these flaming stars
by - Rizi213
When a trusted member of the Council betrays the Lost Cities to the ogres, a long-awaited war between the two enemies is declared and causes destruction and havoc to curse the innocents who had no say in this matter. After decades of bloodshed, the ogres come out victorious and force the elves to fall under the rule of their king. The once pristine Lost Cities, home to the most regal of species, has finally fallen and the ruins are too broken to ever be put back together.
And others’ wonder if - no, when - they’ll be next.
Aurria Cordain is bitter towards the ogres for snatching a life of hope and joy away from her even when she did nothing against them. Born to two soldiers during the last stretch of the Dark War, she watched with her own two eyes the chaos it caused and the death of her loving and caring parents - the only anchor she had left to hold on to. At the mere age of ten, Aurria had already witnessed more heartbreak and loss than other elves have in their centuries of life.
Now seventeen and a slave to the ogres, she hides her resentment in plain sight, working hard to prove that she isn’t worthless in the dark and lonely abyss known as King Dimitar’s royal castle in Ravagog. Aurria obediently does the ogres bidding while a dangerous storm rages inside her heart.
But when she stumbles upon the truth concealed by thousands upon thousands of lies, her world is crushed and she finds herself in a whirlwind of traitorous schemes, betrayals by those she never expected, alliances formed by elves she can’t stand, and the story of the other side that was never told, all so that she can stop an evil that has emerged from a soul she was too naive to trust.
Yet no one ever said that anything in life, when you’re fighting for light, is easy.
Especially when you start to fall for the enemy - the one person you can never have.
THE CLASH OF stormy grey clouds scattered as thunder roared with fury up above. Rays of golden sunlight shot through just for a moment before the clouds pulled themselves back together and blocked it with spite too obvious to go unnoticed. The beams of hope vanished alongside the sun as it retreated back into the small hole it had been forced to go into ever since the first drop of blood splattered onto the ground when the Dark War began a year ago.
The elf unfortunate enough to be caught up in the raging storm winced as droplets of shard-like rain clashed with his dark skin, causing scars made of burning water to appear. Puddles littered the floor and soaked through the leather soles of his expensive boots, wading in and flooding the insides of his shoes, wetting his feet. Lightning shot through the sky for a millisecond, creating a display of a beautiful stroke of purple glowing light before it faded away, much to the elf’s annoyance. It had been so long since he had seen such a dazzling show of luminance, but he supposed it no longer mattered now.
After all, it was mostly his fault that the beauty of the Lost Cities was reduced to the mere array of decaying bodies of both elves and ogres alike and the stains of blood splattered everywhere on the ground, caking the mud and stones a dark crimson.
He should feel guilty. He knew that he should. It was what any sane elf with a fear of a broken mind felt.
But he was never normal. And it was finally time for the elves to realize that.
Despite the ice-cold rain masking his face with freezing water and sopping through his cloak, he still held his chin high and composed an expression of confidence and indifference.
Anyone could tell that he was a proud member of the Council - someone you should definitely not cross.
Councillor Emery’s sharp, sapphire eyes scanned the area as he continued to walk down the cobblestone path, surveying the damage and the cowering faces of other elves spying at him, thinking they were discreet enough to not be noticed.
His lips formed into a slow smirk as he took in how much control he had over all these elves. With just a snap of his fingers, they would be bowing before his feet, willing to do anything his bids - no matter what the cost of it was.
Power makes an elf mad.
Turn back before you do something you’ll regret.
Councillor Emery blinked as that familiar voice warned him - just like it did all those years ago when he first decided to do this.
But what I choose to do and the side I stand with is what is best for everybody - it will just take them a while to understand it.
With that reassuring mantra in mind, he continued making his way down the road and finally made it to a dark, haunting alleyway between two crumbling buildings. Glancing around, he quickly walked in and leaned against the wall, waiting for the person he was asked to meet to show-
“My my, Emery, quite late, aren’t you? What a change from the Councillor we all used to know and love.”
The change you and your group made sure of, he thought, but then shoved it away for the fear of being caught thinking it.
Like the elf had said, a lot had changed.
Some in a good way and some in the worst way possible.
Like how I tore down the walls of your heart and broke the shield you put up, the same voice from before taunted before the member of the dying Council shoved that away too.
