Blood clung to Everett’s palms as he cleaned his knife on the lifeless body before him.
It was the third time this week that the Guild Master, Orin, sent for him. Orin’s spies were Everett’s eyes and ears on the ground, listening for any word of the magical people that once roamed the land- the Elvi.
The last two times Everett trusted Orin’s word had been a dead end. He should have expected this wouldn’t be any different.
Everett spent less than a minute with the man Orin brought to the abandoned inn. That was all the time he needed to know the man was lying. Thanks to both Orin’s and Everett’s line of questioning, the man knew too much. Like every other job, Everett killed him. If word got out about his mission, if someone recognized him, or if somehow word reached his father… He didn’t want to think about the consequences.
He looked out the broken window of the inn, commending Orin for his choice of rendezvous. A prime location. The inn stood against the fires that destroyed the rest of the village the previous year. Now the nearest homes were miles away, which meant no one heard the man’s screams.
“That’s it then?” Orin’s voice grated.
“He knew nothing.” Everett kneaded his palms, hoping the pressure would somehow force the unwarranted feeling from his body. The reserves of his built up magic were ready to burst. The abandoned village would allow him to empty the reserves without anyone noticing, but it wasn’t worth the risk.
“He claimed to know the location of the Elvi.” Orin wheezed as they descended the old creaking steps. “He was drunk when my men brought him here. I should have waited until he sobered to request you. I should have vetted him more. I just assumed you’d want to talk to him.” The slight tremble in Orin’s voice pushed pride through Everett. He was doing his job well if the old spymaster was afraid of him.
Either way, Orin was right. Whether or not the man was drunk, Everett wanted to talk with him.
The Elvi had not been openly acknowledged for centuries. Not since the kingdoms of Eadowyn waged war against them. Little record was kept of the magic wielders, and from the vague details that had been kept of the event, Everett gathered that the Elvi were hunted like animals by an array of assassins, forcing them from their homes. The Elvi pleaded with the rulers across Eadowyn for help. The kingdoms of Karahan, Makonis, and Ferheim offered the Elvi sanctuary- the safety and protection they desperately needed.
It was a lie.
Being an Elvi himself, Everett learned the other side of history. The three kingdoms may have offered sanctuary, but upon their arrival thousands of Elvi were slaughtered. Afterwards, magic was decreed illegal, and assassins continued to find whatever Elvi they could. Scared for their lives, the Elvi went into hiding. Slowly, their existence became nothing more than a whisper.
Everett wanted to be made aware of every whisper.
“Do better.” He snapped at Orin before passing him on the stairs.
Stepping into the morning air, Everett took a deep breath. The fresh spring blooms nipped at his senses and he took in the mist that rolled over Eirlys’ green hills. Maybe it was his earth magic, or perhaps the copious memories of his youth, he couldn’t be certain. Either way the rolling hills brought him peace of mind.
The last time he saw the kingdom of Eirlys was with his friend James, the crown prince of Karahan, a week before their world fell into ruin. Its striking beauty never left him. He only wished he was visiting under more pleasant circumstances.
Orin cleared his throat. “What now?”
Everett turned back to Orin, smiling at the man’s noticeable shaking. “You can relax, Orin. You were right to notify me. It’s not your fault the man was useless.”
Orin’s shoulders slackened, though he maintained his distance. “Are we to continue this arrangement?”
Everett huffed out a laugh. “Why would we? I’ve gained nothing from this arrangement besides being irritated by your incompetence.” The bobbing of Orin’s throat made the corners of Everett’s mouth turn upwards. “I think we’re through here Orin.” With a wave of his hand, Orin ran from Everett’s sight.
From where he stood outside, he glanced to the room where the body still lay. It wasn’t the first time Everett killed. That first kill still haunted him. They’d been ambushed, bandits surrounding the royal carriage. He could still feel how his sword slid through the man, Danielle’s screams echoing in his ears. He would never forget how terrified and strangely exhilarated he felt knowing it wouldn’t be his last kill.
A hand landed on his shoulder, startling him. He looked at his friend unable to stop the magic that slipped. A vine shot from the ground wrapping around Gareth’s leg. His sandy hair fell over his wide, piercing blue eyes as he stumbled forward.
“Holy shit!” Gareth said, trying to catch his balance.
Stunned, Everett willed the vines to release Gareth. “Sorry.”
He’d met Gareth during the start of the war four years ago. Seeing him away from bloodshed was still jarring.
It had been two weeks since he and Gareth were reunited away from the front lines, and it still felt like a fever dream. Despite the memories of war that hung between them, Garth made Everett feel calmer.
“Did Orin have any new information?” Gareth asked.
Everett kept his voice low. “He never does.”
“Did he tell you where to find them?” Gareth gestured towards the inn.
“No.” Everett stared at the blood drying on his hands, tightening across his skin, cracking in various places. “He didn’t know. Nobody knows where they are.”
Unlike the rest of the world, he refused to believe that the Elvi were an extinct race. He and Gareth, were living proof of that. If it weren’t for that, he wouldn’t have trusted Gareth as quickly. Having another Elvi around brought a relief that Everett wasn’t accustomed to.
“They couldn’t have vanished into thin air.”
With their magic, it would be easy for the Elvi to conceal their location. That’s why they were thought to be dead for hundreds of years.
“If you were hunted for the blood you carry wouldn’t you want to disappear too?” Everett asked.
Gareth shrugged. “We’ve done all right for ourselves.”
Gareth never cared who knew about his affinity with fire. He didn’t openly flaunt his magic, but he never hid it either. One night, Everett caught Gareth lighting a fire with his magic. That one spark of magic led Everett to trusting in Gareth. Everett would argue that it was a horrible decision, but if there was another Elvi around, how bad could it be?
