"In the twilight shadows, there he will stand... The One to end Lionblood's reign..."
In the forest, the Tigerblood tribe is being annihilated; members are being executed and the trust between Tigerblood and Lionblood is torn. Young members Kaja and Yaffe can only watch the horrible sights. Everyone is engulfed in fear, until the wise Jaagup the Elder tells them all in his final moments that the son of an old esteemed member of Tigerblood shall come to them in their time of need. But when a baffling outsider arrives by the name of Cerberus, the spirit of Jaagup the Elder tells Yaffe he is the One. But Cerberus holds sinister secrets within himself; secrets that could threaten Tigerblood rather than save.
Chapter 1: The OneEdit
Fierce winds and rain pounded against the clay houses of the Tigerblood village. Young Yaffe was caring for Jaagup the Elder, the wise medicine man of the village. These were his final moments, Yaffe knew, and he was trying hard to make them last. Yaffe was sixteen and stood tall and lanky with the other stronger, broad-shouldered men. He had curly blonde hair that coiled like a snake. His greenish-blue eyes shone out like the dew that cast over the grass in morning. He wiped the man's feverish head with a loincloth and spoke, "Do not worry, sir, you will be alright." Jaagup the Elder touched his withered hand to Yaffe's.
"You are a good boy, young Yaffe." He smiled. "I shall rest in peace knowing good souls like you still exist." Yaffe dipped the loincloth in the clay water bowl and set it back on the shriveled, dying man's head.
"I wish for you not to die, sir," he said, "You've been like a grandfather to me and to everyone."
"I know I have," Jaagup the Elder said, placing his palm on Yaffe's cheek. "But I have lived a full life. One hundred years. Longer than any man." Outside the rain turned to hail as it pounded the ground ferociously with its fists. Yaffe shut the wooden plank to block the hail out of the weakly built room. He walked to a corner of the room and picked up a bowl filled with corn and leaves and mashed them with caterpillars as Jaagup the Elder has taught. He set the bowl on the ground again and walked back to the animal fur bed where the man lie.
"You are wiser than any man I know." Jaagup the Elder uttered. Yaffe was surprised.
"Man?" he said, perplexed, "I am not a man. I am only sixteen." Jaagup the Elder was not pleased at this. He sat up feebly.
"In this time and being, that is a man's age!" He coughed and fell back onto the furs.
"I apologize," Yaffe said, "I do not think I am ready to be a man." The old man smiled again.
"You are more ready than you wish to believe, Yaffe." Yaffe smiled too. He wanted to believe the wise man's words, but they just didn't seem true.
"Yaffe?" a woman's voice spoke. Through the doorway came Kaja, a dear friend of Yaffe's. She was sixteen as well and wise like Jaagup the Elder. She had short black hair that swam around her head and under her headband. Her skin was the color of leather, tan and handsome. She had melting blue eyes.
"My mother told me to bring food for you and Jaagup the Elder." she said, holding out a bowl of plums and avocados. Yaffe took the bowl and nodded in thanks. As Kaja went to leave, Jaagup the Elder said, "Do not go, young one. Stay. I wish to tell you something." She joined Yaffe next to the poor man's bed.
"Children," he said, gathering them to his face, "Children, before I die I must say this..." They looked at him and waited.
"In the twilight shadows, there he will stand," he said, "The One to end Lionblood's reign." They were stunned. Tigerblood, their tribe, for years had been slaughtered and killed by the rival tribe Lionblood. Many brave warriors were killed in seconds. Families were torn, children taken from mothers. Every night the perilous screams of those doomed would pierce through night before the menacing silence would fall. They all prayed that someone, anyone, would save them. But hope had faded over a long time ago and people were forced to believe this was the end. Some packed their things and ran. Just ran so they would not be killed. Others firmly believed someone was to come someday. They were the ones who people spat at and clubbed for their own fear and sadness ripened into anger when they saw someone who still hadn't given up hope.
