I died yesterday.
And the day before.
And every day before that for a thousand years.
But that doesn’t matter right now. What matters is Danielle. The one I give my life to protect.
She is sitting before me on a simple stool near the edge of the village square, her delicate fingers dancing over the strings of a harp and drawing forth the most exquisite music my ears could imagine.
She sings of embracing the joy of today while looking with hope toward tomorrow. Enchanting. I’m lost in the music. In its sweet sound and in Danielle’s simple beauty. Hers is a beauty that can’t be dampened by plain clothing or humble surroundings. In fact, she lends an elegance to the plainest of garments and a majesty to—
I pull my mind from its wanderings and focus on Danielle. “What?”
Danielle giggles and my heart flutters. “I asked what you thought of my song.”
And I failed to answer her. How could I be so careless? “It was beautiful,” I say quickly. “Magnificent. Breath taking.”
“Good. It’s going to be the last song I play at the festival.”
“It’s perfect.” And it really was. Today is the day of the Aster Festival that marks the official end of the brief warm season in Kalnis. It was a day of joy, but it promised bitter cold and deep snows just around the corner. This remote corner of Samokei, tucked away behind the jagged Kalnis mountain range, had little enough to celebrate. The harvest had been disappointing this year and the chill of winter was already beginning to creep in.
Danielle’s song captured all of that. The vibrant joy of the warm season was front and center, but a dark and subtle tension lay beneath the bright melody.
A breeze lifts Danielle’s golden hair from her face to reveal a grimace. “If it stays this windy all day, my voice will never carry over—”
Her voice is drowned out by a mighty gust of wind and the crash of the feasting table shattering against the ground in the center of the square.
My whole body goes tense as I whirl toward the sound. Shar. It has to be Shar. Though such a direct and open attack is unusual for him, there is no other possibility. He’s come for Danielle again. As he does every day. Shar is a Kreigav, a killer I have been fighting for a thousand years.
Or more. I’ve lost count.
But he never attacks in the open. He strikes from the shadows, in secret. As far as I know, he’s never revealed himself to anyone but me. So why is he coming now? Why here in the midst of the preparations for the festival?
I’m still looking around for him when I realize that the wind has stopped. The people of the village are moaning about their table, but no one is hurt and a few are even laughing at the misfortune.
Could it be possible that it was simply a natural wind? Not a squall fueled by Shar’s elemental powers?
Danielle is looking at me as though she’s waiting for something.
Did I miss her question again? “Sorry, I didn’t hear you.”
Her eyes roll, “Some wind, huh?”
I force a chuckle to cover my apprehension. “Yeah, some wind.” I look around the village, at the people cleaning up the mess in the square, the vendors setting up their wares, the other musicians practicing their songs, and the children running barefoot through it all.
All appears to be well. The ominous clouds that loomed overhead at dawn are all but gone now, chased away by the sun.
Perhaps Shar won’t even attack at all today. Danielle will be surrounded by the people of the village all day long. He would never risk an open assault in front of so many people. It would be insane
And yet the wind is back and roaring in my ears with no forewarning.
Screams rise from the center of the square as several people are lifted off the ground then tossed back into the dirt like rag dolls.
This is Shar.
Even as the thought takes hold of my mind, I see him. He’s lifted himself off the ground to ride on the wind, black robes billowing over the village square. If not for his supernatural power and the malicious glint in his eyes, he wouldn’t be particularly frightening. He’s of average height and average build, with a long, pale face. But his eyes, a brown so dark they appear black, glow with evil.
Those eyes are fixed on Danielle now.
And she’s just realized it.
“Danielle, come with me!” She doesn’t move. “Now!”
She snaps out of her shock as I grab her arm and we dart behind the nearest cottage. Shar is still near the center of the square; I’m certain we can get away before he catches us.
Or not. He’s anticipated our escape and barred the way with a log as wide as I am tall. No way around without going back. Towards Shar.
“Who is that? What’s going on?” Danielle’s voice is dripping terror.
I’ve never been able to match Shar in combat, but that doesn’t mean I’m useless.
“Hold on,” I say to Danielle as I sweep her into my arms and launch us up. My left foot plants on the side of the cottage and I spring up. Right foot catches a hold on the log and we go higher. Left foot pushes against the cottage one last time and then we land on the giant trunk. We’re down to the other side without a glance back.
“Run for the woods!”
“The woods?” Her voice cracks as it turns up to form the question.
“It’s alright, we can hide there.”