He was a small boy of no more than fifteen years. No one really knew how old he was because he had disappeared when he was much younger. He himself couldn't remember anything after he disappeared, his earliest memory after that in fact, had been him walking towards the village. When he arrived every one looked at him with shock in their eyes. He couldn't understand it until he looked into a fountain and saw that, to his horror, his hair had turned solid white. Many people speculated that he had encountered a shadow corpse or perhaps even a demon, but he was treated as an outcast after that. He slept on the streets most nights and was scarcely ever clean. He went weeks without eating on occasion and what he did eat he had to steal. His parents were dead, killed by a killer named Orod the Flayer. He had been forced to watch as the man made true his name on his parents. He was almost next, but a group of enforcers came in and cut him down first. The rest of his family wouldn't take him in and so he became an urchin. He was treated with no more care than trash. In fact, he envied the trash; it got to stay inside more often than he. His name was Avon, light in his father's tongue. It proved to be a very inappropriate name. The conditions he was forced to live with drove him to become adept at stealing, gambling, and most of all... hiding. In truth, he never stole more than he needed and it was always food that was past its prime, never money or valuables. He never cheated at gambling, but his luck was such that many accused him of it thus forcing him to become skilled at hiding. And so the final key was raised as an outcast. The precious piece in Cain's puzzle was considered a crook and a degenerate; he was the most unlikely hero in all of Evermore.
At the moment, Avon was spying on women in the town's bathhouse. This was not a common practice with him and the last two times he had spied, he had fallen from his perch above a load of crates in the ally behind the bathhouse. If it happened again, he would take it as a sign from god that he shouldn't do this anymore. As he was thinking this, a cat jumped up next to him. He reached down to pet it, but it swiped a clawed paw at him and he lost his balance and fell backward. On the way down he struck his arm on a crate and his head on the wall of the other side of the ally. He laughed and said to himself "Well, last time I do that."
He wasn't a bad person; he had just lived a hard life. He stood up, put his hands into the pockets of his pants, and walked off towards the town square. Today was Sunday, the day he met her every week. He met her for very different reasons than the others. When he reached an old oak tree across from the candy shop, he stopped and sat down. Shortly after, a girl of age with him walked up. She was remarkably beautiful for her age. Blonde her flowed down to her shoulders and large hazel eyes brightened her face and all those who saw her. But that was not the reason he liked her. The reason he liked her was because she was the only person in this town who showed any kindness to him. Her name was Liza, and she was the most important person in Avon's life.
She smiled as she approached and said "Hello Avon. Never late are you? That makes me look bad."
He laughed and smiled in return. "Nothing could make you look bad Liza. Your to pretty for that."
"I know that smile." She said, giving him a wry look. "You've been up to no good, haven't you?"
"Just a little," he laughed. "Close your eyes, I have a present for you."
When she closed her eyes, Avon reached deep into one of his pockets and pulled out a small object carefully wrapped in soft fabric. He placed it in her hand and whispered, "there you go."
Liza unwrapped the package slowly and her eyes widened when she saw what it was. It was a small porcelain dog. She shouted with glee. "Oh Avon, I love dogs. This is the closest I've ever come to having one." She gave him a small kiss for this. "This must have cost you all your money.'
"Near enough. The rest went into this." Avon said as he pulled out a silver bracelet and slid it onto Liza's wrist. It was actually far cheaper than the dog, for porcelain was rare in the area whereas silver was mined in a cave not far from the city.
Liza showed just as much excitement for the bracelet as for the dog however. "These gifts are wonderful, but how will you ever get food now?"
"I'll find a way." He said, and they both knew what he meant.
"You can't keep doing this Avon. I'm sure my father would give you a job working the inn if you asked." She said in concern.
"Sure. Right after he punched my face in for being with you. Your father hates me Liza. They all do. The only reason I'm tolerated is because I don't really cause trouble and I really don't have anything I can do about my condition."
"I… I'm sorry for bringing it up. I just can't bear to see you so worn and ragged. My heart aches for you Avon."
"Don't worry Liza, I'll be fine. I've seen harder times, some I can't even remember. I survived whatever gave me this white hair and that must mean something. I just wish I could remember what it was that happened."
"You know, let's go for a walk. I don't like talking about these kind of things and I don't want father getting mad seeing us together."
Avon agreed. Liza's father could get more than vocal if he saw Avon with her. So they walked side by side, talking about various things as they went. Her presence was all he really cared about, but he listened intently to her all the same. Every now and then He leaned over and stole a kiss from Liza, who didn't mind a bit.
