Candles flickered in the breeze generated by the passing of celebrants in the small chapel. It had been six months since the small region simply termed "beyond the waste" had reason to celebrate a coupling of their sons and daughters.
The villagers dressed in bright greens and reds for the celebration, as was the tradition passed down to them by their ancestors, who had settled here so long ago.
Brighton stood near an ornate window, staring at the smoke studded hills that lined the southern boundary of the village, dressed in his finest wear. Ancient Black...the sort that glimmered in the sunlight. Only his mother, Taile, knew how to create the fabric he now wore. The art was a tradition passed down from mother to daughter for generations.
Eight years ago, his mother and father prepared for their first child. All the portents had pointed toward a girl; it was a good omen, and ideal for passing on his mother's talents. However, a girl was not to be. He could only imagine his parents' disappointment when he came out a boy. A firstborn boy was a bad omen. The very same night of his birth, his father died. Drunken, Brighton's father had fallen off a horse and broken his neck.
This wedding and coupling was chosen that very day as a chance to fix what happened eight years ago.
"Brighton," his mother asked, "what are you doing over there?"
He turned from his vigil and looked at his mother. A smile broke across her features as she looked into her son's eyes, and she motioned for him to come to her, arms held wide.
Pausing, he looked one last time at what he suspected were campfires, then slowly walked to his mother. Her smile faded as she noted his lack of enthusiasm, and her gaze briefly flickered toward the small black book he kept tightly gripped in hand.
"Bright, must you be so glum?"
"Are you still marrying Narmac today, Mother?"
"You know I am."
She paused, clearly looking her young son over.
"Very well, Bright, please keep from getting underfoot. You know I love you, but this coupling is necessary for our family's heritage. You know that!"
Brighton turned away without another word, and headed for a nearby bench. A large window dominated the wall behind it, allowing Bright the chance to look out at the smoke plumes once more, before he sat with his back to them.
As he opened his book and began reading, he could still see his mother over the top of it, watching him for a few moments. Not long after he began, she gave a shake of her head and walked out of his field of vision. Hours passed as the boy sat and read. From time to time, he would pause, and glance over his shoulder to stare out at the fires.
Now hungry, he headed into the reception hall to look for food. The expansive hall was yet empty, and illuminated by light streaming from the windows mounted near to the ceiling. Green and red ribbons were strung everywhere, evidence of the recently finished preparations. Six large tables sat in the hall filled with breads and sweets waiting to be devoured.
Brighton helped himself to a tray of sweet bread, and sat down in a nearby chair. White powder stuck to his lips and fingers as he ate, and he began to read his book again. A cough disturbed the silence of the hall before he consumed more than three.
An old man stood at the entrance of the hall, watching him read. Bells jingled from his braided, snowy beard, as it swayed near the floor with his every step into the hall.
"So Bright, reading to become a Sage are we?"
"Maybe, but I haven't been tested for the gift yet."
"Ah," the old man put his hands into his flowing, shiny yellow robes. "next year you're of age to be tested, I believe."
Nodding, his eyes went back to his open book.
"What story are you reading there?"
Brighton slammed the cover shut, and jerked it away from the outstretching aged hand. Clouds passed overhead outside, and dimmed the hall to almost twilight.
"Eleman, I found it! You cannot have it!"
A chilling breeze blew into the hall, causing the bells in the old man's beard to chime. Eleman hesitated, before pulling his hand back. Once safely in the warm folds of his robe, the man hummed a strange tune. Light shimmered around his old form, then separated from him and formed into a glowing man with a torch.
Eleman nodded to the glowing figure. "Go and light the brazier and sconces."
Brighton watched in rapt fascination, as the man used his torch to do as he was told.
"Is that a story, Eleman?"
"Yes, son, it's one of many I possess."
"It must be great to summon stories and do all kinds of magic." Brighton sighed.
"Story telling is an art, son. There's no magic involved."
"But he just appeared. Right out of light."
"It is nothing but a talent that some can do, Bright. It's no more magic than what your mother does to make the black cloth you wear."
Brighton's face twisted into a sneer with the reminder of why they were there. With his soured mood, the fleeting wonder at witnessing the storyteller's magic vanished.
"Do not worry, son. I have enough books, I would never steal your story there."
"It's not that, Eleman..." Brighton frowned, "I wish I could conjure a bear and have it eat Narmac."
"Now, now, Brighton. Storytelling cannot be used to hurt your future father. It can hurt no human."
"Because stories always have a happy ending."
"Not this one. This one is different." Brighton insisted, lifting the black book to emphasize his words.
"That's not possible, my boy. All stories, by decree, must educate and edify. Here, let me see that." Eleman again reached to take the book from the boy's hand.
"You, old man, come here!" A sharp voice from the hall's entrance interrupted Eleman's attempted inspection.
A large man dressed in war leather stood in the doorway. His great hands held an impossibly large wooden crossbow.
"And who are you?"
"Your death, if you and the boy don't move over here in a hurry."
"Very well, there is no need for threats. Come, Bright."
The two of them moved into the adjoining hallway.
"May I ask what is going on here?" Eleman seemed unconcerned by the proximity of the crossbow.
