a fantasy-type genre and is purely of my own work.
|Betrayal Knows My Name
The fire in the grate flickered erratically as the door to the little tavern opened and closed once again. The innkeeper looked up from his work, scowled deeply.
Not him again, he thought tiredly as a young man bearing a heavy walking-stick passed over the threshold.
The man was tall and well-muscled with narrow hips and broad shoulders. He had a graceful face with round, green-brown eyes and full lips. His hair was dirty-blonde, more flaxen coloured than anything else, and it stuck up in odd locks around his head with two locks of it finely braided along the left side of his face, ending in loose cords just above his leather-clad shoulders. There were miniscule bells woven into the end of the braids, and they tinkled with the sweeping movement of his steps.
He walked under the door-frame marking the edge of the entrance hall, shaking his head free of the snow that had been falling since early dawn__ again, the sound of bells sounded above the dying din of conversation in the taproom. The young man glanced around, sending a warning glare to all those who had turned to look at him. Those who had been doing just that immediately turned away and faced again their drinks.
The newcomer nodded, face a mask of stoicism; he walked slowly to an empty table in the corner of the taproom. He sat and placed his heavy walking stick against the wall behind him__ within easy reach.
The innkeeper grabbed by the arm a serving-girl that was re-entering the back room, “Go take his order.” he ordered her gruffly, motioning with his head towards the newcomer.
The serving-girl looked to where he had motioned. Her eyes widened and she turned sharply to glare at him.
“What? Why do I have to do it, Cormon? I’ve only worked here for five days, why can't you send someone else?” she demanded in a hushed whisper.
Cormon shook his head, “Because, Cybil, you're the closest to him. Now, go; the sooner you see to him, the faster he'll leave.” he hissed back, giving her a stern look.
Cybil sighed angrily, and then nodded. She steeled herself, then wound her way through the tables to the back corner.
All the while, she was silently praying that when this particular customer finally went ‘around the bend’, that it would not be today. He was a regular at the tavern: in every day at around seven o'clock in the evening. He had never caused a ruckus before, but he was always expected to. That's the way it was with Terrans, they did one thing wrong and suddenly they became a ticking-time-bomb.
She reached his table. The young man was sitting with his hand propped up under his chin, staring out the window. Cybil cleared her throat quietly. The man ignored her, or did not hear. She did it again, a little louder this time.
He looked up and smiled kindly. Cybil noticed that his eyes, which were angled down slightly, crinkled at the corners when he did so.
Cybil looked at her feet, shuffling them nervously, “Um, ma...may I...uuh,” she looked up at the ceiling, and took a deep breath. “Can I get you something, sir?” she asked, closing her eyes in preparation for the explosion of anger.
“Yes, might I have a mug of the Cherry Cider?” he asked pleasantly,
Cybil's eyes shot open and she stared at the young man. He was still smiling at her, yet, to her, it seemed like his eyes were just a little sad. She smiled back hesitantly.
“Yes, of course you can. We've just received the shipment of cherries last week and the batch of cider has just finished brewing. Is there anything else?” she asked him,
The young man shook his head, “No, not today, Miss.” he said.
Cybil turned to go,
Cybil paused, almost turned her head to look at him, but instead hurried to the back room. The door swung shut behind her; as soon as it did, she was immediately surrounded by the other serving-girls. Cybil held up her round, wooden-tray as if it were a shield against the barrage of questions being flung at her.
“Did he threaten you?” demanded one,
“Were you scared?” inquired another,
“What did he order?” asked one of the cooks in the back of the room.
“Oh, uh…Cherry Cider!” Cybil shouted above the clamor.
“Did he try to grab you?”
“What did he say?”
“Isn't he cute?”
That last question put a stop to all the others. It had been asked by none other than Miranda Lockart, the youngest of the group. She looked around innocently, wondering why they had all stopped talking.
“What?” she inquired vacantly, peering shyly at the other girls.
There was a collective groan and they turned away from her.
“Alright, everyone, back to work!” a thunderous, contralto voice crowed from directly behind the group.
Marguerite, the inn-keeper's wife.
She was a large woman, but not fat. Standing at a staggering 192 centimeters, she towered over nearly everyone else belonging to the inn's staff. She was, to say the least, a very intimidating woman. She had her grey-streaked brown hair pulled into a tight bun on the top of her head; her stern grey eyes scanned the group for those looking to disobey her. No one did. The serving girls scattered and returned to their various duties. Marguerite walked over to Cybil, put her hand on the young girl's shoulder.
“You pay no attention to those girls, Cybil. Do your duty and you'll be alright.”