The man fell into the everlasting sleep.
"No," Yaffe coaxed as he splashed water on the man's face, "Who? Who is he?" But Jaagup the Elder was dead. Yaffe sat near the man, unwilling to believe he was dead. He was freely open to accept the fact the man was dying. But he wanted to know. Who was the man Jaagup spoke of?
Kaja touched Yaffe lightly on the shoulder.
"He is dead." she whispered into the darkness.
"Who?" Yaffe repeated to no one in particular. Kaja pulled him upward to stand. He was as limp as a rag doll.
"Come." Kaja told him soothingly as she brought him out of the house, "We must tell the king so he can prepare for Jaagup's burial." He pathetically followed her, repeating the question in his mind.
They walked outside, running, as not to be hit with hail. The village was made up of homes that were built of clay like pueblos. The shops were constructed of wood with tattered cloths hung overhead to block out the baking sun. The Tigerblood village was sited in the Ash Ravine, a ravine where the outermost dirt and ground was black as ashes from the volcano. It no longer erupted but many villagers still believed in its lethal powers.
Kaja dragged Yaffe into his house, throwing open the door and shutting it just as fast, for the hail was beating on their heads like they were drums. Yaffe pitifully walked towards the wooden table that sat in the middle of the room. A scraggly, overly tired-looking woman emerged from the other room. Her sullen expression cast a shadow over the room. Her blondish hair hung unevenly down to her shoulders.
"He is dead, Mother," Yaffe told her fretfully, "Jaagup the Elder is dead." Yaffe's mother looked at him with a sign of compassion and sorrowfulness. She went over to him and gripped his drooping shoulders. She edged into a nearby chair and sat him on her lap like a small child. She wrapped her skeletal fingers through his snake locks. Warmly, she spoke to him, "It was his time. He had to go, Yaffe. He...had to." Yaffe enjoyed the comfort of his mother's hug but grudgingly pulled away.
"You don't understand." he told her, his voice hoarse with anxiety and stress, "Before he died, Jaagup the Elder told us-" But Kaja took him by the arm and tugged.
"No!" she whispered, "We cannot tell her!"
"But-" Yaffe argued, but could not succeed over Kaja.
She was firm about this. Reluctantly, he did as she asked-no, demanded-of him and did not tell his mother. When she realized she would not get any information from Yaffe anymore, his mother stood up and strolled into the next room once more. Inside the room was his kid brother, Hikmat. He was just a baby, could barely make a word. He had spiky blonde hair that stuck up like mountain peaks over his scalp. He had the same dark, sensitive eyes as their father, before he passed.
Hikmat squirmed around in his mother's tight grip. He lunged at Yaffe. Their mother placed Hikmat in Yaffe's gangly arms. He quietly drifted to sleep as Yaffe cradled him.
"I suppose I will see you tomorrow?" Kaja asked. Not looking up from Hikmat's slumbering eyes, Yaffe answered, "Yes. I suppose." Kaja nodded and headed outside. It had stopped hailing but the sky was still a gruesome gray. Wind blew inside the clay home and brushed along Yaffe's skin, causing him gooseflesh. Kaja ran out and shut the door to make sure no more violent wind emerged inside. Yaffe and his mother took Hikmat to his wooden crib. Yaffe set him down as tenderly as he could. Hikmat cuddled himself up with a tarnished orange rag. He was petite, so a tiny rag would do. His frizzled blonde hair stuck with static to the pillow he used as a mattress. He snuffled and turned onto his belly as he dreamt. Yaffe and his mother departed the room, leaving the baby to his catnap.
Yaffe went to his bedroom/living room. All his things were kept under the couch, including his clothes. The couch was were he slept, the frayed couch with fuzz coming out from a rip that stretched along the whole left cushion. His blanket was a simple loincloth that made his skin itch like chickenpox.
