Chapter 1:

Her Citrus Scent

The Guardian of Hope (Beta Version)

The nocturnal wildlife encroached as the sun disappeared beyond the horizon. The owls hoot, and the crickets chirp their choir while a lone, haggard man sat by a fireplace in a long-abandoned home. It was on a beaten path away from the quiet city where no one would disturb him. He gazed at the wall with morbid thoughts as he wasted away his night. A journal laid next to him with scribbled thoughts and insights of the world he observed. On the last page, he had written his dying words at the chance someone would stumble upon his forgotten corpse.Bookmark here

In his cold hands was a simple silver ring from long ago. It was polished to perfection as he felt along the grooves on it. He reminisced on the times long passed. He accepted the emptiness of the current state of his world. Through glimpses of hope to despair, the world he knew would never change. Laid next to him was a dull dagger. The weapon he'd use to take his own life. It took him a while to come to his conclusion. The world didn't need people like him.Bookmark here

Living for centuries, nothing mattered any longer.Bookmark here

"All this and nothing," he muttered, maintaining a tired gaze at the ring. "I gave it all up for a dream that could never be. I'm sorry."Bookmark here

He maintained his tired gaze upon the shiny ring while listening to the crackling fire, feeling its radiant warmth against his skin. Fall grew colder over the past few weeks, ushering the early arrival of winter. It seemed much crueler than usual. Regardless, this solemn night brought him peace to his aimless mind. It would soon be disturbed as he overheard an approaching mob.Bookmark here

"There goes dying in peace," The man muttered as he stood up.Bookmark here

His hair was far past his shoulders with an unkempt beard. His gray henley shirt was riddled with holes at the hem and his olive fatigues ripped by the knees. It was beyond any sense of dignified presentation.Bookmark here

The scruffy man looked out the window to find a small mob approaching with torches, shovels, and likely, guns. He sighed as he strained his amber eyes, taking count of how many there were. The man put away the ring before he reached the door. Opening the door, he found a small gathering of people, acknowledging that some had separated from them to ambush him.Bookmark here

"Good evening, fellas," The man greeted half-heartedly.Bookmark here

He recognized the heavy-set middle-aged man with a scruffy, patchy beard, whom he encountered at the bar in the town's heart earlier. His scowl reflected discontent over the wanderer's presence.Bookmark here

"You're the bar owner," he continued. "Derek, was it? What brings you out here so late?"Bookmark here

"We want you out of here," Derek demanded with a southern drawl, followed by the audible grunts and agreements behind him.Bookmark here

"I don't think I bothered anyone, but if you insist. I'll leave at sunrise."Bookmark here

"Yeah? Well, maybe you shouldn't have shown up."Bookmark here

"We want you out now!" Someone shouted from the back, raising his pitchfork.Bookmark here

The crowd grew unruly as he looked upon them. The unkempt man facepalmed himself with amusement.Bookmark here

"You find this funny?" Derek frowned.Bookmark here

"I don't understand," The man chuckled. "I'm here by my lonesome self on such a peaceful night."Bookmark here

"Yeah? Well, you've done a number to poor ol' Joe and Freddy back at the bar. One of them had to have their arm amputated."Bookmark here

"I asked them nicely. They wouldn't back off, so I defended myself. I believe I gave them a fair warning."Bookmark here

"We don't even know who the hell you are. You just come by and do as you please."Bookmark here

"Well, I'm a wanderer."Bookmark here

The crowd gasped at what he openly admitted, confirming Derek's predicted response. Wanderers were deemed heretics because of their iconoclastic nature. They would often dabble in mysticism and other magical abilities, leading to the belief they conjured up evil.Bookmark here

The wanderer watched his surroundings, expecting someone to spring at him. Through all his travels, he grew accustomed to belligerent hostility. Everywhere he went, he treated as an outcast. Even then, he'd still feel a little bothered by the misguided disdain from society. He couldn't remember a time when that wasn't the case. It was a peaceful affair until the events at the bar.Bookmark here

