Chapter 0:

A Long Night

The Melancholy of a Whimsical Half-Elph (Short)


A train chime echoed under a moonlit night. The conductor traded jokes through their radios to ease his comrades as they passed the hillside forest. Each train car was loaded with supplies, and bandits were armed with modified assault rifles. Their withering clothes hardly held from the constant tours between the Elven settlements. Despite what many had seen in the outlier towns, this part of Maryland often left them on edge. The guerillas were far from their only concern.

Within one of the train cars lay a young woman. She tucked her knees close to her body within one of the chairs, keeping her feet off the wet ground. Her arms and legs were cramped after staying in place for hours. A loud growl marked her hunger. Her body tremored to the night breeze seeping through the cracked ceiling. The moonlight barely glowed through the dirty window. She wasn’t allowed to leave unless told to do so. Every time she heard footsteps, her heart would race.

She didn’t know where she was or where she was going. Her wet, white nightgown was bloodied with someone else’s blood. It was the same one she wore the evening they abducted her when she awoke from the forests miles away. She remembered what her captors said to her when they caught her. What they did to her left her petrified and disgusted with herself. As she sunk her head into her knees, her hair hung on one side to reveal her short pointy ear.

Guilt racked her delicate mind. What devious god would allow such horrible things to happen to her? It no longer mattered. She’d be traded off into some sick man’s servitude where she was going. The young woman sobbed. Some bandits had already had their way with her, sometimes once or with others. She wished for death every time they opened the compartment.

“How much longer,” someone said over the radio.

“You know this old piece of shit could barely run,” the conductor replied. His gazeless stare fixated upon the ruins of the streets they passed. The hilly silhouette lingered in the background. “We’re barely past the forest.”

“Man, why’d we have to make this shift?”

“You know how many times I’ve traveled this route? Ain’t nothing happen out here.”

A loud whistling sound chimed alongside the blaring horn. The headlight struck the endless train tracks.

“What the fuck was that?” another bandit radioed. Her ear perked when she heard the radio.

What did they see? The young woman slid further into the corner when she heard footsteps approach. Her panting grew louder, and her vision blurred; Confusion overcame her while fear sprouted from within. The figure peeked from the improvised door slit. He could see her horrified set of hazel eyes gaze back under the weak lighting.

And like that, he looked away.

He made sure it was loaded. The moonlight reflected his brown eyes from an open compartment. His scarf covered his patchy beard to protect him from the cold that plagued the train cars.

“Anything?” Another shouted over the radio.

The young woman heard whispers from within her cold confines. Disembodied and indistinct, she couldn’t make it what they were saying. Her back pressed against the corner, but it was as far as she could go. A strange mist crawled over the wet floor. The whispers grew louder. Though the chamber blocked off the moonlight, the young woman felt at peace.

The whispers fell silent.

The bandits looked from the train car windows, uneasy by the forest’s silence.

“What the hell is going on?” A bandit asked. Their rifles were ready for whatever lurked in the shadows.

“Everyone on the ready,” their conductor shouted. He turned to the abysmal expanse.

Another metallic whistle shrieked, closer than before. A sudden slam derailed the train. It flipped onto its side, dragging the rest of the train cars onto their side, stopping just short of a quiet train station. It screeched louder when it flew out of sight. Few could glimpse what it was under the jarring moonlight.

“Status,” the conductor yelled. He slowly recovered. He felt his face’s wet surface. The moonlight revealed blood on his fingertips. “Status? Anyone there?”

Another metallic screech filled the air. Abrupt gunfire brought some ease before he began pushing the door open.

“Wh—What the hell was that thing,” someone shouted over the radio. His voice cracked before he fired off a few rounds. The conductor felt cold sweat trickling down his grizzled chin.

“Where the hell is the crew here?” A voice shouted outside.

Everyone went into a panic as the metallic screech echoed. The conductor finally climbed out the window. By a strange twist of fate, the bullet ricocheted and struck the side of his head. Blood splattered against the sides before his body fell back down.

Amidst the pandemonium, many had gunned down their comrades unknowingly. It was assumed it came from within the forest. The sudden swoosh of a set of wings swooped toward them. Bobby captured the sight of a strange beast. A bird larger than anything in the region. Appendages hung from where its beak should’ve been. The moonlight revealed traces of its lightly feathered surface as it carried off a bandit. His howling screams stopped as its talons seamlessly broke through his chest cavity.

