~ I. Emptiness ~
Elysia wandered about in the dark aimlessly. The area surrounding her was surreal. It was dimly lit by floating specters of dull gray ball of lights. This resulted in a very dark and dreary monochromatic environment. Strange shapes that could only be vaguely recognized as a ruined city faded in and out of existence. Old, dilapidated buildings appeared to be frozen in time in various state of destruction and decay. The ground was translucent, causing no footsteps to be heard. She didn't pay too much attention to what she saw, instead focused intensely on what she heard.
That voice... It was familiar. Elysia scanned her immediate vicinity for the source of this voice. She failed. To make matters worst, the area around her grew smaller, as if slowly tightening its grip on Elysia. Anything beyond ceased to exist. A tinge of fear sneaked up behind her as she realized this.
"Elysia! W-where..?! Wait, Elysia--!" The voice continued to plead. It seemed to come from nowhere but at the same time seemed to come from everywhere. This rendered any attempts at locating the source of the voice impossible. Elysia began to panic. As the dull gray lights grew dimmer and dimmer, her panic grew stronger and stronger.
"Where are you?!" Elysia screamed. Panic-stricken and desperate, it seemed as though she was the one calling for help within the ever-expanding emptiness. The frightened woman reached out blindly into the darkness surrounding her, attempting to find something-- anything to help her locate the voice. Nothing... Everywhere she reached, almost flailing her arms wildly, she found nothing; literally nothing. All there was that could be found was nothing, a void, a vacuum of space. This seemingly infinite emptiness was terrifying. It was mind-boggling and disorientating. This absolute darkness would make even the most steel-nerved adventurer cower in absolute fright.
"Elysia! Don't leave me! Elysia! Please!" The voice too, grew desperate. Its screams further fueled Elysia's terror as the sound drifted further and further away.
"No! No! I.. can't... I can't find you!! I just--" Elysia sobbed, as she dropped to her knees in despair. The mysterious voice quickly faded into silence. Alone... Elysia was all alone in this emptiness. Now with nothing to see, feel, or hear, it truly became empty.
"...Please..." her voice quivered as she whispered, "please forgive me...."
As the shadows enveloped her, Elysia curled into a fetal position, hot tears streaming down her face as she closed her eyes.
~ II. Scars Of Time ~
Elysia opened her eyes. While it was still dark, it wasn't empty. The darkness was washed away by a flickering candle perched next to her on a table. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the light and she could see her familiar dark and dank room. She realized that she had been dreaming. Rather, that she had a nightmare. A nightmare that had haunted Elysia every night for twenty years. This nightmare never lost its power, not even after all this time. If anything, it grew more powerful, gnawing away at Elysia's consciousness from the deep dark depths of her mind.
Elysia tried to put away the horrible feeling left by her nightmare. She tossed her blanket to the side, got dressed and prepared breakfast. Food was running low. She'd have to stop by the storage area again for more rations. For now, all she could serve for breakfast was some loaves of bread, last night's roasted sheep meat, and honey tea. Food and supplies had always been low. Everyone within the Tavnazian Safehold had to hunt and gather what little foods and resources they could find on this island and ration them out to each family. They had been doing so for twenty years since that day. The scars of time never seemed to heal completely.
The living quarter was still dark, but only because there weren't any windows. Only cold jagged rocks carved out to form various living spaces defined Elysia's quarters. Smoke filled the room as the middle-aged woman stoked the fire pit and placed a brass kettle and some bread and meat on the grill to warm them up. She squatted next to the bright flames and rubbed her hands together to warm her cold, weary old body. Her stomach rumbled as the smell of melted fat hit her nose.
"Good morning, Elysia," an Elvaan man greeted Elysia as he entered the living quarter. He was a tall, slender, middle-aged man. His face, worn by time, already had fine wrinkles that defined and distinguished him as someone who went through a lot and lived. His name was Pradiulot. Pradiulot was Elysia's childhood friend that now lived with her. He sat down on a wobbly stool and stroked his black beard as Elysia served breakfast.
"Morning, Pradiulot." Elysia poured some tea into a brass cup. "Hope you feel like more sheep meat."
Pradiulot sipped his tea and tore off a piece of bread. "Oh, of course. Anything you make is quite delicious! Besides, it's not often we find the Orcs' sheep alone. It's a free meal."
In addition to having to hunt for food, the people living in the Tavnazian Safehold had to deal with the few Orcs and Bogard beasts still causing strife on the land. For twenty years, the Orcs still caused trouble, slowly depleting the Tavnazian food, supplies, and hope.
Elysia sat down and watched Pradiulot eat. She didn't touch the food, claiming she had eaten earlier. But in reality, she hadn't eaten since last night. Even then, it was simply the bits of meat and bone marrows of the sheep. The good meats were saved for Pradiulot. When asked, she simply said that the meat gave her stomachaches. Elysia frequently lied to Pradiulot about her eating. Secretly, she had no desire to "indulge" herself. She felt she did not deserve to, and only wished to keep Pradiulot well-fed and healthy. The only benefit to her hunger pangs was that they sometimes distracted her from thinking about that day twenty years ago.
The two sat quietly at the table. Elysia continued to watch him eat while only sipping her tea. She looked at him sadly, though he seemed oblivious. A single candle dimly lit their living quarter. Their shadows danced against the walls. "...Anything new...?" Elysia finally asked Pradiulot.
