Yes, I do realize I'm writing the chapters out of order but please bear with me. Once chapters 2 & 3 are done this will make a whole lot more sense.

Chapter 4: Othniel

What form do your chains take?

There are some people in this world that seem to transcend time; whether through actions, words or their mere presence of being. I knew the moment my eyes saw—he was one of them.

Hanging limp in between the two guards he radiated purity. Dressed all in white cotton that blended with his white skin and hair he was a stain of light in this blemished place. A mighty White caught somehow by one of my fellow bounty hunters.

I looked away to avoid others suspicion, staring at the man collecting his money. Such a filthy place full of filthy people, I could not help but look once more to the wizard.

It was obvious that magic had coursed through his veins for most of his life—judging by the youthful if not young looking face—for the pigment particular to his type of mage had completely replaced any color he had once been.

The Black God's officer finished the paperwork and handing out the bounty to the eager hunter now noted my interest in the latest prize. Trying to appear nonchalant, I rolled my shoulders and ducked through the tattered curtain into the mess hall. Here the hunters could pay cheap coin for cheaper food.

Through warped glass the dying light fell on shoddy tables, benches and the scarred men that sat at them. We are the men that do the Black God's dirty work. Bringing in the last free wizards to be tagged and hauled to the Crystal Sanctuary, after that, none of us cared what happened to them. I myself had brought in a Purple this morning; sheer luck that had been. We were running out of mages and it was obvious the hand that fed the dog would grasp a dagger as soon as the hunt failed.

But I was only concerned with now. So I stalked my way over to the counter to order food. A skeletal, unkempt woman, likely a whore, was behind the counter today. "What can I get yah?" she asked in poorly spoken trade language.

"A mug of mead," I answered quietly.

Nodding absently and turned to comply, causing me to catch the stench of narcotics emanating from her. I quickly exchanged a copper for my drink and assumed my usual corner spot where no light shone. I lifted up the bottom of my leather mask up to take a sip of the surprisingly decent liquid and watched the other hunters warily. All or most were criminals in some way and I wanted nothing to do with the strange camaraderie they shared. So alone I remained, fingering the carvings in the wood and trying to look as dangerous as them. It had taken years in this profession to earn my reputation as quiet and temperamental. Othniel the masked wolverine they called me. None had ever seen me without the mask that covered all below the eyes, helm and heavy kohl. No one knew my true appearance: either a small safety or eccentricity on my part.

Soon enough the mug was empty and the day dead. Standing, I left out another curtain door to the rooms for hunters in need of a place to stay after the mages had been brought in. Lit only by greasy lamps, I glanced around the hall to make sure none knew which door I slipped inside. A rat scurried into a hole as I closed the door and went to the bedside table to light the oil lantern. The glow it gave did justice to the dirty bed and chair, softening them.

Sighing I put the chair under the door handle to discourage drunken break ins, then removed my travel packs from the bed to perch upon it and gaze out the window.

Cold wind blew seductively along Dagger Line Cliffs, the craggy rocks that met the eastern ocean. It was if it beckoned me to the life and country I had left behind, a world of endless skies and freedom. But that was the past and a part of my life no more.

I continued to look past the edge of the earth to the sky beyond. The clouds trying to hide the newly waxing moons: the smaller, silver, the larger, pale blue. My gaze strayed to the silver moon, my thoughts to the white mage. Heaving myself back onto the pest infested mattress I pondered. How had such a powerful individual been captured now years after official orders had been made? If he had stayed free this long, he should have been able to last longer…

I turned my head from the window. It was not my problem; times were hard enough without adding another burden. Pushing him out of my mind I sat up and began removing my most uncomfortable armor for bed. Then something made me look up and over at the door illuminated by the silver moon, the clouds had parted.

I swore in my native tongue and put all my equipment back on. Damn that conscience. I thought it had died long ago.

Then with my bags packed and the lamp out I waited for all to fall silent. And it was not long before the last drunken laugh was over and snoring could be heard in the rooms next to mine. I was just amazed they trusted each other enough to lie with throats bare, honor among thieves I suppose.

And so I snuck out with no need for flames or fear, I did not seek death; it just did not matter if it claimed me.

As I made my way, I was acutely grateful of the forts poor up keeping. What had once been a curse was now a blessing. In the main lobby I went down a corridor to the holding area, knowing exactly where they would keep him. Such a rich and dangerous prize would be at the center of the small maze of the cells.

