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Adventure Romance Fantasy

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

“Get down!”

Seraphina dropped to the muddy forest floor before the last of Alistair’s warning rang out through the night air. A dull thud sounded above her; the shadow shrouded handle of a night blade embedded in the bark of the tree she had stood against only a moment before. The blade disappeared in a hiss of smoke as she shoved to her feet and lunged through the darkness in the direction of Alistair’s voice.

“Over here!” As usual, he seemed to know her intentions. Somehow knowing he would be there, she extended her hand into the darkness around her. His palm brushed hers before grasping tightly and pulling her behind a large rock outcropping.

Panting, she braced her hands on her knees, wiling her heart to stop racing and her mind to clear. She couldn’t let the panic set in, this was her only chance. When finally able to take a breath without gasping, she looked toward the man beside her. She winced at the dark gash across his chest and multiple lesions marring his face.

“Are you alright?” He brushed her outstretched hand aside, smiling as reassuringly as he could, considering the circumstances.

“Just a few scratches. I’ll be fine.”

Regardless of the surrounding danger, Seraphina couldn’t help but pause and observe the man before her. So much had changed over the past several months of their travel together. Less than six months ago, he approached her villa with an offer of alliance. Having not seen another living soul in years, she had initially dismissed him as an illusion, her mind finally coming loose at the seams.

“Please, I am not here to cause any trouble.” He had paused, looking around at the crumbling villa, the dead trees and withering foliage. “Not that I could, even if I wanted to.” He poked at a low-hanging tree branch, which promptly snapped and fell to the ground.

She couldn’t help but feel intrigued by the stranger. His silver armor, though scuffed and worn, was a stark contrast to grayscale canvas her world had become. Where did he come from? The dying world around her stretched for leagues in every direction. She knew, for she had walked every inch of what was once her home.

“Where are you from, soldier?”

He snorted at the title but offered no correction. A tired, yet determined smile crept across his features, and her curiosity grew. He spoke of a land beyond the dying forests, the rotting mountains, and rancid rivers. A land that still lived. A land not yet touched by the Shade that haunted her own lands.

“Why now?” She had asked, refusing to cling to the small sliver of hope that pulled at her chest. “After all these years, why now? I may have lived in isolation amongst the ruins of my home for longer than I care to recount, but I do not forget the names we were given by those who refused to understand.”

Witches. Wraiths. Monsters. Those not touched with the art of elemental manipulation were fearful of her kind, allowing their cowardice to breed hate and enforce segregation. It was this fear of the unknown that allowed for her people to struggle and perish when the Shade arrived and created the Draining, an otherworldly essence that consumed all sources of life.

Rather than contempt or disgust, as she had expected, only raw sympathy flooded Alistair’s eyes at the accusation. “We have been trying to reach you since the Draining began.” She startled at his soft-spoken words, glancing around him for others of his kind. His head hung in sadness. “I am all that is left.”

His silver armor seemed suddenly dull, the weight of his words bringing to light the gouges and chips in the metal’s surface. While she had wallowed in her isolated misery, cursing those who refused to come to her aide, this man and countless others had paved their way toward her people with their very lives.

“Alright.” She cleared her throat, trying to force strength into her words. “What exactly is it you think two half-dead people can accomplish?”

His lopsided grin returned, and something loosened in her chest. Something she thought long dead. “Not just any two half-dead people. A Paladin of the Silver Order, and a Sorceress of the Dread Forests.”

“Seraphina!” His whispered shout forced her back to the present. Despite his multiple wounds, concern for her was etched across his brow. “Are you alright?”

“Yes.” She took a few deep breaths to focus, resisting the urge to peer around their rocky shelter. The dark, cloudy essence of the Draining around them would obscure anything further than a foot from her anyway. Despite the pressing darkness, she could feel the weight of Alistair’s gaze. The Paladin seemed unconvinced but didn’t push her further.

“We need another plan. Divide and conquer didn’t quite work like I’d hoped.” She resisted reminding him that she’d argued vehemently against that plan from the first time he mentioned it. “Do you have your weapons?”

Patting her arms, waist, and thighs, she cursed. “No. My bow was snapped, and I must have dropped my daggers. I’ll just have to use my art.”


She rolled her eyes. Despite how many times she explained that her use of the elemental forces was a practice of art and not some mystic power, he refused to call it anything but magic. At this point, she figured his automatic correction was more a force of habit, rather than any real intention to have her change what she called her abilities. In fact, she wasn’t entirely sure he realized he did it anymore.

Reaching down, Alistair pulled a thin knife the length of his forearm from a hidden sheath strapped to his thigh. He flipped the blade and handed it to her, hilt first. “For you.”