He finished chewing a piece of meat before answering. "Hmm? Oh, you mean my memory? No, it is still a haze to me. It's been two decades now. I really don't think I'll ever get my memory back."
"Oh... Perhaps someday... Altana will give you back your memories..." Elysia said softly, attempting to keep Pradiulot's hope shining. Though it perhaps was also an attempt to keep hers shining as well.
Pradiulot finished his tea and wiped his mouth with a cloth napkin. "Mm... Someday." He got up and attempted to clean the table but Elysia insisted she do it. "Well, once again, I do thank you for this wonderful breakfast. I'll be going on my rounds now. After that sudden blaze of light we saw in the skies yesterday, Lady Prishe has gone to investigate. Therefore I must keep close guard of the stronghold while she is away."
"Yes, of course. Do have a good day, Pradiulot." With that, Pradiulot left their quarters, leaving Elysia alone to clean up.
~ III. Secrets ~
Elysia started her daily morning routine of keeping their quarters clean. She washed the plates, folded the sheets and gathered the sheep bones and wool to be given to the local craftsman. Today, she had to do some laundry and pick up the weekly rations of food. But before she headed out, she went to her bed and lifted away her hay mattress. Underneath, there was a small hole covered by a flat rock. She removed the rock and reached inside the little opening. Inside was her little secret. No one knew of this secret compartment. Especially not Pradiulot. Elysia fished out a small item from her secret safe.
It was a silver hairpin.
The small jewelry was well-maintained except for a missing stone that was originally attached to one end. That stone was lost twenty years ago. The hairpin was all that was left since that day. Its missing stone served as a reminder. Elysia looked at the old hairpin, then realized that her index finger was bleeding. She must've pricked herself while reaching for the hairpin. Though perhaps the hairpin pricked her, as if it never forgave her for losing the stone.
She stared at her dark red blood trickling out of her finger. Not much came out; just a few drops. She scoffed and thought to herself, "I can't even bleed for her anymore."
Elysia began to think about her. Her mind wandered off far into the past as she stared at her wounded finger.
~ IV. Promises ~
Elysia watched a butterfly land on the tip of her delicate finger as she sat on the lush grass atop a hill overlooking Lufaise Meadows. Soft white clouds decorated the bright blue sky as the brilliant sun shone from above. A warm gentle breeze caressed her long brown hair and smooth, pretty, young face. A sea of flowers waved and rippled across the field below her. Their sweet and pleasant fragrance wafted up along the wind. Elysia smiled and hummed to herself as she waited. Shortly, she heard footsteps crunching on the grass behind her.
"Ah! Pradiulot, my dear! Please, over here!"
"Coming, my love! You sure are in a hurry!" Pradiulot appeared over the hilltop as he made his way to the meeting place. "I stopped to pick flowers for you when suddenly you disappeared!"
"I'm so sorry! I'm just so excited!"
Elysia stood up and smiled at Pradiulot and Mischanau. She was waiting for them. The two approached her while holding hands and smiling. Mischanau was a beautiful young Elvaan. Like many female Elvaan, she was a graceful and proper young lady. Though, behind public eyes, she was still just a young carefree girl.
"Sorry to have kept you waiting, dear friend," Mischanau apologized as she hugged Elysia. " Pradiulot here kept dilly-dallying, making us late!"
"Oh, honey! Your words wound me!" Pradiulot teased in a playful manner as he approached behind Mischanau and wrapped his arms around her.
Mischanau giggled and pushed him away. "Stop! Not in front of our friend!"
"Come now!" Pradiulot insisted. "It's precisely the fact that Elysia is our friend that we can be true to each other! Right, Elysia?"
"Oh, I'm not going to get involved in a lovers' quarrel!" The three laughed and sat down together in the soft grass.
"Elysia! We've asked you to meet us here because we want you to be the first to know!" Mischanau could barely contain her excitement. She reached back behind her head and pulled something out. Her golden hair cascaded freely down her back and danced amongst the winds as Mischanau proudly showed Elysia what was in her hand.
Elysia gasped. "Is that... a promise hairpin?"
"Yes!" Mischanau squealed in delight. "Pradiulot proposed to me!" Indeed, it was a promise hairpin. A token of promise given to a woman when a man proposed to her This particular hairpin was silver with a sapphire blue gem shaped like a tear drop encrusted on one end.
"Oh! Altana has blessed you! That is wonderful!" cried Elysia. The two girls hugged and screamed in excitement while Pradiulot smiled and shook his head.
"That's not all!" Mischanau continued. She clasped the hairpin and held both of Elysia's hands. "We would be most elated if you, dear Elysia, be our Maid Of Honor."
Elysia smiled as tears welled up in her eyes. She nodded slowly and mouthed the word, "Yes."
Tavnazian tradition dictated that all promises made concerning the holy union of man and wife must be sealed by a blood pact. When a man proposed to a woman, in exchange of her being his wife, he swears to be her protector. This promise was sealed by the man taking his sword or any weapon he uses and cutting his right palm, drawing five drops of blood, which symbolized the five tears of the goddess Altana, into a wine cup containing white rolanberry wine. The woman then pricked her left index finger with the promise hairpin and added five drops of her own. Then, the couple each took a sip from the holy drink, finalizing the promise.
