Short Story: On the Hunt

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while may have noticed by now that my writing comes and goes. (Yay, adult life). Recently I’ve started a new endeavor to not only get myself writing but to get myself back into the groove of some old (and some not so old) stories that I do at some point want to finish. And to do that, I’ve devised a sort of game.

I have composed a list of the 15 books/series I still would like to finish some day, each with a list of the most important main and side characters. Using a random number generator, I select first the series, then the character, then the age of the character, then the genre of the short story, and then the length, which ranges from 100-500 words. I think it’s really helping me get a good grasp on the characters, and should make the stories go smoother as I write them.

That being said, here’s the first one I’ve done. The story this is from is called Chain Master, a fantasy story in which the main character has the power to move between interconnected dimensions, known as the Enigami Chain, and kill a specific type of magic monster known as a morgrim. (More on that later, tho).

This short story is based when the main character, Eva, is a young teen (probably about 15), back before she left her birth dimension, Earth, and before she discovered her magic powers.


“Look there! On a lonely hillside stands the ruins of an ancient city, where monsters slumber, guarding vast amounts of treasure!”

Quickly I darted behind a brick wall, my makeshift sword clasped firmly in my hands. The rough surface of the bricks behind me pressed into my back, catching on the fabric of the long shirt I wore and scraping against the leather belt fastened around my middle.

I drew in a deep breath then, taking in the scents and sounds of the world around me, of grass, and trees, and animals. A bird chirped from its perch on a nearby tree branch, cocking its little head at me, as though wondering what I was doing. It seemed oblivious to the danger that rested so close at hand. I raised a cautious finger to my lips, trying to silence the little creature before me, if not for my sake than for its own. The movement seemed to startle the bird, however, and quickly it flew off into the distant horizon.

“Well, I will not be startled so,” I declared under my breath, tightening my grip on my weapon of choice before glancing around the corner of the wall behind which I hid.

I took in one more breath before stealthily slipping out from my hiding spot and behind a nearby bush.

Slowly, quietly I edged my way forward, my eyes always focused on the unsuspecting target before me. Then at last, when I had finally come within range of my goal, I darted out into the open, pointing my makeshift sword at the creature before me.

“Your days of villainy and gluttony are at an end, foul monster!” I declared, brandishing my weapon for emphasis. “I will retake these ruins for the residents of this fair land!”

A pair of languid green-gold eyes turned toward me then, clearly unconcerned.

“Meow.”

I sighed at the response, then lowered the stick in my hand.

“You were supposed to at least jump a little.”

The creature before me, an orange-furred tabby cat, twitched its ears unconcernedly before returning to grooming itself.

“Very well,” I said, returning to my earlier charade before raising my makeshift sword again. “If you will not surrender, then I must drive you from this land by force!”

No sooner had I said this, however, then the sound of my mother’s voice caught my ear.

“Eva Darlene Claine!”

I jumped.

Uh-oh. Full-name alert. Death was imminent.

“You’re a decade too old for that make-believe nonsense!” my mother continued. “Now get your hide in here and finish your homework!”

I let out a dramatic sigh before reluctantly dropping my stick.

“So long, sweet freedom.”

I paused one more time to look at the cat who was now eyeing me closely.

“Well,” I added then, grinning broadly as I scooped the little creature up in my arms, eliciting a squeak of protest in the process. “If I have to go to the dungeon, I’m taking you with me.”

Viper’s Last Stand

Currently listening to “Behind These Hazel Eyes” by Kelly Clarkson.

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And here is the second short story, which I mentioned in yesterday’s post.

The story is called “Viper’s Last Stand,” a story about Scythe and Lightning’s father. This is another even that is referenced in Prism World but is never actually shown.

The story is written from the point of view of one of the Phantom masters, Mr. Perei, who is also featured in Prism World, and it is probably my favorite of the short stories I’ve written so far. I hope you enjoy it, too. Happy reading!


“Viper’s Last Stand”

He was a tall, solemn, mysterious creature, with eyes like ebony and black hair that glowed faintly of blue in the moonlight. His footsteps were inaudible, his movements so deft that he could have been compared to a breath in the night. He was every bit the ghost he should have been.

His name was Viper. His specialty: poison.

In another life, had he not been born a Phantom, Viper might have made an excellent doctor. His weapon was the needle, and his eyes and instincts were so sharp he could find the smallest of veins in the darkest of nights. He was quick and efficient. He killed dozens in his lifetime. While he was active in the field, not one mark escaped.

I remember the first time I met Viper. I had heard stories about him. He was the pride of the Alpha 6 establishment of the Phantom Legion. Actually, I’d say he was the pride of the entire Phantom Legion.

He was retired from the field by the time I met him. His mates were carefully selected for him, in the hopes of improving the Phantom bloodlines through him.

He was perfectly obedient. Too obedient…

Viper never spoke, but his dark eyes watched everyone and everything. Nothing escaped him. And though I didn’t notice it much at first, there was always a glint of rebellion in those ebony eyes. He was truly a perfect snake, a deadly viper waiting for the right moment to strike.

I suppose it was after his last offspring was born that I first heard Viper use his voice, and his words surprised me so much that I myself couldn’t speak at first.

“Master Perei.”

I jumped at his words. His voice was a deep bass, rumbling, powerful. His was the voice of a king, and for a moment I was taken aback.

“How is Mercy?”

It took me a moment to realize that he was asking about his last successful mate.

“Why are you asking, Viper?” I inquired, trying to dodge the question.

There was a pause before he spoke.

“I heard she had a child by me and that the child was ill.”

He never looked at me when he spoke. Part of me wondered if he was even speaking to me at all. His gaze seemed distant, absent.

“How do you even know what a child is?” I responded.

I could hardly believe I was having a conversation with a Phantom. If I hadn’t been running some simple tests on him, I might never have.

There was a moment of silence before Viper spoke again.

“I have ears,” he replied quietly. “And masters have mouths.”

I had no idea how to take that response.

“Well…yes, you were successful with Mercy, and though there were complications, your offspring is as strong as you now. She will make a fine addition to the Legion. Would that you had continued to be successful with your most recent mates.”

Viper didn’t look at me, but his eyes narrowed.

“I need no others,” he stated flatly.

I drew back quickly at this statement.

“Are you telling me you haven’t been successful on purpose?” I inquired incredulously.

At this, Viper finally looked at me. I could almost imagine a dark snake coiled and ready to strike as I stared into his ghostly-pale face.

“I am telling you nothing,” he responded.

Viper didn’t speak much after that. He didn’t need to. His behavior told us everything. The poison of rebellion that he had been harboring all his life was beginning to rise to the surface, and more than one of us noticed it. It had to be stopped before it got out of hand. That was what we told ourselves. And so we set a plan in motion, one we thought would bring Viper back under our control.

We should have just killed him then…

 

It was a cold day in early winter as I stepped out of my car and into the humid warmth of Alpha 6. I grumbled to myself as I removed my coat and dropped it in my room before heading to the conference room on the other side of the compound. I was supposed to be on leave. What could they possibly need me for that couldn’t wait until I had finished my vacation?

I ground to a halt as I entered the conference room. It looked like every employee in Alpha 6 was gathered there, with row upon row of heavily armed soldiers crowding the corners. And there, sitting in a chair in the center of the far side of the room, was a man with dishevelled hair, a black eye and dried blood streaked across his bare skin.

“Good of you to join us, Mr. Perei,” a voice called to me from nearby.

I cocked an eyebrow at my superior, Mr. Neims, from my position in the doorway.

“Care to explain, sir?” I inquired.

“A rebel,” Mr. Neims responded, nodding toward the bruised and battered man who sat silently glaring at us. “We have reports that he has been trying to start an underground rebel force in Randburg.”

I smirked over at the rebel when I heard this.

“Not so smart, are you?”

The rebel spit on the ground as his reply.

“There is another issue which needs to be dealt with as well,” Mr. Neims added, turning to face me. “I’m sure you know which one I’m talking about.”

“Viper?” I questioned.

“Precisely,” my superior nodded. “I’m afraid that in his retirement he has forgotten who is in charge here. Refreshing his memory would be for the best, don’t you agree?”

“Absolutely,” I nodded, turning back toward the door. “I’ll go get him.”

I quickly wound my way down the hall toward Viper’s room, inserting my key into the lock and watching as the dim hall light filtered into the pitch-black room. I could see a shadowed figure sitting on the bed, staring at the wall. If he had been younger, the punishment for remaining visible would have been exceptional. Viper was retired, though, so he couldn’t be expected to move with the flexibility of the younger Phantoms. Still, it didn’t seem like he cared to move at all this time.

“Viper,” I called. “You have a job to do.”

For a moment, the Phantom didn’t move. Then, slowly, he slid from his bed and stepped over toward me.

He followed me like a shadow, so quiet that I had to keep looking over my shoulder to make sure he was still there. He didn’t even flinch as I closed the conference room doors behind us. Instead, his gaze settled on the rebel in front of us, and his dark eyes narrowed.

“Good boy, Viper,” Mr. Neims smirked, reaching into a case nearby and holding out a filled syringe toward the Phantom. “Now, we have a little rat here who has been causing trouble, and we want to give you the honor of dealing with him.”

Now even Viper’s eyebrows were narrowed.

“You just can’t stand the idea of someone wanting freedom,” the rebel suddenly spat. He was too weak to move, but his mouth worked just fine. “You’re monsters. All of you.”

This time, Viper did flinch.

“Hurry it up, Viper,” Mr. Neims growled. “Kill him.”

“No,” the Phantom interrupted before Mr. Neims could even finish his last word.

There was a visible shift in the room, with all the armed guards standing up alert and all the other masters exchanging bewildered gazes. I don’t think any of us had ever heard a Phantom tell us “no” before. It wasn’t a word they were even supposed to know.

“Excuse me?” Mr. Neims said menacingly. “Now you listen here, Viper. I’ve had just about enough of your insolence. Now I’m a good man, so I’m going to give you a choice: your life or the life of this rat. Which will it be?”

The rebel laughed ruefully at the word “good,” but Viper didn’t so much as blink. Then, slowly, he reached for the syringe in Mr. Neims’ hand.

Good. This will take care of this issue and we’ll be back to normal, I thought to myself, allowing a victorious smirk to cross my face.

For a moment, Viper stared at the syringe, slowly pushing the plunger further into the outer casing and watching as miniscule drops of poison began to drip out of the needle point. Then, all of a sudden, he flipped the syringe backward in his hand, driving the needle deep into Mr. Neims’ neck and releasing every last drop of the poison in a flash.

There was a scream as my superior realized what was going on, his hands reaching up to push Viper away, but it was already too late. We were all so surprised that it took a moment for us to respond, and in that brief instant of shock, the Phantom had already pulled a gun from someone nearby.

Gunshots rang through the room, deafening me as I drew my own pistol and aimed.

Bang, bang, bang!

It was hard to tell who was shooting who as I dodged behind a nearby chair. Luckily for me, the renegade Phantom was more focused on the soldiers in the corner than he was on me. Here a bullet pierced his gut; there another bullet split through his shoulder. Still, Viper kept fighting.

He really is a monster.

Just then, the Phantom turned his back to me. If I had any hope of stopping him, it was right here, right now.

Quickly I aimed and fired. The sound of the gunshot rang in my ears, but I didn’t move until I watched Viper slump down onto the concrete floor, rivers of red trickling out left and right. Then, when his body had stilled, I cautiously pulled myself to my feet.

For a moment, I could feel my blood run cold through my veins. Everyone was dead. Everyone. The soldiers, the masters, even the rebel. No matter where I looked, I saw red. 30 men. How had he managed to kill 30 men?

Slowly I stepped up to Viper’s body. He was lying on his back, his breath coming out in short, quick gasps.