When I found him bathed in blue light and razor shadows, he was so still as to be almost a statue. The mage had predictably been chained between three poles at neck, wrists and ankles. Even with his power so diminished by the bindings, his aura froze me, pure energy.

He must have heard my hesitant footsteps for he raised his head with a small gasp at the pain the collar caused him. White-eyes with only a black ring around the iris sat above a sardonic grin. "Come to take me away already? I was just getting comfortable." His voice speaking the trade language was not necessarily loud, but powerful as the words resonated throughout the room.

I was spurred to motion and walked over to him, as tall a man as I was short. He said as much as I examined the obsidian chains.

Ignoring the jab at my height I murmured, "It always amazed me how you mages are so weak against such as simple thing as a mineral the opposite of your color."

"So you can speak mysterious stranger. Yes, it always does seem that the weakest chains are the ones that bind me best," he trailed off wistfully.

From one of the pockets on one of my many belts I pulled out a small hammer. The links were thin and easily broken, the manacles and collar could be removed later. As soon as only one hand remained he lost the support and I let him lean on me as I broke through the last one. His arm thumped against my thigh limply and I sat him down against the wall so I could rearrange my weapons. He may be taller but I was broader of shoulder and obviously stronger; carrying him upon my back would be a simple task.

I finished and looked down to see him staring at me in exhausted wonder. "Why are you doing this?"

Ignoring the mage again I hauled him onto my back so his head rested atop my helm.

"Fine, fine," he chuckled. "Don't answer. My name is Arc, master wizard of white, in case you were wondering."

I stopped. "For our time together you may call me Othniel."

"Alias huh… well it's a pleasure Othniel." I could feel him gaze up at the high window. "The blue moon follows me."

"Then you are cursed,"

"Cursed is all very well, but—"

I cut him off with a sharp shush, it would not do to wake the other prisoners and have them begging for escape as well, there was only so much one man was capable of.

Arc remained silent and we made a clean escape. Guards were only used for initial prisoner reception. Outside the north wind ripped through Arc's clothes and began shivering, I remained stoic. Even this howling fury could not beat my armor. Reaching the edge of the cliff I stopped and looked around for a certain section.

"What are you doing?" Arc's jaw chattered against the smooth steel.

"I found a cave some years back." Seeing it I cautiously walked down the almost invisible ledge, no small task with another on my back.

Hungry black water roared below the precarious pathway. Oddly enough, the ledge was harder to see during the day, the layers and layers of sharp, thin rock that ran along the cliff horizontally became harder to distinguish. I didn't remember why I had chosen this path, curiosity likely, but I was glad it had been found.

After about ten minutes of carefully edging along we made it to a small cave, barely large enough to hold the two of us. I kneeled and Arc found enough strength to push himself off and sit with his back against the smooth rock. Removing the pack that I had placed on my front, I took out the sleeping roll. Too short for Arc but it would have to do. With a flourish I snapped it out and down. "Here."

He opened his eyes. "Thanks." The strain of the obsidian on his body was obviously taxing his strength. I helped him into the sleeping bag and was surprised when one of his hands gripped my arm tightly and his gaze bored into mine. "Get these bloody rocks off me. I can't take it anymore."

I had expected that, just not with such a level of ferocity. The hammer came out again and he winced away from the blows that were to come. Sighing a positioned myself so his head rested atop my lap with neck exposed, this was going to be difficult not injuring Arc in this process. Then I grasped the obsidian collar and wondered what mage in their right mind would spell the rock to seal so nicely after being clapped around their fellows limbs. But it did not matter I had work to do.

Why was I doing this, saving Arc and staying by his side? I could be sleeping, returned to bed after letting him go free. None of the men would know and I could return to my stable, if not safe, life.

That thought was sickening. As Arc had so aptly put it 'I can't take it anymore'. And truly I did not want to be dirty any longer.

The collar finally was chipped enough and broke into shards, I threw them out and into the waves. Then I took his hand to start on the manacle. Such large and soft hands… so strong but never doing a day of hard labor. As I broke through and I tossed the remains again I wondered at the white skin, his pigment and not lack of for the veins underneath were no more obvious then mine.

A glance at Arc saw him fitfully asleep; eyes twitching under closed lids and murmurs between breaths. I moved over and started on the other side, picking up the pace. Eventually I had to pull his legs out of the sleeping bag to work on the bindings around his ankles. When the last was off he gasped in pleasure and his sleep became a true one.

