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Authors: G.S Tucker

The aurora stone

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TheAuroraStone

By

G.S. Tucker

This book is dedicated to

My Dad, my Hero

My husband, my rock

My boys Finley and Oscar, You two are my greatest adventure.

Acknowledgments

So many people have helped me realise this moment.

Thank you Beverley Hollowed for pushing me to do this, your belief that I could has always surpass mine. Your constant support and guidance mean the world to me.

Thank you Sally Orchard for editing for me. I am sure it was a nightmare.

Thanks to my sister Aimee Price for reading every chapter as I wrote it. I know it was hard going. And for polishing it till is shone.

A big thank you to my husband, I know I have hidden away a lot while writing, thanks for the endless cups of tea and the reminders to take breaks.

The last thank you is for my Dad, He passed away before this was even an idea. Thank you for sharing your love of books.

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty–Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Epilogue

Aura colours and their meanings

The Aurora Stone©

G.S. Tucker has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

 

Cover design by Beverley Hollowed

Book design by Beverley Hollowed

Editing by Sally Orchard

 

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Chapter One

It was indeed the most beautiful day, a very special day for Evangeline; today was her eighteenth birthday. For the elvish people turning eighteen is a special time; this is the day each elf discovers what their extra ability will be. Evangeline, however, would rather have sat by the stream reading than attend the big ceremony that accompanied this milestone birthday.

It’s just such a long and dull ceremony, all the standing and then sitting, just to stand again!I would rather just receive a letterfrom the wise ones, sighing she gathered up her book and the flowers she had picked for her mother. With one last look at the dappled light dancing on the sparkling waters of the stream, Evangeline turned for home.

“Happy Birthday, Sweetheart,” her mother said.

“Thank you, Mother; here I picked these for you. They are the last of the season.”

Gwen smiled at her child, how beautiful she had become, the envy of many of the local girls; it broke her heart to think of what she must reveal later that day.

“Are you alright, Mother, you seem sad; can I get you some fern tea? That always seems to make things better.” Evangeline moved to the kitchen to prepare tea for them both.

I will miss her. The sadness was almost too much for Gwen to bear. They sat and enjoyed their tea until it was time to get ready for the ceremony. Mother and daughter left to change into their best clothes. Eve had a new dress made by her mother; the material was exquisite, soft as silk with the lustre of moonstone. Eve turned in front of the mirror admiring Gwen’s talent with needle and thread.

Here we go.She thought, not able to delay the inevitable she picked up her shoes and went downstairs.

“Today is midsummers day, a day full of beauty and promise…” Eve was tuning out the extremely long-winded prelude to her gifting ceremony, her mind drifted back to the stream glittering like diamonds, the cool water lapping at her toes.

“Eve…Evangeline!”

Eve was suddenly pulled from her daydream by a rather cross looking elder.Great,she cringed.

“Please take your place on the circle of souls and close your eyes.” Eve walked to the circle and stood in the centre, she had a quick glance at her mother before closing her eyes as the Elder had instructed.

“Ready or not,” she whispered to herself.

The Elder began the chant that would gift Evangeline with her extra ability; the circle began to glow, first blue, then purple, before finally settling into a brilliant indigo. The Zephyrs caused her hair to fly and her skirts to ripple in a shimmery dance. The chanting faded away, a hush fell over the congregation. Eve stayed perfectly still, waiting for the instruction to move off the circle and re-join her mother; she felt no different which was disappointing.

“Evangeline you may step off the circle of souls, you are no longer a child, whatever gifts the souls bestowed upon you are unique to you.”

“Thank you, Elder.” Eve took a breath and opened her eyes to re-join her mother. There was a gasp; a murmur ran through the gathered elves like a ripple in a pond, the sound growing in volume as it travelled through the crowd. Eve looked down at herself, nothing was amiss; she glanced at the Elder, who was looking at her in wonder, a slight crease had formed between his brows. Disconcerted Eve returned to her mother’s side; Gwen moved her head towards her daughter and whispered,

“It is your eyes, my love, they are no longer the brown of a doe’s; they are the green gold of the first leaves of autumn.”

The walk home was a quiet affair. Once in the house, Evangeline went as casually as she could manage to the nearest mirror.

OH, OH, MY!Looking back at her was the face she knew, but it was also very different. Her skin was still the peaches and cream it had always been, her lips still soft and with the hint of a smile playing at the corners, but her eyes, they were indeed a brilliant green-gold and they appeared to be lit from within, their depths full of mystery that had not been present when she had awoken this morning. “These are going to take some getting used to,” she mused.

Eve headed downstairs for dinner. After the events of the day, all she wanted was a nice warm meal, then to curl up in her reading chair and finish her latest book.

“Something smells wonderful, I really am quite hungry,” Eve said entering the kitchen.

“Sit down it will only be a minute,” Gwen called through from the kitchen. Eve took a seat at the table and waited, anticipating the soothing warmth of her mother’s cooking. It always made her feel warm and comforted. After a rather delicious stew, Eve left the table to collect her book. When she entered the snug, her mother was already in there. This was nothing unusual, however, tonight, she seemed on edge. Gwen had a small box in front of her on the occasional table.

“Come and have a seat, sweetheart. There are some things I need to tell you.”

A sense of foreboding settled over Evangeline, taking cautious steps she walked over to the chair opposite her mother and sat on the very edge, mirroring Gwen’s pose. Taking a deep breath, Gwen looked into her daughters’ strange new eyes and began the task of revealing the truth.

“Eve, I am not your birth mother.”

Before Eve could absorb this earth shattering news, another shocking piece of information was thrown into the already charged atmosphere.

“You had a brother, your twin. His name was Eli.”

The room began to spin; Eve felt suddenly sick and far too hot. Before Gwen could stop her, she bolted from the snug and out into to the night. Eve ran to the bottom of the garden; she had her sanctuary there. A tree house her father,well the man she had called Father for thirteen years of her life,had built it for her when she was six. Eve climbed the ladder that was still as strong as the day it was made. When she reached the top, Eve opened the trunk she kept there, pulled out her blanket to wrap herself in, then sat in the pile of cushions in the corner and cried herself to sleep.

“Eve…Eve are you up there?”

The sound of someone calling her name roused her from sleep. “Ugh,” Eve grumbled as she disentangled herself from the blanket. Why was she in the tree house anyway? It then all came flooding back, the ceremony, her eyes, and the revelations.

Who am I?

“Evangeline, please come back to the house we have to talk… Please.” Gwen stood at the foot of the ladder John had made so long ago.I wish he were here,she thought as a tear rolled down her cheek. Thoughts of her husband always brought tears to her eyes.He would know what to do,she thought.Admitting defeat, Gwen stroked the ladder rung one last time and headed back to the house.

Eve found her mother where she had left her the night before; though she looked tired and had clearly been crying; there was also a look of defeat about her. Gwen had lost her sparkle.

“Hey, Mother, just let me change out of this dress, and then I will listen to whatever it is you have to say.”

A pot of freshly made tea waited for Eve on her return to the snug; along with some toast slathered in honey, just how she liked it.

“I thought you might be hungry,” said Gwen.

“Thank you.” Eve took a seat, picked up her plate of food and braced herself.

“I am so sorry about last night, sweetheart; I know it was a terrible shock. The truth is, your birth parents vanished when you and your brother were just six months old. No one knows where they went; they were just… gone. We found you in your cradle.”

“My brother, why did you only take me and not Eli?” She couldn’t help but interrupt; anger had bubbled up at the thought of her twin just left behind.

“Eli wasn’t there, my love. We searched for him all over the house. We thought another family must have found him in a different room and taken him in, we asked everyone we met that day if they knew what had happened to Eli. No one had seen your brother, I’m so sorry.” Tears rolled down Gwen’s face; “please don’t hate me, Eve. We searched for him, we really did, your father even went out into the surrounding woodland to see if he had somehow been left outside. He searched every day for three weeks”

Eve put her plate down again, with only a single bite taken from one slice, it tasted like ashes.My brother is lost, or worse dead! And I never knew, I wish I had a picture of him.Eve couldn’t cry, the tears wouldn’t come; everything was too raw.

“Here,” Gwen had opened the box. Holding a small frame out to her, Eve reached out with trembling hands and received the object. Taking a deep breath, she quickly flipped over the frame and gazed at the photo within. Two tiny children sitting beside a dog smiled out at her. A red haired girl with brown doe eyes and next to her, holding a rattle and the dog’s tail, was a fair-haired boy with eyes the colour of bluebells, a beautiful piercing blue.

“Eli,” she whispered while reaching out a finger and stroking the boy's image. “I will find you, I promise.” Evangeline looked at her mother and waited for her to continue, she had a feeling there was more, a lot more to come.

Gwen picked up the small box and handed it over. It was a small wooden box adorned with typical elvish craftsmanship. Taking a hold of her emotions, Eve lifted the lid to reveal the contents that were sure to change her life even more. Inside the box was another photo; this one was larger and not framed.

My Parents!She thought, staring at the image before her. They looked so happy. Putting it aside, she reached back into the box and drew out a very old and tatty piece of parchment, the kind the elves of generations past would have made. Careful not to damage it, Eve very gently peeled back the folds until it lay open on the table.

“It’s a map, but not a map I have ever seen before.” Eve looked closer at the map hoping to see something she recognised. “There is Harmonia, the land of the Elves. But where are these places?” Gwen came to sit beside her daughter, and she too looked down at the map.

“I know of Clear Water Valley, the land of the Witches. They are our allies. It is the witches who spin the beautiful yarns we use to make our clothes, in return we trade our lush grasses and some of the herbs that only grow in our lands and it has been this way for hundreds of years. The other lands I don’t know.”

“I think it would be best to seek out Reena, Mother. She will know the answers.” Eve was all ready to go out in search of the wise old elf when she noticed something wedged into the lid of the box. Careful not to damage it, she removed a piece of moonstone. It was just larger than her palm, a quarter of an inch thick and so very beautiful. Stroking it with the very tips of her fingers, Eve suddenly felt a warm tingle rush up her fingers and settle in her chest.

“That is a seeing stone; they are extremely rare,,” Gwen whispered in an awed voice. “They can only be activated by an elf that has wisdom and the sight. We need to find Reena.” Eve looked up from the stone with a puzzled expression.

“Hold on, a seeing stone? Those are a thing of elvish legend; it’s a story dad used to tell me at bedtime.” She looked disbelievingly the stone to her mother’s face and back again. “Right...?”

Gwen gazed upon her beautiful child in all but blood, knowing what this stone meant, and how much it was about to change Eves’ life, Whether the change would be for better or worse was not yet clear. One thing is for certain, the only elf who could glean the message from the stone was Reena.


Page 2

“Let’s go find Reena, sweetheart. She will have the answer. Bring the map as well, maybe she can enlighten us about these other lands as well.” Gwen moved towards Eve and put the map and stone back in the wooden box. “Come, the sooner we find her, the sooner you will have answers.”

Reena, the wise woman gifted with the sight or so many believed, lived away from other elves. She chose to live deep in the forest, and her home was truly beautiful. She never felt the need to venture far; everything she needed was right on her doorstep. It came as no great surprise to see Gwen and Evangeline approaching that day. The change in the child’s eyes only the day before was enough to know something very special lay in the destiny of young Eve.

Gwen raised her tea cup to her lips; only Reena could make the perfect rosehip tea. Looking across at the two of them pouring over the map she couldn’t help but feel fearful for her precious child.She is grown now; I cannot always protect her,she thought.

“The map shows the five realms of Orea, including our own. You know of the witch’s realm, Clear Water Valley. There is also Mieron, the realm of the vampires, Gloria, the realm of the Fae, tricky folk the Fae.” Reena ran her gnarled fingers over the areas as she named them.

“Now, let me see, ah yes and Olia, the realm of the owl riders.” Reena finished pointing to the realms on the map and then looked at Eve expectantly.

“There is also this, it was hidden in the lid of the box; Mother says it is a seeing stone? But I thought they were just a legend.” Eve finished in a rush, she did not wish to be seen as foolish. Reena took the cool stone from Eve and turned it over in her hands.

It is as I thought, this child is meant for great things,keeping her thoughts to herself she looked Eve in the eye and replied, “yes child, your Mother is quite correct this is indeed a seeing stone, a stone of prophecy.”

“Wait… What?” Eve was clearly hearing things; she was sure Reena has just said a stone of prophecy. “What does that mean Reena?” Not sure she really wanted to know the answer, Eve took a step away from the stone, suddenly not as fond of its lustre as she had been a moment ago.

“It means, Evangeline, that this stone holds your destiny. However, you do have a choice; I can activate the stone to read the prophecy hidden within, or I can hand it back to you. Only you can choose which path to take; I cannot help you, nor can your mother,” Reena explained.

“You must look inside yourself and choose your path. The prophecy is as old as time, we do not know who made the stones, maybe the Goddess herself. The fact remains, this stone was meant for you. A stone of prophecy is guarded by mystical forces and only the one who is meant to fulfil the prophecy, will find the stone, or so the legend reads. Make your choice, look within yourself, the answer is there for you to find.”

This is madness!Eve thought.Yesterday I was just Eve, a normal girl with a normal family, today I have luminous eyes, a missing brother and now this! Why me?Looking at the Reena and her loving mother, she knew what had to be done; the stone had called to her the very first time she had stroked its surface.

“Alright, let’s find out what the stone has been keeping secret.”

Reena took the stone in her left hand and Eve’s hand in her right, she then began to chant, the sound of it reminding Eve of water flowing over pebbles by the stream; It soothed her. After a few moments enchanted elvish script appeared on the surface. Reena read it and then relayed the prophecy she had been waiting her whole life to hear.

“Eve this knowledge was kept from you until eighteen years after your birth. This is your prophecy only you can fulfil it.”

Reena proceeded to read the prophecy aloud.

“An Elvish girl with changeable eyes will lose her family through the void. Three companions she will travel with. They will be identified by their gems. To get back what was lost, the Aurora stone must return to its home. In no more than a year and four days must this quest be completed, or the realms will be pulled into the void and lost.”

Chapter Two

 

Eve considered the revelation of the prophecy for two days. Everything she believed to be true had been torn to shreds. Her sense of self-was now as fragile as a butterfly’s wing, one touch and it would come apart, never to be the same again.

“Why is this all happening at once?” Eve moaned into her soft pillow, taking the meagre amount of comfort given by its delicate scent of honeysuckle. Peeking over the top of her soft haven, Eve once again gazed upon the faces of the family she was born to but until three days ago, never knew existed.

I must try; it may help me discover what became of my brother. However, remote this chance may be, if I do not at least try, then regret will surely haunt me for the rest of my days. Having resolved this internal dilemma, Evangeline now had another difficult task.I have to tell Mother.

An hour and a half of pacing across her room and practicing different deliveries in front of the mirror, Eve was resigned to the fact that however the words left her, it was still going to cause her mother pain. With leaden steps and a heavy heart, she headed downstairs.

Gwen was pruning her roses when Eve appeared at her side, a look of sadness marred her pretty countenance; yet a spark of determination was also evident in her new luminous eyes.She is leaving.Gwen thought her heart must surely break, without her daughter, she would be alone, as selfish as she felt, Gwen knew once her Evangeline had set her mind to something, there was no swaying her.

Eve had prepared herself as best she could for the inevitable, she took a deep breath, “Mother I...”

“You have decided to take up the quest.” Gwen interrupted her, “I could tell just by looking at you, Sweetheart; you have always been easy to read.” Eve opened her mouth then closed it again, taken completely aback, for a few moments all she was capable of doing was staring at her mother.

“How did you... I … I’m sorry to leave you and our home, but truthfully, to not take up the quest that the prophecy has set before me when there could be a chance, however, small that it could shed some light on the disappearance of my…other family, my brother. Mother, please understand, I must try.”

“You are strong willed just like your father, he would be so very proud of the woman you have become, and so am I. Though I will worry every second and miss you more than I can express. Darling, you must follow your heart wherever it may lead you.” Tears glistening in her grey eyes, Gwen held her daughter in an embrace she hoped conveyed all the love she was unable to express eloquently in words. Holding her beloved Eve at arm’s length she put on her best reassuring smile.

“Come on, I will help you prepare.”

Together they packed a large leather satchel with everything one could possibly need on a quest. These included the wooden box Gwen had given her a few days previously; its contents returned to it. Gwen also added some food, money, and herbs to make simple medicines. Her father had shown her how to prepare them before he died. Eve also had her toughest shoes ready and her warmest cloak.

I am as ready as I’ll ever be.Glancing around her room, sadness enveloped her heart, this room; this house was all she had ever known. Though she felt melancholy, Eve’s sense of adventure was fighting to burst to the surface. After all, it is not every day one gets to fulfil an ancient prophecy.

Gwen was determined that their final dinner together for a while,she refused to believe it was forever; should be a memorable one. She had carefully prepared their favourite dishes, even baking a glorious cake decorated with sugared rose petals, picked from her own blooms. Lastly, she retrieved the silk wrapped gift she had for Eve and placed it to the right of her plate. Gwen stepped back to admire her efforts, pleased with what she had achieved it was time to call Eve down.

When Eve saw the effort her mother had gone to, it was difficult of hold back the tears, everything looked so beautiful. Taking her usual place at the table, Gwen placed a delicate china plate before her.

“Purple carrot and pomegranate salad. Your favourite,” she beamed.

Eve laughed, “Thank you, Mother, it looks delicious.” Picking up her cutlery that had been crafted by her great-grandfather, she began her meal.

After two fabulous courses, Gwen carried through the cake. Eve knew her mother had a great talent for baking; anticipating the richness of the sponge, tartness of the huckleberry jelly that was sure to be liberally smeared in the centre and finally the lightness of the meringue frosting. It was fluffy as a cloud, pure decadence on the pallet.

“I cannot imagine a more fitting finale to such a feast than the masterpiece you have created Mother; please may I have a very large piece?” Exclaimed Eve, cake fork already in hand. A huge smile in place that lit up her whole face Seeing her daughter’s expectant expression, Gwen was transported back thirteen years to Eve’s fifth birthday, such a day it had been. John had made the chest that still sits at the end of Eve’s bed; back then is was for her toys now it stored her most precious memories. Gwen had baked a cake that day as she did every birthday. That year stuck in her mind; maybe because the image of her husband and daughter laughing together was still so fresh in her memory like it had happened yesterday. Then, like today the wonder on Eve’s face was so innocent, Gwen suddenly felt fearful.What if she never returns? What if something happens? This could be the last time we ever spend together.Holding back the tears that threatened, she placed the cake centre stage, smiling down at her, Gwen replied.

“Of course, you can darling; I will never know where you put such a slice, like your father you can eat enough to feed a household and still be slim and strong. Many an elfin maid would love to have such luck!”

Laughing together they enjoyed their desert. Once Eve was finished, Gwen picked up the gift she had placed by her right hand earlier. Getting up she passed the token to Eve. Looking at the purple silk wrapping, Eve understood whatever this contained was sure to be important, a keepsake to treasure; they were not, as a rule, the type of family to frequently give gifts.

“I hope you like it.”

Evangeline carefully removed the silken sheath to reveal the secret within. A large locket sat nestled within the folds, exquisitely engraved and the size of a chicken’s egg. She lovingly caressed the surface.

“Open it.” Gwen urged her. Very gently Eve squeezed the sides to open it, inside was a revelation; a miniature photo album, each one as thin and delicate as a spider’s web. Taking care, she turned each frame to reveal the portrait hidden behind its predecessor. There were six in total, her mother, and father and one of her as a child of five. The next three were of her birth family, copies of the pictures now safely stored in the bag.

“So wherever you travel, you will carry us with you. I know we are not your birth parents, but you are, and always will be, our beloved Evangeline.” Quickly closing the locket so her tears wouldn’t damage the delicate treasures within, Eve got up from her place and embraced her mother.

“No matter who gave birth to me, you and dad will always be my parents, and I love you so very much.” Kissing and hugging each other, they allowed a few moments for tears.

“Let me put it on you; I bought the silk especially”. Eve moved her russet mane so the silver clasp on the emerald silk necklace could be fastened, the locket sat perfectly just below the hollow of her throat.

“Turn around so I can look at you; ah yes the colour really brings out your eyes and sets your hair aflame.” Gwen gushed. Looking in the mirror, Eve too admired her appearance, though not a vain person, she was not ignorant to her beauty.

“Thank you Mother; it truly is a beautiful keepsake I shall never take it off.”

After clearing the table, they retired to the snug; Gwen picked up some sewing, while Eve took this final opportunity to sit in her favourite chair with a book and become lost in a hero’s adventure. Tomorrow, she would be embarking on her own.

After a restless night, Eve prepared to leave; she was pretty sure a Kaleidoscope of rather large butterflies had taken up residence in her stomach. Heading downstairs, she was relieved to see some ginger and chamomile tea waiting for her.

“I wasn’t sure what you would want to eat; I thought some tea would be palatable...?” Gwen placed the honey pot on the table, knowing Eve liked to add it to her tea.

“Thank you, I really don’t feel like eating just now. I will take some bread and an apple for later.” Eve mumbled while absentmindedly adding a spoon of honey to her drink. They sat in silence, neither one knowing what to say, though both extremely aware that the time to say anything at all was fast expiring. After her second cup of honeyed tea, Eve stood.

I must not cry,Gwen admonished herself.Plenty of time for tears later, right now, I must be strong for my daughter. She must be terrified, I know that I would be.Moving towards the front door, Gwen helped Eve with her things, carefully rolling her cloak and securing it to her bag.

“Here is your food for later; I have wrapped a piece of cheese in nettle leaves as well, it should stay fresh for a day or so.” Adding the food parcel to her bag Eve was out of things to do; their time was up. Looking around her, she desperately wanted to stay, but knowing that if she were to surrender to this feeling, regret would plague her forever.

“Well… I guess this is it,” she stammered.

“I guess it is,” replied Gwen. Embracing for what could be the last time, they held on tight to each other.

“I love you,” they said in unison. Eyes once again glinting with unshed tears; they both put on a smile, to try and comfort the other.