“What the fuck was that?” the man inside the train car muttered. He turned to the room where the young woman remained silent.

He checked on the young girl while trying to process their dwindling numbers. He could hear their screams in the distance. What was taking them away? What was the horror that stalked them from the skies? When he looked closer, he discovered a set of pink eyes gazing from the dark compartment.

“Hey—You all right?” he stuttered. The creature screeched during their prolonged silence. It wasn’t until he listened that he heard murmurings. “You hear me? You all—”

“The door flung at him, slamming him against the wall. He initially suffered a concussion. The young woman shuffled through the darkness in a trance-like state. She continued whispering. The bandit caught her wrists when she tried to leave. Her head slowly turned toward him. Her eyes revealed their eerie purple hue under the moonlight.

“The hell do you think you’re going?” he grit his teeth.

“Let me go,” she replied without emotion. Another voice harmonized beneath her gentle tone.

“You hit your head too damned hard. We gotta lie low.”

“I said let me go.”

The young woman effortlessly pulled away, injuring his hand in the process. He clenched his hand as he tried to go after her. She continued through the upturned path without fear of the calamity beyond the walls. Her captor sluggishly caught up with her. He grabbed her by her shoulder and pressed her against the wall. The impact brought her back to her senses.

The bandit’s eyes met hers when the strange glow faded. Once more, he found the same terrified expression she had held. She could barely hear the whispering lurking over the dwindling gunfire.

“What are you doing?” she panicked tearfully. The bandit winced.

“The hell do you mean?” he replied.

“Let me go!”

He was surprised by her resistance. She pushed him back, freeing her as she reached for the door. He quickly grabbed her arm and then went around her waist. The young woman struggled to break free while the whispers intensified. She pushed her weight against him when he tried to pull her away from the exit. They tipped over onto the ground. The young woman glimpsed a box cutter across her as the bandit slowly recovered from the fall.

“Hey, stop fucking around,” he growled. She scrambled toward the blade, but not before he tackled her. When she reached the knife, turning over once she had it over. “I said—”

He choked midway through his plea. He felt a warm sensation on his abdomen. He looked down to find her eyes glowing once more. He slumped on top of her as he bled out. The young woman shoved his body over, cleaning the box cutter against his fatigues. She chuckled as she listened to his labored breathing. The gunfire had ceased.

“She said to let her go,” she whispered.

The metallic whistle echoed into the silent night.

* * *

Sometime during that evening…

A slender hand reached toward the center of the table. The woman’s long, raven-colored hair gently moved against her shoulder. Her blue eyes examined the cards laid before her as her fingers touched the first card. She was reluctant in her movement before she flipped the three cards. She raised her eyes, watching the elven woman’s reaction. Her mysterious left eye kept her attention with its unnatural lilac tinge.

An upright high priestess. An upside-down hermit. An upside-down death.

“So—” the elven woman asked. Her curiosity piqued to the unrefined art.” What does it all mean?”

“She just flipped the cards, En,” her partner said. His voice was frail yet measured as his amber eyes looked on, ignoring that the seer was still assessing the meaning. “But it doesn’t mean much….”

“How so, wanderer?” the woman replied. He didn’t bother looking back. “Being a creature of logic needn’t apply here. There are things beyond our understanding—”

“And this is certainly not one of them. This has little to do with logic. A flip of a card is just pure chance, just like trying to determine one’s fate.”

“Not entirely, Allie,” Enne said. The seer frowned when she spoke. Though he talked with scrutiny, Enne flashed a disarming smile. “After everything we’ve seen—”

“This is bogus.”

“You’ve said that a lot during our trip, y’know. Come now! Don’t be so rude!”

“You were the one that interrupted her!”

“I can’t help it! I’ve never done a tarot card reading before!”

“Because it’s moot!”

“All ready, wanderer,” the woman said. He glimpsed her calm expression. “I can’t have you sit there and insult my practice anymore. Your partner asked, and I complied with her wishes. All I ask is for your respect… Or you can leave.”

“Allie?” Enne sighed as he stood up abruptly. She returned her attention to the seer. “Please excuse him, Salem! These things seem so… strange to him.”

“En?” he said. She glanced at him through the side of her eye.

“What?”

“Don’t patronize me in front of others like that.”

