The clash of metal echoed out into the hills of the grassy plain. It sliced into the morning air with a ring as prevalent as the continuous claps of thunder that rolled off the distant mountains. In the midst of battle, two young men held firmly to their weapon’s hilts. Competitive smiles were etched on their faces as their muscles rippled from exertion. The sun had yet to reach its peak and already both warriors were covered in a fine layer of sweat, their tunics damp and stuck to their bodies like a second skin. Boots were expertly coated in a fine layer of mud and dust kicked up from fancy footwork, leaping and evading.
“You really think you can best me again?” Soral bated. His eyes twinkled with mischief as he added more strength to his sword. It twisted to the right and slid just a bit further along Jaelan’s blade. His long locks were tied back with a purple sash that accentuated his prominent brow which was currently beaded with droplets of sweat.
Jaelan grinned, exposing a line of white teeth. He grunted as he pushed his sword forwards, allowing the blade to catch the rays of sunlight. The brilliant shine reflected off the polished metal and threw itself into Soral’s unsuspecting face. It blinded him momentarily, forcing the younger man to squint, nose wrinkled up like a dried persimmon.
That slight falter was all Jaelan needed to turn the fight in his favor.
He added more strength behind his sword and drove it forward. His feet darted to the side in a mastered technique as he slid the blade to Soral’s throat, stopping it just a mere hairsbreadth from the younger man’s Adam’s apple.
Soral groaned and inhaled sharply, “Damn it.”
Slowly his eyes opened and drew downwards to look at the lethal blade at his throat. Very carefully he swallowed and moved his head back just a smidgen to avoid unintentionally cutting himself. The sound of tinkling laughter erupted behind him like the ringing of summer’s bells. He groaned once more and winced.
Jaelan slowly withdrew the blade. The victorious warrior spun it in a complex arc before sheathing it in its decorated scabbard that hung loosely from his leather belt. With his hand now free of a weapon he patted the smaller man on the back.
“Oh, Susu.” Jaelan snickered impishly. He wrapped his arms around Soral’s neck and added his full weight to the other’s back so that he was practically hanging from him. “How many is that now?”
Embarrassed and miffed, Soral tried to shake the taller man off again. He bucked like a stallion to dislodge the bothersome flea of a man. However, the attempt proved futile as Jaelan only tightened his hold and laughed louder causing him to drop his sword to the ground.
“Jae!” Soral’s rich baritone voice rose in irritation. He grabbed at the arms around his neck and pulled, only surprised when the hands came undone all by themselves. Soral smirked and before his companion could utter another victorious chuckle, he grasped the unsuspecting Jaelan by the forearms and flung him over his shoulder like a sack of barley.
Completely startled, Jaelan gasped as the air was knocked completely out from his lungs. His back collided with the ground rather painfully. A grimace morphed onto his face, screwing up his handsome features as he laid still. Two eyes blinked up at the illustrious blue sky and noted a large cloud blow through the heavenly sea before Soral’s round face loomed over him, one eyebrow raised into a large forehead. He stood there like a captor over his prisoner with hands folded across his chest and evident mirth displayed in the dimples of his cheeks as he stared down at his childhood friend.
“It is never over until one’s back hits the ground.” He stated. Soral’s grin grew wider as Jaelan began to wriggle on the bed of grass like an upturned centipede. “Isn’t that what the Chief always says?”
Jaelan rolled his eyes and lifted his hand up for Soral to grab. “You don’t need to quote my father at me.” He grumbled as he was drawn to his feet by the other’s strength. “I am quite aware of his favorite saying.”
Soral patted Jaelan’s cheek in good faith and laughed when the other jerked his face away crossly. After one last pat he took a step back; he allowed Jaelan to pat himself down comfortably and shake free the dirt and grit of the ground from his clothes.
The bested warrior, having turned seventeen only two weeks prior, was just as strong as the finest of the clan’s swordsmen. Tall and lean he could move faster than the shadows themselves, skin as pale as the moonlight itself. When he ran through the wood, bow aimed at unsuspecting prey, it was as if the God of the Hunt had come down himself and graced them with his presence.