“I will be back before you know it, and what stories I shall have to tell!”

“You will, my sweet girl, and I shall make a cake to celebrate your return!” Opening the front door Eve walked to the front gate, the sun was shining in the pearl coloured sky, and the sound of finches chattering reached her on the slight breeze. It was a beautiful, peaceful morning to embark on an adventure. Turning back to look at her mother standing in the door- way, she smiled her best smile and raised her hand in farewell.

“Go east, Eve, that is the road to Clear Water Valley. It would make sense to pass through the realm of our allies first,” Gwen called. Nodding, Eve opened the gate and took the first step of her journey, reaching back to close the gate, she wanted to turn to see your mother’s gentle expression once more.

“Don’t look back again child; your path is east. Only look forward now, I shall be here on your return!” Gwen called, not wanting Eve to see the tears that were now sliding down her cheeks, in silent streams of sorrow.

Squaring her shoulders and trying to quell the swarm of what now appeared to be very angry butterflies; she turned her face to the morning sun and headed east towards Clear Water Valley, the Realm of witches.


Page 3

Eve enjoyed her morning walk through the eastern lands of Hermoria; it was not somewhere she frequented often. The flowers here were in full bloom, even her mother’s favourite orange fire lilies.I will have to remember this when I returnshe thought to herself. Wondering about how the flowers were still blooming, the season for them had passed; Eve noticed an Elder coming along the road on the left. Even from her vantage point, she could see that he appeared to be muttering to himself.Probably going over his address for tonight’s gathering.Eve thought, she was suddenly relieved she would not have to attend; having everyone stare at her again was not something she wished to repeat.

“Good Morning, Elder,” Eve called out with a wave and a ready smile. It was not the ‘done’ thing to be so open with an elder; however, Evangeline seemed to get away with it. As the elder drew closer, Eve recognised him as the Elder, who had performed her gifting.

“Good morning, young Evangeline, and what are you doing out so early, on what I must say is a most beautiful day?” The Elder smiled down at her; he had now reached her on the road, for an old Elf, he sure moved fast! Unsure if she should tell him her reason for being on the road so early, she decided that a half-truth would be sufficient.

“It is indeed a most glorious morning Elder; I am on my way to meet with a Witch. My Mother wishes me to give her some herbs.” Opening her pack, Eve showed the Elder the herbs and grasses. Worried that he would question her further and not being an accomplished liar, Eve gave him her best smile.

“I will wish you a good day, Elder and thank you for performing my gifting a few days past.” Drawing himself up to his full height, the Elder looked rather pleased to have been thanked. With a smile playing at the corners of his mouth, He nodded to Eve and once again bid her a good morning. Continuing on her way. Evangeline felt guilty for not confiding in the Elder; she was not by nature a dishonest person, yet something had held her back.

“I must follow my heart like Reena instructed.” Eve murmured, feeling better about not being completely honest, she began once again to ponder about the prophecy.

The sun was past its highest point when Eve decided she could no longer ignore her grumbling stomach. Wary of the now mildly irritated butterflies, that seemed to have taken up residence permanently in her stomach, she delicately nibbled at a piece of bread. Once she had finished and felt slightly fuller, Eve looked about for a stream to have a drink from and refill her water bottle. Not far from the road she saw a twinkling through the long grass. Reaching the stream, Eve had a refreshing drink and filled her bottle, drying the canister on her skirts. Eve glanced up to see a Doe taking a drink on the opposite side of the stream.

“How beautiful you are,” she whispered.

The doe’s ears pricked as though it had heard her, then to Eve’s amazement the doe looked her in the eye and bowed. Evangeline was flabbergasted, never in her whole life had she witnessed or indeed heard of an encounter like this. The doe seemed to recognise her, or so she felt. They continued to gaze at each other, the afternoon sun warming the animal’s coat to a glorious chestnut, with flecks of amber and gold. A flock of black jays suddenly took flight from the trees behind the doe startlng it, and just like that the magical moment was lost.

Completely entranced by the event, Eve did not immediately notice the thundering sound that was carried to her on the balmy breeze. Shaking herself, she followed the bank towards the sound, after and few miles the stream widened into a river. The thundering had grown progressively louder, and as she navigated through some rather robust long grass, she saw the source of the sound. A magnificent waterfall, cascading over what looked like the edge of the world. Eve was in awe of such beauty.

I will always remember this view for as long as I live, she promised herself. Walking to the edge of the cliff, to fully admire the wild beauty of nature, it suddenly dawned on her; she was very high up. “If this is a cliff how on earth do I reach the lands beyond it?” Eve muttered. Looking out and down from her vantage point, Eve could clearly see golden hills and the continuation of the river meandering its way through the lush vista below.

“You must be invited in,” said a musical voice just behind Eve.

Chapter Three

 

“OH MY LIFE!” Eve all but screamed.

Feeling quite sure her heart was going to burst from her chest, Eve whipped around drawing the small dagger she carried from her belt as she went. Now facing her would be attacker, ready to defend herself, she was surprised to see a rather tiny woman standing behind her. In fact, she was a full head and shoulders shorter than Eve. Seemingly unfazed by the dagger, the woman repeated herself.

“You must be invited in.” Smiling up at Eve, she reached her hand out in welcome. Feeling slightly foolish for being afraid of such a tiny unarmed woman, Eve sheathed her weapon and took the woman’s hand in greeting.

“I am Evangeline, daughter of Gwen. I am on a journey to Clear Water Valley.” Finishing her introduction Eve wondered if she should have disclosed so much.

“A pleasure to meet you, Evangeline, I am Violet, Keeper of the gate,” Violet replied with a smile.

Before Eve could ask, what exactly a keeper of the gate was and where the gate led to, Violet had moved to stand before two willow trees a few meters from the cliff edge. Intrigued, Eve followed.

“Please stay there,” Violet called over her shoulder when Eve was twenty paces away. Not sure what was to happen next, she did as she was bid. Violet raised her arms over her head, muttered a few words, and as the last word left her lips, she brought her hands down in front of her as if in prayer. Then palms facing outwards she drew her slender arms apart as if parting a pair of curtains to let in the morning sun.

Before her the forest that nestled in-between the two majestic willow trees rippled and sparkled. Eve watched in wonder as the woodland dissolved into a million, glittering fragments. Now, in its place was a road.

“As I said I am the keeper of the gate,” Violet repeated as she beckoned Eve forward. Eyes like saucers, Eve walked towards Violet and the road that just a second ago definitely had not been there.

“Wow!” Was all she could manage to articulate. Laughing, Violet took Eve’s hand and passed between the willows and onto the road.

“I guess you have never met a witch before?” Violet inquired while trying not to allow amusement creep into her voice. Eyes dancing, she continued to smile at the beautiful elfin girl before her.

“A witch? But that means… I made it… I made it to Clear Water Valley!” Eve whooped and did an impromptu jig, twirling and laughing. Violet was amazed to be witnessing such a bizarre reaction. Noticing Violet once again, Eve blushed as red as her hair.

“Sorry,” she mumbled.

Not passing comment, Violet just began to walk. Eve quickened her pace and caught up with her. For someone with much shorter legs, Violet could sure move fast! They walked in silence; Eve, still embarrassed by her childish behaviour, took in her new surroundings. The road was a buttery gold colour and seemed to be almost like clay; making a note to investigate its texture later, knowing that later would need to be a return trip, she continued to peruse the landscape. The trees were much more delicate than back home; with wispy green leaves that looked a lot like feathers and their bark was a silver- white.

Hmmm… like an elvish ash tree,Eve mused.

“A bit, though the bark is vermilion when it peels, Violet informed her. Eve was sure she had not spoken her musings aloud, not wanting to make a fool of herself again, she held her tongue. Glancing sideways at her walking companion, Eve noticed the differences between them. Violet was very slight in build with willowy limbs and a mane of blue- black hair that fell to her waist in a ripple of silk. She wore a short green dress of good heavy cotton, picked out at the collar and cuffs with yellow embroidery. Her face was beautiful with a rosebud mouth and large Violet eyes that seemed to take up half her face. She noticed Eve’s scrutiny of her. Wrinkling her nose, she turned to Evangeline and asked in an exasperated tone

“Is there something on my face? You have been gaping at me for at least ten minutes, and I am becoming irritated by your lack of manners.”

Blushing once again, Eve looked at the floor. “No! There’s nothing at all wrong with your face, it’s lovely. I have never met a witch before, and I was noticing the differences between us, that’s all.” She rushed her words, quite sure Violet must think her stupid, rude or both.

“Hmm… well, we are different that’s true, however, I suggest you don’t stare at every witch you meet.” Violet advised. Nodding, Eve felt she might be remembering this leg of her quest for all the wrong reasons.

About an hour later, Evangeline got her very first glimpse of Clear Water Valley. They had just reached the crest of what felt like a very steep hill.

“Welcome to the heart of Clear Water Valley!” Violet exclaimed, throwing her arms out wide as if to embrace the view before them.

“It is a lovely view, very picturesque,” Eve replied smiling. The valley was beautiful, with dove grey houses. Their cheerful orange and yellow roofs caught the light, making them look more like copper and gold. Eve’s stomach chose that moment to let out a rather monstrous growl. Cheeks aflame, she quickly began to dig about in her bag. Hastily, she began searching for a snack before the next guttural protest and managed to knock her lump of cheese to the ground in her embarrassment. Moving swiftly, she tried to save it from becoming spoiled. To her amazement, the cheese never made contact with the butter yellow ground. Even more astounding it seemed to be rising upwards.

“How…is my cheese flying?” Eve squeaked. Chuckling, Violet opened her hand and received the nettle wrapped lump.

“It wasn’t flying, it was just a simple levitation charm,” she replied breezily. Handing the morsel back to Eve, Violet began heading down the hill towards the houses. Eve eyed her cheese and decided that floating food was not something she was ready to experience. She carefully placed it back into her bag under her apple in case it started to levitate again and hurried after Violet’s quickly retreating back.

It soon became clear that Eve was going to have to get used to objects and indeed people, behaving in ways that they usually did not.

Now in the Square, the large open area in the centre of town where markets and festivals were held, Eve had seen many things that would be hard to forget.

“Close your mouth for goodness sake! You look like you have been cursed,” Violet admonished. Rolling her eyes, Violet headed for a charming house with a bright pink front door. “Come on, before you really do get cursed by an over sensitive witch!”

Opening the door, she hurried Evangeline inside before any more witches noticed her staring.

“I am so sorry, but that gentleman was holding fire in his hand, and it was green!” Eve babbled. Sighing loudly from a room at the end of the hallway, Violet began to make tea and a light supper, with perhaps more force than the crockery deserved. Eve made her way towards the commotion, feeling foolish she kept her head bowed as he entered the kitchen.

“I’m sorry,” Eve mumbled still looking at the floor. Sighing, Violet thumped two plates of sandwiches and fruit down on the table.

“Forget it, just eat,” she replied, sitting herself down as she waited for Eve to do the same.

After a rather quiet meal, which Eve enjoyed despite her embarrassment. Violet showed her into the snug. Cosy with soft inviting sofas a wood burning stove and best of all, a book shelf positively bursting with books; it was a room Eve could be content in for hours.

“So Evangeline of Hermoria, what brings you to the realm of witches?” Violet inquired, as she gracefully folded herself into one of the armchairs, by the crackling wood burner.

Taking the chair opposite Violet, Eve perched on the edge, not sure where to begin, or how much to divulge. “The witches are our allies, it has been this way for hundreds of years,” the words of her mother floated through her memory. Deciding sooner or later she was going to have to surrender some information, or she may never find her brother, or fulfil the prophecy.

“I am searching for answers,” Eve explained. Looking at her, Violet knew there was more to it than she was likely to discover now. She waited patiently for Eve to continue. “I am searching for my brother. We were separated as babies; I want to discover what became of him,” She added a few moments later.

“Why come here, though? There aren't any elvish living here only witches,” Violet asked, to her this seemed a strange place to begin the search. Her mentor would remind her that every path has its twists and turns. Inwardly rolling her eyes at the thought, she continued to wait for Eve to disclose more.

“I was sent here by a wise elf who has the sight and my mother, as you are our closest allies they believed I would be granted safe passage through this realm,,” Eve concluded.

Feeling a little disappointed at the complete lack of detail, Violet gave up and offered Eve a bed for the night. After being shown to her room, Eve took a bath and changed out of her clothes. Violet had offered to clean them for her, which she was grateful for, as she had no idea when the opportunity to have them cleaned would come again. Taking out her book and pencil, she wrote down her experiences of the quest so far.

Waking with a start, Eve fell off the bed. Landing on the stripped floorboards. Rubbing her sore shoulder Eve was sure that this was yet another experience she was not over keen on repeating. After getting to her feet, Eve began wondering what had woken her so suddenly. Then she heard it, rain; beating against the cottage. Moving to the window, she pulled the curtains back to gaze out at the storm. Lightning flashed; illuminating the valley in harsh, white light, following the jagged fingers of lightning, the thunderstruck. A colossal booming reverberated around the valley. Awestruck by the power of nature, Eve stood at her window mesmerised. Suddenly, the bedroom door burst open, and a bedraggled Violet tumbled in.

“What happened?” Eve exclaimed rushing to Violet's side. Violet groaned as Eve helped her onto the bed.

“The square... the tower was hit, and two houses have been crushed, and many more are ablaze.” Trying to rise from the bed, Eve pushed her gently back down.

“You have done enough, stay and rest I will go and do what I can.” Dressing quickly Eve rushed into the night.

Bedlam was the only way to describe what Eve found on reaching the square. Witches were everywhere, children were screaming, it was a wonder more people had not been injured. Running towards a group of young witches, she bellowed over the storm.

“What’s happening? Why is everyone panicking, you are witches use your magic!”

It was painful to see them just standing there, a look of complete confusion on their faces. “We can’t use magic; we are not allowed to interfere with the will of nature!” Screamed one of the group. Not quite believing what she had just heard, Eve left the group and ran to a lone man, when she got closer, she noticed the girl in his arms. The girl was covered in soot and even from a distance, Eve could tell she wasn’t moving. Arriving at the man’s side a moment later; taking the girl gently from his arms, Eve laid her on the grass a few feet away. Hoping she could help at least one person here.

Eve felt for her pulse, hoping there was one. This girl was only a child, no more than five years old.

“Please live little one,” Eve begged. Finding no sign of the child’s heartbeat; Eve felt tears prickle her closed lids. Leaning forward she kissed the child on the cheek, “May you find your ancestors across the golden sea, may you find peace there,” she whispered to the child, placing her hand on the child’s chest.

She was about to leave her and find others that could be helped, Eve felt movement under her palm. Checking again for a heartbeat, Eve was relieved to find one. “You are tough, little one.” She praised the unconscious child, while she stroked her hair. leaving her for just a moment, Eve ran back to fetch the man who had been holding her. “The child, she lives! You must come, she is not yet conscious, but it would be best to have someone she knows with her.” Eve rushed. The man’s eyes lit up, and he ran to where the child lay. Eve watched as he picked up the small form and hugged her close, tears streaming down his face.

Happy that at least one life had been saved Eve went in search of a witch with the authority to end this madness of not messing with natural disasters, as nature was sure having no trouble messing with them. After dodging a falling sapling, and being knocked to the ground by scared children, Evangeline finally found a group of adults. They had congregated around the well and seemed to be in deep conversation.


Page 4

“Excuse me, Excuse me!” Eve yelled as she ran towards the group. Looking up they were stunned to behold an elfin maid, running toward them, russet hair flying and with such a determined look on her beautiful face. Lighting cut across the sky illuminating Eve. The witches gasped as her eyes flashed with green-gold fire.

“So it is true,” the youngest member of the gathering, whispered.

“Please, use your magic to end the suffering,” Eve begged, skidding to a stop before the group. She looked each member in the eye, hoping that one would see the folly in abstaining from magic when their Kin were dying.

” We never interfere with nature's course young elf,” snapped a witch with hair the colour of iron though her face was plump with youth.

“People are dying!” Countered Eve, completely enraged that these people would not act, knowing they could. “You are cowards! Children are dying! People are losing everything. And you stand back, feeling no guilt because you won’t interfere with nature’s course! I am very sorry we may be allies, but no Elf would stand by and let their kin die, and I will not stand back and let these people die now.” Eve blasted.

Turning to the well she began to draw the pail up.If only to slow the inferno and give them a chance to get away,she thought. Unhooking the bucket from the chain she ran to the flames closest and soaked the wall to its left, she continued this for what seemed like forever. The witches looked on with expressionless faces and hands behind their backs.

It was dawn before the rain began helping to douse the flames. Eve had worked tirelessly all through the night and no one helped her. The anger and disappointment she felt towards these people was swallowing her whole. Returning the pail to its chains, she slumped down resting her back against the rough stone of the well. Closing her eyes for just a moment, she was bone weary and filthy.Violet,was Eve’s last thought before she drifted into exhausted oblivion.

Chapter Four

 

Two days later, Eve was reading in Violet's snug, a steaming cup of sage and honey tea was on the table beside her. Coughing, she placed her book down and took a sip of the savoury –sweet brew.

“Ugh, I don’t think this will ever be one of my favourites,” she grimaced.

“Maybe not but it will make you feel better,” Violet assured her. Taking the chair opposite Eve, Violet looked at the elf with new eyes. That terrible night when the storm had hit, Eve made a stand and helped people she had never met, risking her very life for others and a town she had no ties to.

“Thank you for everything, I cannot begin to express the gratitude I feel,” Violet said. Looking at the painting her great- grandmother had left her she continued, “The fire, the blood… I couldn’t be near the blood.” She admitted sadly, Eve placed the unpalatable tea back on its saucer.

“That is nothing to be ashamed of; many folks cannot bear the sight of blood. Indeed, my mother turns a wonderful shade of green if she gets so much as a paper cut. There is also no need to thank me. What I did that night was what I was able to, nothing more,” she stated.

Getting up Evangeline stretched, then deciding that a walk was just what she needed, she headed for the hall to retrieve her cloak and shoes. Opening the front door, Eve stepped out into the late over- cast morning. Half way down the main avenue, she heard feet pounding against the road, a muted thud, thud, thud gaining on her fairly quickly. Eve stepped aside to let whoever it was past.

“Thank the Goddess you stopped! I haven’t run like that since being chased by an angry goose four years past.” Eve turned to see a young man doubled over clutching his side. He seemed familiar to her; most likely she had seen him the night of the storm.

“Can I be of some assistance to you?” She inquired.

Straightening up, the man looked down into her mysterious eyes. “I just wanted to meet the woman who stood up for what she believed; and look once again, into your extraordinary eyes,” He complimented. Unsure whether this witch was trying to court her or just had a funny way of saying thank you, Eve smiled and responded politely

“I did only what I could, I will be on my way now if that is all, I feel the need for a walk.” Turning, Eve was about to continue on her way; when a hand gently touched her forearm. Turning back, she once again looked up into the young man’s eyes.

“Please, I would very much like to walk with you, if you are not averse to this?” He asked. It was only now that she noticed this witch had eyes as extraordinary as her own. His were were blue, but not just any blue they were the blue of the sea with flecks of silver that seemed to swirl like the crest of a wave breaking on the rocks.

“If you like; my name is Eve. It is a pleasure you meet you,” Eve introduced herself and offered her hand in greeting. Taking her hand, all the time looking into her eyes the witch replied.

“It is my pleasure, Eve; I am Caleb.”

They walked for a while, Caleb telling Eve about Clear Water Valley, pointing out historical landmarks and introducing her to any witch that passed them. After about an hour Eve was feeling a bit tired, though she would never admit it to Violet, she was still feeling a bit run down. The chill she had caught the night of the storm had almost gone, but it had left her drained of energy. Heading back towards Violets’ home, Caleb became aware of the sickly pallor of Eve’s skin.

“Are you feeling alright, Eve? you are looking a little pale.”.

“I am just tired, a sit-down and more of Violets awful sage tea shall set me right I am sure,” she replied wearily. Not liking the colour her skin, or the light sheen of perspiration that followed her hairline; or the way she swayed as she walked, Caleb mad a suggestion.

“My home is close by; my father is there and my sister. I will take you there, make you some tea and you can rest for a moment. I will escort you home after you have some colour return to your cheeks. How does that sound?” Caleb coaxed.

“I think that may be a very good idea Caleb, thank you,” Eve said weakly and swooned. Panicked, Caleb caught Eve and lifted her into his arms, and ran the remaining quarter mile to his home.

“I am so sorry, Caleb, I am not making a very good impression here,” moaned Eve as she sat drinking a cool glass of apple juice. She had come around as Caleb had entered the cottage.

“Oh, I don’t know, you have made quite an impression on my family,” he smiled. A small girl skipped into the room when she caught sight of Eve on the sofa she began hopping up and down,

“My angel! Daddy, Daddy my angel is on the sofa talking to Caleb!” She squealed. Eve was quite sure she was not an angel but the child seemed so pleased to see her, then it came to her. The girl covered in soot without a pulse. Could it be her? This child was beautiful with blond hair that caught the light, shining in golden tendrils around her face, eyes as green as emeralds and the most glorious smile Eve had ever seen.

Her inner musings were confirmed when the girl’s father entered the room. “Hello, my name is Robert, and this is my daughter, Grace. I see you have already met my son,” Robert smiled. Eve was speechless for a few moments, then remembering her manners she rose to her feet and held out her hand.

“A pleasure to meet you, my name is Eve, I am so very glad to see you both again, and under happier circumstances,” she beamed at them.

After finishing her juice and having to promise to come back and see Grace again, Caleb and Eve left for Violet’s house.

“Why didn’t you tell me you already knew who I was?” Asked Eve and fiddling with the hem of her cloak.

“Well, for one thing, you would have thought I only wanted to thank you for saving my sister. Also, I am not proud of our first encounter, so I hoped that if we met and you were unaware of the connection, we already had, that I might be able to make a better second impression,” Caleb hurried. Puzzled by this, Evangeline took a moment to think where she had seen Caleb and how it could have been a negative encounter. Then it came to her, the gathering by the well.