He’s still alive?!

I paused over him, a feeling of rage washing through my body as I pointed my pistol at him. How could he? How could he betray the ones who had fed and kept him all his life? How dare he?

“Animal,” I growled, kicking the Phantom in the side and relishing the feeling of satisfaction I got from hearing his pained grunt. “You should have known better.”

“You think this is the end?” Viper snarled back, his coal-black eyes burning with pride and rage. “Kill me. But my blood has already poisoned your ground. My legacy will be the end of you. The Phantoms will not be your pets forever.”

“You’re starting to babble,” I spat back. “Looks like I need to put you out of your misery.”

For a moment, his lips drew into a fine line as his face began to take on the color of death.

“Mercy, forgive me,” he whispered suddenly.

“Too late for that, Viper,” I replied coldly.

Then with that, I pulled the trigger and watched as all life vanished from his body. A menacing grin crossed my face as I turned back toward the blood-stained door.

Idiot. Did he really think that would save him?

I laughed to myself, wondering at the sudden plea that Viper had given in his dying breaths. I should have known better. I should have known that his last words had never been meant for me.

Viper and Mercy

Currently listening to “Home” by Natalie Grant.

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The song I’m listening to actually sort of  fits with the topic of this post. Funny how that works…

So, the mind is an interesting thing. I’ve gone probably more than a year without writing anything notable on Remnant Moon, the sequel to my retro fantasy novel, Prism World. Yesterday, however, I started getting the stirrings of ideas, and today I’ve been working like a madwoman to get timelines and details organized so I can remain accurate as I write.

While looking through previously written material for this series, I came across a couple of short stories I wrote but never posted, though I’m pretty sure I wrote about them in a previous post. With my inspiration for the series coming back to me (and since I’m gearing up for a really busy rest-of-the-week/weekend), I decided it was about time I post them here.

This first one is called “Viper and Mercy,” and sets up the second one, which I will post tomorrow, called “Viper’s Last Stand.” Even though Viper is only ever mentioned in the Prism World series, and Mercy never does feature prominently in any of the stories, they are still two characters who have a lot – and I mean a lot – of influence on the course of the plot.

Before I post them, though, please be warned: These stories are not for children. While I wouldn’t call them graphic, the content is definitely not kid-friendly.

You have been warned.

With that being said, here is the first of the short stories. Thanks, and happy reading!


“Viper and Mercy”

I was only just 25, a newly-retired Phantom, when I first heard his name.

“She’s a very efficient Phantom,” I heard the masters say. “She never requires a second shot. Despite her emotional weakness, she is obedient, and I have seen few Phantoms with the reflexes that that one possesses. She would be an ideal match for Viper.”

I didn’t know what or who Viper was, but the masters’ mention of my emotional weakness frightened me. I curled up on my bed, hugging my knees to my chest and burying my face between them.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

As though to spite me, tears began to flow out of my eyes and trickle down my bare legs. I couldn’t help it. This was how I had been my entire life. I was always crying. It was how I got my name: Mercy.

I tried to be a good Phantom. I tried to make the masters happy with me. But I couldn’t. I hated to kill. I cried for every person I did kill. I wanted it to stop. I wanted to stop being afraid. I wanted to stop hurting and being hurt. I wanted to stop crying. But ever since that day…ever since the day I had been forced to make my first kill…been forced to kill the nurse who had raised me, the only person who had ever treated me kindly…ever since that day, my tears were my only constant companions.

The sound of footfall outside my door brought me back to reality, and instinct made me dart away into a dark corner of my room. I couldn’t let the masters find me. They would punish me if I was visible when they came in.

The door opened, and two pairs of feet entered the room.

“You can come out now, Mercy.”

Cautiously I pulled myself out of my hiding place and moved over in front of the master, my hands clasped together in front of me and my face turned to the side to try and hide the tears. It wasn’t as if the master would have been surprised, though. They had come to accept my tears as one of my odd little traits.

“I’ve brought you a companion,” the master said, motioning to the second figure who had entered the room. “His name is Viper. He will help you create a new Phantom to protect our government. Do as he says, and be a good girl.”

I nodded faintly.

Create new Phantoms? I didn’t really understand it, but if that was what the master wanted me to do, I would just have to obey. There was no escaping them.

I didn’t move until the door closed and the familiar darkness of my room enveloped me again. Then I looked up.

He was a tall man, the one who stood in front of me. His hair, which was mostly black with only slight hints of grey intermixed in it, hung just above his shoulders, framing a strong yet pale face. He watched me closely through a pair of familiar coal-black eyes. There was something about his eyes, though, that caught me. They were alive. I had seen other Phantoms only a handful of times, but never had I seen one with eyes as intelligent and vibrant as his. I wanted to know what that glimmer in his eyes was, but I didn’t know how to ask.

I opened my mouth, closed it again, then said in a barely audible voice, “I will…do as you say.”

Viper stared at me for another long moment. When he spoke, his deep, rumbling voice sent excited chills down my spine. I liked his voice.

“Lie down,” he said, motioning toward the bed.

I glanced between him and the bed, then cautiously did as I was told, lying down on my side and curling my knees up to my chest as I looked up at the person in front of me.

Now what?

Again he watched me in quiet thought. He was always doing that. Always watching.

Slowly Viper sat down on the bed at my side, his dark eyes studying my face. He was quiet for a long time, but then his eyes softened.

“Do you like the masters?” he asked suddenly.

My heart lept slightly at the question as a feeling of dread washed through my body. I curled my knees closer to my chest and looked away from him.

“Yes,” I managed to squeak out.

No. I don’t. I really don’t.

But I couldn’t say it. I was too scared. If the masters heard me say otherwise, I would be punished.

Again Viper sat silently for several moments. Then, all of a sudden, he moved, gently cupping my face in his hands and turning me so that I had no choice but to look at him. He moved his face closer to mine, pressing his forehead against my own. His eyes were so soft.

“Really?” he asked. “You don’t have to lie to me. Tell me the truth. Say what you want to say.”

Images of all the people I had killed began to stir through my mind, and instantly my tears began to fall again. I couldn’t even see Viper’s face anymore, and so I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, as though somehow that would chase away the horrid memories.

“No,” I cried softly. “No, I don’t. I’m scared. I’m really scared. The masters scare me. Please don’t tell them. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I know I’m weak. I never wanted to kill anybody. But I don’t want to be hurt again. Please…”

I never got to finish my sentence, because the next thing I knew, Viper’s lips were covering mine, drowning out my words. It was a sweet, exciting, yet absolutely terrifying thing for me.

For such a big man, his kiss and touch were surprisingly gentle. His lips didn’t leave mine until I stopped trying to talk, then he pulled away and, pushing my knees down and away from my chest, drew me up against him, wrapping a broad, strong arm around my body in a protective embrace.

“It’s alright,” Viper said soothingly, using his free hand to wipe at my tears. “You should never apologize for that. The masters don’t deserve that much.”

I don’t know how long we laid there, his broad chest and strong arms completely enveloping me. He didn’t say anything else, but he didn’t need to. His eyes told me everything.

I’ll protect you. I’ll comfort you. I care for you.

Quietly I wrapped my arms around him, burying my face in his chest. The touch of another person…a gentle, loving touch…I didn’t realize how much I craved it until this moment. Only one person had ever hugged me before. And because of that…the masters had forced me to kill her.

Again I began to cry as a chill of fear spread through my body. Would the masters make me kill Viper, too? Why was it so wrong for someone to treat me with kindness?

I don’t want to hurt him.

I felt Viper move then, and I looked up into his warm, dark eyes. He was looking at me worriedly, as though to ask me what was wrong. That only made me cry harder.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” I cried. “I don’t want them to make me hurt you. Never again. So if being kind to me means they will hurt you, please stop. Please don’t die.”

To a normal person, my outburst would have seemed bizarre and absurd. But it was almost as though Viper could read minds, because instead of looking at me strangely, he rolled me over on my back, straddling me and cupping my face in his hands as he pressed his forehead to mine. The barest hint of a smile caused his lips to turn upward slightly. There was a gleam in his eyes, as though to say, “We’ll both be fine.”

And finally, for the first time in my remembered life, I felt my body begin to relax.

I didn’t resist as Viper kissed me, running his lips and hands all over me. It was as though he sensed all the pain, and fear, and loneliness that I had felt over the years. There was a passion in him that I had never seen in any person before or after. And always, whenever possible, he kept his eyes locked on mine, as though to constantly make sure I was all right. If ever I acted like I was scared or in pain, he would pause, watch me, sometimes even go back to gently kissing me on the forehead and cheeks. And I trusted him like I had trusted no one else before.

Time passed. And when he was through, Viper gently wrapped the blankets around us and pulled me as close as he could, burying his face in the crook of my neck and breathing in deeply.

I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him back. The happiness and calm I had felt earlier exchanged themselves for a feeling of fear and sadness again, and I could feel the sting of tears at the backs of my eyes as I asked the question that was now gnawing at my mind.

“Will you stay with me?” I asked.

Viper’s shoulders sagged at the question, and slowly he leaned back, looking at me apologetically. I knew the answer, and so the tears began to fall again.

Quickly I put my palms to my eyes, trying to will the tears away. I was angry with myself for not being able to stop them.

I really am a horrible Phantom.

All of a sudden, Viper pulled my hands away from my eyes and kissed at the tears that were falling. He kissed the palms of my hands, then pulled me close, pressing my ear to his chest. I could hear his heart beating rapidly, a loud and strong thump that rumbled the way his voice did. Again he buried his face in my neck and tightened his arms around me, as though to tell me he didn’t want to let go.

We sat like that for several minutes. Then, at last, Viper released me and reached for my clothes. He gently helped me dress, then put his own clothes back on before curling up on the bed with me again. He was a good judge of time, I later realized, for within a few minutes, the sound of footsteps in the hall outside caught my ears.

Instinct made me try to jump up and hide, but Viper held me tightly, his eyes focused firmly on the concrete wall nearby, as though the look alone would bore a hole through it.

The door opened, and I curled up into as much of a ball as I could muster while plastered to Viper’s chest, trying to hide my face from the light and the master that stood in the doorway.

“I’m here for you, Viper,” the master’s voice called out.

For a moment, Viper didn’t move. When he did, he turned to glare daggers at the master.

I could sense the master stiffen.

“Viper.”

The voice was guarded and contained an audible warning.

Viper drew in a long, deep breath, sighing deeply before pulling himself away from me. The master stepped to the side, motioning for him to leave, but he paused for a moment to look back at me. I sat up on the bed, trying to control the tears that threatened to flow.

With his back turned to the master, Viper gestured slightly toward his own heart. Then, with one last glance, he stepped out into the hall and the door closed behind him. Once again, silence enveloped the darkness, and for the first time I realized just how empty my room was. That was when I began to cry. I already missed him. And I always would.

The Emerald Dragon

While I’m editing The Four Stars, here’s how Gavin met Adaliz. Enjoy!

————-

“Found you!”

Gavin jumped slightly in surprise when the face of a dark-headed girl appeared upside down in front of him. He jumped again when the head of a large silver canine appeared right next to the girl a moment later.

“No fair, Rayne!” Gavin protested, his arms stiffening at his sides. “You shouldn’t be allowed to use Kadin all the time!”

“Kadin’s a part of me, so he counts,” the girl responded, flashing the boy a wicked grin. “But I didn’t need his help this time. Ever since you started growing taller, it’s been easier to find you, since there aren’t as many places for you to hide. And besides, I already know all your hiding spots.”

“Grrr,” Gavin growled in response. “Well, we’re too old to be playing hide-and-seek anyway! Why are we still even playing this stupid game?!”

