Part One

I look at the boy lying beside me and I ponder how in the seven stages of hell he could have chosen me. It had been made obvious countless times that he could have had anyone and everyone in the entirety of Tersekol, I kid you not, and they wouldn't have objected. In fact, I can nearly assure you that every man and woman that laid eyes on him instantly desired him. After all, he is a blessed one, a child of the gods, if you will. The first thing I can do it be grateful; grateful that he would even grace me with his presence. Grateful that he had found something good within me, something that made him believe that I was even remotely worthwhile to befriend and later belove. The next thing I can do is tear myself apart in frustration. How is it that the boy saw something within me when I could only see weakness? How depressing is it that someone else knew me better than I knew myself?

It was the first time I had even seen a boy quite like that in my entire seventeen years of life. I couldn't quite put a finger on what it was that intrigued me so much, and in retrospect, there isn't anything so psychically vivid or distinguished about him. Mayhap it was his black hair. Not that black hair was all too uncommon among my people; but the way that it framed his face and fell below his jaw in the front and was cropped closer towards the back. His bangs attempted in vain to hide his abysmal eyes. It was a fashion worn by soldiers and commanders three generations ago, but I don't think his hair could possibly look another way; now it was Brishen Hayes' fashion alone. But I digress, there was just an indistinguishable air about him that screamed his uniqueness. Not to mention that he was gorgeous in a fragile, untouchable way.

He walked into the military academy, holding a small book against his chest as though he was guarding it with his very life. His expression was that of apathy and yet humiliation; I could sense his mood as if it was striking me in the face. The first thing that I noticed was how young he was; no older than fourteen years old. He was also rather straggly, touching upon the barrier of child and manhood. Our teacher and brilliant scholar, Ryu Demae, stopped his recitation of The Antoay and turned towards his new pupil. The black haired boy looked to him, grasping his book with even more strength and tensing. He stared down our mentor, never leaving his gaze in a mindless, sincere challenge. Ryu turned away from the icy glare of the boy and gestured for him to take a seat betwixt his fellow pupils. What none of us knew was that, although he was younger than the entirety of the class, he shouldn't have been considered a pupil in the slightest. He took a seat directly across me and not closely near any of the boys, legs bent at the knee and jutting outward in a childish manner.

There wasn't much that I knew about those touched with the blessing of Taxe. Gossip spread throughout the academy like wildfire, finally reaching and informing me of the new boy. There were rumors that he was one of the children blessed by a god. Not just any god, but Taxe, the God of Strategy. It seemed as though Tersekol had been waiting for a prodigy to appear and lead the nation martially, although I couldn't see this young boy doing such a thing; he looked far too innocent and passive to be a military strategist and genius. But he was said to have an incredible perception of logic and reason, as well as the ability to have a strong sense as to the personalities and moods of someone. Though such abilities may seem as blessings indeed, there were banes that balanced out, if not outweighed, the scales of boon. Those with Taxe's mark of intelligence were also said to live lives of loneliness, obsession, and frustration.

From the moment the boy walked into that room, the entire class could feel the tension between him and Ryu, almost as if he was impugning our teacher's intelligence each time he uttered forth words. Eventually, Ryu ceased calling on Brishen with questions; he knew that it was inevitable that Brishen's brilliance would answer the question and far surpass his standards. I, on the other hand, struggled immensely to memorize The Antoay, something that Brishen once stated nonchalantly he memorized four years prior. Despite that fact that he was younger than me and oh so much more brilliant, I never harbored a single moment of jealousy. I revered him, like he was the God Taxe himself, gracing us with his incredibly mortal and appealing body.

During the first couple of days I found myself just watching him. I can't even tell you what my instructor was teaching me during those days; everything was a blur to me. Everything except Brishen. Every time he looked in my direction, there was this surge of fear and excitement that I couldn't understand. I worried that maybe he could sense my nervousness and, oh gods, my fascination with him. But he never seemed to comprehend my feelings, spending each day as silent as the next. He spoke to no one in class unless first spoken to, including myself and Ryu. He never asked for guidance, although I doubt he ever understood everything completely. Not to be confused as shy. No, he was something else; more introverted and proud, I guess one could say.

A year had passed and I had spoken to him only once. Imagine, an older man babbling on like a fool, provoking himself into a fluster and then walking away in mere humiliation. He must have thought of me as an utter moron. My mind battled with itself; I would never forgive myself for that embarrassing display and my opportunity passed me by.

Then, after only three months in our company, he left. I assumed that his overflowing brilliance had left the remaining year of educational teachings obsolete. No one spoke of his prolonged absence, but I could personally feel the tension releasing from me. Ryu was also relieved to see him rid. A few more months of Brishen at his feet learning would have eventually led to him at our teacher's throat.

