"This isn't a battle. It's a slaughter," declared the tall, fair-haired elf who carried himself with the haughtiness and arrogance of a high-born lord, though he was neither haughty nor arrogant. He looked out from the relative, though momentary, safety of a high tower upon the battle ensuing below. "They are pouring over us like ants. There is no hope of winning this battle, no matter how hard we fight," he continued, though it was unclear whether he was speaking solely to himself or to the lady who stood nearby, her fair face as white as chalk. The outcome of the battle was a foregone conclusion. Sheer numbers would overwhelm them eventually. It had been foretold a long time ago.
"Then we must do what we can to save those we are able before it is too late," she replied, her voice as calm as still waters amidst a stormy sea.
"It is already too late," the other said as he drew his sword and moved with elven grace toward the door. He had lived a long life and was unafraid of death. Death was but the start of a new adventure. All of them were old. Too old for this world that was changing far too quickly for the likes of them. Their time was over. It was time for a new age of men, who were spreading as rapidly as a disease across the lands. As numerous as ants and as short-lived, it seemed. They had done what they could to keep the peace, and yet, it had not been enough. Greedy, hate-mongering, selfish children mortals were. Could they not see the folly of their ways? They would kill every last one of them, and then where would they be? There would be no more magic in the world, no beauty, no song. Jealousy had blackened their hearts, and now it seemed all they cared for was destruction. Well, let them destroy us, then, he thought. But we will not go down without a fight. He paused upon reaching the door, turning slightly as if with an afterthought. "I will buy you as much time as I can, daughter. I fear there is precious little of it left."
"I love you, father," she replied too quietly for him to hear, though she knew he'd heard her in his heart. The door did not close after him, as another took his place. The two of them exchanged a knowing glance, and then he was gone. She knew she would never see him again.
"You called for me, lady," the newcomer said, with a small incline of his head. He did not need to offer such courtesy, and yet, he gave her that. She turned to regard him a moment, and her heart ached with longing. The love she felt for her father was nothing compared to the love she held for this one.
"Yes," she replied, resisting the urge to reach out and touch him, to brush the wayward, sandy hair from his brow.
She need not explain to him the gravity of the situation. He, like all the rest, already knew. There was a bow strapped to his back, and a sword held in his hand. He had been on his way to join the others in battle, no doubt, when he'd received her summons. He had only paused momentarily to greet his grandfather on the way up the long flight of stairs before reaching this, his destination.
Her heart ached to look on him - so young, the youngest among them. Young, untried, untested. He would be tested in battle one day, but that day was not today. He looked so like his father it was like a dagger to her heart. She had loved him well before she'd lost him, before they'd taken him from her. This youngling standing before her - in her eyes, more boy than man - was half man, half elf - the best of both races. An abomination to some, a treasure to others. It seemed like only yesterday he was a small boy - the only child among them, loved by a people who honored him as the prince he was, the last born of the elves of this world.
"What is it you wish of me? I am needed on the parapet," he pointed out.
So young and so eager for battle, she thought. So willing to throw his life away for a people who were not wholly his. "I have more need of you here, Aran," she told him in that calm tone of voice that belied her fear and trepidation. They would all die here this day, if she did not act quickly. "You are the last born of our people," she told him, as she'd told him many times before. "You are the only hope for continuing our race. It grieves me to ask this of you, but you are our only hope."
She stepped toward him with that fluid grace that always made him think she was floating on air, rather than walking. He thought himself a clumsy thing, compared to her. How he had come from her flesh and blood, he could only wonder.
He watched mutely as she drew a gold chain from around her neck from which hung a small, white stone, which seemed to throb with life. Indeed, it was almost as if it was a living, breathing thing - warm and translucent and pulsing with life. He had always wondered at it, and now it seemed he would wonder no longer. He bent his head as she slipped the chain around his neck, the small white stone beating like another heart against his chest. Her hand lingered on the stone a moment before retreating, and she touched his cheek for what she knew must be the last time. He looked into her eyes - deep violet and brimming with tears - and knew without asking what she wanted of him.
"You cannot ask this of me," he whispered, in horror. "I cannot leave you. I will not leave you. Not like this. Not when..." Her fingers touched his lips to silence him, just as his voice caught in his throat. Not when you need me most, he thought, though the words never passed his lips.