“Thanks, Marguerite, I appreciate it.” Cybil smiled, craning her neck back so she could look Marguerite in the face.
Marguerite smiled, patted her on the back, the force of which was enough to stagger Cybil forward a few steps, “Yes, now, get to work or I just might have to send you out to clean the heads.” she warned.
The heads were nothing more than a wooden bench with holes cut into it that sat above a little stream that lead to a pond half a league or so from the town. Cleaning the heads meant scrubbing the tops and rims of the wooden benches, and removing any clogs that happened to come up in the stream. Safe to say, there wasn't much of anything living in the pond.
Cybil gulped and hurried over to where the Cherry Cider was bubbling in a pot over the fire.
She ladled some into a large mug and set it on the tray, then hurried back out the door. Marguerite silently left the room, and, as soon as she did, the other girls crowded up against the tiny window mounted in the doors leading into the taproom to watch. There was much shoving and harsh whispering, but as soon as Cybil came near to the corner table, everything went silent once more.
Cybil arrived back at the corner table, where the young man was once again staring out the window with his chin planted securely in his palm.
She calmly walked up to him and set the large mug down on the table,
“Sorry it took so long, sir, it was hectic in the back room.”
“Acastus,” the young man replied.
Cybil was taken aback, “I beg your pardon?” she said in a quiet tone, so as not to irritate him.
The young man looked at her, sad, green eyes sparkling in the late afternoon light.
“Acastus. That's my name, I just thought it'd be better than 'sir'. That's a title that I really don't think I deserve.” he said seriously, frowning slightly.
Cybil gasped, “Oh, yes! I'm so sorry for the mistake! I meant no offense, I just...”
“It's alright,” Acastus said with a small smile, interrupting her. “You weren't to know how to address a stranger, the fault is mine.”
Cybil was speechless; she stared at Acastus with wonder in her eyes. This young man before her was the complete opposite of what all the other serving-girls had said about him. They had told her that he was a Terran, and therefore he was prone to violent and lustful mannerisms, not to be trusted. That was what they said, anyway; yet this young man before her was kind, gentle, sweet and, Cybil was surprised to admit, more decent than eighty percent of the men in that small town nestled in the Tyrian mountains.
Cybil smiled back at Acastus, “If it was your fault, then I forgive you, Acastus.” she turned to leave once again, but stopped, and looked back, “You know, you're not like a Terran at all.”
Acastus chuckled, “And how many Terrans have you known?”
Cybil peered at him thoughtfully, “None,”
Acastus sipped his cider slowly as he pondered what had just happened. In all his years, he had always striven to be courteous and agreeable in everything he did and to everyone he met. But, despite this, he had never received a 'warm welcome' from anyone, at least not after they found out that he was a Terran. This girl Cybil, she was the first person whom Acastus had ever met that didn't shy away in fear or send him threatening glances when he spoke to her. That puzzled Acastus, and he wondered if there was perhaps hope for the people of this world.
He cast a glance towards where Cybil was working. She wasn't the most stunning girl to look at, but she had her own kind of beauty about her. It lay there hidden beneath the surface in the way she walked and smiled at people. Cybil was a small girl with delicate hands. She had mousy-brown hair and eyes that were like amber. She had a soft face that looked as if it still had a bit of childhood chubbiness to it. Acastus smiled to himself, for a moment entertaining the idea that they might become friends. He shook off the idea though, it could never come to pass.
Cybil disappeared once again into the back room; Acastus turned back to his drink.
As soon as Cybil stepped through the doorway to the back room, she was once again assaulted with questions. Cybil backed up into the wall, closed her eyes against the cacophony.
“Enough!” a voice snapped from behind the gaggle of girls.
Cybil opened her eyes and saw her saviour standing with arms akimbo and a broom in one hand.
“Dmitri!” Cybil squeaked, standing on her toes to make herself seen above the taller girls.
Dmitri was the inn-keeper's adopted son. He was only about three years Cybil's senior, and he was easily the kindest boy in the village. Cybil's heart beat faster every time she saw him. He was handsome too, with dark-brown hair and even darker eyes. He had rough hands and, unlike Acastus, a strong, square jaw.
Eight pairs of eyes turned to look at him; eight mouths went silent. A little path cleared through the gaggle, and Dmitri stepped through it. He took Cybil's wrist, led her away from the group.
Once they were out of earshot of the other girls, Dmitri turned to her and asked,
“What was that about?”
Cybil sighed, “Nothing.”