By now I could see a glow of orange on the horizon. Stretching I moved to the edge of the cave I sat cross-legged. The sunrise would be a beautiful one so I waited. It was an illusion of peace I loved to remember, from when I would be with my brother and father as we watched the warm colors chase away the darkness. How so many of these foreigners failed to appreciate such a sight was beyond me. If love truly existed in this world, that was surely how it looked.

The initial shock of colors was beginning to fade; I shuffled to the back of the cave and lay down next to Arc. I should remain alert for when they started their search, but I knew none would find us.

***

Freedom came easy, at no price thus far. We had slept through the day when all the hunters were out searching. Likely they had raised the amount paid to up the interest. As soon as night and human silence came once again, we crept out and up, Arc joyously fearful of the long drop.

He had told me his home was along the north coast of the Changing Sea near a village called Singing Seal. So it was south past the Dagger Line Cliffs we fled, hugging them while remaining in the forest.

Several hours of walking and the moons were high in the sky. We had been straying farther from the ocean in preparation for daylight. The only unfortunate factor being most of the trees were of the needle variety and there was very little undergrowth. I had been searching for a decent resting place but because of the type of forest it was, there was almost none.

"Sorry Othniel, but I need a rest," Arc said forcefully from behind me.

I turned in irritation to see him nearly fall to sit upon a rock. Sighing I crouched, facing him on the other side of the deer trail. The effects of the obsidian were a constant annoyance to us both.

Playing with pebbles and waiting for him to catch his breath, I thought of the time it would take to reach his home. If the maps I had memorized were correct—just under a month. I was glad my provisions were high and I had just received payment for bringing in that Purple.

The sound of a clearing throat caused me to look up at Arc who was staring at me in amused questioning. "Othniel, how can I trust you? How can I trust a man whose face I can't even see?"

"You have to," I said back and returned to my rocks.

"It might be you took me away to get the bounty for yourself, I'm worth a lot apparently." He chuckled and I could feel him looking up at the moons.

"If that were true I would have left you in the cave and returned in the morning. This is the fourth time I've told you." And it was starting to erode my almost infinite patience.

There was a long pause.

"I still can't believe it," he whispered.

I remained silent to allow Arc the shift of mind. Now, if we took the road through Kamaar's capital we might be able to cut the journey down by a day; merchant activity was steady, but not thick this time of year.

"Why may I not see your face? All that is visible are amber eyes so lined in kohl as to look from so Ynali lord's harem."

I turned his question back at him, knowing very well the untruth of it. "How can I trust you?"

Laughing, he fell off his rock with a loud thump into the grass, sending up moths in frantic flight. "You had better not be serious or I'll have to leave. Putting my life in the hands of a moron does not sound like a good idea."

I smiled behind my mask and remained silent to let him guess what the answer was. But it was time to be moving. I offered him a hand up. As always I felt envy of his head and a half height over mine. Turning I led the way.

"At least tell me what country you're from. I can get general facial features right that way."

There could be no harm in telling him that. "T'shira."

A low whistle. "One of the tawny people. Why are you so far from home? I've heard that your people reject the outside world."

It seemed there was no end to his questions and there was only one way to stop them. "Where are you from?"

"Other then now I've never been outside Lharlolei. It's such a gorgeous place by the sea, all white sands and turquoise waters. This place seems like the first road to hell in comparison." I could hear him shiver for one reason or another.

Strangely enough I felt inclined to keep the conversation going. "That part of the world may be nice but I prefer my homeland." Memories surged up and unraveled on my tongue. "Blue skies with my father's hawk above and the feeling of infinity when running. My one ride on a sky horse… that is indescribable."

How stupid for having told so much, and my personal experience nonetheless. Those memories were precious and mine, not something to ever be shared. What a fool for being absorbed by words.

But all I heard was the soft sound of feet on grass. Around a quarter of an hour passed and finally Arc spoke. "I would like to ride a sky horse one day, but aren't they more commonly referred to as wolf bats?"

I just could not help myself and burst out laughing. "You are far to large to ride one!" Only children and the smallest of people will not crush the poor beasts." I doubled over clutching my side until I could catch a breath. The image in my mind had been too ridiculous for words. "And yes, they are known as a species of bat, you are well informed." Turning I saw him grinning down at me.

"I'm glad you find that picture so amusing." Arc pushed past me and pointed at a giant spruce with branches that touched the earth floor. "You were looking for a place to sleep right?"

Swallowing my humor I nodded and jogged over to survey the spot. I was glad the man was intelligent enough to divine my intentions without explanation.