Spring arrived and I had finally reached my eighteenth year of life, which marked my transition from mental to physical military training at the academy. My comrades and I were of nobility (although most of us being the lowest of hierarchy) and promised high ranking within the military if we volunteered our lives in exchange for handsome earnings and higher standings for our families. It was only natural that I accept the offer in order to keep from shaming my family, my mother especially. The training was exhausting and all consuming; it required endless physical exertion and mental discipline. The first fortnight could be compared to a Demon's torture three times over, leaving my limbs completely limp for the entire night only to be renewed with soreness the next day.

I often thought of Brishen, where he was and what he was doing at any given time. Was he apprenticing with the most renowned military commanders in all of Tersekol? Or was he traveling about the countryside, familiarizing himself with the land he was sworn to protect? I made it a point to look for him when I wandered the streets, but to no avail. It had already been half a year since I last saw him, but his appearance was still burned to the back of my mind, never faltering.

On one particularly strange fall day, I looked up to the sky. Snow looked eminent; it was an abnormal thought to be thinking during the beginnings of autumn. Snow hardly came to our village before the end of the year, while the surrounding mountains were already layered with the frozen water. I heard the large wind bearing such clouds blow through the night before as I lied in bed unable to sleep. A slight chill fell over the trainees who had been practicing their aim with a bow and arrow. In the middle of my aiming, I felt shivers run down my spine and I shot the arrow from the bow with little skill, more concerned with embracing myself and repel the sudden frosted air. The arrow barely hit the target. Then again, I had never been too skilled in wielding a bow.

Training had been declared over for the day, far before normal time for being dismissed. The group of amateur soldiers fled to the nearest inn inside town the moment the words fell from our commander's lips, morale suddenly higher than it had been in quite some time. I followed them in a detached state, never really being fond of the acclaimed ales. The taste made my tongue cringe and intoxication was only sips away due to my low tolerance of foreign foodstuffs and drink. But I accompanied the men nonetheless, taking to looking out the window in boredom.

The evening sky was beginning to turn an even darker, dismal shade of grey every moment as the veiled sun took its leave behind the mountains for the night. The clouds were taunting the land with their seemingly false premonitions of snow, hovering above us heavy with moisture. There was a sudden clamor sounding from the table that my already drunken friends had taken precedence of, nearly drawing my attention away from the window. Just as I turned my head to the slightest degree, a single snowflake fell against the windowpane and quickly melted. I inhaled, as if readying myself to exclaim the discovery. But I knew that my words would be wasted when uttered to drunks. So I excused myself as politely as possible and took leave for outside. Emerging from the room of trapped smoke and into the crisp night air nearly filched my breath; I could see each exhale as it filtered out my nostrils and mouth.

I began to walk down the street, oblivious to all things other than the miracle that was falling from the sky. There was no one roaming the streets save me or the occasional rat. I came upon a darkened alleyway, and even through the near pitch blackness around me I could see the color of pale flesh. I stepped closer, my feet now making a crunching sound under the small amount of collected snow. My eyes widened and my heart jumped. There he was.

Brishen Hayes, blessed one of Taxe.

He was kneeling in the newly felled snow with his eyes closed. At least it seemed as though his eyes were closed; he gave away no sign that he had seen me at all.

I crouched down to his level, straining my eyes and noticing a dark color in the form of a line down his forehead. I reached my hand out to him but drew my hand back once I realized that it had to be blood. I wanted to turn back and run down the path I came from, back to the inn. But he looked so helpless and vulnerable… and bleeding. I couldn't just leave the boy to bleed to death if he was seriously injured. My eyes began to develop to the darkness and I managed to see a drop of blood fall from his face and onto the dirt floor. Brishen raised his head then, eyes still closed. And if my eyes weren't deceiving me any more I would say that he was smiling. I held my hand out in a strange attempt to touch him, repel him, I don't really know. But he opened his abysmal eyes then and took my hand into his.

"You're very warm." I admittedly blushed as he held my hand in such a delicate way. I was relieved then that the darkness concealed my outer revealing of how I felt when I was near him. I noticed how wet his hand was, not of sweat or melted snow. I pulled my hand away regrettably and brought them to my face. More blood. I knelt down further, brushing the blood from his forehead. As I moved closer towards him, he shifted all his weight on me and leaned on me with a slight groan. I began to think that he really was injured then, mayhap from a brawl or a fall on the icy ground. I knew not the circumstances, but decided against inquiring. He would tell me if he needed to. "Should have left me alone, damn fools. I told them to leave me alone." He was speaking to himself now and I couldn't stand it any longer.