“You were the young man with the group of cowards at the well,” she responded an accessory tone entering her voice.

Looking her in the eye, Caleb answered. “Yes, I was there, having the same argument as you had with them.”

“Then why didn’t you speak up while I was making a complete fool of myself?” Eve countered.

“I couldn’t, I was busy trying to stop a tree falling onto the Mathews house, four houses down from where we were standing, which is not easy when you are…never mind.” Not wanting to have an argument about this on the street or say more than he should about certain things, Caleb took Eves hand and hurried her up to Violet's door. Once they were sat in the sung, and very sure Violet was out, Eve wanted answers.

“You were doing magic to save other witches, but that is forbidden; your kin made that perfectly clear” she spat, the accusation twisted her expression. His face blank, Caleb waited for Eve to calm down.

“Yes I was trying to use magic against the rules; however, I do not regret it,” he stated: Stoney faced, his eyes burning with indignation. Not sure what he meant by‘trying to use magic’,and not wanting to question him about it, as it was clearly a touchy subject, Eve remained silent. After a few minutes, Caleb got to his feet.

“I’m sorry you think badly of me, I was doing what I could, just as you did.” Sighing he headed to the front door. Eve got up and followed him.

“Wait, please don’t go, I feel terrible about my reaction.”

Hand on the doorknob ready to leave, Caleb turned back to face her. “It’s fine, I am not mad with you, far from it, you saved my sister.” He said smiling down at her; Caleb opened the door and stepped out into the dusk. “I will call on you tomorrow if that’s ok, I would like to talk some more.”

Looking up, Eve could not deny Caleb looked breath- taking, with the blush colours of the dusk behind him. Standing at six foot two with sea blue eyes, chiselled features, and although he was wearing a jacket, it was clear that he was muscular and strong. Remembering Violet saying not to stare Eve looked past his left ear, noticing the way his blond hair curled on his collar.

“Yes, I would like that,” Eve replied. Smiling once more, Caleb turned and headed in the direction of his home. Eve was still staring after him when Violet returned with supper.

Eve and Caleb spent every day together. Sometimes Violet would tag along, and they would have a picnic by the river, Eve had come to think of them as her friends, this worried her, as she knew that staying here was not an option. There were other realms to venture through and a prophecy to fulfil. On her eighth day in the valley, Evangeline decided it was time to leave. Grace was becoming attached to her, and she did not wish to cause the child pain. Violet, she was sure would be pleased to have her house back. Then there was Caleb; he had become a close friend in such a short space of time. It would be difficult to say goodbye.

Packing her bag up the next day was hard, she was truly sad to be leaving. Eve hoped to return after her quest, with stories to tell Grace and a new book for Violet. Gathering up her bag, she headed for the snug to bid Violet farewell and continue on her adventure. Violet was waiting for her, and so was Caleb.

“I didn’t expect to see you here, Caleb. We said goodbye yesterday,” Eve murmured.

“So we did, however, it occurred to me this morning that a gentleman would escort a lady to where ever it is she was headed, to make sure she arrived safely,” he replied with a bow. Suppressing a giggle, Eve smiled and replied.

“Indeed, it would be. However, I don’t know exactly where it is I am heading or how long it will take to get there. You would miss your dinner for certain.” This she thought would seal the deal, as Caleb really loved to eat; she had no idea where he put it all. Looking rather pleased with himself, Caleb stood to his full height and produced a backpack from beside the chair.

“All present and correct,” he laughed. Now she was out of bluffs. Eve was going to have to tell them the truth. Just as she was about to, she noticed a lump under the collar of Caleb’s black t- shirt and it was… humming! She was sure only she could hear it, yes it… Yes, the hum seemed to be emanating from the hidden item around Caleb’s neck . Walking towards him, she touched the lump, it moved; the humming reached a crescendo.

“What’s this?” She asked eyes still on the lump. It was no bigger than her little finger. Reaching under his shirt Caleb withdrew a chain, suspended from it was a smooth point of stone. It was all the colours of the sea combined; grey and green with flecks of electric blue, it seemed to change colour when viewed from different angles.

“Oh it was my grandmothers’; it has been passed down forever. It’s a gem called labradorite.”

I have found one of the three,was Eves first thought. Suddenly realising he had to come with her; she grabbed his hand and smiled. “I would love for you to escort me at least to the border of the realm,” Eve gushed. Picking up his backpack and Eve’s bag, he headed for the door, leaving Eve to say her goodbyes to Violet. “Thank you for allowing me to stay with you, I am so pleased to have met you.” Eve embraced Violet and kissed her cheek. Violet replied rather gruffly.

“Don’t mention it, maybe next time you will be better behaved.” Smiling at her friend, Eve put on her cloak and headed to the door. Taking her bag from Caleb, she slipped it over her head, checked her belt for her purse and knife; she was ready.

“Come on then, Caleb, lead the way,” Eve chuckled. Knowing that she was going to have to reveal some pretty amazing things to him shortly, Eve wanted to keep the atmosphere light until they were away from the town.

“Let’s get this show on the road!” Caleb all but sang.

Oh boy, are you in for a surprise, Eve thought as they headed up the main avenue that leads out of Clear Water Valley.

When they were four miles outside of the town, Eve explained to Caleb all that she knew of her quest, the prophecy and his part in it. To his credit, Caleb listened to her all the way through before he uttered a single word. Once Eve was done, he took a moment to compose himself. Caleb had known there was something about Eve the night he saw her eyes flash in the lightning, now he understood, the legends were real. Glancing at Eve, he saw how anxious she looked, waiting for his reaction. Taking a breath, Caleb smiled at her and responded with confidence.

“Well, I guess you have a travelling companion Evangeline, and I do believe the next realm is Olia, the realm of the owl riders.”


Page 5

 

Watching the elf and the witch make their way north to Olia through the swirling mists of the crystal, the malevolent being licked its dripping maw. Placing a claw onto the crystal over the image of the elfin maid. The creature let out a chilling cackle, “soon you will be mine, young one, your light must be extinguished, and I look forward to that time immensely.”

Moving away from the Crystal, the Creature gazed out the window of its lair, the sight of the broken souls in the pits below, caused it to shiver with glee. Not even hope could survive here, and there was far worse to come.

“Chashoc!” Screeched the creature. A moment later a grotesque form appeared, covered in purple skin that seemed to be charred in places, with a spine so curved, that patches of its long, lank black hair grazed the floor. Looking up into his master’s face with black eyes Chashoc spoke in a gravelly voice, putrid yellow saliva dripping from his fangs.

“You called, Great Master.”

“I wish you to follow the Elf and Witch,” the Creature ordered. Bowing, Chashoc began backing out of the room.

“It shall be done, Master; I shall take great care not to be seen,” he assured.

“Oh, I know you will Chashoc, for if you are indeed seen, I shall cast you into the void myself!” The creature bellowed, its red eyes flashing with malicious intent.

“Ye… yes, master, I shall not fail you,” Chashoc whimpered as he lumbered from the room. Smiling the creature reclined on its throne, knowing that is was only a matter of time now. The creatures cackle filled the chamber with the eerie sound of evil madness.

Chapter Five

Eve and Caleb walked for the entire day only stopping to eat. By night- fall, they were still nowhere near the northern border. They made camp under some pine trees; Caleb produced a tent and a sleeping bag for each of them. Which astounded Eve until she reminded herself;Caleb is a witch, of course, his bag was enchanted.Once everything was set up, Eve made a small fire to cook the fish they had caught earlier. Both full and snuggled in their sleeping bags, Caleb turned to Eve and asked her all about Hermoria, the landscape, what the people were like and of course the food. Eve told him all about her home and the lovely house she shared with her mother.How she ached to see her beloved mother, it had only been a week or so since she had left but it felt so much longer.

“I think by tomorrow we should reach the border,” reassured Caleb as he repositioned his folded jacket he was utilizing as a pillow.

“Do you know much about Olia?” Eve inquired turning to face Caleb.

“No. The owl riders are a bit of a mystery to us. There was a time, long ago, when they used to steal star shine roots from our lands. My Grandfather said there was a great battle, but neither side claimed the victory. Since then Witches and riders haven’t really mixed. I still think it an odd thing to fall out over.” Eve pondered over this revelation. Snuggling down into her bag, as she drifted off to sleep, her dreams filled with owls with large jewel -like eyes and masked riders brandishing spears tipped with silver.

A few meters away, Chashoc crouched in the branches of a pine tree; the saliva dripping from his fangs scorching the bark where it landed. He scanned the camp the two companions had made. The only weapon he had seen was the dagger the Elf carried on her belt.

“Time for some fun,” he chuckled. Cupping his claws, he howled into the night, after a few moments another howl could be heard on the wind, and then another. Smiling, Chashoc moved to a tree slightly closer the pair. “Let us see how you fair against werewolves, young ones.”

To the west of the camp, six sets of yellow eyes appeared in the dark. Rubbing his claws together in anticipation, Chashoc prepared to watch the scene unfold.

Caleb was woken by a growl. Suddenly, very alert he sprang from his sleeping bag. Grabbing the pan, they had cooked supper in, he turned towards the menacing sound. A huge beast stood before him, eight feet long with paws the size of dinner plates and extremely long claws that, glinted in the moonlight. Intelligent yellow eyes assessed him. Caleb, however, was most concerned with the size and amount of razor sharp teeth the beast had in its open, salivating jaws.

“WEREWOLF!” Caleb bellowed just as the beast leaped at him. Knocking him to the floor, Caleb was momentarily winded. The wolf snarled as it brought its jaws down to rip out Caleb’s throat. A loud clang rang out, as the cooking pan connected with the beast’s skull. Caleb used this moment to look for Eve, hoping she had not been harmed.

He saw her then, dagger in hand, blood dripping from its blade. A wolf circled her, fangs bared snarling; it had a large gash down its left flank and was missing an eye. The wolf sprang, claws extended ready to peel flesh from bone. If he hadn’t seen it happen, Caleb would never have believed what took place next. Eve’s eyes flashed with golden fire. She leapt straight up at least six feet into the air, turning a graceful summersault she slit the beast’s throat as it reared up to claw her. Landing on the balls of her feet, just behind the now dead wolf, she looked magnificent, her hair cascading over her shoulders, rippled like wildfire. Eve then moved onto the next wolf and then the next, like a graceful angel of death, she seemed to almost dance with her attackers before cleanly dispatching them.

Caleb, who had been staring at Eve for the past few moments needed to snap out of it , he had problems of his own; the wolf he had successfully concussed was out cold on top of him. Unable to move he was easy prey for any remaining beasts. Wiggling was futile, the animal must have weighed at least seven hundred pounds. Not wanting to ask a girl for help,he had his pride, after all;he muttered a levitation charm. The huge bulk rose a few inches off him, which was all Caleb needed to extract himself. Ready to bludgeon the beast to death he raised the pan above his head, just as he was about to bring it down on the wolf’s skull, Eve grabbed his arm.

“No it is unconscious and of no threat now, let’s gather our things and leave this place,” she urged.

“It tried to kill me!” Caleb spluttered.

“There is no honour in the killing of an unarmed opponent, come on Cal, let’s go,” Eve begged, pulling on his arm. They packed up quickly, then hand in hand they disappeared into the forest.

Chashoc, sat stunned on his branch overlooking the scene below. Four dead wolves, all killed by the elf! One unconscious and the sixth pack member had retreated. Master was not going to like this, especially as Chashoc had been instructed to follow and nothing more. Feeling decidedly sick at the thought of the possible punishments, he was sure to have earned himself, he took out an amulet of onyx and uttered a spell in his guttural voice. A portal appeared in the tree trunk, taking one last regretful look at the carnage below, Chashoc leapt into the vortex and vanished.

The sky was turning the pearl colours of the dawn when they finally stopped running. Reaching yet another stream to wade across the pair decided a well-earned rest was in order. Flopping down on the bank, Caleb dug about in his pack for some food. Finding some apples, he washed them in the stream then tossed one to Eve. She caught it and bit into its crisp rosy skin. Enjoying the crunch of the fruit’s flesh and the sharp tang of the juice, Eve was transported back to a different stream, where the light danced through the canopy of leaves and the comforting embrace of ancient tree roots cradled her.

“It’s a shame we don’t have any cheese,” moaned Caleb. “These would taste even better with a bit of my uncle’s homemade orange cheddar, or ruby skin yaks cheese.” He sighed looking at the remains of his apple. Rolling her eyes at how desolate he sounded, Eve opened her own pack and produced the famous floating cheese. It had been in the pack for some time so she wasn’t holding out much hope that is would even still be edible. Getting up and handing the slightly squashed lump to Caleb, Eve smiled at him.

“Here, if it’s not green with fungus and mould you are welcome to it,” she laughed. Caleb unwrapped the cheese; it had indeed seen better days, though surprisingly; it was still fresh looking. Smiling like he had just received the best gift ever, Caleb tucked into the soft, creamy offering.

“Oh, my Goddess this is amazing!” He exclaimed through a rather full mouth. Eve went to the stream to wash her hands and face while Caleb finished up his meal.

“How much further is it to the border?” Eve asked Caleb once they were ready to go. The sky was now the palest of blues, almost white.

“I am not sure; it can’t be too far.” At least that’s what he hoped. Caleb had left out one tiny detail about the border. He didn’t know exactly where it was located. Deciding now was not the best time to divulge this rather inflammatory piece of information, Caleb put on his most charming smile.

“Come on then; the day is young and I want to reach Olia before tea time,” he bolstered.

“You have no idea where we are going, do you?” Eve seethed. It was now twilight, and they still hadn’t reached the border. She was so angry right now, bone weary and dirty with a combination of sweat, wolf blood and forest derby smeared all over her, she was ready for a bath and clean clothes.

“Not exactly…no,” admitted a sheepish Caleb. Keeping his eyes on his shoes, he didn’t dare look Eve in the face. “I know we are on the right track; Olia is north I just don’t know exactly how far north,” he stammered.

“Wonderful, that’s just great Cal, WELL I AM NOT STAYING ANOTHER NIGHT IN THIS FOREST!” Eve screamed. Oh, how wonderful it felt to scream; she had hated killing those wolves. Not that she had a lot of choice in the matter. What was really bothering her was that she was sure there had been a creature watching from one of the pines by their camp.

Storming off, Eve picked up a few stones and began throwing them into the forest ahead of her; she could hear Cal running to catch her up, still mad at his dishonesty, she didn’t slow her pace. It was almost too dark to continue, and she was not looking forward to the prospect of another night in this forest Eve threw her last stone as hard as she could. Sighing, she was about to declare that they would have to camp here when something hit her hard on the forearm.

Instantly alert Eve reached for her dagger. Looking for what had hit her, she was surprised to see the stone she had just thrown sitting by her right shoe. Confused, she picked it up and was about to throw it again when Caleb stopped her.

“Wait, someone is using magic nearby,” he told her.

“You can sense it?” Eve asked, slightly astonished that this was even possible, but then she wasn’t a witch, why would she know about such things. Nodding, Caleb took the stone and threw it ahead of them, with a lot less force than Eve had used. This time, Eve’s keen hearing picked up a slight popping and then a hum, a few seconds later the stone landed about a foot away.

“Interesting,” Eve murmured, as she went to retrieve the stone.

Curiosity getting the better of her; she moved further into the forest. Caleb caught up with her, putting a finger over his lips. They moved stealthily through the trees, the moist loam underfoot aiding them. Soon they were facing a rather impressive wall. It was made of tree trunks that had been tied together with the thickest vines they had ever seen.

“The border,” they uttered in unison. Pleased to have finally reached their destination, Eve walked forward to see if there was a gate nearby.

“Eve don’t go any….” Caleb warned, but it was too late. When Eve was a meter from the wall, she hit an invisible barrier, she was momentarily held in place then there was a loud pop, and Eve found herself being repelled from the wall at high speed. Caleb made a grab for her and got winded for his trouble.

“Ooof!” He gasped, Eve quickly got off him.

“What on earth was that?” She wondered, slightly shaken.

“Magic…. force field…. powerful….” Caleb coughed. Helping him to his feet, they once again approached the wall. “There must be a gate somewhere,” she assumed.

They walked along the wall keeping at least three metres’ distance. Suddenly up ahead they could see the flickering of torches. Quickening their pace, they arrived before a rather grand set of gates carved from the same type of tree as the wall. They were a masterpiece of filigree and embedded with polished stones.

“How do we get in?” Caleb muttered to himself. He tried a couple of charms but these just caused the force field to shimmer and crackle. They tried calling and waving their arms frantically. Then in a last ditch attempt throwing stones, but this resulted in Caleb getting a black eye. “Let’s just call it a night,” he grumbled rubbing his eye. Moving out of direct sight of the gate, they made camp. Eve worked quietly over a bowl near the campfire, while Caleb went off in search of something to eat. He returned an hour later with a cut arm and two fish. Throwing them down he asked if he may borrow Eve’s dagger to gut them.

“It’s ok Cal, I’ll cook. Here put this over your eye it will help with the swelling,” Caleb took the bowl Eve had been working over, it was full of green paste; which he applied it to his eye. Instantly he felt some relief as the cooling effect soothed his swollen skin. A sigh escaped his lips.

“You are full of surprises, Evangeline. A warrior and now a healer, not to mention a great cook,” Caleb complemented. Smiling, she packed up her herbs and began gutting the fish.

“My dad taught me how to make simple remedies when I was small,” she told him.

“Well I am very grateful that he passed on the knowledge,” he praised. After their meal, they curled up in their bags and deciding to try to gain entry again at first light they drifted off to sleep.

It was however not a restful night for either of them. Every woodland sound caused them to wake. The small creatures of the forest sounded large and dangerous in the hush of the forest; and in the early hours, a deer walked by the camp causing them such a start they decided for the rest of the night, they would take turns to keep watch.

Eve had known another night in this forest was a bad idea. On opening her eyes, she was greeted with the sight of several sword blades and a couple of spear tips all pointing at her. Not quite what she was expecting, but she wasn’t terribly surprised. Careful not to make any sudden movements she asked her captors.


Page 6

“Where is my friend?” No answer was given, instead, large paw-like hands reached for her. Grabbing her, she was pulled roughly to her feet. “I would very much like to know what has happened to my friend,” Eve asked once again.

“No more talk, you answer only our questions!” Shrilled one of her captors, “Who are you and why did you spend an intolerable amount of time disrupting our force field?” Understanding that these, whatever they were must be the owl riders, Eve began to raise her head to look at the creatures surrounding her. Speaking in a neutral tone and moving slowly she answered.

“My name is Evangeline of Hermoria, I am travelling with a friend. He is a witch called Caleb. On our behalf, I would like to apologize for causing a disturbance last night. We merely wished to seek shelter. The night before we were attacked by a pack of werewolves and were rather anxious not to spend another night in the forest.” The creatures took a moment talking in hushed tones amongst themselves.

Eve now had her chance to get a look at them. To her amazement, she found herself gazing at very large extremely muscular mice! However, they were clearly not the usual kind she found in the larder at home; these creatures stood at five feet tall with tails as thick as her forearm. They wore leather chaps but no shoes, leather vests and some kind of strange hat that appeared to have tinted glasses attached to it. Their paws were more like hands though the feet still resembled those of a mouse. Each one carried a weapon.

Turning back to their captive, one of the creatures gripped her arm and began escorting Eve towards the now open gates.

“We have decided to allow you entrance, but do not mistake this for weakness girl; we merely want to hear more about how you came to be at our borders and why you and your witch truly want within our realm.”

The cat o nine tails came down on Chashocs’ blooded flesh for the sixteenth lash. Knowing that screaming would not lessen the pain, he did his best to stay silent, however, this seemed to enrage his master more.

“You disobeyed me, how dare you!” The creature bellowed. Taking several more swings with its chosen weapon. Chashoc finally let out a piercing scream and slumped forward hanging by the shackles at his wrists, his back slashed to a bloody mess.

Leaving the dungeon, the creature slunk along darkened corridors, the slaves visibly shook and cowered as their master swept past. Reaching the throne room, it moved to the great tome open on the reading stand, flicking through the vellum pages made from the skin of the ancient, dammed and enslaved and bound together with their blood and hair; the book was truly a thing constructed of pure evil. Finding the page, it wanted, the creature chuckled.

“Yes, this will be most enjoyable, most enjoyable…for me!” The creature’s manic laughter echoed through the castle.

The creature began constructing its new plan for the two companions. It worked tirelessly the only sounds were its murmurs, and the screams and desolate moans from the pits drifting up through the open windows. Finally, it was ready.

“Grimmer!” Yelled the creature. A huge beast appeared before its master kneeling in respect. Grimmer was more humanoid in form but horribly disfigured, large scars covered his entire body, giving him the appearance of a melted wax candle. The creature approached its minion. Holding out a vial to Grimmer, it commanded.

“Make sure this is consumed by the elf and that witch. Once they have ingested it, return to me, and unless you wish to meet the same fate as Chashoc, I suggest you do only as I command.”

Grimmer stowed the vial in his belt pouch and bowed to his master.

“It shall be as you order.” Taking his leave, Grimmer left for the portal chamber, a malicious grin transforming his scared countenance into something from a nightmare.

Chapter Six

The owl riders escorted Eve rather roughly through the open gates, what she saw was so beautiful she was convinced it must be a dream. All she could see were treetops, the leaves turning the shades of autumn. From gold-green, that matched her eyes, to warm coppers and rich reds. From her vantage point, Eve thought the autumnal tree tops looked like a rippling sea of fire. Her eyes travelling away from the swaying treetops to the horizon, to where purple mountains, their mauve faces warmed by the morning sun; stood like sentinels. The sky was clear so she was able to see the snowy caps that would certainly vanish on a cloudy day.

Dragging her eyes away from possibly the most beautiful vista she had ever had the pleasure to see, Eve began to study her position. She was standing on a gangway that was six feet wide and ran for as far as Eve could see. At regular intervals along the gangway there were large gaps in the barrier, looking over the edge Eve noted that the gaps were just that, holes in the fence. If anyone were to fall, they would crash through the canopy of fiery leaves and surely meet their end on the forest floor. Gulping she turned to her captors and asked.