Around nightfall, everything went wrong. They were walking down a side street, when Avon noticed a man following them. They took a few random turns in hopes of losing or deterring the man, but it did nothing to halt his pursuit. Suddenly, they broke into a run. The man began running as well, and much faster. Then, they made a turn onto an alley with no exit. The man, seeing they were cornered, moved in slowly with a dagger in hand. Avon drew his own, a gift from his father long ago. He charged the man, but was thrown back with a punch from him. Before he could rise, the man hit him again in the back of the head. Temporarily incapacitated, he had to watch as the man brought Liza down to the ground, covered her mouth, raised his dagger, and plunged it into her chest. There was a muffled scream and she was dead. Rage flowed through Avon and, overcoming the pain, he rose swiftly and took the man from behind. His father's dagger went through the man's clothing and flesh like it was nothing. The man howled in pain and the collapsed, dead. He looked at the corpse of the man and recognition struck him. This man was the Priest. The realization that he must leave this town now didn't mean much. The only thing that meant something to him here was gone. The town would believe he had killed both of them so he had best be out of here quick. He cleaned Liza's body and took everything of value from the Priest. He left Liza here gifts however. The Priest had a pouch containing two hundred ragans, three gilded daggers, various jewelry items, and an old, musty book. He cried over Liza for a short time and then left the town. The home that wasn't was behind him and there was no telling where his new road would take him.
Cain watched from the shadows as Avon left the town. He regretted not being able to save the young girl's life, but it would ultimately allow for thousands more to be saved, and not just humans. All the pieces were in motion now, and he must guide them to one another.
Cain returned to his camp several miles away and found Aria fast asleep. He decided now was a good time to bath.
Aria, in truth, was not asleep, but waiting for Cain to do exactly this. She had been waiting for Cain to return, anticipating that he would bath. Hoping to catch a glimpse of his arm again, she rose and snuck to the nearby lake. When she arrived, Cain was in waist deep water and his arm could be seen clearly in the moonlight. It looked exactly as it had that not so long ago, and now she could see that he had numerous scars on his body. A large burn on us side reminded her of her father and drew sympathy from her. Who was this man she had traveled with for five years. She realized she didn't really know anything about him and resolved to ask him about his past, about his arm. She hoped it wouldn't change anything, but she had her doubts.
Cain knew he had been watched and who it had been. He also knew that now, he would have to tell her at least part of his story. Sadness filled him. He had grown used to they way things had become and hated to have to change that, but with the truth came change. His life had almost taken a semblance of normality with her. Now, it would all go away. Cain stepped out of the water and formed his cloths from the shadows. The darkness gave him some comfort so he was able to sleep for the first time in a very long time.
When he woke up Aria had already made breakfast. They ate silently, sitting in silence when they were finished. And then the question he had so long tried to avoid.
"Master, what do the words on your arm mean? Who are you really?"
Cain sighed and looked at Aria sadly. "To understand you must first know what I am. I am an Arche. You no doubt know what an Arche is. We are people gifted with the use of magic."
"I know of Arches. What branch do you belong to, Fire or Water?" Aria said, getting excited.
"I am neither. It is true that Only Fire and Water Arches are present in this age, but there used to be many more branches. Fire, Water, Gale, Earth, Light, and Shadow once existed in great numbers, before the fallout. I am a Shadow Arche, the last of the Branch. I have been the last for many lifetimes. You see, the magic we use comes from a source. The source is different for each branch of magic is different. Fire originates from the Methmorde, the Living Volcano. Water comes from the Life Spring in Ethecross, The home of the Elves. Gale, which is the most readily available but the most rare branch, comes from the very air around us. Earth comes from the great golem Stur Grok. Light comes from the seraph Merrion, the highest of his order. And Shadow is drawn from the dark demon Deon." Cain paused to allow Aria to absorb this information. It would be necessary in the future that she remember it.