Dmitri's eyebrows shot up, “Nothing? Any fool can see that that wasn't about nothing; now, tell me.”
Cybil looked at him, not sure if she should tell him. However, the way he was looking at her made her feel such comfort that she couldn't disobey.
“It was about Acas...I mean, the Terran. I had to serve the Terran, and the other girls wanted to know about it.”
Cybil was surprised to see rage flare in Dmitri's eyes. He seized her shoulders. “What did he say? Did he hurt you?” he demanded, shaking her a little.
“Well, no, but...” she said.
“Then he must have said something to you...what? Any threats? Insults?”
“No!” she cried, cutting off Dmitri's flow of questions.
He released her shoulders, and looked at her, obviously not believing a word of it.
“Honestly,” Cybil continued, “He doesn't seem all that bad to me. In fact, he seems more decent than...”
“Decent? You've got to be joking, Cybil. How can you say that that thing could be anything even resembling decent?”
Cybil was taken aback, and she immediately went on the defensive.
“How can you be so condescending toward a person you don't even know?” she demanded.
“He's not human, Cybil, none of them are. To compare a Terran and a normal person even on the same scale is an insult to mankind.”
“But why? What has he done to earn such hatred from all of you?” she asked quietly, folding her arms across her chest.
Dmitri's voice softened. “You really don't know, do you?”
Cybil looked at him, eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Know what?”
“Come with me,” he said, taking her arm again and leading her through the maze of counter-tops and cooks to the small room at the back of the kitchen.
It was sparsely decorated with a single oak table with seven chairs around it. He pulled one of them out for Cybil, and she sat down in it hesitantly. Dmitri took the one across from her, settled back into it.
“Do you know what an Elyne is, Cybil?” Dmitri began.
“Explain to me what you know.”
“Elynes are a race of people that look like humans, but aren't.” she said, and Dmitri motioned for her to elaborate. “They live in secluded places, like the Daborian Mountains and the Verisian Forests. They aren't like us. They can do fantastical things like control fire and...and levitate. And they can run incredibly long distances without slowing. They have amazing strength__ they do; I've seen them perform at festivals in some of the cities farther away from the mountains.
Some people say that they can perform magic too, which is why they walk around with wild animals at their sides. I don't know if that's true or not, but that's what people say, anyway.”
Dmitri nodded, and looked at her seriously, like a teacher lecturing a student.
“And what about their behaviour? How do they act?”
Cybil had to think about that one. Having grown up for the first eleven years of her life in a larger city south of the Tyrian Mountains, she had been raised around the Elynes that traded and performed in the markets. The only problem was that she had never paid much attention to how they acted; such observations were beyond a child of eleven.
“Well, from what I remember, they're really quiet. I've never heard one say more than two dozen words at any one given time. They keep to themselves, but they watch everything. I don't think there's a thing going on in the market places that they don't see and know about.” Cybil paused,
“I don't think they like humans much, either.”
“Exactly,” Dmitri said.
“Elynes and humans are at odds with each other, we always have been. We hate each other. Elynes don't like us because we're loud, obnoxious, rude, crude, and savage. We don't like them because they're quiet, calm, creepy in more than one way, pretty much flawless in their appearance, and, more than anything, we don't trust them.
We've had dozens of wars with them in history. A war with the Elynes was what sent us into this downward spiral into hell that we're in.
We lost everything in that war. All the technology we had gained, all the resources, all the history, and, worst of all, we lost our world...literally. They weren't from earth originally, they were from some other universe that we can't see, and then, five hundred years ago, the bridge between the two worlds was shattered and the two worlds merged. They brought with them all the beasties that they had over there and, lo and behold, as soon as they did...” he clapped his hands together, “Total world devastation!” he proclaimed, standing up. He looked to Cybil as if he had just discovered a cure for the common cold.
“What does this have to do with Terrans?” Cybil asked, eager to get to the heart of the matter.
Dmitri sat back down, folded his arms across his chest.
“What is a Terran?” he asked her.
Cybil was at a loss for words, she honestly had no idea. She merely shrugged her shoulders.
Dmitri smiled…that smile never reached his eyes. “Terrans are the unholy spawn of a human and an Elyne.”
Cybil's eyes widened. If Acastus was half Elyne, then that certainly explained his ethereal beauty, but that didn't answer the question that had been burning in her mind ever since Dmitri had brought her to the back room.
“So, what does any of this have to do with Acastus?” she demanded, forgetting that she was not supposed to say his name...forgetting, or not caring.
