Fantasy where heroes don't follow the rules
Image by Idella Cutler
Horiot Edmere, “Eloshonna Fauna” >With R’th > Divine agents
Unicorns: APPEARANCE: a horse-like animal. Pure-white coat with a horn curling out from the center of its head. Embodiment of Day. ORIGIN: created by Sovereign Life to counter death. R’TH: can heal. SENTIENT? No.
Halicorn: APPEARANCE: a horse-like animal. Blue-black coat with a horn curling out from the center of its head. Embodiment of Night. ORIGIN: created by Sovereign Astral to counter life. R’TH: can kill. SENTIENT? No.
Moon Stallions (unverified): APPEARANCE: a horse-like animal. Purple coat. ORIGIN: rumored to be agents of an unknown moon goddess. R’TH: rumored to be able to call forth a moonbeam at night and walk upon it like one walks upon a road. SENTIENT? unknown.
Roue crossed two hours through the trees before he reached the Dark Elf door — a well carved with steps diving deep into Mortal Earth like a wormhole wide enough a Dark Elf on their riding mounts could ride through. Because of the Kingdom’s kill order on Dark Elves, the torcs offered rewards for anyone who collapsed a door even knowing the uselessness, like stomping a boot to crush an anthill.
His boots touched upon the steps. He descended deeper, the dry air phasing into cool moisture. Glowing green and blue lichen replaced sunlight. The tight well he followed leveled out and broadened into natural caverns speckled with the glowing lichen all around him. Thin shoots of clustered emerald crystal could almost be the underground version of grass.
He walked between a forest of stalagmites, the path beaten down for travel. Above him and exactly mirrored dropped stalac-tits. This is how he remembered which ones grew up and which ones hung down.
In front of him, two blind Dark Elves whose names he couldn’t remember…Iceyourbum and Fryinghair, or something…keeping watch phased into existence, having detected his heartbeat long before his boots tapped along their road. Black skin and black clothes, only their long, shock-white hair separated them from the shadows impregnating the space between the glowing lichen.
Lack of sunlight wrote into Dark Elf genetic code to forgo eyesight, but their loss of sight activated other senses. They said every object had a vibration — flesh, rock, plant — and their ultra-sensitive ears caught the vibrations as if listening to a song, each object singing a different song. So they didn’t see a thing. But they heard everything.
“Who are you?” Fryinghair asked.
Dark Elves, in general, did not learn Eloshian. Instead, they engineered R’th into an ear cuff that, when worn, acted as a translator for the wearer. The gold cuff encircled Roue’s right ear. The ear cuff only translated to the ear wearing it, so Roue heard Eloshian in one ear and Darken in the other.
Roue pulled a necklace out of his shirt where a rock hung like a pendant. The Dark Elf who addressed him took the necklace from Roue’s ivory hands as if he could see.
He held the rock for a moment. “Roue,” the Dark Elf said, using the name the Dark Elves modified to call him since their language did not cause their tongues to touch the roof of their mouths. He learned this was their ambitious attempt to always “keep the tongue open” so they’d always be ready to drink of the blessings their singular goddess would pour. Unless it was the other reason? They omitted “closed-tongue” sounds so the harsh sounds of “d,j,k,c,t,x” would not disrupt the other “vibrations” they strove to always listen for? Either way, it made their language sound like a fart.
The Dark Elf handed back his necklace and waved him down the road. Roue had earned this rock “pass” years ago when he first attempted friendly contact with the Dark Elves. If not for the mark branded onto his neck marking him as a permanent exile from the Kingdom, the Dark Elves would have killed him on sight because they’re not very nice. All his rock meant was the Dark Elves no longer reserved obligation to kill him, but still could if they found him too disagreeable, meddling, ugly, or wearing the same underwear two days in a row.
Having cultured relations with them for a decade now, the Seeing would sometimes entertain conversation with him. A member of the Seeing — a Dark Elf who maintained his or her eye-sight and often went above ground — governed every Dark Elf daw and became Roue’s aim for traipsing down here into the chill of the forgotten underground.
