There was no way they were going to make it out alive this time. The battle raged around them. No, Azel corrected himself, it wasn’t a battle, it was a slaughter. There were ten guards to each of their one. Tears and sweat mingled on Azel’s cheeks; he realized he had been crying for some time. His horse, Irene, had been killed beneath him by a lance gone awry.

Where was Tailtiu? Azel ducked a sword swing and blasted his attacker at point-blank range with the crackling energy of elfire. He found himself backed up against a tree, his hands clutching the magical tome, now smudged and filthy with blood and dirt. He tried to concentrate, to channel his magic through the focus, but images kept dancing in front of his eyes, some memories, some nightmares.

Sigurd—the fire had razed over him, leaving nothing but a blackened, charred heap and the stench of burning flesh. Deirdre, not remembering, not understanding, not knowing that the man she left to die was her husband. Irene—her scream as the lance had pierced her had been almost human. And where was Tailtiu?

Suddenly, a grinning guard stood in front of Azel, sword raised high for a killing blow. Sickly, Azel stared up. Somehow, that was the story of his life. Never prepared, never ready for anything, always doing as Alvis told him—and now Alvis was telling him to die, as it were, and he was going to do it…

No. I am not. I am going to survive here, and I am going to come back and hunt him down for what he’s done to us.

Azel hastily flung the arm holding the book upward—the sword crashed into it, but the leather binding reinforced with metal held, taking only a dent and a scratch. His eyes blazing with fury, he channeled his magic through the book once more. Magical fire ran down the length of the sword blade, blossomed into a wave on the end and slammed into the already-screaming guard, who toppled over backward, twitching hideously.

Azel stood frozen for an instant, shivering. –Sigurd’s face, turned black and twisted in an expression of eternal surprise— Oh, Tailtiu, where are you?

He sank to his knees, sobbing into his hands. I’m not meant for this, I’m not meant to kill. I hate it.

“Azel, come quickly!” Tailtiu’s voice hissed in his ear, her hand falling onto his shoulder.

“Tailtiu! Thank Narga, you’re all right.”

“Come on!”

He pulled himself to his feet. The two of them, exhausted, covered in filth and blood, staggered slowly into the bushes at the side of the battlefield. Sometime when Azel hadn’t been watching, the battle had ended, the field had cleared. Why hadn’t he been taken prisoner? Narga knew.

Azel was shaking from head to foot. “Tailtiu—where is everyone?” he blurted.

She shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t know if they survived, if they were taken prisoner—I just don’t know.” Then she gave a little scream of pain and lay down heavily in the brush.

Azel was at her side in an instant. “Tailtiu, what’s the matter? Are you injured?”

She managed a smile and shook her head. “Nah, not hurt. Stupid timing, though.”


“The baby, numbskull.”

Azel turned hot and cold all over. “The baby—you’re having it—now?”

“It’s not like I can do a lot about it, Azel. It’s okay, I know you can get me through.”

“Good Narga,” Azel gasped weakly. He blinked at the prone figure of his wife. “Good Narga,” he said again.

He took a deep breath. “Are you comfortable?” he asked.

“You have to ask? I’m lying in a bush!”

Azel blushed. “Apart from that, I meant.”

“Reasonably so. Thanks.”

“All right. I—um, I suppose you know more about this than I do.”

The smile she gave him was interrupted by a pained whimper. “If you will be gone on secret missions when your son is born—”

Azel took her hand. “Sorry. At least I’m here now, right?”

“Right,” she whispered and didn’t say anything again, not for a long time. The screams of a woman in labor were not an option this near Alvis’s castle, so, by unspoken agreement, Azel fetched her a stick which she kept between her teeth, grinding them whenever the pain became intense.

It was a long day. The sun beat down on the couple, only partly blocked by the thin branches of the bush that hid them from sight. But by the time the moon rose, Azel was kneeling beside Tailtiu, placing the baby carefully in her exhausted arms and whispering that it was a girl.