Dmitri’s smile fell ever so slightly, “Glad you asked. Since Elynes and humans were pretty much born to destroy each other, you might draw the conclusion that Terrans are, shall we say__ unstable?” he said, tapping the side of his head with a hinting look.
Crystalline amber flashed bitterly through Cybil’s slitted eyes, “And?”
“And they're unstable. That's what defines Terrans. They can live perfectly normal lives and then, one day, they just snap. Only for a single instant, mind you, but in that instant they destroy any place society might have had for them. After that instant, they return to normal. They have no recollection of the event, but people remember. They are forever branded as a menace to society and avoided like a festering malignancy.”
“So, you just automatically treat all Terrans like this, even if they haven’t done anything wrong?” Cybil demanded, fury at the prospect burning in her eyes
Dmitri’s smile metamorphosed into a deep scowl at Cybil’s tone.
“No, you see, we don’t know they're Terran until this happens. They look and act completely normal, but when they snap, they change. They turn into monsters that destroy everything in their path, most of the time changing physically: a different hair colour, different eyes, claws, a tail, animal ears, that sort of thing. Then we know they're Terrans.”
Cybil was silent for a long time. Her eyes studied the table, suddenly finding great interest in the pinkish-brown wood-grain. After she had committed the pattern to memory, she took a deep breath and voiced the question that she did not want to hear the answer to.
“What happened to Acastus?” she whispered in a voice that was barely audible.
Dmitri smiled__ it was cold, feral, and, again, did not reach is eyes. “Eleven years ago, when Acastus was nine, he snapped.”
Cybil raised her eyebrows,
…that young? She thought, and then hmmm, so he's only a year or two older than me...
Dmitri continued, not waiting for Cybil to ask what had happened.
“Acastus lived with his mother. Her name was Eilonwy. She came to this village pregnant and without a husband. My father let her live and work here at the inn until she got enough money to purchase a small home. She did just that after about seven months, but she stayed on to work. My mother was the midwife who delivered the baby a month after Eilonwy purchased a home. Mother said that it was the most terrible thing that she had ever seen. Eilonwy went through more pain than any normal mother should in bringing a baby into the world, and when the babe was finally born, he didn't cry. Not a peep. Usually, that means that there's stuff in the baby's lungs, but he breathed alright, and was, in all other ways, a healthy boy. Eilonwy named him Acastus, 'for his father' she said.
Acastus grew up with me. Every day Eilonwy would bring him to the inn, and my mother would try to make me play with him. I was two years older, so I didn't want to associate with him in the first place, but I also didn't want to because he gave me the willies. He was always quiet, and he never really did anything, just sat out in the yard and stared at things. Sometimes he would climb up into the maple tree for hours on end and not come down till his mother called him.
When he got older, he would wander away for days at a time and then would come back without a word to anyone about where he'd been. Occasionally, he even brought back a marten or an otter with him. The animals just followed him home without any encouragement at all. One time he even brought home this big weasel thing with wings. Wings! I didn't even know creatures like that existed, yet here came Acastus waltzing into the inn with a flying weasel that was longer than he was! When I asked him what it was, he just looked at me with eyes that betrayed an age that did not belong to him and said:
“She is Nŷlg√≠r√¨.” And he walked away without another word.
It was no small wonder that he frightened me...and everyone else, for that matter.
Anyway, the snows had just melted off the pass and the traders were coming through.
Every year it brings hundreds of people from all over Annaris to our town as they make their way to the rest of Daan. That particular year, however, there were some traders that had come all the way from Oceanus.
Big, ugly brutes they were, with long matted hair and piercings all over their faces. They had dark skin and even darker eyes__ rude as well, and they loved their liquor. The trio of them stayed at our inn, and one morning had a mug too many and started to get a little wild. Eilonwy was the only one working the inn, the rest were at Market selling mead and ale to the traders.
Well, Eilonwy was very beautiful. Her hair was long and black, and her eyes shone like sapphires. She was pale as the moon and had the most beautiful face you could ever imagine. The Oceans couldn't resist that, intoxicated as they were. I don't know exactly what happened, but it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to figure out what they did to her.
Mother had asked me to go with Acastus on one of his little 'adventures' outside of town. We had been traipsing around the highlands for three bloody days and I was looking forward to a warm mattress and a lovely feather pillow. The Oceans were gone by the time we returned home, but Eilonwy was still there. She smiled at us when we walked in and served up some Pear Cider and a Meal Cake for each of us. She gave us the cider in the normal big wooden mugs, and then went to get the Meal Cakes out of the oven.
I could tell as soon as we stepped over the threshold that something was bothering Acastus: his gaze passed over the room through narrowed eyes. He kept sniffing as well, as if the air was foul. When Eilonwy came back, he had his answer.