“How do we get down?”

Snickering, the leader of the group, who looked at her like she was crazy. “Down…Why would we want to go down?”

Confused by the mouse like creature’s response, Eve decided to keep her mouth closed for the time being. Noticing, a movement to her left, Eve turned to see what her captor was doing. He had taken a strange looking curled reed from inside his vest, putting it to his lips he blew through the reed in three quick puffs, then paused and concluded with two shorter puffs, then one long. Eve hadn’t heard a sound.

She was about to ask what that was all about when suddenly two things happened, the first was the whole gangway seemed to move clockwise. Eve felt she may fall so she lunged for one of the posts that made up the fence and held on tight, looking the way she was traveling so as not to feel nauseous. Eve saw that a few metres ahead the atmosphere seemed to thicken; the very air seemed to become opaque. Suddenly, the world around her became blurred. The section of gangway she was on had passed into the strange atmosphere. Becoming scared Eve closed her eyes, unsure if she was able to breathe within this heavy and strangely jelly like air. She began to panic as she was fast running out of oxygen. Then, with a slight squelching sound, she found they had passed through the viscous atmosphere. Eve took a deep lungful of air and then another, the mice like creatures chuckled at her. Opening her eyes, she was confused to see it was dark.

I am losing my mind,she thought.

It was then the owls appeared, like the mice, they were not normal sized, these owls were huge with jewel coloured eyes that flashed in the starlight. There were three approaching them, two were white with silver wing and tail feathers. The third was bronze in colour, its wing and tail feathers were blue-black.

“Beautiful,” Eve sighed.

The owls landed on the posts that were a few feet away from the opening in the gangway. Eve watched as the Owls extended their left wings to bridge the gap.

“Come, let us find your friend, then we can begin our discussion,” the leader said as he placed a paw on the small of Eves back and guided her towards the bronze owl’s wing. Hesitating, Eve tried to back up. An exasperated sound came from behind her, and then she found herself lifted around the middle and carried along the wing to be deposited on the owls back. Heart pounding in her ears, Eve frantically looked around for something to hold onto. The mouse, who had carried her sat in front of her. “Hold onto me,” he instructed. She didn’t need telling twice; she wrapped her arms in a death grip around his middle. The owl then seemed to fall off the perch. Eve screamed, convinced she was about to die. The owl swooped upwards, then began gliding towards the horizon.

After a while, Eve took her face away from the riders back and looked into the night. The view was beautiful, the moon full and fat, illuminated their path, lighting a highway across the lake they were soaring over. In the distance she could make out hundreds of tiny specks of light, assuming this was their destination, she settled into a more comfortable position and kept her eyes on the lights glowing in the distance.

“We are about to do a bit of fancy flying, so hold on tight to me,” the rider instructed over his shoulder. Once again, Eve tightened her grip and buried her face in his back; she felt rather than heard his chuckle. The owl swooped down, then banked left, right, then left again, before soaring straight up. Eve could feel the panic rise.

“I can do this, it will be over soon,” she told herself over and over again. The owl landed gracefully on another perch and extended its right wing to allow its passengers to alight from its back.

“Thank you for the ride,” the mouse murmured. The great bird gazed at them both for a second with its huge eyes, the colour of smoky quartz and then took off, disappearing into the night. They were now standing on yet another gangway; this one, however, led to another more solid path. Gasping, Eve took in her new surroundings. She was looking out at a town in the sky, many gangways led to cosy looking dwellings; some made within the trunks of the trees. Following the line of dwellings, Eve noticed stairs that wound themselves around the tree trunks, looking up she saw yet more illuminated windows and many more mice going about their business.

“Amazing,” she breathed.

“This is where you will be staying; your friend will be brought here as well.” Her escort announced at the door one of the dwellings on the higher levels. It was mostly built into the tree trunk, but they had added a cheerfully rounded extension in which the front door sat pride of place.

“, thank-you, this is a truly lovely house,” Eve remarked turning to her escort.

“They are not called houses here in Olia, these are called burrows,” came the gruff reply. Keeping her thoughts to herself, Eve had a feeling that offending these creatures would be a very bad idea. She twisted the carved doorknob and entered her accommodation very aware that she had no idea how long she might be there.

“Eve! Oh, thank the Goddess you are alright!” Caleb almost sobbed as he rushed through the front door a short while later. Holding each other close, Caleb looked down into Eve’s face. Smiling up into his blue eyes, that always reminded Eve of the sea, she reassured him.

“I’m fine Cal; the owl riders have been very good to me.” Moving out of the embrace, Eve went through to the kitchen; Caleb followed, shaking his head at how completely calm she seemed.

“Girls,” he muttered under his breath, with a slight smile playing at the corners of his lips.

After some sandwiches and tea, Eve gave Caleb a tour of the house. She had taken the bedroom which didn’t have a view but a beautiful stained glass, irregularly shaped window that had been made to fit a split in the trees bark, there were other ‘windows’ for lack of a better name. Eve liked to think of them as light veins. These were very thin splits and cracks in the trees bark that the mice had glazed to keep draughts out and allow as much light as possible into the room. She wondered how the veins would look when the sun came up.

All the furniture was built into the tree, the owl riders had excellent design skills, and the rooms were cosy and light but also totally functional. Caleb’s room had a large window that overlooked the gangway network and the other burrows on this level. Heading back down the spiral staircase to collect his bag, Caleb was surprised to see two of the riders standing outside the open front door.

“May we come in?” The taller of the two asked.

“It’s your house, I mean burrow,” Caleb replied. On entering the burrow, the riders wiped their paws and stood by the front window. Unsure what to do, Caleb began to flounder, then Eve appeared on the bottom stairs.

“Hello again, how may we help you?” She inquired.

“We have come to escort you both to our leader’s home for the talk I mentioned on your arrival here.” Opening the front door, the rider made the common gesture for ladies first. Sighing, Eve made her way to the door, slipping on her shoes she waited for the riders and Caleb to exit.

“This way please,” the rider guided them through several levels before arriving at their leader’s burrow. Knocking on the door, the company waited for admittance. A small female opened the door, like the males of her kind, her paws were more like hands and she wore similar attire as her male counterparts. “Erica, we are here to see Maximus,” explained the taller rider. He definitely seemed to out-rank his companion Eve thought.

Opening the door wider, Erica allowed the party to enter.

“You will find him in his study, remember to knock this time Jericho, I have only just finished cleaning up the glass from the last projectile that was nearly embedded in your skull,” she pleaded. Chuckling the tall rider called Jericho nodded in agreement. Taking one last look at the visitors, Erica headed back the way they had come.

Reaching the end of the corridor, Jericho stopped outside a heavily carved door. “On entering this room you will be respectful at all times, and only speak when spoken too, is that clear?” He told the two friends. Nodding their agreement, Jericho raised his fist and knocked on the door.

“ENTER!” Shouted a deep voice from within.

They had been in Maximus’s study for hours; and so far, he had thrown two inkwells and a heavy candlestick at no one in particular, these outbursts were due to his dislike of the answers given to his many questions.

“Girl, for the last time, why are you here?” Maximus yelled, his eyes wide and ears back. Once again, Eve gave the only answer she could, that they only wished to pass through his lands and to experience the wonders of the cities in the tree tops. Though the flattery went some way to calm him, it did not totally appease the angry rodent. Deciding that he was getting nowhere with his line of questioning, Maximus decided to play the slow game of interrogation. “Fine if that is why you are here; I shall say no more about it for now.” Changing tack, he continued his questioning, “I understand there has been some werewolf activity in the woods close to our border…, How many attacked you?” Surprised by the sudden change in the questioning, Eve was momentarily lost.

“That would be six, Sir,” Caleb answered. Making a mental note to thank Cal later, Eve stayed quiet and allowed Caleb to explain the attack.

“Hmmm, this is worrying news indeed,” Maximus murmured once Caleb had told his tale.

“Please Sir, if we could just rest for a day or so and wash our clothes maybe, we will leave your lands in peace,” Eve said as she looked the fierce mouse right in the eyes.

“You may stay for a few days, Jericho and Dexter here will be your guides for the duration of your stay. But mark my words, if you turn out to be spies, you will be very sorry indeed!” He warned them, though Eve hadn’t failed to notice that when Maximus had said about the possibility of them being spies, he was looking only at Caleb. Making another mental note to find out more of the history between the witches and riders, she stood with the others waiting to leave.

“Thank you, Sir.” They mumbled like a pair of naughty children and made for the door, which Dexter was holding open.

“Jericho, a moment please,” Maximus called after them. Returning to the study, Jericho stood before his leader. Leaning in close his black eyes fixed on his subordinate; Maximus uttered in hushed tones. “Watch them carefully, especially the witch.” Nodding, Jericho turned and left, closing the door with a muted click behind him.


Page 7

Chapter Seven

It had been nine days since Maximus had spoken to them, and during this time Eve and Caleb had explored the tree- top city. There had only been one incident in which Caleb had managed to become an unwilling participant in a fight with a rather scary looking resident by the name of Nex. Caleb was still nursing some bruised ribs and three broken fingers from that encounter. It turns out that the riders do not like being referred to as mice. Not only was he beaten up by a giant rodent, it was also an extremely public spectacle. The incident took place in the Dome. The Dome a covered area where the food market and other trades were based. It was located on the mid-level of the City. It was the only part of this sprawling treetop metropolis, that was always full of activity.

Caleb had been waiting in line for lunch at one of the most popular stalls in the Dome; when he’d managed to accidently stand on the tail of a female waiting in line ahead of him. Unfortunately for Caleb, this happened to be Nex’s little sister Zoe. Nex was well known for his short temper and violent outbursts, he was the kind to lash out at the slightest misdemeanour, some of which were his own perceptions and not actual slights against him. As on every occasion where there was a possibility for Nex to dish out some punishment, he demanded that as part of his apology, Caleb purchased Zoe’s lunch for her, which Caleb agreed to. It all would have ended there had Caleb not muttered, “this mouse is touchy, too much cheese before bedtime.” Nex heard him. The next thing Caleb knew, he was being tackled to the ground by a very angry, three-hundred-pound rodent. “We…are…not…mice...ignorant …witch!” Each bellowed word was punctuated with a kick to Caleb’s ribs. Picking Cal up by his collar, Nex held him up so his feet were off the floor. The enraged rider glared into Caleb’s bloodied face and snarled. “We are Miscurts, fearless aerial warriors, Death dealers from above. You would do well to remember that, witch.”

That was three days ago. Today, Eve was going to visit the Owls or Protectors as Jericho had informed her they preferred to be called. Preparing to make her way to the lake, she was buzzing with excitement. Since her first and rather a scary ride, she had learned that the protectors were not pets of the Miscurts; they were a race in their own right. Jericho had spent an entire afternoon with Eve in the city library, explaining the history and alliances with the protectors. It answered many of her questions but also created plenty more.

“So, why did you steal the star shine roots from Clear Water Valley?” Eve asked Jericho, as they sat in the library. “Caleb said there was a great battle many years ago.” Eve couldn’t help it, the question just popped out. Laughing a hearty belly laugh, Jericho wiped the tears of mirth from his black eyes and answered the inquisitive young maid.

“There was no battle, Eve. That is the story the witches tell their young to keep us, the monsters and them away from our borders. We came to an agreement to stop digging up the roots in exchange for our own crop,” Eve was confused.

“Yes, but why did you want the roots in the first place. Are they magical?”

 

Jericho had wondered away from her to return the volume they had been looking through.

“No, they just taste nice;” he answered over his shoulder. It was all too much for Eve; she burst out laughing. She couldn’t wait to tell Cal.

“Good morning, Evangeline!” Called Dexter as he exited the healer’s quarters. He had taken a fist to the snout when trying to get Nex off of Caleb and it was still a bit swollen and red. Waving as she passed, Eve called to him.

“Hello Dexter, your nose is looking a bit better. I’m off to meet Jericho, he is introducing me to the protectors.” Eve skipped down the last staircase and ran the short distance to the edge of the lake, where she could see Jericho waiting.

“Finally!” Jericho grunted. It felt like he had been waiting for half the morning. Eve arrived at his side, eyes sparkling like she hadn’t a care in the world, “I was wondering where you had got to,” he stated. Smiling sheepishly and fiddling with the ties of her new leather chaps, Eve apologised.

“I am sorry, Jericho. I was up late last night reading.” Huffing, he retrieved his curled reed to alert the Protectors that they were needed. A few moments passed and then Jericho raised his paw in greeting. Eve looked in the direction he was waving and saw two Protectors gliding over the lake. They landed before them, the morning sun bringing lustre to their feathers and fire to their jewel- like eyes. Keisha, the Protector Eve had met before, as she had been the owl Eve had ridden on her journey here, observed Eve with Smoky quartz eyes. Then spreading her bronze wings, her midnight blue primary feathers catching the light Keisha bowed gracefully. Amazed that yet another creature was welcoming her in this manner, Eve curtsied to the majestic bird.

Clearing his throat and hoping that none of the shock he was feeling came through in his voice, Jericho gestured to the other owl that had accompanied Keisha. Eve turned her attention to the other Protector waiting quietly on the shore. This owl was white with black flecks on her breast. Its feathers were not as striking as Keisha’s but then Eve looked into the bird’s eyes; they were sapphire blue. Never had she seen any creature with eyes such as these.

“This is Sapphire,” Jericho introduced the Protector.

“Named for her eyes no doubt,” Eve whispered stepping to stand in front of the snowy owl. Eve looked up into her blue eyes, smiled and dropped into a curtsy. Sapphire clicked her beak and instead of bowing, as both Eve had expected, she brought her snowy head down and placed her forehead against Eve’s.

As soon as the contact was made, Eve experienced a rush of images. A house, her brother and her birth parents. The house must have been her home with them. Then the darkness appeared, it slithered into the house in the dead of night. The darkness entered her room but shied away when it touched her. Eve then saw it enter her brother’s room and do the same. When it reached her parent's room, it began to circle their bed faster and faster, until it was a blur of black. Her mother woke and just as she opened her mouth to scream, both her parents and the darkness vanished.

Eve could feel tears rolling down her cheeks, upset by the images she had just witnessed. She tried to pull away, but a gentle voice that came from within her head whispered.You must see it all, dear one.

Eve knew it was Sapphire she had heard. Taking a breath, she prepared herself for the rest.

It was the early hours of the same night. Eve was asleep in her crib, thumb in her mouth. Eli was crying in the room next door, but no one came to sooth him. Just as the sky changed to the pearly colours of pre-dawn, two men entered the house. They looked much like Caleb, though their features were more pointed and they had gossamer wings folded against their backs. They entered Eli’s room, picked him up and left as quickly as they had arrived.

“Nooooo!” Eve moaned, as she dropped to her knees, the connection lost. Jericho just stood there not understanding at all what had just taken place.

“I know where my brother is. Jericho, I need to find Caleb.” She rushed her words, tears still streaming down her face. Confused he picked her up and was about to run back to the city when Eve reached out to Sapphire. Taking her closer, Jericho watched as the great bird rested her head on Eve’s hand, and watched a large tear fall from the owl’s beautiful eye.

“Thank you, dear friend. Please wait for me to return, I won’t be long,” Eve whispered to her new friend. Sapphire nodded her head in an assurance that she would indeed wait.

“Amazing!” Jericho breathed.

They were back at the lake ten minutes later. Eve running and Jericho carried Caleb, much to his displeasure. On arriving, Eve very quickly explained to Caleb what had happened. Caleb stood and listened until Eve was finished before he spoke.

“So the owl…” There was an angry screech from behind Caleb. “Sorry! I mean Sapphire, shared this information with you?” Eve nodded, while Jericho was becoming even more confused. Eve then explained her quest and the prophecy she was destined to fulfil.

“So let me get this straight. You are on a quest to find this Aurora Stone and your long lost brother? Caleb is one of your three companions and you can communicate with Sapphire? Wow! I need a moment.” Jericho moved away from the group and sat on a boulder, looking out onto the tranquil lake. Eve turned to Caleb,

“We are going to have to explain at least part of this to Maximus; it will look really suspicious if we suddenly have a pressing urge to leave.” Not happy with it but knowing that sneaking off would never work, Caleb agreed. Though he also made it clear that Jericho was to be there as well.

Whoosh! a large book missed Eve by a hair. Maximus was enraged. He knew there was more to these two than he was being told. Picking up a glass paperweight he launched it across the room, the orb ricocheted off the bookcase and embedded itself in a rather large portrait of his grandfather.

“DECEIVERS, I KNEW YOU WERE LYING TO ME! “he bellowed, the pinks of his ears turning purple.

“I can prove what I am telling you to be true, just please calm down.” Eve pleaded from behind Jericho. This seemed to cause Maximus to reach new heights of fury. His breathing was becoming shallow and fast, eyes wide and ears flat.

“You shouldn’t have told him to calm down,” moaned Jericho as he watched his leader knock over three chairs and tear up a large map.

Eve stepped back and reached for the door handle; if she could just get to her room, she could retrieve the box, and hopefully begin to prove her story to be true. Unfortunately, the Miscurt leader saw her. Picking up the cane that a moment ago had supported his prized cheese plant he came crashing towards her.

“Where do you think you’re going?” raising the cane, Maximus was about to bring it down on Eve’s shoulder, when he caught his foot on the rumpled rug and fell, Miscurt and cane flew in opposite directions. Maximus came to land with a thud against the end of his desk with the wind knocked out of him. Maximus was about to spring to his feet when the ink blotter that had been on the edge of his desk fell off and struck him between the eyes, knocking him unconscious and leaving a smudge of blue ink in its wake. Caleb, who had been watching from the chair he had been too scared to vacate, looked at the now still Maximus.

“Is he...dead?” Caleb whispered eyes wide. Rushing to his side Eve placed her ear to the mighty rodent’s chest.

“No just knocked out, he will be alright. I will make him something for the pain.” Leaving the room, she asked that Jericho bring Maximus to her burrow as discreetly as possible. Sighing, he went towards the great leader and hauled him over his shoulder.

“I hope you know what you are doing, Eve; Maximus is not going to like this when he wakes up.” However, he was addressing the closed door, as she had already left.

It was a tense few moments when Maximus came around. At first, he was ready to tear the burrow apart and throttle the lot of them. However, realising this was physically not possible and that Eve had been tending to his extremely sore head, Maximus did something he had not managed since he was a child, Maximus listened.

“I have never seen a stone of prophecy in all my years; you must guard it well, there are those who would destroy it,” Maximus warned Eve, as he carefully handed back the slab of moonstone.

“Destroy it? What good would that do? The prophecy has been heard,” Caleb interjected. Maximus trying hard to keep his temper explained that the stone is also a key and without it, the prophecy cannot be completed. This was news to Eve; Reena had not mentioned anything more about the stone apart from to keep it safe and activating it for her.


Page 8

Finally, they made it back to the shore; Keisha had returned home, but Sapphire was still there, her beautiful snowy head tucked under her wing. Cautiously, Eve made her way to her new friend and reached out a hand to touch her soft feathers to rouse her.

“I don’t think you should be touching a sleeping giant bird Eve, it might not be too happy about it,” cautioned Caleb, from the brave position of behind Jericho. Sapphire must have heard; she was now awake and extending her wings in what looked like a post-nap stretch.

“Dear Sapphire, we need to visit Gloria, could you please take us there?” Eve asked the owl tenderly. Her blue gaze never leaving Eves green-gold one, she nodded. Sapphire then looked at Jericho and Caleb making a move with her talons she scratched two lines in the dirt. Jericho was the first to understand.

“She can only carry two of us; we need another owl, or one of us must stay behind.” Eve knew that she could not leave Caleb behind, and she needed Sapphire to guide them to the border of the realm of the Fae, Gloria.

“I cannot leave Caleb or Sapphire, nor can we involve another protector, it is wrong to demand that of them,” she explained. Jericho knew he was the logical choice to stay but, Maximus had ordered that he accompany them, and never having gone against a direct order, he was not about to start now.

“Then we will have to all walk and allow the protector to lead us from the sky. Maximus ordered that I go with you; at least allow me to follow my orders. I will come as far as the border.” Shaking her head Sapphire let out two long hoots, Keisha reappeared a moment later. Seeing how worried Eve looked, Sapphire leaned her forehead against hers and explained that it had already been decided, but she thanked her for not having ordered another protector to come.

“Thank you,” Eve murmured. “Our travelling obstacle has been resolved; let us make haste, I would like to reach the border before dark.” Walking up the Owls snowy wing, Eve suddenly felt confident; circumstances were changing for the better. Jericho assisted Caleb onto Keisha and then they were flying. The direction was unimportant to Eve, this time; she knew her friend would guide them true.

“I am coming, Eli,” she whispered her promise to the wind.

Chapter Eight

The view was spectacular, Eve was desperate for some paints to capture the russet landscape, The trees ruffled by the wind still reminded her of fire. Every so often Sapphire would bank slightly, drawing Eve’s attention to another beautiful view that the land had to offer. Glancing over at Keisha, Eve waved to Caleb and Jericho. It was a truly surreal method of travel; the Protectors seemed to float. Their massive wings moved fluidly, hardly causing any disturbance to the riders. Eve found the motion so very soothing, combined with the warmth of Sapphire’s back, she found herself drifting off to sleep.

Sapphire let out a gentle hoot; Eve heard someone calling her name as if from far away.

It is time to wake up, Dear one; we are half way to the border. Eve knew that it was Sapphire she could hear. She thought to herself how extraordinary that even in sleep, she was able to hear the protectors soothing voice. Eve stirred but did not fully awaken.

I know you are tired, once we have made camp you can return to your slumber, however now you must wake up, Sapphire crooned. Sighing, Eve opened her eyes; she had fallen forward and was lying with her face resting against the soft snowy feathers of Sapphire's neck. Sitting up, she stretched and took in the new vista. A magnificent sunset painted the skies with fiery scarlets, hot pinks, and deep oranges.

