The field, once an emerald green, is nothing more than a crimson sea of blood. Two people stood tall, unmoved, looking at the mountain of bloodied bodies.
“We did what was told Aifien, nothing more,” a man said, his face unshaken by the grotesque field. His thick, coarse hair wildly brushing his eyes, with every brisk gust punishing his wavy lengths. He slowly moved through the bodies; carefully stepping over them, avoiding the puddles of broken men, his armour rattling away with every calculated step.
The muscular man stopped abruptly in his steps; his eyes focused, scouring the landscape for his lost weapon. Moving diligently, trying to find gaps in the soft ground to steadily place his feet and eyeing up a dismantled figure, he wraps his hands around the readied hilt of his sword and pulls. The gushing squeal of trapped air left the torso of his former enemy, freeing his stain-crusted sword. He remembers throwing it in the battle that ensued moments ago, and after scoping the endless field he was finally able to locate it. Its helm was made from fire-stained oak, an exceedingly rare material. Its iron cracked in places from the sheer force of his throw.
“Why did we have to kill them all, Finral?” Aifien scoffed, her black robe hidden by the darkness. Kneeling down on the only green patch of grass, she succumbed to the violence. Aifien grabbed her dagger, hidden in her fraying boot, and stood. Clutching her scarlet hair, she calmly cut out her wet locks, removing the stains she could see with the help of the moonlit sky. The handfuls seemed endless, like feathers free of their former prison.
Aifien glared at Finral, her cheeks bloodshot with anger.
“How many this time Finral, and for what? Just more tears. A useless errand and such a horrible waste of life!” Aifien shouted, her voice echoing through the eerie battlefield, never breaking her angered gaze.
“It was them or us. Or have you forgotten our purpose, we do as the Druids see fit?” Finral cried. “The gods showed us mercy. We were lucky to survive this one, they surely are watching over us. We are only doing what’s right for this world,” he paused, wiping his steel armour with the wet leaves. “We cannot carry the burden of the dead with us, just grab anything of value and the Chieftain – our price will only be paid if we bring him. Let’s leave this area before anyone else turns up,” he shouted, walking over to Aifien, closing the distance until he faced her. He ran one hand through his dark brown hair and slowly raised the other over Aifien’s broad, wounded shoulder. Aifien spun to turn away from his stare, to face the never-ending black sky.
“Are you going to heal that Aifien or am I?” Finral quietly questioned, almost breathing the words into her ear.
Aifien’s eyes burned with fury; clenching Finral’s hand which pressed firmly against her shoulder she forced it away.
“Do not touch me again; this was all your doing. We didn’t need to take this many lives. And you know I will never heal my wounds; healing my wounds makes me forget my battles. You are starting to insult me with your lack of knowledge. Be careful, Finral,” Aifien scowled as she turned to face him, their bodies standing tall as the sharp and bitter wind continued to push through them, gracefully ruffling Aifien’s black robe.
Aifien swiftly lifted the dagger clutched in her hand, placing the icy steel on the unsuspecting Finral’s neck. She smiled as Finral stood motionless, his face unchanged and his eyes showing no fear.
“Should I just kill you now,” Aifien hissed, pushing the dagger lightly against his windpipe. “One day soon I’ll get that chance and I might just take it,” Aifien muttered. She turned her back on the shocked Finral to begin walking through the littered field as the horrid stench of the battle was carried by the gusts of air.
Aifien slowly held out her hand and whispered softly, “Tine.” A small flame showed itself as Aifien gracefully opened up the palm of her hand and with each passing second it began to burn brighter and bigger, searing everything the flame’s light touched. Aifien moved carefully, concentrating on every step, trying to avoid damaging the landscape in case she saw anything of value.
The broken battlefield, the bodies of warriors, men and women was clear as day one moment before being obliterated by the heat of Aifien’s flame. The crimson battlefield; slowly turning into nothing more than smouldering ash. Aifien carefully tiptoed through, igniting most of the bodies, quietly whispering, “Múchadh.” Her dry red lips just touching as the word left her mouth. Aifien’s flame disappeared from the palm of her hand, but the heat remained; it was the cost of casting her art. The smoke weaved through the night sky. The ash creating a form of light, flickering like the stars above them.
Aifien stopped to stare at the shell of a former man, a lifeless dummy. Her pale face glistening as she gazed upon the man’s blank eyes. As Aifien wondered, of how only hours ago the corpse was full of life, a tear of joy dropped from her calm blue eyes, falling onto her rosy cheek. Aifien knew that the soul had moved on and the body would feed the land as the land had fed it, reciting to herself her teachings. Aifien carried on walking through the field, stopping at a grey tree, still smouldering from the heat that came from her palm.
