SotF: A Flash of Green

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    As the sun began to fall, the forests of Falkreath fell silent.


                There were no wolves, owls, or any other animals – not one to announce the coming of the twin moons nor trample and crack the dry twigs and leaves. Not one. There were no crickets, katydids, torchbugs or any other insects – not one singing their choirs in the symphony of the night. Not one. There was no wind, sighing so gently against the great pines nor was there a stream, brushing water against the rock. Not one. Not a sound.


                So silent it was that Falrielle fought off the urge to shout, to snap her fingers, to grind her teeth so hard that it would shatter; anything to remind herself that she had not gone mad or deaf.


                The elf’s eyes felt heavy, sleep was but a distant luxury as she stared at intently at the phosphorescent grains of a tiny hourglass in her hand. They had been hunting them for weeks. Weeks spent questioning the folks of the frozen edges of the White River. Weeks trudging through the harsh rock and cold of Skyrim. Weeks stalking in the deepwoods with blistered hands and feet had finally bore fruit.


                She placed the tiny hourglass on a log and gazed deeply at the camp in the horizon. She could smell smoke, sweat, and roasted meat. Her stomach grumbled. Of course, this was where they were, squatting in the ruins of an era long past. They had set up tents and balefires amongst the ancient stone and Wyrd trees – as typical as they are.


                ‘Damned blasphemers!’ Thelen, Captain of the Falkreath Guard had cried and for true, their intent was blasphemous but that was not why the Vigil was involved. Hunted Daedra they did for it was the never-ending mission of their Order. Hunted their worshippers they did for it was these heretics that had nearly ushered an end to the mortal world. But this time was different: a boy.


                This band, this coven had kidnapped a farm boy, no older than twelve winters and planning to do the Gods know what. Duty called but it was also personal for the elf.


                The elf stared at the at the grains of the tiny hourglass which had just emptied. Her heart skipped a beat and Falrielle almost bit her tongue off suppressing a sigh or a yelp – now it was time to make some noise.


                She spun round and waved at the guards who hid amongst the bushes. The plan was simple: the Vigilants were to sneak in and locate the hostage. Once that was done, raise hell and flush these heretics out into the waiting arms of the Falkreath Guard.


                The guardsmen numbered at forty.


                …and the Vigilants numbered at two. Two was enough. And if she were to argue, Mentor was overkill.


                Falrielle kept low to the ground, stalking her prey like a sabrecat; Her fingers dug deep in the dried moss and dirt as she moved. The elf shuddered – she found no worms, no pill bugs, no life. The elf could feel her insides shudder the closer and closer she was to the camp. It was not fear, fear had a different taste to it and she was no stranger to fear. Excitement? She always was up for a good fight; the Nord way was her way but her heart did not dance. Her heart skipped a beat when she considered another option: Magicka.


                Magicka connects us all, Mentor had once said. From the flow of the stream, to the roaring sun, to the little cricket in the bush, to the rotting leaves, to me and you. Magicka is everywhere.


                She was familiar with that theory. Carcette even spent a few months to explaining it to her but no fruit bore: Falrielle couldn’t conjure even the simplest of spells to save her life, let alone detect the Magicka. She could hear a heartbeat in the middle of a crowd and pick up a scent in a gale wind but she considered herself a failure in noticing even the simplest of magical signatures.


                If this strange feeling was indeed the Magicka, these maniacs have done something very, very bad.


                The elf peeked over the dead stones and saw a watchman just passing by, seemingly not noticing her. She vaulted over and landed softly, taking care to not make any noise. Falrielle drew her knife but stopped herself from wetting the blade – Dead or Alive, the bounty ordered but Mentor insisted alive and his were the few orders she’d follow to the letter.


                She hugged her body close to the walls, taking note of her every step. The camp was swarming with these heretics but yet no sign of the boy. She pricked her ears, listening to banal conversations of food, power, and some other nonsense she cared little of. Falrielle could feel a fire, a thirst growing inside of her but no, not yet. Stendarr favours the patient. When it was clear, she moved and when she heard mutterings she hid, like shadow. She made her way to the centre of the camp marked by the mightiest of the Wyrd trees.