"Are—are you well, Brishen Hayes?"

His eyes, curse their blackness and contrast even to the already dark atmosphere, focused directly on me. There was no question. He tilted his head and laughed gently then sucked in sharply, almost like it hurt to do such an effortless task. "Yes, I will be fine." He stood up and groped the wall of one of the buildings that formed one side of the alleyway. His clothing was torn at the knee and sleeves. I ushered myself to his aid, placing my arm under his and wrapping around the other side to his chest. As my palm grazed his thin clothing, I could feel his rib cage. He grunted in approval. "Fell, I knew that there was something valuable within you. Something different—than the others." I helped him from the alleyway and onto the street, but I could tell that he wanted to struggle on his own, like a bird whose wings had been broken and didn't realize it. I let him go and he stumbled once, and then stood up straight, hands on his hips like he was stretching his back.

"Brishen, are you going to be alright?"

He looked up then, allowing the snowflakes to fall against his face. "Snow," he said simply, holding out his hand and yet pointing upwards with his index finger, trapping one on his fingertip. "Fell, you are like snow, do you not agree?" He smiled again that pure, beautiful smile. "I thank you," he said finally as I stared at him with no response to his comparison.

"I'll walk you home. Just in case you fall or—or," I stuttered.

"If you wish," Brishen struggled for a smile and then hissed, winded.

Snow? I walked beside him, wondering why Brishen had related me to snow and not knowing if I should have taken it as a compliment. I only knew that it wasn't insulting. The thought fell to the back of my mind, me being for more intent on watching Brishen as a hawk would her hatchlings. I cringed every time he took a step, only imagining how much pain he was going through. But I could tell that he wanted to prove to himself that he could do it on his own. Now that we were in the open street, I could see him better. There were blood stains near his ribs and his hair was matted and disheveled. The blood from his hands wasn't increasing in amount and I could tell that the blood was not his own.

"Where is your residence?" I asked, looking around and hoping that it was near.

"The castle," he said and shut his eyes. I had forgotten that he was a blessed child of Taxe and that the Tersekite King had no doubt situated the boy in the finest of rooms in order to receive the best military training available to him. I sighed. The castle was on the other side of the village. I couldn't just pick up the boy, for I could have harmed him even more doing so. And he more then likely wouldn't allow me to do such a degrading thing.

"May I take you to my home, Brishen Hayes? It's not far from here, and you can rest there." Brishen looked at me as though what I asked was forbidden, eyes staring at me without comprehension. If it was even possible, he looked confused and out of sorts. I wanted then to take back my offer. "You don't have to if you do not wish. I mean, I'll walk you all the way to the castle if you really want to but I don't know how much strength you have left and I don't want you to hurt yourself anymore. Or I could leave you here and find a guard to take you back—," I said, my words running into each other as I attempted to apologize for my rash proposal.

"No. Where is it you live?" he asked, obviously calculating in his mind that amount of pain he would have to suffer if he walked himself all the way back to the castle.

"Not far. A little ways down this road." I pointed in the opposite direction that we had been traveling. Brishen nodded and staggered towards me, nearly slipping on the accumulating ice.

We walked this way for what seemed half a lifetime, taking it dreadfully slow. He said little, trying his best just to walk much less strike up a conversation with me. When we were finally in eyeshot of my home, I sighed. "Thank the gods. My parents are home." I lived in a fairly large home outside of the village, manor-like in style. In a way I was blessed to be born into such fortune, I took it for granted sometimes. In those brief moments I wondered about Brishen's childhood. He didn't strike me as a noble boy in the slightest. I turned around to encourage him just a little ways, for he had fallen behind as home came into sight.

"We're here! Brishen?" He had fallen into the snow, the only thing moving on him were his loose garments blowing about in the wind. "What's wrong?" I fled to him and held up his head. I hadn't noticed because I was walking alongside him the whole time, but upon looking at our trail of footprints, there was a sufficient amount of blood that following Brishen to the spot he had fallen. He had probably opened an older wound while he was walking and now it was bleeding uncontrollably. "Are you alright? Please say something to me," I said, frantic to hear his voice. He groaned in the affirmative. Seeing how close we were, I found no other option than to pick him up and carry him, no matter how much he didn't want it. I gently wrapped my arms around his waist and gangly legs, lifting him with little exertion; he was incredibly slender, nearly weightless. Brishen lay unresponsive, his arms hanging limply downward.

I stepped carefully onto the snow hoping to not injure him any more, and pawed at the doorknob. Finally finding a way to balance Brishen in my arms and open the door, I burst inside, startling my parents who were sitting by the hearth.

"Mum, please help him! I think he's dying!"