She gazed down at the cold, beaten ground knowing she had found the fallen Chieftain. Aifien stared into the lifeless eyes, looking down on the impaled body, the spear sticking out from the man’s neck. Setting it loose from the former leader’s windpipe, Aifien gently removed it, placing it gracefully upon the ground. Kneeling down in front of the body, she began cleaning the wound with the rustling leaves around her, wiping the blood that had started to gush down from the open wound like a waterfall being brought to life by the sudden rush of rain.
The wind howled continuously, moving Aifien’s torn robe, exposing some of her freshly cut wounds. The robe fluttered with the same dancing rhythm of the loose leaves. Aifien continued to clean the body, never losing concentration, and after several minutes the blood came to a stop. Aifien tore off a tiny slither from the bottom of her robe, placing it over the cavity.
Aifien picked up the body, placing it on her shoulder. Returning through the field, she picked up whatever she could find that survived her flame.
“This will do,” Aifien muttered to herself, looking through the heated aftermath.
“Is this going to take much longer?” Finral asked rhetorically, smiling, knowing that every word he spoke angered Aifien more.
Aifien stood upright, tossing the body at Finral with her full strength, disregarding the once living being, treating it like an inanimate object.
“Is that quick enough for you?” Aifien snapped, losing control of her emotions.
Finral caught the body easily; placing it upon his shoulder he smiled knowing he had finally managed to make Aifien snap.
“It’s funny, at times you lose your head in battle, your emotions become wild and your bright blue eyes turn ruby. Yet, I stillhave the honour of receiving the full force of your fury,” Finral laughed, jostling his shoulders as he tried to shift the body into a more comfortable place.
“Ha…. you wouldn’t be able to handle my fury, you can barely stand in battle. I’m surprised this wind hasn’t blown you over,” Aifien growled. “When you finally become a man, then you can face me, until then you’re just a boy,” she remarked, trudging back through the ashen, greyed landscape.
Aifien glared at Finral for a moment with her long soft hair brushing gently across her face, grazing over her eyes as the wind began to soften.
“We best leave. I feel we have been here too long. The smell is worsening, and I expect others will be here soon,” Aifien said. Finral and Aifien both stared at one another, their faces displaying their annoyance with each other’s recent comments. They began to walk cautiously side by side, avoiding the many weapons scattered along the floor.
“I agree we should move, but I wouldn’t go predicting the future. That’s a bad omen,” Finral mentioned, lifting his voice to sound serious. “And another thing Aifien; if I wanted to kill you I could.” Finral laughed, turning his tired eyes to the endless sky and brushing his hair behind his ear. He wanted to clear his sight so he could see through the thick clouds and find the stars that would guide him.
“Whatever,” Aifien responded.
“The horses are about two miles east, overlooking the fields of Fouran. It shouldn’t take too long to get there, if you’d stop admiring our handy work and start walking!” Finral snapped, his annoyance of Aifien’s slow pace evident. Finral sheathed his sword, occupying a space next to his light brown leather satchel and proceeded to lead Aifien eastwards, after a few steps he turned to look at her with steady eyes. “Let’s go, you’re right the rest of this man’s clan will be here soon”.
Aifien nodded in agreement, a few paces behind Finral. Looking back one last time at the scorched earth, she saw a solitary crow fly over the battlefield, indicating the gods have deemed this battle over.
“Why have we done this, so many times and what is it all for?“ Aifien asked herself, continuing to walk away from the ashen-snowed field, towards the shattered trees. It was not long before Aifien heard the looming chariots coming to welcome the fallen, they hurried towards the swinging forest hoping to find a hiding spot before the reinforcements arrived.
Well hidden from the passing troops, Aifien watched the battlefield burn white as orbs of light scattered into the night sky. The souls have moved on and all that lay there was the glimmering shine of broken, unguarded weaponry and the scorched earth. They both watched, slowly stepping back to admire the unnatural beauty of this world, disappearing into the maze of trees surrounding them with nothing but the wind and the moon as their witness.
“What was our mission anyway, Finral? Was there a reason we needed to kill so many?” Aifien asked inquisitively.
“Hmph…. You don’t get bored of asking questions, do you?” Finral replied, sighing at her question. “We work for food and good health, we are Blood-Hunters, we do the work that Druid’s cannot. We take the jobs we are given, and we were given a job, so I took it. Not all the jobs we will get will be this bloody, Aifien.”
She looked up to the stars grimacing, wondering how long they had been gone from the village.
“Two sun falls,” Finral interjected her thoughts, as though reading her mind.