A similar ritual also needed to be done when a maid of honor and best man were chosen. During the wedding, the ritual was repeated but with the addition of the maid of honor, best man, and the priest, for a total of five people. The idea behind this was that the mixing and drinking blood of each party member symbolized giving each other their lives.
Mischanau began the small ritual of choosing the maid of honor. She took the hairpin and pricked her left index finger, having Elysia lick the blood off. Then, Elysia took the hairpin and did the same, pricking her left index finger and having Mischanau lick the blood off. With the ritual complete, the promise was made. As best friend and now maid of honor to Mischanau, Elysia swore to assist and take care of her should something happen to Pradiulot.
"Then it is settled!" Mischanau wiped her hairpin clean and placed it back in her hair. "I'm so happy!"
"As am I, Mischanau," Elysia responded with a smile.
Mischanau got up and dusted herself off. She bowed slightly and informed Elysia, "I regret that we cannot spend more time with you. But it is now time for Pradiulot to choose his best man."
Elysia got up and looked at the young couple. "Oh? Have you any idea who, Pradiulot?"
Pradiulot answered as he got up, "Yes, Elysia. I will ask my younger brother, Jeaujebraund."
"Oh, how wonderful! I'm sure he will be honored as I," said Elysia. "Well, you two best be going!"
"Yes. Let us meet here again tomorrow to pick flowers and have a picnic," suggested Mischanau.
Elysia hugged her friends goodbye. "I look forward to it. Farewell!"
Pradiulot held Mischanau's hand and the two disappeared below the knoll as Elysia watched on. She stood alone as the wind grew stronger and the sun hid behind the clouds. Yet in the distance, she could see a break in the clouds allowing the sun's warm rays to continue to shine brightly on Pradiulot and Mischanau. It appeared as if the sun's rays followed them, illuminating the couple in a heavenly glow as the two made their way back to Tavnazia.
Elysia just stood there in silence. Her dress flapped in the wind. Her long brown hair whipped her face as the wind gained strength. The sky was dark gray now. The sun was long gone, obscured by thick clouds. She brushed her hair away from her face but the hairs kept getting whipped back, obscuring her saddened face. Perhaps the wind did not want anyone to see that Elysia was crying.
"How I wish I wasn't so weak!" she cried to herself. "Oh, how I wish... I wish that hairpin was mine." Elysia again tried to held back her hair, which was writhing wildly. Her heart and finger still stung. And it began to rain. Raindrops fell and mixed with Elysia's tears of anguish sorrow. The sky lit up with a crack of lightning followed by a maddening roar of thunder.
"... I wish... Pradiulot's heart was mine!"
~ V. Chained ~
Elysia snapped back into the present as a roar of thunder echoed throughout the cavernous network of the Tavnazian Safehold. She shuddered a bit as the cold damp air filled the caverns. She placed the silver hairpin in her dress pocket, gathered her laundry and sheep materials, and headed out of her quarters.
The smooth rocky floor was well worn by foot traffic throughout the cavern tunnels and caves. Oil lamps dotted the walls in intervals, lighting up the passageways. Elysia quickly made her way through the maze-like tunnels toward the craftsman's workshop in the lower levels of the safehold.
The Tavnazian safehold was really all that was left of the former glorious kingdom of Tavnazia. The few people left now eked out a living on whatever resources they could find on this once bountiful land inside these caves. These caves were carved out from below by the few survivors of Tavnazia, whose city was swallowed up by the earth and the sea on that day twenty years ago. Today, the world had forgotten about Tavnazia, but the few survivors still held on to hope that things will change.
As she made her way through the facility, she overheard various conversations among fellow Tavnazian survivors. One was between a mother and child, the child begging for his mother to let him play outside. But the mother refused for reasons the poor boy had heard many times. It was too dangerous outside the safehold. It was always too dangerous outside. For that reason, the boy vowed to grow up and be a Temple Knight to protect little children so they can play outside in safety. The mother cried softly when she heard this and held her son closely. The boy did not remember it, but his father died saving him from the jaws of a hungry bogard when he was but a toddler.
Other conversations heard were gossip about the recent unexplained fiery blaze in the sky that was spotted yesterday. Some claimed it was a demon in flight. Others said it was a warning shot from some advanced Orc weaponry or sorcery. But they all agreed that whatever it was, it was a bad omen and that it was best to huddle back inside the inner sanctum.
These emotions were nothing new to Elysia. All of the civilians of the Tavnazian safehold lived with fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
Elysia finally arrived at the lower levels of the safehold and entered the craftsman's workshop and quarter.
"Oh, hello, Elysia!" said the craftsman, Frescheque. "What brings you to my lowly quarters?"
Elysia plopped down her sheep wool and bones on a tabletop. "These. I figured you could make use of these materials. Pradiulot found a lone sheep while on patrol yesterday. We kept the meat but have no use for these. If you'd like, you and your wife are invited for some sheep stew I'm going to make for tonight. That is, if I can get some potatoes from storage."
Frescheque examined the wool and bones closely. "Ah... These are very fine gifts. I think I'll make something for you in return for your wonderful gesture. Though, I regret to inform you that we've no more potatoes. Or carrots for that matter. My wife went to storage earlier."
