind stirred the grass and leaves of the nearby trees.

I pulled out the map from my bag and held it up in front of me, straining my eyes in order to be able to read the calligraphy marking each town. Indeed, we were not far from Westwilde, but Lake Delendil was way off in the west near the edge of the map.

My eyes wandered over to the top of the map where Sanctum City was marked. I’d never been there, but it was a place that had once offered shelter to races from all walks of life. Or so, it was before the lands were segregated into the Light and Dark Races. Long before the time of the dominion of the Elites.

The map showed the segregation clearly; the dangerous races lived down the right side of the map where the Elites held a significant amount of power. They, of course, had breached the territory of the Light Races and brought fear and destruction wherever they tred. A civil war was inevitable and the many Dark Races would follow suit. I pondered, momentarily, if the Dark Races had any other choice but to follow the orders of the Elites. Probably not.

“Can you smell that?” Felix said, cautiously, jerking his head in the direction of the smell. He wrinkled his nose at the strong smell of smoke that hung heavily in the air.

Within a few yards, we turned a corner, revealing burned ruins and thick clouds of smoke rising high from Westwilde.

“What the hell?” Felix gasped, pulling his sword free from its shaft. He began sprinting towards the city ruins.

I immediately freed my own blade and clutched it tightly. Following Felix, my heart pounding, fearing the worst.

“What happened here?” Felix asked a nearby Gnome who poured water over the remaining flames.

The gnome was covered in ash, camouflaging his facial features significantly. I offered him a handkerchief from my pocket.

“The Elites,” he muttered, wiping the soot from his face. “Who else? The blasted Orcs torched the place, destroying most of our houses and crops.”

I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt. The Elites were obviously clever enough to figure out we’d head this way. Everybody knew the safest place other than Sanctum City was Lake Delendil. We had to press on however, causing collateral damage along the way.

“My most sincere apologies,” I said truthfully, offering my hand to the Gnome. “I fear this is our doing.”

Before the Gnome could reply, another, angrier Gnome appeared.

“The King sent one soldier? How is one soldier going to help!” she raged, holding a handful of destroyed crops.

“The King didn’t send me to help,” Felix explained. “The Elites have gathered enough men to make an army and they’re ready for a civil war. They want the royal family destroyed, including Princess Evalyn here. We are looking for refuge.”

The gnomes bowed immediately in front of me, apologizing for being rude in their tone and for not recognizing me sooner.

“We are here to service you, Your Grace,” the female Gnome said as she stood, flattening her crumpled, dirty skirt. “Although we have little to offer.”

“Water would be greatly appreciated,” I said, offering a warm smile. “We have been travelling for two days now and our food supply is running low. What are your names?”

“I’m Gnovash,” the female Gnome responded. “And this is my husband Finbrik.”

The two Gnomes hurried to show us the well of water in the centre of the city surrounded by burnt, collapsed houses. Beyond the well, were rows of small corpses wrapped in blankets – those who’d perished in the fire.

With my newly-filled flask in hand, I watched as Gnomes choked on the smoke, trying to salvage anything they could from the wreckage. A few young Gnomes cried for their parents. Gnovash and Finbrik called for the attention of Westwilde’s citizens who soon gathered in front them. Felix and I stood nearby as Gnovash began to speak.

“As your chosen leader of Westwilde, it is my responsibility to ensure your safety and provide you with homes and food. After the devastation brought to our peaceful town by the Elites, we have no other choice to seek refuge at Lake Delendil.” Gnovash spoke out to the crowd of Gnomes in front of her, covered in soot, carrying personal belongings they managed to save from the fire. Undeniable expressions of anguish and despair were stamped across the many faces staring back at us. I looked at Felix, wondering how we’d protect so many unarmed, untrained civilians.

“We are blessed to have Princess Evalyn and her loyal companion beside us and the Gods in our hearts,” Gnovash concluded; her eyes were teary. She looked at the dead crops in her hands and finally decided to depart with them, chucking them to the floor.

“May I speak?” Felix asked, removing his helmet. Gnovash stepped aside, nodding.

“Your leader is right, a great devastation has happened here, but you can find peace, alongside us at Lake Delendil under the protection of the High Elves,” Felix begun, looking out across the crowd, observing the devastation before him. “However, I cannot predict the journey. We may encounter more enemies, more devastation and we must offer protection for all those who need it, as required by law. Pick up anything you can use as a weapon and ready yourselves to move onwards,” Felix said bravely to the crowd of sorrowful Gnomes. He was a knight after all, and it was his job to provide protection and safety for all.

