"Let him up!" she screamed. "Stop it! He can't breathe!"
The boy plunged once again into the water, replacing the nearby screams with the sloshing. He struggled to break free of the grip holding him under. He flailed as hard as he could but the bigger, older boy proved to be too strong. He began to panic, taking a small amount of water into his lungs. It caused him to cough, making matters even worse.
He reached his hands back and began clawing at the older boy's exposed stomach. His fingernails dug into the skin and he tore across it. His hand moved slower underwater than he had anticipated, but it still had enough force to rip at the other boy's bare skin.
The grip on him loosened and the smaller boy pushed his way back to the water's surface. He gasped for air and choked on the water he had swallowed at the same time. When he overcame most of his coughing fit, the younger boy stood hunched over the waist-deep water. He looked at his attacker with a sideways glare.
The older boy's mouth was open wide in amazement. "Well, he does still have some Elf in him after all. Let's see how much."
The older boy stood in front of Lolan half-submerged in the river water. His shirt was off and his dark brown hair was slicked back from his previous swim. His pointed ears stood like daggers on the sides of his head as he raised his hands.
"No! Don't!" screamed the girl. "Lolan, look out!"
Lolan knew what the older boy was doing. He had seen it done many times before by other Elves.
"Only an Elf could dodge this," said the older boy with a maniacal grin. His arms raised to the sky and then he began to spin them around each other like he was shaping a large invisible mound of clay above his head. But there was no clay, just the darkening sky directly above him. The boy threw his arms down and with a bright flash Lolan's body began to seize with pain. His muscles tensed, then spasmed for what felt like an eternity.
He tried to break free of the current, but it was no use. His body stopped doing what he told it to do, and he began to splash in the water as his uncontrollable body jerked and flailed.
Then, all at once, the pain stopped and he looked at the older boy who had a stream of lightning still surging from his hands. He could still feel the electricity running through him, but it didn't hurt. It felt controlled—directed even. He looked down at his hand and saw his sister's hand holding his. The yellow energy rippled and arced around their hands, across her body, and off of her opposite hand where it dissipated into the sky above them. A moment later, the sensation stopped altogether.
"Aww, come on Ashlynn. You're no fun," said the older boy looking at the girl. "I was just messing with him. He's gotta pick a side sooner or later, right?"
"He's your cousin, Brendell. Leave him alone," said Ashlynn, panting. Lolan assumed it was from the electrical energy she just redirected. Her long brown hair was still tied with a small lock of hair running along each side of her head and combining with the rest in a braid at the back. She had a kind face, with sad eyes and sharp ears that matched Brendell's.
"He's a half breed," said Brendell. "He needs someone to beat the Human out of him. It's a disgrace. "
Lolan began to back up, wading to the river's shore. Ashlynn let him go first and then followed, protecting him from any more attacks.
"You can't baby him forever. He needs to learn to stand up for himself," Brendell yelled after them. "Whatever," he said after not receiving a response. Brendell dove back into the water and then began wading over to the waterfall, upstream from the previous confrontation.
"Are you okay?" asked Ashlynn as they reached the shore.
Lolan was still attempting to clear his throat of misplaced water, but he managed to say, "I'll be fine."
"I'm sorry he's like that. I don't know what his problem is with you."
Lolan laid back on the riverbank. He looked up at the tall trees surrounding him. It was a beautiful day.
"Why do you protect me?" Lolan asked. "He's right. I'm just a half-breed."
Ashlynn scoffed and gave a confused look. "You're family," she said.
"Not to him. Not to your parents either. I'm just a burden."
"They're your parents too," said Ashlynn. "And they do love you, they're just not great at showing it. They took you in after all."
"Because they made a promise to my real parents. The ones who got killed for hav—"
"Stop it," said Ashlynn, cutting Lolan off. She took a deep breath, looked off at the water, and said, "They still love you. I think taking you in just added more complications than they were expecting."
Lolan looked out at the waterfall feeding the river. Brendell had climbed up and now stood atop the 30-foot cliff. "Woooh!" he yelled as he jumped off and disappeared into the water below.
Lolan looked at Ashlynn. "You are the only family I have."
Ashlynn didn't respond.
"The great storm mages are coming to Nimbus, Lolan. I bet you wish you weren't such a freak so you could go see them, huh?" said Brendell. He sat across the table stuffing his face with venison that Lolan had brought home earlier that day, ungrateful.
