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Burning Bright

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They don’t notice until people start disappearing.

Soul was young, but he remembers his mom, holding him close and telling him to be careful, not to talk to anyone. He promises he will, like a little kid will swear to his mother whenever she makes him promise her something, promptly brushing it off. But Soul notices things, and notices the way his parents cringe and his brother changes subject whenever he mentions another kid that stopped going to class.

Sometimes, when sleep comes hard, Soul finds himself wishing he could stop going as well. His master keeps scolding him, he doesn’t keep up, he isn’t motivated, he’ll never be anyone if he keeps being like he is. His mates, the other elves who attend class with him, refuse to make the effort and talk to him, see through his exterior and try to make him feel included. He lives in a land of strange things, but he’s the strangest of all, and there isn’t a day he doesn’t wish for him to look different, his hair less white, his eyes less red, his teeth less pointy; because elves have pointy ears and leave pointy teeth to the beasts that live beyond their cities.

He wants to feel like he belongs, so it isn’t a surprise when he meets a human on his way to class and stops to talk. They’re young, maybe his age, although it’s harder to say with humans because they age more quickly, but what drives him out of his path is the hair, pink hair, and although he’s been warned about witches, everything he’s ever heard claims humans are harmless. He feels awkward, manages to wave, and they wave back, beckoning him closer, and he follows, without even noticing that with each step he’s delving further into the trees.

He doesn’t see it coming. Maybe he saw a flash, or maybe it was something else, but the pain spreading through his body drives him to his knees, and face down on the ground, lifeless. There’s quick footsteps walking away, away, or maybe he’s just losing consciousness, because his body hurts and he can smell blood, his.
When he wakes up, he’s back in his home, a weeping mother leaning over his bed, a sleeping brother near the door, and a restless father pacing the house, somewhere, outside the room. He opens his eyes, tries to move his hand, held in his mother’s, and then she startles, looking at him, wide eyes full of disbelief. It’s almost too quick for him to notice, but he sees the fear in her eyes before she masks it with worry and leans forward, whispering: “Be careful, dark times lay ahead.”

She disappears the next day. The family mourns her loss -- she’s as good as dead, the neighbors say -- and then Soul finds himself visiting more houses with his father and brother, more people who went missing. They’ve all noticed the pattern by now, but refuse to acknowledge it. The light elves are almost gone. Soul shaves his head.
The days get shorter, darker, heavier, and then they come. Soul isn’t there when they come, to take away whatever light remains and to make sure they all know their place, but he hears rumors. “They’re human,” a woman tells him, terrified while packing, “They’re not a witch, and yet are so full of spirits that they can’t control them!” The elves start calling them Skaggen, Shadow, because wherever they go, despair follows.
And then madness.

It hits in waves. First, the weakest, the ill, succumb. Some go running to the streets, cackling and shouting, but most just laugh, endlessly, and then the Skaggen comes to take them away. Soul spends a whole week hiding in his bedroom, trying to control the demon that tries to claw out of his chest.

It doesn’t come, for a long time, but when it does, most elves succumb. It’s stronger, a much stronger wave, destined to wash away the remnants of an already fragile civilization. Pillaging and mindless destruction, fires and deaths -- it all falls down upon them, because their family and neighbors are mad, and it’s a type of madness that can’t be cured. Soul knows this because the demon has told him so, and because he can’t look in the mirror without seeing another face looking back at him. He fights against the power, the demon that is trying to take over his mind and manages to climb out of his bedroom just in time to see who’s coming to take the mad away. He’s expecting the Skaggen, but he’s greeted by an army of Kraigeri instead.

He falls back, cursing all of their destinies, because the Kraigeri are the army that was supposed to protect them and they’re a part of whatever is happening. He doesn’t see Kid anywhere, so he looks away from what’s happening on the streets. Kid had become a Kraigeri when he was young, because his father was one, and because he dreamed about a balanced world, and becoming a Kraigeri would mean he’d give up his powers, he’d be not light, nor dark. He fears the worst has happened to the other elf. Soul mourns the loss of his friend.

The madness keeps coming, the waves keep hitting, but fewer people let themselves be consumed now. Some are still taken, but only a few every year, and so people try to keep on living. The waves affect the nature as well, and food and water become scarce, precious, as the madness consumes everything; trees die and wilt, animals hide and foam at the mouth if they don’t hide for too many waves, and the whole forest, once green and leafy, now stands dead, marshy. Skaldur, the elves’ forest, is blighted.

He’s twenty five when they first tell him to become a Kraigeri. Soul is not even an adult, he hasn’t stopped growing, hasn’t fully developed, because he’ll live a thousand years and he has a lot more growing to do. “There is no way for you to be useful if you keep learning magic. It should have manifested itself already.” They advise him to start working out, training with a sword, fighting, but he doesn’t. He refuses the offer. To become a Kraigeri had been an honor once, but Soul knows they are nothing but pawns now.

The other elves pick fights with him, call him a fake, because kids as young as 5 have already had their magic manifested, and Soul is twenty years older and there isn’t a sign of it.

“Maybe you’re human.” One of them says, but after a long glance at him, he reconsiders.

“Too weird for that. Probably just a beast. Your parents found you in the woods behind your house and took you in.” Soul turns his back on them and scoffs, willing his heart to stop beating so fast, the demon to not push as hard against the inside of his head.

He’s at class, “Stand in lines,” ready for the inspection.

He’s shaved his head and beard, willed his eyes to change color, to no avail, and dressed baggier clothing, to hide his body. The witch is the one who demands that the inspections be made, to boys around his age, and he knows what she’s looking for.

But he’s been good so far, the guards go, poke at them, may hit them, but it’s obvious that they have no idea what they’re looking for, that no one really has an idea of what he looks like. He feels good about it. But his stomach sinks to his feet when he sees her come in. He’s never seen Medusa before, but the woman has as much class as all of the flyers they were forced to read say. She radiates energy, power, and he almost feel like he should cower, or kneel before her. And then the Skaggen comes in, locks eyes with him, and Soul knows he’s done for.

The Skaggen’s eyes widen in recognition, he looks towards the door to see it blocked by two of the witch’s guards, but as the Skaggen leans towards Medusa to inform her of his presence, he takes off running, thinking that the surprise element will help him take out at least one of the guards, and then he’s trapped in place before knowing it. There are snakes curling around his feet, making him unable to run but he still tries -- she can’t be that powerful.

He closes his eyes when he feels a nail touch his cheek and drag towards his chin. She’s in front of him now, he can smell her, and forces him to open his eyes. He obliges and she hums, satisfied. “Looks like I finally found you.”

They didn’t notice until people started disappearing, but Medusa had been planning it all along.