Elysia frowned. "Oh dear... What about yams or wild onions?"
"The yams from the last harvest have gone bad. And there are only a few
onions left. Perhaps you should trade the wools to someone with the last good potatoes and onions?" suggested the craftsman.
"Oh, but these are for you, my friend!" Elysia shook her head at the suggestion.
"Don't worry," reassured Frescheque. "I do appreciate the gesture. But think of it as helping with that wonderful stew of yours. To be quite honest, I've no urge to create anything anymore." He slumped on his workbench. "Not since I lost my dear child to wild Orcs."
Elysia sat next to him and held his shoulders. "Frescheque... You mustn't blame yourself. You had no control over what happened."
"Not true, Elysia," he answered. "Had I paid more attention to my daughter instead of napping under the shades..."
"No, you had no way of knowing. Now stop blaming yourself for what happened in the past. Free yourself from your self-imposed chains and be happy again! I'm sure your wife would love that."
"I suppose you're right." Frescheque sighed. "I've been letting this bother me for so long that it has drained me."
"Yes. Now pick yourself up and make something wonderful!" Elysia tried to continue cheering up Frescheque.
Frescheque stood up and reexamined some of the bones. "Hmm... Perhaps I'll make my wife a hairpin and bracelet with these...."
"...Y-yes..." Elysia looked away but tried to regain her cheer. "I'm sure she'd love that."
"Tell me, Elysia, how are you and Pradiulot?" asked Frescheque.
"Oh, we're doing fine. Pradiulot is as dutiful as always! Every morning, he's up and ready for patrol," Elysia replied.
"Has his... I mean, has Pradiulot memory returned yet?" inquired the Elvaan artisan.
Elysia fidgeted a bit. "Well, no..." She began to feel nervous. Every time people asked about Pradiulot, Elysia would get uncomfortable.
Sensing her changed mood, he attempted to reassure her. "I'm sorry if I open up old wounds. But, you've always let us confide in you. While we're all concerned about Pradiulot, he is a healthy man now. It's all thanks to you, Elysia. And yet, you don't seem as well. Please, if something is bothering you, tell me. Let it out."
Elysia sat silently for a moment. Her eyes were transfixed on the crackling fire under the stove. "Frescheque, you are my friend. I do appreciate your concern. But it's nothing. Honest! I'm just tired."
"As you should be! Ever since we found Pradiulot battered and bruised body unconscious just outside the city walls, you never left his side. For twenty years, you took care of him after he lost both his wife and his memories. Truly, you are a selfless person! Altana must be proud of you."
"Thank you," was all she could say.
"Oh! I'm terribly sorry!" Frescheque set down the bones and returned the wool to Elysia. "I must be keeping you. Please! Take this wool back and exchange them for something you can cook with. I look forward to your stew!"
"B-but!" she stammered as Frescheque led her to the door.
"You'd best hurry if you've any hope for something good left in storage." Frescheque urged on and smiled.
"Yes, of course. I look forward to seeing you and your wife Rominey tonight." Elysia bowed and left the workshop.
She continued on through the dimly lit passageways. But her mind was wandering off again. Elysia thought about what she had said to Frescheque. "Now stop blaming yourself for what happened in the past." Her own words echoed within her mind. "Free yourself from your self-imposed chains and be happy again!"
"...This is different." she thought. She pulled out the silver hairpin and looked at the part where the missing stone should be. "I... didn't lose her... I... I killed her."
~ VI. Turmoil ~
Elysia held the gleaming silver hairpin in her hand. Its deep blue sapphire stone seemed to hold the entire sea within it. She admired the craftsmanship. It looked so simple yet so elegant. The artisan who crafted this made it look just like the legendary Emperor Hairpin. She slowly raised it behind her head and began to tie her hair. But she nearly jumped and dropped the jeweled accessory when she heard a voice.
"Have you found my promise hairpin, my dear Elysia?" asked the voice from the other room. "It should be in my jewelry case atop my dresser."
Elysia frowned and looked at the hairpin again before answering. "Yes, Mischanau. I found it." The young woman looked in the mirror one last time and imagined herself wearing it. She scoffed quietly to herself for being so childish and left the walk-in closet toward Mischanau's bedroom chamber.
Mischanau sat facing away on her canopy bed. She was busy brushing her long shimmering hair of gold. As Elysia approached her, she turned around and smiled. "Come. Please sit and help me with my hair." She patted a spot on her mattress next to her suggesting Elysia to sit there. Elysia quietly obliged and handed Mischanau the silver promise hairpin while taking the brush from her. She parted Mischanau's yellow hair and began brushing it.
"I'm so excited to see Pradiulot tonight." Mischanau looked out her window into the night sky and continued talking. "It's been 3 months since he joined the ranks of the Temple Knights and was placed on guard duty at Misareaux Coast. Even though it isn't very far, I hardly get to see him since he is burdened with so many duties."
Elysia listened without saying anything. She simply continued brushing Mischanau's hair.
