Sensalia (edited version)
Sensalia ran through the forest in a daze. She had a flash of a memory, someone yelling, telling her to go. The fleeing young woman ran as fast as she could from all she knew. The further she went, the less she remembered of her life.
She had brief glimpses of growing up as a human girl in the elven kingdom. A kingdom separated and isolated from the human world; the world she was now in. Sensalia raced on through the trees. Lost and alone she looked around for something to remind her, but the more she ran the more the memory of her elven home faded.
Her conscious memories evaporated as tears streamed down her face. She was angry, hurt, and felt she didn’t belong. She searched her mind’s eye and found an image of a woman’s face. Somehow it felt wrong; like the face belonged to another race, another place. Everything was new, yet strangely familiar.
She stopped running, closed her eyes tightly, and searched for a clear memory of who she was, where she was and more importantly, why she was there.
A surge of fear gripped her. Wisps of memories from another time, another place, slipped past her. She opened her eyes. All she knew was gone.
She stood in the middle of a circular clearing, her chest heaved as she tried to catch her breath. Her eyes looked through the trees, searching.
The further she was from her childhood home the stronger the energy around her felt. It was as if everything had been muted before. In the distance, she felt a sadness so deep, it made her confused and afraid. Her skin tingled with unseen energy. Her emotions tumbled around inside her.
Sensalia couldn’t understand why she felt such sorrow coming from within the forest. Without thinking, her feet carried her toward the anguish she felt emanating from the trees. She shivered and followed the strange feeling that pulled at her. The woods around her fell dark and she was utterly lost. The only thing she understood was that she must find the source of the despair in the forest.
Shadows danced around her animated by bright moonlight. She had visions of creatures reaching for her. Sensalia hoped it was in her imagination. She shook her head, cleared her mind and focused on the sadness ahead of her.
Sorrow and anguish vibrated from behind the trees in front of her. Her nails dug into the palm of her hands. Then grief washed over her as she felt it with every fibre of her being.
Sensalia stepped around the trees. She had found the source of this deep sadness, a man lay there in a bed of furs. Pure grief emanated from him. He opened his eyes and stared into hers. An outpouring of raw emotion washed over her. She inhaled deeply, drew it inside and let it go.
Then Sensalia collapsed.
Jarek moaned slightly in his sleep. It had been a long time since he’d slept without dreaming. The dream was always the same; the dream of the fateful day ten years ago when he lost his wife and daughter.
In his dreams, he saw the smoke billowing upwards. The flames flickered in the distance and as he drew near, it was clear his home was the source of the blaze.
He dropped his burden and ran.
“No! I’m coming! No!”
Intense fear gripped his heart. His eyes searched frantically. Where were they?
He drew as close as he could and saw his wife curled up, lying in a smoldering heap. He crawled low, trying to get closer but the intense heat pushed him down. He reached for her simmering body. He caressed her hand softly: hoping…
She was beyond his reach.
He looked towards the door of his home. Could he get inside? Was their little girl beyond his reach as well? Those questions haunted him and taunted his dreams.
In some of his dreams, he saw her looking at him out the window as she was consumed by flames. Other times he only saw the fire.
“My love, my girl.” he sobbed and retreated from the flames.
That’s when the sadness began. It grew like a weed festering on his soul. It wrapped its sorrowful grasp around his heart and trapped his mind.
Somewhere from within his dream calmness came over him. He felt a presence watching him, calling to him. He awoke with a start and stared into Sensalia’s eyes. They pierced his soul and saw the depths of his pain. Then she collapsed in a heap. Jarek felt a release. In that instant, his sorrow and pain were gone.
Where was his sadness? He needed his sadness. It was what sustained him for all these years. Now it was a distant memory, only seconds old.
His breath escaped his lips in a sigh as he stared at the vision at his feet. The leaves and moss cradled her on the forest floor. Her lithe body curled into itself like a cat, innocent yet full of unknown power. Her face looked as if it were carved from soapstone by an artistic dreamer. He wondered if this was a continuation of his dream.
“Uhhhhgg.” A groan escaped her lips as she turned and opened her eyes to look at him.
Jarek stuttered as he tried to find words. “Wha.. wha…” Jarek calmed his voice and took a deep breath. “What did you do to me?” He trembled, shocked at this release from his pain.
