The Guild – Interlude 3 – Ceph

    Days have passed since the healing in the field. No one seems to have seen a thing so I’ve begun to relax. I’ve seen Elias in the kitchen since then and sometimes hung back after eating my bun, just to watch as he works. I don’t really know how to show my gratitude for what he’s done. It’s changed me, somehow.

    Elias has become the flickering light in my dark world. I find myself dreading the day he leaves the manor and I have to return to the dull life of a slave. Occasionally, he’ll leave me a special bun filled with berry fruit when I stop by early in the morning before going to the fields. I don’t know why he does this. I begin to feel spoiled but it does make me smile if a little.

    We’ve talked a bit since then too. I don’t say much, there’s not much to tell, but Elias has stories of the other places he’s been and the work he’s done. It’s interesting to hear about how he sees the world. It seems so different when he talks about the people and the places he’s been.

    As the days go by though, I get a wearying headache from holding back the time jump in the field. I lay in the stables, hand to my head, waiting for the boys to be asleep before I attempt to jump and relieve the pain.

    In the middle of the night, I give in to the magic and release the energy, jumping to the past.

    I return a few days later, eager to get back, unsure if I’d have missed him or not. I make sure to jump in the night so as not to surprise any of the other workers back in my time. I arrive behind the stables, stumbling as I regain my balance. It seems to be raining as I’m suddenly soaked through. I quickly run into the stables and skid to a stop.

    My blood freezes when I see him standing there, wet from the rain, his horse still saddled from a late return. This never occurred to me before…

    The Lord thumbs his cane as he watches me, seething anger boiling behind those cold dark eyes. I can almost feel the heat.

    “Decided to come back, did you? Where do you run off to in the middle of the night, Ceph? Got a girl you like to see? Or is there another reason?” he hums maliciously.

    I swallow nervously, not sure how to respond. I don’t want to give him a reason to beat me, but I think he might already have one.

    “Answer me, slave. Where have you been these past four days?” he takes a step towards me and I instinctively take one back. I have to answer, or this could become so much worse.

    “I was out, chasing an animal away from our fields,” I say shakily. It’s the best I can come up with.

    “For four days? Do you think I’m stupid? Do you think so little of me? I’ll teach you to lie to me, filthy slave!” he lifts his cane as lightning flashes in from outsides storm and my cry is covered by the thunder that peels through the sky. His cane comes down on me over and over until suddenly it stops.

    I weakly turn my head to see why it’s stopped and see a large shadowed figure standing over me, hand up, grasping the cane in his bare hands. Elias’s form lights up in the lightning that follows and his face looks so grim it makes the storm outside seem like a sunny spring day.

    “You may be a Lord,” he yanks the cane out of the Lord’s hands. “But you are not a God,” he growls.

    I am tempted to cover my eyes, not wanting to see what will happen next, but I can’t seem to tear them away. I watch silently from the ground as the Lord responds.

    “You insolent fool! He’s my slave and I can do what I want to him! If he doesn’t listen to me then there’s punishment. I am the Lord here not you!” he bellows at Elias. He reaches for the scabbard at his belt and yanks the sword free, holding it out before him.

    I feebly crawl out of the way, not wanting to get caught in the crossfire. My body aches but I shove the pain aside.

    Elias reaches out, grabbing the blade in his hand, his voice almost bored. “Lord, slave… It hardly matters. You all burn the same,” he muses as the blade begins to turn bright orange at his touch. I stare in wonder.

    The Lord growls, pulling it away and swinging it at him with a ferocity of a wild bear.

    Elias ducks each swing, making the Lord’s movements look sloppy and childish as he deflects the blade with his bare hand, swooping under the Lord’s arm and coming up to stand nose to nose with him.

    “Beg for mercy,” he whispers darkly, barely audible over the clap of thunder outside.

    “You can’t tell me how to run my land!” he shouts back, pushing the sword forward, trying to knock Elias off balance.

    I just sit there, cowering. Since when did I become such a coward? Maybe I just lived my life sleeping under a rock, unlike Elias here, who clearly knows how to fight and cook and has so many other talents. I find myself awestruck as he duels the Lord with nothing but his hands. His words though… they scare me.

