By Carl R Cascone
Melancholy Engagement is the property of the author, Carl R Cascone and is used with permission by Candlekeep. Email Carl with any comments and feedback on this story.
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I've been hiding from the elves for at least an hour now. It seems their panic has quelled somewhat, but no doubt they are nearby, watching for me. I am not in my normal garb this night. Tonight the facade of the burned gold elf Rizzen is shed, and I do not hide my birth. Tonight I am Rizzen as he was born, a dark elf, that race which inspires fear in all who live by the rays of the sun, and the sworn enemy of the surface elves. I have left my mask behind, for though it is what keeps my nature a secret, it has become the dark, featureless, face of Rizzen, the infamous outlaw. The task I must do this night shall not be done in a mask; I will show my ebony skin and white locks, and suffer any consequences my image may inflict.
I have travelled far to this sacred elven grove, but I do not come here to worship. I come here to ask forgiveness, and give a gift of apology to a missed and lost love.
I have brought the Lady Sapphire with me, a beautiful sapphire I had carved into the image of a beautiful maiden, and soon this reminder will be lost too. I open my pouch to ensure the Lady Sapphire is still there. It is. This treasure will be spent better than all the riches I have.
I leave the temporary sanctuary of my hiding place beneath the root of a magnificent oak. The howls of cooshees fill the air; the elves are sparing no pains to purge me from their grove.
My skills of silence and blending are masterful, but it is hard to hide from the keen, nature-tuned, senses of the surface elves, for the very trees speak with them and betray my presence. But though I do not share their blood directly, my kin are rooted to theirs, and my abilities are as formidable, but they are tuned to the night, and the dark. Though the trees and the wood are my enemies, the night is my ally, and my weapon. As long as there is darkness, I will prevail.
The sound of bowstrings retracting and arrows cleaving through the air, fire my reflexes like a mangonel. Before I understand the peril, my body dodges three arrows as if they were stones thrown by a child. Ready for battle, I look into the trees, to where the arrows came from.
Three elves are perched up there, notching their arrows for another volley. Their pointed features, twist in hatred at the sight of me, a dark elf, the vicious, evil, enemy of the high elves. I can expect no parley, for they will not listen. In the case of a dark elf, the good and noble high elves shoot first, and bury later; they have not yet learned that black skin, does not mean a black soul.
Another volley of arrows hungers for my flesh, but I tumble out of their path with ease. I had hoped to enter this grove undetected, for I do not relish shedding the blood of elves in their own sacred grove, but they leave me no choice, and so, I retaliate. I load my tiny crossbow faster than the tree-friends can blink, and fire at one of the arrogant archers. The dart finds its mark in the nearest elves shoulder, and pumps him full of powerful sleep venom.
Within seconds, I hear the thud of my first victim fall to the embrace of the earth, where he will lie for hours sleeping. If the fall did not kill him.
The other two elves drop from the trees and land in front of me, the moonlight reflecting off their swords light the enclave like a bonfire for me. The fools, they should have stayed in the trees. The two guardians attack together, organizing their attacks with near perfect harmony. But they are in darkness, and that is my realm. I tumble below the blades' reach, and kick out a foot tripping the less graceful of the two. "I mean none of you harm yet. Leave while I still let you," I say while drawing a sword and sleepvenomed dagger to accentuate my point.
"You defile this place by breathing its air cave-dweller!" the tripped elf yells as he regains himself and lunges for a second attack. I hurl the glistening dagger at the arrogant elf, and before he can complete the arc of his swing, he falls to the ground in a slumber.
"Now it is just you and me," I say to the remaining elf, a woman I realize. "Run."
"Never. I will send you to the spider-queen myself," her beautiful pointed features twist in rage as she speaks.
Admirable, she does not attack like her friend. She is waiting for me to make the move. Very well, I shall. Acting on her hesitation I tumble backward into the darkness, and watch as panic twists her angry features further. I've seen this look on the face of many opponents. Itís the expression they make when they loose me in the dark, but realize I am still with them. The girl looks around her, not knowing where to anticipate my attack. I circle her while she is still blinded to my presence. I get to where her back is facing me, such a wide and open target; I should kill her for the delay she caused me. There is no reason; perhaps she would be missed by a sullen lover as well. I load another dart and let it fly. It bites the beautiful girl in the back of the neck, and within seconds she drops to the loam, sleeping.