While she was putting the wooden tray with the cakes on the table, he seized one of her arms and pulled up the sleeve of her dress. Her forearm was covered in dark brown bruises, and there was a coarse brown hair stuck to the sleeve of her dress. By the look on Acastus' face, I reckon that he knew exactly what had happened.
Something changed in him then. He let go of his mother's arm; she stumbled back, frightened. Acastus clenched his left hand into a fist and his fingers wrapped tightly around the mug in the other hand. He bent his head down, teeth gritted and eyes closed tight. The mug in his hand splintered and fell to the floor; blood began dripping from his closed fist where his fingernails had cut into the flesh of his palm.
Eilonwy came forward to help him, but when he looked up at her, it wasn't Acastus anymore...at least, not the Acastus that she knew.
His hair darkened… the eyes that were once such a lovely green colour were now red as the blood that dripped onto the floor. Those eyes,” Dmitri paused, and got very quiet as he stared at his hands folded on the table in front of him, “Those eyes still give me nightmares...they were nothing...nothing but pure malice and hatred__ hatred for those who had done such a thing to his mother.
'Acastus,' Eilonwy called out hesitantly, reaching out to her son. But he was gone. Acastus had turned and left the taproom so fast that I hardly registered his passing. He had gone in search of the monsters that had hurt his mother. Eilonwy ran after him, I wasn't so quick to follow. I left the inn barely seven minutes after Eilonwy, but when I got to Market, what I found was something I wish never would have happened.
All three of the Oceans were dead; two of their heads had been severed and one had been cut clean in half at the torso. The looks upon their dead faces were ones of such terror that it would make any man wonder what monster could instill such fear into the hearts of men.
Well, that monster was lying not three feet away, unconscious, with blood on his face and body. Acastus was alright, so I ignored him, and began to search for Eilonwy. She had run after Acastus, so she should have been there too.
I found her not far away. Her body lay at the bottom of a streak of blood that ran down a brick wall at the edge of the Market Square. The blood had come from the back of her head as she struck it against the wall and then slid down to the ground. Her ribcage was completely collapsed, as if some immense force had slammed into her and propelled her backwards. I think that's exactly what happened.” Dmitri looked at Cybil with all the seriousness of an undertaker.
“Acastus murdered three men and his own mother. The only person in his life whom he ever cared for. He's dangerous. Promise me that you won't go near him anymore, it would kill me to see any harm come to you.” he begged her, pleading with his dark brown eyes.
Cybil longed to say yes, but she knew that she couldn't, not now, not anymore. She had fallen under Acastus' spell, and now that she was in the trap, she had no desire to escape.
Dmitri still waited for an answer. But Cybil was saved from getting one when the door behind Dmitri opened to expose Marguerite, sending a curious eye towards her son and employee.
“Oh, so here you are, Cybil. I've been looking for you.”
Cybil stood up hastily, “I'm sorry, Marguerite! I'll get back to work at once, I...”
“Don't worry child, you can go home, it's nightfall, and most of the other girls are leaving as well.”
Cybil smiled and nodded her thanks.
Marguerite left, and Cybil turned to follow. As she was about to reopen the door, a hand pushed it closed again. Cybil looked up and saw Dmitri looking down at her.
“Dmitri, I need to go...” she protested, trying to move his hand away from the door.
Dmitri put his hand under her chin, raising it so she would look at him. His eyes were sad, almost like Acastus' eyes, but not quite.
She never finished. At that very moment, Dmitri leaned down and pressed his lips to hers. They felt warm against her mouth, and the feeling made her heart flutter like a bird.
After a minute or so, he pulled back and whispered quietly,
“Promise me that you'll stay away from the Terran, Cybil. Please...”
But she couldn't. Cybil was at a total loss for words. She just stared wide-eyed at Dmitri, and then turned to leave.
He let her go this time, watched as she disappeared through the doorway to the taproom.
Cybil grabbed her heavy-wool cloak and put it around her shoulders. She fumbled a bit with the clasp. Her fingers were cold and couldn't get a good grip on the iron pin; her mind still lingered on the feeling of Dmitri's lips on her own. Smooth fingers gently pushed hers aside and pinned the clasp for her.
Cybil looked up to see Acastus standing there before her. He was smiling. Though Cybil had known him less than an hour, she already knew that she liked his smile. And her favourite thing about him was the way that his eyes crinkled when he did just that.
“Thank you,” she said, smiling back at him.