“A whole race, with children still learning to control their magic, is harder to manage than two people.” Everett said.
“We have had a few close calls.” Gareth’s reminiscent tone wrapped around Everett. “Like when I caused that explosion.”
“It worked out in the end.” Everett chuckled.
The smell of fire danced across Everett’s senses. Less than a year into the war, supplies were already running low; morale even lower. Gareth proudly proclaimed that he could take the enemy singlehandedly. For the most part he did, destroying a large portion of their supplies and killing a company of soldiers. The destruction gave their forces the needed push to continue fighting.
In Everett’s experience, Elvi magic, at best, was unpredictable; and had a tendency to leave chaos in its wake. Their enemy, the Mortala, was something else entirely. He knew very little when it came to the Elvi and their magic, and that extended to the Mortala. While he and Gareth possessed elemental abilities, the Mortala were pure death. Leaving nothing but carnage wherever they went.
When the Mortala attacked Karahan… he shuddered thinking of that day. With each step he took he found his strength leaving his body, begging him to stop fighting. To lay down and welcome death like an old friend. That loss of strength and will to fight terrified him.
Gareth placed a comforting hand on Everett’s shoulder. “We’ll find them.”
“Will we? I told you I’ve been searching for years.” Everett raked a hand through his hair. Instinctively he bent to the ground, grabbing a handful of dirt. The soil in his hands settled his rising anger. “If we don’t find the Elvi soon, I’m afraid all may be lost.”
“Why is this so important to you?”
Everett let the soil slip through his fingers before gathering another handful. Because of my mother. Saying it out loud, to Gareth, gave him some level of embarrassment. “I told you, my magic is growing stronger and I need proper training to control it, before it controls me.” Not entirely a lie. He just thought it would be his mother who would train him. If she wanted anything to do with him after all these years.
She left him before he could remember who she was. Her name was Kyrith, and she was an Elvi. That’s all his father cared to share. If he could find the Elvi, he could find his mother, someone who could teach him what he lacked growing up.
“It can’t be that bad,” Gareth said.
Everett rolled his eyes. “If I had control over my magic, I wouldn’t have attacked you.” He pointed to the small hole in the ground where the vine had shot from. “And don’t suggest you train me. You’re a nightmare with your magic. I’d rather have someone train me who shares my magic. Who understands it.”
He didn’t know if his mother possessed the same type of magic that he did, but he still hoped.
“By the way, I have something for you.” Gareth pulled a sealed parchment from a pocket of his doublet. “I intercepted this.”
Not wanting to know the details, Everett caught himself staring at the crimson seal bearing a wolf’s head. He hesitated. A lump formed in his throat, blocking any air from entering his lungs. Swallowing made it worse. Wiping his hands on his pants, he grabbed the letter, turning it over twice before breaking the wax seal.
He barely registered the words, his eyes rapidly scanning the letter.
My uncle, King Bastian of Eirlys, has died and the old fool named me his successor.
I need my friend at my side while I handle the transition. It’s already been a nightmare.
His Royal Majesty, King James of Eirlys
Post signed, This can be an official summons if that makes a difference.
Everett bit back his laughter. James knew Everett enough to have the foresight to add his full title and declare the letter an official summons. Everett wouldn’t risk seeing Danielle otherwise.
It had been far too long since Everett last set foot in any royal court. The pain in his shoulder flared at the memory. A chorus of screams surrounded him as the king’s blood, James’ father’s blood, seeped into his shirt as he pulled Danielle, the princess out of the castle and away from the intruding Mortala. The look of betrayal in her eyes as he pushed her away. He lost everything– he lost her.
The letter being ripped from his hands silenced the nightmare of a memory.
“That bad, huh?” Gareth asked before letting out a long whistle and handing the letter back. “How long has it been?”
Since the war started. “Four years.”
It felt like an eternity.
“Do you want to go back?”
“Not at all.” Everett read the letter one more time, hoping the message somehow changed. He folded the page and placed it in his doublet pocket.
“This will be fun,” Gareth said, pulling out a second letter.
Unlike the first, this one bore no seal and no mark. Leaving no chance for it to be traced back to his father. Everett reached for the letter, ready to receive the name and location of his next mark.
It had been months since his father sent him to dispose of an enemy, and if the information made Gareth giddy as a child, he couldn’t imagine who his new target was. His blood stilled as he read the three words on the page.
Heirs of Eirlys.
Not one, but two. James and Danielle.
“This has to be a mistake.” Everett shoved the letter back at Gareth, the pulsing of his magic growing with each ragged breath. “We had a deal.”
Gareth folded his arms across his chest. “When have you known your father to keep his word?” Gareth nodded towards the letter from James, crumpled in the worn doorway. “Looks like you’re heading back to the palace anyway.”
Everett seethed, marching toward his horse and mounted the steed.
“Where are you going?” Gareth looked amused at Everett’s anger.
“It looks like I have a few things to take care of.” He couldn’t do it. Killing his best friend, and the former love of his life. His father had to have known he wouldn’t go through with it. Regardless, he wasn’t about to leave them alone, not with this looming threat. Even if he was the executioner of the order.
“What about –” Gareth inclined his head towards the abandoned inn.
“Burn it. We can’t risk anyone knowing what was done here.”
A flicker of light sparked at Gareth’s fingertips. The flames grew bigger, dancing over his fingers before gathering in his palm. Gareth turned the ball of flames over in his hand and threw it at the inn. It took seconds for Gareth’s flames to consume the broken structure, erasing all evidence that they were there.