Eye of the Unicorn
“I’m proud of you.” Sam laughed.
“Gack!” Ithican replied ungraciously.
The Elf glared up at Sam trying his hardest to look dignified. Not easy when one was on his hands and knees before a puddle of his own vomit. A bone quaking shiver racked Ithican’s frame as he tried to keep his still rebelling stomach under control.
“It takes a lot of strength to give up neparine, very addictive stuff.” Sam continued trying to hide a smile. “You’ve finally gotten rid of your Dragon.”
But before Sam could explain further Ithican’s eye caught the motion in the vile pool before him. Recoiling in horror Ithican stared slack jawed at the tiny creature that writhed and hissed in the bile. He’d never seen anything so ghastly in his life, and it had been living in him! The scaly creature’s head was toped with a small horn that was tipped with bright red blood.
“That’s why they call it ‘ridding the unicorn’.” Sam explained taking a step back himself.
Ithican just stared at him in disbelief.
“It lives off the neparine, and when you stop it starts jabbing you with its horn. That’s why you’ve been in such pain. Eventually, if you manage to stay off the stuff, it abandons it’s host.”
“H...how do you know all this?”
“Like I said, I know a neparine addict when I see one. You see....” Sam started to open his shirt. “I’ve been known to chase the Dragon myself.”
Ithican cried out in shock as he gazed at Sam’s chest. Clinging to his bleeding skin was a slimy horned Dragon. The creature was suckling blood from a gaping wound. It stopped it’s macabre sup long enough to hiss fiercely at Ithican.
His silent scream turned real as Ithican woke violently from the nightmare. He thrashed about, unable to cope with the sudden change in scenery. Ithican fought against the strong arm that tried to calm him.
He freed himself and struggled to his feet. He sought to flee the piercing agony that gripped his stomach, but it relentlessly followed him. Ithican only made it about five feet before he was on his knees retching. However this time no Dragon rose from the soiled snow to torment him.
“Feel better?” Sam asked hesitantly.
Ithican drew a deep shuddering breath. “Yes.” He answered truthfully.
“I’ve been told that the first few days off the neparine are the worst.”
“’Been told’.” Ithican repeated suspiciously. “You’ve never...” His voice trailed off in an unspoken question.
“Me? No. Alcohol was always my vice of choice.” Sam fished around in his pack and pulled out a glass flask. “Speaking of which, looks like you could use some.”
Ithican got up and turned to see Sam offering him his personal ‘cure all’. His stomach twisted itself into knots at the mere thought. However Ithican was forced to smile. The Human had such an open and honest manor, especially when it came to pointing out his own faults. Something Ithican had never seen among the Elves. He walked back over and sat down in the soft snow.
“No, that’s all right.” Ithican said pushing the flask away. “One vice at a time.”
“Suit yourself.” Sam said taking a pull at the amber liquid. “Ah, warms the bones.”
Ithican pulled his cloak closer, being suddenly reminded of the biting cold. He looked around bleakly at the dark forest and shuddered. They didn’t have winter down in his wetland home, at least not winters like this.
“Don’t worry.” Sam said noting the Elf’s discomfort. “Soon you’ll be able to afford the finest, thickest furs. The thought of the riches alone will keep you warm till then.”
“What are you rambling about?” Ithican asked, he thought that Sam should be able to hold his liquor better than this.
“I’m talking about wealth beyond our wildest dreams. One last ‘score’ as they say. I told you I needed a partner...”
“Perhaps you should give me that flask.”
“No, no. I’m serious. I’ve heard of a fabulous treasure, a diamond, a diamond so pure that it makes the heart weep. A blue diamond of legend.”
“You’re talking about the Eye of the Unicorn.”
“Exactly! You’ve heard of it?”
“Who hasn’t?” Ithican said with a shrug. “But what does it have to do with us?”
“We’re going to steal it!”
Jager Trillesti stood up from the desk that he’d been working at all night. Stretching he tried to shake off the aches of sleep depravation. When he looked down at the golden device that lay on the desk he instantly forgot about how tired he was. It had been worth it. Jager smiled with cruel satisfaction.
“The days of the Ruined Races are numbered.” He purred to himself.
His odd violet coloured eyes flashed in anger. There was only one true race as far as he was concerned. The Humans were the ones who had been created in God’s image. The rest were imperfect, they were mutants, and after years of toil he now had proof of that.
Jager had stumbled across the ancient text by accident. With in it’s plastek-paper pages, which probably hadn’t been viewed for thousands of years, he’d found something extraordinary. It was a text that detailed a forgotten code: DNA, the code of Life.
Deep in the DNA of almost every creature on Nuearth lay a dark secret. A secret that justified the extermination of the other sickly races. He hadn’t shared his findings, or his ambitions, with anyone. They would not understand.
“When Nuearth belongs to the True Race, however...” Jager let his imagination finish the thought.
