I've made a trailer for this story, and would appreciate it if you could check it out! wwwDOTyoutubeDOTcom/watch?v=G5JPfTb6100.

-----From the Ashes----


A Poet's Heart

A shroud of mist hung along the base of Osidh Annova. Wide swathes of glowing stars dotted the sky above the Dhillarearë, bathing the School below in a soft light. Innail's many homes and watchtowers lay within the sight of the mountain range, embraced by a white stone wall that guarded it from the wilderness. A sudden spell of warmth had blessed Innail for several days and nights and it was clear that spring had finally arrived. The once barren landscape was waking up, its yawn bringing buds upon the trees, and newly calved animals to the fields. It had also brought a visit from Cadvan of Lirigon and a young, thin girl named Maerad.

A dull creak reverberated through the small room as Dernhil turned his attention away from the window. He craned his head and rubbed his dark eyes; the day's events had finally caught up with him. He'd been teaching students since dawn, listening to the insistent scratching of quills against parchment until night relieved him of his duty. The hours had crawled forward - frighteningly slow- as if time itself had been unwilling to move. He knew what caused the vexation, but he would not bring himself to utter her name. Instead, he scanned the worn sheet of parchment before him with a critical eye. The poem was only half-written, but it swelled deliberately, grand and majestic as the lines wove and curved inward to make a great coil of private thoughts. A great sense of accomplishment pulsed through the Bard's veins.

I shall heal your wounded heart

I'll never let you bleed

No other thing shall hurt you

No world or moon or star

Nor whatever you say to hurt me:

For I carry your heart

A warm smile lit his face. "Maerad," he finally whispered.

It felt like Maerad had been gone for an eternity, as if she had never graced the halls of Innail; to Dernhil, the memory of her seemed like nothing more substantial than that of a sweet, intoxicating dream. He shifted in his chair, and stared at the pen in his hand; he had seen into her heart. She had never been taught properly, and yet she was an excellent learner, fast and understanding. He had watched the natural talent awaken each morning, each lesson leading him to believe she would become a great scholar; her desire and obvious passion for learning matched his own. Such a beautiful being, he said to himself, his heart ravished by the allure of her vibrant spirit.

But she was still young; it took years to learn the ways of the heart. She'd mistaken his love for lust, and lashed out in fear. How could I be upset at her actions? Gilman's Cot taught her nothing of love. I should not have kissed her. He lightly touched the cut on his lip where she had struck him; it had only been a day since her departure. Did she really believe I would hurt her?

He propped his chin up on his hand. The fire had crumbled to ash, popping sleepily in its embers, and the light from the lamp fell peacefully across the tumbled books and parchments on his desk. She accepted me, befriended me - needed me. Cadvan certainly ignored her while he attended to his errands. And yet I threw all that away. I leapt into the fire, only to burn. What have I done? Have I ruined all possibilities that existed between us? He reached for the glass of wine he'd poured earlier. It was white wine - a bit too dry for his taste but he drank it quickly, its smooth, burning taste aiding him in forming the poem's last stanza. No, she forgave me. He picked up the pen and pressed it to the parchment.

I shall carry your heart with me

I'll never be without it

No other fate I wish for

No world, or moon, or star

Nor whatever the sun will bring

Wherever you go, I will never be far

A loud noise startled him. He looked up from his work, eyes wide with fear. The hair on the nape of his neck stood on end, and he shivered unconsciously. There came another knock, as if the door were being struck with a heavy staff. The door burst open. Two figures stood in the dark hallway outside his room. Dernhil rose from his chair as they walked into the light. They were heavily cloaked and booted in black, their hoods obscuring their faces, although he could see their eyes burning red. A chill, like that of a tomb, entered the room with them.

Hulls. He instinctively lifted his hands to summon his magery.

"You cannot ward against us!" said one of the figures sharply, making a strange motion with his hands.

Darkness seeped into Dernhil. A snake of ice slithered down his throat and fasten itself on his innards, gagging him and stealing his warmth with its poison. He could feel the intruders trying to force past the shield erected around his mind - like a thousand knife points digging away at his flesh. He winced. His strength faltered underneath such a tremendous weight.