He laid himself down, pulling the furry loincloth up to his neck, and drifted into slumber. His friend Jaagup the Elder was dead yet Yaffe could only think of who Jaagup had spoken of. The words Jaagup had said, "The One to end Lionblood's reign," echoed into his dreams that wintry night. If only he knew how that One would change his life more than anyone else's.
Cerberus fled swiftly on his heels. He knew not where he would go but he knew he must leave. He was adored in his village Lionblood. All members looked up to him as if he were a god. His father was respected as much as him. His father had been a magnificent and courageous warrior when he was young. Now, in the time of war, everyone looked to Cerberus to defeat the wretched Tigerblood village. What they didn't know, not even his father, was that he didn't want to fight.
His cat-like eyes proved he had the Lion in his blood as every Lionblood warrior had. He had a long scar that stretched through his left eye from an encounter with a tiger when he was thirteen. Everyone believed that the scar symbolized that he was to defeat Tigerblood when he was the age of a warrior since he had overcome the tiger. However, he had not killed the tiger but a group of poachers that were rumored to come from huge, concrete villages with things called televisions and computers had. He had told everyone it was him who had conquered the tiger, using only his bare hands. He was simply just a foolish boy who bragged like all others for pride and fame. If he had known how that imprudent lie would have effected him in the future, he would have just expressed the truth. But he had not, so now he had to run.
He hated the war. He thought it was stupid and pointless. Why would people slaughter each other until one side gave up just so the other could have the higher ranking? Why couldn't everyone hold a truce and live in serenity?
Cerberus bore loose pant leggings and an animal fur shirt and part of his father's armor, a silver vest to protect him from the wounding hail. I wish I'd brought his helmet instead, he thought as he used his arms to shield his head from the pounding hands of hail. It brushed against his face, causing him a sharp pain that burned afterwards. He scraped the branches from trees from his way. He lost his footing and landed in a cavernous pile of mud. He wiped the soaked dirt from his eyes and cheeks. He stood slowly, making sure he did not slip into the mud once more. As he wiped the mud from his eyes, he looked to his left and saw a dry cave. He moved gawkily towards it, losing himself beneath his feet several times. When he emerged into the cave, he smelt the prickling sensation of a roaring fire. He withdrew his father's silver blade from his back pocket and stalked quietly to the cave dweller.
He was frail-looking man, ripe with old age. He was bald and his white beard stretched down to his feet, which were not that far from his chin. He wore an old orange robe with a fur belt tied around him. As Cerberus approached him, he looked more and more like a spirit rather than a man.
"Why don't you come sit down with me, lad?" he asked, not even looking towards Cerberus. Cerberus almost jumped at how the man knew he was there.
He moved warily towards this man, alert in case he was not to be trusted.
"I could not hurt you even if I wished to, son." the man advised, "Come and sit." He is right, Cerberus thought as he put his blade back into his pocket, I'm younger than him. Yes. I have nothing to worry about with him. He sat down next to the man and rubbed his eyes. This man was not flesh. He was a...soul. Cerberus had heard rumors that the ghosts of those truly wise in life would walk the earth after death, to spread their knowledge even in death. He had never believed them. Until know.
"It was not coincidence that you came here, Cerberus," the man said, "It was fate."
"You are making no sense to me, sir," Cerberus said, backing away from this man? spirit?, "I will just leave your cave and not bother you anymore." The man motioned Cerberus to sit.
"No. Stay." Cerberus did so.
"You must go into Tigerblood," he said, "There will be two children, your age, who will accompany you on your journey."
"You shall find out soon enough."
Before Cerberus could protest, the man seemed to vanish away. He whacked himself with the palm of his hand. He was not dreaming. It did not seem real to him. He lifted himself from the damp cave floor. He knew now where he would go. He just did not know why.
