The elven empire has a long tradition of supremacy and culture, three major cities have stood for thousands of years as bastions of knowledge. But now, that means nothing. The golden age is over and our legacy is merely a shadow cast over an oppressed people.
My name is Jarod. Ten sentinels, four elders, ten and three civilians including myself, and four children make up what once was a band of hundreds strong. We have set up camp in the forests southeast of our home, the once great city of Tagriss.
Now, Tagriss is a glorified sty. Occupied by the waves of orcish invaders that brought my people to this sorry state. Though I hold little contempt for the situation itself, as I am not one of those elves you hear of in the tales. I am a servant, a dredge whose only purpose is to attend to the beck and call of my betters.
I carry a heavy tub filled with ‘clean’ clothing. At my side, a lordling three decades my senior, he had been tasked to scrub the clothes I carry. I find satisfaction in the elders judgement that all shall contribute. My contributions typically involve heavy lifting, where I lack finesse I make up with raw strength.
I stand taller than most of my brethren with broad shoulders and a brutish countenance. I am three and fifty years old, still a child by elvish standards. When the cities were still in elven control, my sand colored hair and common brown eyes advertised my lowborn blood quite well. Now that my strong back is useful, I am a valued member of society. Only the sentinels eclipse me in usefulness and I have no desire to take up a pike and longsword.
My people’s greatest boon has now turned to a crippling weakness. Our ingenuity reflects a reliance on magical relics that has made us weak. Our longevity now leaves us a people slow to grow to maturity and does nothing to save us from the axes of orcish invaders. Our knowledge does little when our ‘library’ is a doddering Elder that regurgitates the days of glory.
Our home camp is a gathering of tents, three weeks have passed since the last attack, and some of us have fallen to the delusion it may be safe here, but I know better.
This is the end of our people.
I don’t need to be a sentinel to know it. The attacks cull us more and more and eventually we won’t be able to fight back. I hear whispers that the Human Kings, when they aren’t waging war on each other, have offered to help in exchange for footholds in the great cities. Many feel this is simply changing the color of our captors’ skin. The Dwarves remain recluse, content to stay neutral regarding the matters of the surface. To be fair, human nor elf raised a finger to aid when the creatures of the deep poured into their mines.
“Is he sleeping?” Lord Helos says, breaking my thoughts. He raises a spindly arm towards the first of a ring of sentinels. The sentinel, Fabis I think, leans on his pike with decided lethargy. the lordling is content to mouth off at him. “I work my fingers to the bone scrubbing clothes and he has the nerve to sleep at his post?”
I roll my eyes at that. Lord Helos made the adjustment to humility better than most, but if I had worked as slow as I would have earned lashes.
The lordling approached the sentinel in an appalled fit and drew closer, looking up into his helmet and waving a hand in front of his face. A chill of discomfort creeps through my spine and my fingers curl around the barrel of clothing.
Lord Helos stumbles backwards landing on his buttocks and lets out a cry of alarm. He aims a shaking finger and the Sentinel’s pike falls away and a guttural growl comes from him. He lurches closer with an unnatural shuffle while a faint stench of death hangs in the air. The Sentinel turns his head back, letting out a louder growl, tendrils of spittle fall from his pale lips and his eyes have turned vacant.
“He’s dead…?” I say, the barrel slips from my fingers and clatters on the ground. But he’s walking…?
The sentinel fell forward atop Helos, ripping through his silk shirt with gnashing teeth, sending gouts of blood to the forest floor. I hurry over to them and pull the risen sentinel from Helos. With all my strength, it took every ounce to throw to its back. I hurried over to the pike and tighten my hands around it. Instinct alone put me in front of the lordling, but now that I stand before the beast my mind falls blank.
The roar of the sentinel sobers me, I turn the pike forward, and thrust. My foe ignores the wound and reaches towards me with insatiable hunger and bloodlust. I glance about, two sentinels within eyesight and neither comes to my aid. My voice fades in my throat, but my arms… I have trusted those for so long. They do not fail me. I tense my hands around the pike, lift and toss the Sentinel over my head and behind me. The creature lands head first, shattering his neck.
A moment of exhilaration is fades with Helos’ struggling body on the ground. He claws at his chest gasping and pawing uselessly at the lifeblood spilling from his stomach. No amount of strength could save Helos, perhaps the Elder’s healing arts could spare him.
“I’ll find help.” I say, shoving back the panic. Helos gives a shaky nod, bringing me comfort he has a chance. I glance over to the other sentinels, both are still as trees and watch me run towards the camp’s center.
Why aren’t they helping…? And if the same happened to them, wouldn’t they attack just the same?
My arrival to the camp center was greeted with the solemn faces of my community. Their eyes turn to me, specifically the bloody pike in my hand. Mila Greenleaf scooped up her six year old son, Ferris and shielded his eyes. Jojan Yeldis narrowed his eyes in an accusing glare. Little Yisil, an orphan girl we found while moving through the wood hid behind Roglan Reed, one of the camp elders, who took a pull from his pipe in an assessment.
“This… I… Lord Helos needs help.” I say, struggling to ignore the glares. “He was attacked.”
“Attacked?” Roglan raises a brow. “By what?”
“It was…” I lick my lips, doubting my own memories. I notice the spear in my hand for the first time, covered in the blood of the risen Sentinel. “…Fabis. He attacked Lord Helos, he bit him.”
“Is he alright?” Miss Greentree says, eyeing me with caution.
“No. He’s dead. Or I think he is.” I lick my lips again, choosing my words carefully. “He acted starange and–”
“Disregard that nonsense.” The gravelly voice of Captain Piette shatters my thoughts. “Sentinel Vikkers and Sentinel Wedigle saw the whole thing. Jarod Black stabbed Lord Helos in a fit of rage then killed Fabis in cold blood.”