Acastus shook his head. “No, I should thank you. You've done me a favour that has saved my life. I'm indebted to you for that, and I'm simply trying to repay you.”
Cybil was surprised, “Oh. Uh, what favour did I do you?” she asked with a question on her face.
Acastus' smile softened, “You believed in me.” he said quietly, looking into her amber eyes. They stood there like that, peering into each others eyes like two lovers in a fairytale.
“I'm Cybil, by the way.” Cybil said, breaking the enchantment. She held out her hand for him to take.
Acastus was confused at first; no one had ever offered him their hand before. But he had seen men do this on many, many occasions, so he followed the set example. Acastus took her hand in his gently, brought it silently to his lips.
Cybil was a bit thrown off guard; this was not what she had expected. She was thinking more along the lines of a handshake, but she figured that whatever suited Acastus was fine.
“May I walk you home, Miss Cybil?” Acastus asked when he had released her hand.
Cybil laughed. It was a lovely thing, like the tinkling of so many crystal bells. “Cybil, just call me Cybil.”
Acastus nodded, smiled, “Alright, Cybil....” he paused, trying out the word on his tongue. “May I walk you home?” he inquired once more.
“Yes, you may.” she held out her arm for him.
Acastus linked his arm in hers and turned towards the door. He opened it, and felt Cybil tremble as the icy wall of air hit her. He cast his eyes downward, half-prepared to close the door once again to salve her chill. He recovered quickly enough from this impulse, and held the door open for Cybil, temporarily unhooking his arm from hers.
Cybil passed over the threshold, automatically wrapping her cloak tightly around her.
Acastus reached around the door, and retrieved the heavy-wooden-staff that he had laid aside while helping Cybil button up her clasp. The wood was smooth to the touch, and rang with a familiarity that Acastus knew so well.
As Acastus turned to close the door again, he looked back into the taproom one last time. It was there that he met a pair of dark eyes that he had known since childhood. Those eyes burned with hatred, and if looks could kill, Acastus would have been dead a thousand times over already.
The Terran did not shy away from that malicious gaze, but instead met it head on, with his own eyes blazing a challenge.
'Come and get me,' they said. And then Acastus shut the door to the inn, cutting off the flow of warm air to the icy night.
The night was silent. Not even Cybil's heavy footfalls succeeded in shattering the dense blanket of stillness that lay over the village. A stiff northern wind raised its head, causing the bells woven into Acastus’ braids to sing. The wind pierced Cybil's thick, woolen-cloak as if it were woven from the thinnest linen.
She shivered, instinctively pressing her small frame closer to the much warmer Acastus. Cybil looked up at him with a question burning on her lips.
“Aren't you cold, Acastus?” she voiced, wondering how he ever managed to stand the chill night air while wearing his attire.
Acastus wore a very simple outfit: a padded linen gambeson that had a high collar and laced up the front. Over top of that was a short-sleeved brown leather jerkin that was held together across Acastus' torso by four buckles and was belted around his waist. Covering his legs was only a pair of skin-tight leather trews that appeared no warmer than the cotton chemise that Cybil wore underneath her wool dress. On his feet was nothing more than a pair of knee-length leather soft-boots.
Acastus' complete attire was nothing unusual, Cybil had seen many men in her days wearing similar, if not the same, garments__ in the summer. Indeed, in all of her days she had never seen a man wear such light clothing in the winter. And it was winter-time. The month of April always brought heavy snow-fall and miserable winds from the northern reaches of Daan. Even now, snowflakes drifted lazily down from the darkened sky, coating the already frosty ground with a layer of whiteness thirteen centimeters thick. Acastus must have been truly mad to wear such inappropriate clothing for the weather of the Tyrian Mountains.
Acastus took his time answering. His green eyes trailed up past the roofs of the buildings and the peaks of the mountains to the night sky.
The stars were out tonight. The impenetrable stratum of the sky was scattered with millions upon millions of the tiny lights. The brightest of them, Nenys and Ithyn, shined their brilliant vermillion beacons across the night sky, blotting out the pallid efforts of the nearby stars. The Dvojit√° Rub√≠ny they were called__ the Twin Rubies. The Dvojit√° Rub√≠ny were two of the few cerise stars that could be seen in the sky, most of the other stars were varying shades of white, yellow, and blue. Nenys and Ithyn, named for the Wyrda__ or twins gods of Fate, were the jewels of the night-sky. They stayed in the same place in the sky every night of the year, and it seemed that all other stars revolved around them. Every traveler knew the sight of them, for their own safety relied upon the guiding light of the twin stars.
