Vactix chopped at the thick grasses in the fields surrounding his father's house. He made his way right up to the edge of the Dark Forest. When he was younger, his father would tell tales of the wolverines and other huge, hungry beasts that would come out at night and eat up any stray kids that wandered too close to the forest.
At seven, he was so scared of the woods he didn't dare go as close as he was now, even during the day. But that was before he had a sword.
Now, at thirteen, the forest seemed less dark and dangerous. He walked up to the edge, his sword firmly in his right hand. He gripped it tightly with both hands, raised the blade, and let the single edge slice through the thick, blue branches.
He looked at the blade of his sword, now sticky with purple-blue sap, and reread the signature carved into the blade, (Denya's father's name). He wiped the sap from the edge with the sleeve of his brown shirt and sheathed the blade.
He looked toward his father's ramshackle house. His trading wagon was sitting next to the house, two mules grazing lazily beside it. He saw his father loading goods into the caravan, preparing for the trip ahead of them.
They were going into the nearest town, Euphor, to trade goods the next morning. He got bored of watching and went back to chopping branches, slowly inching more and more into the forest.
When he reached a point where no light shone through the tops of the branches, he turned around and started to head back. The blue branches of the Azure trees brushed past his face, tossing spider webs in his hair.
He brushed them out, his hand coming away covered in threads that he wiped off on another tree. When he left the darkness of the forest, he realized he had stayed in there longer than he had intended.
The sky was peppered with tiny, white dots, stars. And the moon shone with a bright blue glow that night. He ran through the tall grass, following the trail he had cut for himself earlier that day.
The house was small and had only one large room. A small fireplace next to a wooden eating table and some chairs were all on one side, next to the equipment they used to prepare meals. On the opposite side were two hammocks of old, greying linens that hung from support beams.
Vactix never took off his sword except to sleep and even then, it was as close to him as he dared. His father was at the table, eating in his boots, old brown leather jacket, and dirt stained pants.
A silver and red spiraled twister was pinned to his jacket, the cyclone sigil that trader's often used to classify themselves as such. The only difference between villages that Vactix had noticed was the two colors always varied.
Red and silver was the trademark of Lyandria, his father's home town. But his father didn't have any of the legendary powers said to come from Lyandria. The mysterious powers of fire, light, some even said shadow. Other rumors stated that powers related to foresight also originated there.
There was a plate for him on the wooden table, a stew of leeks, carrots, and fowl. He shoveled down the food, having skipped his earlier meal for swordplay in the field.
It was tiring and difficult work to keep up with. On the other hand, he loved the adventures he had in the wild grasses. Swinging his sword at the huge, black birds that landed there and pretending to chase or be chased by invisible enemies.
And he would always win.
During their trips to the nearby villages to trade, he would spend his time either helping his father, or exploring nearby areas, being sure to keep well away from the soldiers. He talked to other children, both younger and older than him, and they would tell him horrible tales of the soldiers' deeds.
In his eyes, they were bad and needed to be punished. But his father didn't see it that way. "They keep the villages safe from bandits and rebels," he had said. Unlike their home which was isolated and unprotected.
"I can protect us!" He had said, raising his sword confidently in the air. Vactix remembered the day he got his sword. He was only 9. A mere child exploring the city/town, and he had decided to take a look in the blacksmith's shop.
The blacksmith was a broad shouldered man with thick arms, pounding away with a round, silver hammer. When he saw the young boy staring intently at his work, he smiled. "You a fierce, young boy, lad?"
His accent was thick and foreign, presumably from another land across the sea. Vactix nodded but said nothing.
"Stay there for a second," The man went to the back of his shop, drawing the curtain closed behind him. For a second, Vactix thought he caught sight of a little girl almost his age in the back room.
When the man came back out, he had a sheath with a single edged blade wrapped inside of it. "You look worthy of such steel, boy. And it's best to learn at an early age."
"I…I can't pay for that sir. My father, we're not very rich."
The man gave a hearty chuckle, "Take it anyway. After all, if my daughter can wield a blade, why shouldn't a boy like you?"
The smith handed Vactix the blade sheathed and Vactix looked at it in amazement.
When he left the shop, thanking the smith graciously, his father was standing there, caravan and mules behind him in the dusty street. "Did you make a friend, Vactix?" Lumen asked his son.
Vactix was shocked; he hadn't known his father had been following him. "You ready to head back home?"
He couldn't wait to get back home, if just so he could train with his newfound sword.
Vactix still hadn't named the thing, he remembered. He was having trouble coming up with a good one. Naming it after trees, cities he'd visited, and animals didn't seem to work well for him.
No. It needed something strong. A good, strong name of a protector. Protector, he thought. I'll name you Protector.
After dinner, he cleaned off his plate and went to his bed. His father stayed near to the fireplace, looking over the map into town and marking the route he planned on taking.
Vactix was sound asleep when he awoke to a pot smashing, mules braying and an injured man's cry. He got out slowly from his bed, but was stopped by a voice and a tingling, cold feeling at his throat. "Don't you move boy. Or this knife'll slice clean through your gullet."