"Eh, but I'm sure you knew that, right?" He askedBookmark here

"You think you're slick, huh?" Derek held his frown.Bookmark here

"No, I'm not. I'm not here to bother anyone. So please, I just want to be in peace."Bookmark here

"Well, let me tell you something! You either get out now, or we can hang you in the town square."Bookmark here

What the hell is with this guy? The wanderer thought.Bookmark here

"Please," The wanderer responded without raising his tone. "There's no reason for us to fight."Bookmark here

"You fucked up when you showed up here!" Another decried.Bookmark here

The wanderer became bothered as his heart raced.Bookmark here

"It was people like you that brought those things from those godforsaken portals," Derek snarled.Bookmark here

"I'm asking you now. Tell these two that are about to lunge at me to back down."Bookmark here

Derek seemed surprised the wanderer noticed their earlier movements. He cleared his throat to save face, but the mob leader wouldn't back down.Bookmark here

"You're not going to tell them to back down?" The wanderer asked.Bookmark here

Derek shook his head before the defunct ambush took place. Within moments the wanderer summoned a plasma sword, cutting off the hand of one, and sliced into the flesh of another. It resulted in the collapse of the assailants in an agonized stupor. Derek looked on, amazed along with the crowd behind him.Bookmark here

The wanderer didn't like what he'd done. He knew he could've killed them if he desired. They expected the wrath of the godless wanderer, but he chose mercy to answer them.Bookmark here

"This is my final warning," The wanderer insisted.Bookmark here

"There's one of you and plenty of us," The bar owner raised his torch against the wanderer.Bookmark here

"Are you really willing to throw your life away? I'm begging you to reconsider!"Bookmark here

As the torches raised, someone from the crowd drew their pistol and shot at the wanderer. He deflected the bullet away from the group with an unseen barrier. The man with the gun trembled as he put it away. The wanderer kept his displeased gaze upon him. Another pair of townsfolk attempted to attack him with baseball bats, which he tossed them aside with a gentle stroke of his hand.Bookmark here

"Are we done?" The wanderer asked.Bookmark here

Derek snickered, looking around to see no one else keen on pressing further. From a distance, the clattering of a horse's hooves galloped up the hill. Everyone, including the wanderer, turned to see who would emerge as the bar owner gulped, recognizing the sound.Bookmark here

From the darkness, a young woman appeared on a pale horse. She was beautiful and had a commanding presence about her. Her long, wavy silver hair went well with her steely gray eyes. Her skin complexion was much lighter than those in the crowd. A dark-gray hooded shawl had covered the rest of her upper body.Bookmark here

Who is she? The wanderer wondered. Bookmark here

Her ethereal presence struck the wanderer as she hopped off the horse. She stood at 5'6", with a slim figure under the elegant form-fitting turquoise dress she wore. He noticed a unique amulet that had a cyan-colored jewel. The jewel didn't seem like it was part of this world. She walked through the heart of the lynch mob, looking around before meeting Derek.Bookmark here

"L-lady-" His voice trembled as the wanderer observed.Bookmark here

"What's the meaning of this?" She asked with a grave tone. "Your bar was closed, and I heard you would heckle an outsider."Bookmark here

"That wanderer caused us a lot of grief."Bookmark here

The woman glanced over at the wanderer with apparent interest.Bookmark here

"Wanderer or not, is this any way to treat a visitor?"Bookmark here

Everyone grew silent as she looked at every one of them. No one dared to speak up.Bookmark here

"Everyone, go home," She ordered. "I shouldn't be telling grown adults to be civil."Bookmark here

The lynch mob disbanded, taking away their injured. She kept her gaze on Derek as their numbers dwindled.Bookmark here

"I'll discuss this with you tomorrow," She said. "You have a good night."Bookmark here

The rapid response impressed the wanderer as she walked past Derek. She maintained her serious expression as they watched the torches faded into the city. The mysterious woman looked at the wanderer with eyes expressing curiosity. A pleasant smile cracked along her expressionless face.Bookmark here

