Never To Live Prologue
How Easy To Fall
Demon blood stained him. Bledrin ripped off his outer robe, dropping it to the sand behind him. Ryuo landed, quickly leaping to elven form and dropping his own robe. Bledrin did not wait, his long strides taking him toward the only visible blot of life in this sun-scorched land.
The elven village spread across the rolling sands, top lines of the shelters breaking the flat horizon. Bledrin saw no movement to tell of life from within, most of them would be hidden away from the sun at this time of day, but all around the massive clan’s village he could see animals shifting, searching for graze. They were mostly camels and goats, with a few horses lingering nearer to the encampment.
Ryuo caught up, moving to walk slightly ahead. Bledrin glanced at him. “Your tunic.” The blood had soaked through Ryuo’s outer robe, tainting his under layer. Bledrin checked his own attire to assure he was not likewise marred.
Ryuo tore off his long shirt and headdress, dropping them without a second look. “Thank you.”
“We created a mess,” Bledrin said, noticing a spot on his own headdress and flinging it to the ground. “If someone came into contact with demon blood because of us, our reputation would become more unstable.”
He could feel the heat of the sand come through the wrappings of his shoes, and his head burned from the touch of the sun. Bledrin quickened his pace, watching the village and herds of animals growing larger.
Ryuo nodded, saying, “It is a little difficult to dispose of them in a clean fashion, what with the—”
The goats surrounded them, bumping their heads against their legs. Ryuo slowed to scratch their foreheads and backs, while Bledrin pushed his way through. The animals quickly made way for him, closing together at Bledrin’s heels and following him contentedly. Ryuo waived a hand at the animals and they began filtering away, returning to the sparse sands.
Bledrin saw an elf at the edge of the camp wave his arm at them and turn, dashing through the tents to announce their arrival. A few elves filtered out of their homes, mostly the older males and a few children.
Bledrin and Ryuo crossed the invisible line between the desert and the camp, and the children instantly came to them—or to Ryuo, rather. Bledrin faced the Elder of this tribe, not paying much attention to the younglings.
“You were to come this morning,” the old elf said, “Today, not tomorrow, is our clan’s turn to move.”
Bledrin guessed by the dry skins stacked by one of the tents that their water supply was nearly gone. It would be difficult to deal with thirsty elves. The older females were glaring at them from inside their hide tents, and the males who had come to greet them were fingering the daggers tucked in their sashes.
“The loxasta sent word of a demon,” Ryuo said, leaving the children, “that was between your tribe and the one we left. We took care of it on the way. But as members of the levki, we apologize for making your clan wait.”
The elder looked disturbed at the news of a demon, making Bledrin want to scoff at his cowardice. Demons were not horrid enough to be so afraid of. “It was not near here,” Bledrin said, not wanting to have to move a panicked tribe of elves.
One of them handed Ryuo several folded garments, stepping away from them once he did. Of these, Ryuo kept a long tunic, an outer robe, a sash, and a head cloth, handing the rest to Bledrin. “Our thanks,” Ryuo said.
Bledrin threw his new robe over his head, slipping into it with ease, glad to have the extra layer to ward off the sun. He quickly wrapped the headdress about his neck and head, letting a fold fall from cheeks and nose, leaving them exposed.
“Have my clan moving before night comes,” the elder said, nodding to them and leaving.
The children were sent away by the adults, and Bledrin knew the questions would begin. The questions did come, and Bledrin left Ryuo to reply. Bledrin searched for the tent that would be set up for them, wanting to rest a moment before facing the ordeal of taking a tribe across the wild, unprotected sands.
All the shelters were set up close to one another, forming little streets between them, the entire clan encampment stretching for about a mile before the tents ended and the animals roamed. Bledrin passed through them quickly, searching for the one that would have two or three yards between it and the surrounding shelters. He found it and returned to Ryuo.
“No,” Ryuo was saying, “that dwarven clan agreed to give their place to you. There have been too many demon sightings near your previous slot. We are moving you north east, instead of south. With your permission, of course.”
“Why are demons appearing only near us?” an elf asked, shoulders set. “You are supposed to keep them out of our world.”
Bledrin finished securing his daggers and other weapons given to him by the loxasta about his sash. He went to Ryuo and pulled the folded robe from his hands, throwing it into his chest and turning to the nameless elf. “They do not appear around you only, and they are on level near that of the loxasta.” He glanced at the elves around them. “Those that we cannot keep out, we will hunt down. Leave us to our work, and take down your tents.”
“And,” Ryuo said, now fully clothed, “Bledrin and I are elves, not loxasta. We can only do so much.”
None of them replied right away. They nodded eventually, but Bledrin noticed their looks. They did not know how to respond to Ryuo calling them elves. They were unable to deny it but unsure if it was actually true.