“What?” I turn to see two pikes and a long-sword pointed at me.” I discard the pike and hold my hands up. “There is some sort of mistake. We came from the stream and we thought Fabis was asleep.”
“I always knew you were a bad egg.” Jojan Yeldis shook his head. “Just like when I lost my wife. You did nothing to save her, but this!”
A twinge of anger shot through me. Miraa Yeldis was dead and gone when I entered the house, Jojan knew that. But the older elf never accepted her death to the point of blaming me. My disdain showed on my face, turning my brow to a stern glare back at him. Vikkers and Wedigle seem in a veil of confusion, hesitance plain on their face.
“Please. Tell them the truth,” I say, “You saw Fabis attack me… and…”
“I saw you stab him,” Vikkers says, his eyes narrowing in strain. “You picked him up and tossed him head over foot. He landed and broke his neck… because of you.”
“I–” The words freeze in my throat. That much was true. “But Lord Helos, he died by his hand not mine.”
“You hear this? This Bargaining,” Piette says with a darkening frown. He shakes his longsword indignantly. “First he claims he murdered no one, now this.”
“Except there is one important part we overlook.” A woman pushed through the crowds, Elder Toosa Ref, the lady elder of the village, followed close on her heels is Selina Whispergill. “Did you simply choose to overlook that?”
Piette twisted his face into a scowl.
“From what I have heard, Sentinel Vikkers and Sentinel Wedigle, the witnesses… have yet to confirm who killed Lord Helos Lucier.” Elder Ref settled her hands at her waist.
Elder Ref was a paragon of justice and the main reason any of us are alive. However, she is devout to the Sun Goddess and celibate, much to the chagrin of hundreds of suitors. Even beyond those whose loins she has set ablaze in her three hundred years of life, many simply longed for a child raised under her tutelage to bring the elves back to power. She honors her vow to take no thrones or titles very seriously.
Our High Elder like the rest of is untouched by age, long hair spun like strands of silver that settled to the middle of her back. The regality she earned from her years serves as her true beauty, the strength of command in her voice matches her towering stature. There were not many women that saw eye to eye with me, and I always felt the need to lower mine before her.
Selina, by contrast was a young woman likely around my age. I can’t be sure, because she isn’t one of us. We found her wandering about the forests, on her own. It had been a choice from a unanimous decision of the four elders.
“So. Tell me, in your words. Who killed Sentinel Fabis?”
All eyes turn from me to the two sentinels, holding pikes at me threateningly.
“I didn’t see it.” Wedigle says, turning his eyes aside. “Everything went black and I couldn’t move. When I regained my sense, I saw Fabis being impaled, tossed and falling still. But even then, I couldn’t move. It wasn’t until Jarod fled that I…”
“You fled?” Elder Ref turned her silver eyes to me.
“I didn’t run. I went to get help. Lord Helos is… was… still alive.”
“And why didn’t you disregard the accusation and focus on the point of a life in danger. Out of the way.” She pushes past me with Elder Reed close behind. The others hesitate, unwilling to leave the safety of the village. I follow close, pushing aside the spears pointed at me.
True to the word of the the head Sentinel, Lord Helos lie dead. Blood pools under his motionless body. the front of his clothing lie torn from the Sentinel’s bite. Elder Ref knelt next to his body, his empty gaze stared into the trees above them.
“Thesan, Goddess of Dawn, guide this one to a new beginning.” Toosa Ref closed her eyes and held her hands aloft. “Bring Lord Lucier kindness he cannot find in life. Show us justice. Show us who has taken this soul to your arms so they may be judged.”
Toosa Ref raised her arms to the sky pleadingly the Sun Goddess answered her prayers. Lord Helos sat up, turned and sunk his teeth into her bare neck. Piette raises his blade to strike, stricken by duty and confusion, but Sentinel Wedigle interferes and tosses him to the ground. Bewildered, and stunned by the blood running down the side of the High Elder’s neck I freeze. Elder Reed has already taken to running and Vikker’s holds his head in anguish.
Selina takes Wedigle’s pike, rounds and without a second thought wedges the pike’s head under his helmet and drives it into his softened flesh. In what seems like a single motion she executes Vikker with a clean stab from chin to helmet, turns and dispatches Wedigle with deadly accuracy. In an afterthought, she pushes him away from Piette in a calm gesture.
The Sentinel Captain stares up at Selina with eyes wide with horror. She twists the pike, plants it at her side and speaks, calm and steady. “If you want to save Elder Ref. Get yourself together and find where Reed ran off to.”
The Sentinel captain stood, nodding silently. Blood of his subordinate coats his face and helmet. He runs off obedient as a trained pup.
I can only stare. In all my strength, I could have never done anything like that. Selina hands me the pike, scolding me with a single glance and sees to Elder Ref, blood stains her robes and her eyes begin to dim.
“How much time does she have?” I say, finally able to speak.
“None.” Selina raised a hand to Elder Ref’s face and closes her eyes. “She knew, somehow she knew she was going to die. I offered to help her but she insisted this is what had to happen.”
My heart sank, Elder Toosa Ref’s death might as well have been the Sun itself going out… and now I see set with my own eyes. Somehow, I couldn’t find anger amidst the tragedy, nor sadness.
“We need to go.” Salina laid Elder Ref’s body on the soil.
“Where? Shouldn’t we help the rest?” I say.
“No. You’d only be blamed…” Selina knelt and took Vikker’s longsword from his hilt. With a thought, it ignites with blue flame. “…and all we can take now, is revenge.”