"Brendell, be nice to you're brother," said Uncle Tranall.
"He's not my brother," said Brendell.
Tranall gave him a knowing looking. "Be nice." He then looked at Lolan. "And you should stop idolizing those storm mages. Nothing good will come of it."
Lolan was unphased by the attack. It was true. He was a freak. He had no place he belonged. Yet the storm mages had always intrigued him. And he wasn't going to let Brendell's mocking stop him.
Who's was Tarnall to tell him not to dream anyway? Not only was he so passive that it allowed or maybe even encouraged Brendell's bullying, but now he was going to speak up on the one thing Lolan cared about? The one thing that allowed him to dream? He doesn't get a say. It's too late for that, thought Lolan.
"When are they coming?" Lolan asked despite knowing that it would just give Brendell more fuel.
Brendell laughed at him. "Who cares. You can't go anyway."
Lolan slumped at the response. He knew this game all too well. Lolan had stopped playing a long time ago, but this was too important. "Please, Brendell," he said. "Just tell me when."
"What do I get out of it?" asked Brendell, arrogant in his power of over Lolan.
Lolan thought about it. What did he have left of any value? His bow wouldn't be something Brendell would want, and he had very few possessions aside from a few books, mostly about the great storm mages. What else was there?
"Give me the necklace," said Brendell with his head bent down. He stared Lolan in the eyes waiting for a response. There was no smile on his face, but Lolan knew that Brendall was savoring every moment of this.
"Brendell. You can't. Just tell him when it is. It's all he has left of them," said Ashlynn, finally chiming in after swallowing a bite of her own food. Worry showed in the wrinkles on her forehead.
Lolan looked down at the chain that hung from his neck. The medallion was tucked into his shirt where it wouldn't be seen. He pulled out and looked at it. A golden stylized phoenix sat inside of the circle with its long flowing tail of fire wrapping around beside it.
It was true. It was all he had left of them. It was his only external reminder of what he was, aside from his own body, of course.
He had never known them. Maybe it was time he let go. Maybe it was time he tried to embrace the Elves and find his place among them. Why had his mother ever stooped so low to be with a Human anyway? They're pigs. Dishonorable slobs. Maybe, if he just gave that side of him up, he could be an Elf.
He pulled the necklace off and handed it to Brendell.
"Lolan. What are you doing?" asked Ashlynn, amazed.
"I need to know," said Lolan.
Uncle Tarnall sat quietly reading a book at the far end of the table as he ate. Lolan was used to his disinterest with how the children interacted. "As long as there's no blood, it's probably good for you,' Tarnall would say, but he didn't need to today. Lolan and the others all knew he had no interest in this, and Aunt Camille was off at the market.
Brendell laughed his torturous laugh and said, "This stupid necklace is better off destroyed anyway. Why did we let him keep a Human medallion for so long."
"You can change your mind, Lolan," said Ashlynn. "You don't need to do this."
"I've made up my mind. When are they coming?" said Lolan, staring straight at Brendell.
Brendell chuckled. "I wouldn't give it back anyway. It's mine now." He put the necklace around his neck and then shook with disgust as he pulled it back off. "It even feels gross."
"When are they coming?" asked Lolan, still with his eyes unwavering, staring at Brendell.
"Calm down. I'll tell you. I said I would," said Brendell, ending the statement with a devious smile. "They'll be here in four days. They're going to do some skirmishes in the Hall of Storms." Brendell paused, then added, "But you still can't go."
Lolan stood from the table and walked to his bedroom without a word.
"Come on. Don't pout," Brendell teased as he walked away.
Lolan grabbed his favorite book, titled The Great Storms and opened to a well-worn page. An illustration of Wikith Cresall fighting hordes of enemies. He wore yellow robes covered in metal plates. A solid sheet of sculpted metal covered his face, and a medallion of three clouds around an eye hung from his neck.
It was hard to tell who the enemies were, but Lolan always told himself they were Beastfolk or something like that. He read about the exploits of Wikith: the battles he'd won, the clever solutions he had found to insurmountable forces surrounding him and his men. Lolan read for hours until night fell and sleep overtook him. And in his sleep, he dreamed of knowing his own place, as well as Wikith Cresall knew his. Maybe he'd even get one of those cloud medallions to replace the one he'd given up.
