SotF: A Flash of Green

  • VI

    Falrielle was far ahead the van, too slow they were, too slow and too noisy. Cadroc has hours ahead of them – wounded for sure but hours ahead nonetheless.


                The elf raised her head and sniffed. A whiff of snapped wood and crushed leaves; her nose led her to a beaten path. She picked up a broken branch, licked the end and spat – still fresh but man or beast?


                Falrielle knelt down to the undergrowth and brushed her fingers on the dirt, finding indents too large to be deer or wolf’s. If neither a deer nor a wolf’s, a bear perhaps? No, she told herself. If it were from a bear, she would’ve smelt the musk. Definitely was from a man but it could’ve been from any man.


                She rose and looked around. Branches, bushes, and shrubs clog the trails and the canopies choke out the sky; as expected from an untamed forest and one that no sane man has no business to wander into.


                Falrielle reached for her belt and winced, her hands brushed against the splints again. She spat a curse as she secured the brass horn she was given. One blast for help, two to signal success. She needed to remember that.


                The clouds growled again and rain fell from the sky.


                The elf sighed and pulled back her hood, eyes closed as cold drops trickled on her face. Cold but comforting. Back in the true North, it was not rain that fell but snow and at this far south such as stinging sensation reminded her of home.


                The rain was a mixed blessing. On one hand, it made the forest smell of everything: her nose had to work extra hard to sort out the new aromas assaulting her. On the other, the moisture made everything smell sharper and her nose caught on a familiar scent and she followed.


                The trail had gone more erratic, as if her prey began stumbling around. Double backs and disturbed bushes, definitely not bothering with hiding his movements anymore. He was getting tired, desperate and if he didn’t want to collapse in a forest of wolves or worse, her, he’d find someplace to rest.


                Now where will he take shelter, Falrielle wondered. There were no caves in the area but there was a glade not too far-


                Falrielle tripped and found herself with a mouthful of mud. She bit hard to stifle a shout: surge of pain emanating from her swollen thigh. The elf braced herself and tightened the bindings, foam dribbling from her gritted teeth as yet another shot of pain fired. Slowly and carefully, she dragged herself against a tree.


                Hands trembling and vision cloudy, she ripped out her purse and clawed out the last capsule. Gasping, she crushed it and inhaled the fumes. Her lungs gasped as everything: the sound of rain drops to what little moonlight piercing the canopies hit her hard but it hit her awake.


                And that was it, the last of her salts.


                ‘One last row,’ she said, flinging the spent capsule into the darkness. ‘One last row and you’re home.’


                Falrielle pulled out a scrap of salted beef. Not the usual hard-as-wood that refuse to rot but the soft juicy kind from the South. No bigger than her thumb, Falrielle had been saving it to mark the success of the mission but alas…


                Dry and chewy, the beef was flavourful with hints of sesame and spices she wasn’t quite sure of the name but she knew by taste. Every bite was a moment of bliss, salty for sure but it was a different kind of salty. The elf thoroughly thanked Mara for small blessings and she kept chewing even after the beef was little more than a wet paste – she just didn’t want it to end.


                One last row.


                She swallowed and stood up, only to immediately collapse. The elf cursed as she smacked her sides, reminding her body that it needed to stand now or it will never stand again. She pulled herself up, pushing her back against the tree for support. Her legs almost gave out but it didn’t, the elf was standing on her own feet again.


                She knew that was it. That if she sat down, her broken legs would never listen to her again and she felt a flash of terror. What if she would never stand again? What if this was the last time she would be in the field? She shook her head and put buried that thought deep. She had been through worse, she reminded herself: a quarrel in the rib, a shattered arm, a cracked skull, a torn throat to name a few but she always came back and she will come back from this.


                Then another thought came to her and this one wouldn’t be buried – it was of Matthias. Falrielle’s stomach wrenched as a rage burned in her.


                Damned old man, she thought. Always with the lectures, always with the lessons. Just trust me, I know what I’m doing!


                Falrielle had served in the Vigil for a little over a decade and she had never known failure. Even in the face of defeat, she had found a reputation of snatching victory from the brink. The recruits she trained were always ahead the rest and she herself was undefeated in the ring but why wouldn’t he trust her?