The tree was an old one and the sweep of its bottom branches would even be able to hide the mage's length. With many hours left to night one would think it hard to sleep, so much time left that we could have been traveling. But no, for one reason or another we succumbed as soon as heads touched the ground.

***

We had been walking for nearly a week. Avoiding the road, because who would not notice such an out of place couple? A White and a masked man in the open were just asking for trouble. So without delays we had passed into Kamaar and were now within viewing distance of the town, North Wind. It was unfortunate but I needed to re-supply; out came my pack and the disguises to wear.

In a little grove of the tough trees that lived on this wind beaten landscape I rustled through until I found some plausible choices. Flapping the cloth around to let out the wrinkles and musty scent I explained the situation to Arc. "You will be a Shaffha from the time sand religion. I'll be your Oszoni bodyguard. We will come around from the southwest and leave northeast then double back. The story is you are on a pilgrimage to every capital of the Black God, hoping to spread the 'truth' along the way. Hope you can muster an accent." Satisfied I turned to my outfit and put my back to him so I could change without my face being seen.

Most of my armor stayed on, hidden underneath the billowy, light brown cotton. A turban around my head and jaw so only eyes could be seen, then I took out and made more visible my double bladed scimitar. A special creation, though slightly less durable, it could easily catch another's blade and any wound inflicted would be next to impossible to seal. I had not come across that situation yet, it was either kill or be killed, the cut would be a final dying promise from me to my opponent. I sighed let such violent and unnecessary thoughts slip away. It was time to see how well Arc was doing in the Shaffha outfit.

I had been certain it was too short for him, but the sandy cloth embroidered in gold thread hung all the way to the ground and not a glimpse of white skin peeked out from the shadows of the hood. Yet still I could feel his grin.

"Just a bit of illusion, the technique is called shadow gathering."

I nodded, surprised at my own willingness to place faith in a stranger. It had been a long time since I trusted anyone, in part, with my own safety, a very long time. "Do you have any knowledge of this group?" I was doubtful but soon became pleasantly surprised.

"Indeed I do. Time sand, in their tongue, sehna yorha. It originated near the border between Oszon and Nay, down in the rocky desert geographic region. Their belief is one of numerous sects popping up now a days that the apocalypse is drawing near. Named time sand after the hour glass, 'the sands of time are running low'."

Speechless, I grasped his shoulder and we followed the rough game trail around North Wind to come upon the road. True to name, without protection from the trees the wind was biting if not truly fierce.

When the buildings and streets became clearly visible I noticed something had changed since my last visit to North Wind. Despite the climate, the people here made the best of it with brightly painted houses circular in shape. Then at irregular intervals, poles stood high waving the playful, dancing flags. Each person had a different color based on personality and their flag flew where they lived. I found it to be an endearing trait of the Kamaash.

The people themselves wore dyed wool, often patterned with flowers in pinks and yellows. In demeanor they were a cheerful but calm folk.

Not this day.

Prolonged stares and whispers greeted us upon entrance into North Wind; so much I almost loosened my hidden blades. Casting tight gazes from side to side, I saw the people scatter back to their homes. Arc however seemed to be taking it rather well, with his relaxed set of the shoulders.

Eventually we reached the market section, eerie in its near complete desertion save for a wandering dog. The shaggy beast sniffed at us absently while we paused to look around the closed stalls.

"What do you think is going on?" Arc broke the melody of snapping cloth with his whisper.

"I am unsure, but we are leaving quickly," I muttered back and lead the way out at a brisk pace.

We were halted however by what seemed the entire town blocking the main road. I came to a stop and pulled on the back of Arc's robe to encourage him to do the same. As soon as we remained waiting, the Okanne, leader, as I remembered him, strode to within five paces of us and stood still.

Beard of dark brown streaked white tried to be free of his face as the wind picked up for a moment. The Okanne held his hat down then lowered the earflaps to tie under his chin. His arms crossed over the yellow birds of his coat and then he roared to us in the trade language, voice almost stolen by the rushing air, "Leave now Oszoni, your kind are not welcome here."

"What do you speak of? What has any shaffha done to deserve this lack of Kamaash hospitality?" Arc's voice came out in a near perfect imitation of a desert dweller's accent.

Some more men went and joined their leader in a flurry of talk. Stealing glances at us, their debate heated and finally broke. The Okanne stepped apart. "We believe you truly do know nothing."

I shifted the weight to my other foot and glanced up to unsuccessfully get a feel for Arc's thoughts. But the contents of the hood remain dark and the tall mage silent.

