The Youngest Immortal Chapters 1-3
NOTE: Serial prequel (distant past) to The Unknown Sun which can be found on most online retailers now. This work of fiction is for entertainment purposes only and I retain full copyrights of the following original material. Please note that as it is for entertainment only, it is not professionally edited and the formatting on this website may be erratic.
At first they didn’t see her atop the great horse.
She sat low, riding bareback, her cloak and frayed robes blending well into the brown stallion. Narrow shoulders hunched beneath a worn cloak and only two long golden plaits of hair tumbled from beneath the shadow darkened hood. The villagers who first noted that the horse did have a rider were closest to her path and so stopped to study the stranger with wary, hollow eyes. When she didn’t stop to ask their leave to enter the village, a low murmur began to swell among the throng of people. More villagers stopped, most too startled by the sight of the stranger to do much but stare and mutter worriedly. More than one woman gathered her laundry, wares, and children, and hurried into flimsy clapboard homes.
At the center of the village a great, roaring fire provided most of the light, warmth, and cooking needed for the entire village. The buildings themselves were arranged in a large circle so that each door faced it, but were perched several feet off the rocky ground on stilts or platforms.
The stranger let the horse move unhurriedly toward the fire, as if she didn’t attempt to lead him at all. The horse stopped short, but well within the radius of the comforting light and warmth. She slid free of the horse in a blur of motion, so that the villagers who now had all paused to watch, stared agape and noted that she was now standing before the fire, gloved palms stretched toward the wildly flickering flames. Even standing now, she still seemed oddly petite and where her dark robe, cloak, and worn leather boots touched the dry earth, the colors seemed to mysteriously blend together so that they were indistinguishable.
More villagers hustled away and all around the circle flimsy wood doors slammed shut. A few brave souls, maybe a dozen, remained—determined to get answers from their uninvited guest. They approached her slowly, in a solid mob, but with no one declared leader to parley, they were at a loss for a long, tense moment. The small figure seemed to not notice their approach and continued warming her gloved hands. The closer they shuffled to her, the more they as a collective realized just how slight she was.
“Why, she’s but a little girl!” Aggie Bishop gasped as she pushed to the front of the mob. They halted, murmuring loudly, and watched tensely as Aggie Bishop moved to stand just behind the girl.
“Little Lady?” Aggie swallowed dryly but stopped short of touching the strange girl. “Do you need help?”
Their collective gasp would have been comical if the situation hadn’t been so dire. Her voice was low, soft, yet grainy—the voice of a child mixed with the voice of an elder. Aggie licked her lips and stepped closer.
The hood moved this time and Aggie caught a flash of gold eye shine within its shadowed depths. Maybe it was just the fire reflecting—but Aggie didn’t think so. The figured turned back to the fire again, her flowing gold plaits sliding silently against her clothing.
“It is you that need my help, I am afraid,” she spoke again, puncturing the stunned silence so that it erupted into a chaos of cries and protests as the remaining villagers spoke out in terror.
“What do you mean?” Aggie wasn’t sure who which feared more—the mysterious child or what she meant.
“Evil is coming. I am charged with protecting you,” her words were soft, but firm, almost commanding—confident.
“What evil? Who are you?” Aggie hushed the clamoring crowd with her bold words and they watched and waited now, all eyes on the small figure silhouetted against the crackling bonfire. The hood turned again and another glint of gold flared in its depths.
“I am called Emaranthe.”
The hood slid free of the gilded braids and the entire crowd gasped. Her beauty was vivid and unmistakable—as was her youth. Golden waves, loosely braided in two streamers that threatened to escape their bonds hung to her waist. Skin that was creamy in color and blemish free glowed in the dying firelight.
It was her eyes, however, that held everyone still.
Vivid, electric, golden eyes watched their reactions with patience. Only a slightly arched eyebrow betrayed any inner humor at the situation. The flickering flames caught her eyes and they seemed to glitter even brighter though the sun was sinking fast and shading their desert valley.
“Emaranthe? I am Aggie …” Aggie swallowed, finding it hard to speak in the face of such youth and beauty—deadly beauty, she realized astutely.
“I mean none harm here, but I do come charged to aide your village.” Emaranthe turned back to the fire again, tugging the thin hood back up and once again returning her gaze to the shadows.