Families lived in alcoves cut deep into the rock or in open pits. Glowing lichen on the ground guided his toes along the road. No, no, they didn’t keep him on the road, but at least warned him of the outline of a pit. Well, the lichen didn’t do that either. The hollering families living in the pits warned him when he got too close to their edge. At least he assumed their shouts meant warning. They could have also been calling for someone to kill him — their language sounding all the same to him.
Every step a gamble in the dark, Roue followed the only R’th light glowing out of the entryway into the Seeing’s home — the Seeing needing R’th light to maintain their eyesight.
Roue approached the entryway. Human, elf, and dwarf culture demanded an announcement, like a knock on the door, and a reply before entering their home. Dark Elves knew no such etiquette. But that’s because they didn’t have doors to knock on and they tracked your heartbeat before you even crossed the threshold. Must be awkward when anyone close by copulated. Roue entered and walked down a short stone hallway into an orb-shaped room.
The Seeing Dark Elf was already looking in his direction, an identical translation earring cuffing his long, pointed ear. Grimacing. Long legs spread wide open where he sat. Before him on the stone desk rested crystal and generic bits of stone. He held in his hand a thin, flexible metal flange. Lacking parchment, quills, ink, and the eyesight to use any of them, Dark Elves tapped the flange against the crystals and stones to change the natural vibration of the stone into a specific message Dark Elves could hear and understand.
“Roue,” the Seeing said, “I only tolerate you because of your defection from the Kingdom. But that’s where you stand. Toleration. I have already given you everything you needed to find this rumored, mythical, likely imagined piece of jewelry.”
Roue pressed a hand to his heart. “I’m touched by your hospitality. Now it is my turn to return the gesture. I have something for you, Borai.”
“Oh?” The Dark Elf’s white eyebrows lifted. His tone indicated Roue was a “breath-waster” — a Dark Elf insult meaning the offender breathed air better spent on someone — anyone — else.
Roue had long since calloused against this treatment. Dark Elves did not accept Kingdom defectors without suspicious investigation and time. Dark Elves elevated defectors from, “kill on sight” to “tolerate but remain wary.” Strictly through constant, professional nagging — and his dashing smile — Roue gathered the information he needed to find this wrist cuff.
With ceremony meant for a torc, Roue lifted his wrist and the attached gold-glowing wrist cuff, pulling back his sleeve.
“Tuh,” Borai said in replace of laughter. He bent his head over the table, long white hair swishing past both shoulders. “Don’t tell me you want to give him to me. Our trace records indicate the Dreamer favored the humans, not us Night Kindred. He’d kill us to further his goal.”
Roue tensed his shoulders and lowered his chin though kept an unblinking gaze on the Dark Elf, easy to do in this environment with no wind but harder to clear gastronomic gas from lingering. “The Dreamer doesn’t want anyone to die. He wants every race to recognize humans as their kings.”
“King. Torc. What’s the difference in your ugly language?”
“Torcs rule individually. Kings rule collectively.”
“The Dreamer will force those who do not acknowledge humans as their kings. And further, if you helped him with his goal, he will reward you. That’s how he worky works.”
“Help…help him rise the humans above us?” Borai rose, shoulders rolling. “The humans and the entire mouwi Kingdom are literally walking on us!”
“This cuff,” Roue shook his wrist, “has the power to shatter the Kingdom and allow you unmolested entry above ground. I have told the Dreamer the Night Kindred, droogs, and dusutri helped me find him. If you help elevate the humans above the other animals in the Kingdom, the Dreamer has agreed that not only will the Dreamer spare your lives, but helping to break the Kingdom will allow you to live above ground.”
“Why would I want to live on the same ground those Kingdom god-whores tainted?”
“Then don’t live on it. Kill them for worshiping more than one god and score points for your goddess. Or get a license to sell knitted underwear. All I can promise is the Dreamer will use convincing force to demand you elevate the humans, if you do not voluntarily elevate them yourselves. You have records of his methods, so you know this already. Only last time, he spared the Night Kindred.” Roue shrugged.
“Likely because he didn’t live long enough to touch every race on Eloshonna, but he’s immortal now.”
The Seeing stood, domineering over Roue. He had to look up.
“I can solve that problem right here by killing you and throwing that cuff in our deepest lake.” Borai’s hand fingered the hilt of his black-boned sword.
