The Hands of a Healer - The Last of the Lennir - Part 14
The sun set, turning day into night as Lauren and Thialfir wound their way out of the rocky labyrinth of Emyn Muil.
"Finally!" Lauren said, relieved to be rid of the rocks that caused days of hard travel, though she wondered how much better the marshes up ahead would be. The dead marshes, she reminded herself and repressed a shudder.
"We'll camp here, the rock will provide cover," Thialfir stated.
Lauren nodded, and took out a handful of dry leaves and small twigs she'd gathered earlier for fuel. Taking two rocks, she grated them against each other with practiced speed, lighting the pile of debris. Meanwhile, Thialfir searched out pieces of dried meat and lembas from their packs. Handing Lauren her share of the meal, he sat down next to her, smiling to himself.
"And what would be the source of your amusement, my dear elf?" she questioned as she caught his smile.
"Just the fact that when we started this journey you hadn't the slightest knowledge of what to use to start a fire, and now look at you. For someone from another world you're fitting into this one quite nicely. Especially one that's so primitive, as you've put it before," he replied recalling their conversations on refrigerators and furnaces.
She snorted, "And what made you think I wouldn't?" she asked, entering into their now familiar game.
"Give me a minute, I've lost track of all the reasons," he replied chuckling. As a reward for his remark, Lauren's cloak soon found itself atop his head, begrudging its short flight.
"Ai!" he exclaimed as he struggled with the cloak, finally managing to free himself. When he surfaced, it was Lauren's turn to laugh as his hair fell over his face, tangled, distorting his well-groomed elven appearance.
The elf was not about to stand mocking and returned the favour, muffling Lauren's laughter as he flung his cloak over her face. This did not have the desired effect, increasing laughter as opposed to choking it.
With a groan, Thialfir gave up, and found a comfortable spot on the ground to sleep on. Lauren, after calming down somewhat, tried to do the same. Yet the glorious peace of sleep remained elusive. Having naught else to do, she gazed into the fire; a chaos of orange flames leaping higher and higher, as though aching to grow, aching to show true brilliance and heat. So much like humans, she thought, striving to give all they can, to become better at whatever task they pursue, to become more powerful. And for what purpose? As surely as night follows day, they will be quenched, blown out, dead, exactly like this fire by dawn. Is there even a reason for trying, a reason to better ourselves? What difference does it make if all our lives will eventually end? Why do humans persevere?
Hope, because they have hope that although death will claim everyone in the end, life was not in vein, Lauren answered her unspoken question. Her eyelids grew heavier as she switched her gaze to Thialfir. He lay asleep, brown eyes in plain view, but unfocused in elvish sleep. She pondered at that. Her last thought before falling asleep was wondering how elves were able to do that without having their eyes dry out.
Lauren woke late into the night. The reasonable sized fire had dwindled down to naught but embers. The spell of sleep lay heavy upon her still, and she rolled over to find a more comfortable spot. As her eyes closed, her tired brain registered two dots of glowing red light. Her eyelids shot open and she saw again the dots of light. She shut her eyes tight, turning away from the oddity, applying the method she used all too often at home when something strange happened at night. Ignorance she thought. Ignorance would not do here. This is not the type of place where I can wake up alive if I keep to ignorance and pretend that everything is all right. Deciding to act if the light remained once she opened her eyes, she rolled over and peered through have closed lids. Her spirits fell as she saw them there still, this time accompanied by a low hissing sound.
"Thialfir," she whispered, yet he lay still.
"Thialfir?" she tried again, a little louder. Nothing. She was about to raise her voice and try yet again when a hushed response answered.
"I'm awake. Do not move, do not speak." After an inaudible deep breathe, he continued, "On my word, grab your pack and run."
Lauren's mind raced, was he implying what she thought he was? "And you?" she whispered.
Thialfir thought for a moment, what could he say that wouldn't be a complete lie? "I'll be behind you," he stated, settling on a half-truth.
Lauren caught his hesitation, but reasoned that he hadn't lied to her before and surely he wouldn't be stupid enough to take on whatever it was out there by himself.
"Ready?" he whispered.
"As ready as I'll ever be."
"Good, then go!"
Lauren scrambled to her feet and began sprinting towards the foul smelling bog. With each step she took, the sword at her side became heavier until it seemed a leaden weight. She tried to unbuckle it, but it only wound itself tighter around her waist. Having no choice, she stopped, and noticed that Thialfir wasn't behind her. She turned as a cry of anguish broke through the silent night behind her. Her breath caught in her lungs. A massive, vaguely troll shaped evil the colour of deepest scarlet rose in front of her. It reeked of the iron-like scent of blood, enveloping its surroundings in the rank odour of death and decay. The very blades of grass under her feet wilted, and it was all she could do to keep herself from gagging. Not only was it accompanied by this atrocity, but also with that unbearable freezing sensation, the very ice that tears and grinds away the souls of the living.
