The Unfettered Child

By Michael C. Sahd

Fantasy, Action & adventure, General fiction, Horror, Hybrid & other, Magical realism, New adult fiction, Sci-Fi, Thriller

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141
8 mins

The Beginning


“In all the countless moons of my life, I have never met an elf, Abizou.” The strong, deep voice emanated from what seemed to be a human skeleton into a throne room that appeared richly decorated, yet devoid of life.

Even as it spoke, the skeleton sat motionless on its marble throne, its bones loosely wrapped in gold-embroidered, red-and-white silk robes. Gold and marble made up the decor of the large room as well, with scatterings of white banners that each featured a red sun.

They are treacherous, Abdhul. Almost as treacherous as you, said a woman’s voice, as if from nowhere.

“Come now, Abizou, you’ve been with us for ages. Stop being bitter.” The skeleton’s head turned slowly to gaze sightlessly upon a round, blue, faceted gem resting on a red velvet pillow. Two pinpoints of light glowed red in the hollows of the skeleton’s eyes. “No matter. What do you suppose the elves want? I couldn’t discern it with my magic.”

Elves have powerful mages who put shields in place to protect against any such divinations. Also, they’re not known to parley with lesser beings, said the woman’s voice, apparently originating from the gem.

The skeleton’s gaze turned back to the large double doors that stood at the entrance of the hall. Distant horns could be heard, marking the approach of the elves.

The skeleton stood, pulling itself up with a staff cast of copper and silver, a red gem set into its top. No sooner had it taken a step down the dais than a yellow halo enveloped it. Like a strange liquid, muscle flowed around its bones, then flesh filled out its draping robes.

Now, in front of the throne stood a strong, handsome, olive-skinned man. He looked over at the blue stone sitting next to the throne and smiled. “I’m pleased the elves realize that we are not lesser beings,” Havelle said, looking admiringly at his new skin.

If the stone could have scoffed, it would have. Instead, it remained silent.
Havelle stepped to the right of the throne. Flattening his robes with his hands, he said, “I think, perhaps, I sleep too much.”

Your lineage manages the empire just fine without you, said Abizou.

After hundreds of years, Havelle sighed for the first time. Enjoying the sensation, he sighed again.

Troubles? asked the gem.

“Troubles? No, I’m just enjoying the sensations of having a body.” He smiled wickedly at the gem.

That’s hardly funny, the gem said dryly.

“It’s a little funny,” Havelle replied.

Havelle, don’t taunt me. You’ve kept me trapped in this gem serving your empire for thousands of years. Release me, the gem pleaded.

“But Abizou, what would I do without you?” Havelle teased. The gem didn’t respond. Havelle sighed again. Abizou was in one of her moods, he reflected.

“Perhaps one day, Abizou. But your body is gone; you would need to find a new one. Releasing you without a body would destroy you within days,” he said seriously.

Abizou had no time to respond. The doors from behind the dais opened, and an entourage of imperial guards wearing polished breastplates with the Havallan red sun emblazoned on their chests marched out. Each one took a position on either side of the hall in evenly spaced rows.

When they looked up at the throne and noticed Havelle standing there, they placed their palms on the sun and took a knee. Shortly afterward, a man in similar robes to Havelle’s followed the entourage, flanked by two more guards. They, too, bowed before the throne, but not before shock registered on their faces.

Abdhul chuckled. The man dressed similarly to Havelle also shared many of his facial features, although he looked older. “My lord! I did not expect to see you. You honor me.”

“Stand up, Khalil.” Havelle smiled. “You are the emperor. I’m here only as an advisor.”

Emperor Khalil stood, walked to the throne, and sat. “Do you expect trouble, my lord?”

“I hope not, my child,” Havelle said, putting a hand on his shoulder.

“We have set up outposts all along the Crescent Sea and driven the elves out of Havalla.” Khalil chuckled. “I believe the elves are here to beg for peace.”

Havelle patted his shoulder. “You’ve done well, Emperor. How are the children?”

“They are well, my lord,” Khalil said, then bowed his head. “You would do me a great honor to come see them.”

“I will see them when your eldest son comes of age,” Havelle said.

Khalil’s face dropped. “Yes, my lord.”

“However, Abizou tells me your eldest daughter is becoming quite a mage.” Havelle saw the emperor’s eyes light up.

“My lord, Samara has grown to be a remarkable woman—top of her class. She is making great strides for our empire. Currently, she negotiates trade with the primitive nomads.”

“When she returns, I will make her my apprentice. It’s been hundreds of years since I’ve taken one,” Havelle said, smiling at his descendant.

“My lord! You honor me greatly,” Khalil said, just as horns sounded right outside the front doors, filling the throne room.