The schools in Tigerblood were not something to admire. There were only two rooms: one for the littlest of four- to eleven-year-olds, another for the biggest of twelve- to fifteen-year-olds. Kaja no longer attended school but liked to stroll around the campus grounds for that was where the pear trees were. The pear trees in the Ash Ravine were much sweeter and juicier than you would expect. People who passed through Tigerblood, usually explorers and traveling merchants, would not leave without a sack full of pears. Kaja was nestled under a pear tree that sat snuggled up to a barrage of bushes. Its pink leaves wafted downward toward Kaja's feet.
She reached up to the lowest branch and plucked a pear. As she took a bite, the juice flooded down her chin and the taste tingled her tongue. I wish Yaffe were here, she thought, He loves pears. But Yaffe exited her thoughts when she saw him walking towards the village. Not Yaffe. Another boy.
He had shaggy, black hair that looked unkempt and tousled. His eyes...they were not human. They were like a cat's. Yellow and menacing. Around his left eyes he held a scar, which he seemed to carry proudly. He wore slack leggings, a loincloth shirt and a vest made of silver. Part of a suit of armor, that was what it looked like. He looked bruised. Small bruises like the ones she held from the hail storm the night before. The way he strutted down the road made her hate him. He appeared to her with rough edges; stiff, untrustworthy.
She ran up to this stranger to see what his business was doing here. Usually she greeted passing guests with a smile and helping hand if they needed one. But this foreigner. He showed her he was not to be trusted.
"Who may you be?" she asked him, arms crossed. He seemed surprised at how she would boldly face him. He smirked with a gleam in his eye Kaja did not find grand.
"Who wants to know?" he asked, haughtily. Kaja bit her lip. He was just as she imagined: rude and vulgar.
"I do," she said, "You are you?" He chuckled.
"Cerberus," he answered, the smirk growing wider, "And you?"
"It does not matter." He looked at her a moment, as if disappointed that she refused to reveal herself, grinned again and walked off. Her gaze followed him. She wanted to know why he was there, who he wished to see. She did not trust him. She could not. Anyone with his exterior must be a foul, hard person. His scar scared her the most. How did he get it? Whatever gave him that scar could prove whether or not he was a good soul. She followed him with her eyes, watching everything he did. He walked towards a house and leaned against it. He looked around the village, watching everyone pass by. He leaned down towards the ground and lifted something. A beetle. A large scarab beetle. Its wing was twisted. He reached for it and unraveled it. The beetle turned to him, as if it was thanking him and flew into the air.
Was he as bad as he appeared? This, this Cerberus had helped a vulnerable creature fly back into the beyond, where it had wanted to. If he was like she pictured he would have plucked the wings and squished the bug. But he did not. She gazed at him a moment more and then strode off to home. Like other visitors he would probably stay awhile or take off on his route that day.
Yaffe did not like this stranger. He had been out in the marketplace buying radishes for his mother when he saw Cerberus, the stranger, walking about. He gave off the impression of a troublemaker or even worse. Admiral Fritjof, who was patrolling the area to make sure if a surprise assault were to happen, it would be stopped, caught glimpse of this foreigner. Fritjof was a forceful man who could always intimidate someone into doing something. He was tall and bulky, with fiery red hair that blazed like fire down from his scalp to his chin in a beard. He wore an admiral's traditional outfit: a suit that was indigo made out of a rare fabric called wool with polished yellow pebble buttons. When he saw Cerberus walking down the road, his blade sticking out from his pocket, he immediately took action.
"My boy, what is that in your pocket?" he ordered sternly. Cerberus arrogantly twisted around and replied, "There is nothing." Fritjof swiped the blade from his pocket. "Nothing." he repeated. Fritjof grabbed Cerberus by the arm.