Even from this distance I could make out the man's Adam's apple moving in nervous swallows, a habit I remembered from my previous stay. With only the wind whipped cloth to break the silence, the Okanne conceded and spoke again. "News has just been given that once again, Oszon barters the Black God for war with Ynala." He spat as if getting rid of a bad taste.

I sighed inwardly at our misfortune. The Madahrs of Oszon and the Kings of Ynala were known for their intense hatred of one another, always badgering the Black God for the chance to go to war with one another. And Ynala being the devious country it was, sent out propaganda to the other nations of the northern continent painting Oszon as the sole culprit.

The tense atmosphere made sense now. One never knows when a seemingly harmless foreigner might actually be a suicide worker bringing a plague into enemies territory. Or that's what Ynala had led them to believe. It was small matter calling up memories of the time before the Black God had unified the warring countries.

Arc broke through my train of thought. "I belong to no country and my bodyguard belongs to me. We will do no harm and only seek to refill our supplies."

Very well handled, I couldn't have done better. So Arc's words sent the men to discussing once again. I stayed alert until after much deliberation they sent a runner off to get us some provisions. The bundle was thrown to us and Arc left the money on the road. We left the way we came.

Once well enough away and back in the safety of the grove I let my too eager fists say what I felt. Soon splinters in split knuckles calmed my irritation and I turned to look down at Arc. His illusion having faded with the drawing back of the hood, I could see again the shoddiness of my possession.

"Well suffice to say we gleaned some information from that." The mage kept his voice calm and even as if dealing with a child.

It reminded me of my place in the world and the rest of my anger left with a sigh—that violence had been so unlike me. "My apologies, but… I'll just say I am tired of suspicious fools." I pulled the extra cloth off and folded it neatly at my feet before sitting next to him. "I guess we can just avoid towns, I will hunt when we run out."

Only quiet and a hand on my bleeding ones; I felt a slight tingling and was shocked to find them healed. Arc smirked at me before getting up to shirk the robe away in a messy pile. He gave me a meaning look and asked, "Why go to so much trouble on my account?"

"You should be free." I stared right back earnestly, something was shifting in this casual relationship we had been taking for granted.

To my surprise he snorted disdainfully. "But you see, I am never free."

"You are right now."

"No I'm not!" he yelled. Such a sudden display was uncharacteristic but he wrangled it under semi-control. "This Othniel, this is not freedom. We humans are never free."

What madness was the mage speaking of now? But still I was intrigued, watching him pace back and forth. It was obviously an old rant that had been building up until choosing this moment to explode.

"Saraphina is the same, neither of you understand." Arc was pacing now, barely able to contain his anger… or whatever emotion it might be called. I continued to watch and remain silent.

"There is always something that stops us from doing some action. We as an example are not free! Maybe not in jail but we can't go into any town and show our faces. We are trapped by our so-called freedom! Do you see now?" He turned to me, eyes wild. It was almost frightening to see such an expression on his usually calm face,

"That may be so but…" I paused, choosing my argument carefully. This was not an idiot I debated with. "…I can do what I wish with my body. I am free to laugh, run or fight and I travel where I may. There may be some things I am unable to do but that is the price I pay for my freedom. Arc… there are many different ways to be free." I felt satisfied with that level of eloquence and glanced up to wait for his reaction.

He was still for a long time, letting the rustling trees dull the silence. Finally with a heavy sigh he sat beside me. "Othniel, I understand your point of view, I really do but…" Arc sighed again and ran fingers through his hair, causing an odd spiky look, almost like snow-covered mountains. I shook my head, determined not to stray from our conversation.

Speaking again, Arc's voice lost its passion and now sounded only tired. "You may have freed me but I am still bound. I have an obligation to return somewhere I no longer wish to be, all in the name of responsibility."

I wondered at that. "You led me to believe you loved Lharlolei."

"Oh I do." His answer was emphatic. "But… I can't really describe it, this compulsion not to return."

Pondering the meanings of a simple word we sat in companionable silence, staring at the sky. Several thoughts occurred to me, but I would not question why he felt this need not to return home. However there was something I wanted to know. "Who is Saraphina?"

He jolted slightly at the sudden noise and turned his head to contemplate my mask. "My apprentice. A lovely girl just turned eighteen. I have high hopes she'll one day become a master Green." His face broke into an easy grin.

My curiosity was aroused, a strange occurrence. "So you two live alone?"

"Yes, but we're not that kind of master student relationship." A slight smirk. "I have no use for sexual relations when there is so much else to be concerned with."

