Sweat dripped from his face, the hot winds tossing his salty hair behind him. The waves crashed against his master's boat, and he gripped the wooden helm firmly. The sail caught the strong breeze well, almost too well. It propelled him forward, and the ropes holding the sail – although tied securely – threatened to snap at any moment. The ship was old, and the ropes were frail and waterlogged. It's probably as old as me, he thought with a smirk.
Every day since he was 301, he sailed across Madrion Bay to the City of Uirdor and back again, and every day he and the small ship fought against the wind. The sun beat down on him with its hot rays, and the back of his neck was furiously red. He was surprised how much sun had got to him, considering how dark and cloudy the sky was. Another larger wave smacked the side of the boat, and he was splashed with salty water. Thilien often wondered why the salt was so sharp these days. He had noticed other changes in his world around him. The winds were stronger, the days were hotter, the waves were angrier and a storm was always on its way. There was also faerthunia. He frowned at the thought. "Faerthunia is changing the entire nature of things," he muttered, and when land came into view, he sighed before tying the helm in place. He looked up at the sail for a moment, then he moved to take it down. Thilien untied the rope, and the sail dropped down at his feet.
"Now for my favourite part," He said with a bitter smile as he picked up the oars. "Five kilometres of rowing, how fun." He sat on the bench and began to row. His arms ached with every stroke, but he couldn't stop. The sooner he got it done, the sooner he got into bed.
When he came to be a few small metres away from the docks, he wrapped his hand around the rope he would use to tie up the small ship. He rowed a little faster, moving his arms around in swift, and a little impatient, movements. Once he was close enough to the side, he dropped the oars and jumped over, the rope still in one hand. He used the soaked rope to pull the little ship over even closer, and tied it onto the cleat. He wasn't too confident it would hold – the rope being thinner and weak – but he left it and hopped back onto the ship anyway. He picked up the sack of things not sold and the large bag of coins before stepping over again. Lord Mithiel would be quite happy with the amount, as it was more than half than what was usually earned. Meaning Thilien would get exactly the same amount as he usually earned. A broken roof over his head, and a plate of dry, plain rice he would share with his two siblings. He sighed, stepping back onto the docks.
Through the clouds, he noticed that the sun had begun to set – colours of red, orange and purple leaked through the clouds and dyed the darkened sky. He stared for a moment, cherishing its beauty and the short time of enjoyment he rarely had.
He did love sailing. The sea was his escape from his lord and master, but it was also a reminder of the life he might've had. The life where sailing wasn't a job he was forced to do with little payment, and the ship was his own, and he had the freedom to sail wherever he wanted. Where he could take as much time as he pleased, and he wasn't always worried he'd arrive too late or too early. If the coins in the bag were his savings, and he was the one who would spend it on anything he needed. But it wasn't, and that life wasn't for himself or any of his family to enjoy. Although everything offered for sale were things his family spent their days growing and perfecting, the money belongs to Lord Mithiel. Thilien passed a rusted sign with faded gold letters, reading:
PROUDLY OWNED BY LORD STEWARD MITHIEL
He clenched his fists and furrowed his brows in anger, stopping in his tracks to stare at it. Why should he give it to him? It rightfully belonged to him and his family. He looked down at the sack of treasures in his hands. He knew deep down it was the right thing to do, giving it to his master. But there was another voice, and he agreed with it completely. It's yours, take it! It said. You know it's true. Nearly 2,000 years you've spent a slave to this 'lord', you deserve it! He opened the bag, the gold inside glistening. He won't notice, there's a lot more than usual. He smirked.
"He won't notice…" He repeated softly out loud, reaching into the sack and pulling out three, a sly smile visible on his face. He dropped them inside his left boot and continued walking, every once and a while sliding a coin in his trousers pocket. The only one without a hole, he thought. He had stolen before, and he knew what he was doing. One coin at a time, face expressionless, movement's casual, criminal unnoticed. But he had never stolen from any of his masters, and his heart raced. When his pocket had exactly 15 coins in it, he didn't take any more. It didn't look obvious, as the gold wasn't protruding from his pants, but he took five out and stuffed them in his other boot. Just in case he was caught, which he was confident wouldn't happen.
He walked up the hill, a fair few leagues away from the docks now. The trees there were tall and intimidating, branches sticking out in every which way. The leaves dead and the bark greying. Lining the bark he could just see the dark green veins covering every inch of it, from the roots all the way to the tips of each branch. They called the disease faerthunia, the veins known as the Cold Branches. It's incurable, and had killed off trees, flowers, crops, wheat, fish, animals, insects, Akrinians, humans...
Everything that lived, really.
Lord Mithiel lost a lot of 'workers' to the Branches, and he was furious when the markets were out of stock. Thilien thought it quite stupid. The kingdom they lived in was called Akrinia, and yet the least important species of their land were called Akrinians. But it makes perfect sense, he thought as he caught sight of his master's land. We are cared about so little that they couldn't even be bothered to uniquely and properly name our kind.