"Aren't you mister popular?" The woman broke character with a faint English tone. "Please excuse old Derek, he just assumes all outsiders are up to no good. Childhood trauma, you know?"Bookmark here

"I, uh- Thank you?"Bookmark here

"Mhm. And what brings a wanderer to these parts?"Bookmark here

"And who are you?"Bookmark here

She paused, digesting his straightforward response.Bookmark here

"My name is Enne Bouvire, some call me the princess of this town. My family's run this town for generations. We- Aren't like the rest of the townsfolk. And what's your name?"Bookmark here

The wanderer's silence revealed his reluctance.Bookmark here

She wanted to extend an olive branch, but he cared little for the gesture. The awkward silence gave her enough time to examine him. She sensed a sadness dwelling within him, the kind that pushes one to the edge. He did smell like alcohol also, but she kept her assessment to herself as to not offend him.Bookmark here

"I get it," She sighed. "You don't have to say anything until we're more comfortable. Uh, may I come in?"Bookmark here

The wanderer didn't want company, but he didn't want to be rude. He nodded, allowing her inside from the cold. He could smell the wafting scent of citrus coming from her. She looked around in awe as she walked over to the fireplace where she rubbed her hands against its warmth. He couldn't keep his eyes off her desirable figure. Enne was the most beautiful woman he had seen in a while.Bookmark here

The wanderer closed the door behind him, wondering what she wanted. What would a town's leader want with a castaway such as himself? The woman saw the clean dagger hidden on the side of the withered couch and the near-empty bottle of alcohol on the wooden floor. Her heart stopped, concerned about him. She had a gist of what was happening before the mob arrived. She couldn't leave without ensuring that he would do no harm to himself. Enne swung toward him with a keen examination of him as she took off her hood. He recognized her Elven ears protrude from her silver hair.Bookmark here

"You've been cooped up here this whole time?" Enne asked while continuing to look around the room. "Uh, you okay?"Bookmark here

"You're an elf?" The wanderer asked. "But, your iris-"Bookmark here

The young woman felt through her hair, realizing that they were sticking out.Bookmark here

"I'm a half-elf, but I'm sure that's not the problem."Bookmark here

"It's not. But the existence of a half-elf is sacrilege in the Elven culture."Bookmark here

"Correct. The mixing of bloodlines with humans is forbidden," she continued taking gradual steps toward him. "But, why bind ourselves to such ridiculous rules, right? It's not the Elve's fault if they find desirable people, no?"Bookmark here

"I suppose."Bookmark here

"But, enough of that, what a run-down place for such an admirable individual!"Bookmark here

"Admirable figure?" The wanderer scoffed with a weak smile. "You must not be very familiar with us, wanderers."Bookmark here

She smiled back.Bookmark here

"Now, I feel a little more welcomed. You should smile more often, maybe the town won't think you're some blood-thirsty bogey man."Bookmark here

There I go, giving myself away, He looked away.Bookmark here

The wanderer cleared his throat, feeling as though he may have dropped his guard too soon. Her presence was admittedly alluring. He wasn't used to hospitality or any sense of kindness. It was a commodity in their world at this point.Bookmark here

"How far have you traveled?" she continued.Bookmark here

"A great distance," he answered. "I've stuck to the shores."Bookmark here

The half-elf looked at him through the side of her cold gray eyes while circling along the empty room.Bookmark here

"It's embarrassing to admit, but I haven't left this little town of mine in a while. And to think there was more land only centuries ago. The old books mentioned the seas rising because of our irresponsibility to our environment. Climate change and such."Bookmark here

"You got that from a school textbook?"Bookmark here

"Why yes, I did," she chuckled. Hm. The inhabitants that lived in these lands over a thousand years ago had greater respect. It's unfortunate they were systemically wiped out by more modern societies."Bookmark here

"That's what stronger nations do. The inhabitants were far less advanced than the invaders. It was inevitable they'd be squashed. There's no right to land if you can't control it."Bookmark here