“Tailtiu, I have to go now,” Azel murmured.

“Whaddayamean?” she mumbled, yawning.

“Alvis. I’m going to kill him. I’m going to kill him for what he did to Sigurd and to all the others of our friends who died here today.”

“You can’t. Azel—you just can’t! That’s suicide!” Tailtiu struggled into a sitting position. “Besides, he’s your brother.”

“Not anymore.” Azel’s rather chubby face was grimmer than Tailtiu had ever seen it. He looked tired, his red chin-length hair hanging in twisted, matted hanks.

“If I don’t come back, Tailtiu—”

“Don’t say that! You’ll jinx yourself!”

“I have to. You’ll wait until you’re sure I’m not coming back. It should be fairly obvious. If Alvis is alive tomorrow morning, well—” he shrugged with a little shiver. “You need to get back to Freege and find Arthur. Take care of—” He patted the baby’s head and kissed her red face tenderly. Then he raised his eyebrows at Tailtiu.

“Please don’t go,” Tailtiu begged, tears brimming in her eyes. “Please, Azel, don’t go!”

Azel looked at her sadly. “I have to go. He’s my brother. It’s my responsibility.”

“No, it isn’t! Not now. Not when you’re weak from battle. Come on, Azel, be reasonable!”

“I’ve been reasonable all my life. Just for once, I want to be heroic. I’m sorry, Tailtiu.”

Choking over sobs, Tailtiu didn’t say anything.

“If it’s any consolation, Tailtiu, I promise that no matter what happens, I’ll try my utmost to be with you and the children.”

“You’ll be dead!” she screamed. “How can you be with us if you’re dead?!”

Azel shrugged, managing a smile. “Um, I don’t know. I haven’t ever been dead.”

Tailtiu grabbed his head with one hand, supporting her newborn with the other, and pulled him down into a passionate embrace. Azel finally stood up. “Well—goodbye, Tailtiu,” he said awkwardly. “I’ll see you soon.”

She bit her lip and blinked back her tears. “The baby—you name her, Azel.”

“All right.” He thought hard for a minute. “Call her Tinina.”

Tailtiu nodded. “Good choice.”

Azel took a deep breath, clutched his tome of elfire and stepped out of the bush.

It was an anticlimactic moment. The grounds around Alvis’s castle were deserted, and the moon cast a clear light over everything. The scene looked silent and serene as Azel strode outward toward the castle. He saw two dark shapes huddled on the ground and as he reached them, the feeling of serenity left as quickly as if a switch had been flipped.

It was Sylvia and Claude. She lay slightly across him, as if she had been trying to protect him. Her green hair framed a face which was white and calm and still, and she could almost have been sleeping, if it hadn’t been for the gaping sword wound in her back. Claude’s blond hair spread out around his head like a halo, and his white robes, too, were stained with blood.

Azel made a choking sound and turned, unsure whether he was going to weep or be sick. He heard a dry, sobbing sound coming from somewhere across the battlefield and hurried to approach it.

It was Levin. He was weeping brokenly, with Fury’s limp form clasped in his arms. Azel went over to him. “Levin,” he said softly. Levin looked up with green eyes that were dulled from pain and loss.

“She’s dead, Azel,” he whispered. “I tried to save her…but I couldn’t—there were just too many of them…Fury’s dead…”

Azel swallowed hard and nodded. “I’m going to go kill Alvis,” he said, in a light, brittle tone. “Would you like to come?”

Levin looked up, a little startled. “Yes. Yes, thanks,” he responded. He laid Fury’s body gently on the ground, and placed her hands on her stomach. Then he got up.

Yes. Yes, thanks. We’re all insane, Azel thought bleakly. There was a kind of hysterical jocularity that had overtaken the two of them.