He’d be the savior of Nuearth. Jager had long believed that the strife that plagued the planet could be cured if it could only returned to natural state. The Goblins, Dwarves, Tazarine, Nomes, and all the other countless ‘Lesser Races’ were a disgrace to the glory of the Human form. As for the Elves, they were nothing more than descendants of a Slave Race. Jager looked out his top floor window at the still sleeping city below. Its white marble buildings were stained with blood from the sunrise.
“Once God sees that we...no, that *I*, have returned Nuearth to His original creation He will rejoin us.”
Jager picked up the golden device that was the product of years of study and labor. It only needed one more piece to be complete. As if it were a sign, he happened to have that piece in his possession. Striding over to the safe he punched the code into it’s glowing face plate. As a Mechanical Magi he had a host of technology under his control. Although as time passed man lost more and more of the ancient craft as its components fell into decay and its secrets lost.
The safe opened silently and exposed its prize like a blushing bride undressing before her husband for the first time. Jager’s violet eyes gleamed. No matter how many times he looked upon the glittering stone it still took his breath away. He reverently picked up the large diamond. It was so blue that its depths were hidden in the glorious hue.
Touching the cold stone Jager could almost feel the souls of its many owners. The stone was so old that no one could agree upon its origin. Jager knew where it came from though. No mortal hand had crafted it, he was sure of that. It was far too beautiful, far too glorious to be from the world of man.
“The Eye of the Unicorn.” He breathed.
He placed the blue diamond into its new setting. The golden machinery around it suddenly looked dull in comparison to the stone’s gleam. To the Human eye it seemed that nothing happened. However, Jager knew better. He could feel it deep in his bones -the device would work, it had too.
Jager twisted the golden gear on top to adjust the setting. Turning the device up higher he could feel it vibrate slightly in his hand. Smiling at the brilliant stone he turned the gear back to it’s lowest setting. No sense in wearing the stone out, he thought, there wasn’t a non-Human for miles around. Not in Nueyark, they wouldn’t dare.
Jager sighed. For the first time in his life he would give anything to get his hands on Elf. The Elves were the ones who were the greatest threat to peace. The other races didn’t have the numbers to wage a full scale war, but the Elves did, and their hate of Humans was already full established.
“Best to win the war before it starts.” Jager laughed.
The sound of bells pealed through his private room. Grumbling Jager placed the device in the safe. He walked over to the closet and slowly put his white and gold robe on. The bells continued to ring and chime urgently. Jager straightened out his hair. There was no hurry. They would wait for him.
After all, the ceremony could not begin without the High Priest.
“I can’t believe this.” Ithican looked around nervously from under his cloak hood. “I simply can’t believe you talked me into this!”
“Hush, someone’s going to recognize your accent.”
“My accent?” Ithican snarled. “Who cares about my accent? Someone is going to recognize my face! Elves simply do not come here, none of the other ra...”
Ithican stopped as a passer by eyed him suspiciously. Ithican bowed his head and stared intently at the ground with his green eyes. Elven eyes, he thought to himself bitterly. No one here had emerald eyes like his, it was a trait that all the Elves shared, and there were no other Elves here. Sam had talked Ithican into coming to Nueyark -the last pure Human city on Nuearth.
Although the races tended to separate themselves naturally none of the other large Human cities were pure. The rest all had at least a small population of traders and merchants that belonged to the other races. Even the Elves traded heavily with the Humans. Gold was a great equalizer.
However Nueyark was different. The other races were so unwelcome and looked down upon here that they’d stopped coming. Gone were the days when taverns and inns posted signs that said “No Non-Humans Allowed”. It was no longer necessary, the non-Humans went to great pains to avoid the city these days. It had become clear long ago that it would mean certain death.
And yet, here I am. Ithican thought resentfully. He could feel the tips of his pointed ears burning under his cloak hood as another Human stopped to study him.
“Can I help you?” Sam asked the stranger in a tone that made it clear that the last thing Sam wanted to do was assist anyone.
The stranger was startled. He looked at Sam, seemingly noticing him for the first time. He gave Ithican one more dirty look and then turned down a near by alley.
Sam could hear Ithican release the breath he’d been holding. Sam was irritated for a second. It really wasn’t that big a deal, it wasn’t as if there were any laws that forbade Elves from entering the city. Then Sam remembered the three men he’d found a month earlier about to spill Ithican’s blood for the sheer sport of it.
“Come on, let’s find an inn for the night.” Sam said hurriedly suddenly sharing Ithican’s fear.
“In case you’ve forgotten we have no money.” Ithican grumbled.
Sam smiled. His blue eyes darted around the busy street for a moment. He suddenly slunk off with speed that surprised Ithican. He couldn’t understand how such a big man could move with such grace. Sam had the frame of a fighter, not a thief. However he slithered through the crowd like a snake and found his prey.