Havelle nodded at Khalil and stepped to the back corner of the throne. Khalil’s voice boomed across the hall, “Let our guests in.” Every guard in the room stood in unison, and the two closest to the doors hustled over to open them.

Sunlight spilled in, brightening the throne room and causing the red suns to sparkle like fire opals.

At first, Havelle could see nothing but the clay plaster, lapis, and gold of the city beyond. Then the top of a palanquin appeared as it ascended the stairs to the throne room, followed by the bright blue headscarves that draped over the bearers’ faces. Havelle could tell by their build that they were humans, and a couple of them had Havallan skin color.

The bearers carried the palanquin into the throne room. Other than the scarves, they wore nothing but loincloths, and their feet were cracked and blistered. As they placed the litter onto the floor, they exposed their whip-scarred backs. Khalil sucked air through his teeth. His grandfather had abolished slavery in the Havallan Empire during his rule.

Havelle, on the other hand, cared little whether his empire employed slavery or not; however, the idea that two of his subjects were slaves to the elves rankled him somewhat.

From the palanquin, an almost-naked Havallan woman wearing a bright green headscarf stepped to the bottom of the stairs that led to the throne. Standing tall, she announced, “The magnificent Illtud and his apprentice, Zayra!” She then stepped out of the way, turned to the litter, and prostrated herself on the floor.

The next to emerge from the carriage was a tall, pale creature, whose long face; large, green eyes; and long, pointy ears reminded Havelle of a hairless feline. The elf smirked at everyone and sang something to someone still in the litter.

Illtud then walked to the front of the steps. His blue-and-green robes swished their brightly colored feathers and clinked their intricately carved wooden charms together. A similarly dressed elven woman trailed behind him.

He sang something to Emperor Khalil. The Havallan woman lifted herself to her knees and translated, “The Magnificent says that he has come for your surrender.” Khalil stared at the Havallan woman, a little shocked; then his laughter spilled across the room like falling dominoes.

Havelle noticed the bored look on Illtud’s face. The elf sang some words and danced his arms around himself in a magical pattern familiar to Havelle. Lightning arced from the elf to each Havallan guard in the room.

Havelle reacted quickly, slamming his staff on the floor. The lightning changed direction and gathered into a crackling ball in front of him. The guards fell back from the force of the blow but were otherwise spared from their destruction.

Havelle then levitated off the floor and said, in the language of the Malaikah, the language of magic, “How dare you come into my home bearing such insults?” The Havallan guards drew their swords, and Khalil stood, red with anger. Havelle waved them back, and they returned to the walls.

Illtud glared at him and shot up into the air. In Havallan, he said, “You humans are impetuous creatures. I look forward to breaking you. I could use a parlor mage.” He then commanded the ball of lightning to fly up and strike Havelle. The room flared into a bright light, and everyone covered their eyes.

When the light cleared, Havelle floated there, his flesh spell broken, a skeleton once more. The Havallans in the room gasped, as did the female elf. Even Illtud looked surprised. Havelle’s robes seemed unscathed, but he dusted them off anyway.

“That was incredibly rude,” the skeleton said, his jaw unmoving once more. He flicked his hand in Illtud’s direction. A tiny, bright red ball of light shot at the elf and hit him right in the chest. Upon impact, it exploded and knocked everyone on the ground backward.

The elf flew through the air and hit the wall above the doors to the exit, then dropped to the ground. His decorative feathers were singed to husks, and his robes still burned, but he landed on his feet in a crouch.

Illtud stood up angrily, flinging his hand over his head as if throwing a spear. A massive icicle appeared and shot Havelle, piercing him to the wall, where he slumped.

Khalil shouted, “Impossible!” dismay elongating his face. He stared up at the unmoving skeleton of Abdhul Havelle, his ancient ancestor and the founder of the Havallan Empire. All the Havallans in the room froze in horror.

In his singsong voice, Illtud said to his apprentice, in Havallan, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Capture them all.” Then he walked to his palanquin, chuckling.

“Kill them!” Khalil commanded. His guards nervously stepped forward with their swords drawn.

Then Zayra spoke for the first time, in the song of the Elven language. Golden nets appeared above the guards, then dropped, trapping them in a magical mesh. She turned to Emperor Khalil and prepared to cast the same spell on him.

Khalil reached over and grabbed a sword from one of his trapped guards just as a net appeared over him. He leaped out from under it as it fell toward him, then rolled to the feet of the female elf. He stabbed at her, but his blade stopped short against an invisible shield.