Undeterred, Roue drove on. “The dusutri and droogs agreed to help because the droogs want to live above ground to the desperate point they don’t care who dies or who rises above them. And the dusutri are humans and they’ve so far refused to join the Kingdom because they understand they are not equal to the animal races of pegasi, dragon, ecthore, gryphon, seadweller, and falkon.” Roue negotiated with dusutri and droog first because he knew Dark Elves would be difficult. “I thought you had a goddess to impress? Doesn’t she give favors and promises and the occasional wink for every blasphemer you kill?”
His black nostrils flared. Got him. The core of every Dark Elf. They claimed their goddess found them in the dark and nurtured them into a mighty race, which is why the droogs still flounder without R’th and hope. They refused her offering.
“Start a religious purge in honor of your Goddess Ericoya. Eradicate those god-whores and let your only god be the only god.”
Borai didn’t move, said nothing as Roue held his violet gaze, five aching heartbeats passing. As if gutting out his heart, Roue slipped the cuff off his wrist and set it on the desk. “Dream with it tonight and ask the Dreamer the possibility. You’ve got nothing to lose by talking to him, but you have everything to gain by helping him. That’s how that worky works. Oh, and you will need a translation earring. He speaks an early form of Eloshian.”
Borai challenged him with a silent stare. “Of course you’re small mind wouldn’t understand the very language you speak, early form or no. Eloshian was once our language too.” He swiped the cuff off the desk.
The Dark Elf sleep hour arrived. They called it high-alpha or something and the Dark Elves receded into their homes. Humans typically slept for eight hours a day and stayed awake for sixteen, but Dark Elves slept for five hours for every ten hours of being awake. Never welcomed to any Dark Elf daw, the daw’s enforcers forced Roue to leave while they all slept. Belly aching with hunger because they didn’t share hospitalities with any other race either, he crossed the invisible border marking the limits of the daw and sat on the stone floor smoothed over time by calcified water deposits.
The two blind Dark Elf guards nearby paid him no attention.
Roue opened his bag and chewed on the dried deer meat supplied by his dusutri sponsors last week. He intermittently slept on the damp rock until the daw awakened hours later. He entered the Seeing’s hold to find fresh energy having replaced Borai’s hesitating threat.
“As you said, the Dreamer is true.” The Dark Elf handed back the wrist cuff. “Now that I have proof, I will bring your offer to the Seeing Conclave.”
“Very good. I will return to your welcoming hospitality within nine days to confirm your verdict.” Roue bowed his head in departure and turned.
From behind, Borai slammed his hand against Roue’s back.
Roue stumbled, thinking for a disorientating second Borai injured him, but pain did not follow. He turned back to the Dark Elf who had risen to his feet, his right palm glowing a brilliant, dappling blue, the same dappling blue emanating off the handprint now glowing on Roue’s back.
“No need to come back.” The Seeing grinned. “We’ll keep you here instead.”
Roue didn’t understand. Not until blind Dark Elves, summoned by the glowing hand print’s song, surged into the chamber and grabbed hold of him.
“Because if the Seeing declines the offer, we will not allow you to gather an army and fight against us for our refusal. Make use of your captivity. Talk to the Dreamer and work out how and why his plan to get Night Kindred above ground won’t fail.” His black mouth split in a grin.
Roue scowled. “You’re not nice.”
The Dark Elf captors dragged Roue out.
The underground chamber the Dark Elves held Roue captive was blacker than the inside of his boot stuffed inside a dead dragon’s bladder buried twelve feet and six and a quarter inches deep at the bottom of the ocean on a sunless planet. Except for a few spots of glowing lichen on the ceiling functioning only to orient him to how high the ceiling wasn’t. Not even his ivory skin reflected the subterranean light, so he could not track the fluctuating tones to determine how much time had past.
The vast limits of the chamber discouraged him from exploring because of the unseen pits blending into the darkness. He resorted to moving about on his hands and knees.
He had entered this chamber via a ladder Roue pretended wasn’t made of bone as he climbed, ascending through one of these pits into the chamber. The Dark Elves filled his bag with tubers and water and warned they would not give him anything else for seven days, so to make it last.