“A thousand pardons, Sir!” Sam bowed deeply in apology for bumping into the well dressed stranger.
The stranger glared at him and then raised his chin and walked off with a cloud of superiority surrounding him. Sam waved him good bye to his back mockingly. Smiling proudly he rejoined Ithican.
“Taken care of.” Sam said patting his breast pocket.
“You can’t ju..” Ithican started, but quickly gave up. After all they’d come here to steal something much more valuable than purses.
They soon came to a run down inn. They had come to this area of the city because a little bit of gold went a long way here as far as keeping mouths shut. At the same time however there was very little in the way of law enforcement. Ithican pulled his hood further over his eyes as they stepped inside.
“Good evening to you, Sirs.” A young lady behind the counter chirped.
“Good evening.” Sam returned giving the inn maid one of his best smiles.
“Evening.” Ithican murmured after receiving a sharp elbow to the ribs from Sam.
She flushed. After giving Sam an approving glance her eyes fell on his hooded companion. “And how can I help you two?” She asked absent mindedly as she continued to study Ithican.
“Just a room for the evening, My Lady.” Sam said with flourish.
She flushed again. Turning to fetch a key her long blonde hair swept a graceful arc. Sam nudged Ithican once again and he looked up annoyed preparing to reprimand Sam. The harsh words however sat silently on his tongue when he caught sight of the inn maid.
Ithican couldn’t help but stare. He’d never seen such beautiful hair, it was like gold. All of the Elven women had jet black hair, like his own. When she turned around her crystal blue eyes caught Ithican’s green eyed stare. She blushed once more and smiled.
Casting his eyes down quickly Ithican cursed himself for letting her see. If she recognized him for what he was, if she told someone he was here... Ithican stopped his train of thought suddenly. He wasn’t even sure at what point he’d started valuing his own life, but it was quite apparent that he had. Now with one look he may have rendered it forfeit.
“Are you coming or what?” Sam mocked.
Ithican looked up to see that Sam and the woman had headed up the stairs towards their room. Sighing and bowing his head once more he followed them. The inn maid brought them to a room and after one last look at the pair she disappeared.
Closing the door gratefully Ithican locked it. He crossed the small room and pulled the curtain over the window. Exhausted he sank down into a chair and pushed his hood back. He didn’t even have to look at Sam to see the grin on his face, he could feel it.
“Don’t be so smug, Human. The people of this city will be no more willing to show an ‘Elf Lover’ mercy. They’ll kill us both.”
“Don’t be such a pessimist, Ithican, it’s depressing.” Sam sat on one of the beds. “Besides, we’re here now.”
“And let me guess, it’s all down hill from here.”
“Exactly. The hard part is over.”
“That’s funny, because I would think that walking through the Church gates, sneaking into the High Priest’s chambers, taking the Eye of the Unicorn, and then somehow getting out of the city was going to be the hard part.”
“Eh.” Sam said dismissivly as he pulled off one of his boots. “That’s all in the details, we’ll work that out when we come to it.”
“’When we com...” Ithican started to repeat in disbelief. He took a deep breath. “You know what, it’s not even worth arguing about at the moment. I just want to get some sleep.”
“Amen.” Sam replied removing his other boot.
Ithican unclasped the pin that held his cloak on and let it fall. Just then, although he could have sworn he locked it, the door opened. The inn maid burst in and when her eyes fell on Ithican she squealed with delight and triumph.
“I knew it! An Elf!”
For a few, painfully long, moments nobody moved. Eventually Sam looked over at Ithican, but Ithican could only stare back at him. Then the pair turned once more to stare at the bar maid who was practically beside herself. Her smile lit the room like a torch.
“I knew you were Elven.” She persisted. “I knew it the second you walked in here.”
“I, um...” Ithican was at a loss for words.
“You won’t tell anyone, right Sugar?” Sam asked.
She laughed. Stepping into the room she locked the door behind her. “Of course not, silly. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.”
“What?” Ithican and Sam asked together.
“I’ve lived in Nueyark my whole life, thirty years next spring.”
Sam and Ithican exchanged glances. Thirty! Not that she looked a day over it. Ithican was seventy-five and Sam was fast approaching one hundred. Considering they may live to be three hundred they were still young, but not like she was. She was just a pup.
“Anyway,” she continued “all I’ve ever heard from the men around here is how hideous Elves are, how aggressive, arrogant, what terrible lovers they make...” She paused long enough to give Ithican’s lean frame a once over. “So obviously I came to the conclusion that all of that must be Bull Feathers.”
“Obviously.” Sam replied in a serious tone, although his eyes gleamed with barely contained mirth.
“I mean the men in this town are scum. Of course they’d lie to make themselves look better.” She flushed. “Present company excluded, of course.” She added hurriedly with a slight curtsy to Sam. “I was going to wait till I had enough money to travel away from this wretched city, but now here you are!”
