Encounter at Crossroads
Tanjean’s reason for existence at that very moment was to run and save her youngest son’s life in the process. Run away. It didn’t matter where “there” had to be, only that it was “not here.” Jarious, her son, whimpered in her arms. At nine years old and in a calmer situation, he would have been ashamed of the tears cascading down his face, but not today. The village of Crossroads, their home for the last two years, burned around them. Heat raked and pushed against their bodies like waves of coarse sand. Tanjean ran not so much towards a destination, but in whatever direction offered even the smallest amount of relief from the constant searing heat and predatory pain.
Arm ahead to shield your eyes. Covering mouth. Covering Jarious. Always Jarious.
Crossroads was under attack. Human Thralls and Orcish hunters, all in subjugated service to the Eternal Empire, tore the village down plank by plank. In the absence of flames, the Empire’s slaves did their work. For Tanjean, there were precious few escape routes. Thankfully the roar of the flames muffled her startled cries and Jarious’ sobs while the panicked scrambling of the other free humans served as motion-distraction so that the Thralls and Orcs didn’t key in on her and her son. The God’s own luck was with her. So far.
Sprint! Straight. Go.
Wood burned and sagged. Daub roofs melted into the homes they used to shield. Broken tools, food, and clothes littered the ground. The streets, inexplicably muddy, defiantly held her feet for a few energy-sapping microseconds with each step. The sky was dark smoke covering the village, heavy with the actinic scent of burning flesh, blood and hair. Each breath was a trial as her lungs struggled to grasp onto the few pockets of breathable air. Still, her blood pumped. He legs churned. Her arms held Jarious with the strength of steel. Her will was greater than the violence that surrounded her and threatened to overcome their escape.
One street, then the next, and the next. Left turn, left turn, right turn. Pause. Breath. Breath. Breath.
“Tyrant’s desire,” Tanjean cursed. Through the monotonous orange and red of the flames and the browns and blacks of the village’s dying skeleton of wood and stone she could see something different. In the distance was a humanoid. Human in stance, it held itself high and graceful, not like the hunched lumbering walk of an orc or the scurrying of a dwarf.
“Jarious,” she said towards her son but not really to him, “that’s an elf.” The last word, “elf,” slipped passed her cracked lips as a mere whisper but with the weight of a boulder. Even if Jarious had been listening and not trying to ignore the world as it fell down around him, he would have never heard. Tanjean couldn’t help but continue to stare, in spite of the heat and screams of the dead, dying, and captured.
She had never seen an elf. Most humans never had. It was a great omen of ill fortune to see an elf and live to tell the tale. The Eternal One walked casually through the debris-filled streets of Crossroads, oblivious to the heat and flames. A shimmering bubble of glowing blue light and energy surrounded him. His ornate golden armor hugged his form, commanding respect for the protection it clearly offered while not appearing to hinder his soft and fluid movements. Its torso was fully protected, though only the upper arms and thighs were similarly completely protected. Its forearms and shins graced smaller independent pieces of armor, offering maximum flexibility. In the gaps on the arms and legs she could see its alabaster skin. Its left hand gripped a long thin blade held just in front of its body in a position of guarded readiness.
The helmet was as equally casual, ornate and menacing as the rest of the armor, and from the shadow within she could see wisps of light where its eyes would have been. The elf’s head traced slowly from side to side as the Elf surveyed the destruction it had brought. In what felt like slow motion, Tanjean watched it stalk casually towards her in the distance. It mouthed orders she could not hear. It pointed to objects she could not see. Where its eyes fell, its loyal human and orcish slaves scurried to do its bidding and destroy Crossroads.
“An elf. Here? Why?” she asked no one other than the Gods.
They did not reply.
Like a flood, her senses came back to her, as her vision expanded back and she heard the roar of the flames again all but demanding she resume her escape. She did not realize she had focused so closely on the elf and had no idea how long she was entranced. Jarious, still in her arms, was touching her face, tears still in his eyes but no longer crying.
“Mom? Mommy? Go. We have to go. Mommy?” he softly pleaded.
With those words, the elf, Crossroads, and the complete destruction of all they had no longer mattered. She found her breath and strength again, and fled away from the flames into the night.
This isnt a story about Tanjean, though her story is compelling, and should be told someday. No, this is the story of an adult Jarious and his desire for revenge -- a desire born on his ninth birthday in the heat, flame, and ash of the village once known as “Crossroads.”