A Bridge I Should Have Burned; Pt I: A Mourning Heartbeat
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I stand there, a tall, dark figure in a dark world, fully confident in my ability to vanquish the foe standing before me. It's what I was raised and trained to do. If anyone would dare threaten my queen, I am to stamp them out like the little bugs they are. This one is such a creature.

We stare at each other in a cavern. What else is new? Everything is underground. This one is illuminated by phosphorescent mushrooms, throwing the shadows into stark contrast with the light. Every shadow could hold some surprise waiting for me. Loose stones are strewn all about the floor. I have to watch my footing, lest I trip and make a fatal mistake.

"So, Isulde. What will you do?" she asks, interrupting my train of thought. I smirk, and she sneers in response.

"I'm going to kill you and get some tea. I hear our raiding party brought some back from the surface, and I want to see if it's any good. After that, I'm going to read a book."

She laughs and shifts her foot back. "Perhaps."

I'm prepared when she dashes towards me, precisely swinging her sabre. I slide under her and palm her calf, tipping her head to the floor. Her arm automatically reacts to strike the ground and flip over on to her feet. By the time she lands, I'm already next to her. I infuse my fist with a little shadow, letting the shadows contrast the light. When I use my power, the glow seems to dim for a moment. I then send it into her side and feel the flesh give a little before she stumbles to the side, slipping on a stone. Her feet go out form under her and she lands on her back. I can hear her breath expelled from her lungs as she hits.

Pitiful. I used a basic move on her and she fell for it. This won't be a good fight. I can already feel the thrill beginning to fade.

She grunts and a flash of flame is all I see before a firebolt strikes me in the chest. It bounces off of my armor and scorches the wall, lighting some of the mushrooms on fire. The blaze quickly spreads, and soon, we're both surrounded by flames. I see her stand and come rushing at me.

So fast

I barely have time to dodge out of the way before I get stabbed. She twists around and slices at my thigh. The blade is sharp, easily cutting through muscle.

Lucky it didn't hit a vein. It's your own fault you fell for that, idiot

Interesting. This may be good yet. I haven't gone against a real opponent in a few years..

Margova, Mother wants you.

I sigh. Guess I'll have to cut this short. I open a portal to return home.

"Leaving so soon? Coward," she accuses.

I infuse my fist with shadow once again. My already dark fist begins to darken as the shadows shroud it in night.
The energy grows, minuscule tines of purple lightning beginning to dance throughout it. A blast of pure shadow energy shoots forth from my fist, a storm of darkness swirling inside it as it moves. I direct it toward my enemy. She doesn't have time to dodge as it engulfs her. I can sense the lifeforces begin to-

Something isn't right

I skulk close to the corpse, as if expecting an attack. Lightly panting, I kneel down and reach for the bag she carried. It's surprisingly heavy, weighing about 31 kg.

Please let it be something else

A small form rests inside, curled up in the fetal position. I jerk my eyes away with a yell of disgusted surprise. My vision goes black for a moment as I realize what happened. I was tricked. This child's lifeforce was hidden and I couldn't feel it behind the overwhelming aura of my enemy. Time seemed to freeze as I felt panic starting to creep in.

You swore you never would never do this
A damn child

I am a man with no fears, save for one. I have killed many of my bretheren, in many different ways. Very few can do that and still keep their minds intact. To combat the beast raging within me, I swore an oath that I adhere to. I will never kill a child. Even if it means surrendering the battle, I will never kill a child under any circumstance. They are more than a representation of our future, they are our future. Every one of us had a start as a child, something pure and ready for anything. The potential a child has is unmatched. They are the peace that we could have been.

the peace we could have been

I can feel myself going numb. At first, I can feel the heat of the flames surrounding me, but that fades to nothing. I can only feel and think of one thing: I feel guilt at killing that child. As the fire continues to rage around me, the ashes of what was once the child's clothes fall and stick to the tracks my tears leave.

I feel the beast trying to fight its way out. Pure rage and grief battle to see where my walls will fall and when I will unravel. My mind is a fortress, and it is falling. The storm inside my shadows begins to lash out with purple-tined vengeance. I quickly rein it in before I disfigure the child more than I already have. Lothren, what did I do?1 Only then can I bring myself to look at the child. Her skin has been blackened and charred, and there are even spots that glow dimly like embers from a fire. Even in death, she still glows, as if her potential hasn't escaped her. I sigh and take the extra bedroll in my bag, gently wrap the corpse so she isn't harmed anymore.


