Moving through the high branches of the forest, Wellyn sensed the dark energies of a shadow-knight close behind. He turned like a leaf in the wind, reaching across his stomach, cross-drawing his iron dagger with his right hand. The cold-iron blade was half his soul; ugly, gray, a very human blasphemy in this realm. Six-fingered, elfin, his left hand could never have drawn the blade without being burnt.
Ironic, he thought, that every weapon I use is as dangerous to me as anyone else.
Right-handed, he slashed desperately with the knife. The airborne shadow behind him shattered into two-dimensional shards, red-coal eyes hanging like stars in the air, slowly guttering out.
Coming to the end of his leap, the soles of Wellyn's feet caught a tree bole, legs splaying open to absorb impact. The tree shuddered, swaying back before tossing him the way he'd came, through the drifting ash of the two-dimensional creature he'd just killed.
Even in this form, it was lethal. Wellyn surged through the black ash, whispering a protective verse:
Cool Green gather
The malevolent ash melted to nothing. That's an attack? Wellyn's laugh was a soft wind in the leaves. His thought was light: I've had more damage done to me in the human world just drinking the water.
He landed atop a branch, and surveyed the foliage. One shadow-knight was gone, but others were trailing him. There, a rush of midnight, a cloaked body leaping from one branch to another. And there, others, Dar'kend elves, lost to the Shadow. Their weapons were jet-black, sharp-edged crystal knives that could cut or blast with cold black fire. Wellyn knew they'd hold back on the fire: as the last Gate-Master of the Sidhe, they needed him alive and more or less intact.
Grasping his silver-chained medallion, Wellyn cleared his heart of anger and outrage at being hunted. Strong emotion tended to weaken Elvin magic. He drew on the Cool Green, chanting softly:
A shadowed one appeared behind him, slashing with its jet knife. Agony tore through his back. Pain was a red mist obscuring thought. A harsh gasp escaped his lips as he tumbled earthward, flopping around jutting branches. Wellyn released his amulet and gestured urgently with his six-fingered hand.
A clash, a burst of pale green fire with a silver core. The light framed his body, slowing his fall to a gentle drift. Can't waste too much time with these creatures, he thought. The sky is almost in position above the standing stones.
He came to rest leaning against a monstrous oak, standing in a hollow formed by two massive roots. He sensed the earth-magic in soil, grass, wood, and pollen-heavy wind. He sang:
Cold moon fire, bright as life
Their spirits touched; elemental fire danced up from the earth and down from the sky. Ball lightning floated in the braches like carnival lanterns. The rest of the Dar'kend exploded with the dissonance of screaming crystal.
The tree limbs turned soft, pliant. They reached for the elf as a mother reaches for her child. The limbs were gentle, brushing his face, teasing his hair, tugging playfully at his pocketstrying to drain his inner pain. Wellyn sighed.
"It has been a long time for you, old friend since any of the Sidhe have passed this way. I wish I could stay, but another world calls me. Farewell."
He ran with a song of power on his lips to lighten his steps. A gust of wind whirled out of the sky, taking most of his weight off his feet. He scarcely disturbed the earth in passing. His pain was gone, his torn flesh healed.
Soon, he burst from cover into the sacred lea, into high grass. He headed for a cloister of standing stones, tall, pale, and silent in their contemplation while the silverwhite disk of the moon glared from a blue-velvet sky dusted with stars.
Near the stones, he stopped and spun about, hearing a hiss of hatred. A red-eyed shadow slashed at him, drawing fresh blood. The shadow's utter blackness defeated his depth perception in the twilight. He gasped, snarling, baring his teeth in a bestial display of fury, ignoring the pain. He slashed with cold iron. The enemy dodged its lethal kiss. They circled each other.
Time passed full of snarled curses and labored breathing, desperate lunges, blind parries, and thundering hearts. He dropped his iron blade to confuse his enemy and lure him in. His human hand covered his side wound. Blood, thick and warm, stained his palm. The shadow lunged in. Wellyn evaded the black knife point, dragging his damp palm across the shadow-shape, leaving a crimson smear behind. The shadow-knight smoked and bubbled. Its surface cracked and fell apart. It shuddered, thinning away with a crystalline scream.