"We have come for a little information, Dernhil of Gent. Help us and our master will reward you richly."

Information? Dernhil knew they had come to question him about Maerad. The parchment, the lessons, the rumors that Cadvan had found a survivor of Pellinor...

"I know who you are," he said at last, his voice thick with the pain rushing through him. He knew who the Hull had once been...what he'd done as he fell from the Light into darkness. "I'll not have any dealings with you or your kind."

The interlocutor lifted his finger, and Dernhil grimaced.

"Speak not so hastily," the Hull said. "You know not what you will do in this world or the next one, Bard. Think again. We hear you are teaching a girl. We want to know about her."

Dernhil stared at them steadily and said nothing. Maerad, an inner voice whispered. What would happen if they were to find her traveling through the landscape, alone on the unguarded plains? An aura of light, recalling the luminosity of sunlight on summer trees or the radiance of a fountain, faintly outlined him. The figures hissed, drawing in quick breaths as both Hulls stepped back.

The first spoke again through his teeth, his voice tight with anger. "You will not easily survive such impertinence," he said. "But what is not freely given can be taken." He drew close to Dernhil, who was still unable to move, and took his chin in his hand.

Dernhil's eyes widened in disgust; he was mercilessly forced to look the figure in the face. The creature that had once been a Bard squeezed tighter, and the weight in his mind increased twofold. It is too much. The dark magery surrounded him in a tight, invisible vise and rendered him unable to attack.

They are scrying me.

First there was darkness, and the peace that came with being so consumed by it brought upon thoughtlessness. There was pain, unfocused, but somehow near at hand, like the touch of sun on skin already reddened and burned. It had gotten past his ward. He tried to push it away, but it continued to throb in the half-healed places in his mind, promising him more pain to come. Then the flashbacks began:

His mother dying before him as he watched helplessly. Traveling to Lirigon to study. Meeting Cadvan. Meeting Saliman. Meeting Ellesta, Amgor, his freinds. Witnessing Cadvan's fall into darkness. The death of Ceredin. The death of his first love. Innail. Silvia. Malgorn.

He heard himself speaking. "A mist obscures the bright river, a mist on which no eye can fasten its sight, a mist that confuses the brave, and casts down the small in fear and trembling..."

No. He had to resist, he had to defend his thoughts.

There was nothing but pain. Fire in his veins and under his skin, flames dancing along his nerves and scorching his mind. Black energy - a Hull's magery - became unmistakable. He thought his sanity would shatter or his heart stop. He screamed, or he thought he did. He was lost in it, and there was no way out - not even death, for the Hulls would not let him die.

It seemed they stood there for an age, engaged in a desperate, silent battle. He felt his defenses crumbling - he had but moments to devise a way to keep his thoughts of Maerad safe. He dreaded what they would do to Cadvan and Maerad if news of her bloodline reached Dagra.

"Give up, Bard," a menacing voice echoed in his mind.

In the safe recesses in his mind, he first thought of Ellesta: her delicate fingers, her strong nose, and her blue eyes...the way her lips had moved underneath his own when he pulled her to him so long ago. She ran across a great meadow, her hair cascading down her back, lush green foliage surrounding her. It was beautiful, peaceful...he never wanted to leave that place.

Magery clawed and scratched at his mind. Deep inside, he heard a gentle voice. "Do not be afraid."

"I am not afraid." The Speech entered him, swirling through his blood, giving him a breath of strength he desperately needed. Dernhil knew he could not outlast the onslaught. However, he could still act. He could still save his friends from the sharing his fate. "I am not afraid of death."

His body was numbed by his own magery as he waited patiently for the pain to end, for the torment to cease. He then remembered Maerad. "Come back to me," she whispered. "Come back."

I cannot come bac... He was cut off by the exhausting weight crushing his mind. The scene before was replaced by the ghoulish grin of the Hull. Knowing what would come next didn't make him cower. It meant victory. It meant life would continue. It meant Maerad would be safe. He smiled inwardly; letting the Light consume him was not such a bad thing. If he couldn't have Maerad, at least he would have Ellesta beyond the Gates.

Life was abandoning him, and with it his memories.

All except one.