"Does strength alone give them the right to conquer? Land, it'll be here long after we're gone. Why fight over it when we could find common ground?"Bookmark here

"That's just the way it is."Bookmark here

"My, it certainly seems Elves and humans are no different in that respect."Bookmark here

"Not sure if that matters anymore. Seems like the Kingdom is the top dog. Sorry, but what does this have to do with the environment?"Bookmark here

Enne smiled as she perched herself on the table near him. His readied insights enticed the equally knowledgeable woman as she subconsciously bit her lips. He stood, unsure of the conversation he wasn't expecting. It was as if she were testing him, more so than his knowledge.Bookmark here

"Outlook," She continued. "I doubt the natives who were spiritually connected to their lands would've allowed such devastation to unfold."Bookmark here

"That's a probability we'll never come to know."Bookmark here

"Probability? I think you're missing the point in all this. Most look upon people who adopt a more environmentally-friendly outlook as crazy. There is merit to respecting our lands, don't you think?"Bookmark here

"Of course. But once those portals opened, nobody was talking about the environment."Bookmark here

"Dry, and to the point."Bookmark here

Enne desired to know more about what he knew about the world outside. The city she lived in was hundreds of miles away from the shore. The half-elf was bored with life in the city, ruling alongside her younger brother for centuries. She knew it was worth exploring their environment as resources weren't the only thing the woman desired. She examined the wanderer, noting his rough appearance. Until now, the musky smell of the abandoned home masked his horrid stench.Bookmark here

"It doesn't seem like you had a shower in days," The half-elf said. "Just look at you, you're a mess. That long hair of yours is full of split ends, your beard is all over the place, and you- smell... awful."Bookmark here

He became uncomfortable with her brash assessment. Self-consciousness set in as his eyes averted hers. But, she found his awkwardness charming.Bookmark here

"I mean, no offense."Bookmark here

A little too late for that, He thought.Bookmark here

"Uh, but there are plenty of rooms available in town, you know?"Bookmark here

"I'd rather not cause any more problems for the locales."Bookmark here

"Cause problems? Considering how they've treated you, you're rather lenient."Bookmark here

The wanderer turned to her, seeing her sitting with her legs crossed. He sensed how her eyes assessed him, scrutinizing everything he did or said. She wanted to disarm him, opening him up more to her whims. It was a wonder why she pressed on after giving deliberate answers infused with indifference.Bookmark here

"You don't even know the whole story. What if I would've killed one of them? Would you treat me any different?"Bookmark here

"What's this? Didn't you talk about probability earlier?"Bookmark here

Damn, she's good, His eyes winced.Bookmark here

"What matters is what you did. Indeed, you maimed some, but it was to defend yourself. You didn't want to hurt anyone."Bookmark here

"Wait, you heard from that far?"Bookmark here

Enne tugged at her pointed ears with a smile. His eyes looked away once more, downcast with shame.Bookmark here

"You think I'm cosplaying?"Bookmark here

"What? N-No. I just-"Bookmark here

"How about this, you can stay in my home as a guest of honor! I just live to the east of the town in a large house."Bookmark here

"A guest of honor?"Bookmark here

"And why not? It's rare that a wanderer comes around. You must have a plethora of knowledge that you can share with a maiden such as myself."Bookmark here

"I do, but what use would it be to you?"Bookmark here

"Sometimes, knowledge doesn't always have to be practical. I just want to know more than what that old library has."Bookmark here

"The library?" The wanderer realized that she may have been keeping tabs on him since he arrived. "You've been keeping an eye on me?"Bookmark here

"Private eyes are watching you," Enne answered in a melodic tone. "Wanderers are rare here, someone is bound to say something."Bookmark here

"Ah, maybe that's it then. You're just making an educated guess."Bookmark here

"Eh. Well-"Bookmark here

"That's all you had to say."Bookmark here

"Oh, fine. You got me! I just wanted to drum up some mystery here! Just the prospect of a wanderer here is interesting. You are a bearer of knowledge, after all! You can do so much with it!"Bookmark here