"I know Pradiulot knows I miss him dearly. It's why he asked for time off to spend tonight and tomorrow with me, before his squad gets sent to Cape Riverne. I wish it was I who can visit him but as you know with my ailing health, I can't even leave the gates of Tavnazia without collapsing of exhaustion,"
"Hmm...Yes," said Elysia as if humoring her. Realizing her rudeness, she added, "...Oh but, I'm sure they wouldn't allow any civilians to visit the outposts anyway. So, there's no other way, really."
"You're right, Elysia." Mischanau sighed and looked at her promise hairpin. She looked at it for moment then asked quietly, "Do you get lonely?"
Elysia stopped abruptly for a moment before composing some sort of appropriate response. "How do you mean?"
"I mean... You've had suitors before but you've always rejected them. Why, Elysia? Don't you get lonely?" Mischanau's questions, though innocent, made something inside of Elysia's heart awaken and churn in turmoil. Elysia stopped brushing again and just sat there, frozen. Something inside her became restless and squirmed about as if struggling to burst free. She gripped the brush tightly until the pain snapped her back into the present situation.
"Elysia?" Mischanau asked again. There was a brief awkward silence that started to scare both the young ladies. Mischanau continued on in a soft whisper. "...Is it because of me?"
Elysia dropped the brush in shock. ...Does she know...? she thought to herself. Her already-racing heart beat even faster, and her face grew hot as her mind struggled to make sense of the situation. Mischanau turned to look at Elysia straight in the eyes. Her deep blue eyes looked full of sorrow. Elysia could barely look at them long before having to look down and pick up the brush in an excuse to break eye contact. She further avoided eye contact by dusting off the brush hastily. Her efforts were fruitless as Mischanau held Elysia's chin and directed her face to face.
"Is it because of me?" Mischanau asked again. This time, her voice quavered slightly.
Elysia was still at a lost for words. A thousand emotions whisked through her mind as she was confronted by her best friend. She wondered if she should admit the truth. The truth that was hidden deep within her heart. She was in love with Pradiulot. She had been in love with him since before he and Mischanau met. But she never revealed her feelings to him. She was a Hume girl. He was an Elvaan boy. Such interracial relationships were frowned upon. While Pradiulot was not a racist, Elysia knew he could never, ever fall in love with a non-Elvaan female. Somehow, Elysia kept her feelings hidden. Even after Pradiulot chose Mischanau to be his wife. Even after they were married. Somehow, she and Mischanau truly became best friends, almost sisters when one would expect Elysia to hold anything but jealous contempt toward Mischanau. And throughout all this time, Elysia had been dishonest to herself and to her two closest friends. Was now the moment of truth?
"Please answer me." said Mischanau.
Elysia bit her lips, took a deep breath, and finally uttered the truth. "Yes."
Mischanau's sea blue eyes welled up with tears. She let out a soft whimper and suddenly wrapped her arms around Elysia. Elysia's eyes widened in shock. This was not exactly the response she was expecting. She was further confused as Mischanau started to speak again. "Oh, Elysia!" she sobbed softly. "I am so blessed to have such a selfless friend as you! But you don't have to do this anymore!"
Elysia began to wonder if she accidentally gave Mischanau too much megalixir medicine, or if perhaps her ailing body had driven her mind to delirium. She also considered the fact that perhaps she herself had gone insane. But after a brief moment of further contemplation, she decided that none seemed to be the case. Finally, Elysia questioned Mischanau. "What? What are you saying?" Though she wondered if she should regret asking.
Mischanau pulled away and regained her composure. She quickly wiped away her tears with a cloth and explained. "You rejected all those suitors because you knew that I needed a caretaker and a friend. Ever since I fell ill to this strange condition that renders me weak and helpless, you were always there for me. And when Pradiulot had to be sent away on duty, you've never left my side. You've kept me well taken cared of as well as given me company. Not once have you ever, ever took any time for yourself. Elysia, you are truly a selfless giver as if Altana herself guided you."
Elysia stared at Mischanau incredulously. Her thoughts reeled as she tried to process and digest everything she just heard. She never thought of it that way. Was she really an unselfish person who put her friends' needs above her own? Yes, it was true that she was in love with Pradiulot, but she knew it was never meant to be. So, there was no point in destroying two friendships and a marriage just to reveal a now seemingly-trivial and irrelevant truth. Yes, there were times Elysia would feel resentful toward Mischanau, but most of the time, they really were the best of friends. Why be a bitter person when she could be a better person?
Such weight had been lifted off Elysia's shoulders. And it was all because of the very person she thought was the cause of her burden. Elysia smiled and burst into tears. This time, she hugged Mischanau. "Oh, Mischanau! It is I, who is blessed to have such a wonderful friend as you!" The two young women embraced each other in tears and laughed both out of relief and sheer joy. "Please, Mischanau! Do not feel as if you are a burden. You are my friend and that is what friends do."
"You've truly kept your promise as maid of honor beyond what was asked of you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart," said Mischanau.
"Oh! We have to hurry!" Elysia said. Pradiulot should arrive here soon! You don't want him to see you like this!"
Mischanau giggled. "Oh, no I do not! No man should ever return from duty to see this mess!" Mischanau hands Elysia the hairpin. "Here. Please help with this."
"Of course." Elysia quickly fastened the silver hairpin to Mischanau's hair. She then helped her friend up from bed when suddenly, they both stood still as they heard the sound of the cathedral bells. It was a bit late for mass and the tolling was frantic, not rung to the holy song of Altana. Mischanau gripped Elysia's sleeves as they both looked out the window. Outside was pure chaos. In the distance beyond what was once the city walls, they could see hordes of Orcs and Behemoths.