She swished over to where Ithican sitting, seemingly bolted to the chair. Before he could even make a move to stop her the young inn maid had her delicate hands in his glossy black hair. Ithican was frozen. An Elven woman would never be so forward! A shiver ran down his spine as she gently traced her slender fingers over the tips of his ears.
“Is it true you can see in the dark?” She asked with an excited glitter in her eyes.
“Well, um, yes, sort of... Look, I don...”
“Perhaps I should leave you two alone.” Sam giggled.
“No!” Ithican replied stricken. He wasn’t finding this humors in the slightest. “I mean, I...um...” He stumbled over his words.
“No?” The inn maid repeated in a playfully hurt tone. “I’m sure you’re friend won’t mind, he can go help himself to anything down in the bar.” She moved in closer.
Ithican’s eyes widened in shock. He blushed furiously. “You...you don’t even know my name!”
“It’s Ithican.” Sam supplied.
“You’re not helping!” Ithican snapped.
“I’m Marina.” Thinking that introductions were over with she slipped her warm hand into his shirt. Ithican jerked back as best he could when she brushed against the scar that had finally healed physically.
“All right,” Sam said finally coming to Ithican’s rescue. He caught Marina about the slim waist and pulled her away from the blushing Elf. “My dear Lady, it’s obvious that you haven’t heard enough stories about the Elves. Even though my young friend here wears his wedding band on the wrong hand, signifying that his wife has died, the Elves still mate for life. He’s no longer eligible.”
“Really?” She asked suspiciously.
Ithican nodded, even though what Sam had said wasn’t entirely true. He did wear his ring in a position that showed he was in mourning. However the Elves hadn’t practiced mating for life in the strict sense in thousands of years.
“That’s no fun.” Marina said disappointed. “Oh well. I guess this way I still have reason to leave the city, someday.” She snaked out of Sam’s light grasp and kissed Ithican’s forehead. “At least I can bring you two Sirs dinner.”
“That would be lovely, My Dear.” Sam said graciously knowing that Ithican would be incapable of replying. “Our secret’s still safe, right?”
“As safe as it can be.” Marina smiled brightly once again and skipped out of the room as if nothing had happened.
“Kids.” Sam laughed as she left. “That was a close one, in more ways than one.” Sam walked over and slapped Ithican’s shoulder. “You’re a stronger man that I, Ithican. I would have thrown you to the Werewolves to have a woman like that. Hell, I would probably throw myself to them for the chance.” Sam laughed again.
“A...are all Human women like that?” Ithican asked, still in shock.
“Like Marina? Oh no, she’s a rare one for sure.”
“Thank God.” Jager muttered to himself turning the Eye of the Unicorn over in his hand.
More and more of his time was now spent locked in his chambers studying the dizzying depths of the blue diamond. Few worried about the High Priest. It was nearing Arkrest Day and he was probably lost in prayer. The rest of the Temple went about their daily chores as if nothing was wrong.
But something was wrong. Jager was becoming obsessed with the device he’d given birth to. On the rare occasions that he did have to part with it, evening prayer or some other bothersome task, he didn’t even lock it away anymore. He could no longer stand the idea of it being shut up in the dark where its crystal heart couldn’t gleam and glitter.
Jager no more worried about thieves than he did about being murdered in his sleep. No one would dare enter his sacred chambers. God would not allow it. He had given Jager the power to purify His world and Jager had the faith to believe that He would protect him and his golden child.
After the Arkrest Day ceremonies he’d be free to travel for a bit. He knew he couldn’t leave now, not with the most sacred of days approaching. He wouldn't dream of it. However, afterwards he could find some excuse to travel outside the city. A pilgrimage of some description, yes, that’s what I’ll call it, he thought to himself.
Once out in Nuearth he would have no trouble finding a member of one of the Ruined Races. Their ilk were crawling all over the lands these days. Once he’d perfected the power behind the Eye of the Unicorn he’d go from territory to territory vanquishing the imperfect. But for now, he must wait, he must wait for a clear sign. He knew a sign would come telling him that he was in the right.
True to her word Marina didn’t tell a soul about the presence of an Elf in Nueyark. They had been staying at the inn for nearly a week now. The whole time Marina watched Ithican like a hawk and flirted mercilessly. He still blushed when she ‘accidentally’ brushed against him.
“Suddenly I can’t wait for Arkrest Day.” Ithican complained once Marina had finally left the room. Although she had left them a wonderful supper. Ithican couldn’t remember a time he’d been this well fed. “I’m starting to feel like a prisoner here.”
“Hey, it’s been your idea to stay locked up in here.”
“Like I have much choice.” Ithican grumbled darkly.
“And it was your stroke of genius to wait until Arkrest Day.”
“Well if we are going to go on a suicide mission...”