Most people call the Akrinians 'blessed', having immortality and possessing eternal youth and beauty. Thilien scoffed, the horrible stereotype making him slightly mad. It's a curse, to stay young and beautiful for eternity. To live forever. It hurts, especially when he befriends mortals. For him to watch them marry, start a family, grow old and, eventually, die. All the while he remains physically the same. No one could possibly know what that is like, other than that of his own. The humans did not understand, and had forever hated their kind for their 'gifts'. One day, exactly 2,791 years ago, High King Logion of Akrinia announced that the Akrinians be hunted, for they 'mock the human race and all mortals'. And so, the war between them began. The Akrinians were winning the said war, of course. Akrinians were strong, fast, agile and smart. But their intelligence was what got the best of them. His ancestors saw no justification in their doings, and so they sought to reason with the humans. They pleaded peace, they begged mercy, but the humans were full of pride, jealousy and disgust. The humans promised peace with them, they promised no more fighting. But it was at a price, a price far higher than they probably would have thought. The Akrinians would be servants to the humans throughout their long, young lives. They would serve them and grant them their every wish where possible. Thilien figured the past Akrinians expected it to stop in 100 years or so, but it didn't. And now, almost 3,000 years into the future, it had not changed.
Thilien sighed, approaching the gates of the land he had lived on for what feels like forever. The land he has wished to leave and forget for what feels like forever. The black bars soared above any tree that might've lived, and on the top spines seemed to grow out of the metal, stopping any who may attempt to climb the thing. But who would? It was too much of an effort to climb it, especially since most of them had been fed so little they would be thin enough to slip straight through. And so he did exactly that. He turned to his side, sucked in his stomach, and stepped right in between the bars and through to the other side. He smiled grimly. It was useful being that skinny for that very reason, but it was large evidence of how poorly his master treated him. How they all treated him. He had been working for the Mithiel family for centuries, and not one of them kept him in good care. He despised humans for that very reason. No one offered anything to help him or his siblings, and it's possible no one even thought of it. He walked past a few more grey trees and the flower beds that once were, and the shadows reached his face. He was late. He could tell, and so he broke into a run. He wasn't exactly sure why he had run, but he knew he couldn't be late. Not again, Lord Mithiel would have his head. His heart was hammering in both distress and exhaustion, the coins jingling quite loudly – the gold in the bag not the only ones emitting sound. He panicked, and started to pull the coins out of his pockets and back into the bag. He would be caught for sure, but he was either late to meet his lord, or someone saw the coins jumping around in his pockets. He knew he'd be dead either way, so he prevented them both. He reached into his trousers again to take the last two out, when he heard heavy footsteps close behind him and his heart jolted painfully.
"Hey!" A man called behind him, but he didn't stop running. He didn't recognise the voice, and he didn't plan on meeting him. All Thilien could think of was his master's face when he didn't arrive with the gold on time. After a few minutes, Thilien heard the man's steps thudding against the stone path louder and faster, and when the man began to yell he knew he had been caught.
"THEIF! STOP! THEIF!" The human man yelled in anger, chasing the traitor before him. He watched the dark haired Akrinian hold pieces of gold in his hand as he ran, and noticed how he quickened his pace. His father would hear of this, but he knew with an annoyingly tired gasp that he couldn't catch him. He looked around for someone to help him, when he saw two Akrinian farmers walking from the crops, and instantly he yelled "Stop him!" The Akrinians looked up before reluctantly dropping their shovels and chasing after the thief.
Akrinians were much stronger and faster than mere humans, and they caught up to Thilien in a matter of seconds.
"Please…" Thilien breathed, looking at his fellow Akrinians with pleading eyes. "I was stealing… for us all…" he tried, and the Akrinian he knew as Ladren smiled lightly. "I was… putting… them back… though… I'd get us all… into trouble…" he explained. Ladren frowned, but nodded in understanding. Thilien puffed out a huge breath, before breathing in slowly, trying to calm his racing heart.
"Go faster…" Ladren suddenly said, and Thilien stared at him in confusion. "Go faster." Ladren repeated, and, understanding etched on his face, inclined his head slightly in thanks. Ladren slowed a little, while Thilien sped up. Thilien grinned internally as he thought up ways of telling Thandor how his day had gone. Although the other Akrinian he didn't recognise wasn't sure of what was happening, he slowed too. Thilien managed to turn his head to him and nod his head in silent thanks, before looking forward and urging himself to go even faster.
"Fools! Get him!" Lord Mithiel's son cried in outrage, and the other Akrinian sped up again.
"No, Cíldor!" Ladren hissed, but Cíldor ignored him, thinking he'd be rewarded for catching the thief. He pulled up alongside Thilien, and giving him an apologetic look he pressed his arm on Thilien's chest and stopped dead in his tracks. Thilien's chest slammed into Cíldor's arm – the wind being knocked right out of his lungs – and he fell to the ground in shock, taking a guilty Cíldor down with him.