“I don’t know. Your sadness was calling me; I was lost and alone. It was all I could sense in the forest. I had to find you. I had to release you.” Sensalia let out a deep breath.
“I don’t understand, how could…” Jarek shuddered and looked around. “Is this real? It shouldn’t be possible.” He reached for the young lady in front of him.
“Who are you?” He took her arm and helped her to her feet.
“My name is Sensalia. I, I don’t know who I am.” A tear trickled down her face.
“What do you mean; you don’t know who you are?” Jarek eased her down onto his bed of furs and sat beside her.
“I ran away, I couldn’t stay, I didn’t belong. I don’t know where exactly, or why. I lost all that I knew when I ran. I know the memories are there. I can almost touch them in my mind. But they’re gone. I am so lost and alone.” Sensalia sank deeper into the furs. “I am tired, I feel so drained. She lay down again and closed her eyes.
Jarek stared at the sleeping woman. Her eyes were the most intense and stunning eyes he had ever seen. They were somehow familiar, like he had seen them somewhere.
She had given him the greatest gift he could imagine. Strangely he didn’t think he wanted her gift. He needed his sadness and pain; it was an old friend. Now it was gone.
He stared into the darkness; his senses awakened. From somewhere in the distance, a wolf howled into the night air. A chill ran down his spine as a second howl answered the first.
Quietly he grabbed his bow and slipped into the darkness. He stalked away from his camp and into the trees. After a moment he found the perfect tree at the edge of a clearing. He grabbed the lowest branch and pulled himself up.
Jarek hid in the branches and saw the wolf as it tracked his prey through the forest below. He felt corrupted energy radiating from the creature. Slowly, carefully he reached for an arrow and strung it into his bow. Fear coursed through him as he pulled the arrow back and released. The animal howled as the sharp metal pierced its hide. It turned and looked around for its attacker. Another wolf rushed through the forest and stepped into the clearing. It sniffed the air and growled.
A vile smell drifted through the trees. Jarek sensed the beast before he saw it. A giant troll rambled behind the two wolves.
Jarek drew another arrow and strung it, not sure what could bring down these heinous creatures. He raised his bow and wished he had his silver-tipped arrows. He aimed for the troll. His hand shook slightly as he released a second arrow.
The troll turned, raised its shield, and blocked the projectile. The huge creature grinned and walked toward the bowman’s hiding spot.
“Fool, you think you can hurt me. I will …” A wolfs’ howl stopped the troll in his tracks. “I will be back for you. I have my orders.” The troll turned toward the sound of the wolf and broke a path through the underbrush; straight towards Jarek’s camp.
Jarek shook so hard he almost dropped his bow to the ground below. The hunter gathered his breath and his courage and leaped to the forest floor. He set off in pursuit. An anxious feeling of terror gripped him as he followed the foul trio.
Sensalia awoke to the sound of a wolf howling in the night. Terror gripped her. She felt the need to run but had no idea where to go. She could hear something getting closer. She tried to make herself smaller; to disappear.
She watched as an animal crept into the clearing. It was a huge wolf, its tongue lolling down between its razor-sharp teeth. It looked side to side and howled again into the night. A moment later a second howl answered from the forest nearby. The sound made Sensalia tremble.
A second wolf padded into the clearing, an arrow protruded from his back. The creatures of the night stopped and moved to the side.
She smelled a stench so foul that it curdled her mind. She was afraid it would reach out and touch her. Then it came into view. A mouth full of blackened teeth protruded forward in a hideous grin. The acrid smell of death rolled from the creature as he looked straight into her soul. He beckoned to her. She could not look away.
The troll walked over to her and in one quick movement, grabbed her and tossed her over his shoulder.
Sensalia hid inside herself. Panic threatened to overwhelm her mind and body. She tried not to breathe as every gasp of air contained the vile stench of the creature that carried her through the trees. They walked through the forest until they reached a clearing.
She felt the castle before she saw it across the field. Pain echoed from the building in the distance, a fresh terror urged her to action. She squirmed to try and free herself but the troll held on tight and increased its pace.
