It is known that the Divine created all creatures from light, a part of themselves. They made fish to swim in the rivers and seas, deer to roam the forests, birds to fill the skies and men to act as stewards of all creation. These creatures in particular were strong, without flaw and intelligent. They quickly spread across the land, building and roaming and worshiping their creators for all that they had. The Divine were pleased with their creations, and beheld them as the greatest of creatures to walk the earth.
There was one, however, that created something else. A creature different from the rest. It walked as men did, but it was stronger than men, it endured when men could not and had power that men did not. The Divine despised them and cursed them, that the sun would mark their skin. They were creatures of darkness, having no light within them.
The first of these dark ones was Ahmin. He was a creature of great stature, with eyes like the sun and hair dark as night. For a time, he walked the earth as the only one of his kind. Nights were spent under the stars and days spent walking, searching for a new curiosity. One day, he came upon a village of men. For days, he watched them mill about their daily business and pondered on the strange tools they constructed until one day, he wanted to talk with them. He wanted to share ideas he had thought up with them, ideas that could make their lives easier. However, when he went to talk with a man tilling his field, the man fled before him in fear. Never before had this man seen another with eyes of glowing gold and bronze.
When Ahmin returned the next day, men waited with fishing spears, and demanded of him of the names of his parents; for in that day most men knew each other.
"I have no parents, except for the one who made me. I cannot remember a time when I was like your little ones."
This disturbed them greatly, and when Ahmin next returned, he was chased away by their spears and cursing. As he slept under the stars alone, he found that he ached for a small home like a man's. So he set about, making himself an ax of stone and wood to cut down trees for his home. When at last he completed it, he enjoyed shelter from wind and rain. It was short-lived when he began to yearn for a sweet bride to smile at him, to care for little ones that looked like them. He found that he felt lonely.
He begged his maker to give him a companion like him, one that would understand him and banish the loneliness. For a time, he thought that his pleas went unheard. On a stormy day, he was startled when there was a knocking at his door. There stood before him a woman with eyes like the ocean under the sun, and marks on her skin just as he had.
"I have no where to go, for I walk alone and the rain chills me beyond the flesh."
He knew then that his maker had heard him.
"Stay," he pleaded.
She smiled, and his heart ached no more. With each day that Kala stayed, even when the sun broke up the gloom, his heart swelled with tenderness for her. Days turned into months, and soon years had passed since Ahmin had been in the village of men.
Nonetheless, his peace was not to last. As he hunted for their food, a group of men came upon him. They reviled him with curses and determined to kill him; however, as Ahmin took the first step to flee for home, he found himself in the safety of the wooden house with the echo of a pained cry in his ears. In that moment, he discovered that he could cross distances with just a thought. Ahmin took a step across the distance, back to the men in the forest. There, he found that the arrow meant for him had slain another man.
And so began men's hatred for the creations of The One.
"Purity is light, and light is of The Divine. Those who are not pure are of The One, and hath no good in them." -The Prophetess Aminel of The Divine, from the Book of Creation
In a fleeting moment of insanity, Riulan wondered if walking through walls was another trait of their species. Her captors had forced some foul drought down her throat upon seizing her, and when she had woken up, she was in a door-less cell. Stone surrounded her on three sides, and thick metal bars stood before her, embedded in the rock; just beyond them, a man sat behind an ornate desk in the rather dull hall. She sat up, tugging clothes into place and rubbing grit from her cheek. He was silent as he scribbled at some document with a fine quill, his head bowed.
“I see that you've woken up.”
“Who are you?” She asked.
He sat up, quill still posed above the paper as he fixed her with a rather unimpressed stare. She realized with a start that his eyes threw the light in a strange way, just like hers did. Unknowingly, her interest was captured.
“Do you make a habit of intruding stranger’s homes? I do believe it’s a good way to get killed.” He said, an eyebrow bending.
“You own this place?”
“I’m the master here, yes. And who are you?"
The master of the house was not what she anticipated, though she had little clue as to what she expected in the first place. In a word, he was casual, simple. His clothes were not elaborate or garish; even so, he carried himself with a confidence that spoke of nobler birth. If nothing else, she knew he was wealthy and educated.