“Stop!” Salem raised her voice. Enne and Allie turned to her. The seer’s fingers pointed to the first card: The upright high priestess. “This high priestess deals with the subconscious and feminine energy.” Her finger tailed to the upside-down hermit. “This one represents withdrawal… loneliness.”

Salem saw Enne’s apprehension when she pointed to the last card. Enne’s demeanor had changed. Alejandro’s eyes remained on the upside-down death. Their eyes met but carried a different connotation.

“It would be wise not to take things so… literal,” Salem said. Enne shook her head. “Death is transformative in nature—”

“But how they’re positioned matters,” Alejandro said.

“Yes. It does. Don’t think of these cards as a way to tell the future, but guidance.”

“Guidance?” Enne asked. Salem sighed. “Eh, I know that was a dumb question—”

“Like… The universe gives you a glimpse of things to come. How you interpret it is up to you.”

“Bogus,” Allie said under his breath. His comment drew the seer’s ire. “Let me… Just go.”

“Allie?” Enne said. He slowly made his way to the door with his cane. “Hey? Shit.”

The women exchanged glances. Salem didn’t like them for different reasons. Not only was Enne a half-elf, but she seemed incapable of understanding complex ideas… Or at least, that’s how she presented herself. Alejandro was a wanderer, a sorcerer who was the bane of humanity. His natural dislike of her superstitious trade only added to her discontent.

“Are you two really—” she asked.

“Yes, we are,” Enne replied. She didn’t think twice. “He can be very difficult.”

“You don’t say? Why bring him here if he’s going to act like that?”

“I thought he’d be more receptive. He can be curious himself sometimes.”

“Curious? Or just plain dogmatic?”

“Again. I’m sorry for the way he acted.”

“It shouldn’t be you telling me this. It should be him.”

Enne crossed her arms as she looked away in silence. Throughout the tenure of their journey, Allie’s health and mind slowly deteriorated. She watched every day, knowing there was nothing she could do. His ailments weren’t something that could be cured through her healing abilities. With Enne preoccupied, part of Salem couldn’t help but feel envious. Despite their brief quarrel, she could tell they cared for one another.

“How did you two even meet?” she asked. Enne’s ears perked as she looked back.

“It was under fated circumstances,” Enne answered.

“Fated?”

You know… The right place, the right time? We didn’t hit it off immediately. Allie and I kinda molded together.”

“You claim to be travel partners.”

“That’s how Allie liked to put it.”

“But there’s far more to you two. You share something beyond actions or words. Whatever transpired at your meeting could be a legitimate form of fate, not the wishy-washy hogwash I often hear.”

Enne tilted her head. The questions felt more cynical and cryptic each time. She found it hard to disavow the deductions. Perhaps it was related to the cards or something more. Salem narrowed her eyes when Enne failed to reply. She returned her attention to the cards laid before them. She asked: “You said you traveled from afar?”

“From the south… We—No, I wanted to explore beyond my city.”

“Did you find what you needed? In these barren wastelands?”

Enne shook her head gently.

“Perhaps more than I bargained for.”

“Transformation,” Salem said. Her voice carried its weight when their eyes met. “Can mean many things.”

“Especially from what we experience and what we become as a result.”

When Salem looked up, she found Enne’s eyes fixated on the cards. She brushed her wavy, silver hair over her ear, revealing the black, scaley marking beneath her left eye. Enne could see the curiosity quiver in the young woman’s lips. They were more alike than she expected.

“You gonna explain the eye?” she asked. Enne shrugged.

“That’s something I’ve been trying to figure out,” she replied. Her tone mellowed when she felt her cheek. Her fingers were wrapped in cloth. “I get looks because of it.”

“I’m sure you get looks, regardless.”

Salem had assessed her figure from the beginning. The stories of the Ethoxians were true. Elves were naturally on the thinner side, but as part-human, Enne developed a more curvaceous figure than most; Her turquoise dress accentuated as much. Beneath her hefty cloak were barely-visible flower markings. It looked like a sleeve tattoo of vibrant roses. Enne smiled.

“I just know I didn’t always look like this.”

“Explain.”

“Straight hair, fairer skin, a pair of silver eyes—”

“And the tattoo?”

“Natural.”

“Really? But, how?”

“I’m wondering too. I’ve yet to see another elf that looked like myself or my father.”

“Your father?”

“His name was Ulysses Bouvire.”

Salem remained stone-faced. Enne’s eyes shifted to think about her late father. He had left her with more questions than answers. He traveled the coast without purpose until he reached Gardenia. The nature of his exile wasn’t something she understood.