                She knew she is the greatest of his students; took heart to every one of his lessons and it still wasn’t enough. What more could she give? Her right hand? Her eyes? Her life?


                The elf spat on that. Matthias trusted Carcette well enough but for her…


                Matthias. She called him ‘Matthias’.


                He was never Matthias to her, only Mentor. Even when she first met him at the yard, he was Mentor. Falrielle felt a pang of guilt at that thought but she shook her head and lurched forward, no use having these regrets now.


                Falrielle rushed to the glade with haste, putting trust in her instincts and her nose.



    Falrielle kept low again, and raised her head carefully, peering down the hill. Beyond was the grove lit by moonlight unhindered by the tall trees. The elf sniffed and found that scent again only this time it was… stronger, more distinct. She smirked when she felt her hand brushing against the handle of Bite.


                Falrielle unhooked her mace and rested it against her shoulder. On reflex she moved to hug the ground until the sharp pain in her thigh fired again, forcing her to bite her lips hard to supress a shout. When the elf released, she tasted a tinge of metal in her mouth and promptly spat.


                One last row.


                With her hood muffling the rain, Falrielle quietly advanced, shifting her weight as needed and moving the brushes and branches away. At the edge of the glade, the elf looked over and saw a shine: a pool reflecting what little moonlight that peered through the clouds. More curiously, she also saw a dark lump seemingly sitting beside it. A pile of leaves? Falrielle wasn’t to take the chance and she continued to stalk closer.


                The lump suddenly rose, revealing to be a man… with a staff in his hand.


                ‘I’ve been expecting you,’ Cadroc said. ‘You truly are persistent, elf. Annoyingly persistent if I might add.’


                Falrielle circled Cadroc like a wolf would to its prey. Also like a wolf, Falrielle didn’t say anything.


                ‘How much are they paying you for my head? A hundred? A thousand?’


                She did not answer, taking the time to have a feel of the glade. Rocky and uneven, this was probably why the trees never grew here. More importantly, one was more likely to trip if they weren’t careful.


                Cadroc pointed his staff at the Vigilant. ‘I was sure I only hit you in the leg, not your head and so I have allowed you the ability to speak, to comprehend. Be grateful and do use that gift, little Falmer.’


                Falrielle paused. She had the mage’s back against the pool.


                ‘Wood elf,’ she drawled, eyes locked on his. ‘I am a wood elf, not a Falmer. I’ve told you that before: aren’t mages supposed to be clever or are you the exception, Cadroc?’


                The mage raised an eyebrow. ‘So, you know my name and what do you hope to achieve? You think me to be some Faerie or Daedric Prince whose name shall grant you power? Flattering but no.’


                Touchy, she thought and perhaps, an idea. Mages need concentration to conjure their spells and an angry mind is one of emptiness.


                ‘Oh, I know more than your name Cadroc ap Caridan. I know of your blood, Reachmen as always with your kind. Even have a souvenir from one of my previous encounters. As for you – how far you have fallen from grace, oh honourable battlemage to whatever you are now.’


                ‘Think not that you are one to judge me! I did serve most honourably and dutifully until-‘


                ‘And served right well you did. Well brush me head and call me a fool if that’s that, Caddy.’


                ‘As I said, you know nothing to judge me,’ he said through gritted teeth. ‘I’ve served the Empire. I’ve bled for the Empire. Watched friends die for the Empire but when I needed her most, she abandoned me. However, there was one of more worthy a cause who found me. Who saved me, one who understood.’ He opened his arms wide. ‘The Lady of Decay herself!’


                Falrielle tilted her head. ‘Namira? She of Slugs and Maggots? That almost makes me want to vomit but if I do, she’ll take it as a sign of prayer and I’d rather not blaspheme today. I am of Stendarr but of course. And to answer your question, they offered me no coin for your ugly head – that comes free.’


                The elf whirled Bite on her wrist, her companion eager for action.


                ‘Well, not free,’ Falrielle said. ‘A life for a life – that boy for yours, as is done in the old ways of Skyrim.’


                ‘What happened to him was a shame but a necessary sacrifice.’