She could feel the anger within the castle. Stark towers stretched above the walls, shadowing over the ramparts. A flood of emotions surged from within the gothic structure and washed over her. Most of all she felt pain. So much pain she closed her eyes to block it out. Raw pain and darkness washed over her, overwhelming her until she retreated inside herself again.
Sensalia woke with a start as the troll dropped her on the floor in front of a dark, mystical figure. He was tall, dressed all in black and wore a cloak with a deep hood. Pain and anger pulsed out of the dark wizard in front of her. She took a deep breath, thankful to be free from the overbearing smell that followed the troll’s every step.
“We found her in a woodsman’s camp.” The deep growl of the troll echoed in the chamber. “A man was hiding in the trees and put an arrow into one of your pets.”
“It must be Jarek, he has a way of getting in my way. Find him and put an end to him.” The wizard turned to look at the young lady.
”You, my dear, will be safe if you do as I say.” He smiled at Sensalia.
She recoiled at his predatory grin. He stared at her as if he could consume her with his gaze. Hunger and anger oozed from his being. Sensalia wanted to vanish, to become invisible.
She pushed down her fear, stood up and took hold of her courage. “Who are you? What do you want from me?”
“My name is Malac, welcome to my home. Don’t be afraid. I want to help you.“ His ancient face cracked with a dark gaze. “Open yourself to me and do not fight it. I will only take small amounts.” He shrugged off the black hood, stepped towards Sensalia and opened his palms toward her.
Jarek observed the castle from the edge of the forest. He watched as the door opened and the wolves emerged, followed by the troll. He resisted the urge to run. She saved him from himself and his pain. He felt a deep connection with her and knew he must save the girl or die trying.
He knew he had one chance to kill the troll. With him dead he hoped the wolves would be freed from their malicious spell. The hunter retreated back into the trees and climbed the first branches. He had to make his first shot count.
Jarek pulled his silver-tipped arrow from its sheath and waited. He hoped the magic in the silver would be enough.
The wolves sniffed and prowled through the tall grass that waved in the morning breeze. He would have to be sure of the wind and the distance. The silence was so oppressive he could hear his heart race. He breathed deep to quiet the roar he felt inside.
Closer came his foes.
The troll marched with a purpose, the wind at the creature’s back. He almost tasted its stench as it came towards him. He trusted his skill and calmed his nerves. With a steadiness gained from years of hunting in the woods, he took careful aim and released an arrow.
The troll cried out with a guttural shout and the wolves sped past it towards Jarek. The arrow flew strong and true and pierced the troll’s skull. Jarek watched as it crashed to the ground.
The wolves howled and sniffed the air.
Jarek drew another arrow and aimed for the lead wolf. He released it with a snap and the wolf slowed as an arrow slammed into its shoulder. A growl of angry pain broke the silence. The other wolf leaped up at the branch Jarek sat on. Its frustration and rage echoed in angry howls through the woods.
Jarek grabbed his last silver-tipped arrow and took careful aim at the wolf below him. A feeling of power coursed through his veins as he released his weapon. The wolf went down with a final curdling howl.
Jarek gripped the branch with his legs and hung the bow over his back. He dropped to the ground and walked toward the troll lying prone in the grass. He drew his knife from his belt and moved cautiously forward, aware his enemy may still live. His skin crawled like it was covered in spiders.
A low growl emanated from some tall grasses. Jarek stepped away from the troll and circled the grassy area. Every sound was amplified in his brain. He pivoted and pointed his foot-long blade towards the grass.
Nothing there. All was silent.
Jarek turned back to the troll when the wolf attacked him from behind. He had just enough time to raise the blade in front of his eyes as the wolf pounced on him, pinning Jarek on his back. Razor-sharp teeth snapped at his face. He grabbed the arrow that stuck out from the back of the animal and pushed it further into it’s shank. The wolf howled in pain, then lunged at Jarek’s face. Jarek drove the knife toward its neck. Drips of foul spittle sprayed Jarek’s eyes. He couldn’t see but he could feel the wolf’s teeth getting closer. Jarek dug deep inside himself, with every ounce of energy he had, he drove the knife into the bottom of the beast’s jaw. A warm flow of blood rushed into his face and the wolf collapsed in a heap: dead.