Vactix's mind was in a panic, but even so, he relaxed his body as the shadowed man dragged him out of bed and bound his hands behind his back with rope. When he was dragged into the main room, he saw two more bandits.
One of them was tall and lanky, carrying a crescent moon shaped blade in one hand. His face was rugged with a thick, brown beard. A red scarf was draped across his shoulders and he sported a red and grey cloak.
The other had the same blade tucked into his belt, and the same scarf but no cloak. He couldn't have been older than sixteen. His face was smooth, but his eyes were cold, hard steel grey. His hair was short, like it had been chopped off with a knife and his build was that of a metal worker.
Now that there was light from the fire, he could see his captor, a gangly man with black hair and sharp facial features. There was a deep scar that ran across his face. Vactix stared at him coldly as he was thrown back onto the floor. The same type of blade flashed into his hands.
The one with the beard headed outside, and the other was standing over his father, kicking him from places sticky with blood. The boy had his back to him and when he leaned down, Vactix noticed a burn mark on the small of his back.
The scarred man made cruel jests, watching the boy kicking his father with amusement. When he could watch his father being beaten no longer, Vactix screamed at him in a fury, which only brought the attention on himself.
The scarred man kicked him hard in the stomach, while the steel eyed boy walked around to look him over. "This one's useless, just a soft boy."
"What about the old man?" The scarred man asked.
"Let him bleed. And watch as we punish this little boy for being a loudmouth." He watched fearfully as the steel eyed man took the crescent vane from his belt and licked the shiny metal blade.
The scarred man sat him up against the wall and Vactix eyed his own blade, not too far from reach. If only, he thought, just before their blades touched his shoulders and started to slowly dig their way through cloth and skin.
He did more than wince, and the sudden twitch sent sharp pains through his body as the blades cut deeper into his shoulders. Every time his body shuddered, it betrayed him and made the pain worse.
There was a scream emanating around the room and it took him a while to figure out it was coming from himself.
Just when he thought he could take no more, there was a loud noise from outside, a crash and several curses that took the two tormenters' attention.
Vactix took the moment of opportunity, his heart pounding with each step. He stood up on his feet and put his tied arms out to his blade. The blade graciously accepted his gift of rope and almost immediately, the pain in his shoulders turned to rage and bloodlust.
He cursed them silently as his newfound speed kicked in and allowed him the time to come up behind them. He slashed at one man's side with his blade, digging deep into the unsuspecting raider's ribs.
The scarred man let out a roar of pain, kicking back at his attacker, which loosened the blade from between his ribs and sent Vactix to the ground. The steel-eyed raider turned to his injured partner, the injured man lashing out at Vactix with his sword.
The crescent blade cut lines into the floor as he dodged each clumsy slash. Every thrust became slower until the bleeding man, one hand trying to stop the blood gushing from his wound, collapsed onto his knees.
Seeing his friend helpless, the steel eyed man made a move to parry the blade that came at him, catching it in his crescent moon shaped blade and swinging it away so he could aim a kick to his head.
Vactix saw the kick coming, dropped his sword, and rolled out of the way in time for the kick to land on his injured shoulder rather than his head.
He winced, his pain no longer forgotten. His blood seeped through shirt and vest, staining everything red. He took a look at his father; he had rolled over and found himself staring him in the face.
His eyes were closed and he groaned softly, "Don't worry father, I'll protect you."
He summoned his remaining strength to get himself to his feet before the raider could pin him down. His breathing was heavy and he stumbled to keep himself upright.
The raider watched him and waited. He made a clean streak with his tongue through the blood on his blade. Vactix took a huge breath, expecting the raider to attack at any moment.
It was he who made the first move. Before he knew it, Vactix was upon the raider, fingers clenched in a tight fist, beleaguering his face with blows and a strength he never thought he'd had.
The raider was taken by surprise, on the ground before he knew what had happened. The crescent blade clattered to the ground as he raised his arms to block his face but the poundings had already blackened both of his eyes. He shoved both arms up to push Vactix off.
Vactix picked up the crescent blade as well as his own and smiled grimly when he saw the raider's face. Using both swords, he caught him between the blades, using his built up rage and momentum until they sliced him in two.
Without thinking, Vactix ran outside to meet the third bandit and was met by a bloody, fingerless man lying on his belly. His bloodied sickle blade lay a few feet from his outstretched arm.
With the pain returning to his shoulders, he cursed when he noticed a shadow circling him. He gripped his blade with both hands, determined to protect himself and his father.
But when the shadow appeared to him, it spoke to him in a whisper of gentleness. "Do not thank me child, nor hunt me down, for I am not thy enemy." The voice sounded female and foreign by the way she spoke.
She left as silently as a shadow, giving Vactix no more reason to stick around outside. He went back inside, stabbed the two dead men for good measure, and went to bandage up his wounds.
When he went to his father, he noticed blood still trickling from his side. He did his best to bandage the wound, but his father was heavier than him, and it took too much movement and strength that he didn't have to move him.
So instead, he tried to soak up the blood. And he slept beside his father that night.