“It’s not a suicide mission. Trust me, the church will be too busy with morning ceremony to even notice two more people running around. And the High Priest will have to attend the whole affair. So his chamber will be empty, really empty when we’re done with it.”
“How do you even know the Eye is there?”
“Because the church has had that rock since before anyone can remember. Most of the former High Priests wore it to special occasions.”
“Then isn’t it probable that he will be wearing it tomorrow?”
“Naw. He’s a Magi as well, and you know how that group detests wearing jewelry. Besides he’s ne...”
Sam stopped. Ithican had been regaining some of his colour now that he was clear of the neparine, however now all that colour drained away. The terror that reflected in his green eyes alone was enough to make Sam shudder.
“Ith?” Sam asked after a silent moment. “You all right?”
“A Magi?” Ithican whispered, his voice sounding very far away.
“Yeah, what of it? The Mechanical Magi are nothing special anymore, gone are the days when they ruled over any powerful magic, they just play with harmless toys.”
“No, no some of them wield great power, the Medical Magi...” Ithican trailed off.
Sam watched with growing concern as Ithican absent mindedly rubbed at his scar. His eyes were locked on something Sam couldn’t see, something far away.
“Well, not this one.” Sam said with confidence trying to pull Ithican back to the present. “He just dabbles with little mechanical toys and calls himself ‘Magi’. Don’t worry, I’ve studied this for a while now, and I’ve been going around this past week gathering even more information. It’s not a problem.”
“She was dying, I couldn’t just watch...” Ithican respond not even hearing Sam’s words. He was locked in some past horror.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Ith.” Sam interrupted. “If you don’t want to do this, that’s okay, I could use some help, but...”
“No.” Ithican said suddenly snapping back into reality. “The Elves do not take friendship lightly. You’ve saved my life, more than once. I will help you.”
“Don’t think of it that way. You’ll be helping yourself as well. With the riches we’ll gather from this you’ll never have a care again.”
“You’re right, we won’t have anymore cares. Considering this is going to get us killed.”
“That’s the sprit!”
“I have to admit that was easier that I thought it would be.” Sam noted as they climbed the grand staircase.
“That’s really saying something, considering I kept getting the impression that you thought we’re just going to walk in here and pick up the Eye of the Unicorn like it was a loaf of bread.” Ithican replied sarcastically.
Sam had acquired them the ceremonial white robes that everyone in the Temple wore on Arkrest Day. Ithican had refrained from asking how he’d come across these sacred articles, he was just relived that they included a heavy hood that he could hide beneath. Sam had been right, the Temple was so busy running around preparing for celebration to notice them. It was a Human holiday that’s true meaning was lost somewhere in the mists of time, something about the origin of life upon Nuearth.
“This is too easy.” Ithican complained. “Something this precious should be guarded.”
“It is.” Sam laughed. “It’s guarded by God.”
“Great so we only have to get past a God. No problem.”
“Don’t be superstitious. Come on, it’s not far now.”
At the top of the stairs the only direction one could go was West. At the end of the empty hall was a thick wooden door. Ithican glanced around at the walls which were decorated with paintings of Nueyark’s past, including one that showed Elven slaves. Ithican turned away quickly.
“A child could pick this lock.” Sam said as he worked an iron pick in the key hole. “Ah, there we go. After you.”
As Sam pushed the door open Ithican was hit with a wave of nausea. He shook his head and tried to tell himself that it was just nerves. After taking a deep breath he stepped into the medium sized chamber. For a moment he fancied that he could feel the evil tension of the absent Magi/Priest.
“Ithican?” Sam had repeated himself after he’d gotten no response. “You all right, Ith?”
“Fine.” Ithican finally replied. “Let’s just get what we came for and go.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Sam could barely believe it when he found the Eye of the Unicorn sitting on a piece of black velvet on the High Priest desk. At first he didn’t even see the gaudy and strange golden setting that it had been place in. All he could see was its glittering blue depths, like a crystal sea. It was just as beatiful as the stories about it claimed.
With an unexpectedly shaky hand he lifted the pendant. It swung freely from the heavy chain that it had been placed on. Sam hadn’t thought that someone would make a necklace out of something so big, the oversized setting made the thing almost as big as his fist. Worse yet, it looked mechanical. Very tacky, Sam thought.
Sam hadn’t paid much attention to where Ithican was until this moment. He found his friend with one hand over his eyes and the other grasping the nearby bookshelf with a white knuckled grip. Even though he still hid under the white hood he looked very ill all of a sudden.
“Ith, what’s wrong? This is no time to be going into some weird neparine flashback. We’ve got what we came for!”
Hoping that the sight of the beautiful prize would snap the Elf back into reality Sam thrust the jewel towards him. Ithican drew back so violently that he knocked several heavy tomes off the shelf. Sam was shocked by the reaction. He put the necklace down on the table and rushed over to help.
“I’m fine.” Ithican insisted. “Just... just a bit dizzy, I’ll be all right. Get the stone.”