"My name is Riulan."
"And? Why are you here? Where are you from? Do not try to tell me you were simply traveling else where. I live quite a ways from the main road and nearby town."
Riulan sat with her hands in her lap, looking at the scrapes and dirt on them. The townspeople didn't care what happened to her, they told her as much when she had left to steal medicine. The butcher--a good man, but a poor and private one like most of them--had told her, "If you don't come back in a month with the medicine, ye'r dead to us. Best you don't come back." Her heart and thoughts raced for a suitable explanation. Should she bother to lie? What story would he believe?
"I'm fleeing my hometown because of the plague that has settled there. I was told that our lord has commanded all to stay in their hometowns and if they try to leave before the plague runs its course, they will be killed for risking other lives." A half-truth, she decided, was her best chance.
His expression softened as he nodded.
"I heard that as well. You are avoiding the road then?"
"Yes, with the hope I can blend in someplace else, maybe start over in a farming village."
"Yes, I'm an orphan."
When it seemed she would speak no more, he resumed scribbling at the document with his quill, managing to look bored of the task. After a few minutes of this, he glanced up and put his quill in a glass ink well, hands folded on the desk beneath him.
"You are turning out to be a dull captive." He said, forehead wrinkling in apparent distaste. To his secret delight, her eyes darkened and her nose screwed up in a scowl.
"Excuse me? Was I supposed to be entertainment, or a prisoner?"
"They are one in the same. I wouldn't know either way though, since you're my first."
"Why have a prison, then, if you never have prisoners? It seems like a waste of time and effort, on behalf of the builders."
He shrugged, smiling a little.
"I'm not the first owner of this place. I think another noble lived here before me. However, I want to return to my original remark. You make for a dull captive, miss Riulan, because I had thought you'd have questions or at least argue for your release. You've done neither. Now is your opportunity to do so, if you desire."
"And if I don't?"
"I haven't decided as of yet."
Riulan watched him for a moment more before staring at the stones beneath her, breathing a sigh. He was treating her like a pet, she supposed. He was like a child who had captured a toad or lizard and was anxiously waiting for it to squirm.
"I don't suppose you would give me the medicine for our sick? Or instructions on how to make it?"
The master leaned back in his chair and watched her with luminous gray eyes that--once again--caught her attention.
"What makes you think I have any?" He asked.
Fear lurched in her chest then, painful and sharp. It occurred to her that neither her or the other townspeople thought this through well. Did they even know if he had any? Did they consider that he might hire a doctor when he falls ill, instead of treating himself?
"Do you never get ill, then?"
A dark brow bent high on his forehead, mirroring the curling of his mouth.
"Of course I fall ill, I'm not impervious to mortal frailties; only human ones."
"Then you must have a doctor in your manor, or a medicine woman? Could she give me instructions on which plants I need for medicine?"
With a sigh, he stood up from his chair and walked around the desk, only to lean back against it. His expression was softer, the mocking smile wiped clean from it.
"I do have a servant that knows about medicine. However, did you think that perhaps, we might use different materials than your townspeople? Our medicine might be poison to them, or make them further ill."
"What do you use for a simple winter's cold?"
She swallowed, feeling sick as despair sank its cold claws into her chest.
"That makes you sick for days. Small children die, because they can't keep food down."
"It relieves the body aches and steam from a tea helps improve breathing. For one of us, however. Now, if my servant was to give you a list of plants that would heal one of us, how many of them do you think would be edible to your people?"
"Very few," she said, eyes downcast. To her shame, she felt about to cry. Her body ached from walking for days to reach the manor, and the rough handling from her captors. The few people she knew were sick and dying; her quest a failure. How could she go back, only to watch them die? Could she go back?
"Here, take this and write a letter to your people. Write down my instructions."
Her head snapped up, nearly losing an eye to the quill and paper extended to her. Taking them, she set to the task given her. He watched her expressions shift between intrigue, understanding and confusion. When he stopped speaking, she stared at the paper for a time.
"Why bathe so often? And put a cloth over the mouth?"