Tavnazia was under a surprise attack.
~ VII. Onslaught ~
Elysia watched as the unbelievably horrible scene played out beyond the bedroom window. It was difficult to make sense of anything, as she had seen nothing quite like this before in her life.
"Dear Altana! What do we do?!"
Elysia broke away from the hypnotizing scene outside and looked at Mischanau, who was clearly frightened. The cathedral bells continued to rang loudly, warning the people of Tavnazia of the impending doom. Mischanau continued, answering her own question. "Ugh! The cathedral! We have to get to the cathedral!"
"Yes, you're right!" Elysia affirmed. "Come, let us make haste!"
Elysia held on to Mischanau's arms and guided her out the bedroom and down the stairs. As soon as they opened the front door, it was a scene out of Hell. It was as if the Shadowlord himself had reawakened and wreaked havoc upon Tavnazia. A rain of fire arrows fell from the skies as crowds of people ran through the streets. Behind the clamoring group of people fleeing for their lives, a giant Behemoth beast could be seen roaring and butting its head against various buildings, causing chaos and destruction. The invasion was still far off, but there was no time to lose.
The two young women left Mischanau's house and began running toward the cathedral. Its bell towers could still be seen in the distance. Soon, the streets began to fill as people flowed in from their homes and stores all making their way toward the house of Altana. The crowds that were running away from the Behemoth had now caught up with the rest, further clogging the streets. Mass pushing and shoving ensued as everyone became increasingly desperate to flee for their safety.
Mischanau tried to run as fast as she could but she was already gasping for breath. The air itself was now tainted with smoke and dust making breathing and visibility all the more difficult. Elysia was practically dragging her friend across the cobblestone streets as Mischanau constantly tripped and struggled to keep up.
"Out of the way!" someone shouted.
"Move! The Orcs are closing in! Move!" another screamed.
The pandemonium reached its critical peak as suddenly, a band of Orcs charged in from the city square. Things were beyond chaos as the crowd split and ran in every direction except toward the menacing Orcs. Mischanau and Elysia were nearly crushed as the frantic mob reversed direction and pressed against them. The ground rumbled and shook violently, causing the two to lose their balance and fell to the ground.
Elysia looked up just in time to roll out of the way before a lamp post fell and burst into flames. The searing heat of the fire and deafening roar of the Orcs prompted was just too much. Elysia panicked. All she could think about was to get as far away from this horror as fast as she can to escape the onslaught. And she did. Elysia quickly crawled away from where she was and as soon as it felt appropriate, got up, lifted her dress and sprinted down an alley. Her rapid footsteps echoed down the narrow back street.
She must have been running for what seemed like forever when Elysia finally stopped to catch her breath. She gasped and gulped for air. Her mouth was dry. And her muscles and lungs ached. Then, Elysia froze. A whole new kind of paralyzing, sickening fear swept throughout her body as something terrible suddenly dawned upon her. She realized that she was alone in this dark back alley. Not even the stars could be seen thanks to the thick plume of black smoke blanketing the city. The chaos sounded faint and far away. Elysia was alone when she shouldn't be.
"Mischanau!" she shrieked. "Oh, dear goddess! Mischanau!" She turned around and looked in every direction to see if Mischanau could be seen. "Mischanau! Where are you?!" The alley was too dark and seemed unfamiliar to Elysia. She also realized she was lost. Elysia burst into tears as she realized her predicament. She couldn't decide which was worse; being alone and frightened here, or back in the chaos of Hell with Mischanau. Elysia decided she had no time to cry and saw no point in further whittling away time pondering the depressing thought of which situation was worse. There was no time to be weak. She had to find her friend.
Elysia picked herself up, wiped her soot covered face and ran back the direction she came from. She prayed that her friend would be safe. But things were looking very grim as she ran by dead bodies strewn along the streets. Bodies of men, women, and even children, twisted and contorted in ghastly unnatural positions. Streams of blood flowed toward the sewage drains. Elysia felt sick from the stench and had to stop and vomit.
Finally, Elysia found her way back to the city square. The fountain was destroyed. Its water had put out the flames from the lamp post. The area was still filled with smoke. Elysia looked around, both to find Mischanau, and to make sure no Orcs were still around. She inspected each and under every carcass. "Mischanau?!" she called desperately. "Mischanau where are you?!" But there was no response. There was only eerie silence.
Elysia searched frantically in increasing alarm and bewilderment. She then found something familiar but wish she hadn't. On the ground was the silver promise hairpin. Upon closer inspection, it is missing its sapphire tear gem. Elysia knelt down and picked up the small jewelry and again looked around for any signs of Mischanau. Elysia resumed her call. "Mischanau? Mischanau?! I... can't find you..."
A loud, guttural roar bellowed from above Elysia. She looked up and gasped in horror. Her eyes were fixated on the source of the threatening noise, while her skin crawled as if trying to jump off her back and flee. An Orcish Neckchopper stood inside a broken inn window on the second floor. In one hand, it held a huge rusty axe stained with fresh blood. In its other hand was a severed head, its neck still dripping and face forever frozen in terror.