Insane with boredom, spending his dreams every night with the Dreamer in conversation detailing his plans brought his only relief, the Dreamer reminding Roue of his promise to make Roue King of Eloshonna. Lacking sunlight to tell time, Roue swore a month lapsed before a ladder clattered into one of the floor pits. He scrambled toward the sound on hands and knees and grabbed around until he touched the first rung on a ladder. He didn’t care if anyone was coming up. He was going down.
His feet touched the first rung and he scrambled down until his feet touched stone. Whether because he wasn’t free of captivity yet or the Dark Elves understood his helplessness in the dark, hands grabbed each of his arms and walked him along a black path.
Voices talked somewhere in the blackness. Water splashed. Boot scuffs on the stone and the rustle of clothing. Having adapted to living underground, Dark Elves now equaled half the population of the Kingdom by themselves. R’th regulated procreation to prevent a species from over-eating their food source, and so long as Dark Elves continued to adapt and evolve, they would never run out of food.
Living in a drier, cooler climate protected them from warm weather illnesses, and since they haven’t warred as recently as the rest of the Kingdom, they breed unhindered and outlive everyone.
His escorts walked him to the Seeing’s alcove, the gold R’th glow spilling out of the entryway blinding Roue after an undetermined period of absolute darkness. His escorts walked him inside before they let go of his arms. Roue’s eyes hurt from the glow he swore wasn’t this intense all the other times he’d been here. He covered his eyes with both hands, looking out between a sliver-sized gap between two fingers.
His escorts blocked the only exit behind him. Sweat broke over Roue’s body, a thermal sensation the Dark Elves would feel. Or hear. He wondered if the vibrations the Dark Elves heard changed depending on if he was sweating, hungry, or needing to defecate.
He didn’t know how to read this situation, but he hung on the hope that if they’d wanted him dead, they would have left him in the pit-prison to kill himself of boredom instead of bringing him here.
The Seeing stood from his stone chair. “The Seeing Conclave have agreed.”
Roue almost collapsed in relief.
“My job is to now discuss with you how you intend to move forward with the Dreamer’s goal and where Night Kindred fit into his influence.”
Not offered a seat, Roue stood, though tried imbuing himself with the air of a king he would someday be. Made more difficult with both hands covering his eyes to block the light. “To begin, Night Kindred will need to secure themselves a political hostage from the Kingdom.”
“A political hostage? What worthless—”
Roue cut him off with a raised hand, shutting the eye it covered. “You take this hostage and make the message very clear to the Kingdom that if they hurt or kill any Night Kindred, then you will kill their hostage.”
“What makes you think holding a single kindred hostage will stay the hand of nine realms?”
“Because, unlike Night Kindred, the Kingdom maintains a code. A single life to them is worth a hundred and they won’t jeopardize the hostage’s life. I know you don’t understand because you have no qualms killing your mother for blinking too much but, trust me, I lose more than you if this doesn’t work, and I want this to work. Take a hostage from the Human Realm and tell them you will kill the hostage if they harm any Night Kindred, and walk above ground unmolested to sell your knitted underwear.”
Roue uncovered his eyes, able to stand the glow without squinting so hard. “This benefits me, too, if you need extra assurance that I’m not just lifting your skirt.”
“Lift my what?”
“I will indoctrinate this hostage into the Dreamer’s belief, so when we release her back to the Human Realm, she will spread his message and do my job for me. Make the agreement good for one year: so long as they don’t harm a single Night Kindred, the hostage will live. That’s how that worky works.”
“So your fancy talk saying we’d have free rein to kill those god-whores happens when? Or were you just ‘lifting my skirt’?”
“Do reconnaissance this year. Get a lay of the land, see each realm’s strengths and weaknesses. Release the hostage after the year and sacrifice all except the humans to your goddess at that time. I’ve even made your job easier and picked out a hostage for you.” So long as the group he heard the other night in the forest camped on a regular recurrence. “If you still doubt the Kingdom will sway over a single hostage, then trust that this hostage will force them.” He paused, pressing tangible pressure into the value of his next words. “She’s the Human Torc’s daughter.”