I want to take a moment to thank each and everyone of you who has taken the time to review and comment on this story. You have taken me on such an amazing journey with these characters and this story...I hope you stick around, even after this final chapter. I am planning to do a series of one-shots about the characters(prompts would be amazing!)
I dedicate this chapter to all of you, with a special nod to Meg McKinley, because I wouldn't have made it past chapter 2 without her, and it is because of her Hunted is what it is.
I'll be quiet now...let me know what you think of this last chapter, this story, the characters, fave moments, fave quotes from the story, and if you have any prompts for one shots in a review!
Relief was an odd emotion, Acco thought. He had experienced it before, but never like this. Now, even through the fire and pain, through the tears and nightmares, there was always the feeling that he was safe, that those horrible, twisted creatures would never hunt him again.
He had so many questions, so many things he wanted to know, but he could not express them with words. He could barely bring himself to speak. Burying his face in Kelandi's shoulder, he let the elf hold him, comfort him, and let the tears come.
Eventually, one question slipped past his breathless whispers and tears. "But...the prophecy..."
Kelandi held him tighter, but shifted his position so his lips were close to Acco's ear. His words were soft, but they seemed to echo inside of Acco, sending tingling energy throughout his whole body. "the prophecy was fulfilled Acco. The man did his take his place, the hunter did walk alone, and the world...as we knew it, ended in fire, and was covered in darkness for a brief while. We had always assumed that this would mean we would all die...and indeed we came close to death, but now that Listi is gone and the creatures burned..."
Disbelief and a fierce kind of happiness that he had never experienced before pounded through Acco, as strong and sharp as his own heartbeat, echoing over and over inside his being. Memories, words, faces, emotions flashed in his mind: Listi, whispering, I remember, Kelandi, dragging himself across the ground, Cecil screaming...and then the happier memories...Kelandi, swinging him around in a circle, holding him tightly, Cecil's voice, lulling him to sleep...
"It is over?" he whispered when he found his voice again.
Kelandi pulled away, untangling himself from Acco's fierce embrace to look him in the eye. His eyes were no longer white, but a faded gray, and they shone at Acco with so many emotions, so much pride and hope, that Acco felt his throat tighten and his eyes burn with tears again. But they were not tears of sorrow.
Slowly, gently, Kelandi took Acco's hand in his, twining their fingers together. The elf leaned forward, so their forehead were nearly touching, so Acco had no where to look but his friend's eyes. "Acco," Kelandi murmured, but with such intense emotion that his words were fierce. "You are safe. Nothing is ever over, little one. I learned that lesson long ago. The memories will stay with you. The thoughts and nightmares and darkness will always exist. But Listi is gone. The creatures no longer hunt you. And we are both alive. Think on those things when the nightmares come to haunt you, and then the darkness will truly leave this world. But you have to make it. Do you understand?"
To Acco, it seemed like Kelandi was describing his own personal struggle-the pain of loss, and letting go of the violence committed in your past, and how evil never leaves, not really, but there is always hope to hold onto. There is always something light at the end of a tunnel of darkness. Things would never be the same, in truth he had always known that his life would be forever altered, ever since he stood in front of the flames, ever since he saw himself for who he truly was, and who Listi was, at heart.
"I understand," He whispered.
Cecil gently pulled Acco away from Kelandi and set him gently on the ground, his hands cool against Acco's flaming skin. "You need to rest now, Acco. It is time for you to heal."
Unexpected panic seized Acco, tightening his throat and constricting his chest. He remembered all to well the fire that had burned and ripped at his body, and he was afraid that it would return with a vengeance when he closed his eyes. After so many positive emotions, he did not want to sink back into that blackness, the terror.
His fear must have shown in his eyes, for Cecil took his hand. "I will sing to you, as I did before, Acco." He said gently. "Your dreams will be peaceful."
Acco looked to Kelandi.
The elf was sitting quietly, watching him with knowing eyes, eyes that spoke of pain and understanding. He knew what it was like to fear your own dreams, to fear the darkness in your mind. Cecil did not truly understand. Only Kelandi could give him the reassurance he needed to hear.
Kelandi made no move to embrace him, or even hold his hand. He simply watched him, but to Acco, it felt as if his friend was looking into his soul. Kelandi's eyes pierced through his worries and fears, and found the light of his consciousness, found the spark of hope at the center of Acco's being. It was more comfort than a touch could ever be. When the elf's words did come, they were soft. "I will stay with you, Little One."
Cecil shot his cousin a look, as if he wished Kelandi to be resting as well, but the elf ignored it. He kept his eyes fixed on Acco.