They walked straight toward the castle, knocked heavily at the door. A guard opened it and opened his mouth to yell, but before he could get a sound out, an elwind blast flung him to the ground so heavily that he was knocked unconscious. Azel looked at Levin. The bard raised his eyebrows ironically and bowed to Azel. “You first,” he said. Azel nodded back and entered.

The hall was strangely quiet and empty. It was a long stone corridor, lit by torches which gave off a surprisingly bright glow..

“Where are they all?” Levin asked scornfully.

Azel shrugged mildly. “Getting drunk or some such, I suppose. The only resistance to them is lying dead on the ground outside, so they think.”

Levin’s face turned bleak, and he looked away. “Most of it is,” he said quietly, and Azel, blinking back the tears that had always come far too easily to him, nodded in agreement.

They had to peer into several rooms along the hallway before discovering Alvis. He sat at a desk, in a room filled from wall to wall with books, his head slumped onto the wood in front of him, his red hair falling about his face. Azel turned to Levin.

“You first,” he said ironically, gesturing toward the bard. Levin stepped into the room. Both of them exchanged glances and began to channel their magic through the books they held in their hands.

It grew slowly this time, slower than usual, lazily almost. The fire and the wind sending out slow, leisurely tendrils toward each other. They touched and began to twine about each other, agonizingly slow at first, then faster and faster, until they became a whirling ball of red and clear blue. The ball rose toward the ceiling and then a lance of white light shot out of it and hit Alvis square in the back.

He screamed, coming awake with a jerk and half-turning toward them.

“This is for Fury!” Levin screamed above the crackling of the fire and the howling of the wind. The white light crackled through Alvis like electricity, making his arms and legs convulse, as in a grotesque dance. Sheer terror masked the handsome face, but Azel stared straight into his brother’s eyes, his own eyes clouded with weariness and a bitter pain. When he spoke, it was so quiet that not even he himself could hear it, but his lips moved clearly enough to convey what he was saying even so. “This is for Sigurd—and Sylvia—and Claude—and all the rest—and it’s for the children…”

Alvis’ hand stretched outward, reaching toward a book that lay forgotten on the desk. Just before he touched it, Levin’s eyes widened in horror. “That’s the Falaflame!” he yelled. “That’s what killed Sigurd!”

It was too late. Alvis’ groping hand touched the book clumsily and a powerful sheet of flame burst out from it. It caught Azel full-on and the impact knocked him backward into the wall. His shattered body collapsed to the ground.

He blinked once, gasped “Tailtiu,” and died.

Levin, standing farther to one side of the room, was spared the full brunt of the elemental magic, but the edge of the wave of fire still caught him and through him into the wall with appreciable force. He heard a hideous crack and slumped to the floor. A terrible numbness crept over his legs. He watched through slitted eyes as Alvis staggered upright, a steady stream of curses issuing from his lips.

Alvis limped over to Azel’s body. Azel lay spreadeagled in an awkward position, his eyes open but glazed over with a milky sheen, a trickle of crimson blood running from the corner of his mouth to drip onto his crimson hair.

“Azel?” Alvis whispered weakly. He touched his brother’s body with a finger, wonderingly.

“Azel—don’t go…”

Levin stared in horrified fascination at the bemused anguish in Alvis’s eyes.

“I didn’t mean to be angry with you, but you hurt me…please, little brother, I need you, don’t leave me all alone…don’t leave me…”

He cradled Azel’s body in his arms, tears dripping slowly from his eyes. Levin tried to stand up but found he could not make his legs move. Slowly, grunting with the effort and the pain of it, he pulled himself along on his arms. He didn’t bother trying to use his elwind. He knew that his strength was insufficient for that task.

He just concentrated on putting one elbow in front of the other. He passed beside Alvis, but the man did not appear to see him; he was still rocking his brother’s lifeless body in his arms. “Azel, please wake up,” he begged.