"The cleaner the sick are, and the less contact they have with the well, the more contained the illness will be. Dirty conditions seem to attract illness, and illness passes through touch. Let me take that now, Riulan."
Hearing her name from a stranger made her ears burn, and she glanced away as she held it out to him. The fact that she did not know his name made her wary anew, a keen reminder that she was still a prisoner. He looked over her writing and then folded it up, sealing it with wax.
"Who should receive this?"
"Alys. She's a woman who takes care of the orphans and the widows."
Odd enough, he began to straighten his clothes and faced down the hall as though he was preparing to leave. With a small smile directed towards her, he took a step forward, and vanished.
The stop and then trip of her heartbeat made her chest ache. She spent a long moment to stare down the hall, staring at the empty space while she tried to piece together a logical explanation. None fit, since the door had never opened, and she had never heard his foot touch the ground. A glance down the hall confirmed that her cell was the sole room in the hall, which negated the idea that he ducked into another chamber. After she spent a good long while trying to puzzle it out, the man himself reappeared directly in front of her cell, looking dusty. Riulan decided she was quite unsettled, and vowed to try understanding this peculiar man, until she was released or killed for her trespassing.
"How?" She asked, watching a small smile curl the corners of his mouth.
"It's a natural ability. Your friend, however, is decidedly displeased that I'm keeping you in exchange. Nonetheless, I do believe she'll do as I directed."
"You saw her when you disappeared?"
"Yes," he said, leaning against the desk once again. "I went to your town and found her quite quickly. The street children directed me to her quickly after a good deal of questioning. Hearing your name excited them."
"Did she look well?"
"For a woman of her age, I suppose so."
Riulan relaxed forward, resting her head on the bars with a breath of relief. This little quest of hers was the longest she had been away from Alys. Walking to the manor had taken half of a week, and scouting the grounds took another two days before she was captured. From the day she left, she had worried that the situation would turn for the worst while she was away.
"You said that you're keeping me in exchange?"
"Will you kill me when I have overstayed my welcome?"
His face contorted into a frown, and he gave his head a firm shake.
"No. I don't know how long I'll keep you, but you're far too interesting to waste. It'd be a shame."
"What interests you?" She asked, catching his gaze even as she swallowed the knot of dread in her throat. The sense of scrutiny radiating from him grew stronger, eyes moving over her like a farmer evaluating his animals.
He stepped close to the bars and squatted on his heels in front of her, looking up into her eyes.
"You have strange eyes for a human woman; they glow like moonlight and your skin is scarred and spotted as well. My servants say that you gave quite the struggle. That they bothered to mention it at all speaks something of your strength. Unusual for a woman indeed."
He stood suddenly, and began walking towards the door. As he did, it seemed that he took her composure with him. If he lost all interest in her, she feared that isolation might make her mad. Heart fluttering like a bird, she pressed her face to the bars and called to him.
"That's all? If my entertainment is cheap, then perhaps the price for my freedom will be the same?"
He paused at the door and glanced at her from the corner of his eye.
"No, because the value of the secret is much higher. I'll enjoy trying to find exactly what that secret is, miss Riulan. Don't cause trouble while I get us lunch."
He dismissed her with the closing of the door behind him, the thud falling on cool stone and hot ears. Riulan sat back against the wall, staring with a furious scowl at the ground between her feet. It had been years since she was a child, but such dismissals were abrasive to her all the same, still as frustrating as they were then. The way she was treated was the only difference. As a child, she was despised openly and watched to find fault; now, someone found her interesting but with the attitude of a child finding a new flower or strange rock. It was a petty fascination that only lasted until the person's curiosity was satisfied, and the man would lose interest soon once he realized that she kept no secrets. The sooner he understood, the sooner she could help Alys.
He chose to reappear then, setting a covered plate before her. Soundless, he appeared by his desk and set down a plate of his own before pouring two glasses of water from a frosty pitcher, leaving one just outside the bars. Sitting at his desk, he watched her stare at the floor, a dark look on her face. While he was gone, she had tied her hair up away from her face with a strip of linen and bunched her sleeves at her elbows; her bare neck revealed another spot of brown just behind her ear, as well as a dark smear beneath the line of her hair. She took a swallow of water before relaxing into the wall, eyes closed for a beat longer than needed.