Bledrin started walking, leading Ryuo to their tent.
“I thought the griffin-elf was taking our tribe this turn around,” someone said as they passed.
“One of the other elven clans was faced with an urgent matter,” Ryuo said. Bledrin heard them all following him at a slower pace. “The griffin bound were the nearest levki elves to that tribe at the time, so they went there. Now you are with us.”
Bledrin arrived at the empty tent. Inside was a woven blanket covering the sand, a clay pot filled with water, and a plate with flat bread. Bledrin felt himself grin and he ducked inside. They had prepared thinking the griffin-elves were coming.
“I see,” the same elf said. “You two are usually assigned to the wild?”
Bledrin sat down, grabbing a triangle of bread and tossing another to Ryuo, who remained standing in front of the tent.
He nodded his thanks, turning back to the elves now gathered in front of the tent. “No, we—”
He was interrupted by an elf loping up to their small gathering.
“A letter,” he said, passing a clay tablet to Ryuo. “It appeared just now.”
Bledrin left the shade of the tent to stand by Ryuo. The elves did not leave them, instead waiting for them to read the contents of the letter. Ryuo rapped his knuckles on the clay and the cover split, crumbling through his fingers. Bledrin read the writing on the second, smaller tablet concealed within.
“Is it from the loxasta?” the elf who brought it said.
“No,” Ryuo said, breaking it, too, and letting the pieces fall, kicking them deep into the sand. Bledrin shared a look with him, wondering why there were so many demons making it through their barriers in the past weeks. “Have your clan prepared to make the walk when we return. A demon was seen coming toward your tribe.”
“A single demon,” Bledrin said, already beginning to walk, “is nothing to worry over.”
“We are of the levki,” Ryuo added. “We know how to fight demons. It will not take us long. Be packed and see if you have more spare garments, we may be in need of them upon our return.”
“Better the clothes than our skin,” Bledrin said, jogging out of the camp with Ryuo. He did not answer, but Bledrin knew he agreed.
When they were a safe distance from the tents, they both sprinted, flinging themselves into the air. Bledrin felt his core warm, and the horizon glared out for a moment in the white light erupting from him, and the dark green light coming from Ryuo. For a moment, they did not exist, blinking out of the world. When they blinked back, they were no longer elves.
Soon, Bledrin saw a man striding across the sand below. He was even nearer to the camp than they’d been told. The demon tilted his head up, seeing them in the sky, and stopped.
“It is your turn,” Ryuo said, preparing to dive. “Try and keep your clothes cleaner than I did.”
Bledrin dashed after him, keeping watch on the demon and leaping back to elven form. Ryuo landed first, staying in his beastly body and instantly snapping his jaws down toward the demon. Bledrin ran across the sand, his feet making little sound among the noise Ryuo created, easily staying hidden behind his massive bulk.
The demon turned, avoiding Ryuo’s driving attack, his back now to Bledrin. Bledrin pulled from his sash the strange device the loxasta had given, darting closer. Ryuo kept the demon’s back to Bledrin in their constant, strange dance of demon and beast. Bledrin slid up to the demon, wondering if he was somehow already injured, since he was not fighting very hard.
Bledrin latched onto the demon’s back, one arm wrapped around his neck, the other driving the sharp end of the tool into his forehead. The demon fell to one knee, and Bledrin kept his arms locked around him, keeping the rod in his head. He struggled, sharp fingernails digging into Bledrin’s arm.
“You were quick,” Ryuo said, leaping back to elven in front of them, patting dust out of his clothes.
Bledrin jerked the device from the demon’s head and stood, letting him jerk on the sand. “He was not very fierce,” Bledrin said, unwinding his bloodied headdress and letting it fall onto the glaring demon whose hand was covering his forehead.
“The last few have not been,” Ryuo said, squatting a few feet from the creature. “They must be lower demons.”
“But how could they make it through the barriers?” Bledrin said.
The demon moved his hand away from his head, and Bledrin saw the wound was already healed. The implant would still be inside him for a time, keeping him weak, but it would dissolve quickly. The demon sat up slowly, and Bledrin took a step back, not wanting to get his robe dirtied, as well.
“Our blood is repulsive to you?” the demon said, not moving farther. “It is not much darker than yours.” He looked at them, seeming to be waiting for something.
Bledrin chose not to respond, knowing the demon spoke true, at least literally. Ryuo stood, lifting his chin to gesture behind Bledrin. Bledrin turned and saw a griffin coming toward them in the sky.
It landed and trotted over the sand, but stayed a fair distance away. “There are five demons racing toward the clan we are moving,” the griffin said, his elven voice sounding strange coming off a beak and a bird tongue. His clawed feet carried him closer before he quickly backed away, only to repeat the movement again.
