Falkons: lifespan 5-10 years
Appearance: Covered in black feathers. Two clawed feet. A pair of wings. Prominent feature: R’th light glows from their primary feathers when near R’th veins. Top of the head averages 1 foot.
Contribution: delivering messages
Realm location: wherever their torc chooses to nest
Namesake: they all have the same name depending on their age. Hatchlings under 1 year are called Kip. Age 2-5 are called Blur. 5-10 are called Opa.
- “A Youngling’s Guide to Eloshian Races, year 2,862”
Hands clasped, elbows on both knees, staring at the tips of his boots, Cohthel sweat.
“Good night, Jumpy.” Mother’s voice swelled with joy at Markie’s proposal tonight, who stayed for hours after dinner playing those board games Mother loved so much. With three kindred now, Cohthel realized he now loved them too.
Mother’s door across the hall from his room closed.
Every few moments Cohthel wiped sweaty palms on his thigh. He’d opened the window for more air; the curtains tickled by the evening breeze. He looked out the window into the dark trees beyond, trying to spot the Ranger Bladehand Torc Thoraus had sent as part of the deal Cohthel made with the torc before dinner. Cohthel couldn’t see the man waiting in the trees. He’d be a poor ranger if Cohthel could.
Time passed but he couldn’t gage how much because his anxiety could have stressed over mere moments or hours before the hooded head appeared at his window.
“Are you ready, Evermore?”
Cohthel inhaled a trembling breath. Wiped both palms on his thighs. “Will you come inside and talk to me for a moment? I have so many questions.”
“Son, I’ll tell you everything. It’s important we leave now.”
“I know…it’s just that…Father…you came home so suddenly and want me to leave so suddenly. I…I have a life established here. I’m having a hard time figuring out how to let go of everything. I just need to ask you more questions and gain that reassurance.”
Father looked to both sides and behind him. Cohthel feared the Ranger Bladehand had exposed himself too early, but Father looked back in his room. “Of course.” His tall, narrow bulk ghosted through the window and sat on the bed next to him.
Cohthel stared at his twisting hands. He made this deal with Torc Thoraus to both ensure his disinherited Father would not be killed on sight but also as insurance so Cohthel would not change his mind and go with him. “Who is the Dreamer? You said you would introduce me to him.”
“And I will, but you have to come with me first.”
“Who is he?”
“He was a human alive before these animals formed the Kingdom.” Rodrue’s easy tone belied his earlier tense anxiety to leave. “He is one of the last to have received R’th from Astorous himself before Astorous vanished. Astorous had given the Dreamer the R’th to manipulate dreams.”
Again his words summoned identical words from earlier. This time, Cohthel welcomed their flood: Manipulating dreams…it is my R’th, had said the Dream Woman who convinced him to carry her sword. I was one of the last kindred to receive R’th from Astorous himself before he stopped giving them.
Pain shot through Cohthel’s skull. He squeezed his eyes as he pulled every scrap of knowledge he possessed and crammed them together: That Dream Woman…her and the Dreamer share the same R’th? And she and the Dreamer must die at the same time?
“…before the Kingdom formed,” Father continued, unaware of the chaos sparking in Cohthel’s head, “all the races worshiped humans as kings. They worshiped instinctively, much like the exclusive bond the other races make with the humans.”
Atalixsphere’s words slammed into Cohthel…Have me exclusively, if you’ll accept. Father’s words echoed this, but the intent still felt…misunderstood, meaning one thing but Father forced it to become another. I served Atalixsphere first, came his inner voice. I served her first and she paid me back with a life-long commitment — a service far greater than what I gave her.
“Then the animals forgot their place and rebelled against their masters. The Dreamer fought back against the animals and killed everyone who refused to return to their place. But someone killed the Dreamer’s body before he completed his mission, and the animals won. Because of his R’th, he stayed alive in a realm of dreams and attached his soul to this.” Father lifted his wrist, the cuff glowing exactly like his R’th-made sword. Cohthel almost asked if it, too, was made from compressed R’th light. “He speaks to me in dreams, son, and he will speak to you too so you can see the proof you want. Are you ready to go so you can see this proof?”
“So the Kingdom didn’t form until after his death?”
“The other races shamed the humans for believing we were kings, manipulating the humans into agreeing to become equal to the animals. The Dreamer intends to bring humans back to our rightful place as kings.”
“They didn’t teach this in school.”
“Someone scrubbed that record out of every archive in every realm, so no one knows it. Except for the Dark Elves. They maintained their records, and that is where I discovered the truth.
“Evermore, these animals convinced all humans to kill our individualism and our self-worth! Does that not upset you? You are great. You are great. Kingly. I’d even say godly. The animals fashioned a mask for you to wear to stifle your greatness because it bothered them to look at it. I want to tear everyone’s masks off, help everyone heal from their damaged self-worth. I’ve wanted to do that my entire life, but lacked the tool until now to do so. Do you know why Fate gave you invisibility?”