                Falrielle stopped and turned around, her cold blue eyes meeting with a startled mage not five paces away. The elf sprung back and then fired herself forward like a quarrel from a crossbow and like a quarrel, she was fast and accurate. Before the man could shout, the elf smashed the metal knuckles of her knife against his throat. He stumbled back, dropping the pot of broth he was holding and reflexively grasped his own neck. Falrielle clamped the back of his head and introduced her knee into his face.


                She held his limp body close as she guided him to the ground. Still breathing and she guessed he would be awake again within the hour. She left him there as she continued, there was just no time to hide him and even if she did it was a pointless effort.


                She sneaked past another pair of mages before she was so close to the great Wyrd tree she could actually see it. Ancient and foreboding, the great tree was less of a tree and more of a tower of wood in the middle of the forest. Mama told of her stories of such trees; of their power and of their guardians, the Spriggans. As she grew older, she learned that these nature spirits are not as friendly as they were in the stories and they had little love for mortals – she had the scars to prove it.


                But she didn’t detect any now, no whiff of their sap or the buzzing of bees as were their call. These mages truly have done something they shouldn’t.


                Surrounding the tree were canvas tents, they kept out the rain well enough but were terribly flammable.


                Falrielle bent low, ripped a handful of dried grass off the ground, and pulled a flint and a firesteel from her tunic. She struck the metals making brilliant sparks fly from the palm of her hands. She struck a dozen more times, cursing as beads of sweat dripped from her nose before the grass began to smoke. She leaned down, blew, and then fire.


                She started a few more and hid under a wagon, watching the carnage in plain sight. The mages who did notice them immediately sounded the alarm and tended to the fire– some grabbed buckets of water while others casted their ice spells but it did little to the flame. The canvas, the summer, and the drought all but fed the blaze as it grew fiercer and fiercer.


                Suddenly from the other side of the camp, Falrielle could see shimmers and shadows and hear the sound of incoherent voices. Then the shimmers became pillars of fire and ice, the voices became screams and mighty explosions and at the backdrop this chaotic choir; a war horn wailing.


                Her window opened, the elf crawled out from her hiding hole and weaved between the panicking renegades. Some had spotted her and attempted to seize her but, in the confusion, the elf simply disappeared and the battle in the distance demanded their immediate attention. For all they knew, the little wood elf in the strange robes could be a trick of the mind. After all, the magic did flow strongly in these ancient stones.


                Before the great tree was a clearing lit by four braziers at each corner and it was quiet, too quiet. She saw no guards in this desecrated ground of ritual but her nose didn’t fail her. Through the fire, she could detect the sweet scent of blood. Falrielle stalked to the centre, taking care of any possible traps or so she told herself.


                …that was a lie.


                In truth she was afraid. Through a decade of service to Stendarr and another as a sellsword had hardened her to death and the cruelty of mortals – on an instinctive level she still feared magic. Living with the magic that had healed her and protected her as she slept in the Keep did little to dissuade her fear. That was not something even Carcette could help for no matter how hard she tried, magic was something Falrielle could never understand. And so, she feared it.


                Each step closer to the centre was punctuated with the beats of her heart. She flinched and averted her gaze as soon as she saw it.


                On a lone stone table of a long-forgotten era was a… boy, no older than the age of twelve. His arms and legs were bound by leather straps and showed signs of bruising. On his side was a ceremonial dagger, stained brown. And his eyes too were brown, staring vacantly into the sky as flies climbed out his open chest.


                Falrielle lurched, her mind unable to comprehend what manner of profane gods that demanded such rituals and more importantly, what madmen would worship such gods. She rubbed her cheek, the cut from the time she was almost flayed alive all those years ago burned again.


                The elf walked up to the boy and closed his eyes. She never was too faithful despite her occupation. She never really prayed or listened to the sermons proper; she was there because she had to. She was well aware that the Gods are real but they just have never been a part of her life. Nonetheless she caught herself, in her heart, for the boy’s sake - hoped that someone was watching over him.


                Too late… Falrielle’s fist drew blood as her nails dug deep. Too damn late!



    ‘Come here!’


                The elf pounced onto the back on one of the heretics, too surprised to react, knocking pinning him to the ground. Before his companions even noticed them, Falrielle hit him in the head and then again and again until he simply stopped screaming… and moving.


                He’ll live, Falrielle reminded herself. Dead or alive – Mentor insisted alive and his were the few orders she’d follow to the letter.