"Perhaps we should see the king about this 'nothing'." he spoke. Cerberus escaped from his grasp. He tried to collect his blade back from Fritjof but did not succeed. Fritjof cut his mouth. Blood pumped furiously from the wound. He screamed in pain. Fritjof again took his arms and pulled them behind his back. He dragged Cerberus off into a large clay house, bigger and more extravagant than the others. It was decorated with orange cloths and had watch towers reaching high up. Everyone around the marketplace stood silently then continued on their ways, conversing of this rebellious outsider. Yaffe stared into the clay castle until the doors were shut tight by two bulky guards. He hoped this foreigner would leave, whether by choice or banishment. Kaja felt the same, he knew. Cerberus should leave here, Yaffe thought, He must. He will cause nothing but mayhem here if he stays. He walked along the pebbly dirt path to his home.
Chapter 2: The Secret ReavealedEdit
The building was more excessive inside then out. Large black and orange rugs carpeted the mud floor. Long tables were set like church pews with exactly ten chairs aligned on the right and left. Four steps led up to a throne adorned with tiger pelts. The man who sat upon the throne was clothed in tiger skins with the head of the fierce animal perched on his head. He had leathery skin like that of the girl he had met in the street. The burly man whom had brought him here poked him hard in the back. The man on the throne glared down upon them as they walked forward. He stood and appeared even more frightening by his height. He spoke in a harsh, deep voice, "Who have you brought here?" The man who held him answered, "A stranger. And he carries a weapon." He yanked the blade from Cerberus's pocket.
"Intends to chop heads off with it, I presume." Cerberus shouted angrily, "Let me go! I intended nothing of the sort!"
"Silence!" the man ordered. Cerberus ignored him.
"I was told to come here! Why, I do not know but I certainly did not have murder on my mind!" The man on the throne, the king, Cerberus supposed, glared at him with weary eyes. He appeared tired. If it were not for the way he looked at him, Cerberus would have thought of him as just a feeble old man. He was not a feeble old man though, he was strong and powerful beyond all reason. "Who told you to come here?" the king asked of him, crossly.
"A spirit," answered Cerberus, "He told me that there would be two people here my age who would accompany me on a journey. Whatever for, I know not." The king's face showed that he was hateful at this but his eyes showed fear. Someone had just told him he had encountered a spirit. That would make even the most powerful of warriors afraid. Cerberus stood tall. If his spiritual engagement frightened the king, he would use it to his advantage.
"Let him go," he told the man gripping his arms so tightly his knuckles had become white, "But watch him." The man irritably let go, but not without thwacking Cerberus behind the head when the king turned away for a brief moment. He escorted Cerberus out of the palace and warned him of his antics.
"I do not trust you," he said, teeth gritting, "But I must do as King Faysal orders." So he was Faysal. King Faysal.
The man walked off in a huff. Cerberus could not help but smile. He had always been able to get out of trouble one way or another. However, trouble was following him closely.
Night had fallen. Trees blew in the wind and owls sang their gruff songs. Yaffe sat by the pear tree that was guarded thickly by bushes. He rolled a pear in his hand, then gripped it furiously. He threw it at the pear tree in hot anger. Pear seeds flew and juice trickled down the large tree's bark.
"Why the need for such anger?" a voice asked from behind. Yaffe turned and saw a faint shimmer. It became more detailed and he saw the likeness of...Jaagup the Elder. He was stunned. He rubbed his eyes to free himself from a hallucination. But when he lifted his head, Jaagup the Elder was there.
He reached his hand out and it swept through the image. A ghost, he knew. But, it was impossible for him to come back to life, wasn't it?
"I have come again for you, young Yaffe." he said, pointing a bluish, transparent index finger.
"Why have you raised yourself from the heavens for me? What have I done?" Yaffe asked, nervously.
"It is what you will do, that I have come."
Yaffe just stood, looking at or, rather, through the old man. Crickets chirped blissfully around them. Crows had begun feasting on Yaffe's splattered pear. The silky dew on the grass tickled his feet. This place was beautiful. The world he lived in was beautiful. Yet it was also very ugly.