“IT IS TRULY A BEAUTIFUL SIGHT TO BEHOLD!” shouted Jericho from a short distance away, Kashia had glided closer now; her bronze plumage, giving it the effect of being molten; as if lit a fire with the warm glow of the sun's last rays. Jericho seemed to puff up with pride at the view, this was his homeland, his heart was here, and it showed. Caleb was too busy clutching handfuls of feathers in his fists. Eve was sure his knuckles must be white with tension. Giggling to herself, she called to her companions.

“Sapphire says it is time to make camp, we should try and find a sheltered spot by the river.” Nodding his agreement, gestured for Eve to go first; Sapphire took her queue and began the gentle descent to the forest floor.

They had found a wonderful spot to make camp for the night. There was a small glade a few hundred feet from the river, where the trees were less dense so they could watch the fiery sky turn into the inky blue of twilight and await the stars. The two owls flew off to collect wood for a small cooking fire, while Jericho disappeared into the water to gather a surprise for their supper. The fact that he had said gather and not catch had Eve intrigued, to say the least. Caleb, on the other hand, was still a rather spectacular shade of green, his hands were stiff from the death grip he had forced on them directly after take-off earlier in the day. Keisha had a rather interesting spiky section of plumage which she had attempted to groom into place before accompanying Sapphire. The look she had given Cal had been one of equal measures of despair and irritation.

Shaking her head, Eve went over to her friend; taking his left hand, she massaged it to help relieve the tension. Starting at the fingertips, she soothed the stiffness out of the joints, allowing them to relax back into their natural state so they were no longer claw-like and sore. Looking up, she watched as Caleb’s shoulders dropped, as some of the tension left his body. By the time Eve had administered the same care to his right hand, Caleb had lost some of his sickly tinge and was definitely more relaxed.

“Mmm…thank you so much, I thought my hands would remain like that for the rest of my life,” he sighed. Flexing his fingers, he heard the small joints crack, smiling he took Eves hands in his and kissed her palms. “You are a marvel; I am truly honoured to name you amongst my friends.” Blushing slightly, Eve removed her hands and busied herself with arranging sleeping areas for the three of them.

Jericho arrived at the camp a short while later dripping wet, with a huge grin on his face and clutching something black and slimy looking. Dropping to his knees, he began peeling his acquirement, under the black outer layer lay a peach coloured substance that reminded both Eve and Caleb of a milk pudding. Fascinated, they watched as Jericho finished peeling and placed the ‘pudding’ into the cooking pot.

“Excellent, once the girls get back from gathering the wood we shall have a feast indeed!” Jericho beamed. At the thought of food, Caleb seemed to perk up.

“What is that you have brought to eat? I have never seen anything like it that did not require milk from one of the animals,” Eve asked drawing closer to the pot.

“It is custard weed, it can be found in most rivers, though you need to be a strong swimmer and able to hold your breath for a while,” Jericho explained. “The plant grows at the very bottom of the river, only the very tips of the plant can be seen above the sandy floor.” Picking up the black outer cases he showed them the part that they would see, if they ever chose to go looking for it.

A rustling came from the trees; the owls had returned. Sapphire had a beak full of dry twigs while Keisha had a beak of dry leaves and kindling. Once they deposited their burdens, they immediately took flight again. “Off in search of their own supper,” remarked Jericho as he built the fire. Reaching into a pouch at his hip, he removed his flint and within a few moments, a fire crackled merrily, throwing shadows out around them.

“It smells wonderful, like my mother’s vanilla pudding,” sighed Eve. Her stomach rumbling, her mother, would say she was a slave to her sweet tooth, and at that moment, with the appetising smell of the custard weed drifting to her on the breeze, she was inclined to agree with her.

“Mm…hmm this is going to be a treat for you both!” Jericho announced, handing Eve, then Caleb a bowl. Taking a spoon, Caleb tucked in, his eyes widened and then with a groan he savoured his first mouthful.

“It tastes like my Auntie Heather’s raspberry pie,” he mumbled through a creamy mouthful. Smiling, Jericho continued to eat his portion. Confused how it could possibly taste anything like Raspberries, Eve raised her spoon and had her first taste. No, defiantly not raspberry, however, it also didn’t taste anything like vanilla pudding as she had expected, given the tantalizing smell.

“It tastes wonderful, like chocolate with pomegranate and toffee ice-cream!” She exclaimed, spooning more of the weed pulp into her mouth. Grinning at them both Jericho licked his lips and took the kerchief from around his neck to wipe his whiskers.

“Yes, it is rather tasty, though to me it tastes of peaches and cheese fruit, this weed is a chameleon plant; it changes to suit the tastes of the eater. Maybe next time you sample it, it will taste of something different,” Jericho explained. Looking both amazed and incredibly tired, Eve finished the most interesting meal she had ever eaten. Taking her bowl to the river she washed it and then her face, lastly taking a drink of the refreshing waters, before making her way back to camp.

“Right gentlemen, I am rather tired, so I bid you a goodnight.” Yawning, she headed for her sleeping bag. The witch and Miscurt regarded each other across the campfire, even though they had been in close quarters for over a week, they both still sensed the animosity that radiated off the other. The nocturnal creatures were creating a symphony of their own, which was both, eerie and soothing. Despite this, the silence that hung between the two males was deafening. Becoming uncomfortable with Jericho’s piercing black eyes boring into him; Caleb decided to call it a night too.

Mumbling what sounded like goodnight, he retreated to his sleeping area. Jericho remained by the fireside; he was aware of the witch’s unease around him; no doubt this had a lot to do with the bad blood he believed existed between their two races. Eve clearly had not had a chance to enlighten him on that subject. As he watched the gentle rise and fall of the elf’s sleeping form, Jericho realised he had respect for her. She was so brave and compassionate, a warrior. After all, she had cleanly dispatched several werewolves. The burden she carried was huge and yet; Eve still managed to help others and enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

“I will go with them,” Jericho whispered to himself. He also decided to put Caleb out of his misery and reveal the truth about the past. As tensions within a travelling party were always a risk. One that could easily be rectified, with some truth telling and a handshake between men. Stamping on the dying embers of the fire, Jericho walked the camp perimeter, not finding anything out of the ordinary, he returned to the camp. Just as he was climbing into his sleeping bag, he saw the two protector’s land a few meters away. “Goodnight girls,” he whispered. The two owls looked over, the moonlight reflected in their enormous eyes. Smiling, he rolled over and fell asleep knowing they would not be disturbed, not with the protectors so close.

The morning’s journey was eventful, to say the least. Caleb had to be physically put onto Keisha, it seemed his fear of flying was deeply ingrained. Unfortunately, all of Eve and Jericho’s’ reassurances sounded hollow as after twenty miles, they hit a snow storm.

“HOLD ON, THIS COULD GET ROUGH!” Jericho bellowed, his words snatched by the wind. Securing her hands deeper in Sapphire's feathers, Eve leaned into the bird’s neck and prepared to conserves as much body heat as possible. The cold was biting, Eve had never experienced snow before, she had read about it in books and it always seemed such a magical thing, floating down to kiss one’s nose and cheeks. Each flake a unique work of art, individual crystals of dancing lacework. This, however, was not the experience Eve had read about. The wind howled whipping her hair about her. The snow fell in an aggressive deluge, the flakes small, and when they made contact with any exposed part of her, it felt like being pricked by a thousand needles. Her skin both burned and felt numb. It was unclear how long it would take to pass through the storm; she hoped it would be soon. Looking to her left, Eve tried to spot Keisha, Jericho, and Caleb through the swirling white. It was futile, the snow was falling in such quantities. It was a white out.

Do not fret, dear one, they are there, Keisha is keeping them safe, though she wishes Caleb would stop screaming about dying. It’s becoming tiresome.Sapphire implanted the message into Eve’s head. Knowing that her protector would not lie to her, Eve re-adjusted her seat and hunkered down once again.

“How much further, I am so very cold now,” Eve asked. She was still surprised by her unique connection with Sapphire. A telepathic link was certainly an advantage, especially in this weather.

Not for much longer, I can feel the warmer air currents coming from the west; we shall leave the storm soon, Sapphire replied in her soothing tone. Feeling glad that they would soon leave this penetrating cold, Eve closed her eyes and weaved tunes with the howling wind.

They landed on a rocky outcrop an hour or so later; Keisha was already there. Sapphire clicked her beak and shook her head, Eve gasped when she saw the build-up of ice on the bird’s wings. She was about to start brushing it away when a bedraggled Jericho appeared from behind the boulders off to the left. His coat was wet making the fur on his head stand up at odd angles. He did not look happy.

“Don’t fret about the ice, they will sort themselves out; I suggest you come and talk to your friend.” Rolling his eyes, Jericho retraced his steps and disappeared. Knowing that Caleb must be trying the Miscurts patience, Eve hurried to follow him. Caleb was red and pacing, his hair a wet mop of blond waves that fell into his eyes. The way he pushed it back off his forehead showed Eve how upset he really was. He was trying to shout though the cold had caused him to lose his voice somewhat, so it sounded more like a rasp.

“I, will not get back on that infernal bird! Never in my life have I been so scared, I swear she was banking like that just to hear me scream and hoping I would fall to my death!” Caleb raged, his strangled vocal cords protesting, his face scarlet.

“Cal, will you please calm down, no one is making you get on Keisha. We are all wet, cold and in need of a warm drink at the very least,” soothed Eve. She began to dig about in her bag, glad that it was water-proofed and its contents were in perfect order. Removing some sage, lemon grass and a small wax sealed jar of honey she turned to Jericho.

“Could you please start a small fire? I will make us some warming tea.” She looked into the Miscurts black eyes and smiled sweetly. Huffing, he nodded and retreated to the far side of the outcrop where a few trees and bushes grew. Walking over to Caleb, Eve gave him a quick hug and then moved on to dig through his backpack in search of the kettle and mugs she knew were in there. Finding the items, she needed, Eve returned to her bag, sat down and began to make the tea.

“Ah, thank you, my poor throat feels raw; this tea is a balm indeed.” Caleb sighed in-between sips of the steaming hot brew. Pouring himself another mug full, Jericho reclined against the boulder and drank in silence.


Page 9

“How far are we from the border? It’s already afternoon,” Eve asked, as she packed away the herbs. Though she would never admit it, she was not feeling her best and would give anything for dry, clean clothes. Finishing his tea Jericho motioned for Eve to join him.

“You see the river wind its way towards the hills in the distance? The border is the other side of those hills no more than four hours’ ride, if the protectors are agreeable, we could be there by tea time.” The thought of being back on an owl was too much for Caleb; he choked on his mouthful and began to cough. Running over to his side, Eve began to thump him on the back. Eyes watering Caleb made it extremely clear that nothing was going to get him back on that ‘evil flying spawn.’

“If that is how you feel, then so be it; however, be very sure. The walk is long, and the animals here are fierce,” Jericho informed him. “You see this?” he pointed to a pile of dark brown lumps. “That is the waste products of the fanged tree cat; I would not want to be anywhere near here when the sun goes down,” he concluded, face deadpan. Jericho found it highly amusing to watch the indignant witch ponder over the two choices he had. After a lot of pacing, hand rubbing, and opening and closing his mouth likes a fish out of water, Caleb finally decided that possible death due to plummeting from the sky was preferable to certain death of being ripped apart by a large fanged cat. Chuckling under his breath, Jericho went to check if the protectors felt up to continuing on their journey.

Chapter Nine

Caleb, spent the last leg of the journey thinking; he had always known that an adventure awaited him; he just didn’t realise that it would come with the possible destruction of the entire world. As he gazed out towards the slowly approaching horizon, Caleb came to the conclusion that he would need to tell Eve what he knew of the prophecy. Reaching down, he withdrew his pendant from beneath his shirt. In the afternoon sun, it flashed with electric blue. Rubbing it between his thumb and index finger, Caleb made the decision to begin using his ‘real’ magic; he was no longer within the boundaries of Clear Water Valley, and so was not subjected to the consequences of rule breaking. At least he hoped that was the case.

Jericho too was contemplating the future. The young elf was stronger than she appeared; an iron will be hidden beneath her youth and beauty. Yet, he felt protective of her. It had not gone without notice the way her very presence lit up a room, her smile was infectious, and her compassion seemed to be limitless. Jericho very much wanted to continue with her on this quest. However, he was under orders to return once he had seen the couple to the broader. Though he knew there was no way for him to be brought back to the city, Maximus would make his punishment most severe when he did return.

Deciding not to make any solid plans until they reached their destination, Jericho returned to gazing at the breath-taking views of his homeland. He would never become tired of this view, not if he lived to be one hundred.

We will land soon, dear one, please hold on tight, crooned Sapphire. She had become quite attached to the elf, which was not very surprising, they were destined to find each other. Sapphire was concerned with how little Eve knew about her destiny, and how significant her part was. She knew Eve was strong-willed and intelligent, but what caused her the most concern was her undiscovered gift, Sapphire knew what it was of course. However, she was unable to reveal it to her companion.I wonder if it will be too much for her?She thought, worry clouding her blue eyes. Keeping the telepathic link closed, Sapphire allowed herself a few moments to consider how best to fulfil her role within the prophecy. Even as she pondered this, she knew that whatever she decided, the future was pre-ordained, and there wasn’t anything she could do to change it.

They were enjoying a snack of wild berries, tiger Lilly stems, and pansies. Though they should have arrived at their destination by now, Caleb had practically begged for a break. They were an interesting party to behold, two giant owls, which stood like sentinels, a Miscurt warrior, a witch and an elf maid, all were a little sore from the long hours spent sitting on the backs of the owls. Each also had much on their minds.

“I have decided to stay with you for a while longer if that is acceptable to you, Eve?” Jericho had made his choice; he felt both relief and dread. Not wanting to see her reaction, he continued with his meal. Eve was quite surprised; she had believed that Jericho found his babysitting duties tiresome and beneath his rank. She wondered why he wanted to accompany them into Gloria, was it on Maximus’s orders? Eve didn’t think that was likely. A smile touched her lips at the thought of the cantankerous old rodent.

“I have no reason not to agree to your company Jericho. Indeed, I haven’t the power to prevent you accompanying us even if I disliked the idea,” she replied smoothly. Keeping her eyes on the Miscurt, she did not notice Caleb; he looked like he would very much like to decline the rodent’s request; he did not trust him. Still, he would not be made to look foolish, so held his tongue; Caleb was sure Jericho would prove himself untrustworthy soon enough.

“Well, it’s nice to have an extra pair of hands, are the protectors…err… coming along as well?” hoping the answer to his question was no, Caleb tried to look indifferent as he awaited a reply. Smiling at her aero-phobic friend, Eve approached the two protectors who were busy grooming their lustrous plumage. She waited quietly to be noticed, as she did not wish to interrupt what appeared to be a rather important exercise. After a minute Keisha looked up, she looked rather cute, with her feathers ruffled from her grooming. That is if you could ever call an oversized owl, cute.

Walking up to the beautiful creatures, Eve reached out with her mind and inquired about their status now their task was almost complete. Her eyes sparkling in the sunlight, Keisha replied.

No, I will return home. I have young that I must attend to, as for Sapphire, I believe she will be staying with you; you two have a bond like nothing I have ever witnessed. You are a part of each other that much I can tell.Keisha clicked her beak and leaned forward, so her head touched Eve’s.You have much to overcome young one. Remember darkness cannot survive where there is light.

Unsure what all that meant, Eve lifted her hand and stroked the great bronze bird’s cheek. Thanking her for her help and her patience with Caleb, Eve stepped away from her and turned towards her snow-white friend. Taking a moment to admire the powerful beauty and grace that emanated from Sapphire, Eve felt truly blessed to have met this magnificent creature and honoured to call her a friend. Walking over to her, she was about to ask whether she was to stay with the group when she felt their connection flare.

I will be with you, we are bound together dear one, there is much more I have to share with you,Sapphire held her gaze as they shared a silent conversation. Eve felt as though they were on the edge of a discovery. So many things were falling into place; looking up into Sapphire’s eyes, it suddenly hit her. The owl’s eyes, her name, the prophecy!

Three companions, you will know them by their gems.

There was, of course, the possibility that she was wrong, however, it gave Eve some comfort to believe she was correct, it meant that the path was set. The elements of the prophecy were coming together. Eve wholeheartedly believed she was another step closer to finding her brother.

The Fae, or the enlightened ones as they liked to be called, were a flamboyant race. The King and Queen were famed for their outrageous attire and themed balls. Nothing seemed to be taken very seriously in Gloria, with its rainbow waterfalls and lush forests, it was as if a story-book had come to life.

The sentinel guarding the mirror that was the passage into Gloria was bored; Jerry was cloaked in invisibility and sat on the fallen tree that was positioned to the right of the mirror. Unless a creature was aware of its existence, the mirror was hard to find. It was an oval suspended a foot off the ground, nine feet high and four feet wide; one could walk past it and not see it. It had been three months since anyone had discovered this entrance.

“Yet another boring day, here I am sitting alone,” Jerry grumbled to himself. He was still sore from the disciplinary action he had received for being found asleep at his post, last Tuesday. Sliding off the trunk so he could rest his back against it, Jerry closed his eyes for a nap. Hoping that if he were caught asleep again, they would give him a job on the Gloria side of the portal, with that thought bringing a smile to his lips, Jerry fell asleep to dream of Sarah.

Evangeline and her strange company landed in a glade full of bluebells and daisies. Keisha and Sapphire had a short conversation in their unique way and then after bowing to Jericho and Caleb, the bronze owl came and rested her forehead against Eve’s.

It is time for me to return young one, remember what I told you, darkness cannot survive in the light. Keisha projected. Eve promised to remember; taking one last look at the group and clicking her beak at Caleb just to see him flinch, the great protector gracefully ascended into the cloudy sky and was gone.

Jericho took in his surroundings and admitted that he had no idea of the exact location of the border. However, he pointed off to the left, explaining that, that direction ‘felt right’. Not sure how he could not know where the border of his own realm lay, Eve and Caleb exchanged a look.

“Right, so we walk blindly around the Forrest until we find the wall?” Caleb challenged. Ignoring him, Jericho continued towards the tree line. “Unbelievable!” Exclaimed Caleb, turning to look at Eve, who in turn shrugged and followed the Miscurts’ retreating back. Though reluctant to get lost, Caleb didn’t follow right away. After a second he felt a jab to his back, jumping forward he looked over his shoulder to see Sapphire apprising him, Caleb rolled his eyes, he made his way after Eve.

“Are you coming then, Sapphire?” he asked as he reached the tree line. She shook her head and took off to soar over the trees. Picking up his pace Caleb soon caught up with Jericho and Eve. The forest was teaming with life, and even though the trees were tall, they were not heavy with branches, so plenty of daylight reached them. Brown rabbits with fluffy white cotton tails, scampered through the mulch and wild flowers. Their feet kicking up clumps of the loam as they played chase.

“It is a wondrous place that you call home Jericho; I would love to come back and visit some more, once my quest is complete,” Eve proposed, eyes bright with joy and cheeks flushed with colour. Smiling at her enthusiasm for his homeland, Jericho nodded.

“You will be most welcome, Eve; there are many beautiful areas to explore.”

They continued in companionable silence, Sapphires’ shadow kissing the ground occasionally, so they knew she was close by. As beautiful as the forest was, there didn’t appear to be a wall, which is what Eve and Caleb had expected as that had been what they had found on entering Olia. Caleb was about to ask how much further when Eve stopped.

“Jericho, there is a mirror just off to the left of where I am standing, it’s a few feet away,” Eve whispered, knowing he would hear her and not wanting to draw too much attention to the anomaly in case it was a trap. Walking over to her, Jericho looked in the direction Eve had indicated and saw absolutely nothing. Looking puzzled, he was about to say that maybe they should take a break and eat if she was now seeing things that were not there. Before he got the chance, Eve boldly took his paw and walked to the left, until they were in front of the mirror.

“I am not seeing things, which I know you were about to say, just look if that is not a mirror then how am I both here and there?” she asked pointing to her reflection.

“Ah…” Jericho replied. Looking up to see where sapphire was, he was pleased to see she was already coming into land. “Eve has found a portal, he explained to Caleb and Sapphire once they had reached them, Caleb was a bit put out he had not been next to Eve when she saw it, but nature had called, and he had dashed into the trees to the to relieve himself.

Sapphire would not fit through the portal. She would have to fly further and hope the connection she shared with Evangeline would be enough to allow them to meet up at another gate, once her business in Gloria was completed. She explained this to Eve and though her face clouded with sadness that Sapphire could not come with her, she understood, and they agreed to test their link every few hours to make sure it held.


Page 10

“Sapphire won’t be coming with us as she quite clearly won’t fit through that portal so she will meet us at another portal once we are finished searching for Eli,” Eve relayed to the others. Secretly pleased, Caleb schooled his expression into one of mild disappointment and concern. Jericho noticed and chuckled as he approached Sapphire, to collect the bags she had so kindly carried while they had travelled on foot, as he passed he whispered to Caleb.

“You are a poor actor, witch.”

Turning red with indignation, Caleb turned his back on the Miscurt and headed towards Eve, to discuss her plan for this next leg of their journey.

Since the portal was magical it was decided that Caleb would go first to see if he could feel any magical wards protecting the mirror, which would prevent them from entering Gloria. Feeling that now was his time to shine as neither Jericho nor Eve had the first clue about how this mirror portal worked, Caleb finally felt useful. Striding purposefully over to stand before the mirror, he was about to begin the revealing spell to show any wards that might be protecting it, when he felt the hum of a cloaking spell. Moving slowly, he stopped in front of the fallen tree and an unaware Jerry. Knowing that there was someone cloaked there but he had not been attacked, Caleb gathered that whoever was hiding was not interested in them, so he moved back to the mirror.

“Make this look impressive Cal,” he murmured to himself. Raising his arms over his head, he began moving his arms in circular motions and chanting quietly, in reality, he was saying random nonsense. There were no spells protecting it; clearly, the cloaked creature was meant to be guarding the entrance and doing a poor job of it, which was all the better for them. After what Caleb deemed to be long enough, he turned and faced his two companions.

“The portal is clear and ready to pass through,” he announced rather grandly.