“Aide us? How can you aide us? You are but a child!” Isolde Morre ducked around Aggie and brandished a small stick.
“A child? I haven’t been a child for many, many years.” Emaranthe sighed. She studied the small group of villagers from the shadows of the cloak. Her uncanny eyes settled on Isolde, noting the old woman’s withered body and silvered hair that strung unkemptly from a loose chignon. This woman was knowledgeable, an elder.
“Hah, you can’t be more than ten summers!” A man’s voice huffed from the throng, but he did not dare to show himself.
“Eighteen. I was eighteen summers.” Emaranthe whispered so softly that only the village elder and Aggie heard. Her gold eyes glittered in the firelight as the sun sank behind the red and orange cliff walls to the west.
“Immortal—she’s an Immortal.” Isolde gasped and licked her cracked lips. Aggie, only barely hearing her, looked up in time to catch the golden flare from within the shadowed hood.
Isolde dropped to her kneels and bowed her head in absolute respect, her gnarled, bent fingers clutching at the hapless stick, streamers of silver hair dragging loose and tangling in the stiff desert breeze.
“Please, forgive us Immortal. We meant no disrespect!” Aggie took the cue from the elder and bowed as well, followed quickly by the remaining villagers, until even those cowering within the rickety shacks bowed low as well.
The silence grew agonizingly long. Golden eyes studied the cowering, humbled throng with aching sadness.
“Please, rise. I ask no one for homage.” Emaranthe called out so softly that a few wondered that she had even spoken aloud. When all had risen again, she let the hood slide free once again and once more people wondered at her youth.
As they watched in silent awe, she reached over her shoulder with one hand and slid free a long, slender, twisted wood staff—something that had moments before simply not been there.
It appeared to be an entire tree branch grown for the sole purpose of Arcane use. At its peak the staff was partially curled, like a shepherd’s crook, but was charred and splintered midway through the curve. She held it away from her, over the flames of the bonfire and the villagers watched the flames flicker, twist, and curl over and up the length of the staff. At the end of the splintered curl the flames danced and twisted. Neither the staff nor her hand blackened and burned and here was proof of her identity.
“How can one so young be an Immortal?” Aggie watched the mesmerizing fire dance along the staff. Emaranthe caught and held Aggie’s wondrous gaze for a long moment and Aggie saw a glimmer of sorrow pass across them like a shadow. The girl’s thin shoulders hunched even more into the threadbare cloak as she struggled with a tide of long buried memories, her strange eyes hollow and wise despite her youth.
“Please, tell us, child.” Isolde sank to the ground. “I have never heard rumor of one called so young before!”
Emaranthe closed her eyes and leaned on the fiery staff for support.
“I remember little before it happened. As if my life before held little meaning until the calling. Yet, I know I was more. More bodies fitted with my soul, many names and faces long forgotten. But that day, the one I do remember, was cold…and growing dark. The easterly winds were bringing a wild spring storm. I remember seeing the clouds gather angrily over the mountains, but I could not leave my flock,” Emaranthe swallowed. “I built a small fire beneath the overhand of a large boulder and hoped to escape the worst of the storm.”
The villagers were leaning forward in rapt attention now.
“My goats and sheep huddled nearby and I was confident that they and I could weather the storm,” she continued after a slight pause. “But something else was moving with the storm as well, I could feel it in the wind—a warmth, a fire, evil and anger.”
More than one villager gasped, “Dro-Aconi!”
“I stayed put, my crook in hand as my only defense, and watched as the thing moved with the storm ever closer. Lightning tore the sky and rain fell before it. I held a vain hope it would pass me by and leave me in peace.” Emaranthe opened her eyes and Aggie saw a depth of pain in them that she had never seen before in anyone.
“They came then, wreathed in fire and an ancient sorcery I had no hope of defeating. Giant winged demons of fire and torment. I held them off for a short while, brandishing my crook as pitiful weapon, my young body untrained for war,” she swallowed dryly and closed her eyes once more.
“My crook was torn from my bloodied fingers and tossed into the fire. I wrenched free of the demons and dragged it from the flames in desperation.”
Aggie flinched at the terror glittering in Emaranthe golden eyes as they opened again.
“Burning, smoking I wielded the staff, crying to the sky for a savior—but none came and I was at my end.”
