Everyday – Part One

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—

“Yusha?”

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.”

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Everyday – Part Two

When we’re far enough into the forest that I’m confident we’ll be safe for a few moments, I stop. I could keep running, and we should keep running, but I know Danielle needs a break.

She drops to the ground to catch her breath, but less than a minute later, she looks up at me. “Yusha, what is going on? What was all that about?”

I take a deep breath. There’s no sheltering her now. “Shar wants to kill you.”

“He wants to what?”

“He’s trying to kill you.”

“Why me?” Danielle stands up, takes a few steps in no particular direction, then faces me. “I don’t even know who he is!”

““Shar is…” How can I explain this? “He’s a Kreigav.”

Danielle’s eyes widen in fear.

“But I’m here to keep you safe.”

“From a, a Kreigav?” Her voice is small now, soft as a whisper. “How can you do that?” She shakes her head, sending her unbound hair bouncing around her petite face. “Kreigav aren’t real. They’re a legend, a myth, everyone knows they’re not real.”

This part is not going to be easy. “They are not a myth. And I assure you, they are very real.”

Danielle looks at me, her features tightening into a scowl as her fear is chased away by anger. “You expect me to believe that there are really magical, evil beings flying around Samokei, searching for the lost descendants of the Bunitheor dynasty?”

I only nod. What more can I say?

“Come on, Yusha! What is really going on here?”

“I’m keeping you safe.”

“Yes, yes, I know. But safe from what?”

“From Shar.”

“Who is Shar?”

“The Kreigav who is trying to kill you.”

“Ugh! This is getting nowhere! Can’t you just answer my questions?”

I thought I was answering her questions, but somehow I know I shouldn’t say that right now. So I say nothing.

“Who are you Yusha?”

A fair question. She only knows me as the strange boy who moved to the village with no family three years ago. And now I’m leading her off into the forest and speaking of legends as though they’re reality. I can tell her the truth, but will she believe it?

“I am a Zazti.”

Danielle’s eyes widen. “That’s, that’s not possible.” Her people know of the Zazti, of course. But, like the Kreigav, we are only a legend to them. No one believes we exist. Not anymore.

“But it is the truth. I am here to—”

“No, no, no. You’re Yusha. My friend. Not some mythical creature.” She pauses and her eyes narrow. “Is this some kind of joke?”

Joke? “No, it’s no joke.” I step closer and take her hand in my own. “And I am your friend. Your friend who is here to protect you.” That’s all I can do. I can’t explain everything to her. I may not even be able to keep her trust after this day. But I can protect her. Of that, I am sure.

“If you are a Zazti, then why are you protecting me?”

I’ve never considered that question before. The Zazti are protectors. We guard the descendants of Bunitheor from the Kreigav who would kill them. Why do I need a reason for that?

Danielle pulls her hand free and takes a half step backwards. “The Zazti only protect the descendants of Bunitheor. That’s what all the legends say. Do I look like a princess to you?”

“No, I mean, yes, but—“

“They also protect pretty girls who they become obsessed with.”

Shar is descending from the trees above us, his long cloak fluttering on the breeze that carries him.

How did he find us? How does he always find us?

“You seem like the one with the obsession,” Danielle snapped at him. “You’re trying to kill me.”

“A quick tongue,” Shar says with a smooth grin, “but how do you know he’s not the one trying to kill you?” His finger stretches out towards me.

“That’s absurd!” I protest. Surely she can see that, right? I glance at Danielle and see doubt flicker across her features.

“I was coming to save you, and Yusha here whisked you away to the woods where he can kill you in solitude.” Shar’s brown eyes were soft, deceptively compassionate.

“No, I don’t believe you.”

But she doesn’t sound very convinced.

“You don’t? Are you sure?” His voice was low, almost a purr as he sowed doubt deeper into her mind.

“No, she doesn’t,” I declare with as much certainty as I can muster, stepping between them.

“I can speak for myself, Yusha.”

Danielle is next to me again. I don’t know what’s going on inside her head, but I know this can’t end well.

“But he’s right,” she says to Shar. “If you were coming to save me, you’d have no need to go throwing people around.”

“A quick tongue and a quick mind. Perhaps I understand what you see in her, Yusha.”

I see a question on Danielle’s face at that remark, but before I can say anything, a swell of earth rises up to crash onto Danielle from behind.

I shove her aside and relax to let the earthen wave pass over me without damage.

