Time passed slowly after Al’ev learned the harsh realities behind necromancy. He refused to leave his room for an entire week afterwards, even denying his friends and mother entrance into his room as he mourned the loss of his dog anew. When he wasn’t doing that he was cursing himself for using such vile magic.
He had heard the concern in his friend’s voices as each visited and Al’ev knew he needed them all, but he was simply hurting too much to face anyone. Neither of his friends knew of his magic. His mother had always told him to keep it a secret, and so he would never be able to explain why he felt as terrible as he did to them. And if he did explain it, well, he feared what their reactions would be.
After that miserable week of reflection, Al’ev finally emerged from his home and headed straight to the library. Slowly, the vibrant life style of Halar reminded him he had much to live for and his life began to return the state of being almost normal. But Al’ev still had a large portion of his heart missing. Every now and then he’d think of Brox and what he had done and would nearly break down in the middle of whatever he was doing.
His friends did help him out though. His mother had told them that, thought he had been fine initially, the loss of Brox was starting to hit him hard. Joshua, usually the first to poke fun at any perceived weakness Al’ev had, made no mention of Brox or any attempt to make fun of Al’ev whatsoever. Mel only talked about Brox with the kindest of words and usually only to remind them both of some mischievous thing the dog had done in the past. Al’ev was surprised to learn that he could still smile at such stories as the three of them would share one thing the dog had done or another.
Time continued to flow and soon the winter had almost completely passed the town of Halar by. Spring was again upon the peaceful trade town and that usually brought with it a large influx of trading activity. The townsfolk had taken to this part of the year with much positive light.
Many people across the land celebrated the coming of spring. Halar was no different in this regard. The Festival of Unity had been celebrated the past one hundred and twenty years, ushering in the new season as only they could.
The Festival of Unity started on the last official day of winter, usually in the early evening. The townsfolk would set up decorations throughout the town. Dancing, games, drinking, the Festival was a well loved holiday in Halar.
Al’ev awoke on the morning of the last day of winter and something in the air felt different to him. Frowning, he thought long and hard about what it might be. It wasn’t something tangible, he realized. he would have noticed that right away. Whatever it was it was much more elusive. He continued to think about it as he was getting ready for the day ahead.
There is a sense of change in the air. Perhaps it has always been that way as the season prepares to shift to spring. Perhaps..or I’m just imagining things…
He went downstairs and didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary happening here either. His mother had finished preparing breakfast and had begun bringing out their decorations that they usually put up throughout the house every year. The Reldin’s collection of decorations seemed to grow every year.
“Happy Unity Day, Mom.”
“Happy Unity Day, Al’ev. Finish up breakfast so we can get these decorations up.”
Al’ev ate quickly as he loved putting decorations up every year. He felt it was an outward manifestation of one’s feelings towards the spirit of the seasons they lived through. It was one of the best ways to honor the holidays. Brightly colored streamers and signs of all kinds often filled the town in the past. In more recent years, Fort Halar had taken to launching some strange mechanical device known as “fireworks” into the night sky where they would explode into many different varying colors.
The first time Al’ev had seen it, he wondered if the town guard had hired a powerful magician to summon up the strange light the explosions gave off. The townsfolk loved the displays and they had paid large sums of gold to have an enormous amount of the devices ready for this year’s festival. Al’ev had seen them carted in over the past couple of weeks. He had asked one of the cart drivers about them and had learned they were actually powered by magic. This caused him to search the library for any and all mentions of such spells. He was pleased to find a few years previously.
But now he and his mother had much to do. They spent much of the morning setting up the decorations around the front of their house and throughout the inside. They had entertained neighbors there before and tonight wasn’t likely going to be any exception for Nalef had acquired quite the reputation with their neighbors as an excellent hostess and chef. On Al’ev’s part, he never paid these parties much mind. He, Joshua and Mel always did their own thing during the Festival of Unity and he saw no reason why that would change tonight.
“Thanks for the help, hon. Why don’t you go see if the Drovernaths or the Rolovirs need help with their decorations.”
“Alright. I’ll be back later this afternoon,” he said already head towards the dirt street.
He set off for Mel’s house first as it was the closer of the two. As he stepped outside he noticed flurry of activity he had come to depend on over the past several months. But it was more excited than usual. Decorations were being put up on buildings everywhere. Townsfolk were working together to help the town along in its transformation for the events of Unity. He noted these things with a smile and continued his walk.