“I must say, you did a very good job doing what we asked,” the other elf continued, coming out of the shadows and letting himself appear visible in his true appearance, something he only did around those he trusted most.
Councillor Emery smiled darkly. “Betraying the Lost Cities to the ogres was the easy part. Now all that’s left is getting rid of the Moo-”
“Sophie Foster has already been taken care of,” his companion hissed, cutting Emery off rather rudely, but he didn’t say anything about it. The anger radiating off the elf in front of him was scary and he in no way wanted to provoke him further.
Yet still, he couldn’t keep his curiosity to himself and ended up asking, “But why do you hate your own-”
“That doesn’t matter right now,” the elf interrupted again sharply, his eyes colder than ice. “Don’t ask questions that can put you in a vulnerable spot. Don’t forget the fact that we have the power to destroy you.”
Councillor Emery quickly nodded, not wanting to delve further into this topic.
He himself had seen exactly what power the man was talking about and did not want to be a victim of it.
The elf cleared his throat. “As of now, all that’s left to do is to wait for this war to unfold and help the ogres win. No one from the Elvin side knows that you work for us and the ogres, and we can use that to our advantage.”
Emery nodded. “I know. I am supposed to be the double-agent for the ogres and help them win the war.”
“I’m glad you understand your duties. We need the ogres to win in order for the next part of our plan to unfold. The part that will turn the tides so that they’re in our favor.”
Emery sneered in an ugly manner. “They’ll regret ever underestimating our power.”
The other elf looked out towards the sky that raged with an untamed storm, his smile scary.
“Yes, yes they will. They’ll regret never recognizing the true reason why they’ve slept in peace ever since the Neverseen was defeated by our creation.
“And after so, so long, we’ll finally let the world see our true side.
“The side that we’ve hidden for far too long.”
I REMEMBER MY parents telling me that if I reach high enough, I can always find my way to the stars, the only things I love in this big, scary world. They shine even when the sun has given up on us, creating a beautiful show of light and - in some cases, when I’m feeling really down - hope. It’s stunning and sometimes, I actually feel blessed to be granted the ability to see them.
But I guess that if even the most successful of people can never reach high enough, how can I?
These thoughts float in and out of my head as I continue to wipe the counter of the side of the kitchen I’ve been assigned to clean, my arms aching from all the work I’ve done and still have yet to do. The cloth in my hands is ragged and ripped from the force I’ve pressured on to it and stains of dirt are dotted everywhere.
When most of the counter is clean, I turn my attention back to a single spot of burnt Mallowmelt one of the other servants marked the marble surface with and seemed to have forgotten to clean it. I let out a frustrated sigh as I mentally curse the elf who has unconsciously decided to put this responsibility onto my shoulders before I roll them back and prepare to tackle the stubborn stain.
I scrub with all my might, my bottom lip bit by my teeth as I concentrate, stray strands of my chocolate brown hair falling into my face. My hands are too occupied to brush them away though, so I just leave them be.
Just when I start debating on whether to just give up and act like I didn’t see the stain when the head servant questions me as to why I didn’t clean it, I finally manage to scrape off the edge of the smear and I feel a sudden surge of pride run through me.
Ha! Take that, stain! Nothing can withstand the power of me and this dirty rag!
I smile triumphantly and do a little happy dance, thinking that no one is around when somebody from behind me clears their throat. “Ahem.”
I freeze mid-dance and slowly turn around to meet stern pale blue eyes that dance with just the tiniest bit of mirth, letting me relax out of my tense posture. “Thank god you aren’t one of the head servants or an ogre. I would have been dead for sure.”
“That’s exactly why you shouldn’t do it,” scolds the man in front of me - Orion Wayden, basically the only elf I can call somewhat of a guardian in this hole of darkness others call the royal castle in Ravagog, the headquarters of our dear and oh-so merciful King Dimitar (please note the sarcasm). “You know the penalty if any elf that has a status of a slave is caught doing any recreational activity or using their abilities.”
I nod, my shoulders dropping. “A lifetime in jail for doing anything “fun” and…” I falter for a second before continuing with a cough. “And death for using your abilities.”
Orion claps me on the back. “Good to know that not everything I tell you flies over your head.”
At that, my head snaps up and I roll my eyes. “Come on, you’re exaggerating! I do pay attention, mind you.”
He chuckles. “And my name isn’t Orion, child.”
