What follows is an excerpt from a project in early development. I came up with the concepts for these scenes and knew I wanted to use them interspersed throughout a larger story about these characters. However, I haven’t yet settled on what that larger story is, so in the meantime, I present them to you in an early form. These characters live in the fictional world in which most of my work is set.
“You have the fire, my child.”
The father takes his daughter into his arms for the first time and feels his heart swell. Pride, astonishment, doubt, concern, and above all, love – a flurry of emotions engulfs his mind and soul. He pushes them down below his notice. All he cares for in that moment is the sight of the child, who considers wailing at the strange, cold world into which she has emerged. He wraps the blanket tight around her and turns toward the hearth.
“Already I can see the embers that stir deep within your soul.”
The gift of his bloodline runs strong through her veins. He can practically feel it without needing to confirm with the other-sight. When he does shift his vision the newborn babe appears to emanate mana, with twin sparks of light and fire discernible. The Purifying Flame has passed to the next generation.
“You must always take care of this spirit.”
His voice is the soft rumble of a river, resonating through the babe. Gradually her expressions calm. She is still displeased at the very notion of being awake, and growing hungry besides, but the mages are still seeing to her mother and her father must keep her soothed for the time being. Steel-blue eyes regard the living mountain that is her father with blossoming trust and affection.
“One must keep the fire appropriately stoked. Burn too low, and others may extinguish its flame altogether. Burn too high, and it may consume others. But maintained properly, the flame is the light that guides the lost and the hungry to home and hearth, that casts out the evils of night.”
Bundled tightly, her tiny hands hover by her chest. She regards her father devoutly yet her mouth stretches in a prolonged yawn that makes her tremble. He sways gently side to side, regarding her by firelight.
“Others will seek the power of the flame we bear. Others will want to bend it to their own will or snuff it out entirely.”
The inheritance passed across the centuries – a gift forged by the merging of two exceptional bloodlines – is as much burden as blessing. In the hands of lesser heirs it had proven disastrous.
“The world into which we have brought you is far from perfect. I wish you could have been born in better times. And yet, now that you are here, I could not wish for anything better.”
Tears have become foreign to him. He has not felt them truly well in the corner of his eye for many years. At times he wondered if he was immune to them altogether. Now the old sensation returns and he feels the trail left behind by a single drop. She flinches gently when the tear lands on her arm.
“Instead we will have to stand strong. You must be even more steadfast. I know you have this within you, and I will do everything in my power to ensure you achieve your potential and your dreams.”
Healers signal him and he moves back to the bedside where his wife rests comfortably. The father manages to wrest his eyes from the child to meet the mother’s gaze. A torrent of understanding exchanges between them in a few heartbeats, both seeing their own emotions reflected in their partner’s eyes. When he kneels beside the bed their eyes drift back down to the child resting in his arms.
“You have the fire within you, my child. Keep it stoked and safe; bear it high for all to see, a beacon of joy and warmth to keep evil at bay.
“I pledge my life to show you the way, to be the torch that bears you down your path.”
Wood strikes hard upon wood. Despite her youth, the daughter has an incredible fervour that lends extra strength to her arms. The father feels the impact rattle his arm each time she strikes his training sword.
“Your strength exceeds your years,” he admits.
She replies with the kind of snarl she has seen him release in the heat of battle. She hops back and approaches him again from a new angle. Thwack! Thwack! Thwa-thwa-thwack! Again she jumps back, panting, and appraises him anew. Throughout her barrage his feet have not moved; rooted to the spot, he has blocked every strike patiently with the slightest adjustment of his wooden blade.
“To what end do you apply this strength?”
“To defeat you,” she replies.
“To what end do you seek to defeat me?”
“That is the goal of this training. I must defeat you to be successful.”
His eyebrow raises slightly. She grinds her teeth, recognizing she has given a flawed answer. Yet he does not directly correct her. “And what do you gain from this success?”