With a huff, the boy closed his bright blue eyes before pulling himself out of the nook in the stone overhang that he had been hiding in, crossing his arms over his chest and pouting. It wasn’t fair. Eryn hadn’t grown that much, so he could still hide just fine. Gavin, on the other hand, was finding it increasingly difficult to hide his ever-broadening frame.

“Aw, don’t pout,” Rayne giggled, dropping down from the overhang she had been laying on. Her silver wolf companion, Kadin, followed suit a moment later. “Even if you are a sore loser. If it makes you feel any better, though, I still found Eryn before I found you.”

Gavin frowned at the girl doubtfully as he looked at her out of the corner of his eye.

“Really?”

“You know Eryn,” Rayne shrugged with a grin. “He couldn’t stay quiet if his life depended on it.”

“You’re one to talk.”

The girl flashed him a mischievous smile before stretching and trotting off toward a massive oak tree out on the far horizon.

“Anyway, now that I’ve found you, all I have left is Razi.”

Gavin sighed as he watched his friend walk off, then grudgingly set off after her. As he walked, the boy glanced around at his surroundings, at the rich green grass playing at his bare feet, at the various trees, bushes, and flowers that dotted the landscape around him, at the high, sheltering walls of the cliffs that surrounded the valley in which he lived, and at the bright azure sky arching above him.

Seven years… It had been seven years since he had first come to live in this quiet little valley, along with his three friends – Razi, Rayne, and Eryn – and their foster mother, Aunt Effie. Not much had changed in those seven years. They were still playing the same games, hiding in the same places, doing the same things. About the only thing that had changed was how tall they all were, and even that was relative. Eryn was still as short as ever.

Another sigh escaped Gavin’s lips. He was already 13. Eryn was just a year behind him, and the girls were already 15. Why was he still playing these silly games? The thought was crossing his mind when the sound of three familiar voices caught his ears.

“Aw, you found me.”

Gavin glanced up ahead of him toward a sturdy lean-to set up off to the side of the giant tree that he and his friends also called home. Rayne was currently leaning over an open barrel, laughing as a thin, lithe girl with messy red hair crawled out. Eryn, a boy with even more unruly brown hair and honey brown eyes leaned against Rayne’s back while complaining about always being the first one to be found out. Gavin chuckled as he shook his head. Well, that was why…

“You knew all along where she was, didn’t you?” Eryn pouted, crossing his arms over his chest as he and Rayne stepped back in order to let Razi pull herself out of the barrel.

“Maybe,” Rayne responded, flashing the boy one of her signature wicked grins. “But even if I did, I’m not telling.”

She put one finger in front of her mouth for good effect.

“Besides, you were the one with your butt hanging out of a tree. What kind of a hiding spot was that, anyway?”

“I didn’t mean to be hanging out of a tree! You wouldn’t have seen me if I hadn’t gotten stuck.”

“You’d still be there if I hadn’t seen you.”

“Okay, okay, you two,” Razi sighed, placing one hand on Rayne’s shoulder and one on Eryn’s. “It is what it is. Anyway, whose turn is it?”

“Yours,” Gavin, Rayne, and Eryn all responded in unison.

The redhead’s face paled slightly.

“Why me?” the girl pouted. “You guys never play fair when I’m it!”

“We play completely fair,” Rayne grinned back. Now it was Razi’s turn to be at the receiving end of the other girl’s wicked grin. “You’re the one who’s afraid of heights.”

“Playing here is no fun anymore,” Eryn protested suddenly, crossing his arms over his chest. “We already know each other’s hiding spots. We should find somewhere else to play for a change.”

“Like where?” Razi inquired, frowning doubtfully.

“Like a part of the valley we’ve never seen before, of course!”

Instantly Rayne’s eyes brightened at the suggestion.

“Right! Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Why, indeed…” Gavin sighed. “Usually you’re the first one to cause mischief.”

“This isn’t mischief,” Rayne grinned over her shoulder, setting off back the way she and Gavin had come. “It’s just being adventurous.”

“But Rayne, maybe we should ask Aunt Effie first,” Razi protested, shifting nervously.

“Nah, she won’t mind. It’s not like we’re leaving the valley anyway. Come on Razi, or I’ll just have to get lost without you!”

***

“One…two…three…”

Gavin could hear Razi’s voice echoing down through the valley as he trotted off in search of a good hiding spot. Now, where to go…

Gavin glanced around at his surroundings as he searched. He had been fairly far north before, but never here and certainly never without Aunt Effie telling everyone not to wander off. Here the trees were even thicker than where he had grown up, broad, ancient branches spreading a canopy out over the landscape and hugging the cliff walls on either side of the valley. The land was raw and wild, as though it had remained untouched by mortal hands for centuries. Gavin chuckled to himself at the thought. Well, maybe Rayne and Eryn had been smart after all. This looked like a great place to hide!

A broad grin crept over the boy’s face as he glanced back and forth. A great place indeed. With so many hiding places high above the ground, there were any number of spots where a person could hide from Razi. The girl was, after all, decidedly terrified of heights.

Gavin chuckled to himself when he spotted a high ledge jutting out from the cliff nearby, and quickly he trotted towards it. It was a good thing he had been training with his broadsword for the past year. Otherwise, climbing might have been difficult.

“Fifty!” Razi’s faint voice echoed between the broad tree trunks. “Ready or not, here I come!”

Hastily, Gavin free-climbed up the cliff face and onto the ledge above. Good. Razi shouldn’t be able to…

Instantly the boy froze when he found himself staring into the dark yawning mouth of a very large cave.

That…is a really big hole…

Gavin’s grin broadened at this. Well, now. Even if, by some odd chance, Razi were to gain the courage to come looking for him up here, he still had the whole cave to hide in. He was definitely going to win this time!

Quickly the boy slipped into the shadows of the cave before him, glancing over his shoulder every once in a while to make sure he could still see the light of the exit as he carefully navigated further into the darkness. He was so busy concentrating on not losing the exit that he didn’t even notice the large object lying at his feet.

“Wha-oof!”

His toe caught on something solid and bulky, and the next thing Gavin knew, he felt himself go tumbling face-first into the ground.

“Oww…”

The boy groaned as he pushed himself up into a sitting position, rubbing the sore spot where his forehead had come in contact with the stone floor.

“What did I just trip…over…?”

A chill ran down Gavin’s spine and his words caught in his throat as the thing he had tripped over – a long, tubular object the width of a small tree – began to slide across the floor, making a hissing, scraping noise as it went. At the same time, a low, grumbling growl echoed off the cave walls as an enormous mass began to move in front of him. And then, out of nowhere, a pair of glowing amber eyes split through the darkness, slitted pupils focusing in on Gavin.

“Who are you?” a low, feminine voice growled.

The voice had a slight rumble to it, but the words were still clear and precise.

A great shadow shifted in the darkness before the boy, growing bigger and bigger as the ground beneath his feet began to tremble. There was a sniffing sound, then another, more audible growl.

“G-G-Gavin, s-son of Cael…ma’am?”

Gavin wasn’t sure what this creature was, but if being polite meant avoiding being eaten or ripped to shreds, it was worth a shot.

“Human. You must be a very brazen hunter to come at me without a weapon.”

The voice was menacing, and the amber eyes narrowed with another growl, tongues of flame licking out between dagger-sharp teeth and dancing across glossy emerald scales. Gavin’s breath caught in his throat at the sight. He had seen this form before, never in real life but often in the books Razi and Rayne read at the Great Oak where Aunt Effie had raised them or in the royal library the few times they had travelled to the capital city. But if this was what he had seen, then… No way! Was this…a dragon?!

It had been a long time since Gavin had wet himself. A really, really long time. Now, though? Now he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to wet himself, pass out, run away, or all of the above. What he did know, though, was that he was fairly certain he had never felt so frightened in his life. Or, at least, not since the day he had lost his parents.

“I’m not a hunter!” Gavin exclaimed, backing away as the dragon moved her head towards him.

Instantly the thing he had tripped over – Gavin now realized it was the creature’s tail – moved up to block his escape, and he could feel rock-hard scales press into his back as the dragon let out a puff of searing, sulfuric air from her nostrils. Gavin could feel himself trembling as though he had been walking naked in a blizzard. The dragon’s head alone was as long as the body of a grown man, and he only became more aware of the deadliness of the monster before him as her head drew closer.

“Please.” He could hear his voice crack as he pressed himself against the tail behind him. “I was just playing hide-and-seek with my friends. I had no idea you were here. You have to believe me!”

A low, warning growl rumbled up from the dragon’s throat as she stared at him.

“Your hands are not the hands of a child,” the dragon growled, amber eyes narrowing in suspicion. “Those are the callouses of a swordsman.”

Gavin was surprised the dragon could see so much in the consuming darkness, and that realization made him even more frightened than he was before, if that were even possible.

“Yes, I’m a swordsman,” the boy gulped.

He could feel cold sweat dribbling down the side of his face.

“I’ve been practicing with the broadsword. But I’m not a hunter. See. I can’t hurt you.” He held out his hands imploringly. “Please…”

The creature sniffed slightly, her glowing eyes portraying a sense of doubt.

“If you are not a hunter, what business would a human child like you have with a sword?”

Gavin blinked back at the dragon in confusion. Why would he? Why wouldn’t he?

“I don’t know,” the boy responded, casting his sharp blue eyes to the dark stone floor on which he sat. “Just because, really. Maybe because my friends do it? Or, maybe to be a hero? I never thought about it before.”

Another rumbling growl.

“You train with a weapon and you do not know why?”

There was suspicion and disbelief in the dragon’s voice.

Quickly Gavin turned back to the creature as she pressed her face forward even more. He held his breath as the dragon came almost nose to nose with him.

No! Please! I don’t want to die! Not like this!

There were so many thoughts whirling through the boy’s mind as he stared what seemed to be death incarnate straight in the face. Just when he thought the dragon was going to eat him, however, a piercing scream echoed through the cave from the outside. Gavin’s blood ran cold at the sound as his head quickly whipped back in the direction of the cave exit.

“Razi!”

He would know that scream anywhere.

Suddenly forgetting the dragon still breathing fire down his neck, Gavin made to rush out, but quickly the creature before him wrapped its talons around him, preventing his escape.

“Don’t you dare think to fool me!” the creature growled as she arched her neck, the tongues of fire glowing blue with the ferocity of the heat that poured from the dragon’s mouth. “It doesn’t matter your trickery. You will not escape my wrath, hunter!”

Gavin could feel the blood drain out of his face as he stared wide-eyed at the beast before him. In the light of the growing flames, the boy could see a charred human skeleton lying in a heap against a nearby wall. Bones and partly-crushed skulls, as well as broken bows, shattered shields, and swords and spears broken in half like twigs all lay scattered about the cave floor, and singe marks and sword cuts marred the cave wall. This creature certainly was nothing to trifle with.

Another scream, followed by the frantic shouts of Rayne and Eryn, caught Gavin’s ears, and quickly he turned back to look at the dragon.

“Please!” he exclaimed. “If you have to keep me prisoner or…kill me…or whatever, at least let me make sure my friends are all right!”

The dragon looked doubtful, but the panicked sounds from outside the cave seemed to have caught her attention, and slowly her sturdy tail uncoiled from behind him as her talons tightened around his body.

“Let us see whether your words have truth in them,” the creature growled deeply.

Gavin could feel his head snap forward, a whirlwind of air churning his hair in an artificial gale as the dragon spread her broad, leathery wings and launched herself out of the cave opening with the force of a tornado. The next thing the boy knew, the trees of Great Oak Valley spread out before him like a dark green blanket, his feet dangling helplessly in midair. All the dragon had to do was loosen her talons a fraction of an inch and he would go tumbling to the distant ground below. It was enough to make Gavin’s head spin.