Jarek shivered in horror and relief as he pushed the animal off. He stood and quietly moved toward the troll.
Slowly, step by cautious step, he watched for signs of life. The beast lay motionless, Jarek’s silver arrow protruded from its right eye. His aim had been sure and true. The archer stepped lightly nearer and saw keys hanging from the troll’s belt. His hand reached forward and carefully unlatched the ring. The troll’s hand twitched towards Jarek and he jumped back. He wasn’t sure if it was a nervous twitch of the dead or if the beast somehow still lived. He had the keys and he didn’t wait to find the answer. Adrenalin coursed through his body as he turned and ran toward the castle. An angry groan echoed behind Jarek as he raced to save Sensalia.
Sensalia heard the wolves’ howls of rage echo into her consciousness. She shivered and opened her eyes and saw pure evil standing over her.
I must not give up, she thought to herself. There must be a way to defeat him.
Malac stared at her with a look of triumph. ”Your mother had a great power of empathy and it fed my needs for years. She would take the pain and sorrow from others and feed me with it. Every time I would take a small piece of her.”
“What happened to her?” Sensalia looked into the old man’s eyes and saw the grief within them.
“I began to trust her. I never thought she would leave. I let her outside my castle and she ran into the forest. I searched for years. When I finally found her .. Sigh… I was denied… I think she set her home on fire to escape me…. I had you in my grasp, but an elven warrior rescued you and took you beyond my power. I have waited so long to find you.” The mage paused and smiled. ”You will be most valuable.”
The distant howl of a wolf caused Malac to stop and turn his head.
“I must go see what’s become of my servant.” The wizard began to leave.
“Wait, I sense something.” Sensalia hesitantly looked up at the black magic user.
“Yes, my girl, what is it you sense?”
“I sense your pain.”
“Yes, there is pain. And hunger there as well. Can you feed my hunger?” A glint of excitement lit Malac’s eye.
“Just open yourself to me. I think I can find your pain and release it.” The young lady climbed to her feet and stared into the magician’s eyes, daring him to let go.
“I need my pain, but I will let you have a taste of it.” His eyes creased and his mouth spread into a grimace.
Sensalia felt his pain and hatred. She reached for his innermost anger and carved it aside. She found the deepest part of his pain and grabbed on to it with all her strength.
“What are you doing?” Confusion creased his face. “Stop, I don’t need to feel the . . . wait, what are you . . . ” Malac cried out, agony coursed through his face.
Sensalia groaned and held on to his pain. She ignored his hate and his fear. The pain channelled into her, and through her.
Malac stood as if in a trance. A look of anguish etched in his brow. His face aged as life was drained from him. He battled for control and moved toward Sensalia.
“You . . . can . . . not . . . have…” Malac struggled to speak. “You can’t have it!” Malac groaned and dropped to his knees as his eyes glazed over.
“Sensalia, stop! You will lose yourself!” Jarek burst into the hall.
The young women’s scream filled the room as she fell to the floor. Jarek ran to her and cradled her in his arms. “Hold on Sensalia, I am here, let go of the pain, give it to me if you must.” A surge of agony poured out of the shuddering woman. It was like a wave rushing from the ocean. It surged and crashed around him as he held her tight. He rocked her in his arms, willing her to live.
“What have you done?” a weak voice came from the withering body on the floor. “You have taken my pain. Without it I am nothing.” Malac sagged back to the stone floor.
Jarek turned and looked at the shrivelled wizard. “You have caused enough suffering. Your time is at an end.”
The woodsman walked to the tormented old man and plunged his knife into his chest. Malac shuddered and was still.
Sensalia groaned and opened her eyes. “Is he gone? The pain, so much pain.” She pulled in a deep breath and looked at Jarek. A distant memory bubbled to the surface. “Father?”
Jarek stared at the young woman. They never did recover his daughter’s body. Could this young woman really be his daughter? He stared into her eyes. Recognition took hold and he smiled for the first time in years.
“Alia?Alia is that you?”
A lifetime of memories rushed into Sensalia. “I remember we lived on the border of the realms. The elves saved me. They named me Sensalia, I think they knew something about me…” Tears of joy trickled down her face. “Oh Daddy!…” She smiled and collapsed into her father’s arms.
She was home.