Bledrin found himself glad he was not one of the soul bound. He thought their minds might be more difficult to handle than his and Ryuo’s. The griffin blinked at them, stopped his shuffling, and sat down, looking oddly un-animalistic.
He glanced at the demon sitting between Bledrin and Ryuo and stood again. “We need one of you,” he said. “One of the five demons is Roinea Backhmed.”
Ryuo hissed, striding past the demon. “Ask this demon quickly, Bledrin” he said, “then finish him and follow us. The tribe will have to thirst and wait ’til morning.”
The griffin took off, not waiting for Ryuo to join him, dodging through the sky and fading from their sight. Bledrin tossed the bloody tool to Ryuo, who snatched it from the air and tucked it into his sash, grunting at the stain it quickly made on it.
“We are getting no rest today,” Bledrin said, a little disgruntled.
“At least this explains the number of lesser demons we have come across,” Ryuo said. “Roinea is letting them through.” His tone lightened. “If we hurry we may be able to play a game of Gremteh tonight. If you still have the tiles we made for it, that is.” Ryuo began to run.
Bledrin nodded to himself, pleased at the thought, and circled the demon at his feet. A wave of air pounded overhead, and Bledrin knew Ryuo was gone. He stopped in front of the demon and pulled out a dagger, laying a hand over its blade. “Who taught you to pass our barriers?”
“The loxastas’ blood does not run red,” the demon said, not looking at him.
Bledrin began humming, and his stone blade went from grey to white. This demon was not going to answer anything he asked. They never did.
“Demons and the loxasta came from the same world,” the demon said.
Bledrin stepped forward, holding the knife away from his robe. It gleamed in the sunlight, reflecting into his eyes. He blinked it away, pulling the knife back to plunge it through the skin covering the demon’s throat.
“They don’t like you,” the demon said. Bledrin’s blade halted, and he felt his eyes narrow. “Because of your second form, they don’t trust you. You see it in their eyes, in the way they move.”
“You must be unhappy, being the least needed member of the levki. Even Ryuo is higher than you.”
Bledrin dropped to the demon’s level, setting the tip of his knife in the base of his neck, preparing to thrust it through his windpipe. It would take more than that to kill a demon, even with this blade, but it was a good way to begin.
“Ryuo is the only one who ever stood at your side,” the demon said, “and he too will leave. What will you do when you are left alone?”
Bledrin pricked the demon’s skin, and heard his blood crackle from the touch of white stone. The demon’s skin crawled under Bledrin’s hand, and a look of pain danced under his calm features.
“It will always be Ryuo and I,” Bledrin said.
The demon smiled. “But it won’t, will it?” he said.
The sun beat down, silent in the empty world of sand and sky. Bledrin felt his eyes narrow. All of his fragmented minds were whispering at him, clawing to be let out.
“We have similar powers to that of the loxasta,” the demon said. “They can share their power with others, not just their tools and tricks like your knife. But they don’t.” His eyes locked on Bledrin’s. “I will.”
Bledrin thrust his blade forward, at the demon’s throat, and the world seemed to melt around him, falling away. Bledrin’s blade sank into solid earth, and he pulled it out, angry. This was not a lower demon—he had already dissolved the implant in his skull.
New surroundings appeared. Bledrin stood, quickly taking in what he knew was a fake world the demon had created. Instead of shifting sand, the ground was firm and covered in grass, like the fertile lands the tribes always argued over. The sky was still blue, but the sun did not burn into him. A single tree stood in the distance, immensely tall with a rounded top covered in dark green leaves.
Bledrin glanced about for the demon. Not seeing him, he began heading for the shade beneath the distant tree. He kept his hand over his knife, humming again to assure himself that it was still prepared to cut demon flesh.
Facing a higher ranked demon where its power reigned, in a world it created…
Faces appeared in the swaying grass. One was this demon’s, another was a loxasta whom Bledrin knew. The two of them were walking together, speaking peaceably. More faces, both demon and loxasta, passed.
Bledrin reached the tree and stopped. The demon stood there, calm, pleased. “Did the loxasta lie to you?” the demon asked.
Bledrin shook the thought free and ran for the demon, knife held lightly in his hand. He thrust it at the demon’s heart.
The demon moved to the side, and Bledrin quickly dropped, sweeping with his leg. The demon dodged his legs, not tripping. Bledrin twisted his torso, his arm flying up from where it had balanced him over the earth, blade heading for the creature’s throat.
“The loxasta didn’t want you to become as powerful as they are.” The demon fell back on his hands and kicked out, catching Bledrin in the side and sending him crashing away. “They want to control you.”
Bledrin rolled to his feet, launching his knife through the air and pulling a second dagger from his sash.
