By Cliona in Dark Ages

The young monk clenched her hands into fists at her sides, her gazed fixed upon the approaching bat. It took everything she had within her not to look in the other direction, the direction of the other hunting party. There, a wizard threw her hands into the air, crushing their foe, a scorpion of considerable size, with a wall of water. The creature nearly split apart at the impact, dropping an iron bracer to the floor, the possession of an Aisling long forgotten, his adversary now vanquished, his gift to them that of his items, lost to Sgrios. A loud, clear male laugh rang throughout the musty crypt, his joy like fire into her heart.

Did he not see the pain he caused her, the agony of her separation from him? Wearily, Liadain relented and turned her gaze, her breath catching in her throat at the sight of him, beautiful as ever. Sweat beaded on his chest and bare shoulders, his body tanned from hard work outdoors and well muscled all the same. He was unlike any Aisling she had ever seen. His dedication to the monk's path was full and total, reaching far into himself as all aspects of his life reflected it. He spoke of peace in gentle tones, his eyes reflected the compassionate, reflective nature of his soul. In a hunt he could become so absorbed in the motion of fists and feet that it took him a moment to realize that his opponent lay upon the ground in a heap, blood pouring from its wounds, heaving in the final throes. Then, quietly, with unshakable dignity, he would kneel beside the creature to claim his prize, then walk away, granting it the final honor of its silent return to Sgrios.

His hair, black and fine and soft like a raven's breast, was left damp by sweat and steam of the crypt to gleam with light of the torches upon the brick-lined walls. Nearly black eyes gazed up from under unruly locks of silk, dark brown and foreboding, but with all the capability for tenderness. Strong callused hands hung by his sides, swaying easily as he made his way with the group for another kill. His black pants allowed easily for movement, remaining still to cling to his skin, revealing firm thigh and calf muscles, bare feet upon which he balanced easily, kicking into the creature's side and head.

Iron bracers encircled thick wrists, his skin soft, as one can expect from any young man, emerald rings upon his fingers. Veins stood out, firm, lining each strong arm, the flow of blood and life through him almost palpable to her, even across all this distance.

Liadain became lost in the rhythm of his fighting, kick, punch, ambush and kick, punch once more, ambush. Once, however, he lost his balance in a high kick, crashing to the floor to lie there a moment, blood seeping slowly from a cut on his head, reaching up slowly, moaning, unsure of himself. An instant before Liadain felt sure she would bolt to be at his side, a priest came to his rescue, the auras of her healing surrounding him, sealing his wounds and easing his pain even as she watched, shocked as always by this small miracle of Light.

The monk returned to his hunting, kicking the creature harder than before, furious at this intrusion into himself, taking his vengeance, crying out angrily with each kick, each punch, so that the entire rest of his party stopped to watch this display. All except the priest. In his anger, all grace was lost, all fury took over caution, and she wildly healed him in order to keep him simply with enough strength for the next kick, the next punch...

Liadain watched the creature, a huge snarling centipede this time, lay limp upon the floor, all life gone from it, her beloved standing over it, breathing heavily, weary, drained. His priestess was given time to remove the curse of fury from him, and he sadly looked over the remains, pulled the venom gland from the creature's throat, and turned apologetically to his party, haunted until the moment came when a voice broke the silence, forcing him once more into raucous laughter.

Long ago this nameless beauty had been a friend, her best friend, she could truly say. She had laid with him in the fields and forests of Undine and spoke the secrets of her heart, her tears soaking into the soft scratchy wool of his ragged green shirt. He had told her the truth of all things, of the truth and beauty and light of Glioca that she had never before seen. He had shown her all things beautiful, all things right and kind.

He had shown her love, and she had given him all that she possessed. Her love, her heart, soul, and body, she had given him and asked only for his acceptance in return. For hours they debated the mysteries of magic, or the cosmos and all things contained within the world. They rode to the plain of Ardmagh on horseback and picked the fruit of the vine and the cherries of the trees for pennies, then sold them to the priests of the region for enough money to sail to Abel, then walk on to Mileth. They used the money from gathered fruits to rent their one tiny wooden room at the inn, to pay for the rings and the garments to cover themselves as they learned their meager skills.

Together they slept in their small bed, his arms wrapped around her, her face buried in his chest while she dreamed the dreams of the day when together they would profess their love in the glade of the faeries in the distant eastern woodlands. They stroked back wet hair from their weary foreheads as they soaked in tubs of hot water in the inn's bath, content and quiet with the company of one another. They together explored the mysteries of the flesh, the quiet moments and those of questions, of curiosity, of sharing experiences and ideas, of launching into nude debates of political views, arguing for or against the rule of Loures over them all.