Emaranthe lifted the smoldering staff and returned it to its place at her back where it once again vanished into shadow. Tears streamed silently down Isolde’s wizened face, tracking through her wrinkled flesh like paths of a river way.
“I don’t know why, but the demons fled and I was left dying beside my fire, in the cold rain…alone. I could only wait to die, want to even, and await a new lifetime and forget this one. I held onto the staff, still afire, and felt the darkness calling me within the thunder, wind, and rain.” Emaranthe turned back toward the fire and held her gloved hands out to the flames again.
“The next thing I knew I was standing, gripping my fiery staff and gasping. I was back, my face unchanged, my soul scarred but unyielding to death. Immortal and powerful at the last.”
The silence was long and awed until Emaranthe turned suddenly to face the small crowd. Gold eyes watched the growing darkness behind them. A smile, small and sad, twisted her lips slightly.
“Good. They approach.”
The throng of villagers turned and stumbled about, looking for an unseen foe.
“Hold, friends. I did not mean evil approaches,” Emaranthe sighed and moved toward the large horse that stood unconcernedly nipping at a patch of weeds at the edge of the firelight. “My companions approach from the South. We are here to help your village keep its secret.” she led the horse further from the bonfire and to a small weedy field behind the shacks.
“What? How does she know?”
Isolde followed the girl at a reverent distance, struggling to think of something, anything to say. The clamor of the worried villagers behind them was steadily rising in fear and anger.
“Madam Isolde, three of my companions will be arriving any moment,” Emaranthe said and tipped her head slightly to look at the old woman. Gold eyes burned in the darkness. “I will need to lead them here. You must keep the villagers calm until we return.”
The girl was suddenly atop the huge horse and gone.
Isolde stared into the darkness, watching the black shadows play and dance over the desert landscape behind their village as the bonfire flickered behind her.
“Thank The Four. Oh, thank The Four,” she cried softly into her patched apron.
Hope had arrived.
The night grew cold as a stiff wind rattled the spiny sage bushes and tossed the flames of the dying bonfire. Hissing and popping sparks trailed into the sky. Most villagers gave up waiting for the mysterious girl to return and made their way back to their huts, muttering worriedly as the wind howled.
Dawn was graying the sky to the East and the bonfire was smoldering and smoky, trailing the scent of charred wood across the desert valley. Those that had stayed at the fire on guard had since huddled close to the blackened mound of sticks and branches and had fallen asleep close to the coals for warmth.
The bonfire erupted, igniting violently with crackling sparks and curling orange and yellow flames. The guards scrambled away, crying out in fear, but froze at the sight of four figures standing near the furiously burning fire, gloved hands outstretched as if to warm them.
The men backed away slowly, unable to take their eyes off them.
“I think they have never seen an Elf before. Do you think I’ve scared them?”
The low, sultry voice came from the tall, willow thin creature on the far right. In the dim morning light all the men could now see wide blue eyes that glittered like sapphires…and the pointed, long ears that poked from dark red braids. A muffled snort of laughter from the male to her right sent blue daggers and a sharp jab with an elbow his way.
“No, they are not scared Jadeth.” Emaranthe smiled at her friend and tugged the threadbare closer around her ears as the morning breeze was still icy. Gold eyes glittered teasingly.
“But I think you’ve certainly enamored them.”
She replaced the charred staff at her back and turned away from the still gaping guards. Jadeth the Elf smiled widely at the half dozen guards and more than one swallowed thickly. Another rude snort, this time from the second male drew their attention and alarm.
He was huge. Plate armor, dull and battered from use, covered him from head to toe. Only blazing green eyes could be seen from the depths of the helm. The first male, too was clad in plate armor, but was helmless. Wise blue eyes watched the guards warily and then the women, who turned away to lead their huge stallions to the dusty desert field behind the huts.
“I don’t like it here.” Jaeger ran his gloved hand over his pale hair and jammed his helm on. He turned away from the stunned guards to tend to his own stallion. “These people have no idea how much trouble is coming.”
“That is what we are for, friend.” Ivo studied the desert valley with eyes that saw everything in an instant. The sheer red valley walls climbed to soaring peaks and jumbles of stone formations. Narrow trails wove almost imperceptibly up the cliffs leading to the reason they were here to protect the tiny village.