Looking rather impressed, Eve moved forward to stand beside Caleb. She looked at her friend and wondered how much longer he was going to compete with Jericho. It was something she didn’t understand and found both amusing and tiresome.

“How do we pass through, Cal?” Eve asked, anxious to begin their search of Gloria. Caleb looked at the girl beside him and wished he could tell her how he was feeling right then, with the sun muted behind cloud cover, her hair was still flashing with fire, and her mystical eyes were captivating, she was mesmerising; completely open and innocent. Shaking himself, he smiled and pushed his thoughts away now was not the time.

“You just step through, I know it looks solid but it’s not, it will feel strange, cold and wet but you will remain dry. Once you pass through wait just on the other side for us,” Caleb explained. Putting extra emphasis on the waiting part, he knew how impulsive Eve could be.

“Maybe I should pass through before Eve to make sure it is safe,” Jericho injected. Not liking the idea of Eve wondering through a portal without knowing what waited on the other side.

“You are right, I will go through first,” countered Caleb.

Rolling her eyes as once again as the two males began another testosterone competition, she waited until she was inches from the mirror and then called to them.

“While you two fight about which of you is the more gentlemanly, I am going through, feel free to join me once you have finished your disagreement.” Smiling at the site of their comically stunned faces, Eve gracefully leapt forward through the mirror. It rippled like a pond that had, had a pebble tossed into its centre and then returned to its original state. Jericho and Caleb looked at the mirror and then at each other.

“Women!” they both muttered, and quickly leaped through after Eve hoping she was waiting for them and had not wandered off.

Grimmer pushed open the heavy iron door to the portal room, It was a wondrous place to behold. Around the octagonal space were openings; within them were what appeared to be holes in the floor. These were the portals the, links to other realms. The master was extremely proud of this network, and it allowed his minions to slip between the realms without being detected.

Grimmer, being a high-ranking demon, carried a crystal around his neck made from a point of hematite; this allowed him to open a portal back to his master’s fortress without the need of potions or spells, unlike the unfortunate underling Chashoc who would never again transverse Orea. He approached the portal directly to his right and stood before it. Gloria, the land of the Fae was at the other side of this one, the fuchsia swirls of this cosmic cyclone were nauseating to the demon. Knowing that he could not stay long in this realm, the light alone would burn his skin and the pureness of their magic would weaken him.

Taking one last look at the vortex at his feet, Grimmer felt for the potion vial his master had given him. Finding it secure, the demon stepped into the portal and vanished.

Chapter Ten

 

Passing through the portal was both exciting and a little disturbing. The journey was quick and no harm had come to her. However, Eve felt like someone had poured cold water all over her. Rubbing her arms vigorously to rid herself of the phantom chills, Eve glanced around quickly, making sure no threat was near. Once she was sure of her safety, she waited for Caleb and Jericho to join her.

Can you hear me, Sapphire?Eve thought, projecting her question skywards. She had no idea whether their telepathic bond would hold now she was in a different realm. After no answer was received, Eve realised that until Sapphire found another entrance into Gloria they were on their own.

Jericho and Caleb appeared moments later, both wide-eyed and ready it seemed to do battle with any unsuspecting creature that happened to cross their path.

“Stand down gentlemen, there is, as far as I am able to tell, no immediate threat to us here,” she said trying hard to keep the smirk from her lips. Caleb walked over to the edge of the tree line. It seemed that in some sense, the mirror was just that, this forest looked Identical to the once they had just left. He peered through the thick shrubbery, not expecting to come across a thriving village that couldn’t have been more than a mile away.

“Look! We can make it to that village by tea time, which I have to say is mighty good news for my tummy, it hasn’t shut up complaining in hours!” Caleb grumbled while rubbing his abdomen, which let out a thunderous rumble in protest. Jericho and Eve both had a look at the short distance and agreed that a warm meal, the possibility of a wash and a clean, comfortable bed would be most welcome indeed.

The village was quaint, with single story cottages snuggled up together, their grey shingle roofs shimmering in the last of the afternoon’s muted sunlight. The trio entered the village and headed towards the first fae they saw. Deciding that Evangeline would do all the talking, the two men hung back and kept watch in case of sudden attack. After having a short chat with a lovely fae by the name of Olga, the companions made their way through the village’s winding streets until they came to the address Olga had given Eve.

The owner of the home was a rotund female fae with wisps of grey hair, that looked as though it was trying to fly away, cheerfully rosy cheeks and dancing brown eyes. On seeing the odd group at her door, the woman did a double take and then called back into the house.

“Albert! Get yourself to the door, we have visitors!” turning back to the now concerned trio, she smiled sweetly at them, while they all awaited the arrival of Albert. Once he appeared at the door looking a bit crumpled and rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he addressed them.

“Good af’noon and what can we be doing for you?” he inquired peering at each of them in turn. Looking to Eve to answer once again, Jericho and Caleb hung back and kept quiet.

“Good afternoon Sir, Madam. My friends and I am travelling through Gloria on our way to the Royal city, we have been on the road for some hours.” Eve paused to smile at the couple and continued. “We were looking for a place to stay just for tonight; I asked in the village and Olga said to come here. I hope that we are not imposing.” Eve smiled her sweetest smile. Albert and the brown eyed woman, who Eve assumed to be his wife exchanged whispered words. Turning back to Eve, Albert confirmed that this was indeed the place to come. Asking them to wait, he disappeared back into the cottage.

“Sorry, I haven’t introduced meself. I’m Betty; Albert’s me husband, he’s just gone to get the key to the guest accommodations,” Betty explained. She seemed to bob on the spot as she spoke, which Eve found endearing, although by their muffled coughs and sniggers the men found it amusing. Thinking she would have to remind them of how to behave in public later, Eve returned Betty’s smile and complimented her on the lovely flowerpots she had lined against her wall.

“Here we are, follow me please,” Albert instructed, as he shuffled down the street. Thanking Betty once more, they followed Albert’s retreating form. Five doors up Albert stopped and inserted the brass key into the door. Pushing it wide and mumbling maidens first, Eve preceded the men into the cottage. Albert closed the door and explained the house rules to them and then, handing over the key to Caleb, he left.

“Well that was different,” Jericho said as he looked around the sitting room. It was a cosy room with plump chairs and a sofa practically hidden under a mountain on cushions. There were two doors other than the front door, one led to the kitchen at the back of the cottage and the other to a short hallway, off which there were a bathroom and two bedrooms. Not happy that he would have to share a room with Jericho, Caleb headed back towards the kitchen, hoping he would find a tasty morsel, which might satisfy his grumbling stomach. Caleb was most disappointed, finding nothing but veg and some strange bottles of Goddess knows what, he gave up his pursuit for sustenance and made his way back to the sitting room, he flopped down into one of the chairs.

“What on earth is the matter with you, Cal? You have a face like sour milk,” Eve asked as she entered the sitting room. She was wearing a pair of cropped trousers and a tunic she had found in the wardrobe; thankfully the Fae were not under the misconception that elves were wee folk like the witches had been before the alliance, combing her fingers through her damp hair she waited for Caleb to answer her.

“Nothing, bath any good?” he replied, not really answering her question. Eve nodded; Caleb then got to his feet and headed down the hall to find his room and prepare for a bath.

“He is hungry,” Jericho stated, throwing himself down on the sofa.

“How do you know?” Eve was confused, how being hungry could be a reason for such a sullen mood. Chuckling, Jericho explained that even though they were from different species, males behave the same wherever they are from when hungry. Not fully understanding this, but not wanting to offend him, Eve went to the kitchen to find something for their tea.

Jericho gave Eve the ‘I told you so’ smirk later that evening as, after two bowls of steaming vegetable soup and bread Eve had found in the larder, Caleb was more himself. Although it was lovely to have a comfortable place to rest for the night, it bothered Jericho how easy it had been to enter Gloria. He knew full well that Caleb had not performed any elaborate spell before the mirror, that it had been an act for Eve’s benefit. There should have been a guard or a trap of some kind; the Fae were known for being ultra-careful. He voiced his concerns to Caleb and Eve.

“I did feel someone cloaked by the fallen tree, but whoever it was, didn’t attack or prevent us from entering,” Caleb admitted. Jericho was incensed; it was incredibly foolish to have not shared this information. Regardless of how confident he felt, what if the hidden person had harmed Eve as she approached the mirror! Caleb paled at the thought; he really had not considered the possibility that it was a ruse to get to Eve. After all, they had encountered werewolves already and Eve had said she felt they were being watched by something or someone that night. Caleb took the lecture with good grace, as this time Jericho was undoubtedly right; he had placed everyone in unnecessary danger just to boost his ego.

Eve sat quietly through the whole exchange, feeling bad for Caleb but also understanding that Jericho had a very important point. She made an internal promise not to rush off without them again. Without her, the prophecy could not come to pass, and her brother would be lost forever.

“I think I will head off to bed; we have a fair journey to the Royal city tomorrow. Goodnight Eve, Jericho,” Caleb mumbled, as he made his way to his shared bedroom. The door clicked quietly behind him.

“I understand why you admonished him, Jericho; I really think he will be more mindful in the future. It didn’t occur to me that I could be endangering both myself and the two of you when I passed through the mirror. I too will be more careful, and never go anywhere without one of you with me.” Promised Eve, Looking into Jericho’s black eyes. Letting out a sigh and pulling on his ears the mighty Miscurt nodded.

“I think a lesson has been learned today; it would be best if we made it known to Betty and Albert tomorrow about the cloaked creature, it might have been a guard or something more sinister,” Jericho suggested. Nodding and hoping it was a sleeping guard rather than a hidden foe, Eve bid Jericho goodnight. Before turning in himself, Jericho checked all the locks on the windows and doors. They may be in a cosy cottage with comfortable beds in which to sleep tonight, but they were also in a foreign land, and the Fae were well known for their trickery. Something told Jericho their time spent in Gloria was not going to pass without incident.

Grimmer made his way through the royal city; he already knew that the companions had not arrived yet, this pleased him. Finding his way into the city park that was overlooked by the castle itself, he cloaked himself in darkness, checking once again for the vial in his pouch. Tomorrow at dusk, they should arrive; tomorrow he would trick them all and end this quest forever. Grimmer wanted this girl dead; she was more powerful than she could ever imagine, and her brother if she found him…he would not allow that to happen.

“I will destroy the prophecy, and before I kill her, she will know how close she came to finding her twin.” A sadistic smile spread across his grotesque countenance causing his scars to distort his features further. “Yes, I shall break her, kill her twice. First I shall kill her soul with the news of her brother, and then I shall give her the poison and watch her agony.” Grimmer quickened his pace; he wanted to find cover for the remainder of the night.

The pureness of the land was sickening to him and if it were to rain the droplets would feel like tiny daggers piercing his corrupted flesh. Spying a summerhouse just ahead, he vanished and reappeared within its wooden structure. Grimmer extended his cloak of darkness pushing it out from his body, it flexed like a second skin and slowly expanded, once it had blocked the light from the moon and stars, he knew there was no chance of being seen. Walking to the centre of the room, he took out a small orb from his pouch and held it before himself.

“Master, I have arrived in Gloria. They have not yet reached the Royal city.” Grimmer spoke to the orb.

“Good, my servant, I await your report on the girls most horrific demise.” The malevolent tones of his master filled the room. Assuring his will would be done; Grimmer returned the orb to his pouch. Sitting on the nearest chair, he folded his muscular arms and waited.

Eve woke with a start; she’d had the most bizarre dream, she was searching in a place she had never seen, and it was a place of sadness and great evil. Through the high-ceilinged corridors, she searched for the stone... Her brother... She wasn’t sure, but knowing her life depended on it, she continued to run. She came to two huge doors made of copper; they were locked. No matter how much she pushed, the doors would not open. It was then that she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end; a chill ran up her spine. Something was behind her and it was pure evil. It was just as the evil being reached out to touch her shoulder that she woke up. Knowing this was a premonition, it felt far too real to be a simple nightmare; Eve scrambled out of her bed and shot across the room, flinging open her bedroom door, she threw herself down the short hallway and banged on the other bedroom door.


Page 11

“Caleb, I need you to get out here, I’ve had a premonition!” she yelled through the solid wooden door while banging frantically. Seconds later, a wide-eyed Caleb opened the door and found himself clutching Eve as she tumbled through.

“Come on; I need you to extract my dream so we can make sense of it,” she rushed, righting herself and grabbing his hand, she began to drag him back towards her room.

“Hang on; I can’t perform that spell, I don’t know how,” Caleb explained, as he tried to pull away from her, for a female she had a very strong grip. Eve didn’t appear to be listening to his protests. Once back in her room, she turned to her friend and explained rather quickly about the premonition. He listened ashen faced.

“So you have to try, Cal, I know this is important, but it’s already hazy now that I am awake, it is slipping away like leaves caught in the breeze,” she pleaded, holding his hands, her eyes wide with fear and unshed tears. Caleb knew how to perform this spell, yet even though he had decided to start using his magic, he still held back.

“I don’t know how, Eve. I’m sorry,” he lied, letting go of her hands, he went over to the small dressing table hoping to find writing materials, maybe if she wrote it down then they could capture it before Eve lost it to her subconscious. Finding nothing of any use, he was about to head for the sitting room when he felt Eve behind him.

“Please, I need you to try.” Eve was doing her best to hold back the tears. The vision had scared her and even though the vivid images were already fading away, the fear she had felt was still present. Hanging his head, Caleb turned back to face her.

“Ok, I will try, but I cannot promise it will work. We should wait for Jericho to wake, though how he slept through your banging, I will never know.”

Eve wasn’t willing to wait for a second longer; she returned to Caleb’s room and began banging on the door. Jericho appeared almost instantly. Explaining that he had heard her the first time but seeing as she was screaming for the witch, he had decided to stay put until he was sure the drama was over, or she came looking for him. Eve explained to Jericho what had happened; it came out in a rush. She was desperate to have the vision extracted. When they reached the sitting room, Caleb was ready, he had cleared a space on the floor, there were four candles each a different colour. There was also a bag of salt and one lit, white candle. On seeing the other two enter, Caleb stepped away from the cleared area. Eve looked at the strange setup and wondered where the candles had come from.

“For a non-practicing witch, you seem to carry the tools of the trade,” Jericho commented with a hint or sarcasm. Ignoring him, Caleb reached for Eves' hand and led her to the cleared area between the four candles.

“Are you ready to begin?” he asked. Nodding her head, Eve watched as Caleb bent down and picked up the white candle; handing it to her, he smiled and said.

“How did you know about an extraction spell?”

looking him right in the eye Eve replied. “Violet let me read her books.”

Rolling his eyes at the carelessness of the young witch, Caleb picked up the box of salt and made a circle that encompassed them, while muttering under his breath.

“Now for the technical bit,” he murmured. Wondering why he had agreed to this and how he was going to explain if the binding spell still held this far from Clear Water Valley.

Chapter Eleven

Caleb turned to Eve and explained that once he began the spell, she must not break the circle; it was there for protection. Nodding her head, Eve stood still, holding her candle. Caleb went and stood before the green candle; he then began to call upon the elements.

“All hail the watchtower of the east, the element of Air.

I do summon and call you forth, to guard and protect this circle.

Be here now.”

Eve didn’t dare move. As she watched his back she saw his hair ruffle as if caught by a breeze, which was impossible, they were indoors and all the windows were closed. Caleb then picked up an anthem she had not noticed from the floor and drew a five pointed star over the candle. Once complete, Caleb lit the green candle and moved onto the red candle.

“All hail the watchtower of the south, the element of fire.

I do summon and call you forth, to guard and protect this circle.

Be here now.”

As Caleb invoked the element of fire, he felt the temperature rise slightly, feeling relieved that he no longer seemed spellbound as all witches were, unless members of the council; only simple everyday charms were allowed for normal citizens. He once again drew the pentagram and lit the candle that represented elemental fire. It felt wonderful to feel his magic awaken, like waking from a long sleep and having the most wonderful stretch.

“All hail the Watchtower of the West, the element of water. I do summon you and call you forth, to guard and protect this circle. Be here now.”

Jericho watched from outside the circle. He could feel the change in the atmosphere, the moment Caleb had begun calling the elements to him.He is powerful, Jericho thought to himself. Miscurts were naturally wary of witches; they did not trust beings that could conjure. They much preferred a fair fight of arms than one of spells and potions. The irony of his current situation was not lost on him, given that he now travelled with a witch and within Gloria.

If he disliked witches, then Jericho really disliked the Fae. Their magic was all the more dangerous. They did not need to cast circles or say spells. A fairy could think you tied up and helpless, and you would be. Yes, the sooner they found Eli, the better. As Jericho became lost in his thoughts, Caleb completed invoking the elements.

“All hail the watchtower of the north, the element earth. I do summon and call you forth, to guard and protect this circle.

Be here now.”

As the last element was invoked, Caleb gazed at his handy work. Forming a barrier around the circle, were for bands of coloured light, one representing each element. Now he was ready to perform the extraction spell and collect the premonition from Eve’s memory.

“I need you to hold the candle in your left hand and hold my right hand,” Caleb instructed Eve. Once she was in the correct position, he rested his hand on her left one so he too was holding the candle and they formed a circle of sorts with their arms. Asking her to close her eyes, Caleb began the spell.

“Images, now memories, hidden from sight.

Draw towards the candles light,

Show me what has been seen,

What was discovered in a dream,

Reveal yourself to me.

So mote it be.”

Eve experienced a slight pulling sensation within her memory and then she saw a rush of colours and blurred images on her closed lids. As quickly as it had begun, the sensation stopped and Eve felt lighter.

“You can open your eyes now, Eve. The spell is complete,” Caleb whispered. He was trying to stay calm, as the rush of images had come at him after they passed through the candle flame. It was like being hit by lightning, too long he had been without his magic. His heart hammered in his chest, and adrenaline ran rampant through his system. Checking to see if the circle was still protected, Caleb was relieved to see it was. Turning back to Eve, he asked her to concentrate on the white candle they both held.

“I am going to reveal the images now. Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked, looking for any flicker of doubt on her beautiful face. Slowly shaking her head, Eve held firm and returned her gaze to the candle. Grounding himself, Caleb prepared to release the power and project the images onto its smooth wax surface.

“New knowledge I have gained, borrowed from another,

Reveal yourself to us once more, so that we may learn your meaning,

Draw to the candles pure light and cast your secret upon it.

Reveal yourself for all to see.

So mote it be.”

Even though he had braced himself for the release of power, it still made him slightly dizzy. Once he had regained his equilibrium, Caleb focused on the candles wax. There on the snow white surface was Eve’s vision, swirling and moving in and out of focus. Pleased that it had worked, Caleb uttered the word that would project the images exactly as Eve had seen them out of the candle and into the circle.

“Release.”

It was a surreal experience to stand in one’s dream with someone else and be objective. They both watched as Eve ran through the dark corridors. When she reached the copper doors, Caleb gasped. The symbols on the doors were ancient and very powerful. Even more disturbing was the glimpse of the creature he saw standing behind the dream Eve. It seemed to waver in and out of substance. Darkness so complete, you felt sucked into it. The only solid thing he saw was the gnarled claws reaching out with sharp points for Eve’s shoulder. Moments later, the images evaporated.

Jericho sat and listened, as Caleb recounted what had taken place in the circle. Eve was taking a nap. The magic had drained her, and she needed to rest before they could make their way to the city. The only part Caleb omitted was about the markings on the copper door. He would need to think more about those and their meaning. Jericho had found the entire spell casting unnerving, even more so when a strange white mist had blocked his view of the pair within the circle.

“That was the images releasing around us, the circle keeps us safe and also acts as a screen when performing these types of spells, to stop unwanted eyes seeing the information,” Caleb informed Jericho an apologetic grimace contorting his expression. Understanding that this could not be helped, and information was being shared with him now, Jericho did not feel the need to make the witch feel any more uncomfortable than he already did.

“So, what does it mean, where is this place?” Jericho asked as he got up and began pacing. He found he thought better while moving. Shrugging, Caleb couldn’t give him an answer as he wasn’t too sure himself; the only thing they agreed on was that it was definitely some kind of premonition and wherever this place was, Eve must not enter it.

It was mid-morning before they managed to get out the door. First, they headed back to Betty and Albert’s to return the key and thank them for the use of the cottage. Waving away their thanks, Betty handed them a parcel of food and the use of her pony and trap. If they were surprised at the gift of food and the offer of transportation, that was nothing compared to how they felt when the ‘pony’ was led from the stable.

“Is that a…” Eve started to speak, but words failed her as she stared at the wondrous creature before her.

“Unicorn, yes dear, we call him Bobby,” Betty replied to Eve’s half-finished question. Walking over to the animal, Betty reached into her apron pocket and pulled out some chunks of apple, Bobby made quick work of them and then stood perfectly still. Eve stayed back, drinking in Bobby’s beauty; he was silver grey with a mane and tail that were the colour of snow, so white she could almost see rainbows in it. His horn was magnificent; long and proud, the perfect twist of molten silver crowing his forehead. While Eve gazed adoringly at Bobby. Jericho and Caleb climbed into the trap and were busy securing their belongings.

“Well, go on dear, the day is wasting. If you’re worried about him nipping you, don’t be. Bobby is a gentle soul, never harmed anything in his life,” Betty assured her, giving Eve a shove in the small of her back which sent her into Bobby’s line of sight. The second he saw her, his blue-grey eyes seemed to light with recognition, like other animals had along her way, and just like the animals that came before, Bobby gracefully bowed to her. Eve was now becoming used to this strange behaviour that animals kept demonstrating whenever she was near and dropped a curtsy in front of the unicorn.

“Well, I never saw him do that before, clever boy, Bobby,” cooed Betty, as she ambled back to her front door. Eve took Jericho’s arm and pulled herself up into the trap. It was quite comfortable with her cloak folded up to make a cushion. Eve felt the journey would be a pleasant one, exploring the countryside on their way to the city.

“Thank you, Betty, we will make sure Bobby and the trap are returned in excellent condition,” Eve called, as Jericho clicked his tongue to get Bobby moving. Eve was about to ask how were they to direct Bobby, as he wasn’t wearing a nose strap when Caleb leaned forward and politely asked the unicorn to take them to the city. Laughing at her confused expression, Caleb explained.