A man stood in the center of a massive arena far off. The sound of his voice was audible but not his words from such a distance. Whatever he said, his tone rang with excitement. Lolan's heart raced with anticipation.
The announcer barely finished his sentence when the crowd erupted with cheers.
Lolan sat, on the roof of a church well outside of the stands of the arena, but he could still feel the energy. He spotted Wikith as he walked into the center of the complex. He held his hand up in a wave and bowed his head to the crowd in appreciation.
Lolan sat with his jaw dropped. It was him. He finally got a chance to see him in person. Despite the distance, he couldn't believe he was so lucky.
The announcer spoke again as the cheers began to thin, still only reaching him in a series of distant mumbled sounds. Lolan sat with wide eyes and a childish grin on his face. It was a feeling he hadn't ever felt before; the feeling of dreams coming true.
The announcer's voice was lost in the roar of the crowd again, and Wikith raised his arms to the sky. With quick swooping motions he swung his arms down and around him, and a storm cloud began to materialize above him. He swirled his arm around and cloud began to spin. Then a disc went flying through the arena and a blinding flash of lightning struck it, turning it to dust.
Lolan wondered where the disc came from and found several other storm mages around the edge of the arena. Another one picked up a disk, tossed it in the air, and then launched it across the arena with a blast of air from his hands. The disk met the same fate as the previous.
Discs were flying all over the arena now, each getting blown to bits by a blast of lightning. The crowd cheered with each strike and even more so for the ones that came dangerously close to the spectators. With a final flurry of discs, Wikith raised both hands and threw them down. Several lightning bolts shot out of the storm cloud in unison to destroy the remaining discs, and then there was silence.
A cloud of dust hung over the field, hiding Wikith from sight. After a moment, his figure came into view and the crowd erupted. He raised his arms to waist-level and began to pivot one foot, turning in a circle. The dust pulled toward him, making the view more clear. With a few more spins the dust cloud began to whirl around his feet. A moment later, he was floating, held aloft by the miniature tornado of dust beneath him. The crowd roared once again, and several of them stood to applaud.
"Wow," Lolan said to himself in a breathy voice.
Brendell climbed up on to the roof and sat next to him. Lolan tensed as he got closer, wondering what he had up his sleeve. "I figured out where their caravan is. If I show up at the right time, I think I can get an autograph or something. You want to come?" said Brendell.
It was surprising that he would offer something like that. Even more surprising than the fact that Brendell hadn't ratted him out yet for sneaking into town for the day. Lolan knew better than to trust him though. There had to be some sort of trick or gimmick. Brendell always had an angle. "No thanks," said Lolan, not even looking at Brendell from beneath his hood. "I need to stay hidden."
"Suit yourself. I guess I'll see you back at home then," said Brendell as he stood and walked back over to the edge of the roof.
Although he did need to stay hidden, Lolan couldn't just pass up such an amazing opportunity. It was Wikith Cresall after all. He scooted to the edge of the roof where he saw Brendell reach the ground and start heading through the city crowds. Lolan followed at a safe distance behind him.
He climbed down and ducked through the crowd, keeping Brendell in sight. It wasn't too hard following him. It was just like hunting, except it was easier to not be noticed by your prey when it expects there to be hordes of people constantly swirling around it.
Lolan followed Brendell through a street market, passed shops and houses, and finally down an alley between tall buildings.
The alley was empty, but there were enough odd nooks and crannies for Lolan to hop into if Brendell looked his way. Brendell continued, unaware of his pursuer.
Lolan's cousin disappeared around a corner and Lolan followed, but when he rounded the corner himself, he did not see Brendell. Instead, he found an ornate carriage led by two pure white horses. They were gorgeous, prettier than any he had seen. The carriage was also of beautiful craftsmanship. It was a charcoal gray color with golden swooping embellishments along the corners. A single lightning bolt ran from the top to the bottom, crossing the door diagonally. It was the kind of thing Lolan had only heard of royalty using for transport.
Two guards approached Lolan as he came into view. They also wore yellow battle robes lined with metal plates, though their hoods were down and their masks were off. Neither of them was Wikith, but they both had the small medallion he had seen on Wikith in the books—the eye surrounded by three storm clouds.