                ‘Sacrifice you say? What I found didn’t seem like it!’ Bite stopped moving. ‘I’ve heard of, seen, and even gutted some men who use little boys. For true, you look nothing like them but shame on me for assuming. Still, it is truly appropriate that a lowly, repulsive insect such as you found kinship with a vile goddess.’


                ‘You dare!’ Cadroc raised a hand and Falrielle tensed. She was out of cherry bombs but still close enough to-


                The mage relaxed his stance and begun laughing.

                ‘Charming. You truly are charming!’ Cadroc said. ‘You know, you almost had me there. Well done, elf well done but come to think of it, I may actually know of you.’


                ‘Is that so?’


                ‘Why yes and it’s by your gaze. Ah yes, that gaze. Those blue eyes and a face of cold. Oh, I know that look. I am of the Reach, the true Reach, and my people have tales of a beast. A monster who kills without feeling or mercy with a special taste of the trueborn of the Reach… A certain someone of Silver-Blood.’


                Cadroc grinned.


                ‘Silver-Blood? You mean that family who owns that mine in Markarth?’ Falrielle shrugged. ‘Why should it be a surprise that they have a few people? Can’t do all the work themselves.’


                ‘Yes, but there is one in particular that all Reachmen know. This is a creature that stalks the house of my people in the night and leaves a trail of corpses in the morning – men, women, and even children are not safe from its hunger. It has many names: The Bloodhound of Markarth, Silver-Blood’s Favourite Pet, the Butcher of Wyrmstone and my personal favourite, The Pale Elf.’


                Falrielle didn’t say anything but tightened her grip to Cadroc ever widening ugly grin.


                Damn, she thought. Mages were clever after all.


                Falrielle leaped out, forcing all of her being to ignore the pain surging from her thigh with a roar. Bite swinging downwards, gravity doing the work and as she was but two paces away – her ears twitched.


                The elf spun her mace in an arc as she halted her advance, the strain on her leg almost unbearable. Her gut told her something was off – Cadroc wasn’t doing anything to defend himself.


                Falrielle took a step back, tore a pouch from her belt and flung it at the mage.


                The ground before her exploded in a burst of lightning. A rune? Of course, he had placed runes in the area. It never was this easy.


                Falrielle raised a hand to shield her eyes and in the confusion, Cadroc charged through the cloud, his staff swinging upward.


                The elf ducked her head at the last second, a deep moan trailing the staff. Falrielle answered with a punch to the gut, Cadroc groaned and doubled over. Falrielle seized the mage by the head and launched herself up, knee first into his face.


                The impact threw Cadroc’s head back but Falrielle forced it back into place, ready for the follow up. She raised her other knee but Cadroc parried the blow with an attack on his own – a hard fist into Falrielle’s shattered thigh.


                The elf flinched and shoved the mage away. She stumbled backwards, barely standing with her mace tracking the mage.


                Cadroc snorted and then spat a glob of blood at Falrielle’s feet. The mage snarled and raised his staff – inviting, no, daring Falrielle to make her move.


                Falrielle charged, parrying an incoming blow to her side – mace to staff, steel meeting steel sending sparks in the air. The elf twister her body, the change of momentum straining her wrist as Bite fired at Cadroc’s head but she was too slow – the staff too pivoted, and struck her again in the thigh.


                Falrielle grunted and kept her aim steady or as steady as she could but the pain was too much and her arms wobbled and whiffed. The mage countered with a swift prod to the chest pushing her back.


                Bastard figured it out, she thought. Thank Mara for armour, she continued, patting her breastplate – only for her legs to buckle but not fall.


                Not yet.


                Cadroc held out his staff and began circling the Vigilant and Falrielle tried to mirror his movement but her wounds her too great to follow. Now with her back against the pool, the mage attacked.


                He began with a thrust and she parried it away only for another blow to follow and then another and another. When she found herself in a position to attack, she took it but he easily deflected them – every time she tried her thigh acted up, stuffing her precise swings to wild flailing.


                Cadroc then smashed his staff downward – Falrielle blocked with her mace but the blow shook her legs that she was forced to take a step back into the pool – and felt the air behind her dance.