Shar lunges for Danielle, having anticipated my move. But he always forgets how quick I am. I slap his arm, spinning him off balance so that his momentum carries him past Danielle instead of into her.

“Run! Now!”

This time she flees without a word. Satisfied that Danielle is safe for the next few moments, I let my full focus return to Shar. He can’t go after her now without dealing with me first.

A faint rumble is the only warning I get before the soil beneath me erupts upward like a geyser. I’m propelled up for a few seconds before I feel the pressure beneath me stop and drop me back toward the ground. Panic crowds in.

Shut it out, shut it out.

I get myself upright just in time to land on my feet.

Now I’m face to face with Shar. His fists are filling the air between us and it’s all I can do to redirect them. Before I even know it’s there, his leg sweeps in from the side and I’m on my back.

Roll!

His fist pounds the dirt where my head lay a moment earlier. I spring up and back, trying to catch my breath and gain some space.

“You know how this ends, Yusha.”

“As do you, Shar. You kill me and you die with me. She’s safe.”

A roar of rage twists his face and the ground between us buckles, rises, and rushes for me. The earth swallows me, blotting out the sun and stealing the air from my lungs.

Everyday – Part Three

I’m alive.

Danielle is safe.

Well, not really safe, because I’m alive.

Why am I alive? The mound of earth was charging for me, enveloping me. It was more than enough to kill me. But instead of dying, I yielded to the force, letting it wash over me and carry me away. But why? If I had let Shar kill me, she would be free from him. At least until we both came back tomorrow. But I’ve left her in harm’s way by saving my own life because now Shar is still alive as well. Why did I do that?

All I know is that Danielle is not safe.

But what is safe, anyway? Her life is always in danger from Shar. I can never really save her, just stave him off for a few more hours. Even now, he’ll know I’m not dead and continue looking for her. At least before, she never knew about it. She could live her life in peace, happily oblivious to Shar’s attacks. Now, she’s consumed by the chaos, running for her life.

Why did Shar escalate his attack like this? For three years, he’s struck from the shadows with subtle traps and manipulations of nature. And for centuries before, he worked in secret, hiding himself so that no one saw him or suspected his power. This open assault made no sense. What did he gain from it?

No time for this now. I need to find her. Where would she go? Where would she feel safe?

The village.

It’s the worst place for her to go, of course, because it’s utterly predictable. But it’s the only safe place she knows. I have to get there. Now.

Traveling quickly is never a problem for me. Shar may have strength and supernatural power on his side, but I have speed on mine. I can get there first.

I’m here. I’ve reached the village. The clouds are back in full force, blocking out the sun with a thick curtain of grey. There’s no activity in the square. The table, food, and decorations all lay scattered where they fell. The windows are closed.

I still have to find Danielle. If she’s really even here.

Panic tries to crowd into my mind at the thought. She could still be in the woods. Shar may have already…

Shut it out, shut it out.

She’s here. She has to be.

I hurry through the streets, desperate to find her.

“You!” The raw anger in that shout kept me from recognizing it as Danielle’s voice for a moment. “Why did you come here?”

“I came to—”

“Protect me? That’s going really well. I don’t believe him, I don’t think you’re trying to kill me. But you’re not keeping me safe, either.”

The words stung. A sting magnified by the potent mix of truth and lie they contained.

“Danielle, if you only knew how much I—”

“How much you what? Want to protect me? You’re doing a pretty lousy job at that. He’s probably following you right now. You’re leading him right to me. Again.”

I blink. Could that be true? Shar has never attacked Danielle unless I was near. Was that how he found us in the forest so quickly?

She’s walking away. I got lost in my thoughts, and she just walked away. I can’t let her go. I have to keep her—

The wind roars with unnatural ferocity and the clouds darken from grey to black, ushering in an premature dusk. Thunder rolls in the distance.

Shar.

I see the cloud of black robes descending, swooping towards Danielle but she’s too far away. I can’t get to her in time.

But I have to try. I surge forward, arms outstretched.

Her scream is cut short while I’m still running as the dark form collides with her and she’s carried away.

Out of my reach.

Out of my sight.

Danielle is not safe.

Everyday – Part Four

Shar has Danielle.

I don’t know where they are.

The thunder clouds are unleashing torrential rains on my head.

The rain is falling so hard I can barely see. How will I ever track them? I’ve never had to find Shar before, he’s always come to Danielle.

Or he’s come to me. It seems all but certain that I’m the way he’s always found Danielle. But how can he always find me? The panic presses in as the questions threaten to overwhelm me.