“Bobby is a magical creature. He understands everything we say to him; that’s why he hasn’t got reins, there is no need for them. As long as we treat him with the respect and kindness his kind deserves, he will be most amenable.”

Feeling a little out of her depth but absolutely ecstatic to be in the company of a real unicorn, Eve settled herself into a comfortable position and watched the village begin to thin, giving way to green fields and the open road.

Grimmer was suffering, the darkness he had cloaked the inside of the summerhouse with was holding, but the sickening pureness of the place was leeching him of his strength. It was only going to get worse; he knew instinctively that the sun had not yet reached its highest point. This, combined with keeping his darkness stretched to guard him against prying eyes was making him extremely angry. Anger was good; anger fuelled him, made him feel stronger, even as the pureness of Gloria sucked at his strength. The hours would soon pass, and once twilight fell, his mission would be complete. With this thought sustaining him, Gimmer closed his eyes to conserve his energy, for he would need it later for the torture he was anxious to administer.


Page 12

Jerry stood before Theo, his superior; his head hung in shame. He had only intended to get caught by his opposite nodding on the job, and he had been. However, he had also let three unauthorised creatures through.

“You have been instrumental in allowing these creatures into our land. The royal family may not worry about travellers, but I am head of the border guards and you, Jerry, are in serious trouble!” Theo bellowed, spittle flying from his lips.

Jerry didn’t dare try and defend himself; he knew that several Fae had interacted with the travellers. Indeed, one family had put them up for the night. Theo was fuming; nothing Jerry could say was going to get him out of this. If only he had just done his job instead of wishing for a different one. Sarah was never going to want to court him now. With this thought crushing his heart, Jerry followed Theo to the cells where he was to spend the night thinking about what he had done, or in this case not done.

Bobby kept up a brisk walk until mid-afternoon; Eve had suggested that due to the time lost this morning, they eat on the road since Betty had provided a wonderful picnic for them all. She had asked Bobby if he would like to stop for something to eat and rest, but the unicorn had shaken his head, his pure white main catching rainbows as it rippled with his movement.

Gloria was an unusual land, it was luscious but very flat, they could see for miles ahead of them, the trees and villages dotted the landscape seemed almost toy-like until they drew close enough to see clearly. Jericho pointed out that the closer they got to the city, the more outrageous the villages became.

“Look at that house, it’s purple!” gasped Caleb at rather a small cottage at the end of the village high street they were passing through. Indeed, it was a violent shade of violet with bright pink flowers in boxes adorning the windows and a green front door.

It was at this point that Bobby began to slow; Jericho invited Bobby to choose a place for him to rest. Nodding his head, Bobby kept walking until they reached the outskirts of the village. Jericho helped Eve down from the trap, while Caleb collected their bags. Jericho removed the harness that connected Bobby and the trap. The unicorn then walked into the trees a few meters away and disappeared.

“I hope he comes back,” Eve said, worried that they may have just lost Betty’s pride and joy in the woods.

“Bobby will return to us, unicorns are loyal, I have no doubt he has gone to find a stream to have a drink from,” Jericho assured Eve. Jericho dug about in his bag until he found the apple and pear he had saved from his share of the picnic; he had saved them for Bobby. Hearing Eve laugh, Jericho looked up to see she was also holding an apple and a small piece of flapjack.

“Bobby shall be returning to a feast,” she laughed. Sitting down on the grass, Eve set the fruit to one side and looked towards the town rising out of the landscape a few miles ahead of them. Once Bobby had returned and gently taken the fruit and flapjack that were offered to him, he walked back over to the trap and waited to be re-harnessed. It was a marvel to Eve that he was so willing to be used as a common horse, and yet he was so much more.

Caleb suggested that if they wanted to reach the city by nightfall, that they should make a quick stop in the town ahead to get more food, that way they could once again eat on the road. Jericho thought this a sensible plan, apart from the fact they had no money with which to purchase food or indeed anything else. Caleb smiled and reached into his bag, a moment later he was holding onto a small sliver disk with a hole through its centre, hanging from a piece of leather.

“I don’t think that will buy us very much Cal, it’s a nice thought but...” Eve was cut off by Caleb’s chuckle.

“I’m not going to try and buy food with this exactly, well I suppose I am, aren’t I..” he replied, smiling at the now two confused faces before him.

“Now, is not the time for games, we have only a few hours of daylight left,” warned Jericho, involuntary flexing his muscles. Still smiling, Caleb placed the disc between his palms and closed his eyes. He heard the collective gasp as he felt his hands slowly begin to move apart. Opening his eyes, he smirked at his two companions, in his hands was a pile of money. Silver slips of paper with purple, pink and green swirls on.

“It’s a money charm; I can produce money of any kind using this,” Caleb boasted, handing each of them a small pile of the notes. Thinking it would be a good idea to get a few other things in the town to aid them in their search for Eli, Eve smiled at Caleb, her eyes dancing with joy and affection.

“This is wonderful! Let’s be on our way, the town is not far, and we can be in and out in no time!” She exclaimed, turning to Jericho to give her a boost up into the trap. Eve felt that things were falling into place. She just wished that Sapphire were with them. Eve felt lost without their connection. She knew that Caleb and Jericho were able to protect her, but Sapphire understood her like no other, how she hoped it would not be long until they were reunited.

 

The creature slunk along the gloomy corridors of its fortress, its heavy black cloak making a hissing sound as it slid along the marble floors. The copper vault was its destination, for a creature of pure darkness, this room was vastly important. This was not an area of the great fortress the creature often visited, but last night while watching the damned in the pits below, from the windows of its chamber, the creature had felt an emotion that unsettled it to the core…fear. The feeling of being observed in some way, like an unwanted presence had been in the fortress, it unnerved him.

The elf was still alive; Grimmer had not returned. Therefore, his task had not yet been completed. On reaching the great copper doors, it reached out one clawed hand and pressed a discoloured talon into one of the engravings. This door must never be discovered by the light carrier; Grimmer must succeed. The creature thought as it checked the doors for signs of weakness. Finding the locking spells still in place, a smile split across the creature’s face, exposing its fangs within its lipless maw, blood still clinging to the corners of its almost non-existent lips. No longer concerned about the copper vault, the Darkness vanished, only to re-appear in its chamber. A yell rang out as the creature fully materialized by its throne. Turning to the sound, its eyes fell on the young witch, he was stripped from the waist up. Large scars covered most of his torso; clearly, he had been beaten into submission when first brought to this place. One of the gashes was new, and his blood trickled from it, dripping onto the marble floor.

Smelling the fresh blood acted like a siren’s call, stalking the witch, the Creature parted its cloak to expose both its clawed hands. The man was now thrashing about the floor. It was a futile act; he was chained to an anchor secured deep within the marble, there was to be no escape. Usually, the Creature did not play with its prey; however, experiencing fear for the first time in millennia had caused it to want to make this witch suffer more than usual and experience extreme pain and fear.

Reaching one clawed hand out It peeled a slither of skin from the man’s chest. The captives blood-curdling scream echoed around the chamber; the creature shivered in glee as it deposited the ribbon of flesh into its jaws.

“You are going to suffer witch, for my pleasure.” The creature cackled, as once again it peeled another ribbon of flesh from the prisoner's chest. Panting through the pain, the witch looked up into the face of pure evil and defilement.

“You will lose, Nimayaorin, no amount of torture is going to change this, kill me if you wish, rip my body apart. The truth is, you are going to be defeated.” The witch declared, all the while looking with defiant eyes into the horrifying countenance that belonged to the creature he called Nimayaorin. Not many knew of the creature’s name and those that did, never uttered it. Seeing as he was going to die the witch used this knowledge to taunt the monster before him.

“You dare to speak my name, you mewling meat sack!” Nimayaorin screeched, enraged that his name was known within the pits. His eyes shining crimson he removed the hood of his cloak. “Look upon the face of the darkness. It will be the last thing you ever see in this life and will haunt you in your next!”

The witch looked up into the face that had been ravaged for a millennium by hatred, dark magic and evil. “You used to be one of us, how far you strayed from the path,” he whispered. This was too much for Nimayaorin, moving lightning fast he dug his claws into the witches’ bleeding chest, all thoughts of torture forgotten, closing his claws around his prey’s beating heart, Nimayaorin smiled as he ripped the organ from the chest cavity. Holding the still beating organ before the witch, allowing him to watch it beat his life force onto the floor.

“You see witch, your words mean little, for whom will you tell?”

With his last breath, the witch answered his murderer “I know what you are and others will soon know your name, evil is only feared when it has no name. Think on that because someday soon, you will be no more than a memory. That is what matters and I wish you to know… my name is Thomas. I guarantee you will never forget…it”

Chapter Twelve

The stop in the town of Hemlock had been short but memorable; they had never seen such an eccentric place in all their lives. Bright coloured houses with windows of different shapes and sizes lined the streets; no two were the same. The shops were just as colourful, and so was the produce on offer. Eve would have loved to have stayed and explored, but it was imperative they reached the city that day. After collecting enough food for themselves and a glut of apples for Bobby, they headed out of Hemlock. Eve thought of Eli, as the trap bumped gently along the road, opening her locket she looked at each image, in turn, pausing at the one of Eli, his adorable smiling face looking out at her. It was bitter-sweet gazing at this picture, how much she wished they had, had the childhood their parents had planned for them; the rush of love and hope she felt was so strong, knowing he was close by. Eve really believed they would find him here in Gloria. It was like a sixth sense pulling her onwards towards her twin.

The next image was of her mother Gwen, how she missed her. It was heart-breaking knowing how hard it had been for her to reveal the information about Eve’s parentage, and then to discover she was destined to fulfil a prophecy. It must have been so awful for her to feel she had lost her daughter twice in a few days. Of course, she would never truly lose Eve, and she hoped with all of her being that Gwen knew this.

Caleb came over to see what was causing the pensive look on Eve’s face. The thought of her being in any kind of pain caused him anxiety. It was becoming abundantly clear now that he was falling deeply in love with her; even Jericho had been winking at him the last few days. Caleb realised he was going to have to declare his feelings at some point, along with the knowledge he held. He was not at all sure either was going to get him a favourable response; however, it had to be done.I will talk to her once we are free of Gloria and hopefully, have Eli.He decided.

“You miss your mother very much; I can see the pain in your eyes,” Caleb said, as he put his arm around Eve’s shoulders and looked at the tiny image in her hand. Sighing, she closed the locket and returned it to her neck.

“Here, let me.” Caleb offered, seeing Eve struggle with her russet mane and the tiny clasp on the silk. Turning her back to him, she accepted, enjoying the touch of his warm fingertips on her skin. The quickening of her heart whenever he touched her was not exactly unwelcome; she just didn’t know what to do with it. One thing Eve was sure of was that there was no time for love, not while her brother and the prophecy still lay ahead of her.

The three companions ate on the road, stopping only to offer Bobby some refreshment and the chance to be free from the trap, he took the apples but declined the offer of a rest. Jericho held much respect for the unicorn, knowing that even as a magical creature it would still be tiring to pull a trap with three adults aboard.

As the white blue of the afternoon, skies began to darken, and the horizon to the west turned a magnificent amber; ribbons of fuchsia and hints of red reached up to capture more of the blue, transforming it into celestial fire. It was a truly striking sight to behold.

“Not far now, we will reach the city within the hour,” Jericho stated, and Bobby nodded in agreement. The road gently ascended, so they didn’t get their first proper view of the Royal city until reaching the top. It was huge; large glass buildings glowed in the last of the sunlight, their unusual shapes making the cityscape seem alive with movement and light. Quite out of place, but beautiful in its own right, was the castle that sat on the hill. It seemed to be at the far side of the city. The moment Eve saw it; she knew that was where they needed to go.

“That’s the Royal residence I should think; it would make sense for us to ask for an audience with the King and Queen,” Caleb commented as they approached the towering arch that welcomed you to Nemea, Capital City of Gloria.

Once through the arch, the city spread out before them in a breath-taking expanse of silver roads and glass structures. Everything seemed to shine. Though the buildings were glass, they were mirrored in places to allow the occupants some privacy, but other sections they were able to see through and the sites they saw were extraordinary. Whole rooms filled with puppies and comfortable sofas, groups of Fae seemed to gather there just to play with the puppies. There was another building with a room that had a stream running through it and a grass floor, this was clearly some kind of workspace as there seemed to be tables and chairs with writing equipment on them. Nothing had prepared them for the level of eccentricity that was now before them.

“If these are just the work-places, I wonder how outrageous the living quarters are, or the castle is for that matter!” Exclaimed Caleb, his eyes wide as he took in the scene before him. Many of the Fae wondering the streets, stopped and admired Bobby as he passed, waving and pointing at the beautiful unicorn.

With the light fading fast, Bobby headed towards the large oval park in the centre of the city, with its ivy-covered gates, where a sign proclaimed that it was permanently open. From her seat, Eve could see there was a lake with small boats moored at a jetty and beautiful trees, which had been artfully trimmed onto woodland creatures dotting the banks. To her, it looked like a truly magical place.

The full moon was now visible in the twilight, cutting a silver path across the surface of the lake. Jericho thought it looked like a highway to the stars and shared his musings with the others. Caleb then told them a story about the Goddess of nature, and how her lover lived on the moon. Eve thought it was very romantic and listened as the trap rolled gently along the damp loam paths.

The gates at the end of the park came into view, along with the Royal residence. Everyone was tired and hoping for a warm bed for the night; even Bobby seemed to have slowed his pace a little. Eve was snuggled into Caleb, listening to his steady heartbeat. When suddenly, a Fae girl came screaming from the woods, her clothes torn and blood dripping from cuts on her arms. Bobby stopped as the girl ran blindly into his path.

“Hey, what happened? Stop, we can help you!” Jericho called, as he vaulted from the driving platform and chased after the girl, who had stumbled and then fallen down the slope towards the lake. Jericho reached her moments before she fell into the water. “I have you, nothing will harm you now,” he soothed. The maiden was hysterical, jabbering about a demon in the summerhouse, and how it had tried to eat her. This concerned the Miscurt, he was sure that the girl had indeed been attacked by something. He really hoped it wasn’t a demon as that would mean…no, he would not think of that. First, he had to get everyone to the safety of the castle.

Jericho scooped the girl into his arms and began running back towards the trap. A scream, he knew to be Eve’s, pierced the night air making his blood run cold. He practically flew the last few meters up the rise and back to the trap. What he saw was nothing short of horrific. Bobby was loose from his harness, large gashes ran across his rump, his silver blood running down his legs. Behind him on the floor, also bleeding, was Caleb. From what Jericho summarised in the few seconds he took to analyse the situation, it seemed Caleb had freed Bobby in the hope of Eve getting away on him. But where was she? Jericho glanced about; he couldn’t see Eve anywhere! Panic began to descend over him.

“EVE!!” He yelled into the ever-growing darkness; even the moon had gone into hiding, as if not wishing to bear witness to the horror that had taken place below. Running towards the trap Jericho put the girl down by one of the large wheels. “Stay here girl, and do not move. If anything comes back this way I want you to shout for me, my name is Jericho,” he instructed the petrified Fae before he turned ran towards the tree line.

“EVE!!!” he shouted again. Once engulfed by greenery, his cries seemed muted by the closeness of the trees and it was even darker under the leafy canopy. He ran for a few minutes searching for clues as to which direction she may have been taken, and that’s when he saw the blood, whatever had Eve, had hurt her. The situation had become desperate; Jericho was now convinced that what the Fae girl had said was true, that there was a demon in this park, and it was after Eve. Picking up his pace, Jericho ran through the trees, following the spatters of blood like a trail of gruesome breadcrumbs, hoping he would reach her in time.

Grimmer smiled as he ran through the trees, the elfin maid unconscious over his shoulder. He knew he could simply transport them both back to the summerhouse, but where was the fun in that? Grimmer wanted to be chased. He knew that by the time her would-be rescuer found them, it would be too late.

The summerhouse came into sight as the trees thinned.Soon,he thought,soon the elf would be dead.His original plan had been to wait for her to find Eli so he could torture them both. However, the fairy maiden had wondered by, and he was so hungry, he attacked her without thinking.

Knowing his master would not allow him to live if he failed in this mission, Grimmer had had to think quickly. It was fortuitous that he had consulted his orb of revelation and found that the traveling party he was waiting for were mercifully close. It had been so easy to take her, the witch was too slow in his efforts to save her and been slashed across the chest for his trouble, he would be dead soon, the thought made Grimmer smile.

The unicorn could have been a problem, but as luck would have it, the foolish Elf had launched herself at him dagger drawn, it had been easy to disarm and render her unconscious in moments. The cut on her arm was not fatal and though her bleeding gave him pleasure, the smell of the dormant magic within her blood was making him feel nauseous.

Entering the summerhouse, he dropped Eve onto the floor. There was no time to lose, the shouts of the Miscurt were becoming louder; he would be here soon. Taking the vial from his pouch Grimmer walked back to Eve and forced her mouth open. Pouring the contents into her mouth, he forced her head back until she involuntary swallowed the poison that would grant his master victory.

The effects were almost instant. Eve began to convulse; the force was enough to move her around the floor. Blood began to trickle from her closed eyelids. Grimmer watched her wither in agony and laughed, he had completed his mission. The witch would die from his wound, so there had been no need to waste the poison on him. It had all gone into this meddlesome elf maiden who had she lived, would have been the end of his existence.

Jericho broke through the tree line and saw the summerhouse, his acute hearing picked up the sound of boots hitting the floor, this both gave him hope and worried him, he had found her, but the sound was too fast and erratic.

Flinging the door open he was just in time to see the demon, his scared face grinning at him manically. Jericho launched himself at Grimmer only to find himself grabbing at thin air. The demon had vanished. A moaning from behind a sofa drew his attention. Eve was behind it on the floor, blood running down her cheeks; her body was convulsing violently. Having no time to check for further danger Jericho ran to her, scooping Eve up he held her in a vice grip against his chest. Exiting the summerhouse, he immediately began running towards the gates that led to the Castle. Eves only hope now was a healer. Looking down at her, he could see she was already a deathly white. The skin around her mouth and eyes seemed to be drying out, as he watched a flake of skin came away from Eve’s chin and disappeared into the encroaching night. Jericho knew Eve simply could not die, the prophecy must be fulfilled. Even as he ran, Jericho wondered if he was going to be in time to save her, pushing the thought from his mind Jericho ran.


Page 13

Caleb regained consciousness, the first thing he noticed was his chest burned. Trying to get up, he saw Bobby was close by. Reaching out a hand, he tugged gently on the unicorn’s tail, leaving a bloody smear in his wake. Bobby turned and gazed at Caleb.

“I know you understand me, and right now I need your help, we must get to the summerhouse, the Fae girl was screaming about, Eve is in great danger.” Nodding his head, Bobby folded his legs beneath himself allowing Caleb to climb onto his back. Moaning as blood oozed from the wound on his chest, he grabbed a handful of mane, just as Bobby was about to leap forward into the trees a voice shaking with fear called to them.

“Please don’t leave me, the Miscurt said he would be back, and he hasn’t returned. I can take you to the summer house, just please don’t leave me here alone.” The girl sobbed covering her face with her hands. Caleb really wanted to find Eve, and the girl could be of some use in finding her.

“Come on then, but quickly, we haven’t a moment to lose. I just pray the Goddess is looking down on us all tonight.” He said as Bobby walked over to the sobbing Fairy. In no time, she was up behind Caleb holding his shoulders as they raced through the night towards the summerhouse.

“My name is Freya; it is not far to the summerhouse,” she sniffed. Caleb was not interested in exchanging pleasantries with her, all his thoughts were consumed with Eve. He needed to find her.

Grimmer arrived back at the fortress of darkness moments later; he had cut it fine to get out of the summerhouse but it had been worth it. The look on the Miscurts face as he laid eyes on him had been worth almost getting run through for.

Walking briskly from the portal chamber, Grimmer headed for his master’s quarters. He could feel his chest swell with pride; his master was going to be pleased. Entering the tower, Grimmer dropped to one knee.

“Master, I come with the news you have be waiting for, the elf is dead, as is the witch.” Grimmer proclaimed, eyes still on the marble floor, he couldn’t help the smile that spread across his scarred visage. Nimayaorinrose from his throne and approached his most prized minion. Could it be true? He thought as he swept across the marble floor.

“I hope you are not lying to me, Grimmer.” Nimayaorin cautioned, his tone indicating that to do so would not end well for the demon before him. Reaching down, he put a claw under Glimmers chin and forced the demon to look at him.

Grimmer felt the Claw pierce his skin and his black blood seep from the wound. Knowing that showing fear would only encourage his master to hurt him further, he reached into his pouch and removed his orb, holding it aloft for inspection.

“Master, here is my orb I placed a spell upon it so as to capture images of my elimination of the Elf.” Glimmer’s words were strained and slightly slurred, as he did not wish for the Claw to puncture all the way into his mouth. That would take days to heal and make eating most difficult.

Taking the orb and mercifully removing his now blood- soaked claw from his servant’s skin,Nimayaorin slithered over to his larger orb and muttered an incantation, moments later the orb was filled with images of the elf girl convulsing and bleeding on the ground. Her pain gave him immense pleasure. The prophecy could not come to pass once this girl was dead.

Nimayaorin turned to the large windows that overlooked the pits and laughed; the sound grew louder, echoing off the vaulted ceiling. Opening the windows, he continued to laugh, the slaves in the pits cowering at the manic sound.

“Hear me; your light carrier is dead! Nothing can save you now.” Nimayaorin shouted down to his slaves. As expected a cry of deep sorrow rose from the pits, as the damned souls below realised their fate was sealed. Smiling maniacally, his scarlet eyes shining, Nimayaorin closed the window and turned back to Grimmer.” As your reward go to the cells and have your fill of any creature you wish.”

The demon did not need telling twice; there was a vampire down there, who he was sure by the smell of her, that her blood would be most palatable. Thanking his master, he rose and left the room.