How many times had she heard those words come from him? The first was during one of his many attempts to “make peace” with her irritable demeanor. He had found a small grey mushroom, shaped oddly and nearly resembling a flower. “For you.” He had bowed deeply with the gesture, one arm crossing his chest and the other brandishing the mushroom-flower. She couldn’t tell if he was being sincere or making fun of her, as she had just revealed that she had been the heir to Dread Forests before the Draining consumed what subjects she might have one day ruled.

She had turned away from his gesture, calling over her shoulder as she stalked away, “You might want to put that back where you found it. The spores are toxic.”

He had shouted in alarm, tossing the misshapen mushroom into the gloomy forest around them. Seraphina had to bite her cheek to keep from smiling. The mushroom’s spores weren’t toxic.

Despite her refusal to accept his first gift, he continued to offer her whatever he could. From odd and interestingly misshapen items he found to tools resourcefully created from dead foliage.

He always accompanied the gifts with those two simple words. “For you.” As if he felt the need to tell her that everything he did was for her.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” Rough hands grasped her shoulders, shaking lightly and bringing her thoughts once again to the present. Perhaps she had hit her head at some point, she was having a hard time focusing. Alistair’s brows furrowed. His face was only a few inches from hers, his eyes searching hers. “Maybe you should sit and rest for now. Take advantage of the respite. We don’t know when the next attack will come.

“No.” She shook her head, trying to fling the memories from her mind. “No, I’m fine. What is the plan now?”

His eyes narrowed as he scrutinized her. She could tell he didn’t believe that she was truly alright, but given the situation they found themselves in, they lacked the luxury of time. He nodded, released her, and took a step back. She didn’t realize how warm his hands had been until the cold night air nipped at her shoulders.

“Since my brilliant plan didn’t work,” He stopped to glare at her eyeroll. “I figure we should try the exact opposite. If dividing its attention didn’t do anything, maybe we can overcome it with brute force.”

Seraphina didn’t trust her voice not to waiver, so she only nodded. In the six months they had traveled together, this was their first encounter with the Shade itself. They had traveled leagues, crossed lakes whose surface was littered with the corpses of wildlife, both that of the water and land. Beasts torn straight from nightmares stalked them day and night, an occasional battle for survival ensuing when the beasts decided they had waited long enough for their meal.

They had been forced to learn quickly how to use each other’s strengths to their own advantage, as well as how to cover the others weakness. While Seraphina could attack a beast from a distance with her art, Alistair wielded his massive great sword to cleave any creatures that came too close. In combat, they moved as one, at times communicating with mere glances.

Seraphina had known many people in her lifetime before the Draining. But never had she felt so in tune with another person’s being.

Just as they had countless times before, they now moved as one against the Shade. As Alistair dove to the ground, rolling beneath the onslaught of night blades made of shadow, Seraphina thrust her hands outward, static causing her hair to lift as bolts of energy shot from her fingertips, arching toward the figure bathed in darkness. Flames darker than the abyss coiled around the figure’s shape, making it near impossible to aim her attacks anywhere vital. Just as the last of her bolts left her, Alistair leapt to his feet, drawing the Shade’s attention and allowing her to dart behind a tree, more night blades impacting the forest around her.

Back and forth, the combat never ending as neither side could gain the upper hand. Before too long, they found themselves once again behind the cover of the rock outcropping. Sweat and blood dripped into Seraphina’s eyes, blurring her vision of the Paladin beside her. He was covered in so many cuts and gashes that she could no longer tell where one ended and another began. His legs trembled as he braced himself against the cool rock. They were running out of time. She had believed their skill too great for the Shade to overcome, but she saw the creature’s strategy for what it really was. It was toying with them, wearing them down.

As she watched the man before her try to catch his breath, sweat mixing with blood as it ran down what remained of his tattered armor, a new kind of agony mixed with the pain emanating from her injuries. She had long accepted her own fate, having watched the Draining devour everyone she had ever known. But the thought of Alistair succumbing to his injuries, or falling before the Shade… The thought caused nausea to roll in her stomach.

She couldn’t lose him. She wouldn’t lose him. There was one last ability to her art she hadn’t yet tried. It was risky, and just as likely to end her own life as destroy the Shade, but well worth the risk if it meant he would survive.

She forced her breathing to level out and her roiling stomach to settle.

“I have an idea.”

“Thank the Order. Clearly none of my ideas are working, I guess we could give one of yours a try.” She saw his humor for what it was, an attempt to cover his pain and worry. She studied his face, committing every curve, line, hair, and freckle to memory. He reached for her, wrapping his hand behind the nape of her neck and pulling her forward to rest their foreheads together. His eyes were closed, but hers were wide with surprise.