“We’re coming back with some messy trinkets and a Chieftain. Don’t you think it’s a bit odd that we haven’t seen a single soul or creature on our travel here?” Aifien asked, steadily picking up her pace to catch up with her superior.
“Nope and I don’t care, makes it easier that way,” Finral replied avoiding the out-laying branches. “Let’s continue east. We don’t have time to talk, we need to move, it’s only about another mile.” Finral continued to step softly on the fallen leaves, slowly carrying the Chieftain’s body through the narrow forest, carefully pushing past the loose swaying prickly branches and tendrils.
Alongside Finral, Aifien felt watchful eyes surrounding them, stopping them dead in their tracks. Feeling uneasy, their gaze nervously darted left to right and right to left. The wind groaned; the trees began to arch over, intertwining, forced by the gusts of wind. The trees blocked out the starlit sky. With the sudden rush of rain beating down, the droplets hammered like drumbeats thundering against the vines. Aifien and Finral ignored the sense of unease and began to walk again under the shelter of the trees, noticing the sudden change in the weather.
“We need to get to those horses now, this isn’t safe, and the horses are too far to call,” Finral said to himself, still carrying the weight of the Chieftain. “We need to move. I hope the gods are looking after our horses. Aifien, this isn’t the time to dawdle either, let’s hurry before they arrive!” Finral shouted, speeding up; brushing past each tree not caring whether the branches beat against his back.
“What’s going on, it’s too soon for them isn’t it?“ Aifien questioned while keeping a straight face, hurrying to avoid the endless fog of leaves and floating branches. Her hand, still burning from the art she cast earlier, seared the drops of rain not caught by the trees causing mist to spring from her hand.
The stars, their only guide, were fading behind the growing canopy of trees. They continued to stumble through the labyrinth of green. The squelching mud the only sound which differed to the harrowing wind. Staring at the back of Finral’s damaged armour, Aifien noticed a grey blur reflecting off it, seemingly following them, the figure hidden amongst the small gaps in the forest.
“It’s here Finral!” Aifien shouted, wiping the rain trickling down her face. The puddles forming below them seemed like lakes, the ground slowly becoming liquid. They trampled through them, the splattering sound becoming louder as their feet forcefully hit the ground with their efforts.
“Keep moving,” Finral ordered Aifien, instinctively weaving through the trees. “I know where we are, just follow me. There should be a lake coming up so tread carefully.” Charging through the low hanging branches and barrage of brambles, never breaking a sweat with the dead weight slung over his shoulder, Finral slid the occasional look back to ensure Aifien was following.
“One more left and we’ll have to cross the water,” Finral said, finally finding an opening in the trees, they turned left, stopping to catch their breath beside the water. He slowly closed his eyes and shouted, “Clocha cora.” The bed of water in front of them bubbled. In front of the lake Finral raised his hands causing thick iced stones to glow. Unearthed by his art they appeared in front of him, making crossing the lake all the more simple. He carefully placed his boot on the iced stones, crossing from one to the next before jumping onto the bank opposite, tossing the body into the bushes in front of him.
Focusing her attention to the trees behind, Aifien found the floating grey figure had gained ground on them. Seeing it more clearly, she instantly recognised it.
“It’s a Banshee, why is it following us?” Aifien shouted.
“Now’s not really a good time for a lesson, Aifien,” Finral replied panting, exhausted. He turned, watching as the Banshee let out a penetrating scream. Finral quickly shoved Aifien to the floor, the Banshee’s scream reverberated through the trees, the shockwave hitting Finral’s hardened face.
“Arrgh,” he howled, stumbling back, clapping his hands over his damaged ears as he tried to avoid losing his balance on the loose mud. “Let us go Aifien, you’ve got two more stones, be quick!” Finral said gritting his teeth in pain. “Aifien, move NOW!” he shouted, waking the sheltering birds which burst out from the trees towards him, almost knocking him into the water.
Rushing to avoid the Banshee’s next scream, Aifien mistimed a jump over the final stone in her rush and let out a piercing yelp as her legs dropped into the icy lake. Aifien grasped onto the makeshift stone.
“Finral a little help!” She bellowed, her robe floating on the water’s surface as she continued to thrash, her face turning blue from the cold with the grey silhouette of the Banshee overlooking the panic in the distance. Finral leaped forward pulling a vial of salt from his brown satchel. Pouring it onto the steps, they watched as the icy stones melted down. The Banshee, unfazed, continued to gain ground, floating harrowingly towards them.
“Get over here, I can’t hold on forever y’know,” Aifien shouted, her teeth gritted with the weight of the water crashing into her. “You can be an idiot sometimes you know that, just hurry and help me,” she shouted as she clung onto the last stone.