Cohthel opened his mouth to answer but shook his head instead. He wanted to test if Father had a different explanation for his invisibility.
“I brought you to Fate as a baby and asked her to give you a R’th. Many parents from all races ask, but she never grants the request. Except for you. Granted invisibility. Do you know what she told me? She said she gave you invisibility so you would live forever. I’ve no idea why invisibility will make you live forever. It hasn’t stopped you from growing older, so someday you will die of old age. But, no matter. I named you Evermore, after the legend of Evermore and Nevercease, because Evermore could not die.”
“You made that legend up.”
“You are Evermore because you can’t die, and I will never stop, so I will be Nevercease. The world wrote the legend for us, son. We will conquer the world with the glory the Dreamer promised us.”
“This idea will break everything apart: commerce, trade, our culture, peace.” Cohthel found his passion, rising in his voice. “The Human Realm relies so heavily on the other realms to sustain us: the falkons deliver all messages, the dwarves maintain our aqueducts for sanitation through Malandore, the elves sell us glass for windows and cookware, the pegasi and gryphon transport us. If we force them all to be subservient to us, those services will stop.” Spoken allowed, Cohthel saw the naked Kingdom: all other realms contributed more to their combined welfare than the humans. Why did humans deserve divinity and not them?
“Nothing will break or stop so long as the Kingdom doesn’t stop us from regaining our birthright. Our individual self-worth matters more than everything you listed. A greater sacrifice yields greater gains.” Father stood. “Come with me and meet the Dreamer yourself. You’ll have friends where I’m going too, is what Thaen tells me.”
Sick dread poisoned his gut. “Thaen?”
“Thaen. Your best friend? You call each other brother? I stopped by his house first to bring him with us, and when I told you we were stopping to pick you up, he told me you knew each other, told me snippets of you growing up. He’s very happy you’re coming with us because all three of you can continue your friendship.”
Three? Cohthel tried asking, but his jaw no longer worked.
Rodrue read Cohthel’s trauma as confusion. “Neleci has joined under the Dreamer’s banner as well. Thaen said you’re friends? You’ll have all your friends, and me, where you’re going. Aren’t you excited? Ah, but you are overwhelmed. Too much glory at one time. I understand. It took Neleci and Thaen both time to understand it all, too. Tell you what, we’ll start a cookie-baking contest when we get underground to help you feel right at home. How does that sound?”
Cohthel didn’t think smiles existed anymore on Mortal Earth. Rodrue must have found the last one, but he violated its purpose when he spread it across his teeth.
Of course, Rodrue was lying telling him about Thaen and Neleci. Rodrue could have gotten the names of his friends from free falkon rumors, only trying to further hook Cohthel into his scheme. Cohthel saw through his facade.
That would reveal later when Cohthel spoke to Rodrue while he sat in the ranger bastille. Torc Thoraus agreed to capture Rodrue instead of killing him. In time Cohthel hoped to lure Father away from his destructive ideals, reborn into a new man, a better man, a man who could love a son after all.
Cohthel wiped both palms on the bedsheet. Stood. Grabbed his pre-packed bag and sword. Attaching both, he climbed out of his window, Father coming after him. Side-by-side they made it five steps when Cohthel stopped.
“Oh, knuckle it,” he said. “I forgot something. I’ll be right back.” He ran back to his window and climbed through.
Once inside, he put both hands on the wall and gasped for air, knees knocking so hard he feared they’d drop him, blood wharm wharm wharming in both ears. Tears of some emotion he could not name welled in his eyes. He wiped his nose and stepped in front of the window. “I’ve got it!” he grinned like a nervous idiot to Father who stood with his arms folded, watching him. Cohthel stuck a leg through the window, taking his time, wishing it wasn’t the signal, wasn’t the countdown for the Ranger Bladehand to slither out of the trees behind Father’s back.
He’s only going to capture Father, Cohthel reminded. That was the agreement I made with Torc Thoraus. He won’t back down from his word. This was why Cohthel didn’t tell Torc Thoraus everything, claiming he needed Father, alive, to provide all the details Torc Thoraus would need about the humans’ coming coupe on the Kingdom.
Both Cohthel’s boots hit the moonlit grass. He locked eyes with Father. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, son. Now let’s get—”
The Ranger Bladehand had approached silently. Cohthel didn’t hear him, barely detected the shadow floating over the grass behind Father’s back. Only a Bladehand can fight, capture, or ambush another Bladehand, which is why Torc Thoraus employed his best, stationing two more on standby.
So what had warned Father to spin, draw sword, and arc his blade in the same moment? Cohthel didn’t know. Not now. But later. When he learned more fully the Dreamer’s capabilities and why the Dream Woman wanted him dead, so badly that she couldn’t wait to kill herself to make sure of it.