    Elias sighs. “No, I can’t tell you how to run your lands,” he catches the blade and snaps it in half. “However, I can rid these lands of you.”

    The Lord stumbles back, holding the broken hilt of his sword. He tosses it to the ground with a growl and reaches into the saddlebag of his skittish horse, pulling out the whip. My body spasms as I remember the touch of it. He holds it above his head and brings it down with lightning speed. I squeeze my eyes shut, not wanting to see it land, remembering the feeling of each lash that had landed on my own back.

    When I don’t hear it land I crack my eye open to see Elias holding the whip and wrapping it around his arm. He tugs on it, pulling the Lord closer to him. He grabs the Lord by the arm and tosses him over his shoulder and out the stable doors.

    I lean out of the stall I had crawled into, peering as Elias stalks out into the rain. The whip in his hands falls to the ground as one of fire grows from his hand and drapes to the ground.

    The Lord rolls onto his feet and shuffles back, terror in his eyes as they settle on the whip of fire. I too am now scared as I watch Elias approach the Lord.

    “A Lord can only have the power his King grants,” Elias looks down at the fire. “True power has no King. I have no King,” he says darkly.

    “Who are – no… What are you?” the Lord stammers, backing away from Elias. “You’re a demon! You’re a witch! I will have you beheaded for this, heathen!”

    “No,” Elias replies. “You won’t,” the whip lashes out, wrapping around the Lord’s neck. I watch in horror as the fire spreads, despite the rain, and consumes him. The Lord’s cries dissipate as his body turns to ash with the heat and I quickly hide behind the wall. Fear clutches my heart, my hands shake with the afterimage burnt into my eye. My heart pounds in my ears, but this isn’t over.

    As I turn back to the inside of the stable I see the two stable boys peeking out from the last stall on the left, where they usually sleep. From where they are, I know they’ve seen everything. This night couldn’t get any worse… could it?

    A moment later, Elias steps back into the stables. “Are you three alright?” he asks, reaching a hand out to sooth the Lord’s horse. He moves as if nothing had happened. This both impresses and terrifies me. My hands tremble and I try to hide my fear by burying them in the straw.

    The boys scurry back into the stall, hiding from him. I can’t seem to move my body, I’m still processing what I just saw. Is the Lord… is he really gone? What will happen now?

    When no one responds, Elias sighs. “You should leave this place. Find new homes. I will clean up the mess here,” he turns, heading towards the manor. I clamor to my feet, ignoring the protest of my muscles from the bruises, to see what he does. He disappears into the manor and shortly after the other slaves and workers come running out with their meager possessions.

    I run back inside to the boys and brace an arm about each of their shoulders. “Come with me. It’s time to go.”

    “W-where’d you go?! Emer asks me shakily. I ignore his question.

    “Time to go,” I repeat, pulling them to their feet and shoving them out. I run to each of the stalls and unlock the doors. I quickly saddle the other horses and tighten their girth straps, in case any of the others want a horse to ride. When I’m done I pull them out with me by the reins and towards the gathering crowd of onlookers.

    The manor now glows softly in the rain as it catches fire. The others seem to hover curiously at the pile of ash on the ground in front of the stables. They seem unsure of what’s going on. Before long the entire manor is engulfed in flames, despite the rain and we all watch helplessly as our lives are altered forever.

    Eventually, Elias comes walking out of the blaze like some hero wrapped in flames. Everyone stares in wonderous fear as he comes to us, a surprised look on his face. “You’re all still here?” he blinks. “You’re free now,” he says looking at each of us.

    I look around, wondering what the others will say. Emer and Fren stand near the front and brave Emer speaks first.

    “We don’t know what to do, sir. Most of us… we’ve ever been free before,” he says. Four-Fingered-Fren nods at his brothers’ side. “Who will feed us now?” he pipes in.

    He blinks at the boys and looks at each person as he speaks. “If you spread out, I’m sure you can find work, find shelter. Who knows, find love?” he glances at me with a little smirk and I narrow my eyes at the suggestion.

    I find his words hard to swallow. I’ve never wanted to find love. I doubt there’s love out there for people like us, like me. If anyone ever found out about my magic, I’m sure it’d be death. Besides, I don’t have any skills to impress a woman with, let alone property or possession. Starting at the bottom again, this world makes it seem impossible to ever make anything of yourself.