"You must and you will," she replied, making no attempt to hide the tears that now flowed freely down her face. "You carry the seed of our people in your blood and our memories in the stone. You were born for this very purpose, Aran. It is what you must do." She stroked his cheek, remembering more innocent days. Long, lazy days spent laughing and lounging in the warmth of the tree-dappled sunlight. Everything she knew, everything she felt, everything she remembered seemed to pass through him like an arrow to the heart as she touched him. Hundreds of years of memories. Memories of love and honor, tragedy and triumph. Memories of a father he had never known, taken from them before he'd been born. His birth had been meant to bring hope to a dying people, and perhaps it still would.
"Please," he pleaded. "Please do not make me do this." His own face was wet with tears, his heart feeling as though it was breaking. This was his home and these were his people. Where would he go, what would he do, and why couldn't they come with him?
She smiled at him, as though she had long ago seen the possibility of this day and had accepted it and prepared for it. If he only knew how important he was. He was their salvation. They would live on through him. "I will make you do nothing, but if you love me, if you love our people, you will do this. You will find a place where you can live in peace and you will remember; and in remembering, we will live on in your heart and in the hearts of all those who come after you. And perhaps someday when the world changes, some of you will return and know this place again."
As grievous as he felt, he knew he could not deny her. Like his father before him, he loved her too much to ever deny her anything, even something as grievous as this. He wanted to stay and fight and die with them, but she would not let him. "Come with me," he pleaded further. If he could not stay, then perhaps she could go with him, but somehow he knew before the words left his lips that she would not.
"I cannot abandon my people, and where you go, I cannot follow," she told him gravely but truthfully. Her heart would die if she left this world, but he was not wholly of her blood. He would live on. "Come," she told him, taking his hand in her own as she had done so many times before and leading him to a corner of the room where stood a great pane of glass.
A mirror or a window, he was not sure which. Whenever he had asked before, she had told him never to touch it or be lost forever to a place where she could not follow. He had disobeyed only once, and that mistake had nearly killed him. She had hidden it away after that, where he could not be tempted, but here it stood once again, like the stone around his neck, pulsing with life, a kaleidoscope of colors that flowed and blended like colored water in a pool. His heart froze in his chest at the sight of that thing, knowing that once he touched it, once he stepped through, there would be no finding his way back.
"Naneth, an ngell n?n," he pleaded again in their native tongue, the tears coming fast and furious, his heart heavy, as though a heavy weight lay upon his chest, though there was only the stone.
"There is no more time," she told him sadly, turning to wave a slender hand across the shifting colors of the mirror.
He knew she was right. It was either fight or flee. He would rather fight, but it seemed she was giving him no choice.
"Live on, my son, and always remember."
How could he ever forget when she had been his whole world?
He wept openly as she embraced him, and she wondered at how he had grown into a man. Far too quickly, but it was better to send a man on this quest than to send a boy. He would become a man soon enough. Among mortals, he would have no choice.
"Farewell, beloved," she whispered, brushing a kiss against his cheek so warm it seemed to burn his flesh. Her fingers touched the stone he bore against his breast, soft as a lover's caress. "So long as you keep this close, I will always be with you."
The moment was interrupted by a soldier at the door. He had just enough time to notice the blood on the soldier's sword and armor that did not seem to wholly belong to the enemy. "They come, my lady," the soldier told her briefly before shutting the door again. There was no need to lock or bar it. That would only further delay the inevitable.
"Now, you must go," she told him and without another word of farewell or plea for time, he was shoved through the portal. The last thing he heard as that world faded from sight was the sound of the door breaking open, followed by a woman's scream. Then he knew no more.
When he awoke, he found himself in a woods, not unlike the woods he knew back home. There was magic here - he could feel it in his bones - but it was not the same magic. It would take time to learn and to master, but for now, he cared nothing of that.
His fingers gripped the stone that hung from his neck, and he remembered his mother's face and voice and words. He remembered everything from the very first moment of his birth. He fell upon his face on the cool grass at the heart-wrenching loss and grief of those memories. He wept for what seemed like days. Hours passed, and the sun sank low in the sky.
When at last he had no more tears left to weep, he composed himself enough to lift his head from the earth and found that daylight had turned to night. Twin moons hung high in the night sky, caressing him with their cold, silvery light, not unlike the orb that pulsed upon his breast. He climbed to his feet, hunger and weariness and grief tugging at his heart and making him choose. He could die of grief or choose to live. It seemed an insult to those he'd left behind to choose the former, and so he chose the latter. He put one foot in front of the other and set off in search of prey. First, he would fill his belly and then he would seek shelter. Once that was done, he would learn all he could of this world and try to understand why the mirror had chosen to send him here.
And he would remember.