The familiar scent of sweet-tree oil filled Dayen as he sat on the bench, back facing the polished wooden wall of the Elder Council antechamber. Two elven guards stood across from him in full regalia, polished to a dull shine. Their hands rested casually on the hilts of their swords, but there was nothing casual about them. Their job was to make sure he didn’t try to escape. Where would he go? This was home. Aside from the first few years of his life, Dayen had always been a resident of Luthia, the elven city hidden in the trees. Today could be his last. All he wanted was to stand on the massive apollowood branches and look out at the beauty of Luthia, breathing in the forest scents of his mother’s homeland.
But he was stuck here in this room.
Dayen touched two fingers to the corner of his mouth and winced. When he drew them they were bloody. The bleeding had slowed, but it hadn’t stopped. He was used to bleeding. For the last six years of his life not a day went by where he didn’t bleed from somewhere. Usually induced by his father, but when that failed, it was brought on by the elven children. Everyone knew his dad. A worthless, washed up, human drunk. Many of them hardly remembered his mother, the elven princess who died in the War of Moons.
Six years ago.
This time the bleeding was brought on by the elven guards who found him over his father’s body, screaming and lashing out with the fury of a wild thing.
Seeking comfort, Dayen slid his hand into the pocket of his dirty breeches and ran the tips of his fingers over the pendant hidden there. It belonged to his mother. The last tie he had to her. Touching it gave him strength.
The Elder Council had been deliberating behind the tall arching apollowood doors for hours while Dayen awaited his fate. He hadn’t meant to tap into the Darkness element—the forbidden element.
It happened the first time when he was just twelve, desperate to find some way to hide from his father’s drunken rampage. He cowered in the corner of their garden behind the Azalea bushes and, without meaning to, tapped into Darkness and wrapped himself in shadows. The next day the azaleas were dead.
This time it hadn’t been flowers.
Dayen glanced toward the doors of the Elder Council Chamber, feeling the weight of everything press down on him. There were no gods to pray to and ask for help or guidance. They all died in the War of Moons, destroyed by their own greed. As always, he was utterly and completely alone.
But Dayen didn’t kill his father, as much as he may have wanted to. His father died from drinking and stupidity. He came at Dayen but tripped over one of the apollowood branches and hit his head on a rock. Dayen hated his father, but he still tried to save him. Without his father, he was an orphan half-breed in an elven city.
First, he tested the magical elements, trying to weave water and air together. Without proper training he never learned to master the skills. Then he tried his hand at earth, but the magic was too wild for him. He cracked the apollowood tree in half and sent a shudder through it that alerted the elves. Fire was useless in healing.
Angry, he had pounded his fists against his father’s chest.
That was when it happened. Without meaning to, Dayen tapped into the forbidden element and brought his father back. Except it wasn’t his father. It was something else. Something worse.
A hero turned demon.
Fury burned in angry red eyes. The stench of blood dripping from his skull mingled with the sweetness of the garden flowers. Large hands wrapped around Dayen’s teenage neck, hauling him off the ground. His feet dangled and kicked helplessly at air as he clawed at the wrist, tearing the flesh with his nails.
In a panic, he reacted without thinking, tapping into Air. Wrapping it tight around his not-father’s neck like a noose. Tightening until he heard a sickening crack. Both bodies fell to the ground: one gasping for air, the other lifeless.
Then anger set in. Dayen launched himself at his father, hammering his weak fists into his ribs, boxing them against his face. Tears left streaks down Dayen’s dirty cheeks as he wailed and screamed and brought down vengeance on his father’s body.
It didn’t stop until someone cracked him over the head with the pommel of a sword. Dayen fell back, dazed, vision blackening. The face that haunted his sleep stared back at him through lifeless red eyes. Fury burned in Dayen’s chest. He launched himself again. This time an elf caught him with a punch across his face, splitting his lip.
The clang of the council chamber doors brought Dayen to attention. He stood, shaking. Leather ground against leather as both guards tightened their grips on their sword. Like he was really the danger.
The Elder Council emerged, faces set with vile disgust… targeting him. On their heels, Lord Gwindor Ingata, High King of Luthia and the Riverfolk elves, held his back stiff and head high. They formed a semicircle, their silken elven attire brushing the polished wood floor of the chamber. Lord Gwindor approached, standing inside the apollowood leaf inlaid into the center of the chamber floor—the original leaf from the first tree in the forest was bigger in diameter than the man standing on it.
Dayen’s heart hammered against his chest and he saw the look on Lord Gwindor’s face. Lines of sorrow creased around his eyes. Disappointment folded along the corners of his mouth.
Dayen understood the penalty for using the forbidden element. Death. It was the worst kind of abuse of magic. Dayen tried to steel himself to the news, every part of him stiff. His heart pounded against his ribs. His hands curled into fists at his sides.
“Dayen,” Lord Gwindor began, glancing over his shoulder at the other member of the council before looking back at him. “The Elder Council of Luthia has come to a decision. While we understand that your circumstances are a bit unorthodox, the council has no choice but to exercise punishment. Use of Darkness is strictly prohibited. The havoc you could have wrecked on our way of life is unforgivable.” Lord Gwindor didn’t flinch. He stood with his hands folded in front of him. “You are hereby exiled from the White Forest and Luthia for life, effective immediately.”
Dayen felt everything slam down on him and his knees nearly buckled. His blood ran cold. Exiled from the only home he ever knew.
“A small contingent of guards will escort you to the edge of the White Forest,” Lord Gwindor continued. Dayen could see the whites of the king’s knuckles as he clenched his hands in front of himself. “You will be permitted to stop at the Great River and say goodbye to your mother.”
A lump rose in Dayen’s throat. The Great River was the ancestral home of those who passed. It was more spiritual than literal.
“You can never return to the Luthia.” Gwindor’s shoulders were stiff. “Should you return, the Elder Council will carry out the full punishment for use of the forbidden element. Do you understand?”
Dayen’s lips cracked open, his mouth dry. Nothing would come out. All he could manage was a nod that made his neck feel unnaturally stiff.
Lord Gwindor held out his hand to the side and one of his sons walked over, placing a satchel in it. Lord Gwindor stepped toward Dayen, offering the bag over. “I did all I could, son,” he said quietly. “This was the best I could manage. There is a little gold in there, along with supplies for a month. After that you are on your own.”
Dayen took the satchel and realized that, at sixteen, he was far from ready to go out into the world. The world he hadn’t seen since the end of the war four years ago. Yet here he was, venturing out alone.
I will always be alone.