                As she stood, Falrielle’s arm trembled, a cool wetness soothing the abrasions on her hands. The others readied themselves but did no more than stare, content with quivering in their boots. She glared at them, cracking her knuckles with a blood-stained smile on her face.


                The elf twitched and the mage closest made the first move. The mage held her hands close to her body and with a flick, she threw one arm back and the other frontward, pointing two fingers at the elf.


                Falrielle felt the hairs on her face tingle and in a heartbeat, darted low. A flash of blue lightning, the purest expression of Magicka, screamed across the elf’s face and crashed onto a low wall, sending rubble flying in the air. The elf’s eyes burned, the sudden light dazzling her blind but she didn’t need her eyes for this.


                She had the scent.


                The elf answered, dashing to the attacking mage. When she felt the air dance, the elf twirled right, planted a foot onto a barrel and launched herself, screaming with knife in hand. With all her might Falrielle slashed down hitting the mage across the chest, flensing flesh from bone and in one fluid motion, locked her leg behind the mage’s and pulled her into the ground by her collar – hard.


                Mentor had taught her than in modern warfare, magic was the cornerstone to all tactics and strategies. Magic changed the face of logistics and planning and even the art of combat itself. Magic as powerful and versatile as it was however had its weaknesses. For one, magic was only dangerous if the mages could cast their spells and Falrielle knew that up this close, only a trained battlemage stood the chance of doing so.


                By the time the other two came to their sense, Falrielle’s vision returned albeit with dark red spots appearing and disappearing. The elf rolled over the downed mage and fired her leg in a sweeping hook, finding its mark against the second mage’s knee – he fell down well enough.


                The third mage thrusted his fist forward but before he could finish his spell, Falrielle spun up, parrying his exposed arm aside and rammed her fingers into his eye, crushing it as easily as one would a grape.


                Falrielle wiped the blood off her tunic as she walked to the second mage, who laid on the ground clutching his ruined knee. She looked at him, her face expressionless as she slammed her foot on his face.


                Better safe than sorry, she told herself.


                The elf closed her eyes, leaned her head back, and took a deep breath. The air choked with smoke, the heat of the flames was strangely comforting as they brushed against her face. The floating ashes reminded her of the snowflakes of the North, the true North of home. No longer did it strangle her but it instead comforted her in its warm embrace. Through the forest, Falrielle could hear the echoes of screams and orders, and snaps and explosions.


                She opened her eyes and saw the twin moons shining down. A good night for a hunt, she told herself. Tonight, she hunted twelve.


                Falrielle’s ears twitched.


                She heard a shout, this one more distinct than the others.


                ‘Surround him!’ it said.


                ‘Watch his hands,’ another replied.


                Falrielle followed the voices and found herself in what she believes to be the granary of the camp. Rows of supply wagons lined with barrels and sacks of food and drink – all destined to go out in smoke. A waste, her grumbling stomach reminded her but she herself was hungry for something else.


                Near the edge of the camp, two Falkreath guards had cornered one of these heretics. The man wore a simple set of robes as did the rest of his kind but even through the smog and her eyes, Falrielle could see that the torso of his robes seemed too thick to be of simple linen or wool. He raised his hands, one empty, the other still holding onto his walking stick.


                No fun to be had, her mind told her but her gut told her otherwise. Falrielle kept her head down and watched.


                As a guard reached out to bind the mage’s arms, the mage flicked his walking stick, too fast for her eyes to follow. Falrielle heard a loud crack and the guard was on the ground, motionless. The other guard advanced but the mage fired off a spell, one she had never seen in her years of service.


                A tentacle of brilliant green lightning shot from the tips of his fingers. The power engulfed the guard for all the better part of a heartbeat and just as quick, he was burnt to ash and scattered into the wind. Death so instant that she was sure he didn’t even know what happened.




                What was more beautiful was how he casted his spell – he merely flicked his wrist. No exaggerated or unnecessary movements, just the same motion with the apathy as one would throw away an apple core would. So simple yet so… powerful. Falrielle did more than feel its power, she could literally taste it.


                ‘You know,’ the mage said, dusting his robes. ‘It’s rude to stare!’


                Falrielle’s eyes caught a flash of green and scurried away as a bolt of lightning struck the supply wagon and erupted the grain into a pillar of flame. She tasted dirt on her lips and when she spat it out, she realised that the world was silent. Well, almost for she heard nothing but ringing bells in her ear. She crawled to cover but noted that her body felt numb, like she was slapped all over. Leaning against a stone wall, she could smell burning hair – hers and sound slowly returned.