They were especially bright tonight, for neither moon nor cloud marred the night-time sky with their tawdry presence. That was a rarity. Of the three moons__ Kelkast, Estus, and Nenith__ that hung tethered to the earth, one of them, if not all, was always present a few degrees above the eastern horizon. Acastus had never in all his twenty years seen the veil of the sky without at least one of them. He wondered why they were not present now...
After some minutes of pondering the reason behind the disappearance of the three moons, Acastus looked down at Cybil. He was frowning slightly, as if the question he was about to answer bothered him.
“No,” he told her quietly, casting his gaze back onto the road in front of him. “I've never been able to feel the cold__ or the heat. Not in any significant degree, anyway...”
Acastus fell silent.
Cybil was silent as well. She stared at Acastus, noticing features of Acastus that had not been there a moment before. By asking that one simple question, Cybil had caused Acastus to metamorphose from an easy-going young man into a man who seemed to hold the weight of the world upon his shoulders. He seemed to have aged several decades even though his physical countenance had not changed: his green eyes were heavy with grief, and his once proud posture was now like unto that of a man who had lost everything precious to him.
Questions writhed in Cybil's mind, each one shoving and buffeting the other in a desperate endeavour to liberate itself from the confines of her mind by way of Cybil's mouth and tongue. The young girl was hard pressed to keep the glut of questions at bay.
“You can, I don't mind.” Acastus said without looking at her.
Before she could restrain herself, Cybil let loose the single most brilliant question she had in her arsenal:
Now Acastus looked down on her. He was mildly surprised that Cybil had not known what he meant, but nevertheless, he reiterated his statement.
“Your questions. It's alright if you ask them of me. I won't be offended.” he told her, cocking his eyebrow high upon his forehead.
Cybil was at a loss for words. She stared at Acastus, amber eyes wide and direful.
Can he read my thoughts? she wondered, panic beginning to course its way throughout her entire being. Blood rushed to her face and ears, causing her once fair skin to appear rosy in her embarrassment. She realized that if Acastus could read her thoughts, then he would inevitably bear a complete record of every thought and feeling that she had ever had__ including the thoughts and feelings about him.
Cybil shook herself mentally; No, he can't read my thoughts, that's silly... Cybil told herself, refusing to let herself be psyched-out by this preternatural young man that walked beside her. And yet, even as she thought this, she was once again lured in by Acastus' transcendental appearance. The more Cybil studied his face, the more sensual details of it seemed to strike her: Acastus' thin eyebrows, his straight, small nose, the high cheekbones...all of it was beautiful to Cybil. She found herself wishing more than anything for the chance to touch the smooth skin of Acastus' brow, trace the line of his narrow jaw so soft and graceful__ caress the gentle curve of his lips....No, Cybil snapped at herself in her mind. Remember was Dmitri told you: he's not human.... No, indeed not. In fact, the more she looked at Acastus, the less human and more like a god incarnate he looked....more like an Elyne.
Acastus was confused, he saw a myriad of emotions spark across Cybil's face, but he had no idea what was going on in that head of hers. Forsooth, what man really knows what visages the woman he holds precious to him conceives of?
“Uuh, Cybil?” he asked, both brows raised now. “Are you alri--”
“What questions?” Cybil demanded, cutting him off in mid-sentence. She silenced herself immediately. Her face turned an even darker shade of red after she realized what she had just done.
Acastus looked at her a moment, thoroughly confused, unsure of how to react. After some minutes, he decided upon the safest course of action available to him: he began to laugh. Acastus began laughing so hard that he had to stop walking. Acastus doubled over, overcome with loud guffaws and giggles. He fell on his back, clutching on his sides.
Cybil looked at him strangely, seriously reconsidering her earlier idolization of the young man before her.
Acastus rolled onto his side, effectively covering his head and body in the powdery snow.
“What's so hilarious?” Cybil asked, putting her hands on her hips.
Acastus ignored her for several minutes, unable to get himself under control.
Cybil was becoming irritated. Her eyes narrowed dangerously, and her voice was like unto a cutting blade of ice.
“Acastus, you're making a fool of yourself.”
That put a severe dampener on his merriment, but even so, it was still not enough to completely snuff it out.
Acastus lay flat on his back as his entire frame shook with his dying laughter. He looked up at Cybil, eyes watering from an exertion of such vigor. He wiped a tear from his eye.
“Are you quite finished?” she asked coldly, cocking her head to the side.
Acastus chuckled, “Yeah, I'm do-hyup...done.” he said, speech interrupted by a hiccup. He continued hiccupping for several minutes, each one sending a bolt of pain through his ribcage. This new pain made his eyes water more than the laughing fit he had just endured a few minutes ago.