I smiled as a warm feeling stirred inside me. I was beginning to accept Felix as a companion, as Gnovash had called him, and think of him less as a patronizing babysitter.

The gnomes picked up metal poles, knives, bats and any other item they could use as a weapon. Children were aligned in the middle with armed Gnomes guarding them down each side of the queue. A few Gnomes carried bags of supplies, food and medicine and tools that were salvageable.

Felix and I led the way out of the city, with Gnovash, Finbrik and their people following behind.

Atop of the nearby hill, the Gnomes turned to watch the smoke fill the air, gazing upon the burned town they’d resided in for many years. The Elites’ plan was clear – one by one, they would burn the cities of the Light Races to the ground until there were none left. When our souls were hurting enough to call for a war, they would attack with all of their strength and brutality, and if they won, they’d obtain dominion over all of the territories. No one would question the authority of the Elites.

When it was time for the Gnomes to say goodbye to the remains of their city, we started walking again. I pulled out my map to see the city we would reach next was Bluefair Fort – home of Centaurs. But night raged on and we needed to rest before continuing on.

We reached a spacious field where we decided to rest for the night. Gnomes huddled together in small groups for warmth – Gnovash provided a single blanket for each group. Trees framed the field, but the night sky was clear of clouds and a cold night loomed ahead.

The food and supplies that the Gnomes had carried had been set on a flat piece of grass in the middle of the field, with everyone collapsing onto the grass around it. Felix, who had carried his helmet since leaving Westwilde out of respect for the Gnomes, let out a deep sigh when he sat on the dry floor next to an old and slightly frayed bag of supplies. He tossed his helmet to the side of him, slid onto his back and rested his head against the bag, looking up the at the starless sky.

I fell down next to him, resting my head beside his and shared the same view. It saddened me that there were no stars shining that night and I wondered how long it would be before they did.

The field was silent as the Gnomes tried to rest, knowing they had a long journey ahead of them before reaching Lake Delendil. I supposed many of them wondered whether or not they would survive the trip with so many potential dangers ahead. I was conflicted with the desire to be a being in a world elsewhere, one not fraught with tragedy and war, and with a crucial need to provide for the people I would one day rule over.

When dawn broke, we were on our way again, with only half a day’s travel until we reached the fort. The travel was quiet as everyone walked in silence towards the fort. There was an undeniable heaviness in the air, knowing the tragedies had only just begun.

 

Through an opening of trees, the tall stone walls of Bluefair Fort were revealed; two armed Humans stood guarding the gated entrance. Archers stood along the top of the wall, drawing arrows as we approached. I raised my hands clear for them to see. I presumed they had already received urgent word from nearby allies that the Elites had finally made their way into Allied territories and had attacked the crown.  

One of the guards stepped forward with a firm grasp of his sword. I could tell from its poor engraving and tarnishes that it was not Arogathean steel. Once the guard had a good look at my face, he raised his hand to the archers, signalling for them to stand down.

“The Princess of Arogath,” he said, lifting off his helmet and offering a slight bow, with a slight shake in his voice. He took a glance at the long line of restless Gnomes behind me. “Dear God, what’s happened?”

“The Elites,” I said with a grimace. “They burned their town to the ground destroying most of their food and supplies. It is imperative they find safety.”

“Where are you headed?” the guard asked as he slid his sword into its sheath.    

“Lake Delendil, but I fear the journey is too dangerous for us all to pursue. May I ask that the Gnomes reside here?”

A war was coming. I could feel it all around me. There was a heavy silence that hung all around like a lull that only suggested the foreboding. The very thought of war between the races of this realm was terrifying and the guard could see it in my eyes. I tried to sound as calm as possible, however, knowing many terrified Gnomes could hear this conversation.

“You’d have to speak to the council about that one, Your Grace,” he answered as he pulled the lever to lift the gate. “This fort is extraordinarily strong and well-protected, but two races are already residing here. It all comes down to space.”

“Wait,” Gnovash interrupted, stepping forward with a raised hand. She glanced at the guard and then to Felix and I. “What about Lake Delendil? That’s the safest place for our people!”