When he awoke, his head was sticky with blood. He had rolled onto the floor and into the puddle of drying gore. His shoulders ached, but the bandaging was doing its work.
He needed to wash, so he went to the nearby Walden River to wash off the blood and sweat. He brought back some water and washed his father's wound. His father groaned, but had not said anything all morning.
The next day was worse. His father had stopped moving completely. He wouldn't eat and he couldn't move. All he spoke was in whispers, and only once.
"Leave this dreadful place, my son. Flee."
With no more words to give, and with the wound never healing, his father died shortly afterwards of blood loss. Vactix cried out for his father. A boy of only thirteen, what could he do? Where would he go?
An immense sense of anger flooded his mind. He grabbed his sword and thrust its length deep into the man with the scarred face. He ripped into him until his shirt was torn to ribbons and noticed a burn mark on his lower back.
It was not a shape he recognized, but he knew it to be a brand mark. When he checked the other corpses, he remembered the boy's mark to be odd as well. After he stripped them of any decent belongings, he went to the river to clean off the remains.
He hung around the house as if his father would come back. The corpses in the house began to rot something terrible. Flies buzzed around his face until he couldn't stand it anymore. He redressed his wound several times, throwing the bloody bandages on the floor in the bedroom.
Finally, Vactix made a decision. "I'm gonna go through the Dark Forest, all alone with nothing but my sword, fire, and food." He said to his father. He looked at his sword and said, "You are no longer Protector. Now, you are Lume! And you will take me through that forest no matter what. You will protect me."
It was nightfall of his second day in the forest and he was living off of the bag of food he had scavenged from his home. The mules had been freed, so they would not die tied up to a caravan.
Although it was nightfall to Vactix, he could not truly tell the time of day in the forest, for its namesake proved to be more than true. He lived solely due to his constant fire torches, although he worried what would happen should he run out of fire.
He spent a good deal of time searching for a path or clearing his way with Lume. He felt like his father was telling him where to go, and he would take sudden turns based exclusively on how he felt.
When he reached a cleared path amidst the trees, he noticed more about his surroundings. Rather than seeing everything surrounded by crowded branches, he could see things, the eyes of far-away animals staring at him.
He heard more clearly, the howls of waiting creatures and saw many more eyes than he had noticed walking through the thicker brush. It was a wonder he hadn't been attacked.
Cobwebs and giant bugs clung to trees and branches higher up above his head. He could barely see them and wouldn't have if there hadn't been some source of light peeking in on him from way above.
There were so many dark patches and he had spent so much time in that forest that, only a few more days on that path sent his confidence soaring. No longer did he feel afraid, but rather, he felt like he could take on any creature if it went for him.
It was when food began to run low as well as his fire starters that he was reduced back to the thirteen year old child that he was. Every noise was a signal to watch his back. At the crack of a twig, and the sight of a shadow that seemed to follow him, he remembered his speed and took off like a rabbit.
He didn't notice, until he stopped, that his fire had been blown out by his speed. He stood completely still, not daring to move until his eyes adjusted enough to see a similar shadow that spooked him. But he couldn't see the path, so he stood in a fighting stance, sword out and ready.
A female voice called out behind him, "Put your blade down, and you can follow me to somewhere safer."
"Who is that?" he asked, rotating to face the stranger.
"We've met before, visitor. But now is not the time for proper introductions. Do you want to be rid of this eternal darkness? Or would you rather stay and swordplay with the shadowdogs? Your choice."
Vactix chose the former. He lowered his sword and nearly jumped out of his skin when she took his hand. "Follow me."
How they got there, he couldn't say. But when he arrived, the village was sparkling with fires and lanterns. A village in the middle of the forest! He hadn't known such places existed.
There were tiny houses, each made of blue wood. They looked cozy and when she took him inside one, he could hardly believe how comfortable it looked. The floor was covered with so many leaves, the leaves of Azure trees which stayed soft and brown even after their deaths.
Usually, Haypines roots would eat the leaves when they reached above ground, so the ground was hardly full of them. Haypines and Azure trees were dominant in the Dark Forest and lived off of each other.
In one part of the hut, a bed frame of the same, blue-grey wood housed a nest of Azure leaves and soft Haypine needles. Vactix watched as the nameless woman went about the room, making another nest of leaves and needles. She added a soft, woven blanket to the bed, which hers seemed to lack.
Two lanterns were lit in the room, one near the bed, the other by the door. There was little else in the hut. But outside it, he had passed by fire pits and roasting spits of meat and pots of stewing roots.
When he looked at her, she seemed to shimmer in the lantern light. She wore dark blue shades, a tight shirt and looser looking pants. A brown vest mottled the blue and made her blend in when she stood by the blue wood and brown leaves.
She took one of the lanterns and put the other near the bedside. "Sleep here. Rest for now. You will get food when I call you and we can talk more then."
The thought of a nice, soft bed was more than tempting as Vactix made himself comfortable, doubting none of the shadow woman's words. He felt a strange sense of security around her.
"Before I sleep, may I know your name? Mine is Vactix."
"My name, youngling, is Nessa Ancalimion. And you will not soon forget it."