He reached the Rolovir house after a couple of minutes walking along the road and found Mel’s father, Tanidor, sitting in a wooden chair by their front door. Tanidor had long blond hair which was a bit of a lighter shade than his daughters, but his eyes were as dark as Al’ev’s were. He knew that Tanidor was several years older than his own mother but also knew that Mel’s mother, Raiya, was several years Tanidor’s senior. A casual glance wouldn’t have told anyone this however, as the man looked no older than a human in their early thirties.
“Ah, Al’ev. Looking for Mel?” her father asked.
Al’ev nodded in response. He had gotten nervous around Tanidor lately, often to the point of not wanting to talk for fear of stumbling over his own words. It was somewhat odd as the man had always come across as being very kind and very skilled. Mel often spoke of him doing great things through his work as a carpenter. The exquisite wooden chair Tanidor sat on now was actually one of his favorite works.
“She’s out back helping her mother with some decorations I believe. Go on back.” he said with a smile waving Al’ev by.
Al’ev thanked him and headed into the backyard of the home. He found Mel, but Raiya was nowhere to be seen.
“Ah Al’ev! Happy Unity Day!” Mel said then embraced him.
“Happy Unity Day, Mel. Given all that I see out here I doubt I need to ask, but did you need help with setting up for tonight?”
Mel chuckled a little. “Nope. Daddy, Momma and I finished up about an hour ago. Did you and your mom need help with your house? I hear you’re going to have a bit of a crowd there tonight.”
He winced. “Ugh, don’t remind me. When people heard that my mother was holding a small party again, they all seemed to just invite themselves. Poor Mom. She enjoys it though and at least people were kind enough to offer to bring some refreshments with them. Anyway, we actually finished up with our decorations a few minutes ago. That’s why I headed this way to see how yours were coming along.”
Mel smiled. “I love your Mom. She’s so great.”
“She really is.” He said then realized he was staring at Mel a bit too long after saying that. “Uhm. Anyway, I should go check to see if Joshua’s family needed help.”
“Don’t worry about it. He came by a bit before you did to see if we needed help too. He said his family had already finished.”
“Huh, it’s almost as if everyone is getting better at decorating their houses faster. You’d think we do this every year or something.”
They both laughed.
“Well, I guess that means we’re both free. Want to go walk around the town for a bit?” Al’ev suggested.
“Sure, it’ll be fun to see what everyone has in store for tonight.” Mel smiled.
The pair left Mel’s home and began to stroll through the town talking about whatever they saw along the way. Most of the shops hadn’t changed their decorations from previous years and they both were happy to see that the large dancing floor had been set up once again this year.
I wonder if I’ll ever dance on that floor with somebody. He thought while looking at Mel as she went on about a dress she had seen for sale in a shop.
By the time they decided to go back home, the sun had already begun to set. Al’ev noted how strange time was when it was just the two of them, always seeming to pass twice as fast.
When they reached Al’ev’s house, Al’ev said goodbye and turned to head inside and change into clothing more suitable for the night’s festivities. Mel grabbed his arm before he could and didn’t let go.
“Hold on Al’ev. I uh…wanted to ask you something.”
He turned almost faster than the butterflies in his stomach did. “Yes?”
“Well…I was wondering if you…if you. Willyougotothefestivalwithmetonight?”
Al’ev wasn’t sure he heard her right. Of course he’d go with her. Joshua, Mel and Al’ev always went together. So why was she so nervous?
“Of course. I’ll let Joshua know and we’ll come by your place after the two of us meet up.” He turned to leave again, but she still held his arm. “Uhm, I’m kinda going to need that back.”
She looked down at his arm and then at her feet. “I didn’t mean with Joshua…I meant just you and I….”
Al’ev blinked again. “What do you…oh. OH! Uhm..er…I mean, yes. Of course I’ll go with you.” He was now blushing.
“Okay!” She let go of his arm.
“I guess I’ll uhm…come by your house in a little bit?” Al’ev said.
“Sure. I’ll need a few minutes to get ready though. See you in a bit!” She started to walk down the road and Al’ev found himself staring after her.
Is this the change I felt?…this feels good. I wonder what this means for us…
Al’ev realized for the first time since Brox had died that he was truly happy again. Something in his soul felt complete where before that something had been missing. It was very much like finding part of himself he never knew was there but had always felt should be. The effect must have shown on his face because his mother caught sight of him as he walked in and instantly began asking him what was going on.