Acco smiled, and closed his eyes. Darkness was already beginning to wash over his consciousness, tugging at thoughts and memories, coaxing his body into sleep. "You won't ever leave me?" He was not sure if he spoke the words aloud or thought them, his mind was already slipping into unconsciousness, but he was lucid enough to feel kelandi's hand slipping into his, and his response.
Cecil's words were soft, but Kelandi heard them clearly. his cousin was not looking at him, but staring off into the trees, twisting a strand of grass absently in his fingers, as if consumed by the task. But he was only concealing his emotions, the strength it took just to say those two words.
"I know," Kelandi made the words as gentle as possible.
"I cannot stop thinking that there might be more elves surviving...living in fear throughout the world. And perhaps humans as well. They know nothing of this darkness that has been lifted from the world. If they exist, I have to find them." Finally, he turned and looked at Kelandi, and his eyes were bright with tears, but there was a steely determination in his gaze. "I cannot live as you and Acco do, running and traveling. This is your life, cousin. Acco is your friend, your purpose. I love him, you know I do, but...you are safe now. You are healing, and only Acco can give your spirit the strength it needs to survive."
"I need you as well," Kelandi whispered, aware of how soft his voice was, like a desperate child's. "I'll always need you."
Cecil smiled gently, and shook his head. "You do not need me, Kelandi. You care for me, and you wish to be with me, but you do not need me, cousin. You need Acco. You need energy and light and youth. You need to run and laugh and dance." He made an odd sound in the back of his throat, somewhere between a laugh and a sob. "I am fighting my own darkness. I can give you none of those things. I am not leaving you forever, Kelandi. I need to be alone for a short while, I need to find any surviving elves, I need to help them, because then I am also helping myself." He glanced quickly away, blinking furiously against the tears. Despite his emotions, his pride would never allow him to cry now. Kelandi could have laughed, if he was trying hard to surprises the tears himself. "It is only for a few years."
"I'll miss you," Kelandi whispered.
Cecil turned towards him then, putting a hand gently on his shoulder, as he had done when Kelandi had been young and fallen off his horse, as he had done when Kelandi had awoken terrified and screaming from nightmares of blood and darkness, as he had done whenever he wanted to reassure his cousin that everything was going to be all right. "You know where to find me," Cecil said quietly, and tapped to fingers to Kelandi's forehead. "My soul will be singing to you while I am gone."
Swallowing hard, Kelandi nodded, and held out his hand. "good luck, cousin."
Cecil smiled, and took Kelandi's hand, squeezing gently. "Do not do anything to rash without me, Kelandi." His tone was light, but there was a real message in his eyes: Do not give into the darkness now.
"I won't." Kelandi promised, and drew his hand back, knowing if he did not let Cecil go now, he never would. Turning his back on his cousin, he saw that Acco was awake, watching them with wide eyes. There was still a childish quality to his face, the faint roundness of his cheekbones, the small quiver of his lip, but when he raised his chin, his eyes were the eyes of a man. of a warrior.
"Acco," Cecil called. "Look after him won't you?"
Acco's lips twitched into a smile. "I will."
Kelandi did not look back, but he heard Cecil's muted footsteps as his cousin started to run. Blinking hard, he sat down next to Acco. "I thought you were supposed to be sleeping."
His friend looked at him, a teasing gleam in his eyes. "I was. I woke when you began talking." His hand, still small to Kelandi, even after all these years, slipped into the elf's, in silent comfort.
Kelandi leaned back, resting his head against the trunk of a massive oak tree, and closed his eyes, allowing his friend's healing soul song to wash over his spirit, dry the tears from his cheeks.
It would be several weeks before Acco was strong enough to travel. Even though Acco had protested and protested, Kelandi still insisted that he was carried to the horse, and kept a protective hand on his back while he swung up behind him.
"I'm fine," Acco grumbled, as the elf slipped his arms underneath Acco's twining his fingers into the mare's mane. "I'm not a child, I know when I'm in pain." he would never admit it to the elf, but his chest still ached if he breathed to deeply, and a day of hard riding was sure to make his head pound like a stamped of horses was running through it. Kelandi knew it, but chose to honor Acco's pride and not say anything.
"You will always be a child to me, Little one." Kelandi laughed softly in his ear. "Are you ready?"
Images sprang to life in Acco's mind, brief flashes of color: blurred trees, Kelandi's smiling face, twisted creatures, and bloodstained dirt. Images he associated with running, with hunting, with being hunted. Now he was running for a different purpose... he was running for the joy of it, for the pleasure of the wind in his hair and the sun on his face. He was running because he wanted to, and not because his survival depended on it. It was a new feeling, a new sensation, and he was curious to experience it. His whole live, he had been hunted; it was time to really live, to see what life was truly about. A thrill of excitement made his next words breathless.
"Yes," He said, and twisted around to look at Kelandi, a grin spreading across his face. "I'm ready."