Levin crawled past him and into the passageway. Surely, surely the racket had aroused the entire castle. But no, there was no one there, no one except a dark figure moving purposefully in this direction. Levin wriggled quickly, trying to pretend that he was only a shadow. The figure was behind him, going in the same direction as he was. Outside the door of Alvis’s study, it halted and stared down the hallway. A cold chill of fear ran over Levin, and he started to sweat, but after a pause, the figure pushed open the door of the study and went in.

Thanking all his lucky stars, Levin pulled himself toward the exit of the castle. Could anyone be alive out there? If not, he was certainly going to die. If so, well, his death was still more than probably, but at least it wasn’t assured. He didn’t know…Azel hadn’t said…

He reached the doorway in a haze of pain and saw that the guard still lay there in a crumpled heap. Idly, he wondered if he’d killed him, but he really didn’t care. That guard might have been the one who murdered Fury, butchered her in cold blood. And Alvis wasn’t even paying the price for that.

He would. Levin swore it to himself. If he survived here, he would wait, he would bide his time, and when the time was right, he would strike, and he would kill the monster who had slain his beautiful Fury.

Out the door, down the steps…agony. Dimly, he heard a woman’s exhausted voice calling for Azel, and he saw her as he pulled himself a little farther. It was Tailtiu, her silver hair damp with sweat, holding in her arms a tiny newborn.

“Tailtiu!” he croaked, and for an instant, she looked wild with hope, but at the sight of him, her gaze dropped, and a single tear plopped onto the child’s head.

“Levin,” she smiled in welcome. “I’m glad you’re okay.”

“I’m not,” he answered grimly. “I can’t move my legs.”

“What happened to Azel?”

“He died.”

“Yeah, I got that,” she responded bitterly.

“Trust me, Tailtiu, you don’t want me to tell you.”

A pained expression flitted across her face. “That bad, huh? Well, he told me to make for Freege, and I guess I’d better take you with me…I’ll make you a litter…”

Her voice faded as she hurried into the undergrowth. Levin stared at the castle above him, a burning hatred filling him to the exclusion of all else. “Monster…” he whispered.

Inside the castle, Alvis still cradled his brother’s body in his arms. Cardinal Manfloy stooped over him. “What happened?” he asked, in his syrupy voice.

“He attacked me. I-I killed him.”

“So shall all die who challenge you. That is just.”

“But he’s my brother, my little brother. Oh, Azel—I don’t understand—why did I attack you? Why did you attack me? It’s all so confused in my head…”

“Shhh…you must rest, my lord. You are weary, weak. Here. Drink this.”

Manfloy held out an iron flask. Bemused, Alvis took it. “Thank you, Manfloy, you’re always so kind to me…”

The dark liquid ran over his tongue, stinging. “Ugh, this tastes wretched!”

Manfloy’s eyes watched him, dark and wet like the potion. “It’s medicine, my lord. Now sleep…”

The room blurred in front of Alvis’s eyes and as he slipped into unconsciousness, the last thing he saw was his brother’s green eyes, staring accusingly into his.

He awoke the next morning with a peculiar feeling of having forgotten something, but the night before was blurred in his head. Manfloy sat beside his bed. “Are you feeling better, my lord?”

“Manfloy?” Alvis’s voice was cracked and weak. “I feel a little weak. What happened?”

“You were taken ill in the night, my lord. I have given you a little medicine which should have helped.”

“Thank you, Manfloy. Deirdre’s not ill too, I hope?”

“Not at all, my lord. Rest assured that she is fine.”

“Good. I must get up soon and resume my duties. I hope the rebels were duly taken care of?”

“None survived, my lord.”

“Yes.” As Alvis swung his feet out of bed, a thought struck him. “Pity about my brother. He was a good man. But what can you do if somebody picks the wrong side in a war?”

Manfloy smiled, a secretive smile such as a snake might display. “Nothing, my lord. Absolutely nothing.”

All That Glitters Is Cold 3 Fanfic Competition

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