Zayra stepped back and sent a blast of energy at Khalil, striking him in the shoulder. As he stumbled back, he swiped his sword at the elf, leaving a gash on her cheek this time. She gasped and looked at the human angrily.
Illtud sang to Zayra, and she spat on the ground in response. In Havallan, she said, “No, I’ll take care of him.”

Laughter rang out around the room. “Fool,” boomed Havelle, and Illtud stopped just short of entering his litter.

Havelle floated directly above him. The nets that trapped the Havallans shot away, then turned into massive skeletal claws that grabbed both elves and lifted them into the air, within inches of Havelle’s pinpoint, glowing, red eyes, their arms pinned tightly to their sides.

“You,” he said to Illtud, “I will punish for eternity.” For the first time in his long elven life, fear played across Illtud’s face.

Havelle floated down to the blue gem. “Abizou, I’ll miss you,” he said.
Are you freeing me? Abizou asked.

“Yes, Abizou. This gem will be home to a new inhabitant,” Havelle said, picking up the sapphire. “Unfortunately, that of a lesser being.”

From behind Havelle, Illtud shouted something, and the skeletal hand holding him dissipated, but before his feet could touch the ground, Havelle turned and sliced through the air with his hand. The elf flew backward, punched by an invisible force. He lay unconscious on the floor, and Khalil advanced on him, sword raised to strike off his head.

“Wait, Khalil!” Havelle said over the frantic songs of the female elf. Khalil sneered at the unconscious elf, but lowered his sword. Floating toward Khalil and the prone elf, Havelle commanded the guards to bind Illtud, which they promptly did, untying the palanquin-bearing slaves and using the ropes that had held them.

Holding the gem close to his face, Havelle said, “Listen closely, Abizou. You will not be able to return to the Malaikah, and you’ll only have a short time to find an appropriate body. I wish you luck.”

I thank you, Havelle. I already have plans, Abizou said.

Havelle placed the gem on Illtud’s body, then struck the ground directly above the elf’s head with his staff. A violet light sprouted where the staff had struck.

Khalil and his guards backed away as Havelle used the staff to slowly draw a circle of violet light around himself and Illtud. He chanted in a low, deep voice, using the language of the Malaikah once again.

When he had completed the circle, he lifted his staff and slammed it down onto the gem, driving it into the elf’s stomach. Illtud gasped but did not wake. A yellow light spread out from the blue gem, illuminating the room in a sickly color. As Havelle lifted the staff from the gem, a violet light followed, as if the staff had pulled it from the gem.

When Havelle moved the staff away, the violet light continued to rise in a swirling, purple twister. From the waist up, a regal, beautiful woman appeared.

I will find a body, Havelle, and I will return. Perhaps sooner than you think. Abizou’s words drifted into Havelle’s mind. I think Khalil’s daughter, Samara, will do nicely. Then she swirled back into the light, zipped out of the door, and headed north.

Anger filled Havelle, but he couldn’t end the ritual before it was complete. He continued chanting, then raised his staff once more. Illtud and the now-empty gem rose into the air, the elf hanging limply. Havelle reached into his robes and pulled out a dagger. With it, he slit the elf’s throat, letting the blood spill onto the gem.

Zayra, still trapped in her bony prison, screamed in anguish. As Illtud’s blood poured out, a weak, violet light seeped out along with it. Neither the light nor the blood dripped past the gem; rather, both were absorbed into it. Havelle continued to chant as the blood slowly fell.

What seemed like hours later, but was in fact only minutes, Havelle finished, and the circle of violet light snuffed out. Zayra floated in her prison, sobbing.

“Khalil, take this elf’s body and impale it on the highest point along the edge of the Crescent Sea.”

Khalil placed his palm on the center of his chest and bowed. “With pleasure, my lord.” He commanded two of his guards to carry the body away, and they dragged it off.

Those who remained in the room were accosted by a mental wail, and Illtud’s singsong voice rang out in their heads. What’s this? What have you done? Then the wail returned.

Havelle chuckled in response to Illtud’s panic. He turned to the female elf. “You’re fortunate.” He floated up to her and stroked her cheek with a bony finger. “I’m going to let you live, but you’re going to take this.” He reached out, and the blue gem floated over to his hand. “You’re going to share it with your people as a warning.”

His skeletal finger traced down her throat to the center of her chest, then he grabbed her robes violently. Red light surrounded the two of them. When it cleared, they stood on the edge of a grassy field with the Crescent Sea lapping against a sandy beach nearby.

Havelle threw the elf to the ground and tossed the gem at her feet. “Do not return to my kingdom,” he said. Then the red light surrounded him. When it faded, Havelle was gone. Zayra picked up the gem that held her master, his mental anguish still echoing inside her head.



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