For a moment, the boy thought he was going to pass out from the sheer fright of it all, but the next moment, his eyes spotted a trio of familiar forms below as they moved out into a clearing.

From where he dangled, Gavin could see Razi pinned up against the smooth surface of a cliff wall. She was all but climbing air as she grasped for something, anything, to pull herself up. Behind her charged an enormous bear, the like of which Gavin had never seen, and behind that came Rayne, Kadin, and Eryn.

“Hey! Over here, pig-face!” Eryn shouted at the bear, picking up rocks and hurling them in the general vicinity of the bear as he ran.

Instantly, Rayne darted forward, a thick tree branch in hand.

“Take that!” the girl roared.

Then, with one powerful swing, she brought the branch in contact with the bear’s hind quarters. The creature bellowed in rage as it swung around to face her, and even from this distance Gavin could tell that the girl’s face had paled considerably as she bolted back toward Eryn.

“Get it! Get it!” she shrieked.

A look of horror swept across Eryn’s countenance.

“Don’t bring it over here!”

“But didn’t you just tell it to come over here?!”

“Figure of speech!”

Instantly, Gavin spun his gaze back to the dragon who still held him. For a moment he blinked as the creature’s scales glittered like gems in the daylight. Now there was a magnificent being, if ever he had seen one. But now was not the time to be admiring the very creature that had been about to roast him a moment before.

“Dragon!” Gavin shouted, trying to make sure the creature could hear him above the roar of the wind that whipped against him. “Please, I beg of you! If you will only save my friends, you may do whatever you wish to me.”

“Is that so?” the dragon responded, turning a burning amber eye on the boy clutched in her talons.

“Yes.”

Gavin could hear his own voice shaking. He didn’t want to say that. If there had been any other way, any other hope for saving his own skin and his friends at the same time, he would have taken that chance then. But there was no other way. Or, at least, he couldn’t see one. What else was he supposed to do?

For a moment, the dragon watched him. Then, suddenly, she turned her head and let out a deafening roar that seemed to cause even the trees on the ground below to shudder. Then, all at once, Gavin could feel himself pelting to earth, and he couldn’t help but yelp frantically at the sudden surge. Another roar blasted the landscape, and out of the corner of his eye, Gavin could see Razi and the others darting out of the way as a river of flames scorched the spot where the bear stood. Gavin sucked in a quick, surprised breath as the searing heat of the dragon’s flames scorched the back of his neck, and he clenched his teeth as the creature landed jarringly on the ground. There came a series of growls and snappings from behind, then the dragon grunted in satisfaction, and the boy turned to see the dead, scorched bear lying in a pool of red not far away. And for a moment, he dared to sigh in relief.

“Gavin!”

Razi, Rayne, Eryn, and Kadin all rounded on Gavin and the dragon then, their wary gazes shifting from the dragon to the boy held tightly in her talons and then back again.

“Are you guys all right?” Gavin inquired, craning his neck to see his friends.

“We’re fine, but…” Rayne responded, glaring daggers at the dragon. “I hope this isn’t what it looks like.”

Gavin grimaced at this. Of any of them, Rayne was likely to throw herself into another fight if she even perceived danger or offense.

A rumbling chuckle escaped the dragon’s throat, and then, all of a sudden, her grip on him eased, and a moment later, Gavin felt himself standing free before her. Instinct told him he really should run away now that he had a chance, but shakily Gavin steeled himself as he stared up at the massive creature before him.

“Thank you, dragon,” he said, trying to contain the tremor in his voice. “You saved my friends. I am grateful.”

“Adaliz,” the creature responded suddenly.

“Huh?”

The dragon lowered her head so that she was within eye-level of the boy standing before her.

“Adaliz,” she repeated. “My name is Adaliz. You are a strange band, aren’t you?”

“Strange how?” Eryn inquired, sidling up behind Gavin and peeking cautiously around the older boy.

“I honestly have never seen anyone take on a bear with a stick and a handful of pebbles, nor have I even met a man who would offer up his life if only I would rescue his friends. You are all either very brave or very stupid. I have not decided which.”

“Well, they do say there’s a fine line between the two,” Razi said suddenly, stepping forward and bowing to the emerald dragon. “Either way, I am immeasurably grateful for your help. Even if I am…still trying to wrap my head around the idea that I am speaking to a dragon.”

Gavin glanced around at his friends. Even though they were all speaking, he could still see the shock on their faces. He wouldn’t have been surprised if they had told him he looked the same.

Slowly the boy turned back to look at Adaliz. The dragon didn’t look quite so intimidating as she first had. Regal was the better way to describe her now.

“So…Adaliz, was it?” Gavin spoke slowly. “You have done what I asked. Now what will you do with me?”

If dragons could smile, this one certainly did then, and another rumbling chuckle echoed up from deep inside her.

“At first, I truly thought you were a hunter trying to deceive me, but now…? I think I like you. I have never met such interesting creatures before. I’ll let you go.”

Instantly the creature launched herself into the air, hovering just above their heads as her massive wings beat a gale around them.

“From now on, you may call me your ally, Gavin, son of Cael. If ever you need me, you know where to find me. I’ll be watching for you.”

Then with that, the dragon turned, sailing skyward before disappearing over the rising treetops. And in an instant, all was silent.

For several moments, the four young friends stood in stunned silence. Then, slowly, the other three turned to look at Gavin.

“Um…Gavin…?” Razi began, her face scrunching up as though she had a question she didn’t even begin to know how to ask.

Quickly the boy held up his hand as his head began to spin.

“I don’t…even know…” he responded, tottering slightly.

It was as though the stress of the past hour had collapsed on him like an avalanche. And then, without warning, Gavin passed out. Now there was an experience he never wanted to have again.

The Only Hope

Another short story based in the world of the Legend of the Stars. This one follows after “Elwyn’s Daughter,” and also focuses on Rayne and Rolf.

——-

The Only Hope

It was still dark outside when Rolf woke to a painful jab in his side. The elf lord groaned, then lifted one eyelid and glanced over at Rayne. The child had come crying some time in the middle of the night, frightened by a nightmare, and Rolf hadn’t found the heart to send her back to her room. Now here she lay, one leg thrown across his chest and a knee in his side as she sprawled horizontally across the mattress. Though the bed was decidedly too big for the child to take up all of it, she certainly didn’t lack for trying.

A movement stirred at Rolf’s feet and he glanced down at Kadin who stretched, yawned, then curled back up in a ball. The pup was, by far, the wisest of the two of them, Rolf thought, for the little creature had conveniently placed himself far out of the way of Rayne’s flailing limbs.

Heaving a sigh, Rolf gently shoved Rayne’s legs away and turned her until her head was back up on the pillow where it belonged. The girl whimpered slightly and buried her face in his shoulder, but it was a moment before he realized his robe sleeve had become wet with freshly-cried tears. Quietly the elf lord moved his arm, reaching around the child’s tiny frame and pulling her close to him, his thumb rubbing across her cheek and wiping away her tears.

It had been about three months since the Stars and their wives had disappeared. Rolf and King Dorrian, and even Sloan, chief of the Valley Elves, had exhausted their resources searching for the missing heroes, but to no avail. Rayne had been remarkably strong so far, no doubt helped along by Kadin’s suggestion that they would eventually go searching for the girl’s missing parents. But it was at night that she broke. This wasn’t the first time the child had come crying because of a nightmare, and Rolf wondered how she would take it when she discovered that her parents had been declared dead. He wasn’t going to tell her that a human spy had found an execution order about a week earlier. No, just telling her they weren’t coming back would be bad enough. Worse still, he had something else to tell her, too: she wasn’t going to be living with him much longer.

With the Stars gone, King Dorrian had met with Rolf to discuss the fate of the children. Cael’s remaining family had chosen to leave his son, Gavin, in the hands of Effie, a close family friend. Delwynn had long ago lost ties with most of his remaining family, and as such, his daughter, Razi, had also been sent to Great Oak Valley to live with Effie. That left the two remaining children, Lance’s 5-year-old son, Eryn, and Elwyn’s 8-year-old daughter, Rayne.

***

“The children know each other well,” Dorrian had said. “Despite living in various places, the Stars seem to have kept their families in close contact. It would be best, I think, if all four stayed together. Their common experience should also help them to overcome the loss of their parents.”

“What of Rayne?” Rolf had asked, frowning slightly. “She has already lost one home. Would it not be more traumatic if she were moved again?”

“Perhaps for a time,” the king had nodded. “But with her friends there, it should not take long for her to adjust. And besides,” the man leaned forward, lacing his fingers together, his copper brows narrowing in concern, “we have a very serious issue to consider.”

“What kind of serious issue?” Rolf questioned.

“The fact that the Gauls have managed to defeat four powerful warriors,” Dorrian replied. “If they are that strong, our armies may have difficulty facing them in open combat again.”

“I fail to see how this concerns the children.”

“Their fathers were legendary,” the king responded, standing and crossing over to a window, his hands behind his back. “And while their mothers were not magical warriors, they were strong, too. The children, with the right training, could potentially grow into powerful warriors. Perhaps they will even inherit their fathers’ magic abilities. No one knows the true nature of the Star spell, and if the Gauls are truly as strong as we fear, these four could potentially be the only hope we have in defeating Ceallach and his armies.”

“These are children, Dorrian,” Rolf argued. “They are not warriors, and neither were their grandparents. The Stars were unique, their power inherited not by blood but by a spell. There is no guarantee that these children will grow to become that powerful, that they will choose to be warriors, or that Ceallach will wait long enough for them to become a threat. And if Ceallach knows, or if he were to find out about the children’s’ existence, you know their lives would be in danger. He would not wait for them to grow up.”

“As far as I can tell, he knows nothing about them,” Dorrian shrugged. “Or if he does, he certainly shows no interest in them. Besides, if we kept them at my palace and trained them to be knights, they would certainly gain the skills needed to defend themselves.”

“Drumach is the first place Ceallach would go,” Rolf responded with a shake of his head. “Treat them like heroes and they will neither be safe, nor will they grow with the humility and honor of a true hero. Ceallach will know and he will target them, and if it turns out that they are not made of the material you believe they are made of, they will either be crushed by this realization or become insufferably arrogant with the belief that they are greater than they actually are. Furthermore, if you force them to do something they never desired to do, they may learn to resent you, and then they will be no more help to you than they would have been if they were normal children living normal lives.”

“And yet,” Dorrian sighed, “they might also truly turn out to be our only hope. Where would we be if we let this resource slip by us?”

“They are neither resources nor tools.” Rolf could feel himself becoming just the slightest bit angry. “They are children, innocent beings who have been dealt a fate they never deserved. I swore to protect Rayne in particular, and I feel I would be doing her an injustice by treating her in the way you suggest.”

“You know that Rinba would be a target, too,” Dorrian added quietly, turning to look at the elf lord sympathetically. “I know, Rolf, how close you were to Elwyn and that you want the best for his daughter. Believe it or not, I want the best for her, too. For all the children. But you know as well as I do what we are up against. All our victories against the Gauls were due primarily to the efforts of Lance, Elwyn, Cael, and Delwynn. Without the Stars, I don’t know where we stand against Ceallach. My soldiers are scared, Rolf. We have been fighting the Gauls for years, and the loss of the Stars has stolen what little resolve my men originally had. They need hope, Rolf. If the children are to survive, they will need protection, and if they are to be protected, they will need defenders who will not turn tail and flee at the sight of danger.”

Rolf had sighed, then. He knew Dorrian was right. The whole of Livania knew that the heroes had been killed by the Gauls. Fear was a deadly thing, particularly in battle, but the hope of new heroes would give the soldiers the courage they would need to put up a good fight.