Soon, however, as they both grew more somber, more weary and impatient with the study, the fighting as they were encouraged to do all that they could to defeat the other, Liadain found herself beaten, red potions passing through her lips almost as quickly as one could be made for her. Liadain grew silent, bitter, seeking silence through her tears, left behind by him as he went to train with the more skilled fighters, while she, heartbroken and weak, stayed behind, growing weaker, falling astray.

One day as she laid in her bed in the early morning, the golden light of dawn spilling onto the covers, his arm laid over her, his lips trailing over her shoulder and neck, he pulled her close to his chest, urging her to turn to him, that he had something he needed to talk to her about. He spoke in soft words of love and fate, of beauty and joy in the only person he had ever shared his soul with. He spoke of duty, also, of the Path and the undeniable truth that they all must follow their destiny. That he must, for a time, for an item unknown in this part of the world, go to the caves of Piet. That he may be gone for as long as six months, that he must leave her.

He told her it might be better to leave her now free to find another than to leave and perhaps never return, to perhaps not find that red potion at the last moment, and have her heart broken by the cold grip of Sgrios, rather than the warmth so like his own arms around her.

The next day he embarked upon the journey without so much as a goodbye from her, so destroyed by his perceived disregard for her that she felt she could never again look into those intense black eyes. She watched through the windows of the inn as he walked out of town, towards Abel where his ship awaited him first to Rucesion, then on to Loures and the foul-smelling caves of distant Piet.

And now once again he stood before her, rich with the rare items lost by the creatures of Piet, skilled beyond her wildest expectations. He was a lovely young man while she remained plain with her crimson hair and worn bodice, feet bare, skills not yet polished to even the dullest of gleams. He laughed with his comrades, the priests and wizards giving time the duty of replenishing their resources while he honed already near-perfect skills upon them, ambushing grumpy rogues and playfully teasing them that they could not do as he did. His laughing cut at her like so many small blue daggers.

She was running towards him before she knew it, leaving her group behind, a small cry escaping from her throat, hurling herself forward, lifting her feet for a powerful kick. He stood with his back to her, not hearing the commotion, not knowing of the centipede inches from his back, threatening him with fang and venom, in one moment this creature of darkness ready to claim the brightest light in Liadain's universe.

She crashed down upon the centipede with a hoarse, angry cry, fists pummeling the creature, ambushing and punching and kicking with all her might, skills coming to her which she did not know she would ever possess.

It only took a moment. The creature soon lay upon the ground twitching, dropping from its corpse, already decaying into darkness, a great mythrill bracer, a unique and powerful object. Liadain lifted the object and slid it onto her wrist, letting the crumbling leather one drop to the floor. At the same moment, a withering hiss escaped the dying centipede as its body and essence was cast into the realm of Sgrios from which it first emerged. Insight after insight rushed through Liadain's body, taking her breath away with the beauty of the world, the knowledge of Glioca, of the gods, of the history of Hy-Brasyl, of all the Aislings to come before, of strategy, of fighting all types of creatures throughout Temuair in all its aeons of history.

Finally, what seemed to her like years later, Liadain lifted her head, coming face to face with her love, radiant in all his beauty as she, too, was radiant. She glowed with the rushes of insight, her muscles hardening with strength, wisdom finding her, her body growing tall and willowy and lithesome as he, too, was. Overcome with pride for his young love, he wrapped his arms around her, pressing her close to his chest, stiffening sharply at the first hot, wet droplet upon his cooling flesh. He lifted one large hand to stroke her crimson hair. "What's wrong, my love?"

"Do I mean so little to you? You think that in a moment I would go to another because you are not there to satisfy me? Are you so vain? Am I so terrible for you to think that?"

He shook his head adamantly, his grip firm upon her. "Not at all. It is I who made the error in this. I should have invited you to join me. I should not have let you stray so far in sadness. I should have seen what lay beyond your heart, what stirred your soul. I can never ask for your forgiveness, for this sorrow will never be quenched."

"I will grant you this forgiveness if you grant me this one thing."

He stepped from her iron grip, meeting her soft blue eyes with his black ones. "I would give you the moon and the sun if it pleased you."

She watched him closely. "Tell me the secrets of your Aisling heart."

He blinked slowly, drawing her into his arms. "Where would you like me to begin?"

~ The story of Liadain Inntinn, Monk

~ Winter, Deoch 4

~ From the writings of Cliona Malkier al' Fae.