"Why the need for such anger?" the elderly man repeated. Yaffe's roving eyes landed once more on the spiritual being of Jaagup the Elder.
"It was him." Yaffe said.
"Who?" Jaagup the Elder asked, perhaps knowing already.
"Cerberus." The name tasted bitter in his mouth. "He's a menace. He wants to destroy us, I know it."
The man's spirit spoke not a word but Yaffe heard his voice pulsing in his head.
The boy is not as he seems. He is someone who will be important to you in the future...you and Kaja.
"How?" Yaffe asked aloud, heatedly. For a while, the only voice in his head was his own; expressing thoughts, ideas, questions. Soon, the voice returned.
He is the One.
"Order! Order!" Fritjof announced to the council. Every citizen over fifteen in the village was summoned to a meeting with King Faysal. Yaffe was seated with Kaja near the section of the youngest attendants. As the horn was sounded, everyone grew quiet. King Faysal stood up from his throne.
"I have called you all here to declare this news." He paused. "Tigerblood has been destroyed ever since Lionblood unleashed this unfair attack on us all. And now they have sent a spy to keep us in our place!" There was a wave of uneasy mutterings, and Cerberus's name was mentioned more than once. King Faysal raised his arms to silence the crowd. When they all fell silent, he continued:
"As many of you know, he came here at twilight. He says not where he comes from and says not why he came. But I shall bet the wellbeing of my tribe that he comes from Lionblood and intends to report back to Lionblood to tell where we stand so that an attack can be prepared.
"We shall not stand for this! This spy must be taken care of! Any suggestions?" People murmured their ideas but few said their's aloud. Many people suggested an execution. Others nodded in agreement. Some offered that he should be imprisoned, not killed, but treated poorly. The kinder folk agreed. Yaffe sat silently, not daring to let his opinion graze past his lips. He wanted Cerberus to die. Surely if he was a spy he should be purged so that he had no chance of retreating back to Lionblood. However, from what Jaagup the Elder had said, Cerberus was the One. Yaffe couldn't believe. He wanted to refuse the belief, but he knew he couldn't. Jaagup the Elder indubitably could not make a mistake on who was the One. Yaffe just stayed hushed, letting the older, wiser villagers make the decision.
However, a voice from beyond the room-Jaagup the Elder's voice, no doubt-came and spoke to him once more.
He mustn't die, you know he mustn't.
Yaffe replied or, rather, thought in reply, I know but I cannot keep him from dying. I am just a one person.
Ah, but one person can change this drastically.
To Yaffe, even with the boisterous uproar around him, there was an awkward silence. He swallowed a lump in his throat.
What shall I say? What shall I do?
It shall come.
Yaffe remained quiet a long time. The pandemonium continued a while until King Faysal stood back up and halted the racket.
"It appears the majority of you agree. This foreigner shall be put to-" But at that moment Yaffe stood, taking his chance.
"Wait!" he shouted. Everyone turned to this strange boy, in his matted fur gown and with his dirty blonde hair. Fritjof glared angrily at him, looking as if he were about to pull a weapon on him. King Faysal glared too, but more in an annoyed way.
"Yes?" he asked. Yaffe hesitated a moment. There were various snickers. He licked his lips.
"He should not be put to death," he said, trying to be bold, but ending up seeming more like a field mouse attempting to be a tiger than a tiger on his own, "Rather he should be let free to leave." All were flabbergasted. He heard various things he had feared. Things like, "He's a spy, too!", "Traitor!", "Stupid boy!", and the like. Faysal remained standing, seeming to ponder Yaffe's view. Unfortunately, he simply said, "He shall be put to death. Council dismissed."
As everyone filed away, Faysal came to Yaffe and whispered, "I respect your benevolence, son, but you must be shrewder in politics." He left, a guard at each side. Fritjof was one and he spat as he passed Yaffe. Standing alone in the Council Hall, Yaffe felt very foolish. He had been given a chance and he had lost it.