"Did you know that you have a smear of brown at the top of your neck?"
Glowing blue eyes met his, wide with questions and worry. Curiosity spun like swirling silver mist in his head, wonderings of what or who put the hurt and caution in her clamored for his attention.
"What? No, I didn't."
"Well, the smear almost looks like a crescent moon the color of clay. It's a very interesting mark you have."
In response, she made a strange noise and began to eat the food on her plate with a downcast gaze. It was a clear dismissal, if not a rude one; one he would not allow.
"Have people said similar things before, Riulan?"
When her mouth pinched as her eyes snapped to his again, he felt a brief thrill run through him at the force behind her gaze.
"Yes, if you must know. The only difference is that to them, I'm an abomination and to you, I'm a fascination. I've never been an individual to anyone, so forgive me if I want to leave."
"Why return to them if they are the ones who so despise you?"
"I have no other home to go to. I've been an orphan for fifteen years, and when Alys found me I was alone. I'm surrounded by the orphans and widows that Alys and I help as best we can; but I'm still alone. If I leave, it at least guarantees me freedom."
Riulan looked away and resumed eating her meal, making a point to stare at the plate. He sat back in his seat and watched her for a time while he thought. He had expected that she would want to leave her captivity, and while she hadn't succeeded in stealing from him, she had trespassed. Punishment for the crime was due, but it didn't seem logical for him to make her despise him. He had questions that he wanted answered, after all. If her aloof attitude and ire were to go by, abuse wouldn't encourage her to entertain his queries.
"You gave me the same meal." She said, looking towards him with blatant confusion displayed on her face. He shrugged.
"I see no point in starving you or feeding you a beggar's ration. Perhaps if I hated you, I would, but you've given me no outstanding reasons to want your suffering. You only trespassed where you don't belong, a minor crime."
"And how long do you plan to keep me then, as penance?"
"I think a month should suffice."
Her gaze promised pain, were she in the position to duel it out.
"They need me to take care of them, or else they'll fall ill or starve."
With a sigh, he took a bite of his meal and then looked at her, his expression blank.
"They survived well enough before you arrived, and if they listen to my instructions, they should be much improved when you return. Since I am curious, I will be monitoring them to see what they do."
He stood and poured himself another glass of water, before gesturing towards her with the pitcher.
"Water?" He asked. Reluctantly, she nodded.
Taking a step, he appeared on her side of the bars and crouched to pour water into her empty glass. With another, he was beside his desk and watching her face. Riulan swallowed and relaxed her clenched fists. The ease with which he used his natural ability unnerved her, but fascinated her in the same moment. She wondered if he could appear in places that he had walked before, or anywhere that his eyes could see. It could be a useful tool in many things like battle and traveling long distances, she imagined. However, that meant he could enter her cell at any given time. The realization disturbed her.
"While I think you deserve a punishment for trespassing, I will grant you one freedom. You may ask anything of me that is within my power and will to give. All you must do is ask."
"What do I call you? I'm not a servant of yours, nor a slave, so I will not call you master."
His lips quirked into a small smile, and he sat back, eyes glittering.
"You may address me by my name, Sochaer."
"While you might be entertained just by my presence, Sochaer, I might die of boredom before your curiosity is satisfied. May I have a book to read while you try to puzzle me out?"
Her request surprised him, coming from woman who was an orphan from a young age. He doubted she had any education to speak of, but she must know how to read and perhaps write as well. His surprise must have registered in his expression, because Riulan's mouth had curled into a tight line of irritation.
"I can read, if that's what you're concerned about. Not all orphans and street kids are illiterate."
He bobbed his chin, managing to look contrite.
"I apologize, I blieve I might have something. I'll return in a moment." He said as he stood. Watching her face, he fell backwards through space, his desk seat and into a large padded chair. Sochaer grinned as he heard her curse before he felt the chair beneath him, and the silence of the library consumed the air. The library was not large by any means; it was comparable to a comfortable reading room, one in which he indulged on occasion. His collection, however, was diverse, and he struggled to decide which book to give his curiosity. She was an orphan that knew how to read, and also a woman who tried to break into the home of a so-called dark one, while knowing little about her target. As he looked out a wide window--thinking about her mixture of scars and dark spots--he decided that this would be the most intriguing sabbatical to date.