“I understand your point,” Rolf said after a few moments of silence. “But perhaps there is another way.”

“What do you suggest?” Dorrian inquired, returning to his seat.

“Effie,” the elf lord responded. “Two of the children are already there. If she is willing to raise the other two as well, the children could stay together but would be well removed from the attention of the world as a whole. They could grow up with as normal lives as possible, and when the time came, they could choose to follow in their parents’ footsteps.”

“They wouldn’t learn to fight, though,” Dorrian frowned. “Nor would they have guards to protect them. Great Oak Valley is incredibly secluded.”

“Precisely,” Rolf nodded. “Secluded, far enough removed from the attention of the public eye, but not so far that the castle and capital city would be out of reach. Don’t worry about their training or protection. I can take care of that, and I’m sure Sloan would be willing to play a part in that, whatever he can do. We can tell the children enough to satisfy them: that their parents were strong soldiers who died fighting the Gauls. As far as I know, the Stars spoke little of their powers. I don’t believe the children know the extent of their fathers’ abilities, and I think it would be best if we kept it that way. As they get older, we can train them if they so desire, and should it appear that they have inherited some special gift, we can send them to train at Drumach or Kelga. For the moment, let them grow up innocent.”

“And what of my men? What should I tell them?”

“Tell them there is still hope, that the Stars left us a safeguard that may yet save us should the Gauls decide to invade again. They must trust us despite having no visible proof of protection. If our soldiers do not trust us, how can we call ourselves lord and king? We have been too dependent on four men, men who were great, indeed, but still merely men. We are all mortal, and we all must die eventually. In order to maintain a stable kingdom, we must be able to be courageous and strong with or without magical heroes at our side.”

King Dorrian rubbed his bearded chin thoughtfully for several moments, then nodded slowly.

“I can accept that,” he agreed, reaching for a piece of paper and an inkwell with a quill pen protruding from the top. “I will write a letter to Effie explaining our plan. In the mean time, do prepare Rayne for the change. I hear she has become quite attached to you.”

***

Quite attached, indeed. Rolf had always been fond of Rayne, though his stoic nature had made it difficult to express it. But since the loss of Elwyn, who was at once a friend and a son to him, Rolf and Rayne had nearly become inseparable. Who, then, was more attached, Rolf wondered.

By now, grey morning light was filtering through the bedroom window. The sound of low voices talking out in the hall caught the elf lord’s ears, and quietly he scooted away from the sleeping Rayne, throwing on his outer robe and slipping out of the room. There stood Arin, who was talking quietly with a human man, a royal messenger by all appearances. The pair turned when they heard Rolf’s bedroom door close quietly behind him.

“Father,” Arin said softly. “We have a letter from the king.”

She held up a small sheet of paper that was folded and sealed over with wax drippings.

“Thank you,” Rolf nodded, accepting the letter from his daughter’s hand.

He nodded in acknowledgement to the messenger, then turned down the hall to go to his study. He paused after only a few steps, however, and glanced over his shoulder at the elf girl who watched him closely.

“Arin,” he said in elvish. “Rayne is sleeping in my room. Would you watch over her? I fear she will be frightened if she wakes to find no one there.”

“Was it another nightmare?” Arin questioned, also in elvish.

Rolf nodded.

“She was crying in her sleep, too,” he replied. “Do make sure she is all right.”

Then with that, he turned and continued toward his study.

***

The servants had already lit the fire in the fireplace by the time Rolf entered his study. He lit a couple of candles on his desk before settling down and opening the letter in his hand. Quietly his eyes scanned over the message, then he set the letter aside and leaned back in his chair, staring absentmindedly at the fireplace nearby.

It was as he had suspected. Effie had been more than willing to agree to Rolf’s plan. Lance’s son, Eryn, had already been moved to Great Oak Valley. All that remained now was for Rolf to bring Rayne.

“Friend Rolf?”

The elf lord glanced over toward the door in surprise to see Rayne, her small hand in Arin’s, Kadin pressed protectively against the child’s right leg. The girl’s free hand rubbed at one swollen eye, which was as likely swollen from crying as it was from having just woken up.

“She would not go back to sleep,” Arin explained, looking down sympathetically at the little girl at her side. “She must have woken shortly after you left the room.”

Rolf tried not to cringe at the thought. He hoped the child would not hold it against him when he took her to live with Effie.

“It is all right, Banné Rayne,” Rolf said, standing from his seat and walking over to kneel in front of the little girl. He patted Rayne on the head, then offered her his hand, which she readily took.

“Let us go for a walk,” he continued, starting out into the hall.

Quietly he glanced at Arin and nodded as he passed her. She nodded in reply, then turned and headed off in the opposite direction. She knew what his look meant.

“Where are we going, Friend Rolf?” Rayne asked as they stepped out into the front yard of the mansion.

“Oh! Are we going on an adventure?” Kadin yipped as he bounded ahead of them.

“Of sorts, I suppose,” the elf lord nodded.

“An adventure?” Rayne’s eyes lit up at the suggestion. “What kind of adventure?”

“I have some place I wish to show you. A special place.”

“Is it a secret?”

“Right now, it is.”

By this point, the trio had come to the stables, and a whinny met them as they came to a stop next to the open doors. Out stepped a servant leading a black horse with a white star on its forehead. The horse had already been saddled, and the servant bowed when Rolf approached.

“My lord,” the servant said in elvish. “Lady Arin instructed me to saddle a horse after the messenger arrived. She said you might need one.”

Rolf chuckled slightly. Of course. Arin was sharp. She knew what was going on.

“We get to ride a horse?!” Rayne gasped excitedly.

Quickly she released the elf lord’s hand in favor of petting the horse who stood placidly as the child stroked her hand over the white spot on the creature’s forehead.

“Atha?”

Rolf turned to see Arin. She held a long bundle in her arms, along with two bed rolls, and there was a satchel slung across her shoulder.

“I have brought what you desired.”

“Thank you, dear one,” Rolf smiled. “We should attach this to the saddle for easier transport.”

Arin nodded, and a moment later the bundles she carried had been secured at the back of the saddle.

Rolf swung up onto the horse’s back as soon as this was done, then he held out an arm toward Arin and Rayne. Quietly the elf girl pulled Rayne into a quick hug, then picked her up and handed her to the elf lord. She then handed Kadin up to Rayne before stepping back.

“Have fun, Little Rayne,” Arin smiled. “Safe travels.”

“Bye, bye, Sister Arin!” Rayne grinned, waving at the elf girl enthusiastically. “See you later!”

Rolf and Arin exchanged glances, then Rolf spurred his mount forward, the horse’s reins clasped in one hand and his opposite arm wrapped tightly around Rayne. It was now or never.

***

It was several days before the trio at last made it to the top of a hill overlooking a winding valley. A small stream curled like a river along the valley’s grassy floor, and off in the distance Rolf could see the towering branches of a great tree rising above the edges of the surrounding cliffs.

“Shall we rest here?” Rolf asked as he pulled his horse to a stop next to a small brook.

Yes,” Rayne groaned, drawing out the word dramatically. “We’ve been riding forever.”

Actually, it had only been perhaps an hour since Rayne had insisted on taking a break, but to a child of 8, Rolf supposed an hour might have seemed like forever. And then, of course, there was always the fact that they had been riding, off and on, for 3 days. Even Rolf, who rode consistently every day, was just the least bit sore.

Quietly the elf lord slid from the saddle, then turned and stretched his arms out toward the little girl. Far be it from Rayne, though, to dismount without fanfare. Before Rolf realized what she was up to, the child had coiled up and taken a flying leap into his arms. The elf lord gasped in surprise, quickly reaching out to catch her before she hit the ground or knocked him over.

“That was fun!” the girl giggled as Rolf stumbled back, visibly startled as he wrapped his arms tightly around his young charge, all the while trying not to squish Kadin who Rayne still held firmly in her arms.

“Rather dangerous,” the elf lord replied, setting the girl down on her own two feet.

“I wanna do it again!”

“Best that you don’t.”

Rolf half-expected the child to protest, but already she and Kadin were off exploring, and the elf lord had to quicken his usual pace just to keep up with the pair. He led his horse to the small brook to drink, then stiffened when he spotted Rayne as she climbed up on a boulder that hung over the ledge of a nearby cliff.

“Little Rayne, please be careful,” the elf lord warned, releasing the horse’s bridle and hurrying over to where the child sat.

“That’s a really big tree,” Rayne said in awe, completely ignoring Rolf’s warning as she dangled her legs over the cliff’s edge.

Quietly Rolf knelt beside her, then turned in the direction the girl was looking. Even from this distance, they could see a tall oak, broad branches stretching out left and right, towering to heights that no mortal-made object had ever achieved. The base was a good 50 feet broad, thick roots protruding from the ground only to plunge deep inside the earth again. To one side, smoke curled from a chimney at the oak’s base, and Rolf could just barely make out the shape of a round window on the opposite side from the chimney.

“It is a very big tree,” Rolf agreed, gently taking Rayne by the arm and pulling her away from the ledge. “It’s a special tree, and an old tree.”

“A special tree?” Rayne questioned, Kadin trotting quietly at her heels. The pup was listening intently, no doubt trying to understand the strange language his mistress seemed to prefer to speak.

“Yes, a very special tree,” Rolf nodded, moving over to a pile of dry branches at the forest’s edge. “It was planted by someone very special.”

“You know who planted it?” Rayne asked, eyes wide in wonder as she followed the elf lord like a shadow. “Who?”

“An elvin princess,” Rolf smiled, kneeling and beginning to build a campfire.

“Oh!”

A broad grin spread across Rayne’s face, and she squatted next to Rolf, her eyes sparkling with curiosity.

“Tell me, please!”

At this, Kadin yipped.

“Please, what?” the pup asked in elvish. “I want to know what you are talking about.”

Rolf chuckled, then reached into the satchel he had slung over his shoulder and pulled out a striking stone.

“A long time ago, long before the two of you were born, there was an elvin princess who loved adventure,” the elf lord said in elvish, watching as sparks leapt from the striking stone to the pile of leaves he had put beneath the pyramid of sticks. “Her father, the elvin king, worried about her a lot, but even though he told her not to go far, she did not always listen.”

“The elf king sounds like you, Friend Rolf,” Rayne giggled. “You would be him if you were a king. You always worry.”

Rolf smiled softly at this, then sat back as he watched the weak flame before him slowly grow in size and reach out to the branches surrounding it.

“The elf king loved his daughter very much, though,” Rolf continued, reaching out and drawing Rayne close to his side. The girl curled up against him, pulling Kadin into her arms before settling down to listen to the story.

“Her mother loved her very much, too, right?” Rayne asked, looking up at the elf lord. “Did her mother worry?”

Rolf closed his eyes for a moment and heaved a sad sigh. Then he looked back to the fire.

“Yes,” he said softly. “The princess’s mother loved her very much. But the elf queen never worried as much as the king did.”

“I like the elf queen,” Rayne grinned. “I think she would be fun to play with.”

Rolf smiled at this.

“She would have loved to play with you, I think.”

“Did you know her?”

“Perhaps.”

“Did the elf queen help the princess plant the big tree?”

“No.”

Rolf reached for a thin stick nearby and poked at the fire absentmindedly.

“No, but the princess did not plant the big tree alone. You see, back then, humans and elves did not like each other. The elves believed the humans would hurt them and the humans believed the elves would join with the humans’ enemies to take Ardenia from them. Most humans and elves would not speak to each other, and some even hurt each other because they were angry and afraid. But the princess just wanted to be friends with everyone. She thought her father worried too much, so one night she ran away to the human kingdom to make friends with the humans.”

“Did she find human friends?” Kadin piped up, craning his neck to look at the elf lord. “Were the elves and humans just being silly in not liking each other?”