                She quickly twisted her body, the bind serving as a fulcrum and Cadroc’s weight doing the rest, sending both apart.


                But it was too late. The rune detonated not of lightning but of ice. Falrielle shrieked as what she felt was a thousand knives ripping her leg, flesh and bone apart. The pain was great but not great enough for her to see an incoming blow. See it but not defend herself from it. On reflex, the elf raised her arm to shield her head and then found herself tasting mud, grass, and blood.


                Clumsily, she dragged herself to her knees, her mind not too sure where she was or why was she there. She looked up and saw a strange man in robes, prodding her chin with a metal stick. He mouthed… something but if he did say anything, Falrielle couldn’t hear it – her ears kept ringing.


                He raised that stick over his head and slowly brought it down, tapping her in the forehead before raising the stick again.


                Falrielle stared at him, unconcerned with her drooling blood.


                The strange man swung his staff down, hard and-


                Someone tackled the strange man from behind. From she could tell, the attacker was wearing armour and underneath them an odd tunic. His hood slipped, revealing his salt-and-pepper hair. He also had the most peculiar scent on him: he smelt of ash and soot-


                Mentor! the thought blaring her mind. He came for me. After everything he came back!


                Falrielle slumped to her side, slowly sinking into something warm and comforting. The work was done, she told herself. Mentor had it all sorted out. Everything will be fine, she told herself. All she needed to do was close her eyes and –


                The elf clenched her teeth and pulled herself awake with a curse.


                She looked up and saw that Mentor was holding Cadroc back albeit barely. Falrielle winced at the chaos of crimson and amber, the crackles snaps and explosions, the waves of hot and cold flashing before her. She knew that Mentor was not much of a destruction mage – his specialty was wards and to see so many spells thrown his way it was only a matter of time.


                Falrielle tried to stand but her legs wouldn’t listen. Instead she crawled her way to battle, by her fingertips if she had to. All Mentor needed was time, just enough for an opening to end this.


                Fading in and out of consciousness as she moved closer, Cadroc had hit Mentor with a spell sending him flying backward. The mage then prepared another spell; one of unimaginable power.


                He shot his hands forward - a stream of green lighting surged and clashed with a wall of light the Old Vigilant conjured.


                She cursed; she knew she couldn’t get to him in time. The elf spat and cursed at this feeling of helplessness until she felt something tugging at her leg. She turned and saw it was the Vrekiel.


                One last row.


                Falrielle knelt and shouldered the Vrekiel, the grain digging into her cheek. The elf squinted her eyes but everything was a blur of shapes and colours – as it always was and as it always will be; forever a reminder of her stolen birth right as a Wood Elf. She pointed the weapon at Cadroc, the sights trembling… and squeezed the trigger.


                The crossbow recoiled in her arms as the quarrel soared in the air. It flew and flew and flew and then it founds its mark.


                The beam ended; she had done it. She had hit something. For the first time in her life, she had finally hit something. She wanted to cheer; pain be damned. She did it!


                Then, a flash of green. That was all her mind could register. Nothing else mattered.


                Falrielle rolled aside, bolt passing so close that she could feel the air around her evaporate from the sheer power. A close call, one of the closest she’s ever experienced except – it didn’t happen.


                The elf didn’t dodge, she barely even moved, not muscle. She was where she was, kneeling with Vrekiel in hand, staring at the light that seemed to move so slowly. So… stunning.


                Falrielle wondered if this was it. If this was how she’d meet her end. It… wasn’t what she expected; as glorious of a death worthy of Sovngarde, she felt nothing. No fear, no anxiety, just an empty creeping feeling in her heart… and tears. Falrielle felt her eyes streaming but she protested – no, she was not afraid!


                That is unbecoming of a Nord.


                She stared and stared as the light grew brighter and brighter until her eyes could no longer tolerate them, forcing her to keep them shut.


                Then she saw another light. A light strange yet familiar, otherworldly yet comforting. This light was not green but white and gold. She pondered if this was the light, she had heard of so many times – the guide to the otherworld.


                Strange, she thought. I didn’t know her smile was that beautiful.





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