Nimayaorin returned to his throne the smile still set on his monstrous face. Soon all the realms would fall to the darkness, one by one, swallowed by the void, and he would be Emperor of them all.

Chapter Thirteen

Jericho thought his lungs might burst; the pain from running with Eve in his arms was taking its toll. He could have sobbed when the silver gates of the castle came into view. Like the park these too were open, glad that he would not have to wait for admittance, he dashed through. Ahead of him was a bridge, he crossed it unchallenged, taking no time to look into the moat and glimpse the Mer-people frolicking in the clear moonlit waters. Reaching the huge silver doors, he placed Eve gently down and with all his strength he banged on the ornate surface until a guard opened it.

“Please, my friend was attacked by a demon, she needs a healer!” Jericho exclaimed, already bending to pick Eve up. The guard was about to decline when he saw the girl in the Miscurts arms. Eyes wide he stepped back and pulled the door open further.

“Follow me I will take you to the royal healer,” the guard replied, already walking briskly ahead of Jericho to open the door to the left of the grand staircase. Not needing further encouragement, every second counted, he followed the guard. Eve was looking dangerously close to death; if it wasn’t for her shallow breathing Jericho would have believed she already was.

“Una, are you in there? We are in need of your skills this very minute!” The guard called; as he knocked on the door of what Jericho assumed was the healer’s quarters. The door opened to reveal a young fairy with bright red hair; she was beautiful. Blue butterfly wings adorned her eyes. Seeing Eve, she stepped back and gestured for Jericho to enter.

“Lay her down on the bed,” Una instructed. She then turned back to the guard.

“You must inform the King and Queen; go now, I will do what I can for her.” After closing the door on the retreating guard, Una moved quickly towards Eve and her Miscurt protector. Running her hands over Eve’s still form, she asked several questions, that Jericho did his best to answer, though, he had not been present when the attack took place. He described the convulsions and pointed out the dried blood on Eve’s cheeks.

“Please, you must help her; this girl simply cannot be allowed to die.” Jericho pleaded, pulling on his ears, tears pooling in his eyes. Una promised she would do all she could for Eve; she immediately began using her healing magic on the elf.

An hour passed, and Eve was still no closer to being well again. Una feared she had been poisoned and without the identity of the concoction it would take days to find the antidote; Eve did not have days, she had hours.

Caleb, Freya, and Bobby arrived at the summer house, only to discover the doors wide open and blood all over the floor. Caleb was distraught, where were they and who’s blood was all over the floor? Pacing up and down outside the empty house, he winced as his wounds continued to bleed. Feeling light headed he slumped to the ground, Freya seemed to have calmed now that she was no longer alone, on seeing Caleb fall to the ground, she rushed to his side.

“You are hurt,” she stated, this got her a withering look from the witch. Placing her hands over the wound Freya closed her eyes; Caleb was surprised to feel a tingling in his chest as the skin healed, within moments his chest looked perfect again.

“Thank you,” Caleb said as he got to his feet, still feeling light- headed but no longer in pain, Caleb climbed back onto Bobby’s back and pulled Freya up behind him.Where would they go?He thought knowing time was short for one of them judging by the amount of blood on the floor.

“The castle is where I would go if mortally wounded; the royal healer is the best in all Gloria.” Freya offered. Agreeing that it was the best place to start, they headed in the direction Freya gave Bobby at break-neck speed.

Una was exhausted, she had tried every spell and herb she could think of and some others just to see if they would have an effect, but nothing was working. Eves breathing was now irregular and coming in short, sharp gasps. Jericho had begged, he had pleaded and even threatened the Fae’s life if she did not heal the girl. Una had explained that she was doing all she could. However, it was dark magic that had concocted this poison and without knowing what she was given, there was a good chance Eve would die this night.

The door to Una’s room swung open with such force it hit the wall, knocking three books to the floor and smashing a glass vile of something blue. Into the room strode a man and a woman of middle age. Una saw the couple and dropped a curtsy.

“Your Majesties’.” Una murmured, and then turned back to the girl. The King and Queen walked to the bed and looked at the elf lying on the primrose sheets, Jericho was immediately on alert, if the King and Queen had come to see Eve, then they must know who she is, and then he remembered Una had sent the guard to inform them. The King looked over Jericho with a look of disdain, he did not trust the Miscurt race, primitive was how he thought of them.

“How did you come to be with this elf?” the King asked his tone slightly suspicious. Trying to stay calm, as insulting the King of the realm would result in him being banished or worse, Jericho answered with as much respect as he could manage given the situation.

“I have been accompanying the girl and her friend as protection Your Majesty.” Jericho bit out, though adding a bow of respect at the end of his explanation. The King was about to launch into a lecture about how this clearly hadn’t happened and that this Miscurt should maybe go back to simple guard duty when his wife touched his arm.

“Now is not the time, Efrin, the girl is mortally ill, we need to save her.” The Queen muttered as she gently squeezed King Efrin’s forearm. Sighing, Efrin nodded his head. Smiling at her husband, she moved to Una’s side and began speaking with her in frantic hushed tones. The two males paced the room, time was running out, and they both knew it.

Though his injuries were severe, Bobby ran as fast as he could, he became a blur of silver white, streaking through the night like lightning. The castle was not far away; to Caleb, it felt like a thousand miles. He was so consumed with shame, why had he not been able to protect her. Finally, the open gates came into view. Please let her be alright he thought as Bobby practically flew across the bridge to the main doors.

Pain, so much pain, I can hear people around me, but I cannot answer. Jericho is here! But where is here?Eve fought to make sense of the situation she was now in, although the waves of pain made it feel as though every cell of her body was on fire.The demon! What had happened to him and where was Caleb?Too many questions and so much pain, Eve’s thoughts calmed as she felt the cool hand of ‘someone’, touch her forehead. For a few blissful moments, that small area felt wonderful.

“She is so hot, though pale like one already dead.” Una muttered as she continued to work on Eve.

I am not dead!!Eve wanted to scream, but no sound came from her parched lips.I must stay awake; I have to fight this for as long as I can, so whoever is caring for me can find a cure.Trying to move the very tips of her fingers caused so much pain Eve thought she must surely pass out.

“She cannot die; please there must be more that can be done?” Jericho begged as he paced the room.

“Where is she?!” Caleb shouted as he stumbled into the room two palace guards hot on his heels. Seeing Eve’s still form, Caleb rushed to her side, this could not be happening. Placing his hands over her heart, Caleb grounded himself and drew on the Earths power allowing it to flow into Eve, after a full ten minutes, Caleb was totally spent and Eve’s condition had not changed.

“It was a valiant attempt young witch; sadly, I believe she is beyond all help,” Efrin said as he placed a bejewelled hand on Caleb’s shoulder. Dashing the hot tears from his eyes, Caleb stood and turned to leave. Reaching the door, he turned back, looking at Eve’s face, still so beautiful even close to death.

“There was so much I had to share with her.” he choked out before he fled from the room. Jericho left to find him, knowing there was nothing more he could do now. Before leaving, he gave instructions that he would return Eve’s body to her mother and see she has the ceremony befitting such a brave woman.

Efrin looked to his Queen, this elf’s death was indeed a terrible tragedy, one that they could not hope to avoid, Una was the best healer they had, but even she was at a loss. Without the poisons ingredients, there was to be no saving Eve.

“Come, Sophia, let us retire, Una can do no more.” Efrin coaxed his wife away from the dying girl and led her to the door.

“You do know who she is, don’t you?” Queen Sophia asked as she took Efrin’s hand. This elf was the one to save them all, and now she was about to die, this was a dark day for all the realms. Looking down at his beloved wife, Efrin nodded.

“Yes I know who she is my love; I fear some hard times are ahead of us all. We should keep the boy away from this wing of the castle.”

Agreeing with her husband that it would do their charge more harm than good to discover the truth, they left the dying elf and the promise of being saved from the darkness to slip away quietly in the healer’s quarters.

All this time Eve drifted in about out of consciousness, fragments of the conversation had flitted to her like leaves tumbling on the breeze. She was pleased to have heard Caleb’s voice, yet heartbroken that he was hurting because of her. If only she could wake up, but the fire raged on, her limbs now ablaze her very bones felt like they must resemble ashes.They believe I am to die,she thought as another wave of heat coursed through her blood.I will never see my mother again, or find my brother.If she had been able to cry, Eve would have sobbed. Lying there, a prisoner in her own body she gave into the abyss for the final time.


Page 14

While Eve suffered through the early hours, up in a plush suite in the east wing, Eli slept. Ignorant of the fact the world as he knew it was about to end. The King and Queen had not lied to him; no, he had always known he was an elf, that he had been rescued when very young. Although he accepted this, Eli also felt like a fundamental part of himself was missing, sometimes when he dreamed, as he did now, he would glimpse a small chubby hand reaching for his own. Smiling in his sleep, he rolled over unaware that the owner of that once chubby hand was dying downstairs.

By sunrise Eve was dead; Caleb was inconsolable and refused to leave his opulent guest chamber. Jericho had been in a heated discussion with Una and King Efrin for over an hour; he needed to return Eve to her mother. Unfortunately, the poison that had been administered to Eve was likely to decompose her body before they reached Hermoria. The King was adamant that the only compromise was that Eve be cremated as a warrior would be, and her ashes returned to her mother, along with any special keepsakes and belongings she had with her. Unhappy with this, but knowing he could not simply take Eve, Jericho agreed, the cremation was to be held at sunset.

The ceremony plans were taking shape, flowers and silver chairs were being brought to the Queen’s garden. The plan was to row Eve out to the island that sat in the middle of the lake and shoot burning arrows of purple fire onto the pyre. This was to be warriors send off, with the Royal seal of acknowledgment.

Jericho helped with the heavy lifting, though the Fae could have just used magic to move the heavy logs to the island, they were aware that the Miscurt needed something to do and left him be. While the outdoor arrangements were underway, Eve was being prepared by Queen Sophia and her hand-maidens, they washed her in rose water and dressed her in a beautiful emerald shift that even in death made her skin glow and her hair flame with amber fire. The maids wept as they anointed Eve’s skin with oils, they too knew who she was and what her passing now meant for all of Orea. The future was to be a dark place and so they wept as they carried out the last honour they could bestow onto their would-be saviour.

Nimayaorin was elated, oh how she had suffered! The thought of the Elf trapped, a prisoner in her body suffering unimaginable pain sent shivers down his spine. Grimmer was to be decorated for his instrumental role in the destruction of the light, the only being that could have saved the mewling parasites of Orea from his rule.

Sweeping across his vast chamber,Nimayaorincast his claws over his orb of sight. His legion of spies’ should reach Gloria soon, and he intended to have a front row seat for the decimation of that girl’s physical form.

Caleb stood at the lake’s edge, tears leaving tracks down his cheeks, Eve was gone and his heart along with her. So many wasted chances, so many opportunities and now he was out of time. He had seen Eve before she had been taken to the island, how beautiful she had looked. He had kissed her cheek and whispered to her the words he never quite found the right moment to say.

Jericho stood on his left, the Miscurt seemed smaller somehow, He too was mourning the loss of a friend. Jericho would not shed tears here that would be a dishonour to his own race. There would be time for tears later in the privacy of his rooms. They were due to return to Hermoria tomorrow. It was several weeks away unless they could somehow call Sapphire once outside the magical boundaries of Gloria. As sunset approached, both Caleb and Jericho lamented the loss of a great friend and their freedom.

King Efrin stepped forward to begin the ceremony. He was an eloquent speaker and though he had not known Eve personally, he was able to evoke her soul beautifully. Queen Sophia was next to speak, at that moment the island seemed to come alive with light, tiny fireflies began to dance and weave around Eve in a beautiful ballet. To all watching it looked like her soul rising from her physical form, a beautiful, if somewhat sombre comparison.

As each person who wished to speak stepped forward, the sunset cast its fiery glow over the gathering, bathing them in light on one of the darkest days they had experienced, though far worse was to come. Jericho had just given a rather brisk speech, though his unshed tears were clear for all to see in his black eyes. When the sun finally passed below the horizon. It was almost time to light the pyre and allow Eve to pass onto the realm of the dead. Caleb was the last to step forward, still unsure as to what to say he decided to keep it simple and speak from his heart.

“Eve was an amazing person, she saved my sister’s life the very first night she stayed in Clear Water Valley. I knew then she was someone I wanted to know. Eve was beautiful, not just in appearance, but her very soul shone with light. She was brave and full of compassion for all creatures, even those that wished to do her harm. I loved her…and now she will never know.” His voice catching in his throat on a sob, Caleb returned to his place and faced the lake.

“Archers prepare the royal flames,” King Efrin called. The archers, a dozen in all made themselves ready, their silver filigree dress uniforms flashing in the light of the flames. Each knocked an arrow to their bow and awaited the order to set them loose them across the lake.

Taking one last look at the island where Eve lay, Caleb turned back to towards the castle. It was over.

Chapter Fourteen

Nimayaorin held a ceremony to celebrate Grimmer’s, successful assassination. Holding his head high, the demon walked up to the grand throne and knelt at his master’s feet.

“I welcome you all to my Fortress. You have come from the dark places in which you dwell, be safe in the knowledge that no harm can now come to you. We can all move freely between the realms of Orea. The light has been snuffed out!” Nimayaorin exclaimed raising his arms over his head. Looking around the room, he saw creature’s that nightmares are made of, cheering and celebrating this most welcome news. Today was to be remembered for all eternity, as the day the light was extinguished from the Orea…forever!

Gesturing for the gathering to quiet, Nimayaorin reached into his robe and removed a star ruby its polished surface was akin to a pool of fresh blood; it was hung on a thick rope of gold. Gliding down the steps of his throne, he stood before Grimmer’s bowed form.

“Today we reward the one who was instrumental in the ascendance of the darkness. Grimmer, you have always been faithful and have served me well; I reward you with this star ruby,” Nimayaorin said, placing the golden rope over the demon’s head. The stones deep red lustre flashing in the candlelight.

“Thank you, my Master, I live to serve,” Grimmer replied keeping his head bowed in respect. This was indeed the best day of his existence. To be rewarded so handsomely was a sign that he was rising through the ranks.Grimmer, the extinguisher of light. He liked the sound of that.

“Now, let us feast!” Nimayaorin ordered, no sooner had he uttered the command that the double doors at the far end of the room slid open to reveal a grand staircase. Taking the lead Nimayaorin moved towards it with Grimmer at his right hand, the rest of the monsters followed at a respectful distance. The party was lead down to a lower level, at the end of a sconce lit corridor, the party emerged into a large dungeon. The moment Nimayaorin entered, the screaming began. Chained to the walls and great iron rings in the floor, were men and women, witches, fae, and elves. Grimmer’s yellow eyes flashed with glee when he spied a redheaded witch, who looked enough like the elf to make his mouth water. Knowing it was his master who was to pick first, he stood to attention and waited. Choosing a blond Fae girl for his first course, Nimayaorin opened the feasting, sinking his razor sharp teeth into the girl’s shoulder and tearing away a chunk of her flesh. Wasting no time, Grimmer, leapt across the room and pinned the red haired witch to the rough stone wall.

“Now I can take my time with you, let me hear you scream,” Grimmer whispered to the witch as he sliced open her arm. Soon the room was filled with the sound of screaming and the walls were soon painted crimson. The darkness was coming, to consume and destroy all who dared to stand in its way.

Eve’s body lay on a bed of moss and wildflowers, her hair woven with silk ribbons; even in death, she was beautiful. Across the lake, the archers were about to lose their flaming arrows that would consume her physical form. From out of the trees, the animals came to her. Gathering around her body, they rested paws, small heads and cold noses against her. Lastly, a snow white lamb approached, it looked at the other animals and laid its head over Eve’s left hand. As the fireflies danced casting a golden glow over the gathering, the order to lose the arrows reached their sensitive ears. The animals closed their eyes, in readiness for what needed to be done. The twang of bow strings acted as the signal. It was time the animals made their sacrifice. As if one being, the animals took a breath and gave a piece of their very souls to the maiden that they had come to save.

The energy transfer was intense; each animal gave a small part of their life force to Eve in the few seconds before the first flaming arrow struck. The wildflowers began to wrap their stems around her limbs, as they too offered energy from the earth.

The first arrow landed, but, it did not hit its mark instead each arrow that veered off course and landed a few feet in front of Eve and the animals blocking the view to the mainland. Eve began to glow; her hair crackled with the energy coursing through her. The emerald shift that clothed her, seemed to ripple in a phantom breeze. Deathly paleness was washed away by the warm peaches and cream complexion that had once been the envy of many elvish maidens. The glowing ebbed and finally dissipated into the night, the gift had been given, the sacrifice made. Behind the curtain of purple flames, Eve opened her eyes.

Sophia approached the east wing with a heavy heart; it had been decided that she would break the news to their charge. Knocking on the door, she was surprised that it opened almost instantly. Before her stood a young man of eighteen, his indigo eyes flashing with excitement and joy. Sophia had no time to ask what had made him so happy; he smiled broadly at her, his blond hair shining like spun gold.

“I must get to the island, Sophia!” He exclaimed, almost bouncing on the spot, his need to leave tangible. Sighing, Queen Sophia took his hand and tried to explain that, that simply was not possible; the island was partly ablaze and not safe. Unfazed he just smiled and assured her that everything was as it should be and he must go to the island right this moment.

“There is someone there who I must meet; it cannot wait.” He urged turning and hurrying down the hall towards the main staircase. Sighing, Sophia hurried as gracefully as she could manage after him.

It was fully dark now; the archers had cleared away and all that could be seen of the ceremony was the dying violet flames reflecting on the still water of the lake. Taking no time to collect a boat from the small boathouse, the young man waded into the cool water and began to swim with strong strokes towards the island.

Eve lay on the moss; her mind was clear; she was completely aware of what had happened to her. She should be dead and yet, here she was on her funeral bed surrounded by woodland creatures and being warmed by the violet blaze a few feet away. Sitting up slowly, Eve was conscious of everything around her, the sound of the animals breathing, the lapping of the lake against the shore, the crackling of the fire. It didn’t stop there; she could hear the trees growing! The world around her was teaming with life, and she was a part of it all. There was something else, looking around she stared in wonder, the world was alight with colour, Eve could see the aura of every living thing. This was going to take some getting used to.

Standing, she stroked the ears of a doe, as she made the connection, she heard a voice.

We are glad to have helped you, Light Carrier.

Eve was used to this kind of telepathic communication with Sapphire, but this was the first time she had heard another animal ‘speak’ to her. Looking deep into the doe’s eyes, she leant forward and kissed it between the ears.

“Thank you, thank you all. I am so grateful for your help,” Eve replied, stroking the doe and smiling at all the gathered animals. Suddenly the peaceful gathering was disturbed by splashing and then hissing as water droplets hit the dying flames. The animals scattered leaving Eve to face whatever had joined them on the island.

The first thing Eve saw was the person’s aura glowing green against the night. Instinctively she knew whoever it was meant her no harm. As the person came into view, Eve gasped. Indigo eyes gazed out of a handsome face, blonde hair that hung in wet waves just past his shoulders. He was tall and muscular, and without knowing how she got there. Eve found herself in his arms. After so many weeks of searching, they had finally found each other.

Eli held Eve tight against his chest, he knew without a doubt that this girl was his sister. He had dreamed of her, the chubby hand that reached for him was her. The King and Queen had said that he was found alone and that she must have vanished with his parents, but the dreams had continued and now he knew why.

“Eli, my brother, I have found you,” Eve sobbed into his sodden shirt. Making soothing sounds and rubbing her back, Eli held her in his arms. Realising that they could not stay on this island all night, the guards would be looking for him soon enough, Eli decided it best if he swam back and obtained a boat. Eve insisted that she was fine to swim. Smiling, Eli gently pointed out that she was very recently back from the dead, and maybe a swim in the cool lake was not the best idea after such an experience.

Once back on the mainland, the siblings went directly to the Queen. Sophia was at a loss for words when Eli and Eve walked in hand in hand. This should not be possible; Eve was supposed to be dead. Taking a moment to compose herself, Queen Sophia ordered a clean gown and robe be brought for Eve and asked that Eli leave to change himself; they would continue their conversation in the drawing room with the King present. Eve changed in the Queen’s dressing room. The gown was cream silk, it felt cool against her pale skin, shivering slightly she reached for the navy blue robe and tied it at her waist. Looking at herself Eve smiled, she was alive, and she had found Eli.

King Efrin was speechless, his mouth opened and closed several times before he gave up and ordered ale from the larder. Along with the ale, Jericho and Caleb burst into the room nearly knocking the servant to the floor. Caleb had no trouble articulating how he felt at seeing Eve standing before him. He ran to her, scooping her up in his arms he held her close.

“I never expected to see you again, you are a marvel, Eve. A gift from the Goddess,” he whispered to her as he looked into her eyes. Eve smiled up at Caleb, glad to have this second chance with him. Turning back to face the Royals, Eve cleared her throat.

“It is true that the demon murdered me, the pain was beyond belief, and I am sorry you all witnessed that.” Looking at the shocked faces, Eve raised her hand to halt any interruptions and continued. “Yes, I was aware some of the time during that experience. I do not want to dwell on it, there are more important things I must discuss with my friends and my brother,” she concluded, smiling at Eli and reaching for Caleb’s hand. Jericho huffed from the corner, not comfortable with the amount of love being handed out, he would much rather get down to business, though his black eyes were glassy with unshed tears at the sight of his friend once again standing amongst them.

“How is it even possible you are alive, Evangeline?” Asked King Efrin, finally finding his voice. Smiling at the king, Eve explained that she did not know how she was now alive, just that she was pleased to be. This wasn’t wholly true, she did know how but it felt wrong somehow, to explain her rebirth, it had been a deeply powerful and emotional experience; one she was not yet ready to share with anyone. Asking for permission to leave so she may talk with her friends, she curtsied to the Royals and thanked them for their hospitality and kindness. Eli lead everyone to his chambers in the east wing, he wanted to be as far from the servants as possible during this discussion, and he knew they we less likely to be overheard there.

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