Hello there! First off, if this story looks familiar, that's because it is - I removed the outdated version of the story and I'm replacing it with this newer draft, with mistakes polished up and a few new scenes added. I've also put together an unofficial soundtrack as well, all orchestral, if you want music to go with the words. Enjoy! ( :
Track I - Another Life, by Two Steps From Hell (which I will refer to in the future as TSFH)
Track II - The Brightest Star in the North, by Geoff Zanelli (from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales)
Track III - Journey Through Caledon, by Jeremy Soule
Track IV - Snow Angels, by TSFH
It was a night of fire and blood.
Screams shattered the frigid mountain air as men, women, and children were consumed by the raging inferno destroying their homes and the forest around them, despite the torrents of rain streaming from the heavens.
Wilhelm Tilldale ran for his life, his eyes wide with fear and his heart heavy with guilt.
His parents… aging as they were, they would have dragged him down. And then all three of them would have died. He had left them behind, to be devoured by flames.
They told me to, he reminded himself, feeling sick to his stomach as he sprinted through the black night. They insisted!
He coughed violently, his lungs protesting his inhalation of copious amounts of smoke. Doubling over, he rested his hands on his knees and gasped for breath until he could breathe normally again. When he recovered, he straightened and looked around.
Rain pattered gently down on the old dead leaves and loose scattered stones and dirt of the forest floor. The low, menacing rumble of thunder growled in the distance, cruel and mocking. The clouds above masked stars and moon; the world was hidden under a cloak of darkness and woe. Turning around, seeing how far he had run, he stared at the merciless golden flames gobbling up his home and the homes of hundreds of others down in the valley between two mountain peaks. Haunting black skeletons of warping timbers stood silhouetted in the writhing firelight as everything—and everyone—was destroyed.
Wilhelm was alone.
He was far enough away now that he could no longer hear the screams of his fellow villagers, nor did the petrifying sounds of raging flames and crumbling walls reach his ears.
But somewhere in the distance, he thought he heard someone weeping.
Intrigued, he followed the cries through the damp forest, passing between the ominous black trunks of ash and oak trees until he reached a loosely-formed ring of boulders surrounded by stout mushrooms just barely discernible in the darkness. The scent of smoke filled his nose and he looked around warily, but there was no sign of a fire. Drawing nearer, he found huddled between two rocks a young girl with open, innocent features, only a year or two younger than his eleven years. She was sobbing inconsolably into her hands, bent over the mossy ground and letting her tears water the earth.
Wilhelm recognized her, even in the darkness. He'd seen her many times as she skipped through the village with her five older brothers, two of whom possessed magic, and he remembered admiring her tenacity; not every young girl could keep up with those rowdy boys. Many times he had wanted to join them in their games, but his parents had kept him home instead—for his own good, they had said. His mind was more fragile than the other children's, or so he'd been told; apparently he wouldn't be able to handle friendships.
Mum and Da are dead now. I should honor their wishes and just leave this girl alone, he thought. Guilt seared his heart as he heard again his parents' dying screams when the fire burned them alive.
He was on his own. They won't be able to watch out for me anymore, he realized. Doesn't that mean I should find someone else to protect me? Like this girl. She can take care of me, and I'll take care of her. Like friends.
Wilhelm had never had a friend before. Making a decision, he cleared his throat awkwardly and tried to speak. "Are you alright?"
Swiftly the girl looked up at him with wide amber eyes. He barely had time to register their startling color before she surged to her feet and took off like an arrow from a bowstring, sprinting through the forest away from him.
"Wait!" Wilhelm shouted, giving chase despite his fatigue. She was younger than him, and he didn't want her to be all alone on this horrid night—and, truth be told, he didn't want to be alone, either. "Come back! I didn't mean any harm!" He overtook her in a matter of moments and snatched her arm, which was warm and dry despite the pouring rain.
"Let me go!" she demanded squeakily, trying to tear away from his hold. Wilhelm grabbed her shoulder and held her fast.
"Listen to me!" he pleaded, struggling to keep his voice calm despite the guilt and uncertainty raging in his soul. "We shouldn't go on alone. So we might as well stay together—safety in numbers and such." Rubbing a hand over his face, he inhaled deeply and the faces of his parents seared his mind's eye. He gulped. "Listen… we're both alive. That's what matters, aye? Now, it's dangerous to be out here alone; we should try to find shelter for the night. Are you with me?"
Trembling, her eyes full of pain and uncertainty, the girl nodded timidly. Wilhelm attempted an encouraging smile and took her by the hand. Together they forged a path through the darkness, struggling to see anything in the distance as rain streamed from the weeping skies above. Wilhelm squinted doubtfully; he thought he could just barely make out the black outline of a cave up ahead.
"D-did you lose anyone?" the girl asked hesitantly, slowing her pace. "In—in the fire, I mean."
Guilt burned Wilhelm's soul, stealing the breath from his lungs. He didn't want to answer her; he could hardly believe that Mum and Da were really gone—they had been alive and well only minutes ago! How could I leave them? Fighting tears, he bowed his head. "Aye," he murmured. "My parents." They told me to leave! They told me!
The girl's voice hitched. "I'm so sorry," she managed, sounding as if she were about to start crying again. Not knowing what else to do, Wilhelm gently squeezed her hand.
They walked several more steps in silence before he asked, "What about you?"
A strangled cry escaped her throat. "I… I lost everyone," she wept, her features twisting in misery.
Again, Wilhelm had no idea how to comfort her. Instead he gestured to the cave, now a mere three paces away. "We can rest here tonight. I'd wager it's dry, at least; it should keep out the worst of the storm."