"Silence, woman!" hissed a man's voice coming from behind Elysia. "Look what your screeching did!" A male Hume appeared from behind a corner armed with a spear. "Do not... move until I say so."
Elysia obeyed or rather was simply paralyzed with fear and remained very still as the Orc looked at the two. It cocked its head and uttered a low growl as it prepared to leap down. Instead of leaping, it merely grunted a painful grunt and fell to the ground hard with a dull thud. The man had thrown his spear right at its neck.
"Now! Run!" the spearman barked an order. Elysia got up and dashed toward him, where he waited to grab her arm.
"Wait!" Elysia protested. "My friend--!"
"Woman, are you mad?!" he interrupted her. "Didn't you realized you were about to join your friend in the afterlife?! There's no one here but the dead. If your friend is here, she's dead too."
The man yanked her arms and dragged her away just as the dying Orc let out a war cry. "Ugh!" Elysia screamed in frustration, and ran with the spearman.
"Oh, wonderful!" the unnamed man said under his breath, annoyed. "That damned Orc just cried for help. I have the worst luck with Orcs. Do you know your way around this city?"
Elysia immediately replied, "Y-yes. We have to get to the cathedral. There's a shelter there. Are you not from Tavnazia?"
"Just a fisherman from Bastok. Now where is the cathedral?" he asked urgently. Just then, a deep sounding howl reverberated throughout the streets. "They're coming... Hurry!"
Elysia pointed the direction of the cathedral. Its towers could no longer be seen because of the smoke. "There!"
The two ran toward the holy sanctuary, with the Orcs were close behind. Elysia's mind quickly tried to recall the fastest route to the church, and now the town safehold. She now wished she spent more time improving her sense of direction, which wasn't very good. Because, right now, at this critical moment, she could really use that skill.
By now, the grounds rumbled as a train of Orcs gave chase and pursued them through the streets of Tavnazia like mad bulls chasing matadors. All kinds of Orcs joined in as the two Humes seemed to take every long path toward the cathedral. Orcish Neckchoppers, Orcish Mesmerizers, Orcish Stonechuckers, Orcish Fodders, and Orcish Grapplers were all vying to avenge their fallen beastmen and slaughter the two fleeing Humes.
The Bastokan grew very agitated at what seems like an unnecessarily long run. "Woman, do you know where we're going?!" he breathed. "How typical of females."
"Bite your tongue!" Elysia snarled. "We're almost there!"
Indeed, the cathedral stood tall over the main boulevard. They just need to get a little bit further. But it seemed that was a luxury they could not afford, as the Orcs were inching closer and closer. Some even leaped from the roofs and landed right in front of Elysia and the fisherman, forcing them to quickly dodge to avoid certain death.
As they ran up the long steps, a barrage of arrows whizzed by them, barely nicking the two. A Royal Archer stood atop the steps, shooting down arrows at the pursuing Orcs.
"Hurry, you two! Duck and run up the steps! This city will be destroyed!" Ordered the Royal Archer.
With Orcs just nipping at their heels and iron sharp arrows being shot toward them, it was truly a sight to be seen. Just as an Orc was within reach to snatch the lives of Elysia and the fisherman, an arrow stopped it dead in its tracks. Eventually, the two made it up the steps, which felt like climbing a mountain. The fisherman grabbed Elysia and pulled her from the grips of an Orcish Grappler, throwing her into the cathedral doors. The Royal Archer stopped and followed her inside only to turn around and see the fishermen dead on the top steps.
"No!" Elysia screamed as the Royal Archer slammed the huge iron double doors and bolted it shut. Loud bangs and howls can be heard from the inside of the cathedral as angry Orcs beat on the door.
Elysia screamed hysterically as the she was carried away deeper into the inner sanctum. Having seen and been through so much horror, she finally broke down and cried out to Mischanau, Pradiulot, and even the fisherman who sacrificed himself to save her. Her cries that filled the hall of worship were silenced as the doors to the inner sanctum were shut.
Shortly after, a huge cataclysmic magic was released as a last ditch effort to stop the Orcs; it caused the entire land of Tavnazia to separate itself from the main continent of Quon and much of the land to crumble into the sea.
~ VIII. Blackout ~
Elysia had a horrible dream. She was standing on a boat amidst a turbulent sea. The waves swirled around her wildly, rocking the boat. She saw the bloated bodies of several people tossed about by the waves. Suddenly, she floated up above the boat just as it was sucked into the swirling abyss. From above, the spiral waves and the central black abyss slowly became an eye. Two eyes, now. They were the blue eyes of Mischanau, glaring up at Elysia.
"I'm so sorry!" Elysia pleaded. But no words came out of her mouth. "Please.... forgive me!"
Elysia woke up screaming, "I'm sorry!" She was held down by an elderly Elvaan woman.
"Calm down dear, you were having a nightmare," she croaked.
Elysia looked around. She did not recognize this place. "Where...?"
"You're deep within the inner sanctum of the cathedral," informed the kind elderly woman. "After the Royal Archers took you in, you were screaming hysterically. Until finally, you just blacked out. Poor dear. It's over now."