Sam looked at Ithican dubiously. His attention was so wrapped up in his partner’s sudden affliction that he didn’t even notice the heavy door open. The High Priest was not as trusting as he seemed. He had a sensor on his door that alerted him when it was tampered with. It had taken him only moments to free himself from the celebration downstairs.
Feeling a sudden chill in the room Sam looked up. Standing in the door was the High Priest in his ornate holiday robe. The look that fell onto Sam’s usually cheerful features caused Ithican to forget his discomfort for a moment. He turned around slowly and locked eyes with the Magi.
Both men gasped in surprise.
Jager took a hesitant step forward, his burning violet eyes locked on Ithican. This was his sign! Sam put a protective hand on Ithican’s shoulder. He hadn’t seen such a hungry look since they’d crossed paths with Marina the inn maid. Pressing a button by the door that the pair hadn’t noticed before the Magi magically snapped the door shut and it locked with a heavy click.
“Come!” Jager commanded.
Jager had not become High Priest without reason. His voice and manor was so powerful that few could resist his will. Ithican found himself walking towards the Magi without even really knowing why, or how he’d known the order was for him and not Sam.
For his part Sam was so stunned that they weren’t already in the hands of the Temple guards that he let the Elf go. Soon Ithican found himself in front of the High Priest, mesmerized like a sparrow before a serpent.
Slowly lifting his hands Jager reached out and grabbed the front of Ithican’s robe. Savagely he tore the thin cloth and let it fall to the marble floor. Underneath Ithican’s regular cloths looked dull and dusty in comparison to the virgin robe he’d been striped of. Jager reached up and broke the leather strap that had been holding Ithican’s hair back causing it to fall forward in an onyx cascade.
Sam wasn’t even aware that he was holding his breath. He’d never felt smothered by the mere presence of a man before, but he could feel the power that surrounded this one like cloak. Sam suddenly had second thoughts about the existence of the God that protected this room.
Jager took his eyes off Ithican for a moment to look at Sam. The smile that spread across the Priest’s face was more frightening than the sneer he’d worn while studying the Elf. He reached into an inner fold of his robes, producing a large ruby he tossed it to Sam.
After catching the jewel Sam stared at it. It was a fine stone, of the highest quality. It was so red that Sam half expected the rock to start bleeding in his hand. He looked up at the High Priest with a quizzical expression.
“Payment.” Jager hissed softly.
“Payment?” Sam replied confused.
“It’s the deal of the century, you can keep the stone and your life. I doubt anyone has ever gotten a better price.”
“A better price for what?” Sam still didn’t understand.
Jager smiled again. He snaked a hand into Ithican’s long dark hair. The Priest yanked his head back so violently that Ithican almost lost his balance. Jager pulled Ithican closer and held him in a sick pantomime of dance partners.
“For an Elf, of course!” Jager snarled. “Now leave!”
Struck with understanding Sam stared down at the jewel in his palm. It was a breathtaking stone, there was no question about that. However, thievery was one thing, blood money was quite another. On the other hand, the Priest could just call for his guards and have them both slaughtered. Sam looked at the ruby again, it had to be worth thousands. Worth living for...
“No.” Sam whispered after a long silence. He dropped the stone. “It was my idea to come here, let him go, I’ll stay.”
Jager’s smile turned to a scowl of disgust. He released his hold on his captive and pushed him away. Sam noted that Ithican didn’t even seem to realize what was happening. If he’d just fight back a little Sam was sure that they could over power the Priest, despit his Magi status.
“Don’t even think about it.” Jager said, seemingly reading Sam’s thoughts. “You’ve had your chance. My triumph could use an audience anyway.”
“What?” Sam suddenly wondered if the High Priest had gotten into the Sacramental Brandy and drunken his and God’s full share.
The Magi pulled a small metallic ball from the folds of his white and gold robe. Before Sam knew what was happening Jager threw the metal object at him. This time he failed to catch it. It fell at his feet and started to glow. Sam suddenly found himself physically unable to move forward.
Jager nodded to himself, satisfied that Sam would stay put for a while. The forcefield would see to it. The device was as old as time, but its past Magi owners had kept it in perfect working condition. He leisurely walked over to his desk and retrieved the Eye of the Unicorn. Placing the chain over his head he wore the device like a gaudy medallion. He opened a large leather bound book and scribbled a few notes into it. He turned his attention back to Ithican.
Sam hadn’t noticed the movable gear that the Magi now played with. He didn’t understand anything of what was going on, none of this made any sense. Frustrated, he could only watch. With eyes only for the Elf the High Priest turned the gear with a single audible click.
Ithican fell to the cold marble floor like he’d been struck from behind.
“Ithican!” Sam cried as he tried to step forward.
“Stay back!” Jager barked momentarily forgetting that the man couldn’t move.