“After some thought, it’s probably safer for you to stay here, at least for the time being. The Elites are tracking us Knovash, and your people are not trained and are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to holding off any Elites that we could run into,” I explained. If the council of Bluefair had the space for the Gnomes, then Felix and I could continue on our journey to Lake Delendil and ask for the help of the High Elves.

“Our original plan was to find refuge with the High Elves, but it has become clear that this realm will be pulled apart if we don’t do something,” Felix said to the guard, perplexed. “The High Elves protect all light and the balance of life. I’m sure they will intervene before this turns into a civil war. Do we have your support?”

“Like I said, you’d have to ask the council. I don’t speak for them,” the guard said, leading us to a large town hall in the centre of the fort that was surrounded by market stalls, houses, a blacksmith, barracks and stables. The Gnomes congregated outside the town hall, waiting for the council’s verdict.

Inside the hall was a large table covered by a map of the discovered territories of the realm. Two large Centaurs and two Humans stood around the table, conversing.

“Princess Evalyn and her companion,” the guard announced, offered me a bow and left the hall.

The four members of the council offered a surprised glance before bowed their heads in unison. A Human with long blonde hair tied tightly back stepped forward. His voice was deep when he spoke.

“What a surprise,” he said; I was unable to tell if it was with warmth or not.  “Why have you come here?”

“We have come to...” Felix began.

“I beg your pardon, but I believe he asked the Princess,” one of the Centaurs interrupted. His hair was black, matching the fur that covered his lean horse-half. Felix, looking slightly wounded, stepped backwards and remained silent.

I cleared my throat. I had never acted as a princess, not even when I had lived within the walls of the Eyrie as a child. It made me feel uncomfortable that I was now responsible for the lives of so many civilians. I was hoping that the King’s guards had managed to slay the Elites that had breached the Eyrie. But I knew the strengths of Orcs; they were vicious by nature and the chances of their survival were questionable.

“There is a civil war brewing and The Elites are getting stronger, rallying all the races along the right side of the map,” I said, pointing to all the towns of the Dark Races. “The King and Queen are holding down the Eyrie and my cousins are out in the countryside to ensure their safety. We plan to head to Lake Delendil for the help of the High Elves. We came across Westwilde along our route which is now burnt to the ground.”

“Bloody Orcs,” the blonde-headed Human raged. A large steel shield hung across his back, clanking with his sword as he rested his hands on the table. He stared at the map.

“We ask that the Gnomes reside here for the meantime. I am aware your fort is rather full already, although there is not much choice.”

The other Human, with cropped brown hair, placed his fingers to his lips. “We already have food shortages – the Elites have destroyed almost all of our food sources. We can’t possibly house another race, Eric!”

The blonde-haired Human, Eric frowned. It seemed he had the deciding vote. He discussed it with the two Centaurs for a moment, who both agreed that yes, food supplies were low, but leaving an entire race to fend for themselves in the wild was out of the question.

“It is decided then,” Eric said with his hand placed on the handle of his sword. “They will remain here until The Elites are dealt with and peace is restored. But I must inform you, Your Grace, the Queen and King are dead.”

I stared back at Eric, refusing to believe the news he had just shared. The King was supposed to handle it. It had been his job to protect the realm and he had failed. The inevitability of a war had just been confirmed.

“And what of Brendyn?” I asked, quietly, fearing the answer.

“Our sources tell us he is safe, as well as his sister. But he is too young to rule, Your Grace. It’s down to you to get us out of this mess.”

I thought of how my life was before the Elites found me. I lived in a quiet village amongst a race of Humanoids. It was hard to distinguish them from Humans unless you knew what to look for. Their eyes were slightly larger than normal, with the outer corners curling upwards. They were a result of general mutation – their bodies slightly out of proportion, distorted features or scaly skin is some areas. They avoided conflict as much as possible which was probably the reason I'd decided to reside there for so long. I wondered if the Elites had destroyed their town after finding me.

"We no longer have the King's army, so what happens when we finally come head to head with the Elites?" one of the Centaurs asked.

I stepped forward and glanced at the map.

"I suggest you send some of your men to the nearby towns. Enlist as many people as possible," I said quietly, unsure of myself. I couldn’t afford to make any wrong decisions. Such errors could lead to catastrophic disaster.

"I don't think that will be enough," Felix interjected, looking deeply concerned. "Just look at the Dark Races: Elites, Trolls, Dark Mages and whatever other ghastly beasts that have rallied. They possess a lot of Dark Magic and they have all been waiting for the right moment to overthrow the monarchy."

