Ari was legendary. Invincible. She had escaped the Third Dynasty Invasion; she had endured the Great Famine and the Barbarian Rampage; she had witnessed the coronation of the Silver King and his execution.
Everyone across the Green Continent knew a story about Ari the Immortal.
No one knew of her death.
Alone, trembling in the cold of an unmerciful winter, Ari died with tears in her eyes. She died with regrets and pain and a haunting vision of happier times.
Lenn was home for Ari, before the bards wove songs about her adventures, before she ever lifted a sword. It was a city of merchants and craftsmen and a kindly innkeeper who took in an orphan and raised her as his own. Ari, named for the goddess Sarina, grew up surrounded by the innkeeper’s love and the stories of the fascinating characters who visited the White Mare.
Destruction came quickly to the peaceful border town caught between the great army of the Silver King and the invading Westerners. Fire and death swept through the streets and, suddenly, Ari was without the warm embrace of her father. As the White Mare burned around her, she was caught up in the arms of a man with gray hair. While they fled the crumbling city, she demanded that he pay for the room he had rented. The gray man owed her father money and, wherever her father was, he would soon take her back and would need this money. But, Reed, the gray-haired man, would not pay, the innkeeper would never come for her, and Ari would never see her home again.
Ari grew into a beautiful dark-haired maiden under Reed’s care, spending hours each day painstakingly translating scrolls from fading languages to common tongues. She longed for fresh air and the company of the other village girls, but Reed demanded her help in his clerical duties. He had once been a warrior; now, he deeply believed in the power of the written word. One day, Reed insisted, one day Ari would be grateful he had taught her the mysteries of the old languages.
In Ari’s sixteenth summer, Reed brought home another girl, a brother’s daughter from the River City. She was Lyla, and her hair was bright and her blue eyes shied away from others. Her family couldn’t afford to house her and would have sold her as a servant if Reed had not intervened. Ari, only slightly Lyla’s elder, was to be her sister and help her learn Reed’s teachings. Friendship blossomed between the two and they shared secrets and stories and declared themselves kindred spirits.
Now it was winter and 15 years had passed since their meeting and today was the day of their final farewell. The air was still, holding its breath in the field where they met - two sisters, one, raven-haired and cloaked in white, elaborate scars decorating the pale skin of her arms; the other, a towering beauty dressed in a flowing red gown, glowing like a burning angel in the light of the dawn.
“Has it truly come to this?”
“The wicked can never escape judgment.”
Ari gripped the handle of her blade with a shaking hand. The steel hissed as she pulled it from its sheath in one precise, fluid motion that she had made countless times before. The growing sunlight fell on the metal. She traced the runes carved into the weapon. “You can come quietly; we can still avoid a conflict.” Ari’s low voice carried far in the calm.
“Don’t insult me so,” Lyla growled. “You’ve come to imprison me. Do you honestly think I will submit to you that easily? Do you think I’m too weak to fight you, Ari the Immortal?”
In an instant, Lyla was chanting harsh words beneath her breath and her hands began to glow with a white energy. The magic she was summoning crackled and burst around her fingertips. She screamed and the power shot through the air with a roar like thunder. There wasn’t enough time for Ari to move out of the way. She could barely raise her blade before the magic struck. There was a blinding flash and a rushing burst of wind and then the field became eerily still.
Ari stood. She held the sword out away from her, pointing forward. Her body was bruised and shaking but still intact. A bolt of conjured lightning had struck her with almost no effect.
“Impossible,” Lyla murmured.
“No, you’ve just forgotten one very important fact.” Ari slowly turned the blade to show its line of runes. “This is Reed’s sword. This is Reed’s poetry. Don’t you remember what he taught us, about the secret magic of the old languages?”
“Yes, I remember,” Lyla snapped, “I remember the magic he gave you. The power he left to you! I was his flesh and blood, and I received nothing!”
Ari gasped as another burst of light exploded before her eyes. She tried to shield her eyes but the brightness was painful. She only turned her head away for seconds but that was all Lyla needed.
A dagger was unsheathed from within one of Lyla’s billowing sleeves and sliced deftly across Ari’s stomach. Surprisingly unfazed by the pain of the slash, Ari caught her wrist and drove the hilt of Reed’s sword into Lyla’s back. Lyla cried out and lost her grasp on her weapon, falling into the snow as her back throbbed.
Ari kicked the dagger out of reach and checked herself for wounds. Her white tunic was ruined but her skin was unbroken. The rune tattoos carved into her arms had protected her against the blade. Her skin tingled with eerie numbness where it had been attacked. She sighed, trying to calm herself, and looked at the kneeling woman. “Lyla, this is over. Come quietly now and the king will-”
“No,” Lyla growled, suddenly reaching and grasping Ari’s exposed stomach with shocking fierceness. Her nails burnt like acid into Ari’s flesh. Lyla looked straight up into Ari’s horrified face and her lips curled into a thin smile. She slowly rose and moved back, wiping her bloody hand. “Now it’s over.”
Reed’s sword fell to the earth and Ari doubled over, her hands clutching her stomach as a wretched pain began to surge through her body. Blood was seeping from the wounds, staining the snow a brilliant crimson. “What ... what did you do?”
“Poison,” Lyla answered. “There is nothing that can save you from a sorceress’ poison.”
Ari gasped softly as the truth settled.
Lyla was quiet, and then, as she fully realized what was unfolding before her, she began to laugh, a sharp laugh that pierced the morning. Her eyes were gleaming with a vindictive shine. Her beauty darkened to a sinister, ugly thing. She threw her head back and called into the air, “Look, gods and goddesses! Look down and witness the end of a legend! Witness the death of Ari the Immortal!” She listened as her voice drifted up and then turned back to the kneeling figure. Her voice was dripping with thinly veiled disdain. “Any last words? You must leave something for the storytellers.”
Ari groaned as the pain seeped deeper into her body. “Lyla, why?”
“Why?” Lyla scoffed. “Why? You came to capture me like a wild beast. And you would have led me to slaughter in the royal city, and you ask, why?”
“You’ve lost your mind. I came to help you. You destroyed an entire town with your magic; you murdered innocent people. People will come hunting you, but if you had just-” Ari bit her lip as the agony flared up inside her.
“You lie!” Lyla angrily kicked a patch of snow. “You didn’t come to help me, you’ve never bothered to help me. You came for more glory. You came to kill me so everyone would continue to worship you. ‘Hail, Ari the Immortal, savior of Gredos, slayer of the Scarlet Sorceress!’” Her voice fell to a scornful whisper. “Your story is over. The people will forget you. They will know my name, and they will speak of me with awe and fear in their voices. I’ll be their myth.”
She left without hesitation, and Ari had no strength to follow her. The poison worked with cruel steadiness, bringing her to the ground. Ari ached with fury and fear. She did not want to die.
But Ari was not immortal.
Alone, trembling in the cold of an unmerciful winter, she died with tears in her eyes.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.