“That is the only reason they have the levki keep us away,” the demon said, vanishing, the knife passing through only air. Bledrin put his hand over the other dagger and hummed. The demon reappeared on the other side of the tree, unharmed. “They want us kept away from you because they know that we can give you the ability to match them,” he said. “And that makes the loxasta afraid.”
Bledrin’s limbs became slow, and he found himself frowning, the dagger unmoving in his hand. He knew he had to kill the demon now, while it stood before him, but the faces he saw in the grass kept pushing against his thoughts, making him wonder if the demon’s words were true—if the demons and loxasta had not always been at odds.
If that were so, the demons had to have once been an acceptable race. Perhaps they still were. The loxasta could have made the name “Demon” into something repulsive as a way to keep them from sharing their power—keeping the rest of the races at a level far beneath the loxasta.
All this time they, the levki, believed they were protecting the races, when they might have been fighting away a race that was willing to enlighten them. To give them power equal to that of a loxasta. And if Bledrin were the first to gain such power, the races, the levki, would follow after him. They would look up to and respect him. Him, the one they always tried to look over.
“Did the loxasta lie to us?” Bledrin asked, forcing his now heavy arm to rise, lifting the knife more in habit than will.
The demon came forward. “The life of every creature is in its blood,” he said, holding out his hand. His dark colored blood ran down his arm from the crook of his elbow, dripping off his fingers. “If I reside in you, you will be able to use my power—the loxastas’ power. In that case, the only one who could ever harm you would have to be a reflection of you. And such a thing is impossible, isn’t it?” The demon grinned. “Who could ever understand what you are and what you will know?”
Bledrin threw his knife at the demon’s head. The demon easily avoided it, and Bledrin took a step back, wondering what had possessed him to toss away the last weapon he had that could kill a demon.
The demon did not say anything, and Bledrin looked back down at the blood on its hand. He could be like the loxasta, the ones the tribes respected above all others.
“The choice is yours,” Bledrin heard a new voice say. A young voice.
He dragged his eyes from the dark color staining the demon’s skin, but he saw no one else in the field.
“You are not a slave,” the boy’s voice continued. “You were never meant to be a slave.”
The demon did not seem to hear the boy. Bledrin felt his eyes narrow, trying to figure who could send words into a demon’s plain without the demon’s knowledge.
“In your life you have seen the heart loxasta claim, and the heart Demons claim,” the boy said.
The vision world shifted around Bledrin, and the demon did not move. It was not the desert, the real world, but rather a form of the demon’s illusion. The field became bare, not a living thing growing from it. The tree was brittle, cracked, and leafless. The sky was filled with colors of dry brown and sickly flushed amber.
Bledrin stood beneath the tree. Its base was wrapped in chains that fell into a horrid smelling bog. It surrounded the tree’s foot, almost touching the toes of Bledrin’s shoes. The air clogged his nose, thick with the putrid stench of dragon, or perhaps demon.
“You have been given a choice,” the boy’s voice said, “because you mean too much to be played as a puppet.”
Bledrin backed up from the bog.
“I give you my power, you give me your eyes,” the demon said, rounding the tree. “You will be as the loxasta are: wise and powerful and loved. Accepted.”
Bledrin’s skin crawled at the heavy, wet stench filling the air. He felt like he was drowning, and he wanted out. He wanted to feel grass beneath him and the pleasant coolness of the sun.
The demon came forward, an odd, slightly glowing and pulsing thing in his hands. Bledrin looked out over the dying land. “This is a horrid place,” he said.
“Then see truth.” The demon’s hands touched Bledrin’s chest, sinking through skin, bone, and flesh. Bledrin stared, eyes growing wide as the fluid entered his body. For an instant, he recalled all the times he’d stripped his clothing because of demon blood, afraid it would touch his skin. Now it was not on him, but in him.
The demon pulled out is hands, the odd thing no longer in them. Bledrin stared at his outer robe. It was whole, as if nothing had disturbed it, and he felt no pain.
Realizing he was now sitting with his back to the tree, Bledrin flinched. The chains were wrapped around him now too. He slipped, his feet entering the reeking bog. It stung and burned his skin as if it were fire itself. Bledrin flung out his hands, grabbing onto the chains and pulling, keeping himself from being dragged farther under.
The demon walked up to him.
“I want the sun,” Bledrin said, “not this rotting place.”
“My heart for your eyes,” the demon said, reaching down toward his face.
Bledrin nodded. “Very well.”
He felt nothing when the demon touched him, and the world shifted back to the field of green grass and blue sky. He felt the strong tree at his back and the full branches shading him. There was no demon now. It was peaceful, comfortable. He did not feel anything, and he did not want to leave. This was the world as it should be.
Bledrin smiled and drifted into a pleasant sleep.
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