"Tell me, Enne. What is it you want from me?"Bookmark here

"Anyone stepping near that old place is rare, a wanderer just rummaging through, well... I'm sure you found something worth value."Bookmark here

"Not a thing."Bookmark here

"Wanderers innately know what they seek. It's a part of their intuition, right?"Bookmark here

"That's a myth. Look, you seem well-educated. There's nothing in that library worth salvaging. Not for me, at least. You'd have a better chance of getting information from a merchant or traveler. I'm sure they trade books you can't find in the library."Bookmark here

"Still, doesn't change-"Bookmark here

"You're still going on about a myth?" He yelled.Bookmark here

She allowed him to vent, shaken by his sudden anger.Bookmark here

"I was just there to kill time. That's all! I have no idea why you keep egging this on. I'm just here, existing. Nothing else. I just want to be left alone."Bookmark here

How can I convince him not to go through with his act? She wondered.Bookmark here

She couldn't allow it, knowing she could've changed the outcome. She wanted the possibility of him living to be the only outcome. Enne postured herself, seductively crossing her legs. Her playful side reemerged as her steely eyes analyzed him. The wanderer saw right through it.Bookmark here

"Is it power," She asked. "Or is it wealth? Maybe you seek something genuine... Oh, what is it?"Bookmark here

He shook his head with glazed eyes. Their silence was muffled by the fire behind them.Bookmark here

"It doesn't really matter."Bookmark here

Her eyes pierced the wanderer's, looking into the depths of his soul. She knew he wasn't the typical wanderer. He wasn't heartless. Her alluring gaze followed with a nod of unspoken acknowledgment. She walked toward him as he staggered to take a few steps away.Bookmark here

"So, you'd decline to answer?" She asked. "You and I... We could work together."Bookmark here

"What are you on about now?" The wanderer asked.Bookmark here

"Considering how merciful you were, you're not the villain that's often described in the old books. Come on, where's your sense of adventure? With your knowledge and my power, we can make a difference."Bookmark here

"I don't get it. I'm just a nobody... Like the title of a wanderer entails. I'm just there pissing away my night."Bookmark here

"If you were a nobody, I wouldn't have gone out of my way to confirm a hunch."Bookmark here

A hunch? The wanderer thought.Bookmark here

"And why should I work with you?"Bookmark here

Enne chuckled, placing her hands on his shoulders. She looked at him with a warm smile. His heart jumped by her fresh scent and inviting gaze. There was particular confidence in her eyes, as though she was onto something. He realized his hands were around her slim waist, which he retracted, but she didn't seem to mind.Bookmark here

The half-elf was something else. Bookmark here

"Yeah, I think you and I will get along just fine," She admitted, caressing along his shoulders. "I know I won't convince you to come with me tonight, but I'll be expecting you tomorrow."Bookmark here

The wanderer kept his silence.Bookmark here

"I'll be waiting, wanderer," She smiled as she walked past him.Bookmark here

"How are you so sure I'll be there?" The wanderer questioned as she saw her way through the door.Bookmark here

"A wanderer typically seeks a way to gain leverage over their world. Knowledge is the key to that goal. But you don't want power, you want something greater. There's much my city has to offer. Perhaps the way you see the world will change."Bookmark here

"You think the best of people you just meet?"Bookmark here

Enne turned to him with a mischievous smirk. Her gray eyes glowed from the fireplace in front of her. She captivated him with her grace and warmth that oozed like no other. His curiosity grew voracious, wondering what her intent was. She shrugged her shoulders.Bookmark here

"It's- just a hunch," she answered.Bookmark here

"Of course," The wanderer said.Bookmark here

To think I wanted to die in peace, he thought as she leaned against the entrance.Bookmark here

"I'll be waiting for you."Bookmark here

Enne winked before closing the door.Bookmark here

May my words reach you, she thought before departing.Bookmark here

Her sweet citrus scent lingered.Bookmark here

(Hey there! If you've like what you read feel free to like or drop a comment! Thank you for reading!) 
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Ana Fowl
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