The iron element of his human blood was poison even to the fallen ones. He turned to the stones again. One final shadow stood between him and his goal. This one wore black armor and carried a lance. Wellyn put bloody hand to hand as if holding the hilt of an unseen sword. A white-gold star appeared in his hands. Its far point lengthened. He held a blade of moonlight pointed at the sky. His head fell forward under a shroud of sudden exhaustion. A long strand of russet hair fell across his pale face.
His face came up, a fierce light in his eyes. They reflected the brilliance of his sword as it became the heart of a light-storm. Great jags of power arced outward, blasting the turf at the feet of the shadow-knight, tossing a spray of rock and grassy sod everywhere as thunder rolled across the lea. Fire lapped the shadow-knight, pulling him fully into the world. As he died, he regained the third dimension once surrendered. His shadow body blackened and burst. Chunks of flesh and entrails sailed far away.
Wellyn was drained by his use of the moon-blade, but he hadn't had any other choice. He hoped there was enough power left to open the gate. She didn't understand, but he had to go as far as possible. In his mind, he saw once more the image of his childhood playmate, now grown into a beautiful maiden. His heart calmed, filling with the worst pain of alllove.
"Oleandra ... Forgive my cowardice and forget my promises. We were never meant to be."
"Why do you say that?"
He spun around. Oleandra stepped from the concealment of a stone. She was more beautiful then he'd remembered. His eyes closed so the sight of her wouldn't weaken him. His face was set and hard as he turned it away.
"There is no place for a half-breed in your world. Return to Avalon and let me go. It has to be this way."
"No." Her voice was something sweet and vibrant from the heart of a dream. "Wherever you go, I will follow. Please, you must take me with you. We can start a new life together, far from the poisoned whispers of court."
His head warred with his heart, and in the end he could deny her nothing. He opened his arms and she rushed to fill them. Her touch thawed his heart and made it sing.
"Come then," he said. We should go before any more shadows arrive."
They passed the outer ring of stones. Wellyn felt a tingle. The small hairs stood up along his exposed skin. He could almost smell the mystic spoor of this place. Wellyn stopped with his bride near the king-stone, and spoke words as old as time itself:
Wheels of timestars of chance
Wellyn sheathed the moon-sword in the king-stone, and a hurricane of light formed inside the ring. He left his world, his life, his place as a prince of the Sidhe as two worlds overlapped.
It was still night. A bright, light silvered the world. Wellyn found himself in another kind of ring, this one formed by lesser oaks around one much older and thicker. It must have rooted here a thousand years beforewherever here was. The grass underfoot was winter-pale.
That was something he'd have to get used to. The land of the Sidhe knew only one season, endless summer. Her forests had never known the colors of fall, the dying of a leaf. Natural death was something else he'd have to adjust to. Now that he was in the human world again, he'd start aging, though much more slowly than full-blooded humans. Here, his wounds could kill him.
In his arms, Oleandra stired, pushing free. She stared around with a predatory glare.
"At last!" Her voice distorted, deepening. "A new world. Fresh prey."
"What?" Confusion filled his thoughts. It gave way to a sick realazation. "You're not Oleandra! Who are you?"
She turned back to him and her face melted away like wax in a furnace. Nothingness lay underneath. Her form became a living shadow with red eyes. Great ribbed wings sprouted from her back.
"We must thank you for our new feasting, Gate-Master. You have done the Dar'kend a great service."
The creature sprang skyward, flapping into the human sky. Shrill, wicked laughter pealed in its wake, clawing at Wellyn's dreams. He damned himself for a witless fool in not seeing through the mystic glamour.
"I saw what I wanted to," he confessed. "And now this earth will pay the price. No! I must stop the shadow from spawning here, whatever it takes. I must set things right again."
He went to the great oak and reached his hand into its trunk. His elfin hand emerged with the moon-sword he'd set in the king-stone. Its corruscating light suffused his form with energy as he charged out of the oak ring, across a lawn, and onto a road as night closed in.
Bolting from an alley, beams of light caught him. He froze in wonder. A big wheeled box of metal and glass hit him, lifting him into the air. He hit the pavement hard. His sword ghosted away to nothing as his life bled away.
A frantic woman leaned over him, sobbing. He heard her voice, as if from across an abyss. "He came out of nowhere. I didn't see. I couldn't stop in time."
He warned her. It was all he could do.
"The darkness ... the darkness ... don't let it ...."
Then he was gone, his spirit whirling across the final night.
The Harrow: Original Works of Fantasy and Horror. ISSN: 1528-4271
The Harrow is published by THE HARROW PRESSSM