Cybil said nothing, merely looked at him.
Acastus swallowed three large gulps of air, dispelling the hiccups with an iron-will. He succeeded, then with an over-exaggerated sigh, Acastus hoisted himself up using his heavy-walking stick, which had dropped next to him when he had fallen. The bells in his hair tinkled softly, they too recovering from the bout of merriment. Soon, he was leaning upon its dark black shaft. Acastus' green eyes gleamed with a giddy glint, and he waggled his eyebrows at Cybil playfully.
Cybil's own eyebrows knitted together in consternation. She looked at Acastus scornfully.
“What?” she snapped, glaring through the snow at him.
Acastus grinned wolfishly, and shook his head like a dog. A shower of snow and grass, accompanied by the song of bells, exploded from his flaxen mane, effectively spraying Cybil's face with small, damp flakes.
Much like an adolescent girl, Cybil squealed, and ducked behind her arm.
Acastus laughed again, squinting against the drops of water that fell from his bangs into his eyes.
Cybil was laughing as well. Unable to resist the urge, Cybil bent down and picked up a handful of snow. Having grown up in the southern portion of Ageosia__ which was the country just south of Daan__ this was the first experience Cybil had ever had with snow. However, she was still child enough to realize that a packed ball of snow could serve as an excellent weapon.
With all the concentration of a soldier, Cybil aimed, and threw.
The snowball flew at Acastus with tremendous speed. The flaxen-maned Terran saw too late the blur of white hurdling towards him. His face paled, and his eyes widened in shock an instant too late.
The projectile hit Acastus square in the throat. It exploded against his Adam's apple, splattering along the underside of his chin and sliding down underneath his gambeson onto his chest.
The feel of the slushy material set Acastus' teeth on edge. His green eyes widened and he let out a yelp of shock into the frigid night.
Without thinking, Acastus dropped his staff and un-belted his jerkin. With speed no man could possibly achieve, he cast the leather garment to the ground alongside his staff, leaving his torso garbed only in his gambeson. Acastus grabbed the bottom of the padded-shirt, began to shake it free of snow.
Cybil looked at her companion, a triumphant grin twisting her fine features. In her own opinion, she had done remarkably well for her first time in throwing a snowball. Cybil's grin only spread with the glorious sight of the expression plastered to Acastus’ face.
She raised her eyebrows imperiously,
“I thought you couldn't feel the cold.” she accused.
Acastus stood, having expelled the last bit of frigid water from his torso.
“I can't feel the cold,” he said, pausing to rub the place on his throat where the snowball had found its mark. “...but I can feel the wet.”
Cybil laughed, but, unlike Acastus, she was able to control her fits.
…a flash in the dark…
Something caught her eye, forcing the laughter to die in her throat.
The top of Acastus' gambeson had come unlaced, exposing his finely-toned chest to the elements. It was not this, however, that drew Cybil's gaze__ it was something else.
“What is that?” Cybil asked pointing to Acastus' chest.
The flaxen-maned Terran looked down, then at Cybil in confusion.
“Uuh, my chest?” he questioned, unsure what Cybil had meant other than his chest. It seemed a silly thing to inquire.
Cybil shook her head, closed the distance between them in three short strides.
“No, not that__ this.” she said, pulling open his gambeson and exposing the source of her inquiry.
Ten characters, etched in the blackest of script, scrawled and webbed along the line of his left-hand collarbone. The skin surrounding was pallid, like the crystalline face of Kelkast as she hovers with her sisters. It hardly looked like skin at all.
Cybil touched the place where the characters lay. Her fingers were cold, but still she winced at the icy feel of that crystalline flesh.
“What does it say?” Cybil asked, tracing the elegant script with the tip of her finger.
Acastus looked away from her.
“N'osfer√≠√∂s.” his voice was gruff, hoarse...pained.
Cybil flattened her hand against his chest, peered at Acastus with a question in her eyes.
“What does it mean?”
Acastus stood stock still. Though he could not feel the heat, the place where her fingers touched burned with a fiery intensity that he had never before experienced. He closed his eyes, trying with all his might to still his racing heart.
“I have not the heart to tell you.” he said, voice low, subdued. His brows knit together; he lifted his eyelids to peer at the young woman before him. Pain filled the evergreen seas of Acastus' eyes__ pain unlike any other that Cybil had before borne witness to.
Her heart grieved for Acastus; she moved to place her hands on either side of his face, to comfort him.