Finral jumped over her, safely landing on the other side, clutching her scorched hand while Aifien used her other one, free from damage, to help hoist herself from the depths of the lake. Only a few feet away, the Banshee stared at them from the other side of the bank, unopposed as it floated towards the first melting stone.
Aifien planted her feet firmly back on solid ground in her sodden boots and drenched robe. She breathed heavily, trying to catch her breath, as she gradually moved her two arms in front of her chest, forming a triangle with her hands. Finral sharply turned his head, looking at Aifien’s stance.
“Don’t do it, it’s pointless,” he groaned.
It was too late, her fingers joined and Aifien screamed, “COSAIN!” A light blue aura shot out of her hands in a triquetra. Clearing the clouds in the night sky, a blue barrier surrounded the small isolated area, leaving nothing but the aura above them, gracing the trees and the moon with its presence.
The rain bounced off the sphere forming above them as the Banshee continued to stare on from the other side of the lake. It groaned before finally turning away and floating into the trees. Aifien fell elegantly to the ground, exhausted from her actions.
“At least we’re safe,” Aifien whispered.
Finral picked the Chieftain up from the bushes, laying the body beside him, before looking at the fallen Aifien who stared back at her overshadowing comrade.
“I can’t move, go on without me. I’ll catch up tomorrow,” Aifien wept, closing her eyes to drift off to sleep.
Finral glared at her for a moment not knowing whether to be angry or proud, but still it was nice to finally enjoy the peace and quiet.
“Banshees don’t go near salt, and we have a steel sword forged in ice,” Finral chuckled, sitting down alongside Aifien. Her athletic body was soaked to the bone with bruises starting to appear on her wet and pale skin.
The ripples in the water, from the sudden rush of energy, eased. Finral looked across the lake to see the greyed Banshee with white chalked hair slowly move away, disappearing among the trees into the abyss of the night.
“That was too close,” Finral whispered, looking at his reflection in the lake. He saw a red liquid slowly trickle down from his left ear and drop into the water, watching the blood turn transparent. Grabbing Aifien’s scorched hand, Finral plunged it beneath the surface. Listening to the crackling heat, he waited for her hand to soothe before placing it to his ear, searing his wound shut. Finral groaned for a moment before placing her hand back into the water.
“You’re brave but you’re still very naive and reckless. Just because I taught you how to cast these arts does not mean you should. The cost of each summon takes its toll on the body,” Finral explained, looking upwards at the stars, watching the clouds run through the sky, thinking of how tomorrow night he will be only moments away from the village.
“If only your hand could catch me a fish,” Finral grumbled.
“I’m not your servant…” Aifien murmured, drifting back off to sleep.
“Never change, Aifien, never change,” Finral replied, his dark untamed beard dripping wet from the water. “Do not worry you will be free soon,” he continued, turning his attention to the lifeless body beside him. Finral stood, grabbing a few nearby twigs and leaves to start a fire. “This will keep us warm, won’t it?” he chuckled, whispering “Tine.” He placed his lit hand onto the pile of twigs. The flame quickly extinguished after lighting the twigs, leaving them to burn brightly into the night. The fire crackled with the foliage turning to smoke, drifting off uncontrolled by man.
Finral sat himself back on the cold ground, pulling out a torn black leather book from his brown leather satchel he had been carrying and whispered to his book, “Scriobh.” The pages shone bright, waiting for his spoken words:
“The wind was sour, the job was foul
Trees withering and blood like rain
Distant chatter of leaves
Endless rush of light
My home is wandering but I shall follow the night”.
The words appeared written on the blank pages. Finral smiled, slamming the book shut before placing it safely back into his satchel. He laid flat on the warming ground by the fire, looking through the flames.
“Oops almost forgot, I’ll have to cover you, your kingship,” Finral said, grabbing the loose branches nearest him, ripping the leaves off and weaving the greenery together to quickly create a makeshift quilt. He wrapped the forgotten man, carefully covering the body, leaving nothing to be seen.
“I suppose we best preserve your body, rather than have you riddled with insects,” Finral remarked, snapping a branch belonging to an oak tree, placing it over the covered corpse. “Cheilt,” he muttered, watching the outline of the sheeted body glow yellow intermittently before suddenly fading.
“Now let us get some rest, that should keep you for now. Tomorrow will perhaps be more peaceful,” Finral grinned before being forced to yawn. “We shall see,” he whispered to himself, finding his eyes struggling to stay open, his body no longer able to stay awake. Finally, he let his eyes drift to the whistling wind, carrying their deeds off into a sea of darkness, waiting for the embrace of dawn.