“Well, uhm. I guess Mel asked me to the festival tonight.”
“Ha ha ha. Is that all? Took you two a lot longer than I thought. You be sure to treat her well Al’ev. And dress up okay? She likes you, and you have been friends for a long time, but it never hurts to look your best. Now go get ready. The sun is going to be setting soon!”
Al’ev ran upstairs, already the anticipation and anxiety from the coming events of the night were crushing down on him. He fumbled about his room and found his most formal clothing. A white, long sleeved, silken tunic that had many intricate patterns etched into it with deep blue thread.
He struggled about his room for a bit to find all the pieces of the outfit, the pants, which were a darker color blue than the etchings, and some socks as well as some nice but comfortable boots. Lastly he decided it was time to wear his sword again. If he was going to be out in the town tonight with a girl, he wanted to be sure that he was able to protect her.
He chuckled. Protecting Mel? From what? What a silly thought. Besides, this isn’t any different than when we had walked around the town this afternoon, right? Nothing has really changed. I just said I’d go to the festival with her…and only her. No big deal…
These thoughts occupied his mind as he finished washing up with some water brought in from the well. When he went downstairs his mother saw him and smiled.
“You’re looking quite handsome, son. Mel is one lucky girl to get to go to the festival with you. Now remember what I taught you about treating women right. Also, try not to be out too late. There will be a party going on here too and I don’t want you to miss it.”
“We’ll come by, Mom. Don’t worry.” He chuckled. “I have to go to her house now. See you later.”
Al’ev left and began to make his way down the street to Mel’s house for the second time that day. For some reason the trip seemed to be taking much longer this time. It was as though each of his steps covered mere centimeters instead of feet. He realized after a minute or two of walking that it was simply nerves giving him this perception.
Arriving at Mel’s house, he gathered himself with a deep breath and then knocked on the door. Raiya answered the door, already dressed elegantly for the night, and ushered him in.
“She’ll be down soon. She was so happy you agreed to go with her. She’s been running back and forth celebrating.”
“Mommmmm! Could you embarrass me any more? Who does that to their daughter anyway?”
Mel’s mother laughed and left the room as Mel came down the stairs.
Al’ev had seen some of the world’s most beautiful sights, living near Lake Halar and the famed Tears of Larian. But Mel was, Al’ev had to admit, the most beautiful sight he’d ever laid his eyes on by far.She had done up her blond hair into a fancy braid and somehow made a pair of free strands, which framed her face, curly. They bobbed up and down as she took each step down the stairs. Her dress was extravagant, yet simple. Made of a smooth light blue fabric that seemed to match her eyes perfectly, it suited Mel very well. Her eyes watched him as he took her in and she smiled.
Finally remembering that air was crucial to his continued existence, he took a breath then said. “You…look gorgeous, Mel. Even the most studied of scholars would name you more beautiful than Lake Halar itself.” He didn’t know where the words had come from for the shear brilliance of seeing her surely should have struck him mute.
She briefly looked taken aback by his words but quickly recovered with a smile. “Thank you.” She hugged him then turned back to the rear of the house. “Mom, Dad, we’re leaving.”
“Have fun dear.” Raiya’s voice came from somewhere deeper in the home.
“You be sure to watch after my daughter, Al’ev. Have fun!” Tanidor called from a room on the second floor.
“Yes sir.” Al’ev said.
“Shall we go? I don’t want to miss the first bit of dancing!” Mel said.
Al’ev nodded and offered her his arm as his mother had taught him to do. “Let’s.”
She took it and together the two of them set off towards the town square where they had seen the dance floor being set up. It was also where many of the festivities were usually held in years past.
Along the way they were stopped a few times by random strangers complementing how well they looked together and others taking note of the town’s seal on Al’ev’s sword which identified him as the Champion of the Swordsman.
“Sorry, I could bring the sword back home so we don’t keep getting stopped. I honestly didn’t think it would draw this much attention.”
Mel smiled “Are you kidding? I think it is part of who you are. It’d be silly to hide that. Come on, let’s keep going. We’re almost there.” She practically started dragging him.
A large portion of the town had already gathered in the town square and Al’ev recognized several faces. Everyone had dressed to impress and it made it hard to figure out who was who in some cases. Al’ev didn’t recognize the man who stepped in front of him to shake his hand at first.
“Reldin! Great to see you!”
Al’ev smiled when he recognized the man and shook his hand. “Captain Greil! How are you sir?”