She runs at him again. Her bare feet barely land upon the soft earth and bear her within striking range in three long strides. She is tall and slender, a bundle of trained muscle even at her age. When she strikes with both hands his wrists begin to ache.
“I grow stronger,” she replies. Realizing her tactics have been utterly ineffective, she tries to strike at varied and unpredictable angles in the middle of her barrage. Only the final attack makes him tilt his sword more than ten degrees to block, despite the considerable grace with which she attacks.
“So the goal of battle is to grow stronger with each victory, then,” he summarizes.
“I must be stronger so I cannot be defeated,” she explains, leaping back once more. She squares her shoulders, correcting her stance.
“So you can be undefeatable.”
“Yes,” she says, wiping sweat from her brow with the back of her wrist.
The father has barely moved throughout the exercise. He is a tree deep rooted, as she is the summer wind. Garbed in a warrior’s robe from a foreign land, he stands ready to weather her next gust. She is attired similarly. Her training garb is newly replaced since her last growth spurt. Each bears the same type of simple training sword, reinforced to support the incredible strength with which they are swung.
“What is the worth of being undefeatable?” He asks. His mouth is barely visible through his beard – raven dashed with silver like his hair.
She scoffs, growing as impatient with his line of questioning as with her inability to move him with all her might. “So that my enemies can never best me!”
“And to what end do we avoid being bested?”
Another battle cry rises from her chest as she charges forward anew. This time she leaps after two strides and crashes upon his training sword with all her strength and weight. The father raises his sword to catch the blow; his feet dig into the soil beneath the impact, but he swings her away. She rolls backward, springs forward, attacks from his left. His feet shift an inch to catch the assault on his weaker front.
“So our enemies cannot defeat us!” Thwack! “Slay us!” Thwack! “Steal from us!” Thwa-thwack! “Hurt our loved ones!” THWACK!
After blocking her last, strongest swing, the father finally retaliates and strikes her sword with half his might. The daughter is thrown back and sent tumbling.
“There are two reasons we fight.”
His voice booms across the clearing though his neutral expression does not waver. Laying on her stomach in the dirt, she raises her head to regard him in awe.
“To defend ourselves. To protect others.”
The father resumes his stance. His gaze is locked upon her like iron; the daughter cannot look away. She quickly feels wrong, to be laying in the dirt before his example, and hurries to rise and mirror him.
“But… There are enemies who would seek to harm us,” she counters.
“Then we defend ourselves and protect others from their machinations.” His voice is steady and calm, but still resounds through her rib cage. “We do not fight so that we cannot be defeated in a fight. We seek to be undefeatable so others cannot inflict harm upon us, or others if it is within our power to prevent. We are not strong for strength’s sake. We do not train for glory. We train to be the balance of the world, to prevent wrongdoings.
“My daughter, there are those who wish to bend the world to their will. We cannot stop them from turning malicious in the pursuit of their ambitions. All we can do is exemplify the change we wish to see in the world, and seek to prevent the ambitions of evil from harming the innocent.
“If all people fought only in defence, there would be no one left to launch an offence,” the father said. “We are the shield that protects the innocent, and the sword that counter-attacks evil.”
Awestruck, the daughter stares at her father for a long moment, absorbing his words. She moves back to her starting position and looks down her blade at him. With restored resolve and strength, she attacks once more. Her sword swings with the same intensity and still makes the father’s arm quake beneath her impacts, but her ferocity has been honed and refined.
“Your strength exceeds your years,” he admits once more, when she relents.
Without pride she nods, accepting his praise.
“To what end do you apply this strength?”
“To defend myself, and to protect others.”
Beneath the beard, his lip curls upward. Her keen eyes detect the change and she smirks as well.
She wraps herself in her mana – an aura of radiant flame surrounding her, energy quietly shimmering around her body – and leaps at her father once more.
After all he has taught her, the daughter cannot accept his answer. “Tell me, father, truly,” she insists.