Numbly, the girl nodded and followed him into the darkness, her breaths short and ragged as she cried. Compassion filled Wilhelm's heart and he half-turned to face her. "You're not alone," he told her quietly. "My name is Wilhelm, by the way. Just so y'know."
"I'm Islabeth," the girl returned quietly. She sat down and drew her knees to her chest, bowing her head. Wilhelm knelt across from her, gazing sadly out into the dark woods. Guilt tore painful furrows in his soul as his parents' voices echoed in his mind, urging him to go, to leave them behind.
To let them die.
And he had obeyed, to save his own skin. Even if I'd stayed with them, they still would have died, and then I'd be dead as well, he told himself angrily as warm tears spilled from his weary eyes. At least I'm alive.
The pattering raindrops and the distant growl of thunder held no answers for him.
Dawn arrived, bathing the green world in amber light and a gentle feeling of peace. In the light of the golden sun, everything glittered like a precious gem as a result of the night's downpour; it looked like something one of the magic folk could have created. Wilhelm felt as if he were awakening to a world made of glass, delicate and beautiful.
Not unlike the girl across from him, sound asleep. As golden morning light spilled over her, he got a good look at her for the first time. Her soot-smudged skin was the color of a hazelnut's tough shell, and her hair was such a dark shade of brown that it could have been black. Large, full lips the color of a red rose in bloom and fragile, dainty features gave her greater beauty than every glistening flower waiting outside. Draped over her slender frame was a long, simple deerskin dress with a colorful red and orange sash tied around her waist.
Her eyelids fluttered, as if in her dreams she had somehow sensed that she was being watched. Quickly Wilhelm looked away, fiddling with his sleeves as his cheeks burned in embarrassment. I shouldn't stare.
With a deep yawn Islabeth awakened, amber eyes peering groggily around the cave. Her gaze finally settled on a fat blue beetle crawling slowly up the wall. She yawned again and turned back to Wilhelm. "Good morning," she murmured sleepily as she pushed herself into a sitting position.
Wilhelm shifted awkwardly. "Erm… we should get going," he suggested. "It isn't wise to stay out unarmed in the woods too long."
Islabeth didn't respond; sadness flickered across her features and she looked away from him. Then she nodded determinedly and walked out into the shimmering forest.
The two of them began their journey, hiking up the mountainside in the pale light of dawn, into the gaze of the rising sun. The trees of the Whitewood stood comfortingly around them, branches reaching gracefully heavenward in the slow dance of the wind. Wilhelm and Islabeth trekked steadfastly onwards, weeping over lost loved ones, drawing comfort from each other's presence. The sun had not yet reached its peak by the time they reached the village of Kydrocil and found shelter and work—and their home for the next several years.
As time flowed smoothly in and out of seasons, what began as a chance meeting in the aftermath of destruction evolved into something deeper than either of them could truly understand. At last, years after first coming across her in the woods, beneath the dancing stars and vibrant crimson auroras streaking across the night sky, Wilhelm asked Islabeth to marry him.
But she turned away, and her amber eyes filled with glistening tears. Instead of answering his heartfelt plea, she murmured in a voice so soft that he had to strain to hear, "If we are to be wed, I can hide nothing from you. Not even this." She showed him her hands, in which a tiny flame flickered and danced.
Wilhelm nodded. "You're an enchantress. I guessed as much." Magic was not uncommon in the kingdom of Evenfall, although not everyone was born with the ability to wield it.
"My strength lies with fire," Islabeth whispered, a solitary tear tracing a delicate path down her cheeks. "Wilhelm, I… I was young. I was only beginning to learn about my magic. One night, my parents had a terrible argument, and I was afraid that they'd leave each other forever. And then where would I go? Would I have to choose one over the other? Or would they just abandon my brothers and I?" Her voice wobbled, and she took a deep breath before continuing, "I was terrified."
Wilhelm felt something cold drip slowly into his stomach. "What are you saying?" he asked uneasily.
A second tear trickled down her cheek. "I was frightened. You must understand me; please, Wilhelm. Before I even knew what had happened, the house had gone up in flames. Then the entire village."
For a moment there was only shock, cold and numbing, rendering him completely incapable of motion or thought. Wilhelm gaped at the girl, his lips slightly parted, utterly flabbergasted. The gut-wrenching memory of his parents' screams filled his mind, and guilt once more seared his heart, raw and agonizing. He stared into Islabeth's desperate, tear-filled eyes. It's all because of her.
An instant burning anger filled his soul, along with the sharp pain of betrayal. A bitter, coppery taste filled his mouth—he'd bitten his cheek. He narrowed his eyes at the weeping young woman before him and abhorrence scalded his soul. I would've married her! She killed my parents! It never was my fault—it's hers!
"Wilhelm, please," Islabeth whimpered brokenly. "I never meant for it to happen!"
But he shook his head violently, so hard that he pulled a muscle in his neck. He turned away, breathing heavily as he stormed off into the dark night and left the enchantress on her own.
For a month he mourned, lamenting her betrayal and his parents' deaths. Sorrow, despair, and bitterness filled his heart and soul, squeezing them, twisting them out of shape, so that the man who arrived in the Royal City of Reskidaan after thirty days of solitude was very different from the one who left Kydrocil.
Wilhelm Tilldale had come to a shocking conclusion: he could make everything right. He could ease the guilt in his soul and take revenge for his parents' deaths. It would take time and effort, but it was possible.
No one would ever have to lose family members to the uncontrollable forces of magic again.