An interesting man, never before had I met someone whose opinion was the same as mine concerning carnal acts. "Arc, how old are you?"

"Twenty-four."

"As I thought, young. Especially to be such a talented mage."

"And how old are you?' He had an eyebrow raised in amusement.

"Thirty-five, not too much older then you."

"And yet it seems as if you have a lifetime more experience."

That admission filled me with humor and I chuckled. Arc was about to say something else but the snapping of a branch snatched my attention sharply to the left, the side that the wizard sat on. Drawing hidden blades I tensed, but it had not been an attack only a spy judging by the fleeing footsteps.

With a sigh I stood and gathered our things, placing them neatly in the pack. Arc joined me and after moments consideration decided he could shoulder the burden today. We left the small grove and headed south, the wind urging us at our backs.

It was only later, as we sat in the lee of a large boulder that Arc asked, "Why did we leave so suddenly? There seemed to be no danger to my eyes."

I huddled closer to my companion and the shelter the stone offered, the north wind was always vicious at night. "They sent someone to make sure we left, which in itself is fine. But they saw who we really were, and eventually, some bounty hunter is going to came asking after us."

"I see…"

***

I had been right, though we both wished I had not been. Going steadily south for just under a week had found us in heavy forest, getting closer to the Changing Sea. Yesterday there had been signs of pursuers; today we fled like wild animals.

If not for Arc's illusions we would have been caught already, though I wondered why he did not kill them outright. Such a strange mage oath not to kill should be forgotten in situations such as this, for I could not take around twenty with only my martial skills.

So we found ourselves under an overhang, rain pouring over the mouth and temporarily hiding our position. My mind raced to find any positive outcomes and their likelihood, unsurprisingly I could think of nothing. I was cold, wet and could feel my partner shivering. We were outnumbered ten to one and my bowstring was ruined from the rain.

Arc leaned closer to me till his mouth was at my ear. I expected something intelligent—my expectation fell short to his frivolity. "Your kohl is running and it looks terrible."

I twitched to look at him and see a grin set below dead eyes. He understood the situation as well as I and did not expect to make it out alive.

Pausing I weighed my words before I spoke. "We should try and make a break for the ocean; the beaches around here are riddled with caves… if it comes down to it, I'll kill you if you are captured."

His eyes were moist. "Thank you." Harsh laughter. "How many people would say that to a death sentence, but…" Arc clasped my upper arm and I returned the gesture. He looked straight into my eyes and said, "Othniel, though I may not know you well or for very long, I do know you. And it was a pleasure to call you friend."

"Likewise white mage." I understood exactly what he meant. Neither of us had knowledge of the others past, but we still knew the others mind, a rare occurrence even with life long friends.

"It's funny…" he murmured, staring at the miniature waterfall.

"What?"

"I still don't know what you look like."

Chuckling I patted his arm. "Only as I lay dying."

"Let's hope it doesn't come to that," Arc said, and then burst out with me following close behind.

The moment the water exploded as we left we were spotted and the hunter's cries followed us through the forest. I yelled to Arc wordlessly and we began to sprint, tree branches ripping at our bodies. Then the first arrows began into the trunks beside me.

Even weaving it was only a matter of time before I was shot, what I did not expect was for them to have such good aim.

The arrow erupted from my chest having torn through the chain mail. The barb itself was beautiful, a dragon with wings spread wide bathed in my blood; all I could do was stare. There was no pain, but it was so very hard to breath. As I fell I managed to twist to land on my back, breaking the shaft into splinters. It was so funny how it still did not hurt, but I would not complain, even as blood flowed steadily out and light-headedness consumed me. Everything took so much effort.

Somewhere in a far away closeness, white fire roared angrily, devouring flesh and creating steam.

The sky was truly beautiful through the leaves, even with the dark grey clouds.

I was surprised when Arc crawled and collapsed, his head level with mine. Creating fire to kill was hard apparently.

My mind refused to concentrate.

Was he crying or was that the rain. I think it was both.

"You promised I could see your face." His voice was wavering and barely in control.

I nodded; it took less effort then speaking.

With shaking fingers he slid the leather mask down and tossed my helm aside. I smiled at him as his fingers rested on my cheek.

Arc smiled back. "You have a lovely face."

"Thanks," I managed to rasp out. My life was fading very fast so I used the very last of my air to impart to him my conclusion. "We can both agree… this is the one true freedom."

Then I looked to the sky again, waiting for my soul to join the soaring of my father and brother's.