I can feel her concern for me, even as far from her as I am. My sister is the only person that can talk to me this way.

I have something I need to do. Tell Mother to wait for me.

I feel her mind withdraw from mine. I am now free to do as I wish. I notice a jewel clutched in her hands so I pick it up and examine it. There's something… off about it.

There's something inside it. Strange.

It looks like diamond, but it's veined with some sort of green liquid. Curious, I bring it closer to smell it and startle, dropping the gem.

I know this scent

It's a very rare poison. Only one family makes this poison-

Devil's Grin, that's what they call it

-and they don't even give it to their queen. This family is one I respect, as I have shed blood on their blades and they on mine. They are the only poisoners I respect because they fight in the battlefield, not in some dark corner, at the edge of it. We have fought honorably, and I just killed their only daughter.

I sit down and begin writing. I can barely see the paper with my tear blurred vision and the fading light of the burning mushrooms, but my eyes quickly adjust to the newfound darkness.

"There is nothing I can say that will not make you hate me. I know this and I accept it. I accept blame for your daughter's death and will do all to atone for it. I am truly sorry…"

On and on, my words flow. My hand is writing independently of my mind. until I have finished two pages. I only need one of them. The other, I will have delivered to their Queen. I hoist the child and begin running. I don't stop to sleep until I reach their gates. Several of my people try to stop me, but I pay them no heed.

As I come around a sharp corner to enter the Healing Springs, I stutter step inexplicably. Momentarily, I hear a whoosh and a hiss as a crossbow bolt flies just in front of my eyes. Immediately, I feel the wind carried by the bolt. Powerful, a well made crossblow and bolt.

We can compliment them later

I glance around quickly and spot a dark corner, illuminated by no light. I open several portal in front of me and race around the cavern. I open a final one to get to the corner, across the way. It's not my longest portal, 27 metres, but it isn't my shortest one either. I lightly tap down and heave silently, catching my breath.

A well placed shot. If I weren't on the lookout, that would have killed me. Professionals, possibly targeting me specifically

Once I have it, I reach into my bag and take out an amethyst, infusing it with my voice and my sight. I send it out and repeat the process three more times. Once I do that, I start maneuvering them to good positions and looking around. Two dark elves, dressed in leather armor. One of them is tall, with an ugly scar crossing over his eye. The other is almost pixie like, but her right leg is a prosthetic. I can sense a muffling aura around them

Noise cancellation, very good

and also a miasmic aura. They're surrounded by a paralytic gas, likely of their own invention. It's potent, and one I haven't come across.

I can't launch a projectile at them. I'd reveal my position and the gas would make it hard to hit them. I smirk as I realize what I'm about to do.

"Hello to the both of you," my voice resounds through the cavern, booming and echoing. They start and shift, showing themselves to my position. A good shot.

But not good enough

I speak again. "I'm impressed with you. You nearly got me. Very few can do that. Well done."

Pixie and Scarface argue for a moment before coming to a consensus. Pixie exits their muffle and says "Thank you. I'm impressed you managed to avoid it. We were very careful with our positioning and magic."

"And I'm sure it took a while." I subtly change the third amethyst and project my mind into it. Difficult, but not tiring. Using this projection, I step forward and "reveal myself". Scarface draws his knife and shifts.

Pixie doesn't shift, but a flash crosses through her eyes.

"I'm not here to fight or compliment you. I'm making a delivery." True enough.

"And what is the nature of this delivery?"


"Shame. I wanted to sample it," Pixie pouts. I have earned a reputation of one that will leave weapons for others. Surplus items that won't take long to break.

"Only one, and I have someone specific in mind."

Scarface steps forward, knife held forward like some common thug getting in a streetfight.

Buddy, you don't wanna try that

Pixie places her hand on Scarface's chest, signaling him to stop. Only then do I notice a strange smell around her. Something happened. For a brief moment, I don't understand what it is.

"What happened to you?"

Something flashes in Pixie's eyes again. Scarface just freezes for a moment.

The gas is out!
No point hiding it now

Pixie sits down and gestures at me to do the same. I do the same, waiting for her to speak.

"I have been exiled. Bhaknoshte" she gestures at Scarface "was sent with me to execute me later. You just provided me with the opportunity to get away from him."