                Falrielle reached into her pouch and pulled a handful of cherry bombs, a strange new device from the South. She readied them and found herself staring at her hand – they were trembling. She tilted her head; even in the fiercest of battles they never did that. She was of the North; her heart was Nord and while battle thrilled her, she was still of ice; strong and steady.


                She kissed her knife for luck and rose, lobbing the cherry bombs at the mage as soon as she saw him. The mage flicked his wrist again, this time conjuring a wall of fire; precisely what Falrielle hoped he did.


                The elf charged as the cherry bombs detonated in unison, screening her with an orchestra of bangs and flashes. The mage cursed and at the last moment, Falrielle leapt high, extended both feet using her body as a javelin knocking the man to his arse. The elf too landed and she swung her legs back, then forward; the momentum carried her up to her feet. She readied her knife when she noted that the mage was still on the ground.


                The best time to attack a man.


                Falrielle pushed her advantage moving in for the kill. Then a feeling in her gut told her to move and she did. The mage was only pretending to be vulnerable. If she hadn’t listened, the elf would’ve received a lobotomy-by-ice spike. He stood up, using his walking stick for support.


                ‘An elf?’ he said. ‘Can’t say I expected to find one of your kind this far up North but it would make sense that it’ll be a Falmer.’


                Falrielle couldn’t see his face proper but she could see that he was smiling – the orange light reflected off his teeth.


                ‘Wood elf,’ Falrielle said. ‘If you please.’ She raised her blade and circled her prey.


                ‘A wood elf? I’ve never seen a pale one before.’ He raised his stick and pointed at Falrielle as if it were a sword.


                ‘Aye, I get that a lot.’ She raised her knife and mirrored his gesture. ‘And I’m sure you’re the same with this: For crimes against Skyrim and her people, you are under arrest. Drop your weapons and come quietly or I will use force.’


                The mage sneered.


                ‘Cease your games, little elf. I have no quarrel with you.’


                ‘For true?’ Falrielle said, twirling her knife in her hand. ‘How noble of you but there is one problem: I have quarrel with you!’


                The elf sprang forth, abandoning all sense of caution. Speed was key and that was the only thing she had for herself. The man’s height and walking stick gave him the reach advantage and she knew it only took him one hit to end it all.


                She opened with a feint, he took the bait and Falrielle followed. The elf slashed but before the blade connected, the elf disengaged as the stick came swinging back to chase her away like a dog.


                Four times did they exchange blows and four times did they each repelled them. Dodge, parry, attack – dance steps of war as she was ever familiar with them. However as learned, he knew them too. This man was no simple mage, he had proper training but even trained soldiers made mistakes.


                Falrielle ducked and weaved low, leaving her head exposed… He took the bait and raised his weapon high, no doubt ready to smash her skull open. She darted in again, now too close for him to swing his weapon properly.


                The elf saw an opening in his defence, took another step, knife hungry for blood and… stopped moving.


                Falrielle tensed her muscles, her arms and legs locked into place, her jaw clenched hard like a vice and her chest seized upon itself like she was buried alive. She grunted and strained with all her will but it was futile. She was paralysed, as stiff as a boned fish and she knew it. Even moving her eyes was a tremendous task.


                ‘Credit where credit is due,’ the mage said, moving closer. ‘You are fast. So fast that dare I say – that any spell I could throw straight to you are all for naught. But of spells that you couldn’t see, now that works every time.’ Now he was close enough for her to see his face. Breton by the look of it and nothing too remarkable. His black hair tied into a short ponytail and his eyes were of a pale amber.


                The mage smiled and twirled a lock of Falrielle’s hair.


                ‘Fear not,’ he said. ‘You amuse me and for that you shall live to see another sunrise.’ He smacked her cheek lightly as one would a child. ‘But I’d rather not be followed.’ The mage lifted his stick up high and dealt a fierce blow on Falrielle’s thigh.


                A flash of white-hot pain shot through the elf’s body. If she could, she would’ve screamed, spat a curse, bite down her on her tongue so hard that it would be torn into two. If she could, she would’ve… but she couldn’t. She couldn’t scream, couldn’t speak, couldn’t bite her own tongue. In fact, she couldn’t do anything but watch him walk away.



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