I am the beloved exile.
I live to protect my people. They've raised me, they've cared for me, and now I strive to keep them safe. And if that means I cannot be among them, so be it.
I make it sound nobler than it is.
My name is Terry. Not a very noble name, I know. I live with it.
And my task is no great thing. I simply walk the lines with my lantern every night, keeping away the outsiders.
Well, perhaps I am understating the task now.
My duty, in its most basic form, is to protect the waterforest. I have lived here all my life, and I know it's every pool and tree like no other. This is one reason that I was chosen for this task.
Who do I protect it from? Outsiders. Once, all were welcome here, but as the waterforest grew, and we grew more secluded, they began to forget we were here. Now, they come with guns and machines, forgetting that the waterforest is ours, determined to take it for their own. They've shot two already. Luckily, my people lived. And I was appointed to my task.
At first, my duty was simple. To scare the outsiders away. It was simple enough. A red sheet on a thin wire made for an excellent ghost, and with wires all along the paths of the waterforest, I could've sworn that we were safe. But the outsiders weren't to be stopped for long, not for more than a few days. The ghost never came down from it's wire, never presented a threat. If they weren't so nervous in the first place, it wouldn't have scared them at all.
We needed something tangible. Something seemingly deadly, monstrous, inhuman. We needed to give them a face to fear, something to keep them up at night.
And I was chosen for that task.
They'd never seen the ghost up close. All they knew was that it was red, and it flew. So I wear a red cloak on one shoulder, and I fly.
But to be more precise, I walk in thin air. That seems to scare them more.
I paint designs on my face to make me look cursed. Jewels, found in the deepest pools of the waterforest where the ruins lie, only add to that. Mysterious symbols, no more than chickenscratch, made up my curse, and with them, I cursed the forest. Parchment nailed to a tree, a set of symbols painted on rocks and trees over and over and over and over. I sabotage their equipment, and leave the same symbols, over and over and over. They thought it was a curse. They brought in linguists, historians, dozens of people to interpret my markings.
And of course they've brought someone in to deal with me.
And that is why I live in exile.
The bounty hunter didn't seem so intimidating at first. Just another man, just another gun pointed at me. The difference was that this one wasn't shaking. I almost lost my arm to his bullet the first time we met, escaping by half an inch.
Whoever thought that a gun was the best way to deal with a cursed man is a strange person, but perceptive. I fled from him, the first time I'd ever run from any of them. Most of the time they were running from me. But when I ran, he chased me. He followed me as I ran across the lines, keeping me in his sights and firing again and again and again. I thought I was going to die, and my only thought was to get back home.
I would have led him straight to my people had I continued.
He would have killed them. No question about it, they couldn't have fought him. We've been at peace for so long we've forgotten how to make war. It is a blessing that has become a curse.
I did not continue. The bounty hunter could not follow me once I entered the water, but he did follow me once I appeared again in a tree. The water cleared my head. I realized that as long as he followed me, I couldn't return home.
I also realized that if I appeared human for even one moment while this man watched, all would be lost.
So my task became a thousand times more.
My people realized I hadn't come back. They sent someone out to look for me. She was my friend, though I would not admit it. She had always been so.
And she nearly lost her life seeking me.
She didn't know the bounty hunter was there. She'd simply seen me as I ran. She called out to me, and I couldn't respond. I knew he was watching me.
He shot her. She fell from the path into the water, and I didn't know if she was alive.
And that was the first time I'd ever attacked someone.
He didn't know what hit him. He had turned his attention from me to shoot her. And while his gun was still smoking, I took him down. I didn't know I could. My head was hardly aware of what my body was doing, but I knocked him down, broke his gun, broke his arm, fractured his leg. I left him in a heap, barely conscious. And he watched me as I ran to where she'd fallen.
She was not dead. I carried her home. And I told them what had happened.
But something was strange. I didn't know how to fight, but I'd fought. I couldn't carry her weight, but I had. My markings hadn't washed off in the water where she'd fallen.
And the jewels from the underwater ruins glowed.
I have cursed myself. My harmless markings were the language of the ruins. I am bound to the forest now, but I cannot live among my people. I am not myself anymore. I cannot be myself. I must be the phantom, the cursed one. I cannot be Terry anymore. I am exiled from my people and myself.
And now I live in exile.
The curse is a part of me that I can barely control. My anger leads to power now, uncontrolled strength and speed, violence beyond what I can understand. I cannot become angry. I've attacked them many times now, whenever I lose control.
I haven't killed one. Not yet, anyway. But someday, I know I'll lose control, I won't be able to take back my body before the curse leaves my hands stained with blood.
The bounty hunter is afraid of me now. He still shoots at me, but he doesn't follow with that same reckless determination. All of them are afraid of me now. I have become precisely what I needed to be, but I have given up everything to become it.
I am the beloved exile.
Before you ask, yes, Terry is the same Terry from the Defiant stories that I wrote like, a year ago. This is the eventual turn his story would have taken, but I was so unhappy with the way that I'd written it, I decided to give up and start over. Yes, it's darker. Much darker. Hope you like it.