I travel deeper into the grove, and after minutes of careful, silent travel, I stop dead when I see a patrol of four elves in the copse ahead, actively searching for me. I carefully step over the ground, avoiding all sticks and twigs and making no sound. Then one of the elves looks directly at me, probably the one with the keenest hearing, and I stop again, bending my body to blend with the shadows from the moonlight. The elf moves closer, and I grab the hilt of my blades, preparing to leap in a breeze of sharp death. He stares in my direction for more than a moment. This is it, he's going to order the others to attack.
He turns around instead, and walks towards the other elves. They are more foolish than I thought if they think I will succumb to arrows so easily. To my relief, they move on, and their lives are spared.
I reach the heart of the grove, and I can hear my pulse pounding my ears like a drum. My quest is nearly complete. I move farther, into the sacred heart and see all my hopes of a bloodless night float to the wind. Did I really believe I could walk into their sacred grove and not spill the blood of its guardians? Now I am the fool.
The heart of the grove, the very place I must bring the Lady Sapphire is guarded by two bladesingers, the most formidable of surface-elf warriors. Bladesinging is the ultimate elven fighting art, where the graceful warrior dances with his blade as if they were one, and fights to the harmonious sound his blade makes in the air, leading him to musical and deadly steps. The elves see me, there will be no stealth used here. It appears I will indeed be drawing blood tonight.
The warriors begin their dance; their blades follow a beautiful yet macabre partnership. The blades of the singers cleave through the air, the gentle voice of the swordsmen mixing with the music of the blade creates a harmonius song beautiful to all ears. Neither loses a step, and neither misses a note. With my two swords drawn, I tumble into a forward roll and double thrust at their legs. The bladesingers step over my swords with ease, and commence their harmonious swordplay. I parry the first thrusts of the bladesingers, and my counter-attacks are also parried with musical precision. Then I feel pain in my arm, as one of them rhythmically slashes me with their blood-instrument.
I can feel a slight pressure in my eyes, as the anger changes my clear purple eyes, to crimson; now they will die. I join my wrists together and activate the power in my bracers. My hands glow with a ghostly green light, and I attack like a whirlwind of death. The bladesingers cannot see where my attacks come from, indeed I am sure they only feel them. Then the beautiful notes of the bladesingers cease, and when the spell is done, there is naught but the remains of two graceful figures lying at my feet.
When my breath calms, I walk to an old, sacred oak in the center of the grove. I look at it and wait. Not even a battle can stir my heart to pound as hard as it does now. I see a slight shimmering in the air, and my heart skips a beat. The shimmering begins to take form, and after a long moment, I see an enthralling elf maiden, a spirit now, with hair of gold, and eyes such a deep green that emeralds become envious. The figure moves towards me, her form seeming to glide upon the ground with enchanting steps. When I see her step into the moonlight, her alabaster skin becomes radiant with spell binding energy. My purple eyes turn deep blue and fill with tears, as I remember those treasured moments I had, together with my long missed beauty. Before she reaches me I drop to one knee and bow my head to my missed love, the love I let die.
"Arise Rizzen," the spirit of my love beacons me with a voice finer than the notes of a thousand harpists.
"I shall not my lady," I reply and bow my head deeper, so that my white locks lay upon the ground.
"You are wounded!" she says, sounding alarmed.
"My lady, there is only one wound that has ever hurt me," and I raise my eyes up to hers', with tears running down my face, releasing the anguish of many years.
"Why are you so sad my love? You see me now. It has been many years since we parted."
"The years cannot purge me of my failures."
"The fault was mine alone, I made my choice. There was no protection you could have given me from my fate."
I bow silent, gazing at her like one spell-bound. I withdraw the Lady Sapphire from my pouch.
"This is my gift to you, my lady," and I hold the figurine out to the apparition of my love.
"Rizzen! It looks exactly like me."
"Only fitting that a jewel should carry your image."
"Thank you," she said and giggled with glee. She reaches out to accept the gift, and I place it in her hand, where it erupts into musical stardust and moonbeams. She giggles again, then she becomes sad. "My love, I am afraid I am bid to leave this world forever now, Arvandor calls."
"I know," my heart melts with the words.
"Rizzen do not burden yourself with this guilt, you could not have prevented my choice. Never did I feel safer than when I was held in your arms. Farewell my love, you are free; enjoy all the beauty nature will bring," she said, and her hands reached down to bid me rise, as I embrace her one last time.
"Farewell my love," she said, and the last thing I see of her is a radiant smile that breaks up into speckles of light and glitter as she fades away in my arms.
I stared at my empty arms for an eternity. I shall never forgive myself for allowing her to die. My guilt for her death is the reason I hate to live, but the memory of my dear Narciss, is the reason I refuse to die.
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