"Why are you exiled? Why is he frozen?"

She snorts derisively, the water from the spring twisting the features of her face as she does so. "I let him stay in that gas. I can modify it however I want to, much like your shadows. As for why I'm an exile, they think I killed my queen. I didn't. I was the one who most wanted her to live. Some little piece of crap killed her, and I intend to find out who it was." I flinch in realization at this statement.

Ah man, I know who she is

Her name is Khalina. She was the Queen of Damikhran's personal guard. If their Queen is dead, then they're in complete chaos. A perfect opportunity for my Queen to take advantage of. At that moment, I remember the child; the entire reason I'm here in the first place. I sigh and stand.

"I need to leave."

She answers me, standing as well. "I won't fight you today, Isulde. You look like you have something to do. As for this idiot here," She turns toward Bhaknoshte and draws her knife. It's a wickedly serrated blade, meant to tear at flesh and make the wound worse than it would be with a sharp blade. She turns to gut him, and the light flashes purple as his blood and intestines spill out. The smell is enough to compete with even a Degenerate.

My mental projection exits the construct and goes back to my body. As I pick up the child, every amethyst I used rematerializes in my bag. I dispel the magic I used in the amethysts, feeling some of the enregy flowing back into me. I glance back and nod at her.

When I reach the gates leading to Arvolen, I finally stop running. I'm about to fall over, but I dip into my pool of stored energy. The strength courses through my body again, and the pain in my leg subsides for a moment. I approach the guards the way I approach the battlefield: proud and cocky.

Might as well fake it, huh?

I gently lay the child

Her name is Hanoi

at the feet of the guards and reach into my breast pocket. Their swords leap out of their sheaths as I slowly pull out the letters I wrote.

"This letter details who's child she is as well as what happened. They deserve to know. This is for your Queen and the other for the girl's mother." I turn to walk away, but a clank stops me. I feel the blade rest on my shoulder guard and see the reflection of the torches behind him on his blade.

"You aren't going anywhere. You threaten our Queen, so you have to be eliminated."

I just look at them over my shoulder. He's at least twice my age if he's been put here at the gate. Twice the experience, but less than a quarter of the training. My body is still, ready to move, but for once, I wait. I feel his hand begin to shake, so I just laugh and shrug the blade off.

"You wouldn't last. We both have our duties. No. I will not fight you," I reply. I begin to walk away and hear the guards debating what to do. Idiots. I told them, didn't I? Whatever. My mother was calling for me, so I had to start running.



Tell her I'll be there tomorrow. I'm heading your way right now, but I have to sleep. I'll see you soon.

Be careful.

I will. Goodbye.

I hear a faint whisper as Anjeli withdraws. Now, I think.

Not really good for me, huh?

I fell for a stupid trick. It was so easy to discern their different lifeforces, but I was too focused on the battle to actually pay attention. I can't believe I let myself be duped like that. I was thrilled at the chance of a challenge, and I stopped thinking. Because of my bullheadedness, a little girl was dead.

My leg is throbbing in time with my mourning heartbeat. I find a rock and sit down on it to assess the damage. The gash is deep and about six centimetres long. I've been running for a while, and the dust has pretty much plugged the wound on its own. It's barely dripping at this point. I take the medical kit from my bag and start to clean the wound, hissing as the cotton touches my exposed muscle. It stings, but I deserve it. Once the cleansing process is done, I rewrap the wound more carefully and sit back, sighing in relief.

Well, no better place to sleep

I unpack my bedroll and lay down on it, willing sleep to come. Before I drift off, I remember the face of child I killed. She was innocent and happy. All a child needs in their life to be happy and to live is their parents. She only had hers for 8 years. She was learning from them, but they had also learned from her. That's one thing children can do: they teach parents things they never would have known if they had no children.

I gaze at the roof of the cavern and close my eyes. One life has been snuffed out due to my pride and hate. She could have been great, a paragon of peace between kingdoms. If she was raised right, we could have had safety. This will never happen, can never happen, because of me. My thoughts fade into a blank nothingness as I drift into sleep. Too tired to be surprised, I feel a single tear trace its way down my face as I picture her as she was the last time I saw her.

goodbye, Hanoi. I'm sorry. I will always remember you, dear child.

A Mourning Heartbeat - The Peace We Could Have Been>>

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