“Silly, they were,” Rolf nodded, glancing up at the darkening sky above them. “But they very much did not like each other, all the same. Some very mean humans hurt the elf princess and chased her into a valley not far from here.”

Rayne jumped up at this, dropping Kadin in the process, and turned to look at the elf lord with an appalled stare.

“Why did they hurt her?!” she exclaimed incredulously. “She only wanted to be friends.”

“Some people hurt others when they do not like them. There are elves like that, too. Some choose to be mean. I do not know why.”

“Hmph,” Rayne frowned, crossing her arms over her chest. “My father would have scolded them for sure. He always told me that a person’s heart is what matters most.”

“Your father was a wise man,” Rolf replied softly.

“So what happened to the elf princess?” Rayne asked, coming back to sit next to the elf lord.

“A human hunter lived near this valley back then,” Rolf continued. “He rescued the elf princess and hid her so that the bad humans could not find her and hurt her again.”

“So there were nice humans back then, too,” Kadin said, wagging his tail.

“Yes,” Rolf nodded. “Now, this hunter had a daughter who was also very kind, and she and the elf princess became friends. One day, the two went exploring together and they discovered the secret entrance to the place where the valley elves were hiding. They snuck inside, but some guards caught them and took them to their chief. When the chief learned who the princess was, he told her he would let her go free, but the human girl he was going to keep as a prisoner. The elf princess, however, became very angry. She told the chief that what he was doing was wrong, and that if he kept the hunter’s daughter as a prisoner, he would have to keep her as well. The valley elf chief was impressed by what the princess said, and so he let both of them go free. While they were there, though, the two also made friends with the chief’s son, and for a time, he went on adventures with them, too.

“One day, the three friends met a mysterious traveler. He looked hungry and cold, and so the princess and her friends asked him to join them at their campfire and offered him food to eat. In return for their kindness, he gave them an acorn from a far-away land. The acorn, he told them, was from a great old oak that had been planted at the beginning of time and that if they planted the acorn, it would grow into an enchanted tree.

“Now, what the elf princess did not know was that her father had been looking for her all this time. One day, the elf king also met this mysterious traveler, and so he found where the princess had been hiding. When he found her, the elf king told the princess that she had to return home, but she did not want to leave her friends. She also wanted to find the perfect place to plant the acorn, and she wanted to watch it grow into an enchanted tree. And so the elf king found a place in a hidden valley, a valley that was hard to get into by foot. There he let the elf princess and her friends plant the acorn, and he told the princess she could come to that spot whenever she liked.”

“Did the princess ever see her friends again?” Rayne asked worriedly, pulling Kadin back into her arms and close against her chest.

“Yes,” Rolf nodded. “And she also got to watch that acorn grow into the big, strong tree you saw in the valley.”

“Where is the elf princess now?”

“Not far from here.”

“Can I meet her some day?”

“Perhaps. Or, yet, you may have already met her. One day you will see.”

Rayne pouted at this.

“But I want to know now,” the girl protested.

“Ah, but patience will make it that much sweeter.”

“I hate patience. Patience is boring.”

Rolf chuckled at this, then stood up and went to remove the saddle and pack from his horse’s back. He should have known better, he thought later, for when he turned around, Rayne had gone back to the rock hanging over the cliff.

Quickly the elf lord hurried toward the girl, but he hesitated at the far-off look in her eyes.

“I want to see my friends again,” she mumbled quietly as he approached. “Razi would have liked to hear your story.”

A sad expression crossed Rolf’s face, then he held out a hand toward the little girl.

“Banné Rayne,” he called softly, “come here. I have something I need to tell you.”

The girl cast him a quizzical look, then she and Kadin stood and trotted over to him. He didn’t say anything, however, until they were both standing by the campfire and a good space away from the cliff’s edge.

“Little Rayne,” Rolf said, kneeling down on one knee so as to be on eye level with the little girl. “Your friend, Razi, is waiting for you down there in that valley.”

Rayne’s eyes lit up at this.

“Oh! Is that all?” the girl laughed. “Well, why are we not going to find her? Why are we camping here? I thought you were going to tell me something bad. Let us go, Friend Rolf! I want you to tell Razi that story.”

The girl turned to rush off, but Rolf grabbed her by the wrist and gently pulled her back.

“No, Little Rayne, that is not all,” he said softly.

“What do you mean?”

Rolf swallowed hard as he looked into those confused brown eyes. He hated to tell her, but she had to know.

“Little Rayne,” the elf lord spoke slowly, “some very bad people took away your parents, and Razi’s parents, and Gavin and Eryn’s parents. King Dorrian and I have done all we can to find them, but…but Little Rayne, they are not coming back.”

All the excitement in Rayne’s face drained away at this.

“What do you…” she questioned, this time in trade language. “What do you mean? Father and Mother have to come back.”

“They can’t, Rayne. I’m sorry.”

“Then Kadin and I will rescue them.”

“Little Rayne, don’t you think I would rescue them if I could?”

By now, tears were running down Rayne’s face, and she broke down into violent sobs when he said this. Gently, Rolf pulled the girl into his arms and held her there as she cried against his chest.

“Razi, Gavin, and Eryn are all living in that valley now, together, and they are waiting for you to come live with them, too,” the elf lord said softly.

“I don’t want to!” Rayne nearly shrieked, clinging tighter to Rolf’s robes. “I don’t want to. I wanna stay with you. Please, please, can’t I stay with you?”

By now, it was all Rolf could do to keep himself from crying, and he pulled the girl tighter to him, pressing his forehead to the top of her head.

“Little Rayne, I am so, so, so very sorry. But I promised your father that I would make sure you were taken care of, that you would be given the best that I could possibly give you, and this is the best I have. You will have your friends to live with, and you will be safe as you can be there in that valley. I will make sure that you are protected, even if I can’t always be there myself.”

“I don’t wanna leave you,” Rayne cried, shaking her head for emphasis. “Can’t you protect me in Rinba?”

“Not like I can here,” Rolf replied softly. “Don’t worry, little one. I will not be far away, and if you need anything, I will do what I can. I don’t want to let you go, Little Rayne, but I must.”

“Will you and Sister Arin come visit me?” Rayne sniffed, rubbing at the tears in her eyes.

“As often as we can,” Rolf nodded. “You will never be alone, Little Rayne. You will have Kadin and your friends and a whole valley to explore. You won’t even notice I’m gone.”

“Of course I’ll notice,” the girl whimpered in response.

Rolf sighed, then brushed at the girl’s tears with his thumbs.

“You think that now, but I doubt it. But don’t worry about it too much just yet. We can go say hello in the morning.”

Then with that, Rolf went to retrieve the bed rolls and set them out for the night, all the while keeping an eye on Rayne who sat dejectedly poking a stick into the campfire. He sighed, then smoothed out Rayne’s bed roll next to his own. He hoped he was doing the right thing, but the way he felt right now? Right now, he wasn’t so sure.

***

The morning was still grey as Rolf and Rayne approached the great old oak in the hidden valley. From up close, it looked even bigger than it had from the previous night’s campsite. That the tree was also a house had not been lost on Rayne, for even her protests on having to leave Rolf had traded themselves out for awed silence.

The pair hadn’t even managed to reach the door when the handle turned and out stepped an older woman with snow-white hair and a youthful face.

“Do you remember the story I told you yesterday?” Rolf asked as he felt Rayne’s grip tighten on his hand.

“Mm-hmm,” the child replied quietly, nodding her head slightly.

“The chief’s son and the hunter’s daughter, the elf princess’s two friends, they fell in love and got married. This woman here is their daughter. Her name is Effie, and she is the one who will be taking care of you.”

Rayne’s jaw dropped at this, and she gawked up at the elf lord for a moment before turning back to stare in awe at the old half-elf before them.

“Good morning, Lord Rolf,” Effie smiled. Then she squatted down to be on Rayne’s level. “And this must be Rayne. Your friends have been so excited to see you.”

At this, a red-headed child appeared in the open doorway. Both Rayne’s and the red-head’s eyes lit up when they saw each other.

“Razi?” Rayne questioned.

Effie stood and backed away as the red-head at the door let out an excited squeal and bolted over to Rayne.

“Rayne! I’m so glad to see you!” Razi gasped. “Come inside! I want to show you the tree house! It’s amazing!”

At first, Rayne hesitated as Razi pulled her toward the door. The girl’s fingers clamped tighter around Rolf’s hand and she glanced back at the elf lord. Quietly, Rolf smiled.

“It’s all right,” he said, giving the girl’s hand a gentle squeeze. “I will see you again.”

Another split second, then Rayne let go and followed after Razi, Kadin loping excitedly at their heels.

Rolf and Effie watched them go, then the woman turned back to the elf lord.

“Do not worry, Lord Rolf,” Effie said softly in the dialect of the Valley Elves. “I will take care of her, and you are welcome to visit at any time.”

“I appreciate that,” Rolf replied, removing the long bundle Arin had given him from where he had slung it across his back and handing it to Effie. “When the time comes, would you give these to her?”

“What is this?” the half-elf questioned, cautiously accepting the bundle handed to her.

“Her father’s old swords, from the time before he was a Star,” Rolf replied quietly. “He inherited them from his adopted father, an old valley elf who lived in a small village to the south. They are of dwarvish make and should serve Rayne well if ever she chooses the path of the warrior.”

“I see,” Effie nodded. “I will put them away for safe-keeping.”

Rolf nodded in reply, then turned to leave. He paused after only a step, however, and glanced over his shoulder at Effie.

“Thank you, Effie,” he said quietly. “If there is anything you need, anything at all, you have but to ask. I may not be able to raise the children myself given the circumstances, but I will do what I can.”

“I know you will, Lord Rolf,” Effie smiled. “Give Arin greetings from myself and my father.”

“I will,” Rolf responded, smiling slightly in reply. “Good day.”

Effie waved, then turned toward the great tree, and Rolf set his gaze toward the sky. The first hints of sunlight had gathered to the east, but the valley still remained shadowed.

Quietly, Rolf climbed up to the top of the cliff where he had left his horse and turned toward the great oak. The tall, spreading branches glittered in gold sunlight at the top, and already Rolf could feel the warmth of the morning sun on his skin. He hated to leave Rayne behind. Every fatherly instinct he had inside him told him to go back and get her. But that was just an emotion, selfishness on his part. He knew that. And as he set off on horseback for home, he couldn’t help but believe he had done the right thing. And right now, that was all that mattered.

Elwyn’s Daughter

It is very interesting to watch the growth of a young writer, especially when that writer is myself. When I first began self-publishing books, I was finishing roughly 1 book a year. Of course, looking back on it, that may not have been such a great thing, as it meant that my books did not quite get the planning and polishing they needed.

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while, you know about my old series of books, Legend of the Stars (Also known as The Star Trilogy and its sequel, Ancient Vengeance). I wasn’t kidding when I said I still wanted to rewrite and republish them, but I may have been a little overzealous when I said I hoped to have all of them redone by this year. To be honest, the rewriting process has been slow, not just because I’m trying to make the stories and facts make sense (I tended to start up with one idea and end with another in my early books), but also I have poured a great many hours into developing the world as a whole. This includes a brand new elvish language (which is woefully uninspired at the moment, being largely based off of Irish Gaelic), and three alphabets (the progression of the elvish writing system that is mentioned in the original stories). Along with this, however, I have taken to writing short stories based around my books which are meant to fill in details and develop characters so that I can more clearly write about them in the rewrites of my books.

I finally finished the first of these short stories, entitled “Elwyn’s Daughter,” today, so I thought I would go ahead and post it here. The story is based about 10 years before The Four Stars begins, and is told from the point of view of one of the series’ minor characters, Rolf, Lord of the Forest Elves. So while I whittle away at the mess I made of the original stories, here’s a short story to get you familiar with some of the characters and plot information.