I glare at him, but can’t help myself as I crack up a little, too. Orion always has that effect on me, the ability to make me laugh, even in the worst of situations.
But other times, I’m the one that’s usually breaking the serious tension. Let’s just say I’m not one to be serious when needed.
“Anyway, any particular reason you’re here?” I question with a raised eyebrow at Orion. He’s usually stationed in the upper levels of the castle, tasked with cleaning the millions of rooms, so it’s weird for him to be in the kitchen, where I work.
“Oh, yeah,” he says, suddenly remembering something and he clears his throat. “The head chef was asking for you, and sent me to come to get you.”
“The head chef’s asking for me?” I repeat, confused. I’m someone that only cleans the kitchen, a very low status, so it’s abnormal for an elf with the rank of a chef or higher to consult with me. “Why?”
Orion shrugs. “Beats me. But it’s best you don’t keep him waiting. You know how impatient he gets.”
I quickly nod, dropping the dirty rag onto the now-pristine marble of the counter. “Yeah, you’re right. See you at dinner!”
As I make my way out the kitchen, I can hear him call, “Try not to die! We both know how high the chances of that happening are.”
My footsteps echo eerily in the empty halls as I silently walk to where the head chef is, trying hard not to cause any sound. These parts of the castle tend to haunt me quite a bit, the slightest noises causing me to jump. My shadow creeps alongside me as I continue down the chamber, hugging the marble walls and savoring the feel of the soft, crimson red carpet under my worn-out boots.
Drawings of decade-old stories are carved into the bricks, telling tales of the ogres and their rule. Of the victory over the elves. Red is splattered everywhere, representing all the bloodshed the war caused.
All the pain. All the scars, both physically and emotionally. All the heartbreak. Everything.
Sometimes, I wonder. Was all this worth it? Was the war really necessary? If someone just said something, could it all have been avoided?
Could I have still had a family?
What’s done is done, I chid myself. Nothing can change the past. Now hurry up and get to the head chef before he demands your execution!
After sprinting the rest of the way down the hall, thankful that no one is around to see me, I reach a wooden door - the storage for food.
I hesitate for one second before pushing open the door, coughing as mixed scents of edibles that should not be mashed together hit me. I wrinkle my nose in disgust when someone from the darkness says, “Miss Cordain, yes?”
Scared out of my wits, I blindly reach out in search for the light switch and sigh in relief when I find it and switch on the lights. Immediately, I’m blinded by the glare and blink away the dots of black, only to see an ogre with sharp teeth that glint dangerously and a chef’s hat on his bald head.
Looks like I’ve finally found the head chef.
“Yes, that’s me,” I answer with a polite nod. I don’t ask why I’m here, though. Servants aren’t allowed to ask questions.
Surprisingly, though, the chef gives me a kind smile. “You’re most likely wondering why I called you here.”
Speechless, I nod in response. This ogre’s known for being quite hot-headed and having a short temper, so I’m stunned by the caring exterior he’s showing me.
But don’t trust it, Aurria. You know exactly how that tale will end.
I don’t answer that, just give him another nod, my posture tense. Who knows what kind of facade the chef is putting up? I don’t want to take my chances.
“Well, Miss Cordain, I’ve noticed how well you do in the kitchen, so I have decided to task you with something since most of the other servants are occupied with something else.”
My eyes start to narrow before I quickly widen them again. It’s unusual for a working ogre to pay attention to a servant of my status, much less the head chef. What is he playing at?
Instead of saying that, however, I say, “I’d be honored! What is it you need me to do?”
Hey, I may be a little reckless sometimes, but I do have the ability to use my brain.
“It’s refreshing to see you eager,” the head chef tells me. “Princess Ro is currently asking for assistance with something that she deems is a private matter, and has asked for anyone to come, as long as they come fast.”
I let out a discreet sigh of relief. Princess Ro isn’t bad at all and I actually have a liking for her. “I’ll do it.”
“Good choice,” he says with a wink. “Her quarters are on the fourth floor. Take two rights and her door is the second-to-last one on your left.”
I quickly store that in my mind, thanking my photographic memory and tell him, “I understand. I’ll get there as soon as possible.”
The head chef nods, then turns to leave, isolating me in the damp room without a look back.
But I can’t help but notice an elixir stuffed in his back pocket with the symbol of a black swan on it.