The shield that the Magi had engaged faithfully kept Sam at bay. Sam had never even heard of such magic. He wasn’t used to thinking on his feet quite like. Ithican had gotten to his knees and was clumsily trying to back away. He kept raking his hands through his now sweat drenched hair like a madman.
“What are you doing to him?!” Sam demanded angrily. He saw the flashing stone around the Priest’s neck and made a dim connection. “The Eye...” He whispered.
“Yes.” The Priest purred taking a step closer to Ithican. “Fascinating, isn’t it? I knew it would work, I knew it would sing to his tainted DNA, I just didn’t know exactly how the Ruined Race would respond.”
Jager ignored Sam. “I must know more, I must perfect it. If I’m going to purify Nuearth, I need to know exactly what’s happening.”
Ithican started screaming as the Magi moved the gear up a few settings. Sam beat furiously at the unseen barrier as Ithican’s cries became more desperate. Jager stood over his victim taking in everything with his clinical eyes. He seemed completely immune to the heart rendering wail of escalating agony. Sam weld his eyes shut, but nothing could protect him from the noise. Once almost musical Ithican’s voice was becoming discordant and harsh as his throat turned raw.
“Stop! Please!” Sam cried. “He hasn’t done anything, I brought him here! Stop!”
It took a few seconds for Sam to realize that the Priest had complied with his anguished request. The silence that followed was so profound Sam feared he’d been struck deaf. He opened his eyes and saw that Ithican was on the floor panting heavily. He was obviously laboring for breath, but he didn’t seemed to be in pain anymore.
After studying the Elf for a moment Jager knelt down beside him. Using Ithican’s hair as a purchase once again he forced him to sit up. Sam gasped in shock, Ithican was crying tears of blood. The Priest reached out and brushed some of the crimson tears away and then delicately tasted them like he was sampling a fine wine. Sam turned away, fearing he’d be sick.
“Tell me,” Jager hissed almost seductively “tell me, what’s happening. I have to know every detail. Tell me everything and I’ll let you go, you and your thieving friend. I must know.”
Ithican didn’t respond. He didn’t even seem to be considering the offer.
“You might as well,” Jager purred “I’m sure I could keep you alive for days. Do you think you could endure more...”
Ithican grimaced in pain as the Magi calmly turned the stone on once again to a low setting to keep his attention.
“If I learn nothing from you the deaths of your race, and the races like you, will be gruesome indeed. I’ll be forced to let them be driven insane, as I drive you, until they butcher themselves to escape. Help me. Make sure that I perfect this science. That way it will be quick and painless for the rest. You’ll be a hero in your race’s miserable Afterlife.”
Raising his blood flecked green eyes to meet the Magi’s fevered violet ones Ithican poured all his anger and hate into a look that momentarily brought a chill of fear to the High Priest. Quickly composing himself Jager pushed the stone’s vibrations up a bit higher. Despite the obvious pain that flooded into his expression Ithican continued to regard the Magi with pure defiance.
“Stubborn, just like a mule.” Jager growled in disgust. “Not even good enough to make a decent Slave Race! This is why I have been charged by God to exterminate you!”
Sam could feel the wave of fury that washed over the Elf. Physically unable to attack, Ithican used what strength he had to spit blood into his own hand and then he raked it down the front of the High Priests blazingly white robes. Stunned for a moment Jager just stared down at the symbolic stain.
Howling in rage Jager stood up to his full height. Blinded by the insult he jammed the delicate gear as far as it would go without snapping. The change was so intense that at first Ithican simply pitched forward breathless.
What happened next was something that would haunt Sam till his dying day. He had heard legends about it, but he’d never really believed them. It was something that not even the Elves really believed in anymore. For it had been nearly two thousand years since it had happened.
Ithican’s tortured scream cleaved the air once again. Then the cry rose in pitch like an eagle soaring higher and higher into a clear sky. His voice hit a note that only the Elves could produce, and only when they were in mortal suffering at an enemy’s hand. It was a solitary note, but it sang an entire song. A song so beautiful it made the very soul weep. A song of sorrow, of mercy, a song of death. The note reverberated in Sam’s chest until he was sure his heart would break.
As the darkness enveloped him he was positive that that was exactly what had happened.
When Sam woke the purple rays of sunset were lighting the room a somber colour. His throat was dry and raw, his face was stained by salty streaks. At first his mind refused to remember what had happened. Moaning softly he sat up. He stared at the scene before him with blank, uncomprehending eyes.
Ithican lay on the floor on his back as still as death. That came as no shock, for Sam had known before he’d sat up that the Elf was dead. What was puzzling was that the body of the High Priest was also sprawled out on the white marble floor.
Where as Ithican looked peaceful in death the Priest’s body was twisted violently. Like he had been unwilling to release the last spark of his life. The stain that Ithican had cursed him with had expanded into a sticky pool. The Magi’s violet eyes were locked open, staring at Sam in fear and disbelief.