——-

wolf pup

Elwyn’s Daughter

She looked so small and frightened, tears flowing like rivers from her big brown eyes.

“Rayne.”

Rolf knelt down on one knee and held his arms out to the crying child in front of him. Immediately Rayne released the hand of the villager who had brought her there and ran to the elf lord, throwing her little arms around his neck and sobbing bitterly against his shoulder. Rolf wrapped his arms around the girl’s tiny frame, and he could feel her shivering despite the warm morning air.

“So what exactly happened? I’m afraid the messenger you sent wasn’t very clear,” Rolf asked the villager as he stood to his feet, holding Rayne tightly in his arms.

“They’re gone,” the woman replied, looking sadly at the crying girl in the elf lord’s arms. “Lance, Elwyn, Cael, Delwynn…even their wives. The houses all look like war zones, and no one is left. There are rumors that the Gauls are responsible for their disappearances. There was a small group of Gaul warriors at the edge of the Kassrdy Desert, but they broke camp and disappeared about a week ago, around the same time as the four Stars disappeared. I’ve heard people say that Lance and Elwyn were acting oddly not long before it happened.”

Rolf frowned, then closed his eyes with a mournful sigh and laid his cheek against the top of Rayne’s head. If the Gauls had killed the four heroes, and if they were the ones behind the disappearance of the wives as well, it could be assumed that the children were not safe either.

“What of the other children? You said it looked like the homes had been attacked. Where were the children when this occurred? I know of Rayne. Are the others safe?”

“The other children were not in the homes when the attacks occurred, as far as I know,” the villager responded with a shake of her head. “Cael’s son and Delwynn’s daughter have already been taken in by Effie of Great Oak Valley. I have not heard anything about Lance’s son since his mother disappeared, and Rayne…we found her this morning. She may be the only one who knows what happened to her mother, but she wouldn’t speak to any of us.”

“I see,” Rolf sighed. “Very well. I’ll look into it. Thank you for bringing her to me.”

The villager bowed, then turned and walked back down the road. The elf lord watched her go, then glanced down at the small child in his arms. Her sobs had died down considerably, though Rolf’s neck was damp with the tears she had already cried.

Banné Rayne,” the elf lord soothed in elvish as he turned to carry the child into his large mansion home. “Little Rayne, do not worry. I am here. Friend Rolf is here.”

He could feel Rayne tighten her grip around his neck.

“Would you like something to eat?”

The girl shook her head.

“Are you thirsty?”

Again she shook her head.

Another sigh escaped Rolf’s lips as he balanced the girl in his arms and reached for the door that led into his home. He wanted desperately to go looking for his missing friends. He wanted to know what had happened, and he wanted to be there when they were found. But right now? Right now, he had something else he needed to do. He needed to see to it that Rayne was comforted and safe. He owed Elwyn that much. Actually, he owed him far more.

***

Atha?” came a familiar voice as Rolf shifted position on a cushioned bench in the main sitting room of the mansion. The elf lord glanced up to see his daughter, Arin, as she stepped into the room, her sharp blue eyes resting curiously on the little girl who had, by this point, fallen asleep in Rolf’s arms.

“Father, is this Rayne? What has happened?”

“Arin, I need you to take a message to Olivek. I want him to organize a search party. They should start at Elwyn’s home.”

“A search party?” Arin inquired, tensing nervously. “Atha, what is happening?”

“They are gone,” the elf lord replied, turning his gaze toward the grey morning that lay just outside his sitting room window. “All of them, save the children. Through luck or something greater, the children remain. But Elwyn and the others…they are gone.”

“Gone?” Arin inquired, coming to stand in front of her father. “Gone where?”

“If I knew that, I would not need a search party. And the longer we wait, the harder it will be to find them.”

“You are right,” his daughter sighed, turning to leave the room. “I will dress for travel and leave shortly. Is there any other message I should take to Olivek when I go?”

“Only this,” Rolf replied. “It may have been Ceallach.”

Arin’s face paled at her father’s words. She knew of whom he spoke, and what the mention of that name implied. And then with a nod, the elf girl darted off, down the hall and out of sight.

Rayne stirred a moment later, stretching briefly before curling back up against Rolf’s chest. The elf lord glanced down at the girl in his arms. She was small, very small, in fact, for an 8-year-old. She must have taken after father, Rolf thought, for her mother had been…no, was…a tall, heavy-boned woman with a fiery temper. “Mother Bear,” the other heroes had jokingly called her. Elwyn was quieter, though he had a temper, too. Rolf had seen it once or twice before. Yes, Rayne had always reminded Rolf of Elwyn, though he didn’t know if she always would. After all, it was said that girls, elvin and human both, took after their mothers as they grew.

Atha?”

Rolf shook himself out of his thoughts and glanced up at the sound of Arin’s voice. She was now dressed in a traveling tunic and breeches, her long, jet black hair pulled back into a simple ponytail and held in place by an ornate metal clasp. Yes, she looked more like her mother every day, too.

“Yes, dear one.”

“I am headed out. Shall I go to King Dorrian, as well?”

Rolf paused to think about the question briefly, then nodded.

“I am sure he knows what happened,” the elf lord said, “but it would not hurt if he were to send out some search parties of his own, if he has not already done so. I also need to discuss the matter of the children with him.”

Quietly, Arin nodded, then turned and hurried out the door. Rolf watched her go, then leaned back in his seat. If anyone could get the message to Olivek and Dorrian in time, it would be her.

Rayne coughed slightly, then sat up in Rolf’s lap, tiny hands rubbing at swollen eyes.

“Do you feel better?” the elf lord inquired, brushing a stray tear off the little girl’s cheeks.

The child didn’t reply, but only looked back at him through mournful brown eyes.

Banné Rayne,” he said, again speaking in elvish, as he cupped the child’s face in his hands. “Little Rayne, I need to know. What happend to your thaira? What happened to your mother? Can you tell me?”

A fresh stream of tears pooled at the corners of Rayne’s eyes as she shook her head.

“Mama and me were playing hide-and-seek before I had to go to sleep,” the girl sobbed. “She told me I couldn’t hide outside, but I did. Then some strangers came. I stayed hiding and heard mama scream, but I was scared. I went inside after the strangers left, but mama was gone.”

“I see,” Rolf mused, wiping at the child’s tears. “So you didn’t see what happened.”

Rayne began to cry harder at this.

“I’m s-sorry,” she cried, burying her face in Rolf’s shirt. “I was a bad g-girl. I didn’t do what mama said and-”

At this, Rolf wrapped his arms tightly around the girl, pressing his forehead to the top of her head.

“No, Rayne,” he said, this time in trade tongue where she could clearly understand him. “No, you are a good girl. This is not your fault.”

He pushed her away just enough that he could lift her chin and make her look at him.

“This is not your fault,” he repeated. “Do you understand me?”

The child looked doubtful.

“Rayne, you are safe because you went outside. Your mother would have told you to go outside and hide if she had known those strangers were coming. You are a good girl, and this bad thing that happened is not your fault.”

He could see a flicker of relief in those tear-glazed eyes, but this also set her off on another round of crying.

Pulling the child close, Rolf stood to his feet, carrying her down the hall toward a door located at the far end. He had learned long ago that sometimes children couldn’t be comforted with words. Once upon a very long time ago, he had had two children to comfort. Now, once again, he had a child to comfort despite his own grief. But at least this time, he had a better idea of how to handle it.

Rayne was still crying by the time Rolf reached the end of the hall, and gently he pushed the door open. A friendly yip was the first thing to greet him, and the elf lord had to stop just shy of the open door as 6 little bundles of fur swarmed around his feet.

Instantly, Rayne’s sobs died down as she sat up and glanced down at the puppies who yipped and jumped in greeting, licking at the girl’s feet despite the shoes they were clad in. At the opposite side of the room, two wolves, one large and jet black, the other small and fair as quicksilver, lay side by side on a cushion. Both creatures perked up when Rolf entered, and the quicksilver she-wolf, Arinya, woofed lightly at the pups who swarmed at the elf lord’s feet. The wolf pups backed off at this, but they still stood with tails wagging as they looked up into the faces of the elf and child.

“Would you like to see Randolf and Arinya’s puppies?” Rolf asked in elvish.

Rayne nodded, her brown eyes trained on one particular puppy with a coat like quicksilver and an unusually distinct white elvin dagger marking on its forehead.

One corner of Rolf’s mouth twitched up in a smile as he set Rayne down on the floor, and he chuckled when, almost as if on cue, the puppies swarmed on top of the girl. Rayne let out a surprised squeal, then giggled slightly as the wolf pups painted warm, wet kisses across her tear-stained cheeks.

“Down. Down, sillies,” Rayne giggled, pushing the puppies off her. Then she looked up at Rolf.

“Can they talk yet?” she asked.

“In elvish, they can,” the elf lord nodded. “They haven’t learned human speech yet.”

Rayne blinked back at him, then looked down at the puppies who watched her expectantly. Though she had spent all 8 years of her life in Alfedan, Rolf knew that Rayne likely was not incredibly familiar with elvish. Her mother certainly hadn’t been. Rayne could understand elvish, but she probably didn’t speak much of it. Well, perhaps learning to communicate with the elvish wolf pups would help get her mind off of other, more distressing things.

Rolf was just thinking this when Rayne bent down, propping her face up with her elbows on the floor.

Jia duit,” she said, her eyes nearly mesmerized as she looked at the quicksilver wolf pup.

The puppies yipped excitedly at her words.

“She can speak elf-tongue!” one pup, a dark grey male, exclaimed.

“She can! She can!” the others agreed, bounding in circles around her. “Hello, friend!”

“Say! Say!” one of the females, whose coat was black as her father’s, said as she sat down next to Rayne’s right knee. “Why are your ears not pointy? Master Rolf and Lady Arin’s ears are pointy.”

“I am not elf,” Rayne giggled, sitting up and patting the pup on the head. “I am comeahn. I am human. Humans do not have pointy ears.”

“Human?” asked the little female pup with a dark, reddish-brown coat, the only one of the littler who didn’t have a grey or black coat. “What is a human? You do not look that different from Master Rolf and Lady Arin.”

“Humans are humans. We look mostly the same as elves, but not all the same.”

“I think it must be like our coats,” the male pup with a black coat said. “We look the same, but we are different colors.”

“Oh! I understand!” the last pup, a male whose coat was halfway between quicksilver and dark grey, piped up. “So human means round ears.”

“Yes! Yes, that must be it!” the black-coated female yipped. “Come, round-ears! Play with us!”

The other pups yipped their agreement, then bounded off after random trinkets scattered about the room that they could play with. Only the little male with a coat like quicksilver stayed beside the girl. He watched his siblings run off, then turned and looked at Rayne.

“Why were you crying?” he asked.

Rolf could see Rayne’s face become pinched, and he stiffened. He wondered, too, how the pup knew what crying was.

“Young one, will you go find Little Rayne a toy to play with?” Rolf asked, kneeling down and stroking the pup’s back.

The little creature looked at him quizzically, then turned back to Rayne. The girl bowed her head as warm, wet droplets spotted the hands that lay fisted in her lap.

“I…I lost my mother and father,” she cried softly. “I do not know where they are.”

Rolf sighed. He had hoped to get her mind off that fact.

For a moment, the silver pup watched the tears fall from the girl’s eyes. Then he stepped forward, his forepaws on Rayne’s leg, and licked a tear that rolled down her cheek.

“If they are lost, then we will have to find them,” he said, looking up at her and wagging his tail. “But can we play first?”

Rayne blinked back at the pup for a moment, then a smile came to her face.