“Been doing great now that we’ve had less goblins about. Hear we have you and your friend Joshua to thank for that.” He turned to Mel. “Who is your pretty friend, Reldin? She’s quite enchanting.”
“Captain, this is my friend Mel. She’s the one who was there to watch us train during the week leading up to the tournament. Mel, this is Captain Greil. I’m still here because of his training.”
“Nice to meet you, sir. And thank you for giving Al’ev what he needed to survive.” Mel replied with a curtsey.
The captain took her hand and politely kissed it. “You’re quite welcome, though he is really a natural. I hear he has a bit of natural on the dance floor as well.” He said with a wink. “Well, I won’t hold you two up for long. They announced a few minutes ago that dancing would start up very soon. Ah, there we go!”
Music started playing from the built up stage near the dance floor where several couples had already begun dancing. “Be sure to enjoy the fireworks later tonight. We received quite a few from the dwarves this year. It is sure to be a great display! Have fun Reldin, Mel.”
“Thank you.” They both said.
“Shall we?” Al’ev indicated the dance floor.
“Yes, let’s.” Mel smiled.
Together they went up to the dance floor. When they got up there, they faced each other somewhat nervously. Briefly hesitating, Al’ev put both of his arms around Mel’s waste and pulled her close. Mel brought her arms around his neck and the two began swaying to the music as they stared into each other’s eyes.
The eyes are windows to the soul. He had heard his mother say once. Often it is by looking into them that we best understand those who are around us.
If that was true, Al’ev was sure that Mel’s soul had to be the most gorgeous, the most pure in all existence.
For a while, his heart was pounding so fast that he feared it might hop out of his chest and hide from embarrassment or excitement. He still couldn’t figure out which it was. But he realized that Mel probably felt the same way as he felt her chest pounding against his and this caused him to feel a little better. Still, conversation didn’t come between them for a few minutes. It was silence that was only filled by music and thoughts.
Eventually he began to feel more comfortable and decided to talk to her. Conversation felt a little awkward as they danced along to the next stint of music still close together. He often started saying something into her ear and her reply would add additional vibrations into his chest as she looked up at him and would reply.
Mel indicated after a few songs that she wanted to sit down for a bit. Apparently the shoes she wore weren’t the most comfortable. They found a table with a few open chairs and sat down. Al’ev looked around at the people who sat at other tables. Most were in conversations with one another, laughing at a joke or staring longingly into their companion’s eyes. Others had drinks.
Drinks! Oh no! I haven’t gotten us drinks yet!
“Are you thirsty?”
She smiled. “A bit.”
“I’ll go grab us something to drink. Be right back.”
“Grab us a drink too there, Al’ev.” Joshua’s voice came from behind them.
Mel and Al’ev turned to see Joshua approaching their table. He was arm and arm with Nelya, the elven girl Al’ev had defeated during the first bout of the Tournament of the Swordsman.
“Hey Joshua! I was wondering where you disappeared to. Nelya, how are you?” Al’ev said smiling.
“Hello Reldin. It’s been a while. Heard about those goblins a few months back. You must have gotten even better than when we last fought. Think we could have a rematch sometime? Joshua has been telling me all your secrets.”
“Traitor.” Al’ev said dryly.
Joshua feigned innocence. “What can I say, the girl asked so politely.” He turned to look at Nelya and the two of them shared a kiss.
Al’ev’s eyes widened then he looked over at Mel and saw her turn her head away from his glance, trying to hide her blushing face.
“Okay…I’ll just go grab those drinks.”
When did that little relationship start up? Al’ev wondered as he waited for the honeydew nectar which was carted in from parts of the forest in southern Quellion. Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m not the only one…
Al’ev, Joshua, Nelya and Mel all spent a little while chatting around the table, sipping at the drinks Al’ev had brought back. They learned that Joshua had been visiting Nelya and the two of them had been going strong since just after Al’ev’s fight with her. Al’ev had been too preoccupied to notice.
He still found it hard to believe that Joshua had found someone. Al’ev had been worried after the guy said he never thought much about girls a few months ago.
The table they were at turned out to be a popular one among the townsfolk. With so many participants from the Tournament of the Swordsman sitting in one place, they shouldn’t have been surprised.
Eventually they had had enough of the attention and the two couples went back to the dance floor where they spent another hour swaying to the music.
Al’ev could hardly believe it when someone mentioned that the fireworks would be starting within the next half hour, usually something that happened well into the night.
