An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

A Fateful Stroke Kelven

The sages said there were a thousand ways to kill a man. Kelven could only think of one. He stabbed him.

It was not a malicious attack. It was hardly even planned. Despite finding himself in the odd scuffle, Kelven had never been a violent person—he had certainly never expected to find himself delivering a death blow—but he could only be pushed so far. After weeks of fleeing, hiding, foraging and occasionally even stealing just to survive, he simply did not have the strength to run anymore.

Neither did his younger sister, Tyra. The poor girl, exhausted beyond all measure, had stumbled and fallen and simply did not have the strength to pick herself up again. She had merely laid there on the cold, rocky earth, buried her face in her hands and wept out all the fear and anger and frustration that had been building over their nightmarish flight. Kelven had tried to pick her up, only to have his own body betray him. His normally strong legs had buckled and brought him to his knees, struggling even to hold Tyra’s lithe form in his trembling arms.

How much time passed between his fall and the inevitable appearance of their stalker from between the purplish, petrified trees of the Fellwood, Kelven would never know. It might have been mere seconds or long, terrible minutes. In the end, it made little difference when the broad shouldered man came into view, wielding his heavy axe and smiling his murderous smile. A strange mix of lust, satisfaction and a fierce intelligence gleamed in his alien, green eyes.

The eyes of the Flameborn.

Kelven’s mind seemed to go blank as the brute approached. He never thought about using the rusty old hunting knife. He never even remembered feeling his hand touch the oxen-bone hilt. Yet, when their stalker had finally closed in on them, raising his weapon to cleave Kelven’s head from his body, the younger man found the knife in his hand. With every last ounce of strength left in his body, he drove it home.

The blade flashed upward, tearing through cloth and leather, through skin and flesh. Somehow, the old iron blade passed between the protective ribs and pierced the heart that beat within. Precious lifeblood poured from the wound as Kelven tore the knife free and his attacker’s face took on an expression knowing anguish. The wound was fatal. Only a miracle of the Nine could possibly save him now, and no such miracle appeared to be forthcoming.

The big brute of a man stumbled backward, dropping his weapon harmlessly to the ground. His breath was already becoming fast and labored. Kelven watched with morbid fascination as the very strength seemed to drain from the man’s body. Moments later, he toppled to the ground, moaning softly.

“Water…” he whispered. There was a desperation in his voice, a terrible sorrow that broke through all of Kelven’s anger and hatred. Against all logic, he found himself crawling toward the dying man. When he reached him he cautiously unclasped the waterskin from the man’s belt, pulling out the stopper and pouring its contents across open lips.

The man swallowed and said nothing. Yet, with his last ounce of strength, he unfastened the strange, iron manacle from his left wrist. Before Kelven could react the man grabbed his arm placed the heavy band against the flesh of his arm. For one terrible moment, the metal seemed to come alive. Surrounded by a strange, yellow luminescence, the manacle closed itself tightly around his wrist.

“It is done,” the dying man laughed. There was an unmistakable bitterness to his voice, coupled with something else, something far fainter. Was it pity? “For better or for worse, you are bound. Now run you fool. They will come for you.”

With that, the man went still, the last breath passed his lips and his eyes saw no more. Kelven stumbled backwards, looking at the strange metallic band then back to the body before him. Only then did the true gravity of the situation really strike him.

The crown prince of Relen’kar was dead, and by Kelven’s own hand. His Flame would have already been snuffed out, and the Queen would stop at nothing to exact her vengeance.

Suddenly, despite his exhaustion, Kelven felt a very strong need to start running again.

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