    I’m briefly reminded of the feverish conversation I overheard the brothers have about finding a wife and I find myself thinking I don’t want one. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted one. I look back up at Elias and feel my heart thump heavily in my chest. I don’t understand these feelings. What is wrong with me?

    Eventually, the others get tired of waiting and start their trek through the night to neighboring towns, looking for work. A few come to me, taking a horse. I gladly hand them the reins. I silently pray they will find better lives where ever they end up. I wonder where I will go.

    Soon, I am the last one, standing there in the open yard before the stables and the crumbling manor. I’m soaked through from the rain which has probably washed away the blood from the Lord’s cane, but it can’t make the welts disappear. Unfortunately, I’ve used up most of my energy, so I can’t speed up their healing.

    I look to the stables, wishing I’d kept a horse for myself. Maybe I’ll stay here for the night. I turn to Elias, who watches as the last person trudges over the fields and away.

    “Where will you go now?” I ask him.

    He scratches his head. “To the next place I suppose,” he says.

    “You do this often?” I say.

    He gives a guilty laugh. “not on purpose,” I have a hard time believing that.

    “Well, I’m too tired to leave now. I will sleep in the stables… Try to… stay dry,” I say, turning for the stables, feeling and sadness wash over me as I come to terms with the idea that he’ll be gone in the morning.

    Elias shakes his head. “Nonsense. The town isn’t far. We’ll stay at the inn.”

    “We?” I ask. “I have no money for an inn. I was a slave. Why don’t you seem to understand that?” I ask.

    He holds up a fancy-looking pouch and shakes it, a jingling sound comes from inside. “You’re not a slave anymore,” he smiles.

    I look at the pouch curiously. Was that the Lord’s money? “I don’t know anything about the world,” I lie. He doesn’t know I’ve seen other times. “I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

    Elias just grins, holding out his hand. “Then let me show you.”

    The rain falls between us for what seems like an endless amount of time before I place my hand in his. He doesn’t seem to mind the rain, in fact, he’s warm to the touch. I look into his brown eyes and find myself drawn into that cheerful smile. Perhaps I can learn a thing or two from him before he moves on and leaves me behind. For now, I’ll treat this as one of my jumps.

***

    I blink, startled by the hand shaking me awake. I look up and gaze into a pair of deep brown eyes framed with bright red hair. He’s got a wide smile on his face as he shakes me.

    “Come on! The others are back. Let’s go see if Sis is ok! And you’re little mini you!” he shouts excitedly.

    The sudden excitement is too much for me. I prefer a slower pace. How does he have so much energy? I sit up, running a hand through my hair. I must have fallen asleep without realizing. When I look up he surprises me yet again with a lingering kiss. I feel the heat rise in my cheeks but I don’t resist. At least, I try not to.

    When he pulls away he seems to beam with a sprite energy. “You were talking in your sleep, you know,” he says.

    “I was?” I ask. If I wasn’t embarrassed before, I am now.

    “Something about not being a slave and a god of fire coming to save you,” he smirks.

    Great… He won’t have an inflated ego or anything. I can try to keep my mouth shut, but clearly, my dreams have other plans. “Yeah, I guess I had a dream about how we met. Strange right?”

    “I think it’s cute,” Eli muses. “You still dream about it even after all these years.”

    “Yeah… you impressed me, I guess. You did change my life. I’m grateful for that,” I say, pulling him close into a hug. I mostly do this for selfish reasons. I want to hide my face as a stray tear escapes and slides down my face.

    He changed my life so much in those days. I am so grateful to him. I never knew how I could repay him then. I only wish now to always be at his side, traveling around the world and time, until we are destined to meet our own demise.

    Eli squeezes me tight and chuckles. “It’s amazing how you have everyone fooled. They all think you’re the top.”

    His comment catches me off guard, but he’s not wrong. “You’re too troublesome for your own good,” I say, puffing his hair out of my face.

    “That’s what you love about me, isn’t it?” he teases.

    I smile, though he can’t see it. “That’s right,” I say.

Interlude 1 ~ The End

By Kayla West

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