Soral sighed to himself and watched as Jaelan stood tall and brushed loose tendrils of hair from his eyes. The midnight locks at the front which were sheered shorter than the rest, framed his face as they dangled loosely by his ears. The rest of his long silken hair remained tied back in a rich, blood red sash. It was decorated with hanging rings of quartz and flashing metal carved into spheres, etched with elaborate patterns. The ebony locks tumbled down his back and ended just shy of his narrow hips. A proof of his seventeen years in their length.
Soral looked at his childhood friend and absentmindedly shrugged his shoulders. His eyes loosely followed the way Jaelan’s tongue peeked out from his mouth and licked habitually at his lips.
Suddenly the sound of the piercing notes from a horn echoed through the slope. It made both men perk up and turn their heads toward the direction of their village in puzzlement.
“Did your father call visitors for the day?” Soral asked as he bent down to quickly pick his sword up from the ground and sheath it.
Jaelan frowned and shook his head, unable to recall anything of the sort.
After exchanging a set of worried looks they both promptly broke into a run. The two young warriors were anxious to find the reason as to why the horn had been blown. After all, it wasn’t sounded for just any reason. It was left for only those special instances…the three namely being the arrival of invited guests, a ceremony of a birth or the passing of clansmen.
Nervously they both bounded down the side of the hill. The leather soles of their boots dug into the earth as they propelled their bodies forward. Attention focused on outlying huts around the village as their muscles burned with strain.
Jaelan’s long legs naturally pushed him ahead of Soral as they ran, his slender arms swung by his sides as he drove himself forwards. Fear gripped his heart like a tightening metal chain as he sprinted ahead, the wind whistled by his ears as he ran.
So fast did his legs move that from a distance he appeared the likeness of a giant arrow. Ebony hair sailed the breeze behind him as he flew down the slope on a pair of invisible wings.
Upon having reached the outskirts of the village border, he increased his pace. Jaelan darting through the familiar streets and only stopped to catch his breath when he stood in front of the village’s town circle. His hands fell to his thighs as he bent over to catch his breath while his eyes searched for his father. When he spotted him offering his hand to a strange woman he only relaxed slightly.
He squinted his eyes as he tried to take a closer look. The sweat from his earlier fight dripped into his eyes and made it harder for him to see clearly. Agitatedly, he wiped it away. Then with one final breath to fill his lungs, he straightened his back and jogged forwards. All the while his eyes remained on the strangely clad visitor.
The woman beside his father was dressed in an array of white silks. A headdress the length of his forearm adorned her crown. It was littered with emerald and jade stones in various shapes and sizes. Around her neck rested a band of gold. It too was encrusted with a large milky opal. Her arms remained bare except for the winding silver bands that ran down to her elbows.
“Ah, Jaelan.” His father beckoned him to his side as he stood by the raised pole flying their clan’s banner.
Jaelan nodded and quickly rushed over to take his place beside his father. His arms went to rest by his sides as he took his position. Back straight as he stood tall.
The clan’s Chief smiled widely at their guest and bowed his head forward. Although barely over forty years of age, his hair was already the color of newly fallen snow, as were every other seasoned warriors of their village. It was one of the few telltale signs of their direct link to the heavenly gods.
“Please do not lower your head to me.” The woman entreated. Her eyes grew wide in horror. “It is I, Senisari, who must bow to you instead!”
And just like that, the woman in white fell to the ground. Her arms prostrated in front of her as she lowered her head, nose to the dirt ground.
It was then that Jaelan noticed the others of the troupe. Seven men in red armor had immediately fallen to the floor around them as well. They too bowed their heads low to his father and to him.
Jaelan’s eyes instantly jumped to his father’s face. Wonder was painted across his features in plain transparency. The Chief however remained stoic, though his smile had disappeared from his face like the flame of a snuffed candle. Instead it took on a more solemn look.