Sam turned away. His gaze fell upon the ruby that the Priest had given him for Ithican’s life. He picked up the stone and grasped it so tightly he could feel its sharp edges cutting into his palm. Placing the gem in his pocket he swore that he’d travel to Evergladrida and find a member of Ithican’s family to give it to. Someone among the Elves must be mourning the loss. Over the past month he’d spent with the Ithican it had become harder and harder for him to imagine a reason why they’d exiled the Elf.
Sighing Sam stood up and bumped into the forcefield. He had forgotten all about it, he was trapped here! Sam beat his fist against it, but the invisible barrier didn’t even shimmer. He backed up to take a running start at it.
As he as about to throw himself at the forcefield something occurred to him: he could move back freely. Testing his new theory Sam found that the field only spread about five feet wide. He had never even thought to try and walk around it before.
Cursing at himself Sam walked over to the large oak desk. He found the leather bound book still open to the last page that the Magi had been working on. He read the delicate sprawling script with difficulty. Reading was not one of his better talents, but he could do it.
“Ef...effects of the Eye on Elven.” Sam read aloud to his dead audience. “Low set...setting: weakness, apparent pain, disor...disori...disorientation, perhaps nausea. Higher se...setting:”
Here the notes stopped. Sam closed his eyes. He didn’t even want to imagine what the heartless Priest would have written next if he’d survived. Sam flipped the pages towards the front of the book. Here he found drawings that he couldn’t even begin to understand. They were of beautiful ribbons wrapped around one another in double helixes. The ribbons were attached to one another with thin lines.
“Very strange.” Sam muttered to himself.
One of the ribbon drawings had segments inked in red. Here was more sprawling script that said things like: impure, tainted, evil.
“’I knew it would work, I knew it would sing to his tainted DNA...’” Sam repeated the words the Magi had said. Was this what he was talking about? Sam thought.
Sam flipped through more pages. He came to a detailed drawing of the Eye of the Unicorn and its setting. Slowly reading the notes Sam’s blood flashed to ice. He saw now what the Priest had wanted. Sam slammed the book closed.
Casting about his eyes fell on the fireplace across the room that was now just glowing embers. Picking up the book he walked over to the fire and cast it in. The coals leapt to life at the new fuel and greedily consumed the text.
Sam went over to the contorted body of the Priest. He saw now what had happened. The device that had held the Eye of the Unicorn had shattered, or more like exploded. The shards of gold had cut deep into the Magi’s throat and chest. Free from its golden prison the blue diamond glittered on the ruined chest. Sam retrieved the stone and examined it.
With the pure stone in his hand he could almost feel the souls of its previous owners. Sam couldn’t possible begin to understand the history that was bound to the rock in his hand. Although now known only as the Eye of the Unicorn the blue diamond had countless other names attached to it by man.
Older than the planet it now rested on it’s original name had long since been forgotten. Found, shaped, sold, stolen, bought, reshaped, resold, lost, and found again, Sam now held in his hand the proof that a diamond is forever. He held the fabled Hope Diamond of India. He didn’t know that, he only knew one thing about it:
It had lost all of its beauty.
Sam turned away from the dead Priest. Kneeling beside Ithican Sam hesitated to touch him. His greed had destroyed this innocent creature. The non-Human races of Nuearth would never know what the outcast Elf had suffered to save them.
For the first time Sam noticed that at his temple a lock of Ithican’s inky hair had turned milk white. The bleached lock had fallen across his blood-tear streaked face. Gently Sam reached down to brush it aside.
Ithican gasped at the touch and snapped his bright eyes open. Sam drew back so quickly he lost his balance.
“Sam?” Ithican whispered.
“Ith?” Sam replied sitting back up. “I thought you were dead!”
“So did I.”
Ithican struggled to his feet. Sam was right there to help him. When the Elf found his balance the big Human swept him up in a bear hug.
“Whoa!” Ithican laughed weakly. “Easy big fella.”
“Sorry.” Sam said and hurriedly put Ithican down. He looked Ithican over like a mother hen. The Elf trembled slightly even as he tried to stand still. He seemed about twenty years older than he had been that morning.
“That’s okay.” Ithican looked down at the dead Magi. “What happened?”
“If you don’t remember, I’m not about to tell you.”
“I meant the High Priest, did you...”
“Kill him? No, I wish I had. His sick ambition killed him.”
Ithican thought about this for a second and then decided not to question it further. “Thank you.”
“For what? I was no help whatsoever.”
“For not excepting the payment, for staying with me.”
Sam uncharacteristically flushed, he could almost feel the weight of the ruby in his pocket.
“Don’t mention it. Besides I would have met my death at Marina’s hand if I had returned to the inn without you.”
“Good point.” Ithican looked around the room and shuddered. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Sounds like a plan”