"You will find out soon enough old man." The man sent Eleman stumbling forward a few steps with a rough prod of the tip of his crossbow.
As the chapel neared, the sound of weeping and the echoes of cruel laughter could be heard. A man's form sprawled through the middle of the doorway, and a wooden bolt jutted from his throat.
Beamy! Brighton thought with a frown.
"Is this your intention, then? Eleman asked, "To murder us?"
"Just get in there, old man."
The Main Chapel looked as if the storm outside had hit it. Green and red streamers were flung all around, some lying across the pews and chairs which were thrown about haphazard. Here and there a body laid with a crossbow bolt protruding from it. Several men in similar war leather stood about the room with crossbows pointing menacingly at the celebrants. Brighton scanned the room for his mother, and found her near the ceremonial stage cradling Narmac's unmoving head.
A guilty smile crept across his features. At least something good came out of this.
"Gentlemen," Eleman spoke up."there is no need for violence. I'm sure we can give you whatever you need."
"You think so, old man?" a particularly ugly, huge man answered. "I think we're already taking what we want."
Laughter burst from the surrounding invaders. Several of them raised their weapons above their heads and shook them.
"Unless you know where the town treasure is located?"
Eleman waved his hands downward in a calming motion."We have food and livestock. I'm sure we have something you require. But, if you're referring to gold, then we have none."
"Of course you don't." The grimy man laughed. "No matter, we already have your food. Now we shall have our choice of your livestock."
He grabbed a handful of Brighton's mother's hair, and pulled it violently to his face, inhaling its smell.
Brighton made to bolt toward his mother's scream, but Eleman's hand grabbed him before he took more than one step.
"Leave me alone, you bastard!" Taile cried. "Haven't you done enough already?"
"Oh, my beautiful filly, we haven't even begun yet."
Brighton turned to Eleman, "Do something! Use your magic!"
The old man's eyes, yellowed with age and countless books, locked with Brighton's. "I cannot, young Bright."
"Garge!" another man near Brighton shouted, "This one's a storyteller." He pointed at Eleman. The large man released Brighton's struggling mother and stepped closer to the two of them.
"Well now...a storyteller. We do seem to have a treasure here." Garge smiled at them. "Can you bring rain, or cause crops to grow quickly?"
"I am this settlement's keeper." Eleman shook his head. "Not yours."
"You're what I say you are, old man."
"No, I am not. Now, stop this senselessness or I will-"
Two bolts appeared in Eleman's chest before he could finish. His eyes opened in shock as his legs began to buckle beneath him. Brighton stared in stunned silence at the old man's face, as Eleman fell to his knees. Another bolt took the old sage in his shoulder, knocking him over backward from the impact. His shining yellow robes floated gracefully in front of him as he collapsed onto the ground.
"Murderers!" His mother screamed and leapt onto the back of Garge, clawing and biting at the man."This was to be my wedding day!"
With a shrug of his large shoulders she crashed to the ground. Garge turned and released his crossbow's bolt into her stomach. Her mouth fell open in silent shock, as her gaze fell upon the splintered shaft of wood protruding from her.
"Mother!" Brighton ran to her, no longer restrained by Eleman. Her eyes sought out his, and Garge tripped the boy into a crumpled pile in front of her. Brighton shook away the lingering dizziness his violent contact with the floor had brought, and lifted his head to find his mother.
His eyes finally met hers, and a slim hand slipped across polished wood toward him. Her fingertips just barely grazed his own hand, despite his desperate reaching. His own brown eyes reflected in warm, shimmering green, and for a few moments, a ghost of the smile she reserved only for him crept across her face. The storm outside darkened further, and the soft warmth in his mother's eyes faded into blank jade.
The men in the room hooted and hollered, and laughter filled the room, as men began to grab women at will.
"Take what we need. You heard the old man." Garge laughed with his men.
The sound of reveling cut short with the slamming of the chapel door, shoving Beamy's body into the room. The building's long shadows began to move and twist, creeping further into the light, absorbing the ambient glow in the room. A wind stronger than the storm outside kicked up in the arched chamber, whipping the darkness further along its path into the light.
Garge and his men stood gaping in all directions, laughter dead in their throats. A few men's crossbows changed directions at every moving shade. The wind picked up speed and began to howl, joining in earnest with the darkness, as they spun in unison around the edges of the room. One of the invaders broke from the others, and made a mad leap for the main door. Shadows caught him up before he landed, engulfing him completely. Deep crimson splattered all across the chapel doors and the stained ceremonial rug, as his body shredded to nothing in an instant.
Bolts flew wildly into the darkness, as the killers attempted to retaliate against the flying shades, but the effort appeared entirely futile. The darkness that now licked the walls of the chapel descended on the mass of armed men with singular purpose. Agonized screeches echoed off of the chapel ceiling, as leather and flesh alike were rent and vaporized at a touch from the shadows.
Brighton stood in the center of the chaos as shadows swirled and danced among what was left of both celebrants and invaders. The dark book pulsed in his small hand, almost forgotten, and his eyes now echoed the blackness of the shadows that filled the chapel. A toothy smile sat on his face as the darkness pulled away from what little remained of Garge.
A hollow laugh broke the empty silence that followed the slaughter, and reverberated through the room as darkness curled around him.