Cain resumed after a few minutes. This would be the hard part. "Thirty-five hundred years ago I was your age. I had been wandering Evermore for five years, when a shadow brother approached me. The shadow brothers were a gathering of Shadow Arches who served Deon directly. Unlike the other sources, he took a direct hand in the world. The brother introduced me to their sect, and I welcomed the companionship. It was he first time in my life I felt welcome somewhere. I soon found that, even though they welcomed me, it wasn't a good situation. The brothers committed horrible atrocities at Deon's command, and I was part of it all. Some of the scars I have come from what we did then. As time progressed, I quickly surpassed the others in skill and raw magical power. You see, I was born an Arche where most people turn when they are in adolesance. Because of this, my power was innately far greater than theirs. By the time I was twenty-five none were equal to me. As a reward Deon suspended my age. It was his version of immortality and not welcome. I wasn't a very religious man, but something about it didn't seem quite right. I came to loath this "gift" more than anything else in my life. After a few years a broke away from the brothers, searching for a way to destroy Deon and restore myself to the way I had been. For three hundred years I searched and found no way to undo him. However, I did find a way to seal him away. The struggle weakened me greatly and for twenty years I hid away, regaining my strength. When I re-emerged from my seclusion, Shadow magic had faded from the world. The age suspension stayed with me as well as my magic however. As I wandered Evermore, I found that the deeds of my brothers had left a lasting impression on the population. I was hated by all for what I was. An age passed, and everyone I knew with it. I took up this cloak to hide what I was to the world…and myself. I am an outcast and always have been. I have had many titles over the years and none of them good." Cain paused once again, noticing Aria was frightened. "You are right to be scared, I am truly a monster. I am trying to make amends for what I have done so I can relieve myself of this curse and finally die in peace."
Aria separated herself from Cain for most of the day after that. He had said that he was a monster, but the man she knew was nothing like that. The man she knew had a kind heart and loved the world around him. Why did he hate himself so much? "He must think I hate him to now," she thought. In truth, she could never hate him. She was certainly confused about him now, but she harbored no ill feelings toward him. If anything, this had made her more determined to help him, but she wasn't much use to him now. She couldn't fight and could barely cook. She had to find a way to aid Cain.
That evening Cain wandered back into camp. He had disappeared partway through the day and Aria hadn't seen him since. She had started I fire and nightfall, but Cain stayed away from it. When she had finished eating her small dinner, she moved over to sit by Cain. As she approached he tucked "Cain…" she started, but couldn't finish.
"Yes Aria, what is it?" he responded sadly.
"I want you to teach me how to fight. I managed to scrape by last time, but I can't keep on like that. I want to be able to help you."
Cain paused or a moment and then, for the first time since she'd known him, he directed a smile at her.
Deavan woke up sore and stiff. He looked around and wondered where he was. The landscape was barren and covered with ash as well as the ruins of some city. He walked around a bit and memories started to assail him. He remembered everything that had happened and began to panic. Where were all the others? There had been thousands of soldiers around him. Then, he remembered Nathan. He looked at the foot of ash on the ground in disgust. He was walking in his comrades. Taking a moment to regain his composure, he reasoned that if he survived, others must have as well. He began to search frantically for any sign of life, but after an hour of searching he gave up. He managed to find a clear spot on the ground and slumped to his knees. "This is hopeless!" he thought and cursed to himself.
He was just about to lie down and give up, when he saw the glint of sun off steel. He ran toward where he thought he saw the reflection and found a young man lying on the ground next to a broken sword. His armor was battered and must have been in horrible condition even before the fight, meaning he was one of the enemy. Deavan really didn't care anymore. He had been screwed by everyone on the side he was on, so why not switch to the other, even if the other was just this one person. "You alive down there pal?' he called. The man stirred and began to push himself up. "Must… find… Alma." He said with difficulty.
Deavan laughed bitterly. "You wont find anyone. They're all dead. All of them are ash now. I'd call it a miracle that you survived if I believed in such things."
"You're wrong," the man responded. "I can feel here. She is alive out there somewhere. I'll find her even if it kills me."
"You're a fool. Go ahead if you like. Listen…" Deavan started to say, but didn't know the man's name.
"Listen Michael. In all likelihood, the girl is dead."
"I'll find her no matter what. Leave me alone if you want, but I will go nowhere until I find her."
Deavan cursed under his breath and sighed angrily. "Fine, I'll help you."
They spent the next five hours searching for Alma and Deavan was about ready to kill Michael and be done with this all, when he heard a sot moan nearby. He called Michael over and they began to dig around in the ash. Deavan was searching a rather large pile of ash, when it began to move. He jumped back in surprise and a figure in an old worn out cloak rose from it. Apparently this was Alma because she ran over to Michael and began kissing him. Deavan grimaced and turned the other way.
After several minutes he turned back and saw that they had broken away from each other and were looking at him. "Now," he said. "Since you found your girl Michael, I suggest we get out of here. The bandits won't miss a chance to scavenge what they can. We will be safer as a group, at least until we find a town. Now, let's get out of here. There's nothing left anyway."
Michael and Alma exchanged glances, nodded, and began to follow him. When they got to an inn he would question them more thoroughly and would be ready to answer any they had, but for now, silence was best. The feeling of loss was mutual and would take a while to still.