The foursome busied themselves with their horses and gear as the village awoke with the sun. The desert air was crisp and the sandstone cliffs blazed orange in the bright morning sunlight.
The villagers watched the strangers with collective unease. A mysterious little girl was one thing, but an Elf and two huge human males? The bonfire snapped and hissed as the women readied food that would last all day. Rabbits, boar, a bird or two, all cooked and served communally saved their people from starvation.
“People of Stone Hold,” Emaranthe's firm voice cut through the clamor like a bullet. All froze, staring warily. “As you have most likely guessed, we are not here by chance.”
Gold eyes flickered in the shadows of the cloak as they studied the villagers carefully. Those eyes saw everything, they realized.
“What has happened Lady?” Igoras, the elder of the village, moved closer to the tiny girl. “We’ve lived in peace for so long, and now you say we are in trouble?”
“Not just any trouble, Madame,” Jaeger dropped the satchel he had been surreptitiously carrying. It hit the dusty ground with a clatter and the leather flap opened, spilling red tinged rocks. “I believe you know where these came from?”
Igoras stared at the pile of fist sized rocks and sighed.
“Yes.” She bent stiffly and picked one up. It was oddly heavy for its size and rough to her fingers. The red tinge was barely noticeable. “We’ve been mining it for years without problem. Why now?”
Emaranthe moved past Jaeger to stand beside the worn bag of rocks. Jaeger backed away with a silent glance at Ivo, who noiselessly drew his weapon and nodded. Ivo’s eyes glittered as he readied the sword. Behind the men, Jadeth closed her eyes and inhaled deeply as she hefted a great two handed hammer from her pile of belongings and swung it easily. The hammer began to glow an odd, iridescent green.
“What is happening?” Aggie shouldered her way through the crowd and stopped at the sight.
“We must be careful. This stone is not just any stone. We cannot be caught off guard.” Jaeger sank into a wary crouch in front of the Elf, his own axe singing as he pulled it free of its scabbard.
“What is she doing?” Aggie watched Jadeth, fighting the urge to back away. Emaranthe's dark hood flicked around and her odd eyes pinned Aggie.
“She is going to save your life.” Emaranthe's whisper cut through the muttering villagers.
Without warning she jerked the staff from the shadows behind her and swung it high over the pile of rocks. Flames spiraled up the length of the staff and erupted from the charred crook. The ethereal radiance backed the villagers up several steps, gasping.
The rocks began to glow, faint at first, then brighter and darker, until they were brighter than even the bonfire. Everyone but the Immortals shielded their eyes in fear.
Ivo’s gaze moved past Emaranthe to the shadows clinging to the red cliff walls. The sun was at its midmorning arc and should have dragged shadows away from that end of the valley. He jerked his chin at the oddly darkened cliffs across the valley, to the West, and felt Jaeger tense beside him.
“There.” Jaeger hissed. “There they are.”
Emaranthe let her arm fall and the flames vanished. Her small frame sagged with weariness as she put away her staff once more. She dragged the ragged hood from her head and turned to face the villagers. Her pale blond braids caught the stiff desert breeze and tangled across her mouth and eyes.
“These rocks only react to special power, but once charged by coming into contact with it, they provide an energy source unimaginable.” Emaranthe said quietly. There was no need to shout, everyone in the village was deathly silent.
“Unfortunately, the Dro-Aconi’s minions have found out where to get it.” Jadeth glided past the men and fixed her sapphire jeweled eyes on the crowd, her huge hammer draped over her shoulder carelessly as if it were a toy.
“What do we do?” Igoras fell to her knees with a sob. Her stringy grey hair tangled and trailed in the breeze. Pale, aged blue eyes fixed on the tiny girl with gold eyes the burned behind her wind tossed braids.
“Fight? How? We have nothing.” Aggie moved to the old woman and held her shoulders. Her eyes, dark with fear, darted between the imposing men, the wraithlike Elf, and Emaranthe. Igoras let Aggie help her to her feet and the two women huddled together and waited. Behind them, the crowd of villagers were muttering and stifling cries of fear.
“You have us,” Ivo hefted his sword and replaced it in the sheath at his side easily. From the piles of their belongings he pulled free a shield just as battered and ancient as his armor. He slung it over his shoulder were it vanished much like Emaranthe’s staff did.