Shut it out, shut it out.

Go, find her. I have to go. Go where? Just go.

Now.

I’m running, the rain lashing my face. Where would Shar have the greatest advantage? The forest would shield us from the lightning so he won’t go there. The coast to the west and north gives him little real advantage over the open fields near the village. Maybe a few more stones and extra water.

The mountains. Yes, the Kalnis Mountains to the south! That has to be it. It gives him a place to hide, a perch to swoop down from. It also puts him closer to the source of the lightning and allows him to use the craggy peaks to magnify the wind into raging funnels of fury.

He has to be there. With Danielle. So that’s where I’m going.

It’s not long before the jagged face of the mountains is before me. I’m driven by desperation and pushed by the wind as the storm rolls in from the north. I’m here, but I’m staring at an unforgiving wall of rough stone. How am I going to find them?

And suddenly, that’s not a problem. I catch a glimpse of billowing black robes ducking behind a rock as the lightning flashes. They’re still near the base of the mountains. I caught up so easily? I must have been running faster than I thought.

Just as I make it around the rock, I see Shar again. This time he’s riding the wind up a nearly sheer cliff face and disappearing over the ledge. Not a problem. I can’t hitch a ride on the breeze like him, but I can climb almost as fast – even with the scarcity of footholds.

I’m at the top of the ledge. It’s windier here. And I can’t see Shar anywhere now. The world lights up for a brief moment, but there’s still nothing. No sign of them.

The wind shifts. And I can hear something. Someone.

Danielle!

“Why me? Why are you both so obsessed with me? I’m not some long lost princess.” Her voice is raised in anger, not the fear I’d expected.

“You aren’t? Oh dear, perhaps we’ve been wasting our time.”

A pause. “So you’re going to let me go?”

A sharp, cold laugh. “Of course not. This is who we are. I have to kill you. He has to protect you.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Does it have to?”

“Yes!”

“No. It doesn’t.”

I can hear them, but I can’t tell where they’re coming from.

“It doesn’t have to make sense, because you’re not going to be alive long enough for it to matter. Yusha is outside even now. Any moment now, he’ll come rushing in to save you, eyes shining. I’ll make you watch as I beat him within an inch of his life. And then he’ll watch as you die in front of him.”

“But why?”

I still haven’t located the source of the sound. They can’t be far.

“Because killing you is the only way I can get my life back!” Shar’s voice is cracking with rage and… remorse?

The wind shifts again and the voices are coming from another direction. I spin towards them and the mountainside is illuminated again. In the instant of daylight afforded by the lightning I catch a glimpse of her golden hair. She’s inside a cave, just above me.

I’m going to finish this. I’m going to kill Shar. And save Danielle for good.

It’s only as I rush into the cave, intent on my purpose, that I realize I’m doing exactly what I heard Shar predict just moments earlier.

That can’t be good.

And what did he say about having his life back?

Focus.

Danielle is near the mouth of the cave, Shar is concealed in the shadows within.

“Yusha, no!”

That was Danielle. Why was she saying—?

The white hot lightning slices into my back without me even seeing it. I can hear Danielle screaming now, but I can’t move. I have to move.

Suddenly, I am moving. Floating.

This is not good. Shar has lifted me using the wind. He laughs softly, the desperation I had heard from outside the cave gone.

“You are too predictable, Yusha. This ends today. I’m going to kill the girl, and then I’m going to kill you. For the last time. And then I will finally be free.”

A deafening crash of thunder shakes the cave and Shar moves with blinding speed. Before I have time to react, his fist slams into my torso, driving the air from my lungs. I’m gasping for breath as the wind releases me, but I can move again. Barely. Just enough to twist away from his next blow, aimed at my head.

The force of his punch carries him off balance and I take the opportunity to drive my elbow into his spine.

His grunt is one of surprise as much as pain. I never strike back.

Before Shar even rises, a bolt of electricity streaks into the cave, collides with my chest, and hurls me to the back of the cave. So much for my grand offensive.

The wind is howling now, whipping around the cave in a frenzy. Danielle is crouched down, hands over her head, hair flailing wildly in the gusts.

That same wind is pinning me to wall of the cave. I strain with all my might, but can’t move so much as a finger.

“Look at him!” Shar roars at Danielle, and then she’s trapped against the wall to my left, her eyes locked on mine. Her brilliant, ice-blue eyes, sparkling with tears.

