The meat tasted like it was prepared by the goddess herself.

This thought ran through Tiyan’s mind and he found it ridiculous but very apt. Simple meal, like dry meat – but for him it was the first meat he ate in many years that didn’t have the aftertaste of a rot. Not only filling and giving strength… but also tasty, so tasty that he would eat ten more morsels, if the fae allowed him. He felt like that… when he was a child. Long long ago. When spring still visited Avras and he knew the scent of the freshly baked bread.

His companion didn’t eat, looking at him all the time, with real curiosity. Tiyan was too enthralled by his meal, to really bother. But when only a small string of meat was left in his hand, he couldn’t but gaze at the fey. Not obviously, only slightly. The fairy didn’t seem to acknowledge it, until his lips stretched in a small smile. His smile was kind and open, like smile of Gravir, before all of this started.

This is not real, Tiyan.

“Humans eat more than High Fae. One could think you would be stronger. But you are all so frail.”

Tiyan swallowed hard. Meat went a bit wrong and he coughed, trying to clear his throat. The meat went down, luckily, not causing more problems.

“The High Fae don’t eat that much?” His question was at the same time dictated by curiosity, but also needed to talk. He was used to not talking, but having a fae looking at him all the time – in dead silence – like on a curious specimen, was slightly disturbing.

He was so sure that he wouldn’t respond, after all, sharing details of High Fae lifes to him was pointless from his point of view. Yet…

“Some eat. Some don’t need to. Ageless ones feed with magic, it fills them up to the brim.”

Tiyan darted with his gaze at the fae’s backpack. Probably having even more dry meat in it.

More dry meat.

And… more of the delicious drink he was offered last night.

“You are one of the ageless ones?” Tiyan supposed he would hear that yes… but the fey only laughed.

“I am only a servant. Only a few High Fae are so old that they can be considered ageless.”

“So why don’t you eat?” Tiyan raised his brow inquisitively.

“I eat” smiled the fey, and pointed at his throat, still lighted up from within by the firefly-like light, a reminiscence of the sun. “I eat the food of my people. Of my kind. And it’s always around us, even at night. I will never be hungry.”

At first, Tiyan didn’t know what the fey talks about, he didn’t see him eat yet. But one another gaze at his throat and bright glow coming from behind the membrane, all dawned on him. Fast as a blink of the lightning on the stormy sky.

Light.

Tiyan understood now. This fae was feeding with light, like he was feeding on meat. How was that even possible? Magic was spreading its wings just before him, showing him resplendent colors of an unknown, strange world. Between the white and cold petals of Ain’asel – a cornucopia of shades; a prismatic spectrum, Tiyan was not read for.

And behind them, shadow, darkness and rot. Tiyan never forgot why he is here and what powers fairies have.

This had to be a trap, but he has no idea what purpose it had. The fae had him already on a plate, ready to be consumed. The idea that this fey was different than others, and somehow better, was ridiculous too. He both had no reason to be kind to him, or set a trap on him. Maybe… it was amusing him, or he somehow treated humans like fun pets – good for a short time, pleasant to stroke.

“Do not worry, I swore on my name to bring you to the palace safe and untouched by darkness. It will happen. My king wishes you whole and I follow his orders” seeing Tiyan look at him suspiciously, he added. “It’s so easy to read in your body language. Very open book, you are.”

Tiyan didn’t know if he should say something or not, so he just bit into the last string of meat and started to chew.

“The sun named me Qhal. The moon named me Kos” mused suddenly the fey. “I think it’s fair for you to know my name. Even if only to help you to call me, if something wants to eat you.”

“Do many of… things here want to eat us?” Tiyan wanted to know.

“Oh yes,” grinned Qhal. “And especially you. Humans are considered a special treat among many of the fairy kinds.”

That didn’t reassure Tiyan and Qhal seemed to enjoy his discomfort. Of course. It was amusing for a being that could possibly splash him on the ground like a bug with his power. He didn’t maybe plan to do so. But he could and that was enough.