It was the next morning that he decided the books were perhaps a mistake on his part. She was content to spend the entire morning reading them, without acknowledging him beyond a courteous greeting when she woke. For the first couple hours, he was satisfied to watch her expressions shift minutely. If she didn't pinch her lips closed, huff, or quirk a small smile on occasion, he would think she was bored. He was frustrated by midday, wanting to ask for her thoughts on the stories, but she had yet to indicate that she would welcome conversation. When he had returned with their meals, he decided that the entire morning was long enough. Appearing in front of her, her eyes were riveted to the page as he set down their trays and joined her on the floor.
"If your silence is any indication, I suppose you are enjoying the books."
Riulan put her hair ribbon in the book, closing it with a hint of a smile that bloomed when she saw the food. Finally, she looked at him, and he could see the light catch in her eyes.
"Yes, I am. Thank you for letting me borrow them."
"Which story has been the most interesting to you?"
Experience and a keen eye told him she contemplated whether to take the bait of offered conversation. Her gaze dropped to the book, eyes pinched at the corners and lips pursed just so. Sochaer's pleasure when luminescent eyes met his again stroked his ego with a soothing, warm touch.
"I've been thinking about the story of Ahmin. It seemed odd to me that the villagers were so hostile towards him, if they had never seen someone like him before. Was he the first of your kind, or one of many who had been to the village?"
"He is considered the first, since his are the earliest records we have of our genesis. The villagers, however, were afraid and hated him because for decades they had prophets that prophesied of creatures of great evil and darkness that would dwell in the land with mankind. They knew of us before we were created."
As he spoke, she picked at her food and watched him with a rapt gaze. It struck him as odd that a woman was comfortable looking a man in the face in such an intense, bold manner--and at him in particular. When she sipped at her glass of wine with rose-hued cheeks before speaking, the edge of his mouth curled. He had been aware of the way his mere presence made humans feel like prey since he was a young boy, when other children's eyes would round at his approach. The fact that he was persistent aggravated their trepidation. Nonetheless, he decided, she was performing admirably.
She turned her head then, and he noticed that there was a faint scar on her jawline that spread towards the soft underside. He decided that keeping a record on her markings and differences would be prudent, if he was committed to understand her existence.
"Is it true?" She asked.
"Pardon me, what is true?"
Her chin lifted, the picture of determination with her eyes aglow.
"Are your kind creatures of evil and darkness?"
Riulan was incensed when he laughed, he noticed, by the way her jaw clenched.
"What kind of a man would admit to evil? Good and evil are opinion and perspective, not fact. Do you see yourself as unkind?"
"At times, yes. I don't look at myself through a broken mirror."
"You're honest, I must admit."
"Pride is an ugly trait, and one I refuse to obtain. If someone else thinks less of me for my honesty, then they hold themselves in too high of an esteem."
He sat still for a moment, allowing her a brief respite to finish her meal. Riulan's expression was intense and thoughtful, her eyes looking through the floor with pondered ideas lurking behind them. Curiosity swelled in him with an incredible persistence. In his lifetime, he had meet many people with stories and histories that attracted his interest; but never before had a woman so intrigued him with her words and actions. He would study her to quell his own interest, and give himself another out from attending the unsavory duties his peers demanded of him. The arguments he could foresee made him gleeful at thought.
"Can I walk somewhere that isn't dull?"
His smile was quick, which made her mouth and eyes pinch in a rather sour expression.
"Bored of this cell and hall already, miss Riulan?"
"Yes, I am. It shouldn't be much'a mystery to you. Am I going anywhere or are you going to keep looking at my teeth and eyeing my coat?"
"I didn't think you knew I was observing."
Riulan stood, looking down at him with an eyebrow drawn up in an unimpressed expression.
"I know a horse market when I see one, and I don't like being the merchandise."