“Everything leads to here… Just outside the settlement zones.”

“You want to go to Ethoxian-controlled territory?” Salem asked. Enne’s sudden glance didn’t waiver.

“It’s the only way I’ll find answers.”

Salem glanced at the upward high priestess. She acknowledged the down-turned hermit with a nod.

“Then answers may be what you get.”

Meanwhile, outside…

And here we are…

His thoughts lingered on a peaceful night. Alejandro sat on the stairs of the apartment entrance. Armed guards patrolled the nightlife. Flickering overhead lights dotted the distance. It was no different from Gardenia with its progressive structure. It even offered amenities provided by their Elven lords. Unlike Enne’s hometown, what remained of this haven became nothing more than a hollow husk of what it was. He remembered every detail of his time presiding over the city, but it would only be a few more days until they’d leave.

The settlements are two days’ travel from here. But I wonder…

Until now, his mind focused on their journey’s negative aspects. It couldn’t be helped. He observed the slow-moving drones surveying the streets. Their peculiar glow and compact size indicated their Ethoxian origins. Alejandro lowered his head, although he was aware they knew of his presence. He noticed strange behavior from the bandits ahead, as though they watched from afar. Their weapons were modeled after old weaponry with slight modifications housing other ammo types. However, Alejandro didn’t stare for too long to discern what they were. The wanderer wondered how much the bandits had advanced, knowing he’d only seen a slither of their inventory. The Ethoxian benefactors armed those in favor with decent weaponry.

Alejandro shifted his attention to his surroundings and realized how pleasant the weather was. The door gently shut behind him. Enne glimpsed the shallow shores a few blocks down. The canal flooded a few city blocks centuries ago. Many were condemned, serving as hideouts for illicit activities done on behalf of the Elven benefactor. Her eyes trailed toward Alejandro, who quietly observed the canal. She noticed the cameras at each corner. They watched their every move, but she wondered when they would make themselves known. The wanderer slowly looked over his shoulder.

“There’s a strange beauty about it,” he said. “Don’t you think?”

“Allie—” she replied. He turned away.

“You asked for me to come along. That’s it. I did what you asked me to.”

“And that you did.”

Enne sat next to him, reaching for his hand as he stared off. His frail touch reminded her of his declining health; she felt helpless just watching. No amount of mana could mend him. Despite his indifference, she sought a miracle.

“What’s the harm in these things?” she asked. Alejandro glimpsed her through the side of his eye.

“The harm?” he said. “Selling false hope, maybe? We can’t afford to waste time.”

“Allie?” she replied. He grunted when she softened her voice. She laid her head on his shoulder when she tried to interlock her fingers with his. “Sometimes, you have to look beyond yourself to understand.”

“So, playing with a bunch of cards—”

Alejandro gently broke away. Her heart sunk to the slightest palpitation. She did well to hide her face when he looked over. He stood over her while his hand clung to the railing. His breathing grew shallow, hurt from the quick movement. Enne couldn’t bear to see him like this.

“Why are you acting like this?” she asked. “You weren’t acting like this earlier.”

“I think it’s time to accept the inevitable,” he answered. They exchanged glances. “Things haven’t gotten better. I want you to be ready for when that time comes.”

“When the time comes? By being insufferable? Is this how you want to be remembered?”

“I don’t think many would see me any other way.”

“I’d beg to differ.”

That look in her eyes. I never could understand what she ever saw in me. Alejandro sighed before turning around. His shuffled steps revealed his body’s fatigue. Enne grabbed his arm, interlocking elbows before he could take his first step down. He looked over; The fringes of his graying hair hid his embarrassment.

“I’m still going to help you,” she said. “Even if you don’t want it.”

“En—” he replied.

Enne flashed a smile. Her warmth under the cool spring air reminded him of bygone days. Even after their time together, he was always accustomed to solitude. It was his way of existing, yet his companion wouldn’t allow him the brevity. Alejandro felt her hips tap against him when he lost his focus. His eyes trailed toward hers.

“We’re going to find a way to fix this,” she said.

“Always the optimist,” he replied.





There is so much I'm trying to go far in this particular story. Like last year's entry, I'm trying to be a little more experimental with the formula. The interaction and the mystery of a dystopian world... Ah, I hope you enjoyed this intro to a world I've already formulated. This follows OCs I hold dear to my heart and their journey~

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