"And now they have, there's nothing stopping them..."I muttered, feeling disheartened. "The Dark Races all want the same thing – power and dominion – and following the Elites’ order is the best way for them to get it."

Eric nodded his head. He thought for a moment before lifting his hand to offer a suggestion.

"Perhaps it's time for you to accept your magical inheritance, Your Grace," he said. "I see your eyes aren't glowing and your skin is the same as a Human's."

Felix looked at me with confusion. He had no idea.

"I will do no such thing," I retorted harshly.

"Forgive me, Your Grace, but I feel it is necessary for the sake of the realm's peace and stability."

"My magic has been concealed deep within me for years and that is where it will stay!" I yelled before storming out of the great hall. The Gnomes had been designated houses to live in for the duration of their stay. Out in the yard, I was alone.

I collapsed on a bench underneath a tree at the back of the fort where there were no buildings. Letting out a deep sigh, I pulled my knees to my chest.

My father had always held a fascination for all things magical and wanted to learn the ways of Mages. It had been centuries since a colony of Mages had resided in the Light Race territory – many of them had switched over to the Dark Race territories when they discovered the sheer strength and brutality of the magic they possessed.  

Before my father had left for a battle he knew he could not win, he cast a spell to suck out all of the magic he had learned and within a few moments, it had fused with my skin. When I was older, and realised my magic was getting out of control, I switched it off. I banished the magic to the deepest corners of my mind, forcing myself to believe I could live a life of a Human. Yet, Eric wanted me to unleash it and use it against the Elites, but the very thought of it frightened me. I couldn’t control it. It would cause more chaos and problems than it would solve.

Felix appeared, walking towards me. He offered a warm smile and sat next to me, holding his helmet on his lap.

"Were the King and Queen aware of your magic?" he asked, unsure if it were a safe question to ask.

"No. They would have kept me in the Eyrie otherwise."

There was a long moment of silence. I didn’t really want to talk about magic. I wanted to leave all that to the other races in the realm. They had natural, biological magic running through their veins. Mine was a result of my father's continuous studies and need to be powerful.

"I know what you are," Felix soon said. "You possess some of the most powerful magic in the realm. Why would you disregard it? More importantly, how did your father keep it a secret? A mage's magic alters the appearance…"

I didn’t know the answers to his questions. Quite frankly, I didn’t think I ever would.

                                                                                     *

We soon returned to the home of an old woman who’d offered us her spare room for the remainder of the night. The sun had fallen behind the mountains far before we had arrived at Bluefair Fort and Felix and I desperately needed to sleep. The old woman introduced herself as Joy whilst handing us both a mug of chamomile tea.

Her house was small with really only enough room for one. The ceilings were low and crooked, threatening to collapse. Old and slightly rotten beams tried their best to support the ceiling, but they looked dreadfully worn out. We sat in Joy’s living room, with our mugs in hand. She sat in the small armchair opposite her, taking a sip of her tea. Although her skin was pasty and withering, her eyes still glistened a brilliant blue. I noticed a thin gold chain held a locket around her neck.

“The chamomile tea should help you sleep,” Joy said with a warm smile. “You should retire whilst the sky is still dark.”

After a few moments of silence, she rose from her chair and ascended the creaking stairs to her chamber. The quietness hung heavily. I noticed Felix eyeing me from the periphery of my vision.

I was expecting him to inform me of all the reasons why I should activate my magic and use it for the greater good – I could hear his voice so vividly in my mind – but he sat silently, instead.

“Eric told me there is an Oracle in the fort who will help you unlock your magic and teach you how to use it properly without it becoming too much for you,” Felix said finally, placing his teacup on the table. He climbed from the chair. “At least give it some thought.”

I sighed as Felix climbed the stairs, clicking the bedroom door shut behind him. The floorboards above me creaked as he clambered into bed.

It seemed that everybody was relying on me to unleash some sort of magnificent magic that would restore peace in the kingdom all because of the royal blood running through my veins. But I couldn’t help feeling obliged to do so, regardless of my fear of the dangers it may cause. If there was a slight chance that I could save lives and even prevent a war, then surely that was more important that my festering fear.

I left my cup on the table and collapsed against the sofa, letting out a restless breath. Now that my mind had begun to rest, the aching in my body intensified. I’d walked ridiculously far in only a couple of days and every part of my hurt. Closing my eyes, I succumbed to oblivion.

 

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