Blood arced from the tip of Father’s flashing sword. The Ranger gargled, arms wrapping his halved middle. A second swoop of Father’s sword split the Ranger’s neck, and his black-clothed body dropped.
Cohthel forgot he watched his reality and not someone else’s, witnessing the murder with the same detached enthusiasm as watching a theater performance. Two more shadowy actors tore from the fabric of the night and rushed Father.
Father whirled around. “Come, son!” He didn’t have the time, but he held out his hand.
Cohthel stepped forward. Stepped back. Two steps forward. Stopped. Not remembering why he shouldn’t go with him, remembering only that a promise for greater self-worth rested in Father’s outstretched palm. A mapped future. Friendships. Father and son bond.
Father’s palm snapped closed, perhapses finally realizing who set the ambush on him. “Death is better than denying your self-worth.” Father’s cloak spread to either side as he ran, like a pair of bat wings ready to float him away. The two Ranger Bladehands chased. Cohthel watched until he no longer discerned man from shadow.
Another actor entered the stage, dressed as Thaen, blond hair glowing under the violet moonlight. What a strange play, what to make Cohthel stand center stage and not give him any lines. Was he apprenticing with Arts before he joined the caravan? No wonder he didn’t stay with Arts. He didn’t know where to stand, what to do with his hands, what to tell this actor putting a hand on his shoulder.
“Brother,” Actor Thaen said. “Come with us.”
Us? Who is us?
“I’ve met the Dreamer,” Actor Thaen continued, his voice turning into a buzz in Cohthel’s brain.
Everyone else knew their lines. Why didn’t he know his? “He’s real. The humans are directly descended from the Paragons. We used to be kings…”
Why is that actor still playing dead? Weren’t the curtains supposed to close to allow him to stand and walk off the stage? Why did my scene start with him still lying there? What are my lines!
“Brother!” Actor Thaen shook him. “Did you hear me?”
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.”
“I took time myself to understand, but now I do, and you will too.” Actor Thaen grabbed his arm and pulled him away from the house.
Cohthel looked over his shoulder, but the curtains didn’t close. The dead actor didn’t stand. The audience didn’t cheer. Father didn’t return to hold hands with everyone and bow. Not when the stage filled the outside cold, on the grass, extending across all Eloshonna, blending actors and audience until Cohthel didn’t know which part to play.
“He’s really dead, isn’t he?”
“It was necessary, brother.”
The curtains would never close because they had never opened. But now they did, like doors gusting in the cold winter chill numbing his nose and ears, Thaen’s fingers digging into his arm, a dead man bleeding over his grass.
He ripped his arm out of Thaen’s hand. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Don’t call me that. The Dreamer is evil. He’s poisoned your mind. He is wrong!”
“Come with me and you will meet him for yourself. You will see the truth, the truth these animals have hidden from the humans. Your father tells me Neleci already knows the truth. We’ll be friends for each other down there.”
“You can’t do this. You want to be a ranger. If you leave, you leave everything, even that.”
“I will be a ranger…king of the rangers. Humans will become kings and queens again over whatever we want. You’re shocked and confused and frustrated because this is new. I took three months to understand the truth myself. After I’ve learned more, I’ll come back for my family and teach them. Now let’s go.” Thaen tugged on Cohthel’s arm so hard, he tripped forward and stumbled to catch himself.
Cohthel ripped his arm away.
“Look at you.” Thaen grinned. “Getting all strong on me. Maybe you are capable of engineering your own opinions, after all.”
“I’m not going.” Billows inflated his chest, billows too large to fit behind his rib cage. Defying Mother, defying Kitannia, defying a goddess did not compare to the agony of denying his friend-brother. “And neither are you!” Cohthel swung a fist at Thaen’s jaw. In fury. In anguish. In loss. All four coupled in union across his knuckles like a hammer blow of despair into Thaen’s sable jaw.
Thaen’s head snapped right, spinning the young man, but he kept his feet. He recovered quicker than Cohthel. He hunched and rammed a shoulder into Cohthel’s chest.
Cohthel never won when he and Thaen wrestled. But this time, Cohthel fought with new strength, new knowledge, new desperation and fear. They rolled over and over each other in the grass, Thaen’s bloody mouth pooling over Cohthel. Cohthel reached the peak of exhaustion. Thaen understood the moment it happened and rolled until Cohthel’s back pressed against his chest.
Thaen wrapped his rock-hard arms around Cohthel’s neck, choking off air and blood flow. Cohthel switched between reaching behind him and pulling down on Thaen’s arm, gurgling.
Thaen arched his back, tightening the noose.
They were brothers. Friends so long Cohthel couldn’t remember the day they met. Now life forced him to swallow the blistering coal of sadness. It sunk deep inside his chest, curling under his breastbone, smoldering…smoldering…burning a hole through him until he bled out like the Ranger Bladehand next to him, lifeless in the grass.
Cohthel blacked out.