Caught in its unrelenting grasp was Thialfir. Strong fingers clenched about his waist, forcing him to cry out. In a last attempt to fend this demon off, he tried to raise his sword, but his arm wouldn't respond and his sword fell from his reaching fingertips. He groped after it helplessly as the monstrous thing released a wave of ice, targeting his soul. Lauren could feel it take its terrible hold on Thialfir, she could feel him frantically trying to hold on as each breath became a battle for life. Anger rose in her as it never had before. She felt the tugging of her sword in its sheath, and in one fluid motion drew it. The demon noticed her too late and by that time she'd caused a searing pain to erupt in what would be it's left leg. It immediately dropped Thialfir. He fell to the ground with a sickening thud and lay still, his head at an awkward angle and his hand still open, as though in a silent cry for his missing weapon. Focusing now on Lauren, the demon reached out to grab her. With a death defying battle cry, she lashed out, severing the hand. A howl of pain burst from the monstrous thing and anger blazed in its demonic eyes as it reformed the lost appendage.
Lauren's sword, raised at the ready, glowed a pale blue, as though in defiance of the deep red, almost black of her opponent. The demon let loose a wave of ice, catching Lauren off guard, and raising the battle to the mental level. Using this moment of distraction, the thing grabbed her and the icy hold on her soul increased three-fold. Lauren began to see double, one version of the demon in this world, and another in the world of shadow. Deepest red in one eye, coupled with darkest black in another, both sporting the now all to familiar glowing red eyes. She felt the iced hand take its lethal grip, and start to wrench, breaking through all her defences. She retched in pain, as cold tears forced themselves from her eyes. She had failed, and so soon. Her soul was almost gone, and she hadn't even discovered what she was supposed to do. All hope began to fade from her, and with it the iced grip only tightened, feeding on her despair. After a few agonizing moments, a new presence made itself known. She felt something, a plea, a cry for help, and an offering of aide in payment. With her double vision, she turned her head towards the sound. With one eye she saw the lights of the dead marshes blazing so brightly it looked as though it was alight with fire. With the other, she saw a throng of vaguely humanoid shapes trapped in behind black bars.
An idea stuck her. Drawing deep within her for strength, she held her sword above her head with both hands. She forced her mind to her soul, the very part being torn away, and found there the words she needed, the knowledge she'd been born with as a Lennir.
In a voice barely her own, she began to whisper, "Nap fénye világosságot, hold fénye teljességet," she continued louder, waving her sword in a circle above her head, " viz fénye tisztaságot, csillagok fényességet," and shouted the last words, " Adjatok! Adjatok!" *
On the last word of the enchantment, she struck down with such ferocity that the demon unclenched its fist from about her, and momentarily relented its attack on her soul. A great flash of blue light erupted as her blow hit, and lingered separating her from her attacker as she fell to the ground.
As the light faded, the monster's anger burned with new malice and it renewed its attack. This time Lauren matched it in determination, battling with all her ability. Cutting and slicing, lashing out and parrying, she met it blow for blow. Yet still, it regrew lost limbs in a matter of seconds, its mutilation only fuelling its hate. As Lauren wearied, her defences faltered, and her sword swung wide. The thing glowered in triumph, as it reached out and intensified its pursuit of human soul.
As quickly and quietly as lightning, a white mist descended upon the demon. It immediately retracted its hand, and for the first time that night, fear light its eyes. The white mist grew in intensity and speed, circling around the demon with increased ferocity. A separate ball of mist formed, this time taking on the shape of something vaguely human. It continued to form until it had the distinguishing features of an elf.
"Hurry to the marshes! We cannot hold off for eternity!"
It then darted back into the main mass of mist. Lauren wasted no time in questioning this advice. She sheathed her sword, and ran over to an unmoving Thialfir, hoisting him onto to her back. Drawing on her last reserve of strength, she began to run as fast as she could towards the marshes. Each step proved agony for her burning muscles, her soul sending waves of pain through her as it continued to defrost. Yet she neither slowed her pace nor stopped, her fear driving her onward. An endless ten minutes later, her foot slipped into the murky waters of the marshes. She stumbled and almost dropped her load, limbs screaming at her as she regained her balance. Spitting the foul tasting water from her mouth, she headed towards what she thought was drier land. Pushing past reeds and staying clear of the lights she finally made it onto the slightly more solid soil.
Again, a ball of mist dispatched itself from the rest, and came to her, resuming its elven shape. "Follow me!" it ordered.