“Madame, what lies on those cliffs?” Jaeger’s axe vanished as he moved to stand beside Ivo. Standing side by side, helmless, both Aggie and Igoras could suddenly see the resemblance the two men shared.
“Why, you are brothers!” Aggie gasped. Two pairs of eyes pinned Aggie like arrows. Lethal arrows.
“Yes.” Ivo jammed his helm on and turned away. “The Dro-Aconi cares nothing for life. We were brothers in life, and now we are brothers in eternity.”
Jaeger said nothing, his eyes remained fixed on Aggie. Agony tightened his features into a mask.
“Aggie, what is over to the west?” Emaranthe moved between the women and Jaeger, easily breaking the spell. Jaeger blinked and moved away, unable to speak.
“Why, there is an abandoned mining town at the base. There used to be mines up there too, but no one’s worked them in years.” Igoras called after Ivo, who hesitated a long moment, some distance off. Jaeger snarled softly.
Everyone ducked, startled and looked up at the sky as thunder rumbled and echoed off the narrow ravine walls. The sky above them was blue but to the West pitch black thunderheads began to roll and billow over the west cliff, darkening the sky into an unnatural inky purple. The fair breeze turned stiff and cold as the wind changed direction.
All eyes watched the rolling clouds with horror. Aggie dropped her gaze, her mouth wide to ask what was happening, but noticed that the four strangers hadn’t cringed with fear. Four pairs of glittering eyes watched her and her people steadily as if gauging their reactions.
“What is it?” Aggie swallowed.
“The minions of the Dro-Aconi have come calling it seems.” Jaeger jammed his helmet on. His eyes glinted furiously in the depths of the eye slits. Emaranthe pulled her hood up, shading her fiery gaze.
“I have been waiting for over a hundred years for this!” Ivo growled as he too put on his helm and pulled his massive sword and shield from their holsters. He wielded them easily with his massive strength.
Jadeth hummed irreverently as she lithely swung the great hammer to the other shoulder. Her jewel bright eyes reflected the still blue sky above them, but seemed to glow too, from an inner power. She moved easily, almost a glide, and stood beside the men. Her chain link dress moved like metallic water as she walked.
Emaranthe’s lips twisted into a small, bittersweet smile as the villagers stepped back, silent and afraid.
“Wait, what minions?” Aggie stammered and shoved her way back to the front of the crowd, who had pushed and shoved to back away.
“The minions are walking death. You’d best pray to The Four that you find it before it finds you.” Ivo rumbled and turned away, he gestured with a gauntleted hand and their four stallions appeared in the shadows of the huts and moved toward their owners.
“The best we can hope for is to keep the battle away from the village. Stay here, stay on guard.” Emaranthe’s voice rang out over the pawing, snorting horses and the whispering crowd. Her gold eyes flared as she studied the villagers, their reactions.
“We will hopefully return.” She smiled sadly at Aggie and Igoras and then with a blur of movement, all four mounted and vanished into the spreading darkness.
The rumble of thunder shook the ravine walls. Brief cracks of lightning lit up the purple clouds from deep within, casting terrible shadows across spires of rocks that dotted the valley.
“There are no signs of minion movement on the valley floor, Emaranthe.” Ivo glanced to his left at the small, hooded figure with pale braids. She didn’t look back. “What do you suppose they are waiting for up there?”
“Us.” Her voice was oddly raspy and both Ivo and Jaeger frowned. Only Jadeth continued to ride, humming lightly, as if the world wasn’t trying to end all around them.
“Which one is leading the attack do you suppose?” Ivo shouted over another rumble of thunder.
No one bothered to answer as they the halted the stallions at the path that lead up to the mines. Cut in a narrow ribbon in the ravine wall, it was a lengthy ride up dozens up tight switchbacks. The inky sky cast purpled shadows all over, making visibility poor at best, even though it was barely noon.
“We should walk. They are at the head of the trail. No generals, only minions so far. Skeletons.” Jadeth slid from her horse, keeping her electric eyes on the distant plateau the trail led to. Only her Elfin eyes could see at that distance. Being human, the rest were at a disadvantage visually. She shoved her stallion away and it loped back toward the river bed behind them. The others followed suit quickly. They knew better than to not trust her judgment
“Let’s go.” Emaranthe said. Gold eyes burned in the gloom as she slid her staff from the shadows at her back. It too, glowed, almost in anticipation.