This had to be it. This was where Wikith would soon be. The only question was how he would stall until then.
Then, a door opened at the back of the stadium, and another storm mage stepped out, his mask held in his hand. Lolan looked up at his face and his heart began to race so fast he couldn't think. He forgot all about the two guards that we're approaching him and saying something. It was all drowned out when he discovered the third Elf, now staring back at him, was Wikith Cresall.
Then, he felt something. A rush of wind passed his face and his hood fell back. He tried to reach up and put the hood back in place but then a hand hit the small of his back, shoving him to his hands and knees in front of the guards.
After catching himself, Lolan tried again to pull his hood back up, but the guards had now reached him. They grabbed him by the arms and lifted him up. "Wait, what are you?" one of them said.
Lolan could hear Brendell behind him, laughing louder than normal just to make sure that Lolan heard him.
"What is going on here?" asked Wikith. "Get these children out of here and let's go."
"Sir, I think you better see this," said one of the guards holding Lolan still.
Wikith approached and Lolan's head spun with a mix of emotions. He had hoped that if he ever did meet Wikith in real life, it wouldn't be with his hood down and his Human features revealed. This was a nightmare, his idol seeing him for what he truly was. A person without a people. A half-breed.
"Ah yes. You must be the half-Human scum that got away so many years ago." Wikith looked over Lolan's shoulder at Brendell. "You. Did you bring him here?" asked Wikith.
Brendell's laughter stopped earlier than usual. It was uncharacteristic for him. Wasn't this his plan all along? To get rid of me?
"Y-yes." His words seemed unsure.
"Thank you. You've done our people a great service," said Wikith.
"What are you going to do with him?" asked Brendell. His voice shook as he spoke.
"We'll dispose of him as we have with any who dare taint Elven bloodlines," said Wikith.
A lump formed in Lolan's throat and he was pretty sure he heard a gulp from Brendell as well.
Could my parents be dead...because of...Wikith? Lolan thought. He had trouble even thinking the thought. How could someone he admired for so long be such an evil person? Or were his parents the evil ones...for creating him?
"Come," said Wikith as he walked over to the carriage. Lolan glared at Wikith as he climbed inside, unaware of the revelation he had just delivered to Lolan. The guards began to follow, dragging Lolan along.
"Wait," said Brendell from behind Lolan's back. The guards and Lolan halted and looked at Brendell. He looked disheveled, maybe distraught even. His body shook as he raised his head to look Lolan in the eye. He was either terrified or crazed. "I'll do it for you," said Brendell, and then a bolt of lightning streamed from his hands at Lolan.
Lightning surged through his body, contracting all of his muscles. The guard that was holding Lolan dropped him to the ground, so as not to share in the electrical beating.
Lolan convulsed on the ground as the storm mages watched. Compared to all of the attacks he had weathered from Brendell before, this was by far the worse. He tried to look for something to grab to transfer the current, but he was barely capable of thinking with the amount of pain surging through him.
Then, all at once, it stopped. Lolan slumped over, unmoving. Lolan thought he was dead, but feeling began to return to him. He could feel the dirt on his face.
After a few moments, he heard the crunch of footsteps near his head. Two fingers pressed against his neck. A figure leaned down close to his face as if checking for breath, and a whisper met his ear.
"I didn't know," said Brendell quietly enough that only Lolan would hear. "Run, brother."
Lolan thought about the command. His whole body ached from the previous hit. Was running even possible in a state like this?
He thought a moment more, working up the strength to move. If he was going to do it, he would have to move quickly.
He sprung to his feet and wobbled forward as quickly as he could manage. There were yells behind him and a bolt of lightning struck down next to him, only missing slightly. After a few steps, Lolan almost stood straight as he picked up his pace. I guess all of those beatings from Brendell we're good for something after all. He had built up somewhat of a tolerance to it.
He ran, with another lightning bolt striking down a split-second behind him. He wasn't sure if the third would miss as well.
He turned toward an alley, and just before he left their sight, Lolan glanced over his shoulder. Brendell stood facing the two guards, blocking their view of Lolan. Those shots had missed because Brendell was pushing them off of their mark.
Lolan disappeared around the corner, leaving his cousin—his brother behind. He pulled his hood back up, and ran out of town and into the forest, choking back his tears as he ran.