“See how pathetic he is. He thinks he can save you, but he’s just going to die. Again. But not before you do.” The fury in Shar’s voice sends a shiver down my spine, but my attention is consumed by Danielle’s eyes, locked on mine.

“Again?” she manages to choke out.

“Yes, again. Danielle, I’ve died every day for a thousand years waiting for you. It’s all been for you, all the ones I kept safe, it was all so I could find you. I die to save you.” I swallow the lump in my throat. “To love you.”

Her brow furrows. She doesn’t really understand. But her eyes also soften and I know she’s moved by my words. I want to revel in the moment, to stay lost in her gaze forever, but I know Shar will kill her at any moment if I don’t do something.

“You’re the pathetic one, Shar,” I say with more boldness than I feel.

His eyes swivel to me. Filled with rage, yes, but also something more. Desperation? Fear? What is going on? Whatever it is, it offers an advantage I don’t intend to waste.

“All this trouble just to kill a woman? All your power poured out in pursuit of what? Killing someone who can’t even threaten you?”

“You know nothing, fool! You don’t know what they took from me! You’re nothing but a mindless pawn!”

What is he talking about? “And you’re the one in control, I suppose?”

“Silence!”

The wind, already blowing at speeds I’ve never imagined, kicks up into a furious tempest, crushing my bones against the cave’s wall. An instant later, the cave explodes with impossibly brilliant light as a clap of thunder shatters my ears.

I feel the energy of the lightning pouring into me. Not just stabbing as before, but emptying its elemental fury into my body.

But all I see are Danielle’s eyes. Filled with tears. Filled with love.

I gasp out my love for her, desperate for her to hear the words.

But they never make it past my lips.

Light fades, life fades, and I’m left with the sight of Danielle’s eyes pouring love into mine and the sound of Shar screaming his rage into the wind.

Everyday – Part Five

I died yesterday.

And every day before that.

I die so that Danielle can live.

But yesterday was different. I didn’t just die for her to live. I died for her to be loved. I died for her to have peace. I brought chaos into her life by making myself known to her three years ago. But never again. I will remain in the shadow and protect her from a distance so that she can live a life of tranquility.

“Yusha.” A male voice.

My body tenses. What is Shar doing here?

“Come to kill me so early?” I ask, maintaining what I hope is an air of calm and unconcern.

“Yusha, do you remember anything?”

What is he talking about? “From yesterday? Of course. I remember it all.”

“No. From before.”

“The days before yesterday? Yes, I remember those, too.” Why is he asking these ridiculous questions?

He shakes his head. “You don’t have a clue. No wonder you’re so devoted.”

If he won’t make any sense, I’ll ask a question of my own. “Why did you attack the whole village yesterday?”

“Because I’m weary of this hopeless game we’re trapped in! It must end, Yusha, you can help me end it.”

He really has lost it. “End what?”

Shar takes a step forward and I match it with a step back. “You can set us both free, we don’t have to be their slaves anymore. All it will cost is Danielle’s life. The life of one inconsequential girl.”

What trick is he playing? “Danielle is my life.”

“You pathetic fool!” Shar snaps. “You’re nothing but a pawn, can’t you see that?”

I feel my face bunch up in confusion. “What?”

“They offered me power, immortality,” Shar continues as if he didn’t hear my question. “And I took it.” He shakes his head. “I took it and it cost me everything.”

“Shar, what are you talking about?”

He only stares at me. “You remember nothing? Nothing of the ones who did this to us?”

“Did this to us?” I spread my arms. “This is all there is, Shar. If you want to end it, just leave Danielle alone.”

His shoulders drop. “As long as one of the Bunitheor line lives, it can never end.” The words sounds threatening but his voice is hollow, broken.

And then he is walking away, leaving me to wonder what strange insanity had been birthed in him by his constant pursuit of death. Perhaps his mind can no longer handle the strain and he’s clinging to long forgotten myths to give him some sense of purpose.

Whatever drives Shar, I know that for me, there is nothing more important than Danielle. My entire life, all the centuries it has filled, has been about her. Every person I protected, was all so she could be born. Protecting her from Shar is all that matters, I don’t need to know anything more.

As I told Shar, Danielle is my life, my love. Though I know now that I will never be hers, not truly. She may remember me fondly as the man who saved her one day. I will be a story, a memory, but never a lover.

It’s insanity, but it’s my life.

I am Yusha and I am a Zazti.