"...So.... It really did... happen...." As Elysia struggled to come to grip with the reality of what had occurred, the elderly woman handed her a cup of tea and left to tend to the others. Elysia sat in a corner, ignoring her tea. Her mind played back what had happened. She was running from Orcs. She saw a fisherman die in front of her. She was confronted by one Orc in the city square where she found the hairpin. Elysia gasped and dug into her dress pocket.
The hairpin was still there. It was dirty with soot, dirt, and blood. And its gem was missing. Missing.... Mischanau.... Mischanau was missing. Elysia immediately got up and looked for where the sick and injured are kept. She scoured through the catacombs of the underground sanctum but found no sign of her friend. Nor had anyone has seen her anywhere. She finally lost all hope and resigned herself onto the floor of one of the hallways. She stared at the hairpin, at the empty place where the stone should be. Slowly, she began to wonder. Her mind began to entertain strange thoughts. Those little seeds of dark thoughts began to take root and spread.
Mischanau was dead. If she was not here in the cathedral, there was no way she could've survived past the town square alone. Not with her illness. Mischanau needed someone there to protect her. She needed Elysia. But Elysia ran away, abandoned her.
"I... killed her...."
That was Elysia's conclusion. If only she never let go of Mischanau, they'd both be alive. She should've carried her friend on her back if she had to. Instead, she broke the sacred promise of maid of honor and left Mischanau to die. Elysia killed Mischanau.
Maybe... Maybe because Elysia was still jealous Mischanau, she let her die. She was never a selfless friend. She was selfish, a liar, and a murderer. Elysia felt horrible. She began to hate herself.
"I killed her..." she mumbled to herself. "I left her to die. I killed her!"
Elysia started to cry. She cried out of sadness of having lost her friend. She cried out of anger towards her failure. She cried out of hatred of herself. Salty tears flowed freely down her soot- and blood-stained face, falling onto the stone floors.
Just then, from one of the many rooms behind her, Elysia heard a familiar voice. She jumped up and ran toward the voice. When she got there, she could hardly believe her eyes. There, sitting on a bed, was Pradiulot.
"Pradiulot!" Elysia ran to hug him. "Oh, thank Altana you are alive!"
A Temple Knight next time informed Elysia that he was found unconscious by the city gates. He was one of the first to defend the city.
Elysia cried and fell to her knees. She lowered her head and confessed to have left Mischanau to die. "Oh, Pradiulot! I am so terribly sorry! I killed your wife, Mischanau! I left her to die at the hands of the Orcs while I off and ran like a coward! I'm a horrible, horrible person!"
Pradiulot stood up and looked down at Elysia. "What...?"
"It's true, Pradiulot. I... I..."
"Who are you?" he asked.
Elysia looked up in confusion. "Who... am I?"
The Temple Knight jumped in. "...Er... You see, Pradiulot here awoke and seemed to have lost his memory."
Elysia tried to get up but fell over backward in disbelief. "You.... don't remember me?"
Pradiulot frowned and shook his head apologetically. "No, I do not...."
"Do you remember your wife Mischanau..? Your brother Jeaujebraund?"
The amnesia-stricken Temple Knight shook his head twice. "I have forgotten everything."
"This cannot be..." Elysia said to herself. "You have to remember! I killed Mischanau!" She began to become hysterical again.
Pradiulot held her and tried to reason with her. "Listen! I really don't know who you are talking about! But judging by what you said and what this officer told me about what this place went through, it sounds like you did nothing wrong."
"I killed her!!" Elysia screamed.
"No, the Orcs did!"
"I...." She sobbed uncontrollably. "I... left her to die...." Finally, Elysia could no longer speak coherently and just sobbed. She squeezed the silver hairpin tightly in her hand, causing it to cut into her palm.
~ IX. Forgiveness ~
Elysia held on to the old hairpin and shortly arrived at the center of the Tavnazian safehold. In the center was a huge opening leading up into the sky. It was no longer raining, so light shone through, illuminating the center of the safehold.
In the southern section of the circular center, across the break-away bridge leading into the exit of the safehold, was the Altar of the Dawn. There, the statue of the goddess of dawn, Altana, stood overlooking the safehold. She protected the few survivors from harm and offered them hope. And one person who needed hope was Elysia.
Since that day twenty years ago, Elysia was haunted by this tremendous guilt. It had robbed her of any peace, happiness, and contentment. Through the years, she had grown weak and empty inside. As a way of repenting for what she considered to be her sin, Elysia decided to be by Pradiulot's side. Since he no longer had anyone else to care for him, Elysia elected to make it her duty until one day Pradiulot regained his memory and perhaps forgave Elysia, freeing her from the chains of guilt.
Sunlight broke through the clouds and shone into the bowels of the Tavnazian safehold. The altar glistened from fresh rain drops that fell earlier. The goddess of dawn looked so radiant, and so pure.
Elysia stood in front of the goddess. With the hairpin in hand, she prayed to the goddess Altana. Elysia prayed and asks that somewhere, somehow, Mischanau could find it in her soul to forgive Elysia.
Elysia finished her prayer for forgiveness and bowed. She then carefully put the hairpin in her dress pocket and slowly walked away toward storage.
High up above, where the head of Altana gazed down at the safehold, a single pure raindrop dripped from the rim of the cavern's hole and trickled down the goddess' face. It curled along her forehead, down to her left eye, and down her stone cheek.