“I trust you.” Her throat swelled with emotion, and she was unable to reply. He hadn’t even asked what her plan was, yet he would follow her blindly. Before she could contemplate the guilt beginning to claw its way through her, she closed her eyes and allowed herself to enjoy the closeness of him. In the cold damp surrounding them within the Draining, she could feel the warmth of his body heat drifting toward her.

The moment was broken as Alistair took a deep breath and stepped back, dropping into once of his many combat stances she had memorized. All thought of his warmth dissipated as she focused on the task at hand.

“Just keep it distracted for a long as you can.” He nodded, again asking no questions, and charged from behind their cover. Once she heard the whistling roar of his great sword cutting through air, she stepped away from the cover and faced the Shade, deep in combat with a Paladin of the Silver Order.

Seraphina closed her eyes and raised her hands to cup before her chest. She had never seen this done, only heard tales and stories as a child, as it was only to be performed in times of great need.

She turned her focus inward, toward the core of her being, finding the essence of her true self. All sound faded, followed quickly by her other senses, until she perceived only herself. Light surrounded her, blinding yet comforting. She nearly lost herself in the serenity. After years of pain, the tranquility was a balm on her frayed soul. Distantly, she must have heard Alistair, for thoughts of him suddenly flooded her mind.

Every terrible joke and lopsided grin he threw her way. Every odd and useless gift he gave her, that somehow meant more to her than any gift riches could buy. Every attempt to make light of their dark circumstances.

She called the light to her, compressing it within herself until it had transformed from an endless expanse into a ball of pure energy cupped between her palms. She wasn’t sure when she had opened her eyes, but she raised her gaze to fix on the ever-shifting visage of the Shade. She was dimly aware of Alistair a few paces to her right, panting and leaning heavily on his great sword, the tip of the weapon wedged deep in the ground.

Though she could see no features, she knew the Shade watched her. Could it tell what she was about to do? Was it afraid? She certainly hoped so. Releasing all tethers she had to the art, she pushed the ball of pure essence from herself and directly toward the Shade. Though she had put little physical effort in the action, the ball zipped away from her, hardly more than a blinding blur as is sped toward the Shade.

The instant before the energy made contact with the formless specter, she could have sworn she heard a high-pitched squeal.

Light exploded from the impact, blinding Seraphina and Alistair. As quickly as the light had expanded, it shrunk, seeming to absorb into the Shade’s form, now a writhing black mass of flames and smoke. As the light extinguished, the visage of the Shade exploded in all directions, carrying with it another shriek.

Her body drained of all energy, Seraphina was helpless but to watch as the blast of darkness shot toward her. She was not afraid. She had known tearing the art from her very soul was likely to kill her. She just hoped Alistair had found cover.

“Seraphina!” She watched in absolute horror as Alistair dove toward her, angling his body to shield her from the blast. She wanted to scream for him to find cover but had hardly opened her mouth when the darkness impacted his back, sending him sprawling across her.

The explosion was over as quickly as it began, the sudden silence ringing in her ears. She lay there for a moment, stunned. Alistair lay unmoving on top of her, his weight pushing her deeper into the muddy ground. His rattled breath snapped her out of her stupor, and she somehow managed to roll him off of her, settling him on his back.

Blood dripped from his nose and ears, bright red against the mud that caked his face and tattered armor.

“You idiot!” She wanted to punch him. Had he not realized that she was trying to save him? “Why would you do that!?” Though anger laced her words, tears raced down her cheeks, mixing with the blood and sweat. His breathing rattled again, and she noticed the massive dent in his chest piece. Using the thin blade he had given her only moments before, she cut the armor from him. Once removed, he seemed to breath easier. She watched his chest rise and fall until she was sure it wouldn’t stop.

Her limbs felt as heavy as lead, and she dropped down beside him in the mud.

It was over. The Shade was gone. She didn’t know if that was enough to heal her lands, but at least it could be given the chance. As darkness began to creep around the edges of her vision, she placed her hand on Alistair’s chest. His heart beat strongly under her palm.

“For you.”

She stirred slightly at his whispered words, fighting back the darkness of unconsciousness. “What?”

“For you. Always, for you.”

A tear-soaked laugh bubbled up from Seraphina. Leaving her hand on his chest, she finally allowed the comfort of sleep take her, her heart beating in tandem with his.

February 13, 2024 09:36

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1 comment

John Rutherford
14:11 Feb 18, 2024

Interesting story, magical.


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