“I confess again that I do not know,” he sighs. Then he tousles her hair with a rare, genuine smile. “Please do not make me further wound my pride by repeatedly confessing my ignorance.”
Her mother withdrew from the campfire some time prior, leaving them to their meditation while the moon had not yet broken above the trees. When their eyes reopened Luna was high ahead and the stars had scattered across the sky to dance with her. They lingered to watch the dancing flames which she had kindled with magic. Its heat washed over them in body and spirit – the physical flame and the magical light it gave, soothing their minds.
“You know and you aren’t telling me,” the daughter insists. She thinks she knows her parents too well by now. Her intuition is strong and true, guided by her increasing proficiency with her blood-gift.
Yet now it truly fails her. “None know for certain, daughter, but those who have gone to the lands you speak of, and they say little.”
“What of our ancestors?”
“Aye,” he concedes in an exhalation, “it is said our distant ancestors returned from the lands beyond. They are half the reason we bear our gifts. If not for their sacrifices and triumphs, we would not be here, nor would we possess the strength we do.”
“And what did they say?”
The father’s jaw works side to side as he picks his words. “Mind you, their account has been passed down for several centuries now, and-”
“-‘we must heed the corruption of knowledge over time,’ yes, Father,” she concludes. She has heard his lecture many times throughout her education.
He cannot help but grumble quietly; he never knows if he should feel pride or irritation when she uses his teachings against him. “They said they saw the realms beyond, the Higher and the Lower. With angels and daemons alike, they spoke, bartered, and fought. They saw the face of Shaitan and the Goddess, and returned to the Mortal Realm by Her mercy.” He cuts off his daughter’s retort with a raised finger. “Yet, you know they did not embark upon this journey by any normal means.”
Now it is her turn to grind her teeth. “But the other realms exist, then.”
“Aye, it seems likely,” he admits. “It is hard to deny with the personal accounts of our ancestors – who set mortal foot upon the immortal soil of those lands. But yet I cannot answer your question with any certainty.”
Silence follows and settles between them. Her head rests upon his shoulder. Though he cannot see her face he knows the concerns written upon it.
“I know why you ask. Around your age I began to ponder such things too. I laid awake at night and asked questions without answers in the dark.”
Her reaction is subtle; without their close contact he would not have discerned the subtle twitch as he speaks of her secret worries. She stays still afterward, both arms wrapped around her father’s sword arm, and lets his words write upon her soul.
“The people of the Faith would tell you one thing; each tribe of the Freelands would tell you another; the Aserans would tell you that nothing happens; and the other Children would scoff and tell you such matters are beyond the understanding of the Eldain.” His serious tone breaks for but a moment. “Believe me on the last count; do not ask an Eldar.
“My point is, everyone believes something different on this matter, and none can know for certain until we embark on the journey for ourselves. This is knowledge we can never attain for sure. May it be many, many years before any of our family learn the secrets of that voyage.
“But there is one thing I can tell you beyond any shadow of a doubt.”
She lifts her head slowly during the pause that follows. He does not look down at her or wrest his eyes from the flames. Never has she seen such a look of resolution upon his face. Flames and shadows paint his stoic features in a swirl of changing colours. The true fire is deep within his blue eyes, however, as he continues.
“No matter what that journey brings, or what lies at its end, I can tell you this: there is no place in existence or beyond that can keep me from you. I have been with you in body or in your heart since the moment you breathed your first breath, and I will never leave your side or your soul. No matter where I am, I will always be with you. All the hordes of daemons, all the flights of angels, all the eidolons and monsters and the Children, the Betrayer and the Nihil-King and the Goddess themselves – none could stand between me and you, my child, across any of the Realms.
“I will always be with you, my precious daughter, and none could bar me from watching over you, wherever we are. Across all the Realms and all of time, I will always be with you. That is the only thing I know without doubt.”
She has never seen a tear mark his face and yet now she watches a single bead fall, gliding over cheek and beard. She is glad for her, for her own cheeks are wet. With all her might she crushes his arm.