“Rise, fair woman.” His father pronounced, voice a little gruff. “One such as I could not possibly deserve such an honor from you, Priestess. You converse with the gods themselves, but we only carry a percentage of their blood.”
The woman lifted her head. Her fingers dug into the Earth as she looked up in shock. “I may be able to hear their words but their blood runs through you…as well as in your line.”
At that her eyes turned towards Jaelan and flashed.
The young warrior barely managed to hide his flinch as a pair of unnatural cobalt eyes stared at him. So blue and unusual that the sky and sea were dull in their comparison.
“You.” She called to him as she stood to her feet. “…You…the bringer of a nation. I bring to you a prophecy.”
Jaelan swallowed. Suddenly, he felt his heart jump into his throat at the woman’s words.
Who was she? Why had she come here? Why had his father sounded the horn for this…this, Priestess? They were not a religious lot. In fact, having the blood of the gods run through their veins…they had nomads bringing gifts to them every solstice.
“You…” She pointed at his chest and walked forwards until her long fingernails pressed into his yellow tunic. “…You…Jaelan of the clan of Ellos…where the blood of mortals and gods are in complete equilibrium…” Her eyes flashed and pupils constricted as she stared at him unseeingly. “…. You…will be the one to give rise to a mighty nation…”
Her eyes then suddenly refocused as she stumbled back two steps. She seemed to wobble on her feet for a minute. Then eerily her shoulders slowly shook, and her breath sounded laborious. The Priestess gasped as if she had broken free from some sort of spell and hurriedly, she began to speak. “…I have seen it…and so it shall be……you must go to the mountain of seven peaks, bathe in its serene waters and there find the jade moon trapped in five shadows…” She suddenly grabbed at her throat as if trying to fight off a choking assailant. Her eyelashes fluttered wildly. “…Y-you have to g-go now! L-leave now…. o-or it shall f-forever be lost to you!”
Two of her armored guards rushed forward, eyes wide in alarm as the Priestess clutched at her throat. However, when they attempted to touch her, their hands recoiled as if burned by an unseen fire.
“You must leave now!” She cried out before she bent over and gasped for air. Her legs were visibly trembling under her layers of silks at the strain of keeping herself erect. “I have r-rushed here….t-to tell you…..you m-must leave now…o-or it shall forever be l-lost to us….the birth of a nation…a son...the one to u-unite the s-scattered clans…..y-you……son of God and m-man…”
The priestess coughed. Her fingers dug into her throat as her face had begun to turn red. Panicked, Jaelan leaned forward and grabbed the thrashing woman by the shoulders. However as soon as his fingers touched her skin, the woman’s body went rigid. She tumbled back a few steps and fell into the waiting arms of her guard.
The boy, barely a man, stared alarmed at the stiff figure of the woman, eyes widened in horror.
Had his touch somehow brought along an early demise for the woman?
“Do not be distressed, my young prince.”
Jaelan whipped his head to the side. His eyes fell on a hunched, elderly woman who had just hobbled over to the circle from her later arriving wooden palanquin. The lower portion of her face veiled by a curtain of black translucent silk. She smiled kindly up at him before turning her head to the guards. She motioned for the duo to put the Priestess into the litter she had just departed from.
“I told Priestess Senisari to wait but the stubborn child barreled on ahead like usual.” She sighed and folded her frail hands in front of her. The burgundy silk loose against her small frame.
“Don’t be so scared, boy. I can practically feel your insides trembling.”
Jaelan stiffened even further. His lips parted in silent surprise.
The elderly woman smiled kindly. “Jaelan of the Ellos clan, you will have to learn to hide the emotion on your face a little better than that. If an old woman can tell what you’re thinking, how will you be able to help your son lead a nation?”
The boy’s jaw dropped. His eyes nearly popped out from their sockets as he stared in shock. “My son?” He swallowed and cleared his throat. “My apologies, Lady. However, I can assure I am quite childless. As the next in line, I do not dally in such a manner.”
“Hmm.” The woman frowned and turned her head to stare at the Chief who looked equally as shocked.
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