Lauren glanced back and saw the white storm begin to disintegrate, patches of red leaking through.
"Hurry!" the spirit elf yelled at her.
Too tired to think, Lauren shifted her grip on her friend, and continued onward as fast as her weary body could carry her. The spirit led her over the drier part of the marsh until they reached a circle of small brown shrubs.
"You will be safe in there. Farewell, young Lennir," the spirit paused, then continued, "and thank you."
Lauren gently placed Thialfir on the ground and collapsed beside him, falling unconscious from exhaustion the moment she hit the ground.
The spirit placed a scroll beside her, a small smile on his face. With the next breath of wind, he was gone.
Lauren woke late in the morning and was offered a blissful few minutes when she remembered nothing. One look to her side brought everything back, causing a pit in her stomach. Thialfir was still unconscious. He seemed pale, even for an elf. For the first time, she noticed blood seeping from the back of his head. After a closer examination, she found a large gash across the back of his head, where he'd hit it when he fell from the demon. Immediately she felt for his heartbeat, waiting for an anxious ten second before a beat finally came. Another ten seconds brought one more beat. Then the next twenty brought only one.
Lauren panicked. No, no, this can't be happening. She closed her eyes, not even trying to repress the tears flowing down her face. She reached out her hand and stroked the back of Thialfir's head, willing the gash to mend, mentally knitting each cell to a new one, cleaning away dead cells and blood. After she felt the task complete, she moved down to his heart and gave it new strength from her own. Yet still, he wasn't well, he wasn't all here. His soul was quickly passing to the land of shadow. She had no athelas. She'd have to enter into that world. The very thought of it chilled her to the bone. She knew what held Thialfir's soul, she knew she'd have to face it again, yet she was deathly afraid. Her hand started to shake, but she took a deep breath and steeled herself. She wasn't about to let Thialfir die, not after all they've been through. Clasping his hand firmly, she called his name, gently at first, then with more and more force, more and more yearning. She forced her soul out of her body and into the land of the shadow.
Immediately all resemblance of colour faded, all warmth ebbed away from her. Right in front of her was Thialfir, on his knees before the same dark being she had confronted on her earlier visit to this dark land. Thialfir's face was contorted in agony as the shape above him wove enchantments and brought terrible visions to his eyes. Already his normally chestnut brown hair held closer resemblance to grey, his very life was bleaching away from him. Lauren's heart wrenched to see him like this, so proud, so strong, and now brought to his knees... because of her. She strode forward defiantly, pushing away any grip that even thought about clenching around her soul.
" I sssee you are ssstrengthening in power," the dark spirit rasped.
Lauren gave no reply and moved towards Thialfir, hitting an invisible barrier. She tried to push through it, but no matter how hard she tried, it held firm. She kicked it in frustration, clenching her fists.
The spirit merely laughed. "Here, I am master. Here, I create the rules."
A new gust of defiance hit Lauren, and with it, a gateway opened to her true powers deep within herself. She unsheathed her sword, which she hadn't noticed was with her until now. Stretching it out and exerting her will, she felt the fabric of the invisible cage. She pushed her sword forward and with it, her will, into the microscopic spaces between the carefully weaved enchantment. Once there, she forced the fibres apart mentally, watching in satisfaction as the cage disintegrated. Lauren walked forward, clasped Thialfir's shoulder as he still lay kneeling and forced both souls back into the world of the living. Having had too much pride and too much certainity in the invulnerability of his enchantment, the dark spirit could do nothing due to its great shock.
A second before she vanished, Lauren turned to the spirit and said, " Rules are meant to be broken," in response to its earlier boast
Lauren found herself back in her body, still holding Thialfir's hand. He still showed no hints of movement, nor signs of life. Fear grew in Lauren again. Had it not worked? Had the trip between the worlds been too much of a shock for him?
"No, no, no, no!" she whispered. Tears fell down her cheeks afresh, and just as she was resigning herself to despair, Thialfir opened his eyes. Slightly confused as to where he was, he sat up, muscles tensed, his experience in the shadow world all too fresh in his mind.
"Thialfir!" Lauren cried, and wrapped her arms around his neck, sobbing into his shoulder, too full of emotion to do anything else.
"Lauren!" Thialfir returned, holding her tight, and burying his face in her hair, a strong sense of peace coming over him. After a minute, they pulled slightly apart. Without either of them thinking twice, they both leaned forward, and their lips met halfway. His hand ran through her hair while she stroked his cheek. He leaned into her, laying her on the ground and caressing her face, but caught himself, and pulled away. She understood, and leaned her head on his shoulder, while his other arm encircled her. For the first moment in a very long time, Lauren felt safe.
*Note: words to enchantment from lyrics to István a Király by Levente Szörényi and János Bródy