As he rose to meet her gaze, he was surprised at the trace of embarrassment that tingled in his chest. Cheeks a mite flushed, he offered a small bow.
"I apologize for my rude behavior."
Riulan deflated then, biting her bottom lip as she cast her eyes around the cell, and swallowed in nervous anticipation.
"If you are ready, I'd like to be about someplace else."
"As I'm sure you noticed, miss Riulan, there is no door to this cell. Take a hold of my arm, and we'll be on our way. You'll want to step in time with me."
Grabbing the tanned arm offered, she tried to wet her lips with a dry tongue, staring at the wall just over his shoulder. With a nod, they stepped forward as one. Her foot pressed into soft grass, and a flood of sounds rushed into her ears, sending shudders down her back. She felt his eyes on her face as she released his arm to drop to her knees and lay on her back, breathing deeply. Her stomach fluttered when she dug her fingertips into the dirt, closing her eyes.
With a sigh, she sat up and looked up at him, hands behind herself in the grass.
"It beats layin' around in a stone box, if that's what you are thinking. Dogs like a soft bed just as much as a person." She said, shivering when a breeze tickled her neck.
"They do tricks, too."
He took a step back when she stood suddenly, and in a blink she drove her fist into his jaw, making him stagger. Fiery pain bloomed on the left side of his face, a sharp contrast to his cold fingers as he prodded the spot.
"I am no animal, you arrogant, blustering, nosey blue-blood. I'm no dog, because I don't take insults laying down."
She took off running, jumping over a flowerbed in her path. Cursing, he chased after her, blinking in and out of space as she dove through hedges that plucked at her clothes and hair. When he landed on the other side of a violet-flowered hedge, she tripped over the stone pathway and landed hard on one knee. Sochaer reached for her and grazed her shirt when she flung dirt into his eyes. She got up and running from him with a grunt. Wiping the grit away, he followed her through another hedge and over some bushes before they left the garden. She made it just a few feet beyond its edge before he landed just behind her and snagged her around the shoulders.
They hit the ground and rolled as he secured his arm around her shoulders. She writhed and drove an elbow into his ribs, driving a pained breath from him.
"Fobbing clot-pole, let go!"
Once he got his free hand around one of her wrists, she reached back with the other and pulled hard on his hair. Snarling now, he wrapped one leg around her hips and pushed his other knee into her back. She arched, gasping and pulling on her hold of his hair. A measured jab to her armpit made her recoil and he pressed his fingers into the top of her clavicle. Nerve-grinding pain shot through her chest and she grabbed at the hand, gasping. He pushed harder with fingers and knee, making her stiffen with a loud grunt.
"Are you quite done? As much as I like to take a walk through the garden, I did not like today's rounds." He said, whispering in a furious tone into her ear.
She gave a weak jerk in his grasp, trying to pull away from the fingers digging into her shoulder. The flare of agony stilled her. With a breath, she flung her head backwards into his brow. Sochaer's grip loosened as he exclaimed, and she rolled them onto their sides. His arm was pushed away from her shoulder and she got onto her knees. Before she could stand, he grabbed an ankle and pulled hard. Riulan caught herself on her elbows as her forehead hit the ground, making her vision swim. He pushed her onto her stomach, sitting on her back with one leg bent over hers. In vain, twice she tried to throw a blind punch. The next moment, she had both arms pinned at her back by the wrist as she panted for breath. They stayed as they were for a short eternity, allowing themselves a brief respite.
Untangling himself, he stood and hauled her to her feet by her arms. Sochaer took a step forward, bringing them back to her cell. She stumbled over the floor, and he released her for a moment as he disappeared. Riulan held her shoulder for but a moment before he returned with a wooden jar and cloth.
"Let me see your knee," he said, crouching to her level. She cast a glare over her shoulder, leaning away.
"Don't touch me, you lout."
He watched her as she turned away, hands hanging between his knees. When she persisted in staring at the floor, he sighed, set them down, and took a step away.
"Then tend to yourself. Remember that I wasn't the one who ran."
Riulan did not notice him leave through the heat of her tears and burning chest. It felt an age had passed when she turned around, but her aching eyes stung when she saw the jar and cloth through a fresh watery haze.