Ivo freed his shield and sword with a growl and slammed them together with a ringing crash. The ringing of metal on metal was as a battle cry.
Jaeger too, pulled shield and axe loose. The axe swung in a slow, deadly arc as he too, smashed shield to weapon.
Jadeth hovered to the rear, her huge hammer shouldered, glowing an iridescent green, and jeweled eyes wide in the gloom as she watched the trail.
They moved as one unit, without having to strategize or plan. The sand and stone trail was steep and twisting, but they covered the miles at a steady, slow run, weapons and shields readied.
They neared the top and halted. Jadeth moved to the front, made her way to the rim, and dropped into a smooth crouch as she surveyed plateau.
“About twenty minions, all skeletons. They are milling about, on guard. Still no generals.” She hissed down to the others. “The mines appear to be more to the north from here, they’re guarding a road it appears.”
“Twenty? Pfft. I can eat them for breakfast.” Jaeger snorted and gripped his axe so tight the chainmail of his gauntlet creaked under the strain. “Ready?”
All eyes flicked to Emaranthe. Her lips twisted into a small, crooked smile as she closed her eyes.
Flames, white hot, erupted from her staff, engulfing it in a layer of heat. The flames slithered and curled, twisting and crackling up her outstretched arm and spread over her shoulders, head, and then slid and twisted down her body until she was fully encased in living flame. The inky gloom around them seemed to cringe away from the unnatural shield of fire.
She opened her eyes.
“Ready.” Emaranthe’s voice echoed from all over as if magnified from within the crackling flames.
Ivo spun on his heel, and leaped the edge onto the plateau in a blur of motion. Jaeger followed on his heels. Emaranthe glided over the edge, staff aloft, her fire burning furiously. Jadeth leaped easily to the plateau top and quickly swung her huge hammer in a huge circular arc over her head. Her eyes began to glow as the mace did.
Ivo let out a howling roar. The ground beneath them vibrated from the force and the milling undead seemed to jerk in reaction and then as one turned eyeless skulls toward him. Their gaping jaws opened as if unhinged as they screamed back in fury. Shredded strips of clothing clung to filthy moldering bone as they surged forward in a horrible mass of death.
The tide of skeletons reached Ivo and Jaeger simultaneously. The brothers swung their weapons in heaving arcs, connecting with decay and bone so hard that skulls shattered and bone exploded all around. Grunting with fury, Ivo shouted at the skeletons again, gaining their attention. Using the distraction, Jaeger swung his axe high with both hands, decapitating half a dozen with a snarl of rage. Bits of grimy bone rained all around.
Heat burned behind the two men in warning. Of one accord they ducked…just in time to escape a blast of fire that swept mere inches over their heads. The fireball engulfed the front line of minions, sending flaming bone and rags rocketing.
“A little close there you know!” Jaeger snapped over his shoulder as he cleaved the nearest skeleton. A decrepit arm sailed past to land at Jadeth’s feet. She didn’t seem to notice, but swayed her hammer smoothly. The green glow pulsed every so often and her eyes remained focused on the battle.
Emaranthe heaved her staff skyward and a rain of flaming rock sailed down on the remaining skeletons. Pummeled and burning, they didn’t seem to know who to attack. Using their confusion to end it, Ivo swung his huge sword in a singing arc and sent bone and rags clattering across the plateau.
Both men sank into a wary crouch, waiting. No more skeletons staggered from the shadows of the plateau, but both knew that being complacent was like to being dead. Again.
Emaranthe sighed and the flames flickered and drifted as they snuffed out around her.
“Too bad it isn’t that easy, is it?” she shot a look at the still purpled, cloudy sky and surveyed the plateau wearily. Towering rock formations dotted the plateau and a narrow dirt trail wound now to the east, toward the mines.
She let her staff stab into the rocky dirt and leaned heavily on it for a long moment, her head bowed and blond braids trailing almost to the ground. A dry breeze, hot and fitful, dragged one over her face. She ignored it but stared down at the gruesome chunks of bone and filth at her feet.
“We need to keep going.” Ivo gripped her arm gently, startling her upright. Wide gold eyes blinked foggily up at him. “Are you all right?”
“Yes. Let’s go.” Emaranthe stared down the narrow path as another peal of thunder shook the ground. “Death awaits us.”