Tiyan thought that the journey with him would be perhaps safer… but definitely filled with anxiety. Filled with another kind of danger.

And light.

*

“The Monh Mountains” Qhal pointed at the sharp mass that loomed on the horizon. The mountains were enveloped with thick mist, hungrily swallowing all contours, leaving only vague shapes. The huge moon seemed to drown behind them, in a lake made of fog.

The mass of Monh eventually started to get closer – Tiyan didn’t know if they always did and he was so tired that he didn’t see it – or Qhal’s presence had something to do with it. His guide didn’t look tired. More even, seemed invigorated, by some inner force that obscured his suspicions. When Tiyan asked if they would hunt, the fae told him that he took the dry meat for purpose. It was dangerous to hunt alone in Shadowlands. Only Shadow Fairies dared to go on animals that lived here, and of course High Fae. He had the potential power to stop lakai or subillan but this power was weaker than it should be and he would be drained after it for days. It didn’t say anything at all to Tiyan, but he suspected that Qhal didn’t underestimate his strength. Something primal slipped into Tiyan’s mind, at the sound of these names. Like all living creatures should know what they are and fear them.

Qhal didn’t look scared.

But the seriousness of his words told Tiyan that hunting would be… unwise.

The snow again started to fall. Tiyan was always sure that the eternal winter is a cruel plague sent on Avras, to torment humans. That fae lands were touched by lush spring or summer, and the fey enjoyed seeing the struggles of humanity from the warm place. Ain’asel was even colder than his home, filled with another kind of darkness, which sipped strength from his muscles and bones. It seemed though that the fae react differently to snow and winter. Qhal even looked like he enjoyed the cold.

Like they all were born in a cradle filled with snow, born to wield winter as their ultimate gift and weapon. Born to relish on the freezing ice.

Tiyan knew that he would test the patience of Qhal, if he kept asking… besides, he didn’t feel safe. At all. But so long he didn’t witness anyone… so bright, light as a breeze, full of actual joy of life… that he allowed himself to ease a bit. After all, his king wants him whole, as he said. He was aware that this may cost him more than one finger, though. But he was tired of constant fear. Tired of this life, filled with pain.

One question wasn’t leaving him in peace. So, he dared to ask.

“Shadow Fairies?”

Qhal turned his beautiful face at him. It was painted with winter bites, his usual pale features reddened a bit. So… normal. So human.

“You would both want to meet them… and not at all. I like your questions, Tiyan Markon. They are not as obvious as it could seem.”

Tiyan raised his brow.

“We will meet them. One way or another” the tone of the fae amused, yet… slightly off, like he didn’t know if it’s a good thing. He was a fae, though, he wouldn’t need to feel fear before any of his kind.

Humans are considered a special treat among many of the fairy kinds.

An unwanted shiver came by his spine, unwanted and colder than the winter around them. Lakai. Subillan. He knew nothing about Ain’asel. But it seemed that even fairies weren’t safe everywhere here. And even fairies could have enemies.

They slowly trudged through snow, Tiyan’s fingers also entwined with strange green vines Qhal enchanted for him. They kept – somehow – his wounded hands warm, under thick gloves Qhal offered him. The drink he got the last day kept him on feet for longer than he would suspect.

The Monh Mountains closer and closer to them, looking bigger and bigger. And darker. Promising unknown.

Tiyan bit his lip in a defiant gesture… and followed Qhal. Hoping the snowdrifts wouldn’t hold a hidden shape of a predator and shadows between the boughs – a fairies that would be so eager to taste him.

And one thought rang in his mind, a though that was separating him from Qhal with a border made of thorns and blood.

They killed your parents.

They have Mina.

They need you. But they would destroy you, if given a chance.

2 Replies to “ATOM: At the Border of Madness – IV”

  1. Another wonderful chapter! 🖤 I simply love these scenes where the character, in the fantasy world, is in a completely new and strange place for him and learning and discovering things about that place and the inhabitants. 🥰

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