Reluctantly he told Mel that he had to return to his home where his mother was still holding a party.
“I promised her we’d make an appearance before the night was out.”
Mel smiled but didn’t say anything. She seemed to have something on her mind and Al’ev could only guess at what it might be.
They said their goodbye’s to Joshua and Nelya who stated they were going to stay at the town square for a while longer, then headed back towards Al’ev’s house. They walked quietly, arm in arm up the short hill from the town square when Mel stopped. They were still a several minutes away from his home.
“Yes?” He said wondering if she was going to say whatever it was that was on her mind.
“I’ve had a lot of fun with you tonight.”
“Me too, we should have done this sooner.”
“Al’ev…do you like me?”
“Of course I do.”
“I mean as more than a friend.”
He thought about it for a moment. This same question had been in the back of his mind ever since she hugged him during the tournament six months previously. “I’ve been thinking about that ever since the tournament, Mel.”
“Ha ha ha. You thinking about something that long? Never would have guessed. Well, did you ever come to an answer?”
He looked into her eyes and smiled. “You know, I think I just did. Yes, I do like you as more than a friend. I’ve thought about you everyday. It’s actually been somewhat annoying because I really didn’t understand why until now.”
She smiled again. “Me too, Al’ev. Me too.” She paused for another second. “Hey Al’ev, it’s your fifteenth birthday in a few days, right?”
He nodded. “Yeah. Why?”
“I wanted to give you your present a bit early if that’s okay.”
“If you want to, sure. Do we need to go by your house to pick it up?”
She paused again and he waited for an answer. He got one when she quickly leaned forward and he felt her lips meet his.
Al’ev didn’t realize what was happening until a sudden jolt of pleasure ripped through his mind.
She was kissing him and it felt great! Better than every story ever attempted to convey or could even ever hope to. It was the kind of thing the greatest of bards could right entire epics about and still not capture the sensation right.
Despite how wonderful it felt, the kiss lasted only a few moments and when the two broke apart for air, Mel looked down at the ground.
“Happy Birthday, Al’ev.”
Al’ev brought his finger up to her chin and gently forced her eyes back up to his.
“Thank you, Mel.”
His caused her to gasp when he kissed her again, briefly and then broke off with his forehead against hers.
“I’m afraid, Al’ev. This will change everything.” Mel said quietly after couple moments.
“No it won’t. We’re still great friends, right? We’re just a little closer than that on top of it now.” He whispered back.
They separated their foreheads and looked each other in the eyes. Al’ev took her hands in his and they stood that way for a few moments before fireworks started shooting off from Fort Halar. They both turned to watch as all of the colors of the rainbow shot into the sky in vibrant colors.
But, as the display went on, something caught Al’ev’s eye amongst one of the firework explosions. From the direction of the Larian Mountains several forms in the sky seemed to be outlined by the bursts of light the fireworks were giving off. He had to squint because they appeared so distant that he almost thought he was imagining them. But even as he watched, the forms seemed to be getting bigger, growing closer.
A massive explosion suddenly shook the town. The ground rumbled under his feet as a bright flash overtook his vision and Al’ev just barely managed to catch Mel before she could fall to the ground. When he looked up, vision just now clearing from the flash of light, he noticed where the explosion emanated from. Fort Halar where the fireworks had been launched.
Al’ev’s eyesight continued to clear and he saw humongous chunks of solid stone wall that hadn’t moved in centuries careen through the night sky landing on several buildings close to the garrison, including the hospital. An entire quarter of the fort had been leveled.
Shock was all Al’ev felt for the next few moments. All the people near the fort would have been hurt, or worse.
“Al’ev! What was that? Where is the fort? What’s going on?” Mel was full of questions as he was.
“I don’t know what that was, but the fort has been heavily damaged. Maybe it was an accident…”
Was it an accident?
He had enough time think about this before he heard a massive roar filled the silent night sky causing him to remember the forms he had seen flying towards the town. The roar was followed soon after by several more roars. But these he recognized as more than just roars. They were words in a tongue that his mother had taught him early on during his arcane tutoring sessions.
Draconic. Red Dialect.
Al’ev finally managed to pinpoint the forms, dragons he realized, just as a line of fire flew forth from one’s mouth and lit several buildings on the opposite side of the town aflame.
Halar was under attack.
His mind had just enough time to process this before he instinctively grabbed Mel and began to run for his house…