“Yes,” she nodded, wiping away the rest of her tears with one hand and petting the wolf pup with the other. “Yes, we can. Then we will find my atha and thaira. I like that. What is your name, puppy?”

“I do not have one yet,” the pup replied. “My future master must give me a name.”

At this, Rayne looked up at Rolf. Perhaps she thought him to be the pup’s future master, but a smile came to Rolf’s lips as he thought about it. He had a better idea.

“Well, then,” he said in elvish, placing one hand on Rayne’s shoulder, “I suppose you will have to give him one.”

The little girl’s mouth dropped open in surprise and the pup yipped excitedly.

“Will Little Rayne be my real master, Master Rolf?” the pup asked.

Rolf could see the hopefulness dancing in Rayne’s eyes, and softly he smiled.

“I believe Little Rayne would like that, yes?”

The girl nodded her head vigorously, a wide grin spreading across her face.

“Then it shall be so,” Rolf nodded, standing to his feet again. “What will you name your talking wolf, Rayne, daughter of Elwyn?”

For a moment, the child sat with her hands in her lap, looking at the wolf pup thoughtfully. Then her eyes brightened and she said in trade speech, “Kadin. I will name him Kadin, since that means ‘best friend’ in elf-tongue. Right? That’s what it means?”

Rolf smiled slightly. The word meant “companion,” but it was a term Elwyn had always used with affection when speaking of those he was closest to, especially when speaking of the other 3 heroes who had been his best friends since childhood.

“Yes, that is a good translation of it,” Rolf nodded.

“All right,” Rayne smiled, leaning down toward the pup. Then in elvish, she said, “Little elf wolf, I name you Kadin. Will you be my best friend?”

The puppy yipped happily in reply.

“Yes! Yes!” he barked, bouncing back and fourth before bouncing right into Rayne’s arms. “And when I get big, I will protect you like my atha protects Master Rolf! I will be the strongest warrior wolf of all time!”

“Good!” Rayne giggled in reply. “Well then, warrior wolf Kadin, let us play!”

And with another yip and a laugh, the pair took off after the other 5 wolf pups. Quietly, Randolf, the big black he-wolf and father of the 6 pups, stood from where he lay next to his mate and came to stand at Rolf’s side.

“Would you like me to look for him, my lord?” the black wolf asked softly. “For the human girl’s father…your kadin?”

Rolf smiled sadly, then turned toward the door.

“I would appreciate that,” the elf lord nodded as Randolf followed him down the hall. “Though it may be too late, if it is Ceallach who orchestrated all of this.”

“All the same, you wish me to try.”

“For Elwyn’s daughter, yes.”

“For Elwyn’s daughter.” Randolf almost chuckled as he trotted ahead. His tone implied that he might have rolled his eyes if he could. “And for you.”

Rolf paused in the middle of the hall and watched as his long-time companion left to do his bidding. The elf lord closed his eyes as a solitary tear trailed down his face. Yes. And for him.

Introducing…Eryn & Gavin!

Now introducing…(drum roll)…Eryn & Gavin!

As I may have mentioned before, (probably more than once, knowing my memory), the four main characters of The Star Trilogy were originally based off of me and my three friends from my sophomore year in high school. I must admit, we were something of an odd bunch. We fought about as much as we goofed off. In many ways, we were more like siblings than friends. Of our group, the two boys fought the most. Actually, it was more like arguing and teasing, and often times the arguing and teasing was so funny that we all ended up laughing in the end.

I don’t think any of them realized how much they meant to me. I had suffered a lot of emotional problems in my earlier years because of my parents’ divorce and what not, and by the time I entered 7th grade, I had withdrawn from practically everyone. I didn’t really have any close friends. My cousin A was there, but we didn’t always get along. I spent a lot of time alone. My desk remained shoved up against the wall and I spoke only when spoken to. I didn’t go outside, not even for recess, unless I was required to go because of PE.

It wasn’t until the end of my freshman year that things began to change. The two guys who inspired the characters of Eryn and Gavin sat at desks near my own. (We attended a small private school, so we didn’t change classrooms). I had grown up with “Gavin” and had known “Eryn” for a few years, but as was generally the case, I rarely spoke to them. Rarely, that is, until one day when I heard them discussing the new Wii video game, Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. If there was one thing I still had in common with the people around me, it was that I loved playing video games.

I had never heard of the Zelda series, but listening to the two guys talk was interesting. Eventually, I got up the courage to ask them if it was alright for me to move my desk over next to theirs. Having never been particularly well-liked by my fellow classmates, I was actually kind of surprised when they said yes.

Their friendship was good for me. I began to change and to heal. My best friend, the one who inspired the character of Rayne, came to our school the following year. I still consider my sophomore year to be the highlight of my life, and I don’t believe I’ve ever cried so hard as I did when that year ended and our group broke apart. (Our school only went to 10th grade).

I don’t know what my friends really thought of me back then, and as for “Eryn” and “Gavin”, we rarely, if ever, talk now. But that still doesn’t change the fact that they have always and will always mean the world to me, and I cherish the memories I made with them.

When reading the following excerpt out loud, my cousin A commented that it sounded just like the two friends the characters are based off of, so if you have been wondering what I’ve been talking about, this is it.

—————————————————————

apple tree orchard art

“Eight!” Eryn exclaimed, his honey-brown eyes dancing with delight as he held a thin apple core high in the air. “That makes eight! Beat that Gavin!”

His companion raised an eyebrow at him.

“Why?” he questioned, taking an unhurried bite of the apple that he was eating.

“Come on, Gavin!” Eryn groaned. “You’re so boring! Rayne would have raced me.”

Gavin’s demeanor remained unaffected.

“I prefer to enjoy my food,” he said, taking another slow bite out of the fruit in his hand.

“I enjoy my food,” Eryn argued. “I just like having fun at the same time.”

“Indigestion doesn’t constitute fun in my opinion,” Gavin countered.

His companion sighed with a huff.

“You’re so boring.”

“I believe you’ve said that before.”

There was a momentary silence as Eryn threw his apple core away and climbed up into the tree he was sitting under, searching for another apple to eat.

“Don’t get stuck,” Gavin warned sarcastically, his sharp blue eyes scrutinizing his apple as though thoroughly interested in it. “You know your record with trees.”

“Shut up,” Eryn replied, bracing his feet in some splits in the tree branches.

Gavin glanced up at him nonchalantly.

“No.”

Eryn glared down at his comrade, rolled his eyes, then continued to climb further up the tree.

Bickering was a daily occurrence for these two. Eryn, a hyper, childish young man of 15, often proved to be the perfect sort of person to pick on, at least in the mind of Gavin, who was only a year older. Despite their constant quarrelling, however, the two were still close as brothers. Having only been 5 and 6 years old when they first came to live with Aunt Effie in her giant oak tree home, the two boys had few memories of life outside the valley, and it seemed only natural to Gavin that if he was there, so was Eryn.

“By the way,” Eryn said as he stretched for an apple the size of a large man’s fist, “where did Lorcan and Adaliz go off to?”

“I don’t know,” Gavin shrugged. “I’m sure they’ll check on us later. And if nothing else, we can always walk back.”

“Walk?” the younger boy turned to look at his companion, a horrified expression on his face. “We’re like…5 miles away from home!”

“Horror of horrors,” Gavin replied sarcastically. “Last time I checked, you can still walk.”

“But that’s so much work,” Eryn protested.

As though on cue, a pair of enormous shadows flickered over the two young men. The rush of large wings caused the trees around them to flutter as though in a brisk gale. A moment later, two great beasts landed in the clearing nearby.

“Well, princess, your ride has arrived,” Gavin grunted, standing to his feet. “I wonder if Rayne has finished making breakfast. Oh, wait. You’ve already had breakfast.”

“No I haven’t,” Eryn argued. “That was just me warming up.”

With that he rushed over to one of the two beasts, a tawny griffon named Lorcan. Quickly the young man swung himself up onto the creature’s back, shouting, “Alright! Let’s go!”

The griffon tipped his head to look at his rider.

“Why are you in such a hurry?” he inquired.

“Because he’s afraid Rayne will eat all his food,” Gavin snorted, mounting the second beast, an emerald green dragon named Adaliz.

“No I’m not,” Eryn replied. “It’s because I’m going to beat you back home.”

“Again with the beating,” Gavin muttered.

“That sounds violent,” Lorcan said. “And don’t you think that he would be more likely to beat you back? He is stronger.”

“Hey, that’s not fair!” Eryn protested. “Even my own griffon is underestimating my power,” he flexed his muscles for show. “And anyway, I wasn’t talking about fighting. I mean I’m going to race Gavin back and I am going to win.”

“You or Lorcan?” Gavin questioned. “And as I distinctly recall, Adaliz and I win every time. There’s no way you can beat us.”

“Is that so?” Lorcan snorted, pawing the ground. “Alright, Adaliz, challenge accepted.”

“How exactly did I get involved in this?” the dragon replied, turning to look at the griffon.

Before she could get an answer, however, Lorcan bounded into the sky as Eryn shouted, “Last one there gets clean-up duty!”

“Go, Adaliz!” Gavin commanded, hunkering down so as not to fall off.

In the blink of an eye the dragon and her rider sailed skyward, Adaliz’s large, leathery wings propelling her at a quick clip through the air.

Wind whipped Eryn’s semi-long, brown hair back and forth out of his eyes as he bent low over his mount’s neck. Gavin’s short, light brown hair, however, was hardly even stirred by the brisk gale.

“Give up, Adaliz!” Lorcan called from the front. “You know I’m going to win!”

“You’ve said that before,” Adaliz responded, a powerful wing thrust propelling her up alongside the griffon. “And in any case, I’m only doing this for Gavin.”

Gavin watched as Lorcan moved ahead of them, then bent low over Adaliz’s neck and shouted, “Give it everything you have! I won’t get clean-up duty if I can help it!”

The young man tensed as he felt the dragon’s muscles surge beneath her emerald scales. The wind stung his eyes and he squinted, peering into the horizon and to the familiar, towering branches far beyond.

He and Eryn must have done a hundred of these races over the past few years. Granted, Eryn was a much better rider, though Gavin would never admit to it. Eryn had grown up with Lorcan, who had only been the size of a large dog when Eryn had been brought to live there in the valley.

Gavin remembered it, that time long ago, because it had been the first time he had ever met Eryn. Since Aunt Effie had been his mother’s nurse, Gavin naturally was taken to live with her after losing his parents. Razi had come next with her winged unicorn colt, Davin. Then there was Eryn, accompanied by the ugliest creature Gavin had ever seen. Apparently, Lorcan had been a gift from Eryn’s father, Lance, shortly before his death, though Gavin was never certain as to how Lance had come upon a young griffon. Rayne had been the last to come to the valley, but even she received a creature companion, the elvish wolf Kadin, not long after. But Gavin…he hadn’t had a creature companion. Not until Adaliz.

Gavin had been about 13 when he found her, a young she-dragon living in one of the many caves that dotted the valleys of Ardenia. She was young as far as dragons go, perhaps a couple hundred years old. Not as if Gavin knew much about dragons, though. They had been nothing more than stories to him, creatures of myth and legend. But Adaliz and Gavin had become fast friends after their first meeting. He would know her anywhere, and it wasn’t just because she was possibly the only dragon in Ardenia. Adaliz had a special birthmark, an ivory design on her right shoulder that looked similar to an elvish rune, though even the elves did not know what it meant. Whatever it meant, though, Adaliz was a loyal companion, one who had been there for Gavin through many tight spots, not the least of which boasts to Eryn that he then had to back up.

All of a sudden the high-pitched call of a horn echoed above the roar of the wind.

“You hear that?!” Eryn exclaimed, looking over his shoulder toward Gavin. “Food!”